Thursday, May 29, 2014

TV Review: The World Wars Episode 3

The World Wars
Episode 3: "Never Surrender"

The Good: The battle scenes and the camera work is wonderful and the best thing that's been consistent throughout the entire series. The use of Patton in leading the phantom army that would invade at Calais. The Holocaust is dealt with responsible, yet powerful way. The debate on the use of the Atomic Bomb was good (it would have been a tad better if the estimated Japanese civilian deaths of an invasion would have been stated).

The Bad: The chronology is all over the place as they merge events that happened a year apart to happen at the same time (the initial drive to Moscow in '41 and Stalingrad). They show FDR being the decision maker when it came to Midway. When Italy surrendered the show indicated that the allies occupied the entire country instead of having to fight the Germans up the 'tough old gut'.

The Ugly: The North African campaign is ignored. The Pacific War is the fall of the Philippines, Midway, and then the retaking of the Philippines by island hopping. The Soviet Union's contribution to the war was horribly neglected. Patton apparently didn't return to command until the Battle of the Bulge, completely forgetting his leadership of the Third Army over the French countryside.

No Opinion: No mention of Harry Truman's service during WWI, which I thought would have been an important item to include. Promo that an extended version of the series will be see on H2 in June with "never before seen footage."

Grade: C

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

TV Review: The World Wars Episode 2

The World Wars
Episode 2: "A Rising Threat"

The Good: The paths to power of Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill were well done besides the fact they stumbled on chronology for Churchill. The various battle scenes were another great part of this episode like the previous one. The opening scene of the Stock Market crash and then the 'Night of the Long Knives' were very well done.

The Bad: The various chronology errors and double backs, which went hand-in-hand with asserting that political or military decisions were based on leader's opinions of their opposites in enemy nations (save for Churchill's warnings about Hitler). Asserting the Emperor Hirohito was more politically involved then he likely was.

The Ugly: The repeat of awful retelling of the Communist takeover at the beginning of the Stalin segment. Patton is completely ignored this entire episode even though he is one of the characters featured in the title sequence.

No Opinion: The path and motivations behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seemed off, especially their economic/military strategy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. However I'm not too sure if it's part of the chronology errors listed above or just wrong history.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

TV Review: The World Wars Episode 1

The World Wars
Episode 1: "Trial by Fire"

The Good: The bio portions on Hitler and Churchill were the standouts for the entire episode. The battle scenes for the Western Front were very excellent for the most part, including the opening scene which I thought was a brilliant move. I liked the decision to view both World Wars as one single event because let's face it, they were.

The Bad: Uber-America in WWI. Apparently British and French commanders didn't learn anything between 1914-17 before the Americans entered the battlefield in 1918. Also the US invented the tank apparently (I thought it was the British) and how to use it in combination with infantry to push the Germans back...I could have sworn the British did it first, at Amiens.

The Ugly: Stalin would have loved how the program made him Lenin's right hand man in the October Revolution even though they completely messed up how the Czar fell and the Communists rose...10 months apart. BTW, Stalin was down in Georgia (the country not the state) during the events in Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg).

No Opinion: FDR is mentioned a few times, but since he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time he really didn't do much. The sections on Mussolini were very interesting, I would have put them under "The Good" however I don't know if they are historically accurate.

Grade: B-

Book Review: The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fantasy/humor series Discworld began with "The Color of Magic" over 30 years ago and literally hit the funny bone of the vast majority of it's readers.  After finishing it, I can say that I count myself among those who laughed as Terry Pratchett intended back in 1983.

From the first page the absurdity and hilarity hits the reader like a slap, even when you're know that the book is humor.  The adventures of the inept wizard Rincewind who guides Discworld's first tourist, Twoflower, first around Anhk-Morpork then throughout the western lands and the great Circle Sea all the while being followed by the latter's Luggage.  The humorous twists the typical fantasy tropes were well conceived and executed with delightful results that kept me with a smile on my face.

I'm sure I can do a little quibbling about consistency of the humor or the flow of the story.  But frankly this is the first book in a series that stretches to almost 40(!) that I've only just began so what can I really compare it too?  So while long time fans of the entire series somewhat disparage this book, first time readers keep in mind that without this first book none that followed would have come.

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Review: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This late 16th-century romantic comedy is high on romance and alright in comedy. Benedick and Beatrice are the liveliest couple in a Shakespeare play since Petruchio and Katharina, and might dare I say are greater than the Shrew couple in wittiness and disdain. The various situations that turnout to be "nothing" but smoke screen to cause either love or heartache to the characters vary in quality from well-done in the other characters tricking Benedick and Beatrice into love to so-so in Don John's attempts to cause mischief. After reading it, I'm interested in seeing it on stage or a film/tv adaptation to see the interaction between B & B.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Book Review: Adventism in America edited by Gary Land

Adventism in AmericaAdventism in America by Gary Land
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Adventism in America is a history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church from it's roots in the Millerite movement in the 1830s to approximately 1980.  The book is a collection of historical essays by the leading Adventist historians at the time of it's original publication in 1986.  The essays, edited by Gary Land who wrote two of them, are a well-researched and footnoted collection that dives into historical, theological, and social dynamics that the Seventh-day Adventist Church experienced both internally and as part of the greater fabric of American and Christian history and society.

The book is not for a general reader, the essays are of peer-review quality and thus meant for the serious student of history or historian.  Of the seven essays, the final one covering the period for 1961-81 is the weakest given that the major challenges the Seventh-day Adventist Church dealt with during the period were still being felt.  Given that it has been nearly 30 years since the book's original publication and a little over 15 since this revised edition, it makes the last essay's weaknesses even more glaring.

Notwithstanding this one flaw, the book is a candid look by Adventist historians into the history and issues that the Seventh-day Adventist Church dealt over the course of 150 years.  For the serious student of Adventist history this is a must read book.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book free through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Half a King is the story of the one-handed Prince Yarvi who suddenly finds himself the King of his people only to be betrayed by his seemingly kind uncle, Odem.  Yarvi suddenly finds himself a slave, who isn’t worth much, but because of his previous training to enter the ministerial order is able to put himself into the position to flee his captivity along with several other slave companions.  Along with his friends, he sets out to avenge his own betrayal but those against his family and fulfill the oath he pledged at his father’s funeral.

Though the story doesn’t descend into grim and darkness, Joe Abercrombie’s first foray into the young adult fantasy is an enjoyable romp around the Shattered Sea.  Abercrombie is able to work his word building throughout the narrative without weighing down the pace of the story.  He is also able to throw in clues that Yarvi and the reader pull together by the end to unravel why the betrayed occurred in the first place.  And does a wonderful job of using a small detail noted in one of the first few pages that plays a part in the last few pages.

A mature reader has to account for the genre Half a King clearly reads as, young adult fantasy.  The characters are pretty well rounded, including Yarvi.  Even though he is clearly pretty clever, Yarvi’s disability and youth do have an effect on the story and result in him getting beat up a lot while finding a way to survive.  Yarvi isn’t pure; he does kill people in his efforts to survive and getting revenge in both direct and indirect ways.  Abercrombie is able to use various tropes seen as part of the young adult genre and twist in a satisfying way, especially when it came to the character Nothing.

Upon finishing Half a King, I was very satisfied with my reading experience.  Abercrombie wrote a fun, engaging book that I know I would have enjoyed if I was 15-20 years younger.  He was also able to set up very interesting potential sequel plots with characters the reader has been introduced to and understands their motivations.  I very much recommend this enjoyable book for all ages.

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Review: Henry IV, Part Two by William Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part Two by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The second part of Henry IV focuses on how Prince Hal finally turns away from his wanton youth to become a responsible King to succeed his father with several interludes following the comedic escapes of Sir John Falstaff. Unfortunately in Part 2 the comedic scenes overwhelm the dramatic portions of the history not due to their number or length, but tediousness. The highlights of the play are Act IV, Scene IV in which Hal and King Henry fully reconcile and Act V, Scene V in which Henry V casts asides Falstaff; however the rest of the time the reader and watcher are just anticipating and are not getting entertained.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Director by David Ignatius

The DirectorThe Director by David Ignatius
My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Since I received a free advance reading copy of this book I felt obligated to complete the book, however throughout the last half of this book I felt like just ditching it.

The plot is incredibly rushed in getting from Point A to Point Z, so rushed that it missed half the alphabet. The primary characters are underdeveloped, especially when it comes to motivation, which went hand-in-hand with the rushed plot.  This combination by itself doomed the book, however the fact that the titular character was forgotten for stretches of the book and then suddenly he reappears dealing with things that the reader is given no context too, just made it worse.  And the final nail in the coffin was the numerous instances in which the reader's intelligence was insulted by things the CIA characters did throughout the book, it was maddening.

This was the first time I read a book by Mr. Ignatius and it will be my last as well.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

After finishing reading this play, I realize it was one of those that needs to be seen over being read. Featuring several citizens of Windsor along with John Falstaff, who seems to be returning from the battle at Shrewsbury, who find themselves without various comedic predicaments. While some things were funny and entertaining, overall I didn't enjoy it.

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For several years I've seen recommendations and rave reviews about Scott Lynch's debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora.  Now after reading the book for myself, I can without a doubt see why it was recommended and why it has got those glowing reviews.

Locke Lamora, leader of a gang of con artists, suddenly finds himself in the middle of a power struggle in the city of Camorr's criminal underworld between the city's long-time Capa and the mysterious Grey King.  Locke's world for the last 20 years gets overturned and nearly all his friends murdered; revenge suddenly becomes his sole concern but finds himself opposed by the Duke's secret police chief as well as everyone else in the criminal underworld on top of a Bondmage.  At first what seems to be a story about a con game quickly turns into one of revenge and paybacks.

Throughout the book Lynch inserted Interludes between Chapters, which turned out entertaining flashbacks and world-building selections that came relevant as the book progressed.  Although a cynic would say they were just info-dumps, they are craftily constructed info-dumps that give depth to the character's backgrounds and to the world at large in brief glimpse that don't slow down the main plot.

One of the things I judge a book on is how much I'm looking forward to getting my hands back on it, and frankly throughout my day I couldn't wait for a break or lunch so I could delve into the city of Camorr following Locke's progress.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Review: Henry IV, Part One by William Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part One by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Three of Shakespeare's greatest characters populate this play, neither one of them is the titular character however. Prince Hal (the future Henry V), Falstaff, and Henry 'Hotspur' Percy give this play it's focus and direction. Hal's transformation from a wayward prince towards the great man he becomes progresses throughout the play. One of his stumbling blocks is of course Falstaff, who's personality and criminal actions, are an obvious bad influence but also a comic relief at times. Finally there is Hotspur, the hot-tempered young noblemen considered better than the future King, even though he quickly takes offense at Henry IV's actions towards him and his family thus stirring up rebellion. The play ends with action and the promise what is to come as Hal continues his turn towards becoming the great English hero.