Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book Review: Sourcery by Terry Pratchett

Sourcery (Discworld, #5)Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again the most inept wizard in reality must face the end of the world as Rincewind goes up against the first sourcerer on the Disc in millennia, who just happens to be 10 years old.  Terry Pratchett takes Rincewind, along with the readers, on an epic quest to save the Disc and wizardry that will obviously have epic failures with hilarious results.

Along with Rincewind is Conina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian, the greatest thief in on the Disc who wants to be a hairdresser and Nijel, an aspiring Barbarian hero.  Along the way they encounter slave trading pirates, a villainous vizier, an aspiring poet emir, a magic carpet with lamp.  For part of the journey Rincewind is accompanied by Luggage who gets annoyed and leaves to begin its own interesting journey in the desert of Khali before wanting to return to Rincewind's side.  The situations and conversations that all the characters have are top notch hilarious throughout the book, save for the vignettes of the drunkenness of three of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse that dragged on a little too long.

Overall at the end of Sourcery, the reader has a smile on his face and can't wait to see how Pratchett hilariously gets Rincewind out of the predicament he's in and what Luggage will do next.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

"The Scottish Play", the shortest of Shakespeare's plays but one of the best known of all his tragedies. Obviously not close to history, but nonetheless a great play. The titular character is front and center throughout the play, but has strong secondary characters like his wife Lady Macbeth and Banquo followed by Macduff. Although the tragic theme could be considered ambition or corruption of the moral order or giving away one's free will in the case of adhering to the weird sisters' prophecy, in any case the heroic Macbeth of Act I is turned into a corrupt, paranoid tyrant by the end of the play. However until like Richard III, he is not given the benefit of a death scene. This along with the short changing of Malcolm and absence of Fleance (though in the 1983 BBC production his is the last image before the credits) does hurt the play, but not by much.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: Avengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis

Avengers vs. X-MenAvengers vs. X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title "Avengers vs. X-Men" alone brings to mind many ideas and debates about who would win a contest, especially in light of how some have moved from one time to another over the course of Marvel history.  The epic event "Avengers vs. X-Men" is the result not only of recent events in the Marvel Universe but over the whole course of the Marvel Universe and how each side interrupts the advent of the Phoenix Force upon the Earth.

Overall the story is coherent through the entire saga, though there are several rough patches that disrupt things from time to time.  The custody of Hope Summers, the Mutant Messiah, and future host of the Phoenix Force is the trigger the conflict between the two teams.  But things only get interesting when Tony Stark seeking a scientific way to stop the Force instead makes things worse by splitting it into five pieces that inhabit five different X-Men.  The mistrust of the Phoenix Five's work and intentions followed by the mistrust of the Five of non-mutants is a recipe for disaster that the darkening effect of the Phoenix Force uses to its advantage to become whole.

Those not versed in all the recent events of the Marvel Universe up to the start of Avengers vs. X-Men won't be lost as the writers deftly put in hints without going into just plain dumping information on the reader.  The subtly of the Dark Phoenix, actions of others to cause conflict between members of the Five, and the mistrust of the Five amongst themselves over time was a wonderful subplot upon looking back upon the story.  The action and battles are drawn wonderfully, however they come at the cost of character development especially when it comes to the root cause of the conflict as well as the ultimate solution, Hope, who disappears the scene or is in the background for a large portion of the middle third of the story.  In addition, the mistrust of the X-Men to the Five resulting in them aligning with the Avengers is alluded to but not seen which hurt the concluding chapters of the saga.

Even with some story missteps, the overall work of "Avengers vs. X-Men" is very good and a delight to read.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This problematic tragedy of the noble Timon who gives too lavishly to false friends, who abandon him when his wealth is spent is an interesting but only okay play. The dramatic change in character for Timon throughout the play was a fascinating arc, but the subplot of Alcibiades' banishment then war on Athens through the last two Acts of the play derails the overall work. When Timon dies off-stage, the ending of the play limps to the finish after a very promising start.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Band of Giants by Jack Kelly

Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's IndependenceBand of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's Independence by Jack Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

The soldiers of the Continental Army were not professionals when the American Revolution began in 1775, neither were their commanding officers.  But as Jack Kelly writings in his book “Band of Giants”, these amateur soldiers took on and defeated the greatest army in the world to win independence for their nation.

Kelly’s chronicle of the Revolutionary generation’s military journey starts in 1754 following an inexperienced George Washington as he ignites the French and Indian War and the military lessons he learned.  As each significant leader is introduced within the narrative, Kelly gives the reader insight into their previous military experience or lack thereof.  As the war goes on, Kelly explains how the commanders learned through failure and success that eventually resulted in the victorious siege of Yorktown.

The best part of this book is that Kelly just doesn't follow Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Horatio Gates, and Benedict Arnold who always seem to be at the fore of Revolutionary history.  The lives and careers of Henry Knox, Nathaniel Greene, ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, Daniel Morgan, John Stark, Charles Lee, and many others are given their just do in the relating of events during the war.

Yet there were sections of the book that seemed that Kelly let stray from the overall thrust of the book.  Kelly introduced the wives and family of many of the men he follows in the book; overall this is not a bad thing since at times family situations did interfere with a commander’s duties.  However at times, the details Kelly relates while interesting little facts were just that and nothing more in the overall context of the book.  Another glaring error was Kelly shifting from chronicling the course of events and why the individual made the decisions he made, only to then suddenly armchair quarterback the decision before continuing on the narrative.  These moments were few and far between, but left the reader scratching their head.

Overall “Band of Giants” is a very readable, researched, general history of the American Revolution and the commanding officers of the Continental Army.  Although author Jack Kelly does stray briefly into unrelated details and on a couple of occasions interjects his opinion, those errors cannot take away from a well written book that introduces the reader to a better understanding of the history of the American Revolution.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The tragedy of King Lear is one considered one of Shakespeare's greatest plays and after finishing it, I understand why. The great King decides to divide his realm between his daughters, but in his hubris asks how much they love him and the results sow the seeds of the destruction not only of himself but his family. Within the context of the interplay between Lear and his daughters is also of the Earl of Gloucester and his two sons, Edgar and Edmund. Like Lear, Gloucester allows himself to be fooled starting a chain of events that results in his own downfall and despair. The two story arcs intertwine along with the banished, yet disguised Kent who attempts to help the King his loyal regain his sanity and bring to justice those who have done himself and others to evil. However, Kent's story comes to unsatisfying end and Cordelia's French connection doesn't make any sense save getting her out of the play for two Acts. Despite these personal criticisms, King Lear was a fantastic read and a must see on stage or adaption.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Hallowed Hunt (Chalion, #3)The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third venture into the Quintarian Universe by Lois McMaster Bujold introduces animal magic that gives "The Hallowed Hunt" it's name.  The reader follows Ingrey kin Wolfcliff as he first investigates the death of the youngest son of the hallowed king of the Weald only to find himself mired in a conspiracy involving the ancient animal magic of the Old Weald that he is already personally familiar with.

From the first page the narrative hardly lets the reader take a breathe as the story unfolds before them thanks to the great craft of Bujold.  The introduction of the animal magic of the Old Weald does take time to understand both for the characters and the readers, though this might have been the intention of the author from the start.  However, the animal magic itself is a wonderful addition to the Universe that Bujold created.  "The Hallowed Hunt" is a solid, good story that only suffers when compared to the first two books in the Quintarian Universe because there were no already familiar characters the reader knew from either previous book like there had been in "Paladin of Souls".

After finishing this book, I felt a great sadness that Bujold hasn't written another venture into this fantastic world.  If you haven't read any of the books in this series, you're missing out.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Review: Othello by William Shakespeare

Othello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If I had to boil this review down to one word it would be: envy. Although Othello is the titular character, Iago is the play's central character. Iago's enviousness towards his Moorish commander results in him destroying numerous lives to get revenge for his lot in life. Through Iago's enviousness other character's enviousness comes is exposed to the audience and manipulated by Iago for his own ends like Roderigo whose purpose is used up Iago "vengeance" kills for attempting to murder Cassio.

Iago's interactions with Desdemona, Emilia, Cassio, and Othello continue his grand manipulations, through Act III sees the him at his best. In fact Act III is truly one of the best Acts I've personally read during my Shakespeare read-through and if anything I would see a production or adaptation of this play just for Act III alone.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review: Mort by Terry Pratchett

MortMort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Death takes on an apprentice then takes some time off vacation that results in some interesting events on the Disc in the fourth book of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.  The idea of having the Disc's Grim Reaper as a major character who is interested in experiencing the "fleshy" side of things could have turned into disaster if not handled right, but Pratchett just uses it to create more laughs and hilarious situations for not only Death but his apprentice Mort, daughter Ysabell, and servant Albert.  The mistakes of Mort as he tries to properly fulfill the role of his boss and his resulting continual screw ups in trying to fix his mistakes without informing Death while dealing with two other living occupants of Death's timeless domain.

Ever since watching the miniseries based on Hogfather, I have been waiting to read a Discworld book in which Death was the central character and I wasn't disappointed.  After finishing this book I can't wait to see what else Pratchett has up his sleeve for Discworld.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Book Review: Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin

Infinity GauntletInfinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Infinity Gauntlet is one of those comic events that makes an impact when it debuts and then casts a long shadow in the universe in which it is set.  The story within the six issue collection is very well written and illustrated as it shows the effects of Thanos' use of the Gauntlet as the universe's new deity and as Marvel's heroes, villains, and cosmic entities battle to save existence.  Starlin's use of foreshadowing in the saga itself is well done for the conclusion of the entire story by reminding readers of previous conflicts, however this also undermines the entire volume.  Background of how Thanos achieved gaining possession of the Gauntlet is a big missing piece that leaves a hole in the narrative that hurts the collection for first time readers like myself.  But once a reader like myself is able to see how Thanos gained possession of the Gauntlet then this collection will really shine.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Paladin of Souls (Chalion, #2)Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Paladin of Souls", the second chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion trilogy is just as fantastic as "The Curse of Chalion" and maybe slightly better.  Shifting the focus from Cazaril and royal court, Bujold followed the formerly mad dowager royina Ista through a false pilgrimage into the heart of a war in which the mortal, demonic, and the divine are twisted together.

Set three years after the first book, the book begins with Ista having finished with the funeral rites for her own mother and dealing with stigma of her former madness.  Wanting to just escape her childhood home, later asylum, Ista uses the uses the idea of a religious pilgrimage for the purpose if only for a little while.  But hardly has it begun when her party is first attacked by demonic and then enemy forces.  After being made a special prisoner, Ista is rescued like in a children's tale by Arhys dy Lutez, the commander of the border fortress of Castle Porifors.  And it's only when Ista arrives at Porifors that things get really interesting.

Although Ista is the main character, Bujold returns two other minor characters from the first book the dy Gura brother though the younger Foix is given more attention than his elder brother.  Attending Ista as her lady-in-waiting is "tomboy" courier Liss, who is both feisty and clever as well as been naive creates a well rounded character.  The various inhabitants of Porifors and the their links to the great mystery that Ista and her party stumble upon are ingeniously constructed.  Bujold further develops her theological system, which is one of the most unique and clever that I've personally read.

To be honest I couldn't find a fault in this book, from the first page I was hook and always wanted to follow along with Ista as she attempted to figure out what was happening in both the realms of the mortal and the divine.  I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of fantasy and enjoyed "The Curse of Chalion."

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