Thursday, December 31, 2015

Book Review: Where Troy Once Stood by Iman Wilkens

Where Troy Once Stood: The Mystery of Homer's Iliad & Odyssey RevealedWhere Troy Once Stood: The Mystery of Homer's Iliad & Odyssey Revealed by Iman Wilkens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The historicity of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey is the basis of Iman Wilken’s “Where Troy Once Stood”. The author’s theory that the Trojan War took place in England between Celts is both an intriguing revisionist theory as well as good material for authors looking for a good story.

The basic premise of the book is Wilken first rejecting the concise opinion that Troy as located in Anatolia, evening using ancient sources to help support his conclusion. Though Wilken’s believes the Trojan War did take place and examined Homer’s text to find Troy’s location, both by descriptions and etymology to find Troy in the Gog Magog Hills in Cambridgeshire, England. Wilken’s then places gives locations for all the combatants listed in the Iliad amongst the Celtic peoples of Western Europe from Scandinavia down to southern Spain. Based off his locations of the Iliad, Wilken’s catalogues Odysseus’ journey around the shores of Western European and throughout the Atlantic before arriving home in Spain. However, Wilken’s proposes that the Odyssey was not only a story of a warrior king, but a map for Celtic seafarers to sail for recourses in Africa and the Caribbean as well as tool for initiates into the ‘Mysteries’ of the Celtic Druids.

While this overall theory based on Homer’s epic poems is though-provoking, the overall book is undermined by how Wilken presents his material. Whatever one thinks of the theory this is a hard book to read because there is no flow from point-to-point throughout the text. Wilken’s enthusiasm for his theory is identifiable in the text mainly because he likes to insert conclusions and further theories randomly whenever something that is connected with them is presented in the text. After long periods of logical progression, Wilkens would started jumping from point-to-point before taking up his logical process again then incorporating the random points he talked about earlier into the narrative. Wilken’s never fully explains some of his conclusions or provides supporting evidence for some of his assertions, his view of who the Phoenicians were was the biggest in my mind. Finally Wilkens presents numerous maps and lists of his etymology evidence as part of his main text instead of as a large appendix, which makes the last quarter of the book a slog.

In the end the reader must judge Wilken’s theory for themselves and as stated in my introductory paragraph, it provides good story material like Clive Cussler’s “Trojan Odyssey”. However anyone who wants to read this book for either the revisionist theory or for story inspiration should keep in mind the book’s winding journey. Wilken’s published a revised edition of “Where Troy Once Stood” and maybe that edition (2009) presents the material better, however based on the chapter listings I’m doubtful. So if you’re interested in reading this book, you’ve been warned.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: The Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe

The Discovery of King ArthurThe Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The question of the reality of King Arthur has been answered in various ways and Geoffrey Ashe gives his answer in “The Discovery of King Arthur”. One of the most preeminent Arthurian scholars in the world, Ashe’s thesis brought the possibility of a real Arthur to the public by guiding them through the layers of myth and legend.

Ashe begins his presentation by establishing how the Arthur we have come to know in was first widely distributed, through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Histories of the Kings of Britain”. Ashe begins dissecting Geoffrey’s account through the lens of various sources during the supposed time of Arthur’s career as well as giving context to the nature of medieval literary work thus gleaming clues to the real events that Geoffrey based his writing on. Ashe’s analysis of several sources from Roman Gaul, sources from Britain closer to Arthur’s time, and history of the last Western Roman Empire together with clues from Geoffrey’s histories help Ashe narrow in on the individual who was the starting point of the Arthur mythos, the Briton High King named Riothamus.

After naming this candidate whose career inspired the Arthur legend, Ashe then details how over the centuries to Geoffrey of Monmouth and afterwards the embellished and fantasies were created about an individual who seemingly revived Roman Briton’s fortunes and was seen on the Continent as someone to help restore the civilization—as the Roman was viewed. Yet, while this information is intriguing in seeing how the mythos was created and expanded Ashe’s somewhat dry writing style makes the last half of the book somewhat less of an engaging read as compared to the first half when Ashe “discovers” the man behind the legend.

This is my first time reading this book in almost 20 years and frankly this book is not how I remember it, frankly I remembered the information Ashe put in the first half of the book in making his case and willing forgot the second half of the book when he discussed the legend building. This can be put down to Ashe converting a scholarly paper into a book for mass consumption, which is telling as it would be expected that the writing style would be more lively for book for public consumption while a more scholarly work would have a different tone. But that doesn’t mean this is not an overall good book, it is but it does have some drawbacks that potential readers should be aware of before cracking it open.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible ThingsFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny  Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What strikes you about Jenny Lawson’s “Furiously Happy” first and foremost is the smiling raccoon adorning the cover of the book that just makes you want to pick it up and find out why it’s one there. However before Lawson explains about the smiling raccoon, she has succeeded in sucking you into her hilarious journey of living furiously happy.

While “Furiously Happy” is Lawson’s second book, one does not have to have read her first one to quickly find one entrapped in her fascinating misadventures that many a time bring a smile to your face. The degrees of amusement go from the mildly fun to cringe-worthy hilarity—think Ross in the last three seasons of Friends—in a rollercoaster of events from Lawson’s own childhood to being a wife and mother herself. Between the humor are chapters in which Lawson talks about her numerous mental illnesses and their resulting dark side. For those not aware of Lawson’s health, she is upfront at the very beginning on why she is writing this book and it’s her own dealing with her mental illness that makes her want to live as the book says furiously happy.

While this rollercoaster of emotion prevents reading this book in a single setting—it took me many in all honestly—that’s okay because Lawson wants her readers to think. Here is a woman who is many mental illnesses, she is taking medication and getting therapy but when she has one of her bad days or spells she can look back at all the funny things she’s done in her life by just living furiously happy to keep her from doing anything hurtful to herself. For readers dealing with some of the same issues as her, the knowledge that someone else is feeling like them and keeps on going is a positive. And for readers like myself who do not suffer any mental illnesses, this book is a challenge to take steps to help our friends and family who do deal with mental health if we aren’t already as well as taking advantage of our own good fortune to live “Furiously Happy” because you never know when you might need those humorous memories.

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowlings

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second time I've read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but the first time reading it critically. I've tailored this review in the following in mind: the intended audience for the book and its place in the series.

"Deathly Hallows" is a tad over a 100 pages longer than its immediate predecessor in the series as Rowlings completes her series with the climactic Battle of Hogwarts as Harry and Voldemort face off in their prophesied encounter. Along with Ron and Hermione, Harry chases after the remaining Horcruxes that Voldemort has left behind but eventually the trail returns the grounds of Hogwarts. However along the way, the friends not only have rough times with one another but also with the legacy of Albus Dumbledore. Yet a legendary set of magical objects, the titular Deathly Hallows, enter into the narrative that both hinder the quest of the Horcruxes while also driving the narrative forward to its ultimate conclusion.

"Deathly Hallows" finds the series entering the endgame as the Wizarding World falling under the control of Voldemort as the Ministry falls to his puppet. Battles occur throughout the book, the first being when Harry leaves Privet Drive for the last time which results in the death of Mad-Eye Moody and the maiming of George Weasley. After the fall of the Ministry, Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run until they infiltrate the Ministry to get a Horcrux from former opponent, Dolores Umbridge. Through the fall and into the winter, their quest is stalled until a turn of events at Malfoy Mansion makes them realize where another Horcrux is. After successfully infiltrating, grabbing another Horcrux, and escaping Gringotts the trio head to Hogwarts after Harry learns from his connection to Voldemort that Hogwarts houses a Horcrux. This return to Hogwarts sets in motion the destruction of the final Horcruxes and the Battle of Hogwart that ends with the duel of Harry and Voldemort. The major subplot of the book are the Deathly Hallows, two of which have been in plain sight for the entire series, but the most noteworthy is the Elder Wand that Voldemort covets to overpower Harry’s wand because what occurred at the end of “Goblet of Fire”. Harry’s obsession with the Hallows do affect the overall quality of the narrative because of their supposed importance is undermined by how late in the series we learn about them and do through shade over a very good book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows the Wizarding World entering a time of darkness as Voldemort has seemingly taken over but with Harry there is hope people cling to. Save for the late inclusion of the titular Deathly Hallows, the idea of which I believe should have been mentioned earlier in the series, Rowlings completes the overall story she began way back in “Sorcerer’s Stone” by showing how everything that happened before has led to the climactic moment at the end of the book. In the end, this final installment of the series gives the reader who has spent time reading the previous six books a very satisfied conclusion to the story of Harry Potter.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Discworld’s most renowned coven is down a witch, but the best replacement has taken her vocal talents to Ankh-Morpork’s Opera House. However, Terry Pratchett isn’t going to miss a chance to let Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg get mixed up in the “Maskerade” at the Opera.

With Magrat now Queen, Granny and Nanny are feeling a bit incomplete but the young, fat and vocally gifted woman they know can join them has left the Ramtops to seek her fortune in Ankh-Morpork but when Granny learns of Nanny’s spicy cookbook they have a reason to head to the big city. Meanwhile, Agnes Nitt aka Perdita X dreams of becoming the next big voice in Opera and she does, unfortunately all they want is her voice for Christine who has that “star factor”. As Agnes pats herself on the back for running away from becoming a witch, the Opera’s “good luck” Ghost starts killing people but while people are worried the show must go on. Inevitably, the three Lancre natives tackle the mystery of the killing Ghost with hilarious results.

“Maskerade” continues the ‘Witches’ sequence of the Discworld novels, but Pratchett’s change up in the coven’s line up creates a better book as the very un-witch like Magrat is replaced by the very witchy Agnes who knows how to deal with Granny and Nanny. After finishing the book I’m looking forward to when Agnes appears again.

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Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

A Major Stumble for the Film Franchise

The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth in the franchise, follows the lead of the titular installment in the Potter book series by focusing not on Harry’s academic life but on his nonacademic pursuits yet fail to convey the importance of items and set the stage for franchise’s final installments as well as add and remove too much.

Though those in charge of production and direction claim “Half-Blood Prince” was boiled down to the essential plot and foreshadowing elements needed for future films likes its three predecessors it is untrue. Throughout the film, as well as in the books, there are two main subplots the revelations of the Voldemort’s Horcruxes and Draco Malfoy’s mission and while the latter was handled perfectly the former was botched with missing scenes that impact future installments. The addition of Jim Broadbent to the cast as Professor Horace Slughorn was a brilliant selection and the Slughorn secondary plot was handled properly in context to the overall Horcrux discovery. The climactic scene in the Astronomy Tower between Dumbledore, Draco, and Snape with Harry watching was brilliantly acted and portrayed making it one of the few highlights of the overall film.

Aside from the edition of Broadbent there were no other major cast additions, the younger cast members performed admirably with the material they were given which is not a slight on them but of the script. Of the older returning cast members of the cast both Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape were excellent given either their primary or major impactful roles in this particular film.

The sixth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is an uneven film, and in my opinion worse than “Goblet of Fire”. My assessment of this film for a non-book reader is that they would find the film incomprehensible as to everything going on, while book readers would question why important scenes were ignored in the Horcrux subplot that would be relevant in the “Deathly Hallows” along with the inclusion of new scenes that did nothing but try to be different from the book. In all honestly, I would rate this film 2 ½ stars instead of 3 if I had the option.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Review: The Art of War by Marc A. Moore

The Art of WarThe Art of War by Sun Tzu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Within “The Art of War” are three distinct though similar treatise written across over 2000 years and three different cultures that instruct the reader not only how to succeed in war but also politics and business.

The opening treatise is the titular “Art of War”, Sun Tzu gives his readers a concise yet in-depth instruction into the how to achieve victory over one’s enemies. Though less than a hundred pages in length, it has to be read carefully to get the full meaning of what the author intends to convey. Yet when boiled down, the most important lesson is simply to be aware of one’s surroundings and other people’s intentions so as to continually be prepared for all situations.

The middle treatise is Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, a how-to course in how to gain and maintain power. The pragmatic program that councils that everything one does must be solely down to maintain one’s, if in the process you must victimize a small minority of your population, so be it, but if some of your actions improve the lives of the majority of your citizens so much the better. Yet, while Machiavelli’s thoughtful approach to studying power politics is the beginning of political theory, “The Prince” is also cutting satire on the Medici who had taken over Florence ending Machiavelli’s civil career. The astute reader realizes that “The Prince” is more than it appears while also achieving its apparent main aim.

The final treatise is Frederick the Great’s “Instructions to His Generals”, in which the celebrated Prussian monarch and military commander gave guidance to his general staff about how to fight war through his own failures and achievements. Unlike Machiavelli’s call for unity or Sun Tzu’s broad principles, Frederick main goal is for the betterment of Prussia and for detailed instructions on everything connected with a military campaign. This single-mindedness and painstaking approach is a lesson in and of itself to the reader to keep their focus on the here and now so as to achieve bigger things down the road, not dream of the far-off future while sacrificing the present.

While distinct, the three treatise in this book are in fact are three different life experiences on the same thing, achieving success at whatever one attempts.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Book Review: American Sweepstakes by Kevin Flynn

American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery AgeAmerican Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age by Kevin   Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Powerball to Mega Millions, nearly everyone in the United States has heard about stage-run lotteries, but just a little over 50 years ago that wasn’t the case as seen in “American Sweepstakes”. In Kevin Flynn’s short history of the birth of the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, the beginning of the modern age of state lotteries is chronicled and how a legal state-run lottery system was created in the process.

Flynn chronicles how the New Hampshire Sweepstakes came into law before back over the relationship between the United States and gambling, both legal and otherwise. Flynn then described the federal laws that New Hampshire needed to tightrope around as well as create a corruption free contest that people would have confidence in. Although many individuals were highlighted in the book, it was Governor John King and the Sweepstakes Direction Ed Powers who dominated the narrative of the history.

Throughout the book, Flynn spends time on a variety of historical subjects that impacted the starting of the Sweepstakes. The Irish Sweepstakes, the acknowledged model for New Hampshire’s law, and the Brink’s Robbery are the two big historical digressions that add to the reader’s perspective of the entire story. In fact foreign policy and federal politics also played a role as both the Kennedy Presidency, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1964 New Hampshire Democratic primary were all contributing factors that were non insignificant.

“American Sweepstakes” does not reach 300 pages, but crunch in that short length Kevin Flynn wrote a concise but thorough history of the state-run lottery that launched the present ‘American Lottery Age’. If you enjoy reading a book about a specific historical event this is the book for you without the dash of agenda politics then this is the book for you, not only do you get the story behind the event but also how other interesting historical events played their own part in a little remember event.

I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: Death Vigil: Volume I by Stjepan Sejic

Death Vigil: Volume 1Death Vigil: Volume 1 by Stjepan Šejić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The battle of good and evil is front and center in Stjepan Sejic’s “Death Vigil: Volume I”. While there are certainly white hats, well hair, and black hats there are some important grey figures intermingling among them with amazing art by writer-artist Sejic keeping the reader engaged through the entire book.

The basics of the story is Death, aka Bernie, selects individuals who die valiantly to become Death Knights to defend the living from Necromancers who attempt to bring primordial beings to Earth. The lead character is Sam, a veteran of the Vigil, who explains the structure and way of life of the Vigil to the newcomer Clara whose induction into the group is hiding something from the primordial realm that pops up in important situations for her character throughout the book. On the other side, the Necromancers are “led” by numerous individuals however the prime mover throughout this book is Maria Benes bargains with ‘the King’ for the translation of a powerful Necromancer in exchange for her taking Bernie’s place. And added to the mix the necromancer characters Alistair and his daughter Mia who side with the Vigil though Alistair and Bernie do like one another

After the initial introduction to the concept of the Vigil, Sejic introduces new things throughout the book interesting ways and foreshadows many things that the reader obviously only recognizes when it comes up against in important points of the story. Throughout the book, the Vigil aligned characters are fond of puns, bad puns at that but all of them acknowledge that the puns are bad which adds a little comic flare. A constant throughout the entire book is the excellent art of Sejic who’s long list of credits gives one the idea about how much his talent is wanted and acknowledged by the comic industry.

Upon finishing “Death Vigil: Volume I” the reader will find like myself that they want more and the dangling story arcs continue and grow over time. But the only way for that to happen is for this book to sell good giving Sejic incentive to writing Volume II. Trust me, you’ll not be sorry about reading this book and will agree on wanting more.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world’s most revered and famous fictional detective first appeared from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle almost a 130 years ago, but the author did not finish with his greatest creation until almost 40 years later even after unsuccessfully killing him off. In this first volume of all the collected works that feature Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson, the reader first meets the great detective and his friend through two short novellas, 23 short stories, and the best-known and greatest case the pair ever faced.

The two-volume collection of the original works of Conan Doyle in the American publication order, begins with the first two Holmes novelettes Study in Scarlett and The Sign of Four which are very well written stories that both introduce the main character Holmes, but also through the eyes of his friend Watson. The next 23 short stories then show the genius and resource of the London-based detective and throughout we are given references to cases we have yet to personally read. Of the those short stories I found six the best of the bunch: “A Scandal in Bohemia”, “The Five Orange Pips”, “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, “Silver Blaze”, “The Musgrave Ritual, and “The Naval Treaty”.

This volume ends with the most famous and definitely the best Sherlock Holmes story of them all, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Even though there have been numerous adaptations of this most famous novel, upon reading it one senses the place on edge, nature seeming on the verge of overpowering man, and the sounds and shadows of mysterious beings across the moor. It was no small fact that nine years after killing off Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote a novel that no only brought make his character but wrote it in such a way that made people engage with both of the main characters instantly.

There seem to be several missteps, namely “The Final Problem” which seems more to do about setting up the final struggle as is to learn more about Professor Moriarty and see the net Holmes had cast instead of just being told. There are just as many of the other short stories that are not the best than there are very good if not great. Sometimes the eye is in the beholder, but others it is not.

Upon finishing this first volume, I enjoyed reading these 26 stories. As a first time reader of Conan Doyle it was fascinating to see how more human Sherlock seems to slowly become over the course of the stories with him as their focus. In the end I can’t stress enough how you should get this book.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The most famous Sherlock Holmes story is easily the best in this volume of the collected works of the character. I do not know what to write, but basically a familial legend seemingly has come to life to claim a respected baronet and seemingly has it's sights set on the man's heir from across the Atlantic. As always Watson describes the action, but it evident that unlike all the shorter stories and the previous novellas this story has a better dramatic arc that keeps the reader engaged.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part III)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Greek Interpreter"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Watson meets Holmes older brother Mycroft, who is smarter but not as energetic as his younger sibling. A fellow club member of Mycroft's came to him with a problem, which lets Sherlock hear as well. Having heard the case and Mycroft's efforts, Sherlock working on events only for the client to get kidnapped. The resolution is both in and out of the protagonist's hands.

"The Naval Treaty"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A case of many misdirections that has the reader guessing until Holmes lets everyone in on the resolution. An English-Italian naval treaty is to be made public and the Foreign Secretary wants a copy made by his nephew, but the treaty is stolen from his desk and after an exhaustive search the young man has a nervous breakdown. After nine weeks abed, he gets word to Watson and Holmes to discuss the case. One of the longer short stories, but never dull.

"The Final Problem"
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The attempt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to kill of Holmes to he could write other things, is unfortunately not a good story. Holmes' arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty debuts almost ensnared by a trap by Holmes to destroy his criminal empire. With Watson, Holmes goes to Europe as his trap is set in motion but Moriarty escapes it while his gang is captured. Moriarty chases down the duo, lures Watson away, and the two men fight before sending one another down into a watery grave supposedly. Without an eyewitness to the struggle and without knowing what Holmes did to destroy Moriarty's empire the read is left somewhat less than satisfied with Sherlock Holmes death.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The 'Gloria Scott'"
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Holmes relates to Watson is first ever case of deduction in which figured out some elements of a college acquaintance's father, who is later blackmailed by someone. After the death of his friend's father, Holmes figures out the riddling note that resulted in his death.

"The Musgrave Ritual"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The second case that Holmes relates to Watson about his early career, as he helped a collegiate friend when mysterious things occur in relation to his long-time butler and one of his maids. Holmes deduces that what his friend believes is three mysteries are in fact one and using the titular ritual discovers the butler and realizes what his friend found when searching for the maid. One of my favorite stories so far.

"The Reigate Puzzle"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Watson convinces an exhausted Holmes to recuperate at a former patient's home, only to suddenly fall into a mysterious case almost next door. Holmes figures out the case and almost gets strangled in the process, but afterwards feels rejuvenated.

"The Crooked Man"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Holmes and Watson investigate the death of a man locked a room with his wife, but with no apparent injuries. The wife is suspected of foul play, but nothing is for certain. However the resolution is in the couple's past in India.

"The Resident Patient"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Holmes and Watson investigate the strange things happening at a doctor's office, but the man who resides at the doctor's office does not want to cooperate. The man is dead the next morning and Holmes lets both Watson and the doctor know what was going on.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Silver Blaze"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of the best Holmes stories I've read so far starts of this collection of stories. A champion racehorse is missing, it's trainer dead, and an big race is within a week of occurring. Holmes is drawn to the case and goes to investigate when asked, bringing Watson along. We later learn that Holmes was thinking to find evidence to prove the guilt of the man arrested for trainer's death, we see his mind open to the evidence and following it to the real conclusion.

"The Yellow Face"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A mystery surrounding a wife, her past, and a neighboring house. Most of this story follows the description of events by client with Holmes coming to the wrong conclusion and telling Watson to remind him of the case whenever he becomes too sure of something in the future.

"The Stock-Broker's Clerk"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A young clerk comes to Holmes with an extraordinary tale, sure that what he has been doing deal with something nefarious. Holmes is glad the young man has come to him and goes with the young man to his place of work only to find out the conspiracy has already fallen apart.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part IV)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A rich American newlywed disappears from her wedding breakfast and her nobleman husband, the gentleman inquires of Holmes to solve the mystery. Holmes does just that and surprises the nobleman with not only his bride but her first husband who had not died as she previously thought.

"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A severely stressed banker arrives at 221B inquiring upon Holmes' services, telling about how a national treasure was placed in security of a loan and said treasure was damaged and partially stolen with his own son implicated. Holmes relieves the man's fears not only about the piece, but about his son as well though not with out exposing an unknown familial secret.

"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Violet Hunter, a governess, comes to Holmes asking for advice about a position she has been offered because the extraordinary details connected with it. Given the absurd amount of money offered, Holmes advises her to take the position but if anything amiss were to occur to contact him immediately. Watson notes that Holmes ponders the young woman's mystery for weeks until they get word from her that something is definitely amiss. Upon meeting her, they learn of the usual things she has been doing and conditions around the house. That night they endeavor to solve the mystery, but learn that the mystery has already been solved though the actions of others. Watson notes that Holmes never again thinks of Ms. Hunter after that night, even though he praised the thoroughness of her descriptions.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part III)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I remember seeing the Jeremy Brett adaptation of this story, so I knew the resolution already. However, actually reading the story for the first time makes me understand why I found the adaptation a great watch because the story it as based on was a very good one.

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sir Arthur's favorite Holmes story, after reading it I understand why he liked it. The mysteriousness of the first victims death as well as a host of potential killers that creates numerous the story can end that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. The resolution at the end of a night time stakeout is good, but it is a bit confusing which takes away the impact.

"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A patient that has lost his thumb has a story Watson knows will intrigue Holmes, he brings the man to his friend and listen as the man gives the tale about how he lost his thumb. While the man's story is engaging, the overall story just wasn't up to anything I've previously read. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"
My ratings: 4 out of 5 stars

Watson joins Holmes on an excursion in Herefordshire to investigate the death of Charles McCarthy, whose son is accused of his murder. The duo meet Lestrade, who is convinced of the young man guilt however he is there at the crime scene when Holmes figures out what happens. The resolution is new and gives insight into Holmes.

"The Five Orange Pips"
My ratings: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A young man comes to Holmes in the midst of a miserable storm with a confounding mystery and sudden family curse. Holmes gives the man instructions, but the next morning finds that the man died on his way to fulfill them. Holmes infuriated, vows to get justice however nature takes its own revenge before he can have his.

"The Man with the Twisted Lips"
My ratings: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Watson meets Holmes in an opium den when searching for one of his patience, after getting the man out and to his wife he inquires why Holmes is there. The latter is searching for a missing man himself because that was the building he was last seen in. Holmes gives Watson the entire story as they go to the man's house, after Watson retires Holmes broods. Early in the morning, Holmes figures the case out and with Watson confronts the suspect about the victim.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"A Scandal in Bohemia"
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The story that brought about numerous fanfiction stories in the Internet Age, Irene Adler gets the best of Sherlock Holmes but only after she figures out at the last minute whom he is during his investigation of her home.

"The Red-headed League"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Although I don't have proof to back this up, this seems to be the prototypical "basement to bank" tunnel mystery story. Given how cliche it has now become, I figured out what Holmes was going to discover early on in the story, but that doesn't mean it isn't bad it's just not as challenging for the reader.

"A Case of Identity"
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Another seemingly prototypical story, a well-to-do (monetarily) young woman falls for a mysterious man that her stepfather--who is barely older than she is--disapproves of but on the way to her wedding her fiance mysteriously disappears. As the young woman tells her story, it is easy to figure out what Holmes' conclusion of the case it going to be.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second investigation involving Holmes and Watson is at first just a consultation that evolves into a murder investigation with fabulous treasure at part of it all. However before mystery begins, Watson gives us a better understanding of Holmes through his personal quirks and foibles that humanizes the great detective giving the reader a better understanding of the main character.

The investigation begins when a young governess Mary Morstan comes to 221B to consult with Holmes a string of curious events that has culminated in a letter asking her to meet with the sender that night. Much intrigued, Holmes takes the case while Watson smitten with young woman. That night they met Thaddeus Sholto who tells Mary about her father's death and his part to play in the string of events that has led as well as her share of the fabulous treasure of Agra. The four go to meet Thaddeus' brother only to find the man dead, which not only changes the situation but puts Holmes in his element.

Unlike the previous Holmes story, Watson plays a bigger part as he retrieves Holmes' favorite hound to track the kills and interacting with Mary numerous times. The story has thrilling climax with a steamboat chase down the Thames, the death of one of the culprits and the capture of the other who has a story to tell.

Overall, I enjoyed this story more than the first but I'm giving it the same rating mainly because of Watson's interactions with Mary are well, so really bad.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was surprised that this is actually an "origin" story--to use a 21st century phrase--of the Holmes & Watson partnership that a "A Study in Pink" episode in the Sherlock BBC series shows. However, having never read a Sherlock Holmes story before everything is new and surprising to me. As to the novella itself...

Dr. John Watson introduces himself and how he met Sherlock Holmes, as well as his new friend/fellow boarder's interests. Then one day Watson makes a comment about an article that Holmes writes and then we learn of Holmes true interest and vocation. And then an unusual murder is committed. Watson goes with Holmes to the scene of the crime, watching what Holmes does there and afterwards. Detectives Gregson and Lestrade each have their own theories, but both are suddenly disappointed when Holmes apprehends the culprit right under their noses.

Then the novella suddenly switches settings halfway across the world following three individuals, two of which die, and the third is the apprehended murderer. This is the backstory of why the murder killed his victims and after returning to the "present" explains how he committed the crimes. Afterwards, Holmes lets Watson know how he came to the correct conclusion and got the culprit to show up to their boarding house.

Overall it was a good first story, though the sudden backstory taking up a quarter of the story at the beginning of Part 2 was a bit off putting.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review: A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

A Clash of Kings  (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

War! The inevitable result of when five men start wearing gold on their brow is “A Clash of Kings” the second book in George R.R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire. After the conclusion of the first book, readers knew things were not going to go as previous fantasy books had gone and were right to expect the unexpected.

Not pulling any punches from the start, Martin once against kills off a character in the prologue but not without introducing three important characters to the overall story who are on the island of Dragonstone. With the Lannister’s backing Joffrey’s claim to the Iron Throne and Robb Stark uniting the North and Riverlands in an independence movement, King Robert’s brothers both declare themselves their brother’s heir. The Baratheon brothers involvement bring about the next bit of magic encountered in the series and pushes towards the book’s big climax in the Battle of the Blackwater which is set up by Tyrion Lannister’s time as Hand of the King for his nephew while battling the “establishment” unlike Ned Stark had been able to do.

However the events in the south aren’t the only game changing events, Theon turns against Robb and takes Winterfell in the name of his father only to ultimately fall leaving the North in chaos. Beyond the Wall, Jon ranges and learns about the Wildlings he is charged to fight against then switches sides. In Essos, Daenerys’ leads her small khalasar through harsh desert to the city of Qarth where she finds empty words and disturbing prophecies before deciding it time to take her growing dragons towards the West.

“A Clash of Kings” finds Westeros torn into pieces with fighting happening everywhere while no knowing the danger gathering beyond the Wall. The political intrigue, growing power of magic, and combat are in abundance as well as revelations of the past adding to the overall tapestry that George R.R. Martin created in the second book of his fantasy epic. After finishing, the reader will wonder what will happen the storm really hits the fan.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Book Review: Oddly Normal (Book 2) by Otis Frampton

Oddly Normal Vol. 2Oddly Normal Vol. 2 by Otis Frampton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oddly Normal’s life in Fignation continues in Book 2 of Otis Framption’s young adult series, as the half-witch learns about her parent’s past while beginning friendships with some of her new classmates. With nice character development and wonderful artwork, this second installment is a wonderful continuation of the “Oddly Normal” series.

After surviving an attack by some of her more nefarious new classmates, Oddly wakes up and talks with her Great Aunt about her parents including looking through some of her mother’s possessions that she kept stored in Fignation and going through one of her mother’s memories. Then Oddly gets an invitation from Ragnar (along with his brother Reggie and friend Misty) to join them at his family “secret” lab, which she does only to return Ragnar’s delivery robot that lost its rockets. Soon Oddly not only finds herself friends but also a pet. But once the weekend is over, the school day seems to go just like her first though a little better with friends.

After establishing his title character in the first book, Frampton expanded Oddly personal history and gave the story some important secondary characters that young adult readers would find engaging that will no doubt help Oddly fit in better in Fignation while her Great Aunt searches for her parents. The wonderful artwork by Frampton is perfect for the age range of the intended audience, though pleasing to those older like myself, and adds to the story being told from panel to panel.

“Oddly Normal Book 2” is a fantastic continuation of Otis Frampton’s young adult series, not only through dialogue and story but most importantly with artwork. Even if you aren’t in the book’s target audience, take a look at Oddly Normal if only to see if your own children or niece/nephew might be interested in following the adventures of this half-witch in an imaginary world.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: Ravine Volume 2 by Stjepan Sejic

Ravine, Volume 2Ravine, Volume 2 by Stjepan Šejić
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The epic fantasy Ravine gets bigger in “Volume 2” as Stjepan Sejic delves into the background of one of his primary characters, one whose anti-hero past is both dark and surprisingly light. Not only does Sejic grow the scale in the story “proper” but his appendix entries makes one wish he had the chance to draw them in epic art instead of prose.

Stein and Lynn join together in their journeys out of Palladia into the territory of the city-state of Wade during which Lynn comes to like the Wanderer, though Stein only tells his traveling companion half-truths about his life while avoiding the darker patches of his personal history. Meanwhile Lynn’s true past surprises and/or angers members of her former Dragoon squad who are sent to meet up in Wade. However Stein’s previous actions and his dark past have him being followed by the Captain of the King’s personal guard who along with a former rural guard-turned-travelling companion interact with someone close to Stein, how they are connected is easily guessed and later confirmed in the appendix tales. The end of the volume has Stein and Lynn facing off with a insane dragonrider terrorizing the trading routes in and around Wade and Palladia, the encounter makes the reader want to see more.

Unfortunately for readers who love both Volumes of Ravine with Sejic’s magnificent art and great storytelling, Volume 2 did not sell well and thus Sejic had to put this series on hold after waiting 11 years to publish this story. If you enjoyed Ravine as much as I do then I encourage you to spread the news about how great Ravine is and get a following for it so Sejic can be able to publish more of this story in the future.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #3)William Shakespeare's Tragedy of the Sith's Revenge by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The dark fate of Anakin Skywalker is realized in “William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge” by Ian Doescher. The final prequel film was witness to the end of love and the rise of empire with little hope at the end, of which Doescher brings out in fantastic Elizabethan language just as Shakespeare would of if he had written it.

The journey of Anakin into Darth Vader alongside the downfall of the Jedi and the Republic to a Sith-led Empire is the central arc of the entire book. Doescher’s use of Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play theme as Palpatine’s vehicle to steer Anakin to the dark side is well done and another impressive choice the author has made throughout this adaptation series. The use of the character Rumour throughout the prequels pays off in this book as this character of Fate is given a departing soliloquy during Anakin and Obi-Wan’s epic duel in Act V. The duel itself is handled masterfully with asides from both characters and direct dialogue between them. Though unable to intertwine the various scenes post-duel, Doescher is able to construct a suitable sequence in which they occur rapidly one upon another to great effect.

The “Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge” lives up to is heartbreaking title, but just as the film it ends with a little glimmer of hope. Doescher hints that he might be adapting the upcoming sequel trilogy, if this is the last adaptation of the Star Wars films into Elizabethan theater then like he begun the series Doescher ends it on a high.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Movie Review: Back to the Future Part II

It's Hard to Follow Up A Classic

It took four years before audiences were able to see “Back to the Future Part II”, however it took me almost 20 years to fully appreciate how Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis were able to return to the original film but seeing it in another angle while going to the future and an alternate universe all the result of time travel.

The clamor of fans, as well as a bottom-line driven film studio, brought about sequel to the 1985 classic that began just where its predecessor left off with Marty, Doc, and Jennifer in the flying DeLorean headed to 2015. In the future, Marty must save his kids from ruining their lives but in exploring Hill Valley of 2015 he gets the attention of old Biff who realizes that Doc invented a time machine. Marty and Doc rescue Jennifer from the future McFly home during which old Biff steals the DeLorean and changes history, which Marty and Doc realize when they return to a dystopian 1985 Hill Valley. The duo travel back to 1955 to undo the damage old Biff had done. The electrifying ending sets up the trilogy’s final installment to perfection.

When I first watched “Back to the Future Part II” in the early 90s, I only so-so liked it because unlike the original and the final films it was so dark. Even with the cool future predicted in the film with hoverboards and hover-converted cars, the dystopia 1985 and it’s shadow over the rest of the film was a downer for my middle school self. However now that I’ve grown up and have a better appreciation of narrative flow that Gale and Zemeckis created in this middle installment and reinforce the dangers of time travel.

If you were like and felt that Part II was always the weakest of the trilogy, look again and appreciate what was accomplished in this film.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: Oddly Normal (Book 1) by Otis Frampton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The trials of middle school are front and center in Otis Frampton’s “Oddly Normal, Book 1”, but unlike other young adult reads the young protagonist just can’t find any luck in either our world or the realm of Fignation. As a fan of Otis’ artwork I’ve known about his relaunch of this series for a few years, but I wish I had grabbed this book earlier than I did.

Oddly Normal, the non-magical daughter of a witch and a normal human, has green hair and pointy ears thus subjecting her to middle school hell. On her 10th birthday she wishes her parents would go away and strangely enough they do. Whisked away to her mother’s home realm of Fignation by her Great Aunt, Oddly enters a new school and finds herself back in middle school hell because instead of being a half-witch in the real world, she is a half-human in the imaginary world. And then she barely escapes an attack on her life.

This young adult graphic novel is not another story in which an social outcast goes to a new school and becomes someone special, it’s a story in which a social outcast goes to a new school and is still a social outcast…if not worse. The artwork and story by Frampton are both excellent and will draw any young reader in because at some time in our younger days we felt like social outcasts, but it seems that poor Oddly has it worse and that makes the reader want to see her overcome things and discover what happened to her parents.

If the ‘young adult’ tag puts you off personally from reading “Oddly Normal” then direct a middle school that you know towards this book and let them follow along as a green-haired, pointy-eared 10 year old tries to navigate not one, but two middle schools in which doesn’t fit.

Book Review: William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #2)William Shakespeare's The Clone Army Attacketh by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Clone Wars begin in “William Shakespeare’s The Clone Army Attacketh” as Ian Doescher continued his adaptation of the Star Wars franchise for the Elizabethan theater. As with the film, the Doescher focus’ the play on the love story of Anakin and Padme as the sparks of war whip around them and ignite the galaxy aflame in conflict.

Described as the Star Wars saga’s “romantic” film, the central story of Episode II was that of Anakin and Padme falling in love which Doescher focused much of his energy in establishing in “Attacketh”. Creating one big scene at the beginning of Act III, Doescher gathered influence from Shakespeare’s other romantic scenes especially “Romeo and Juliet” to adequately create this central love story to the stage. Throughout the rest of the book, Doescher continues his excellent adaptation of the Star Wars’ films in dialogue and stage management to seamless perfection for an audience in the last 16th-century. His inclusions of Rumor as a character helps transition the play in necessary intervals dictated due to the poor construction of the film this book was based on, which will not be discussed in this review.

At the end of “The Clone Army Attacketh”, Doescher makes this adaptation more palatable than “Attack of the Clones” was on screen, which only makes the reader admire his work even more. The penultimate installment of the Star Wars saga is now something fans would enjoy watching.

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Movie Review: Back to the Future

Just A Great Film

What is to be said that hasn’t already been said about “Back to the Future”, the 1985 time-travel classic that made Michael J. Fox a breakout film star, well not that much and so I’ll be brief with this review.

Marty McFly, a skateboarding underachieving guitar-playing high school student, helps Emmett “Doc” Brown with an experiment in which Doc’s DeLorean travels in time. Before Doc can travel into the future, he is killed and as Marty drives for his life he travels back to 1955 and stops his parents from falling in love. As the 1955 Doc repairs the time machine, Marty races to get his parents to fall in love and prevent his erasure from history.

Starting at the top with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, the casting is perfect and created perfect chemistry that make the film a classic. The setting of 1955 Hill Valley, CA was created perfectly and only added to making the film fantastic. The writing of Bob Gale and the direction of Robert Zemeckis were superb in seeing their dream film come to the screen.

Even though the film was released 30 years ago, it’s hasn’t aged and is still a great film to watch. I don’t know what more to say to make you watch it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Ravine Volume 1 by Stjepan Sejic

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have been an admirer of the fantastic artwork of Stjepan Sejic for years and could not wait to get my hands on “Ravine” after seeing preview pieces on his DeviantArt account. The book’s is named after the continent on which this epic fantasy story takes place in numerous kingdoms amongst several different cultures and religious beliefs that influence the world in which the main characters find themselves and by the end of the book the reader finds out those two characters are not well thought of.

Dragons, humans, and in-between half-blood species form the populace of the continent of Ravine separated into several kingdoms and tribes, however there are some individuals that are not bound by borders or laws—Wanderers. These individuals are the hands of Fate, bonded to their magical grimlas weapons and we follow two of them—Stein Phais and Lynn de Luctes. Stein begins “Ravine” as a notorious Wanderer while Lynn is a dragonrider-in-trainer and ends the book a newly bonded Wanderer. Between following these two individuals Sejic builds the world they inhabit especially the growing tension between the sectarian and religious powers in the continent’s grand Alliance, but Sejic also teases a look at the nefarious elements that are making those tensions worse because of their own plans. After around 140 pages of story, Sejic ends the book with almost 20 pages worth of worldbuilding material that further develops the background of the continent of Ravine and makes the reader interested in seeing what will happen in Volume 2.

Characters, story, and art all make “Ravine” a must read for any epic fantasy comic readers and those who just enjoy epic fantasy in any medium. Stjepan Sejic’s 11 year development of his world results in a magnificent first installment.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #1)William Shakespeare's The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ian Doescher takes on the task of bringing the Star Wars prequels to the Elizabethan stage in “William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace” to fantastic results that will be jarring to any of those who dislike the film. Given the first prequel’s notorious reputation amongst the Star Wars fandom, Doescher gives the maligned film a magnificent theatrical presentation that would make any hardcore fan happy.

The biggest issue Doescher had to deal with was obviously Jar Jar Binks, who instead of being just a vacant-minded fool is instead a radical-who-plays-the-fool to help united the Gungans with the Naboo. As one reads, you notice the subtlety that Doescher gives to Jar Jar as the acting fool in front of everyone else and his true political radical personality in soliloquies and asides. The other issue that Doescher dealt with was the 10-minute podrace, his answer was by following Shakespeare’s led in having Padme and Jar Jar act as messengers relating the action of the race to Qui-Gon and Shmi and those the audience. Once Doescher had dealt with these two big issues the rest of “The Phantom of Menace” was like his previous three Star Wars Shakespearean adaptations, keep true to the film while adding background for characters in soliloquies and asides. Doescher even has fun with Qui-Gon and Mace Windu’s dialogues by sprinkling references to Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson’s other film roles but still staying true to the scene in which they are in.

Overall “The Phantom of Menace” is a wonderful adaptation and is a credit to Ian Doescher’s imaginative writing that makes it feel better than its film inspiration. Whether or not you like The Phantom Menace, if you like Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations do not hesitate to read this one because you will enjoy it.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

Interesting Times (Discworld, #17; Rincewind #5)Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Discworld’s Counterweight Continent is explored for the first time in the series as author Terry Pratchett sends the inept wizard Rincewind to the walled off landmass where he meets up with some old friends in a reunion of the series’ first two books.

The Discworld’s version of China & Japan is the Agatean Empire, a mysterious place which only the rest of the Discworld can speculate about, sends a message to Ankh-Morpork for the ‘Great Wizzard’. After several uses of magical quantum mechanics transportation and threats Rincewind finds himself in the middle of a battlefield as the five warlord families are preparing for the succession war upon the Emperor’s death. Unfortunately for Rincewind he finds himself the focus of the rebellious Red Army as well as Lord Hong, who is secretly funding the rebels as part of his plan to conquer Ankh-Morpork once he is Emperor. Along with Rincewind return to prominence is Cohen the Barbarian and Twoflower, though the former’s story arc is bigger and best secondary plot of the book while the latter’s two daughters are part of the Red Army’s leadership. And despite his best efforts Rincewind is always in the center of the action as he is unknowingly the favorite ‘pawn’ of The Lady in her game against Fate.

The return of Rincewind and Cohen after so long being written about is a welcoming development in ‘Interesting Times’ and Pratchett seems to enjoy allowing his first protagonist to suffer the excitement of grand adventures, especially after seeing where Rincewind finds himself at the end of the book.

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Way of Kings is Brandon Sanderson’s opening volume in a new epic fantasy series, bringing his unique world building and ability to construct magical systems to the land of Roshar.  Through the viewpoints of four primary characters, Sanderson opens his epic with a wide view of his new world however seemed to let the story more than what was necessary.

The majority of the book revolves around Kaladin Stormblessed; though first seen through the eyes of a young soldier, his point-of-view begins with him as a former soldier and now a slave on his way towards the battlefield he had always wanted to go to while a soldier.  Kaladin’s struggle as a slave bridgeman that looks to save himself and then his fellow bridge team members takes up most of the book, but interwoven are flashback chapters relating events in Kaladin’s life that led to his eventual slavery.  Sanderson slowly develops Kaladin’s leadership of his bridge team as well as his slowly growing “magical” powers that come together at the end of the book to bring one phase of his character development to completion.

Two other major characters at the same battlefield are highprince Dalinar along with his eldest son, uncle and cousin to the King in charge of the army.  The two lords deal more with politics than battles until later in the book and when they do turn to the war; their life-and-death situation brings them into contact with Kaladin and setting the stage for the next book.  Away from the other three characters is Shallan, who ventures to be the ward of Dalinar’s scholarly niece Jasnah and steal the magical soulcaster that she possesses to save Shallan’s family from ruin after the death of Shallan’s father.  All three characters are in for surprises in their own story arcs.

While Sanderson opens his epic series in grand fashion, the main problem with The Way of Kings is frankly the length of the book.  While information and telling action is generally good, there can be too much of a good thing and this opening volume unfortunately suffers from that.  Repetitive descriptions during the same action sequence could have better edited without losing the intensity of what was happening, numerous internal thoughts did no need to be repeated over and over in a character’s chapters several times each.  It was the little things that were easily correctable that harmed this book that makes it really stand out.

Overall The Way of Kings is a good, though lengthy, read and made me want to see where Sanderson goes next in the second volume.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: The Rise of the Great Powers 1648-1815 by Derek McKay and H.M. Scott

The Rise of the Great Powers 1648-1815The Rise of the Great Powers 1648-1815 by Derek McKay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The Rise of the Great Powers, 1648-1815" is the history of how the European State system that existed in the century before World War I, given that premise historians Derek McKay and H.M. Scott focus on the diplomatic developments from the end of the Thirty Years War to the end of the Congress of Vienna.  Even with the focus of the book being on the diplomatic side of events, the complexity of events from military events to economic concerns to internal state struggles over foreign policy are discussed as all three and more influenced how diplomacy was handled.  In the course of approximately 170 years, the landscape of European power shifted numerous times as old powers fell away (Spain) or the new grew in strength (France, Britain, Russia, Prussia) or briefly existed (the Dutch Republic and Sweden) or endured despite weakness (Austria); all told in clear language and easily readable for the history enthusiast to get a general perspective of the time period.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second time I've read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but the first since finishing Deathly Hallows and first time reading it critically. I've tailored this review in the following in mind: the intended audience for the book (much younger than myself) and its place in the series.

"Half-Blood Prince" is over 200 pages shorter than its immediate predecessor in the series as Rowlings transitioned from focusing on the events in Hogwarts to worrying situation in the Wizarding World since Voldemort’s public appearance near the end of “Order of the Phoenix”.  Turning the focus away from what was occurring in most of Harry’s classes and more about his nonacademic life, especially in relation to his love life.  Once again the past history of the wizarding world is a central theme of the book, but this time centered on Tom Marvolo Riddle aka Voldemort, to understand how Harry can defeat the Dark Lord.  With considerable skill Rowlings crafted all these new elements in the series, but seemed to shortcut her development of major established characters that took something away from the narrative a tad.

"Half-Blood Prince" finds the series’ overall story having entered into the Wizarding World in a time of war, fully transitioned into a darker mood that only gets darker with what is learned and what occurs.  Before even getting to Harry, we follow the Muggle Prime Minister and learn of Snape’s residence while learning about an order that Draco Malfoy is to carry out at Hogwarts.  Throughout the book, Harry and Dumbledore interact more than they ever have before as they navigate the past through other’s memories to find out how Voldemort survived his first encounter with Harry, through use of Horcruxes.  The major subplot of the book is Harry’s investigation of Draco throughout the year even though his friends and even Dumbledore tell him not to worry about it, however the events at the end of the book seem to prove Harry correct.  The academic develops in “Half-Blood Prince”, save for Potions, take a backseat to everything else going on which given how “Deathly Hallows” is written is foreshadowing what is truly important for the story as a whole.  The relationships of Ron-Hermione and later Harry-Ginny seem both confusing and rushed, but given Mrs. Weasley’s comments about Bill & Fleur it seemed that Rowlings’ gave herself some literary cover on this point.  As it turns out “Half-Blood Prince” is both a book in itself, but also setting up the events of the final book given the mission Harry commits himself to by refusing to return to Hogwarts.  And with Dumbledore’s death, the stage is set for anything to happen in the growing darkness.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince continues the dark trend the series is headed towards, though even as the Wizarding World gets embroiled in war, Rowlings shows that rays of light do pierce the night. Unlike “Order of the Phoenix”, Rowlings included only a few new additions that were strictly to help the narrative of the book along in certain places while also helping create important segments in the overall story.  While not as long as the previous two books, “Half-Blood Prince” is its own narrative while building the overall story towards the series’ climax and setting up for “Deathly Hallows”.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

 Slight Missteps Don't Harm This Very Good Adaptation

The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the franchise, brings darker themes to film that were prominent in the book to life both in and around Hogwarts as well as the wizarding world at large.

As with the last two films, “Order of the Phoenix” was boiled down to the essential plot and foreshadowing elements needed for future films. Unlike its immediate predecessor the film “Order of the Phoenix” was almost as well done as “Prisoner of Azkaban” with only minor transitions and plot tent poles either mishandled or poorly represented. The bureaucratic terror inflicted upon Hogwarts by Dolores Umbridge, brilliantly played by Imelda Staunton, is well handled as well as the subplot of Dumbledore’s Army along with its discovery. The climactic battle within the Ministry was a mixture of more good than bad, however there were elements that hurt the over presentation that hurt the overall product, namely how much weaker Dumbledore appeared during his duel with Voldemort.

Besides the brilliant work of Staunton, the rest of the main cast that has grown with the series did tremendous jobs though Emma Watson seemed to particularly stand out in every scene she was in. The older members of the cast, including those from previous films that returned in this film, did well as could be expected with the roles they were given in this particular film. Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore doesn’t look as impressive in action as the character is written in Rowling’s book, which I fault film’s writers and director instead of the actor. Gary Oldman’s Sirius Black hits all the right notes throughout the film so as to make his exit all the more impactful.

The fifth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is a pretty good film, although it stumbles here and there it is clearly a step above “Goblet of Fire”. The darker themes present in “Order of the Phoenix” herald the trouble ahead mirroring the book in a very good adaptation of the book making this film deserving of its 4-star rating.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Soul Music (Discworld, #16)Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Disc is experiencing some supernatural change as Death becomes existential and music gets itself some soul.  “Soul Music”, the 16th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, focuses once on Death along with his family and a professional colleague as they deal with him letting off his duties again, only for the power of music to interfere in Death’s duty as well.

The death of Death’s adopted daughter and his former apprentice leaves “him” feeling existential and looking for answers in total contradiction with his duty, however unlike before there is someone to fill in for him—his granddaughter, Susan Sto Helit.  However getting Susan to take up the position is up to Death of Rats, who attempts to help the novice Grim Reaper learn the family trade.  However, Susan comes up against something “supernatural” that prevents her from fulfilling her duty to an aspiring musician in The Mended Drum in Ankh-Morpork.  Imp the Bard, aka Buddy, wants to be the greatest musician in the world and attracts that attention of the Music embodied in a guitar that Buddy purchases after his harp is destroyed.  Buddy along with Glod the dwarf who blows his horn and Cliff the Troll who drums his rocks create a new sound, Music with Rocks In.  It is Buddy’s prevented Death that forces Susan and then dear old Grandfather to deal with the Music in the end.

“Soul Music” is a mixture of good and bad making it one of Pratchett’s weakest works so far.  The positive parts all deal with Death, Susan, Death of Rats, Archchancellor Ridcully, and the always funny Librarian.  However, almost in a direct counterweight is the bad which deals with almost everything connected to parodying of early rock and roll music and the popular cultural surrounding it.  The parody and jokes almost seemed copy and pasted from “Moving Pictures” only being changed from films to music in presentation.  Given my low rating of “Moving Pictures” it effectively forced my rating of this book as well.

Overall, I think “Soul Music” is a good fun book to read but not up to the earlier Death books of the Discworld series which is a shame considering the great new character of Death’s granddaughter Susan Sto Helit.  I recommend readers looking to try a Discworld book not to read this book first, check out some of the better books before trying this one.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world is dying and everyone is looking for "The Hero of Ages" to save it and them in the conclusion of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.  As Vin and Elend attempt to save as many people as possible, they also are racing to find answers left behind by Rashek, the Lord Ruler, to battle the god Ruin and preserve their world as best they can, the rest of the survivors of Kelsier's crew do their best to help throughout the Final Empire.

A year after Vin released Ruin from the Well of Ascension, Elend and she race around the Empire in search of cache's left by the Lord Ruler in the event of his failure to keep Ruin imprisoned.  While besieging Fadrex City, Vin gets captured by it's obligator-king only to find herself also confronting Ruin himself and learning her place in his 'plans'.  Meanwhile Spook, Breeze, and Sazed attempt to gain control of another cache in Urteau ruled by a Church of the Survivor zealot as both Spook and Sazed deal with major psychological conflicts that has a profound impact on the world itself.  And interweaving is the struggle of Kelsier's brother turned Inquistor Marsh, the chief pawn of the god Ruin who alternatively desires the destruction of the world and himself.

"The Hero of Ages" successes in getting all the interwoven story arcs, of both the book itself and the trilogy as a whole, to a successful conclusion at the end of the book unlike it's predecessor "The Well of Ascension" which struggled with it's internal story arcs at the end.  The complexity and brilliance of the system-of-magic created by Sanderson is in full display as well as the fantastic battle scenes using it.  Sanderson also successes in writing a classic misdirection of prophetic fulfillment that doesn't taking away from the whole of the trilogy, but fits perfectly together at the end when looking back over everything in hindsight.  If there is one flaw, it is the unfortunate rehashing of events numerous times usually in internal monologue.  While a certain character's internal monologue of rehashing events or things, it was unnecessary to be done by others on a repeated basis.

While some of the internal monologues are drag in the middle of the book, it can not take too much away from a fantastically written conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy.  "The Hero of Ages" brings culmination to a series of events to the Mistborn world not just over a five year period, but of a thousand and of an infinity of length.  This book and the series as a whole is highly recommended.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Confirming Justice by Diane & David Munson

Confirming Justice (Justice Series #2)Confirming Justice by Diane Munson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In "Confirming Justice" by wife-husband authors Diane & David Munson, who use their professional law enforcement and legal experience, create realistic crime fiction.  Just like in the their first book a significant Christian imprint appears throughout the book in numerous character's story arcs.

Unlike the author's first book, there is no central plot in "Confirming Justice" instead they intermingle two strong story arcs that from time-to-time merged briefly before once again separating before coming together to achieve a climax.  The two main characters in the book were both secondary characters introduced in the previous book, Judge Dwight Pendergast and FBI agent Griff Topping.  Pendergast's arc shows a fair minded jurist not allowing his thoughts for a particular defendant influence the handling of a trial, then dealing with health and family concerns before and during the announcement that he is a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Topping's arc begins with him attempting to find a fellow agent who is testifying in jury presided by Judge Pendergast then being asking by the judge afterwards to work on a private matter to find his long-lost older brother and while doing so stumbles upon a major drug case that partners him with former colleague.

Both main story arcs are well written and are the main reason why I gave this book the rating it has, but unfortunately other elements are also why I gave this book the rating I did.  The secondary characters in "Confirming Justice" fall into either one of two categories, well-rounded and flat, and are evenly divided between both which hurts the narrative.  The nefarious behind-the-scenes political intrigue subplot is unfortunately more a hindrance to the book's quality than a benefit.  And like "Facing Justice" this book has Christian faith, or lack of it in most cases, prominent throughout numerous character's lives, while this is not a negative in and of itself, the heavy-handed nature of it even made a Christian like myself think it was too much.

After finishing "Confirming Justice", I thought it was a nice second effort by the authors especially in terms of the main story arcs however it faulted in other areas which has made me decided not to continue the series.

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book Review: Legends edited by Robert Silverberg

LegendsLegends by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The eleven stories with in this first "Legends" anthology are by some of the best writers of fantasy and science fiction, both in prose and sales.  Edited by Robert Silverberg, who also contributed as well, the stories range within their established fictional worlds from stand alone either connect with the main series or in-between main series books or prequels with mixed results.

The best stories whether, stand alone or prequel, had the same things in common.  First the reader did not need to know anything about the fictional setting from any previous location as the authors used the stories to introduce the audience to their written creations.  Second, the story usually followed just one character, at most two if change of perspective was easily denoted, allowing the narrative to be tight given average 65 pages each story took.  Those that were on the bottom end of the scale were the exact opposite as they relied too much on the reader already knowing the story's universe and too many characters or point-of-view changes to keep track of (or both!).

Unfortunately two of the weakest stories are at the very beginning and the end of the anthology, however of the nine stories in the middle of the anthology seven were at the least very good and make this fantastic purchase for anyone who gets it.

Individual Story Ratings
The Dark Tower: The Little Sisters of Eluria by Stephen King (3.5/5)
Discworld: The Sea and Little Fishes by Terry Pratchett (4.5/5)
The Sword of Truth: Debt of Bones by Terry Goodkind (3.5/5)
Tales of Alvin Maker: Grinning Man by Orson Scott Card (4/5)
Majipoor: The Seventh Shrine by Robert Silverberg (3.5/5)
Earthsea: Dragonfly by Ursula K. Le Guin (4/5)
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: The Burning Man by Tad Williams (5/5)
A Song of Ice and Fire: The Hedge Knight by George R.R. Martin (5/5)
Pern: Runner of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (4.5/5)
The Riftwar Saga: Wood Boy by Raymond E. Feist (5/5)
The Wheel of Time: New Spring by Robert Jordan (2.5/5)

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