Saturday, December 31, 2016

Book Review: The Hitler Options edited by Kenneth Macksey

The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War IIThe Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of World War II by Kenneth John Macksey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Within the realm of alternate history literature and scenarios, World War II is particularly prominent for fiction authors and historians to ponder on. In The Hitler Options: Alternate Decisions of WWII, ten military historians—which included book editor Kenneth Macksey—looked at scenarios which could have changed the course of the war towards the Third Reich and its Axis partners against the Allies or that the Allies could have decided to the detriment of the Nazis.

The scenarios ranged from the decision to invade England soon after the end of the Battle of France to the Axis securing the Mediterranean before turning to the Soviet Union to linking up with the Japanese to focusing on a jet fighter instead of a jet bomber. While eight of the scenario focused on decisions benefiting the Nazis, two focused on decisions the Western Allies could have made to fight the war differently. The two Allied focused scenarios, “Through the Soft Underbelly” and “Operation ARMAGGEDON”, were among best written in the book along with the Nazi focused “Operation SPINX”, “Operation WOTAN”, and “Operation GREENBRIER”.

While the five other scenarios were just as interesting, the style the author chose to write them undermined their overall effectiveness to some degree especially when compared those scenarios cited above as. Then ten scenarios came up a total of 216 pages, which came out to just barely 20 pages per scenario when excluding maps used for each. This short length for each scenario to be developed in my opinion hurt some of the less impressive scenarios and could have added depth to some of the best as well.

Overall The Hitler Decisions is a good book for those interested in alternate history, especially concentrated around World War II. Yet, there are some drawbacks with the relatively short length average of each piece that hurt some of the scenarios along with stylistic choices.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Book Review: The Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land and Other PoemsThe Waste Land and Other Poems by T.S. Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first three published poetic volumes of T.S. Eliot career were a sudden surprise upon the literary community, but it was the third that became a centerpiece of modernist poetry. Published within a 5 year period during which not only Eliot’s style was refined but also influenced by his personal life and health. Throughout the rest of his career, Eliot would build upon and around these works that would eventually lead to the Noble Prize in Literature and a prominent place in today’s literature classes.

While I am right now in no way ready to critique Eliot’s work, I will do so in the volume it was presented in. While the publishers and editors wanted to present Eliot’s work with his personal Notes or footnotes in the back of the book to preserve the author’s intention of presentation, over the course of reading the exercise of going from the front of the book to the back to understand the footnotes became tiresome. And while reading “The Waste Land” I had three places marked in my book so as to read the poem and then look at Eliot’s own Notes and the publisher’s footnotes, which quickly became a trial.

This is a book I’m going to have to re-read over and over again for years to come to truly appreciate Eliot’s work. If you’re a better rounded literary individual than I am then this volume will probably be for you as it presents Eliot’s work in the forefront with no intruding footnotes at the bottom of the page; however if you are a reader like myself who wants to enjoy Eliot but needs the help of footnotes I suggest getting another volume in which footnotes are closer to the text they amply.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review: Voices of the Rocks by Robert M. Schoch

Voices of the Rocks : A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient CivilizationsVoices of the Rocks : A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations by Robert M. Schoch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The question on how to view the physical changes of the Earth as well as how and if it effects civilization, dominates the discussion in Dr. Robert M. Schoch’s Voices of the Rocks. Looking through the geological record as well as numerous other sciences, Dr. Schoch puts forwards a different way to look at the history of the Earth and how mankind is affected.

The primary purpose of Dr. Schoch’s book is to propose a different way of viewing how natural laws and processes operate in the universe from the (then) dominate Uniformitarianism and the opposing Catastrophism. The result is a synthesis of the two viewpoints, uniformitarianism with periodic catastrophes which how now become dominate in scientific thinking, however Schoch attaches this synthesis with the Gaia hypothesis that at the time was still be debated but is now being included in larger scientific thought. Although this scientific terminology might seem daunting Schoch writes for the layman who might remember things for high school or college, but isn’t an expert.

Although Schoch’s main emphasis is scientific thought, the subtitle of his book “A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes & Ancient Civilizations” points to the fact that Schoch takes a look at human history as well. Schoch came to fame when he released his geological study on the Great Sphinx that dated it to 7000-5000BCE, much older than the 2500BCE that Egyptologists have dated it. Schoch defends his findings in the case of the Sphinx in terms for a layman but doesn’t go in-depth in detail and terminology as that is not his main purpose in the book. However, Schoch uses his study and the ensuing debate about the progress of civilization and societies to highlight how the rise and collapse of many cultures over time and around the world have been impacted by catastrophic factors both on Earth and from outside of Earth.

While Schoch admits that many of the theories about civilizations and events in Earth’s past are based on his interruption of the evidence proposed either by himself or others who’s work he agrees with, they are an invaluable read whether one agrees with Schoch or not. Yet Schoch also aims at debunking many, some would call them outlandish, theories proposed by von Daniken, Hancock, Stitchin, and many others by the same process of looking at the evidence. Overall while Schoch does incorporate a study of ancient civilizations and societies while looking at his overarching scientific premise, it is more a supporting role.

Overall Schoch’s handles the science very well, his handle on history and societal elements he brings up is unfortunately not so good with many glaring mistakes that even a causal reader will catch. Schoch’s writing style is very fluid and keeps the reader engaged throughout the text, even when his mishandles either history or ancient cultural references. I came to this book with an eye towards the ‘ancient civilization’ in the subtitle in researching for a story I’ve been planning to write for over a decade and while I didn’t get exactly what I was expecting, the scientific information and Schoch relating of his own theories or the theories of other established scientists more than made up for that. Yet I can neither recommend nor warn people way from this book because my purpose for reading is something different from the norm.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Book Review: The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett

The Last Hero (Discworld, #27; Rincewind #7)The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gods are on notice as the greatest heroes of the Disc are headed for their heavenly abode on a quest to return the fire stolen by the first hero, except there’s a catch. The illustrated Discworld novella The Last Hero is the twenty-seventh in the humorous fantasy series written by Terry Pratchett and assisted by artist Paul Kirby. And once again Pratchett follows his first protagonist Rincewind racing to save the world.

Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde have left their imperial possessions on the Counterweight continent and are heading for the home of the Disc’s Gods with the gift of fire first stolen by the legendary First Hero, unfortunately the old men are planning to blow the place to smithereens which would have the unfortunate side effect of destroying the Disc. To the rescue is Leonardo da Quirm, Captain Carrot, and a reluctant Rincewind—who only joins because if he didn’t he’d find himself on the journey by some horrible twist of fate—traveling the quickest way they can get to the abode of the Gods, over the Rim and through space. This short story is given a remarkable boost with the illustrations of Paul Kirby who brings to life so many great characters from all over the Disc, as well as two new secondary characters. Yet not only do characters get a stunning portrayal but so does the geography of the Disc as well in stunning pictures that makes you just want to stop reading and stare at them to take in all the details.

The novella itself is pretty straight forward unlike a regular Discworld novel in which little sidebars populate the narrative to humorous effect, but with The Last Hero the illustrations more than make up for that. While considered a part of the Rincewind series, the Disc’s worst wizard is more a tag along character in a story dominated by usually secondary characters. However for longtime fans this won’t be a problem given the story and the amazing illustrations.


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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Book Review: My Turn: A Life of Total Football by Johan Cruyff

My Turn: A Life of Total FootballMy Turn: A Life of Total Football by Johan Cruyff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

Total Football burst into the popular consciousness with the Dutch national team at the 1974 World Cup led by Johan Cruyff. In Cruyff’s posthumously published autobiography My Turn, the former player and manager talks about the course and evolution of his entire life in football as well after his time actively involved in the sport.

Cruyff is upfront from the outset that he won’t recount every big match, for him the important thing was the development of technique and the evolution of getting better by learning from successes and failures. However, Cruyff’s explanation of his development as a player as well as the style he both played and coached are a fascinating read in which the results of certain matches come in to play. Cruyff’s stories about growing up at Ajax from a ball boy then through the developmental system give a insight about how talent is developed over in Europe, especially once he explains what he took away from how talent was developed in the United States when he played in the NASL. Yet, the most interesting stories were Cruyff’s time at Barcelona and the politics of Catalonia and Spain were a literal culture shock to him and his family.

The latter part of the book covers Cruyff’s most “controversial” time in football, his managerial tenures at Ajax and Barcelona as well as the shakeups to both clubs that he was an advisor for to bring them both to prominence. Cruyff is upfront about his thought about his loathing of boardroom managing the pitch in place of the pitch dictating the boardroom. For Cruyff this direction from on high, especially at Ajax is one of the reasons that the style of Total Football that he advocates is no longer seen in Dutch football as both technique and fundamentals instilled at an early age are never truly developed because of the increasing change of trainers and development personal because of agendas of non-football individuals who have an agenda of their own. This critique of money interfering goes handed in hand with Cruyff’s explanation of his preferred style of football as well as a rather informative explanation of the tactics of football is easy to understand even for those uninformed about the game.

Although My Turn seems to have been cut short by Cruyff’s death in March 2016, it is still a wonderful read for anyone interest in football or sports biographies.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volumes I & II) by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1 by Edward Gibbon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers the first 26 chapters of the author’s epic historical work. Beginning with the death of Domitian and ending with Theodosius I’s treaty with the Goths and early reign, Gibbon’s spans nearly 300 years of political, social, and religious history on how the great empire of antiquity slowly began to fade from the its greatest heights.

The history of the decline of Rome actually begins by showing the nearly century long period of rule of the “Five Good Emperors” as Gibbon shows the growth of absolute power of the Principate was governed by able and intelligent men. With succession of Commodus Gibbon illustrated what the power of the Principate would do for an individual who was a corrupt and tyrannical ruler. Gibbon’s then examines the political and military fallout of the death of Commodus with the declaration of five emperors in less than a year and rise of the Severan dynasty by conquest. Gibbon reveals underlining causes of era of the ‘Barracks Emperors’ and what historians call, “the Crisis of the Third Century”.

With the ascension of Diocletian and through him the rise of the House of Constantine, Gibbon explores the political and bureaucratic reforms began and developed that would eventually divide the empire in his view. After Constantine’s rise to sole emperor, Gibbon then delves into the early history of Christianity before its adoption by the founder of Constantinople. Beginning with Constantine, the last half of this particular volume as the history and theological developments of Christianity as a central narrative as one of the contributing factors of the decline of the Roman Empire.

Although the description above might make one pause at starting the heavy work, Gibbon’s style and prose make history come alive with every word and gives the reader a sense of the grand scale of historical forces while not overwhelming them. While every reader will have their own verdict on if Gibbon’s arguments and interruptions of history are correct, each avid history lover will find this opening volume of Gibbon’s magnum opus an engaging beginning in examining how one of the foundation stones of Western Civilization came to its political end while passing on its laws and culture to Europe.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Book Review: The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White

The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The whole of sacred history is centered on one individual, Jesus Christ, either through the prophecies and sacrificial meanings of the Old Testament or the good news of His life and message in the New. The Desire of Ages is the seminal work of Ellen G. White’s Conflict of Ages series in which the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is examined in great detail to show the love of God for man. Through over 800 pages of wonderful, engaging writing the 33 years of when the Son of God walked shoulder-to-shoulder with man.

The Desire of Ages is not a strict chronological retelling of the Gospels; instead it is a more in-depth look into the life and teachings of Christ to reveal the love of God for man. Yet, while White focuses on Christ’s mission to save man and show the true nature of God she does not shy away from explaining the challenges Jesus faced during His ministry. The Messianic expectations of Jewish culture before, during, and after Christ’s life were fully explained by White and how throughout His ministry it hindered his efforts to turn hearts to the Father. Alongside the cultural expectations was the hatred of the religious establishment that saw Jesus as a threat to their authority even though mean thought He might be the Christ. And finally the hardest burden Christ dealt with was His disciples whose earthly expectations and resulting disappointment continually saddened their Teacher.

The Desire of Ages is the central volume of the five-book Conflict of Ages series just as Christ is the central pillar of sacred history. For many, including myself, Ellen White’s book on the life of Christ is best spiritual book on His life outside of the Bible because of the in-depth perspective she writes and expounds upon. At the end of the book as heaven rejoices at Jesus triumphant ascension to rejoin His Father as our mediator, White reveals how the disciples returned to Jerusalem just as joyously knowing Christ reigned with His Father. Through the Acts of the Apostles the good news of Christ would begin to be spread around the world.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: Waiting to Die Longing to Love by Russell Lanier

Waiting to Die Longing to LoveWaiting to Die Longing to Love by Russell K. Lanier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rusty Lanier’s book about his struggle with addiction and how he was able to overcome it is an encouraging read for anyone dealing with the same disease. Even though the book is 342 pages long, don’t let the length fool you as to the quickness about which you can get through it especially as Lanier’s writing style adds to the easy of the reading.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: Desire of the Everlasting Hills by Thomas Cahill

Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After JesusDesire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The hinge in history that has been the central pillar of Western civilization is not a cultural change nor a particular people but one man, Jesus of Nazareth. Thomas Cahill explores the developments of thought before and after Jesus in Desire of the Everlasting Hills through the lens of Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures, his mother Mary, Paul, Luke, Early Christians, and John to reveal how one life both continued and changed the progression of Western thought.

Over the course of 320 pages, Thomas Cahill focused on Jesus of Nazareth as the central figure in the West. However from the outset Cahill makes it clear that the role of Jesus is how others perceived him both during his life and after his time on Earth. While following Jesus during his ministry, Cahill highlighted the essential Jewishness of Jesus’ message and how some considered his message unrealistic while others found hope. After Jesus’ time on Earth, a phrase I must use since Cahill does not state one way or another on the event of the Resurrection save mentioning it, the essence of his divinity was shaped by Paul’s Jewish perspective, Luke’s gentile perspective, and John the Evangelist’s intimate perspective. Cahill’s conclusion is that while Jesus is central to the West, the West as a whole has essentially ignored his teachings but a small few due resulting in the slow but development of the ideas that define Western civilization.

While Cahill’s analysis and themes are a thought provoking read, I did have some serious issues. The first is the same as in his previous book, The Gift of the Jews, which is in some of Cahill’s interpretation and subsequent logical construction of his evidence whether through scripture or an analysis of non-Biblical sources to weave his thesis. The second is partially related and that is Cahill tries to weave a middle course between Jesus as man and Jesus as divine without really take a stand either way. While objectivity can be commended, the book read as a Christian trying too hard to look discuss Jesus from a secular point of view.

Regardless of one’s view of Jesus of Nazareth, no one can deny that he is the central figure of West. Thomas Cahill attempts to bring forth Jesus through the view of those around him and how they interpreted his life and teachings. While Desire of the Everlasting Hills is not a perfect book, it is thought-provoking in viewing Jesus of Nazareth back in the first century AD and into today’s increasing secular society.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review: Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26; Death, #5)Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The rules of the universe are once again being bent to endanger life, but this time it is really Time itself that is being used as the weapon of choice. The 26th installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series finds many characters quite literally being a Thief of Time from certain points of view, yet only one can truly change history.

The Auditors of Reality attempt once again to organize the universe by getting rid of life by literally stopping everything by having a clockmaker construct the perfect clock. Unfortunately for the Auditors, Death catches wind of their scheming and once against enlists his granddaughter Susan to track down someone who might be able to correct their actions. Meanwhile the Monks of Time catch wind of the construction of the perfect clock as warning sign pop up like they did the first time such a clock was constructed. While Death and Susan take their own paths towards battling the Auditors, the famous Lu-Tse and his apprentice race to stop the clockmaker. And while these heroes race to save Time, the Auditors of Reality begin to learn about what it means to be human and that sudden immersion probably wasn’t the best way to do so.

Thief of Time follows a new pattern by Pratchett in which he focused more on plot and story structure, instead of jokes that string along the story. In fact while there is humor in this book it isn’t paramount to anything connected with the plot, it’s just that some funny things happen along the way towards the climax. This isn’t to say that the book isn’t good, in fact it continues Pratchett’s string of great work but the early sophomoric humor or plain repetitiveness of some jokes are thing of the past in the series. However while the events in this book clear up various timeline anomalies created earlier in the series, it also marks the ending of the Death subseries (though he continues to make appearances) and the last appearance of Susan Sto Helit which for their fans is a major disappointment as the series would continue for 15 more books.

Yet while Thief of Time does turns out to represent the last appearance for some fan favorites, it continues Pratchett’s string of great installments of the Discworld series. For anyone who is a fan of Pratchett you’ll love this book and if you’re new to the Discworld after reading this book you’ll be interested about his earlier installments.


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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Book Review: The True Flag by Stephen Kinzer

The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American EmpireThe True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The internal debate within the United States about how the country should act around the world, to either avoid or intervene in foreign entanglements, has been going on for over a century. However, neither the arguments nor the situations that bring them on have changed over that time. Stephen Kinzer in his book The True Flag looks at when this debate began back at the turn of the 20th Century when the United States looked beyond the Americas in the “Age of Imperialism”.

The political and military history before, during, and after the Spanish-American War both inside and outside the United States was Kinzer’s focus throughout the book. Within this framework, Kinzer introduced organizations and individuals that opposed the actions and outcomes promoted by those more familiar to history, namely Theodore Roosevelt, as the United States was transformed into a “colonial” power. Yet, while this book is about the beginning of a century long debate it is more the story of those who through 1898 and 1901 argued against and tried to prevent the decisions and actions that today we read as history.

Although the names of Roosevelt and Mark Twain catch the eye on the cover, in reality Kinzer’s focus was on other important figures on either side of the debate. The biggest promoter of “expansionist” policy was Henry Cabot Lodge, Roosevelt’s long-time friend, who gladly let his friend become figure that history would remember. However, Lodge’s fellow senator from Massachusetts, George Frisbie Hoar was one of the fiercest opponents and critics of the “expansionist” policy that Lodge and Roosevelt promoted. One of the enigmatic figures of the time was newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who openly advocated and supported war in Cuba but then turned against the expansion when the United States fought the insurrection in the Philippines. Businessman Andrew Carnegie was one of many prominent individuals who founded the American Anti-Imperialist League to work against the United States ruling foreign territory. Amongst those working with Carnegie were former President Grover Cleveland and imminent labor leader, Samuel Gompers, but the strangest bedfellow was William Jennings Bryan. In Bryan, many believed they had the person in the political sphere that could stem the tide against the “expansionist” agenda but were twice stunned by the decisions he made when it was time to make a stand.

Kinzer throughout the book would follow the exploits and opinions of both Roosevelt and Twain during the period covered, however there was is a stark difference amount of coverage each has in which Roosevelt is in the clear majority. It wasn’t that Kinzer chose not to invest page space to Twain, it was that he did not have the material to do so. Throughout most of the period covered, 1898-1901, Twain was in Europe and out of the social and political landscape of the United States. However, once Twain stepped back onto U.S. soil his pen became a weapon in the cause against imperialism that Kinzer documents very well. Unfortunately for both the reader and Kinzer, Twain only becomes prominent in the last third of the book whereas Roosevelt’s presence is throughout. This imbalance of page space between the books’ two important figures was created because of marketing, but do not let it create a false impression of favoritism by Kinzer on one side or another.

History records that those opposed to the United States’ overseas expansion lost, however ever since the arguments they used have been a part of the foreign policy debate that has influenced history ever since. The True Flag gives the reader a look into events and arguments that have shaped the debate around the question “How should the United States act in the world?” since it began almost 120 years ago. This book is a fantastic general history of an era and political atmosphere that impacts us still today, and is a quick easy read for those interested in the topic.

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.


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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The worst of all events occurs at a young woman’s birthday party, it is neither murder nor theft but scandal! While Victorian readers might have seen the stunning narrative of The Moonstone in those terms, Wilkie Collins’ classic to us today is one of the first detective novels that paved the way for so many others with innovations in structure that keep the reader engaged.

As the reader quickly expects the titular diamond is present throughout the novel whether physically or in the minds of all those who relate their portion of the events before and after it’s theft on the night of Rachel Verinder’s birthday. The main narrator of the story is the Verinder family butler, Gabriel Betteredge, who gives a complete account of the events leading up the theft and those when the criminal case suddenly ends. Betteredge’s point-of-view makes a return during the second part of the book in which numerous other characters detail events that subsequently happened over the next two years. Collins’ builds the readers expectations to a fever pitch throughout Betteredge’s account until suddenly the narrative takes the first of many twists until the reader is once again eagerly is turning the page to see what’s going to happen next until the culprit and location of the fabulous gem is firmly established.

Given the era in which The Moonstone was written, many Victorian ideas and social norms are obviously in the narrative. However, unlike some other authors of the time Collins takes them both seriously and satirically to the enjoyment of the reader. Some of the best writing in the book is the character of Ms. Clack, an holier-than-thou spinster written so over-the-top that readers will quickly have a smile on their face as they go over her account. Although subtitled as a “Romance”, The Moonstone shouldn’t be seen as the forerunner of that modern genre. While a few star-crossed romances are in the novel, it is the mystery and the various types of detection that are the main focus of the narrative.

When I picked up this book and saw it was one of the first true detective novels, I wondered what I was getting. Upon finishing The Moonstone I can relate that all my apprehensions of stilted prose and mannerisms were quickly erased from my mind as the narrative and Collins’ style overwhelmed me. If you are a fan of mystery or detective novels, get this book and be happily surprised like I was.


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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: Prophets and Kings by Ellen G. White

Prophets And Kings As Illustrated In The Captivity And Restoration Of Israel by Ellen G. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How did Israel go from building Solomon’s magnificent temple as the center of true worship to humiliating exile to celebrated restoration to eventual not being prepared for the coming of Christ? In Prophets and Kings, Ellen G. White’s commentary highlights the impact of individuals who instead of staying true to God’s law went their own way resulting in terrible consequences not only for themselves but those they governed even as God rose up honest men to confront and induce them to return to him. This 750 page book on sacred history shows the state of ‘the House of Israel’ came to be as it was at the time of Christ’s time on Earth.

The highpoint of the nation of Israel was at the beginning of Solomon’s reign with the building of the Temple, in her writing White highlights how the nation was fulfilling the covenant only for its own King to turn from God to disastrous results. Through the latter part of Solomon’s reign, the beginnings of his son Rehoboam’s reign in Judah and Jeroboam’s reign in Israel the seeds of Israel’s captivity were sown with turning away from God to idolatry. Throughout the time of the divided kingdom, White illustrated God’s continual effort to turn His people back towards him through the intercession of prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah only to see a remnant remain true. As White relates, after the restoration Israel had turned away from idolatry only to added legality and tradition onto God’s law making it burdensome to those wanting to follow Him and setting the stage for culture when Christ came.

Prophets and Kings is the second in the five-book Conflict of Ages series, but it was the last written publication by Ellen White in her life. Not only did White illuminate sacred history from Solomon’s time to the restoration after the Babylonian Captivity, she also used her pen to give comfort to believers today as Christian await the Second Coming of Christ even though the world seems to grow darker just like it appeared to God’s remnant as Israel was taken into captivity. Yet after finishing this book, sacred history is still awaiting Christ’s first coming, The Desire of Ages.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Book Review: The Black Count by Tom Reiss

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte CristoThe Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The name Alexandre Dumas is well known, but before the author and his playwright son was the General. Tom Reiss brings the little known founder of the Dumas family into the spotlight in The Black Count, a born slave of noble blood turned Republican general in the service of France. This giant of a man both of stature in the view of his novelist son cast a long shadow since his death.

Born in modern Haiti as a slave to a French nobleman father, Alexandre life suddenly changed when he joined on his father’s return journey to France to take is family title. However after years of dealing with his father behavior, Alexandre joined the French army and with the coming of the French Revolution into Republican government. His daring feats in the field and dedication to the ideals of republicanism sent him quickly up the chain of command to General. Continuing his lead in front style, Alexandre was sent to lead men on every front that France needed him. But it was his feats during the Italian campaign that truly brought him his greatest fame and yet began his long cold relationship with another General, Napoleon. After more spectacular feats in Egypt and yet more conflict with Napoleon, Alexandre decided to return to France but was then captured in southern Italy only to emerge two year later into a new France in which his desire to service his country was rejected by its new leader. Five years after his release, Alexandre died leaving his young son bereaved. Yet, the legendary events of his life would inspire young Alexandre with a lot of material for his epic heroes including one Edmund Dantes.

The Black Count is a thrilling ride following a mixed raced former slave fighting for the republican ideals of his new homeland even as radical political events shift all around him, yet Alexandre Dumas quickly became a hero to the French until his capture and release into an entirely different France that didn’t appreciate him. Tom Reiss brought to life of a little known French Republican general that had a long lasting impact on history outside of the military and political sphere to the enjoyment of readers around the world.


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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Book Review: Who Travels with the Doctor? edited by Gillian I. Leitch & Sherry Ginn

Who Travels with the Doctor?: Essays on the Companions of Doctor WhoWho Travels with the Doctor?: Essays on the Companions of Doctor Who by Gillian I. Leitch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since Doctor Who took to the air over 50 years ago, his companions have been the audiences view into his adventures. In the 10 essay collection Who Travels with the Doctor? the role of the companion is examined from various viewpoints as a character, as a mirror on the Doctor, as a reflection on the audience, gender roles, and many more ways.

In the introduction the book’s editors by Gillian I. Leitch and Sherry Ginn, who also contributed, conceded that the most studied companions in the volume were from the “New Who” era than “Classic Who” but many of the more famous or infamous were included as well. The essays early in the book look at companions as a group before really focusing on individual companions. While getting an overall sense of the makeup of companions and their collective reactions to the Doctor is an important facet of examining them, the early essays came off as dry and laborious without really engaging the reader. Studies on gender roles—in which one acknowledges the debate surrounding Steven Moffatt’s alleged misogyny—are then the focus and only really click when making case studies of characters. It’s when the essays turn to studying companions themselves that the writing and arguments seems to make an impression. Essays about Sarah Jane Smith & Jo Grant, Rory Williams, and River Song are three of the strongest in the book. The last two essays of the book about “the companions who weren’t” and “companions in print” finish off the book on a strong note.

With the admitted focus on “New Who” companions as well as current showrunner Steven Moffatt as a result, the essays in which these factored heavily did not fully address the current state—as of 2014—of the show itself. As a fan and watcher of Doctor Who, one of things I found increasingly irritating and impacting my experience in viewing is the lack of a coherent narrative over the course of a season (series in UK). While this complaint would be an essay itself, to me the biggest factor in how current companions are viewed is not only how they are written but the quality of stories they are in. To me this was a missing dimension in the early essays in the book when they discussed the Moffatt era in particular and why I found early essays laborious, they weren’t address a key issue.

However my thoughts about the issues in the first third of the book; the latter two-thirds is where this book of essays takes off and makes the reader think. Yet even without a good fundamental grounding when look at companions on a whole, the study of them individually is undermined.

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.


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Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Review: Warriors 1 edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Warriors 1Warriors 1 by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warriors 1 brings together short stories from across all genres by authors whose only criteria were to write about a warrior. This is the one of three paperback volumes of the whole anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois in which Martin is joined in contributing by Joe Haldeman, Steven Saylor, Tad Williams, Cecelia Holland, and Robert Silverberg.

Save for the opening story, this volume is packed with great writing and stories. Of the five stories that are truly outstanding two are historical fiction, one is science fiction, and two are fantasy. Not all the stories are full of action as seen in Robert Silverberg’s “Defenders of the Frontier” is more a psychological study but still a well written and compelling narrative. Only two of the stories featured in this volume are connected in some way to established universes by their authors, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War universe and Martin’s own world of A Song of Ice and Fire. But while Martin’s “The Mystery Knight” is compelling story with action and intrigue, Haldeman’s “Forever Bound” just doesn’t seem to really connect to a first time reader of his work. I would be remiss if I forgot to praise the excellent historical fiction stories by Steven Saylor and Cecelia Holland that featured Romans, Carthaginians, and Vikings.

While the opening story doesn’t seem to connect well, the rest of the stories in this volume more than make up for it. These tales of warriors whether based in our own history or worlds far off in space or in a fantastical realm are excellent reads. The same is true for action, political intrigue, and psychological struggles. I really loved this collection of short stories and highly recommend it to those interested in get or reading this volume.

Individual Story Ratings
Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman (3/5)
The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor (5/5)
And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams (4/5)
The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland (5/5)
Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg (4.5/5)
The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin (5/5)


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Review: The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin

The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Political intrigue and mystery are the essence of the third Dunk and Egg novella, “The Mystery Knight”. George R.R. Martin exposes the reader to the historical reality of the reign of King Aerys I as Ser Duncan ‘Dunk’ the Tall and his squire (Prince) Aegon “Egg” Targaryen stumble into a wedding and tournament full of supports of the Blackfyres and mysterious individuals.

The story begins soon after the events of The Sworn Sword, Dunk and Egg stumble upon various lords and hedge knights headed to the wedding of Lord Ambrose Butterwell to a daughter of Lord Frey of the Crossing. Not wanting to pass up a good meal, Dunk decides to go to the wedding and later to enter the tourney under a mystery knight moniker. However, Dunk isn’t the only one under a moniker as is the case with Ser John the Fiddler while another knight, Ser Glendon Ball, claims the name of a famous Blackfyre supporter. However, behind all this pomp and mysterious characters is a fantastical plot to take advantage of the hatred to the Hand of the King Lord Bloodraven and put a Blackfyre on the throne.

The Mystery Knight is the first of the novellas in which magical elements seen in the main books series are seen as well as two characters, one very well-known and the other just recently introduced. From the outset, this novella is very well paced and the growing mystery around the entire wedding of Lord Butterwell only increases the tension that Dunk and Egg find themselves. In the history of Westeros, Ser Duncan the Tall and the future Aegon V Targaryen are two of the most well known figures of recent memory and with the events of The Mystery Knight they leave their second big impact on the political landscape.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Review: Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg

Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A fortification protecting a mountain pass in the midst of a desert between two war nations is only manned by eleven men including Surveyor. Once a force of 10,000 when occupying the fort two decades before, the eleven men have over the past few years have killed “the enemy” in ones or two but now their Seeker can’t detect them. Now they begin thinking about if the war is still going on, if they should stay or leave the fort, and if they leave will they be able to function back home. Or is the fort now home?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland

The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland
My rating: 5 out of 5

The titular character is an Conn Corbannson, a hirdman to King Sweyn of Denmark, who is upset with his Danish leader because he won’t attack England. Sweyn however wants to teach Haakon the Jarl—the real King of Norway—a lesson and has asked for help from the Jomsvikings to help. During the welcome feast, Conn gets too drunk and swears to become ‘King of Norway’. It’s a vow Conn continually regrets, especially when he comes face-to-face with Haakon.

Review: And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams

And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Assassin Lamentation Kane attempts to “do the will of God” by killing the leader of the ultra-secular planetary coalition whom he has been trained since childhood to hate by his ultra-religious government. However, Kane fails and is captured then is experimented on to learn about the cybernetic technology he has been enhanced with only for him to escape not only physical captivity but the cybernetic implant of the secular government as well. Yet once free and his mind clear, Kane realizes he has to think on his own.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor

The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

After the destruction of Carthage, Saylor’s “The Eagle and The Rabbit” follows a fugitive Carthaginian Hanso who is just captured along others of his tribe by Roman slavers. He finds himself favored by the group’s leader Fabius as “the eagle” while another in their group Lino becomes “the rabbit” to be the plaything amongst the Romans. Fabius kicks Lino out of the camp and sends Hanso out to capture or kill him in return for his own freedom, but it doesn’t seem so simple to Hanso.

Review: Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman

Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Setting in Haldeman’s own The Forever War universe, “Forever Bound” follows Julian Class who is drafted into a Remote Infantry unit in which soldiers are cybernetically linked to both robots and everyone in his squad to fight against enemies of the United States. Most of the story revolves around Julian and his fellow squad member Carolyn having an intense relationship thanks to their cybernetic link until Carolyn suddenly dies because of the effects of the implants have on her brain causing Class to go into a severe depression that can only be alleviated during his 10 days on duty every month when he and the rest of his squad are linked as a collective whole.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: The Truth by Terry Pratchett

The Truth (Discworld, #25)The Truth by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The city of Ankh-Morpork is a vast multicultural and multispecies metropolis with a strong economy and police force, so what happens when Discworld’s biggest city gets a newspaper? The twenty-fifth installment of Terry Pratchett’s fantasy-humor series, The Truth once more finds the flat world taking another step into an Industrial Revolution while a conspiracy looks led Ankh-Morpork into the future by looking back.

William de Worde, scion of one of Ankh-Morpork’s oldest families, is a scribe making his way in life by writing a newsletter for foreign consumption between regular scribe duties. Then suddenly William’s life gets changed forever when he runs into dwarves looking to make gold out of lead, well in fairness he actually gets run over by a moveable type printing press. Within a day, William finds himself running a newspaper and while still figuring out how it all happened, Lord Vetinari appears to have committed serious crimes that could result in a change of city leadership. But as the staff of the Ankh-Morpork Times looks into the political controversy, they find themselves being looked over by the Watch, two new criminals in town, and a sinister cabal (is there any other kind).

Unlike Moving Pictures, the previous “Industrial” story, The Truth doesn’t need the crutch of clich├ęs to bring a laugh while also having a fantastic plot and numerous new characters that keep the book a great read. While focusing on new characters, several members of the City Watch come into the plot and interact with the main character but don’t take the focus on the primary protagonists and the major antagonists. Also Pratchett fills this book with a nice little mystery and the always entertaining Gaspode and his band of human beggars.

For the second straight book, Pratchett invests in plot that he builds jokes around and not the other way around. As a result, The Truth is a wonderful read for both longtime fans and first time readers.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte CristoThe Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This classic story of wrongful imprisonment, hidden treasure, and revenge is truly a masterpiece. Alexandre Dumas’ famous novel The Count of Monte Cristo has seen life not only in print but in film and television, but one cannot appreciate the novel unless you read it in its entire unabridged length.

Edmond Dantes is wrongfully accused of a crime and thrown in prison without trial to be forgotten, after overcoming both mental and physical anguish and befriending a fellow prisoner, and finally he is able to escape. Thanks to his friendship Dantes knows where a potential hidden treasure is located and finds it to be real, and using it begins finding out why he was thrown into prison and chart is path to revenge through fortune and hidden identities. Yet what this quick synopsis omits is the numerous and fascinating major and secondary characters that Dantes interacts throughout the narrative.

Originally published in serial form, Dumas was paid for how much he wrote and one would think that The Count of Monte Cristo might be riddled with meandering subplots that never go anywhere and/or have nothing to do with the central plot. But Dumas instead wove a tapestry of beauty with every word he wrote; instead of making meandering plots he described scenes and events in rich detail that it brings the story even more alive in the reader’s imagination.

If pressed to find anything negative to say about this book, the easiest answer would be cultural references that are almost 170 years old. The only other negative was the completely different societal norms that were in Parisian society in the 1840s compared today’s. However both of these ‘negatives’ can easily be put down to a piece of fiction that was contemporary when it was written but now can be seen as historical fiction with the passage to time.

The Count of Monte Cristo needs to be read in all its unabridged glory to fully appreciate why it is a masterpiece and classic. Dumas’ literary tapestry is a delight to behold once finished with the last page and makes the reader think about when they’ll have time to reread it in the future.


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Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of PowerThomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The complex life and the politics of the third President of the United States in a dramatic period in history are brought to the fore in Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. After nearly twenty years in which Jefferson’s reputation has taken a hit through both scientific revelations and new biographies of his fellow Founders, the pragmatic philosopher who still yearned to daydream comes into better light 200 years after his time in office.

Meacham approached his book as a pure biography of Jefferson not a history of the times, which meant that only events that directly affected Jefferson or his immediately family were focused upon. Thus while Jefferson’s own story began in 1743, Meacham sets the stage with a family history that was also a history of colonial Virginia both politically and culturally. Throughout the next 500 pages, Meacham follows Jefferson in and out of Virginia with stops in Philadelphia, Paris, New York, and finally Washington D.C., but through everything a special focus was on how he developed his political acumen to achieve the vision he had for the United States in the world.

Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings is discussed throughout the book when important moments in both their lives cross. While Hemings is not the focus of the book, the ‘relationship’ is interwoven by Meacham into Jefferson’s complicated thoughts on slavery that is more thoroughly detailed towards the end of the book and is some of the best analysis in the book. Yet, the focus on Jefferson’s political skill in comparison to his contemporaries and his time resulted in a fairly quick book to read (505 pages) that had extensive notes that could have added more to the body of the book and given the book more depth is the basic drawback of the book.

Over the last decade, a new round of biographies of the Founding Fathers has brought praise and more attention to the actual human beings we think of when we hear their names. Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is a fascinating read of a man whose words and actions are both celebrated and controversial.


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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Book Review: The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill

The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and FeelsThe Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The moment, or hinge, in history that a changed occurred to allow Western civilization possible is the primary focus of Thomas Cahill’s The Gifts of the Jews. Over the course of less than 304 pages and the scope of two millennia of Jewish history from its birth with Abraham to their return from exile, Cahill examines the evolving birth of a new worldview that was entirely different from what had been thought before.

The focus of Cahill’s book is the beginning of Western civilization, which to him is a change in mindset on how to view the world and the reason was the Jews. Before getting to Abraham however, Cahill looked to what had come before, the “cyclical” worldview and culture of Sumer in which he went out of. With this in mind, Cahill emphasizes how big a step Abraham’s journey at God’s direction was. Then throughout the course of the book, Cahill examines step-by-step the development of the “processive” worldview that the Jews were exhibiting for the first time from successive revelations of God and the development of individuality in language and philosophy, but most importantly the role of justice in society.

Cahill’s argument is very compelling, as was his discussions on the Epic of Gilgamesh and the various Biblical individuals and their actions. Yet the problem I have with this book is with some of Cahill’s interpretation and subsequent logical construction of his evidence whether through scripture or an analysis of non-Biblical sources to weave his thesis. For example some of the evidence Cahill uses to date the Exodus is erroneous by misinterpretation of both Biblical and non-Biblical sources, yet that is only of several examples I could have given.

Yet while Cahill’s interpretations aren’t the best part of this book, his argument that the Jews brought forth a new worldview that would lead to Western civilization is compelling. Because of that, The Gifts of the Jews is worth a close read as it describes the first and most significant hinge of historical change.


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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The nation of Panem collapses into a state of civil war and both sides are looking towards for the appearance of the Mockingjay. The final installment of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy finds Katniss Everdeen contemplating her role in the fight against the Capitol along with coming to terms with everything that has been going on her life the last two years.

The book begins with Katniss in the ashen rubble of her home District 12 before returning to the underground stronghold of the once thought to be destroyed District 13 where she’s amongst a political struggle for her face on the rebellion. But it is only after seeing a Capitol controlled Peeta that Katniss begins promoting the rebel cause. Over the course of the book, Katniss is mentally and physically tested by not only the conditions but also propaganda moves by President Snow via Peeta until the rebellion rescues him, only for everyone to find out he is not himself. Through the rest of the book, Katniss’ battles both military and political forces in her personal mission to end the war and Snow so those she loves can live in peace. Yet victory comes at such a high cost that it truly breaks Katniss more than the Hunger Games or anything else.

Given where the end of the previous book ended, Mockingjay has to start slowly before getting into a flow similar to the first book of the trilogy. In fact, Mockingjay is truly the better follow up to The Hunger Games than Catching Fire as Katniss truly comes to terms with everything she has previously and currently going through, so much so that it seems that she is having a slow motion mental breakdown before hitting rock bottom.

In the final chapter of The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins gives a satisfying and well-written conclusion to Katniss’ story. If not for the slow start, Mockingjay would be on the same level as the first book. If you’ve read and enjoyed The Hunger Games then make it through Catching Fire to see why >Mockingjay is so fantastic.


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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Book Review: Patriarchs and Prophets by Ellen G. White

Patriarchs And Prophets by Ellen G. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does a Christian explain the actions of the God of the Old Testament to an unbeliever or answer questions of their own when comparing God in the Old and New Testaments? In Patriarchs and Prophets, Ellen G. White gives an insightful commentary of events from the fall of Lucifer in Heaven through to the end of David’s reign over Israel. Over the course of 800 pages, she shows how throughout the ages that a conflict between right and wrong, truth and error has been played out through the lives of those individuals in the Old Testament.

From the start, White answers why God permitted evil to exist in the first place and then proceeded to show how sin separated man from God with the resulting evils that followed. Throughout the book, White shows that every major Biblical individual has sinned and the terrible consequences that have resulted not only immediately but over the course of years, if not centuries and millennia. Also the actions of the nation of Israel as a whole are painfully shown throughout as falling short of their covenant with God made at Sinai.

However, not every Biblical story is written on over the course of time covered in this book was touched upon. The stories of many of the judges and of Job were either not touched up or just mentioned, not because they were not important but because of White’s framework of giving a clear picture to the conflict between God and Satan from its beginnings in Heaven to its finish before the Creation of the New Earth.

Patriarchs and Prophets is the first in the five-book Conflict of the Ages series, written by Ellen White. After reading it you’ll have a clearer understanding of why God allowed evil to exit and of His actions throughout the early Old Testament. Yet, after finishing this book the whole story isn’t complete and I hope you’ll feel the need to read what happens next.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre

Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of WarRogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain's Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

During World War II many military strategies and tactics that are today standard around the world were first pioneer, including behind-the-lines special operation as done by the British Special Air Service (SAS). Ben Macintyre in Rogue Heroes relates the birth and evolution of the SAS from an ‘independent’ army in the North African theater to an integral part the Allied campaigns in Europe against Nazi Germany.

Macintyre’s history of the SAS begins with the man whose idea it was and who shaped it during its first years in existence, David Stirling who used his connections and his desire to actively participate in battling the Germans. Early on Stirling and his brigade went through several phases of evolution of tactics before fully becoming what Stirling had conceived in mid-1941. However, after Stirling’s capture in January 1943 and the change in theater, the SAS temporarily became a regular commando unit in the invasion of Italy before returning to their behind-the-line Special Forces status original purpose later in the Italian campaign and on the Western Front during and after D-Day.

The decision by Macintyre to not focus on all of the missions of the SAS, but only those that influenced and impacted the development of the Special Forces unit as well as to reduce repetitiveness in the book was a good one. The decision help keep the book at a readable length for the general reader, however other choices by the author didn’t make for a smooth read. While Macintyre did his best to cover the efforts of the various SAS squadrons across several theaters and locations within each once as well over the course of the war, at times the division and abrupt changing from one situation to the next made for stilted reading. Another important decision by Macintyre was who within the SAS to highlight and follow over the course of the brigade’s service in World War II. And for the most part, Macintyre did a good job on putting the focus on who needed it but some of the soldiers highlighted seemed to just add flavor for no real purpose than to seemingly check off a list of possible people this book could appeal to.

Overall, Ben Macintyre did a very good job in relating the history of the SAS. Unlike writing a biography or a specific event, a history of a military unit with its change of personnel and changing theaters of battle make it harder to write as the author has to decide who to follow in the unit’s development. Rogue Heroes if anything gives the reader at least a general history and career of the World War II-era SAS, for some it will be enough and for others it’ll be a wetting of the appetite. I would recommend this book to those interested in military history or in World War II over than just the general reader as a whole.

I received this book for free though LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.


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Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Review: The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

The Fifth Elephant (Discworld, #24)The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With Ankh-Morpork’s trade with Uberwald in possible danger Lord Ventari sends his most reliable diplomat and expert in political intrigue, Sam Vimes. The Commander of Ankh-Morpork’s Watch finds himself in a potential international incident with interspecies disputes and conspiracies mixed in with the fabulous riches of The Fifth Elephant mines in this installment of Terry Pratchett’s fantastic Discworld series.

Uberwald is a mineral rich principality governed over by dwarfs, werewolves, and vampires in an uneasy peace with one another and amongst their own species then add to this mix Sam Vimes as ambassador from Ankh-Morpork to coronation of the new dwarf king. Vimes’ diplomatic style and his natural detective instincts strain international, as well as interspecies, relations as the copper investigates a robbery and murder in Ankh-Morpork connected to events in Uberwald. But as Vimes works out a conspiracy in Uberwald he’s faces Angua’s own family, the reigning werewolf barony and they aren’t particularly a close family. And as events unfold, Colon and Nobby are left in charge of the Watch in Ankh-Morpork resulting in crime disappearing from the city as every criminal fears what will happen once Vimes returns to the mess.

Unlike the majority of his previous installments, Pratchett built this book around a plot and threw in some gags that never got tired out because they weren’t the focus. For the first time, a Discworld book seemed more in the fantasy genre—leaning a lot towards adventure—than the humor genre. This change of approach was both a surprise and a welcome to a series now on its 24th book, especially as it was a part of the Watch subseries which benefited with a more structured approach to the book. The Fifth Elephant was fun to read and a book I’m looking forward to rereading in the future.


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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and HopeThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does a 14-year old high school dropout in a small famine-stricken country in south eastern Africa build a windmill? William Kamkwamba tells how he did in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, a memoir of a young man who wanted to ensure a better life for his family by using ideas inspired by science books and his own innovation to build them.

Kamkwamba’s memoir starts at the beginning, giving a brief history of his parents and grandparents as well as the cultural background of not only his local village but of his native Malawi itself. He then relates the adventures, and misadventures, of his earlier childhood in the relatively stable time before the 2001-02 famine that struck his country. Next comes the hard times of the famine and the struggle his family endured to survive it, but what also forced him to drop out of school. Yet all of this is important in understanding how Kamkwamba was able to construct the windmill that would change his life forever because he explains how not only he, but his family and friends would reuse material to create toys, or hunting traps, or repair other machines.

A little over halfway through the book Kamkwamba begins recounting how he got the idea to build the windmill and his motivation behind it. The ingenuity of his reuse of materials found from junkyards to random materials he could all over his village to engineer his first windmill is fascinating, but given the earlier examples from his childhood the reader understands how Kamkwamba was able to use everything he found for the purpose he wanted. But Kamkwamba does not neglect the contributions of his friends and members of his family that helped and supported him throughout his building, even while some in his village though him a madman.

Only in the last 30 pages of the book describes Kamkwamba experience from local curiosity to giving a presentation at a TED conference to eventually writing this book along with Bryan Mealer. Both Kamkwamba and Mealer knew that the why and how of building the windmill was the central point of this entire book and that while all the fame that Kamkwamba has gained is interesting, it only happened because of the windmill. The book is Kamkwamba’s, but he would be the first to acknowledge that English is his second language and Mealer’s contribution was to ensure that this book was very readable without losing Kamkwamba’s voice.

If I was forced to write a review of this book in ten words or less, I would only needed three: “Just read this”. This book is of a young man who survived trying times that potentially put a limit on his expectations for life and the future, but he found a way to expand not only his own horizons but that of his family and village with an idea and hard work. So just read this book.


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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As crows feast over the carrion of southern Westeros, in the steadily wintery North and the sun-soaked far east of Slaver’s Bay there is A Dance with Dragons both literally and figuratively. After waiting five years in between the fourth and fifth installments of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin brought back the stories of Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen after a ten year wait after finishing A Storm of Swords. As with A Feast for Crows, this book shows how new leaders handle responsibility and the results of their actions.

While the previous book had a feeling of intimate focus, A Dance with Dragons returned to the grand scale that had given Martin’s series one of its biggest appeals. The majority of the book takes place in North or Meereen, whether in the city or traveling towards it. At the Wall, Jon has to juggle the needs of the Stannis Baratheon, the Night’s Watch itself, the Wildlings, and more importantly the Others who look to take advantage of men divided against one another. Just a little south, the Boltons and Freys look to secure the North as Theon Greyjoy reeks out an existence within the confines of Winterfell all the while as his sister Asha marches with Stannis as the coming of winter hits hard without knowing that Davos Seaworth has discovered that ‘the north remembers’. Tyrion’s escape from King’s Landing and his eventual journey to the far east of Slaver’s Bay is full of soul searching, the need to survive, and finally the thrill of political intrigue especially as he sends another Dragon west towards Westeros. Wherein Meereen, Dany is finding ruling a conquered city challenging especially after confining her dragons and must compromise to bring peace from her foes within the city walls all the while enemies approach without as well as several friends.

The much lamented “Meereenese Knot” that Martin talked during the writing of A Dance with Dragons, is the area of the book in which many are dissatisfied, including myself to an extent. In all honesty, the majority of Dany’s chapters were my least favorite of the entire book which made me not look forward to anything related to Meereen until after she had ridden out of the city in style. Once Dany had left, in her place came Barristan Selmy who seemed to get things moving with a little help from Quentyn Martell. Although the later character’s story was a fiery catastrophe, Barristan made me look forward to seeing Meereen again as things were actually happening. Given the issues and personal dilemmas that Dany was facing, it felt that it was parallel with Jon however Martin seemed to write Jon’s chapters better than Dany’s which made Meereen a slog until she left and when she did her chapters improved dramatically.

The first 60% of A Dance with Dragons takes place at the same time as A Feast for Crows and it isn’t until the final two-fifths of the book that the entire epic feels whole again as previous POV characters Cersei, Jaime, and Victarion make important appearances. However there is one important new character making a first appearance in this book that could considerably change the political landscape of Westeros for better or ill as The Winds of Winter hit the continent.

After a wait of five and ten years respectively for this installment and for a lot of these characters, A Dance with Dragons is a very good book. Although one major point of view character’s chapters are not up to par with those from previous books, the great writing of other major and secondary characters more than makes up for it resulting in a harrowing and thrilling latter part of the second act of A Song of Ice and Fire.


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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Review: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The War of the Five Kings is all but over with only a few holdouts remaining in the realm, however as Westeros attempts to recover enough before winter hits it appears that more carrion will be on the menu of A Feast for Crows. The fourth installment of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series shows the ugly aftermath of war which other fantasy epics seemingly ignore after the triumphant conclusion, but as the middle of Martin’s series begins it shows that politics and opportunists use any situation for their advantage.

Unlike the first three volumes of the series, Martin divided narrative settings in half with some point-of-view characters appearing in Feast while some had to wait until the fifth volume (A Dance with Dragons). With the focus on the events in southern Westeros, primarily King’s Landing and the Riverlands, the story feels more intimate than grand as the previous volumes did. The fallout of Tywin’s death is felt in King’s Landing the most when Cersei takes control and attempts to outshine her father in governance, yet it caught up getting entrapped within her own web of intrigues. Jaime’s story shows a man looking to redeem himself while taking advantage of his dishonorable reputation in wrapping up the war in the Riverlands. Along with the Lannister siblings, readers followed Arya to Braavos where she happened to interact with a traveling Samwell Tarly headed for Oldtown who on his journey sailed around a conspiracy filled Dorne and saw the effects of events among the Ironborn. Within the untouched Vale finds Sansa Stark under a false name watching as Littlefinger schemes to retain power and set up events for the future. Yet Martin’s best writing is following Brienne of Tarth’s quest to find Sansa in the war ravaged hinterland, showing off the results of war upon the land and the populace which is often avoided in other epic fantasy.

While many fans have found the division of the narrative upsetting and following Brienne’s journey annoying, some didn’t realize how much set up Martin was writing for events in the last 40% of A Dance with Dragons as well as the last two books of the series. In the chaos of war’s aftermath just like in battle, anyone can take power and some who thought themselves natural wielders of power are outplayed in the game of thrones. The events in Dorne and the Iron Islands change the completion of the entire series, making it more epic in scale when seen in context of the whole story. One of Martin’s best decisions was to both begin and end in Oldtown with characters introduced in the prologue appearing again at the end from the point-of-view of a favorite character in a sense connecting the whole book together.

A Feast for Crows shows the aftermath of war as well as showing that schemes for power never end, especially as a realm tries to put itself together after it was shattered by war. While not as “epic” as the first three volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, this book is still a fantastic read on why the game never ends.


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Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23)Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again the kingdom of Lancre is in a tough spot and it’s up to Granny, Nanny, and Agnes to face-off with an enemy whose motto is Carpe Jugulum. In the 23rd installment, sixth in the Witches subseries, of Terry Pratchett’s fantasy-humor series sees vampires, sorry vampyrs, from the country of Uberwald take center stage as they are invited to invade Lancre only to get invaded back.

Lancre is celebrating the birth of Princess Esmerelda Margaret, her father has invited everyone to join the celebration including many foreign dignitaries including the ruling Count of Uberwald. Unfortunately the Count is a vampire, sorry vampyr, which means he gets to come in and take over the place. Of course, Nanny and Agnes instantly know they need to stop this and when they go to get Granny they discover an even worse problem, she’s packed up and left because the Count’s mental barrier is really strong. However after Nanny, Agnes, and their new trio member Queen Magrat herself rejoins the coven and confronts the Count leading to bad results, Granny comes in and seemingly gets defeated by the vampires. However, sometimes a defeat is a victory in disguise.

Unlike some previous Discworld books, Pratchett keeps this one tight with subplots and secondary characters being closely connected with the main story and characters. Mightily Oats, a priest of Om whose been having a crises of faith his entire life, and the blue pixie clan the “Wee Free Men” are some of the highlights of this tightened plot and subplot connection as they are both integral yet separate at the same time to the overall story. While I do not know if Mightily Oats makes a return appearance, I do know that the blue pixie clan’s time in the series I just beginning and I’m looking forward to seeing how their story will develop.

Carpe Jugulum is a very good book, but because of the feeling that it is just Lords and Ladies it falls short of being a great installment in the Discworld series.


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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The aftermath of Katniss Everdeen’s rebellious performance at the end of the 74th Hunger Games has consequences far beyond what happens to Peeta and herself in Catching Fire. Suzanne Collins’ middle installment of The Hunger Games trilogy is all about how a dictatorial government responds to rebellion.

The story Katniss Everdeen begins just as she’s about to begin her Victory Tour with Peeta to the other Districts and the Capitol when President Snow expectantly shows up at her new home and threatens her to perform well or else. Katniss fails to stop the growing unrest in other Districts and the Capitol cracks down everywhere, including District 12 which makes Katniss realizes that while her life was bad before now it would have been impossible. Then the stipulations for the 75th Hunger Games sends both Katniss and Peeta into the arena with 22 other previous victors. And in the arena, Katniss begins to realize that there is more than one game going on.

Unlike its predecessor, Catching Fire is more about the aftereffects of decisions than fighting to survive. Throughout the entire book, there seems to be more going on behind the scenes than Katniss knows and the reader is able to connect things a little ahead of her at some points. The twist and turns inside the arena might have been meant to surprise the reader, but an astute reader will realize that they are being set up for another book and the realization that the threat to Katniss and Peeta is very small clamps down on the dramatic tension gets closer to the end.

While I enjoyed Catching Fire, there was not the same quality or tension as there was in The Hunger Games though while I’m intrigued to know what is going to happen in the final book of the trilogy my enthusiasm is not at the same level it was after the first book.


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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book Review: Seventh-day Adventists Believe

Seventh Day Adventists BelieveSeventh Day Adventists Believe by General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has traditionally shied away from formulating creeds for a variety of reasons. Yet, even from its founding the church has had to release answers to doctrinal questions or to challenge false statements about what its actual beliefs were. At the 1980 General Conference session, the church decided on a statement of 27 Fundamental Beliefs that described the church’s official positions, but were not criteria for membership. An additional Belief was added at the 2005 General Conference session, just like after 1980 the General Conference expanded upon the statements in Seventh-day Adventists Believe: A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines.

As stated in the subtitle states, the 28 Fundamental Beliefs are based on and explained through numerous passages in the Bible. In fact, the Fundamental Belief “Holy Scripture” begins the book and is the basis for the rest of the book. The 28 Beliefs are grouped into 6 doctrines: God, Humanity, Salvation, The Church, Christian Life, and The Restoration; with each Belief and doctrinal group leading into one another. With this structure, the reader is given better understanding to Seventh-day Adventist theology.

Seventh-day Adventists Believe services a dual purpose of helping Adventists--both longtime and new--learn about their beliefs better and to answer questions as well as misconceptions from non-Adventists. Amongst the questions answered are the Trinity, sola scriptura, and the experience of salvation. Also answered are those beliefs that are seemingly unique to Adventism: the Seventh-day Sabbath, the Great Controversy, Jesus’ work in the Heavenly Sanctuary, and the Gift of Prophecy amongst others.

If you have ever wondered what Seventh-day Adventists really believe then this book is highly recommended to answer your questions.


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Book Review: The Poetry of Robert Frost

The Poetry of Robert FrostThe Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Poetry of Robert Frost is the entirety of the great American poet’s published work, an authoritative volume that is structured to show his progression from his earliest work to his last—with a little exception at the end. However for those who have only read Frost in school, like me, you will be in for a surprise because the poems in English and/or Literature class are a deceptive selection of his complete works. While this complete book of Robert Frost’s work is wonderful for poetry enthusiasts, for the more general reader I would suggest you look through this volume and decide if you want a smaller, more select volume of his work.


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