Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VII)

The Man of the Crowd
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

While watching the crowds walk along London’s busiest street, the observer sees an old man that attracts his attention then follows him through the night and far into the next day before finally stopping. A nice piece that in the long run means nothing, but at least it was too the point of just following someone.

The Island of the Fay
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

An enthusiast describes the wonder of nature and then while enjoying a glade that has a view of an islet, he imagines seeing one of the last of the fay paddle on a boat around it. Another nice little piece with great descriptions that is almost completely different from anything Poe had written before.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The first Auguste Dupin detective story even before the word detective was created. Written as a study of deduction by an anonymous narrator who’s Dupin’s friend, he describes how Dupin deciphered his train of thought to the narrator’s amazement. A few days later, the Paris papers are filled with the ghastly details of a double murder in which none of the witness differ in their accounts. After a friend of Dupin’s is arrested, he uses his connections to study the crime scene and using his deductive skill figures out what happened and getting his friend released. So far this is THE best story so far the complete collection and the only reason it wasn’t a perfect five was the introductory essay which while giving background to the narrator’s thought process, just wastes the reader’s time.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part VI)

William Wilson
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man recounts his life-long rivalry with person with the same name as him, the titular William Wilson, through various schools and across Europe until one day he confronts him, only to realize as he’s dying that it was always him. A 19th-century story on schizophrenia, which was obvious after William introduced the other William but was still very well written nonetheless.

The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Charmion asks Eiros how he died, Eiros describes a comet impact that killed everyone on Earth because the chemical makeup of the air was changed. Interesting afterlife story version of an apocalypse, science is completely wrong but given when it was written pretty well.

Some Account of Stonehenge, the Giant’s Dance
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A short article speculating on Stonehenge.

Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Written like the worst type of stereotypical Irishman, I could slowly read but decided I didn’t want to know about the Frenchman.

Instinct vs Reason—A Black Cat
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

I have no idea what the purpose of the piece was really.

The Business Man
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

A man describes his various business ventures that are basically illegal or corrupt and is proud of it.

The Philosophy of Furniture
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

An interesting article on different cultures’ interior décor that then goes off the rails in the last quarter.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part V)

How to Write A Blackwood Article
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Signora Psyche Zenobia meets Mr. Blackwood to learn how to write his type of entertaining articles and afterwards goes and follows his advice to write an article. While the first part of the story was funny and entertaining, the second half just wasn’t because Psyche was too literal in following Blackwood’s advice.

The Devil in the Belfry
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This story is about a Dutch small town, with a really long name, with a big clock that is always on time. Then one day stranger walks into the clock tower, assaults the bell-ringer, and then suddenly beginning banging the bell whenever he wants and how many times he wants. Great descriptions at the beginning, but when the plot happens at the end it was pretty obvious what the stranger was going to do.

The Man That Was Used Up
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man meets a famous general, but doesn’t know the details about the general’s campaign against the Bugaboo and Kickapoo Indians. The man goes around town to all his friends and acquaintances to learn about the general, but the conversations always turn away from the opening. Finally the man goes to the general’s residence and finds the man is literally “used up. “

The Fall of the House of Usher
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Unfortunately the ending was ruined by the individual that had written the collection’s introduction and even though I was looking for foreshadowing, this was a nicely paced and suspenseful story. The climax of the story will stick in your mind and might have (and will in the future) inspired numerous scenes in stories, plays, and movies since.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part IV)

Berenice
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Okay, a man with some sort of blackout disorder has an episode around the time of his cousin-wife’s death while focusing on her teeth. A little time later, the man learns that her grave had been disturbed then finds a shovel in his room and a container with her teeth. Um, I might have overrated this.

Morella
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Short story of a man whose wife is named Morella, who gives birth to a daughter that he is afraid to name Morella because when he does she dies as well. I’m starting to understand why there is a stereotype for Poe’s writing.

King Pest
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This could have been something interesting especially with the Pest Royal Family descriptions (thus why it’s higher rated than Morella), but then it fizzles.

Mystification
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

College practical joker Baron Von Jung sets up a duel enthusiast into a confrontation then defuses it by referencing a duel manual that appeases the enthusiast. Only it turns out Von Jung gave the man the book, which is actually a joke about two baboons having a duel when reading every 2nd or 3rd word. Nice funny twist to the story that makes it better overall than what it was trending.

Ligeia
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man’s first wife, Ligeia, is a smart woman who helped him in his research but early in the story dies. The man remarries but his second wife has health issues until just before she dies he notices something putting drops in her medication. After her death, he is the only one at her all night wake but over the course of the night it almost seems like she’s still alive, but then suddenly the body of his second wife rises looking different before she says she’s “Ligeia!”. A bit meandering, but rather good nonetheless.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part III)

The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

An obviously fake news story written as a journal, but one that is entertaining even with the bad science. The titular character claims to have flown a balloon to the moon, but it crashes there leading to the question of how he got his account back to his native Rotterdam…but still really entertaining.

Lionizing
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Funny morality tale? Or something close? No idea.

Shadow—A Parable
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A funeral party by a bunch of friends for a fellow who died of a plague gets visited by the Shadow of Death. Very short and sweet.

Silence—A Fable
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A demon details how he challenged a man with various things to make him run and in the end it was complete silence that scared him. An interesting little tale, but nothing really special.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part II)

Bon-Bon
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The titular philosopher-restaurateur has a conversation with the devil about the souls of past philosophers that he’s eaten in the past millennia before they have an argument and Bon-Bon kicks the devil out of his establishment and then in anger accidently causes his own death. The conversation and the twist ending is pretty interesting, though the long set up of establishing Bon-Bon’s credentials at the beginning makes the reader wonder what the point is for half the piece.

Four Beasts in One—The Homo-Cameleopard
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A journey to Antioch during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes during which a festival takes place during which the King appears amongst the revelers dressed as the titular Homo-Cameleopard and acting like the fictional animal. But then the carcasses of the dead animals he’s wearing attract the dangerous pets of the city and he sprints to safety to the amazement of the crowd. Overall the story is a tad weird and a little interesting, but not good enough to be average.

MS. Found in a Bottle
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A well-educated traveler is going from Java to the Sundra islands when his ship encounters a supernatural storm that takes the crew from his ship except for an Old Swede and himself. The two survive as best they can on the derelict vessel until a huge ship bears down on them and the traveler jumps from ship-to-ship just in time and hides. He later finds the crew is very old sailors who don’t seem to care if he is on board and continue to sail through the supernatural storm towards the south. A very intriguing story written like journal entries before being thrown overboard at the last instant the traveler thinks he’ll be able to write.

The Assignment
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A visitor to Venice witnesses an interesting scene between the goddess-like Marchesa di Mentoni and the famous English ex-pat living in the city after which he’s invited by the famous man to visit the next morning. As the two talk, the visitor can’t figure out why the famous gentleman is talking like he is until news arrives that the Marchesa committed suicide via poison and turns to his host to find him died by poison. A twisting tale that is nice, but not enough meat to be good.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems (Part I)

Poems
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Frankly, I gave a better rating than the entirety of Poe’s poems deserves when really thinking back to everything I read the last few days. Honestly the highlight of the collection is “The Raven” and that’s probably were most of the rating comes from, but really besides a few other poems there isn’t really much here I enjoyed.

Politian
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

This unfinished play is all over the place and one can barely make out the barebones of a plot. The highlight is some nice dialogue in a few spots beyond that, it’s an unfinished play with parts that don’t go together.

Metzengerstein
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Two noble rival families, a prophecy about both, and throw in supernatural horse. An intriguing short story that isn’t very coherent with an ending that weird. Probably over rated the story, but it felt painfully close to being good if only…

The Duc De L’Omelette
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

The titular French nobleman sees a bird fly over him and dies then beats the devil in a card game, I think. A lot of French in the text and since I don’t know the language I’m guessing on everything, glad it was a short story.

A Tale of Jerusalem
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Three priests go to the walls of a besieged Jerusalem to pay the besieging Roman army for animals to conduct their sacrifices, after dropping the money they haul up the animal which turns out to be a pig. The twist ending ALMOST makes up for the stereotypical Jewish characters that borders, if not crosses into anti-Semitism.

Loss of Breath
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A wife-beater literally loses his breath while hitting her, but doesn’t die though throughout the story people believe he is when not seeing him move. A satirical look at “life” from a living corpse that would have been better if the reader didn’t get confused several times about what was going on, oh and of course if the jerk wasn’t a wife-beater.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Book Review: Heretics and Heroes by Thomas Cahill

Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our WorldHeretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most pivotal periods of Western civilization occurred during the Renaissance and the Reformation, to culturally impactful events that overlapped one another across Europe. Heretics and Heroes is the sixth book in Thomas Cahill’s series “The Hinges of History” highlighting the artists and the priests that changed how Europe viewed creativity and worshipped God.

Cahill begins this volume talking about philosophical struggle over the ages between Plato and Aristotle, through it is the fourth time he has discussed this millennia-long debate during the series it allows Cahill to refer back to it in the text and gives the reader a basis to understand its importance during this era. Cahill continued setting up both the Renaissance and Reformation by highlighting moments during the Late Middle Ages, especially the effects of the Black Death, leading up to and allowed for these two important moments in Western history to occur. The ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus and rise of the humanists begin the look at the titular heretics and heroes that will dominate the book, using both events Cahill shows the changing trends in Europe just before both the Renaissance and Reformation completely change it. The Renaissance and it’s complete change of artistic creativity of the previous millennium is taken up first through the lives of Donatello, Leonardo, and Botticelli before focusing on its height and sudden stop as a result of the Counter-Reformation in the life of Michelangelo. Then, save for a brief look at the art of Northern Europe, Cahill turns to the Reformation of Luther and the Catholic Counter-Reformation with brief looks at the Reformed movements and the development of Anglicanism.

The entire book is packed with information in a very conversational style of writing which has always been one of the strengths of Cahill’s writing. As always with a popular history book, Cahill had to pick and choose what to focus the reader’s attention on while covering as much as possible about the subject he’s decided to write about. While Cahill is pretty successful at hitting the high points and pointing readers looking for information to the appropriate place to look, his personal opinions at times overwhelm the history and themes he’s trying to bring to fore. All history authors have their personal opinions influence their work; however Cahill’s armchair psychiatry and personal theological arguments that actually have nothing to do with the debate he’s writing about at that moment in the text. While Cahill’s personal opinions have been in all of the previous books of the series, this volume it seems to not be subtle but almost blatant.

Overall Heretics and Heroes is a fine addition to the “Hinges of History” series written in a very readable style by Cahill. However, unlike the previous books in which the reader was left with wanting more, the reader will be wishing less of Cahill’s opinion and more of actual facts. Yet even with this drawback and forewarning a reader will find this book very informative.

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern WorldMysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In popular imagination the medieval period is a time of ignorance and superstition, fear and violence, and crushing religious intolerance of anything the Church was against. Mysteries of the Middle Ages is the fifth volume of Thomas Cahill’s ‘Hinges of History’ series, focusing on the individuals in the High Middle Ages who shaped Western society that we know today. Over the course of 300+ pages, Cahill sets out to give his reader a new way to look at the Middle Ages.

Cahill begins the book not during the Middle Ages, but in the city of Alexandria in Egypt looking at how the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions began their long processes of synthetization began before exploring how the Romans became the Italians as a way to differentiate between the Greek East and Latin West for the rest of the book. Then beginning with Hildegard of Bingen, Cahill makes the reader look at the Middle Ages in a vastly different way by showing the power and importance of 12th century Abbess who would one day be declared a saint then turned his attention to a woman of secular power, that of Eleanor of Aquitaine who held political power in a significant way while also allowing the developing “courts of love” evolve. This evolving form of culture spread into the Italian peninsula and influenced a young man from Assisi, Francis who would shift this emphasis of earthly love into spiritual love. The focus of the spiritual then shifted to Peter Abelard and St. Thomas Aquinas who became to emphasis the thoughts of Aristotle over those of Plato in theological discussions while Roger Bacon used Aristotle to begin examining the world around him and thus science that we see today. Yet the world around those during the High Middle Ages began to influence art and literature in both secular and spiritual ways from the Cathedral of Chartres to the works of Dante and Giotto would have influences even to today.

Although Cahill readily admits that he could have and wanted to discuss more individuals from a wider swath of Europe, he does an adequate job in showing that the Middle Ages were not what the popular view of the time period was believed to be. Cahill several times throughout the book emphasizes that the Middle Ages, especially from the 12th to the early 14th centuries, were not a time of stagnate culture that the humanists of the Renaissance began calling it. However, Cahill’s asides about Islamic culture as well as the Byzantines were for the most part a continuation of centuries-long mudslinging or a product of today’s ideological-religious conflicts and ironically undermined one of his best arguments, the role of Catholicism in shaping Western society. Cahill’s Catholicism was that of all the individuals he wrote about, who were Christians, not the Church and its hierarchy that over the course of the High Middle Ages became a point of embarrassment to both lay and cleric alike.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages shows the beginnings of the synthesis of the two strains of Western society, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian, that Thomas Cahill has built up to in his previous four books. As a popular history it very well written, but its flaws of modern and centuries old prejudice undercut a central theme Cahill was developing and wrote about at the end of the book. Yet I cannot but call it a good book to read.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30; Tiffany Aching, #1)The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Chalk is a place of sheep and shepherds but never a witch was known to be there, however that might have been incorrect. Terry Pratchett’s 30th Discworld novel, The Wee Free Men, is the second time he’s written for young adults but his writing and humor are top notch as well follow a nine-year witch Tiffany Aching going up against the Queen of Elves with only a horde of six-inch blue little men.

Tiffany Aching finds her family farm being invaded by monsters from dreams as well as a horde of little blue men, the titular Wee Free Men. Tiffany is very smart for her age and sees things as they are just like her grandmother, so when strange things pop up she uses an iron pan to beat them back. Although she later figures out that her grandmother was a witch, Tiffany has her first encounter with one in the form of Ms. Lick who tells her to be careful but not to tackle the problem on her own but when her brother is kidnapped by the Fairie Queen, Tiffany knows she’s going to need help while not sounding desperate. Tiffany’s help comes to her when the local clan of the Wee Free Men shows up looking for the new “hag ol’ the hills” because of the invasion of the Queen. Tiffany and the Wee Free Men invade ‘Fairyland’ and manage to return with her brother, a feat that Granny Weatherwax finds impressive for someone so young and untrained.

The Wee Free Men features Tiffany as the only point-of-view character, save from a narrator, which keeps the book fairly orderly when reading as well as being in line for a book for younger readers. The story itself is somewhat familiar for long time Discworld fans with the antagonist being the Queen of the Elves invading, but Pratchett changes things up with the use of dreams and the conflict as seen from a nine-year old. The cameo appearance of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg at the end, sets up further adventures of Tiffany and connects her subseries with the Witches subseries with the hopes of seeing favorite characters in future books.

The second young adult and first Tiffany subseries book of the Discworld canon is a fantastic book; The Wee Free Men gives someone new for long time fans while introducing older characters for younger new readers. While it’s intended for a younger audience, older fans will appreciate Pratchett’s humorous fantasy writing with his twists and turns.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Book Review: Tell It to the World by Mervyn Maxwell

Tell It to the WorldTell It to the World by C. Mervyn Maxwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beginnings and the early development of the Seventh-day Adventist church spans continents and over a century that sees a handful of disappointed believers grow into a worldwide church with millions of members. Tell It to the World is a popular history by Mervyn Maxwell who used his long career teaching students to write church history in an engaging way.

The history begins with William Miller beginning his ministry about the coming of Christ in 1843-44 and how for years he remained in small towns until events brought his message to a much wider audience. The events in the United States and around the world at the same time that contributed to the Great Second Advent Movement before the Great Disappointment gave background not only to the times but the individuals who would soon shape the Seventh-day Adventist church. The aftermath of the Great Disappointment brought about division among Millerites and one small group formed what would become the Seventh-day Adventist church through Bible study and the Voice of Prophecy. The slow process of organizing the church along the concurrent beginnings of missionary work first around the nation and then across the world are interwoven together to show how both helped and harmed one another until a more centralized structure brought things into place. But this only took place after 16 years of crisis that brought reforms to the structure of the church that would allow it to continue to grow into the 20th Century.

Though the text is only 270 pages long, Maxwell packs a lot of information and anecdotes into the 32 chapters of the book that many Adventists would appreciate. Being a popular history, this book shies away from scholarly prose but Maxwell’s professionalism makes sure that footnotes are peppered throughout the text so those who question statements or wanting to know more could examine his sources. As stated above Maxwell used his long career in teaching to write so his students would enjoy reading and because the book was first published in the late 1970s, the ease of reading holds up very well.

Tell It to the World gives readers an ease to read history of the beginnings and early development of the Seventh-day Adventist church that is informative and riveting. Mervyn Maxwell’s book brings to focus a lot of Adventist history that many lifelong and new members of the church will find inspiring and instructive. If you’re a Seventh-day Adventist and haven’t read this before, I encourage you to do so.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: The Odyssey by Homer

The Odyssey by Homer
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The crafty hero of The Iliad is in the last leg of his long ten year journey home, but it not only his story that Homer relates to the reader in this sequel to the first war epic in literature. The Odyssey describes the Odysseus’ return to Ithaca after twenty years along with the emergence of his son Telemachus as a new hero while his faithful wife Penelope staves off suitors who are crowding their home and eating their wealth daily.

Although the poem is named after his father, Telemachus’ “arc” begins first as the reader learns about the situation on Ithaca around Odysseus’ home and the search he begins for information on his father’s whereabouts. Then we shift to Odysseus on a beach longing to return home when he is informed his long sojourn is about to end and he sets off on a raft and eventually arrives among the Phaeacians, who he relates the previous ten years of his life to before they take him back home. On Ithaca, Odysseus and his son eventually meet and begin planning their revenge on the Penelope’s suitors that results in slaughter and a long-awaited family reunion with Penelope.

First and foremost The Odyssey is about coming home, in both Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ arcs there are tales of successful homecomings, unsuccessful homecomings, and homecoming that never happen of heroes from The Iliad. Going hand-in-hand with homecomings is the wanderings of other heroes whose adventures are not as exciting or as long as Odysseus’. Interwoven throughout the poem with homecomings and wanderings is the relationship between guests and hosts along with the difference between good and bad for both that has long reaching consequences. And finally throughout Odysseus’ long journey there are tests everywhere of all types for him to overcome or fail, but the most important are Penelope’s both physical and intimate.

Even though it is a sequel, The Odyssey is in complete contrast to The Iliad as instead of epic battle this poem focuses on a hero overcoming everything even the gods to return home. Suddenly the poet who gave readers a first-hand account of war shows his readers the importance of returning from war from the perspective of warriors and their families. Although they are completely different, The Odyssey in fact compliments The Iliad as well as completing it which means if you read one you have to read the other.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Book Review: The Iliad by Homer

The Iliad by Homer
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The wrath of Achilles not only begins the oldest piece of Western literature, but is also its premise. The Iliad has been the basis of numerous clichés in literature, but at its root it is a story of a war that for centuries was told orally before being put down by Homer in which the great heroes of Greece fought for honor and glory that the men of Homer’s day could only imagine achieving.

The story of the Trojan War is well known and most people who have not read The Iliad assume they know what happens, but in fact at the end of the poem the city of Troy still stands and a wooden horse has not been mentioned. The Iliad tells of several weeks in the last year of the war that revolve around the dishonorable actions of Agamemnon that leads to Achilles refusing to fight with the rest of the Greeks and the disaster it causes in the resulting engagements against the Trojans. But then Achilles allows his friend Patroclus to lead his men into battle to save the Greek ships from being put to the torch only for Patroclus to advance to the walls of Troy and be slain by Hector. The wrath of Achilles turns from Agamemnon to Hector and the Trojans, leading to the death of Troy’s greatest warrior and the poem ending with his funeral.

Although the actions of Achilles and Hector take prominence, there are several other notable “storylines” one doesn’t know unless you’ve read epic. First and foremost is Diomedes, the second greatest fighter amongst the Greeks but oftentimes overlooked when it comes to adaptations especially to other important individuals like Odysseus, Menelaus, and the pivotal Patroclus. The second is how much the Olympians and other minor deities are thought to influence the events during this stretch of the war and how both mortals and immortals had to bow to Fate in all circumstances. The third is how ‘nationalistic’ the epic is in the Greek perspective because even though Hector is acknowledged the greatest mortal-born warrior in the war on both sides, as a Trojan he has to have moments of cowardice that none of the Greek heroes are allowed to exhibit and his most famous kill is enabled by Apollo instead of all by himself. And yet, even though Homer writes The Iliad as a triumphant Greek narrative the sections that have Hector’s flaws almost seem hollow as if Homer and his audience both subconsciously know that his epic is not the heroic wrath of Achilles but the tragic death of Hector.

The Iliad is the ultimate classic literature and no matter your reading tastes one must read it to have a better appreciation for all of literature as a whole. Although the it was first written over 2500 years ago, it shows the duality of heroic feats and complete tragedy that is war.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley: In Search of AmericaTravels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the fall and early winter of 1960, John Steinbeck packed up a camper-converted pickup truck and along with his dog went in search of America. Travels with Charley finds Steinbeck making a round trip around the United States with his dog, the titular Charley, looking to rediscover the voice, attitude, and personality of the characters he peoples his fictional work with. Yet like all journeys this one takes unexpected turns that the author doesn’t see coming.

Save prearranged meetings with his wife in Chicago and then in Texas for Thanksgiving, Steinbeck and his loyal canine Charley traverse various sections looking to get back in-touch with other Americans that he’s missed by flying over or traveling abroad. Quickly though Steinbeck learns that the uniqueness of speech and language was beginning to disappear into a standardize English in many sections of the country. He finds the Interstate and Superhighway system a gray ribbon with no color in comparison to state roads that show color and local character of the area. And his amazement about how towns and cities have begun to sprawl losing local character as they became mini-versions of New York or Los Angeles which includes his own home town in the Salinas valley, highlighting the changes the country had occurred to the nation during his life time alone by 1960.

Yet Travels with Charley isn’t gloom or despair, Steinbeck writes about the national treasure that is the various landscapes around the country that help give locals their own personality even in the face of “standardizing”. His interactions with people throughout his trip, whether friendly or hostile, give the reader a sense of how things remain the same yet are changing in the United States at the time of Steinbeck’s trip. But Steinbeck’s interactions and observations of this travel companion Charley are what make this book something that is hard to put down. Whether it’s Charley’s excitement to explore that night’s rest stop or Steinbeck’s amazement at Charley’s nonchalance at seeing a towering redwood or Steinbeck’s concern over Charley’s health or Charley’s own assessment of people, Steinbeck’s prose gives Charley character and lets the reader imagine the old dog by their side wherever they’re reading this book.

Written later in the author’s career, the reader is given throughout the entire book the elegance of Steinbeck’s prose that embeds what he his writing about deep into one’s subconscious. Though there is debate about how much of Travels with Charleyy is fiction or if an individual is a composite of several others or even if events are ordered correctly, what the reader learns is that Steinbeck’s journey is unique to himself as theirs would be unique for them as well.

Written almost 60 years ago Travels with Charley details a changing America through the eyes of one of its greatest authors, even today some of Steinbeck’s passages resonate with us in today’s cultural and political climate. But if like me you wanted a book by Steinbeck to get to know his style and prose than this is the book to do so.

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

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

RoguesRogues by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rogues, the short story anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, contains over twenty stories of above average quality and wonderful use of the titular quality that connects all the stories. The twenty-one stories from several genres features significant characters as rogues no matter gender, species, and orientation from authors both well-known to general audiences and some note so.

Of the twenty-one stories featured in Rogues the three best not only were high quality writing and features very roguish characters, but also were able to introduce a reader into the already established universe they take place in that only enhanced the story. The opening story “Tough Times All Over” takes place within the First Law world that Joe Abercrombie established himself writing about, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes takes place with in the world of Archonate, and “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix takes place within the world of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. While these were the best, the stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Stanwick, and Patrick Rothfuss set within an establish world they had create were also very good.

The stories especially created for this anthology is a mixture of the very good, the bad, and those that were just missing something. Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love”, David W. Ball’s “Provenance”, and Scott Lynch’s “A Year and A Day in Old Theradane” were wonderfully written stories in two separate genres that were in the top seven stories of the whole collection. “Now Showing” by Connie Willis is unfortunately one of the worst stories of the collection which was a shame considering that she wrote about several interesting ideas, but the execution with the characters crushed the story. Yet some of the stories while good and having roguish characters just felt like they were missing something: “Heavy Metal” was missing a fuller backstory to the main character and a better understanding of the supernatural powers at work yet once done could become a fascinating future series for Cherie Priest, and “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” was fantastic homage to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson by Lisa Tuttle that just felt it could have been more.

Yet some of the biggest disappointments in this collection were from established authors and their established series. The worst story of the collection is “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell that takes place in his alternate history timeline that features the spy Johnathan Hamilton but the reader has no idea about the world if you had never read an earlier story that featured Hamilton. And my personal disappointment was “The Rogue Prince” that George R.R. Martin wrote as an Archmaester of the Citadel as a biography of Daemon Targaryen but was more of a history of the events leading up to The Dance of the Dragons that he told in “The Princess and the Queen”.

The twenty-one stories that make up Rogues feature--more than not--very good short stories from across genres whether in established worlds or one-offs. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag in quality and expectations, but often than not the reader will be satisfied after finishing these stories with time well spent in several wonderful settings following some very unscrupulous individuals.

Individual Story Ratings
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (4.5/5)
What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (3.5/5)
The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (5/5)
Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale (4/5)
Tawny Petticoats by Michael Stanwick (4/5)
Provenance by David W. Ball (4/5)
Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn (3/5)
A Year and A Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Bad Brass by Bradley Denton (2.5/5)
Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest (3/5)
The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (4/5)
A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell (1/5)
Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor (3/5)
A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix (4.5/5)
Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams (3/5)
The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (2.5/5)
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (3/5)
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)
Now Showing by Connie Willis (2/5)
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (4/5)
The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin (2.5/5)

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Review: The Rogue Prince by George R.R. Martin

The Rogue Prince, or, A King's Brother by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

One of the major political and military individuals in the Targaryen Civil War, also known as The Dance of the Dragons, Prince Dameon Targaryen etched his name into the history of Westeros well before he fought for his wife's right to the Iron Throne. Living almost two hundred years before the main events of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, "The Rogue Prince" details the life of a man who was grandson and brother to kings as well as father and grandfather of kings in a line that leads to present.

Daemon Targaryen is a man whose actions would have ramifications for centuries to come, yet in his own biography he is overshadowed by the events and happenings that would lead to The Dance of the Dragons. Yet while most of the text focused on the background to the war Daemon would fight, events of his life that continued to shape Westeros were explored. After failed stints on the small council, Daemon would take charge of the city watch of King's Landing and reform them to become the Gold Cloaks. Daemon's alliance with House Velaryon in war, marriage, and politics that would have a profound effect on the later war and it's aftermath. And Daemon's rivalry with Hand of the King Otto Hightower over his brother entire reign that gave the King no end of trouble.

Written as a history of events leading up to The Dance in the form of a biography by an Archmaester of the Citadel, Martin mimics many popular biographies of the present day in writing this fictional history. Like many biographies of major players in the American Civil War in which the chain of events and movements that lead to the Civil War at times takes over the biography, Martin's "The Rogue Prince" follows the lead up to the Targaryen Civil War more than the titular subject yet in a very intriguing way that makes the reader wish Marin might one day write an actual story of one of Daemon's great adventures or misdeeds.

"The Rogue Prince" is both like and essentially a prequel to "The Princess and the Queen", a vivid retelling of history of events that surprisingly do connect with George R.R. Martin's main series as well. However, instead of following the promised roguish Daemon the history is not a biography but a backdoor history text that chronicles the events over the years that lead to The Dance of the Dragons. Thus even though an avid reader of history I enjoyed this piece, the focus away from the roguish titular character leaves something to be desired of the whole.

Review: The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss

The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The story follows mysterious errand boy from the Waystone Inn, Bast, throughout an entire day as he has dealings with many children from the area surrounding the town of Newarre. Bast offers answers to questions and problems that the children have in return for information or favors as well as trading information for information, but most of his time is helping a young boy named Rike get rid of his abusive father from his home. Yet while the children think they are dealing with an teenager, the reader is quick to realize that Bast is something other than human and more than just a teenager. Bast's roguishness is hard to miss and the story is very good making this a great penultimate story for the overall volume.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Now Showing by Connie Willis

Now Showing by Connie Willis
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Lindsay loves old movies and enjoys good movies, as did her former boyfriend Jack before he got expelled just before he graduated. After months of not going to the Movie Drome, she's convinced by her friends to watch some movies but she only agrees if they actually watch movies. It turns out Lindsay is a rare individual in this near-future world of 100 screen movie theaters, someone who actually wants to watch films not go to all the movie-themed restaurants and stores housed in the Drome. When she bumps into Jack, Lindsay's evening is basically shot and she learns about a conspiracy of fraud. But while the mysterious intrigues of the Drome are interesting to explore, Lindsay letting herself be treated like all ladies that "date" scoundrels in movies undermines everything. For over half the story, I wanted Lindsay to sucker punch Jack but instead they had sex while Jack got some evidence of his fraud conspiracy. My rating is more of the ideas and the detailing the near-future world than the story and characters.

Review: How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman

How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Marquis de Carabas died, but he's currently getting better though when he came to his coat was gone. The Marquis begins searching throughout London Below, however he has to contend with various consequences to his past actions. Yet while dealing with those consequences, the Marquis uses the actions of others to his own advantage to get out of scraps and eventually get his coat back. Although the reader probably needs to read Nevermore to get a better idea of the world, Gaiman adequately gives the reader a sense of London Below but not as good as some other authors have done which is why the rating is a little low.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle

The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Miss Lane interviews a new client, a little girl named Felicity who has seen her dead older half-sister (Alcinda) standing above her mother's grave before being pulled away by a disagreeable gentleman who scared her. Although Lane isn't hopeful after receiving the dead half-sister's diary, her partner Mr. Jasper Jesperson seems intrigued by coded message that the half-sister left at the end of the diary that he decoded. The two detectives journey to the dead young woman's cemetery and end up at her undertaker's home in which they find mother and several "wives" including the unfortunate Alcinda who they rescue. Yet at the end of the story, even the protagonists wonder who the real rogue was in the case. This little mystery was a nice change of pace within the anthology as well homage to Doyle's Holmes and Watson with a unique twist. I only wish there was more story to the story.

Review: The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein

The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Alaric the Minstrel is hired to join a merchant caravan across the desert to perform entertainment for the men, but from the start his employer warns him about his own son. It turns out the young man is unbalanced, wanting to chase after the mirage of the "Lost City" but is always looked after by his father as well as his men. However, both Alaric and the merchant learn that some of the men are upset at this arrangement and one looks to take over the trade of a very valuable drug as well as getting rid of the kid. Alaric's ability comes in handy to save not only his life the merchant's as well, but the merchant's son is left to chase after his life's pursuit. The story was fine and upon finishing a tad predictable, but there wasn't really a "roguish" feel to it though.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Review: Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams

Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Sean Makin, a former child-star who suffers from a physical deformity, is shooting his feature film in Mexico along side his "tabloid girlfriend". However, things suddenly go south when he finds his "girlfriend" dead in her room and film's production & quality is put in jeopardy. Sean finds himself navigating Mexican authorities, DEA agents, and a shadowy prop assistant who has found ingenious uses for a 3D printer. Sean finds himself bribing local Mexican police to shot at windows then meeting a drug lord and then confront the man who accidentally killed his "girlfriend" to extort money from his corporate employers in an effort to save his one shot at a stable acting career. The story features several types of rogues and is very good, but sections of Sean's thoughts require you to have read Williams' book The Fourth Wall which lowered the rating.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Review: A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix

A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sir Hereward and Mr. Fitz break into a home of wizard-merchant and suddenly find their plan to take 14 ivory figurines that anchored godlets to the mortal plane into safekeeping upended. These two rogues find themselves up against a rogue young thief and a rogue goblet that has taken possession of the unfortunate wizard-merchant. The story rapidly proceeds from the mansion of the unfortunate merchant to the city's centuries-old ceremonial ship that starts to come apart as it goes against the tide and wind. I have been wanting to read Nix for a while, mainly his Abhorsen series, but having been introduced to Hereward and Fitz as well I need to read the other stories they're involved in. A cast of rogues of one variety or another, action-packed, and wonderful world building throughout for those unfamiliar with the world that doesn't slow the story. It just adds up to a fantastic story.

Review: Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor

Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Young Gordianus and his tutor Antipater have arrived in the latter hometown of Tyre on their way to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but Gordianus finds out that his mentor has a soft spot for illogical magic and mythic heroes. While staying at a tavern, Gordianus learns of the local heroes Fafhrd and Grey Mouser who had very roguish adventures in the city and interacted with Antipater's grandfather on one occasion. But all of this is prelude to Antipater purchasing the Books of Secret Wisdom and both of them getting taken in by the seller and possibly everyone in the entire tavern as well. But Antipater doesn't care and Gordianus, while furious, has to let it go. The story itself gets a tad predictable when the seller arrives, but the highlight was the descriptions of Fafhrd and Grey Mouser which were created by Fritz Leiber and who I know what to read myself.

Review: A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell

A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Jonathan Hamilton believes he'd heading to his death on an estate that is connected to multiple alternate worlds, facing off against a younger version of himself that he had "humiliated" several weeks prior at a dinner party in a card game. Now his younger Alt-Self has stolen money from the College of Heralds and even kidnapped a young senior Herald Precious Nothing before making his way to a place he can get back home or take Hamilton's place. Unfortunately this story suffers because unless you've read previous Jonathan Hamilton stories, what I just wrote above is the only thing you understand in the entire story. The story features a little twist that makes you wonder who the "true" rogue of the story is, but without understanding anything about the world it's almost worthless.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham

The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In independent "city" within a city, a life-long resident has taken a exile prince under her wing while he's hiding from his evil stepmother. While Asa has used her street smarts to keep Prince Steppan alive, he has fallen in love with a girl he hasn't met who is about to be sold as a slave by her family for much needed money. Asa promises to save Steppan's great love and then runs into to bounty hunters looking for a recent Chancellor of the greater city around her hometown. Knowing the man, Asa comes up with a plan to help both her friends get what they want and in true roguish fashion even makes some money as well.

Review: Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest

Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A big man rolls into Ducktown, Tennessee site of a years old environmental disaster that might have helped create a home for something far more sinister. Kilgore is a problem-solver of the supernatural kind, keeping his Bible close and his knowledge of the "old way" fresh in his mind. Investigating the deaths of two University of Tennessee student researchers, Kilgore speaks with their surviving colleague and then with the lead volunteer at the local museum dedicated to the old copper mine and the resulting disaster before investigating the area himself. Kilgore is an intriguing rogue, who story can only be guessed at along with his area of expertise. Even through the story was good after finishing, I felt that I only received half the story and information I needed about Kilgore which is why the rating is so low.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Bad Brass by Bradley Denton

Bad Brass by Bradley Denton
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Professional substitute teacher Matthew Marx has another side to him, he steals from other criminals especially dumb ones like the band instrument thieves from his ex-wife's high school. Having found out about this little ring of high school thieves, or wannabes, Marx is looking to take their illicit gains for himself only to witness a bizarre exchange especially when one of the thieves steals the buyers' stolen van with some of the stolen band merchandise. When back at school, Marx realizes that half the "crew" are just band geeks brought in because they know stuff about the "products". Although Marx himself is a rogue in every sense of the word and the story was well written with subtle comedy woven throughout, compared to some of the other stories in this anthology it just felt average.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Review: The Antichrist and the New World Order by Marvin Moore

The Antichrist And The New World OrderThe Antichrist And The New World Order by Marvin Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the early 1990s, many wondered what would be happening next as the globe emerged from under the shadow of the Cold War. For many Seventh-day Adventists such phrases as ‘the new world order’ instantly brought to mind end-time events. Editor and lecturer Marvin Moore in his book The Antichrist and the New World Order presented to both general and Adventist audiences the eschatology—the study of end-time events—and doctrines of the Church to answer some of these questions.

Moore begins his book with predictions by economists, politicians, and scientists about what would occur during the rest of the 1990s. Then using that ‘set up’, he slowly introduces the eschatology of the Seventh-day Adventist church along with historical precedents that they point use to support their thoughts and use to answer claims of an ‘alternative’ narrative of the past from other’s. Moore deftly navigates the reader through the eschatology beliefs of the Adventist church through Biblical sources, the writings of Ellen White, and historical sources. Yet his tone of presentation is thoughtful and considerate to anyone reading the book, unlike the confrontation style of other’s that I’ve read.

The biggest drawback of the book is the obvious dated current events of the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially the titular phrase ‘the new world order’, the predictions of experts about what could happen before the end of the decade. However, the dated references and such cannot take away from Moore’s inviting tone. One of the book best features is Moore’s own experiences in relating his own interaction with non-Adventists friends when explaining Adventist end-time thoughts, even relating how one friend said, “That’s stupid”, before they went out to dinner and how they continued to be friends long after the conversation. Essentially Moore wanted to remind everyone reading his book that Christian friends can disagree and should not holding grudges because the focus is on the destination in which we won’t be grading one another on how accurate we though the journey would be.

Though dated, The Antichrist and the New World Order is a thoughtful look at Seventh-day Adventist eschatology from someone well versed in it though his various lectures. Being both short, very readable Marvin Moore’s book is very good read for both Adventists and the general public.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review: A Year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch

A Year and a Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After a night of drinking and playing cards with her former gang is interrupted by the chaos caused by the feuding of two wizards that rule the city, famed thief Amarelle Parathis decides to drunkenly berate one of the said wizards. The next morning the wizard replays a threat Amarelle made the night before, which could get her killed or worse. To save herself, Amarelle agrees to destroy the focal point of another wizard's power in the titular time frame. Getting help from her roguish gang of thieves, they race to save Amarelle's existence in full knowledge that if they succeed it won't be the end of their work for the wizard.

Review: Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn

Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Pauline accompanies her friend Madame M to a supernatural speakeasy, patronized by supernatural folk, mobsters, and just regular folks looking to drink some booze. M wants to speak with the establishments' owner Gigi. Suddenly what appears to be a normal night takes a turn a couple ask for help to escape for the West Coast and then an obvious Fed shows up and begins nosing around, until both Pauline and Madame take things in hand to get him occupied and help the couple escape, unfortunately they lose the Fed and he comes back resulting in things getting interesting. While Pauline and M are interesting characters, their roguishness is somewhat questionable though hidden by a good story.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Provenance by David W. Ball

Provenance by David W. Ball
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A lost Caravaggio comes to the attention of art expert Max Wolff, although he is considered one of the most upright professionals in the art world is a dealer in underworld stolen art. After getting his hands on the painting, Wolff gives its history to "prosperity gospel" preacher Joe Cooley Barber, from the madman artist to the Nazis and East German Stasi, to dictators and arms dealers then a lowlife thief. But possibly the biggest rogue among the bunch that has touched this painting is Wolff himself, who's own history with the painting is bigger than he let on with Barber. Ball set up the little twist to the end earlier and one doesn't full appreciate it until finishing the story of a very unique rogue.

Review: Tawny Petticoats by Michael Swanwick

Tawny Petticoats by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Conmen Darger and Surplus are in the independent port city of New Orleans looking to scam the three most powerful people in the city and hope not to becoming zombie workmen if things go south. Joining them in their scam is the titular Tawny Petticoats, who joins the duo as an "innocent" female hook to the their money scam. Unfortunately for poor Surplus who experiences being a temporary zombie, things don't go according to plan especially with Tawny running off with one of the other targets along with some of the stolen money. But Darger and Surplus decide to leave New Orleans on the verge of a large scale riot they put into motion, talk about a couple of rogues.

Review: Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale

Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Hap Collins goes looking for this girlfriend's daughter, Tillie, but he knows he's going to have a rough going because Tillie is into having a rough-type of life and the associated rough individuals that are part of it. Luckily for Hap, his brother from a different mother Leonard shows up at the right time to save Hap and join the search for Tillie. The two raid a church used as front for a lowlife who claims the title of pastor to find Tillie. There are numerous rogues in this story, but Hap and Leonard are the most resourceful in getting this particular "job" accomplished.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes

The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A down-on-his-luck thief, Raffalon, overhears a poor traveler getting taken by the animal-man hybrid Vandaayo to be eaten in one of their rituals. Unfortunately for Raffalon, he's soon following the Vandaayo to rescue their captive because he's under the control of a little god who needs the poor victim to perform a ritual to empower him again. After rescuing the god's devotee and another Vandaayo hunting victim, Raffalon finds that his journey with the little god isn't over, especially after learning the supposed devotee isn't grateful for being saved and he has other plans for the little god. A mixture of action, comedic moments, and a very engaging story makes this short story a page turner.

Review: What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn

What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A life-long con-artist has once against changed her profession into the wonderful world of fortune-telling, or as she terms it "vision specialist". One day a new client comes in who lives in a old house, who has a moody teenage stepson, and suddenly finds herself in the middle of some weird things. Although the reader quickly realizes that con-artist is being conned in some fashion, Flynn's multi-twisted ending is set up so perfectly that that it earned an extra half a star. On top of wonderful ending is the detail in giving the reader the background of the unnamed point-of-view roguish protagonist that added another half star.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie

Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sipani is a place of mazelike streets full of foolish nobles and streetwise commoners, amongst the latter are numerous thieves getting their hands on a mystery item that everyone wants but can’t seem to keep their hands on. Abercrombie uses the collections’ title to full advantage as the story shift from one different rogue to another throughout whenever they have a mysterious package in their possession. The large cast of characters range in age, gender, race, and use of magic if any with action from beginning to end and exposition mixed in results in an great opening story to the collection as a whole.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Book Review: Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Night Watch (Discworld, #29)Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The past and future of Ankh-Morpork revolve around the efforts of His Grace Sir Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, and he doesn’t like it one bit. Night Watch, the sixth book focusing on the City Watch and twenty-ninth overall book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series finds Vimes dealing with his wife about to give birth, the deaths of two of his two officers and chasing the man responsible, then finding himself in the past playing the mentor to his younger self during a time of revolution.

Sam Vimes loves being a copper, but not so much His Grace when things have to be official, but after a magical “accident” caused by the Monks of History to send him 30 years into the past Vimes must make sure history happens like it did when he was a 17-year old newbie. Becoming his mentor Sergeant John Keel and second-in-command at his old Watch House, Vimes attempts to bring about the past he remembers so his “present” remains the same. Unfortunately for Vimes, a genius yet insane killer Carcer was brought back with him and has his own agenda—chaos and murder. Add in a revolution hitting Ankh-Morpork and Vimes is in for some very stressful days.

This isn’t the first time that Pratchett has done a little time travel in a Discworld novel, but it was the first in which it was the primary element in one. Vimes becoming the heroic mentor to his younger self, is somewhat cliché but Pratchett uses Vimes own grim view of the world to an advantage as starts to become imprinted on young Sam. Yet, Vimes existential fretting about messing up his future does get tiresome after him doing it so many times in the book that it almost seems that Pratchett was finding ways to take up page space.

Night Watch is an action-packed installment in the Discworld series that Pratchett writes fantastically with Sam Vimes as the protagonist, even with the overused existential fretting. Once again I’ve found a Watch book bringing out the best of Pratchett and the entire Discworld setting, I can only hope the other two books of the subseries will be the same.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Review: Sabbath Roots by Charles E. Bradford

Sabbath Roots : The African ConnectionSabbath Roots : The African Connection by Charles E. Bradford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The observance of the seventh-day Sabbath has been a contentious issue amongst many Christians for centuries in Europe and North America, but one place that may startle many is that it has been the same in Africa. In his book Sabbath Roots: The African Connection, Charles E. Bradford brings to light many tribal and cultural customs from across the continent giving the reader evidence of the memory and observance of the seventh-day Sabbath from all corners of Africa.

With over 2000 years of Biblical history as well as cultural studies of hundreds of tribes across an entire continent as well as the African diaspora to the Americas, Bradford had many sources to navigate and reference to give readers a sense of how Africans fit into the continuing debate on the Sabbath. Beginning with how God is seen from the Biblical prophets and how He is perceived in the minds of Africans on both the continent and diaspora, Bradford brings to light where each stands to the other. Afterwards, he delves into the subject of the Sabbath on the African continent in relation to God and to cultures in and outside of Africa. Finally Bradford turns his attention to the history of Christianity on the continent, with a main focus on colonial period which it was considered both a forced religion from the outside and a religion of protest from foreign occupation.

In roughly 230 pages, Bradford had to cover a lot over a wide scope of scholarship and while he did a remarkable job in an engaging text and strong use of numerous sources there was only so much he could do and does leave readers with questions. The biggest and most important issue deals with the Sabbath itself. Outside the well-known Black Jewish groups, the Falasha and the Lemba, and writing briefly about the Jewish diaspora in Africa, Bradford does indicate if the cultural and tribal traditions of the seventh-day Sabbath across the continent are all from Jewish contact or a mixture of Noahide memory and contact with Jewish influences. This lingering question while not invalidating Bradford’s thesis, does leave it up to interpretation.

Although the question of when Sabbath entered into the cultural traditions of tribes all over Africa is unanswered, Sabbath Roots is still a very welcome addition to information about the seven-day Sabbath. But Bradford’s book should only be considered an introduction, especially in relation to Africa, and should inspire readers to look for more information after reading.


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Friday, May 12, 2017

Book Review: The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy #1-5)The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the 1970s, a BBC radio serial was a surprise hit with a combination of humor and science fiction, eventually this spawned more radio serials, a TV show, even a Hollywood produced film, but also a series of books by creator Douglas Adams. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy contains the first five novels and a short story written by Adams for fans both old and new, but unfortunately it seems that the novels might be more hype and substance.

The five novels contained in this anthology book are all flawed in various and similar ways, which seem to appear and disappear through the series. As a series of stories that were meant to be rooted in humor and science fiction, only the latter seemed to be constantly topnotch while the humor was a lot of hits-and-misses as in some stories seemed to have them and others didn’t. Another issues was narrative flow in each story or general lack thereof, as the majority of the stories are just a series of things happen before ending while others were narratively solid stories that got the reader looking forward to how it would end only for said ending to just appear out of nowhere leaving the reader cheated. Sadly the best story in the entire book that essentially got all the above flaws correct was the short story about young Zaphod.

Having looked forward to reading this collection of stories, I feel ultimately cheated after finishing the book. Overall I found everything in the book average and okay, but this will not be a book I go back to read again and has put in my mind to search out the original radio series or the old TV series to see if either or both are better than The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2.5/5)
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (3.5/5)
Life, the Universe, and Everything (3.5/5)
So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish (2.5/5)
Young Zaphod Plays It Safe (4/5)
Mostly Harmless (2.5/5)

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Review: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The fifth and penultimate installment of the Hitchhiker's series had an interesting premise and sadly poor execution, which almost seems to sum up my overall thoughts on the entire series.

The story begins and ends on Earth, not the first one nor the second but another one, with reporter Tricia McMillan wishing she had joined Zaphod seventeen years before. Meanwhile Arthur Dent is hitchhiking around the Universe looking for an Earth to settle down on, if he can get the dimension right, while finding out that Trillian is a reporter for an inter-dimension & multi-time period news channel. And Ford Prefect goes to the Guide's headquarters and finds out it's been taken over by a corporate giant that has developed a frighteningly new version of the Guide and mails it to Arthur just before his escape. Ultimately all these treads end on Tricia's Earth through strange twist that might appear to be Random, but are a result of a bureaucratic need to check a box.

Throughout the entire story, Adams creates great situations and locations that seem to be the start of a story in themselves only to then quickly end them in an attempt to link them to another or each other like in the end of the book. However, this just resulted in making the reader think "this story could be great if..." for over half the story and wish some characters had been around longer or even appear. So much promise, but nothing to show for it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Young Zaphod Plays It Safe by Douglas Adams

Young Zaphod Plays It Safe by Douglas Adams
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In short story featuring Zaphod Beeblebrox, Douglas Adams brings both quick story with some funny dialogue. Two bureaucrats hire Zaphod to dive down to a crashed spaceship to explore the cargo, though Zaphod wonders why they keep on calling it the "safest" ship ever when it's a crashed wreck. Yet as they go through the interior the bureaucrats get anxious about the really dangerous cargo that Zaphod starts wondering what it is after they pass rooms containing really harmful material including chemical weapons. Its only until Zaphod learns what the most dangerous cargo on the ship is that he learns why the bureaucrats insist on calling everything "safe". Overall, the shortness of the story and tight plot make this a very good read with some nice jokes.

Review: So Long, and Thanks for the Fish by Douglas Adams

So Long, and Thanks for the Fish by Douglas Adams
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

The fourth installment of Adams' Hitchhiker series finds characters and reader returning to a planet that shouldn't exist and figuring out why. Yet like the original installment this one has series problems in plot and humor, incoherent for one and flat for the other.

Earth is back out of no where and Arthur Dent has hitchhiked his way to his home planet that he thought gone forever 8 years before, only for everyone else it's only be about 8 months. While hitchhiking to his house, Arthur meets Fenchurch and just has to meet her again even though she technically didn't meet him. Once they do meet up things just start happening as if it's mean to be, including Fen reminding him all the dolphins disappeared which leads them to California to find the answer to that. Meanwhile Ford finds that his very long entry on Earth has suddenly popped up on the Guide and hurries to Earth to get Arthur. Then the three of them travel to view God's last message to the Universe where they meet up with Marvin.

Honestly, this story had a lot of things going for it that never materialized in both plot and humor. The joke about Fenchurch's name is apparently is obviously just English based that anyone from elsewhere on the planet just has to assume it's an English in-joke and that it's suppose to be funny. The main plot, if there even is one, is Arthur just getting back into the flow of Earth after traveling the Universe and then falling instantly in love before solving a mystery.

Overall, So Long, and Thanks for the Fish has it's moments both for story and humor but nothing is really connected or coherent. It's ho-hum fine, but nothing I'd go back to read.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams

Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The third installment in the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series continued the very good storytelling of the previous installment, but unfortunately regressed in humor to that of the original installment. Bringing into the story more time travel to go along with space travel, Adams brings back characters and old familiar location back to create an entertaining story.

Beginning with Arthur Dent on 2 million B.C. Earth reconnecting with Ford after several years apart, the two compare notes before seeing a sofa slowly moving across a field. After catching it, they're transported to Lord's just before England wins The Ashes and meeting up with Slartibartfast then watch as a spaceship lands and white robots that look like cricket players charge into the celebrating crowd and take The Ashes. Arthur and Ford then learn about the Krikkit, the great Krikkit War, and the Wikkit Gate to keep them locked away in time until the universe ended. Suddenly racing around the galaxy, always too late, to stop the Krikkit's robot army from getting component of the Wikkit Key. After one failed attempt, they meet up with Trillian who's left a lethargic Zaphod only to be reunited when the robots steal the drive of the Heart of Gold. They desperately travel to the planet Krikkit in which Trillian figures things out and saves the Universe from destruction, only for Arthur to almost destroy it when he lives out his dream to bowl at Lords.

Life, the Universe, and Everything has a lot of action and interesting adventures for Arthur and Ford with only minimal participation by Trillian, Zaphod, and Marvin. Even though Trillian is the character that connects the dots even though she came into the adventure late, Adams gives the reader all the clues to bring about a fantastic ending. The only downside to this story is that the humor doesn't measure up to Restaurant and is more in line with Hitchhiker.

While I am giving Life, the Universe, and Everything the same rating as Restaurant, right now this is my second favorite installment of Adams' series given the the humor for the former is better than this one. If the humor had been on the same level then this story would have easily been 4 stars.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: The Restaurant at the End of the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Picking up right after the completion of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe continues the story of the mash-up crew of the Heart of Gold. But in this sequel, both the story and the humor are brought up a notch making for a story than the first.

The majority of the story revolves around former President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebox attempting to find out for what reason he stole the Heart of Gold. The a series of misadventures which nearly kills him all the while very hungry, Zaphod learns that it is to find the actually ruler of the Universe. Meanwhile Arthur, Ford, and Trillian just attempt to survive and find out where Zaphod is until he returns to the ship. When the characters arrive at the titular restaurant for Zaphod's long awaited meal, the humor only gets better then suddenly the story is in it's endgame and suddenly the crew is split up with Zaphod & Trillian going in one direction and Arthur & Ford in another.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the story was it's ending as Zaphod & Trillian just disappear while Arthur & Ford are stranded on a planet in a long sequence that just ended with a bad joke, or just might have been one, it's hard to say. But apart from the ending, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe was better than it's predecessor.