Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: Op-Center by Jeff Rovin

Op-Center (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #1)Op-Center by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A terrorist attack in Seoul raises tensions on Korean peninsula with war looking likely, but a new federal crisis management team is task to figure out who and why before things escalate too far. Op-Center through bearing the name of Tom Clancy, who along with Steve Pieczenik created the story, was ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin about a government agency tasked with handling both domestic and international crisis.

Renegade South Korean soldiers attack an official celebration of the founding of the country implicating the North Koreans. Op-Center director Paul Hood suddenly finds himself appointed head of Task Force by a President looking for a big foreign affairs accomplishment; however evidence and a cyberattack complicate Hood giving the President a clear go ahead to launch a war. On the peninsula, a former Ambassador to the country and his friend in the KCIA take their own individual routes to lessen the growing tensions between the two sides. But the renegade squad is racing towards their next attacks—the North Korean barracks at the DMZ and Tokyo—and the only thing that can stop them is Op-Center’s paramilitary response team, Striker with Hood’s deputy General Mike Rodger along for the action.

Set roughly around the time of book’s publication a little over 20 years ago, the plot reads almost like alternate history today but still holds up fairly well. While the primary plot is very good, the subplots connected with different characters were more of a problem. Hood is torn between crisis in Korea and with this son’s health that makes him look sympathetic while his wife appears too needy given that she knew something like this could happen, Rodgers appears to be in a mid-life crisis wanting to get back to his glory days instead of being at his post, and many of the female Op-Center personal are painted broadly with a brush in various stereotypes that back when I first read the book as a teenager didn’t pop out at me but certainly did now.

While the characterization of many of the principal characters is bland, the plot and the action are very well written making this a quick and fun read for the most part. While at the time Rovin wasn’t given his due as the book’s author, he did a good job in setting up a series that would eventually reach 12. While Op-Center is not the greatest book within the action and thriller genres but those that like those genres will find it a good read.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Book Review: A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The young witch of the Chalk downlands goes begins her apprenticeship not knowing that she’s being stalked by a long-lived lifeform that likes taking over “hosts”. A Hat Full of Sky is the 32nd book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the second following Tiffany Aching and her friends the Wee Free Men.

A year and a half after Tiffany Aching took on the Fairie Queen with only an iron skillet; she’s finally going to learn proper witchcraft as an apprentice to Mistress Level, who apparently has two bodies. However that is the only thing extraordinary about Tiffany’s experience with Miss Level because instead of magic, she’s just doing chores and learning practical knowledge. Yet unknowingly Tiffany is doing magic as she has immense power in “borrowing” just like Granny Weatherwax, but unlike the area’s most renowned witch Tiffany doesn’t know how to defend herself from those wanting to borrow her. While Tiffany doesn’t realize the danger she’s in, the Chalk Clan of the Nac Mac Feegles keep an eye on their “wee big hag” and know what’s stalking her and go racing to the rescue with hilarious results. But in the end it’ll have to be Tiffany who gets her body back from this immortal foe.

The second book of featuring Tiffany and Feegles goes right into the story quickly while also giving information about both early on without taking away from the narrative or unnecessary exposition. One doesn’t need to have read The Wee Free Men to learn information about the Feegle’s culture as Pratchett also included a nice little “article” about them before the story begins, mainly to allay fears from parents that the Feegles are cussing in a children’s book. Frankly the only negative from the point of view of an adult is that one could see the major plot points coming, it was just how Pratchett would make them entertaining—which he certainly did.

While A Hat Full of Sky is a young adult book, Terry Pratchett’s satirical and narrative writing makes it a great addition to the overall Discworld series. Both new readers and longtime fans will have a good time reading Tiffany learning about being a witch.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela

The UnderdogsThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book Review: Christianity by Roland H. Bainton

Christianity (American Heritage Library)Christianity by Roland H. Bainton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The history of Christianity spans over 2000 years, across three then five continents, and numerous individuals doing their best to follow the example of Jesus. Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a survey of the history, theology developments, and impact of the faith has had on society over the length of its existence since the ministry of Christ on earth.

Beginning with the various cultural backgrounds that influenced the life of Jesus and the society he lived and teach in, Bainton writes an easily read survey of Christianity. Everything from the Apostolic Age through the persecution by the Roman Empire then its long progression of conversation through the Western Empire’s fall is covered very well. However with Rome’s fall, the book’s focus begins to be firmly placed in Western Europe—later to expand to the Americas—with all the culture, historical, political, and theological developments that are well-known to anyone with a general knowledge of the history of Western civilization. Given the book is less than 400 pages in length, Bainton’s having to choose the best way to get through the history of Christianity meant having to neglect the developments of East Orthodox, Oriental, and Coptic Christianity in favor to everything connected to Western Christianity.

Though not all facets are covered, Roland H. Bainton’s Christianity is a well-written survey that covers the basics of everything related to Western Christianity. For anyone looking for general information of Christianity, I recommend this book to you.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Book Review: Daniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith

Daniel and the RevelationDaniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation have been a long studied by Seventh-day Adventists and their precursors for almost 200 years; one of the most prominent writers was Uriah Smith during his long tenure with the newsmagazine Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Smith’s major contribution to Adventist theology was his verse-by-verse commentary of the books of Daniel and the Revelation.

This book is the most in-depth explanation of Seventh-day Adventist thought on end-time Biblical prophecies from the turn of the 20th Century, yet even though it’s mostly over 100 years old—there are some publisher insertions here and there—it is mostly what Seventh-day Adventist still believe today. However, the biggest difference is the focus of the Islam and Ottoman Empire—referred to Turkey—as being a major prophetic “player” in the past in particular in relation to Revelation 9 though in other places as well. While today Adventists do see the rise of Islam as playing a role in the prophetic past, it is only in affecting the Church at a particular time and nothing more.

Though Daniel and the Revelation is not an up-to-date book on what Seventh-day Adventists believe about those prophetic books, the great majority of Uriah Smith’s text is still relevant today. The only significant change has been an even more focused look at the history of the Church in prophecy than on another religion.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Book Review: The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin

The 12th Planet (Earth Chronicles, #1)The 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How did civilization begin seemingly out of nowhere? And how did humanity evolve so fast in comparison to what had happened before? These are the questions that Zecharia Sitchin set to answer in his book, The 12th Planet, in which he purports that he found said answers in cuneiform text dating from time of Sumerians over 5000 years ago.

Sitchin begins by going over the spurts of cultural development that lead to the beginning of Sumerian civilization and how modern man appeared so soon in terms of evolution to even develop the civilization that we are a part of. Sitchin then describes all the firsts that Sumer did in, many of them were not continuous since then through to our day, and then asked where the Sumerians learned this knowledge to he responded that the Sumerians learned it from the gods. Using the Sumerian Creation myth, Enuma Elis, Sitchin details the beginnings of the solar system including how a rogue planetoid entered the developing solar system and began circling the sun in a 3,600 year long orbit. This planet, named Nibiru, created havoc in the early solar system resulting in the asteroid belt and Earth, seeded with the building blocks of life from this planet. Eventually humanlike beings eventually developed technology to explore the solar system and find Earth habitable and with resources they needed. These beings, the Annunaki or Nephilim, began travelling to Earth and mining for resources but bringing with them their own politics and grudges that eventually led to the “creation” of modern humans then the Deluge in an effort to destroy them. But in the aftermath were thankful that some survived so they could help them rebuild their operations.

Sitchin’s work was one of a number “ancient astronaut” books throughout 1970s and his influence within the community is immeasurable still almost a decade after his death. Yet, this book is rife with many scientific errors related to astrophysics, celestial mechanics, cosmology, and plate tectonics to name a few and is out-of-date in human evolutionary thought. While those are big drawbacks, Sitchin’s focus on Sumerian & Akkadian cuneiform on the reported Annunaki influence on early Earth and human history is very interesting and thought-provoking even if you disbelieve it. This focus on Sumerian myth, or record of history, is the most important part of the book as well as it’s relation to other mythological traditions along with the Bible.

While many might discount this book because of the incorrect scientific propositions put forward and disagree with the “ancient astronaut” theory. The best argument for reading Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet is the focus on Sumerian history and myth, which is one of the oldest and little known compared to many other cultures. Agree or disagree with Sitchin, this book is just one you have to say that you’ve read.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polly Perks cuts her hair and leaves home to join her nation’s army to find her brother and bring him home; however her act of defiance against her country’s social norms turns out to have consequences geopolitically. Monstrous Regiment, the 31st book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third of the Industrial subseries in which the vast majority of the book comes from Polly’s point-of-view in which gender, religious, and military issues play a big role in the narrative.

The nation of Borogravia is always at war in one neighbor or another, their god Nuggan is dead because they believe his Abominations more than him, and their ruler The Duchess is probably dead after not being seen for decades but is slowly becoming defied in replace of Nuggan. All of these things conspire to make Polly go to find her brother Paul in the Kneck valley and bring him home so that she doesn’t lose the family inn. After signing up, she and the rest of the new recruits become the new “lads” of legendary soldier Sergeant Jackrum but on the way to the front Polly finds that all the other recruits are also women having joined for their own reasons. Throughout the book, the regiment starts impacting the war on an international scale as the Anhk-Morpork Times details the adventures of the troop making them underdogs back home even as they oppose the alliance that Anhk-Morpork is a part of.

Although the geopolitical aspects of her regiments actions comes as a surprise to Polly, most of her concerns throughout the entire book is understanding a “woman’s role in a man’s world”, the insane religion they’re dealing with, and finally military culture between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Pratchett’s use of real world issues into his fantasy world might annoy some readers but I thought it was handled well especially in his dry satirical style. The only really big irritation was that after a while the surprise of another woman-as-a-man in uniform lost its impact because you could basically guess who was going to be eventually revealed to be a woman, so it became less important and just Pratchett check off another reveal.

Monstrous Regiment deals with a lot of real world issues in a dry satirical style that Pratchett is famous for. Although the book’s long running gag of revealing women-as-men in uniform gets old and easy to predict as the book goes along, it doesn’t take away from the overall good quality of the book. If you’re a Discworld fan you’ll like this book but if you’re new to the series try another book first.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Review: Spy Schools by Daniel Golden

Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's UniversitiesSpy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's Universities by Daniel Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The openness of American colleges and universities for thought and research is seen by academics as the keystone to higher education. However Daniel Golden writes in Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities this is seen as opportunities to recruit agents and cultivate operatives as well steal technological innovations both by our own intelligence agencies and those across the globe.

Golden divided his book into foreign and domestic intelligence agencies exploitation of American universities. The first focused how foreign agencies, mainly the Chinese, have been exploiting American universities need of prestige and tuition money to gain partnerships between Chinese universities and their American counterparts resulting in an exchange of students and professors. Yet the most important focus of Golden’s investigation was on how the openness and collaboration within American university labs opens up opportunities for individuals to funnel research, including those paid by the U.S. government and American companies, to their home country to be exploit by their own government or to patient and start up a business. The second half was on the complicated relationship between American intelligence agencies and universities, some of who encourage a relationship and those that do not. The aspect of conflict between secrecy and openness is seen throughout the latter half of the book with 9/11 playing a pivotal role in each side’s views. Unlike the first half of the book, this section is seen over the course of 60 years compared to more near 2000 but in a way to show that past is prologue.

As an investigative journalist, Golden uses extensive research and a multitude of interviews in giving a full history and the scale of a front in the global spy game that many in the United States haven’t been aware of. Unfortunately for Golden the timing of this book while on the one hand current and on the other potentially dated. Nearly all his interviews take place no later than 2015, but since the election of Donald Trump with a seemingly nativist groundswell behind him and student demonstrations against conservative speakers might have begun a fundamental shift that could drastically change how both American and foreign intelligence services are seen on American universities especially as a post-9/11 “tolerance” on campus changes to hostility.

Even though the subject Daniel Golden has written about could be in the midst of a sudden sea change, Spy Schools is still a book to read in at least to understand an important part of the global spy game. Although no up-to-date, the recent and long-term history is significant for anyone who is concerned about national security and foreign intervention in American affairs.

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

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Review: Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his dark and psychological poems and short stories that have had an influence not only American literature throughout the world not only in literature but television and film. Yet while a number of Poe’s work has stood the test of time and made a large impression, a lot more expose stereotypical tropes and themes that repeat so much that they lose impact to the reader.

Before I go through the problems I have with Poe, I’m going to spend a little time praising his better pieces. “The Raven” is obviously the best known of Poe’s poetry and arguably his best, even though you’ve might have read it or heard it read before just reading it again makes you appreciate it before. The three Auguste Dupin short stories, the precursors to the detective genre, are wonderful reads in which Poe’s deductive reason is used well in written form to create fascinating mysteries and solutions. Although I could go on, the last story I will mention is “The Cask of Amontillado” which is a fantastic revenge story in which the narrator has no qualms with it afterwards.

Unfortunately this unrepentant narrator in “Amontillado” is unfortunately the exception to Poe’s trope of the narrator going crazy with guilt and admitting his crime which is featured in many stories Poe wrote. Along with a young woman always dying and premature burials, Poe’s writing is fraught with these tropes that after a while exhaust the reader with the almost predictable way a trope takes over a particular story to end with the same way. While these trope takeovers are discouraging, the tendency of Poe to begin a short story with a philosophical discourse only for the narrator to suddenly go off on a tangent (usually on a murder he committed) that had nothing to do with the discourse at the beginning. Frankly these literary quirks, or crutches, that Poe used throughout numerous compositions get tiresome while reading the entirety of Poe’s work and make one question his supposed literary greatness.

If you a true Poe fan, this complete collection of his tales and poems are for you. However, if you are someone who wants the best of Poe then avoid this complete collection and find a smaller collection that gives his best.

Story Ratings
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIII
Part XIV
Part XV

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Friday, August 4, 2017

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

Eureka: A Prose Poem
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

An essay on, well I’m not really sure to be honest and that was the first issue. Poe reused his “Mellonta Tauta” piece at the beginning of the essay and then went from there using or making up scientific information on a piece entitled “A Prose Poem” that had no poetry and might have been an attempt at humor that unfortunately was too serious for that.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Poe’s only novel was a bit of this and a bit of that, namely an adventure on the sea and exploring unknown regions. Think of this book as a “dime novel” sorta feel with the American hero smuggled on his friend’s ship only for said ship to have a mutiny then a counter mutiny complicated by the ship being hit by storms then slowly drifting and sinking before Arthur and one fellow sailor are picked up by a passing ship then begin exploring the Southern Seas and finding habitable lands close to the South Pole. Obviously then story trends towards quasi-fantasy today, but as an very old school adventure tale is as passable, but ended abruptly when Pym (whom Poe was writing for) dies with the manuscript incomplete.

Monday, July 31, 2017

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

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Mesmerism is once again the focus as well as the transition from life to death, the narrator is a practitioner of the mesmerism and the titular character is the dying man who is mesmerized on the edge of death and stays like that for seven months before being taken out and his body decays rapidly.

The Sphinx
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Every once and a while Poe springs a surprise by thinking he’s going to do down the same path with the only difference being the scenery when he twists things just at the end to make you enjoy the story though wishing he hadn’t waited until the end. The narrator’s eyes play tricks on him and makes him believe he’s going insane until his friend sets him straight.

The Cask of Amontillado
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This revenge classic is one of the highlights of the book, hardly any meandering for the narrator, just a plain straightforward story of a man getting revenge and never regretting it.

The Domain of Arnheim
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a piece on a garden and the wonder of nature, even if it is created by man, but the beginning is bogged down by a biography of the narrator’s friend who shaped it. If it had been a straight piece and a fantastical garden I would have enjoyed it more.

Mellonta Tauta
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A journal written a 1000 years in the future describes the person’s view of their present and what they think of the past, overall a nice little piece.

Landor’s Cottage
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A “sequel” to The Domain of Arnheim, frankly it was over the top and made me glad to see the end.
Hop-Frog
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fat dwarf jester, the titular character, gets his revenge on a King and his council after he embarrasses the jester’s only friend, his countrywoman who is also a dwarf.

Von Kempelen and His Discovery
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The narrator spends over half the piece talking about other people instead of Von Kempelen, but once he does we learn that the discovery was the philosopher’s stone and that value of lead and silver have increased as gold’s has decreased.

“X-ing a Paragrab”
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A newspaper starts up in a town with the editor attack the editor the rival established paper, who then retorts back. The new editor then works to make an excellent comeback but somehow the letter O is missing from the press and X is inserted instead making the comeback unintelligible. The public reaction is anger and the new editor is gone. All I can say is this was supposed to be funny, it wasn’t.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

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

The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An “autobiographical” account by Mr. Bob about how he began his literary career, which is basically Poe satirizing the American literary landscape of his time.

The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

After her husband does away with his law about killing his wives, Scheherazade begins telling the further adventures of Sinbad by describing things around the (then) modern world but the sultan can’t believe what he’s hearing and decides to kill her. Honestly when you start reading, you know how Poe is going to end the story but the Sinbad tale is pretty well crafted.



Some Words with a Mummy
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A narrator gets a message from his friend that he is going to unwrap a mummy; the narrator accounts their progress when they decide to use a battery on him only it wakes him up. The mummy then proceeds to have a Q&A about the past and the present with the four men who unwrapped him.

The Power of Words
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

Another afterlife dialogue, this time about God and creation, the few words about this the better.

The Imp of the Perverse
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A long introduction about phrenology before the narrator details killing someone and how it didn’t bother him until it does and he screams out his confession on a crowded street.

Friday, July 28, 2017

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

The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man visits a famed private insane asylum to learn about its “soothing system” from the asylum’s founder and director, but it turns out a new system is in place because the inmates (including the founder who went insane) have taken over the asylum. Although it was pretty obvious as the story went along that the inmates had taken over, it was somewhat humorous.

Mesmeric Revelation
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A conversation between a doctor and his mesmerized patient in which “the big questions about life, the universe, and everything else” are asked and given philosophical answers; couldn’t tell if it was a satire of the claims of mesmerism or a support, either way wasn’t impressed.

“Thou Art the Man”
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A wealthy citizen of Rattlesborough disappears and his neighbor leads the investigation into his death which leads to the conviction of the man’s nephew who was thought about to be disinherited by his missing uncle. But the narrator of the story figured out something was wrong and investigate on his own, find the deceased man’s body down the neighbor’s well and springs a trap on the murderous fraud.

The Balloon-Hoax
My rating: 2.5 out 5 stars

An account of a crossing of the Atlantic by balloon, although obviously a fake it was a nice little story with made up scientific facts and such.

The Angel of the Odd
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A well-read businessman comes across an article about a man dying a odd way making him upset about the ridiculousness of newspapermen, which upsets the titular being that causes odd things to happen to people. The man insults the entity and then has a series of odd and humiliating incidents before apologizing to the entity to find relief. If the Angel of the Odd hadn’t been written with a heavy German accent making for slow reading, this would have been rated higher.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

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

The Spectacles
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A humorous story of a young gentlemen who “marries” his own great-grandmother because he doesn’t want to wear spectacles because of how they look, which is great-grandmother and his friend use to their advantage to play this ruse on him. Overall the story was meh, but I might have enjoyed it more if the ending hadn’t been ruined by the anthology’s introduction but I might have figured things out at the story’s beginning anyhow.

The Oblong Box
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man traveling by ship to New York from Charleston and discovers his artist friend is taking the same ship with his new wife and with his many rooms believes his friend has a fabulous new piece of art he has purchases. After unexpected delay, the ship sets off but the man’s friend was acting strange and his new wife was really beneath his standing but the man is happy to figure out his friend has a new piece of art in the large titular object that he has put in his room. It is only when a storm damages the ship that it begins sinking that the man discovers that his friend is obsessed with this box and dies with it only to later learn that it contained his actual wife. Another young woman who suddenly and tragically dies…at least it focused on what happens after.

The Tale of the Ragged Mountains
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A man with a certain condition goes on his daily walk and takes longer than he usually resulting in his personal doctor and servants to worry and collect the man’s friends to help search for him. But the man returns just as they are about to set out and gives everyone a most enchanting-turn-morbid tale that nearly all the listeners believe was a dream, except a doctor who relates the man’s dream is exactly how his friend died in India. Within a week, the doctor’s patient simply falls over dead.

The Premature Burial
My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Before reading this anthology of Poe’s work, the only person I knew from all my reading of not wanting to be buried prematurely was George Washington. The narrator of his story gives several “well known” incidents of premature burials with “happy” and “horrible” endings then proceeds to relate how he has a disease that makes it almost seem as if he has died if anyone who doesn’t know about it were to see him during an attack then relates his fear of being buried alive and measures he’s taken to survive. Young women tragically dying and premature burials, there is a reason Poe is stereotyped.

The Purloined Letter
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The third and unfortunately last Auguste Dupin detective story finds the Prefect of the Paris Police coming in search of Dupin’s aid. A letter has been taken by a Minister from a young royal woman that has given him significant political influence by just having it while not admitting he has it, the Prefect has been asked to recover it but after investigating the Minister’s home every night for a month hasn’t been able to find it. After Dupin tells him to investigate the entire home again, the Prefect returns shaking his head when Dupin gets the man to pay him his share of the reward money then gives the Prefect the letter. After the Prefect leaves without asking how Dupin got it, his unnamed friend (the narrator) asks how and Dupin gives his analysis of where the Minister would have hidden it then how he got it. While not as good as Rue Morgue, this story was significantly better than Marie Roget and sadly the last time we’ll see Dupin.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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

Morning on the Wissahiccon
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A romantic description of a piece of nature far enough away from civilization to be isolated, but close at hand to society as well.

The Tell-Tale Heart
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man commits murder and is betrayed by his own imagination while the police are investigating a scream his victim uttered before his death. One of the classic Poe stories that upon reflection and with a subsequent story fails to live up to the hype.

The Gold Bug
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A pirate treasure short story on a small island off the coast of South Carolina near Charleston featuring a eccentric man without his former wealth, his almost inarticulate speaking old slave, and his friend the unnamed narrator. The title is a reference both to the insect that starts the chain of the events and what the narrator believes his infected his friend and later himself. A great story, unfortunately the racist speak for the slave has to deduct from the rating.

The Black Cat
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A man who loves animals, especially the titular pet, is unfortunately an alcoholic that has rages after he drinks including animal cruelty and eventual murder of his wife. The later event is discovered just like the Tell-Tale Heart, which deducts a lot from the rating even though this is definitely the better story.

Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Poe writes about the actions of con-men and their scams, the titular diddling, which is a very well written instruction guide to future con-men and for people who don’t want to be their marks.

Byron and Miss Chaworth
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A short piece about Poe’s hero Lord Byron and, I assume, his mistress which is only a page and a half long. Wondering what the point was really.

Monday, July 24, 2017

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

The Pit and the Pendulum
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

A man in the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition in locked in a cell with a pit in the center of it and after avoiding falling in, he is drugged and strapped to a bed as a razor slowly descends towards him. Barely escaping the razor, the man wonders what will be next when he hears the French entering Toledo to bring him freedom. This is a fantastic piece of writing by Poe that had me glued to each page while reading.

The Mystery of Marie Roget
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A “ripped from the headlines” Auguste Dupin deduction mystery is unfortunately not as engaging as the first Dupin story. This story is mostly Dupin using his deduction to undermine all the theories that newspapers were putting out about the young ladies death, while it was good writing but sometimes in a detective story—yes even before the word was created—you want to see the main characters move.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

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

A Descent into the Maelstrom
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

A hiker and his guide climb to the top of Norwegian mountain to see the Moskoe-strom then the guide relates his escape from the whirlpool that killed his two brothers. Overall this is good story that meanders here and there pulling down the rating.

The Colloquy of Monos and Una
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

A dialogue between a married couple in the afterlife. This is the second dialogue of this kind that Poe has written, but the first was why better even though this one is more romantic.

Never Bet the Devil Your Head
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

This is a “straightforward” moral tale that is also a little humorous even though the set up was obvious from the beginning. Could have been better if there wasn’t a introduction about the author not writing tales with a moral.

Eleonora
My rating: 0.5/5

Another first cousins growing up and marrying story with the young woman dying young, it was pretty obvious were this story was going from the beginning so this was quickly read.

Three Sundays in a Week
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This was a humorous little story in which a great-uncle can’t just willing do something even though he’s inclined to do so. Unable to get his consent to their marriage until there were “three Sundays in a week”; the two don’t know what to do until two sailor friends arrive back in the country after traveling around the world in opposite directions.

The Oval Portrait
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A young nobleman and his valet break into a cottage after he is injured during a hunt, the cottage has many portraits along with a little guide book for them. He comes across an oval portrait that feels like it’s alive and then reads the description, which gives credence to his unease that it’s alive.

The Masque of the Red Death
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

While this is a well written story, whether you’ve been spoiled or not before reading it, there is only one obvious outcome and frankly that takes away from the stories overall impact.

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.