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 clich├ęs 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.