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James White
Gerald Wheeler
The Guide for the Perplexed
Moses Maimonides
Earth, Air, Fire, Water (Tales from the Eternal Archives, #2)
Jane Lindskold, Linda P. Baker, Tanya Huff, Margaret Weis, Carrie Channell, Edward Carmien, Mark Garland, Nancy Varian Berberick, Robyn McGrew, Janet Pack, Jean-Francois Podevin, Bruce Holland Rogers, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Donald J. Bingle, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lawren

Divine Encounters (The Earth Chronicles #5.5)

Divine Encounters: A Guide to Visions, Angels and Other Emissaries - Zecharia Sitchin

The interaction between the Divine and man are considered some of the most important and inspiring moments within each of the Abrahamic faiths, yet the question always is who was the Divine?  Zecharia Sitchin reviews Divine Encounters throughout the ancient Near East whether recorded in the Bible or on cuneiform tablets in this companion volume to his series, The Earth Chronicles.

 

Through the first three-quarters of the book, Sitchin reviews numerous encounters that he has previously written about.  Among these topics are the Creation of Man (the “first encounter”) and the Fall, the sexual encounters between the divine and man, the Flood, and man’s search for immortality all with their own specific chapters.  Sitchin also covers visions, oracle dreams, and angels which he has previous mentioned and written about in his books, but never dedicated time to looking into them before.  Where Sitchin really covers new material is the theophany at Mount Sinai, discussing the Prophets of the Old Testament, and finally an essay in which Sitchin examines which Annunaki was the God of the Old Testament.

 

For those that have read most of Sitchin’s books before, the majority of this book is a review of the previous five books he had written at the time of the publication.  The only new ground that Sitchin covered was in the last quarter of the book in which he really examines Exodus, the Old Testament Prophets, and he examination of which Annunaki was the God of the Old Testament which resulted in a surprising conclusion especially for those reading this book for the first time.

 

Divine Encounters is a book geared for people who have never read any of Zecharia Sitchin’s work, but included material at the very end that was new for long time readers.  While I liked the new material, the fact I had to reread nearly 300 pages of topics I’ve read over the course of five books was annoying.  So if you’re a longtime read of Sitchin’s, get this book to complete your collection but read it last.  If you’re a first time reader of Sitchin, the vast majority of the book will give insight into Sitchin’s theories which are fully fleshed out—except what is covered in the last quarter of the book—in The Earth Chronicles series.

Iceberg (Dirk Pitt #3)

Iceberg - Clive Cussler

A missing luxury yacht is found encased in an iceberg by a Coast Guard air patrol, but within a week of the discovery that bizarre sight won’t be the only thing that isn’t what it seems.  Iceberg is the second published book of Clive Cussler’s series featuring Dirk Pitt, taking the U.S.A.F Major to the north Atlantic and Iceland then to Disneyland.

 

Taken away from his California vacation and dispatched by NUMA Director Admiral Sandecker to the titular iceberg in the North Atlantic, Dirk Pitt takes Dr. Bill Hunnewell to search for the ship before heading to Iceland.  The two commandeer a U.S. Coast Guard cutter as a base of operations along the way, which proves fortuitous as the helicopter is low on fuel after a wild goose chase for the iceberg.  Finding a way into the ship, they find it burned along with the crew as well as the owner, Kristjan Fyrie who is identified by Hunnewell who worked with him.  As they head for Iceland, the two are attacked by a black jet and Hunnewell is mortally wounded while Pitt uses the helicopter to take out the jet before crash landing just off shore.  Pitt survives an attempt on his life by two thugs disguised as local Icelandic police before eventually getting to the American consulate in Reykjavik.  Sandecker offers to send Pitt back on his vacation, but as he suspects Pitt wants to find who killed him.  The Admiral then orders Pitt to get close to Kristjan Fyrie’s twin sister who is now Iceland’s wealthiest person and who has shied away from the working with the U.S. government on a state-of-the-art probe, but Kirsti is engaged to fishing magnate Oskar Rondheim and Pitt decides to play a homosexual so as not to pose a threat to the man.  After several escapes with Sandecker and a National Intelligence Agent respectfully, Pitt and Sandecker’s secretary are invited to party at Rondheim’s home which is a trap for several wealthy and politically important men from around the globe so they can die while a cabal of wealth businessmen that include Rondheim and Fyrie play to take over all of Central and South America.  Rondheim beats the presumably gay Pitt and leaves him and the others to die in a remote part of Iceland.  Pitt is able to find help and save nearly everyone, while in the hospital the head of the National Intelligence Agency swindles Pitt from NUMA to Disneyland so stop a duel assassination of Latin American leaders.  Pitt gets revenge on Rondheim and then makes a deal with Fyrie, who had been Rondheim’s puppet after he learned Kirsti was actually Kristjan after a sex change.

 

Like The Mediterranean Caper this was a quick paced book, but this time there was a larger cast of characters instead of a tiny one that was present in both Pacific Vortex and CaperIceberg improved in narrative flow over its predecessor as well as making the characters a little more rounded, but still the one-dimensional characters were still prevent.  While Dirk Pitt wasn’t as big of a…“jerk” as in Caper, he still wasn’t the same character that appears later in the series and what bad qualities he loses from Caper are negated from the over-the-top homosexual clichés that he displays as part of his act.  Besides Pitt’s gay act, the transsexual-sex change angle and the misogynistic comments by numerous male characters could be called typical clichés of the mid-1970s but age really badly over the last 40 years.  However the biggest hole in the book is the missing of Pitt’s best friend, Al Giordino, a mistake that Cussler never made again.

 

Iceberg shows improvement in narrative and characters to an extent, but some of the choices Cussler made negated them.  Overall I can’t give this a lesser or better rating that the first Dirk Pitt book, but if there is anyone interested in getting into this series I don’t recommend starting with some of these early books.  Read books later in the series and then come back to these early ones.

Wild Creatures in Winter (Old Homestead #4)

Wild creatures in winter - Neil Wayne Northey

Wild Creatures in Winter is the fourth and final volume Neil Wayne Northey’s Old Homestead series.  Like the previous volumes in the series this is a quick and pleasant children’s book that follows the lives of numerous animals that inhabit the area around the series’ titular location.  Unlike the previous three books that could be read out of order, this book needs to be read last as all the animals followed were previously introduced in the other books in the series.  Yet despite this one difference from the other books, it’ll still provide enjoyment to young children either reading on their own or being read to by their parents.

The Reign of the Kingfisher: A Novel

The Reign of the Kingfisher: A Novel - Thomas H. Martinson

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

 

The legacy of Chicago’s very own, mostly forgotten, superhero suddenly becomes center stage when a gunman demands the police come clean on the hero’s supposed death or innocent people will die.  T.J. Martinson’s debut novel, The Reign of the Kingfisher, follows several characters attempting to stop the gunman in their separate ways before coming together and using the information they collected to help stop the gunman.

 

Early in the morning of a soon-to-be hot Chicago summer day, a retired journalist is awakened by a call from Chicago Chief of Police and sees a video of a gunman claiming that the CPD helped the Kingfisher fake his death and demand they come clean before killing a hostage and threatening several more with the same fate.  Recognizing the victim as someone he interviewed for his book about the superhero, the journalist gets concerned about others which gets the attention of a CPD detective who has a suspended CPD officer look into the journalist’s list.  Meanwhile a hacktivist is angry that the gunman is claiming to be a part of her group and to stop him hacks the CPD database to get a medical exam of the Kingfisher case to prove he might be alive only for the gunman to kill another hostage.  After several up and downs, the four characters come together and are able bring their talents and discovers together to bring resolution to the situation.

 

This mystery with a fantasy twist begins with an intriguing premise and some interesting flashbacks, halfway through the book I came up with three possible ways it could play out or in various combinations which made me look forward to see how things would end.  However, while I correctly picked the villain and partially got the ending scenario right that doesn’t mean I was satisfied with the book.  While the three main and two (or three) secondary characters all came out of central casting, that didn’t make them bad as they started off interesting and developed well.  However they either stopped developing to become stale or began doing and saying things that was completely out of the blue from where they had been heading (or both), which undercut the quality of the storytelling.  In addition some of the minor subplots, in particular the Police Chief’s, were detrimental to the overall book once it was over.

 

The Reign of the Kingfisher has a great premise, but unfortunately it doesn’t really achieve its potential.  While T.J. Martinson might just be beginning a long career, his debut novel is a mixture of good and bad that in the end makes the reader think about how good a book it could have been.

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive #3)

Oathbringer - Brandon Sanderson

The Everstorm is striking Roshar and a new Desolation has begun as the once docile parshman become conscious gathering to face off against humans who’ve owned them for millennia, however nothing as it seems in the long view of history.  Oathbringer, third installment of Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, immediately picks up where the story left off as the survivors from the clash on the Shattered Plains regroup in the legendary home of the Knights Radiant and attempt to bring together all the humans on Roshar but hard truths and politics stand in the way.

 

Dalinar Kholin’s actions in the past and those in the present dominate the book like Kaladin and Shallan’s did in the previous two installments, whether through his own eyes or those of others.  Setting up base in Urithiru, Dalinar begins slowly and diplomatically piecing a coalition together though his own past is a major liability.  Using his connection with the Stormfather, Dalinar has other rulers join him in his visions setting up a connection with Queen Fen of Thaylenah and slowly building a relationship.  However his attempts with doing the same with the Azir Prime is complicated by Lift no trusting him initially and the bureaucracy around the young man as well.  But its Dalinar’s bloody past which turns out to be his own worst enemy as we see through his flashbacks a different man who loved battle and bloodlust, two traits nurtured by Odium to create his champion for the conflict to come but which turn against the enemy when Dalinar accepts his past and uses it to defend Thaylen City.

 

Kaladin and Shallan continue progressing through their respective development while Adolin’s slows a bit so as to give time to his cousin Jasnah and the former Assassin in White, Szeth, time to develop into major secondary characters throughout the book.  Through scouting and spying, Kaladin first assesses the actions of the newly awakened parshmen though not without gaining relationships with them, a fact that haunts him when he faces them later in battle and creating a moral crisis that prevents him from stating the Fourth Ideal and almost kills him, Adolin, and Shallan if not for Dalinar’s actions.  Shallan has her own growing crisis throughout the book, multiple personality disorder, which is exacerbated through her Lightweaving and attempts to not be the “scared little girl” she’s always seen herself as.  Though she does not fully overcome it by the end of the book, she has begun dealing with it especially with help from Adolin who is dealing with his own issues stemming from his killing of Sadeas in regards to his place in Alethi society now that the Knight Radiants are reforming.  Though Szeth’s progresses through his Skybreaker training with “ease”, his view of the order and of the overall conflict dovetails with the revelations that nearly destroy Dalinar’s fragile coalition.  These revelations also correspond with Jasnah’s development and her concern for Renarin, whose own spren bonding is a revelation in and of itself as history and expectations are quickly being subverted.

 

Unlike the previous two books, Oathbringer is not as action-packed but is more centered in expanding the understanding the various peoples and politics of Roshar.  While the beginning of the “overall” story was a bang, Sanderson turned the focus from one main area to many which resulted in building the world he created with different peoples with different cultures and long complicated histories interacting with one another during the beginning of what might be a long conflict.  Add on top of this the fact that the ancient history that many believed to be true was not and as a result some are choosing a different side than what is expected of them plus the influence of Odium on everyone, and the next seven books in the series look to be very intriguing.  Though the book’s length is once again an issue, around 1250 pages, attempting to do so much in one book it was the only result.  And if there were flaws, it was mostly the perceived open-ended ways some events happened that were either a mystery to be solved later either in this book or another or just to be left open for no reason.

 

I will not say that Oathbringer is a perfect book, but it was a different change of pace after the first two books in The Stormlight Archive which helped continue the narrative while expanding it over more of Roshar.  Knowing when to “subvert” the standard grand fantasy narrative is always a challenge, doing it this early in the series right now looks like a good move on Brandon Sanderson’s part and I’m interested to see where the story develops going forward.

Legends: Tales from the Eternal Archives #1

Legends (Tales from the Eternal Archives, Book 1) - Jane Lindskold, Robert J. Harris, Margaret Weis, Robyn Fielder, Robin Crew, Deborah Turner Harris, Peter Schweighofer, Kevin Stein, Dennis L. McKiernan, Matthew Stover, Janet Pack, Brian M. Thomsen, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kristin Schwengel, John Helfer, Gary A. Braunbe

The short story anthology Legends edited by Margaret Weis, the first collection of the Tales from the Eternal Archives, contains almost twenty stories of near above average quality loosing connected to one another through a mystical library, titular Eternal Archives.  Although the majority of the nineteen stories were fantasy, historical fiction and science fiction were also featured.

 

The two best stories of the collection were “Wisdom” by Richard Lee Byers, which was followed an alternate interpretation of The Iliad and The Odyssey as Odysseus ventures to save the world from chaos.  The second was “Silver Tread, Hammer Ring” by Gary A. Braunbeck features an alternate world in which mythical and folkloric figures exist side-by-side as John Henry faces down a steam drill run by a minotaur.  Other excellent stories were the two opening stories, “Why There Are White Tigers” by Jane M. Lindskold and “The Theft of Destiny” by Josepha Sherman, as well many more such as “The Last Suitor”, “King’s Quest”, “Ninety-Four”, “Precursor”, and “Dearest Kitty”.

 

The two worst stories of the collection were “The Wind at Tres Castillos” by Robyn Fielder which featured historical individuals who didn’t interact with one another at the titular location and the fantastical elements just didn’t make sense creating a waste of paper.  The second worst story was “Final Conquest” by Dennis L. McKiernan, while short this story featuring Genghis Khan was a headscratcher though a nicely written one.  Although overall not bad, the preface and short introductions loosely linked all the stories with the mystical library between worlds though some were better than others.

 

The nineteen stories that make up Legends feature—more than not—very good short stories across fantasy, historical fiction, and science fiction.  Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag of quality but only a few stories were completely subpar thus presenting the reader with a lot of good reading.

 

Individual Story Ratings

Why There Are White Tigers by Jane M. Lindskold (4/5)

The Theft of Destiny by Josepha Sherman (4/5)

Final Conquest by Dennis L. McKiernan (2/5)

The Wisdom of Solomon by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (2.5/5)

Bast’s Talon by Janet Pack (3/5)

Wisdom by Richard Lee Byers (5/5)

The Last Suitor by Kristin Schwengal (4/5)

Two-Fisted Tales of St. Nick by Kevin T. Stein and Robert Weinberg (3/5)

King’s Quest by Mickey Zucker Reichert (4/5)

Silver Thread, Hammer Ring by Gary A. Braunbeck (4.5/5)

Memnon Revived by Peter Schweighofer (2.5/5)

The Ballad of Jesse James by Margaret Weis (2.5/5)

Legends by Ed Gorman (3.5/5)

The Wind at Tres Castillos by Robyn Fielder (1.5/5)

Ninety-Four by Jean Rabe (4/5)

Hunters Hunted by John Helfers (3.5/5)

Precursor by Matthew Woodring Stover (4/5)

“Dearest Kitty” by Brian M. Thomsen (4/5)

Last Kingdom by Deborah Turner Harris and Robert J. Harris (3.5/5)

Paddletail the Beaver and His Neighbors

Paddletail the Beaver & His Neighbors: Old Homestead Tales Volume 3 - Neil Wayne Northey

Paddletail the Beaver and His Neighbors is the third of four volumes of Neil Wayne Northey’s Old Homestead series.  Like the first two volumes this is a quick and pleasant children’s book that follows the lives of numerous animals inhabit the area around the Wildwood Pond in the Black Forest though the titular Paddletails.  Although the third book in the series, it doesn’t have to be read in order while still providing enjoyment to young children either reading on their own or being read to by their parents.

State of Siege (Op-Center #6)

State of Siege - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

After living through the hypocrisy of being a part of a United Nations security force, a band of mercenaries decide to strike at the organization itself and unknowingly take resigning Op-Center director Paul Hood’s daughter hostage.  State of Siege, is the sixth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin, ghosting for the titular Tom Clancy, finds Paul Hood in the middle of a hostage situation as his daughter is being held in the Security Council after cleaning out his desk and hoping to rebuild his family that is hanging by a thread and however Hood reacts he risks destroying it.

 

A team of five former UN soldiers, who served in Cambodia, rob an armored car in Paris to finance buying weapons from an arm’s dealer in New York to strike at the United Nations for a $250 million payday after taking room full of hostages.  Among the hostages are diplomats, young violinists including Harleigh Hood, and two undercover Cambodian hitmen looking to take their revenge against the terrorist group’s leader.  The situation is both personal and professional for Paul Hood, who is torn to do something to save his daughter and being with his wife to support.  The newly appointed Secretary-General is a negotiator who wants to solve the problem as peacefully as possible, but events quickly get out of her control leading to a final solution to the siege that both pleases and displeases many.

 

Released in 1999, State of Siege puts the United Nations center stage as well as the debate between military versus diplomacy to solve crises.  The problem that the “debate” is useless given that the crisis in this particular book could never have been solved diplomatically and this book is less than 400 pages as well as the story taking only about five hours in total.  Besides this flaw is the one that has been running throughout the series, Paul Hood’s marriage which has been doomed to fail because Sharon Hood has been written to be literally be the unreasonable wife to the man running a government agency trying to do his best—how cliché can you get?—and it sinks to even worst levels here.  And on top of that were the just bad dialog, characters literally knowing things they couldn’t actually know, plot holes all over the place, and finally not being able to decide what point-of-view to have from one paragraph to the next.

 

State of Siege keeps up the Op-Center tradition of having an intriguing plot, which is ruined by Jeff Rovin’s characterizations and overall subpar writing.  This book is a big step down from the previous installment, Balance of Power, but is unfortunately more to type of what the series has been like for most of its run so far.

Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

Light Bearers : A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Light Bearers to the Remnant) - Richard W. Schwarz

The history of the Seventh-day Adventist church is the emergence of a small band of disappointed Millerites to that of a worldwide church of more than 10 million members by the end of the 20th Century, but not without struggles of all kinds along the way.  Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by Richard W. Schwarz with revisions and updates by Floyd Greenleaf is comprehensive look into the development the denomination over the course of over 170 years by professional historians balancing their own religious beliefs and professionalism.

 

“Beginning” in 1839, though not without highlighting Advent strains across the Christian spectrum leading up to that point, and finishing at the year 2000 with the need to focus on the doctrinal, organizational, institutional, and missionary facets of the denomination’s history was a challenge needing an organized and methodical approach for the reader.  Dividing the history into three parts Greenleaf used Schwarz’s formula of advancing all the facets of the denomination’s development at the same space—though some overlap from one part to another was unavoidable—in different chapters but linking them to past or future characters when required.  These three parts, “Origins and Formative Years 1839-1888”, “Years of Growth and Reorganization 1888-1945”, and “The Globalization of the Church 1945-2000” give the reader, while not a step-by-step look at the denomination’s history, at least a lens to view the events that shaped the denomination as its history developed.  A fourth part, “Maintaining a Biblical Message”, relates the challenges that 20th Century members had keeping the unique doctrines of the Church based Biblically as well as answering challenges from not only without but within as well.

 

Given the multifaceted aspect of history that a book on the Seventh-day Adventist Church entails as well as revising and updating a previous history, Greenleaf did a professional job.  Yet as the first 15 chapters of the book are the original work of Schwarz with scant revisions, it is also a testament to his own professionalism that they hold up just as much as the final third when Greenleaf’s own work is solely on display.  With numerous historical actors and events throughout the over 170 years, both authors delicately balanced the need to be informative enough without slowing down the pace of the book unless the covered topic was doctrinal and thus needed a thorough explanation to better understand the controversy being covered.

 

Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church might look like a daunting book at nearly 700 pages, but for those interested in the development of the denomination that they are either apart of or wanting to understand this is the book for them.  Longtime Adventist historians Richard W. Schwarz and Floyd Greenleaf both balance their religious beliefs with their professionalism to give the reader an accurate—warts and all—look at a now global church that developed from only a few hundred disappointed Millerites.

Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions

Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics) - Karen Karbiener, Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass: First and “Death-Bed” Editions contains best known work of American poet Walt Whitman as well as additional poems that he published before his breakthrough work and that he didn’t include in his final publication.  Containing hundreds of poems from the “father of free verse”, the reader gets a essentially a full view of Whitman’s career from beginning to end.  In additional each new section of the book has an introduction by Dr. Karen Karbiener who also wrote the Notes at the end of the book giving the reader a better understanding of the essence surrounding Whitman’s work.  Though many Whitman loves will enjoy this book, for some like myself this turned out to be too much of something that it turns out I didn’t like after all.

The Mediterranean Caper (Dirk Pitt #2)

Mediterranean Caper (Dirk Pitt) - Clive Cussler

A lazy Sunday afternoon at a U.S Air Force base on a quiet Greek island is shattered when a WWI-era German fighter attacks and then finds itself in a dogfight with a WWII-era seaplane.  The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler was the first published book featuring Dirk Pitt and started off a four decade long series of books that sold millions of books and multiple times on the bestseller list.

 

Dirk Pitt and his best friend Al Giordino, heading to the Greek island of Thasos on a special assignment to a NUMA vessel, fight off a WWI German fighter attacking a nearby U.S. Air Force base in a WWII-era seaplane.  The next morning Dirk takes an early morning swim and meets Teri von Till, niece of a reclusive shipping magnate who lives on the island.  After meeting with the NUMA vessel’s captain, Pitt goes to meet Teri’s uncle Bruno for dinner and finds out he was a German pilot in World War I with a model submarine in his study.  Von Till attempts to kill Pitt with his dog, but Pitt escapes and the next day with Giordino invade von Till’s mansion and kidnap Teri only to be detained by a member of an INTERPOL drug task force.  Pitt and Giordino learn that von Till is a suspected drug smuggler and are ordered by the NUMA director to aid INTERPOL in stopping a massive shipment of heroin from reaching the U.S.  After boarding the suspected cargo ship with the heroin, Pitt figures out how von Till hasn’t been caught.  Pitt then leads a group of scientists to look for and find a massive cave in which they find several submarines, though caught by von Till and a mole from the INTERPOL task force it’s an elaborate trap as Giordino, several INTERPOL agents, and military personnel had raided von Till’s mansion and listened in on Pitt explaining to von Till everything he had figured out including that he was actually a Nazi war criminal which von Till didn’t deny.

 

This is a quick pacing book and has numerous cliché elements that one would expect to find in an early 1970s adventure novel with the main character notably inspired by James Bond.  While I could knock the disjointed narrative flow or the weak character development of some of the other characters given the time period it was to be expected, the biggest eyesore is Dirk Pitt himself.  The term “jerk” is a cleaned up way to describe Pitt’s interacting with anyone in the book including his best friend, Al, and his way to make a woman interested in him, slapping her for still mourning her late husband.  This is not the same Pitt that appears in Pacific Vortex! or later in the series and would be a definite turn off for anyone encountering the character for the first time.

 

The Mediterranean Caper is a quick adventure that is sometimes fun, but today has a lot of problems.  Though Clive Cussler’s portrayal of Dirk Pitt has improved over the last four decades, I would not recommend this book for those either interested in reading or listening to a Dirk Pitt novel.  If you have read or listened to later books then be warned this is not the same Dirk that you’ve encountered.

The Mallards and Their Neighbors (Old Homestead #2)

The Mallards and Their Neighbors - Neil Wayne Northey

The Mallards and Their Neighbors is the second of four volumes of Neil Wayne Northey’s Old Homestead series.  Like the first volume, this is a quick and pleasant children’s book that follows the lives of numerous animals that inhabit the area around the Duck Pond though the titular Mallards with brief appearances by Mr. Bluebird.  Although this is the second book of the series, it can be read before the first volume and still provide enjoyment to young children either reading on their own or being read to by their parents.

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War - Michael F. Holt

The antebellum period saw the formation and destruction of the second party system in U.S. politics between Andrew Jackson’s Democrats, which survived to the present, and their rivals the Whigs that did not.  Michael F. Holt’s magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, details how the Whigs emerged from all the anti-Jacksonian forces to their disintegration in the mid-1850s due to the factional and sectional divisions.

 

Beginning in the mid-1820s, Holt explains the origins of the anti-Jacksonian groups that formed and later coalesced to form the Whig party in the winter of 1833-4 in Washington, D.C. then how it eventually branched out and formed in states.  Through thorough research from the national down to the state, county, and local levels Holt explored how the Whig party was planted and grew throughout the country and competed against their Democratic foes.  Yet this research also exposed the intraparty feuds within state parties that affected conventions on all levels, platform fights, and Election Day enthusiasm.  Exploring a political relationship between state politics and national politics that is completely different than that seen in the second half of the 20th-century and early 21st, Holt shows how this different political paradigm both rose up the Whigs and eventually destroyed them.

 

With almost 1300 pages of text and notes, Holt thoroughly explored the 20 year history of the American Whig party from the national to the local level within every state of the Union.  Throughout Holt’s assertion that the Democrats always controlled “the narrative” of the Whig’s history and how that played on the Whig intraparty feuds which eventually was one of the main three causes of the party’s disintegration.  The focuses on Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, party traitor John Tyler, party destabilizer Zachary Taylor, attempted party savior Millard Fillmore, and slew of other prominent Whigs gives the stage to historical actors who shaped history.  Throughout the text, the reader sees how events if changed just slightly might have allowed the Whigs to continue as a national party and the effects that might have had going forward but ultimately who personalities and how some decisions out of the party’s control resulted in fatal wounds occurring.

 

The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party is not for the general history reader, this tome is for someone dedicated to an in-depth researched book that shifts from the halls of Congress to the “smoke-filled backrooms” of state conventions in states across the nation to election analysis in various congressional districts across the young republic.  The work of an academic lifetime, Michael F. Holt gives insight into political party that ultimately lost in history but that still had a lasting impact to this day in modern American politics.

The Bluebirds and Their Neighbors (Old Homestead #1)

The Bluebirds and Their Neighbors - Neil Wayne Northey

The Bluebirds and Their Neighbors is the first of four volumes of Neil Wayne Northey’s Old Homestead series.  A quick and pleasant children’s book that follows the lives of numerous animals, but mostly the titular Bluebird family, around the Old Homestead that will provide enjoyment to young children either reading on their own or being read to by their parents.  From the outset this book makes it clear that is coming from a Christian perspective and uses that to make comparisons for the traits animals show to that of humans in their sinful nature.  However given that this book was first published in 1930, it should not be surprising and should not deter some from reading this.

Red Rising (Red Rising #1)

Red Rising: Book I of the Red Rising Trilogy - Pierce Brown

Beneath the surface of Mars human mine gases that will eventually lead to the terraforming and colonization of the red planet, but they have been lied to.  Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a dystopian young adult novel following a member of the lowest caste in humanities future attempting to position himself within the highest caste to lead a future rebellion for the betterment of all.

 

Darrow, a member of the lowly Reds, within days sees the end of his dreams of family and success in mining in his colonial town underneath the surface of Mars and is ready to die only to be dug up and shown the surface of Mars full of cities and vegetation that was said to be centuries away.  Feeling betrayed by his society not only for the injustice against himself but his people as well, Darrow agrees to undergo numerous surgeries to appear as a member of the highest caste in society, the Golds.  Through training and education he is able to pass the entrance exam of The Institute of Mars where young people of the caste compete to prove their potential as leaders so they can govern the Society in the future.  Darrow makes friends only on the first night is forced to kill one or be killed himself in The Institute’s first test.  What follows for the rest of the book is not only Darrow but every Gold at The Institute learning what it means to rule the Society that has lasted for centuries, but through he makes mistakes Darrow learns and is able to become a leader amongst the students and eventually is able to emerge as the competition’s victor in an unorthodox manner especially as outside forces attempt to have another student win for personal pride.

 

After waiting years to read this book, it was about 40% into the book that I realized that Red Rising was essentially “The Hunger Games in space” with elements of Divergent and other young adult dystopian series thrown in for good measure by the time I finished.  I realize that authors borrow elements from other authors, but Brown rips off of The Hunger Games is so blatantly bad that it hurt.  Frankly the mixture of so many things from other series could have worked if they were written well, but in this book it wasn’t.  On top of that, what Darrow goes through to appear as a Gold seems to be stretching credibility especially since the Society’s “Quality Control” performs tests on him, including blood which has DNA that should show he wasn’t born a Gold.  Though the action in the book was the best feature, the plot just didn’t live up to the hype especially after realizing how much is borrowed and not written in an interesting way from a new angle.

 

Red Rising might be enjoyed by numerous readers, but I’m not one of them and frankly while I got through the book I’m not interested in seeing what happens next.  So I’m selling this book and the other two books in the first trilogy to a friend who is really into young adult dystopia and hope he enjoys it more than myself.

When Time Began (The Earth Chronicles #5)

When Time Began - Zecharia Sitchin

The mysteries surrounding Stonehenge have filled countless books, but what if there were other ancient megaliths just like it around the world?  When Time Began is the fifth book by Zecharia Sitchin’s of his The Earth Chronicles examining the correlations between the calendars from cultures around the world and how they all appear to be related to beginning around the same time period, culminating in Mankind entering its first “New Age”.

 

Sitchin began with a recounting of “the beginning of time” according to his research when Nibiru entered the solar system then later when the Anunnaki arrived on Earth and finally after the Deluge.  Then focused turned to Stonehenge, its construction and astronomical alignments along with when they occurred.  He then transitioned to showing other circular astronomical designs from around the world, beginning in Sumer but also in the Americas before turning his attention to their significance to the politics of the Anunnaki especially concerning the numerous separate exiles of Thoth and his brother Marduk/Ra.  Building off the his work in The Wars of Gods and Men and The Lost Realms, Sitchin explains that the events leading up to the end of the Sumerians were caused not only by the politics but astronomy and religion which were one and the same.  And the aftermath was not only the end of the Sumerians, but also that of a “unified” religion and the birth of national deities.

 

Unlike the previous books, Sitchin mixed his usual academic approach at the beginning of his books with his own theories and explanations creating a different feel this book compared to his others.  Another aspect is that this book felt more of a “continuation” of the two previous mentioned books as Sitchin adds more evidence for this theory on the colonization of the Americas as well as give more details leading to and the aftermath of fall of Sumer.  Yet this last aspect is where the flaws of the book are the most pronounced as, even without an added quarter-century of archaeological discoveries the errors are hard not to miss take notice of with or without an open mind.

 

The information and theories proposed in When Time Began have stuck with me since I first read it and caused me to misremember things in other books.  Zecharia Sitchin continued to build his theory on the foundations of his previous books, but unlike them the errors were a little harder to ignore in this particular installment.  If you have read his previous volumes by all means read this one as well, however be warned that some conjectures and theories are simply incorrect unlike others that can be reasonably debated.