155 Followers
35 Following
mattries37315

mattries37315

Currently reading

Thud! (Discworld, #34)
Terry Pratchett
Progress: 84/382 pages
Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Karen Karbiener, Walt Whitman
Progress: 175/960 pages

The Daughter of Time (Alan Grant #5)

The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey

A Scotland Yard detective is recovering in hospital with a broken leg and needs his mind distracted, what eventually gets him moving is the quandary on why the portrait of the reprehensible Richard III looked so different from the constructed popular history.  In her 1950 Alan Grant mystery, The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey has her veteran detective investigate the mystery of the Princes of the Tower and if Richard instigated their deaths.

 

In a brief summary of the plot, a recovering and bedbound Alan Grant is battling boredom when his friend Marta Holland suggests he research a historical mystery.  Knowing his love of reading faces, she sends him portraits of various individuals and he becomes intrigued with one of Richard III.  Through the help of friends, acquaintances, and young American researcher Brent Carradine, Alan gathers information and tests out theories.  After weeks of work and logical thinking, Alan comes to the conclusion that Richard did not murder his nephews and his bad reputation the result of Tudor propaganda.

 

Coming in at a brisk 206 pages, Tey’s novel is a quick paced mystery that doesn’t get bogged down in details that many non-history geared readers might feel intimidated with.  However, for those seasoned history readers there are some problems with the book that come to the fore.  Tey’s arguments in support of Richard and her theory (though Alan) that Henry VII murdered the Princes are not rock solid especially as pointed out by other authors like Alison Weir though in other areas Tey bests Weir even with a 40+ year difference between their publications and new primary sources that Tey didn’t have.  There are other little mistakes, like calling the Buckingham conspiracy the Dorset-Morton plot, or completely ignoring the before mentioned Buckingham has a plausible suspect (though Paul Murray Kendall would do that a few years later).

 

Overall The Daughter of Time is a quick, enjoyable read that will either make you think about things more critically or simply think of it as a nice plot device.

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2)

Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive, The) - Brandon Sanderson

The world of Roshar thought it had survived its great cataclysm four millennia ago, but days are slowly counting down for when the next Desolation begins.  Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series’ second installment, World of Radiance, brings numerous characters together in the middle of the Shattered Plains as Roshar faces the beginning of the apocalypse as well the rebirth of it’s great heroic warriors that fought to save life.

 

Although the four main characters are once again front and center, but unlike the previous The Way of Kings it is Shallan Davar who dominates the majority of the book’s narrative either through her own point-of-view, flashbacks, or through the eyes of other major characters.  Shallan and Jasnah are headed to the Shattered Plains by ship when it is attacked, Jasnah murdered, and Shallan dissolves the ship to save the crew and herself using her recently discovered Radiant abilities.  Shallan continues to learn her new abilities as she travels through the Frostlands towards the Shattered Plain meeting several interesting people including Kaladin and the ringleader of Jasnah’s killers then takes her place as the agent of the group that killed her to learn what they know of the things Jasnah has been studying.  Once at the warcamps, Shallan juggles multiple balls that eventually leads her out into the Plains at a critical moment to save the Atheli army.

 

Kaladin, Dalinar, and Adolin take up the vast majority of the rest of the book, essentially interacting a lot with one another or with Shallan once she gets to the camps.  Kaladin’s is the major secondary arc of the book as he transforms the bridge crews into a guard force to protect Dalinar and his family while also continuing to deal with his issues with lighteyes and the responsibilities of his Radiant powers.  Using his new position as Highprince of War, Dalinar along with Adolin attempt to combat the political intrigue of Sadeas and attempt to end the war either through peace or crushing the Parshendi in battle.  Interlaced throughout the book are interludes that were dominated by the Parshendi general Eshonai and the Assasin in White, Szeth, whose own arcs help give an epic feel to the overall story while adding to the book’s main narrative flow.

 

While the length of The Way of Kings and the repetitive descriptions during scenes were my main complaint, Sanderson’s Words of Radiance were and wasn’t the same.  The length of the second book is something to give pause (1300+ pages), the repetitive descriptions during the same scenes were cut out and narrative replaced it.  Honestly, with more narrative then descriptions the length of the book becomes less noticeable especially once you’re a quarter of the way through the book but it’s always in the back of your mind.

 

Overall Words of Radiance is a very good book, building upon and improving over its predecessor and setting up anticipating for the read to see where Brandon Sanderson is going to take this series next.

They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims

They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims - C.J. Milbrandt

One of the enduring founding myths of the United States is the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, and like all myths it was based on true events that were warped as time passed.  They Came for Freedom by Jay Milbrandt explores how and why the Pilgrims came to the shores of Cape Cod as well on how they survived when other settlements failed.

 

The arrest and trial of one Henry Barrow, who defied the Anglican Church’s version of Christianity and maybe the authority of Queen Elizabeth by his dissent, the story of the Separatists who would eventually become the Pilgrims begins.  Milbrandt followed the Pilgrims narrative through London, a small village in Nottinghamshire, to the Netherlands, and then across the Atlantic to Cape Cod.  But alternating with that of the Pilgrims was the biography of Squanto, whose own life and adventures before the landing of the Mayflower led to him being a pivotal individual for the success of New Plymouth.  Once the Pilgrims had landed, Milbrandt merged the two narratives together in a very readable detailed history that went up until the fall of 1623.  Although Milbrandt continued his history until 1646, the last 20 years was just a glimpse of tidbits of historical importance.

 

At around 225 pages of text, Milbrandt’s efforts are particularly good considering that his primary sources were few and even those were slanted to give the colony of Plymouth a good impression.  Although several historical inaccuracies did appear, they were mostly naming conventions and not detrimental to the overall book.

 

While short, They Came for Freedom is a good general history that gives the reader a sense of the real events that later became mythologized in American culture and folklore.  Overall it’s a nice, readable book about a topic most American know little able.

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650

Reformations: Early Modern Europe, 1450-1660 - Carlos M.N. Eire

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter?  In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation.  An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

 

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences.  This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time.  The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses.  “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result.  “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s.  “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

 

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history.  The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers.  This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

 

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe.  Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does.  So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

The Division of Christendom

The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century - Hans J. Hillerbrand

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time.  In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

 

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany.  Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany.  Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events.  The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered.  And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

 

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text.  Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well.  But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe.  By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

 

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history.  As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

Blood Stain (Volume Three)

Blood Stain Volume 3 - Linda Sejic

Beginning on Elly Torres’ second day on her new job after her long first day in Volume Two, she doesn’t know what to expect next or in fact what she’s actually supposed to do.  Linda Sejic’s Blood Stain Volume Three completes the first book of Sejic’s webcomic as Elly, Vlad, and Serge have to decide if they can get along with one another or not.

 

Waking up late in the morning, Elly nervously hopes that Vlad has not been waiting on her only the reader to find out that Vlad himself has overslept.  As Vlad desperately attempts to get ready for the class he’s teaching, his demeanor and instructions to Elly just confuse her.  So interpreting her duties as best she can, Elly thoroughly cleans his lab while Vlad embarrassingly falls asleep in the middle of his class.  Upon returning an upset Vlad can’t believe the pristine condition and angrily tells Elly she overstepped her duties.  While Elly wonders about her future, especially as her family’s situation isn’t improving, Serge argues with Vlad about his behavior over the years and later Vlad realizes how much better the lab is organized.

 

Unlike the first two volumes, the description of what occurs in this particular volume is straightforward as some sort of resolution has to be made about Elly’s character.  In addition, the working relationship between Vlad and Serge comes to fore as it impacts Elly and is used by Sejic to give both characters more development.  Given that this chapter ends the first Book, or story arc, of Blood Stain the final panel is somewhat predicable but only if you’ve read the first two books but it’s a rewarding final panel because of the journey we’ve seen Elly go on.

 

As a longtime fan of Sejic’s webcomic, it was a pleasure to have on paper the story I’ve enjoyed online.  While Blood Stain Volume Three might be an ending, but it’s just the beginning of the story that is finished and there is more interesting that will be happening with Elly, Vlad, and Serge to come.  So if you haven’t read either of the first two volumes, then I encourage you to check them out.

The Stairway to Heaven (Book II of the Earth Chronicles)

The Stairway to Heaven - Zecharia Sitchin

The quest for immortality has a place in the myths and legends in nearly all the cultures of the world, is this a natural human longing or is it the result of the “gods” living among men for millennia?  Zecharia Sitchin looks to answer the question through Sumerian, Egyptian, Biblical, and extra-Biblical texts and Middle Eastern stories and legends from Gilgamesh to Alexander the Great in his book The Stairway to Heaven.

 

The search for Paradise where the Tree of Life—or the Fountain of Youth or any other means to bring eternal youth or life—across cultures begins Sitchin’s second book in his Earth Chronicles series.  Then he turns to those who claimed immortal ancestors which lead to recounting the tale of Gilgamesh and the afterlife journey of the Pharaohs to their ancestor Ra.  All this builds to why all these tales are similar in their descriptions of locations to find the place where immortality can be found, the answer Sitchin proposes is the post-Deluge location for the Annunaki spaceport on the central plain of the Sinai Peninsula.  In setting out his theory, Sitchin details the monumental architecture around Egypt and the Levant that not even modern equipment can create and how archaeologists have misidentified through mistakes, or maybe outright fraud, on who built them amongst ancient human cultures when in fact they were built by the astronauts from Nibiru for their rocketships.

 

Following the post-Deluge founding of civilization at the end of The 12th Planet, Sitchin focused on how the Annunaki rebuilt their spacefaring abilities after the destruction of their Mission Control and Spaceport in Mesopotamia.  To do this he highlights the near universal search for immortality by humans and how it alluded to the new Spaceport in the Sinai that lead to the “realm of the Gods”.  Yet in doing this Sitchin reiterated the same thing over and over again for a good third of the book, bogging down the overall text and could have been condensed down but would have made this 308 page book much shorter.  But Sitchin’s argument that the mathematical relationship between numerous ancient cities, monumental architecture, and high mountains across the Middle East as well as stretching towards Delphi in Greece towards the end is the most intriguing for any reader, even if you are skeptical on Sitchin’s theories.

 

The Stairway to Heaven is not as well written as its precursor or its successor—if my memory is correct—as Sitchin needed a transition book and needed to fill it out.  While not as “good” as The 12th Planet, this book gives the reader information important in following up the previous book and “setting” the stage for The Wars of Gods and Men.

The Force Doth Awaken (William Shakespeare's Star Wars Part The Seventh)

William Shakespeare's The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh (William Shakespeare's Star Wars) - Ian Doescher

The galaxy is on the brink of war as old and new heroes race to find the last Jedi against vile agents of the imperial First Order in William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken by Ian Doescher.  The first film of the sequel trilogy returns us the Star Wars galaxy 30 years after the fall of the Empire as its successor strikes reclaim the galaxy while attempting to destroy those that could stop it but instead of screen or adaptation is translated wonderfully into fantastic Elizabethan prose by Doescher just like Shakespeare might have done.

 

Though the search for the lost Luke Skywalker is the focus and driving motivation of the entire book, the struggle for one’s own identity is the central theme.  Doescher’s fantastic soliloquies by Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren give depth to these new leading characters as they join long established characters of Han and Leia.  One of the best surprises of the book is Chewbacca as Doescher “corrects” one of his oversights by “translating” the Wookie’s screams in the footnotes, which given the events during the battle of Starkiller Base is very poignant.  The duel between Finn/Rey and Kylo Ren is very well-written with good balance of Chorus lines and character soliloquies that brings about a very complete and compelling scene.  And additional nice touches were the humorous lines of the Rathtars and great use of using the small amount of dialog for Snoke to great use.

 

The Force Doth Awaken is a return by Doescher and all Star Wars fans to what made the franchise fun, but unlike some Doescher embraced the very homage to the first film and used the similarities to great effect in this book.  As Doescher like every other Star Wars fan must await the next film, those that love his work will be eagerly awaiting each William Shakespeare adaptation from him.

Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography

Renegade: Martin Luther, The Graphic Biography - Dacia Palmerino

I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

 

The life of Martin Luther, the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, has been written about for centuries yet now it can not only be written about but visualized as well.  Renegade: Martin Luther, the Graphic Biography by Andrea Grosso Ciponte and Dacia Palmerino is exactly what its title says about the man who sparked a change in history.

 

Depicting the life of Luther from his childhood to his death, the biography focuses on his time as a monk led up to and through his break with Rome.  At 153 pages there is only so much that can be covered and only so much context as well through sometimes the visual aspect of the graphic novel does come in handy.  While the short length of the book obviously foreshadowed only the barest minimum that could be covered on his life, yet the graphic novel aspect seemed to offer a way to enhance the chronicling of Luther’s life.  Unfortunately the artwork looks like screen caps of a video game with so-so graphics with only a few great pages of art, usually at the beginning of each chapter.

 

The overall quality of the biographical and artwork content of Renegade is a mixed bag of a passable chronicle on Luther’s life and so-so artwork.  While some younger readers than myself might find it a very good read and hopefully make them want to know more about Martin Luther and the Reformation, I found it a tad underwhelming.

Going Postal (Discworld #33, Industrial #4)

Going Postal - Terry Pratchett

Ankh-Morpork’s primary communication system has become inefficient and is losing money, so Lord Vetinari decides to reopen the Post Office.  The 33rd book in Terry Pratchett Discworld series, Going Postal introduces a new ‘main’ character Moist von Lipwig who would have rather not be involved but once he was couldn’t get enough of his new profession.

 

Moist begins his first book by dying—or rather one of his con-artist aliases does—and is given a job offer by Lord Vetinari to run the Ankh-Morpork’s long defunct Post Office.  Moist accepts then runs away only to be recaptured by his parole officer, a golem named Mr. Pump, who joins him as part of the Post Office staff with a long time employee and a young pin collector who has “issues” who live in the Post Office building amongst the millions of undelivered letters pile around the building.  As Moist figures out how to slowly begin operating the Post Office, he finds himself at odds with the Chairman of the Grand Trunk Company who Moist recognizes as a conman in his own right.  Through the staffing of volunteer pensioners and the hiring of other golems, Moist starts getting the mail moving and becomes a target on a hit list but avoids death.  Now in a fierce competition, Moist outduels his opponents and as Vetinari’s masterplan to solve the continuing breakdown of the Clack system which the city and many other’s rely on.

 

While the overall plot and many of the characters are entertaining, there was something missing when it came to the satire and overall humor of the book.  While “deregulation” of the economy and “finance” seemed to be a part of it, there was possibly an undertone of against a particular philosophy as well.  Yet even without a seemingly overarching satirical theme the book wouldn’t have felt different if Pratchett hadn’t attempted to through in so much early 21st century parallels or shadowed references in addition to everything else going on.  The humor and satire were there, but it just didn’t seem really laugh-out-loud funny with a few exceptions.

 

While Going Postal is not only of Pratchett’s best work, it is still an entertaining installment in the Discworld series that finds one looking forward to seeing what Lord Vetinari might have up his sleeve for his government employed con artist.

500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights

500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights - Nicholas Patrick Miller

The upcoming 500th celebration of the Protestant Reformation has spawned numerous books focusing on the impact of the movement on particular facet of history.  500 Years of Protest and Liberty: From Martin Luther to Modern Civil Rights by Nicholas P. Miller is one of these books in which the author’s articles for Liberty are reproduced in an anthology to chronicle a link between Luther to MLK Jr.

 

The book is divided into four sections surrounding a central theme each reproduced article in that particular section can be related to.  The section introductions and the articles are all well written and fascinating reads especially for those interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.  However in relation to the subtitle of the book, I found the overall flow of the book did not link Luther to MLK Jr.  The first and fourth sections definitely link Luther and to the present-day, but the third seemed to be just its own thing though very informative while the second is somewhere in-between.

 

So while the focus of showing a progression from Luther to MLK Jr., it thought it faltered enough to impact my overall rating, I still recommend this book to anyone interested in freedom of religion and separation of church and state issues.

Gilgamesh: A New English Version

Gilgamesh: A New English Version - Stephen Mitchell, Anonymous

Almost 4800 years after his reign in the city of Uruk, Gilgamesh is still remembered not only in his native land but now around the world even though his native language is long forgotten.  In Stephen Mitchell’s English verse translation of Gilgamesh, the story of the demigod’s calming friendship with Enkidu and his quest to avoid his mortality.

 

The tale of Gilgamesh is not just about the king of Uruk, it is the tale of Enkidu and his civilizing by Shamhat, the friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh as well as their adventures, and finally the death of Enkidu that sends Gilgamesh in his vain search to stop death by asking the one man whom the gods made immortal.  Yet while several aspects of Gilgamesh are similar to later tales of Greek and Germanic origin, there are clear differences as well especially when it comes to Gilgamesh expressing his fear in the face of very dangers and ends with accepting his own mortality in the end.

 

Unfortunately, the story of Gilgamesh that we have is not as complete as it was 4000 years ago.  Several sections are fragmentary which Mitchell had to work around to make the book read well and keeping true to the narrative; in this he did a wonderful job.  Yet, in a book that has around 300 pages only 123 covers the epic itself which while not dishonest is surprising about how short the tale is and how much analysis Mitchell provides the reader before and notes after.

 

Gilgamesh: A New English Version is a fantastic book both in the tale of the heroic demigod king and the translation done by Stephen Mitchell.

Republic

Republic - Robin A.H. Waterfield, Plato

The writings of Plato have been one of the cornerstones of Western thought for two and a half millennia used for both secular and religious purposes, sometimes not as he intended.  Republic is one, if not the, most famous piece of Plato’s philosophical/political writings and the translation by Robin Waterfield for Oxford World’s Classics adds to the debate that surrounds it.

 

During a thorough 60+ page introduction to Plato’s text, Waterfield most significant translation is “morality” instead of “justice” for the Greek word dikaiosune because of the definition provided by Aristotle of the word.  With this word decision and with her discussion of Plato’s complete disregard to politics, Republic turns from a work of political theory into one of philosophy concerned about the improvement of an individual’s life and not that of a Greek polis.  Using the cultural terms and norms of his time, Plato sets out to express his belief that individuals can improve and better themselves outside the communal structure of Greek life.  This was a radical notion given that individualism—especially as we know it today—was not a part of respectable Greek political life, the individual’s life was bound up in the community and if they went off on their own it was dangerous to the civic order and with the relationship with the gods (the charge against Socrates).

 

While Plato’s overall thesis is thought-provoking, some of his supporting arguments via mathematics and his lack of details about how to improve one’s morality and thus goodness are detriments to Republic’s overall quality.  Although later individuals, in particular early Christian fathers, would supplement Plato with their own supporting evidence for those in the 21st Century these elements can be stumbling blocks.  Even though Waterfield’s translation provided to be very readable and her  notes beyond satisfactory, the constant flipping to the back of the book to read them and provide myself with the context to what she was saying while at the particular place in the text was somewhat unhelpful but footnotes at the bottom of the pages might have been worse.

 

Republic is one of the most significant pieces of Western literature and whether you approve of Waterfield’s translation or not, it is a very good was to look at a piece of text long-thought to mean one thing and see it as something completely different.

Op-Center (Op-Center #1)

Op-Center (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #1) - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

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.

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld #32, Tiffany Aching #2)

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32) - Terry Pratchett

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.

The Underdogs

The Underdogs - E. Munguía, Mariano Azuela, Ana Castillo

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.