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Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics)
Anselm of Canterbury
Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Karen Karbiener, Walt Whitman
Progress: 284/960 pages
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

Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission

Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission - Don Thomas

From the beginning of the 20th-Century the state of Ohio has seemingly been on the forefront of manned flight from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong to the flight of an “All-Ohio” crew of STS-70 aboard the shuttle Discovery.  Don Thomas in Orbit of Discovery relates the entire history of the mission from his assignment to the crew to the post-mission events as well as the event that is it best known for, the woodpecker attack that delayed the launch.

 

Thomas begins his book with the sudden halt in his pre-flight routine when a love sick woodpecker drilled holes in the foam of the external tank forcing weeks of delays that put him and the other four members of the crew spinning their wheels.  This pause allows Thomas to give an account about how he personally got to this point through his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut to his course of study in school to achieve that dream then his three time failures to join the program until finally succeeding on this fourth try.  He then goes into his time in the program before his flight on the shuttle Columbia and quick turn assignment to Discovery soon after his return.  Thomas then related the year long process of training and preparation for the mission until the sudden halt in the process when a woodpecker used the external tank to attract a mate.  After NASA was able to repair the foam, the mission returns to normal save for the humor inclusions of Woody Woodpecker throughout the flight in space and the numerous post-mission events that Thomas relates in detail.

 

The uniqueness of the mission’s delay as well as the fact that the crew was entirely made up of astronauts from one state—well one was given honorable citizenship—made for a good hook for any general reader who might have an interest in the space program.  Thomas with the assistance of Mike Bartell gives a very reader friendly look into what it was like to be an astronaut and the course of shuttle missions from assignment to post-flight events without becoming bogged down in technobabble.  At the end of the book is included an appendix for profiles for all the astronauts that came from Ohio which is in the spirit of the book and adds a nice bit of history for those interested.

 

Overall, Orbit of Discovery is a well-written and easy to read book that gives a first-hand account of everything that went into a space shuttle flight.  Don Thomas’ own story of his journey to finally getting to the program adds to the account in allowing the read to see how much dedication goes into becoming an astronaut.  For those interested in any way in the space program, this is a highly recommended book.

Genesis Revisited (The Earth Chronicles #4.5)

Genesis Revisited - Zecharia Sitchin

How advanced in thought and science were the ancients?  And is modern science catching up on what they knew?  These questions are the basis of Zecharia Sitchin’s Genesis Revisited in which he looks back at the scientific developments since publishing of his book The 12th Planet (up until 1990) to show that his finds in that and subsequence books are being proven.

 

Organized in a well throughout manner, Sitchin begins each topical chapter—save the final two—looking at the scientific consensus and findings that have been advanced since the 1976 publication of his first book.  Then after laying the foundation going back to the Sumerian texts that he first wrote about to show that modern science is now replicating the knowledge of the earliest civilizations that was brought to them by the Anunnaki of Nibiru.  The last two chapters were focused on more “recent” developments, particularly the Phobos 2 incident and the sudden cooperation between the United States and the USSR in space particularly in regards to Mars.

 

Obviously the biggest flaw of this book is that it was published in the fall of 1990 meaning that there has been almost 30 years of advancement of scientific knowledge that has made some of this science discussed in the book outdated.  Yet I have to give Sitchin credit for keeping things simple when explaining his theories by only hitting the high points and then referencing the reader to his earlier books for a more in-depth look.  This allowed Sitchin to focus on the modern science more in each chapter as a way to compare it to his theories of Sumerian knowledge.  Although the last two chapters contain some speculation of (then) current events they don’t diminish from Sitchin achievement of staying focused so as to bring new readers to his books.

 

Essentially Genesis Revisited is a book that allowed Zecharia Sitchin to reach new readers who had not heard of his previous books as well show is long time readers new evidence that confirmed what he had been writing about.   Although the book’s science is now dated, for those interested in ancient astronauts it’s something they might want to check out.

The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld #41, Tiffany Aching #5)

The Shepherd's Crown (Tiffany Aching) - Terry Pratchett

Endings are sad no matter if it happens suddenly or you know it’s been coming for some time, but all good things come to an end.  The Shepherd’s Crown is the final book of Tiffany Aching journey into mature witch as well as the 41st and last Discworld book by Terry Pratchett.  Not only was this the last book, finished before Pratchett’s death, but saw the biggest development in the series ever—warning spoilers below.

 

While Tiffany Aching continues work as the Chalk’s witch both see and Jeannie the kelda feel something is about to happen, which it does with the death of Granny Weatherwax in Lancre that sets off a chain of events.  Granny leaves everything, including her steading, to Tiffany thus making her be seen as “first among equals” amongst witches.  But the death of Granny results in a weakened barrier between the Disc and Fairyland as many elves seeing the Queen as scared and cautious after her defeat by Tiffany years before and it only grows when they learn goblins have been accepted in human society and that iron—railways—now rule the land.  The Queen is usurped by Lord Peaseblossom who begins raiding into Lancre and the Chalk, which adds to Tiffany’s burden of covering two steadings in to locales that becomes a bit easier when a Geoffrey leaves his noble family and travels to Lancre to become a witch and turns out to have some talent—for a man.  Gathering together witch allies, the Feegles, elderly men looking for a fight, and the deposed Queen to battle an invasion, Tiffany uses the power in the Chalk to defeat Peaseblossom—who killed the Queen in battle—then summon the King of the Elves—who kills the usurper for killing his wife—to prevent them from ever returning.  Afterwards Tiffany knowing no witch can replace Granny give the Lancre steading to Geoffrey then builds herself a hut from the bones of her own grandmother’s hut to have an official residence of her own.

 

Pratchett did not complete this book as he would have liked to as Neil Gaiman stated in a later interview and the clues were there for a more emotional ending and closure for fans, but this unfortunate missed opportunity does not detract seriously from the book.  On the whole, the plot and character developments were nearly perfect with the only except of Mrs. Earwig who felt like she had more to be developed but that Pratchett hadn’t had enough time to provide it.

 

The Shepherd’s Crown is a book of endings for numerous reasons and because of that some people do not want to read it, especially those who have been fans longer than I have.  However eventually I hope those people will eventually read Terry Pratchett’s last Discworld book and see that even right up to his own meeting with Death that he strove to create something that made you think and show your emotions.

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life - Herman Melville, John Bryant

While known today for vengeful captain chasing a white whale, Herman Melville’s writing career began with a travelogue of his adventure on the Nuku Hiva and was his most popular work during his life.  Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life is a semi-autographical book that Melville wrote about his approximately 4 week stay that he “expanded” to 4 months in the narrative.

 

Melville begins his narrative when he describes the captain of the “Dolly” deciding to head to the Marqueas Islands and then events surrounding the ship’s arrival at the island as well as the actions of the French who were “taking possession” of it.  Then Melville and a shipmate named Toby decide to ‘runaway’ to the valley of the Happar tribe and execute their plan when they get shore leave.  Climbing the rugged cliffs of the volcanic island, they hide in the thick foliage from any searchers but realize they didn’t have enough food and soon Melville’s leg swells up slowing them down.  Believing they arrived in the valley of the Happar, they make contact only to find themselves with the Typee.  However the tribe embraces the two men and attempt to keep them amongst their number, but first Toby is able to ‘escape’ though Melville can’t help but think he’s been abandoned.  Melville then details his experiences along amongst the cannibalistic tribe before his own escape with assistance of two other natives of the island from other tribes.

 

The mixture of narrative of Melville’s adventures and the anthropological elements he gives of the Typee make for an interesting paced book that is both engaging and dull.  Though Melville’s lively descriptions of the events taking place are engaging, one always wonders if the event actually took place or was embellish or just frankly made up to liven up the overall tale.  The addition of a sequel as an epilogue that described the fate of Toby, which at the time added credibility to Melville’s book, is a nice touch so the reader doesn’t wonder what happened to him.

 

Overall Typee is a nice, relatively quick book to read by one of America’s best known authors.  While not as famous as Melville’s own Moby Dick, it turned out to be a better reading experience as the semi-autographical nature and travelogue nature gave cover for Melville to break into the narrative to relative unique things within the Typee culture.

City of God

City of God - Henry Bettenson, Augustine of Hippo

As a backlash against Christianity grew after the sack of Roman in 410 AD, Augustine of Hippo took up his pen to respond to pagans and philosophers as well as inform Christians about their priorities between heaven and earth.  The City of God is one of the cornerstones of medieval Christianity and thought that even influences the world today.

 

Augustine divides his work into 22 books divided into two parts.  The first part was to refute the accusation by pagans that the sack of Rome in 410 AD was punishment for abandoning the gods of Rome for Christianity.  Throughout the first ten books of his work, Augustine critiques the Roman religion and philosophy from the multitude of deities and the contradictory beliefs related to them as well as the conflicting philosophies that supported and opposed them.  The second part, consisting of the last twelve books of the work, discussed the titular City of God and how it relates with the city of man—the present world.

 

Augustine’s critique of pagan religion and philosophy in the first part of the book is honestly the highlight of the book.  Not only did he defend Christianity but also exposed the contradictions within pagan religious beliefs a well as numerous schools of philosophies which defended or opposed those beliefs.  If there was one downside within the first part, it would have been the troubling theological ideas that Augustine espoused that seemed more based on Plato than the Bible.  However, it was in the second part of book that Augustine’s faulty theology truly became apparent so much so that I had to begin skimming through the text to prevent myself from contradicting Augustine in my head instead of reading.  While not all of Augustine’s theology is wrong, God’s omniscience and human free will is an example, some of the defining examples I want to cover is the following: the immortality of the soul and eternal burning in hell connected to it, the claims that passages from the Old Testament are analogies for Christ and the church, that all of Psalms are prophecies written by David, the angels were created on the third day, and many more.  It became too frustrating to stay focused and I admittedly might have skimmed over some of Augustine’s better theological arguments, but it was that or tossing the book.

 

City of God is both the refutation of pagan Roman practices and the theological understanding of Augustine for Christian believers.  It’s importance for medieval Christianity and thought cannot be underscored enough, however that does not mean that every reader should not look at it critically.

Organizing for Mission and Growth: The Development of the Adventist Church Structure (Adventist Heritage Series)

Organizing for Mission and Growth: The Development of Adventist Church Structure - George R. Knight

Throughout the history of the Seventh-day Adventist history there has been a constant question “To organize or not to organize, and if so how?”  Organizing for Mission and Growth is the third book of the Adventist Heritage Series written by Adventist historian George R. Knight.  In covering over 170 years in fewer than 190 pages, the book covers the struggles to first organize then restructuring and then reinvigorating the church so as to achieve its mission to spread its end time message.

 

The Sabbatarian Adventists out of the Millerite movement were small and disorganized across New York and New England, but their former denominational experiences and theological beliefs in the evils of organization forces the rising leaders of the group to do much of the work themselves particularly James White.  While White himself initially was against organizing and “making a name”, the essential one-man operation that he was preforming led him to reexamine scripture and rethinking his anti-organizational ideas becoming a strong advocate for the organizing of the denomination so much so that he refused to become its first president.  But as the decades past and the church grew, the strengths for church structure for a small number of believers over the breath of half a nation became detriments as membership grew and expanded worldwide leading to crisis that brought about restructuring at the beginning of the 20th Century.  However, the divide in ideas about how to restructure causes nearly a decade of drama before it was resolved.  Yet throughout the 20th Century the organization of the church was tweaked and reinvigorated with innovation on several levels but in the 21st Century many have begun questioning the extent of how much administration is needed compared to the previous 100 years.

 

Unlike what he was able to cover in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists, Knight goes in-depth on how Seventh-day Adventists got their name and how they structured their denomination’s organization and the debates for and against as well as how it innovated.  Knight does not go in-depth over the entire course of the 155 year history of the General Conference, but he focuses on what needs to be in-depth like James White’s struggle to found the denomination and later the 1901-3 restructuring of the denomination by A.G. Daniels and others against the efforts by A.T. Jones and others who wanted a much decentralized organization (congregationalism).  Yet the events of 1901-3 also had a theological element that while touched upon was discussed more in A Search for Identity, another Adventist Heritage Series book focused on the development of Seventh-day Adventist theology.  This limited focus created a very strong book that gave the reader a clear history of its topic without going down various rabbit holes.

 

Although Knight intended Organizing for Mission and Growth to be the third of a seven book series related to Adventist heritage, however for over a decade it has been the last he has written.  This fact does not take away how important this and other Adventist Heritage Series books for Seventh-day Adventists who are interested in the history of their denomination, it’s theological beliefs, and it’s organizational structure as they are the primary readers Knight aims for.

Agricola and Germany

Agricola and Germany (Oxford World's Classics) - Anthony Richard Birley, Tacitus

Every one of Roman’s greatest historians began their writing career with some piece, for one such man it was a biography of his father-in-law and an ethnographic work about Germanic tribes.  Agricola and Germany are the first written works by Cornelius Tacitus, which are both the shortest and the only complete pieces that he wrote.

 

Tacitus’ first work was a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who was the governor of Britain and the man who completed the conquest of the rest of the island before it was abandoned by the emperor Domitian after he recalled Agricola and most likely poisoned him.  The biography not only covered the life of Agricola but also was a history of the Roman conquest of Britain climaxed by the life of the piece’s hero.  While Agricola focused mostly one man’s career, Tacitus did give brief ethnographic descriptions of the tribes of Britain which was just a small precursor of his Germany.  This short work focused on all the Germanic tribes from the east bank of the Rhine to the shores of the North and Baltic Seas in the north to the Danube to the south and as far as rumor took them to the east.  Building upon the work of others and using some of the information he gathered while stationed near the border, Tacitus draws an image of various tribes comparing them to the Romans in unique turn of phrases that shows their barbarianism to Roman civilization but greater freedom compared to Tacitus’ imperial audience.

 

Though there are some issues with Tacitus’ writing, most of the issues I had with this book is with the decisions made in putting this Oxford World’s Classics edition together.  Namely it was the decision to put the Notes section after both pieces of writing.  Because of this, one had to have a figure or bookmark in either Agricola or Germany and another in the Notes section.  It became tiresome to go back and forth, which made keeping things straight hard to do and the main reason why I rate this book as low as I did.

 

Before the Annals and the Histories were written, Tacitus began his writing with a biography of his father-in-law and Roman’s northern barbarian neighbors.  These early works show the style that Tacitus would perfect for his history of the first century Caesars that dramatically changed the culture of Roman.

Calamity Jane (Living Forest #12)

Calamity Jane: The Wise Old Raccoon - Sam Campbell

A year in the life of a raccoon, particularly a female, is challenging and then there are the kits one must raise and teach to survive before winter comes and the cycle starts again.  Calamity Jane is the final book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series, focusing on the year in the life of a raccoon introduced in Looney Coon yet in a different style than the rest of the series.

 

Campbell begins Jane’s story with her emerges from a several weeks long nap in mid-February to get out and about, eat some, and meet other raccoons especially one big male in particular.  The book then shifts into spring as Jane reemerges on the hunt for food as quickly and as much as possible before having to feed her four kits.  Taking up most of the book, the spring is when young kits are in the most danger first because they rely on their mother and then when they’re eyes open they begin exploring much to their mother’s fear in some cases.  Eventually Eno, one of Jane’s kits, begins living with a nearby farmer and his family after a misadventure but later reconnects with his mother and siblings.  The most shocking turn of events is the apparent death of Jane when hunters enter the Wildlife Refuge she lives in and attack her, though by then she had weened her kits off of needed her and able to survive on their own.  But later that fall, Jane returns after proving harder to killer than the hunters expected to the joy of the farming family.  The book ends back in the winter with Eno not comfortable his human family’s sleeping habits and heading back to his old home to get some much needed sleep with his siblings and mother.

 

Like Sweet Sue’s Adventures before it, Calamity Jane is written differently than other books in the series.  Focusing on Jane and her kits, the book follows them in a style meant for young readers.  With the addition of over 50 photographs, this book is definitely for young readers than readers for all ages.  Given that Sam Campbell passed away the same year as this book was previously published, one wonders if his health changed the way he wrote the last two books of this series though interesting information for nature’s citizens isn’t diminished.

 

Calamity Jane like its predecessor is a children’s book to get them interested in nature and giving them a wonderful introduction to Sam Campbell’s writing so they can be interested in the other books in the Living Forest series.

Sweet Sue's Adventures (Living Forest #11)

Sweet Sue's Adventures - Sam Campbell

The length of a mother skunk’s time with her young is less than three months, but even in those three months you can learn a lot.  Sweet Sue’s Adventures is the penultimate book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series, yet unlike all of the other books in the series this one completely different.

 

Sam Campbell takes the reader on a journey of six hikes to a nearby farm and follow the adventures of a female skunk just before she gives birth through to the raising of her big family to when they leave, all of that under three months.  However this time, Campbell writes in such a way that the reader becomes an active participant of the narrative like a student going out with an old-timer to learn instead of relating a variety of events around the Sanctuary of Wegimind or another location that his wife and he travelled to.  Yet the information learned about the skunk like its eating habits, the raising of it’s young, and the warning signs before it sprays you with its pungent odor are extremely interesting.

 

As stated before, Sweet Sue’s Adventures is a completely different book than its predecessors.  The first was the change of narrative style as noted above, the second was that instead of being easy to read for all ages this book was aimed at younger readers specifically, and third was the inclusion of 48 black-and-white photographs of Sue and her litter instead of the occasional illustrations.  Being the shortest book of the entire series at around 120 pages with photographs and wide spacing made this a very quick read, though informative.

 

Sweet Sue’s Adventures is a quick lite read aimed at young readers about an animal that is stereotyped as always smelling.  While it is completely different from previous Living Forest books, Sam Campbell packs it was information that is suited to his target audience.  Though adults readers and probably first time reader might find it juvenile, for experienced readers of Campbell it’s a nice quick read on a rainy day.

Beloved Rascals (Living Forest #10)

Beloved Rascals - Sam Campbell

Just like humans, the animal world is filled with rascally species that just make you shake your head in frustration and laugh at their antics.  Sam Campbell writes about both animals and humans in the tenth book of his Living Forest series, Beloved Rascals, as he and his wife Giny interact with a variety of said rascals from their own Sanctuary of Wegimind as well as in and around Canada’s Banff National Park.

 

The return to their island home begins on a somber note for the Campbells as they drive past a fire in the woods that is slowly growing, they get help and provide service of food and water for the numerous firefighters, forest rangers, and game wardens battling the blaze.  After rain ends the fire, the Campbells continue their journey home sadden by the loss of animal life and one burned crow, named Midnight, they intend to help mend.  Soon Midnight is joined by a pair of baby raccoons, a pair of porcupines, and an infant hare that escaped from a wolverine.  But the forest fire make the Campbells nervous and after a group of campers led by a guide they trusted left an open fire going on their property they post ‘No Trespassing’ signs.  But then a southern family, the Meadows, shows up excited to be near Sam Campbell and at the Sanctuary after unknowingly passed a downed trespass sign on their way to the Sanctuary.  However, the Campbells are impressed by their visitors excellent camping skills—though tenderfoots, they studied numerous books for proper camping etiquette—and their twins sons enthusiasm that they allow the family to stay after the Meadows find the fallen sign and apologize.  The Meadows appearance and enthusiasm for nature allows the Campbells to head to the Canadian Rockies—Banff National Park—to photograph and film wildlife as well as interact up close and personal on occasions with both animals and humans.  One of the latter is the local legend, Klondike, a former miner who is rumored to have a pet three-legged grizzly, but is notoriously hard to find.

 

Like the previous book, Beloved Rascals comes in slightly longer than the rest of the series at 244 pages making it the second longest of Campbell’s books.  As usually Campbell’s engaging prose makes the activities and misadventures of the numerous animals chronicled come alive in a very easy to read way.  The Canadian trip and the foreshadowing of Campbell’s meeting with Klondike pepper the book, but it does take away from the other things Campbell writes about resulting in a good balance.  But like the last book, Campbell laments that the actions and carelessness of others is slowly making him cut off the Sanctuary for other people in an effort to protect the land and the animals.

 

Beloved Rascals is quintessential Campbell with wildlife and human misadventures in the forests of North America, but once again shows the downside of human carelessness as well.  Spanning from the familiar Sanctuary to the spectacular Canadian Rockies, this book allows the reader to experience both sorrow and joy of the animal life in North America.

Acts of War (Op-Center #4)

Acts of War (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #4) - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

Decades of repression by several nations has led to a unprecedented unification of militants looking to create a nation for the Kurds and their plan is so audacious that it could result in a war ranging from the Arabian Sea into Eastern Europe and possibly the fracturing of NATO, Op-Center must manage to contain this crisis even as members of their own team are held hostage.  Written by Jeff Rovin, but named for Tom Clancy, Acts of War is the fourth book of the Op-Center series which sees a well-planned attack by Kurdish militants send Turkey and Syria on the verge of war as the action spans from Eastern Turkey to the streets of Damascus and the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.

 

A four-man team of Syrian Kurds cross into Turkey, attack the Turkish guards then are able to commander a military helicopter that they use to destroy the Ataturk Dam.  Nearby General Mike Rodgers heads a small team testing the first Regional Op-Center—ROC—that will allow for better crisis management, deciding to scout the attack on the Dam with a Turkish liaison officer, they are captured by three of the Kurds which leads to the capture of the ROC when they attempt to rescue the duo.  Meanwhile the strike of the Dam has cause Turkey to mobilize it’s forces south to the Syrian border, the Syrian mobilize theirs to the north, Iraq begins making moves towards Kuwait, and other nations begin stepping up their military including Greece which might ally itself with Syria.  With a possible general war in the Middle East about to break out the President sends Op-Center head Paul Hood to Damascus to negotiate with Syrian President.  Hood sends Op-Center’s military team, Striker, to Israel so as to set up a rescue of the capture ROC before the President decides to destroy it and the hostages in a missile strike before the Kurds can use US intelligence for the rest of their plan, including a coordinated attack in the heat of Damascus which puts Hood in the crossfire.  Through both luck and the calling in of various favors around the region, Op-Center is able to resolve the crisis before it escalates into general war but not without a price.

 

Released in 1997, Acts of War used the volatile political landscape of that time—and save the good relationship between Israel and Turkey of now—as the setting for this action thriller.  Unfortunately a lot of the book comes down to the stupidity of General Mike Rodgers’ essentially boyish need to be a cowboy instead of an actual military officer and then his actions against the Kurds while being a hostage the endangered all the other hostages before murdering a Kurd who tortured him after he had been captured by Striker.  The positives of the book such as the well thought out plan of the Kurdish militants to create a general war, the Israeli spy of Druze descent who scouts the Bekaa Valley and helping the now Brett August lead Striker team’s action in combat, and the analysis the various nightmare scenarios of a general war in the Middle East are all outweighed by everything dealing with Rodgers, including a Presidential pardon for killing said Kurd with no ramifications like say retiring, negates everything.

 

Acts of War, like several previous Op-Center books, has an intriguing plot idea that is undermined by poor writing though amazingly for different reasons than previous book.  Yet this book is a rather frustrating and somewhat disappointing read, more so than Mirror Image, because it shows Jeff Rovin is knowingly doing bad writing on an element in one book when he’s showed before or shows later that he knows how to write good on that same element.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) - Jenny Lawson

Sometimes you want to forget very embarrassing things that happen in your life and a few of those times you’ll ask your friends to pretend it didn’t happen, now think about that being the majority of your life.  Jenny Lawson, aka “The Bloggess”, recounts her life from childhood through school, romance, marriage, and motherhood in her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir.

 

Lawson starts off the book by throwing the reader into the deep end of her humor and really doesn’t let them resurface until after finishing the book.  Beginning with her childhood in Wall, Texas, Lawson goes through her quirky life from one embarrassing moment to another especially since her own father was a quirky taxidermist whose business was in the backyard AND that was before she even started school.  Misadventures in high school—mainly dealing with a cow—and college follow, and it is in the latter where she meets her husband in which the most hilarious moments of her life begin.  And through her marriage with Victor, the birth of their daughter, and move out into Texas countryside the misadventures only continue with predictably hilarious, yet embarrassing results.

 

It’s hard to really evaluate a humorous memoir, except grading it on the content of its own humor.  Honestly, given how much I looked forward to reading this book each day and the fact I had to stop reading out of either laughing or just being embarrassed at the author’s own embarrassing situations means it succeeded.  Yet on top of that is Lawson’s faux notes from her editor(s) just add to the overall experience of the book.  And the added bonus chapter of the paperback of notes from her promotional tour is a cherry on top of everything.

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is a hilarious memoir of a woman who owns up to her embarrassing moments, cherishes them, and knows they made her who she is.  Though this wasn’t the first book by Jenny Lawson that I’ve read, yet now I can see why it became a bestseller and has led to a few more books by Lawson.

Raising Steam (Discworld #40, Moist von Lipwig #3)

Raising Steam (Discworld) - Terry Pratchett

Once it had been a dream, it had been nearly realized before being abandoned, and many lost their lives looking to harness it until one young man succeeded.  Raising Steam is the penultimate book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, as Moist von Lipwig helps along the technological marvel of locomotion created by Dick Simnel that is monetarily supported by Harry King and pushed by Lord Vetinari early on especially to reach Uberwald which becomes imperative as the Dwarfs verge on civil war.

 

Young Dick Simnel saw his father killed while trying to control steam, but after years of reading and later technological tinkering he succeeded in creating a locomotive engine and a means to use it on rails.  Dick then heads to Ankh-Morpork and the wealthy Harry King to get support, which the latter is happy to do.  Soon train fever hits Ankh-Morpork and Lord Vetinari calls on Moist von Lipwig to utilize the invention to the betterment of the city, in no uncertain terms.  Like always Moist’s mind begins seeing the possibilities in the new technology and begins helping Dick and Harry come up and implement ideas, but soon Vetinari begins pressing Moist to get things moving faster.  All the while, dwarf society is splitting between fundamentalist and pragmatists resulting in attacks on such technological marvels as the clacks and the new railway.  Then after the fundamentalists launch a coup when the Low King is at summit, it is only with the railway that the “King” is able to return to put down the coup and change dwarf society.

 

While I enjoyed the character of Moist in his previous two books, this book was not really a Moist von Lipwig book though he was the main point-of-view.  In fact this book very much needed the reader to know the events that happened Thud! and Snuff, which were both Watch driven books especially as Sam Vimes featured heavily in the latter part of the book.  The story was not bad, but the twists and turns were predictable and some random scenes were in fact plain random as they never played in the overall plot of the book.  There was a hint of Pratchett attempting to make a commentary on religious fundamentalism with the acts of terror, but because of political climate of the time he wrote he watered it down a lot.  However, the biggest drawback is that the humor was lacking especially as Pratchett included every person or group that have been featured prominently in the series, save the Witches, almost as if he wanted to show them on last time just in case.

 

Raising Steam is not the worst Discworld book—Eric—and it is close to being one of the best.  Honestly, the story is fine, but seems to take longer than necessary.  In previous books the reader could forgive this fact because of the great humor, but as stated before that is lacking.  This book is for long time Pratchett fans and anyone interested in getting into Discworld is encouraged to find an book in the first three-quarters of the series to read first and work their way to this one.

Fiddlesticks and Freckles (Living Forest #9)

Fiddlesticks & Freckles (Living Forest Series, Volume 9) - Sam Campbell

Nature is always changing with and without the “help” of man, but sometimes the actions of some men negate those of others for both good and ill.  Fiddlesticks and Freckles is the ninth book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series and sees the prominent return of an old friend in Bobbette along with her fawns, the titular subjects of the book, around the Sanctuary of Wegimind as well as new friends over in Hawaii.

 

Sam and his wife Giny spy their doe friend Bobbette in a large clearing with two fawns, each with their own prominent features one physical (Freckles) and the other in attitude (Fiddlesticks).  The Campbells decide to make a study of the little family with observations and photos.  While Bobbette is friendly, she is overcautious with her young, which becomes even more important when tracks and screams indicate that a cougar is roaming in the area after a several decade absence from all of Wisconsin.  However, Bobbette’s caution is not only for the cougar but humans as well as unfortunately poachers violate the Campbell’s land and kill the doe leaving her fawns orphaned with bow-and-arrow and deer season still in their future.  Sam and Giny do their best to feed the fawns as well as protect the Sanctuary from hunters violating the property lines, but the adventuresome fawns roam 15-20 miles around leaving the Campbells with high anxiety until winter comes roaring in.  Throughout this time, the Campbells have been exchanging letters with a young friend in Hawaii they made several years before and decide to return to the islands to grab video and photos of the natural beauty of the soon-to-be 50th state.  While the Campbells spend several weeks around the islands interacting with their young friend as well as previous friends and those newly made, they learn that the deer herds are in trouble because of record-breaking snowfall leaving in question of their orphan fawns were able to survive.  Only in the late coming spring do they see the now yearlings reappear in the large clearing they first met them.

 

This book is just a tad longer than majority of books in the series at 243 pages, but is still not the longest of the series.  Campbell’s own prose is used throughout the book unlike some of the previous books when letters from others were put into the text, the “return to form” appears just to be better for this book than anything negative from previous departures.  While the looking-forward to and the actual trip to Hawaii are hinted at until the last several chapters trip actually takes place, the main focus is on the titular Fiddlesticks and Freckles and their adventures or more apt misadventures for the most part.  Yet this book is different as Campbell spent more time describing his yearly struggle when the various hunting seasons come around.

 

Fiddlesticks and Freckles is full of the wildlife humor and adventures Campbell likes to write about, but unfortunately it also shows the terrible downside of interactions between men and wildlife.  One might say this is a bit of a downer, but I think it’s a strength in this book as Campbell shows the challenges that everything in the Living Forest must overcome on a daily and yearly basis.

The Martian

The Martian - Andy Weir

One day you start the normal morning routine on a Mars expedition, but the end of the day you’re bleeding and alone on the Red Planet with everyone believing your dead.  The Martian by Andy Weir follows the life and death struggle of astronaut Mark Watney on the surface of Mars as he attempts to stay alive and find a way to contact NASA to get him home.

 

On the sixth day of the third manned mission to Mars, an intense dust storm scrubs the mission but during the evacuation the mission’s botanist and engineer Mark Watney is seemingly impaled by a broken antenna and left behind.  However luck would have it Watney has only a minor injury, but alone on the surface.  Taking stock of everything left at base camp, Watney begins planning how to survive until the next mission to Mars and figuring out how to contact NASA, both of which he eventually does through not without significant challenges.  Meanwhile NASA has had to do an about face on Watney’s status and begin to figure out how to save him, which means doing things as quickly as possible but results in setbacks and later teaming up with the Chinese to resupply Watney’s crew who “mutiny” by demand to get back to Mars to save their friend.

 

Weir created a science-based scenario with all the physical and elemental challenges that a stranded astronaut would face on Mars, as well as how it would happen.  Watney’s easy-going persona, well as easy-going as one could get while stranded on Mars and hoping to find a way off, makes for numerous laughs that along with Weir’s very easy to read prose makes for a book that is hard to put down.  Yet I can’t avoid some of the downsides to the book, namely the end of the book that is almost predictable from the outset and the somewhat manufactured drama especially concerning the internal workings of NASA to results in the crew “mutiny”.

 

The Martian is a very readable hard science fiction novel, the debut work of Andy Weir.  The main character and Weir’s easy prose made this book hard to put down and made me linger reading “just one more page” at night, thus making this a book that I can’t help but recommend to both science fiction fans and general readers alike.

William Miller and the Rise of Adventism

William Miller and the Rise of Adventism - George R. Knight

The Great Disappointment in October 1844 appeared to have brought the end of Millerism and Adventism; however it proved to be just the end of the movement’s initial rise.  William Miller and the Rise of Adventism by George R. Knight follows the life of William Miller and then the development of the movement that sprang up from his preaching of the imminent Second Coming of Jesus in ‘about the year 1843’, including the men who helped shape the movement with him and then influenced the believers after October 22, 1844.

 

Knight begins the history by placing the Christian theological background that influenced the rise of Biblical prophetic study as well as revivalism, including showing that Millerism was the last gasp of the Second Great Awakening.  He then delves into the life of William Miller, the events of which would later influence his abandonment and later rediscovery of his Christian belief before his studies brought him to his monumental belief that Jesus’ Second Coming would occur ‘about 1843’.  While Miller’s message was engaging from the start, his preaching was only in rural New York and Vermont until chance brought him in connection with younger men who found the truth of his words but knew how to use the day’s modern methods to spread it farther than Miller ever knew possible.  Knight relates the growth of the movement among believers in numerous denominations which later leads to a reaction from those same denominations as well as the Millerite leaders attempt to keep down fanaticism amongst believers.  The meat of the book covers the “Year of the End” from March 1843 to October 1844 with all the internal and external tension that occurred during that time as the expectation of Jesus return was a daily hope until the date of October 22 was accepted.  The final section of the book relates the histories of the Millerites that kept their Adventist hope after the Great Disappointment.

 

Given the subject matter and Knight being the most prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian today, one could have expected prominence of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church.  However, save for Joseph Bates who was a prominent Millerite in his own right, the future Seventh-day Adventists are kept until the last two chapters of the book.  If anything this was a story of the Millerites and Adventists who didn’t become Seventh-day Adventists, which is important for both those within and without the SDA denomination to learn about and especially for the former to learn lessons from history.  For the general Church history reader, this book reveals the last big gasp of the Second Great Awakening that occurred in the United States as well as the ramifications of it over the past 170+ years.

 

I had expected this book to be a pure biography of William Miller; however the history of the movement named after him turned out to be a far better surprise.  William Miller and the Rise of Adventism is for numerous audiences for those interested in Adventist history, American religious history, Christian history, and many more.  While George R. Knight is a prominent Seventh-day Adventist historian, his scholarly approach gives the reader a full, unbiased picture of this time.