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Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America
Douglas Morgan
The History of the Peloponnesian War
Donald Lateiner, David Lateiner, Richard Crawley, Thucydides

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day - Giles Milton

I received Advanced Reader's Edition of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program for an honest review.

 

The story greatest seaborne invasion and one of the greatest airborne operations in history combining to break the Atlantic Wall is known from an overview perspective, but the story of D-Day from a personal perspective really brings home the events of the first 24-hours of D-Day.  Giles Milton covers the first 24-hours of the invasion of Western Europe in Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day from both the Allied and German sides.

 

Milton sets the “scene” by describing how the Allies planned the invasion and how the German planned to stop them.  Once the narrative turns to the invasion, Milton begins following a multitude individuals—some of whom he returns to a few times—over the course of those first pivotal 24 hours.  From the Allied (mostly American) paratroopers landing all over the place confusing themselves as well as the Germans to the mistake by the Allied Supreme Command of not properly bombing the beaches and the struggle on Omaha, the things that could have undermined the Allied invasion are brought out and highlighted.  However, the successes such as the total surprise of the invasion are also brought to life through many perspectives from the retelling by soldiers.  Milton shifts the narrative from West to East in the landing zones to detail the Allied experiences on each as well as South as German defenders and French civilians experienced the firepower of massive invasion, as well chronologically (as well as can be expected) to really bring to the forefront how touch and go that day was.

 

While Milton certainly constructed a very intriguing historical narrative in covering a 24-hour period from the viewpoint of a multitude of eyewitnesses, this was also the book’s downfall.  The use of so many eyewitnesses resulted in not really establishing familiarity with those that he returns to over the course of the book.  If you are familiar with the film The Longest Day than some of these eyewitnesses will be familiar given the events that Milton chronicles, if not for that I would have gotten lost several times throughout the book.

 

Soldier, Sailor, Frogman, Spy, Airman, Gangster, Kill or Die: How the Allies Won on D-Day is an ambitious undertaking by Giles Milton that unfortunately does not really come together as a whole.  While the use of a multitude of eyewitnesses can be applauded to create the narrative unfortunately it didn’t work out given the large number Milton used.

W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism's Second Generation

W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism's Second Generation - Gilbert M. Valentine

The work of reform and those that spearhead them are never easy, especially when religious belief is thrown into the mix.  Gilbert M. Valentine’s biography of administrator, educator, preacher, and theologian W.W. Prescott, lives up to its subtitle Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation, and shows his impact on the denomination over the course of 52 years and influence beyond.

 

Prescott’s life before beginning his denominational work in 1885 was first as a son of a hardworking New Hampshire business man and Millerite, who would not become a Seventh-day believer until his son was 3 years old.  The success of his father’s business allowed Prescott to get a very thorough education resulting in attending and graduating from Dartmouth.  He began his career as a principal at several schools before going into publishing until the call to become president of Battle Creek College began his career in denominational service.  From the outset, Prescott’s task to reform the College was went up against some faculty and their connections in the larger Adventist community, yet he slowly changed the institution to be more in-line to the thoughts of Ellen White on education.  Besides college president, Prescott became the denomination’s head of education and helped found two more colleges that he became titular president of at the same time he was in charge of Battle Creek.  Eventually Prescott would find himself playing peacekeeper between those in support and opposed to the 1888 message of E.J. Waggoner and A.T. Jones joins, but still upset people which eventually forced him to take refuge in Australia where his preaching and evangelism grew in leaps and bounds.  After an “exile” in England, Prescott was called to be the right-hand man to new General Conference President Arthur Daniells, which would begin a partnership of almost two decades in various forms.  Yet Prescott became the fount of controversy first as editor of the Review and Herald especially during the crisis with John Harvey Kellogg and then with his new theological understanding of “the daily” in Daniel 8 that was integrated into his Christocentric approach to Adventist doctrine and preaching, which would touch off numerous personal attacks for the rest of his life and overshadow the rest of his career especially as he attempted to help the denomination with problems that would later cause consternation nearly half a century later.

 

Due to my own reading of Adventist history, I had come across the name of Prescott but had not known the extent of his involvement with the denomination in so many areas, locations around the world, and controversies.  There is a lot packed into the 327 pages of text that Valentine expertly wove together to create an enthralling biography of man he grew to know well due to his years of research for his doctoral dissertation.  If there is critique I could l give this book, it would be that it was too short because it felt like Valentine did not go as in-depth as he would like in this presentation of his much longer dissertation.

 

W.W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism’s Second Generation lives up to its name, giving the spotlight to an influential man in the history of the denomination that is unknown to a majority of Seventh-day Adventists today.  Gilbert M. Valentine’s work in writing a comprehensive and readable biography of a man who was involved in so many matters is excellent and just makes this book highly recommended for those interested in Seventh-day Adventist history.

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire - Lawrence James

The largest empire in history ended less than a century ago, yet the legacy of how it rose and how it fell will impact the world for longer than it existed.  Lawrence James’ chronicles the 400-year long history of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, from its begins on the eastern seaboard of North American spanning a quarter of the world to the collection of tiny outposts scattered across the globe.

 

Neither a simple nor a comprehensive history, James looks at the British Empire in the vain of economic, martial, political, and cultural elements not only in Britain but in the colonies as well.  Beginning with the various settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America, James describes the various colonies and latter colonial administrators that made their way from Britain to locations around the globe which would have an impact on attitudes of the Empire over the centuries.  The role of economics in not only the growth the empire but also the Royal Navy that quickly became interdependent and along with the growth of the Empire’s size the same with the nation’s prestige.  The lessons of the American War of Independence not only in terms of military fragility, but also politically influenced how Britain developed the “white” dominions over the coming centuries.  And the effect of the liberal, moralistic bent of the Empire to paternally watch over “lesser” peoples and teach them clashing with the bombast of the late-19th Century rush of imperialism in the last century of the Empire’s exists and its effects both at home and abroad.

 

Composing an overview of 400-years of history than spans across the globe and noting the effects on not only Britain but the territories it once controlled was no easy task, especially in roughly 630 pages of text.  James attempted to balance the “positive” and “negative” historiography of the Empire while also adding to it.  The contrast between upper-and upper-middle class Britons thinking of the Empire with that of the working-class Britons and colonial subjects was one of the most interesting narratives that James brought to the book especially in the twilight years of the Empire.  Although it is hard to fault James given the vast swath of history he tackled there were some mythical history elements in his relating of the American War of Independence that makes the more critical reader take pause on if the related histories of India, South Africa, Egypt, and others do not contain similar historical myths.

 

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is neither a multi-volume comprehensive history nor a simple history that deals with popular myths of history, it is an overview of how an island nation came to govern over a quarter of the globe through cultural, economic, martial, and political developments.  Lawrence James’s book is readable to both general and critical history readers and highly recommended.

Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe--The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation

Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe--The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation - Chris DeRose

The future of the young United States hangs in the balance as two friends and rising statesmen travel the roads of eight Virginia counties to become a member of the first Congress under the newly adopted Constitution, depending on who is elected the new Constitution will succeed or fail.  Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe—The Bill of Rights and The Election That Saved A Nation by Chris DeRose follows the lives of future Presidents James Madison and James Monroe lead up to the election the two men faced off in Virginia’s 5th Congressional district and why the result was important for the future of the nation.

 

The lives of the young Virginians James Madison and James Monroe were both different; one was sickly and served in legislatures during the Revolution while the other was healthy and a soldier during the war.  But there were similarities as well as both were wholeheartedly behind the success of the new nation and deeply troubled about the ineffectiveness of the Articles of Confederation, wanting those similar of mind to come together to bring changes.  After the failed Annapolis Convention, Madison coaxed George Washington out of retirement to the Philadelphia Convention and the result was a new Constitution that was sent to the states for ratification.  Monroe, though wanting a better government than the Articles, found the new Constitution too much and joined other Anti-Federalists in Virginia hoping to reject the new document in the face of Madison and the Federalists.  The heated Virginia Ratification Convention went back and forth before Virginia passed the new Constitution, but the Anti-Federalists stuck back in next session of the House of Delegates putting Madison in a seemingly Anti-Federalist district and convinced Monroe to stand for election against him.  If Monroe were to win, the Federalists who would be the majority would be without a leader and not support any amendments (i.e. the Bill of Rights) that Monroe and the Anti-Federalists wanted thus possibly leading to a second Constitutional convention that would undo the new government.  However, Madison’s victory came about because of his support for a Bill of Rights especially his long support of religious freedom for dissenters in Virginia.

 

Coming in around 275 pages, Chris DeRose’s first book was a nice read with good research and nice structure to show the parallel lives of his subjects before their history defining election.  Yet the fact that the vast majority of my synopsis focused on the last half of the book shows that while DeRose had a nice structure he didn’t use his space well.  Several times throughout the book DeRose would insert his opinion on what he believed Madison or Monroe were thinking at some moment in time which came off looking amateurish that fact that wasn’t helped when DeRose would also insert asides alluding to current (as of 2011) political event several times as well.

 

Overall Founding Rivals is a nice look into the early lives of James Madison and James Monroe along with a crucial election they stood for with the new Constitution in the balanced.  While Chris DeRose did admirable work, it is still his first book and in several places it is never evident.  Yet with this caution it is still a good read for history buffs especially interested in this critical period in American history.

Teaching History: A Seventh-day Adventist Approach

Teaching History: A Seventh-day Adventist Approach - Gary Land

The question of how Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, approach the study of history compared to their secular colleagues is an important topic of thought and debate.  Distinguished Adventist educator and historian Gary Land’s Teaching History: A Seventh-day Adventist Approach gives both teachers and students insight into how they can unite their learning and faith to better appreciate both.

 

In 86 pages of texts, with footnotes at the end of each chapter, Land covers historiography in all its secular philosophies and analysis of history and how suggests how Christians might approach and use each in their own ways.  In the text, Land brings up three ways Christians can apply their beliefs with the teaching and writing of history and in the last chapter he provides case studies to showcase how each can be used while still speaking to a wide academic audience.  Land doesn’t forget to address how Seventh-day Adventists should approach history, whether their own denomination’s or that of the wider world, amongst themselves whether in journals or in classrooms.

 

Overall this small book about how Christians can approach the study of history while still using their beliefs is a wonderful thought provoking read for both teachers and students.

Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III

Fire & Blood - George R.R. Martin

The rise and fall of the Targaryens in Westeros over the course of 300 years is essentially the backstory for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones).  Taking on the guise as a master of the Citadel, Martin’s Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III is the first volume of two detailing the history of the Targaryen dynasty and the unified Westeros they ruled that readers would first meet in A Game of Thrones.

 

Unlike the vast majority of the books concerning Westeros, Martin writes this one as a pure—yet fictional—history book, though with a clear narrative structure, detailing the lives of the Targaryens and the events that impacted their reigns from Aegon’s Conquest down to the Regency of his great-great-great-grandson Aegon III in the aftermath of The Dance of the Dragons.  The book begins with a quick family history of the Targaryens with their flight from Valyria before the Doom and the century leading up to Aegon’s conquest of Westeros before delving into said conquest with his sister-wives.  Then just a regular history book, the text goes into how the new realm was brought together and how the Targaryens attempted to bring Dorne into the realm during Aegon’s life.  Next came the reigns of the Conqueror’s two sons showing how the new dynasty was tested once the founder was missing and the problems faith and cultures play when interacting with one another.  Follow the death of Maegor the Cruel, the long reign of Jaehaerys I with considerable influence from his sister-wife queen Alysanne shows how dynasty’s rule was cemented even though seeds were planted for a crisis in the succession of the line that would explode in civil war after the death of their grandson Viserys I between his eldest daughter and her younger half-brother that would devastate the realm and basically kill off all the dragons—both human and creature—leaving a 10-year boy left to sit the Iron Throne.

 

Although around half the material in this book was a reprint from A World of Ice and Fire, “The Princess and the Queen, “The Rogue Prince”, and “Sons of the Dragon” it was all the new material and some retconned details of this 700 page book that is really interesting.  The reign of Jaehaerys and Alysanne was essentially all new as was the details about how The Dance of the Dragons ended and the resulting multiple Regencies for Aegon III.  Along with all this information, which fleshed out the backstory of Westeros even more, were parallels of characters from the main series—as well as the Dunk & Egg novels—with historical personages that appeared in this history that gives big fans thoughts to ponder about what might be in store with the former.

 

Overall Fire & Blood: From Aegon I to the Regency of Aegon III is a very good book for those fans of ASOIAF/GoT who look in-depth at their favorite series.  Personally as fan of the series and being interested in the depth Martin gives his series, as well as big history read, this book was fantastic.  Yet if you are a casual fan or simple a show fan that hasn’t read the books, this book isn’t for you.

The Guide for the Perplexed

The Guide for the Perplexed - Moses Maimonides

Looking to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and Jewish theology, Moses Maimonides wrote The Guide for the Perplexed. A three part letter to his student, the book was influential not only to  Jewish thought but Christian and Islamic thought throughout the Middle Ages while still giving those in the 21st Century insights to consider.

 

The first part focuses on Maimonides arguing against the anthropomorphism of God, basically stating God is incorporeal, and all references in the Bible to God doing physical things are essentially figurative language to allow the human mind to understand the works of God.  This leads into a discussion by Maimonides that states that God cannot be described in positive terms only negative conceptions because while positive terms put limits on God, the negative does not.  This leads into a discussion of philosophy and mysticism of various kinds.  The second part begins on Maimonides expounding on the physical structure of the universe, an essentially Aristotelian world-view, which eventually leads into a debate on if the universe is eternal or created.  Though Maimonides admits that Aristotle’s arguments for an eternal universe are better, Divine Revelation decides the matter.  Maimonides then expounds on the Creation presented in Genesis and theories on the possible end of the world.  The last part is explained as the climax of the whole work as Maimonides expounds on the mystical passage of the Chariot found in Ezekiel, which isn’t supposed to be directly taught only hinted at though over time direct instruction has become the normal.  This is followed by analysis of the moral aspects of the universe and explaining the reasons for the 613 laws in the Torah.  Maimonides ends the book with how God is worshipped correctly, through wisdom.

 

The comparison of and thesis of complimenting of long held Jewish theological thought and Aristotelian philosophy by Maimonides could have been hard to follow, the text was more than readable and thus the arguments very understandable.  While his arguments and logic are insight and enlightening, Maimonides is yet another religious individual who has married ‘pagan’ philosophy with divine revelation to the determinant of the latter like many of his Christian contemporaries were doing and their predecessors before them and many would do after.  This is the book’s biggest flaw, but instead of being a reason not to read it is the main one to read it and thus understand the arguments of those who want to merge two separate worldviews into one.

 

The Guide for the Perplexed was intended by Maimonides for learned individuals to give his view on philosophy more than theology, however the two could not be connected within the text.  While I do not adhere to the vast majority of the thoughts the author expounded upon, the insight into medieval thought were invaluable and insightful.

The Annals of Imperial Rome

The Annals of Imperial Rome - Michael Grant, Tacitus

Augustus might have established the Principate, but it was up to his successors to continue it and prevent Rome from once against descending into civil war.  Tacitus in The Annals of Imperial Rome, the reigns of the Caesars from Tiberius to the death of Nero which would lead to the events in the writer’s The Histories.

 

The work begins with Tacitus reviewing the reign of Augustus and how Tiberius became his successor, over his more popular nephew Germanicus whose side of the family would eventual rule.  Tiberius shrewdly attempts to be modest in claiming the Imperial title, but this hides his dark nature that he developed during his self-imposed exile before becoming Augustus’ heir.  Under Tiberius is when the show trials and political persecutions of leading men that would begin that would become notorious under later Emperors.  The middle and the very end of Tiberius’ reign, all of Gaius (Caligula)’s reign, and the first half of Claudius’ reign have been lost.  Tacitus’ work picks up with how Claudius’ wife Messalina was brought down and his niece Agrippina shrewdly manipulating her way into marriage with her uncle so as to get her son, the future Nero, to become Emperor.  Though the show trials and political persecutions continue, Claudius doesn’t instigate them and attempts to be lenient for those being wrongly convicted.  Yet once Nero becomes an adult and Claudius’ son Britannicus still a child, Claudius’ days are numbered.  Once his great-uncle and adoptive father is dead, Nero assumes the leadership and begins consolidating power including poisoning Britannicus at dinner one night.  Though his mother Agrippina attempts to influence him, Nero humors her while attempting to get rid of her and finally succeeding.  Though taught and tutored by the renowned Seneca, Nero has learned to rule in the guise of Tiberius yet with the ruthlessness of Gaius and soon anyone that offended him or could have been a threat to him or perceived to be by his hangers on.  Though the end of Nero’s reign is missing, the trials and murders of senators were increasing in number to the point that later as mentioned in The Histories they decided to turn on Nero and proclaim Galba.

 

The unfortunate incompleteness of Tacitus’ work does not diminish the great historical account that it presents of early Imperial history as well as his critique of the Roman aristocracy during the reigns of Augustus’ Julio-Claudian successors.  Though we know his opinions of Tiberius and Nero the best since their reigns survived the best, Tacitus critiques of those family members that did not rule were highly invaluable especially all those who in the writer’s opinion might have been more fitting successors to Augustus if not fpr political intrigue or bad luck.  If there is a complaint with this book it is with a decision by translator Michael Grant decision to use modern military terminology in reference to Roman’s military was it, but his decision to use Roman numerals to help identify different historical actors who had the same name—a very common Roman practice—without a doubt help keep things straight.  The biggest complaint that I had with Tacitus’ other works, which I had from Oxford World Classics, were non-existent with Penguin Classics and thus I encourage others towards that particular publisher.

 

The Annals of Imperial Rome is Tacitus’ finest work, showing the corruption of absolute power and how many choose to allow it overcome them instead of standing up to it.  Although probably (at least) one-third of the work is missing, the portions we have covers how a politically stable Rome begins to slowly unravel through ever increasing fear of the most powerful man in the Empire.  The end result of this is chronicles in Tacitus’ previous work.

James White: Innovator and Overcomer

James White - Gerald Wheeler

The primary force behind the organizational formation of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination himself came from a denomination that resisted organization, but today’s Seventh-day Adventist church has his fingerprints even today.  James White: Innovator and Overcomer by Gerald Wheeler, examines the life and times of one of the three main founders of the church whose drive was both a blessing and a curse.

 

Beginning and ending this biography at the funeral of James White, Wheeler highlights an important theme throughout White’s life, his seemingly paradoxical personality that drove him to everything he could for the church he helped to found but that could also cause friction with others from coworkers, friends, and family.  Wheeler then shifts to White’s early life in Maine, a tough place that made tough people who endured the harsh climate of the area.  Though encouraged to just become a farmer though he yearned for education, White became convinced the message of William Miller and soon felt the call to preacher the 1844 message while becoming accredited with the Christian Connection, whose views would influence him for years and decades to come.  After the Great Disappointment, White was among those who believed something occurred on October 22 but shied away from the fanaticism of others through he was drawn to the encouraging visions of Ellen Harmon and began escorting her to various groups of Millerites before social conventions led the two to wed.  The couple along with others, most notably Joseph Bates and Hiram Edson, began development the theological underpinnings of the future Seventh-day Adventist church and Ellen’s encouragement lead to White beginning ‘Review and Herald’ which would eventually place White at the forefront of the movement and eventually the main proponent of organization for almost a decade before it became a reality.  Once organized, White wanted others to lead the church with him—famously refusing to become the denomination’s first president—but given his drive for its creation and want of its success he wasn’t the easiest to work with and would butt heads with many in the final 20 years of his life that grew worse as his many strokes would magnify his personality’s positive and negative traits.  Throughout his endeavors with the church, Wheeler described White’s personally frugal nature that would make him squeeze out all he could with his money for himself and his family while at the same time being generous to less fortunate believes and church institutions.  Though busy running two to three periodicals and a newly formed church, White was a business man and real estate investor so as to provide himself and family economic security but this led to accusations that he enriched himself with church funds that dogged him even after his passing.

 

In almost 250 pages of text and references, Wheeler provided an eye-opening look into the life of James White through the use of White’s own autobiography but also letters written by himself and others as well as other sources from individuals who knew him throughout his life.  Wheeler fleshes out James White into a real person that like us today had strengths and flaws that he used and dealt with his entire life while getting closer and closer to Christ, something every Adventist—or any Christian—should identify with today.  Though information and use of primary sources is excellent, the structure Wheeler used in the book was sometimes questionable.  While the not so strictly chronological layout of the chapters was fine, some of the content of the chapters resulted in several short chapters that could have been merged into other chapters to make the book flow better to the reader.

 

James White: Innovator and Overcomer is a very good book for those Adventists looking to learn about one of the three founders of the church.  Gerald Wheeler helps take White from being a picture on the wall, or book cover, and make him flesh-and-bone man who struggled just like us today with strengths and flaws.  I highly recommend this for those interested in SDA church history.

Earth, Air, Fire, Water: Tales from the Eternal Archives #2

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

The short story anthology Earth, Air, Fire, Water edited by Margaret Weis, the second and last collection of the Tales from the Eternal Archives, contains thirteen stories of varying quality loosely connected to one another through the titular mystical library.  But unlike the first collection all thirteen stories were all fantasy genre.

 

The best story of the collection was “Strange Creatures” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, which followed Chief Dan Retsler investigating the latest in a series of animal mutilations but suddenly finds out that the latest animal might be linked to mythical “selkies”.  The next two best stories were “How Golf Shaped Scotland” by Bruce Holland Rogers, a fun and good natured short story about how a game of golf created Scotland’s iconic coastline, and “An Elemental Conversation” by Donald J. Bingle, a conversation between a Reverend and his friend during their weekly chess game about how the news of non-human intelligent life affects religion with a twist ending.

 

The two worst stories of the collection were “Water Baby” by Michelle West, which followed the life of a young woman who is emotionally connected to the ocean and how it affects her and others, and “Sons of Thunder” by Edward Carmien, in which a djinn recounts his time as a follower of Jehua and how his brother and his tribe converted to the new faith leaving him alone.  These were the two “worst” examples of six stories that were not really good even though they had interesting concept, but just bad execution ruined them.  An interesting facet was the unevenness of the number of stories for each element covered in the book, with Air only have one while Earth had five and Water had four and Fire starting off the book with three.

 

The thirteen stories that make up Earth, Air, Fire, Water were a mixed bag of quality from the excellent to downright disappoint, just like every other anthology collection that has been published.  However I will be honest in how well I rated this book given how poorly it began and ended.

 

Individual Story Ratings

Burning Bright by Tanya Huff (2/5)

The Fire of the Found Heart by Linda P. Baker (2/5)

The Forge of Creation by Carrie Channell (2/5)

How Golf Shaped Scotland by Bruce Holland Rogers (4/5)

The Giant’s Love by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (3/5)

Family Secrets by Robyn McGrew (3.5/5)

Dvergertal by Nancy Vivian Berberick (2/5)

An Elemental Conversation by Donald J. Bingle (4/5)

Water Baby by Michelle West (1/5)

Only As Safe by Mark A. Garland and Lawrence Schimel (3/5)

Out of Hot Water by Jane Lindskold (3.5/5)

Strange Creatures by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (5/5)

Sons of Thunder by Edward Carmien (1/5)

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)