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The Wonder That Was India
Arthur Llewellyn Basham
Progress: 87/568 pages
The rise of the West: A history of the human community
William Hardy McNeill
Progress: 722/896 pages
Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics)
Karen Karbiener, Walt Whitman
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Moose Country (Living Forest #6)

Moose Country - Sam Campbell

Some adventures are great with a small group and some with a large, yet no matter the size of the group it’s the experience that means more than anything.  Moose Country by Sam Campbell is the sixth book so his Living Forest series, as the author details happenings around the Sanctuary of Wegimind as well as a return journey to Sanctuary Lake with numerous friends both longtime and new in learning about the ways of the moose in the Canadian lake country.


Beginning the winter of 1947, Sam and Giny Campbell are taking time away from the lecture circuit and living in the town close to their home to allow Sam to focus on writing.  However that doesn’t stop Sam and others from have misadventures nor witnessing interesting animal behavior to convince the couple—well Sam—to remake their Sanctuary cabin to live in all weather.  Unfortunately the Campbells find their newly installed insulation being taken out by their island squirrels and their chimney inhabited by chimney swifts, which results in some uncomfortable living for weeks as they attempt to relocate the squirrels who keep on coming back to the island and not having a fire in the cold spring nights.  But the Campbells keep their spirits up as they plan to return to Sanctuary Lake, that they visited in A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too, by themselves and much to the disappoint of Hi-Bub.  But things dramatically change over the course of a few weeks, first the squirrels are successful relocated in an abandoned logging village and impending move Hi-Bub’s family results in them joining the Campbells for their return to Canada.  The last half of the book details the week’s long trip to and stay at Sanctuary Lake with all the adventures associated around it.


This book is just a page short of the previous installments page count at 235.  Yet as my recap of the book above shows Campbell packs a lot of stuff in that space, so much so I can’t really give a proper recap of entire book.  The latter part of the book sees the return of Sandy and more adventures that include the family of Ray, Marge, and June who surprise visit the Campbell’s and Hi-Bub’s family at Sanctuary Lake with their newest friend, French-Canadian voyageur Ancient who’s insights into the nature of the moose comes in handy.  Though Campbell is philosophical, there is not much of it as in previous books.


Moose Country continues Sam Campbell’s fine work emphasizing the wonder of nature and the uniqueness of animals in the wild.  Though half the book is a natural travelogue towards a remote Canadian lake and the wildlife around it, the wonder of nature is brought through in Campbell’s prose that will make it enjoy this book just as you did previous ones.

Games of State (Op-Center #3)

Games of State (Tom Clancy's Op-Center, #3) - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

The demons of hate are reemerging in the newly united Germany and finding root in various countries around the world linked through the shadowy recesses of the Internet and fueled by a businessman looking both for profit and triumph of bigotry, yet Op-Center must find a way to prevent chaos from exploding around the world.  Games of State is the third installment of Op-Center that bears the name of its creator Tom Clancy, yet is written by Jeff Rovin.  From Germany to the streets of the U.S. to southern France, the action and thrill are palpable as the race to prevent the rise of a new wave of hate.


Gerard Dominique, a French billionaire financier and computer game mogul, is uniting hate groups throughout Europe and the United States to destabilize numerous countries and allow France to once again lead Europe.  Part of his plan is to use hate filled video games downloaded onto the Internet and well time hate crimes in various locations to bring about political and societal chaos.  Yet the unplanned actions of other hate leaders resulting in a kidnapped young American woman needing to be rescued, the hate-filled enticement towards the son of Op-Center’s Striker team leader over the Internet, the unexpected meeting of Op-Center head Paul Hood with his former fiancée now a Dominique employee, and Dominique’s own hubris results in his plans failing to materialize.


Released in 1996, Games of State brought together many political and cultural threads to create the backdrop of very riveting political thriller with action-packed sequences as well.  However well the set up and the ideas were, the use of formulaic tropes that are standard in one-hour TV dramas and paperbacks undermined the potential of a book.  What was most disheartening was the ease in which I was able to see which newly introduced characters would result in instantly being important in a 100 or 200 pages just when they were needed, these and other plot twists decreases the enjoyment of the book.  Though one can argue that my complaints are to be expected in this type of book, I would argue that one doesn’t mind if the tropes are written well.


Games of State had an intriguing plot idea, but was undermined by poor writing decisions that turned what could have been a good page-turner into an okay read.  Though the book’s execution was poor, it was a better read than the previous Op-Center installment, Mirror Image, even with my rating being the same for the both of them.

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38, Tiffany Aching #4)

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38) - Terry Pratchett

Anti-witch feelings are on the rise and rumors of old women being burned are in the air, unfortunately for Tiffany Aching she’s finding the Chalk getting infected and it could be her fault.  I Shall Wear Midnight is the 38th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the fourth to feature the young witch Tiffany Aching, who is finding out that being a witch-in-training and being on her own are two different things entirely especially when the Cunning Man is after her.


Now 16 years old, Tiffany is now the witch of the Chalk doing everything that needs to be done from tending the Baron to looking after newest of babes.  Then things seem to start to go wrong from a father assaulting his daughter to the old Baron dying in front of Tiffany and the nurse accusing her of killing him.  Events transpire that Tiffany attempts to persevere through but she senses something is up, especially on her way to Ankh-Morpork when she meets a “man” that the Feegles fall through.  Thanks to the Feegles, Tiffany spends a night in jail but learns witches all around are feeling pressure.  Upon her return to the Chalk, Roland attempts to take out the Feegle’s mound and later has Tiffany detained but the young witch realizes that Roland’s fiancé is hiding a secret—she’s using magic—and confronts her getting the spell broken.  As things return to normal in the Chalk, Tiffany must gear up to face the Cunning Man, a ghost of a witch hunter who’s  hatred is infectious, even while attending a funeral and preparing for the new Baron’s wedding as senior witches gather and watch.


Building upon the previous three books to feature Tiffany, Pratchett continued the character’s growth by showing her face the everyday humdrum of the profession as the witch not a trainee, especially when something vicious shows up.  Unlike previous books, the Feegles are more important minor characters than major secondary ones which focuses the book on Tiffany alone with her dealing with everything and everyone.  Tiffany’s interactions with Carrot and Angua in Ankh-Morpork and the reappearance of Eskarina Smith, whose time traveling ability comes in handy in “assisting” Tiffany, just added to the quality of the book and connected various subseries together than just the same world.


I Shall Wear Midnight is a delightful return to the Disc and a somewhat return to form for Pratchett with a solid story that does not meander like some of the previous books of the series.  Although a first time reader might want to get one of the earlier Aching books to understand some of what’s going on, any long-time fan will love this book.

On Wings of Cheer (Living Forest #5)

On Wings of Cheer - Cassandra Campbell

The sudden reappearance of a friend you thought you would not see for some time or ever again is always a wonderful feeling and is what Sam Campbell begins and ends this book with.  On Wings of Cheer is the fifth book of Campbell’s Living Forest series, the author details a year’s worth of animal adventures and personal interactions around the Sanctuary of Wegimind during all seasons of the year.


Beginning in the fall of 1946, Campbell begins the book by detail the surprise return of a red-winged blackbird named Cheer as announced by his young friend Hi-Bub after everyone believed the bird had flown south.  The Campbells and Hi-Bub enjoy the company of their winged friend for a few more weeks before Sam and Giny head out for their lecture tour believing they wouldn’t return until the next year.  However, Hi-Bub is full of schemes to spend more time with the Campbell as he instigates a private lecture for his sick friend and then surprises them with plans for Christmas, which they find out have already been arranged for them.  During their surprise Christmas trip back home, they have a run in with Indian John who fascinates young Hi-Bub, and visit their Sanctuary cabin.  After returning to the lecture tour, the Campbells return to the Sanctuary and once again enjoying the company of their animal friends both old and new.  One of these friends is a transplanted bear named Old Charley, who enjoyed having fun with every human he can even if he scares some of them to death.  Another is Hi-Bub’s dog, Hobo, who has a run in with a porcupine and later befriends a fawn named Speckles.  Yet the book almost ends on a sour note when Hi-Bub and Sam witness a fawn they believe to be Speckles get shot by an arrow as the youngster is slowly approaching to take a photograph; only on the Campbells’ last night do they discover a very alive Speckles who plays with his friend Hobo.


With a 236 pages, this book is slightly shorter than the previous book that Campbell wrote though packed with as much animal tales and misadventures as any other book of the Living Forest series.  Hi-Bub is an integral part of the narrative throughout the book, especially when it comes to his little schemes that Sam as no problem admiring and writes about them accordingly.  The interactions with Indian John and the reign of terror of Old Charley are both interesting and hilarious respectfully.  There are fewer philosophical teachings of Sam Campbell than in previous books and they appear earlier in the book, though they are still excellent.


On Wings of Cheer is both similar too and different from the other books of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series, as the same with animal and human tales plus misadventures but different in that all seasons were covered in the book.  If you enjoyed other books of the series, then this one will be just as enjoyable.

Foundation and Empire (Foundation #2)

Foundation And Empire - Isaac Asimov

The Foundation created by Hari Seldon has come through three crises and several social changes, but now it must face off against forces of Empire.  Foundation and Empire, the second book of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, follows how the Foundation and its citizen responded to threats from Empire—one it’s decaying predecessor and one from a budding conqueror.


Unlike like Foundation with its several short stories, Asimov’s second book featured two novellas entitled “The General” and “The Mule”.  The first followed the Imperial war against the Foundation led by the titular general Bel Riose who looked to restore the rule of the Empire, but was stopped short by the Emperor who believed him to be using the war to build up himself as a usurper.  The fallout of the war leads the Foundation citizenry to believe during its war with the warlord “The Mule” that eventually something will happen for the Foundation to win.  But the Foundation falls to the Mule’s forces as its leadership learns that its next crisis was to be civil war.  A small ship filled with Foundation survivors makes its way towards the old Imperial capital to find a way to stop the Mule and find that the Second Foundation might be the key.


Although some might believe the two novellas a better format than the several short stories of the first book, I am of a different opinion.  The longer length of the stories unfortunately exposed Asimov’s characters as very flat and his writing somewhat formulaic, especially when it came to the identity of “The Mule”.  Yet I have to admit that of the two stories, “The General” was the best because it only took up a third of the book thus protecting the characters from being over exposed.  “The Mule” became tedious as the reveal of titular character took its sweet time, even as Asimov attempted to show the decay of the Galactic civilization.


While Foundation and Empire was not as good as the first book of the trilogy, there are still some nice passages and ideas that Asimov has written.  Though I was intrigued to find out more about the Second Foundation after finishing the book, it was a long slog to get to that point.


Politics (Library of Essential Reading) - Joseph Carrig, Amit Hagar, Aristotle, Benjamin Jowett

As Plato’s writings have been a cornerstone of Western thought, so have those of his pupil Aristotle through his own lectures and treatise sometimes agreed and disagreed with his teacher while shaping the views of millions over the millennia.  Politics is one of the most important political treatise that has impacted society as it is studied alongside Plato’s own Republic not because they agree, but how they agree through different methods and disagree in conclusions.


Unlike the approach of Plato, Aristotle focused on the examples that the Greek political world knew of to determine the best approach for government of a polis.  Classifying the types of government into six forms, three “ideal” and three “perverted”, Aristotle described them as showing their pros and cons in an effort to establish the “best”.  Then his analysis turned to various functions of government from laws, offices, and how to pass or fill either.  Yet, underlying everything is Aristotle’s insistence that human nature determines everything concerned with governance.


Politics, while thought-provoking and significant in its analysis and conclusions, is unfortunately not without its flaws.  The biggest is Aristotle’s argument of natural rulers and natural slaves that is so opposite to the way many think today.  The next biggest is that fact that the overall work seems like it is not coherently organized or even complete as many aspects that Aristotle says he will cover never appear and he writes about the bringing about his conclusive best government before actually proving what it is, though given his argument that the best government for a polis depends on how its population is constructed.


Aristotle’s Politics is at the same both thought-provoking and maddening especially given the soundness of his analysis and the disorganized state of the overall treatise.  Yet it is one of the most important treatise of political thought of the Western world and is significant in political and historical terms as it has been influential for millennia.

A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too (Living Forest #4)

A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too - Sam Campbell

Sometime over the years an inanimate object becomes something more than it is, whether it is a car or in the case of Sam Campbell a canoe. A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too is the fourth book of Campbell’s Living Forest ranges from the Sanctuary of Wegimind to the wilds of Canada’s canoe country featuring not only animal adventures but also the last year of the Campbell’s durable canoe, Buddie. Sam and Giny Campbell return to their animal sanctuary in early spring 1945 and find their durable canoe, Buddie, in bad shape and because a concern throughout the book even though they’re able to repair it well enough. Recovering from the bad news of their canoe, they are happily surprised to find Still-Mo with a family only because they thought she was a male. Soon they learn their island home’s resident woodchuck has also become a mother. As they enjoy the new residents of the island, Sam and Giny have another new young neighbor boy, Hi-Bud, who met Sam in St. Louis years before and has moved close by. Throughout the spring and summer, Hi-Bud becomes a welcome guest and nature-enthusiast-in-training that the couple enjoys having over. Late in the summer they welcome their friend Sandy on leave from V-E Day injury before his deployment to the Pacific only for the war to end, suddenly allowing the three of them to take their long awaited journey to Canadian canoe country to find an isolated lake to observe and research animals without hardly any human interference. Unfortunately this is Buddie’s last trip as it’s damaged so much that after their return they decide to burn the canoe in a pyre at the end of the book. Although the book is the a little longer than the previous two books, Campbell packs a lot of stuff in this book though in his usual engaging and easy reading prose. Like the last book, a war-experience soldier brings some of philosophical thought to the front especially as he now is looking towards his future post-combat. With young Hi-Bud, youthful exuberance brings out another kind of philosophical thought from Campbell that is very enlightening especially in connection with the imaginative youngster. There is religious faith is written about, though not as prominent as the previous book. A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too while very much like the previous three books of Sam Campbell’s series, it is also different as it gives the reader an impression about how things changed for people after World War II ended as compared to when it was going on. If you enjoyed the previous books that Campbell has written you’d enjoy this as well.

The Wars of Gods and Men (The Earth Chronicles #3)

The Wars of Gods and Men - Zecharia Sitchin

It seems that Earth has always been a battlefield, from today all the way back to the beginning of history humans have been fighting one another, or maybe we learned from others in prehistory?  In the third book of his series The Earth Chronicles, Zecharia Sitchin examines ancient texts from cuneiform tables of Sumeria to Egyptian hieroglyphs to the Bible itself to reveal long memory and devastating results of The Wars of Gods and Men.


Sitchin begins the book going over the wars of the ancient world and how the chroniclers of those wars described that the gods intervened in those wars and determined the outcome, following this he went over the wars of the gods for supremacy of Earth from Horus against Set in Egypt, the generational wars of the Greek pantheon, and battles of the Indian gods.  Sitchin then set about showing that all these tales of battles reflect events in prehistory of members of the ruling house of the extraterrestrial Anunnaki, fighting for supremacy of “heaven” (Nibiru their homeworld) and Earth, with the rivalry between royal brothers Enlil and Enki extending into their children and grandchildren.  Soon these wars began to include the “gods” human followers joining them in battle after the beginnings of civilization in Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus valley.  Sitchin details that some of the Anunnaki put their personal interests above their own families resulting in various alliances with cousins against their own siblings, and parents in some cases, which began a chain of events that led Abraham out of Sumer to Canaan and how Sodom and Gomorrah were obliterated by nuclear weapons.


This book began as a more academic read like its predecessor, The Stairway to Heaven, but Sitchin quickly switched gears to more engaging prose as he brought forth his evidence for and the explanations of this theories.  Sitchin did not rehash his evidence and arguments from the previous two books, only alluded to his findings so as to allow the flow of the book to progress along the line of thought he had focused on.  Yet even though Sitchin did not rehash his arguments, he did contradict some of his findings in The 12th Planet in this book—namely with the identity of “ZU”—but did not state that further research had changed his conclusions which would have made a better book.  However, the most intriguing part of the book was Sitchin’s discussion about Abraham, his family history, and his journey to Canaan especially in light of his theory that extraterrestrials were the “gods” of the ancient world (though he does not specifically name which Anunnaki sent Abraham on his journey).


The Wars of Gods and Men is a very intriguing, well written book with a theory and evidence that Sitchin lays out in an engaging matter.  Even with the academic beginning and with some unacknowledged reversals in some Sitchin’s findings, this book gives the reader a worthy follow up to The 12th Planet that The Stairway to Heaven was not.

Unseen Academicals (Discworld #37, Rincewind #8)

Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37) - Terry Pratchett

The wizards of the Unseen University love their food, alcohol, and tradition which Lord Vetinari exploits to ensure that the chaotic football matches taking place get under control.  Unseen Academicals is Terry Pratchett’s 37th Discworld book and the last focusing on Rincewind and the wizards of the Unseen University, even though it seemed that they were of secondary concern throughout the book.


The wizards at the Unseen University find out that their budget is tied to a trust fund that only pays out if they play at least one football match a year, after realizing this means a change of diet they decide to play a game of football.  This pleases Lord Vetinari who then asks the wizards to organize the sport so it can be taken from the street.  But this changing of the game has an effect on the rest of the city, especially four workers inside the University whose lives and identities turned out to be tied to the success of the new version of football.


Although the wizards do have their share of point-of-views, Rincewind hardly appears in the book as well as The Librarian but the focus on Ponder Stibbons somewhat made up for it, they turned out not to be the focus of the book.  In fact the most important character was Mister Nutt, an orc, who was “civilized” and was sent to Ankh-Morpork to change the minds of people about orcs.  Yet Nutt was pushed into the background several times for his friends Trevor Likely, Glenda, and Juliet who had their own story arcs.  All-in-all there was a lot of narratives that created the story, but it all felt unfocused especially when it came to the satire that felt more like painting the numbers than what Pratchett had previously done.


While enjoyable, Unseen Academicals is unfortunately all over the place with the narrative focus and set in and around the Unseen University the wizards took a back seat.  Overall the book was good, but it just didn’t grab me and it didn’t make me laugh like previous books.

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo--and Still-Mo (Living Forest #3)

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo... and Still - Mo Lessons in Living From Five Frisky Red Squirrels - Sam Campbell

What happens when you decide to adopt five baby red squirrels?  Based on the events in Sam Campbell’s Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo—and Still-Mo your life will definitely not be dull.  This third installment of the Living Forest series like its predecessors follows the misadventures of titular squirrels and other animals in the Sanctuary of Wegimind that entertain and provide life lessons, but is different in that main story revolves around a friend of the Campbells.


The events chronicled take place over two years at the animal sanctuary run by Sam and Giny Campbell during World War II, most likely 1942-43.  While the titular squirrels and their actions—especially early in the book—form a narrative thread throughout the book, the main person in Campbell’s narrative is his friend Duke.  Visiting the sanctuary just before his deployment of the South Pacific and during a convalesce stay, Duke cares for the young squirrels when they first arrive at the sanctuary and is latter pivotal in finding most of them after they had left the island during the intervening winter.  Yet his correspondence with the Campbells between his visits allows Sam not only relay the squirrels misadventures with one another but with other animals but Duke’s reaction to them, giving the reader a feeling of being a part of the experience ourselves.


Though being as long as the previous installment, this book’s focus on Duke and his experiences doesn’t take anything away from series focus on nature instead it provides greater depth to it.  Campbell’s contrasting descriptions of Duke before and after his first deployment shows the affect that war has on an individual and how he relates to things especially those he loves.  However Campbell also shows how nature can help those affect by war by providing a calming place to compose oneself, even if that individual knows he’s soon go back to “finish the job”.  Religious faith, Christianity in particular, is talked about more in this book than the previous two books but not prominently and not until very late in the book close to end of Duke’s visit.


Although Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo—and Still-Mo is a little different from the previous two Living Forest books, Sam Campbell’s engaging writing of animals and nature is given a different focus during a very different era in U.S. history, though it’s still relevant today.

Foundation (Foundation #1)

Foundation (Book 1) - Isaac Asimov

An Empire has begun to decline and one man had produced a plan to shorten the resulting Dark Age and found a Second Empire.  Isaac Asimov based his “Hugo Best All-Time Series” on this premise, one man setting up a Foundation for the future of mankind but not telling his successors about how to bring the plan to fruition.


Foundation is not one story, but several connected together because of the grand plan by Hari Seldon who mathematically deduced the decline of the Galactic Empire and its future fall then came up with a plan to reduce the resulting Dark Age to only a 1000 years.  Three of the five stories featured the two standout characters of the volume:  Salvor Hardin, the point-of-view character in “The Encyclopedists” and “The Mayors”, and Hober Mallow, the point-of-view character of “The Merchant Princes”.  It is through these two characters the reader gets an understanding of the political and social situations going on as the Empire declines and the Seldon’s Foundation politically evolve to meet the conditions known as Seldon Crisis.


Although Foundation is an interconnected collection of short stories, combined they create a history of a far off future of a declining Empire and an outpost meant to build up a future Second Empire for the betterment of all men.  While some might think space science fiction is all lasers and space battles, Isaac Asimov showed that it could be political, religious, and economic forces on a large scale used by individuals to pave the way for a better future.  It is because of this that many consider this a classic and frankly I can’t disagree.

A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (Adventist Heritage Series)

A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (Adventist heritage series) - George R. Knight

Condensing over 170 years of history of a religious movement and denomination into a readable 156-page book seems daunting and the recipe for a sketchy history.  Yet George R. Knight, one of the foremost historians of the Seventh-day Adventist church, produced a very readable summary of the Sabbatarian Adventism in A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists that is meant for an Adventist audience of both long-time members and those new.


Knight divides the book into 8 chapters that focus on different eras starting with the pre-Great Disappointment Millerite Roots of Seventh-day Adventists and with the maturity of the Church from 1955 to the present day with its achievements and challenges.  Focusing on high-points, both good and bad, and trends in each “historical” era, Knight gives the reader a barebones yet informative look at history and those who influenced the Church on both large and small ways.  Given the audience Knight is writing for, the book is filled with Adventist nomenclature but Knight ensures that newer members of the Church have an understanding of the terminology that is even helpful for those that have been Adventists all their lives.


If one is looking for an in-depth look at doctrinal developments and how the Church was structurally organized, this is not the book.  While both elements are discussed as part of the overall history, Knight makes it clear at the beginning of the book that those looking for emphasis on either need to turn to the other two book of the “Adventist Heritage Series”, A Search for Identity and Organizing for Mission and Growth.  Yet this book is an excellent first read to understand how each of those specific topics tie into the history of the Church in an overall scope.


A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists does not pretend to be more than it is.  George R. Knight gives the reader an overview of the history of Sabbatarian Adventism in a very readable and quick format.  However, Knight does not leave those readers wanting more information hanging as at the end of each chapter he provides numerous books that go more in-depth in relation to the topics covered.  This is a highly recommended book for Seventh-day Adventists interested in understanding how the Church came about.

Mirror Image (Op-Center #2)

Mirror Image - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

Old guard elements in Russia look to reconstitute the old Soviet Empire, however their plans run into a stumbling block in the form of Op-Center and their Russian counterpart.  Mirror Image is the second book in the Op-Center series bearing that bears the name of Tom Clancy, but was actually ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin.  From the historic Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg to the streets of New York to the frozen wilderness of Siberia, the action spans across the world as forces and individuals battle to reignite or prevent a new Soviet era.


Nikolai Dogin, Russian Minister of the Interior and loser of the Presidential election, convinces his old guard coalition members to go along with “Plan B” which amounts to a military revolution to reignite the old Soviet Empire.  One of his most important pieces in the newly created Operations Center (ROC), a Russian crisis management center exactly like Op-Center, but its head General Sergei Orlov might not be the figurehead Dogin hopes.  The old guard’s plan begins with a bombing in New York to keep the United States out of Eastern Europe, but results in Op-Center zeroing in on its Russian counterpart that is Orlov and his second-in-command (a Dogin flunky) battling for control.  Yet Dogin’s dealings with the Russian mafia prove his undoing as a shipment of drug money to pay off Polish, Belarussian, and Ukrainian officials becomes the focus of the ROC and Op-Center on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.


Written in the mid-90s when post-Soviet era Russia provided a lot of potential to the political thriller genre, Mirror Image took an interesting tack that could have provided an very good book however there was many unfortunate mistakes that made this seem a “set up” book for later events in the Op-Center series.  The first was the blurb on the back cover of the book itself which stated the hardliners wanted to return Russia to the days of the Czar, within the first 15 pages of the book this statement is proven false and things are just starting.  There are father-son issues dominating the Russian side of the book as Orlov and his son’s past that would play a major role at the book’s climax, which was very much telegraphed from the onset.  An important character dies at the climax, which is pretty much telegraphed throughout his point-of-views.  However, the most irritating thing with the book was that characters “magically” got information or knew things that the story didn’t support them knowing or characters didn’t act like they should of (Orlov not getting into contact with the new President seems to be the most glaring).  Although most of the book seemed paint-by-the-numbers, the British spy network subplot was the best of the book.


Mirror Image seemed to be a book meant to add elements to the overall “world” of Op-Center to set up future stories as Rovin relied on telegraphing the story’s direction and creating in-story plot holes.  While Sergei Orlov and British spy Peggy James are the two stand out characters, it’s not saying much because previously establish characters were in a holding pattern and other new characters were two-dimensional.  This book could have been very good, it just average and almost subpar.

Too Much Salt and Pepper (Living Forest #2)

Too Much Salt and Pepper: Two Porcupines with Prickly Spines Who Make You Laugh and Think - Sam Campbell

If one porcupine made for a good book then Sam Campbell thought that two would be even better.  In the second book of his Living Forest series, Too Much Salt and Pepper, Campbell describes the adventures and lessons surrounding the titular “porkies” Salt and Pepper along with wise ol’ Inky during a year at the Sanctuary of Wegimind.


The events of this book take place a few years after How’s Inky? as Sam and his wife Giny arrive at their animal sanctuary to discover the young porcupines Salt and Pepper eagerly awaiting them.  The two “porkies” are friendly, funny, and very mischievous especially when they want to play.  But as the year progresses, Pepper answers the call of the wild while Salt continued to want human companionship.  Most the book centers around the week-long visit of Carol, a young friend of the Campbells, who wants to experience the nature they describe in their lectures.  The experiences, stories, and lessons that Sam and Giny show Carol—along with a dose of porcupine mischievousness—as best they can in a week the lessons nature has taught them over the years.


With this book being twice as long as the previous Living Forest book, Sam Campbell fills it numerous stories of past adventures and misadventures while also detailing Carol’s weeklong stay during which occurs most of his famous philosophy.  Campbell uses an older Inky to be the mouthpiece of his lessons and teachings to the intended younger audience of the book, yet Inky’s “woodsy philosophy” can be very instructive to adults as well while not being preachy.


Though a longer read, Too Much Salt and Pepper is wonderful nature read and I highly recommend it readers of all ages.

Making Money (Discworld #36, Industrial #5)

Making Money (Discworld, #36) - Terry Pratchett

The financial sector of Ankh-Morpork is dire trouble and Lord Vetinari looks to his Postmaster General to solve the problem, however he doesn’t want the opportunity but somethings are out of his hands.  Making Money is Terry Pratchett’s 36th Discworld novel and the second to follow the conman-turned-civil servant Moist von Lipwig who is beginning to pine for thrills and suddenly finds himself in the midst of them.


With the Post Office running as smoothly as possible and facing plain paperwork every day, Moist von Lipwig is looking for thrills and excitement in a variety of ways including scaling the outside of the Post Office and breaking into his own office.  Lord Vetinari attempts to sell Moist on taking over the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork and the Royal Mint, but Moist is satisfied with his life.  However Bank chairwoman Topsy Lavish changes her will to make Moist guardian of her dog, Mr. Fusspot, to whom she leaves her controlling interest in the Bank to.  Suddenly Moist is taking care of a dog and running the Bank and Mint much to his annoyance and that of the Lavish family and Mr. Bent, the head cashier.  Moist begins thinking about changes to the banking system but then is inundated with numerous challenges first from Mr. Bent, the Lavishes including one that wants to become Lord Vetinari (not Patrician just Vetinari), a former partner blackmailing him about his conman past, missing gold from the bank vault, and finally his fiancée arranging for an army of golems to arrive in Ankh-Morpork.  Soon Moist past is exposed, though no one cares, after saving the city from the golems as well as using them to base his new paper currency and is still alive at the end of the book which is the least he wants out of each day.


Moist is one of the most original characters that Pratchett has come up with and like Going Postal, I enjoyed following his story.  However, like the previous mentioned book this one is not up to the quality that Pratchett is known for.  While Moist, Vetinari, and Adora Belle Dearheart were well written, the overall plot and the numerous subplots just seemed to meander.  Pratchett attempted to avoid Moist doing exactly what he did in Going Postal by having him deal with other challenges, but they were a mishmash of ideas that didn’t seem to come together and pages were wasted with the Cosmo Lavish subplot that took up pages without really accomplishing anything.


Honestly, it was hard to rate Making Money because while I enjoyed reading Moist’s point-of-view, the overall plot of the book was just serviceable as it twist and turned based on the questionable subplots intertwined with it.  If you are a first time Discworld reader, don’t read this book until you’ve sampled some of Pratchett’s other better quality writing.  If you are a veteran Discworld reader then focusing on enjoying the point-of-view of Moist even though the book’s quality is just okay.

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

Beowulf: A New Verse Translation - Seamus Heaney, Anonymous

The oldest epic poem in English follows the feats of its titular protagonist over the course of days and years that made him a legend among his clan, friends, and even enemies.  Beowulf was most likely orally transmitted before finally be written down several centuries later by an unknown Christian hand in Old English that today is readily accessible thanks to the translation by Seamus Heaney.


The epic tale of Beowulf begins in the mead hall of King Hrothgar of the Danes which is attacked by the monster Grendel for years.  Beowulf, upon hearing of Hrothgar’s plight, gathers fourteen companions and sails from Geatland to the land of the Danes.  Hrothgar welcomes the Geats and feasts them, attracting the attention of Grendel who attacks.  One of the Geats is killed before the monster and Beowulf battle hand-to-hand which ends with Beowulf ripping off Grendel’s arm.  The monster flees and bleeds out in the swamp-like lair shared with his mother.  Grendel’s mother attacks the mead hall looking for revenge and kills one of Hrothgar’s long-time friends.  Beowulf, his companions, Hrothgar, and others ride to the lair and Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother with a giant’s sword.  After another feast, the Geats return home and fifty years later, Beowulf is King when a dragon guarding a hoard of treasure is awakened by a thief and goes on a rampage.  Beowulf and younger chosen companions go to face the fiery serpent, but all but one of his companions flees after the King goes to face the foe.  However, the one young warrior who stays is able to help the old King defeat the dragon though he his mortally wounded.  It is this young warrior who supervises the dying Beowulf’s last wishes.


This is just a rough summary of a 3000 line poem that not only deals with Beowulf’s deeds but also the warrior culture and surprisingly the political insightfulness that many secondary characters talk about throughout the poem.  The poem begins and ends with funerals with warrior kings giving look at pagan worldview even as the unknown Christian poet tried to his best to hide it with references to Christian religiosity.  Although some say that any translation deprived the poem of the Old English rhyme and rhythm, the evolution of English in the thousand years since the poem was first put down in words means that unless one reads the original with a dictionary on hand, this poem would not be read.  Heaney’s translation gives the poem its original epicness while also allowing present day readers a chance to “hear” the story in their own language thus giving it new life.


Beowulf is one of the many epic poems that have influenced storytelling over the centuries.  Yet with its Scandinavian pagan oral roots and Christian authorship it is also a melding of two traditions that seem at odds yet together still create a power tale.  Unlike some high school or college course force students to read the Old England or so-so translated excerpts from the poem, Seamus Heaney’s book gives the reader something that will keep their attention and greatly entertain.