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Orbit of Discovery: The All-Ohio Space Shuttle Mission
Don Thomas
City of God
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Leaves of Grass: First and "Death-Bed" Editions (Barnes & Noble Classics)
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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.

Loony Coon (Living Forest #8)

Looney Coon - Sam Campbell

One cannot doubt that raccoons can be both a source of problems and of humor, but sometimes a raccoon comes along that takes it to extremes.  Loony Coon is the eighth book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series which features the antics of the titular raccoon in question as observed by Sam, his wife, Giny, and their friends around the Sanctuary of Wegimind while also visiting an old timer who has is own private sanctuary with a domineering goose.

 

Sam and Giny visit “Coony Castle” after not seeing a raccoon regular at their cabin, Andrea, and discover that she’s giving birth to six babies though one immediately stands out with a floppy left ear and adventurous behavior—Loony.  Although they express interest in all of Andrea’s family, it’s really Loony that becomes the focus of their attention as well as their newest human friends.  Sonya Eck, a young fan of Sam’s, and her parents visit the Campbell’s home not only give their daughter a nature experience but to help her mother Dorothy to not fear animals which results in her own misadventures amongst the wildlife.  The Campbells with new friends in tow visit another nature lover several times; Warden Olie, whose animal friends is second only to that of the Campbells though the goose Grandmaw might be the most domineering animal ever encountered in the series, features in a few humorous situations peppered throughout the book.  The end of the book finds Loony, his mother Andrea, and a sibling sharing “Coony Castle” for the winter and Dorothy on nearly friendly terms with her daughter’s pets after a most interesting summer and fall.

 

Like the majority of the books in this series the length of this book is around 230 pages and is a blend of styles, from the familiar prose of Sam and using other’s stories to fill in content of the book.  Unlike the previous book, Campbell’s words are used throughout however he invests more space for the stories of others though in his words.  The dominating feature of the book is how baby raccoons develop, with Loony as the featured star, however the mission of Dorothy Eck to not fear animals is the strong secondary feature of the book that gives hopes to anyone who is intimidated by animals to learn that others have dealt with them.  And the interludes with Warden Olie feature extreme fun while also helping give the book its’ usual element of forest philosophy.

 

Loony Coon is a wonderful mixture of nature related humor and adventure which is a special feature of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest series.  If you’ve enjoyed the previous books of Campbell’s you’ll enjoy this one, but if you’re knew of Campbell’s writing this might be a nice book to start with.

The Lost Realms (The Earth Chronicles #4)

The Lost Realms - Zecharia Sitchin

Any contact between the “old world” and the “new world” before Columbus—besides the Norse—has been font of speculation writers for decades if not centuries, but what if contact was orchestrated by an otherworldly source?  The Lost Realms is the fourth book by Zecharia Sitchin in his The Earth Chronicles as he explores Mesoamerican and South American structures, hieroglyphics, and oral histories in conjunction with the same from Sumer to reveal their connection.

 

Beginning with the Spanish arrival in the Americas, Sitchin recounts their wonder at the structures and the treasures of the cultures they encountered, plundered, and destroyed in their conquests.  He then transitions to determining “who the Amerindians were” and then analyzing their architectural achievements as well as the cultural histories that were displayed on their walls, comparing them to sites in Sumer and Egypt as well as noting their many similarities especially in astronomical alignments.  Sitchin begins relating the mineral wealth that was not only historically located in both regions but are also currently still being mined even today.  Finally Sitchin wrapped up his book by connecting events in Sumer, especially relating to tin shortage then sudden abundance, to those in the Americas as brought about by the “gods”.

 

As with previous books, this one began academically but unlike previous ones this one remained so for the vast majority as Sitchin thoroughly detailed the cultures and sites so as to give evidence for his closing arguments.  Yet at times this academic approach became tedious with minute detailing that seemed more to be more word padding than anything else.  However, this book was still the shortest of the series with less than 280 pages of text and with a bigger font than previous volumes as well.  The final chapter of the book was the payoff as Sitchin used the evidenced he had brought—without repeating it which overwhelmingly helped—to argue for the Annunaki intervention in the Americas led by Adad (Viracocha) and Thoth (Quetzalcoatl).

 

My remembrance of The Lost Realm was completely different upon my rereading, but despite that the book’s detail is its strength while its minuteness is a liability.  Sitchin’s argument for his theory is better presented with less redundancy that has plagued others.  Overall this is a good book written by Sitchin to advance his theory.

Snuff (Discworld #39, Watch #8)

Snuff - Terry Pratchett

Sam Vimes lives for being a copper, but Lady Sybil demands that he take a vacation and thus city-born and bred Vimes heads out into the countryside away from the action.  Snuff is the 39th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as well the eighth and final book of feature the Watch of Ankh-Morpork.  Yet even on vacation Sam Vimes cannot help finding crime taking place and then the fun begins.

 

Strong-armed to a vacation to his wife’s family estate, Sam Vimes begins walking around the country-side and interacting with the locals who don’t know what to think of Lady Sybil’s husband.  Besides the common man, Vimes interacts with some of his “gentlemen” neighbors including Lord Rust who reminds him that his jurisdiction is only in Ankh-Morpork.  His suspicions raised, Vimes is then clumsily framed for murder and is detained by the local constable, Feeney Upshot.  Taking the young man under his wing, Vimes begins investigating the case especially when he finds out that the blood used was from a butchered goblin girl, a fact that makes Vimes want to find who is responsible.  As the case progresses, Vimes and Upshot find evidence of goblin snatching and the smuggling of tobacco and troll narcotics then to the killer of the goblin girl who is guarding a new shipment of goblins.  Vimes and Upshot race and catch up with a river boat then battle the lowlife smugglers for control of the boat during a vicious storm.  Ending up in Quirm, Vimes leads the local police on a chase to a smuggler ship and find the man he was framed of killing alive and well then later catches the goblin girl’s killer when he tries to kill Young Sam.  Vimes returns to Ankh-Morpork to discover the fallout from his investigation and then realize that he actually wants to go on vacation back to the country to relax.

 

Beginning this book, I didn’t know what to expect especially after the last Watch book, Thud!  However, my unease was quickly forgotten as Pratchett kept the narration of the book almost entirely—at least 95%—from Vimes’ point-of-view which help keep the book focused unlike the previously mentioned book.  The now six-year old Young Sam was a nice addition to the overall story as it not only added to overall enjoyment of the book, but also added to the solid foundation of Vimes’ fatherhood.  The only thing that could be a complaint was that Pratchett sometimes wrote some sections twice as long as they should have been, which while not becoming tedious were after a while making me dart ahead to see when they would be wrapped up.

 

Snuff is a fun investigative romp around the countryside and down the river.  It is a very quality send off for Sam Vimes in the Discworld series and if you’re a fan of this particular series of books by Pratchett and haven’t read it, I encourage you to.

The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake (Living Forest #7)

The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake (Living Forest Series, Volume 7) - Sam Campbell

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the world’s greatest natural features and living in and around it are numerous species that add to its wonder, especially when you are a naturalist.  The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake is the seventh book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest book series in which Sam, his wife Giny, and friends both new and old have interactions with animals both at the Sanctuary of Wegimind and the Grand Canyon.

 

The Campbells begin the book making a sincere pledge to one another not take in any baby animals, but then a trapper family sends them a letter asking for help.  That help turned out to be taking in fawn named Zipper, then a few days later it was taking in Zowie a baby fox from the same family, next was an puppy abandoned right in front of them that they named Zanie, next was a baby skunk named Zinnia they saved from some dogs, and finally were seven beavers—the titular secrets—they hid in a secluded lake.  The Campbells found themselves in a dilemma as they planned to go to the Grand Canyon to take film and pictures of animals around the natural wonder; luckily they were able to get their young friends Hi-Bub and Tony come to spend the summer at the Sanctuary freeing them to head to Arizona.  While the Campbells are around the Grand Canyon they made friends with a Hopi named John Corn and his son Kona, who are instrumental in helping them get film and pictures of animals, when Sam remembers to take the lens off the camera.  Meanwhile the boys sends numerous letters giving details about what was happening around the Sanctuary including interactions with one of the members of the trapper family—Bill—that make the Campbells nervous about the relocated beavers.  Returning to the Sanctuary, the Campbells find the boys in good spirits and the beavers safe, and later learn that Bill had learned of the beavers and informed Sam so he could keep an eye on them as he’s rejoining the army thus making Sam change his impression of the man.

 

The book was as long as the previous few books in the Living Forest series at 236 pages, but this one was stylistically different.  While Campbell’s own words featured the activities that he was a part of, the letters by Hi-Bub and Tony were quoted verbatim thus adding new voices for a non-insubstantial portion of the text while the Campbells were in Arizona.  While animals were the main focus of the book, there were some important human issues that were faced with John and Kona missing their wife/mother, Hi-Bub struggling to find himself, and Bill’s own personal change of attitude towards animals.  There is some classical Campbell philosophy, especially when it concerned Hi-Bub, but the focus on the book was nature and adventure.

 

The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake is another wonderful book by Sam Campbell that not only features animal and human antics and adventures in the Sanctuary but also the Grand Canyon.  If you’ve enjoyed other books of the Living Forest series, you’ll also enjoy this book.

Second Foundation (Foundation #3)

Second Foundation - Isaac Asimov

The completion of the original Foundation trilogy sees the masterplan of Hari Sheldon righted by his secret safety valve.  Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov sees first the Mule and then the First Foundation itself looking for Sheldon’s second institution because they felt it was a threat, while the Second Foundation attempts to keep the plan going forward.

 

The book is divided between two novellas, the first and shortest concerns the Mule’s search for the Second Foundation so he can destroy it and rule the Galaxy.  He sends two men, one “Converted” and one “Unconverted”, to find his enemies and then follows them to the knowledge of both.  Yet the Second Foundation had planned a trap for the Mule, who had deduced that his “unconverted” man was a spy which was planned.  The Second Foundation psychologically changes the Mule’s mind from conquest into plan rule so he can die naturally.  The second story takes up two-thirds of the book and set 55 years after the first with the First Foundation in knowledge of the Second, which endangers Sheldon’s plan.  A group of anti-Second Foundation group meets on Terminus with a young lady eavesdropping to figure out how do destroy their rivals, through the actions of this young lady their conspiracy advances and a war between the Foundation and Kalgan is ignited by happenstance.  The young lady is helped to Trantor and later sends a message to her father, who is able to apparently destroy the Second Foundation on Terminus and Kalgan.  Only for the leader of the Second Foundation to explain to an apprentice the plan for them to disappear from knowledge so they can keep Sheldon’s plan safe.

 

Unlike the previous book in the trilogy, this book was written comparably well including both plot and characters.  With a telepathic element in both stories, this helped the overall narrative and its myriad of “plots within and upon plots” in both.  The point-of-view characters while not the roundest of characters were still better than most in Foundation and Empire, though the second novella “Search by the Foundation” is as long as “The Mule” in the aforementioned previous installment Asimov’s writing was noticeably better in handling the length.  Though there was a little tediousness to the second novella, it was mild compared to the previous book and frankly the story moved quickly.

 

Reading Second Foundation reminded me of reading Foundation and why this trilogy is considered a classic of science fiction.  Though Isaac Asimov isn’t a perfect writer, his ideas are engaging and this series shows that perfectly especially in this final book of the trilogy.

The Wonder That Was India

The Wonder That Was India - Arthur Llewellyn  Basham

Even though Indian civilization has interacted with other civilizations over the millennia, there is still a mystery and allure about its history, culture, and religions that still fascinates.  The Wonder That Was India by A.L. Basham is a classic interpretation of Indian culture that for over 60 years has been an introduction to the unique culture that covered a subcontinent up until the arrival of the Muslims.

 

Basham ordered the book by discipline first with history—both pre-recorded and recorded—followed by government, society, everyday life, religion, the arts, and finally language and literature.  This allowed for a generally reader friendly book as Basham covered the history of the subcontinent and then used that background to show the societal and cultural developments.  Throughout the book are numerous illustrations, drawings, and maps that showed the richness of the civilization.  However, being over 60 years old some of the information is out of date and that is not all of the imperfections that future readers should know about.  Basham’s writing style is somewhat dry in places and reading becomes as slog.  And the illustrations while being spread throughout the book are not easy to find when referenced in the text.

 

However, even with this downside The Wonder That Was India is still a great introduction into Indian history.  A.L. Basham’s enthusiasm is very evident as well as his expertise on the subject.  I definitely recommend this book for dedicated history readers, but issue a word of warning to general readers.