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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
Mission of Honor
Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

Night Probe! (Dirk Pitt #6)

Night Probe! - Clive Cussler

Months before World War I consumed Europe and brought Britain’s Empire to the fields of France, a historic treaty could have changed everything if not for two accidents.  The sixth book of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series, Night Probe!, finds the series protagonist on a historical and internationally significant hunt for a Treaty that sold Canada to the United States even as the aforementioned nation is on the verge of splitting and the United Kingdom is sending it’s great secret agent to stop him.

 

On the same day, a railroad disaster along the Hudson River and a ship sinking in the St. Lawrence kills two diplomats from the United States and Great Britain heading from Canada to their respective capitals with signed treaties that sells Canada to the United States.  After both men die and the treaties presumed lost, President Wilson communicates with his British counterpart to forget that it ever happened.  Three-quarters of a century later, Heidi Mulligan finds a unknown letter by Wilson communicating to Prime Minister Asquith about the North American Treaty setting off a chain of events that discovers evidence about the unknown treaty and makes it’s way across the Pond to the British archives sending 10 Downing Street into a panic and getting out of retirement it’s greatest secret agent, Brian Shaw (not at all James Bond, but is basically an older James Bond).  One of those Heidi tells is friend (from Vixen 03) Dirk Pitt who doing his own research on top of Heidi’s gives his circumstantial evidence to the new President, who was previously in the Senate with his father.  The President uses the information as part of his plan with the embattled Canadian Prime Minister threatened with Quebec secession while recovering from an assassination attempt by a Quebec terrorist group headed by his own right-hand man in his cabinet, who is also having an affair with his wife.  Shaw seduces Heidi to learn everything she does and then attempts to prevent Pitt from getting either copy of the treaty but comes just short.  Pitt gets the Treaty to the President, who is speaking to the Canadian Parliament and announces the historical find while inviting the provinces to apply for statehood.

 

Before anything else, the biggest issue with this book is Cussler’s total lack of understanding of the Constitution, Canadian history, and the Commonwealth of Nations.  Of the three it’s the Constitution as all treaties must be approved by the Senate, which a President that had been a sitting Senator would know as well as Pitt’s father who is still a Senator, and after 75 years attempting to bring it to a vote would probably result in a Supreme Court case.  The second is the Commonwealth of Nations are all self-governing and not the British Empire under a new name, so while it would have been embarrassing to Britain it wouldn’t result in what happened in the book.  Now let’s get to the story; overall, it’s a good overall adventure tale with a good spy subplot and some good political intrigue (Canadian) and not so good (President).  Pitt was able to get more nuisance and Heidi Mulligan was the best female character in the series so far, Brian Shaw as the older not-James Bond but basically is was a nice touch and good way to segue into so many plots.  The Canadian political intrigue, if fleshed out more, could have been its own book but just added to the overall quality and somewhat makes up for the lack of understanding of various things on Cussler’s part.

 

Night Probe! is a very good installment of the Dirk Pitt series that is unfortunately undermined by Clive Cussler’s intentional or unintentional lack of understanding over various political and historical factors.  The various adventure, spy, and political intrigue subplots work well together to create fun book to read if you don’t think too much.

The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

One of the greatest novels of the 20th-century follows the disintegration of former Southern aristocrats looked at in four different ways.  The Sound and the Fury is considered William Faulkner’s greatest novel, following members of the Compson family over roughly 30 years in which the once great aristocratic Southern family breaks down from within and influence socially.

 

The book begins with man-child Benjamin “Benjy” Compson remembering various incidents over the previous 30 years from his first memory of his sister Caddy climbing a tree, his name being changed after his family learned he was mentally handicapped, the marriage and divorce of Caddy, and his castration all while going around his family’s property in April 1928.  The second section was of Quentin Compson, skipping classes during a day of his freshman year at Harvard in 1910 and wandering Cambridge, Massachusetts thinking about death and his family’s estrangement from his sister Caddy before committing suicide.  The third section followed a day in the life of Jason Compson who must take care of his hypochondriac mother and Benjy along with his niece, Caddy’s daughter Quentin.  Working at a hardware store to make ends meet while stealing the money his sister sends to Quentin, Jason has to deal with people who used to lookup to his family and with black people who irritate the very racist head of the Compson family.  The four section follows several people on Easter Sunday 1928 as the black servants take care of Benjy and gets for the Compsons while Jason finds out that Quentin as runaway with all the money in the house, which includes the money he stole from her and his life savings.  After failing to find Quentin, Jason returns to town to calm down Benjy who is having a fit due to his routine being changed.

 

In constructing this book, Faulkner employed four different narrative styles for each section.  Benjy’s section was highly disjointed narrative with numerous time leaps as he goes about his day.  Quentin’s section was of an unreliable stream of consciousness narrator with a deteriorating state of mind, which after Benjy’s section makes the reader want to give up the book.  Jason’s section is a straightforward first-person narrative style with the fourth and final section being a third person omniscient point-of-view.  While one appreciates Faulkner’s amazing work in producing this novel, the first two sections are so all over the place that one wonders why this book was even written and only during the last two sections do readers understand about how the Compson family’s fortunes have fallen collectively and individually.

 

The Sound and the Fury is overall a nice novel, however the first two sections of William Faulkner’s great literally derails interest and only those that stick with the book learn in the later half what is going on with any clarity.  I would suggest reading another Faulkner work before this if you are a first-time reader of his work like I was because unless you’re dedicated you might just quit.

Politika (Power Plays #1)

Politika (Tom Clancy's Power Plays, #1) - Tom Clancy, Jerome Preisler, Martin H. Greenberg

When the man who transitioned Russia from a Communist government to a free-market capitalist one dies with no clear successor with his nation on the verge of famine, numerous factions in the Russian Federation begin aligning to take power.  Politika is the first book in Tom Clancy’s Power Plays series, created by Clancy and Martin Greenberg but written by Jerome Preisler.  With Russia in chaos and some looking towards help from the United States, some Russian elements target Americans including employees of American tech giant UpLink to grab power but draw the ire of the company’s CEO.

 

The death of Boris Yeltsin in the fall of 1999 results in the Russian Federation being ruled by a political troika of Vice President Vladimir Starinov, the nationalist party leader Arkady Pedachenko, and Andrei Korsikov a Communist-era functionary supported by the military leading a nation on the verge of famine towards an uncertain future.  As Starinov goes to the United States and the West for food aid and loans, Pedachenko sets about worsening his country’s food situation and plots to turn American opinion against his country with a devastating New Year’s Eve terrorist attack in Time’s Square with the help of terrorist for hire and local Russian mobsters.  Roger Gordian, the CEO of tech giant UpLink International, known this unprecedented terrorist attack could result in attacks on his employees around the world since the security branch of his company, Sword, into investigative mode to find out who sponsored the attack and so better secure is employees.  Using various sources in the U.S. government, Sword operatives connect the attack to the Russian mob and its leader in Moscow even though everyone else is looking at a right-hand lieutenant of Starinov’s.  After an attack on an UpLink satellite station in Russia, Gordian authorizes getting at the mob boss then in okay his security force to prevent an assassination attempt on Starinov set up by Pedachenko.  Using the information proved by UpLink, Starinov secures his position and regains aid from the West while Gordian is left mourning the loss of his employees.

 

Having to base Politika off of a computer game of the same name, Preisler developed a story as best he could under the circumstances though there were some problems.  The order of terrorist attacks on either the American homeland or corporations aboard might have been changed to allow a better rational for Gordian and UpLink’s involvement as it doesn’t make sense for a corporation to investigate the greatest terrorist attack on the side, if however it were investigating into the attack on it’s own facility and it got linked to the attack in Time’s Square it would have resulted in a more natural story process.  That said, the overall concept of a international corporation having a strong security arm that would at within the laws of its host nation to protect itself is intriguing and reminds me why I became a fan of this series when I was a teenager.  That Preisler, with Clancy and Greenberg, was able to predict Yeltsin’s presidency ending in 1999 and the worst terrorist attack on American soil happening in New York City way back in 1997 is eerie, especially with references about the Twin Towers from points-of-view in New York.  If there was one thing I didn’t like was that Gordian was given a cliché separation and/or divorce angle to his character at the start of the book, given how that same storyline drags down the Op-Center series I’m not looking forward to it in this one.

 

While Politika was based off a computer game, Jerome Preisler was able to write around that issue as best he could to at least establish the main elements of the Power Play series going forward in UpLink, it’s CEO, and its security arm Sword.  Overall a good read and nice beginning to another Tom Clancy created series.

Sword & Citadel (The Book of the New Sun #3-4)

Sword and Citadel - Gene Wolfe

The continuation of the classic story of an unremarkable young man who finds himself rising to the leadership of his nation.  Sword & Citadel by Gene Wolfe is the omnibus collection of the last two volumes of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, The Sword of the Lictor and The Citadel of the Autarch, following the travels of exiled torturer Severian.

 

The Sword of the Lictor finds Severian arrived in Thrax performing his duties until he doesn’t kill someone for the city’s Archon and runs for the hills.  He ultimately meets up and battles Dr. Talos and Baldanders in which his sword is destroyed.  The Citadel of the Autarch finds Severian continuing his wanderings towards the war in the North when he stumbles upon it.  Through his war experience he meets up with the Autarch and becomes his successor after eating him.

 

The opening volume of the book, Sword, is the nader of the entire series as I came to dislike Severian as a character and Wolfe as a writer because of awful everything was.  What made it worse was that the concluding volume of the book, Citadel, began well and gave a false promise about redeeming the entire series then Severian meet up with the Autarch and it quickly went into the abyss.  Wolfe wrote five “in-world” stories, one in Sword and four in Citadel as part of a storytelling contest, which were all better than either one of these volumes.

 

I had high hopes for this classic series by Gene Wolfe, however Sword & Citadel concluded one of the most overrated series I’ve ever read.

 

The Sword of the Lictor (1.5/5)

The Citadel of the Autarch (2/5)

The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer

The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer - Caitlin Murray

I received this book via Goodreads First Reads program in exchanged for an honest review.

 

The premier women’s national team in the world and the gold standard all are judged upon, saved soccer in the United States not that US Soccer cares to pay them for it.  The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Change Soccer by Caitlin Murray reveals the struggles and triumphs of the United States Women’s National Team from its inception through to the present day both on the field and within the confines of power within the U.S. Soccer Federation.

 

The Women’s National Team came together by accident in 1985 for a FIFA sponsored mini-tournament in Italy, from that small start began the rise of the powerhouse of Women’s soccer.  The circumstances around this beginning would color the program in the eyes of U.S. Soccer as being unimportant for decades to comes and the uncaring concern of FIFA for developing the Women’s game was another hindrance, including calling the first Women’s World Cup anything but.  Yet beginning in 1996 with the inclusion of Women’s soccer in that year’s Olympics in Atlanta, the U.S. Women would begin changing the face of the sport in the American consciousness.  The pivotal moment came in 1999 with the third World Cup tournament taking place on home soil, without much hype brought about by either FIFA or U.S. Soccer, it was the players themselves that for half a year prior to the tournament promoted it in every city that would host games with clinics and friendlies that made the tournament a success in the beginning but also put pressure on the team itself to perform on the field.  The victory of the U.S. Women in 1999 followed by the 2000 gold medal saved the sport of soccer in the United States—this from a Hall of Fame men’s player—after the U.S. Men’s disastrous 1998 World Cup performance.  Yet after all their success, the women weren’t paid better nor given better overall treatment by U.S. Soccer.  This trend would continue until present; the U.S. Women would continually have success while the U.S. Men would struggle though it was the latter that U.S. Soccer would treat like princes.  The repeated failures of women’s professional leagues, two sabotaged by Major League Soccer, has been a financial burden for women players and the third attempt funded and run by U.S. Soccer has become a bargaining chip between both players and federation in the long running pay equality struggle between the two for almost two decades.

 

Chronicling the ups and downs both on and off the field of the USWNT in a readable manner was not an easy task for Murray.  Devoting herself to the “Team” as a whole and its members at a given time, Murray would only give brief biographical sketches of historically important and momentarily prominent players but enough to help the overall work.  Dealing with the team dynamic over the decades and the team vs. federation battle over the same period, Murray was able to shift between one and the other seamlessly mainly because both go together hand-to-glove.  The financial issues that are prominent in the news today are nothing new between the two, it is just that the players have decided to come out in public including using U.S. Soccer’s own 2016 budget showing the organization is only profitable because of the Women’s team, a situation even more pronounced after the Men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.  However, the team dynamics of players relationship with themselves and with their coaches shows that Women’s team is not immune to human nature and egos especially as seen in the 2007 World Cup in which the veteran’s backstabbed Hope Solo and then convinced the team to shun her when she spoke out for having been replaced in goal for a semifinal match.

 

The National Team is quick-paced biography and history of a group of players that join, stay, then leave to make room for the next generation, but everyone deals with the same burden to succeed and fight U.S. Soccer.  Caitlin Murray’s gives the reader both an overview and intimate look at the team, it’s accomplishments, and failures.  With the 2019 World Cup just around the corner, this is a must read for fans of the best Women’s Team in the world.

World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics

World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics - Donna Rosenberg

Around the world numerous different peoples came up with explains about the natural world and their own cultural heritage, though separated by vast distances create obvious differences there is also many similarities.  World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics by Donna Rosenberg brings together the stories of different cultures both well-known and hardly known together for a mass audience.

 

Rosenberg covers all corners of the world from such the well-known epics of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, Beowulf, King Arthur of the Middle East, Greece, Northern Europe and Britain while also covering from the Segu in African, Bakaridjan Kone, and from the Inuit, Sedna.  Rosenberg also covered numerous creation and fertility myths from those same cultures or nearby neighboring cultures.  Before each piece, Rosenberg would give an introduction and historical background giving the reader better context for what they are about to read.

 

This collection brings together well-known myths and epics that “Western” audiences know as well as those not known from the “Western” perspective, with a few exceptions like The Ramayana.  From the standpoint of getting a large audience introduced to these myths, the book succeeds.  However, Rosenberg literally sets off alarm bells to any discerning reader when she says that she will be retelling these myths for the modern world.  While I didn’t expect the entirety of The Iliad or Beowulf to be republished in this collection, I expected a fairly authentic telling of these myths and the butchering of them made me appreciate less those myths and epics I hadn’t read before like The Aeneid or The Ramayana or that I hadn’t known of before like the aforementioned Bakaridjan Kone and Sedna because I knew it wasn’t a true representation of the myth.  To add further insult were Rosenberg’s introductions and historical background that were wrong on history thus making her explanations of the myth questionable especially when she wants to push forward the Great Goddess theory on every myth that has an important female deity or heroine—I don’t deny that there was important Great Goddess religions but not every myth Rosenberg claims is a patriarchal takeover of a matriarchal religious system.

 

While World Mythology is an okay introduction to numerous cultural myths from around the globe, but do not get this for the classics nor consider those other myths you’ll read as the definitive versions.

Peace and Turmoil (The Dark Shores #1)

Peace and Turmoil - Elliot Brooks

Forces are at work in the lands of Abra’am that will cause the end of peace and bring about turmoil that hasn’t been seen since the War of Fire.  Peace and Turmoil is the first book of The Dark Shores series by first time author and BookTuber Elliot Brooks, which follows four young people who are suddenly thrust from their peaceful lies into political turmoil.

 

Gwenivere, heir to the throne of Xenith, is expected to choose a suitor from amongst guest at a Peace Gathering even though her preferred choice of Roland, heir to the throne is Mesidia, is off limits because each is a Guardian of one of the fabled Artifacts of Eve.  Roland along with his father King Pierre is dealing with a long simmering succession feud with the rival Victorians.  Across the Dividing Wall mountain range in the desert kingdom of Sadie, the assassin-prince Dietrich is convinced by his younger brother to go to the Xenith Peace Gathering and find a way to get Roland’s Dagger of Eve to not only save their mother but give the family immortality in the face of insurrectionists that Dietrich has been killing.  In the southern continent of Eve, the long-lived X’odia sees a vision of Dietrich being stabbed by his younger brother with the Dagger which will lead to the destruction of her homeland, the High Council sends her to Abra’am to prevent this from happening.  By the end of the book, Gwenivere is on the run under the false assumption that she killed her father while Roland is in exile after the death of his family but with X’odia looking to find Dietrich to get the Dagger back not knowing his brother has already killed him, maybe.

 

Brooks divided her book into multiple point-of-views, dominated by the previous mentioned four characters plus numerous secondary characters.  Of the four main character arcs, X’odia is by far the best from start to finish followed by Dietrich, which was enhanced by his brother’s point-of-view chapters.  Brooks decision to indicate the location of where a chapter was occurring, including a section of the “world map”, was a brilliant touch.  The inclusion of little tidbits of letters, messages, diary entries, etc. by known and unknown characters in-between chapters were a nice touch to add context to the world as well as foreshadow without being heavy-handed about it.  And the magic system is something new and intriguing, but not overwhelmingly powerful.  With all these positives, why is the rating so low?  Unfortunately, the political developments occurring in the third quarter of the book that made no sense as well as the total incompetence of Gwenivere’s father King Gerard and Roland’s father Pierre just totally ruined the last half of the book after an interesting first half.  The primary issue is fallout from the Attack of Fiends and the desire of four nations to intervene in Mesidia’s succession issue—that has been going on for several generations but all of a sudden is a “problem”—resulting in Gerard kowtowing to their wishes and joining them to save as many lives as possible.  However, Pierre has the rebel leader—the she isn’t the potential new queen—in chains as a result of the Attack and confessed to her role while her daughter and the bloodline heir to the rival claim has become a voluntarily become a citizen of Xenith; Pierre has every right to behead the traitor then declare the four nations who support his rivals had declared war on his nation, Xenith—who’s capital was attacked—and the peace nation of Riverdee that Mesidian soldiers defended.  And why Gerard doesn’t do the same, or at least threaten, is beyond me as well.  Things just fall apart and frankly it’s hard not to see Gerard as a usurper of his own daughter because he was originally a Mesidian himself and married Gwenivere’s mother, who was Guardian and thus heir or reigning Queen at the time of their marriage but five years deceased at the beginning of the book.  While there were other little pet peeves, they were nothing compared to these political issues.

 

Peace and Turmoil is Elliot Brook’s first published novel and the first in The Dark Shores series, yet while there are many positives it is the nonsensical political developments in this fantasy political novel which undermine the overall narrative and thus the overall enjoyment of the book.

Line of Control (Op-Center #8)

Line of Control - Tom Clancy, Jeff Rovin, Steve Pieczenik

The most dangerous border on the planet is days, if not hours, away from potentially exploding in a nuclear fireball but suddenly finding itself in the middle of the crisis is Op-Center’s own Striker team.  Line of Control is the eighth book of the Op-Center series written by Jeff Rovin picks up right where the last book left off as Paul Hood deals with government spending cuts, Mike Rodgers and the Strikers are headed to India to help find Pakistani missile silos only to find itself in the middle of a secret Indian conspiracy to use Kashmiri terrorists to setup a preemptive nuclear strike.

 

Traitorous NSA agent Ron Friday is on hand in Srinagar, India when a terrorist attack destroys a police station, a Hindu temple, and a bus of Hindu pilgrims.  Friday realizes something isn’t right especially when the regular investigating agency is left out of the loop.  The cell of Kashmiri terrorists responsible for bombing of the police station know they’ve been set-up and take the young Indian woman they had been holding as a hostage with them towards Pakistan to prove they are innocent of escalating this into a religious war.  Op-Center suddenly finds its Striker team heading into dangerous situation especially once the new NSA chief gets in touch while on the phone with Friday who reports what he witnessed and the apparent sidelining of the usual Indian investigative team.  Satellite coverage shows the usurping Indian agency attempting to the capture the terrorists only to fail thanks to the Kashmiri terrorists finding the cellphone on their hostage, who happens to be a civilian operative.  Like Friday, the Op-Center team realizes this is a plan to set up a preemptive nuclear strike by elements in the Indian government and decide to have Striker help the terrorists get their hostage to Pakistan to tell her story.  However, the Indians and Friday have other ideas while the one wants their plan to go off without a hitch the other is serving his own interests.  Unfortunately for Op-Center, all but three members of their Striker team are killed while parachuting into the Himalayas by Indian groundfire but Rodgers is one of the survivors and kills up with Friday, the Indian young woman, and one of the terrorists then leads them to a secret Pakistani missile silo on the titular Line of Control where they use a communications link to get the young woman’s story out to the world thus preventing a nuclear exchange.  Rodgers, the young woman, and the Indians who were after them escape the Pakistani facility before it explodes, but the self-serving Friday dies.  The resulting international praise for Op-Center is nothing compared to the domestic as Striker is disbanded and it will be severely downsized.

 

Published in 2001 before the 9/11 attacks, Line of Control focused on what at the time was considered—and probably still is—the greatest risk of a nuclear confrontation in the world.  Like most of the books in the series Rovin has written a few implausible elements in the book—namely the new NSA chief not reprimanding Friday for some of the things he said to Bob Herbert or the young Indian civilian operative’s many personality changes throughout the book—however unlike the last book they were more forgivable.  Yet from the outset the Paul Hood point-of-views essentially gave away the fact that the series would be taking a major shift with a change in how Op-Center would function in the future thus when the Striker team was butchered it was the writing on the wall that Op-Center would have a paramilitary wing anymore and sets up how Rovin will make the agency unique compared to the CIA, NSA, and others.  Given all that, the action sequences throughout were well written and plotting was well down making a for an overall nice read.

 

Line of Control is a watershed moment in the Op-Center series as some of the elements that made the agency unique came to an end and Rovin decided to go into a new direction with the series.  Overall the book is good action piece and overall better narrative than the previous installment as well as making this one the high quality books of the series.

Vixen 03 (Dirk Pitt #5)

Vixen 03 - Clive Cussler

A deadly biological weapon thought long-lost is suddenly out in the world and a South African-planned black-op terrorist attack on the United States meant to discredit an insurgency to white rule intertwine with only one man finding himself at the crux to stop them.  The fifth book of the Dirk Pitt series, Vixen 03, by Clive Cussler finds the intrepid NUMA Special Projects Director racing to first solve a mystery and then racing to save the nation.

 

An Air Force transport plane takes off in a January Colorado blizzard carrying a deadly cargo, but the storm results in the plane crash landing on top of a snow covered lake then sinking.  The Pentagon, under orders from Eisenhower, alters the records of the plane to hide its deadly secret.  Thirty-four years later in South Africa, Scottish naval captain-turned-farmer Patrick Fawkes goes to a meeting with the South African Defense Minister and discusses the feasibility of a black-op, which Fawkes explains is impossible yet during the meeting his family is murdered during an attack seemingly by the African Army of Revolution run by an American-born black against the white South African government.  As a result Fawkes talks the Defense Minister into letting him do the black-op, which the AAR finds out about and gets the info to the American government though they regard it highly unlikely to take place.  Meanwhile in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountains, Dirk Pitt is at the cabin of his current girlfriend, Congresswoman Loren Smith, when finds parts from an old aircraft in the garage that Loren believes her deceased eccentric father found while hiking.  Bored while not having sex, Pitt begins investigating and stays at the cabin after Loren returns to Washington where she runs afoul of a black congressman who supports the AAR for his own political ends and attempts to blackmail her after getting racy photos of her and Pitt sleeping together.  Pitt’s investigation results in him identifying an aircraft that shouldn’t be in Colorado but in the Pacific and along with his friend Al Giordino and an Air Force Colonel Abe Steiger investigate a nearby lake and find the wreck along with the body of Loren’s father—he supposedly blew himself up.  Steiger is stonewalled in Washington while Pitt heads to his assignment raising a Union ironclad, but travels to Virginia to talk with the man who assigned the plane’s mission and finds out it carried a deadly biological weapon.  Pitt finally informs his boss Admiral Sandecker and NUMA raises the aircraft but find that 8 out of the 36 shells are missing.  Pitt, Giordino, and Steiger confront Loren’s neighbors who killed her father and sold them to an arms company for extra money.  After conning the arms company Pitt and Steiger track down six of the eight, but the last two were accidently purchased by the AAR but really the South Africans for their terrorist attack.  Fawkes with his unwitting black crew and the kidnapped AAR leader in an overhauled battleship go up the Potomac to within range of Washington and start bombarding the capital on December 7.  The U.S. government “warned” by the South African Prime Minister launches an attack on the battleship since Fawkes doesn’t know he has two biological weapons.  Pitt is able to get onboard the battleship and neutralizes one of the weapons, but the other was already loaded into a tube.  The shell is fired, but do to it being a biological warhead it parachutes and a helicopter piloted by Steiger intercepts it and flies it out to the Atlantic.  Pitt travels to South Africa to bury Fawkes and meets with the South African Defense Minister, who orchestrated the murder of Fawkes family and who sent the Prime Minister warning, is killed by a member of his own staff and a member of the AAR then buried in Fawkes’ grave.

 

Set a 1988, Cussler’s guess at the overall situation in the world was off but still made for interesting alternate history in which to set his book’s narrative.  The two main plots following Pitt and Fawkes were well written while the two main subplots of the AAR and Loren Smith were underwhelming.  Fawkes as a good tragic figure who setup by the Defense Minister was easy to guess, while Loren Smith’s first appearance as Pitt’s on-and-off girlfriend was just showing off Pitt’s sexual greatness and given his characterization in these early books isn’t surprising.  The science behind the biological weapon was a little farfetched if one really thought about it, but overall it wasn’t the worst thing in the book.  Critically nothing was bad, but there were a lot of things that alright.

 

Vixen 03 is a nice next installment in the Dirk Pitt series by Clive Cussler, building up on Raise the Titanic!  Overall it’s a good book with only a few bits that were unfortunately off putting but nothing compared to earlier books.  While the not the best book of the series I’ve read so far, it’s shows a lot of improvement on Cussler’s part.

Women Warriors: An Unexpected History

Women Warriors - Pamela D. Toler

I received this book via LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.

 

The phrase warrior women evokes many images, most with “boob” armor as a prominent feature however history tells a different story.  Women Warriors: An Unexpected History by Pamela D. Toler covers millennia of historical records and new archaeological discoveries from Shang China to modern day examining the women who went into battle in numerous ways.

 

Toler covers not only the more famous warriors like Boudica, Joan of Arc, Lakshmi Bai, Hua Mulan, the Trung Sisters, and Tomoe Gozen among others but also spread her reach to lesser known historical figures of prominence as well as “every day” women.  Toler brings to light many reasons why women went to war including adventure, defense of family and home, and surprising cultural as well.  Also examined is how contemporary and modern-day historical accounts of these women use many of the same phrases like “she fought like a man” thus bring to the forefront the seemingly universal gender role that war is to many societies—though not all.  Many of the women that Toler relates in her book, disguise themselves in men’s clothing and several continued using men’s clothing after their military service and one was “crossdressing” before she entered military service.  Finally Toler covered the recent turn in archaeological findings that not all burials that contained weapons were men, but many women and the raging debate on if those women were actual warriors and if those weapons were ceremonial—though if men were buried with jewelry it showed they were rich.

 

The book’s text covered roughly 210 pages, but many of those pages having a considerable amount of footnotes that were both positive and negative in the overall quality of the book.  Toler does focus on the famous few warriors, but spreads her eye to all parts of the globe and showed the diversity and commonality that all women warriors had.  Her criticism of how women warriors were depicted over the millennia and across cultures showed many of the same trends with relatively few exceptions—China.  However the book is far from perfect and while Toler packed a lot in 210 pages, she kept on repeating the same things over and over again including in her numerous footnotes.  It was one thing to say something critically in a witty and sarcastically way once thus making an impression and making the reader aware to look for future instances of what Toler was criticizing, but to repeatedly make wisecracks over the same criticisms again and again just resulted in them losing their effect and become tiresome.  Unfortunately the many repeated comments and footnotes makes one wonder if Toler had cut them out, if she could not have moved some of the interesting things she put in the footnotes because she “ran out of space” into the actual text if the book wouldn’t have come out better.

 

The overall Women Warriors: An Unexpected History is a nice primer and introduction to the many women who fought throughout history and the complex history surrounding them.  While Pamela D. Toler does a wonderful job in bringing many women to the spotlight, her repeated phrases—including overdone wittiness—and almost overly expansive footnotes take away from the quality of the book.

E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division

E.J. Waggoner: From The Physician Of Good News To The Agent Of Division - Woodrow W. Whidden

One of the pivotal figures at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference sessions, he did not plan to follow his father into ministry but when he did he tragically followed his example.  Woodrow W. Whidden’s E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division follows not only the life of the Adventism’s most controversial figures, but also the developments of his theological thinking which both contributed to Seventh-day Adventist thinking and to his separation from Adventist doctrines.

 

Whidden brought the most out of limited sources available to detail Waggoner’s life beginning with the troubled family life of his troubled Adventist minister father and egotistical, uncaring mother.  Waggoner’s family were encouraged and rebuked by Ellen White throughout the young E.J.’s childhood and his home life might have led to heartbreak later in his life.  Not wanting to follow his father into the ministry, Waggoner studied medicine and became friends with John Harvey Kellogg as he began his career in medicine which came to an end after a “vision” at a campmeeting in which Waggoner was impressed by Christ on the cross and began his lifelong theological study of justification and sanctification.  Upon entering the ministry, Waggoner became was prolific in preaching, lecturing, writing, and in editorial work for the next two decades in both the United States and Great Britain but that would later result in have no time to nurture his marriage resulting in a scandalous divorce after his family’s return to the United States.  The lead up and aftermath of the 1888 Minneapolis is hinge of the biography and Whidden analyzes Waggoner’s role thoroughly.  Yet the most interesting aspect of the biography was Whidden’s analysis of Waggoner’s theology on justification and sanctification throughout his life divided into four time frames by Whidden.

 

The difficulty of finding sources to chronicle Waggoner’s life did not deflect from Whidden’s achievement in revealing the numerous facets of his subject’s life especially in the lead up to the “biggest” scandal in Adventism at the time with Waggoner’s divorce.  The most important aspect of the book was Whidden’s in-depth discussing of Waggoner’s evolving theological beliefs, especially justification and sanctification, and how his bent towards mysticism as well as his slow moving away from distinct Adventist doctrines.  Another important aspect is Whidden’s analysis of Ellen White’s interactions with Waggoner both in encouragement and concerned rebuke as well as if Waggoner’s later theological beliefs takeaway his emphasis on his Christ-centered message before, during, and after 1888.  If there is on serious drawback is that Whidden’s study of Waggoner’s theology is very deep and can be a tad mindboggling.

 

E.J. Waggoner is an insightful look into the life of one of the most important second generation figures in Adventism.  Woodrow Whidden’s expert work on getting out the most from the few primary sources available as well as his theological analysis is a great asset for any reader in Seventh-day Adventist biography and history.

The Political Writings of St. Augustine

The Political Writings of St. Augustine - Henry Paolucci, Dino Bigongiari, Augustine of Hippo

The most important voice in political thought throughout the Middle Ages, influencing even St. Aquinas, was that of St. Augustine.  Through excerpts of sermons, letters, and selections from City of God, the 4th-century theologians’ view of the world of man is shown both in its maturity and development.

 

Covering almost 360 pages, the vast majority of it being the words of St. Augustine, this book’s quality comes down to the introduction by Henry Paolucci and the appendix containing a lecture by Dino Bigongiari.  Instead of helping set the stage for understanding the works the reader was about to encounter Paolucci’s introduction really didn’t do anything to give context just information about the man and his works overall.  However the lecture of Bigongiari opens the reader’s eyes to understanding what they had just read, but that’s only if they made it to the very end of the book after potentially giving up trying to figure out why some of these selections were included.  In fact the reader learns more in the last 15 pages of the book about St. Augustine’s political thoughts than the previous 340+ by the theologians own hand.  It would have been better to have Bigongiari’s lecture as the introduction so as it give the reader insights about how to understand the author’s thinking.

 

The Political Writings of St. Augustine is a nice selection of the theologian’s writings about political subjects, however because of the way the book is structured the reader will not understand the man until the very end if they even get that far.  I can only recommend the lecture by Dino Bigongiari presented at the end of the book, the rest is unfortunately worthless.

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks: A Novel - David Mitchell

Everything that happens has consequences in the future and one weekend for a 15-year old teenager after a fight with her mother has unexpected consequences throughout the rest of her life.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell follows the life Holly Sykes through her own eyes and those four other characters during 60 years of her life.

 

The book begins with a 15-year old Holly Sykes leaving home after a fight with her mother, only to have a life altering weekend for herself involving a trip to a paranormal world that she forgets and her family as her younger brother disappears.  The book ends with a 74-year old Holly taking care of and wondering about the future of her granddaughter and foster son as climate change and resource depletion are sending the world towards a new dark age, though a surprising return of an old acquitance results in them having a future.  Between these two segments we follow the lives of an amoral political student Hugo Lamb, Holly’s husband Ed, author Crispin Hershey, and Marinus who is both a new and old acquaintance of Holly’s for a period of time in which they interact with Holly during different periods of her life that at first seem random but as the narrative progresses interconnect with one another in surprising ways including glimpses into a centuries long supernatural war in which Holly was directly involved in twice.

 

From beginning to end, Mitchell created a page-turner in which the reader did not know what to expect.  The blending of fiction and fantasy from the beginning then science fiction as the story went beyond 2014 (year of publication) as the narrative continued was expertly done.  The use of first-person point-of-views were well done as was the surprise that the book wasn’t all through Holly’s point-of-view but switched with each of the six segments of the book giving the reader a mosaic view of Holly’s life.  The introduction and slow filling in of the fantasy elements of the story were well done so when it really became the focus of the book in its fifth segment the reader was ready for it.  On top of that the layers of worldbuilding throughout the book were amazing, as characters from one person’s point-of-view had random interactions with someone in another and so on.  If there was one letdown it was the science fiction, nearly dystopian, elements of 2043 in which the political-economic setting seems farfetched—namely China who would be in trouble if there is an energy crisis and thus not dominate economically as portrayed in the book—that made the denouement land with a thud.

 

I had no idea what to expect from The Bone Clocks and frankly David Mitchell impressed me a lot, save for the final 10% of the book.  The blending of straight fiction, fantasy, and science fiction was amazing throughout the narrative and the numerous layers of worldbuilding, plot, and slowly evolving of the mostly unseen supernatural war that was instrumental to main points of the narrative.  If a friend were to ask me about this book I would highly recommend it to them.

The End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return (The Earth Chronicles #7)

The End of Days (The Earth Chronicles, #7) - Zecharia Sitchin

When viewing history as cyclical past is prologue, so if that is the case how does the 21st Century compare to the past?  The End of Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return is the seventh and final book of Zecharia Sitchin’s The Earth Chronicles examines the events of the present and comparing them the ancient past from the 21st Century B.C.E. to the start of the Christian era through numerous Biblical, extra-Biblical, and various other texts to bring his research to a conclusion.

 

Sitchin begins his examination of the “End of Days” by giving a quick overview of his research in the previous sixth books about the Annunaki and the beginning of human civilization before tying it into the expectation of a coming or return of a Messiah figure.  Sitchin then sets the stage for this expectation by reviewing the contention between the Enlil and Enki factions amongst Annunaki resulting in what he believes was a nuclear attack in the Sinai to take out of the Annunaki spaceport and Sodom & Gomorrah to stop Marduk from taking control but resulting in allowing him to take control due to fallout taking out his human opponents.  With this background, Sitchin then explains how the supposed “New Age” resulted in national gods and fighting between nations in the name of their particular God.  Yet throughout these wars objectives of the “Landing Place” of Baalbek, “Mission Control” in Jerusalem, and the important crossroads city of Harran were all pointed out due to the belief that soon the Annunaki home planet Nibiru would return and with it Anu might come to bring peace.  Sitchin reveals that instead of Anu bringing peace, nearly all the Annunaki left Earth disappointing their followers and leaving humanity on its own.  Sitchin then ends the book by showing the Israelite prophets continued to talk about the Return and how it connected to Elijah and Jesus before going over his theory of a waystation on Mars shows that the Annunaki do intend to return in the future.

 

Given this was the last book of his series, Sitchin went right into the review of his previous research and setting the stage from the human disappointment of the “failed” Return and then their new hope of a future one.  One of the obvious things that needed to be answered from Sitchin was when the Annunaki left—since we don’t see them on Earth now—and he actually gave a date not just a range of years.  Though the reviewing of material in the first third of the 300+ page book was a little annoying, Sitchin has over the course of this series about how to do it quickly while also adding new material throughout it so when he launched into the “new” material things were set up nicely.  However, it became obvious while reading that my opinion that the previous installment, The Cosmic Code, did not need to be written was correct as it was mishmash of material that could have gone into When Time Began and in this book.  But I believe that Sitchin wanted a seven book series because Earth was the seventh planet of the solar system in Annunaki thinking and he wanted that tie in.

 

The End of Days completes Zecharia Sitchin’s series with a conclusion with the Annunaki stay on the Earth and the hints of a possibly return.  Though I don’t adhere to Sitchin interpretations of Biblical text or his Annunaki theories in general, there are some things he conjectured that are actually intriguing to think about.  This book is a good finish to The Earth Chronicles that had been released over the course of 30 years and for his long time readers it’s highly recommended.

Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2)

Shadow and Claw - Gene Wolfe

The classic story of a young man journey from the only home he’s known and finding himself interacting with the strange wider world.  Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe is the omnibus collection of the first two volumes of The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator, following the life of the guild of torturer journeyman Severian.

 

The Shadow of the Torturer follows the last year of Severian’s life in The Citadel of Nessus and his few days after leaving into exile after breaking the greatest rule of the guild of torturers.  Severian finds himself challenged to a duel and explores greater Nessus in preparation while coming into contacting with numerous interesting characters.  The Claw of the Conciliator picks up a bit after the previous book with Severian performing his duties in a small mining town before going on a series of journeys going to the seat of government the House Absolute and leaving, all the while trying to figure out everything he’s involved in while trying not to dishonor his guild once again.

 

The first volume of the book, Shadow, was very intriguing and while somethings were clear—as might have been the plan—there was enough there to make me look forward to continuing on Severian’s journey.  However the second volume, Claw, was all over the place with quality, interest, and frustration as one the main problems from the first volume, namely the first-person narration by Severian was all over the place.  Add in an entire chapter that described a line-by-line recreation of a nonsensical play just to setup an attack by one of the characters on the audience in the next, much short chapter just added to my dislike of this particular volume.

 

I had high hopes for Shadow & Claw given that it was the first half of what is considered a classic tetralogy by Gene Wolfe.  While I did like the first volume of the omnibus, the second one has made me wonder why this is considered a fantasy-science fiction classic by many.

 

The Shadow of the Torturer (3.5/5)

The Claw of the Conciliator (2/5)

Miracle at Philadelphia

Miracle At Philadelphia - Catherine Drinker Bowen

A nation new to its independence dealing with issues internally and external, it’s nascent future hanging by a thread all comes down to 55 men from across its length and breadth to come up with a solution.  In her 1966 historical review of what became known as the Constitutional Convention, Catherine Drinker Bowen chronicles how the future of the young United States was saved by a Miracle at Philadelphia.

 

Though the majority of the book focuses on the four-month long Convention, Bowen begins by setting the stage for why and how the convention came about with the ineffectual government that was the Articles of Confederation and the movement to amend them, which was led by James Madison and endorsed by George Washington by his attendance in Philadelphia.  For those like myself not really versed in nitty gritty details of Convention it was interesting to learn that most of the work was done in ‘Committee of the Whole’ in which Washington while President was seated among the other delegates.  The familiar highlights of the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and the Great Compromise are covered but in the historical flow of the debates within the Convention and decisions in-between of important elements within the Constitution.  Throughout the Bowen introduces important personages and how their views remained constant or changed throughout the Convention resulting reputations being made or destroyed during and after the process of ratification.  Bowen ends the book with a look at the ratification process, in particular the debates in Massachusetts and Virginia.

 

Covering approximately 310 pages, the book is efficient in covering the events of the Convention overall.  However Bowen completely missed how the Great Compromise was voted in the Constitution, she just mentioned it.  Besides that big miss within the Convention, Bowen spends chuck of the middle of the book covering a “Journey in America” that had nothing to do with the Convention but was just giving a glimpse of the nascent country that felt like filler than anything else.

 

Miracle at Philadelphia is a very good historical review of the Constitutional Convention that does not analyze but just reports history.  Catherine Drinker Bowen does a wonderful job in juggling the various accounts of the Convention by the delegates and the official record to create very readable narrative.  I highly recommend this book for those interested in this closing piece of the American Revolution.