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review 2018-09-22 21:37
Gideon's Sword by Preston & Child - My Thoughts
Gideon's Sword - Douglas Preston,Lincoln Child

When I finish a book that totally blows me away, I have to either change genres completely or go to reread a very old fave.  This time, I chose to change genres and try a new - to me - series.  And it did the trick!

This was an enjoyable read.  Sort of like the Ilona Andrews book, it  felt like some good junk food to my reading brain.  The story clipped along at a decent pace - the chapters weren't very long which helps a lot, keeps things from dragging.  The plot was intricate enough to keep me interested yet not so complicated that I was stopping to try and figure out things. 

The main character, Gideon Crew, is an interesting fellow.  Clever and smart, he reads people really well.  He has a great sense of humour.  And he has a sense of purpose and is just dark and cynical enough to appeal to me.  I liked following along with him on his 'mission'. 

There is a small cast of supporting characters that have the potential to increase their interestingness over the coming books. Apparently one of the guys comes one of the writing duo's other series, but I'm not ready to go hunt that down yet.  :)

So, I've found another series to follow when I need some tasty junk-food reading and that's a good thing!

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review 2018-08-06 22:26
Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Starless - Jacqueline Carey

I’ve just been on an adventure with Khai and Zariya. The desert sand is still wedged in creases, the sea salt adhering to my hair, and some jungle forest mystery patch is making it’s home in the shady part of my imagination. I’m a long time fan of Carey’s works but Starless may have surpassed them all.  The plot was unexpected, the characters unforgettable, and the settings deadly beautiful.

A beautiful mythology wends it’s way through the plot. The stars, children of the sun Zar and he three moons, were cast from the heavens ages ago. Now these stars reside throughout the world, each gifted and bestowing their gifts upon mortals. Sometimes this is through direct interaction, sometimes through objects like rare seeds or a magical pearl.

The story is told through Khai’s eyes. He grows up in a desert fortress being trained by the monks on a variety of skills. He was born with a destiny: to be the Shadow to the Sun Blessed, Zariya. Once we’ve gotten to know Khai good and well (several years have passed), he goes to the royal palace to serve as Zariya’s body guard and confidante.

Since I had already fallen in love with Khai, I wasn’t sure I would bond as well with Zariya. Her world is so very different from the desert fortress but she has not been without her trials. An affliction challenges her daily. On top of that is the endless intrigues, making it difficult to trust anyone other than her Shadow. Zariya, being the last daughter of the last wife, believes she is destined for a simple marriage and child bearing. However, prophecy steps in and drags Zariya and Khai off on a world-saving adventure.

If Jacqueline Carey were ever to write horror, she would send a tremble through the entire genre. The creepy critters from the sea that threaten to decimate the world are truly things of nightmares. I thought the ants from the 3rd trilogy in the Terre D’Ange Cycle were scary; however, the critters from Starless take the cake.

I loved the gender fluidity of Khai’s character. The desert people call it ‘bazim’ (not sure on spelling). Khai grew up among only males but once he moves to the palace, he spends most of his time in the women’s quarter, guarding Zariya. There he learns about women and starts questioning his own gender-based roles in society. It’s all very well done. As Khai interacts with more cultures, each shares their take on the matter, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes bluntly. Khai grows by leaps and bonds and I loved his character all the more by the end of the tale. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Caitlin Davies did a great job with this book – a truly top notch performance. She provided so many different accents, keeping all the characters unique. Plenty of emotions, subtle and not, were on display in this tale and Davies gave them all their due. I especially enjoyed the valiant Mayfly. 5/5 stars.

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review 2018-07-23 15:47
Ida: A Sword among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign against Lynching - Paula J. Giddings

Not only should we thank Toni Morrison for her beautiful novels and wonderful essays, but also for pushing Giddings to write this important biography of Ida B. Wells.  And Giddings deserves thanks and love times ten for this work.

 

                I didn’t realize how unusual some of my schooling was until I started to teach.  For instance, because I had a teacher who was a descendent of Sally Hemmings and who told the class the story of Sally Hemmings, I always took that relationship with Jefferson as a given fact.  It wasn’t until I was teaching that I realized some students in this day when Dr. Gordon-Reed has proven the fact, that people still are not told of the history.

 

                But even with that background, I did not hear about Ida B Wells until after college when I was reading a book that referenced her.  I looked her up.  Today, we are lucky because her work is very accessible with the rise of e-books and texts.  Giddings’ book does this famous woman a service but will also leave you wondering why it took so long.  (Not that this is Giddings fault and she does examine some of these questions).

 

                Ida B. Wells was a woman who most likely was not easy to get along with but who needs more statues because we should remember her and shout her name from the roof tops.  It is because of Wells’ work as a journalist that we have the first major studies about lynching, a part of American history that we have yet to fully acknowledge and come to terms with as a nation.  Perhaps her work on this dark issue has lead to her unjust and incorrect second tier status; a nation wants to forget such things.  It shouldn’t though. 

 

 

                Born to former slaves who died when she was in her teens, Wells worked first as a teacher and then as a journalist and activist.  In fact, Giddings includes in the photo section, a post that showcases Wells, Dubois, Washington, and Douglass as the famous speakers on race post-Civil War.  During the course of her career, Wells addressed the politics and racism of rape, of education, and of protesting in addition to lynching.  She was instrumental in the founding and running of several black groups

 

                She was a hell of a woman, and not a tradition meek and mild sort either.

 

                Giddings’ biography perhaps focuses more on Wells’ personal life, her interior life being difficult to know or evaluate.  It is still a riveting book.  Giddings’ prose is lively and clear.  While there is a sense of Wells keeping herself back, Giddings does an excellent job of not only detailing the historical times but also examining the possible reasons for Wells’ drive.  She also does not make out Wells to be saint than sinner.

 

                A must read.

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text 2018-07-15 16:58
The Sword of Shannara Trilogy › Terry Brooks $2.99!!
The Sword of Shannara Trilogy - Terry Brooks

he Sword of Shannara
Long ago, the wars of the ancient Evil ruined the world. In peaceful Shady Vale, half-elfin Shea Ohmsford knows little of such troubles. But the supposedly dead Warlock Lord is plotting to destroy everything in his wake. The sole weapon against this Power of Darkness is the Sword of Shannara, which can be used only by a true heir of Shannara. On Shea, last of the bloodline, rests the hope of all the races. 

The Elfstones of Shannara
The magical Ellcrys tree is dying, loosening the spell that bars the Demons from enacting vengeance upon the land. Now Wil Ohmsford must guard the Elven girl Amberle on a perilous quest as she carries one of the Ellcrys’ seeds to a mysterious place where it can be quickened into a powerful new force. But dark on their trail comes the Reaper, most fearsome of all Demons, aiming to crush their mission at any cost. 

The Wishsong of Shannara 
An ancient Evil is stirring to new life, sending its ghastly Mord Wraiths to destroy Mankind. To win through the vile growth that protects this dark force, the Druid Allanon needs Brin Ohmsford—for she alone holds the magic power of the wishsong. Reluctantly Brin joins the Druid on his dangerous journey. But a prophecy foretells doom, as Evil nurses its plans to trap the unsuspecting Brin into a fate far more horrible than death. 

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review 2018-07-07 12:36
A fantastic book, didactic, entertaining, and moving. Great images and fabulous writing.
The Third Reich in 100 Objects: A Material History of Nazi Germany - Roger Moorhouse

Thanks to Alex and the rest of the team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by antiques and collectibles, not so much for their monetary value, as for the stories (and the History) behind the objects. As museums prove, objects can make us feel closer to other cultures and eras, creating a tangible reminder of lands and times distant from ours. Some objects might have an intrinsic interest (they are made of valuable materials, or by well-known artists), others are interesting because of their owners (kings, queens, or famous historical figures, like writers, inventors, artists…), and others because of what they represent. Although no objects are good or bad in their own right, they become infused with meaning through the use they are put to, and they can make us feel all kinds of emotions, from delight to abject fear.

In this book, the author has collected a hundred objects to give us, as the subtitle states, ‘A Material History of Nazi Germany’. And he achieves his aim with flying colours. The author is an expert on the period and has written many books about Hitler and Nazi Germany, and although I’m sure different people would have chosen differently, the selection he has put together gives the reader a good understanding of all aspects of life in Nazi Germany. We find personal objects, both of the Nazis (from Hitler’s paint box and his moustache brush to medals, decorations, and death cards) and their victims (the well-known Judenstern [the yellow star Jews had to wear), a forced labourer’s ‘Work Card’, or Sophie Scholl’s Matriculation Card [a member of the White Rose resistance movement]), objects that illustrate everyday life under the regime (ration cards, a gas-mask, the devaluated German banknotes, Hindenburg Lights…), examples of propaganda (The Schattenmann [the shadow man, a warning against talking about military secrets], a variety of posters including one for the propaganda anti-Semitic film Der Ewige Jude, the Great German Art Exhibition Catalogue, and the many imposing buildings), objects directly related to the war, including weaponry (planes, tanks, bombs, even the V-2 Missile) and documents. Each object is accompanied by a brief note (around a page or so) explaining its origin and putting it into context.

Richard Overy’s introduction sets well the project of the book and its author and emphasises the importance of image for Hitler and his party. This becomes increasingly evident as one progresses through the book, where there are ample examples of uniforms, symbolism (like their use of runes, the swastika, and the German eagle), badges… The writing is both informative and compelling, and it varies to suit the nature of the object. Sometimes it is descriptive and fairly neutral, but at others, it is impossible to read without feeling grief, sadness, and/or anger. The book has the advantage of not following a narrative thread, whereby it is easy to read in fits and starts, and readers can pick and choose the objects they are interested in, or go through them all, as I did. If we read it from beginning to end, the objects form a chronological history of sorts, as we start with objects that reflect the beginning of the regime, and eventually get to weaponry and documents from the very end of the war. The last object is Göring’s cyanide capsule, so you get the idea.

There were objects I was familiar with, and others that I knew about but had never seen (for example, the iron bed of a psychiatric asylum, that, as a psychiatrist, I found particularly moving and horrifying), and some that were complete surprises, like a Hitler Elastolin Toy Figure, the Mutterkreuz (a cross given to mothers who had 4 children or more. The author summarises it thus: It signified, in effect, the politicisation of the German womb, [Moorhouse, p. 109]), or the very cute ‘Goliath’ miniature tank (sorry, but there are some lighter moments as well. In case you feel curious, you can check it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goliath_tracked_mine). What I was more impressed by, apart from the quality of both, images and writing, was the way these disparate objects and the narrative behind them managed to give me a good sense of what life was like at the time, without having to read tonnes and tonnes of pages full of dry information. This book illustrates well the power of images. I have read plenty of books set on that era and watched many movies that take place in the same historical period but seeing the real objects helped me feel closer to the action, the people, and the events than I had ever before.

I recommend this book to people interested in the history of the period who are not big experts on it and don’t want an exhaustive account of battles and events. I also recommend it to anybody thinking about writing a book about the era, or people who design sets or work sourcing props or designing backdrops and objects for theatre, television or film. There is plenty of material to inspire numerous productions, and it is all collected in a single, easy-to-read, and well-indexed volume, with notes that facilitate further research tasks. Another winning volume published by Pen & Sword.

A quick note: my version of the book is a hardback copy, but I’ve checked the e-book version and the images are as good as those in the print version (although depending on the use you are thinking of giving it, you might consider what suits you best, as there’s little difference in price between the two versions, but this varies depending on the store).

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