Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Skeleton of a Story

This week's book was found on the bookshelf in my office.  I think it was a gift for Drew this past Christmas.  I doubt he will read it anytime soon, but I was in an odd mood when I picked it up, so...
Let me preface this review with this statement:  I am not interested in Christian fiction (for the most part).  I am not sure if that has anything to do with this book, because I am not sure if it was intended to be purely Christian fiction.  The book was published in 1994 and is called A Skeleton in God's Closet.  It is written by Paul L. Maier (who makes another appearance on our bookshelf in the form of editor for Josephus's works), a professor at Western Michigan University. 
The story is Maier's answer to the question, "What would happen if the bones of Jesus Himself were discovered?"  While I do not agree with some of his conclusions regarding the fallout of this "authentic" discovery, I did find the discovery the best part of the novel.  This must be because I wanted to be an archeologist when I was going through my "A" phase, for about 10 minutes. Much of this part of the book comes in the first quarter, so the rest lags.  After the discovery of "Jesus's bones," I am assuming Maier wanted to become a political thriller writer.  He did not succeed.  This is mostly due to the fact that his dialogue was lacking.  He alternates between professor-like teaching dialogue to attempts at love-story dialogue.  Both made me want to throw the book against a wall. 
I must admit, however that the "how is he going to prove those aren't Jesus's bones" story was what kept me reading.   I guess it is just the faith in me that never let me think they were actually his, no matter what Maier wanted me to believe.  Sorry to spoil the ending: it is a hoax, but you already knew that didn't you?

Rating: 1


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some book series shouldn't end!

"Four years passed, and no one died."

I love Glen Cook's novels! In a way, I'm sad that I completed The Black Company series and have to move on to a new series. After eleven books you would think that you would be relieved and ready to read something else. I am going to miss the anticipation of waiting for the next one to come out, or which characters doing what, and even what's going to happen at the end.

Soldiers Live is is the last book in the Black Company epic series ( I shouldn't say that it is definitely going to be the last. Glen Cook said he'd like to write a couple more Black Company novels, but he has other contracts). This is the last book that follows the original members from the very first book. After so many pages, you really get to know Croaker, One Eye, Goblin, and all the newcomers. Glen Cook really threw in some twists and turns to this one. The action at the beginning of the book is quick and to the point - one page chapters will do that - with a little "empire building" at the middle and back to non-stop action for the conclusion.

I might say that this is one of the best written books in the eleven book series. The first book takes a little time to warm up to his style. Soldiers Live reminds me more of Book two than any other book in the series. It's well written; abrupt at points, but that's the whole ordeal you get to deal with. It makes the book exciting. Glen Cook makes it easy to follow. You aren't bogged down with so many characters that one chapter has you attempting to remember who's who and where you are.

All in all, Glen Cook did an excellent job of bring story and characters front and center. The only thing that might be missing is a more detailed ending. And I stress "might"! It's an excellent book. I'm going to miss the emotion you felt even though this was about a bunch of amoral soldiers. I'm sure I've said this before, but if you're going to pick up a Fantasy series for the first time you should probably pick this one up over Williams, Tolkien, and even.... Jordan! If you enjoy Cook then you'll find yourself enjoying those guys just as much.

"Is is immortality of a sort.
Memory is immortality of a sort.
In the night, when the wind died and silence rules the place of glittering stone, I remember. And they all live again."


Rating: 9 of 10 caffeinated beverages! It's too good. I am half tempted to start the whole series over again tonight. *sigh*

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Epic, Another Day

This is a lesson in procrastination. I finished last weeks book early - Wednesday - and I'm writing the review late. But, certain things happen and you make due. Luckily, it's a good book followed by a few more books. It's also more of the same, but I like what I like.

I read Tad Williams book The Dragonbone Chair. It's the first in the epic trilogy that made Williams famous. The king who united the continent is dying, and with his death comes incredible change - for good or bad? There are multiple main characters ranging from the kings sons to a young castle scullion. The enemies are expected, but also unseen.

As with any epic series, the author can be a little long winded. It doesn't hurt Williams in this series though. The first book sets the stage for what's going to become quite a tale in the next three books(took two parts to finish the last book). The trials are not all that common to the fantasy story, but align more closely than Glen Cook's epics. It's a great series, and definitely work picking up.

Rating: 6 caffeinated beverages - I can't give this more b/c the rest of the series gets better. (Another group of books he's written are also take the top rank)


I have been woefully behind on my books and posting for the last couple of weeks, so I am glad to be officially caught up.  I finished reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout this evening.  Unlike the previous collection of short stories, this one was an easy read.  These are unique in that the titular character is the center of attention while she does not inhabit all the pages of the book.  She merely walks in and out of the lives of the small town folk, sometimes with only a mention.  This brought to mind the way that we interact with one another, some people are of more importance than others.  In the grand scheme of things only certain people will have a story that links up with a particular person's story; others end up as footnotes. The wonder of this book lies in examining the strings that connect us and keep us at a distance at the same time.

I believe Olive is a character worth reading (I mean those Pulitzer people are never wrong, right?).  I found her to be longing, like so many other characters for acceptance and love, not realizing (until way too late in life) she had both all along.  Not to get all armchair psycho-babble on you, this is the part of Olive that is too often in most people.  I love the quote towards the end of the book regarding her faithful, put-upon, and resilient husband. "Oh God, yes, she was glad she'd never left Henry.  She'd never had a friend as loyal, as kind, as her husband."   I hope I do not have to wait until my years number in the 70s to realize the love that surrounds me and puts up with me (so maybe I just did). 

An interesting other element of the story is the pervasiveness of mental illness in a small town.  I am not sure the author would view her rich characters in the same way, but they, for the most part, were either messed up in the head or knew somebody that was.  This played into the whole nature vs. nurture debate, with nature declaring the clear victory in these people seriously in need of a therapist.  I don't know if she intended to make a statement on the ways of a small town society in this way, but it seems the ratios were a little off in this town.

Rating: 4.5


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Politics and President's Day Read

"If the incompetent and corrupt politicians would only follow the example of their ancestors, enter a herd of swine, run down some steep bank and drown themselves in the sea, there would be some hope of saving the country."

I was almost halfway through the latest book when I realized it is February and my book choice was appropriate for several reasons.
1. President's Day
2. Abraham Lincoln's B-day.
3. The present state of politics/war in America.

This week's book was Tried By War by James M. McPherson. It purports to detail Abe Lincoln as Commander in Chief. I think it ends up being a chronicle of the battles of the civil war and the correspondence between the various generals and Lincoln. This does not seem to detail the various books Abe read in his "crash course" in military strategy, nor his supposed precedence shattering interpretation/approach to the constitutional vagary of "Commander in Chief." Overall, I think I was expecting something different. It was, however, a good, if not incredibly detailed, overview of the civil war from a "fresh" perspective (I use that term loosely, if not sarcastically).

The best thing about the book was the above quote, stated by Gen. Henry W. Halleck, for whom, it seemed, hypocrisy knew no bounds, in that regard. The frustrating thing about reading about the civil war from the perspective of someone pulling for the North, is the constant political games that must be played in Washington. These games were not new in Lincoln's day and are not beneficially altered by the passage of 150 years. Sadly, the war was almost lost a number of times by the sheer political maneuvering of a few generals, rather than a single-minded focus on bringing the fight to the enemy and defeating the rebellion as soon as possible (Lincoln’s strategy, by the way). Every time I read about Gen. McClellan I want to go all papal court on him and start googling his burial plot. He should have been brought up on charges of treason and shot, but, as always, politics saved him. AHHH!

Lincoln remains the hero of presidents, as he always does. He won the war, he saved the Union, he is to be praised. What does not get noticed, is his unsteady hand in the area of human resources. He often played the political games of the day, keeping at best, inefficient and at worst, treasonous men in positions of power. It reminded me of an interview I heard whilst reading this book regarding Reagan. It seems he had someone on his staff who was so incompetent that Reagan refused to fire him because he felt sorry for him and said something to the effect of, “we can’t let him go, no one would hire him.” In my humble opinion, in government, there is no room for the undesirables. No one is perfect, but constant tomfoolery in the White House is unacceptable.
Rating: 3
Side note: Lincoln book that received a 7: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin