Zodiac of Death is a collection of mini biographies of some of the most notorious killers in the 20th Century written by true crime reporter Dan Lasseter followed an explanation of their horoscope that astrologist Dana Holliday attempts to explain as fulfilling the individual’s destiny. After reading the first individual’s biography and horoscope, I instantly decided to skip all the rest of the horoscopes as I did not understand anything written and didn’t want to waste my time with the rest of the book figuring those sections out. That meant I was reading the mini biographies—basically life and crimes in “wonderful” detail—of some of the worst human beings who’ve walked the earth and frankly I wanted to get through it as quickly as possible to get this book off my shelf and to a used book store.
A once-glorious empire has been shattered, petty-kings from within look to take over as much as they can while the former rulers of the lands look to reconquer, and everyone is looking to the new tribesmen on the horizon that look to repeat what the now defunct dynasty did. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay is a historical fantasy that follows the lives several individuals—famous and unknown—in the dying of one era and the beginning of another in the land they call home.
Taking clear inspiration from history of Moorish Spain, Kay weaves a story of people attempting to live the best they can in a rapidly changing world that divides them both religiously and politically. Though the religions practiced are clearly analogs to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism they are defined enough to be their own unique thing in the world Kay created as well as how characters take their faith from in name only to zealotry. The political intrigue throughout the book and how characters deal with the effects of the events helps move the plot—along with religious strife—in relation with their own hopes and fears creating a compelling narrative over 500 pages that keep the reader glued. Kay’s prose and in places effective use of poetry is engaging so much so that I look forward to getting my hands on other books of his.
The Lions of Al-Rassan features analogs of real life religions and history, however Guy Gavriel Kay uses those elements and a touch of fantasy to weave together an amazing narrative that keeps the reader hooked from beginning to end.
November was a very successful reading month as I obtained and surpassed my overall reading goal thanks to seven completed books. Of those seven books, two were from my original list, but let’s take a look at the stats.
Overall Total: 46/40 (115%)
Original List: 31/40 (77.5%)
Total Pages: 20959 (455.6)
The best book of the month was The Glory of Their Times which was a birthday gift from my aunt who over the years has gotten me a lot of very good to great books as presents, so far there has only been one (1) that I disliked. The worst book of the month is a tie between two books whose ratings come with caveats, one because of the language that didn’t age well (Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage) and the other because its just a previous published book but now with illustrations (The Rise of the Dragon).
Given the amount of books I read and watching the World Cup, I didn’t get around to watching any films nor doing the outstanding Ghostbusters reviews I need to do from October. Even with four days off due to Thanksgiving–I love my new job–most of my time was on sports (and eating) and I was surprised I my book reviews written a fast as I did. However the upcoming month might provide more time.
Speaking of the last 31 days of the year, I’ll be starting the month with roughly a third of The Lions of Al-Rassan to read. This will probably be the last book from my original list that I’ll be reading this year, there is a possibility that I grab a book (Decision in Philadelphia) if I finish the three books I planned for the month if I still have time. Since the World Cup will go on until 18th, any films will have to wait until after then and that’s if I get the Ghostbusters trio reviews done.
That’s all for this month.
William Pitt the Younger by William Hague
Attack of the Clones (Star Wars Episode II) by R.A. Salvatore
Celtic Empire (Dirk Pitt #25) by Clive and Dirk Cussler
Bobby Kennedy by Larry Tye
Revenge of the Sith (Star Wars Episode III) by Matthew Stover
Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell
The Baker’s Boy (Book of Words #1) by J.V. Jones
Dawnshard (The Stormlight Archive #3.5) by Brandon Sanderson+
Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry
Slaying the Dragon by Ben Riggs#
The Force Awakens (Star Wars Episode VII) by Alan Dean Foster
In These Last Days: The Message of Hebrews by Felix H. Cortez^
Exploring Hebrews by George R. Knight^
First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen
A Man Betrayed (Book of Words #2) by J.V. Jones
A Theologico-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise by Benedict de Spinoza*
A Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke*
The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed
The Dead Hand Book: Stories From Gravesend Cemetery by Sara Richard+
The War of Wars by Robert Harvey
Master and Fool (Book of Words #3) by J.V. Jones
The Last Jedi (Star Wars Episode VIII) by Jason Fry
Fatal North by Bruce Henderson
Two Treatise of Government by John Locke*
Black Sun Rising (Coldfire #1) by C.S. Friedman
Genesis by Jacques B. Doukhan^
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara+
Gettysburg: An Alternate History by Peter G. Tsouras+
The Rise of Skywalker (Star Wars Episode IX) by Rae Carson
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
When True Night Falls (Coldfire #2) by C.S. Friedman
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Empire of the Summer Sun by S.C. Gwynne
Path Lit by Fire by David Maraniss#
Crown of Shadows (Coldfire #3) by C.S. Friedman
The Devil’s Sea (Dirk Pitt #26) by Dirk Cussler+
Shogun by James Clavell
The Fall of Troy by Quintus of Smyrna*
Our Oriental Heritage (Story of Civilization, Vol 1) by Will Durant*
Beyond Boggy Creek: In Search of the Southern Sasquatch by Lyle Blackburn+
The Glory of Their Times by Lawrence S. Ritter+
Richard III by Charles Ross
Momo: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster by Lyle Blackburn+
White Sands (Volume 2) by Brandon Sanderson^
The Rise of the Dragon by George R.R. Martin^
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
The Alloy of Law (Mistborn #4) by Brandon Sanderson
Claudius the God by Robert Graves
Decision in Philadelphia by James Lincoln Collier
Shadows of Self (Mistborn #5) by Brandon Sanderson
Lincoln by Gore Vidal
Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System—and Themselves by Andrew Ross Sorkin
*= Original Home Read
^= Home Read
+= Random Insertion
The Rise of the Dragon: An Illustrated History of the Targaryen Dynasty Volume One is basically Fire & Blood Volume One but illustrated. One could say this was a money grab or that the previous book shouldn’t have been published and the material should have waited until quality illustrations like in this book were created or both could be true, it doesn’t matter. Of the two books, get The Rise of the Dragon for the simple fact that with the amazing illustrations the material is enhanced. But given the non-illustrated material is just a rehash from another book, I’m downgrading the rating of this book as a result to show my annoyance.
Kenton struggles to save the Diem while trying to understand its secrets that might have led to its betrayal in the desert while the Duchess Khriss tries to continue her mission. Brandon Sander’s White Sands Volume 2 finds the various protagonists introduced in the previous volume struggling to accomplish their goals.
The middle installment of this trilogy sees politics and mysteries take center stage as Kenton and Khriss work separately and together to achieve their goals. This is a classic Sanderson story though in graphic novel form, which is brought to the page by the art of Julius Gopez (Chapters 1-5) and Julius Otha (Chapter 6) in addition to colorists Morgan Hickman (Chapters 1-2) and Salvatore Aialas Studios (Chapters 3-6). Overall, the story is good and engaging, however given the format the book the art and color are important. Given the multiple artists I would say that the coloring of Salvatore Aialas Studios worked with both comic artists even though Gopez was more unique while Otha seemed more “generic” in character design but was satisfied in the results.
White Sands Volume 2 is a good continuation of the story in Brandon Sanderon’s Cosmere but shortness of the book made me feel that all three volumes had been combined in an omnibus edition.
The small town of Louisiana, Missouri had a strange summer in 1972 when a creature put it briefly made it famous, but was it real or fake? Momo: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster by Lyle Blackburn goes into detail of the two months that the creature made life interesting in corner of the Show Me state.
Over the course of almost 140 pages of text, Blackburn details the strange events that occurred in Louisiana, MO over the course of July and August 1972 as well as the surrounding area along the western side of the Mississippi River with some reports across the river in Illinois as well. Not only does he describe the encounters or sightings of a large, black haired bipedal entity but of footprint finds and the sighting of strange orbs of light around town that just added to the “strangeness” of that summer especially when he gives context to similar things occurring in Pennsylvania that attracted UFO investigators. While Blackburn doesn’t dismiss the possibility of pranks in some of the instances he details in the books—in fact a set of footprints is confessed to being fake—but there are two instances which to him one in July 1971 and the initial incident in July 1972 of the Momo phenomenon that make him believe there is substance to something strange having lived in the area.
Momo: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster is a fascinating read of how a small town and the surrounding area experienced something weird roaming the area. Lyle Blackburn not only lays out the facts in well-written manner and gives his opinion, but he allows the reader to make up their own mind as well.
The ultimate Shakespearean villain, the original evil uncle, and the poster child for physical attributes show character, he is Richard III. Following up his biography of the first Yorkist king, historian Charles Derek Ross’ Richard III covers the life and reign of the last Yorkist king who’s controversial taking of the throne still sparks debate to this day.
From the start Ross “anti-Ricardian” sentiment is out there, however he also places the man in the context of his times as well as the political environment that the Yorkists promoted. Ross even-handed approach is centered going back to what contemporary accounts of Richard’s reign and avoiding anything that he thought was Tudor propaganda, however he noted that the propaganda worked because it appeared to have some sprinkling of truth. Ross divided the biography into three sections that boiled down to before Edward’s death, the brief Protectorate, and as King. Throughout the biography Ross emphasizes the extrajudicial executions and property appropriation that Edward IV and Warwick (Richard’s father-in-law) performed during the early Yorkist period that eventually Richard would follow in his Protectorate not only to shore up his power but then seize it. Ross assigns ultimate responsibility for Edward V and young Richard of York’s deaths to Richard and doesn’t go along with the Tudor line about who did the deed. Ross’ explores Richard’s reign as one of using all the tools at his disposal to retain power against the one challenger he had, Henry Tudor, that ultimately came down to one battle that didn’t go his way.
Richard III is a balanced look at England’s most controversial king, though Charles Derek Ross is critical of the last Plantagenet he does put the man in the context of his times and doesn’t perform a hit job.
Richard the Third by Paul Murray Kendall
When they started their careers, professional baseball players were lowly regarded and by the end they’re exploits sold newspapers and had people standing in crowds waiting for details of the game they were playing across the nation. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter is a collection of 26 players telling the story of their careers in their own words from the dawn of 20th Century when baseball became a national obsession.
When originally published Ritter had only interviewed 22 players—four players including a Hall of Famer were added for this enlarged edition—whose careers went just before the turn of the century to mostly the early 1920s with a few exceptions. At the time only three players of the group were Hall of Famers and after publication four more were elected, but this collection of “important” and regular players gives this book a wonderful mix as well as the player’s backgrounds. Interestingly Ritter was able to interview several players that were involved in important moments of the time like Merkel’s blunder or Fred Snodgrass’ (featured player) dropped fly in Game 7 of the 1912 World Series, or several Cincinnati players who take exception that they wouldn’t have won the 1919 World Series if the White Sox hadn’t “thrown it”. Of all the 26 players featured in the book, I had only heard of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg—who was included in the enhanced edition—and didn’t know that much about him so the individual perspectives on how baseball became a major part of the American social-cultural fabric was very interesting.
The Glory of Their Times is a wonderful look into baseball in the first few decades of the 20th Century, Lawrence S. Ritter’s work in transforming a interview transcript into a autobiographical feature that you could imagine the player speaking the words to you was fantastic and made what it is.
Is Boggy Creek, Arkansas the only southern locale of Sasquatch or does it range further afield in the South from Texas to Georgia from Kentucky down to Florida? Beyond Boggy Creek: In Search of the Southern Sasquatch by Lyle Blackburn investigates the historical and the modern history of “boogers”, “wildmen”, and “apes” in the Southern United States.
As Blackburn stated early on that this book was a quasi-sequel to The Beast of Boggy Creek, be began his survey of southern sasquatch hotspots in Fouke, Arkansas then went up the Red River into Oklahoma and Texas then headed eastward until finally finishing with the Skunk Ape in Florida. Blackburn highlighted a string of reports in a particular area during a timeframe or over the course of years to show that these weren’t one-off instances, a lot of times Blackburn would delve into archival newspaper articles from the 1800s and early 1900s of weird creatures appearing that prompted citizens to form a posse that more-often-than-not came up empty. While Blackburn did his very best to not have “modern” incidents that were similar but needed to fill page space had to including reports that seemed to repeat a few times with just the location changing—these were drive-by sightings. Besides this one gripe, this was an interesting read.
Beyond Boggy Creek explores the southern history of Sasquatch that Lyle Blackburn brought through various sources for readers to examine and come to their own conclusion.
Several millennia of Middle Eastern history as well as all Indian, Chinese, and Japanese history up to the early 1930s in less than 1000 pages of text might sound impossible, but it was accomplished. Our Oriental Heritage is the first volume of Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization series that focused on European (Western) history went from an expected five-volume series to 11.
The most glaring issue with Durant’s book is the Introduction in which he described the “building blocks” of culture and how humanity progressed to begin “civilization” by noting examples of “primitive” and “savage” peoples that Europeans had documented in the 19th Century of what had preceded the various Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. Though not surprised by the language Durant used in this section given the era he wrote this volume, it was still cringe-worthy reading that was big negative even though it covered only the first 110 pages of text. Durant’s survey of Egyptian and Middle Eastern history up to the time of Alexander the Great as well of all Indian, Chinese, and Japanese history up to the time of the 1930s is as best that could be hopeful in such a limited number of pages with the aim to show how all those “civilizations” contributed to changes in Western (European) history.
Overall, Our Oriental Heritage is a nice survey of millennia of history that Will Durant gives the reader before launching his series into European history in the next volume.