Where Troy Once Stood: The Mystery of Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey Revealed

3624f39138e0178596848376767444341587343Where Troy Once Stood: The Mystery of Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey Revealed by Iman Wilkens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The historicity of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey is the basis of Iman Wilken’s Where Troy Once Stood. The author’s theory that the Trojan War took place in England between Celts is both an intriguing revisionist theory as well as good material for authors looking for a good story.

The basic premise of the book is Wilken first rejecting the concise opinion that Troy as located in Anatolia, evening using ancient sources to help support his conclusion. Though Wilken’s believes the Trojan War did take place and examined Homer’s text to find Troy’s location, both by descriptions and etymology to find Troy in the Gog Magog Hills in Cambridgeshire, England. Wilken’s then places gives locations for all the combatants listed in the Iliad amongst the Celtic peoples of Western Europe from Scandinavia down to southern Spain. Based off his locations of the Iliad, Wilken’s catalogues Odysseus’ journey around the shores of Western European and throughout the Atlantic before arriving home in Spain. However, Wilken’s proposes that the Odyssey was not only a story of a warrior king, but a map for Celtic seafarers to sail for recourses in Africa and the Caribbean as well as tool for initiates into the ‘Mysteries’ of the Celtic Druids.

While this overall theory based on Homer’s epic poems is though-provoking, the overall book is undermined by how Wilken presents his material. Whatever one thinks of the theory this is a hard book to read because there is no flow from point-to-point throughout the text. Wilken’s enthusiasm for his theory is identifiable in the text mainly because he likes to insert conclusions and further theories randomly whenever something that is connected with them is presented in the text. After long periods of logical progression, Wilkens would started jumping from point-to-point before taking up his logical process again then incorporating the random points he talked about earlier into the narrative. Wilken’s never fully explains some of his conclusions or provides supporting evidence for some of his assertions, his view of who the Phoenicians were was the biggest in my mind. Finally Wilkens presents numerous maps and lists of his etymology evidence as part of his main text instead of as a large appendix, which makes the last quarter of the book a slog.

In the end the reader must judge Wilken’s theory for themselves and as stated in my introductory paragraph, it provides good story material like Clive Cussler’s Trojan Odyssey. However anyone who wants to read this book for either the revisionist theory or for story inspiration should keep in mind the book’s winding journey. Wilken’s published a revised edition of Where Troy Once Stood and maybe that edition (2009) presents the material better, however based on the chapter listings I’m doubtful. So if you’re interested in reading this book, you’ve been warned.

The Discovery of King Arthur

51rswgu9il._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The question of the reality of King Arthur has been answered in various ways and Geoffrey Ashe gives his answer in The Discovery of King Arthur.  One of the most preeminent Arthurian scholars in the world, Ashe’s thesis brought the possibility of a real Arthur to the public by guiding them through the layers of myth and legend.

Ashe begins his presentation by establishing how the Arthur we have come to know in was first widely distributed, through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Histories of the Kings of Britain. Ashe begins dissecting Geoffrey’s account through the lens of various sources during the supposed time of Arthur’s career as well as giving context to the nature of medieval literary work thus gleaming clues to the real events that Geoffrey based his writing on. Ashe’s analysis of several sources from Roman Gaul, sources from Britain closer to Arthur’s time, and history of the last Western Roman Empire together with clues from Geoffrey’s histories help Ashe narrow in on the individual who was the starting point of the Arthur mythos, the Briton High King named Riothamus.

After naming this candidate whose career inspired the Arthur legend, Ashe then details how over the centuries to Geoffrey of Monmouth and afterwards the embellished and fantasies were created about an individual who seemingly revived Roman Briton’s fortunes and was seen on the Continent as someone to help restore the civilization—as the Roman was viewed. Yet, while this information is intriguing in seeing how the mythos was created and expanded Ashe’s somewhat dry writing style makes the last half of the book somewhat less of an engaging read as compared to the first half when Ashe “discovers” the man behind the legend.

This is my first time reading this book in almost 20 years and frankly this book is not how I remember it, frankly I remembered the information Ashe put in the first half of the book in making his case and willing forgot the second half of the book when he discussed the legend building. This can be put down to Ashe converting a scholarly paper into a book for mass consumption, which is telling as it would be expected that the writing style would be more lively for book for public consumption while a more scholarly work would have a different tone. But that doesn’t mean this is not an overall good book, it is but it does have some drawbacks that potential readers should be aware of before cracking it open.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

1250077001-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny  Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What strikes you about Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy first and foremost is the smiling raccoon adorning the cover of the book that just makes you want to pick it up and find out why it’s one there. However before Lawson explains about the smiling raccoon, she has succeeded in sucking you into her hilarious journey of living furiously happy.

While Furiously Happy is Lawson’s second book, one does not have to have read her first one to quickly find one entrapped in her fascinating misadventures that many a time bring a smile to your face. The degrees of amusement go from the mildly fun to cringe-worthy hilarity—think Ross in the last three seasons of Friends—in a roller coaster of events from Lawson’s own childhood to being a wife and mother herself. Between the humor are chapters in which Lawson talks about her numerous mental illnesses and their resulting dark side. For those not aware of Lawson’s health, she is upfront at the very beginning on why she is writing this book and it’s her own dealing with her mental illness that makes her want to live as the book says furiously happy.

While this roller coaster of emotion prevents reading this book in a single setting—it took me many in all honestly—that’s okay because Lawson wants her readers to think. Here is a woman who is many mental illnesses, she is taking medication and getting therapy but when she has one of her bad days or spells she can look back at all the funny things she’s done in her life by just living furiously happy to keep her from doing anything hurtful to herself. For readers dealing with some of the same issues as her, the knowledge that someone else is feeling like them and keeps on going is a positive. And for readers like myself who do not suffer any mental illnesses, this book is a challenge to take steps to help our friends and family who do deal with mental health if we aren’t already as well as taking advantage of our own good fortune to live Furiously Happy because you never know when you might need those humorous memories.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Hogwarts #7)

a804f9ce14828be5938554e5267444341587343Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second time I’ve read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but the first time reading it critically. I’ve tailored this review in the following in mind: the intended audience for the book and its place in the series.

Deathly Hallows is a tad over a 100 pages longer than its immediate predecessor in the series as Rowlings completes her series with the climactic Battle of Hogwarts as Harry and Voldemort face off in their prophesied encounter. Along with Ron and Hermione, Harry chases after the remaining Horcruxes that Voldemort has left behind but eventually the trail returns the grounds of Hogwarts. However along the way, the friends not only have rough times with one another but also with the legacy of Albus Dumbledore. Yet a legendary set of magical objects, the titular Deathly Hallows, enter into the narrative that both hinder the quest of the Horcruxes while also driving the narrative forward to its ultimate conclusion.

Deathly Hallows finds the series entering the endgame as the Wizarding World falling under the control of Voldemort as the Ministry falls to his puppet. Battles occur throughout the book, the first being when Harry leaves Privet Drive for the last time which results in the death of Mad-Eye Moody and the maiming of George Weasley. After the fall of the Ministry, Harry, Ron and Hermione go on the run until they infiltrate the Ministry to get a Horcrux from former opponent, Dolores Umbridge. Through the fall and into the winter, their quest is stalled until a turn of events at Malfoy Mansion makes them realize where another Horcrux is. After successfully infiltrating, grabbing another Horcrux, and escaping Gringotts the trio head to Hogwarts after Harry learns from his connection to Voldemort that Hogwarts houses a Horcrux. This return to Hogwarts sets in motion the destruction of the final Horcruxes and the Battle of Hogwart that ends with the duel of Harry and Voldemort. The major subplot of the book are the Deathly Hallows, two of which have been in plain sight for the entire series, but the most noteworthy is the Elder Wand that Voldemort covets to overpower Harry’s wand because what occurred at the end of Goblet of Fire. Harry’s obsession with the Hallows do affect the overall quality of the narrative because of their supposed importance is undermined by how late in the series we learn about them and do through shade over a very good book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shows the Wizarding World entering a time of darkness as Voldemort has seemingly taken over but with Harry there is hope people cling to. Save for the late inclusion of the titular Deathly Hallows, the idea of which I believe should have been mentioned earlier in the series, Rowlings completes the overall story she began way back in Sorcerer’s Stone by showing how everything that happened before has led to the climactic moment at the end of the book. In the end, this final installment of the series gives the reader who has spent time reading the previous six books a very satisfied conclusion to the story of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter

Maskerade (Discworld #18, Witches #5)

427676573fbcfd6593253735851444341587343Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Discworld’s most renowned coven is down a witch, but the best replacement has taken her vocal talents to Ankh-Morpork’s Opera House. However, Terry Pratchett isn’t going to miss a chance to let Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg get mixed up in the Maskerade at the Opera.

With Magrat now Queen, Granny and Nanny are feeling a bit incomplete but the young, fat and vocally gifted woman they know can join them has left the Ramtops to seek her fortune in Ankh-Morpork but when Granny learns of Nanny’s spicy cookbook they have a reason to head to the big city. Meanwhile, Agnes Nitt aka Perdita X dreams of becoming the next big voice in Opera and she does, unfortunately all they want is her voice for Christine who has that “star factor”. As Agnes pats herself on the back for running away from becoming a witch, the Opera’s “good luck” Ghost starts killing people but while people are worried the show must go on. Inevitably, the three Lancre natives tackle the mystery of the killing Ghost with hilarious results.

Maskerade continues the ‘Witches’ sequence of the Discworld novels, but Pratchett’s change up in the coven’s line up creates a better book as the very un-witch like Magrat is replaced by the very witchy Agnes who knows how to deal with Granny and Nanny. After finishing the book I’m looking forward to when Agnes appears again.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Film)

A Major Stumble for the Film Franchise

The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth in the franchise, follows the lead of the titular installment in the Potter book series by focusing not on Harry’s academic life but on his nonacademic pursuits yet fail to convey the importance of items and set the stage for franchise’s final installments as well as add and remove too much.

Though those in charge of production and direction claim “Half-Blood Prince” was boiled down to the essential plot and foreshadowing elements needed for future films likes its three predecessors it is untrue. Throughout the film, as well as in the books, there are two main subplots the revelations of the Voldemort’s Horcruxes and Draco Malfoy’s mission and while the latter was handled perfectly the former was botched with missing scenes that impact future installments. The addition of Jim Broadbent to the cast as Professor Horace Slughorn was a brilliant selection and the Slughorn secondary plot was handled properly in context to the overall Horcrux discovery. The climactic scene in the Astronomy Tower between Dumbledore, Draco, and Snape with Harry watching was brilliantly acted and portrayed making it one of the few highlights of the overall film.

Aside from the edition of Broadbent there were no other major cast additions, the younger cast members performed admirably with the material they were given which is not a slight on them but of the script. Of the older returning cast members of the cast both Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore and Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape were excellent given either their primary or major impactful roles in this particular film.

The sixth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is an uneven film, and in my opinion worse than “Goblet of Fire”. My assessment of this film for a non-book reader is that they would find the film incomprehensible as to everything going on, while book readers would question why important scenes were ignored in the Horcrux subplot that would be relevant in the “Deathly Hallows” along with the inclusion of new scenes that did nothing but try to be different from the book. In all honestly, I would rate this film 2 ½ stars instead of 3 if I had the option.

The Art of War

1581733208.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Art of War by Sun Tzu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Within The Art of War are three distinct though similar treatise written across over 2000 years and three different cultures that instruct the reader not only how to succeed in war but also politics and business.

The opening treatise is the titular Art of War, Sun Tzu gives his readers a concise yet in-depth instruction into the how to achieve victory over one’s enemies. Though less than a hundred pages in length, it has to be read carefully to get the full meaning of what the author intends to convey. Yet when boiled down, the most important lesson is simply to be aware of one’s surroundings and other people’s intentions so as to continually be prepared for all situations.

The middle treatise is Machiavelli’s The Prince, a how-to course in how to gain and maintain power. The pragmatic program that councils that everything one does must be solely down to maintain one’s, if in the process you must victimize a small minority of your population, so be it, but if some of your actions improve the lives of the majority of your citizens so much the better. Yet, while Machiavelli’s thoughtful approach to studying power politics is the beginning of political theory, The Prince is also cutting satire on the Medici who had taken over Florence ending Machiavelli’s civil career. The astute reader realizes that “The Prince” is more than it appears while also achieving its apparent main aim.

The final treatise is Frederick the Great’s Instructions to His Generals, in which the celebrated Prussian monarch and military commander gave guidance to his general staff about how to fight war through his own failures and achievements. Unlike Machiavelli’s call for unity or Sun Tzu’s broad principles, Frederick main goal is for the betterment of Prussia and for detailed instructions on everything connected with a military campaign. This single-mindedness and painstaking approach is a lesson in and of itself to the reader to keep their focus on the here and now so as to achieve bigger things down the road, not dream of the far-off future while sacrificing the present.

While distinct, the three treatise in this book are in fact are three different life experiences on the same thing, achieving success at whatever one attempts.

American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age

1611687020.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age by Kevin   Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

From Powerball to Mega Millions, nearly everyone in the United States has heard about stage-run lotteries, but just a little over 50 years ago that wasn’t the case as seen in American Sweepstakes. In Kevin Flynn’s short history of the birth of the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, the beginning of the modern age of state lotteries is chronicled and how a legal state-run lottery system was created in the process.

Flynn chronicles how the New Hampshire Sweepstakes came into law before back over the relationship between the United States and gambling, both legal and otherwise. Flynn then described the federal laws that New Hampshire needed to tightrope around as well as create a corruption free contest that people would have confidence in. Although many individuals were highlighted in the book, it was Governor John King and the Sweepstakes Direction Ed Powers who dominated the narrative of the history.

Throughout the book, Flynn spends time on a variety of historical subjects that impacted the starting of the Sweepstakes. The Irish Sweepstakes, the acknowledged model for New Hampshire’s law, and the Brink’s Robbery are the two big historical digressions that add to the reader’s perspective of the entire story. In fact foreign policy and federal politics also played a role as both the Kennedy Presidency, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1964 New Hampshire Democratic primary were all contributing factors that were non insignificant.

American Sweepstakes does not reach 300 pages, but crunch in that short length Kevin Flynn wrote a concise but thorough history of the state-run lottery that launched the present ‘American Lottery Age’. If you enjoy reading a book about a specific historical event this is the book for you without the dash of agenda politics then this is the book for you, not only do you get the story behind the event but also how other interesting historical events played their own part in a little remember event.