1593081154.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nearly 200 years ago, Mary Shelley described how Victor Frankenstein achieved the seemingly impossible in creating life and how afterwards both he and his creation hurtled into a downward spiral. “Frankenstein” was the first piece of literature that would later become part of the science fiction genre through its protagonist’s use of science, but it is also the ethical and moral issues in the said use as well.

The central moment story is well-known thanks to films and other popular adaptations, though the details are different. Victor Frankenstein, the supreme student of science, forms a creature over two years through obsessive work but only upon bringing it to life does he realize how monstrous he has formed it. The shock of his actions cause his health to fail him and he never truly recovers as his creation ever continues to plague both his mental and physical health until he dies of exhaustion. Yet, Frankenstein’s creature is equal shocked, first at his own existence and then with the realization that he is not human and monstrously so.

The unnamed creature’s struggle towards humanity, achieving language and in-depth thought, is rendered in the end useless without the added element of social involvement with a humanity that shuns him including his own creator. Without the connection to humanity, the creature turns against it and begins taking his revenge the members of the human race most treasured by his creature. After Frankenstein’s rejection to give his creature a female counterpart to share his life, the creature deprives his creator of his new wife. Yet after the death of his creator, the creature seems to realize how human he had become with his utter disregard for life that many real people achieve on their own.

While the book is from a different time and standard of literature that make it strange when compared to current books, “Frankenstein” has an element that keeps it as relevant today as it did back when Mary Shelley wrote it. The ethical and moral dilemmas that not only science but everyday life presents to us can take us down many different paths that include the flawed creator or a monster amongst them.

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes

0805208984.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those in the West, the Crusades were a series of military expeditions that Western Christians launch against Muslims to reclaim the Holy Land, however for the Arabs and the rest of the Muslim world, the Crusades were a shocking event. The Crusades through Arab Eyes is a narrative history by Amin Maalouf to give Westerners a glimpse of how the Muslim world in general saw the Crusades as they were happening over two hundred year span.

Maalouf starts his narrative in Anatolia with the beginning of the First Crusade from the perspective of the Seljuk Turk Kilij Arslan defending his kingdom against his neighbors then against what he believed to be “Franj” troops fighting for the Byzantine Empire. However as the Turk sultan was to learn as well as others, these Franj had different plans. Maalouf’s follows the progress of the First Crusade and the subsequent 200 years through the historical writings of Muslim chroniclers and how the Muslim world reacted throughout that period. The vast majority of the book is the history of the Muslim political and religious currents that interacted and reacted with the Franj, who were themselves divided into permanent residents and military adventurers that came and went.

In the Epilogue besides looking at the long-term effects of the Crusaders on the Middle East, Maalouf highlights something that readers will noticed quickly and what I have already alluded to in this review. While the chroniclers were Arabs, the political and military leadership throughout the Crusader era were Turks or Kurds. During the roughly 200 years that the Crusades took place, the native Arabs watched and experienced the forces of two “foreigners” ruling over them which is a very impactful thought to keep in mind while reading this book.

I first read sections of The Crusades through Arab Eyes in 2003 for a Middle East history class. Having now read it in full, I can say that seeing it without the Western romantic veneer or viewpoint brings the period into better focus. While not in-depth as some other books might be, this book gives the reader an easy to follow narrative overview of The Crusades “from the other side”.

The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders

0807077224.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders by Forrest Church
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

During my lifetime the so-called “culture war” has seen a debate about if the United States was founded as a Christian nation or not, however it turns out that this debate occurred during the nation’s founding. In The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders the issue of religious liberty and if the United States was a Christian nation was presented in 14 chapters of original writings of Founding Fathers and other Americans of the Revolutionary period, compiled by editor Forrest Church.

Covering a thirty year period, between 1772 and 1802, Forrest Church provided to the reader 14 writings from a variety of authors. The most famous are Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison with material before, during, and after their times in office. Other writers including not as well-known Revolutionary figures Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams as well as largely forgotten Founding Fathers now George Mason and Oliver Ellsworth. However while the well-known and historically prominent were well represented, Church also included the writings of average citizens Isaac Backus, Caleb Wallace, and John Leland to show that not only the ‘political elite’ were debating issue of religious liberty.

The strength of the entire book is the writings presented in this volume and need not be reviewed or critiqued. Although Church does his best to introduce and give context to the writings he presents, these little introductions are in fact that the only compliant one can really have with it. Given the amount of material available during this time period, Church does an admirable job in complying a number of texts from a variety of individuals to present what America’s founders thought and is a must read for anyone interested in the church-state debate in the United States.

ASOIAF Chapter-by-Chapter Rating: A Storm of Swords

Tower of the Hand, is a site dedicated to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series as well as it’s adaptation HBO’s Game of Thrones.  As part of their site, they have chapter summaries for every chapter in every book and novella of the ASOIAF world.  On each summary page a site member can give their own personal rating for that chapter as a way to show how they liked or disliked the writing, the events, and etc.  So as part of my ASOIAF features here, I’m posting my personal chapter ratings for A Storm of Swords.

  • Prologue — 8/10
  • Jaime I — 8/10
  • Catelyn I — 6/10
  • Arya I — 7/10
  • Tyrion I — 9/10
  • Davos I — 9/10
  • Sansa I — 8/10
  • Jon I — 9/10
  • Daenerys I — 8/10
  • Bran I — 7/10
  • Davos II — 8/10
  • Jaime II — 8/10
  • Tyrion II — 6/10
  • Arya II — 8/10
  • Catelyn II — 7/10
  • Jon II — 8/10
  • Sansa II — 6/10
  • Arya III — 7/10
  • Samwell I — 10/10
  • Tyrion III — 9/10
  • Catelyn III — 8/10
  • Jaime III — 10/10
  • Arya IV — 7/10
  • Daenerys II — 8/10
  • Bran II — 10/10
  • Davos III — 8/10
  • Jon III — 8/10
  • Daenerys III — 10/10
  • Sansa III — 8/10
  • Arya V — 8/10
  • Jon IV — 7/10
  • Jaime IV — 8/10
  • Tyrion IV — 8/10
  • Samwell II — 9/10
  • Arya VI — 9/10
  • Catelyn IV — 7/10
  • Davos IV — 9/10
  • Jaime V — 10/10
  • Tyrion V — 9/10
  • Arya VII — 7/10
  • Bran III — 8/10
  • Jon V — 9/10
  • Daenerys IV — 9/10
  • Arya VIII — 8/10
  • Jaime VI — 9/10
  • Catelyn V — 9/10
  • Samwell III — 9/10
  • Arya IX — 8/10
  • Jon VI — 8/10
  • Catelyn VI — 8/10
  • Arya X — 7/10
  • Catelyn VII — 10/10
  • Arya XI — 8/10
  • Tyrion VI — 9/10
  • Davos V — 8/10
  • Jon VII — 10/10
  • Bran IV — 10/10
  • Daenerys V — 9/10
  • Tyrion VII — 8/10
  • Sansa IV — 9/10
  • Tyrion VIII — 10/10
  • Sansa V — 9/10
  • Jaime VII — 9/10
  • Davos VI — 9/10
  • Jon VIII — 9/10
  • Arya XII — 8/10
  • Tyrion IX — 9/10
  • Jaime VIII — 8/10
  • Sansa VI — 8/10
  • Jon IX — 8/10
  • Tyrion X — 10/10
  • Daenerys VI — 8/10
  • Jaime IX — 9/10
  • Jon X — 10/10
  • Arya XIII — 10/10
  • Samwell IV — 8/10
  • Jon XI — 8/10
  • Tyrion XI — 10/10
  • Samwell V — 9/10
  • Jon XII — 10/10
  • Sansa VII — 10/10
  • Epilogue — 9/10

Other Chapter-by-Chapter posts:
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
The Winds of Winter
A Dream of Spring

A Storm of Swords (ASOIAF #3)

da0c2e5482353b2593275545667444341587343A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The game of thrones ends, but lurking in the cold shadows of the far north the real fight it awaiting the survivors of A Storm of Swords, the third book of George R.R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire. In a series already known for its unexpected twists on fantasy tropes, this book sent fans into the depths of depression as well as the joys of delirium only to realize that there was so much more to go through.

After the battle of the Blackwater, the Lannisters are in the ascent as the war turns against Robb after he breaks his marriage agreement with the Freys. Things get worse after his biggest bargaining chip is released by his own mother as Jaime Lannister heads to King’s Landing only things quickly get out of hand on his turn to Cersei’s bed as well as his view of himself. Yet in a series of ever worsening weddings Robb and Joffrey perish sending the North and the Riverlands into the chaos while Tyrion Lannister is put on trial for his life for the death of his nephew.

As southern Westeros becomes a wash in blood, the Mance Rayder’s Wildlings attack Castle Black from the south and the north after the failure of the Great Ranging. Like in the first two books, Martin kills his first point-of-view character in the book in the prologue as wrights attack the Fist of First Men that less than half of the Night Watch survives. Through Jon’s POV we see first his journey with the Wildings over the Wall before his escape to warn his brothers and then lead the defense of the Wall before a surprise attack ends the Wilding threat. Meanwhile Samwell survived the Fist and has an encounter with Bran, the Reeds, and Hodor as each tries to get to the other side of the Wall. Meanwhile in Essos, Daenerys travels to Slaver’s Bay and begins liberating the three great slaver cities taking first the Unsullied as her army then conquering both Yunkai and Meereen in turn before settling in the later to learn how to rule.

A Storm of Swords shows that wars usually end in very messy ways and that the fallout will have lasting repercussions, Martin really drives this home when he has his first Epilogue chapter that shows the sins of crimes committed in war not only live on but can have dire magical consequences in Westeros. As in the first two books the political intrigue, the growing power of magic, and combat are in abundance but the reader is also seeing the real consequences of decisions that are having decided effects on all sorts of conspiracies and strategies. A Storm of Swords is the bloody conclusion to the first act of George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus leading to a second act full of feasting crows and dragons dancing.

A Song of Ice and Fire

Feet of Clay (Discworld #19, Watch #3)

7af7b977c8e8a19593039655777444341587343Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again events in Ankh-Morpork necessitate that the City Watch buckle down to save the day, so how will the city survive after Feet of Clay? Terry Pratchett’s third book of the Guards sequence, sees the very integrated (sans vampires) tackle a rampaging golem and the sickening of the Patrician in yet another monarchist coup attempt but is just slightly lower in quality than the previous two books.

As stated above, the plot revolves around monarchists wanting to return to the “good ol’ days” before Sam Vimes ancestor decapitated the last King of Ankh-Morpork. However, unlike previous times the main instigator has gone for a slow approach so make others accept the candidate he proposes. However, everything is undone by an insane golem roaming the streets that forces the Watch to not only find him while figuring out who is slowly poisoning the Patrician. It turns out that both situations are interconnected, but on the way Vimes, Carrot, Angua, Fred Colon, and Nobby all have to deal with serious issues amongst themselves as well as some new watch members of the integrated force. All told it’s an interesting few days in Ankh-Morpork for everyone involved.

While Pratchett mixes situational humor and wordplay with a very good story, this particular “Guards” book did not feel as up to the previous two. My main problem was that one little subplot felt forced, and that was the citizen impulse to smash golems when they were offing themselves. I guess one could mark it down as public hysteria, but still it felt forced as a way to make the Watch’s common sense approach stop the proposed violence.

However, even though I have one little problem with the book doesn’t mean I don’t recommend it to everyone else that is a fan of the Discworld books. But if you’re a new reader to the series, read either Guards! Guards! or Men at Arms before this one as both are slightly superior.