The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake (Living Forest #7)

Campbell07Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the world’s greatest natural features and living in and around it are numerous species that add to its wonder, especially when you are a naturalist. The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake is the seventh book of Sam Campbell’s Living Forest book series in which Sam, his wife Giny, and friends both new and old have interactions with animals both at the Sanctuary of Wegimind and the Grand Canyon.

The Campbells begin the book making a sincere pledge to one another not take in any baby animals, but then a trapper family sends them a letter asking for help. That help turned out to be taking in fawn named Zipper, then a few days later it was taking in Zowie a baby fox from the same family, next was an puppy abandoned right in front of them that they named Zanie, next was a baby skunk named Zinnia they saved from some dogs, and finally were seven beavers—the titular secrets—they hid in a secluded lake. The Campbells found themselves in a dilemma as they planned to go to the Grand Canyon to take film and pictures of animals around the natural wonder; luckily they were able to get their young friends Hi-Bub and Tony come to spend the summer at the Sanctuary freeing them to head to Arizona. While the Campbells are around the Grand Canyon they made friends with a Hopi named John Corn and his son Kona, who are instrumental in helping them get film and pictures of animals, when Sam remembers to take the lens off the camera. Meanwhile the boys sends numerous letters giving details about what was happening around the Sanctuary including interactions with one of the members of the trapper family—Bill—that make the Campbells nervous about the relocated beavers. Returning to the Sanctuary, the Campbells find the boys in good spirits and the beavers safe, and later learn that Bill had learned of the beavers and informed Sam so he could keep an eye on them as he’s rejoining the army thus making Sam change his impression of the man.

The book was as long as the previous few books in the Living Forest series at 236 pages, but this one was stylistically different. While Campbell’s own words featured the activities that he was a part of, the letters by Hi-Bub and Tony were quoted verbatim thus adding new voices for a non-insubstantial portion of the text while the Campbells were in Arizona. While animals were the main focus of the book, there were some important human issues that were faced with John and Kona missing their wife/mother, Hi-Bub struggling to find himself, and Bill’s own personal change of attitude towards animals. There is some classical Campbell philosophy, especially when it concerned Hi-Bub, but the focus on the book was nature and adventure.

The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake is another wonderful book by Sam Campbell that not only features animal and human antics and adventures in the Sanctuary but also the Grand Canyon. If you’ve enjoyed other books of the Living Forest series, you’ll also enjoy this book.

Living Forest

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Second Foundation (Foundation #3)

Second FoundationSecond Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The completion of the original Foundation trilogy sees the masterplan of Hari Sheldon righted by his secret safety valve. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov sees first the Mule and then the First Foundation itself looking for Sheldon’s second institution because they felt it was a threat, while the Second Foundation attempts to keep the plan going forward.

The book is divided between two novellas, the first and shortest concerns the Mule’s search for the Second Foundation so he can destroy it and rule the Galaxy. He sends two men, one “Converted” and one “Unconverted”, to find his enemies and then follows them to the knowledge of both. Yet the Second Foundation had planned a trap for the Mule, who had deduced that his “unconverted” man was a spy which was planned. The Second Foundation psychologically changes the Mule’s mind from conquest into plan rule so he can die naturally. The second story takes up two-thirds of the book and set 55 years after the first with the First Foundation in knowledge of the Second, which endangers Sheldon’s plan. A group of anti-Second Foundation group meets on Terminus with a young lady eavesdropping to figure out how do destroy their rivals, through the actions of this young lady their conspiracy advances and a war between the Foundation and Kalgan is ignited by happenstance. The young lady is helped to Trantor and later sends a message to her father, who is able to apparently destroy the Second Foundation on Terminus and Kalgan. Only for the leader of the Second Foundation to explain to an apprentice the plan for them to disappear from knowledge so they can keep Sheldon’s plan safe.

Unlike the previous book in the trilogy, this book was written comparably well including both plot and characters. With a telepathic element in both stories, this helped the overall narrative and its myriad of “plots within and upon plots” in both. The point-of-view characters while not the roundest of characters were still better than most in Foundation and Empire, though the second novella “Search by the Foundation” is as long as “The Mule” in the aforementioned previous installment Asimov’s writing was noticeably better in handling the length. Though there was a little tediousness to the second novella, it was mild compared to the previous book and frankly the story moved quickly.

Reading Second Foundation reminded me of reading Foundation and why this trilogy is considered a classic of science fiction. Though Isaac Asimov isn’t a perfect writer, his ideas are engaging and this series shows that perfectly especially in this final book of the trilogy.

The Wonder That Was India

IndiaThe Wonder That Was India by Arthur Llewellyn Basham
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Even though Indian civilization has interacted with other civilizations over the millennia, there is still a mystery and allure about its history, culture, and religions that still fascinates. The Wonder That Was India by A.L. Basham is a classic interpretation of Indian culture that for over 60 years has been an introduction to the unique culture that covered a subcontinent up until the arrival of the Muslims.

Basham ordered the book by discipline first with history—both pre-recorded and recorded—followed by government, society, everyday life, religion, the arts, and finally language and literature. This allowed for a generally reader friendly book as Basham covered the history of the subcontinent and then used that background to show the societal and cultural developments. Throughout the book are numerous illustrations, drawings, and maps that showed the richness of the civilization. However, being over 60 years old some of the information is out of date and that is not all of the imperfections that future readers should know about. Basham’s writing style is somewhat dry in places and reading becomes as slog. And the illustrations while being spread throughout the book are not easy to find when referenced in the text.

However, even with this downside The Wonder That Was India is still a great introduction into Indian history. A.L. Basham’s enthusiasm is very evident as well as his expertise on the subject. I definitely recommend this book for dedicated history readers, but issue a word of warning to general readers.

The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community

WHMcNeillThe Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by William Hardy McNeill
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Covering approximately 7000 years of civilization over the entire world in less than 900 pages for a general audience is a tall order. The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community by W.H. McNeill was written over 50 years ago that changed historical analysis by challenging the leading theories of the day and influenced the study of global history ever since.

McNeill divides his narrative in three parts: the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia to 500 B.C., the cultural balance of Eurasia from 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D., and the era of Western dominance since 1500 A.D. Every corner of the world is discusses, but the dominance is in the Eurasia “ecumene” that feature the interaction between for the four great civilizations of the Middle East (including Egypt), India, China, and finally Europe (starting in Greece before slowly moving West). Throughout McNeill highlights the interplay between cultural, political, and economical factors of each civilization as well as how they interacted and influenced each other.

The interaction and influences between different civilizations to McNeill’s narrative as he challenged the theory of the rise and fall of independent civilizations that did not influence one another. Because of the length of both of the book and time frame covered, McNeill did not go into a detail history instead focusing on trends and important historical moments that may or may not involve historical actors like Alexander or Genghis Khan. Yet information is outdated as new sources or archaeological evidence has changed our understanding of several civilizations over the last 50 years.

The Rise of the West takes a long time to read, however the information—though outdated in places—gives the reader a great overview of world history on every point of the globe. W.H. McNeill’s well-researched book is not a dry read and in giving a good background on numerous civilizations giving the reader a solid foundation if they ever decide to go more in-depth on any civilization.

Moose Country (Living Forest #6)

Campbell06Moose Country: Living Forest Series Volume 6 by Sam Campbell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some adventures are great with a small group and some with a large, yet no matter the size of the group it’s the experience that means more than anything. Moose Country by Sam Campbell is the sixth book so his Living Forest series, as the author details happenings around the Sanctuary of Wegimind as well as a return journey to Sanctuary Lake with numerous friends both longtime and new in learning about the ways of the moose in the Canadian lake country.

Beginning the winter of 1947, Sam and Giny Campbell are taking time away from the lecture circuit and living in the town close to their home to allow Sam to focus on writing. However that doesn’t stop Sam and others from have misadventures nor witnessing interesting animal behavior to convince the couple—well Sam—to remake their Sanctuary cabin to live in all weather. Unfortunately the Campbells find their newly installed insulation being taken out by their island squirrels and their chimney inhabited by chimney swifts, which results in some uncomfortable living for weeks as they attempt to relocate the squirrels who keep on coming back to the island and not having a fire in the cold spring nights. But the Campbells keep their spirits up as they plan to return to Sanctuary Lake, that they visited in A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too, by themselves and much to the disappoint of Hi-Bub. But things dramatically change over the course of a few weeks, first the squirrels are successful relocated in an abandoned logging village and impending move Hi-Bub’s family results in them joining the Campbells for their return to Canada. The last half of the book details the week’s long trip to and stay at Sanctuary Lake with all the adventures associated around it.

This book is just a page short of the previous installments page count at 235. Yet as my recap of the book above shows Campbell packs a lot of stuff in that space, so much so I can’t really give a proper recap of entire book. The latter part of the book sees the return of Sandy and more adventures that include the family of Ray, Marge, and June who surprise visit the Campbell’s and Hi-Bub’s family at Sanctuary Lake with their newest friend, French-Canadian voyageur Ancient who’s insights into the nature of the moose comes in handy. Though Campbell is philosophical, there is not much of it as in previous books.

Moose Country continues Sam Campbell’s fine work emphasizing the wonder of nature and the uniqueness of animals in the wild. Though half the book is a natural travelogue towards a remote Canadian lake and the wildlife around it, the wonder of nature is brought through in Campbell’s prose that will make it enjoy this book just as you did previous ones.

Living Forest

Games of State (Op-Center #3)

Games of StateGames of State by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The demons of hate are reemerging in the newly united Germany and finding root in various countries around the world linked through the shadowy recesses of the Internet and fueled by a businessman looking both for profit and triumph of bigotry, yet Op-Center must find a way to prevent chaos from exploding around the world. Games of State is the third installment of Op-Center that bears the name of its creator Tom Clancy, yet is written by Jeff Rovin. From Germany to the streets of the U.S. to southern France, the action and thrill are palpable as the race to prevent the rise of a new wave of hate.

Gerard Dominique, a French billionaire financier and computer game mogul, is uniting hate groups throughout Europe and the United States to destabilize numerous countries and allow France to once again lead Europe. Part of his plan is to use hate filled video games downloaded onto the Internet and well time hate crimes in various locations to bring about political and societal chaos. Yet the unplanned actions of other hate leaders resulting in a kidnapped young American woman needing to be rescued, the hate-filled enticement towards the son of Op-Center’s Striker team leader over the Internet, the unexpected meeting of Op-Center head Paul Hood with his former fiancée now a Dominique employee, and Dominique’s own hubris results in his plans failing to materialize.

Released in 1996, Games of State brought together many political and cultural threads to create the backdrop of very riveting political thriller with action-packed sequences as well. However well the set up and the ideas were, the use of formulaic tropes that are standard in one-hour TV dramas and paperbacks undermined the potential of a book. What was most disheartening was the ease in which I was able to see which newly introduced characters would result in instantly being important in a 100 or 200 pages just when they were needed, these and other plot twists decreases the enjoyment of the book. Though one can argue that my complaints are to be expected in this type of book, I would argue that one doesn’t mind if the tropes are written well.

Games of State had an intriguing plot idea, but was undermined by poor writing decisions that turned what could have been a good page-turner into an okay read. Though the book’s execution was poor, it was a better read than the previous Op-Center installment, Mirror Image, even with my rating being the same for the both of them.

Op-Center Series

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld #38, Tiffany Aching #4)

Aching4I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Anti-witch feelings are on the rise and rumors of old women being burned are in the air, unfortunately for Tiffany Aching she’s finding the Chalk getting infected and it could be her fault. I Shall Wear Midnight is the 38th book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the fourth to feature the young witch Tiffany Aching, who is finding out that being a witch-in-training and being on her own are two different things entirely especially when the Cunning Man is after her.

Now 16 years old, Tiffany is now the witch of the Chalk doing everything that needs to be done from tending the Baron to looking after newest of babes. Then things seem to start to go wrong from a father assaulting his daughter to the old Baron dying in front of Tiffany and the nurse accusing her of killing him. Events transpire that Tiffany attempts to persevere through but she senses something is up, especially on her way to Ankh-Morpork when she meets a “man” that the Feegles fall through. Thanks to the Feegles, Tiffany spends a night in jail but learns witches all around are feeling pressure. Upon her return to the Chalk, Roland attempts to take out the Feegle’s mound and later has Tiffany detained but the young witch realizes that Roland’s fiancé is hiding a secret—she’s using magic—and confronts her getting the spell broken. As things return to normal in the Chalk, Tiffany must gear up to face the Cunning Man, a ghost of a witch hunter who’s hatred is infectious, even while attending a funeral and preparing for the new Baron’s wedding as senior witches gather and watch.

Building upon the previous three books to feature Tiffany, Pratchett continued the character’s growth by showing her face the everyday humdrum of the profession as the witch not a trainee, especially when something vicious shows up. Unlike previous books, the Feegles are more important minor characters than major secondary ones which focuses the book on Tiffany alone with her dealing with everything and everyone. Tiffany’s interactions with Carrot and Angua in Ankh-Morpork and the reappearance of Eskarina Smith, whose time traveling ability comes in handy in “assisting” Tiffany, just added to the quality of the book and connected various subseries together than just the same world.

I Shall Wear Midnight is a delightful return to the Disc and a somewhat return to form for Pratchett with a solid story that does not meander like some of the previous books of the series. Although a first time reader might want to get one of the earlier Aching books to understand some of what’s going on, any long-time fan will love this book.

Discworld