The Bluebirds and Their Neighbors is the first of four volumes of Neil Wayne Northey’s Old Homestead series. A quick and pleasant children’s book that follows the lives of numerous animals, but mostly the titular Bluebird family, around the Old Homestead that will provide enjoyment to young children either reading on their own or being read to by their parents. From the outset this book makes it clear that is coming from a Christian perspective and uses that to make comparisons for the traits animals show to that of humans in their sinful nature. However given that this book was first published in 1930, it should not be surprising and should not deter some from reading this.
Silver Thread, Hammer Ring by Gary A. Braunbeck
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The legendary John Henry battles the steam-drill driven by a mythical creature as part of a rivalry between two other legendary individuals in a world in which alternate history and myth combine. The night before his hammers battle a steam-drill driven by a bullheaded man, John Henry recounts the events that led him to the railroad construction company owned by Mr. Daedalus in the Confederate States of Mexico, led by President John Brown. After proving himself to the foreman Captain Tommy, Henry becomes the crew’s best worker until one day a Mr. Minos and his bullheaded assistant block the tunnel and demand the crew use their steam-drill then kill one of Henry’s co-workers. Henry challenges the machine and later meets with Mr. Daedalus who relates that Mr. Minos and he were once partners but they had a falling out as Minos only wanted money and Daedalus wanted to create for everyone. Years later, Daedalus’ son Icarus and Minos’ son, Perdix, got into a fight and Icarus beheaded Perdix but Minos caught him and chained him to the Gates of Hell that Daedalus had constructed. Incidentally the path Henry will be tunneling will lead him to said Gates and Daedalus asks him to rescue his son. Henry agrees and the next day using hammers that Daedalus says is loaned by a Mr. Thor hammers his way to the Gates of Hell, releases Icarus, and after they escape Henry returns to the contest and bests the bullheaded man and the drill.
Besides the earlier story of Odysseus, this is one of the most fantastical stories of the collection so far. The intertwining of alternate history, Greek myth, American folklore, and other bits of world mythology are expertly combined to create a great story that was slightly ruined by the somewhat out of nowhere happy ending dealing with Henry’s dead younger brother who turns up alive.
Beneath the surface of Mars human mine gases that will eventually lead to the terraforming and colonization of the red planet, but they have been lied to. Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a dystopian young adult novel following a member of the lowest caste in humanities future attempting to position himself within the highest caste to lead a future rebellion for the betterment of all.
Darrow, a member of the lowly Reds, within days sees the end of his dreams of family and success in mining in his colonial town underneath the surface of Mars and is ready to die only to be dug up and shown the surface of Mars full of cities and vegetation that was said to be centuries away. Feeling betrayed by his society not only for the injustice against himself but his people as well, Darrow agrees to undergo numerous surgeries to appear as a member of the highest caste in society, the Golds. Through training and education he is able to pass the entrance exam of The Institute of Mars where young people of the caste compete to prove their potential as leaders so they can govern the Society in the future. Darrow makes friends only on the first night is forced to kill one or be killed himself in The Institute’s first test. What follows for the rest of the book is not only Darrow but every Gold at The Institute learning what it means to rule the Society that has lasted for centuries, but through he makes mistakes Darrow learns and is able to become a leader amongst the students and eventually is able to emerge as the competition’s victor in an unorthodox manner especially as outside forces attempt to have another student win for personal pride.
After waiting years to read this book, it was about 40% into the book that I realized that Red Rising was essentially “The Hunger Games in space” with elements of Divergent and other young adult dystopian series thrown in for good measure by the time I finished. I realize that authors borrow elements from other authors, but Brown rips off of The Hunger Games is so blatantly bad that it hurt. Frankly the mixture of so many things from other series could have worked if they were written well, but in this book it wasn’t. On top of that, what Darrow goes through to appear as a Gold seems to be stretching credibility especially since the Society’s “Quality Control” performs tests on him, including blood which has DNA that should show he wasn’t born a Gold. Though the action in the book was the best feature, the plot just didn’t live up to the hype especially after realizing how much is borrowed and not written in an interesting way from a new angle.
Red Rising might be enjoyed by numerous readers, but I’m not one of them and frankly while I got through the book I’m not interested in seeing what happens next. So I’m selling this book and the other two books in the first trilogy to a friend who is really into young adult dystopia and hope he enjoys it more than myself.
The mysteries surrounding Stonehenge have filled countless books, but what if there were other ancient megaliths just like it around the world? When Time Began is the fifth book by Zecharia Sitchin’s of his The Earth Chronicles examining the correlations between the calendars from cultures around the world and how they all appear to be related to beginning around the same time period, culminating in Mankind entering its first “New Age”.
Sitchin began with a recounting of “the beginning of time” according to his research when Nibiru entered the solar system then later when the Anunnaki arrived on Earth and finally after the Deluge. Then focused turned to Stonehenge, its construction and astronomical alignments along with when they occurred. He then transitioned to showing other circular astronomical designs from around the world, beginning in Sumer but also in the Americas before turning his attention to their significance to the politics of the Anunnaki especially concerning the numerous separate exiles of Thoth and his brother Marduk/Ra. Building off the his work in The Wars of Gods and Men and The Lost Realms, Sitchin explains that the events leading up to the end of the Sumerians were caused not only by the politics but astronomy and religion which were one and the same. And the aftermath was not only the end of the Sumerians, but also that of a “unified” religion and the birth of national deities.
Unlike the previous books, Sitchin mixed his usual academic approach at the beginning of his books with his own theories and explanations creating a different feel this book compared to his others. Another aspect is that this book felt more of a “continuation” of the two previous mentioned books as Sitchin adds more evidence for this theory on the colonization of the Americas as well as give more details leading to and the aftermath of fall of Sumer. Yet this last aspect is where the flaws of the book are the most pronounced as, even without an added quarter-century of archaeological discoveries the errors are hard not to miss take notice of with or without an open mind.
The information and theories proposed in When Time Began have stuck with me since I first read it and caused me to misremember things in other books. Zecharia Sitchin continued to build his theory on the foundations of his previous books, but unlike them the errors were a little harder to ignore in this particular installment. If you have read his previous volumes by all means read this one as well, however be warned that some conjectures and theories are simply incorrect unlike others that can be reasonably debated.
Kings’ Quest by Mickey Zucker Reichert
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
King Harald Sigurdhson, aka Hardrada, suddenly finds himself waking up from death not in Valhalla but in a black misty wasteland. While attempting to figure out what it going on, the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok appears and after some standard “who are” back and forth Ragnar tells Harald he feels divinely inspired to solve their predicament by killing Hel. Intrigued Harald wonders how it’ll work when Loki appears and assures them with an oath that killing Hel would get them to Valhalla. The two warriors make their way through Hel’s domain before confronting the goddess herself, only for Harald to prevent Ragnar from striking Hel when I realized that Loki is to lead the forces attacking Valhalla. Hel reveals that she keeps the dead docile so they don’t attack Valhalla and tells the two kings to take the boat of the dead to Valhalla forcing Loki to take centuries build another especially since she won’t help him this time. Overall a very enjoyable story, even with a few anachronistic words (chiefly the Norse wouldn’t have called themselves Vikings) it doesn’t diminish a great combine take on Norse mythology and history.
Two-Fisted Tales of St. Nick by Kevin T. Stein and Robert Weinberg
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The story of the real Saint Nicholas is a little more brutal than the clean version we know today. Told from the memory of his sparring partner Hammer, we learn that Nicholas was a boxer who allowed a poorer and lower-class Hammer to beat on him in their sparring sessions until Hammer realized that he was taking out his frustrations on the innocent Nicholas. Afterwards the two became friends and trained together and Nicholas even helped Hammer start his own gym. One night they passed an old man’s house and overheard the man telling his daughters that he didn’t have enough money for dowries and would have to sell one of them into slavery. Nicholas decided to help the man out by getting money through a challenge series of boxing matches. After winning relatively two easy bouts, Nicholas places his winnings in the old man’s house. Then Nicholas faces the main attraction in ‘the Mangler’ and gets beaten to a pulp but doesn’t quiet which eventually forces ‘the Mangler’ to quit because Nicholas wouldn’t. On Nicholas’ final trip into the old man’s house, he’s discovered by the man’s youngest daughter who eventually becomes his wife. Hammer then ends his story by saying that because of Nicholas’ gift giving he decided to do the same with his family though he doesn’t think it’ll last after he dies. Overall this was a nice angle on the traditional story; however my biggest problem was the style of the delivery than the plot itself.
A mysterious area at sea just off the coast of paradise, a missing advanced Navy submarine, and a dashing Air Force pilot that loves the sea and women just seems like adventure. Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler was the sixth Dirk Pitt book published, but was the first story written by Cussler featuring Pitt that he finally relented in having published and as all the classic elements that signify a book in the series.
A new advanced Navy submarine is taking its shakedown cruise when its commander decides to investigate an anomaly of both weather and sea floor, the sub disappears and resulting search finds nothing. Six months later, Dirk Pitt is on vacation in he spots a communication capsule from the missing submarine and after delivering it to Naval base is seconded from NUMA to 101st Salvage Fleet and learns of titular Pacific Vortex in which 38 ships have disappeared. Bringing both a fresh expression and information he’s learned from a local native Hawaiian, Pitt deduces that everyone has searched in the wrong area and a potentially lost island might be near where the ships are. In the resulting search, Pitt and the Navy find the sub but can’t begin salvaging because they are attacked forcing them to retreat. The attack continues on Oahu as the daughter of the admiral heading the 101st is kidnapped and Pitt almost murdered by the leader of the mysterious group. The Pentagon decides to strike the area with missiles to destroy not only the sub but any threat from the area in the future, but Pitt mounts a rescue mission for the admiral’s daughter and the sub before the strike. Unfortunately his plan fails, but luck allows both the rescue of the sub and admiral’s daughter to workout but not without a sacrifice on Pitt’s part.
Overall this is a quick paced book that keeps the reader engaged with its action and doesn’t slow down even when exposition occurs in the text. While Pitt himself is fleshed out, other characters are for the most part two-dimensional though given the type of book this is. Obviously there are a lot of clichés throughout the text, but even Cussler is smart enough to flip some on their head especially when book’s antagonist chides Pitt for thinking he can trick him into telling him his evil plan. The classic car and legendary location that connects to the sinister plot are the primary motifs that this series is known for that make major appearances showing that from the beginning were always there. The biggest flaw is that given what occurs later in the series about events taking place in this book, there is a major plot hole.
Pacific Vortex! is good adventure story that has shades of James Bond, but is very much something completely different. This first adventure of Clive Cussler’s character Dirk Pitt, it does not have to be read first or sixth but whenever you decide to if you’re reading any books in the series. If you’re into adventure, thrills, and quick books to read this is one to consider.