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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interlude - Returning June 7th

I'll be taking a break to enjoy the gorgeous summer weather.

I'll be returning on June 7th with new reviews.

Currently Reading:
Math for Mystics: From the Fibonacci sequence to Luna's Labyrinth to the Golden Section and Other Secrets of Sacred Geometry - Renna Shesso
Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths - Nancy Marie Brown
Celtic Spirituality - Oliver Davies

Currently Listening:
Assassin's Apprentic - Robin Hobb
Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries - W. Y. Evans-Wentz

Originally written in 1911, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz continues to be one of the best studies of the topic to this day. It is split into four sections, each of which contains detailed presentation of beliefs or detailed analysis of those topics.

The Living Fairy Faith contains, which was at the time, current information pertaining to Celtic peoples and fairies. The first chapter describes the environment of the various Celtic areas: Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Evans-Wentz conjectures that the environment, such as hills and fog, has a strong influence on the people's beliefs. The second chapter contains over 180 pages worth of personal testimony from living people of their personal or related encounters with various types of fairies. These include such creatures as dwarves, fee, elves, changlings, picksies, the Corrigan, and many more. Readers themselves may start drawing parallels between many of these testimonies before they even get to the portion where the author makes his own. The third chapter the author takes an anthropological approach in analyzing the data by comparing it to beliefs and practices found all around the world, including Australia, Japan, North America, and many others.

The Recorded Fairy-Faith contains information about fairies in traditional folklore. One chapter is devoted solely to Tuatha de Danaan, The People of Dana, or sometimes called Sidhe. It discusses the tradition as it is recorded, including their home, their lifestyle, their magical abilities, and how they appear to mortals. Brythonic tradition, better known to most people as King Arthur and his knights, has a whole chapter to itself, as well. It also discusses the Otherworld and the concept of Re-birth.

The Cult of Gods, Spirits, Fairies, and the Dead contains information from archaeology around the world, Paganism in Celtic countries, and the influence Celtic tradition had on Christianity, especially in the Celtic region. It discusses the importance of bodies of water, trees, and the dead.

Modern Science and the Fairy-Faith and Conclusions is the final portion. The reader should keep in mind that the scientific section is outdated due to the books original publishing date; however, it can be helpful in understanding the information. The last chapter is an analysis of fairies, the dead, and the nature worship of the Celtic peoples.

With extensive first-hand accounts about fairies and detailed analysis of folklore and tradition, this deserves a place on the shelf of anybody who wants to understand Fairies in the Celtic tradition.

Recommended Reads:
Banshee - Patricia Lysaght
The Complete Irish Mythology - Lady Gregory

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Nightwing: Traps and Trapezes - Kyle Higgins

When the circus Dick grew up in come into town, he decides to stop by and catch up with the gang. What was supposed to be a brief reunion turns into a long-term commitment when the Ring Master passes away and bequeaths the circus to him.

After being attacked by an assassin who goes by the name of Saiko, leaving Gotham doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Unfortunately, it seems like 'running away' with the circus won't fix his problems this time. In Traps and Trapezes Dick's loyalty and sense of self is challenged as he tries to find his place among the circus folk of his childhood and establish himself as their leader. Most of the members seem pleased to have a Grayson among them, but some aren't and they have no trouble showing it.

Saiko teams up with somebody among the crew to bring the big top crashing down. Will this be a repeat from his tragic childhood or will Nightwing be able to save the innocents?

Kyle Higgin's does a fantastic job making sure this collection stands on its own. While reading the New 52 Batman Owls series may add to the experience, it's not necessary in order to enjoy this graphic novel. With the help of fabulous artists like Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer, Nightwing's past comes to light, as he delves deeper into danger.

Books related to this series:
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
Batman: Court of Owls
Batman: Night of Owls

Friday, May 24, 2013

Unmasqued - Colette Gale

Loosely based off of the novel, Colette Gale's Unmasqued: An Erotic Novel of The Phantom of The Opera is a bit of fan-fiction for those who wanted to see Christine end up with Erik instead of Raoul. As one would guess from the subtitle, this novel has a high level of sexual content.

Christine DaaƩ has been living at the Opera house since she was a young child due to her father's death. The Phantom has haunted the Opera house for years and his crimes include killing a man. Yet his fascination with Christine leads him to take her under his wing and train her voice in secret. After the Oprah diva walks off the set one day, Christine is given the chance to prove her skill. Although she is shy at first, she soon adjusts to being a budding star.

That isn't the main plot of this particular piece, though. This piece is concerned with Christine's budding sexuality, which she explores with Erik in the hidden chambers beneath the Oprah house. Their exploration includes a number of creative uses of musical instruments and other tools found about the Oprah house. The book also has many scenes with Madame Giry and many other characters.

The kidnapping is still a integral part of the plot in this piece, but it is committed by a different character than the original or the other many remakes. Readers should also be warned that non-consensual sexual activity occurs in Part II of the novel during her captivity.

One thing I liked about this is the author's twisting of events to make Erik, the Phantom, a victim of circumstances, rather than the perpetrator. For those who enjoy erotica and want to explore "what if" this will be an entertaining read.

Similar Reads:
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty - Anne Rice

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nightwing: Freefall - Peter Tomasi

Dick Grayson has always taken to the skies like a bird. He learned to leap from one trapeze to another when he performed with his parents as a circus performer. Now he's taken on a new Freefall hobby: sky diving.

In pursuit of Talia al Ghul, Raz al Ghul's daughter, Dick decides to move into Manhattan. With a little help from some other friends, he's able to set up his new lair, like Powergirl, Flash, and Superman. During watches as Nightwing, he manages to get a little help from Robin along the way, as well.

He discovers that Talia has teamed up with Dr. Creighton Kendall. And the experiments they have created could pose serious threat to everybody in Manhattan and to the rest of the world.

I feel that this could have been a better story than it was. I saw this described by another reviewer as 'forgettable' and I tend to agree.

Monday, May 20, 2013

You'll Know at the Finish Line - Joe Desena, Andy Weinberg

You haven't heard of them. There are many athletes out there who train and go do multiple races. For fun. There's no glory involved (that's why you haven't heard of them).

Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg are two such people. They both had gone on those 100 mile races and completed them. After a race one day they got to talking about how boring the races had gotten. It wasn't that they weren't challenging. But it was always the same things: running, swimming, biking. They just always knew what was coming. With the help of five more people, they came up with The Death Race. A 48 hour race meant to break people down both physically and mentally. And from that race was born The Spartan Race. This race comes in 3 varieties: Sprint (3 miles), Super (8 miles), and Beast (10-12 miles). This isn't just a regular run, though. If you participate in any of these you are bound to encounter fire, rope climbs, gladiators, mud, and even barbed wire.

Altogether the seven who came up with this amazing challenge are called The Founding Few. Joe Desena and Andy Weinberg, two of the founders, took the time to put together an ebook to convince you that obstacle racing is the sport for you. You'll Know at the Finish Line is a delve into the minds of the founders and the many people who take on the Spartan Race. Inspirational stories told from the point of view of the founders and the racers mingle between explanations and training exercises that will help prepare you, the reader, to take it on.

Don't think you can do it? You can sign up for Workout of the Day (WOD) for training guidance and Food of the Day (FOD) for recipes and nutritional guidance. The book itself also contains a training program that will get you ready for the Sprint in 8 weeks, 12 weeks for the Super, and 15 weeks for the Beast. Still not ready? See if you can get a buddy to keep you motivated as a nutrition or workout partner.

People as young as age 14 and as old as 72 have pushed themselves to finish the Spartan Races. People with injuries, chronic illness, and even broken bones have gotten through this grueling obstacle course by themselves (and some with a bit of help from their fellow Spartans).

Obstacle Race Sites:
Spartan Race
Death Race

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

While everybody else suggested that crime rates had to due with the amount of police, the types of punishment, and the economy. Levitt had another theory about why crime rates had decreased. Abortion. His theory raised a huge amount of ire. But is he right? Maybe.

In Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner ponder the hidden possibilities of how and why things are the way they are.

What motivates people to cheat on tests and in sports? How can you prove if somebody is cheating?

Would you do better to sell your house? Or will a real estate agent do better for you?

Why do drug dealers live in such had areas if they make such great money?

Do names really influence how well a child does later in life? Does reading to a child every night influence their education once they reach elementary school? Does the school a child attends make a difference in his test scores?

Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions Levitt comes to, it does make one ponder about the world.

Recommended Reads:
The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives - Leonard Mlodinow
The Myth of Choice - Kent Greenfield

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection - Gail Simone

Barbara Gordon had a good life with her father in Gotham City. When crime hit too close to home, she decided to take to the streets as Batgirl to combat it. She expected that one day her vigilantism would land her in a tight spot, but it was actually her father's position as Commissioner that ended her career when Joker decides to deliver The Killing Joke. After living several years bound to a wheelchair, Bruce Wayne paid for a cure to her ailment. Now she's determined to get back to fighting crime, but she'll have to face The Darkest Reflection of herself.

To ensure her privacy, Barbara chooses to move in with a roommate. At night she ventures out as Batgirl, fighting thugs and protecting innocent victims. Even with the warning from Nightwing and Batman, she insists on her ability to complete the task. With each thug she puts away, she gains more confidence. Until she meets Mirror. Mirror reveals her greatest fear and puts Barbara Gordon against her greatest fear and Batgirl to the test of tactics. But he's not the only new kid bent on making Gotham change. A new villain named Grettel comes onto the scene spreading mayhem across Gotham with her ability to control the minds of men.

I have to say I am one of those fans who was disappointed to see "Oracle" disappear in favor of giving back "Batgirl". In the New 52 series, her smarts for research seem to have remained intact. Her trepidation when it comes to getting back into battling crime after being bound to her wheelchair for several years was well-done. I also liked the realism in her physical abilities suffering for her being unable to use her legs for so long. Still, there was just something about the overall feel of the book that I didn't like. It's a good start for a reboot and I am open to seeing what the authors come up with next.

Books in the series:
Batgirl: Knightfall Descends

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fire in the Head - Tom Cowan

Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit by Tom Cowan is a comparative analysis of Celtic mythos with Shamanism found worldwide.

In the introduction the author establishes the definition of "Shamanism" and "Celts" in order for the reader to best understand how he is handling the topic. The next chapters cover a variety of topics, such as the roles of fairies, music, power objects, heroes, other worlds, and journeys.

Some topics are covered in detail, like the King Arthur stories, but the rest of the topics seem to be mostly a glossing. It seemed to me that more often than not the author ran out of things to say about the Celtic mythology or practices, so he just fell back on making comparisons to other Shaman traditions from around the world.

I have read a lot of books on Shamanism, so much of that material was familiar to me. I only consider myself briefly versed in Celtic mythology, yet I was disappointed with what little material about the tradition was actually contained in the pages. For those who are unfamiliar with both of these topics, this would probably be an excellent read; however, for those who are familiar with both of these topics, this isn't worthwhile.

Recommended Reads:
The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evans-Wentz
Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy - Mircea Eliade

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Well of Darkness - Randall Garrett, Vicki Ann Heydron

The Well of Darkness Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron is the fourth novel in a seven part series.

Ricardo is an aging professor who is nearing the end of his career. After a bizarre accident, Ricardo finds himself in the body of another man on a desert planet. While the body is strong and young, he soon realizes he inhabits the body of a thief, Markesset, who is on the run from the law. Along the way he gains a giant cat companion named, Keeshah, and partners up with several other people along the way. Ricardo doesn't care for his name, and so decides to go by the name Rikardon.

With possession of the Ra'ira, Rikardon and his companion Tarani attempt escape from their enemies with the assistance of his giant cat and her bird companion. When Keeshah's mating instincts prove to overpower his loyalty for Rikardon, they are left abandoned in the middle of the desert for their enemies. Now Rikardon and Tarani must flee across the merciless desert on their own. If they can't escape from their enemies, they risk the Ra'ira, their lives, and perhaps the entire world. Rikardon and Tarani's relationship is taken a step further along their journey. And Tarani loses one of her closest companions, though she gains another.

While the series is full of tropes, but I still enjoy reading it. It's a great escape into an alternative world.

Books in the series:
The Gandalara Cycle I: The Steel of Raithskar, The Glass of Dyskornis, The Bronze of Eddarta
The Gandalara Cycle II: The Well of Darkness, The Search for Ka, Return to Eddarta
The River Wall

Recommended Reads:
Dune - Frank Herbert
Tarnsman of Gor - John Norman
Shaman's Crossing - Robin Hobb

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr. Jekyll is a well-mannered man with a good reputation around town. That is until people notice the unpleasant Mr. Hyde is his acquaintance. This unpleasant man has beaten children, damaged property, and participated in many other despicable activities.

Dr. Jekyll's lawyer becomes suspicious when he notes the changes made to the will recently, giving all of his property to Mr. Hyde in the event of his death...or his disappearance. When one of Dr. Jekyll's servants frantically calls upon the lawyer's help, he knows he has to get to the bottom of it. What he discovers is unexpected and terrifying.

Robert Louis Stevenson explores the duality of the human mind in his novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Recommended Reading:
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Recommended Viewing:
Jekyll (BBC)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Batwoman: To Drown the World - J.H. WIlliams III, W. Haden Blackman

J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman come together with a crew of talented artists to offer Batwoman: To Drown the World.

While Kate continues her relationship with Chase during her off time, she continues in her attempt to find the missing children who were kidnapped by La Llorona as Batwoman. Chase's assignment to the cases associated with La Llorona give Batwoman a leg up on her search.

Batwoman's alliance with a secret agency gives her access to new weapons and armor, as well as access to more information on the kidnapped children and their abductor. When the agency threatens harm to Chase, Batwoman decides it's time to change the rules.

More monsters and nightmares come to life as Batwoman fights her way to the ringleader of the entire operation. And she even teams up with one of her former enemies to get to her goal.

While Kate is busy with her own life, her father wrestles with his guilt and keeps vigil over her cousin who is in a coma after a mission went wrong.

Overall, I enjoyed the story in this one. The one thing I'm a little uncertain of is the amount of supernatural elements that are incorporated into the main plot. Maybe it will all become clear, but I'm worried that the supernatural element will get out of hand.

Other Books in the Series:
Batwoman: Elegy
Batwoman: Hydrology
World's Finest

Monday, May 6, 2013

With All My Soul - Rachel Vincent

With All My Soul by Rachel Vincent is the finale installation of the Soul Screamers series.

Kaylee Cavanaugh had it bad enough when she was living with her stuck-up cousin because her mother died and her dad ran off. It got even worse when she hit puberty and stumbled upon her Banshee powers without anybody's guidance. It's been nothing but trouble since she discovered her abilities. A living nightmare trying to steal her boyfriend, her boyfriend getting addicted to a drug from the Netherworld, and Hellions coming after her, her friends, and family. Her High School has been under constant attack from evil forces. Despite her best efforts, friends and family have been dying all around her. Kaylee's had enough.

In the stunning conclusion, Kaylee gathers her allies in an attempt to get back at Avari and all of the others who continue to make her life a living hell. She even manages to get the adults in her life, her father, her uncle, and Harmony in on the plan. Unfortunately, they're caught in a trap and now she and her friends are left without the guidance of the more experienced adults. After several failed attempts at rescue, Kaylee's determined that she's the only one who can make the sacrifice and save her friends and family. Can Kaylee really give up her soul to save those she loves?

In the dedication page, Vincent promises readers a happy ending for Kaylee I inwardly groaned having so often been let down when authors twist their plots into unconvincing shapes to get that happy ending. I was amazed at how well Vincent navigated a labyrinth of possibilities to make the ending believable. I was satisfied with this as an individual volume, and even happier with it as an ending to this fabulous series.

Books in the series:
Soul Screamers: My Soul to Lose, My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save
Soul Screamers: My Soul to Keep, My Soul to Steal, Reaper
Soul Screamers: If I Die, Never to Sleep, Before I Wake

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Saint George and the Dragon - Margaret Hodges

Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges is a retelling of the tale found in Spenser's The Faerie Queen.

The story first explains where the Red Cross Knight came from and soon reveals his true identity. On his travels, he discovers his destiny is to free the land of the dragon who terrorizes the people. The writing details the battle between Saint George and the dragon in some detail. After several attempts, the knight is finally successful and receives his reward.

The layout of the book is typical of a children's book with the text on one side and a full-color illustration to accompany on the opposite page. Aside from the large illustrations being gorgeous, the text is surrounded by color borders with lovely depictions of fairies, angels, flowers, and patterns. Some parents have expressed concern over the nude fairies, but there are no details, just the outlines of their bodies.

Children with imagination will find this tale of valor and determination fascinating.

Source Material:
Spenser's The Faerie Queen

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sisterhood of Dune - Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Frank Herbert's original Dune Trilogy is widely considered a classic in the eyes of the science-fiction community. It has spawned a franchise complete with graphic novels, television mini-series, movies, and even a largely successful spin-off series. Brian Herbert found his father's notes and half-finished works and decided to have them published. He later co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson to write prequels to the Dune Trilogy.

Sisterhood of Dune is one of the newest additions to the prequels. Two of the main plots follow the creation of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood and the Mentat School. Another follows the blood feud between House Atreides and House Harkonnen after the Butlerian Jihad against the Thinking Machines. It also follows the Emperor and his House.

I've read a few books written by Anderson in the Star Wars series, so I had an idea of what to expect. Anderson has a good handle on how to weave multiple plot lines so that they come to a logical conclusion at the end. This book had a major flaw, though: Each of the individual plot lines weren't strong enough on their own and the final conclusion isn't much better. I think I was expecting more insight into the Bene Gesserit school with a title of Sisterhood of Dune.

Arrakis has a well-established culture from the original series. While Vorian and Griffin are on Arrakis the natives utilize words like "blood" that jarred me straight out of the novel. Natives use the word "water". There were several other uses of vocabulary that would throw me out of the book and back into my living room.

I enjoyed previous books by this team like Paul of Dune and Winds of Dune, so I was disappointed to find I didn't care for this one as much. The characters were decent, though not all that interesting. And the plots were okay, but not compelling. It was an okay read, and that's about it.

Source Material:
Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune - Frank Herbert

Recommended Reads:
Paul of Dune - Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Winds of Dune - Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Recommended Viewing:
Dune (mini-series)
Children of Dune (mini-series)