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Posts Tagged ‘2015 Book Review’

Travels With Charley – In Search Of America – book review
Today’s review is for one of John Steinbeck’s later works, “Travels With Charley” (1962©).  The book is a “supposedly” non-fiction relating of a road trip Steinbeck made around the continental United States (about 10,000 miles).  Roughly, the trip is from his home in New York, up to Maine, across the northern states to Seattle, down through California, back east to New Orleans (via Texas), then up the Eastern seaboard back to his home.  Steinbeck says the trip is to allow him to get back in touch with the common American whom Steinbeck feels he based much of his writing on.  Having lost “touch” with his roots, Steinbeck seeks to rediscover America by seeing it again with his own eyes.  Steinbeck makes the trip in a truck with a custom built camper shell.  The truck is named “Rocinante” –  for the horse ridden by Don Quixote.
Although quite a number of books touch me (as a reader), there are relatively few which seem to strike an internal chord.  I am not a musician, so forgive me if I am misusing the term “chord”, but it is more than a single note.   It is a combination of notes which creates their own harmony.  This book is one of those few for me.  It is hard for me to adequately put into words the effect this book had except to say I consistently felt Steinbeck was writing it just to let me know I am not alone in how I feel about certain things.  From his description of his perpetual wanderlust, to his affection for his pet dog (Charley), to his observations about America – its history and its people – its cities and our civilization – I just felt a powerful bond of kinship with Steinbeck.
In the martial arts, it is frequently said that when the student is ready, the teacher will find him.  I think it ironic for me to “discover” this work as I turn sixty (“ish”) and that I feel its call to me to continue chasing my own windmills.  “On, Rocinante!!”  I cannot promise you this book will touch you as powerfully as it did me, but my final recommendation is Highly Recommended Book / Reading.
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On This Day In:
2014 Changing Frequently
2013 Trifles
2012 Simple, Ordinary And Wonderous
2011 Humane Writers

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Casca #6: The Persian – book review
This volume is number six in the “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary” book series.  “Casca #6: The Persian” (1982©) was written by Barry Sadler.  For those of you who haven’t read my other reviews, Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus of Nazareth while he was being crucified.  Just before dying, Jesus tells Casca that he is happy in his role and that he will remain the same until they meet again.  Each volume tells some of Casca’s life over the last two thousand years as he awaits the second coming of Jesus.
Because Casca doesn’t age, every 20 or 30 years he must travel to avoid questions about why he doesn’t seem to get older.  In a prior volume (number 3), Casca was in China.  In this, he is returning to the West and pauses to deliver a message from the emperor of China to the King of the Persians warning of impending attacks from the Huns.  Casca falls into service for the King (Shapur II) and this covers the few years of that service.
This episode has two interesting sub-stories (for me).  The first involves a re-enactment of a battle tactic Casca first saw in China.  As the enemy advances, you have a line of “volunteers” step forward and cut their throats in front of the enemy.  This is said to surprise and then terrify the Hun warriors.  They turn to flee and are then defeated in detail as they try to retreat / run away.  Casca relates this tactic to Shapur who decides he wants to try it and see if it works.  He sends Casca out with an under-manned force, but with several times the number of “volunteers” as the Chinese used.  The tactic works again and Casca is able to defeat the Huns even though out-numbered by several times his own force.
The second sub-story is about Casca’s “curse”.  Because he cannot be killed, each volume has a point where the miracle / curse must be demonstrated.  In prior stories, Casca has been drowned, buried alive, poisoned, fed to crabs and had his heart cut out and one hand completely cut off.  In this episode, the king judges Casca to have become too popular with the army so he decides to trump up some charges of treason and then have Casca burned alive.  Of course Casca survives, but the execution and recovery are explained in graphic detail.  As a reader, you almost feel you are sharing Casca’s pain.
There is a third story-line which also ties back to the earlier Chinese episode, but I’ve already given too much of the story away.  Final recommendation: another strong recommendation.
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On This Day In:
2014 Hey, I Resemble That Remark… (4!)
2013 Sit, Put, Until…
2012 Lessons For My Son
2011 Reaching The Right Audience
2010 Christmas Trees and Profession of Faith

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West Of Honor – book review
Today’s review is for “West Of Honor” (1978©), written by Jerry Pournelle.  Pournelle is a famous Science Fiction writer who not only wrote great individual novels, he also wrote story lines which spanned several books – much like Robert Heinlein’s “Lazarus Long” story / timeline.  In Pournelle’s case, the premise is that the United States and the Soviet Union come together to form a “CoDominium” to 1) control the Earth and the exploration of space; and, 2) maintain their relative positions in the “new” age of space exploration.  The “future” is strangely both dystopian and optimistic.  Dystopian in that surplus population is forced into space (as cheap labor) and optimistic as some of the planets manage to build workable civilizations.  The faster than light Alderson stardrives used in the book / series “was” invented in 2004 and first used to go beyond the solar system in 2008.  LOL!!  So far, not even close…
The main character in the time-line is a “Napoleonic” figure named John Christian Falkenberg.  This book is the story of Falkenberg’s pacification of a planet.  The story is told as a first person narrative by one of Falkenberg’s junior officers – Hal Slater.  This really is a “good, old-fashioned” modern war story which just happens to take place on another planet.  You read about planetary politics, military (and medical) technology and all that, but in the end war comes down to men bleeding and dying.  To the extent Pournelle is able to convince you to believe the technology, you buy the SciFi.  To the extent he convinces you to believe in the battles and the drama, you buy the war story.  I “bought into” both and enjoyed the book tremendously.  Interestingly, victory does not necessarily lead to a “happy” ending.
Full disclosure: I first read this book back in the early 1980’s.  I also read a number of other books in the series, but I no longer have those.  I’m not sure how or when I lost them, but I suppose it was when we moved to Liverpool (or back).  In any case, I’m probably going to end up re-buying them and re-reading them.  Final recommendation: highly recommended!!  Particularly if you like SciFi Military Lit.
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On This Day In:
2014 Sources
2013 Three Essentials
2012 Just Looking
2011 Religious Lessons
2010 View From Under The Bus… (A mid-term report card on the Obama Administration. Long, but still worth reading for historical perspective.)

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Casca #5: The Barbarian   —  book review
Today’s review is for the fifth book in the “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary” series titled: Casca: The Barbarian (1981©), written by Barry Sadler.  In this episode, Casca meets up with a Germanic / Norse tribesman named Glam and the story revolves are their adventures together over the next 30 to 40 years.  Basically, Glam leads Casca around northern Europe and Casca takes over a “hold”.  Casca over-throws the vicious lord of the hold and subsequently marries his daughter.  Thus, Casca gains and ultimately loses the second great love of his life.  Glam gives Casca one of his nicknames: “The Walker”.
All of these volumes have now fallen into their standard formula: character intro, travel around a bit, a few minor fights, a little bit of history, a major battle, and then some resolution before Casca has to wander off.  Today’s title refers to a scene in the book where the original lord of the hold has a wall at the tides edge staked.  When he wishes to execute someone (but not be “responsible” for the death), he has them staked with just their head above the high tide.  The crabs do their work during the night and only the head (and skeleton) is left the following morning.  Of course, the “curse” saves Casca (again).
If you are into adult / male historical fiction – with lots of geography, historical background and battles, this continues to be a very satisfying series.  Final recommendation: strong recommendation.
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On This Day In:
2014 Beyond Proof
2013 Poor Students Of History
2012 Between Two Worlds
2011 Common Humanity
2010 The Last Two Olympians

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Today’s book review is for “Casca: Panzer Soldier” (1980©) written by Barry Sadler.  This is book four in the “Casca – The Eternal Mercenary” series.  This is a re-read for me.  My first reading would have been sometime in the early to mid-1980’s.
Casca Rufio Longinus is the legendary Roman soldier who slayed Christ with a spear.  Just prior to dying, the Messiah tells Casca: “You are satisfied with what you are and so you shall remain until we meet again.”  Thus began the (series and) adventures of Casca across two-thousand years (and counting).
In this volume, Carl Langer (Casca) has decided that Communism will be the end of Western Civilization, so he joins the German Army to fight the Russians on the Eastern Front.  Too late, he discovers the horrors of the Nazis and their “Final Solution”.  Casca also uncovers the role played by “The Brotherhood” in the war.  (See yesterday’s post for a brief intro to the “Brotherhood”.)
Like every book in this series, the descriptions of battles are graphic and powerful.  There is just enough historical accuracy thrown in to make the series “feel” like you are reading real history.  I think this is always the mark of good historical fiction – you almost believe you are reading an actual account.
Just like yesterday’s volume, this book is a fast read, typical of this series and many of the “male adventure-series” from that time period.  If you are “into” this genre (and I am), you will thoroughly enjoy this book (and I did).  I particularly like the historical fiction aspects of the series.  Highly recommended (book and series).
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On This Day In:
2014 Babies (I)
2013 Patriotic == Tell The Truth
2012 30 Days To Go
2011 Altering The Course

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Today’s book review is for “Casca: The War Lord” (1980©) written by Barry Sadler.   This is book three in the “Casca – The Eternal Mercenary” series.  This is a re-read for me.  My first reading would have been sometime in the early to mid-1980’s.
Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the legendary Roman soldier who slayed Christ with a spear.  Just prior to dying, the Messiah tells Casca: “You are satisfied with what you are and so you shall remain until we meet again.”  Thus began the (series and) adventures of Casca across two-thousand years (and counting).
In this volume, Casca decides to make his first visit to China.  As is the case with most of series, Casca has various adventures along the way, the most memorable being the temporary loss of his left hand in the discovery of the “Brotherhood of the Lamb”.  Of course, because he can never die and must remain as he is (was), his hand painfully reattaches.  The “Brotherhood” is a league of “crazy” religious fanatics who seek to follow and keep track of Casca, so they can honor Jesus and hasten the 2nd coming.  Of course, they hate Casca and seek to cause him as much physical pain as they can while waiting for Jesus.
Anyway, after multiple adventures, Casca ends up meeting and serving the Emperor, for which he is granted the title.
The book is a fast read as is typical of this series and many of the “male adventure-series” from that time period.  If you are “into” this genre (and I am), you will thoroughly enjoy this book (and I did).  I particularly like the historical fiction aspect of the series.  Highly recommended.
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On This Day In:
2014 Orange October (II) – Giants Win NLDS Game 2 In 18 Innings (2 to 1)!!
Acknowledging Doubt
2013 Fulfilled Acceptance
2012 Error Is Tolerated Here (So Far)
2011 In Defense Of Pain

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The Journey To The East”  —  book review
Today’s book review is for a book I finished last Saturday (July 11th), but never got around to posting about.  The book is: “The Journey To The East” (1956©), written by Hermann Hesse.  The book is supposedly autobiographically written by an un-named character “H. H.”, but as Hesse has written other books with main characters who share his initials, the intent seems to be to not make this novel personally semi-autobiographical.  “H. H.” is a member of a secret “League” which exists to assist its members in understanding life (via shared personal experiences) and in advancing civilization (via the creation of a vast library containing all of human knowledge).
The group on the journey with H. H. fails to reach their destination and the individual members lose faith in the League, with each other, and with themselves.  The author (H. H.), spends a good part of the rest of his life living as a “failure” and then decides to make himself whole by writing a book about the journey.  The problem is he can’t remember the specific details of his trip.  He seeks out a friend who’s advise is the find one of the other participants from his trip (Leo the servant) and to seek his (Leo’s) recollections.  Leo is not receptive at first and then he lets H. H. have access to the League’s library – which contains the sum of human knowledge, including entries about every single person (living or dead).
The journey to the East seems to be a metaphor for growing up, or more precisely, for going on a vision quest to seek the meaning of life.  The trip to the “East” is a trip to discover yourself and the realization from that discovery (for H. H.) is that the meaning of life is service to others.  Thus, “East” is not a direction of travel.  It is a destination.  Your “home”.
The novel is very short (120 pages) and can be read in a couple of hours.  It is a simple narrative told by the principal and is done in very straight forward language – so it’s easy to read.  I found the book interesting for a number of reasons.  The two main ones were (are): 1) the book created a reinforcing memory of a scene in the movie “Interstellar” where the main character is in a four dimensional representation of a library (actually behind a bookshelf in a bedroom); and, 2) because there are a lot of pseudo-Christian messages sprinkled throughout the book.  The meaning of life being service to others is just one of many such messages.
So, final recommendation:  Strong recommendation.  The book is short, easy to read and promotes thought for the reader about what is the purpose of life.  It worked for me…
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On This Day In:
2014 Pass The Soul
2013 Zapping Music And Art
2012 Not Quite Fantastic
That Kid Is Back
2011 Wolves At The Door
2010 I’m Feeling Patriotic… (Well, more than usual, anyway.)
Beating the Heat…

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