The Complete Roman Army (book review)

The Complete Roman ArmyThe Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very good, moderately more then surface level review of the Roman Army during late Imperial times. It did have a lot of data I hadn’t seen before. It included bits and pieces about the day to day life and the uses of certain equipment, what happened after their service, religion and even what they did off duty.

It isn’t as in-depth as some older works, but it is written to make it easier to understand. It also isn’t something to be read like a novel, it has a lot more in common with a coffee table type textbook. The art is great though, the writing flows smoothly and I found it pretty nice.

It does give somewhat of a short shrift to the Roman Navy, to the early years, and the end years of the Roman Army. However, those are such different periods with different focuses that it might be for best not trying to cover them as well in more detail.

If you like stuff about Rome and the Roman Army, I definitely recommend this.

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Midnight Crossroad (Midnight Texas #1 book)

Midnight Crossroad (Midnight, Texas, #1)Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review was harder then most. I had watched the first season of the tv show before reading the book so I already had some preset ideas. I will try and give the good vs bad when comparing this against the tv show.

The Bad:

The ages of the main characters are way younger in the book. Creek is only 17-18 (having just recently graduated high school) and Manfred is maybe 22-23. Wheras the tv show Manfred is 33 and Creek is 25. The whole idea of a just graduated from high school girl and her love life gives me the creeps. I can identify with the tv characters way more. I can’t buy into characters at their book age.

The cast in the book are very whitewashed. Having watched the tv show first I got to meet Lem as a very impressive looking black man. The book version is a white guy with bleach/white hair. The Lem in the TV show is far superior in looks, and personality. I would comment on Fiji but I can’t recall her exact description in the books, but I got the impression she was white, whereas the tv show had a much more engaging character including looks and personality as well.

The Good:

There is actually more good then bad compared to the tv show. The first book itself is much quieter paced then the tv show. The story is focused and you get to know about the characters more.

There is no focus on Manfred. He is one of the characters, but he isn’t the focus. I would argue Fiji is the biggest focus but all of the characters take turns. Also there is no dead grandmothers yet (maybe that is in the second book). This keeps the book more engaging as learn about the individuals, without focusing on the white guy as the star.

There are less tropes dealing with Aubrey, she isn’t even that deserving of dislike. I won’t talk more about her except to say her death/murder and her personality come out differently in the book. I definitely prefer this view more.

There is more good, but I can’t write about it since I don’t want to be 100% spoilery

The overall feeling resulting in a 3, meaning reading it is better then not. I did enjoy the book, and I recommend others read it. Just be warned it doesn’t measure up in some ways to the tv show, and is better in others. I just wish we could have Lem from the tv show, that would be great.

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Operation Hail Storm (book review)

Operation Hail Storm (Hail, #1)Operation Hail Storm by Brett Arquette
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure, I was given an audiobook copy of this book by the author for a review.

A good techno-thriller novel that is easy to listen to.

First, I just want to say that any criticisms in this review are not meant to indicate the book isn’t good. I enjoyed it immensely. Rather, as someone who doesn’t read techno-thrillers regularly (and who hasn’t read one in almost thirty years) I was surprised by a few things. I hadn’t realized the genre was fairly similar to the romance genre in style. I thought by pointing out here for readers not familiar with techno thrillers things that seem to be normal for the genre.

The writing is smooth, easy to understand. You can start right into it without being familiar with the world. The writing does address technical aspects, but Mr. Arquette doesn’t get lost in big words, rather the descriptions work for people who don’t have a background in science. It makes it easy to understand what he is describing, and more than that it makes the reading interesting.

The story is about a man named Marshall Hail who is super smart, super rich, super famous and like Bruce Wayne seems to be ahead of the villains most of the time. If the main character was a woman, it would be called a Mary Sue. However, it works for the book. Marshall is still very entertaining.

Meanwhile most of the villains are fairly two dimensional bad guys, there as a means to move the story. The end of the book did give a shift in the Russian arms-dealer and hinted at more, but that was it. Even the government characters are more used as foils for Marshall.

Mr. Arquette has a fan now, and maybe I will check out more techno-thrillers to go with my collection of romance novels, and maybe I will try some of his writings that aren’t techno-thrillers.

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Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (book review)

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues (White Trash Zombie, #2)Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Angel is even more fun to listen to in the second book.

The white trash zombie trope doesn’t get old. The story takes up not long after the first book. Elements of the first book reappear in unexpected ways.

Diana Rowland’s storytelling gets better by the book. Angel has moved beyond and grown up since the first book and she didn’t magically end up back in the same situation. In fact the world opens up in some unexpected ways.

You get to meet more zombies, more baddies and some baddies turn out that they may not be so bad. I am happily anticipating the next book even now.

Go read it!

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At the Mountains of Madness (book review)

At the Mountains of MadnessAt the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is perhaps the best example of Lovecraft in his more dry tones. If you are hoping for a first person perspective, down and close to the horror you won’t really find it here. This is the retellings of a crazed survivor, a prime example of Lovecraft’s tendency for that trope. More of an after action report then the actual tale as it unfolds.

Unlike a lot of his other work, this example of his writings does not contain a lot of his problematic views. Other stories are racists, sexist and xenophobic, however here none of that appeared evident.

The writing style is dry though. It takes a peculiar liking for this kind of work for other readers to appreciate it, but for me it had a lot of good building blocks. He had links to other stories in his mythos, and he definitely had a lot of details in the story itself, maybe too many for some people.

You can see though where he inspired people after him. This story could easily fit in the worlds of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and many newer horror authors.

If you like Lovecraft, or any of his inheritors (Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard, Robert Bloch, and others like August Derleth) then this is something you want to read.

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Up From Slavery (book review)

Up from SlaveryUp from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have a lot of respect for Mr. Washington and what he did, however “Up From Slavery” was at best a disappointment, at worst tragic if he really believed and thought the way it seems in the book.

The book itself wasn’t written as a book, it was written as a series of writings/essays/etc. He received feedback and criticism as he had them published and you could tell in the book how some of the tone and what he talked about shifted.

I liked the first portion of the book, recounting the life as a child slave and then how he went to get his education and the struggles he faced. I was a bit caught off guard about the rosey glow he gave that time of his life, but I didn’t think too much about it until I got further in the book.

The portions I didn’t like were more numerous.

First and foremost I disliked how he talked about other African Americans in general. There was a lot of innuendo that they tended to be lazy and how unlikely they would to get ahead without “hard labor”. Don’t get me wrong, I think there is value in labor, but it felt like he was infantilizing/putting down black people. As he got further in the book it was even more apparent, and my assumption is the later parts of the book were his views after criticisms from some of the white people he knew.

Second, I disliked how there was constant reference to the white people in his life and how they always saved the day. Never a negative word, and in places almost an unnerving obeisance to those people. He stressed the generosity of the white people far more than any positives from his own.

This all wraps up in Washington’s silence about the brutality and cruelty of slavery. He even at one point in time mentioned that the black man got as much out of slavery as the white man and made the black man more capable of himself. In addition the simplistic almost happy way he talks about his experiences as a child under slavery stunned me as an almost complicit about slavery feel.

He even mentions once that the Ku Klux Klan was gone forever. He never once mentions the disenfranchisement of his people, the lynchings and second class citizen status. I have a hard time believing that he never suffered from it himself since he didn’t come from money. That is until I got to the last half of the book.

The last half of the book gave me an idea of why he might have written all about this, in this manner. The last half of the book reads more like a person campaigning for donations for his school, and at that time the most likely place to get money would be from rich white people. If you take that pessimistic view, then the book makes perfect sense. It gives a little bit of background without offending the whites who he is seeking donations from.

That doesn’t make him a bad person. His drive to educate his people was unquestionable and if this was his way to try and gain more donations for them then I can’t blame him at all. That being said at best this book was a disappointment, and if he truly believed the stuff he talked about it was tragic.

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Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese MinimalismGoodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I listened to the audiobook, so I didn’t get to see the pictures the book used to underline Mr. Sasaki’s point, it was still great.

Mr. Sasaki’s personal journey through the idea of minimalism gives a lot of rebuttals to our capitalist outlook. How living simpler makes us happier, how reducing our expectations for what we should have and we will find happiness in what we do have. A lot like my early years.

What I really liked is that while there is a lot of similarities to what he says and Buddhism, it never becomes about religion, or any sort of personal pride in being a minimalist. He points out that even that kind of pride is once again feeding into the illusion of self. He even indicates there is nothing wrong with others owning stuff and being materialistic and it isn’t his place to judge. If only the rest of the world was like that.

The book is a short read (or short listen in my case) and definitely worth checking out. Even if you don’t become a minimalist, it might let you look at things differently.

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The Emperor’s Soul

The Emperor's SoulThe Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is far better then I ever expected. Originally I wasn’t sure how I would feel, I haven’t ever read anything that was a Sanderson original. My only experience with him was the Wheel of Time, which I think he did great.

The story starts in the middle and there isn’t a wasted moment. It was like one of those plays that involves three actors/actresses and it definitely shows that Sanderson is a good writer using dialogue and emoting with his characters, not just sweeping spectacles.

The magic in the world was a little weird for me at first. I wasn’t too keen on it. I realized though that it was a pretty cool way to handle things. It was my own preconceptions and expectations that made it rough in the beginning.

I definitely recommend everyone read it. It is a short novella, and worth the price.

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The Tao of Pooh

The Tao of PoohThe Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a horrific observation on Taoism using the Pooh characters.

It very much feels like a book from the early 1980s. The inability for the author to go into any true detail of Taoism. There is no reference to the culture, the history or the socio-political situation means you get the typical Americanized whitewashing of a religion/philosophy.

I am not a religion expert, but I am buddhist (casual) and I have taken several classes on non-Western religions including Taoism, Confucianism, and other religions. It is so much more detailed then this book. Without having the details around the philosophy it becomes misleading.

The worst part though, it is boring as hell and though might have been a best seller in 1982 that doesn’t really count for interesting or accurate.

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a HurryAstrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is absolutely the best book I have read or listened to in years. I could just listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson read a laundry list, but he makes astrophysics and the history of the universe so smooth.

I have read up a lot for a layman on a lot of the things he covers, yet with just this short book lasting less then four hours made it so much clearer.

While I hate the whole schtick of “we are made of stardust” that is liberally spread everywhere on t-shirts and memes. However, the way he explains why that is true makes it a lot easier to accept and actually does a lot to give you that wonder of the universe.

This book is good for whatever your religious or non-religious belief. He makes no attacks on people, only explains what science has uncovered.

I cannot urge people enough to read/listen/whatever this book. I think it would be great to start with all kids in high school. It would take less then a day and it might open up some eyes, or at least some minds.

I just saw that he has a Great Lessons course called the “Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries”, I think I need to pick that up ASAP.

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