Fantasy Novels: Top 10 List
Fantasy , Top 10 List / October 10, 2016

There is a show by the brilliant British comedian Ricky Gervais called Life’s Too Short.  In one mind-blowingly awesome scene, guest star Liam Neeson remarks, “I make lists all the time.”  If you do not know the context, I highly recommend that you seek out the show or at least watch a clip of the scene.  I will not post a link here because it is copyrighted content, but you really should see it for yourself anyway.  Regardless, Liam Neeson’s statement definitely is true for me!  You can expect to see many different Top lists on the site!In all seriousness, I am not saying that my opinion equals fact, so if you do not like my ranking feel free to post your own.  To kick things off, these are my Top 10 Fantasy Books:       Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (especially the novella Red Nails) A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin Codex Alera by Jim Butcher Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling Soloman Kane stories by Robert E. Howard The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher Rat Queens comics by Kurtis J. Wiebe The Belgariad by David Eddings Elminster by Ed Greenwood

The Forgotten History of America: Book Review
History / October 10, 2016

The Forgotten History of America: Little Known Conflicts of Lasting Importance from the Earliest Colonists to the Eve of the Revolution is a popular history book written by Cormac O’Brien that covers the mysterious and legendary period of America’s earliest history.  Do not be fooled by the short and sweet title that graces the cover of this book!  Cormac O’Brien’s history of colonial America is a near three hundred page account of some of the most interesting and forgotten events from 1528-1763. Colonial American history is a passion of mine that mostly stems from the fact that I find the clash of cultures in early America to be exciting and a major turning point in world history.  The Forgotten History of America does an amazing job of investigating the unending conflicts between the Spanish, French, Dutch, English, and the vast numbers of Native American tribes battling over the North American continent.  There are so many wars and rebellions that are mostly forgotten today that were decisive in the formation of what would become the United States.  King Philip’s War, which was mostly fought between British colonists and New England Indian tribes, wins the unfortunate and shocking distinction as the deadliest conflict (by death…

Mythology: Book Review
History , Religion / October 10, 2016

Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies is a ginormous collection of mythology from all around the world.  The book is beautifully illustrated with so many pictures and captions that I felt like I was wandering through an ancient museum at times.  There is also no shortage of content here since the book is over 500 pages of coffee table style size and format.  Any mythophile (I am pretty sure I just made that word up) or legendophile (I definitely just made that word up) will be impressed with the book’s look and heft. Thankfully, Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies faithfully represents mythology without any sanitation or apology.  Inside this tome’s pages, we find the ancient tales of Thor flattening giants with Mjölnir, Hera taking horrible revenge on the unfortunate (and often unwilling) victims of Zeus’ legendary philandering, and Osiris’ murder/dismemberment at the hands of Seth.  The stories are summarized in an easy to read prose style, but the readers intelligence and ability to handle the content on his/her own terms are respected by the many authors of this anthology. As I expected, the more commonly read mythologies of the Greeks and Romans are covered in impressive detail.  The well known tales of these mythologies, such as…

The Dresden Files: Skin Game: Book Review
Fantasy / October 10, 2016

Skin Game is the 15th book in Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series that chronicles the wizardly adventures of Harry Dresden.  If you are a fan of heist stories, then Skin Game is likely to be your favorite entry in The Dresden Files because it revolves around a plan to break into Hades’ own vault in order to retrieve the Holy Grail. SPOILER ALERT:  At this point I must warn anyone who has not read the entire series that there is no way for me to review this book without spoiling previous books in the series. Nicodemous, a returning Denarian villain from earlier in the series, uses Harry’s position as the Winter Knight to force him to join his quest.  Harry brings along Karrin Murphy and also joins forces with many other returning characters including Hannah Asher, Anna Valmont, and Binder.  Skin Game features some of the most engaging intrigue and double-crossing in the series as Harry tries to navigate his way through Nicodemous’ web of lies and while constantly working to undermine Nicodemous and his allies.  As one would expect, there are plenty of Indian Jones references as Harry and his companions work their way to the Grail. Skin Game finally marks the return of one of my…

I Wear the Black Hat: Book Review
Comedy , Sociology / October 10, 2016

I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) is essentially a series of essays by Chuck Klosterman.  Klosterman’s unifying theme is that he tries to investigate the appeal and motivations of various “villains” in a sociological framework.  While the cover of the book is awesome, I Wear the Black Hat is ultimately a wasted opportunity. When I realized that this book existed, I immediately picked up a copy.  Even from a young age, I always felt that villains were far more compelling than heroes.  As far as I was concerned, the Joker stole every scene in episodes of Batman.  That is not to say that I want the villains to succeed but that they are simply far more interesting.  Although in all honesty, I always wanted (still want) a legion of generically nameless thugs to do my bidding. Klosterman’s essays are rather scatter-brained in the sense that I did not always feel that his essays helped to prove his assertions regarding villains.  He refers to himself far too often and does not rely on factual arguments as much as would be appropriate in a book of this type.  Whether the individuals that he writes about are even perceived as villains or not…

Going Clear: Book Review
Religion / October 10, 2016

Thanks to Tom Cruise, basically everyone in America is aware of the Church of Scientology.  Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief demystifies the Church of Scientology and exposes the true nature of the organization.  As a nerd, I am disappointed to report that the organization seemingly has almost nothing to do with real science.  Still, what kind of nerd doesn’t enjoy a little science fiction? I know that many people ridicule the Church of Scientology for propagating beliefs that seem completely absurd, such as the idea that Xenu, the leader of the “Galactic Confederacy,” is the ruler of the universe.  However, it really is not fair to critique any religion based on these sorts of views.  Imagine that you are explaining your own religion (whatever it might be) to someone who has never heard of it before.  All faiths are filled with claims that seem strange to people who are not culturally familiar with them.  Thankfully, Lawrence Wright’s criticism of the Church of Scientology has more to do with the eccentricities of its founder and the human rights abuses that had reportedly occurred within the organization. Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’s biography takes up a great deal of Wright’s book because it…

The Screwtape Letters: Book Review
Literature , Religion / October 10, 2016

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is as classic as it is difficult to define. Although C. S. Lewis is normally credited with writing The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters is far more subtle and thought-provoking for adult readers.  While Lewis’ book could be categorized as fiction, it also reads as an apology (meaning reasoned defense) of the Christian religion. Comprised of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew demon, Wormwood, The Screwtape Letters read like a series of lessons in the art of temptation.  Screwtape is attempting to instruct his nephew so that Wormwood can successfully guide his human target (referred to as the Patient) toward the devil rather than God.  Wormwood has all of the arts of a demon (deception, seduction, doubt, etc.) at his disposal, and he attempts to throw as many obstacles in the Patient’s path as possible. C. S. Lewis’ style is masterfully ironic and witty.  The voice that he creates as Screwtape, despite the fact that he is a senior demon, is full of a wary sort of humor.  Even more humorous is the fact that Wormwood quickly proves to be an incompetent screw-up who will surely fail without his uncle’s advice.  I cannot help but…

Severed: Book Review
History / October 10, 2016

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found is Frances Larson’s study of severed heads throughout history.  As soon as I saw the book’s cover, there was little doubt that I would purchase Severed that very day. Severed is one of those niche books that I instantly realized would be a fascinating read.  I love history, and strange history is often the most entertaining.  The concept of an entire book about the history of severed heads is so brilliant that I am jealous that I did not think of the idea myself! Frances Larson effectively mixes readability with the occasional darkly humorous comment with factual subject matter to produce a history book that is both entertaining and satisfying in an intellectual sense.  Each chapter focuses on a different type of severed head, ranging from shrunken heads to the heads of deposed monarchs, and provides plenty of stories that are stranger than fiction.  For example, I did not know that soldiers during WWII took heads as trophies, but the practice was alive and well in the Pacific theater. From the excellent cover to the illustration of Oliver Cromwell’s head that graces the prologue chapter, there are plenty of pictures that depict severed heads and skulls, so this book is definitely…

The Empty Throne: Book Review
Historical Fiction / October 10, 2016

The Empty Throne is the eighth book in The Saxon Tales series by the king of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell.  Fans of the series will be pleased to return to brutal, bloody, and beautiful Saxon England alongside of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. For any new readers, I must point out that it is highly advisable to begin the series with the first book, The Last Kingdom.  While it is possible to enjoy each book in The Saxon Tales as an adventure from start to finish, there are so many relationships and overarching developments over the life of the series that it is much better to start at the beginning. The majority of the story centers around Uhtred’s struggle to cement Aethelflaed’s control over Mercia.  Aethelflaed, as Uhtred’s lover and the daughter of King Alfred of Wessex, is the most powerful woman in Britain and Uhtred’s loyalty to her and her family pulls him into battles against both fellow Saxons and Norsemen.  The political maneuvering and intrigue involved in the struggle over Mercia’s throne leads to plenty of betrayal that is surprising and realistically calculating and unforgiving.  Additionally, Uhtred’s personal quest to heal himself from a wound suffered at the end of the last novel is equally as important as his part…

The God Delusion: Book Review
Religion , Science / October 10, 2016

I am very glad I read this book, although I must point out at the beginning that I do not agree with Richard Dawkins in his preference for atheism.  However, I have to thank Dawkins for this book because it really and truly made me think. and I respect his obvious intelligence (although at times his tone is a bit condescending, which is a shame.) *Before I go any further with this review, I want to get the obligatory apology for discussing religion and/or plea for mercy out of the way.* In all seriousness, it is very difficult for people to control their emotions when it comes to religious topics, and I recognize that.  However, I am a “truth-seeker” in the sense that I am always questioning my beliefs and reading about the beliefs of others.  One thing that I have learned is that it is not healthy to sit on your beliefs without questioning. Questioning is what ultimately leads us to greater understanding and truth, whether we end up changing or beliefs or solidifying them. Questioning is not the same as abandoning. Now that my public service announcement is done, let us return to the book review! Dawkins really rests his…