November 5, 2013

Review: Nothing Gold Can Stay

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 12:28 am

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rash’s collection of short stories spanned a goodly amount of years. While tinged with beauty they were often flavoured with a raw edge that left me troubled, provoked, yet entertained. I have not spent much time in Appalachia but Rash gave me such a vivid picture that I would both delight at the beauty but keep an ever watchful eye on my back and should my tongue trespass.

Each tale was a little treasure with teeth. There were a few that I was outright frustrated at the outcome yet pleased that while there was no sugar coating, I was left pondering the motivations of the characters and how they would challenge my own if in a similar situation.

Excellent work and I will read more from this author.

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October 30, 2013

Review: Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 9:59 am

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State
Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a difficult read primarly due to the amount of acronyms for the various governmental and privately run organizations. This type of book is one that shows one of the disadvantages of reading in eBook format. While there is a glossary in the back one can reference, doing so on a eReader is quite cumbersome. Aside from that the book was very approachable and provided a lot of primary sources, albeit aliases intact for most, to flush out the Author’s arguement that “Top secret America has become an institution that by it’s very nature is an unmanagable mess.”

A bit of history is presented to set the stage for what would become the explosion of survelience and covert military action post 9/11. An overall is presented of how this military industry kicked into high gear in reaction to 9/11 and then the book breaks down to exploring specific facets of Top Secret America including electronic survelience, drones, and secret prisions, and special forces. Most of this information is pretty mainstream today but what I find a bit disturbing overall is that while nation was shocked into awareness over the Snowden leaks, what Dana Priest was collecting and reporting on for the past 10 years was exactly what those leaks revealed. It is a wakeup call that collectively we have had our heads in the sand for far too long and let this monster run without fetters for too long.

What really hit home to me was the magnitude of the military industrial complex surrounding Top Secret America. The enormous amounts of money that goes into funding and the number of jobs it creates. Most of the money is going to contractors, private industry which in turn creates demand to steal away qualified individuals who were once employed by government institutions. As those employees leave the government sector for private employment demand for qualified personnel increases thus raising the reliance on private companies. The CIA, NSA, FBI, etc all become training grounds for these private corporations to pillage from. Cost increases and allegiance is no longer to the government but to the share holders.

Add in this increasing population of Top Secret America and what was once a specialized group is becoming more and more diverse. There is a monster of beauracracy in place defining levels of secrecy to the point that information is not shared effectively. Former chains of command are broken and confusion permeates the entire industry. You have multiple groups producing the same information in different ways and not sharing or working together. The amount of information is more overwhelming than effective that often the needle is lost in the many haystacks.

This is a very thought provoking book. How do we reign in this beast when there is so much money involved?

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August 25, 2013

Review: American Gods

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 9:51 pm

American Gods
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a thoroughly enjoyable book. Gaiman has sparked the desire in me to travel about the United States but to also bone up on my Herodotus and learn more about the pantheons of other cultures. The concept of immigrants bringing their gods and folklore with them and those beings becoming flesh over millenia was so vividly captured in his telling. How he wove the journeys of the first people to cross the Bering straight into the modern day Gods and the turmoil between them was outstanding.

I strongly recommend this book for a good hearted but thought provoking adventure.

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August 10, 2013

Review: Mockingjay

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 3:47 pm

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy. The ending brought a tear to my eyes and not many books choke me up that they do not. As I approached the last third of the book I was concerned that we were going into the Hunger Games for a third time but that was not the case. The arena this time was the Capitol and it was played excellently.

I have heard many complaints about Peeta being the weak point of the series, how he is always getting injured and seems almost useless to his team mates but I thought he was superbly written. The turmoil he goes through to fulfill his mission of keeping Katnis alive resulted in his injury time an again.

Katnis, as a character, is very flawed and that is what makes her a great protagonist. Her motivations are thoroughly explored and even when far from noble are hers to bear and believable. To paint her as anything less than fallible would be doing the reader a disservice.

Through all this I did feel a tinge of remorse for how things worked out for Gale but again, he remained true to his character. His ruthlessness against the Capitol was genuine and in line with his initial paintings. To have the rosier ending he would have like with Katnis would have lessened the work.

Overall, I was torn the most by the loss of Fennick. I really like this character and his demise, while noble, was wrenching. How I so wished his ending was not cut short.

I eagerly await how these last two books are translated to the movie screen. I could not see how a single movie could contain this book and expect they may break it into two. I for one would not be disappointed if they did to remain true to the story.

Probably one of the most poignant features of the work was the use of propaganda in warfare. How the value of human lives gets lost in the machinations of the orchestratores whose consuming goal is to achieve victory.

Bravo to a work well done!

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August 8, 2013

Review: Catching Fire

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 8:01 pm

Catching Fire
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I figured I needed to get this in prior to the movie this fall and also having very much enjoyed the first book. I was curious to see where Collins was taking the trilogy and was not disappointed. Although I will say, I thought a second round of the hunger games would be over played yet I so enjoyed the arena that I accepted another go without much reserve.

I read this book over two days at the shore and found the pace not slacking. The character development remained interesting showing different sides of not only the victors but new characters brought on board. I an eager to see how well this book translates to the big screen.

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July 27, 2013

Review: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 7:57 pm

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was nice to kick back with an old friend after so many years. I read this book way back when I was in my early teens and loved it. In fact I loved everything Dragonlance back in the day. I got all the AD&D modules as they came out and was part of the Dragon of the Month Club acquiring all the lead figures.

This book captures the Dungeons and Dragons atmosphere perfectly and remains readable to those not fans of the role playing games. The action is fierce and told from many different sides while maintaining a perfect pace. The characters are well written and adored. I eagerly look forward to revisting the other two books in the trilogy along with the other offerring both new and old.

Reading this makes me want to break out my modules and start playing again!

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July 17, 2013

Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 11:14 am

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am quite surprised I never got around to commenting on this book. I read this right after Sucker’s Portfolio. For being one of his groundbreaking novels I am equally surprised I did not read this much earlier in life.

This book was amazing. The picture it paints of an American GI in the European Theater of WW2 is breath taking and enlightening. This mixture of horror and humanity is one that is difficult to put in words without one reading it for him or herself. At many points it brought a tear to my eyes.

Fantastic work!

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Review: The Constitution of the United States of America

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 11:11 am

The Constitution of the United States of America
The Constitution of the United States of America by James Madison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well it was about high time I read the US Contsitution in its entirity. The electronic version I read also had the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederacy. This is some great stuff of course. Perhaps I am biased because I am a United States citizen. What I found most interesting was the clarification of important points between the Articles and the Constitution. The refinement that went on was a telling path to what the founders of the United States of America felt strongly about.

I read this in one afternoon and plan to re-read it on a regular basis.

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July 14, 2013

Review: Religious Right: The Greatest Threat to Democracy

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 3:30 pm

Religious Right: The Greatest Threat to Democracy
Religious Right: The Greatest Threat to Democracy by A.F. Alexander

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, a bit about the writing itself and the Kindle version. This book is long, very long, and at some points I think a bit more editing could have pared it down somewhat and removed redundancy. On the otherhand, the writing style is very approachable to a wide audience. Whle rife with from primary sources, the book is not weighed down to the point of being disjointed. The layout translated well to the Kindle but there are some typos and curious grammatical quarks that I believe are more attributed to the conversion than overall editing. I have seen similar issues with other electronic books.

A.F. Alexander makes no bones about his concerns with the religious right and what I think is very important is that he does so not at the expense of Christianity. He is very respectful of Christianity and does not at all attach the religion. This is not an “athiest attach on the tenants of Christianity” but a thoroughly researched warning of a very strict, very dangerous, fundamental segment of the religion that is on a crusade to turn the United States into a Theocracy. Aside from the primary resources cited, A.F. Alexander was himself brought up in the movement.

The text focuses on the Dominionist movement accounting the 7 Mountains Mandate that targets 7 levels of society: Business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion. The Seven Mountains were coined by Bill Bright the founder of the Campus Crusade, Loren Cunningham founder of Youth with a Mission, and Francis Schaeffer. An account of the rise of Evangelical Fundamentalism is provided and how their mission to influcence politics from grass roots level up to coroporate sponsered superfunds has been attained.

At the heart of this book is the first ammendment to the Constitution of the United States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

What is important to understand is that the founders of the United States did not form a Christian Nation; that is revisionist history. Many of the founders were Deists. The first ammendment clearly builds a wall between religion and the government. A wall that provides no preferential treatment to any one religion nor interferes with one’s religous choice. What Dominionist are doing is erroding that wall and entagling their religion with politics attacking the very tenants of this country and infriging on the rights of those who do not adhere to their world views. They are taking Christianity into a dark place where many historic accounts abound when a theocracy holds a nations and the atrocities committed there in. We have only to look at other nations like Iran and Egypt where a religious minority have usurped government and created a fundamentalist state with aborrant results. We as a nations must protect the first ammendment and disentangle religion from politics or risk spiraling into a similar society of oppression and violence.

Pick up any newspaper today or visit most any website on current events and you can see this battle being played out from Womans rights to immigration issues, environmental issues, birth control and marriage equality. We as a society need to stand up for the tenants of the constitution and disentangle religion from politics and being to make better progress. Otherwise we ruin both our nation and sully Christianity.

A very thought provoking book.

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May 13, 2013

Review: Sucker’s Portfolio

Filed under: Uncategorized — dann @ 9:45 am

Sucker's Portfolio
Sucker’s Portfolio by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really love Vonnegut and this collection of short stories and one non-fiction essay did not disappoint. The first story – Between Timid and Timbuktu really caught me from the start. While the ending elicited an initial let down response, upon further reflection it worked very well. I don’t think I want the answer to what was proposed.

The non-fiction essay was great, very entertaining and informative. Including this in the book was not a disappointment at all. What was a bummer, though, was that the last story was incomplete. Just as one is getting into it, it’s over. The story reminded me a lot of The Sirens of Titan.

Great collection and if you are a Vonnegut fan, a must read!

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