Thursday, October 28, 2010

Imager's Challenge, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Imager’s Challenge, by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

The second book of the Imager Portfolio takes place so soon after the first that our hero Rhenn is still recovering from his injuries. The plot is interesting but not compelling; Rhenn plots a pre-emptive strike against a powerful family that wants revenge, but that is too neatly wrapped up without much angst or conflict. The captivating subject of the book, however, is the political discourse. In Imager, religion and its role in society is examined; here politics and the justice system take the main stage. Through Rhenn’s assignment as a police liaison we explore how people are arrested, tried, and punished, how the rules don’t apply equally to all classes, and how corruption affects the entire system. While I found the previous book to be a bit more thought provoking (and more controversial), Modesitt clearly has another winner here.

First Sentence:
On Vendrei, the twentieth of Erntyn, just before the bells rang out the seventh glass of the morning, I hurried across the quadrangle of the Collegium to the administration building to meet with Master Dichartyn—imager Maitre D’Esprit, the director of all security operations for the imagers of Solidar, the second-most senior imager of the Collegium Imago, and my immediate superior.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mornings on Horseback, by David McCullough

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt, by David McCullough

Writing about Presidents is nothing new for McCullough, but where John Adams and Truman cover their subject’s lives from cradle to grave, Mornings on Horseback only tracks Teddy Roosevelt from 1869 when he was ten to 1886 as he fully commits to a career in politics. This abbreviated look is somewhat disappointing, as Roosevelt comes across as a man of integrity (exactly the kind of person I’d like to see in office but I no longer think is electable in our society) and I would like to have learned more about his Presidency here. Besides a fierce integrity, he also possessed high intelligence and a focused drive that was truly remarkable: “There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gunfighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” Willing away fear is something out of comic books, not history books!

It is often said that history repeats itself; one story related here brings this home in spades. In 1875, Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency by a single, hotly contested electoral vote. Much like the race in 2000 the previous administration was prone to scandal and Hayes’ opponent Tilden won the popular vote. One huge difference: “Like peaceable men of both parties [Roosevelt] breathed a sigh of relief at Tilden’s refusal to contest the decision.” Politics has always been a cutthroat game, but at least through history’s lens it seems that things have become more vicious today. Roosevelt at the time believed the Republican party, “for all its failings, its scandals and fallen idols, was still the party of Lincoln, the party that saved the Union, freed the slaves, restored the national credit.” While technically still true, I find it difficult to maintain this sort of adoration for the Republican party that exists today. A century ago we were governed by individuals; now the party system has control—and this is not a change for the better.

Soapbox aside, Theodore Roosevelt is considered one of the better Presidents in our history, and Mornings on Horseback shows he was a truly remarkable boy as well. Along with family photos, many of his letters and diary pages are included; these unedited words give us a glimpse of his personality which makes a nice complement to the facts and stories. Both inspiring and educational, McCullough has written another enthralling book.

First Sentence:
In the year 1869, when the population of New York City had reached nearly a million, the occupants of 28 East 20th Street, a five-story brownstone, numbered six, exclusive of the servants.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

I love Riordan’s Tres Navarre mysteries and quite enjoyed his Percy Jackson series as well. When my youngest picked up The Red Pyramid, the first volume of the Kane Chronicles, I read it as well. This is very similar to Percy Jackson, although with a heavy Egyptian mythology instead of Greek. Maybe it is because I’m more versed in the classical, having devoured Edith Hamilton’s Mythology many, many times, but The Red Pyramid wasn’t as enthralling as The Lightning Thief. The formula still works—kids discover the myths are real and all around them in the present—and the humor and action are prevalent throughout; but, something just didn’t click for me. I found Percy Jackson and the Olympians to be a children’s series that worked as well for adults, but it appears the Kane Chronicles is truly for younger readers.

First Sentence:
We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.

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