Book Review -The Alchemyst

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I just could not finish this book. The two main characters were so dumb and so frustrating that I could not continue on.

Michael Scott did a wonderful job crafting the world here. The Elder race were wonderfully crafted to link back to "real world" myths and legends and Scott pulled that all together really well. The supporting characters we met throughout this story were all fun and interesting to read about too.

Our two main characters Josh and Sophia just tore this book down though. I understand that this is supposed to be a YA novel, but their attitudes and demeanor played to the "lowest common denominator". I couldn't stand that time and time again, when the two were presented with something in the magic world, they would react with disbelief. At some point they just need to accept it and come along for the ride.

The point that ultimately broke the book for me came in the middle of the book. They were staying in a shadow realm and were instructed not to leave because it was dangerous and that Dr Dee's minions could find them in hours. After all of the danger and amazing things they saw that day, they chose to leave the protection of the tree they were in and take off into the night to then try and make their way from California to Utah to find their parents. Seriously? There is zero believability in that.

This book had the world and potential to be right up there with the Harry Potter series. It was just lost on two terrible main characters.

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Book Review - A Natural History of Dragon

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply put, this was fantastic. Marie Brennan did such an excellent job subtly crafting a "fantasy" world around a 16th or 17th century style English empire. The countries and nationalities are all unfamiliar here, but at the same time completely familiar. The reader is able to suspend their disbelief and is truly convinced that dragons are just a standard animal in this world.

The dragons here are crafted in a wonderful style, purely as animals to be studied as any other. They are not viewed as magical or mystical.

I really loved the characters as well, especially a Isabella Camhurst. She was crafted expertly as an independent and intelligent woman, but she was throughout the book believable because she acted as a "proper lady" of her social status. Modern, 21st century sensibilities were not foisted upon her and her character was crafted as someone, even as a progressive, during her time period.

If you removed the dragons here this definitely has elements similar to Jane Austen or the Master & Commander series, showing fun and convincing characters from a pre-industrial British style empire.

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Book Review: Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World

Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World by Robert D. Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book sure comes away with a lot of quotable one liners.

I liked the concept that Kaplan was going for here, the idea of chronicling America's geography and influence upon its place in the world. The final execution though seems to be all over the place.

The first third of the book comes across as an almost "Ken Burns style" historical discussion on the history of the country. I found this early section the most interesting, with its invocation of the "Great American Frontier". Bernard DeVoto was mentioned several times (which makes me want to go read his books) and there is an almost romanticized portray of America's growth.

The tone shifts, almost suddenly, to a modern day narrative of Kaplan then driving across America from east to west to describe the importance of the rivers, natural resources and the trade impacts of the interstate highway system. The sudden shift was a bit jarring as was the change from a historical narrative to a more modern one.

The final leg of the book then shifts once again to discuss geopolitical conflicts and the U.S. military and U.S. Imperialism. At times Kaplan infers to the impacts of geography on other nations and I think he was trying to illustrate how their geography has influenced their growth compared to the United States'. He doesn't go into enough detail on other nations' geography to bring the message home though. China, India and Russia are only briefly mentioned, their rivers specifically, but there is no deeper discussion about their natural resources, political divides or varying climates to counter against what he states for the U.S.

The final section also comes across with a pro-imperialist message, describing that the world economy, culture, etc, are the way they are because of America's military might and geopolitics. I don't believe his insights are incorrect, but he doesn't take much time to explore any of the counter points on the imperialist agenda. The message again comes across as a bit altruistic.

Each of these three sections were fairly interesting on their own, and should probably be expanded to their own books. I just felt that they didn't quite come together with cohesion as a single unit very effectively.

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