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Michael Samhain RSS Feed (St. Louis, MO)

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Wyrd Sisters
Wyrd Sisters
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
101 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Witches are Abroad !!, March 25, 2003
This is one of the funniest and most charming books I've read in a while. Terry Pratchett uses the environment of his famous Discworld to tell a story of a coven of three witches (although two will argue it's not a coven) who meddle in the business of royal politics (although all two will argue it's not meddling).
Those who enjoy a funny story will love this book, but those who enjoy a funny story and have read Shakespeare's Macbeth and Hamlet will enjoy it even more. Pratchett does a great job interweaving different aspects of classic plays and fairy tales with the overall plot and flavor of the story, while adding the comedic edge for which he is so well known. And those who have spent even a small amount of time studying modern witchcraft and Wicca will find a few scenes particularly funny.
The story involves the typical royal intrigue and how the smallest twist of fate can change an entire kingdom, and when you throw in Pratchett's three witches, fate is forced to flee in terror. Include travelling actors, a Fool who isn't a fool, a disgruntled ghost, a paranoid king, and a thunderstorm that hopes to one day grow up and be a really big storm, and you're starting to get the idea how wacky things get.
This book is definitely in the top three Discworld novels.

The Complete Guide to the Tarot
The Complete Guide to the Tarot
by Eden Gray
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
86 used & new from $0.08

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Tarot Book, February 2, 2003
This book is The Book to use if you want to learn to read Tarot Cards.
Gray begins with a brief overview of the history of the cards, which not only allows the reader to understand the tradition of the deck, but appreciate the tradition the practitioner is taking on.
She then takes the time to describe each card, highlighting important symbolism within the paintings and explaining their meaning. Each card's meaning, both standard and reversed, is given with enough detail to provide meaning, yet allow the practitioner room to interpret properly given the spread, environment, and recipient. I have yet to read a Tarot book that gives this much detail without the author wandering off into their own personal beliefs for pages on end.
Gray also provides details of different spreads that can be utilized by the practitioner, depending upon their own needs and wishes. The most popular and standard Celtic Cross spread is given first billing, with good description of placement meaning and overall interpretation. An astrological spread is also detailed and summarized quite well. She does an excellent job of including the Tree of Life spread within just a few pages while still grasping the overall meaning and not getting bogged down in the details of this Qabalistic tradition.
If you own a Tarot deck, you should own this book.

The Secret History
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback
105 used & new from $0.01

102 of 122 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising writer, but not the "classic" it has been heralded, January 15, 2003
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
This book is worth reading, but don't set your expectations too high. I wanted to like this book. The reviews and summaries were compelling - Greek students performing ancient rites, a secret society, a bit of mystery topped off with a murder. This was something I couldn't pass up.
I really did want to like this book.
The premise of this book held promise, and unlike other reviewers, I didn't think the beginning was too slow. I was willing to be patient, I was willing to allow Tartt the freedom to develop the characters and establish the scene. And from time to time, I was rewarded. There are some wonderfully written passages in this novel, and I did find a couple of the characters likable. Unfortunately, though, Tartt's flashes of brilliance were usually followed by stumbling blocks of cliches. One moment I would find myself awed by her words, the next moment would find me with my head dropped in disappointment wondering if she bothered to proofread her own work.
I thought the main character was too passive a participant and not interesting at all. Yes, maybe that is who he was supposed to be, but I found myself not caring what happened to him. Usually a passive, unmotivated character kills a novel, and in this case, he nearly did. His actions became increasingly difficult to believe, especially during the winter break when he didn't have the common sense to leave the warehouse where he lived - a room with a hole in the roof that allowed snow to fall into drifts in his room. I can only imagine that Tartt was trying to be purposely cryptic and symbolic here, because for the life of me, I can figure out no other reason why the character would put up with this.

Bunny (the victim as revealed on page one) was the most annoying character I've read in fiction in a while - I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did - which brings up another issue. I had a hard time believing that a person despised this much by everyone around him was allowed into the "circle." He freely spent their money, verbally abused them, and lived off their family in some cases, yet the group felt protective of him for no given reason. Tartt attempted to explain that there was some portion of Bunny's personality that people found mysteriously attractive, but instead of showing us that and allowing the reader to find that same aspect attractive, thereby allowing the reader to sympathize with the other characters' feelings, she merely told us this attractiveness existed.
And while I've lived the college town life and can personally vouch for the experience of being treated differently than a local, Tartt seems to take it to the extreme here. She inconsistently paints this town, one moment it seems like 1950's America with all the typical attitudes, the next moment the town is modern with obvious references to recent lifestyles. I'm not sure if this was intentional, or something Tartt overlooked.
I was disappointed in Tartt's succumbing to the temptation of making incest as the big secret between twin brother and sister. This is more of a cliché than I think most people realize. Brother and sister twins frequently have to field "jokes" from friends concerning their sexual habits, and for Tartt to include that was just another cliché to throw on the large pile she had already built.
What I did enjoy about this novel was what it revealed about our mentors, heroes, and role-models - that they're human. And sometimes as we look up at them, we make them more than they really are. Then faced with a real-life crisis, we learn their faults at a time when we need them to be their strongest. Sometimes those role-models betray us. Unfortunately, this is only briefly revealed near the end of the novel and not fully developed.
Overall, I would recommend reading this book, not because some claim it will one day be a classical, and not because it's a particularly compelling story, but because there are glimpses of what Tartt can become with more experience under her belt.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 3, 2012 4:08 AM PDT

The Path: A New Look At Reality
The Path: A New Look At Reality
by Richard Matheson
Edition: Hardcover
37 used & new from $0.01

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Little Too Sparse, January 13, 2003
As Richard Matheson states in the beginning of "The Path," the goal of this book was to present the reader with a high-level introduction to the works of Harold Percival through a series of ten fictional walks.
The problem is that Matheson's presentation is too high-level, so much so that many of the ideas are over-simplified, or only vaguely referenced. Because of this, the concepts lose their impact, and many times appear as rehashed material from many other books available today.
I enjoy a majority of Matheson's works, and was excited to find this extension of some of the concepts and ideas from "What Dreams May Come," but unfortunately, Matheson was too sparse on the details. I don't feel any more compelled to pick up the works of Percival than I did before. I wish Matheson would have expanded this book to twelve or fifteen walks, or else would have made the walks longer.

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed
Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper--Case Closed
by Patricia Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
858 used & new from $0.01

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite Closed -- Plenty of Reasonable Doubt, December 7, 2002
I've been a fan of Patricia Cornwell's for a number of years, and once I heard she had not only written a book about Jack the Ripper, but claimed to have definitively solved the case, I couldn't wait for it to be published.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one. She must have been in a hurry as well.
Overall this is an average Ripper-Lore book. And while Cornwell offers a lot of new insight into Walter Sickert, the man she claims was Jack the Ripper, she didn't completely convince me that Sickert was the Whitechapel Murderer. She did convince me that the possibility exists that he was Jack the Ripper, but only the possibility. She also convinced me that Walter Sickert may have written some of the hundreds of Ripper letters mailed to the police and newspaper, but she fell way short of placing Sickert anywhere near the murders (or Whitechapel for that matter) when the Ripper struck.
Let me begin with what I liked about this book:
Cornwell gives a good summary of what London, and specifically the East End, was like during the Ripper murders. The plight of the Unfortunates (as the prostitutes were called by the Victorians), especially their daily struggle for food, lodging, and alcohol. She also describes the history of the police force handling the cases quite well.
When discussing the hundreds of Ripper letters that were mailed over the years, Cornwell offers more insight into the mind(s) that may have written them than any other author I'm aware of, and it is in this portion where her most compelling evidence is discussed. She herself admits, though, that this wouldn't hold up in a modern court if Sickert was brought to trial today.
Where Cornwell fell short:
She offers up DNA evidence, from personal letters known to be mailed by Sickert and Ripper letters, but then is forced to quickly dismiss them because the only type of DNA evidence that could be gathered after such a long time only excludes "99% of the population". Hardly a solid match.
Using his artwork, Cornwell claims that certain paintings and sketches Sickert drew over the years were directly inspired by scenes only Jack the Ripper could have seen, but falls short of describing why only Jack the Ripper could have seen them. She also makes the classic mistake of believing that an artist can only create what he has seen. As a writer she should know better, but she continually pounds this point home with description of painting after sketch after painting claiming that he had to have seen it before he could have created it, with no exceptions. This whole assumption is based on one comment Sickert made early in his art career that he could only draw what he had seen. And while this may have remained true throughout his life, there is no such evidence that it did remain true (since he never uttered the remark again), and is hardly worthy of building a murder case on. Cornwell, though, uses this to build nearly half of her argument.
It is well known that the first four Ripper murders were not handled well by the newly established Scotland Yard. But the murder of Mary Kelly presented the police with a nearly sealed crime scene and the conservation of evidence that didn't exist up to that point. But Cornwell spends only a small handful of pages describing this fifth murder attributed to Jack the Ripper, in comparison to whole chapters dedicated to the other murders. Why? I can only think that maybe evidence was found that counters her claim that Sickert was the murderer.
Before the discussion of Mary Kelly (which was saved until nearly the end of the book), Cornwell spends nearly three times as many pages discussing a murder she herself says did not fit the MO of Jack the Ripper and in all likely-hood was not committed by Sickert. The only connection is a painting by Sickert named after the general location where the murder took place. Again, a weak argument, and not the least pertinent to the Ripper case.
Cornwell failed one of the earliest lessons writers are supposed to learn: patience. But I believe she failed it intentionally. There are multiple times in the book where she says that certain results of scientific tests had not returned at the time of publication. These are tests she had commissioned and the results would have shed more light on the case. But Cornwell chose to move forward with publication anyway. Once again, why? If these results could have helped her arguments, why did she proceed without them? If a commitment date had been made by the publisher, this publisher would have pushed off the date in light of new evidence (this happens all the time).
Overall, her biggest mistakes were repeated throughout the book. She takes well known criminological or psychoanalytical theory, constructs a theory about the Ripper's motivation, claims that Sickert felt these same feelings based on no evidence or small amounts of circumstantial evidence, offers that as fact, builds another theory on top of it, then claims it as proof positive Sickert committed the murder. She commits the same "atrocities" she chides others Ripper authors for - makes the facts fit her theory instead building a theory on the facts.
If you're a Cornwell fan, you'll want this venture into non-fiction. If you're a Ripper-lorist, you'll want this latest book for your collection. But if this case was presented to a modern jury with Sickert as the defendant, the verdict would be obvious, because there is plenty of reasonable doubt with Cornwell's case.

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History)
How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History)
by Thomas Cahill
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.07
1165 used & new from $0.01

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthy Read for any level of interest, November 30, 2002
This book is a fun read for anyone regardless of their level of knowledge concerning ancient or European history. Thomas Cahill takes what could have been a dry subject and breaths life into it by stringing together what appears to be random events into a cohesive whole. The story line shows how different events scattered around the European continent worked together to unknowingly hand the responsibility of saving ancient writings and traditions to a culture seen as the least likely to handle the task.
Cahill begins the book with a description of what was lost when Rome fell. Although he offers highlights of different theories as to why Rome fell, as he states, the reasons are not as important to the theme of this book as the fact that Rome did fall and the transfer of knowledge and institutions of learning ceased to exist.
Cahill then focuses on Ireland and its culture at the time of the fall of Rome. Through legends, stories, and poems, Cahill gives the reader a feel of what Ireland was like before Christianity came to the island. For better or worse, once Christianity reached the shores of that small island as far from Rome as one could conceivably get, Ireland and Christianity were both changed forever.
Enter Patricius. Ripped from his home at an early age, Patricius became a slave shepherd boy, where he eventually discovered and came to embody the Christian religion. Not Irish, but once he escaped, not viewed by contemporaries as an equal, Patricius did what no other was able to do - convert an entire culture to Christianity without blood shed. And as may be obvious by now, Patricius later became better known as St. Patrick.
Using varied examples, Cahill shows how the Irish love of language and love of stories and books placed them in a unique position to capture and record the thoughts, languages, and learnings of civilization while that very civilization fell. He also shows how their predisposition not to judge other cultures or religions led them to copy works that were considered heresy, thereby preserving them for future generations who could have never know what had been lost. Also, one other factor contributed to the Irish's ability to save the works of the dying civilization - their location. Because of Ireland's remoteness, many of the wars, politicizing, and diseases that plagued the continent did not reach the shores of Ireland, thereby leaving its residents free to continue their scholarly pursuits.
Cahill could have included much more detail concerning the years when the Irish inhabitants then spread their work back onto the continent, but instead crams all the information into one long chapter that reads no more than a list of who went where. Details concerning the adventures they faced, the troubles they may have run in to, or some of their accomplishments once they reached their destination are either briefly mentioned or excluded. In an effort to keep the book brief and fun to read, Cahill nearly glossed over the very point he was trying to make.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in history, especially ancient or early European history. Cahill has created a work to be proud of, and one that I will keep in my permanent collection.

Wit'ch Storm (The Banned and the Banished #2)
Wit'ch Storm (The Banned and the Banished #2)
by James Clemens
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
148 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Sequel, November 23, 2002
Fresh after finishing Wit'ch Fire, I picked up Wit'ch Storm, expecting a continuation of the fun and wild ride to continue. And because of the surprises, both in plot and writing of the first book, I expected the second book to be even better. As I started reading, though, the seeds of disappoint began to grow.
The opening picks up a few months after the first novel ends, as the main characters recuperated from their adventures and plan the next stage in their journey. Once they leave the safety of the mountains, the next hundred pages are drug out too long fighting the bad guys in a battle that is exciting at first, but quickly loses its tension. I began to wonder if Clemens had panicked and stuck with action to disguise his fear of failure with the second novel. And while action and adventure is a major part of any fantasy story, constant battling can desensitize the reader.
But just before the seeds of disappointed grew into full bloom, Clemens changes gears, almost as if he himself knew the reader would be begging for a change at this point. The story shifts to a different part of the world and introduces all new characters. Clemens, though, quickly establishes that in some manner currently unknown to the reader, destiny has linked these characters to Elena and her rag-tag party.
This portion of the book offers a fresh, exciting look at a different aspect of the universe Clemens created. Set within the seas of Alasea, the reader is introduced to Sy-wen and her mother's seadragon, both viewed by the land dwellers as creatures of myth. Then once the reader has become attached to these new host of characters, Clemens jumps back to the first group as they enter the city of Shadowbrook, where the real events of the second stage of their journey begins. Clemens also brings in a few new characters, particularly a mysterious woman with ties to both Elena and Tol'chuk. This mysterious woman then leads Er'ril and Elena on a journey to the Swamps and Drowned Lake to confront another wit'ch who has cast a spell on Elena that prevents her from using her magic.
Despite the anticipated disappointment the first hundred pages nearly implants in the reader, Clemens has written a wonderfully rich sequel to the first novel of the series. He keeps the plot exciting with reasonable twists and offers the reader deeper glimpses into the world he has created. Also, with the introduction of seadragons, Clemens gives the readers a break from the apostrophe plagued names of Alasea. At first, I thought the lack of an apostrophe in the word 'seadragon' was intentional, some way of distinguishing the ancient history of the seadragons from the more recent history of the events surrounding the plots, but then, as I played around with placing an apostrophe in the word seadragon, I realized there was no way to insert an apostrophe in the word without seriously altering the pronunciation. Therefore, with a sigh, I accepted the possibility that the apostrophe was left out, not by design, but by necessity.
Clemens's writing remained as impressive with this novel as with the first, although there are still a few minor mistakes. The only major writing flaw comes near the end when Elena discovers a new aspect of her talent that directly effects the outcome of the plot. Clemens only spends three very short paragraphs on the discovery, and only one character bothers to wonder at it, while the rest seem to shrug their shoulders with unconcerned acceptance.
Once again, Clemens introduces this book with a confession by the translator, with a Warning Foreword by academia. This continues the atmosphere created in the first novel, that what is being read is counter to what the current authority in Alasea wants to be believed, and that by sterilizing the text with academia requirements, that these texts will be lost in obscurity.
Overall, a worthy successor to the first novel, lacks the sophomore jinx of many series, and leaves the reader clamoring for the next book set in this exciting and wondrous universe.

Lies & Ugliness
Lies & Ugliness
by Brian Hodge
Edition: Paperback
25 used & new from $0.06

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories for the Intelligent Reader, November 11, 2002
This review is from: Lies & Ugliness (Paperback)
This is one of the best quality short story collections to be published in quite a while, as Hodge has once again delivered quality fiction for the intelligent reader.
This collection opens with the thought provoking "Madame Babylon", a story that immediately grabs the reader with a sexual taboo, yet reminds us that within everyone there is a bit of voyeur and exhibitionist. But Hodge doesn't stop there, like with every story in this collection, he takes the idea even further, explores a few deeper themes, themes that examine and question the very things we take for granted, and then wraps it all together in a way that leaves the reader fully identifying with the protagonist, which sometimes isn't a comfortable thought at all.
"Cancer Causes Rats" is another unique story in the collection. Part mystery, part thriller, part horror, this story will keep you guessing the outcome until then end, and that ending will leave you horrified. In this story, like many others, Hodge turns logic upside down and makes it still seem right, leaving the reader with thoughts and impressions afterwards that just can't be shaken.
Three stories in the middle of the book are set in the British Isles, and although he is a native of America, Hodge manages to capture the feel of Great Britain better than many British authors today. A line from the story "Cenotaph" sums it up best: "The thing about England was, you could scarcely throw a mossy stone without hitting something to remind you of how vastly _old_ the place was." "Far Flew the Boast of Him" is a story set in the shared-world setting of Hellboy, but Hodge tackles this in such a way that pre-knowledge of the shared-world is not required, yet he manages to contribute to the mythos in an insightful way not usually accomplished by other authors.
Leaving no genre untouched by his skills, Hodge includes a western in this collection. Not a fan of westerns myself, I expected this story to be my least favorite, and was pleasantly surprised. "Pages Stuck By a Bowie Knife to a Cheyenne Gallows" is one of the best stories of the collection. Offering more than just a typical western, Hodge pushes the boundaries of the genre in this story set in a splintered, anarchic Missouri during the Civil War.
The Endnotes offer the insatiable reader with wonderful little insights into the stories behind the stories. Where the fiction reveals Hodge's intelligence with small glimpses of his sense of humor, the Endnotes expose the author even more, leaving the reader with a warm sense of familiarity for Hodge.
Honestly, I don't know why this author isn't more widely recognized. Hodge has consistently published high quality fiction over the course of the past ten years or more, and yet remains absent from the average reader's vocabulary. With Lies and Ugliness, Hodge has delivered again. And although it has been said many times about many books, the fact remains true with this one: Those who do not read this collection will be missing out on wonderfully intelligent stories that leave long lasting impressions.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 6, 2011 2:54 PM PDT

Witch Fire (The Banned and the Banished, Book 1) (Banned & the Banished)
Witch Fire (The Banned and the Banished, Book 1) (Banned & the Banished)
by James Clemens
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
240 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Debut, November 6, 2002
This is one of the most impressive fantasy novels I've read in sometime. Refreshingly original, Clemens paints a realistically dark picture of a land secretly oppressed by forces that hide in the shadows of the background. Meanwhile, scattered forces of good, some of whom were alive five hundred years before when things were different, wander this darkened landscape instinctively knowing that things could be and should be changed.
Clemens shows a descriptive power usually reserved for well-seasoned, veteran writers that makes his story compelling to the point of amazement. His mix of vivid imagery, character development, and a gift for juggling multiple story lines quickly and thoroughly pull the reader deeply into the story.
The opening pages of the book let the reader know immediately that this is a book different than others on the shelf. The book opens with various warnings, one in particular by the Director of University Studies that warns of the penalties of allowing this book to fall into the hands of the unprepared. This is followed by a document that must be signed and thumbprinted by the receiver of this issue. The story is then introduced by the author of the ancient text who eludes to the high cost of telling his tale.
The story shifts to the narrative of Elena and the strange mix of companions that accompany her on her new found adventure of magical self-discovery - shape-shifters stuck in their current form, an out-cast og're, a mage on a quest to discover his lost king, and a one-armed warrior destined to serve as Elena's guardian but weighed down by a secret guilt from five hundred years before. Clemens mixes these characters together, while keeping the plot moving forward at a near blinding pace, in a masterful way, that leaves the reader desperately grasping for the next book in the series.
If this author had never written another word, he would still be viewed as one of the best fantasy authors to publish in a while, but with more books waiting in the wings, this author promises even more exciting and compelling adventures ahead.

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