Greek Mythology: Beyond Mount Olympus by in60learning

Greek Mythology: Beyond Mount OlympusGreek Mythology: Beyond Mount Olympus

by in60learning
Series: in60Learning
</brKindle Edition, 38 pg.
in60Learning, 2018

Read: March 10, 2018

“It’s not by chance what Americans say when in need of a specialized or precise term, that ‘the Greeks have the word for it’.” -Aikaterini Spanakaki-Kapetanopoulos

Let me start by saying that I still think that the in60Learning project is a great idea and I hope it puts out a lot of material. I just hope that in their rush for quantity, they don’t skimp on quality. From the typographical errors to the way this was written, I think that’s a real danger.

Still, let’s focus on this volume — they really did go beyond Mount Olympus in their coverage of Greek Mythology, let’s look at the contents of this book:
An Overview of Greek Mythology
The Creation
The Gods of Mount Olympus
Other Gods, Spirits and the Stars
The Underworld and Other Beings in Greek Mythology
The Human Race and the Gods
Greek Mythology in Today’s World
That’s a lot for anyone to tackle in a book much longer than this — it’s a Herculean effort to get that much into a book this small (pun fully intended). But they go for more than an overview of Greek Mythology, they try to suggest some deeper meanings, to tie their topic into philosophical discussions and the like. Some of that worked, some of that seemed like a stretch — and some fell flat (that last paragraph, in particular, was a complete mess). You’ve got to admire the effort, though.

Not only did they cover a wide range of topics, but they worked in a lot of detail — maybe too much in some instances (including the Roman equivalent names at some points felt like they were striving for word count rather than being thorough).

One of the main theses of the book is the impact that Greek Myth had on Western Culture/the English Language, as is seen in the quotation I borrowed above and they utilized to drive home the point. Not only did they prove this point (in case anyone thought it worthy of debating), but they overdid it. At a certain point, the sections along these lines just became lists:

From the Greek god of sleep, Hypnos, is derived the word hypnosis.
From the Greek legend of the King Tantalus, is derived the word tantalize. He was condemned for eternity to stand up to his chin in the middle of a river with a fruit tree above him. Whenever he tried to drink the water, it receded from him, or grab a fruit, it pulled away from him.
From the Greek god of love, Eros, is derived the word erotic.
From the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is derived the word aphrodisiac. . . .
From the god of fire and blacksmithing, Vulcan (Greek: Hephaestus), is derived the words volcano and vulcanizing.
From the Roman goddess of grain and farming, Ceres (Greek: Demeter), is derived the word cereal.

That goes on for pages (depending how you have your text size set). The facts are good, they’re on point, but it’s not good reading.

The basic overview of the Olympian myths, the origin of the universe, the war with the Titans, etc. was pretty solid. Nothing remarkable, but decently executed. The writing as a whole, however, didn’t impress me — frequently, but particularly as the authors tried to wrap up each chapter, the writing felt like it was lifted from High School term papers. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but I got the impression that this series was supposed to be better than that.

This one didn’t work for me, but I bet there are people out there who will be helped by it. These people didn’t check out D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths so many times from 3rd to 6th grade that the library might as well have given me a copy (not counting the other books on the subject I read, reread, bought, etc. at that age) or haven’t had kids during the Riordan-era of publishing. Basically, I should’ve skipped this one, I think. This slim volume took some big swings — amount of material, range of material, a couple of the “Big Ideas” running through the book, and whiffed on them all (to stick with the metaphor, I do think it caught a piece of a couple of the pitches). A strong effort, but not one that worked for me.

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2 1/2 Stars

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Golden Gremlin by Rod A. Walters

Golden GremlinGolden Gremlin: A Vigorous Push from Misanthropes and Geezers

by Rod A. Walters

Kindle Edition, 228 pg.
Omega Man Press, 2016

Read: February 1 – 2, 2018


Edmund Kean (1787 – 1833) — or someone else, it’s unclear — said “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Stand-ups, actors, and writers alike will testify to at least the latter. The downside is that those that do the hard work, those that are good at comedy make it look easy. Too often it seems that people (professional and amateur alike) go for the easy approach, and it’s never a good idea.

There’s also no accounting for taste.

I’ll accept either as the explanation for why this book left me underwhelmed.

Walters assumes a curmudgeonly tone, calling himself a misanthrope and taking shots at the foibles of the culture around him. The younger set is a particularly favorite target. Too often his pieces come across as angry Facebook rants, written by someone who spouts off against social media. Still, his points are occasionally clever and his jokes show promise. If he’d subject each of these two a few more revision passes, I could imagine myself enjoying many of these.

I’d strongly encourage reading this in small bursts — the essays don’t build on each other, there’s some references between the two, but nothing you won’t remember even after a few days. I wouldn’t do more than one or two in a sitting or Walters’ charm will wear thin.

Walters says that he wrote to make Dave Barry and Ben Stein laugh. If he’d invoked Andy Rooney, I might have agreed with him. I didn’t dislike the book, but I sure didn’t like it. Walters was frequently amusing — and I have no trouble thinking that many would find him funny. But not me. At least not without a few more drafts.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour.

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2 1/2 Stars

Moshe Comes to Visit by Tehila Sade Moyal, Fatima Pires

Moshe Comes to VisitMoshe Comes to Visit

by Tehila Sade Moyal, Fatima Pires (Illustrator)

Kindle Edition, 30 pg.
Simple Story, 2017

Read: November 2, 20017


I feel like saying anything less than positive about this cute little book is the equivalent of kicking a puppy. Which doesn’t mean that this is going to be glowing, it just means that I’m already feeling bad about what I’m going to say.

Martin hears something that scares him in the night — a classic starting point for a kid’s book — and his parents try to help him find the monsters. They turn on the lights, look through his room, etc. This is all well and good so far, until we get the couplet: “In this manner, several nights go by, / With no apparent fear in either parent’s eyes.” Huh? The parent’s aren’t scared? Isn’t that the point? Anyway, Dad gets the idea to write “an agreement with fears.”

This agreement is the key to the book — there’s even a blank Agreement form in the back for the reader’s own use. Sadly, I don’t understand the agreement — and I can’t imagine that I’m the only parent who’d like to try something like this, but can’t figure out exactly what’s supposed to be the point.

We transition from this to Martin’s mother beings scared by something in her bathroom. Great idea — even moms and dads get scared. It turns out that Mom’s scared by a cockroach — a talking ‘roach, I should stress — who Martin befriends. I like, I really like this part of the story. And then to help Mom deal with her fear of Moshe, Martin comes up with an agreement for his mom like the one they came up with earlier for him. I even kind of understood this one.

As soon as it’s accomplished, Moshe leaves and the book’s over. What? I don’t get it. This book is supposed to help kids deal with their fears — and it might, work in the original language,but in English . . . . nope.

Pires’ art was fine. Nothing fantastic, but that’s it. I’d have appreciated a smaller cockroach, but if he can talk, maybe he’s like one of Narnia’s Talking Beasts and has to be larger. I’m not sure. Otherwise, that was fine.

It’s cute, and comes close to working, but just doesn’t. A little editing, a little clarifying, and maybe you have a cute book that helps kids with fears. Right now, it just doesn’t.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

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2 1/2 Stars

Not a Drill (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Not a DrillNot a Drill

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #18.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr., 27 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: March 14, 2017


Reacher sets out for the Canadian border, to make it as far north on this Interstate as possible, just because. Not too far south from there, he stops in a tourist-y town, a haven for backpackers, hikers, wilderness types in general. Before he leaves, a whole lot of military types show up and block access to the forest from the town (well, they try to — the forest is pretty big, it’s impossible to block access to the whole thing).

This gets Reacher’s curiosity piqued and he starts poking around to see if he can understand why.

I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty here, but not a single fight. No threat of violence breaking out. Mostly, it’s Reacher walking around and observing things before making a heck of a guess/deduction that proved to be right.

Dark, cynical ending — one of Child’s more political statements.

Hill was okay, not terribly interesting, but I think that’s Child’s fault this time.

It’s not bad. It’s just disappointing, short and . . . bleh. Proof that they can’t all be winners, I guess.

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2 1/2 Stars

Pipeliner by Shawn Hartje

PipelinerPipeliner

by Shawn Hartje

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Helen Springs Press, 2016

Read: March 14 – 15, 2016

I just don’t know what to say about this one. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man in the 1990’s growing up in (what I believe is) a fictionalized Idaho Falls, Idaho. It’s arguable how much Jason Krabb actually comes of age here — you could make a pretty decent case that he regresses throughout the book.

Jason’s main goal in life is to become a rock star in Portland, OR or Seattle, WA — along the way, he’d like to have a girlfriend and party a lot. He spends a lot of time and energy becoming pretty mediocre at guitar, and hangs out with a poser who’s new to town and a couple of older friends who are more interested in scholastic success and their futures (a concept Jason can’t really wrap his brain around). He’s got an older brother studying at Princeton and dating a nursing student, a very successful mother and a less-successful father who’s browbeat by the other constantly.

The writing is uninspired and dull, there’s no life to it at all — just a dry recitation of what’s going on. To be fair, there’s a bit of flair displayed when he writes little Lake Wobegone-inspired descriptions of things from Jason’s mother’s perspective, but I never saw the point of those, they didn’t seem to add anything. The sex scenes are perfunctory and clumsy (fitting for a seventeen year-old’s initial fumblings, I guess), at least those involving Jason. The one with Jason’s parents was just . . . odd and unnecessary. There were a couple of anachronisms that bugged me, but by and large, his history is good — he captures the feeling of the time, while maybe overplaying the pre-dawn of the Internet as we know it a little bit.

Were I an LDS youth of that era, I might be offended at the depiction of both the straight-laced LDS and the backsliders. If I were someone who spent time with a lot of LDS at the time depicted in the book, I might say it was pretty accurate. Either way, it’s going to be divisive.

There’s nothing new here — stylistically, narratively, or in terms of character. It’s all cliché, it’s not original, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before — and likely better. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth your time and effort. While reading it, I spent a lot of time annoyed by the book — but there’s nothing to rant about here. At Hartje tried to do something, but like Jason, did the bare minimum and it shows (not unlike what I did here).

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — sorry Mr. Hartje.

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2 1/2 Stars

Blackbeard’s Daughter by Diana Strenka

Blackbeard's DaughterBlackbeard’s Daughter

by Diana Strenka

Kindle Edition, 199 pg.
2016

Read: October 6 – 7, 2016


Edward Teach had a rough childhood dominated by a harsh, abusive, taskmaster of a father. He eventually grows to manhood, marries and takes over the family estate — as soon as he can, he takes his wife and daughter to the New World and the freshly established colonies.

The focus of this story turns to his daughter, Margaret — and she has a rough crossing of the Atlantic, and doesn’t take to the New World too well. It’s a dramatic time for British settlers — battles with the natives and others disrupt the lives of the Teaches in dramatic fashion, death, injury, and loss of home and income. Margaret’s world is turned upside down several times, the last time when her father starts going to sea for months at a time, only turning up unexpectedly.

She eventually learns that he’s the pirate Blackbeard (not really a spoiler folks, look at the title) and goes to sea with him for a while. Almost none of this part of the novel works — and when it ends, it’s almost a relief.

There’s a plotline about Margaret and her efforts to help free slaves that’s sentimentally nice, but doesn’t seem to ring true and doesn’t really go anywhere.

I have no idea how close any of this novel comes to matching historical data, it has a ring of authenticity augmented by imagination, but I can’t be sure.

Everything almost worked — almost — but I can’t think of anything that actually did. There’s an earnestness to the text that will draw you in and make you root for the author, but that’s really the best I can say.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post and my honest opinion. Sorry.

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2 1/2 Stars

The House of Secrets (Audiobook) by Brad Meltzer, Tod Goldberg, Scott Brick, January LaVoy

The House of Secrets The House of Secrets

by Brad Meltzer, Tod Goldberg, Scott Brick (Narrator), January LaVoy(Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hrs, 14 min.
Hachette Audio, 2016
Read: September 22 – 28, 2016


I’ve appreciated the work of Meltzer (comics only, haven’t tried a novel) and Tod Goldberg in the past, so I was intrigued by the idea of them working together, but the book itself just didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Then I heard them interviewed on The Writers Panel podcast and I changed my mind (give it a listen, it’s fun).

Boy was that a mistake. Mostly.

So, the host of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not-esque show all about the crazy conspiracies, hidden stories, and unexplained throughout history is about to retire but is killed in an auto accident. His son and daughter are in the car with him — Junior survives with minor bumps and bruises, Hazel is seriously injured and suffers a traumatic brain injury. She pretty much forgets who she is.

She starts investigating her own background and starts finding questions about her father and his show — there seems to be more than just a TV show afoot. And…yeah, I just can’t care enough to do more than this, I’ve already spent more time on this than I wanted to.

It was a fun, potboiler-y book that was entertaining enough to justify the ten hours — and then the ending, the explanation for everything, and the denouement were horrible. Not just disappointing, but worse. It really made me mad.

I typically like Scott Brick’s narration — but something about the approach he used this time just didn’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on why — maybe it was a bit too aggressive sounding? Like I said, I really don’t know. I did find LaVoy’s work interesting and engaging, however. Maybe it was the contrast between the two that left Brick’s performance wanting (I don’t think so, but it’s a thought that occurs).

As frustrating as I found the story (eventually beyond frustrating), it was an entertaining, gripping book. Structurally sound, moved along at a good pace — everything you want in escapist fiction. But man . . . the ending (and really all of it, therefore, as it is a mystery) was plain ol’ bad. The first 9-ish (maybe 8-ish) hours were good enough that I can’t rate this too low (but man, the ending made me want to).

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2 1/2 Stars