Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Douglas J. Wood’s Presidential Intentions: A Book Review

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Douglas J. Wood’s press team recently contacted me about reviewing his Samantha Harrison trilogy, so here we are. Published in 2014, the first novel, Presidential Intentions, follows the life of a fictional, moderate Republican presidential candidate Samantha Harrison and her run for office in 2016. The text creates a candidate that, at least at the time of composition, fills the post Obama niche as a member of the political right that can unify America’s moderate force and a natural lurch to the conservatism after Obama’s move to the left. While the political scene went a drastically different direction, the novel still holds merit.

At times the text dazzles, creating a unique character with an interesting vision of the world. Harrison is a strong, principled woman, a maverick in the true sense, and Wood crafts her with precision. The plot plays into the political machine, dabbling in the power brokers that create both low and high level political candidates, it dances around the election process, and exposes the deep seeds of political patriarchy. But the text focuses mostly on the candidate’s past, eschewing the majority of her political campaign for President of the United States outside of speech excerpts that start each chapter. Written with short chapters that dart across Harrison’s history, Wood struggles to paint a coherent vision for his novel. Was this book about a political insider and her rise or her marriage or her relationships with criminals she persecuted or running for president?

For a section of the book we enter covert terrorist operations, glaze over torture, and then discuss the moral merits of abortion. While some of the topics can be heavy handed, Wood does an admirable job of creating an interesting woman and keeping the reader plunging through the text in an effort to discover what will happen next. In doing so, he writes more of a prologue to a deeper story, one the next two novels aim to tell. If you are looking for a steady read and a dip into the world of politics, give the text a look. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chris Lear’s Running with the Buffaloes: A Book Review

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Chris Lear’s iconic narrative, Running with the Buffaloes, follows the 1998 University of Colorado Cross Country Team. Iconic may not lavish this text with enough praise. Lear writes what one who follows and coaches running would call a perfect text. Running, especially high school and college cross country teams, creates a brotherhood. This bond seems odd to outsiders—something they just don’t get, but distance runners bond together. Their sport offers the unique ability to punish their bodies for long periods of time, but unlike football or wrestling, the runners can hold a full conversation throughout their journey. A two-hour run is a hard, taxing workout, but it is often done with a band of teammates and with the baring of one’s soul.

That said, Lear follows the entire season for Colorado, doing so with unfettered access. He details the difficulties of a team looking to break onto the national stage and claim a national championship. Yet, this is not a team stocked full of Mercedes Benz runners. Outside of a couple guys, most of the runners are homegrown athletes without the championship pedigree of the their top name competitors. Thus, this is a season where Coach Mark Wetmore is forced to push his team to the limits in order to try to achieve both a team and individual championship.

Lear expertly reports on each and every experience. Using his background as a runner himself, he is able to display the hijinks, the workouts, and the scattered path the leads a group of individuals from disparate backgrounds to become a team. Injuries strike, misfortune sneaks in, and the pages turn with a heightened, heartfelt tension that inspires one and all alike.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Naomi Novik’s Empire of Ivory: A Book Review

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Naomi Novik’s Empire of Ivory picks up just after book three, Black Powder War, concludes but holds the urgency. This time the plight rests not in the war with France, but rather with the illnesses of the English dragons. It seems that the cold Temeraire caught on his way to China was in fact a mysterious disease that had swept across Britain and in his absence has been decimating the dragon population. While many of died, others cling to life. While the addition of the feral dragons has helped defend the coast from invasion, with an increasingly zealous force of French dragons, a cure must be found, at any cost. Thus, since Temeraire was cured by eating strange foods concocted by his Chinese chaperons at the time, Laurence and he take off for Africa to discern the source of the cure and recreate the cure.

Thus the journey begins. While Laurence fights with Riley over allowing a black missionary aboard their ship, the novel heads down Novik’s familiar paths. There will be a long wait, then a flurry of action. Scenes of despair—they cannot seem to find the right mushroom, and then when they do they discover a dangerous and growing civilization of African dragons hell-bent on punishing the European interlopers for the slave trade. All of this comes to head as Temeraire and Laurence must make a decision on whether the cure is theirs for the taking or something that should fall into the hands of all dragons, both friend and foe.