Monthly Archives: July 2014

Edward Crichton, The Last Roman

(2014-06-21 001)Title: The Last Roman

Author: Edward Crichton

Series: Praetorian Series ; book 1

Publication Information: c2012

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Soldiers–United States–Fiction
Time travel–Fiction
Rome–History–Caligula, 37-41–Fiction

It’s the year 2021. The world in engaged in World War III. No nuclear weapons have been used yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Two billion people are already dead, and many cities lie in ruins. Pakistan and India are in all-out war. Russia is attempting to annex sections of Central and Eastern Europe–with the European Union at war with them. North Korea has overrun most of South Korea–a “rump” south still existing at the tip of the peninsula, where American forces are also fighting. As for Africa, “Their part in the conflict was, for once, not to fight amongst themselves, but to somehow put aside their differences and wage war against just about everyone else,” which thus destabilizes the entire Mediterranean Region. The Chinese, except for continued trade with the West, closes their borders and engages in war with the Russians. The South American countries are at war with each other. Even the United States’ neighbor, “… Mexico became a war zone when Mexico was overrun by guerilla [sic.] forces led by communists and warlords alike, who had been slowly building their armies for years, mostly thanks to Russian benefactors. Russia had finally succeeded where the Germans had failed during WWI by opening up a second front against The United States of America.” Most horrifyingly of all, the Vatican is attacked.

A terrorist attack (using gas) on the Vatican kills many pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square, but those inside the church are safe. (St. Peter’s facade is equipped with super-secret vents that can seal off the building.) “While millions of Catholics mourned, the attack had another unexpected side effect that would united all of Christendom in a way it had not seen since the days before Martin Luther. … No one had any idea that almost overnight, sects of Christians ranging from Anglicans, Baptists, and Lutherans to Protestants of all sorts, were in complete support of their Catholic brothers and sisters. The situation did not progress as far as uniting all Christians under a single religion, but there were many converts and the Pope began to influence decisions of all Christians again, not just Catholics.” (I guess the Bob Jones University crew and their like gave up their anti-papal rants for the greater good. And the Eastern Orthodox are never mentioned. Perhaps they aren’t considered Christians?) The Pope stops just short of calling for a new crusade. Still,  a lot of people from various nations flock to serve him in a secret new wing of the Swiss Guards, an elite force secretly called the Pope’s Praetorians.

Jacob Hunter, the protagonist, is a former Navy SEAL who transferred because he wanted to “serve a greater good.” He’s Catholic, of course, but has had a troubled adolescence, stealing constantly. Somehow he becomes an excellent student who gets a BA in classics with a proficiency in Latin. His Masters degree is never completed, however, because his father insists that he go into the military; it’s a family tradition. In the end, Jacob becomes a SEAL. His mother dies while he is deployed, and ole’ Dad blames him for not being there. After the Vatican is attacked and Jacob transfers to the Praetorians, Dad is again unforgiving.

Once the group ends up in ancient Rome–pulled through a blue orb that can unbalance the mind the more time one spends around it–their leader already dead, the second-in-command, the priest in the group, assumes the leadership role, and he decides to help the Emperor Caligula in his conquests. Having brought along a huge amount of ammo from the future, the Praetorians begin their interference in history. Hunter warns them not to do it. (Hunter is also a science fiction geek.) He warns that tampering with history can have dire consequences.

Nonetheless, the priest leads his team to completely support Caligula in any way they can. Except that the priest isn’t what he appears to be. See, papal intelligence knows about the orb being a time machine of sorts, so the “priest,” who has never taken holy orders, is sent back to change time so that (I assume) World War III will not take place. This is justified because Jesus had already been crucified, and the Church had already been established. (Nothing “relevant” would be changed?)

I don’t even know where to start. I couldn’t even get my mind around the premise. That’s the problem with these future end-of-the-world stories for me: they have to have some plausibility with what’s actually going on in the world. Most of them don’t. All the states in Africa turning their attention outward to make war is incomprehensible. If Russia and China were fighting along their huge border, I doubt that the Russians would be able to continue attacking the EU or support the American “second front,” Mexico. North Korea could expect little help from an embattled China if it invaded South Korea. And, of course, the shrinking U.S. military budget is also to blame for much of America’s woes.

All Christian sects, excepting the Catholics and Uniates, agree on one thing: the Pope is not the supreme head of the church. A bomb leveling St. Peter’s Basilica wouldn’t bring the churches back together under the leadership of the Pope. The Crusades were a military failure; they did nothing to stem the tide of Muslim expansion. The Fourth Crusade gravely weakened the Byzantine Empire–a Christian state that had held off the tide of Islam from engulfing Europe in the Dark Ages. Gravely weakened, the Byzantines could not stop the advancing Turks, and the empire ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. That crusade also diverted much needed aid from reaching the Holy Land, which only hastened the fall of the Crusader states along the coast. The medieval papacy was militaristic, basically abandoning spiritual matters, which led to corruption, which eventually led to the Reformation.

Almost the first quarter of the book is spent on weaponry and what it can do, what ammo it takes, etc.; it became techno-babble to me. Hunter’s got a repeating rifle that can shoot so many yards with exploding ammo. Okay, that’s all I need. I nearly gave up reading the book when the group was pulled into the Rome at the time of Caligula, so I decided to stick it out.

Romans did not wear togas all the time. People are digging in togas, Praetorians are wearing togas over their armor, there’s togas everywhere. When Hunter first sees the men in togas, he says that they resembled fraternity guys at a keg party. Togas look nothing like frat boys wrapped in bedsheets. Togas were an extremely complex dress that was hard to wear. The person needed help getting the garment on, getting it adjusted, and then had to carefully help hold the toga together. It was a pain in the ass to wear and only worn on formal occasions.

Oh, and Caligula could never have crucified a fourth of the Senate or any other citizens, since Roman citizens could not be crucified. It was against Roman law to crucify any citizen. Crucifixion was reserved for non-citizens and slaves. This is why Jesus of Nazareth, a non-citizen, and the followers of Spartacus, all slaves, could be crucified. St. Paul, who was a Roman citizen, was beheaded.

I read some of Jerry Ahern’s The Survivalist pulp novels when they first came out. Those books dealt with post-World War III, but there was no time travel involved. The old Soviets-vs.-America war was once more rehashed, and I quickly got tired of it and gave up after the third novel. This novel reminded me of them.

Obviously, this book wasn’t my cup of tea. If you like military hardware and love having military protagonists blazing through adventure after adventure, then this one is for you.

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Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of what new books the library bought.

(2014-03-07 001)Title: Biscuits and Scones: 62 Recipes from Breakfast Biscuits to Homey Desserts

Author: Elizabeth Alston

Publication Information: New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. ; Distributed by Crown Publishers, c1988

ISBN: 0-517-56345-2

Library of Congress Classification: TX770.B55

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Biscuits
Scones

I’ve always loved the idea of having tea. Tea time is one custom that the United States should have kept, but it was dumped with the British crown after the Revolution.

This cookbook’s name says it all. I love scones. I made three recipes from this book, Peggy’s Cheese Scones (p. 42-43), the Fresh Herb-Olive Oil Scones (p. 48-49), and Hot Cross Scones (p. 30-31). I did not use all white flour but mixed it with whole wheat flour. I’m not a baker, but I’m sure this changed the consistency. However, the cheese scones turned out well as did the herb-olive oil ones, which I made two batches. The hot cross scones were okay; the consistency threw me, since hot cross buns are much lighter than scones.

There are some great recipes. Besides scones, there are recipes for biscuits as well as shortcakes and a variety of other types of baked goods, both savory and sweet: Ham or Smoked Turkey Biscuits (p. 35); Biscuit Pissaladiere (p. 36-37); Dried Fruit Biscuit Strudel (p. 61-63); Coffee-Hazelnut Scones (p. 70-71); and instructions on how to enjoy A Devonshire Cream Tea (p. 86).

There should be something for everyone in this collection. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

Kevin Hearne, Hounded; Hexed; Hammered

(2014-06-19 001)Author: Kevin Hearne

Series: The Iron Druid Chronicles

Publication Information: New York: Ballantine Books, 2011 (Del Rey mass market ed.)

Title: Hounded

ISBN: 978-0-345-52247-4

Title: Hexed

ISBN: 978-0-345-52249-8

Title: Hammered

ISBN: 978-0-345-52248-1

Library of Congress Classification: PS3608.E263

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Druids and druidism–Fiction
Goddesses–Fiction
Gods–Fiction
Magic–Fiction
Dogs–Fiction
Human-animal communication–Fiction
Werewolves–Fiction
Vampires–Fiction
Demonology–Fiction

Think of a world where all the pantheons of all the world’s deities are real. Add to this mix vampires, werewolves and witches–and Druids. Atticus O’Sullivan (his current alias; real name: Siodhachan Ó Suileabháin) is the protagonist. He looks 21 and has the libido of a 21-year-old, but he’s really 2,100 years old. He’s also the last of the Druids, so he tries to keep a low profile in the world, which usually doesn’t work. Long ago, he made a deal with The Morrigan, the Celtic goddess of war, and she has allowed him to live on in the world. Each week, he takes a cup of immortal tea that keeps him 21.

Atticus owns an occult shop where he sells books and different types of tea for different types of ailments. He also possesses the magical sword Fragarach. Atticus’ power comes from the earth, so he always tries to fight with his bare feet planted on the ground. The Celtic tattoos covering his right arm can also be used by him to channel energy from the earth. With his dog Oberon, with whom he’s able to telepathically communicate, Atticus lives in Tempe, Arizona. He chose the New World and the desert because there are no Old World deities in the area.

In the first book, Hounded, Atticus finds that his old enemy Aenghus Óg, the Celtic god of love, has discovered where he’s living. For centuries, Atticus has been on the run from this god, who wants to kill him and take Fragarach. Only recently has Aenghus Óg started causing trouble that alarms The Morrigan. Something is amiss, and she knows that Aenghus Óg is in the middle of it. And thus does Atticus get involved in battle, accompanied by werewolves.

In Hexed, the aftermath of Aenghus Óg’s defeat and the problems he created, are being addressed by Atticus. He ends up teamed with Coyote, the Native American trickster god, to destroy a fallen angel. Meanwhile, his vampire lawyer works on a non-aggression treaty with a coven of Polish witches after a few of them joined Aenghus Óg’s side in the last book. (Atticus does not like or trust witches.) A group of Bacchants from Vegas come to town, bringing destruction in their wake. These followers of the Roman god Bacchus start orgies that always end with the followers killing and even eating the initiates; Atticus and his friends therefore move against them. (Note: in this universe, the Roman and Greek pantheons are completely separate. Atticus taunts Bacchus by telling him he’s a pale imitation of Dionysus, which infuriates the Roman god.) Then there’s the new cult of witches who move into town; this group had ties to the Nazis. Atticus had battled them before during World War II. It’s also inconvenient that the local police believe Atticus is responsible for a few murders, so the Druid has to tread lightly.

In Hammered, Atticus has acquired an apprentice, but he doesn’t know just how long he’ll be able to stay in Tempe. His vampire lawyer and one of his werewolf associates from the law firm want Thor, the Norse god of thunder, dead. Seems that the Asgardian really is an asshole; those who can stand him describe him as “a douche bag.” He is the friend of no mortal, and has even pulled many nasty tricks on some deities. Joined by entities from other pantheons, Atticus leads the group to Asgard to make war with Thor. The resulting battle does real damage that forces Atticus to pull up roots and flee Tempe.

I liked these books. Some of the funniest dialog goes on between Atticus and Oberon as they communicate mentally. Also, Atticus likes to not only take off his shoes for battle but also takes off his clothes at times. (Lying on his right side on the ground, the earth’s power flows faster into him via his tattoos.) Watching Atticus negotiate the modern world as well not offending the deities with whom he comes into contact with is fun.

If seeing the Virgin Mary administer to today’s poor and downtrodden, and Jesus appearing as a Black man and having a drink with Atticus in a local Tempe bar doesn’t offend, then these books are for you.

Richard Gleaves, Sleepy Hollow: Rise Headless and Ride

(2014-06-21 002)Title: Sleepy Hollow: Rise Headless and Ride

Author: Richard Gleaves

Series: Jason Crane ; book 1

Publication Information: c2013

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Teenagers–Juvenile fiction
Headless Horseman (Fictitious character)–Juvenile fiction
Sleepy Hollow (N.Y.)–Juvenile fiction

Ah, teenage angst. It runs all through this book.

Jason Crane is like his namesake: tall, lanky, a scarecrow with hair that falls down over his eyes. Both his parents died when he was a child, and he’s been raised by his grandmother Eliza, who has always been an independent thinker and did what she wanted. Jason is also strange because through touch he can see the future and, typically, he doesn’t want the ability and in order to hide (and escape) it he does what appears to be odd behavior; he’s weird.

Most of the action takes place in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Jason attends the local high school, where he’s bullied even though it’s supposed to be a bully-free zone. (I’ve always wondered about this. Are these schools really bully-free, or is this just another fiction created by administrators to allay parents’ fears?) The typical quarterback of the football team is at the top of the food chain, and one of the first things he does is to pull a prank on Jason with the team mascot, the Headless Horseman.

The Headless Horseman haunts (for want of a better word) the entire book. He’s always there in the background, an image of terror for Jason. Jason is a descendant of Ichabod Crane, and the courting of Katerina Van Tassel as recorded in Irving’s Legend was a historical fact. Ichabod moved away from Sleepy Hollow and Katerina settled in with Brom Bones (Abraham Van Brunt) and started a family. Ichabod’s son, Absalom, disappeared years after his father’s death; no one knows what happened to him. We find out that his disappearance is linked to Sleepy Hollow and the Van Brunts.

You see, the Headless Horseman is only part of the evil that has haunted Sleepy Hollow for centuries, and it centers on the Van Brunts. Hadewych Van Brunt, the descendant of Brom and Katerina, wants the power that his forefathers welded so to restore the Van Brunt fortune. He brutalizes his son Zef, a closet case with a drinking problem, and he manipulates Eliza, his lover Valerie Maule, and Jason. Jason never does warm up to him and thinks that everything about him is phoney. It is Hadewych who talked Eliza into buying a house where the millpond at Philipsburg Manor can be seen. This house was originally owned by the Van Brunts–the house where one-time matriarch Agathe Van Brunt welded the power for selfish reasons and who, like Absalom, disappeared without a trace.

Valerie is one of the modern victims of the curse. Speaking through a hole in her neck, Valerie is  perhaps the only survivor of a power that has taken so many lives before her. She fears the night in Sleepy Hollow and will only come to the village during the day. The evil all goes back to Agathe.

It took me a long time to read this book. I would read a chapter or two, and then go on to read something else. The treatment of the underdog who never does overcome what’s being done to him bothered me. However, this is the first book in the series. It’s well-written, and the characters are interesting.

I’ve started a bibliography of materials that use Irving’s Legend in some way.