Book Review: Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters (Five Stars)

Book Review: Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters

Five Stars

“The manifold gifts of God are those to be delighted in, to fall short of joy would be ingratitude.”

Better with each reading. I discovered Cadfael twenty years ago. I have read each book at least twice since as well as watched all thirteen ITV episodes. Though they have some merit, the latter turned the originals inside out.

“It’s no blame to men if they try to put into their own artifacts all the colors and shapes God put into his.”

Saint Peter’s Fair is a murder mystery, but it is also an immersion in medieval culture and history, a reflection on the world and man’s place in it, and a romance. Peters weaves all her threads into a fascinating tapestry simultaneously fun and informative.

“Penitence is in the heart, not in the word spoken.”

Earlier readings left me with the impression that Cadfael was a twentieth century man in medieval monk’s robes, but he is thoroughly a reflection of his time, though he rises above the stereotypes.

“What you see is only a broken part of a perfect whole.”

Book Review: Orphan Pirates on the Spanish Main by Dennis Danvers (Three Stars)

Book Review: Orphan Pirates on the Spanish Main by Dennis Danvers

Three Stars

“Our parents were strange, out of step with their culture, and maybe they didn’t prepare us for life in the real world, but I’ve made my peace with them.”

A fun and funny fantasy (?) about life and love and parents. Short and pithy.

“I’ve come to believe all times are good times, each moment wondrous. Everything happens when it should. Even me and my big mouth.”

The coarse language is unnecessary. Lost a star for it.

“Nothing lasts.”

Book Review: Superhighway by Alex Fayman (Two Stars)

Book Review: Superhighway by Alex Fayman

Two Stars

(Spoilers abound. You don’t want to read this anyway.)

“The way I perceived the world was more from my emotional state than the environment itself.”

Interesting concept: Trekkian teleportation through wires (“electroportation”) due to a genetic aberration/manipulation. Entire body including whatever clothes and stuff he’s holding. Execution was deficient. Start with the hero’s name: Alex Fine (note author’s name).

Written for young adult readers it is especially unfit for that audience. The hero is an immoral, antisocial misanthrope who lies, cheats, steals, even kills with abandon. He uses drugs and alcohol simultaneously. He’s not amoral; he knows he’s doing wrong; he just keeps doing it.

The hero becomes a twisted Robin Hood, stealing from gangsters and banks to fund charities. He or his friends spout various sermons on various politically correct topics, even as he pillages and plunders–even admitting that innocent lives are ruined by his actions.

The writing is stilted. Apparently, English is not the author’s primary language. Dialogue: “I am from Los Angeles.” I am also from Los Angeles.” Really? Sounds like robots, not LA teens. Or, “Henry, listen to me, I’m your brother.” “…, Henry.” “Listen, George …” Or “trying to protect my credo.”?

Technical issues: Doesn’t the author realize that most businesses and government agencies back up their files in physically off-line storage? Hero’s always hungry, presumably because Continue reading

Transportation Security Mis-administration

Ineffective, invasive, incompetent, inexcusably costly, or all four.”

Forget the lines. Federalizing transportation security was a mistake from the start. The government should set standards, and the airports comply. Works in countless other industries.

The airports, airlines and passengers would pay for the added security–as they should–not taxpayers. (And not tempt politicians to boost taxes “to reduce the national debt.”)

Now we have 55,000+ fat, lazy unionized federal bureaucrats, who will soon demand early retirement because of their “hazardous duty.”

Book Review: The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (Two Stars)

Book Review: The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Two Stars

“He wanted an audience, even for his vices!”

Red House is not so much a murder mystery as a who-dun-it-of-manners. Published in 1922 (before Milne’s famous children’s books), it owes as much as a debt to P. G. Wodehouse as Arthur Conan Doyle. Not bad writing, not good either. Milne would eventually find his measure in the hundred-acre wood.

“It’s very hampering being a detective, when you don’t know anything about detecting, and when nobody knows that you’re doing detecting, and you can’t have people up to cross-examine them, and you have neither the energy nor the means to make proper inquiries; and, in short, when you’re doing the whole thing in a thoroughly amateur, haphazard way.”

The story itself revolves around a young man deciding to solve a crime by consciously, and superficially, employing the technique of Sherlock Holmes. (Milne played cricket with Doyle.) That he makes many wrong guesses increases the fun. The perceptive reader suspects the real crime and culprit long before the amateur sleuths.

“We knew their answer was wrong, and we had to think at another.”

Quibble: the labeling of dialogue is so confusing that the reader is repeatedly forced to stop and puzzle it out.

“There is no point looking for a difficult solution to a problem, when the easy solution has no flaw in it.”

“Silly old ass” mimics the rhythm of a similar phrase of Christopher Robin.

“It’s a question of your instinct instead of your reason.”

How We Get Rich

A statue of Adam Smith in Edinburgh, Scotland Photo: Alamy

Read this article. Share it with your friends.This is why I am an optimist about the world’s future and have been for fifty-odd years. (Some years were odder than others.)

If you don’t understand, ask the seven-year-old at the corner lemonade stand.

I learned this in college in the 60s. What did you learn?

May I suggest that the outbreak of ideas and prosperity in northwestern Europe were triggered by the invention of the printing press (contributing to “ideas having sex”) and the Reformation (contributing to Scottish-model equality)?

Book Review: Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 by Richard H. Brown and Paul E Cohen (Five Stars)

Book Review: Revolution: Mapping the Road to American Independence, 1755-1783 by Richard H. Brown and Paul E Cohen

Five Stars

The authors noted that successful generals “covet” maps. Students of history likewise. This is a book of maps to be coveted. Better yet, purchased.

Normally, I interleave quotes from books in my reviews; if I could I’d insert maps. But I can’t. If you are at all interested in maps or the American Revolution, find this book. The maps featured not only recorded but, in a few cases, helped make history. Several are newly discovered. “Many had never been reproduced before.” All are beautifully duplicated in this full-color 12 x 13 volume.

The “making history” claim is based on maps which were used contemporaneously by participants in the struggle. Some mislead combatants into blunders that better maps would have identified.

Finally, the volume includes the famous 1782 “red-lined map” by which Continue reading

Book Review: Reconsidering ‘Pascal’s Wager in Pensées’ by Blaise Pascal (Four Stars)

Book Review: Reconsidering ‘Pascal’s Wager in Pensées’ by Blaise Pascal (Part Two)

Four Stars

“The last act is tragic, however happy all the rest of the play is; at the last a little earth is thrown upon our heads, and that is the end forever.”

The first two sections of Pascal’s Pensées is filled with disconnected thoughts and aphorisms (reviewed here) generally pointing to man’s misery separate from God. Now Pascal turns to his infamous wager. Here his argument becomes dense and philosophic. The casual reader is tempted to think, “I can skim this. Everyone knows what Pascal’s Wager is.” No, you don’t. In simplifying Pascal’s argument, modern scholars miss his point, and mislead you as well. If you read only one section on Pensées, read Section Three. Here his avowed purpose was “to incite the search after God.”

In brief, Pascal reasons why you should make the wager, only secondarily how you should make it. He was surrounded by mature, intelligent people who spent their entire life diverting themselves from the most important issue of life. The following are key thoughts, in his own words:

“Men despise religion; they hate it; and fear it is true.”

“[God] will only be perceived by those who seek him with all their heart.”

“They believe they have made great efforts for their instruction, when they have spent a few hours in reading some book of scripture, and have questioned some priest on the truths of the faith. After that, they boast Continue reading

Book Review: Uncle Abner by Melville Davisson Post (Three Stars)

Book Review: Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post

Three Stars

“Sometimes, a man’s voice can be all that separates darkness from light.”

Despite breaking every current political correctness standard, these stories (first published in 1914) are well-written. Women’s roles, slavery, sympathetic Christians. Abner is the sleuth, solving apparently insolvable crimes and defending innocence.

“Oftimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truth.”

Each story is a short, stand-alone murder mystery. Abner solves them with liberal applications of deductive reasoning but from a heavily scriptural viewpoint. Not sure about Post’s denominational affiliation, but Abner comes on strong for truth, justice and the American way. Along the way he quotes and applies the Bible truthfully.

“No one of them believed in what the other taught, but they all believed in justice.”

Not “the finest mysteries ever written“, but they’re good.

“The heart of a woman is the deepest of God’s riddles.”

Book Review: Children of Earth and Sky by Gay Gavriel Kay (Five Stars)

Book Review: Children of Earth and Sky by Gay Gavriel Kay

Five Stars

“Legends, if you cross their paths, could get you killed.”

Oh, yeah! Very much worth the wait. Kay spins another tale of “history with a quarter turn to the fantastic.” Large cast, strong inner voices, complex plot, many historic antecedents. All that readers expect from Kay.

“A parent who loves his children must always be a little afraid of them.”

Kay employs the age-old technique of in medias res, starting not only the book but many chapters and sections within chapters after significant action has already occurred, then filling the backstory through nonlinear plotting. Some modern readers find it hard to follow. I love it, especially as Kay employs it. I’ll read this book again, soon.

“Of course there was a spy, there was always a spy.”

The following is nitpicking, but presenting one character (only) in the present tense and all others in past kept knocking me out of the story. I have no idea why he does it, unless he fears that too many of his male characters sound the same. (They do.)

“You need luck in war, but you didn’t want to depend on it.”

Quibble: you wind a crossbow, then you slot the bolt.

“We don’t wear masks only at Carnival.”

A few thoughts on Kay’s “quarter turn to the fantastic”: Most people, not just religious people, do not accept modernism’s “What you see is what you get” materialism. Kay invites his readers to look slightly askance at the givens of western culture. “We do not understand the world. We are not made that way.” Thank you, Guy.

“We live among mysteries. Love is one, there are others.”