Book Review: War Lord (The Last Kingdom #13) by Bernard Cornwell (five stars)

Book Review: War Lord (The Last Kingdom #13) by Bernard Cornwell (five stars)

“Why,” I asked, “am I always fighting for the wrong side?” “Even you can’t escape fate, Lord Uhtred. You must do God’s work whether you wish it or not.” 

A fitting close to Cornwell’s thirteen volume saga of Uhtred and the birth of England. Climaxes with a detailed description of Brunanburh, the most important battle in English history prior to 1066.

‘So many dead. They were the ghosts of Bebbanburg, drifting through the smoke-sifted night to fill me with remorse.’ 

Cornwell at his best. He is a master of weaving a fiction person into the history of a time to at once bring the history alive and to give an everyman point of view deep into the events and culture of that day. He boasts direct descent of the historic Uhtred the Bold, who lived a hundred years after his fictional namesake. (Do read the historical notes)

‘I might never know what would happen, might never know whether Constantine sought revenge, or whether Anlaf would bring his fleet across the sea, or whether my son could hold Bebbanburg against all that the world could throw against it.’ 

Book Review: Ike the Soldier by Merle Miller (three stars)

Book Review: Ike the Soldier by Merle Miller (three stars)

‘He went to a lot of trouble to appear average, to seem ordinary, to appear guileless. And he fooled most people most of the time, including most of his biographers.’

Published posthumously in 1987, Miller squeezed 600 pages squeezed into 1200. Pages of trivia, gossip, and speculation. Lots of quotable epigrams and original source material. Enough intimate insights to give the reader a deep understanding of Ike. However, given Miller’s Plain Speaking controversy and all the questionable quotes from impossible-to-trace sources, how are readers to separate be fact and fiction?

‘Omar Bradley later said, “Ike liked people and it is awfully hard for them not to like him in return.”’

Starts smartly with Ike’s years at West Point, then backtracks to a detailed biography of his entire family almost back to the Flood. No bit of trivia or controversy is too minute to earn a place, including advertising taglines from businesses cited.

‘He did not do much to interfere with the freewheeling reign of Joseph R. McCarthy.’

Miller gets verifiable facts wrong. For example, David A NicholsIke and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign against Joseph McCarthy, reveals that Ike covertly torpedoed McCarthy while never mentioning his name. (Miller had his own very public issues with McCarthy.)

“I want every American unit not actually in the front line to see this [Nazi concentration camp, Ohrdruf]. We are told that the American soldier does not know what at he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.” (D. D. Eisenhower)

Presumably, most of Miller’s material in meticulously researched and documented. His style was “warts and all” minutia, but even a one percent fabrication rate becomes tens of pages of error. How is the reader to known what to believe?

Eisenhower was “the wistful exponent of a simpler and lost America.”

Book Review: Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (three stars)

Book Review: Sword of Kings (The Last Kingdom #12) by Bernard Cornwell (three stars)

“War seemed cleaner then.” “No, we were younger then, that’s all.” 

A competent addition to Cornwell’s lengthy historical fiction about transforming Wessex into England. Good, clean Dark Ages fun. New readers advised to start at The Last Kingdom.

“Why would I kill them?” I asked.
“They’re enemies.”
“They’re helpless enemies,” I said, “and I don’t kill the helpless.”
“And what about the priests you killed?”
I wanted to kill [him] at that moment. “Anger leads to savagery and to stupidity.” 

Honestly, disappointing. Formulaic. Poor Uhtred has outlived his friends and his enemies, but not his usefulness. Uber bad guy manipulated by evil superiors. Everything that can go wrong does, until it doesn’t. (One to go: War Lord)

Wars are not only won on the battlefield, but in the practice yard of fortresses. 

Book Review: The Stars, Like Dust (Galactic Empire #1) by Isaac Asimov (four stars)

Book Review: The Stars, Like Dust (Galactic Empire #1) by Isaac Asimov (four stars)

“The stars, like dust, encircle me/ In living mists of light;/ And all of space I seem to see/ In one vast burst of sight.” 

One of the first novels by an eventual master of modern science fiction. Written in 1950. Much better than many reviews would have you believe.

All young fools who get their notions of interstellar intrigue from the video spy thrillers are easily handled. 

Reflects a time as foreign to contemporary readers as science fiction set centuries into the future. A cool MacGuffin.

“The room glared with dials, a hundred thousand eyes,” “The second hand moved,” “Gravity was high so near the ship’s hull.”

Asimov commits fewer science gaffs than many more modern writers. Read his after word. Written before the invention of integrated circuits (and all the technology requiring them), before the first artificial satellites, and before the social and cultural revolutions of the last seventy years.

“There’s more to life than a home planet, Tedor. It’s been our great shortcoming in the past centuries that we’ve been unable to recognize that fact. All planets are our home planets.” 

Book Review: The Praise Singer by Mary Renault (four stars)

Book Review: The Praise Singer by Mary Renault (four stars)

“Anything can happen to anyone; I saw that in Ionia. Men born in riches have ended up washing a Persian’s floors.” 

Historical fiction. Building on what little is known about sixth century BC Greece, Renault builds a sympathetic and engaging tale. Tells it as it should have been.

“He praised my ode. He was the first to mention the lines that I had liked best myself. (There is praise, after all, which makes one wonder what one did wrong, to have caught the fancy of such a fool.)” 

Best read digitally with hot links, unless the reader is very familiar with ancient Greek geography, persons, and terminology. Other readers may find themselves adrift. Lyrical turns of the phrase.

It is bitter to lose a friend to evil, before one loses him to death.  

Book Review: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (five stars)

Book Review: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (five stars)

Why couldn’t two unhappy people refresh each other on their way through this dusty business of life by a little talk—real, natural talk, about what they felt, what they would have liked, what they still tried to hope? 

Four post-World War One English women trapped in cages of their own making. Published in 1922, April is a gentler take on English going on Italian vacations than E. M. Forster’s 1908 A Room with a View. Better than Forster.

Mrs. Fisher was upset. There were many things she disliked more than anything else, and one was when the elderly imagined they felt young and behaved accordingly. 

Excellent inner voice on female characters, who are the soul of the work. The men come and go as needed to propel the women in the conflicts and blossoming. Filled with charming turns of phrase which have the advantage of not being cliches. Delightful.

She sighed. “You mustn’t sigh in heaven. One doesn’t.” “I was thinking how one longs to share this with those one loves.” “You mustn’t long in heaven. You’re supposed to be quite complete there. 

Book Review: When Benjamin Franklin Met the Reverend Whitefield by Peter Charles Hoffer (four stars)

Book Review: When Benjamin Franklin Met the Reverend Whitefield: Enlightenment, Revival, and the Power of the Printed Word by Peter Charles Hoffer (four stars)

‘Without meaning to sound old-fashioned, this volume rests on the assumption that there are people who both represent their times and alter them in crucial ways. Franklin and Whitefield were two such men, even though they seemed polar opposites in their thinking.’ 

Excellent history of two of the most influential men in the first half of the eighteenth century in North America, George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin. Narrowly focused on them and their working relationship. Extensive quotes from each man’s writings aid readers to understand both the writer and the message.

‘Franklin became Whitefield’s promoter and publicist in America, and Whitefield’s peregrinations made Franklin’s newspaper must reading for everyone curious about the Great Awakening of religiosity.’

Both men were self-made colossi amid the already-outsized personalities of the eighteenth century. They were as instrumental to creating of the state of America as others were to creating the nation.

‘Franklin’s star had not risen as fast as Whitefield’s in the first years of the 1740s, but by the end of the decade he was the better-known figure throughout the empire.’ 

Compare with The Preacher and the Printer. Each is a twenty-first century take on eighteenth century giants. Worth reading.

‘Neither individualism nor equality was a dominant theme in Western life at the beginning of the eighteenth century. At its end, with Franklin often cited as an example, both individualism and equality were synonymous with America.’

Book Review: Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress (three stars)

Book Review: Tomorrow’s Kin (Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy #1) by Nancy Kress (three stars)

“We’ve never discussed it. I’m a scientist, after all.” “You’re an American. Leave nothing unsaid that can be shouted from rooftops.” 

Timely. Published in 2017, Kin seems prescient toward the fallout of the world’s current pandemic. And many of the same reactions.

“You replaced evolution of the fittest with evolution of the most cooperative,” Marianne said, and thought: There goes Dawkins. “You may say that.” 

On the nose storytelling. Telegraph’s many of her better lines. Diminishing their impact. Gratuitous profanity. Nice cover art.

“The farther one gets from New York, the more the conspiracy theorists don’t even believe there are aliens on Earth at all.” 

Book Review: Against All Odds by Chuck Norris and Ken Abraham (four stars)

Book Review: Against All Odds: My Story by Chuck Norris and Ken Abraham (four stars)

“Ideally martial arts training should help a person avoid physical altercations and other adverse confrontations.”

An entertaining and uplifting autobiography by the well-known martial arts champion and actor. Not well written, but sincere and open. The reader gets Norris, warts (and scars) and all. Victim of ambush journalism.

“Few people become successful overnight at any endeavor. Most successful people have learned to stick with whatever it is they wish to achieve and to work step by step until they reach their objective.”

Up front with the importance of faith and family in his life. Norris is not a well-known communicator, so the pedestrian quality of the narrative rests on Abraham, a professional collaborator.

“Most juvenile offenders are so obsessed with a “the world owes me” attitude that if they were forced to help the less fortunate, they would soon see that life has not really been that hard for them. Something of an infomercial for his business and charitable enterprises.”

(Didn’t know he’s a Christian or anything else about him. I’ve never seen a movie or television show of his, so I came into the book open minded.)

Book Review: Strange and Obscure Stories of World War II by Dan Aines. (three stars)

Book Review: Strange and Obscure Stories of World War II: Little Known Tales about the Second World War by Dan Aines. (three stars)

“An officer who goes into combat without his sword is improperly dressed.” Jack Churchill (credited with killing enemy with as bow and arrow)

Excellent compendium of World War Two details and statistics. Topically organized and presented.

“Most people have seen a lot more World War II movies than have read books on the war.”

Compared to The World War 2 Trivia Book by Bill O’Neill, Strange and Obscure has more factual data and numbers. Trivia has more gossipy trivia (and a lot more opinion). Quirky anecdotes abound in both books.

“The more desperate a nation’s straits, the more effort and resources it wastes chasing a miracle weapon.”

Statistics abound. More Army were killed in the Pacific theater than Marines. USAAF Eighth Air Force (heavy bombers flying from the United Kingdom) lost 26,000 airmen, more than the total number of Marines killed in all theaters of the war. The M-4 Sherman tank had a bad reputation in combat, but we produced over 50,00 of them while Germany built fewer than 1,900 Tigers.

“I will always been the political prisoner of my father’s name.” Svetlana Alliluyeva (Stalin’s daughter)