Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams and David Fisher (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams and David Fisher

(Three Stars)

“Ask yourself: what is the justice in this case?” A. Lincoln

Exhaustive review of a trial transcript with explanatory amplifications. By the authors’ own admission, Lincoln was already headed toward the presidency, and their work gives no indication how it “propelled him to the presidency,” rather how he dodged a bullet that could have killed his dark horse bid at the Republican nomination.

“I must say I do not think myself fit for the presidency.” A. Lincoln (1959)

Based on the recently recovered transcript of Robert Roberts Hitt. Telling the story from Hitt’s point of view saved the author’s from Continue reading

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Plans for You to Prosper

“God is not content to see you do (or be) good; he wants you.” Gary Garner

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

But we stand in the way of his plans. We must die to our current selves and receive a new life–the living presence of Jesus. That changes everything.

Those Who Mourn

“There are gifts you get from God in the midst of grief that you would never have had the bandwidth to receive if everything was going as planned.” Levi Lusko

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Loss opens us to comforting which, in our days of joy, we could not recognize–certainly not desire. Mourning expands our hearts.

Words of Grace

“He plants the words [of scripture] full of actual graces as we read them and suddenly undiscovered meanings are sown in our hearts … reading with minds that are at prayer.” Thomas Merton

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Have you sometimes noticed that a verse you’re read many times seems to jump off the page with new meaning? When we read the Bible with minds that are at prayer, we meet God. A message he hid there through the ages comes alive in you. God loves you that much.

Book Review: Sword of the Storm by David Gemmell. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sword of the Storm (The Rigante #1) by David Gemmell.

(Four Stars)

“We are born alone, and we die alone. In between we may be touched by love, but we are still alone.”

A rousing opening to a historical epic fantasy series based on the northern European clash of expanding Rome with the resident Celtic and Germanic populations. Good characterization and storytelling. Deep point of view of main characters shows all to be flawed, driven and occasionally very wrong. Just like us.

“I’m not saying not to fight. I am saying do not hate. It is not war that leads to murderous excuses but hate.”

Celtic and Roman analogs hew close to the history, except Continue reading

Book Review: Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy #1) by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

(Four Stars)

“Every sunlit façade cast a dark shadow and in those shadows the enemy plotted.”

More like three stars, but extra credit for the rousing climax. Competent, if derivative epic fantasy set in an east Asia-analog medieval kingdom. Obvious Game of Thrones rip off. The term “the Game of the Council” appears in every chapter. Finally, toward the end, the authors admit that even the cast would not be using that stilted phrase, but simply “the game” without the capitalization.

“What do you think the game is, if not to remain while you dispose of your enemies?”

Slow start. Episodic. Most crisis are dealt with in turn with the over-arching plot dormant for most of the story. Mara meets and conquers each challenge–and challenger–in turn. Nice climax.

“Fear the man who doesn’t desire a woman, for he will see you only as a tool or a foe.”

Lots of short cuts and predictable plotting. Large, six-legged mammals signal lazy fantasy writers. (Like multiple moons in the same orbit in science fiction.) The cho-ja (who have an excuse for six limbs) could have saved the story, but were introduced then reduced to two-dimensional puppets.

“Who is to be more feared, one who acts from ambition or one who acts for the needs of survival?”

Book Review: No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien (Three Stars)

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Book Review: No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien

(Three Stars)

“They’re the salt of the earth and we are being told to send them over the top to walk across no man’s land with their packs on their backs. It breaks my heart, or what’s left of it.”

Horror and humanity collide. A window into life in London, Yorkshire, and the trenches a hundred years ago. Tolkien writes like an amalgam of his grandfather and Charles Dickens, but his characters don’t engage the reader. The protagonist offers insights to his situation and feelings, but sounds too modern.

“It’s like I looked at the sun too long and what I’ve seen has burnt away the meaning of everything. It’s left me hollow inside.”

Lingered too long in building his world and protagonist. Dickensian detailed descriptions Continue reading

Book Review: The Black Company by Glen Cook (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1) by Glen Cook

(Three Stars)

“There are no self-proclaimed villains, only regiments of self-proclaimed saints.”

Popcorn for the mind. As the opening round of a fantasy series, it reads like a collection of short stories. There’s a vector, but each chapter reads like a standalone.

“Any man who barely maintains an armistice with himself has no business poking around in an alien soul.”

Good storytelling, from the point of view of a caring, if morally-challenged medic of a mercenary regiment. Less violent than Joe Abercrombie, less humor then Michael J. Sullivan.

“I reached the gates unable to whip a grandmother. Lucky for me, the grandmas were goofing off.”

Digestible narrative gaps. Doesn’t weary or insult the reader with endless narrative. Only one big battle scene–near the end, and it’s way too long.

“I am haunted by the clear knowledge that … , in the end, evil always triumphs.”

Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith by Thomas Merton

(Four Stars)

“By the gift of faith you touch God.”

Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

“The only law we (student Communists) had to obey was our own ineffable little wills. And if, afterwards, we changed our minds–well, were we not our own gods?”

Hard to believe this book was so popular when published in 1948. Merton sounds like a man from a different century, if not a different planet. His generation may have been the last to routinely learn Latin. He touched all the best his world had to offer in Cambridge, Columbia and the fleshpots of New York City and, while still relatively young, he left it–converted to Catholicism and became a Trappist monk.

“I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence. I had to be led by a way that I could not understand and I had to follow a path that was beyond my choosing.”

Many parallels with C. S. Lewis’ conversion at about the same time, as reported in Surprised by Joy. Many converted to Catholicism in mid-twentieth century. That the converts had good and sufficient reason Continue reading

Book Review: The Red Wolf by Robert V. S. Redick (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Red Wolf (The Chathrand Voyage #1) by Robert V. S. Redick

(Four Stars)

“Death is the moment when everything loses value except the truth.”

Competent fantasy series opener. Ensemble cast of introduces themselves by their choices. Engaging people and plot in an adventure road trip by water on the greatest ship in the world. The concept of waking is well-developed, and a fresh way to introduce sentient beings in “lesser” animals.

“No animal, no man, no thousand year old sage is perfectly awake. True waking is … emerging from one cage into a larger, brighter, less lonely cage. It is a task never done.”

Everything that can go wrong does, which is half the fun. Coincidence and good luck Continue reading