Book Review: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Penric and the Shaman (Penric and Desdemona #2) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Five Stars

“Sharing my life with a two-hundred-year-old demon with twelve personalities speaking six languages and an underlying yen to destroy everything in her path …. Try me.”

Wanted to like this, and did. This is my first Bujold fantasy. She delivers the same mix of characters you care about, even the villains, and fine storytelling.

“His powers had not wholly deserted him in craven company with his hope, faith and courage.”

Awesome descriptive ability. With a few words, she takes you right there. Into the scene, into the action, into the mind and heart of the point of view characters.

“Everyone talks to the gods, no one expects them to answer … almost no one.”

Fascinating take on a culture with a fully-developed spiritual dimension. One which occasionally intersects with Continue reading

Beginning My Deep Dive Into Tolkien

“The road goes ever on.”

Misty Midwest Mossiness

A dear friend of mine sent me off on a wonderful Tolkien tangent last week when she replied to my Podcast Pickup post and directed me to the Prancing Pony Podcast.  I quickly scanned the last half dozen posted episodes and settled on #038, also entitled “I Will Choose Free Will” – which immediately gave me a Rush earworm.  Not one to be daunted by a nearly two hour podcast (we are dealing with ‘epic’ fantasy here), I gave a listen to the ongoing discussion of The Silmarillion, specifically Chapter 21 and Túrin Turambar.  I pulled out my ebook edition and quickly skimmed Chapter 21 to remind myself of the story.  I really enjoyed the insights and the banter of the hosts.  It took me several days to completely listen to the episode, but by the end I was hooked and a plan began to form in…

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Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Four Stars

“Some people change the world, and some people change the people who change the world.”

A well-told, if predictable adventure fantasy. Good development and voice. I really like this story. Finalist for 2017 Hugo for novellas.

“When were women anything but footnotes to men’s tales?”

Unique in that the protagonist is not only female, but a mature woman. And she acts it.

“This is what life is, then. Doing things you hate. I’ll do it. Of course. It’s the right thing.”

I love maps in fantasy stories, however the map in the ebook edition was unreadable. Nice cover art.

“Vellitt waited.”

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Three Stars

“Her instructor was full of shit. There was no comfort to be extracted from the dead, from flesh evaporated from bones.”

Slow start. Dumps you right into this universe with little preparation and less explanation. Apparently not a translation, but awkward reading at times as you figure out calendarials, sentient servitors, and exotics amid not-quite-American syntax. A space opera with all the tech, jargon, language and blood that implies.

“Immortality was like sex: it made idiots of otherwise rational people.”

What is the meaning of suicide and mass murder–or even immortality–in a culture which does not value life? From context you discover that the actors are not Continue reading

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

Four Stars

“Make no mistake, girl, the end of this road is a shallow, dirty ditch with your corpse in it.”

Swords and sorcery, with emphasis on swords. Three Musketeers meets Ryria. Improbably good (and lucky) protagonist against most of the world, with a dash of humor. Good voice, good plotting, good pace.

“Unfortunately, my need to live up to his expectations of me has always been slightly stronger than my desire to pinch him in the face.”

Told from the perspective of the leader of the disbanded and disgraced Greatcoats of the deceased king of a small country now run by the dukes as their personal toy. Knights in shining armor are bad guys. Mages are mostly bad news. And he can’t get a break.

“And people ask me why I hate magic.”

Brings this first installment to a satisfying conclusion while setting many hooks for the following tales.

“He looked scared, but he looked solid, and I guess that’s what brave looks like.”

Love the cover art of the hard cover edition, but the credit inside the book leads to a Munich ad agency. Maybe, but …?

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it was that honor just gets you into trouble.”

Book Review: The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1782-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis

Two Stars

“Americans needed to think continentally.” A. Hamilton

Revisionist history at is best … and worst. Making use of newly available correspondence and biographies of his principles, Ellis reconstructs the efforts leading up to the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia and the battle to ratify the new charter. However, his uneven handling of its modern meaning exposes his biases.

“It is indispensable you should lend yourself to its [the government’s] first operation.” A. Hamilton to G. Washington, 1788

Writing history is tricky. The historian must present the truth in a way that the reader can understand, even though the world view and values of their time may differ. Even if sources are cited, the reader seldom has access to them. He must trust the integrity of the writer. And if internal evidence betrays bias or false reporting, then the reader Continue reading

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

Five Stars

“We are all of us very arrogant and conceited about running down other people’s ghosts but just as ignorant and barbaric and superstitious about our own.”

I wish I read this book forty years ago. Instead I was reading fantasy and science fiction and tripe like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Not that I agree with Pirsig on everything, but he wrote about things I’m still pondering.

“The ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible. One lives longer in order that he may live longer.”

Normally I read and review a four hundred page novel in three days. This book took several weeks because I kept stopping to look up or ponder things. The bottom line is: this is a deep investigation of life and reality. It’s a mashup of Continue reading

You Bet Your Life

Probably a faster read than Pensees itself.

Misty Midwest Mossiness

Cover Image of Making Sense of it all: Pascal and the Meaning of LifeGoodreads SynopsisAn instructive and entertaining book that addresses basic life questions. Relating numerous personal anecdotes, incorporating, intriguing material from the films of Woody Allen and the journals of Leo Tolstoy, and using the writings of the seventeenth-century genius Blaise Pascal as a central guide, Morris explores the nature of faith, reason, and the meaning of life. His lucid reflections provide fresh, fertile insights and perspectives for any thoughtful person journeying through life.

Read the week of May 7, 2017 by the grace of one of the wonders of the modern world: Interlibrary Loan

My Thoughts

Morris did an excellent job of pulling together Pascal’s Thoughts and presenting powerful arguments in support of his famous Wager.  For me, it ended up being a reaffirmation of my personal faith, a honing of my reasoning and renewed focus on my life’s purpose and direction.  This is the first of many tangential…

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Book Review: Sully: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley B. Sullenberger (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sully: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley B. Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow

Four Stars

“We need to do the right thing every time, to perform our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we’ll be judged on.”

An intimate look at the man responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Sullenberger’s biography as much as the story of his five-minute flight to fame.

“A hero is someone who risks his life running into a burning building. Flight 1549 was different, because it was thrust upon him and his crew.” Lorrie Sullenberger

Obviously, Sullenberger is not an author. The late Zaslow brought together a decent product quickly, however he bears responsibility for the many shortcomings. Perhaps Sullenberger talks like this, but the prose is wordy and awkward. Lots of digressions; some felt like filler.

“In the cultures of some companies, management depends on the innate goodness and professionalism of their employees to constantly compensate for systemic deficiencies, chronic under-staffing, and sub-standard subcontractors.”

Post 2001, the pensions and standards for airline pilots were gutted. Sullenberger shares his obvious unease with the direction of airline management. Capitalism undergirded America’s growth and plenty, but it has a dark underbelly.

“How many different levels of technology do you want to place between your brain and the control surfaces? Technology is no substitute for experience, skill, and judgment.”

I’ve been flying for sixty years. This book confirms my preference to fly commercially only when I have to. It’s no longer fun, efficient, nor economical. It’s effective, usually. So far.

“One of the reasons I think I’ve placed such a high value on life is that my father took his.”

By now most readers know that Sullenberger objected to the way the National Transportation Safety Board investigation was portrayed in the movie supposedly based on this book. The backbone of the movie, that investigation gets about four pages in the book. In fact, the movie should be evaluated as “based on a true story” fiction. The book is much better.

“Flight 1549 wasn’t just a five-minute journey. My entire life led me safely to that river.”

Movie Review: Collateral Beauty, directed by David Frankel (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Collateral Beauty, directed by David Frankel

Four Stars

“This doesn’t feel right.” “I know. But when something starts with a six-year-old dying, nothing is gonna feel right.”

A complex, yet satisfying contemplation of love, death and time. Not all morose and weepy, it has its motions of emotion. Clever script by Allan Loeb. Filmed in New York City in winter, it feels both intimate and connected.

“Just make sure you notice the collateral beauty.”

Will Smith can act: who knew? Though this movie drew the lowest opening weekend box office of Smith’s career, it’s a better movie and not all about him. If anything, it’s more like an essemble theater piece, with some players in multiple roles.

“But you never know, nothing’s ever really dead if you look at it right.”