Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Five Stars)

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Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

(Five Stars)

“It is not beauty that endures, it’s love that makes us see the beauty.”

This is a book about love: love of self, love of country, love of others. A monumental work: over a thousand pages of text with a huge cast and historic sweep. Yet draws the reader intimately into the lives of a circle of families on the eve of a catastrophe which will transform their lives and their culture.

“The entry of the famished army in the rich and deserted city resulted in fires and looting and the destruction of both the army and the wealthy city.”

Two stories intertwine: the intimate inner life of a circle of young friends worthy of an Austen or Dickens and a detailed analysis of Russia’s role in the Napoleonic wars worthy of a Gibbons or Churchill. For the young adults, the real war is within. For the soldiers, Continue reading

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President’s Day

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The more I know of American history (and it has been my lifelong study), the more I marvel at George Washington, born February 11 or 22 (depending on which calendar used).

He was untypical for his day, which was a time of extraordinary people. America would not have progressed this far had another man been our first president. And, except for his military stubbornness against an overwhelming foe, we might never have had a first president.

He wasn’t perfect; no man is. But his role reverberates over the centuries, resulting in good even today. I’m sorry we no longer recognize (nor teach) his uniqueness.

 

Book Review: The White Hart by Nancy Springer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The White Hart (The Book of Isle #1) by Nancy Springer

(Three Stars)

“Pel shall pay the long-kept score/When the White Hart goes to war.”

Quaint. When published in 1979, this would have been a major accomplishment in epic fantasy, though its borrowings from The Lord of the Rings are many and obvious. It owes as much to nineteenth-century English romanticism and Celtic mythology. Springer did her homework. Still, not a compelling read by today’s standards.

“At the very worst, it will make a fine song.” “May the Mothers grant us life to hear it.”

A pleasant story, well-written, it nevertheless is predictable and syrupy. The plot opens with a strong, believable female lead, then abandons her partway through to follow the story of two men. Disappointing.

“Great is your gift of love … and great will be your pain in it.”

Book Review: Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier

(Three Stars)

“Now is the only time we will ever have.”

A better-than-average modern epic fantasy. Enough originality, despite it Medieval European cultural setting, to engage the discerning reader. Written as if for young adult readers, but some inappropriate subject matter.

“We cut our fingers to the bone/ On shards of passing years.”

Well-developed characters. The point-of-view characters had realistic internal dialogue. You cared about several of them. Good storytelling, though the plot–despite several parallel threads–was very linear. Few surprises, good or bad.

“A chance always comes if one holds to hope.”

The reader never doubts the various, increasing manifestations of evil will be thwarted. I didn’t feel the menace Continue reading

Book Review: An Alphabestiary by Derek Kannemeyer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: An Alphabestiary by Derek Kannemeyer

(Three Stars)

A pleasant, if uneven collection of short poems about animals, real and imaginary. Kanemeyer’s best are comparable with Ogden Nash. Unfortunately as the book progresses (he goes through the alphabet four times), the quality decreases.

A pleasant diversion, even if some fall flat. Most readers will find one or two with mesmerizes. Unfortunately the cute illustrations which accompany the first sets revert to stock images.

A sample: Carpe Noctum

The Fireflies are out tonight.

They flit and flick the lawns with light.

I’ve scores of chores to prioritize,

But first, I’ll watch the Fireflies.

(Full Disclosure: I was loaned a copy of the book in return for an honest review.)

Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton.

(Five Stars)

“The whole art of guerilla warfare lies in striking the enemy where he least expects it and yet where he is most vulnerable.” Colin Gubbins

The best World War Two history I’ve read in years. One blurb claims, “The last untold story of World War Two.” And a critical story it is. An unlikely collection of English men and women, working outside normal channels but with cover by the Prime Minister, develop and field weapons which solve many problems critical to England’s survival and eventual victory.

“A job is a good one if it looks like an accident, an act of God, or has no explanation.” Cecil Clark

One point can’t be overemphasized: as messy and repulsive as unconventional warfare is, it is more efficient, more effective, and–in the end–more humane than Continue reading

Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

(Four Stars)

“You’re going to have to learn to lie.” “I feel like I’m here to tell the truth.” “Yeah, but not now.”

Hilarious. Sacrilegious, yes. Teen boy humor, yes. Speculative, yes. Historically unsupported, yes. What’s your point? It’s humor. Well-conceived and well-executed. The more familiar one is with the Bible, the more one will get the joke. Many subtle references.

“I don’t know the Torah as well as you, Joshua, but I don’t remember God having a sense of humor.” “He gave me you for a friend, didn’t he?”

Hidden among the slapstick is a sensitive, introspective look at religion in general and Christianity in particular. Moore borrows elements from Continue reading

Book Review: John G. Lake on Healing (Four Stars)

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Book Review: John G. Lake on Healing

(Four Stars)

“Spirit of God in you will go as far as your love reaches.”

An excellent modern compilation of teachings of this famous early twentieth century faith healer. He acknowledges the controversy, even among Christians, and addresses it head-on. He included many notarized testimonies and details so a reader of that day could verify his claims. (Apparently he was even investigated–and exonerated–by the Better Business Bureau.) Because it is drawn from sermons, articles and pamphlets from 1910 to 1930, it is inevitably repetitive.

“Love is the medium that conveys the Spirit of God to another soul anywhere in God’s world.”

Lake’s take on several Biblical text and scientific controversies have been overcome by a century of progress in both areas. Lake’s definition of scientific is how God does things, so the reader should not Continue reading

Movie Review: 12 Strong, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig. (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig.

(Four Stars)

“Your mission will fail because you fear death.”

An old-fashioned war movie, based on the incredible true story of America’s first strike back after 9-11. The most engaging depiction is that of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, now vice president of Afghanistan. (All the quotes surrounding this review are by his character. There are as many quotable ones by the American characters, such as, “The only way home is winning.”)

“You have many men over you; I have over me, only God.”

Extremely violent. Much of the violence is bloodless, but much is very bloody. Ten percent shorter would have been ten percent better. The men who were there say Continue reading

Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick

(Four Stars)

“You won’t find the natural state here. We’re living in the aftermath.”

A really good collection of short stories. Many good stories about beginnings and endings, especially endings which may be beginnings. Lots of cliffhangers. Some post-apocalyptic, some deeply introspective. Some funny, some tragic, most thought provoking. All well fashioned.

“Self is an illusion … a fairy tale that your assemblers, sorters and functional transients tell each other.”

Swanwick has a gift with word images. Out of a few words, he fashions a complete context.

“…as cozy and snug as the inside of a walnut.”

Skip the Introduction Continue reading