Book Review: The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging by Turtledove

The Eighth-Grade History Class Visits the Hebrew Home for the Aging by Harry Turtledove

4 out of 5 stars

Excellent. A well-conceived and well-written contemporary tale bringing the experience of European Jews under the Nazis into today. The title outlines the setup. The point of view is that of the elderly Jewish survivor.

If I tell you the spoiler, it . . . well, it’d spoil the story. Perhaps I’m telling too much by telling you there is a spoiler.

Read and enjoy. It’s only seventeen pages.

Book Review Ratings

Up front, I need to tell you: three stars is positive. Two stars is “okay.”

While I use the usual five star rating scale, I am more rigorous with my ratings in 2014. Previously, a book I liked got four stars, now it gets only three.

I made that alteration so that my four and five star ratings really meant something. I don’t want to be one of those raters who gives only 1 and 5 star ratings, then whines because the scale is so resistive.

I also apply what I variously call the 50-page and the 100 page test. As Frank Zappa said, “So many books, so little time.” Some books are so bad that I quit them within the first ten pages; those you’ll never hear about–I delete them from my database. But some books seemed to have enough quality that I soldiered through 50 or 100 pages (depending on the length of the book and the deepness of my exasperation) before I quit. Those I tend to write reviews on. (So far, those reviews are only posted on

I have no special credentials for reviewing books other than liking to read. I am a college graduate. I’ve read thousands (of documented) novels and hundreds of non-fiction books. I’ve attended half a dozen writing conferences as I struggled to learn the craft myself. I know from first-hand experience that it’s harder than it looks. Few of us can be Tolkiens or Rothfusses; in fact, I’d settle for producing the page-turning excitement of a David Weber space opera.

Likewise, I have no special credential for reviewing movies; I probably see many fewer than the average American.

So, my ratings are conservative but, I hope, informed.

Book Review: The Discovery by Dan Walsh (5 Stars)

The Discovery by Dan Walsh

5 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2014

Outstanding. A World War Two era mystery and romance framed by a contemporary tale of discovering and reacting to the old manuscript. Well-conceived, well-researched and well-written. Good contrast between the peace and plenty in modern America with the fear and struggle of America in the 1940s.

I can’t say enough about how the manuscript transports the reader into that time and place. I’m old enough to know it “feels” right. The military, political, cultural and religious elements are appropriate for that era. (It speaks to the role of women in that day; minority issues are not addressed.)

The Discovery will inevitably be compared to The Notebook and similar tales; it’s at least as good. Hope to see the movie some day (after it’s made 😉 ).

Excellent read. (This review is my first five star rating this year.)

Olympic Finale

Hooray! The Olympics are over. We can go to bed at a decent time. They aren’t, you say? Well, to us, everything after the women’s figure skating final is a mere formality. While a good time wasn’t had by all, there was some really good performances and at least one questionable score. (See my previous posting about art at the Olympics.)

Yes, Eric showed us how to record the shows to view later. But, given our TV watching habits–or non-habits, we’d never watch them. WE hear some children have never seen commercials and think the TV is broke when one pops up because their parents always “fast forward” through them.

Now we can go to bed before 10 again. Nite ‘all.

Black Days on the Black Sea

“Will the Sochi Games puncture Putin’s delusions of Grandeur?” asked The Week headline. You know the answer.

Putin’s grand Olympic masterpiece (just like Hitler’s in 1936) reveals the cracks in his imperialist re-make of Russia, but megalomaniacs tend to ignore contrary data. (Did you notice that the jerseys of the Russian hockey team displayed the double-headed eagle emblem of the czars? Probably not accidental.) The $52 billion Russia spent on this Olympics exceeded than all previous Winter Olympics combined. The result has not quite been the publicity coup Putin desired.

We need to pay attention to what’s happening in Ukraine. Putin’s plan to reestablish the Russian Empire (AKA the Soviet Union) has hit a speed bump: the Ukraine people. The Olympics are a side show; what’s happening in Kiev is real . . . and important.

A Book in Progress

Last year Gary Garner, senior pastor of Prevailing Word Ministries, Glen Allen, Virginia, asked me to develop a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. He was so pleased with the result that he suggested we publish it, mostly to have it available to future generations of our members, not to make a big literary splash.

Because Living in the Spirit would have limited circulation, we contracted with a competent publisher of Christian books: CrossBooks. I’ve been working with their staff since January to bring the book to print.

Monday, February 17, I sent the manuscript to CrossBooks for their theological and editorial review.

Don’t expect to see it in print before this Summer.

Hot Air from Washington, D.C.

Not able to win the climate change debate by executive order ( ref.: the State of the Union message), now the administration resorts to name calling. (ref.:  Secretary of State Kerry’s labels those opposing the party line as “flat earth society”). How mature.

Actually, I agree that weather is warmer now than fifty years ago. It’s why and what’s to be done where I fall out with Big Brother.

And The East German Judge . . .

No event should be included in the Olympics which is scored by a judge. If finishing order or a clock or a tape measure is insufficient proof of who won, relying on the eyes and judgment of mere mortals moves the event from sport into art. I’m okay with art; I fancy myself an artist. I’m happy to have my work judged; I’m even happier to win. But that’s art–subjective. Sports should objective. Judges aren’t; can’t be.

Having said that, we enjoyed the Ice Dancing finals Monday night. I’m prejudiced (yes, me, too–we all are one way or the other) in favor of skaters who wore classical costumes and skated to Romantic (as opposed to romantic, and certainly Modern and modern) music.

The biggest problem with supposedly impartial judging is not political (like the infamous East German judge), but Continue reading

Bird Watching

Serious ornithologists go to where the birds are, but we watch them from the comfort of our breakfast nook.

For the five winters we’ve lived in Virginia (this time) Treva has provided a smorgasbord for avians. Lately she’s concentrated on peanut butter, corn meal and suet smeared on the low branches of a maple tree, thistles in a vertical feeder for the finches, a veritable trail mix of seeds in a domes feeder, we call the mushroom–designed to inhibit large bird access, an all-bird mix in a squirrel-proof house shaped feeder, and finally a horizontal tray mounted on a pole to discourage the squirrels. The tray carries a variety of feeds including peanuts, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, various seeds and (drum roll) dead meal worms.

After a cold, but dry fall, the east coast has enjoyed serious winter weather in 2014. So far Virginia Continue reading

Book Review: The Martian by Weir (4 stars)

The Martian by Andy Weir

4 out of 5 stars

Read in February 2014

“Mars keeps trying to kill me. . . .  Mars and my stupidity keep trying to kill me.”

Totally awesome! Think Michener’s Space with a full orchestral treatment of “I’d like to Teach the World to Sing” as theme music.

Nail-biting suspense on top of solid, hard science. With more than a dash of humor. Really, really good storytelling. The best hard SF I’ve read in years.

Quibbles? Sure, but none which materially affected the story, with the possible exception of the drama-enhancing gaps in imagination and communications. In fact, what threw me out of the tale most–and most often–was the gratuitous profanity. Yeah, I know, soldiers and sailors (and presumably, astronauts) cuss a lot. But it’s too simplistic to load the script down with profanity. It wasn’t necessary, and it showed laziness. Weir did such a fine job of making his cast real and individual that it detracted.

Nice cover art.

“Live Another Sol”

October 4, 2015 Addendum:

Mr. Weir could learn something from Hollywood, specifically Ridley Scott. The Martian movie handled the profanity much better. The viewer has no doubt that Mark Watney had strong emotions and expressed them strongly without being assaulting by it.