Book Review: Lincoln’s Bodyguard by T. J. Turner (Three Stars)

Book Review: Lincoln’s Bodyguard: In A Heroic Act Of Bravery Saves Our Beloved President! John Wilkes Booth Killed In Act Of Treason by T. J. Turner

Three Stars

“Our stories are already written. We had yet to act them out.”

More alternate history than historical fiction. Turner rooted his tale in the events of 1865 but, rather than allowing the consequences of Booth’s failure to spin off naturally, he tries to get history “back on track” in this seven-years-later novel. The story follows the mixed-blood guard whose intervention provides the book’s title, though curiously all that action happened five years before the current story.

“The life pulled from his body as his maker took possession of his soul.”

A good story and a fun read, but the history is unconvincing. The whole Lamon-Norris-Barons subplot seems contrived and ananchronistic. The real reconstruction struggle should have provided the necessary villains and heroes without introducing a Hunger Games-esque Lottery and labor unionism as motivators. The western separatist movement rings true.

“Death creeps quietly behind a man.”

The details were well-researched and gave a good feeling for the time and place, except for transportation. The horses pulled faster and longer than real horses, the trains were faster as well, and even afoot the people covered prodigious distances quickly. Standard fantasy fare, but knocks the reader out of the historical feel. Quibble: when he surrendered to Sherman on April 18, 1865, Confederate general Joe Johnston had about 21,000 men, not 90,000 as reported here. On the other hand the “bushwhacker” insurgent campaign in Missouri throughout the war follows the pattern Turner suggests.

“Sometimes even death has to wait.”


Smart Guys in the Mirror

Several years ago a lot of Smart Guys discovered how to get rich(er).

They looked at interest rates, energy prices and technology, and borrowed a bunch of money (and/or bought or leased land, equipment and facilities, hired people, and issued stocks or bonds) and set about to find, develop, pump and refine copious amounts of oil- and gas-related energy products.

The catch: they hadn’t figured on so many other Smart Guys doing exactly the same thing.

Instead of getting rich, they created an over-supply of said energy products resulting in a halving of oil and gas prices. Even though interest rates were next to zero, they soon found themselves unable to re-pay all the money they’d borrowed (or committed).

Result? A whole bunch of Smart Guys are losing their shirts and looking for someone to blame. They can’t blame themselves; they weren’t stupid; they were Smart.

What should they have done? Develop it slowly. Leave it in the ground until it was needed. But the Smart Guys are also greedy and short-sighted. So, they’re still pumping oil we don’t need out of the ground at half the price it was. After all, they have bills to pay.

And they’re Smart Guys.

(You and I can figure this out, why can’t the Smart Guys in business, in Washington and the Nobel Economics laureates? It’s not some right-, left-wing, Saudi, Iranian or capitalistic conspiracy. It’s a bunch of Smart Guys who aren’t.)

Book Review: A Passage to Shambhala by Jon Baird (Three Stars)

Book Review: A Passage to Shambhala (The Explorers’ Guild #1) by Jon Baird and Kevin Costner; Illustrated by Rick Ross

Three Stars

“The future remains as closed as it ever was … and I am not sure the past is any less a mystery.”

A conscious throwback to the adventure tales of the likes of Verne, Burroughs, Kipling, and Haggard. Larger-than-life heroes and villains set upon a stage much like actual world history and geography to play out a great adventure. Even told, narrator and all, with a nineteenth century tone. There’s a reason we don’t write like that today. What’s starts as quaint, soon devolves into cute, and decays into tedious after 700 pages.

“Lost? No, you should consider, rather, that you are freed from the wheel of things.”

Don’t let the page count daunt you, more than half is presented in comic book (Sorry, graphic novel) format. The drawings aren’t Continue reading

Movie Review: Miracles from Heaven (Four Stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Miracles from Heaven, directed by Patricia Riggen

Four Stars

The best faith-based movie this year. Kylie Rogers, who played the eight-year-old lead, was amazing. (I wouldn’t allow a tube run into my nose–not even for a movie. Eww.) Jennifer Garner may be a big-name actress, but this is the first time I’ve seen here perform. She’s good. Made you feel her pain.

Yes, this is preaching to the choir, complete with new-found friend of color and “church ladies.” (You know who you are.) Is that a problem?

But the crisis depicted was very real; shattering. (If you want to see something more main-stream, try Risen.) The outcome was … well, a miracle. (A well-documented “spontaneous remission” of an fatal, incurable disease.)

Good show.

Movie Review: Risen by Kevin Reynolds (Four Stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Risen by Kevin Reynolds

Four Stars

Well-conceived and presented tale of a Roman soldier’s search for the body Jesus after the resurrection. Excellent casting of Romans and Jews. Filmed in Spain and Malta using locals for extras. Landscapes appropriate to Judea.

Scriptural and historical liberties are few and minor. Brutally honest about the horror of crucifixion.

Book Review: Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno (Four stars)

Book Review: Star Wars: Tarkin (Star Wars canon) by James Luceno

Four stars

“It’ll look better with blood on it.”

Unexpectedly good. Raises the admittedly-low bar for Star Wars literature.

“Sometimes there is more to be gained by stepping into a trap than by avoiding it.”

Expands the person of Willhuff Tarkin from the cardboard marinette briefly appearing in Episode Four to a living being: a man with a history and a goal. A partner—if not quite and equal one—with the Emperor and Darth Vader. A true believer that “in the absence of order, there is only chaos.”

“The insidious pursuit of self-enrichment grew only more pervasive through the long centuries, and in the end left the body politic feckless and corrupt.”

Examines the motives of the galactic empire from the inside. Some adherents were not motivated by wealth or power, but by a very different image of the greater good.

“Everyone is expendable.”

Cover Art: Peter Cushing never looked more menacing. Wonder if his estate gets credit for his appearance.

“Discipline and order were the keys, and law was the only unanswerable response to chaos.”

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

“Have you never hunted zealously in all the wrong places for something you desired not to find?”

Not the best Cadfael story, but the logical starting place. After my third reading, I find new depths in this series of medieval mysteries cum historical fiction. It’s easy to lose oneself in that time and place which presents itself as epic fantasy to modern readers.

“Meet every man as you find him, for we’re all the same under habit or robe or rags.”

When I first read Peters twenty years ago, I accused her (a nom de plume of Edith Pargeter) of dropping a twentieth century man into a twelfth century setting. It’s more complicated. In fact, Cadfael comes to us who has lived and enjoyed life to the full, but found all the world had to offer wanting. In his maturity he found his vocation as a contemplative: a nurturer of herbs, justice and persecuted lovers. Apart from the world, but somehow the world kept finding Cadfael.

“There’s a lot of merit in silence.”

These books may seem obscure to current readers because the underlying assumptions of western culture have shifted so much in the last forty years. That change adds to rather than distracts from the historical fantasy tone of the stories. Cadfael lived in a world of mystery, conflict and value just beyond the brightness of today.

“Genuine sinners are plentiful, but genuine penitents are rare.”

It’s impossible to visualize Cadfael without seeing Derek Jacobi who played him in the television adaptations. Even if you’ve seen those dramatized tangles, read the books. The first season wasn’t so bad, but the last two turned Peters’ stories inside out.

“God resolves all given time.”

Movie Review: The Young Messiah by Cyrus Nowrasteh (Three Stars)

Theatrical Release Poster

Movie Review: The Young Messiah by Cyrus Nowrasteh

Three Stars

“Our film seeks to present a realistic portrait of Jesus as a child both grounded in faith and consistent with the adult Jesus revealed in the Bible.” Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer and director

Pleasantly surprised. Sure it was pretty much pure fiction (based on the novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by Anne Rice), but respectful of the religious and historical context. An enjoyable, thought-provoking essay of the eighth year of Jesus’ life. Theologians will argue over the interpretation of Jesus’ awareness of and use of his power … and do.

Sean Bean was the only actor I recognized, appropriately menacing as a Roman centurion seeking the young messiah. Adam Greaves-Neal was well cast as Jesus. Sara Lazzaro, David Bradley and Lee Boardman nailed their roles.

Quibbles: The English accents kept knocking me out of the mood, but American accents would have been just as jarring to Brits. The sets and costumes established the mood without being silly, except for the ubiquitous Romans in leather armor gaff (and ignoring the stirrups). Location shots in Italy approximated the ancient Galilee.

Good entertainment.

Book Review: The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn by Henry Phelps Johnson (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn Including a new and circumstantial account of the battle of Long island and the loss of New York, with a review of events to the close of the year by Henry Phelps Johnson

Four Stars

“We may learn by defeat the power of becoming invincible.” Abigail Adams

Published in 1878, this is what a book of history should be, not the partisan politics, revisionist nonsense and political correctness that passes for “history” today. (Read almost any modern biography of a historic character if you doubt me.) The thesis is: the campaign in and around New York City in 1776 set the tone for the rest of the American War of Independence, even foreshadows eventual American victory.

“I … wish we could leave them alone to govern or misgovern themselves as they think proper. David Hume, 1775

Heavy dependence and exposition based on primary sources (diaries, letters, orders)—sources which are quoted, noted or indexed at length. Detailed discussion of the How and What, not just the Why as modern diatribes tend. When there are controversies—such as who was responsible for the debacle at Fort Washington—this book teaches the controversy, identifying the sides of the argument and outlining all positions.

“Whoever commands the sea commands the city.” Charles Lee

For the student of history, the sources are identified in detail. Since this narrative focused on one year’s military campaign, it delves into details of the units, commanders, motivations, limitations and even order of battle. Not a comic book depiction of war. Decidedly prejudiced toward the American (“our”) side, but even-handed in discussing the strengths, weakness, successes and failures of both sides.

“Necessity knows no law.” F. Rhinelander

This volume exemplifies the good side of Google-scanned library books. If it were not for their effort, rare and out-of-print books like this would not be accessible to serious students and scholars. On the other hand, Google’s pirating of the works of living authors is reprehensible and should be outlawed. This book also demonstrates the limitations of Optical Character Scanning without subsequent thorough proof reading. Many characters were transliterated, requiring the reader to stop and puzzle out the meaning.

“If it was a disaster, it was not a disgrace.” George Washington (of the Battle of Long Island)

Book Review: Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Bands of Mourning (Mistborn #6) by Brandon Sanderson

Three Stars

“Do what you do best … breaking things with style.”

Uh-oh. Sanderson has gone Robert Jordan on us. Not a compliment. Subplots, politics, new object in each story. Everything but ninja … and almost that. Esoteria for the sake of esoteria. Aliens from the other side of the world. He comes by it honestly, of course, but the Jordan formula rears its ugly head often in this otherwise entertaining novel.

“A man wantin’ something doesn’t make it true.”

The mist-born technology is becoming a one-trick pony. Allomancy, feruchemy, hemo- … yawn. As it becomes more subtle and imaginative, it becomes less comprehensible and more like … magic.

“In my experience, marryin’ is the one thing people seem to get worse at the more they do it. Well, that and being alive.”

Someone must have asked for more Wayne. Okay, they’re happy. Now kill him.

“Murdering is very traditional. It goes all the way back.”

Quibbles: Wax left Vindicator at the mansion door, then several chapters and hundreds of miles later he later has it again. And he flew out of the party. Why not just attach their private car to the freight train?

“Love is always a foolish emotion. That’s what makes it work.”

Why not two stars? Because Sanderson tells his story so much better than Jordan. Has Sanderson committed to so many project that he can no longer give his best in each? Hope not.

“Is life ever fair?” “It has been to me. More than fair, I reckon. Considering what I deserve.”