Movie Review: Beyond the Mask (2015) 3.5 Stars

Misty Midwest Mossiness

Beyond the Mask

Release Date: April 2015

Watched via Netflix DVD: May 2016

3.5 out of 5 stars

Synopsis (from IMdb): The chief mercenary for the British East India Company, being double crossed by his former employer, has made his way to the American Colonies. Working to redeem his name, William Reynolds (Andrew Cheney) now hides behind a different mask in hopes of thwarting his former employer. As his past life closes in on him, Will must somehow gain the trust and the help of his beloved Charlotte, a woman he has been lying to, as well as a colonial intellectual by the name of Ben Franklin. All the while he races against time to defuse a plot that could have devastating effect on the birth of a new nation.

My Thoughts

The story was intriguing and I’m always a sucker for a Revolutionary tale. The actors performed well (I laughed…

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Book Review: Sword of the Ronin by Travis Heermann (Three Stars)

Book Review: Sword of the Ronin (Ronin Trilogy #2) by Travis Heermann

Three Stars

“To be truly happy, a man must forget the past and the future.”

Another fine foray in the history of medieval Japan seen through the lens of the fantastic.

“Every moment is a wonder, not something to be endured on the way to elsewhere.”

Heermann propels the reader into the culture and times of one of the greatest threats to Japanese independence and the forging of a sense of nationhood among the Japanese warrior class, who heretofore had focused themselves on maneuvering and fighting each other.

“One should not love anything in the world too much.”

Ken’ishi is western enough to be recognizable among American readers. He makes a good “everyman” reacting to but fantastic and historical elements of his story. This book’s macro-setting is the first Mongol invasion of Japan in 1274.

“Master oneself in all things.”

Few quibbles over style or details. All is presented in a way respectful to Japanese history and culture while incorporating fantastic elements which presumably the Japanese themselves would recognize.

“Life would be so much simpler without other people.”

Book Review: One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters Four Stars

Book Review: One Corpse Too Many (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #2) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

(Third Reading: 2016)

“No one can do more than choose his own road according to his conscience, and bear the consequences of his choice.”

The more I read science fiction, the more I appreciate well-written historical fiction. The Cadfael mysteries are historical fiction at its best.

“In all my life and all my fighting I’ve fought for only one king.”

One Corpse introduces us to the historical setting and culture more than A Morbid Taste for Bones. It also introduces Hugh Berengar and other characters who will add depth and complications to Brother Cadfael’s retirement from the world and its troubles. Somehow, the troubles keep finding him. That’s half the fun.

“All the things of the wild have their proper uses, only misuse makes them evil.”

A word about religion: it is difficult to portray what people, especially monastics, felt or thought a thousand years ago. Their inner life was animated by a different world view and set of assumptions from moderns, even modern Christians. While having no apparent Christian perspective, Edith Pargeter knew Wales and medieval history. The reader benefits from her other time, almost-other-world perspective.

“God will require an accounting.”

Book Review: Up and Coming: Stores by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors, S. L. Huang, editor (Zero Stars)

Book Review: Up and Coming: Stores by the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Authors, S. L. Huang, editor

No Stars

Dryness, death, despair, dystopia, defeat, ‘droids, despair.

I soldiered through over half of this dog’s breakfast of short stories, hoping it would get better. It got worse. These folks may be eligible for recognition, but most don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve to be published. (My apologies to those whose surnames fall in the latter part of the alphabet; I gave up.) I can’t believe there was any selection process involved. This is not a scatter gun collection; it’s a hand grenade.

There are a few noteworthy exceptions, like Curtis C. Chen, but most of these a mediocre, nihilistic, apocalyptic, woe-is-me tales. Too many in too close proximity.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Book Review: Choices of One by Timothy Zahn (Four Stars)

Book Review: Choices of One by Timothy Zahn

Four Stars (relative to Star Wars books)

“The Choices of One shape the futures of all.”

Zahn manages to insert a fully-developed tale into the stream of the Star Wars canon, in this case just after A New Hope, which advances the characters (some of whom are Expanded Universe, not canon) without doing serious damage to the whole.

“We all strive to build empires … we hope will survive us.”

As usual with Zahn books there’s entirely too much cooperation and fraternization between Empire and Rebel Alliance, but as usual it’s for a good cause.

“He’s never seen the Dark Lord this close … this angry.”

Manages half a dozen plot threads to keep the reader engaged. Still, pop corn for the brain. (see below)

“Information always matters.”

The joke’s on me: I didn’t realize I read this book six years ago until I checked my database. (I’ve read six hundred books since then.) Even knowing that, it was like reading a new story. One of the few advantages (?) of age.

“Sometimes it was good to be a law unto yourself.”


Book Review: Hand of Adonai by Aaron Gansky (Three Stars)

Book Review: Hand of Adonai: The Book of Things to Come by Aaron Gansky

Three Stars

“Trust us. We know what we’re doing.” “Speak for yourself.”

Think: Breakfast Club does a Christian Dungeons and Dragons via Tron. It works better than it should. One of the brightest angles is the creators wondering why they fashioned the game as they did: making living through their creation difficult.

The D&D-role-playing game created by two of the high-school-age characters is as cheesy and illogical as you’d expect. That worked for me. “Writing demonstrated control and subtlety” didn’t. The set-up is good, and the cast right. The emotions seem authentic and well-considered. Even the sudden appearance of heroic skills is adequately explained.

“Hope, that feathered pest, perched in her heart again.”

The target audience are tweens. The cast is a study in stereotypes both before and after (If I tell you what that refers to …), but Continue reading

Book Review: How to Strengthen Your Faith by Andrew Murray (Four Stars)

Book Review: How to Strengthen Your Faith by Andrew Murray

Four Stars

“God does not require anything more than simple faith. However, He will not settle for anything less.”

Matthew Henry (1829 -1917) wrote this short volume to encourage non-believers into the Christian faith. However, it is also a valuable aid for believing Christians to examine and increase their faith.

“It is the Spirit of God who has broken your slumber and made you anxious to believe. Where there is someone who desires salvation, the Spirit will certainly work faith in him.”

This edition updates Murray’s prose to ease comprehension by modern readers.

“Faith can only come in this poverty of the soul. While your feelings of unworthiness and guilt cause so much darkness and anxiety in the depths of your spirit, it is by this means that you will be driven to your Lord.” Andrew Murray

A valuable addition to the reading of believer and seeker alike.

“Although you have no faith yet, take this word as a living seed into your heart, and it will awaken faith.”


Book Review: I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron (Three Stars)

Book Review: I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron

Three Stars

“Looking back, it seems I was clueless until I was about fifty years old.” “I used to think my disk was full; not I’m forced to conclude … it’s becoming empty.”

The near-end-of-life reminiscences of a journalist and playwright. It should have been profound and moving, but was instead an exposé of practically everything, including herself. Snide and cynical, but still manages to be poignant. An obviously bright, talented person, who (by her own estimate) wasted her life. (She died two years after it was published.)

“Now I know there’s no such thing as the truth. That news organizations are full of conspiracy. That emotional detachment and cynicism get you only so far.” “I aim low.” “… exciting in its own self-absorbed way, which is the very essence of journalism.” “… as egoistical and self-promoting as the rest of us, and that’s a compliment.”

Over and over she reveals how she and those around her were motivated by forming reality rather than reporting it. We, who trusted those journalists to seek and report the truth, were betrayed.

“People in Washington don’t talk about anyone who doesn’t live in Washington.” “How lucky I’ve been to live my life in New York City.”

She thought New York City was the center of the universe, but of course couldn’t see it, even as she reported it. (It’s really Ashland, VA. Ask them.)

“The actual definition of ‘content’ for an Internet company was ‘something you can run an ad alongside of.’”  “We thought that organized religion was the root of all evil and Adlai Stevenson was God.” “We’ve grown up in an era when no one was divorced, and suddenly everyone was divorced.”

Attractive for its content, but marred wordy, clunky prose. I expected better writing from the script writer of several popular plays and movies. Perhaps it came from being paid by the word. Loaded with witty lists, epigrams, and quotable quotes.

“You lose old friends … they’re irreplaceable.” “I am 69 years old. I’m not really old, of course. Really old is 80.”

Today I am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker (Four Stars)

Book Review: Today I am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker

Four Stars

“That third part of me wonders when I think like that.”

A poignant story about a very-possible future with AI android care takers who provide companionship and emotional support for those who suffer dementia. An unintended consequence of this machine’s configuration is that it is aware of itself.

“Where Millie’s slate fills a little more each day, Mildred’s is erased bit-by-bit.

Well-conceived and executed from the point of view of the machine. A story that may be prophetic; not all will find comfort in that idea.

“Today I am Mildred.”

Book Review: There Will Always be a Max by Michael R. Underwood (Three Stars)

Book Review: There Will Always be a Max by Michael R. Underwood

Three Stars

“In a world running on fumes, hope is priceless.”

A fun fragment of a Genrenauts story.

“But Maxes weren’t just guardians; they were inspiration. They called people to their better natures.”

Probably won’t make sense to those unfamiliar with Underwood’s story-mending series. Start with The Shootout Solution.