Shooting Victoria by Paul Thomas Murphy (Three Stars)


Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy

Three Stars

“It is worth being shot at to see how much one is loved,” Queen Victoria

An exhaustive history of the many men who shoot at Queen Victoria. While they varied in background, their motives were surprisingly (and sadly) similar … and usually had nothing to do with injuring the queen. Paradoxically, Victoria was only injured once, and the incident wouldn’t be in the book had Murphy stuck rigorously to his title.

“[Oxford] was pleased to find himself an object of so much interest.”

No bit of related trivia is too small or unrelated for inclusion. Therefore, the reader is subjected to the history of all the other monarchs shot at, the life history of the police, prime ministers, cell mates, the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Irish, with a cameo by P. T. Barnum. It’s that kind of book.

“Before, the Queen’s popularity stemmed from her doing; now, it stemmed from her simply being.”

Runs counter to several popular images. Victoria, for example, is usually seen as a shy, reclusive lady. Murphy explains when that image if and when it didn’t, and why. England’s modern image is of an almost gun-free nation. That certainly wasn’t true in the nineteenth century when even paupers could purchase pistol most anywhere.

“Victoria’s personal courage and her unerring sense of her relationship with her people were responsible for it all.” (It being “universal and spontaneous outpouring of loyalty and affection”)

The late nineteenth century seems to have been open season on royalty. Murphy relates several parallel shoots taken at other monarchs. By 1918, all the monarchies of central Europe were no more.

“Trust in her subjects was instinct to [Victoria.]”

On Human Nature and Political Ideologies

Not so simple as the Great Thinkers think.

Misty Midwest Mossiness

This paragraph in the “Human Nature” chapter of my Introduction to Philosophy textbook speared me, considering the turmoil before, during and continuing after our most recent elections. It’s a long paragraph so bear with me. I’ll split it at points to add more white space for emphasis and where my mind flipped thoughts from ‘right’ to ‘left’ instead of its usual on-edge position:

Your perception of human nature determines even how you think we should set up our society. Ask yourself this, for example: Should our society be based on capitalism or socialism?

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Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Four Stars)


Book Review: Chains (Seeds of America #1) by Laurie Halse Anderson

3002300Four Stars

“She cannot chain my soul.”

Award-winning young reader account of the plight of slaves in colonial North America. Being in Rhode Island or New York was no protection in 1776. Isabel was probably more articulate in her feelings, but those emotions ring true. Honest look at the errors and hypocrisy of both sides.

“It mattered not. My bones were hollow and my brainpan empty.”

Anderson skillfully wove historic facts–battles, destruction of the king’s statue, the fire, Hessians–into plausible descriptions of the life and observations of a young enslaved girl. The whole has a readable, authentic feel.

“Both sides say one thing and do the other.”

Minor chronological errors, but closer to fact than many popular Revolutionary War dramas.

“I was chained between nations.”

The Seeds of America series continues with Forged, previously reviewed.

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan (Three Stars)

Book Review: “Little Wren and the Big Forest” by Michael J. Sullivan

Three Stars

“That was the nature of the forest. Things went in and never came out.”

A brief excursion into the greater world of Sullivan’s First Empire. This short story appears in Unfettered II, but I got it separately, so I’m reviewing independently. Not up to the quality of most Sullivan fiction, but a fun read.

“Naive. Innocent. Dumb. Maybe, Wren thought as she followed the sheep, but I’m not a coward.”

A modern fairy tale heroine. Pretty introspective for an eight-year-old.

“The moment you thought of something terrible, that’s exactly what would happen.”

Book Review: The Physician by Noah Gordon (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Physician (Cole Family Trilogy #1) by Noah Gordon

Four Stars

“To feel somebody slip away, yet by your actions to bring her back! Not even a king had such power.”

Excellent. Historical fiction is hard. A single false detail destroys the illusion. Historical fiction set in the eleventh century is extra hard. The purpose of this book is to “touch the hem of the robe” of ibn Sina, the great Moslem physician, philosopher and polymath, know to us as Avicenna. Gordon succeeds. Yet avoids romanticizing medieval Islam as so many Western authors do. Strong states rest on contradictory foundations, then and now.

“Allow learning to become a part of you, so that it is as natural as breathing.”

Gordon’s protagonist is an English man with a healing “gift,” which he seeks to improve under the greatest physician in the world. Unfortunately for him, Persia is a long way away. How he gets there and who he interacts along the way sets the frame for his time at the feet of the master. (He also displays a gift for languages.)

“When one rode an elephant all things appeared possible.” Rob J. learns that, then as now, one who can be your patron and protector can also be your greatest peril. Lord Acton was right, power corrupts, and absolute power absolutely.

“This strange city where everything was forbidden by the Qu’ran and committed by the people.”

The PG style of the story is spoiled by several semi-soft- pornographic scenes and some language.

“Can it be that we’re all three wrong?” (A Jew, Moslem and Christian) “Perhaps we’re all three right.”

Gordon admits to being creative when the historical record is sparse, but the result takes the reader to another time and place much better than many novels set in the nineteenth century. Along the way we are introduced to the Shah’s Game (chess with no queen), the Parthian Shot, and of course medieval medicine.

“The worst had happened and therefore he had been freed from the terrible prison of dread.”

Reducing the Bureaucracy

A federal hiring freeze is a good start, but the Washington bureaucracy–including the Pentagon–needs a ten to twenty percent authorization reduction, not just current bodies.

C. Northcote Parkinson noted in the 1950s: (1) “An official wants to multiply subordinates, not rivals” and (2) “Officials make work for each other.” The number employed in a bureaucracy rose by 5–7% per year “irrespective of any variation in the amount of work (if any) to be done”.

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” Ronald Reagan

Also called a self-licking ice cream cone.





Book Review: To Green Angel Tower by Tad Williams (Four Stars)


Book Review: To Green Angel Tower (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #3, Parts 1 and 2) by Tad Williams

Four Stars

“Forever is a long time to carry grudges.”

Excellent. Successful and satisfying conclusion to a huge epic fantasy. Sixteen hundred pages (in this story) of complex plots, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots set in multiple, fully-realized cultures, many more than medieval Europe analogs. Language, history, clothing, religion, music, clothes, prejudices: the whole boatload. Immersive. Loads of quotable epigrams.

“If what we have experienced lately has been God’s way of showing his favor, I think I would be willing to try a little of his punishment, for a change.”

Religion is a major part of these cultures and the stories. The various faiths are treated respectfully. A realistic variety of responses by people to the religion of their and other cultures. Some are redeemed; some are lost.

“One day I would have to send my son off to do something I could not do. And I would never sleep again.”

What’s not to like? The 1600 pages may be a clue. Williams almost pulls a Robert Jordan. (Not a complement.) Basically, he lost control of Continue reading

Movie Review: La La Land (Three Stars)


theatrical release poster

Movie Review: La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle

Three Stars

“They worship everything (in Los Angeles), but love nothing.”

Fun. Well done. Amazing that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stones, apparently, can sing, dance and, in Ryan’s case, play piano. Popcorn for the heart.

“They love what other people are passionate about.”

Book Review: Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams (Five Stars)


Book Review: Stone of Farewell (Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn #2) by Tad Williams

Five Stars

“I thought it would be like a story. I didn’t think any more people would die.”

Keeps getting better. Second installations of trilogies often suffer being bridges without beginnings or endings. No so here. Stone of Farewell advances the story (stories) and keeps the reader guessing. Like all good epic fantasy, this series is not just about just magic, swords and crowns, but life and death, love and hate. The real questions of life.

“Winning and losing are only the walls within which the game takes place. It is the living that makes a house–not the doors, not the walls.”

Williams keeps the threads advancing by adroitly pulling the rug from the various protagonists just as they start to make headway. Just when things can’t get worse, Continue reading

Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Dragonbone Chair (Memory Sorrow and Thorn #1) by Tad Williams

Five Stars

“Brave and foolish often live in the same cave.”

Where has this book been all my life? Well, since it was published in 1988. So much better than many Lord of the Rings rip-offs. Epic fantasy in a quasi-European medieval setting (though the Sithi are as much Nipponese as elvish; and the name is unfortunately similar to the evil characters of Star Wars). Good world building, good character development, complex cast and motives and history and ….

“Books are magic because they span time and distance more surely than any spell or charm.”

Unlike many LOTR clones, Williams’ series has a so-flawed-as-to-be-disgusting hero. Not that Simon’s bad, he’s just … irritating–in the hero-worshiping, ADD teen boy way. Well, he’s got room to grow. The other men are complex and driven as necessary.

“Why is everyone forever forcing their horrible secrets on me?”

Unfortunately, most female characters are not so well developed, though telling about the exception Continue reading