Book Review: Dickens: A Biography by Fred Kaplan (Three Stars)


Book Review: Dickens: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

(Three Stars)

“He took special pleasure in disappointing expectations.”

A monumental work, in both the positive and negative senses. Like many modern biographers, Kaplan includes all manner of trivia and tangential material to pad the overall product. The result is boring to read, but fascinating to reflect on.

William Gladstone reported Dickens remarked that while his “faith in the people governing, is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my faith in The People governed is on the whole illimitable.”

“All crisis was a spur to creativity, all fiction a mirror of imaginative distortion in which the model of his own life became a portrait of his culture and his world.”

Charles Dickens was that rare man who was Continue reading

Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2 by Martha Wells (Three Stars)


Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells

(Three Stars)

“Now would be a good time to go, to fly west into the sun with no one to see. Except he didn’t appear to be doing that.”

Anthologies set in the world or featuring the cast of an author’s invented universe allow her to explore side issues, deepen characters and promote the greater series–especially when said short stories are offered free or included in other anthologies. Fans get a fix of a favored setting; new readers can sample without committing to a full novel. So it is here. Not great literature, not even as good as the Raksura novels, but enjoyable nonetheless.

“He had learned from bitter experiences not to try to explain unexplainable things.”

Book Review: The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Serpent Sea (Book of Raksura #2) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“They might be harmless, but Moon doubted it on principle.”

A better-than-average sequel. Expands Moon’s character and the ensemble of Raksura closest to him. Fills in backstory from the first book at appropriate time, but tends toward data dumps.

“Sense doesn’t enter into it where queens are concerned.”

The stakes are high; things keep going wrong; Moon isn’t the only one who is a fish out of water.

“Sometimes I don’t have visions; sometimes I have common sense. Not that any of you listen to me.”

Martha Wells is great at inner dialogue. For an even better sample, try her Murderbot series, especially All Systems Red.

“He felt as if he’d never really come home before.”

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Curse of Chalion (World of the Five Gods #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold

(Five Stars)

“If you lent me a razor now, for me to cut my throat with, it would save ever so many steps.”

Feared they weren’t writing fantasy like this anymore. Excellent in every way. Good world and cosmology building, deep first person point of view, maybe romance, a map, humor. A satisfying ending. What more could a reader want? More? Well, there’s that, too. Bujold is a master.

“His heart melted. Or maybe it was his wits.”

Unique among current fantasy because this world has several fully developed religions, not the cardboard caricatures of most science fiction and fantasy. Bujold presents a supernatural which is series and time appropriate without straying into silliness or social commentary … too much.

“He’d been swimming in a miracle every day of his life, and hadn’t known it.

Movie Review: The Incredibles 2 (Four Stars)


Movie Review: The Incredibles 2, written and directed by Brad Bird

(Four Stars)

“You know it’s crazy, right? To help my family, I gotta leave it to fix the law, I gotta break it.”

Great story, great cinematography, great music. Reprises the basic themes of the first movie with elaborations. Good family fun, though a few vocabulary gaffs–perhaps intentional to score a PG rating. Lots of fish-out-of-water Dad babysitting gags.

“Done properly, parenting is a heroic act… done properly.”

Warning: the movie features blinking black-and-white sequences which cause some people headaches and even loss of consciousness.

“I’ll watch the kids, no problem.”

Book Review: Grant by Ron Chernow (Four Stars)


Book Review: Grant by Ron Chernow

(Four Stars)

“I thought I could run the government of the United States as I did the staff of my army. It was my mistake, and led me to other mistakes.” US Grant

A readable and informative, if exhaustive biography of our eighteenth president, our nation’s youngest at the time. Though contemporaries viewed him as a unite-er and reconciliator, history has been less kind. Chernow raises and examines the charges of drunkenness, corruption, and insensitivity. The Grant who emerges is deeper and more human than even he described himself in his famous memoirs.

The Civil War was “largely the outgrowth of the Mexican War. Nations like individuals are punished for their transgressions.” US Grant

For a quarter century Chernow has redefined America through huge, deeply-researched biographies of prominent historical figures. His books are best sellers and award winners and one became a pop culture Continue reading

Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells (3.5 Stars)


Book Review: The Cloud Roads (The Books of the Raksura #1) by Martha Wells

(3.5 Stars)

“We don’t use magic; we’re made of magic, and you can’t run away from that.”

Engaging fantasy with originality world building. Not nearly as good as her more recent Murderbot (SF) books, but few novels are. Though this story opens a series, it has a satisfying ending, not a cliff-hanger.

“I am not high-strung.”

Her protagonist has secrets and flaws and a bit snarky: cool. The inner voice makes all the difference. Enjoyable read if only to see how Wells develops and reveals her lead.

“You can tell he’s getting better because he’s getting all mouthy again.”

Quibble: Uses paces as a unit of measure, but implies something much smaller–a foot or a meter. Understand her reluctance to use geocentric measurement, but pace is wrong-footed. For example, a roads “more than one hundred paces wide.”

“I’d like something to be easy for once.”

Field Notes from My Retro Utopian Adventure

Worth looking into.

Misty Midwest Mossiness

I’m in the final phase of my Hugo finalist reading, concentrating on the Best Novel category.  In the right-hand panel of my blog, you’ll find my “Currently Reading” widget which is just the RSS feed for my GoodReads status updates.  Three of the four books I’m currently actively reading are finalists.  I’m listening, or attempting to listen despite major shortcomings of the Axis 360 app, to Ann Leckie’s Provenance.  When I get too frustrated with listening, I switch to the ebook edition.  Last night and this morning, I’ve been powering through the middle of Raven Stratagem.  Earlier this week and most of last weekend, I immersed myself in the 1943 Best Novel finalist Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright.

I wish there existed a well researched biography of Mr. Wright, aside from the few paragraphs found in his Wikipedia entry.  His immediate family alone would…

View original post 1,152 more words

Book Review: Pride’s Children: Purgatory by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt (Four Stars)


Book Review: Pride’s Children: Purgatory (Book One of the Trilogy) by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

(Four Stars)

“Make God laugh. Tell Him yer plans.”

Wow. This is really good. Regular readers know I warn against rating books in genres I avoid. I’m breaking that rule here because the author asked for my thoughts and the book is that good. Naïve readers pass over this as Chick Lit; it most assuredly is not. This is a deep and real dive into the lives of several people with wants and needs which sometimes coincide and sometimes conflict. Well-developed and well-told.

“I forgave him a long time ago.” “Why?” “Because it only hurts me not to? It took longer to forgive myself.”

It’s the characters who make the story work. Good inner focus and dialogue and self-depreciating humor. Feels real. The reader comes to care about even those whose motives and methods are Continue reading