Book Review: Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriet Gillem Robinet (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriet Gillem Robinet

(Five Stars)

“What you reckon owning land be like?” “We’ll wake singing and go to bed laughing. We be having both joy and peace.”

Historical fiction of the best sort. Robinet looks into the lives of freed slaves in the post-Civil War South through the eyes of a young freed slave. Pascal has a heap of challenges, but how he learns to face them makes for entertaining and educational reading.

“White folks should be glad we free so they don’t got to be so mean no more.”

Thoroughly researched. Of necessity in a story this compact and intended for young readers, Robinet simplifies her peripheral characters to allow extra depth to her central cast. Nevertheless, the spectrum of characters presents Continue reading

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Book Review: The Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Age of War (The Legends of the First Empire #3) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Five Stars)

“[Rhunes] didn’t live long, but while they lived they burned brighter.”

This series, and Sullivan’s storytelling, keeps getting better and better. This is epic fantasy at its fullest and most satisfying. A turning point of history revolves around the courage and daring of a mixed bag of characters, most of whom have secrets and scars and a few of whom aren’t what they seem. Magic, multiple species, ancient wisdom and new discovers–all that and more.

“Regardless where you are born, the world has a way of finding you and ruining everything.”

The extra that Sullivan brings to the mix is his excellent story development. His plots are complex, but well timed and executed. The greater story grows naturally, and you the reader know things about each character that they don’t know. And yet you are teased with Continue reading

Book Review: “The Martian Obelisk” by Ellen Datlow (Five Stars)

Victor Mosquera illustration, tor.com

Book Review: “The Martian Obelisk” by Linda Nagata

(Five Stars)

“You have to do everything you can, until you can’t do anymore.”

Amazing story. Like legacy science fiction, addresses the issues of today with clear-eyed reality. Excellent storytelling. Sparse, just-right character development. We learn about Susannah and Nate through their actions.

“We assume we can see forward to tomorrow, but we can’t. We can’t ever really know what’s to come—and we can’t know what we might do, until we try.”

A welcome antidote to the nihilistic gloom or mindless fantasy that pervades modern SFF. Looks reality in the eye, but doesn’t blink.

“This all looks like hope.”

(2018 Hugo Award Short Story finalist)

 

Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick

(Three Stars)

“Dysfunction came to define the battle that was ultimately named–perhaps appropriately, given its befuddled beginnings–for the wrong hill.”

The tile misleads: an examination of the origins of the American Revolutionary War in New England. Philbrick examines the historical and philosophic roots of Boston’s role as well as the biography of just about every player. He continues the book for a year after the battle, through George Washington’s assumption of command and the British evacuation of Boston.

“Boston’s patriots were not trying to reinvent the world as they then knew it; they were attempting to get back to the way it had been when they were free from imperial restraint.”

Looking under each stone, Philbrick reveals some interesting trivia. For example, the men General Howe attacked on Breed’s Hill funded a Westminster Abbey memorial for his brother, slain in the French and Indian War defending New England.

“Warren saw himself and all New England in a mythic quest that united the here and now of the present generation with the travails of their glorious ancestors.”

Lots of opinion and speculation. Some well-founded, such as the large role Joseph Warren might have played had he survived. Other is gossip, such as whether Warren got a particular girl pregnant out of wedlock.  “In all likelihood … [Warren] got the young woman named Sally Edmonds Pregnant.”

“The success was too dearly bought.” General William Howe

Careful to credit where due, including the often decisive roles of African-Americans

“I wish [we] could sell them another hill at the same price.” Nathanael Greene

Book Review: Pawn’s Gambit by Timothy Zahn (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Pawn’s Gambit: and Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn

(Three Stars)

“Physical reality is never obligated to correspond with our theories and constructs.”

An adequate collection of short science fiction. Quality decreases deeper into the book, however the last tale, the eponymous “Pawn’s Gambit,” is the best of the bunch.

“You risked your life to try to save people whose music you don’t even like.” “People are people, no matter what their tastes are.”

Quibble: No one would fly the two hundred miles from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. Train or car would be faster.

“Not paranoid, you understand, just cautious.”

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Five Stars)

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Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

(Five Stars)

“All poetry is a call to action.”

Bravo. A romance tucked inside an adventure stuffed into history festooned with whimsy and culture. Fully-realized characters burst off the pages as surely as they rupture the walls of Moscow’s historic Metropol Hotel.

“… and generally clamor about the world’s oldest problems with its newest nomenclature.”

Catches the spirit of each age. His grasp of the history and culture of Moscow in the span from after World War One into the 1950s betrays a respect one who looks for from a native. Pop culture references–music, politics, fashion, movies–appropriate to each decade.

“Adversity presents itself in many forms. If a man does not master his circumstances, his circumstances will master him.”

Comparable to Tolstoy; patronymics, diminutives and other naming varieties included. The scope of this work demands Continue reading

Book Review: Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain; Finding Incredible Power by Levi Lusko

(Five Stars)

“Blessed are those who mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) “There are gifts you get from God in the midst of grief that you would never have had the bandwidth to receive if everything was going as planned.”

At first glance, this book is written for a narrow, specialized audience: Christians who have suffered a tragic loss. Actually, it is intended for those who have or will suffer a tragic loss: all of us. Lusko lost a kindergarten-aged child just before Christmas. Your loss may not be so dramatic as his, but you have or will suffer, too, and you will discover him to be a kindred soul.

“God made me stronger, so the pain is not always unbearable, but the weight hasn’t gotten any lighter.”

Non-Christian readers may struggle with the Biblical point of view and vocabulary, but many will find solace in these pages.

“He puts to use what he puts us through. Suffering isn’t an obstacle to being used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before.”

Lusko is a preacher; it shows in his rhythms and alliterations, and his digressions. Forgive him and keep reading.

“When you live a life of faith, there are going to be questions that have no answers, because for there to be faith there has to be mystery.”

Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley

(Three Stars)

“Incredulity is not an appropriate attitude in this age of Heisenbergian physics.”

A better-than-average collection of Sheckley’s short stories and novelettes from the early 70s. The title story is among the better. Some humor. The number co-written with Harlan Eislson is sick, as you’d expect.

“When you come right down to it, life was a disappointment and the best it has to offer was never quit good enough. I realize now that I can’t be happy by owning things.”

Book Review: The Nazi’s Wife: A Thriller by Peter Watson. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Nazi’s Wife: A Thriller by Peter Watson

(Four Stars)

“When your brother is a Nazi; you can’t ignore evil forever.”

Historical fiction, yes; a “thriller”? Not so much. Well written. Close first-person narrative of an art recovery expert after VE Day. Published in 1985; there’s been a sea change in Europe since.

“… People who realized that they would never have as much purpose in their lives, or as much self-respect, as the war had given them. … would never be so happy.

Encyclopedic knowledge of Austria and its art and culture, especially near Salzburg. Much of his knowledge about the inner workings of the army and soldiers seems drawn from hearsay. Watson loves semi-colons; commas, not so much. His punctuation occasionally distracts.

“I joined the army to fight Nazis not to fall in love with their wives.”

Respectful of the religious beliefs of Germans in a way no longer routinely found in literature, but is vital to understanding the motives of some characters.

“The war was over; it was time to put away wartime things.”