Book Review: Roman Britain: A History from Beginning to End by Henry Freeman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Roman Britain: A History from Beginning to End by Henry Freeman

(Three Stars)

“Create history—History is what we think, say, and write about the evidence for the past.”

Its fifty-two-page length tells readers how much history they’re getting: little. An outline at best.

“The modern Celts are not the present representatives of a people who have existed continually for millennia, but constitute a true case of ‘ethnogenesis’—the birth of an ethnic identity—in early modern Europe.” Like several hyphen-American cultures. “Ethnicity is a cultural construct, and may have little to do with the ‘real’ historical background(s) of the individuals and sub-groups concerned.”

Several bibliographic essays about Roman-ness, Celt-ness, and Britain-ess. Little information is imparted, just lots of opinion about Continue reading

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Book Review: The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Tiger and the Wolf (Echoes of the Fall #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky

(Four Stars)

“Believing in freedom was just a knife the girl had made and given to the world to cut her with.”

Fun, self-contained epic fantasy. Good world and character building. Narrative occasionally bog down in wordiness. Excellent foreshadowing. Enough humor to lighten the trip.

“Well, then, when do we go? What is your plan?” “I have no plan. We do not go. I go. With my lack of plan. You’d go, too would you?” “Someone has to watch and laugh.”

Editing could have improved it. Not tight and bright. Wordiness is okay to describe inner dialogue and conflict, but it slows the narrative. Repetitious, too. “When the attack came …” occurs three times.

“Ill fortune dogged the oath-breaker, just as it would the treacherous host, the ungracious guest, the kinslayer.”

Quibbles: “peat-clad roofs” Sod-clad? “saw the fires begin to gutter” Candles gutter, not campfires. Characters change size as well as shape. As they go from one state to another, they shed all fatigue from the previous state. A conservation of energy and mass would have improved credibility. (Who worries about credibility in fantasy? Attentive readers, even if they don’t know it.) Two characters are named Maniye and Amiyen. Too similar for easy reading.

“A slave?” “Slave with no collar’s still a slave.” “Of all the slaves in the world, you are the least satisfactory.” “There are worse ambitions.”

Nice cover art.

“The Wolf hunter shrugged, suggesting that neither he nor the world were there simply for her to understand.”

Book Review: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis (Five Stars)

Book Review: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C. S. Lewis

(Five Stars)

“Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

The best fiction Lewis wrote. Totally different than both his space trilogy and the Narnia books. Not so much overtly Christian as universal, pondering the deeper questions of life. Setting his story in a pre-Christian time and culture, Lewis forces us outside the comfort of what we think we know: to examine ourselves, even as we judge or sympathize with Orual

“And we said we loved her.” “And we did. She had no more dangerous enemies than us.”

I noted three pages of quotes with which to support this review, but find myself unable to include more than Continue reading

Book Review: The Light Princess by George MacDonald (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Light Princess by George MacDonald

(Four Stars)

“He could not tell whether the queen mean light-haired or light-heired; for why might she not aspirate her vowels when she was exasperated herself?”

Fun. Unexpected and untypical (of MacDonald). A trailblazer of modern fantasy, MacDonald’s stories are often deep in meaning and dense with prose. This hundred and fifty year old tale is neither. Light and easy to follow. Raises the suspicion this is a modern paraphrase, yet many of the puns and word plays must stem for the original

“One day he lost sight of his retinue in a great forest. These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a sieve that keeps back the bran.”

Self-conscious of fairy tale tropes used and abused. MacDonald using and makes fun of standard fairy elements, yet his tale of the redemptive power of self-sacrificial love is typical of his writings.

“She will die if I don’t do it, and life would be nothing to me without her; so I shall lose nothing by doing it.” “Love hath made me strong to go, For thy sake, to realms below.”

Book Review: Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas

(Four Stars)

“It is remarkable how little concern men seem to have for logic, statistics, and even, indeed, survival: we live by emotion, prejudice, and pride.” DDE

Another timely correction to the popular and scholarly evaluation of the presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower. For years both the media and academia have repeated a false, sometimes willfully so, image of our 34th president.

“The hatchet job was one of the most lasting and effective in political history.”

Thorough research and clear prose undergird Thomas’s work. Unlike what we read at the time and since, he reveals Continue reading

Book Review: April Morning by Howard Fast (Five Stars)

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Book Review: April Morning by Howard Fast

(Five Stars)

“Yesterday, he was a boy. Tonight, he’s not.” “Now what kind of thing is that to say? That’s exactly the kind of thing a man says. I don’t understand that kind of talk. A boy doesn’t turn into a man overnight. It takes learning and growing and hurting. And most of all it takes time.” “Sometimes,” Father said slowly, “we don’t have time.”

The opening of the American War of Independence through the eyes and emotions of a Lexington teen. Outstanding depth of consciousness. The reader is dragged along as Adam Cooper is yanked out of his very conventional colonial New England childhood into a frightening and blood-soaked adulthood on the day world history changed .

“Then I realized that at this range, even if some of the bird shot did reach the redcoats, it would sting no harder than a mosquito. It was a great relief to find some sensible reason not to go on shooting.”

So much better than other fiction by Fast. Is this the normal or an aberration? Fast captures the feel of the times in the syntax and the ideas the permeate this story. As an eyewitness, Adam doesn’t see or know everything—especially not who fired that shot—but he does filter the action through a realistic, immersive point of view.

“Nobody fights in God’s cause,” the Reverend replied sharply. “Isn’t it enough to kill in freedom’s name? No one kills in God’s cause. He can only ask God’s forgiveness.”

Quibble: Modernity creeps in at the edges. Words like “subconscious” are jarringly out of place. The treatment of native American and women is noticeably better than the norm of those days, but plausible given the family ethic portrayed. Occasional typos mar the text.

“It doesn’t make one bit of sense that the British are coming up with a real army. I mean, what for? I mean, why on earth would they want to start a war? You always read about wars. But no one ever explains why a war starts. They just start.”

What was General Gage thinking? By all accounts, he was trying to subdue or seduce the colonists back into the imperial fold, despite hawkish subordinates. How then could he imagine that an armed incursion into the Massachusetts country would not trigger a fight? (When Governor Dunmore stole the Virginia militia’s powder the next day  (which was too coincidental to be coincidental), “the shot heard ‘round the world” had already been fired. And he almost got a fight, too.) Once the sword of war is pulled, for whatever reason, it’s hard to scabbard.

“The April morning when I departed properly belonged in a past so distant and different that it could hardly be evoked. Even if all the scars were healed, nothing would ever be the same again.”

Book Review: Black Guards by A. J. Smith. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Black Guards (The Long War#1) by A. J. Smith.

(Three Stars)

“They’ll just assume we’ll go into the wilds and lie low. The idea of us going to Tiris is so stupid it won’t occur to them.” “So, our stupidity is what’s going to keep us alive?” “Precisely … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Engaging epic fantasy. Good world building. Touted for being Lovecraftian, but I didn’t feel it. In fact, Smith’s supernatural dimension felt more organic to his world. Prose was easy to read.  A little humor.

Numerous non sequiturs: “He was flabby, with little muscle, though still immensely strong.” (Huh?) “… carefully placed a bolt, and pulled back on the drawstring.” (Wrong order.) “She’d fed him some of the baled of straw.” (She picked up bales of straw as she fled? Why didn’t she get something nutritional?) “… as the horses barreled into Continue reading

Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafai and Christina Lamb (Four Stars)

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Book Review: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education for Children and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafai and Christina Lamb

(Four Stars)

“Dear God, I know you see everything, but there are so many things that maybe, sometimes, things get missed, particularly now with the bombings in Afghanistan. God, give me strength and courage and make me perfect because I want to make this world perfect. Malala.”

Unusually well-written topical book. Normally these “as told to” books are not worth the paper, just exploiting someone’s fifteen minutes of fame. I am Malala is distinctively different. Yousafai and Lamb deal in depth with the history of Pakistan and the Taliban, especially the Swat Valley, Malala’s home.

“The falsehood has to go and the truth will prevail.” (Quran) “If one man, Fazlullah, can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it? I wondered. I prayed to God every night to give me strength.”

The story starts on the day Malala is shot, then backtracks to build her world. The detail is exhaustive and intimate. The reader is drawn into Malala’s world and time. Her hopes, fears and aspirations develop organically. It’s real; it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

“I felt like the Taliban saw us as little dolls to control, telling us what to do and how to dress. I thought if God wanted us to be like that He wouldn’t have made us all different.”

Surprisingly—or maybe not—about the only part of the world which rejects Malala is her native Pakistan. Her story—this story—doesn’t fit the narrative which the government, church, and people of Pakistan have developed for themselves. To change that, she has a tough row to hoe.

“They are abusing our religion,” I said in the interviews. “How will you accept Islam if I put a gun to your head and say Islam is the true religion? If they want every person in the world tobe Muslim, why don’t they show themselves to be good Muslims first?”

Malala is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

“Rahanna told me that thousands and millions of people and children around the world had supported me and prayed for me. Then I realized that people had saved my life. I had been spared for a reason.”

Book Review: A Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Clash of Eagles (Clash of Eagles #1) by Alan Smale

(Four Stars)

“Heading west in as straight a line as they could manage. Which, being Romans, was pretty d—d straight.”

Excellent alternate history. Imperial Rome invades thirteenth-century North America in search of gold. Smale drops the reader into the story and supplies details as the Romans march west. Good character and plot development.

“Even when you were younger. Would you have spoiled her?” “You don’t have daughters, do you?” “No.” “Ask me again when you do.”

Lacks a believable antagonist after the opening scenes. Marcellinus is his own worst enemy, of course, but someone to butt heads with would add to the fun. Sintikala is that and more, but Continue reading