Book Review: Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kochler (Five Stars)


Book Review: Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kochler

(Five Stars)

“Tolkien was an ecologist, hater of ‘progress,’ lover of handicrafts, detester of war long before such attitudes became fashionable.”

Extraordinary literary criticism. I wish I read this book forty years ago. (Published in 1972, before many of Tolkien’s extended Middle-Earth stories, like The Silmarillion.) Though I have read most of Tolkien’s canon and many books about him, I gained many insights.

“Probably every writer making a secondary world … hopes that the peculiar qualities of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from reality or are flowing into it. The peculiar quality of ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as Continue reading

Book Review: The Holy Thief by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Holy Thief: Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #19 by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“Cadfael shook himself free of vain wondering about souls that passed as strangers, and sighed, and went back into the church to say a brief word into Saint Winifred’s ear before going to his work in the garden.”

Classic Cadfael mystery: murder, misdirection, pride and humility, and of course young lovers. This story builds on several previous, especially The Potter’s Field.

“Many eyes followed the turning of the key, and the installation of the coffer on the altar, where awe of heaven would keep it from violation.”

In some ways a more religious story than many other chronicles, Pargeter explores vows, relics, penance, and various medieval religious practices: some Continue reading

Book Review: Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison (Three Stars)


Book Review: Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison

(Three Stars)

“By the end of the century, should our population continue to increase at the same rate, this country will need more than 100 per cent of the world’s resources to maintain our current living standards.”

Cutting-edge social commentary then. On the bandwagon bleating about over population and over consumption, followed by a huge die off. So incorrect as to be ironic. By 1973 they rewrote the plot for the movie Soylent Green because the over-population red shirt had worn thin.

“You know well enough that birth control has nothing to do with killing babies. In fact it saves them.” No unwanted children, they promised us.

Not a bad story. It only drags when Continue reading

Movie Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, directed by Marielle Heller (Five Stars)


Movie Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, directed by Marielle Heller

(Five Stars)

“He’s just about the nicest person I’ve ever met.” “When you say it, it doesn’t sound so good.”

Amazing movie. While the rest of the world watched Frozen 2, we saw this biographical drama about Fred Rogers, inspired by the 1998 Esquire magazine article “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod. (Get Junod’s take on the movie and mister Rogers here.)

“There’s always something you can do with the anger you feel.”

Appropriately imaginative approach to telling how a journalist assigned to interview Fred Rogers has his life turned upside down—or more correctly, turned right-side up. This is not a children’s movie, not that it’s inappropriate for younger viewers—they aren’t the target audience.

“Why are you vegetarian?” “I can’t imagine eating anything with a mother.”

Book Review: Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (Two Stars)


Book Review: Song of Sorcery by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

(Two Stars)

“For such a ravishing girl she clearly didn’t understand the first thing about being ravished. She was shockingly unaware of the protocol of such matters.”

Has a first-draft feel. Scarborough has demonstrated she can write better than this. Not sure what “another light-hearted contemporary fantasy adventure” is, but if this is an indication, I’ll steer clear in the future. A Terry Prachett wantabee?

“What are you going to dooo?” [sic] “You’ll see.” “And I though I was the enigmatic one in this outfit.”

Needed a good editing. Lots of telling, sloppy sentences, and non sequiturs.

“Even a loose-tongued person who know that he might wake up as a crow can find his own fate a good deal more absorbing than his neighbors.”


Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold (Five Stars)


Movie Review: Ford v Ferrari, directed by James Mangold

(Five Stars)

“Look out there. Out there is the perfect lap. You see it?” “I think so.” “Most people can’t.”

An amazing movie. I went to be entertained; I was moved to tears. Not about cars or racing—okay, peripherally so—but about people. People who want to excel, and people who want to control. They don’t get along in the movie, nor in real life.

“If you’re going to push a machine to its limit, you have to have sense of where that limit is.”

Amazing performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale with solid support by half a dozen others, especially Caitriona Balfe. If there’s justice in Hollywood—we know there isn’t—this crew should garner several Academy Award nominations.

“This isn’t the first time Ford Motor’s gone to war. We know how to do more than push paper. Go ahead, Carroll. Go to war.”

While Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca are portrayed sympathetically, the rest of “suits” at Ford corporate come off as a bunch a sleazy power grabbers.

“You can’t make every lap perfect, but I can try.”

Book Review: The Summer of the Danes by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Summer of the Danes (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #18) by Ellis Peters

(Four Stars)

“I do not spoil what I wish to sell,” agreed Otir. “And when I collect what is due me, it will be from the debtor.”

Outside the Main Sequence of Cadael stories, but a rollicking good tale. Whenever Cadfael has leave to get close to his Welsh roots, murder and mayhem are sure to follow. Here Cadfael must solve a crime with international implications or what passes for order in northern Wales may be overturned.

“Wonderful what riches a man can bestow who by choice and vocation possesses nothing!”

Many of the usual suspect—in type, if not in person—inhabit this chapter of the chronicles. If anything, the tale is populated with too many characters too similar. In addition to the usual murder mystery and romance, Pargeter reflects on matters of humility, duty and honor.

“There is no one who cannot be hated, against whatever odds. Nor anyone who cannot be loved, against all reason.”

Though maps are provided, a good map of northern Wales would be a handy supplement for those readers who like to stay grounded in the geography of the tale. The descriptions are such that no ones gets lost, who doesn’t want to.

“But when it comes down to it, as roads go, the road home is as good as any.”

Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon (Three Stars)


Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon

(Three Stars)

“Because never in my life have I had life’s permission to develop the taste for simple pleasures, I shall pursue dark ones.”

Historical fiction as if done by Terry Pratchett. The intriguing background for this book can be found elsewhere. Knowing it only adds the Sturgeon’s accomplishment: he wrote a book which had supposedly already been written and did so with meticulous attention to historic detail and plausibility.

“We must present you as rake, not defiler; libertine rather than lecher.” “Libertine—I?” “Men have made greater sacrifices for king, country, and career.” “And how on earth am I to find just a proper scandal?” “Manufacture it, lad.”

Though set in 1770s England, the story is something of a send up of Continue reading

Book Review: Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s No Limit by Lori van Pelt (Four Stars)


Book Review: Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s No Limit by Lori van Pelt

(Four Stars)

“Please know I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” (From letter Amelia Earhart wrote and sealed before her world-circling trip.)

Well-written biography of an extraordinary person. Amelia Earhart was bigger than life; she had vision and ability far beyond many women and men of her day. Van Pelt compiles both how much Amelia accomplished but also her goals and ambitions along the way. Much coverage of her disappearance. Not without her warts—she may not have been the best flyer around, but she was among the gutsiest.

“I wanted to fly because I wanted to; not because advance publicity compelled me.” AE

Earhart and many of her contemporaries struggled with Continue reading

Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Five Stars)


Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

(Five Stars)

“There certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.”

Austen at her best. Gone is the self-assured heroine of earlier novels who sweeps all before her; enter the humble waif who must learn the ways of the world and society on the fly. Fanny’s internal dialogue sets Mansfield Park apart from Austen’s earlier works. It’s still Austen, but it grips the soul of the reader.

“Her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy. Fanny’s relief, and her consciousness of it, were quite equal to her cousins’; but a more tender nature suggested that her feelings were ungrateful, and she really grieved because she could not grieve. Her cousins, on seeing her red eyes, set her down as a hypocrite.”

The reader gains a more mature critique on the corner of society which Continue reading