Book Review: Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens, Anna Milon, editor. (Three Stars)


Book Review: Tolkien the Pagan? Reading Middle-earth through a Spiritual Lens (Peter Roe Series XIX), Anna Milon, editor.

(Three Stars)

We have moved into the scholastic era of Tolkien studies. Now that Tolkien and his Bowell (son Christopher) are safely dead, scholars can opine on what his Middle-earth works really mean without fear of contradiction. As usual the scholars quote themselves and each other, never accepting the received wisdom as complete or even valid. Many of these works are derived from others. Something of a self-licking ice cream cone.

“It would be ‘missing the point’ to read Tolkien’s works as ‘a fairy story’, for ‘Tolkien’s work was in reality a monumental act of channeling.’” Markus Altena Davidsen

Though the title is something of a red herring, a notable addition to Middle-earth scholarship. Best read slowly, after having read Continue reading

Book Review: The Buchanan Campaign by Rick Shelley (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Buchanan Campaign (The Federation War #1) by Rick Shelley

(Four Stars)

“My mother didn’t raise any optimists. ‘Always look for the clouds,’ she told me. ‘That way all your surprises will be silver linings.’”

A competent, if pedestrian, space opera of the techno-military sort. Multiple plot treads weave among half a dozen key characters to give the reader a comprehensive yet personal view from the surprise invasion of an independent human-settled world through the moves and counter moves of the opposing militaries to support or oppose that invasion.

“Even in the best of moods, he seemed to be perpetually one match short of an explosion.”

Technology is consistent and techno-miracles are kept to a minimum. The “good guys” are based on a quasi-British commonwealth model; the bad guys are more anonymously universal aggressors.

“It looks as if the human animal will find a way to fight no matter the obstacles. I’ve become quite willing to accept the argument that it’s hardwired into our genes.”

Despite this being his series’ opener, Shelley manages a satisfying conclusion while setting many hooks to draw the reader to the next book.

“I might serve the Commonwealth more by dying in battle than I can do alive. Symbolism is important.”

Book Review: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary by Anna Elliott (Four Stars)


Book Review: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continued (Pride and Prejudice Chronicles #1) by Anna Elliott

(Three Stars)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young lady of rank and property will have packs of money- or land-hungry suitors yapping around her heels like hounds after a fox.”

On my second reading, I got a totally different impression and therefore have awarded a higher rating. A better-than-average attempt to continue the story Jane Austen began in Pride and Prejudice. Many original characters return with little development; the reader is assumed to already know them. The dénouement is as inevitable as the original.

“I knew I would never in three hundred years work up the nerve for a dramatic confrontation of that kind. Or if I did, I would stand there, red-faced and stammering trying to think of the perfect retort. Which would probably come to me at Continue reading

Book Review: Age of Empyre by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)


Book Review: Age of Empyre (The Legends of the First Empire #6) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Four Stars)

“That’s what stories are for, Brin realized. They are magic that aid people in times like this. They provide hope, a light to see by when all others are snuffed out.”

Appropriately complex and satisfying close for this six-volume epic fantasy. Concludes a visit to the underworlds begun in previous books and has a big climax, but leaves enough loose ends that the reader understands that history has not ended. In fact, contrary to Sullivan’s normal practice, it’s not what everyone would call a happy ending, but one that makes sense in this context: nobody is completely successful or happy. Life goes on.

“With the world as his mother, the sky his father, and immortality granted from Alurya’s gift, he might be the only true god. Unfortunately, Continue reading

Book Review: Fires of Alexandria by Thomas K. Carpenter (Three Stars)


Book Review: Fires of Alexandria (Alexandrian Saga #1) by Thomas K. Carpenter

(Three Stars)

“She would transform the city to a place worthy of the title of the City of Miracles. And not the miracles of the temples. Real, practical miracles that would change people’s lives and free them from the tyranny of the gods.”

Entertaining and educational alternate history. Too bad the writing wasn’t up to the premise. Using Alexandria circa 50 AD as his starting point, Carpenter weaves an intriguing “what if” tale of advancing technology, gender liberation, and personal freedom.

“And to see it with my own eyes. Because one cannot always trust what was written in books.”

He gets more right than wrong, though several gaffs are laughable. “Man-sized multi-firing crossbows” are a staple among writers having no idea Continue reading

Book Review: The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis (Five Stars)


Book Review: The Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis

(Five Stars)

Reader beware. This book was probably C. S. Lewis at his worst: an academic tome written in 1936 about his day job, long before he’d reached his peak as a communicator.

However, the payoff is modern readers’ greater understanding of a time and place which served as the background for many contemporary fictional fantasies. (See below)

It traces the rise and decline of the love allegory as a mainstay of European literature in the late Middle Ages. I read it to mine the nuggets of Lewis wisdom scattered through the dry strata of Latin, Greek, French and Middle English. The footnotes, when they weren’t the usual op. cit., lop. cit., and ibid. silliness, were even in Latin and Greek. (No, I don’t read those languages. Paradoxically, it only slowed rather than prevented understanding.) Try this sample of Middle English, now often found on Continue reading

Book Review: Avalon by Anya Seton (Four Stars)


Book Review: Avalon by Anya Seton

(Four Stars)

“Nobody can live a continuous lie and find serenity. I can see that you are not at peace with yourself.”

Well-written historical romance set in the tenth century. Melds what we then knew about both England and the Vikings. Excellent inner voice with historically appropriate attitudes. Better-than-average rendering of dialects.

“Always we live on islands of one kind or another.”

The era before the Norman conquest of England is as much terra incognita to most moderns as Viking exploration and settlement in North America, both of which Seton provides excellent (sometimes fictional) eye witness accounts.

“Now we’ll go to the church, and mind ye, m’lord, whatever we find’ll be God’s Will.”

Could not be written today, not only because it violates current political correctness, but it treats matters of faith with a tolerance no longer the norm in western literature.

“Is she Christian?” “She’s been baptized,” said Orm defiantly. “But what does all this water-sprinkling matter! We Norse do it too.” “I’m not sure how much it matters, if the Spirit isn’t there.”

Book Review: Pile of Bones by Michael J. Sullivan. (Three Stars)


Book Review: Pile of Bones (Legends of the First Empire, #0.5) by Michael J. Sullivan.

(Three Stars)

“Fear, for the most part, is yer friend. It keeps you alive, and stops you from doing stupid stuff like trying to fly or jumping in a fire. But, when yer scared of sumptin’ you ought not to be, well then, there’s just nothing for it but to grit yer teeth, spit in its eye, and challenge your dread to an arm wrestle.” Tura

A short, painless introduction to the world of Elan and one of the major characters of the greater series.

“So odd was this cautionary thought—as no one who knew her would ever accuse Suri of being prudent—that it caused her to laugh. After striking the [bee] hive several times, Continue reading