“Christmas in the Trenches” by Steve Haywood (Four Stars)


An artist’s impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches” (Wikipedia)

Christmas in the Trenches” by Steve Haywood

(Four Stars)

“I wept that night for Charlie, for all my fallen comrades, for Konrad and for all the Germans we’d killed too. Their faces would haunt me for the rest of my life.”

A well-told very-short historical fiction about an older man reminiscing about the Christmas Day Truce of 1914. Taut storytelling. The more the reader knows about World War One, the better the story works.

“I didn’t smoke anymore, and I don’t think he did either, but that wasn’t the point.”

Book Review: Over the Wire by Philip H. Newman (Four Stars)


Book Review: Over the Wire: A POW’s Escape Story from the Second World War by Philip H. Newman

(Four Stars)

“Those were the days before antibiotics. How different was the whole aspect of war surgery; the fear of infection dominated the surgeon’s objective and the smell of the wounds was unforgettable.”

Amazing true story of a British surgeon left behind at Dunkirk with Continue reading

Book Review: Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini (Four Stars)


Book Review: Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

(Four Stars)

“Why, what’s to fear?” he said. “It’s a Christian country, this, and Christian men do not make war upon the wounded, nor upon those who harbour them.” He still had, you see, illusions about Christians.

Enjoyable old-fashioned sea opera. Better, if more simply, developed than many more modern adventure novels. Written in 1922, Captain Blood spawned a generation of swashbuckling copies and movies.

“The wise thing’d be to hang him Continue reading

Book Review: Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper (Four Stars)


Book Review: Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper

(Four Stars)

“When I decided to bring this eyeless kitten home with me, I made my first truly adult decision about a relationship. And, without realizing it, I established the standard by which I would judge all my relationships in the years to come.”

Excellent. A compelling story well told. Her emotion and attachment draw Continue reading

Book Review: Homer’s Daughter by Robert Graves (Four Stars)


Book Review: Homer’s Daughter by Robert Graves

(Four Stars)

“On the whole, I have respected the truth because, not being a born liar, I find wanton invention confusing; though I do exaggerate at times, like everyone else, and must adapt, disguise, shift, diminish and enlarge incidents to square them with the epic tradition. I have, indeed, kept as closely as possible to my own experience.”

A 1955 romp through a familiar ancient saga with Continue reading

Book Review: Smart Ass by Margaret Winslow (Three Stars)


Book Review: Smart Ass: How a Donkey Challenged Me to Accept His True Nature & Rediscover My Own by Margaret Winslow

(Three Stars)

“As much as I hated to look like a fool, I had chosen the very animal that—almost by definition—would make me do just that.”

Sad. The long subtitle it all: a case study in the folly of wishful thinking. Before Winslow writes the check to buy Caleb, a large Andalusian white donkey, the reader knows this won’t end well. Why didn’t she? Blinded by Continue reading

Book Review: Paris in Terror by Stanley Loomis (Four Stars)


Book Review: Paris in Terror: The Men and Women Who Led the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution by Stanley Loomis

(Four Stars)

“The past is also the present and the future. The nation that forgets that is doomed.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

A cautionary tale. These men and women meant to do away with all that was old and bad and create a heaven on earth. They not only failed but failed so horribly and spectacularly that the Reign of Terrorhas become the byword for populous hubris. It is not only the elites who degrade and dehumanize people; it is sometimes also those who purport to represent and lead the masses.

“The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.” Harry S Truman

Having said that, Loomis had a transparent agenda as well. He picks favorites among the revolutionaries and brings them to life, sometimes horrible, often fascinating. But after all, history is not fundamentally about days and documents and battles, it’s about people: who they are, what they believe, what they do. And also, how they influence or forecast what happens thereafter.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

(quotes not from book)

Book Review: John Jay: Founding Father by Walter Stahl (Four Stars)


Book Review: John Jay: Founding Father by Walter  Stahl

(Four Stars)

“A few years more will put us all in the dust; and it will then be of more importance to me to have governed myself than to have governed the state.” JJ

A necessary corrective for the neglect which this founder of the United States has suffered. Not without flaws, the greatest of which is the constant imposition of Stahl’s opinions disguised as Continue reading

Book Review: Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)


Book Review: Theft of Swords (Riyria Revelations #1-2) by Michael J. Sullivan

(Four Stars)

“It’s not that we don’t trust you. It’s just that we’ve learned over the years that honor among nobles is usually inversely proportionate to their rank.”

This volume contains both The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, previously published separately. The tales are consecutive; it works. After second reading: How did I miss the first time through that Royce and Arista are with Asrahaddon when he screes the identity of the true Heir and Guardian? That makes a big difference!

“This wasn’t Steinbeck; it was simple, and light, and just a good enjoyable read.” Michael J. Sullivan

Light weight, but fun read. Engaging, if stereotypical characters; complex enough plot to keep the reader engaged; a world view which harks back to the golden age of fantasy fiction.

“I’m not so much trying to create another Lord of the Rings so much as a good old-fashioned Errol Flynn movie or sixties Western. While I enjoy a beautifully written novel—I love a great story.” Michael J. Sullivan

The tale is told with fair humor and moderate style. Better than Fritz Leiber‘s Lankhmar stories. The interplay between Royce and Hadrian is both a standing joke and absorbing.

“This little… dwarf… tried to kill me and damn near succeeded, and you want me to let him go because I said I would?”

Enough ends were left loose to justify a follow-on text or four, but the main tail of each story is nicely concluded. Lots of foreshadowing and mythic expanse. (That I didn’t see it the first time was undoubtedly my fault, not Sullivan’s.)

“I like any plan where I don’t die a horrible death.”

Book Review: The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Last Secret of the Temple (Yusuf Kalifa #2) by Paul Sussman

(Three Stars)

(Spoiler Warning)

“That’s the problem with the past, isn’t it? It’s never really past. It’s always there. Clinging on. Like a leech. Sucking out the blood.”

“Columbo” does “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Great, if derivative, concept.

‘No object on earth is more sacred to us Continue reading