Book Review: Servants & Spies by Mike Kastle (Three Stars)

Book Review: Servants & Spies: Exploits from the Covert Mission Field by Mike Kastle (Three Stars)

“Most things we accomplish in the Kingdom of God are like that. We almost never know the result from the onset. In fact, the result is usually not what we had initially envisioned when we started.”

Very few actual exploits. Kastle (a pseudonym) follows an attention getting tale which goes nowhere with forty pages of introduction. A lot of telling what he’s going to tell, telling it, then telling what he has told. The little that’s new is good but would hardly fill more than a pamphlet.

“It was like solving a mystery by reading a book backwards, seeing the outcome, and then reviewing and seeing how it all came together. That is, because His work had begun before I knew it.”

Even Christians will find the text dense and slow reading. Non-Christians will be bored and bewildered. Kastle never quotes one Bible verse when three are available. Half the text is sermons about Christian life and missions. Less than a third relates Kastle’s life, ministry or missions. Lots of repetition. He tends to build the clock to tell the time. Over and over. Needs editing.

“The battle is the Lord’s, but it is a battle. The war is won, but it still must be fought before we experience the victory that He has already won.”

Book Review: Other Fires by Lenore H. Gay (Four Stars)

Book Review: Other Fires: A Novel by Lenore H. Gay (Four Stars)

“Crisis had a way of breaking the jar’s seal and spilling secrets.”

An intense psychological examination of a disintegrating family whose plights are made worse by a house fire which injures one of them. And may be wasn’t accidental. Everyone has his or her mental and emotional issues, often made worse by those closest.

“People are complicated. Who can understand other people’s motives? Even our own?”

Gay takes the reader deep into the minds of four principal characters, detailing their pain, plans, and coping strategies. Not all of them have the tightest grip on reality, let alone what the others think and intend. The bane of people who live mostly in their minds.

“She discovered that her mother’s problems had somehow become more of her problems, too.”

Quibble: “Almost nine and only a third grader.” Don’t most children enter first grade at six? At eight years old, she acts and thinks as if she’s ten to twelve. Except for those imaginary friends. That’s okay; her parents act like teens. The lady who says she picks up information quickly has trouble picking up the threads of her life.

“Killing yourself to get back at your parents is a teenage move.”

Well-written, but not my kind story. Hard to like folks who seem determined to make themselves miserable.

“You’ll miss him forever. That shows how much you love him.”

(Full disclosure: I received an Advanced Readers Copy in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Admiral Who? by Luke Sky Wachter (Three Stars)

Book Review: Admiral Who? (Spineward Sectors #1) by Luke Sky Wachter (Three Stars)

“’I wouldn’t even trust myself with command of a garbage scow!’ I caught myself just short of completely losing my composure, realizing I had arrived rather abruptly at the end of my wits.”

A fun, almost mindless space opera with more than a nod to the Vorkosigan sagas of Lois McMaster Bujold. Not particularly well-written so much as well intended.

“Up until this moment everything had felt like a role I was playing, a game, albeit one with deadly results, but for all of that still just a game. But now people had died and I was responsible. Thousands had lived that wouldn’t otherwise, and I was responsible for that too.”

Fast paced and ill-starred. Whatever can go wrong does and at the worst time, yet young Admiral Montagne always lands on his feet, even though he wakes up an uncomfortable number of times in the medical bay not knowing how he got there.

“… waiting for a chance to meet and greet their new Admiral. ‘If I may,’ I said, and moved to the assembled crew waiting to greet their new Admiral.”

Needed another edit. Many minor errors on tense, person and point of view.

“Cousin Cordelia’s other lesson …”  

Cordelia was Miles Vorkosigan’s redoubtable mother. Did Wachter embed an homage to Bujold’s sagas?

“If I was going to dress like a fool and look like a mutant, I might as well play the part to the hilt.”

Book Review: “The Thought That Counts” by K. J. Parker (Four Stars)

Book Review: “The Thought That Counts” by K. J. Parker

(Four Stars)

“A life of honest endeavour; well, why not? Everyone ought to try it at least once before he dies.”

Popcorn for fantasy lovers. Engaging short story about getting what you wish for. Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #250, April 2018.

“If He says it, obviously there must be something to it. No disrespect, but you don’t carry that weight. You haven’t earned that right to be listened to. It’s not the same.” Annoying, because the Him they were talking about was, of course, me.”

(Illustration is cover of Ceaseless Skies #250, not related to this story.)

Book Review: Rolling Thunder by Mark Berent (Four Stars)

Book Review: Rolling Thunder (Wings of War #1) by Mark Berent (Four Stars)

“Precisely how a crashing jet fighter breaks up is a function of its speed, of its angle of impact, and of the topography of the ground it strikes.”

The opening work in a five-volume fictional Vietnam War series. Berent was there; it shows. He manages to capture the insanity and the pathos of the war most Americans would like to forget, especially those who served in it.

“I’ve got to tell Ho Chi Minh that unless he stops his aggression in South Veet-nam, that I’m going to hammer hell out of him; and at the same time I’ve got to tell, to convince the American people, that I am not going to escalate this Veet-nam war.” LBJ

Berent captures the attitudes, vocabulary, antics and pain of the men (mostly) who fought this pointless ruin in Southeast Asia. He also reveals the lack of understanding and empathy of American leaders up to Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara, who bear much of the blame for getting us in so deeply with no clue what they were doing or how we were to extricate ourselves.

“From half a world away these men, politicians for the most part, would decide which targets would be struck and with what ordnance.”

Heroes and opportunists share the pages with hapless Gilligans who had no clue what was going on. Truth was the first casualty each day. Every day. For politicians—in suits, uniforms, and with press passes—what went on was merely something to be manipulated for ones own advantage and point of view.

“Most youngsters his age were letting their hair grow while investigating the wonderful mind expanding properties of cannabis under the tutelage of Harvard Professor Timothy Leary. Exactly as his own son was doing, Norman reflected sadly.”

Early in my reading I kept thinking Berent was relating needless details, then I realized: most Americans have no clue what went on in SEA in the 60s and 70s. My generation went—willing and unwilling—bled, died, grew up, dropped out, and were scarred for life. The folks in Washington never understood nor apparently the Saigon Commandos.

“So what’s a nice Jewish boy like me doing here anyhow killing Buddhists to make the world safe for Christianity?” “Now that’s profound, [redacted], really profound. The only problem, is, it’s what you always say after you’ve had two beers.”

Many of my generation served; many never came back or returned physically and mentally scarred. Yet, having vowed we would never get into another land way in Asia, here we are: same song; new verse. (Yes, we were treated that poorly on our return landing in California. We were warned not to wear uniforms in public.)

“Does anybody know or care how many Air Force people we’ve lost in this screwed up war?”

Book Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui (Four Stars)

Book Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui, translated into English by Linda Coverdale (Four Stars)

“Huddled in a corner, I pray for God the Almighty to save me. I hurt everywhere. I’m terrified at the idea of spending my whole life with this beast. I’ve fallen into a trap, and I can’t get out.”

What a terrible story. And yet those paying attention are assured that child brides, like sex trafficking, is a worldwide phenomenon. A tiny girl is sold to a man many times her age to protect family honor.

“I’m a simple village girl whose family had to move to the capital, and I have always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no.”

Well-written, but retains a naïve, childish viewpoint appropriate to such a young child.

“For these people, I didn’t seem like an exception. There is even a tribal proverb that says, ‘To guarantee a happy marriage, marry a nine-year-old girl.’”

Minoui’s preface detracts, rather than adds, to the telling. Feels padded to make almost two hundred pages.

“Today I finally feel I’ve become a little girl again. A normal little girl. Like before. I’m just me.”

Book Review: Molly by Colin Butcher (Four Stars)

Book Review: Molly: The True Story of an Amazing D Who Rescues Cats by Colin Butcher (Four Stars)

“An animal’s love, trust and loyalty aren’t given freely or easily. They have to be earned.”

A story of a man and idea and the extraordinary working cocker spaniel who brought it to life—even as he saved hers. By and for pet lovers, but others may be entertained and have their hearts warmed.

“What, you mean like Ace Ventura?”

Scattered with enough English-isms and pop jargon, to give a sense of time and place (early twenty-first century Surrey), but accessible to even American readers. In fact, it borders on quaint, as if Butcher is reaching for a James Herriot vibe.

“I know that there are some people out there who think I’m over-reacting, and who’ll say, ‘It’s only a dog.’ But they tend not to be pet owners. They think unconditional love is reserved for humans. They just don’t understand.”

Excellent story; middling writing. Butcher’s writing is a bit on-the-nose—meaning, he explains minutely as if he doesn’t think the reader understands or remembers what he explained in the previous chapter. Lots of repetitive pet rescue stories. Of course, dedicated readers will wish for more.

“This whole experience has been so traumatic, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but it’s given me the biggest life lesson. Never give up. And never, ever lose hope.”

Book Review: King’s Dragon (Crown of Stars, #1) by Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

King’s Dragon (Crown of Stars, #1) by Kate Elliott (Three Stars)

“Face your weakness and it can become your strength.”

Engaging opening to what promises to be an epic saga. Elliott does lots of world and character building, mostly without being obvious. A slow start.

“It is not my part in life to involve myself with the worldly disputes that tempt those who have been seduced by the glamour of earthly power and pleasures.” “Then why are you here?” “I was summoned against my will.”

Because there are so many “main” characters, the opening chapters are disjointed and confusing. If the reader is going straight through, it’s not so bad.

“Make no marriage. Be bound, as I am, by the fate others have determined for you. That way you will remain safe.” But he mocked himself as much as he spoke to her. “Will I remain safe? And from what? What are you safe from?”

Much of the politics, religion, and economics is modeled on recognizable medieval Europe. Elliott offers appendices at the back which help identify the analogous terms to our world as well as a list of characters. Military, clerical, and slave relationships are authentic, if cleaned up.

“I am still a slave, because I fear him.”

Book Review: Free-Wrench by Joseph R. Lallo (Three Stars)

Book Review: Free-Wrench by Joseph R. Lallo 
(Three Stars)

Book Review: Free-Wrench by Joseph R. Lallo

(Three Stars)

“A ship may cut your days short, but it’ll make sure the ones you’ve got are filled to the brim. I call it a fair trade.”

Popcorn for the brain. Enjoyable, if lightweight steampunk science fiction. Identifiable world and protagonist.

“I’m giving you an awful lot of rope. Enough to hang yourself and the lot of us. So do us all a favor and don’t go tying any nooses.”

Written in one month as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, every November), which may explain the simple plot and exposition.

“Pursuing perfection does nothing but steal time from things that desperately need work. The policy of this ship is ‘Good enough is good enough.’”

Book Review: At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino (Three Stars)

Book Review: At the Wolf’s Table by Rosella Postorino, translated from the Italian by Leah Janeczko

(Three Stars)

“Hitler had designed a complex system to avoid being poisoned by the enemy, yet in the meantime be was poisoning himself.”

A credible historical fiction about a young woman dragooned into being a food tester for Adolf Hitler. Good inner dialogue of a young non-Nazi caught up in the tornado of Hitler’s mad dream. Appropriate connections to historic events, especially the July 20, 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler.

“The fact that widowhood … was a common condition was no consolation. I never imagined it could happen to me.”

Told from a third person perspective, tightly focused on Rosa. When the perspective shifts, it weakens the storytelling.

“My punishment had finally arrived. It wasn’t poison, it wasn’t death—it was life.”

Quibbles: People knocked over by explosion outside the security perimeter by an explosion inside the Wolfsschanze [Wolf’s Lair] bunker. Jews discovered and captured near Hitler’s hiding spot in 1944 would not be “deported” but sent to Auschwitz. If not shot.

“When you lose someone, the pain you feel is for yourself, the pain that you’ll never see them again, never hear their voice again, that without them, you think, you’ll never make it. Pain is selfish. That was what made me angry.”

The early onset of widowhood foreshadows an almost Tolkienian eucatastrophe. Part Three is an awkward epilogue. It reads as if the publisher demanded more closure. But Postorino added too many new characters, too much new subplot and too many temporal leaps. She lost a star in the last twenty pages.

“There’s no place where people are so abysmally silent as in German families.”

Too bad Postorino didn’t get to interview Margot Wölk, the actual last food taster, who inspired this story.

“If [the Russians] do to us what we’ve done to them, it’s going to be horrible.”