Book Review: Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo (three stars)

Book Review: Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo (three stars)

A photographer spotted him and called out, “Look this way, Mr. President.” “I’m not ‘Mr. President’ anymore,” Truman answered with a smile. “I’m just plain Harry Truman.”

A story that reaches across seventy years from the last president of the old style. Less than a year after leaving the highest office in the land, Harry and Bess Truman got in their Chrysler and drove 2500 miles. Alone. No escort, no security detail, occasionally unrecognized.

“I tried never to forget who I was and where I’d come from and where I’d go back to.” HT

Expect a hagiography and you won’t be disappointed. Algeo has an agenda, but so do most biographers. He’s not trying to make a saint of Truman, but 33rd president comes across as his own person.

“Ain’t no use wastin’ good farmland on any old dang library,” said his brother Vivian.

No trivia too small is be included. Inserted himself way too much. Readers can be forgiven thinking the book is about Algeo, and using Truman’s name to garner sales.

“The whole trip has been heart-warming. I am amazed at the friendliness, and it makes me think that I haven’t spent my life in vain.”  HT

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (four stars)

Book Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (four stars)

“I was alone all along, but now I am truly alone. The sole living human within several light-years, at least. What do I do now?”

I love first contact stories. I especially love first contact stories which do not involve the aliens (or us) trying to eat or exterminate each other. This is one of those better kind of stories. Told with the simple, linear style Weir is famous for.

“You three are going to Tau Ceti. The rest of us are going to hell. More accurately, hell is coming to us.”

The story hinges on not one, but three superbeings/materials. That’s okay, but pushes the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.

“Well, you’re not alone anymore, buddy. Neither of us are.”

More technical quibbles here than with The Martian, which is a pretty low bar. They detract from the flow of the story, and we expect better from Weir. “CO2 spectral emissions are 4.26 and 18.31 microns. But Astrophage are only 10 microns across, so it couldn’t really interact with light that had a larger wavelength.” Weir should know wavelength is the distance between wave crests, not the amplitude of the waves. “Soyuz capsules are launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is at a high latitude. The safest landing locations are at that same latitude.” Not so. “The chopper took me to Travis Air Force Base, about 60 miles north of the city.” Not so. “Apparently, the entire Hail Mary is at that 40 percent pressure. Good design.” Bad design, since it must be 100% oxygen. Both the USA and the USSR killed astronauts because of that. “Evolution can be insanely effective when you leave it alone for a few billion years.” No, it specializes so completely that the population can’t deal with change. Also, several “As you know, Bob,” dialogues.

“Not all Eridians willing to die for others.” “Not all humans either.” “You and me are good people.” “Yeah. I suppose we are.”

Book Review: Exhalation by Ted Chiang (four stars)

Book Review: Exhalation by Ted Chiang (four stars)

Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.

Excellent anthology of Chiang’s thought-provoking shorter fiction.

With every movement of my body, I contribute to the equalization of pressure in our universe. With every thought that I have, I hasten the arrival of that fatal equilibrium.

The eponymous story is excellent. Loved “The Great Silence.” Several stories explore paradoxes or hidden truths which are perhaps better examined, as Chiang does, through the safety of fiction. “Omphalos” raises but doesn’t address the question of how the believer relates to the creator who didn’t choose them. What does Esau do?

Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.

“What’s Expected of Us” fails Logic 101. Of course, negative time delay equals time travel, so of course it works, but that doesn’t destroy free will. “Anxiety is the Dizzyness of Freedom isn’t bad, but it’s way too long. Chiang could have/should have made his point in half as many words.

We parrots used to think humans weren’t very bright. It’s hard to make sense of behavior that’s so different from your own.

Book Review: Time and Tide by Shirley Mckay (four stars)

Book Review: Time and Tide (Hew Cullan Mystery #3) by Shirley Mckay (four stars)

‘Giles seeks to tell the truth, yet truth itself at times is not the most efficient strategy, for it is often not what people wish to hear.’

Excellent late medieval mystery set in St. Andrews, Scotland. Third in series. Suggest new readers start with Huw and Cry.

‘You are, I think, impertinent, which may require correction.’ ‘I bow to your direction, sir,’ Hew retorted dryly. ‘It’s clear that you do not. And that is why I want you.’

Good character development and plotting. The reader need only relax and enjoy the ride.

‘Though, I prefer to be pragmatical . . .’ ‘You prefer to be equivocal,’

Like Edith Parteger, Mckay projects a fairly modern protagonist into a late Middle Ages setting. Echoes of the Cadfael-Huw Beringer relationship. Many Parallels to the Cadfael Chronicles, but not a rip-off.

‘But to take the law in your hands . . .’ ‘Nor law, but justice, [redacted], for law would little serve her in this case.’ ‘Be careful, [redacted]’. ‘For law belongs to man, and justice comes from God.’ ‘To whom [redacted] will devote herself.

Book Review: Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (Four Stars)

Book Review: Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple #1) by Agatha Christie (Four Stars)

“Ah!” said Miss Marple. “But I always find it prudent to suspect everybody just a little. What I say is, you really never know, do you?”

My first venture into the world of Miss Marple is the first Christie tale featuring her razor-witted elder. It’s a fun read. Suspects and motives abound, including the vicar himself, as the locals rush to convict each other in the tribunal of public opinion. Timely.

“In St. Mary Mead everyone knows your most intimate affairs. There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”

Dated prose style does not detract because the setting and cast is quaintly rural English of a century ago. Nicely foreshadows both the red herrings and the denouement.

‘The young people think the old people are fools; but the old people know the young people are fools!”

Book Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (three stars)

Book Review: A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan #2) by Arkady Martine (three stars)

Let’s see if interested means “would like me safely dead,” as usual.

Continues Martine’s inventive space opera with allies one can’t trust adding first contact with an unknowable foe. Multiple points of view intrigue and baffle unwary readers. As with A Memory Called Empire, the improbable outcome everyone expects morphs into the impossible outcome no one desires. Well done.

“Who wouldn’t want to be involved in a first-contact scenario?”
“Nearly everyone who has ever been near an alien.”

New characters mix with holdovers from Memory to expand the horizons of the story. The stakes are appropriately higher.

“If he does it … and he’s right, and he lives—then he’ll have achieved a kind of first-contact negotiation no Teixcalaanlitzlim has ever managed.” “… Are you jealous?” “I’m not brave enough to be jealous.”

Lost at least a star for one gratuitous, graphic sex scene. Unnecessary to either plot or character development, it cheapens the story into rank pornography. The scene in question could have stopped after the initial kiss and ruminations by the point of view character then restarted in next chapter’s post-coital tangle of limbs with no loss. Overuse of the f-word too.

She didn’t exactly want him to be careful. Didn’t want, herself, to be careful. Only to win. She wished she knew what winning would look like.

Book Review: A Damsel in Distress by P. G. Wodehouse (Three Stars)

Book Review: A Damsel in Distress by P. G. Wodehouse (Three Stars)

Trouble sharpens the vision. In our moments of distress we can see clearly that what is wrong with this world of ours is the fact that Misery loves company and seldom gets it.

An enjoyable standalone comedy by the creator of Jeeves. The plot is mad-cap and convoluted. Enjoyable, if lightweight fare.

“What’s all this?” A vast policeman had materialized from nowhere.

Lampooning English nobility as a matter of course, Wodehouse inserts an American hero, who may be slightly autobiographical. One character bears a striking resemblance to Bertie Wooster.

“Between ourselves, laddie, and meaning no disrespect to the dear soul, when the mater is moved and begins to talk, she uses up most of the language.” “Outspoken, is she?” “I should hate to meet the person who could out-speak her.”