Book review: Revolutionaries by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)

Book review: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack N. Rakove (four stars plus)

“Washington never allowed the army to disdain its civilian superiors. Fabius was the role circumstances forced him to play, Cincinnatus the character his own more closely resembled.”

If you read only one history book about the American revolutionary period, read this one. That said, readers without a passing knowledge of the 1770s and 80s may get lost in Rakove frequent digressions and flashbacks within flashbacks.

“Where the ideologue Adams believed that a raw lust for power was driving Britain’s leaders to seek dominion over America, Morris preferred to blame obtuse stupidity and miscalculation. But both agreed that British missteps, rather than American desires, had brought the colonies to the point of independence.”

Rakove is of the people-make-history school, but also posits that some people rise to the challenge better than others. This collection of mini biographies is fleshed out by considering more than the obvious giants of the age.

Madison was at once a constitutional radical, celebrating the capacity of his countrymen to rethink basic questions of republican government, and a political conservative who never underestimated the risks they were taking. That too was part of his political genius.”

Unlike so many modern historians, Rakove keeps his opinions to himself and does not batter the reader with his agenda. There’s plenty of credit and blamer for most everything that went right and wrong.

“All of them shared that one characteristic that Hamilton memorialized in Nathanael Greene. ‘Those great revolutions which sometimes convulse society,’ Hamilton reminded his brother officers of the Cincinnati, had also this merit: ‘that they serve to bring to light talents and virtues which might otherwise have languished in obscurity or only shot forth a few scattered and wandering rays.’”

Book Review: A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway (four stars)

Book Review: A Moveable Feast: the Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway (four stars)

The last bit of professional writing by my father, the true foreword to A Moveable Feast: “This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.” Patrick Hemingway

Updated version of Hemingway’s definitive story of how lost the Lost Generation was. Includes much material omitted when originally published after his death. Those interested will need a map of 1920s Paris.

It was not a trip designed for a man easy to anger. You could not be angry with Scott any more than you could be angry with someone who was crazy, but I was getting angry with myself for having become involved in the whole silliness.

Ernest and Hadley were young, poor, and sure of themselves. Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stern, F. Scott Fitzgerald populate his cast, but he admits he’s writing fiction. Reader beware.

By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.

Clear, forceful prose. That said, he weasel-words his criticism of his contemporaries in Paris and Austria. Saves his harshest words for himself, but even as he accepts the blame for ruining his own marriage he blames others.

I have tried to write by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged, by the man who writes it, by the excellence of the material that he eliminates.

Book Review: The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2) by Helene Wecker (four stars)

Book Review: The Hidden Palace (The Golem and the Jinni #2) by Helene Wecker (four stars)

“Stop searching for the things that no one can explain. Isn’t this world cruel enough as it is?”

A fitting sequel to The Golem and the Jinni. Starts slowly as Wecker widens the scope of the story and cast. Like the best historical fiction, she blends her plot into real events, in this case the swelling tide of the First World War, capturing how it looked to the Hebrew and Lebanese communities of Manhattan. Good, clean writing.

“Jinn do not have friends. We may be allies, or enemies, or lovers, but not friends.” “And I suppose a lover is not necessarily an ally.” “Not in my experience.” “Nor mine.”

The pace picks up midway as the scattered treads start to tighten. The various dénouement are well foreshadowed but not revealed beforehand. Some surprise and sorrow is still possible.

“You are exactly like them,” he said, pointing out toward the city. “You’d make me as meek and obedient as yourself, if I would only allow it. You’d make a human of me—no, you would turn me into you.”

Recommended for fans of historical fiction. Not typical fantasy, horror, or science fiction but incorporates elements of all, but with an intimacy that occasionally hurts. Well done.

“Sometimes, she challenges me, constantly, to be better than I am.” “And are there times when you resent the challenge? When you wish that, just this once, she’d let you be a little bit worse than you are?” “Of course.”

Movie Review: Show Me the Father, directed by Rick Altizer (four stars)

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Show Me the Father, directed by Rick Altizer (four stars)

A Christian documentary by the Kendrick Brothers. While well made and sincere, its presence in mass-market theaters is a mystery.

Lots of good statistics and aphorisms about the impact of fathers and the love of God. Many Christians will buy and shelf along with the Kendrick Brothers’ dramas.

Book Review: Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster (three stars)

Book Review: Madrenga by Alan Dean Foster (three stars)

“Looking after them and attending to their needs can only slow you down.” “Friends never slow one down.”

A quest tale with a twist. Several twists. Foster is an accomplished wordsmith. He can tell a tale and describe a person or setting in just a phrase. Unfortunately, he exhibits a wordiness which belies his ability to do better.

“Nothing that has happened to me since leaving Harup-taw-shet has made any sense. Why should it be any different for you?”

The eponymous hero is dense and naive. The latter is more forgivable than the former. After the introduction, the story drags because Foster seems to not trust the reader to get the stupidity of Madrenga and tells us again. And again.

“The esteem reserved for elder beings as well as elder ways is being abandoned. Where once they sought improvement, now men seek only profit, and darknesses of all manner and kind stalk the land.”

Excellent close. Tied up enough ends to satisfy without telling everything.

“If I’ve learned one thing in life it’s that there are no promises. There is only hope.”

Book Review: Wraiths of Time by Andre Norton (three stars)

Book Review: Wraiths of Time by Andre Norton (three stars)

“A life that has been bought by the blood of friends must not be thrown away.”

Has the bones of an exciting science fiction/alternate universes tale, but the final product doesn’t deliver. Tallahassee is a timely protagonist, though this was first published in 1976. The mystery and conflict between members of the parallel cultures is good. Post-Egyptian dynastic cultures is a good historical spring board.

“Rumor can cause much trouble, Sela. There is no weapon in the end as difficult to overcome as the tongue of an enemy.”

Though apparently no follow-on story was published, this ends with all the hooks and cliff hangers normally associated with a series opener. Perhaps its public reception discouraged Norton from continuing.

“Because we are each shaped from our birth, not only by the blood and inheritance that lies behind us, but also by those we love and by whom we are loved in turn, by the knowledge given to our thirsty minds, to the learning of ourselves.”

Book Review: Whitsunday: Visitation by Shirley McKay (four stars)

Book Review: Whitsunday: Visitation (1588: Calendar of Crime #2) by Shirley McKay (four stars)

“For reputation, though tis hard to win, is very quickly lost.”

Though the series hero, Hew Cullan is more an observer than an actor in this novelette of Elizabethan mystery set in St. Andrews, Scotland. The usual misdirection and confusion combine with a nod toward popular superstitions of that day. Especially entertaining is the conclusion matching an actual record of just such a visitation.

“Or is it, in fact, that you believe old Sempill is wanting in his wits? That because I profess myself so frequently perplexed, I do not understand the working of the world? You are not the first to come to that conclusion. But it is a mistake.”

Book Review: Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (Five Stars)

Book Review: Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor (Five Stars)

Her parents never ever would have left her. She’d had the best parents in the world. Now, in her fourteenth year on earth, if there was one rule she lived by it was the fact that Stories were soothsayers, truth-tellers and liars.

Pleasing mix of near-future science fiction and fantasy. Okorafor blends the here and now, with the there and then, adding a touch of future shock. She has the touch.

She considered leaving in the dead of night, but instead lay in that comfortable soft blue bed and pushed her face to the sheet and let her tears run. For hours. Because of the scent of coffee she remembered that she wanted her father. And he was dead. Because she’d killed him.

Love the cover art.