Book Review: I, Libertine by Theodore Sturgeon
“Because never in my life have I had life’s permission to develop the taste for simple pleasures, I shall pursue dark ones.”
Historical fiction as if done by Terry Pratchett. The intriguing background for this book can be found elsewhere. Knowing it only adds the Sturgeon’s accomplishment: he wrote a book which had supposedly already been written and did so with meticulous attention to historic detail and plausibility.
“We must present you as rake, not defiler; libertine rather than lecher.” “Libertine—I?” “Men have made greater sacrifices for king, country, and career.” “And how on earth am I to find just a proper scandal?” “Manufacture it, lad.”
Though set in 1770s England, the story is something of a send up of Continue reading
Book Review: Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s No Limit by Lori van Pelt
“Please know I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” (From letter Amelia Earhart wrote and sealed before her world-circling trip.)
Well-written biography of an extraordinary person. Amelia Earhart was bigger than life; she had vision and ability far beyond many women and men of her day. Van Pelt compiles both how much Amelia accomplished but also her goals and ambitions along the way. Much coverage of her disappearance. Not without her warts—she may not have been the best flyer around, but she was among the gutsiest.
“I wanted to fly because I wanted to; not because advance publicity compelled me.” AE
Earhart and many of her contemporaries struggled with Continue reading
Book Review: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
“There certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them.”
Austen at her best. Gone is the self-assured heroine of earlier novels who sweeps all before her; enter the humble waif who must learn the ways of the world and society on the fly. Fanny’s internal dialogue sets Mansfield Park apart from Austen’s earlier works. It’s still Austen, but it grips the soul of the reader.
“Her consciousness of misery was therefore increased by the idea of its being a wicked thing for her not to be happy. Fanny’s relief, and her consciousness of it, were quite equal to her cousins’; but a more tender nature suggested that her feelings were ungrateful, and she really grieved because she could not grieve. Her cousins, on seeing her red eyes, set her down as a hypocrite.”
The reader gains a more mature critique on the corner of society which Continue reading
Book Review: Elegant Etiquette of the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James
“The interest is in politeness, not pretension.”
Well-researched and written overview of the standards and changes in etiquette in nineteenth century England. Exhaustive survey not only of etiquette itself but what it tells us about social change and the people of that century.
“Behaving with perfect propriety and civility required no small amount of effort.”
Fortunately, brief as readers will quickly tire of detailed recitations of which authority declaimed which standard and how they might disagree.
“The paying of calls and the leaving of cards can be viewed as a ritual which kept social interaction turning.”
Why would a twenty-first century American read such a book? To ground on in the mores of a society about which mountains of literature and popular media still appear. From Jane Austin to Charles Dickens to Arthur Conan Doyle, appreciating authors of that century expands as one understands the milieu in which their fiction was set.
“When it comes to the behavior of ladies and gentlemen in the nineteenth century, we have to take into account that people were simply people.”
Book Review: Edward III: The Perfect King by Ian Mortimer
“’The perfect king’ is not what Edward III was: it is what he tried to be. He was a prince who knew his job and did it.”
Better-than-average history. Mortimer goes behind battles and treaties to explore the personal, cultural and religious background of the high tide of the middle ages. Edward’s life is examined, warts and all, a feat in itself as reliable records are spotty.
“Edward III’s experiences are so extraordinary that the period 1326-50 reads at times like a fairy tale with footnotes.”
Beginning with Edward’s deliverance from his mother’s tyranny, Mortimer weaves this biography from the warp and weft of Continue reading
Book Review: The Potter’s Field (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #17) by Ellis Peters
“Earth is innocent. Only the use we make of it can mar it.”
Murder, maybe. Red herrings, false accusations, and budding romance abound. Mystery’s video got close to right.
“I made a choice. It was even a hard choice, but I made it, and I hold to it. I am no such elect saint as Ruald.” “Is that a saint? It seems too easy.”
In the midst of a twisting whodunit, Pargeter explores the nature of a religious vocation and issues of life and death. Well plotted.
“If I am become a mere subtle, suspicious old man, too prone to see devious practices where none are, then I would rather not draw any other man into Continue reading
Book Review: The Heretic’s Apprentice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #16) by Ellis Peters
“Men are feeble, and go aside to hide their feebleness.”
Not the best of the series, but a well-developed plot which fit well into the historical setting. A new character, Bishop Roger de Clinton, is introduced who while historical will figure in several forthcoming Cadfael stories.
“I have learned not to put any villainy out of the any man’s reach. Nor any goodness, either.”
Peters demonstrates her virtuosity in weaving real events, people and objects into her fictional universe, increasing both verisimilitude and enjoyment.
“Yet we are told a tree shall be known by its fruit. Divine grace … will know where to look for a responsive human grace, without instruction from us.”
An exploration of medieval ecclesiastical doings. All was not witch hunts and burning of heretics, but the threat to church orthodoxy and authority was very real. While Ellis Peters’ Cadfael fiction series avoids the church bashing indulged by the Mystery videos of the same name, she does recognize there were institutional and individual abuses.
“But if justice is to be denied to the inadequate, grudging and sad, to whom then is it due?”
Movie Review: Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons
“God don’t mean for people to own people.”
Outstanding biopic of slave-turned-slave rescuer Harriet Tubman. Well-presented and developed. Extraordinary performance by Cynthia Erivo. Brutally honest about the treatment of slaves and the self-serving hypocrisy of slave owners.
“Find this thief and burn her at the stake like Joan of Arc.”
The reviews are so tepid because Tubman was a Christian; she prayed; God answered her prayers. America’s media mavens could hardly praise anything Christian, least of all a woman of color who took it seriously. Minor continuity errors distracted.
“Harriet, welcome to the Underground Railroad.”
Full disclosure: a friend worked on Harriet. I have no pecuniary interest in his business nor the film.
“I’m going to be free or die.”
Book Review: The Confession of Brother Haluin (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #15) by Ellis Peters.
“There are some born to do penance by nature. Maybe they lift the load for some of us who take it quite comfortably that we’re mankind, and not angels.”
Another yawner, though it has a pleasing denouement. For a change there’s no love-at-first-seeing young lovers. Love and marriage and power were handled differently then.
“It was too late to exact penance from a dying man, and deathbed comfort cannot be priced, only given freely.”
Pargeter explores the nature of repentance and penance. We moderns are quick to apologize because we don’t mean it; we’re sorry we got caught or were inconvenienced. Medieval society had a different attitude toward sin and repentance. Very different.
“No doubt but that pride is a sin, and unbecoming a Benedictine brother, but not so easily shed with the spurs and titles of nobility.”
Cadfael has the most amazing ability to be at just the right place at just the right time. The way he stumbles over bodies, sometimes literally, he should have been afraid to walk in the dark.
“Truth can be costly, but in the end it never falls short of value for the price paid.”
Book Review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest (Chronicles of Borther Cadfael #14) by Ellis Peters
“Not much love in all that household to be gained or lost. But good haters, every one.”
Formulaic. Love at first sight conquers all. Little relation to the main sequence of the Cadfael timeline or English history.
Nice to find the occasional self-centered, hypocrite who isn’t a villain; Pargeter credits the nobility with a genteelness which pushes credibility.
“His fame, banned from being spread openly, went about by neighborly whispers, like a prized secret to be exulted in privately but hidden from the world.”
Pargeter explores the role and position of hermits in medieval society, a concept so foreign to contemporary culture that she might as well have been writing fantasy.
“Nothing is more pleasing and engaging than the sense of having conferred benefits. Not even the gratification of receiving them.”
The introduction of a doughty ten-year old is a refreshing departure Continue reading