Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Three Stars

“Her instructor was full of shit. There was no comfort to be extracted from the dead, from flesh evaporated from bones.”

Slow start. Dumps you right into this universe with little preparation and less explanation. Apparently not a translation, but awkward reading at times as you figure out calendarials, sentient servitors, and exotics amid not-quite-American syntax. A space opera with all the tech, jargon, language and blood that implies.

“Immortality was like sex: it made idiots of otherwise rational people.”

What is the meaning of suicide and mass murder–or even immortality–in a culture which does not value life? From context you discover that the actors are not Continue reading

Book Review: Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Traitor’s Blade (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell

Four Stars

“Make no mistake, girl, the end of this road is a shallow, dirty ditch with your corpse in it.”

Swords and sorcery, with emphasis on swords. Three Musketeers meets Ryria. Improbably good (and lucky) protagonist against most of the world, with a dash of humor. Good voice, good plotting, good pace.

“Unfortunately, my need to live up to his expectations of me has always been slightly stronger than my desire to pinch him in the face.”

Told from the perspective of the leader of the disbanded and disgraced Greatcoats of the deceased king of a small country now run by the dukes as their personal toy. Knights in shining armor are bad guys. Mages are mostly bad news. And he can’t get a break.

“And people ask me why I hate magic.”

Brings this first installment to a satisfying conclusion while setting many hooks for the following tales.

“He looked scared, but he looked solid, and I guess that’s what brave looks like.”

Love the cover art of the hard cover edition, but the credit inside the book leads to a Munich ad agency. Maybe, but …?

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it was that honor just gets you into trouble.”

Book Review: The Quartet by Joseph J. Ellis (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1782-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis

Two Stars

“Americans needed to think continentally.” A. Hamilton

Revisionist history at is best … and worst. Making use of newly available correspondence and biographies of his principles, Ellis reconstructs the efforts leading up to the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia and the battle to ratify the new charter. However, his uneven handling of its modern meaning exposes his biases.

“It is indispensable you should lend yourself to its [the government’s] first operation.” A. Hamilton to G. Washington, 1788

Writing history is tricky. The historian must present the truth in a way that the reader can understand, even though the world view and values of their time may differ. Even if sources are cited, the reader seldom has access to them. He must trust the integrity of the writer. And if internal evidence betrays bias or false reporting, then the reader Continue reading

Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

Five Stars

“We are all of us very arrogant and conceited about running down other people’s ghosts but just as ignorant and barbaric and superstitious about our own.”

I wish I read this book forty years ago. Instead I was reading fantasy and science fiction and tripe like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Not that I agree with Pirsig on everything, but he wrote about things I’m still pondering.

“The ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible. One lives longer in order that he may live longer.”

Normally I read and review a four hundred page novel in three days. This book took several weeks because I kept stopping to look up or ponder things. The bottom line is: this is a deep investigation of life and reality. It’s a mashup of Continue reading

Book Review: Sully: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley B. Sullenberger (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sully: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley B. Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow

Four Stars

“We need to do the right thing every time, to perform our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we’ll be judged on.”

An intimate look at the man responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson.” Sullenberger’s biography as much as the story of his five-minute flight to fame.

“A hero is someone who risks his life running into a burning building. Flight 1549 was different, because it was thrust upon him and his crew.” Lorrie Sullenberger

Obviously, Sullenberger is not an author. The late Zaslow brought together a decent product quickly, however he bears responsibility for the many shortcomings. Perhaps Sullenberger talks like this, but the prose is wordy and awkward. Lots of digressions; some felt like filler.

“In the cultures of some companies, management depends on the innate goodness and professionalism of their employees to constantly compensate for systemic deficiencies, chronic under-staffing, and sub-standard subcontractors.”

Post 2001, the pensions and standards for airline pilots were gutted. Sullenberger shares his obvious unease with the direction of airline management. Capitalism undergirded America’s growth and plenty, but it has a dark underbelly.

“How many different levels of technology do you want to place between your brain and the control surfaces? Technology is no substitute for experience, skill, and judgment.”

I’ve been flying for sixty years. This book confirms my preference to fly commercially only when I have to. It’s no longer fun, efficient, nor economical. It’s effective, usually. So far.

“One of the reasons I think I’ve placed such a high value on life is that my father took his.”

By now most readers know that Sullenberger objected to the way the National Transportation Safety Board investigation was portrayed in the movie supposedly based on this book. The backbone of the movie, that investigation gets about four pages in the book. In fact, the movie should be evaluated as “based on a true story” fiction. The book is much better.

“Flight 1549 wasn’t just a five-minute journey. My entire life led me safely to that river.”

Book Review: If a Pirate I must be … by Richard Saunders (Four Stars)

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Book Review: If a Pirate I must be …: The True Story of Black Bart, the King of the Caribbean Pirates by Richard Saunders

Four Stars

“If a pirate I must be, ‘tis better being a commander than a common man.” John Roberts (AKA Black Bart)

A well-written modern attempt to find the facts behind the fiction of the most successful, if not the most famous of the Caribbean pirates: Black Bart, whose real name was John Roberts. Saunders relates both the popular stories and the realities behind them as well as providing a primer on seventeenth century trade, of which slaves and sugar were among the foremost commodities. That freed African slaves made up as much as a third of successful pirate crews is part of the untold tale.

“Common men showed little enthusiasm for defending their masters’ property.”

With many official and contemporary sources unreliable as officialdom covered their incompetence, and occasionally complicity, dealing with Bart. John Atkin, a ship’s surgeon impressed recorder the courts martial of Joseph’s crew, uniquely and dispassionately recorded the more likely truth. The author’s principal source (with the caveat mentioned) was Charles Johnson’s 1724 A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. Johnson is responsible for today’s swashbuckling pirate stereotype.

“The love of drink and a lazy life (were) stronger motives to him (the typical pirate) than gold.” Joseph Mansfield

The eighteenth century Triangle Trade (Africa, to North America and the Caribbean, to Europe and back) on which the pirates preyed—and which killed over half of the slaves, merchant and slavers crews (they were often the same), navy personnel and pirates each year was originally driven by the demand for sugar in Europe. (Much as contemporary North American consumption of South America drugs drives the drug trade through Central America.)

“The promise of unlimited alcohol may have held little appeal [to Roberts] but power did.”

Pirates drank prodigious qualities of punch, the recipe for which included fresh limes., before James Lind’s 1747 discovery that citrus fruit prevented scurvy. Another reason pirates were healthier, if not longer lived, than many of their civilian and military counterparts.

“A merry life and a short one.” John Roberts (AKA Black Bart)

Book Review: Seven Forges by James A. Moore (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Seven Forges (Seven Forges #1) by James A. Moore

Four Stars

“Every life is forged. We start with raw materials, and we are made stronger by the forging of life.”

Not your typical swords-and-sorcery fantasy. Oh, it starts like one, but evolves into something much deeper and richer. Big, gritty and brutal. A clash of cultures seen mostly from the side of the one which thinks it’s superior. A failure to communicate on many levels, intentionally.

“If I live through meeting my destiny, you might need to get out of here in a hurry.”

Realistic characters–well, some of them. Close and intense immersion into their point of view. They have trouble learning languages, though they learn combat skills too easily; they forget; they don’t know everything; even when it’s their job and supposedly position to know everything. People you care about turn or die.

“Hate was a foolish waste of energy. So, too, anger at what was already done.”

Cliffhanger ending, but the first installment was still a satisfying whole.

“It was hard to say which was more exquisite, the torture of shattered hands or the broken heart. Poets and physicians each have their own answers.”

 

Book Review: Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons

Four Stars

“You think a new born know what it all means? It just happens … awareness comes later, if it comes at all.”

A genre-mixing mélange of science and speculative fiction with a helping of mysticism, but well told. This thirty-year-old tale has aged well. Worth the effort to sort out who’s doing/saying what to whom. Strong male and female leads. Good friction. Many emotional hooks.

“There’re places of power. You have to help make them … be in the right place at the right time and know it. By dreaming about it but not thinking about it.”

Tangled time lines often confuse, but the origami plot structure keeps the reader close to Richard’s consciousness (and wondering about Maggie). Just when you think Continue reading

Movie Review: Born in China (Four Stars)

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North American release poster

Movie Review: Born in China, directed by Lu Chuan

Four Stars

Excellent cinematography. The narration was a bit too much. Much of the editing told the story without the attempts at explanation, humor or philosophy by the narrator.

I remember Disney True-Life Adventure movies sixty years ago. These are much better. Disneynature still meddles but it’s less obvious.

Book Review: Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick

Five Stars

“The Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.”

Outstanding treatment of a sensitive and controversial topic: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction South, specifically Richmond, VA. Appropriately, the protagonist is a white teen boy caught in conflicting currents of loyalties, commitments and aspirations. The reader is swept along with his ambivalence (and occasional stupidity) as he treads this murky maze.

“Those who survive in Richmond reinvent themselves as circumstances dictate.”

Best map (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Map of Richmond, 1867) in any book ever, including famous fantasy trilogies.  Magnifying-glass-worthy detail. (Yes, maps are a big deal to me.)

“Of course, he’d have asked, but while the girls were standing in front of him, he’d been too flustered to think.”

Excellent use of inner voice and vocabulary to establish both the age and view point of the protagonist, Shad. That he has dyslexia is revealed without using the modern term.

“If the world had ended at that very moment with Shad singing “Glory, hallelujah” in a shed full of coloreds, he’d have gone to his maker with a smile on his face.”

There were southern whites–rich and poor– who opposed slavery. Likewise Reconstruction hardened many whites’ prejudice against blacks. Westrick explores both. Even better, she plumbs Continue reading