Book Review: Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency by Dan Abrams and David Fisher
“Ask yourself: what is the justice in this case?” A. Lincoln
Exhaustive review of a trial transcript with explanatory amplifications. By the authors’ own admission, Lincoln was already headed toward the presidency, and their work gives no indication how it “propelled him to the presidency,” rather how he dodged a bullet that could have killed his dark horse bid at the Republican nomination.
“I must say I do not think myself fit for the presidency.” A. Lincoln (1959)
Based on the recently recovered transcript of Robert Roberts Hitt. Telling the story from Hitt’s point of view saved the author’s from Continue reading
Book Review: Sword of the Storm (The Rigante #1) by David Gemmell.
“We are born alone, and we die alone. In between we may be touched by love, but we are still alone.”
A rousing opening to a historical epic fantasy series based on the northern European clash of expanding Rome with the resident Celtic and Germanic populations. Good characterization and storytelling. Deep point of view of main characters shows all to be flawed, driven and occasionally very wrong. Just like us.
“I’m not saying not to fight. I am saying do not hate. It is not war that leads to murderous excuses but hate.”
Celtic and Roman analogs hew close to the history, except Continue reading
Book Review: Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy #1) by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
“Every sunlit façade cast a dark shadow and in those shadows the enemy plotted.”
More like three stars, but extra credit for the rousing climax. Competent, if derivative epic fantasy set in an east Asia-analog medieval kingdom. Obvious Game of Thrones rip off. The term “the Game of the Council” appears in every chapter. Finally, toward the end, the authors admit that even the cast would not be using that stilted phrase, but simply “the game” without the capitalization.
“What do you think the game is, if not to remain while you dispose of your enemies?”
Slow start. Episodic. Most crisis are dealt with in turn with the over-arching plot dormant for most of the story. Mara meets and conquers each challenge–and challenger–in turn. Nice climax.
“Fear the man who doesn’t desire a woman, for he will see you only as a tool or a foe.”
Lots of short cuts and predictable plotting. Large, six-legged mammals signal lazy fantasy writers. (Like multiple moons in the same orbit in science fiction.) The cho-ja (who have an excuse for six limbs) could have saved the story, but were introduced then reduced to two-dimensional puppets.
“Who is to be more feared, one who acts from ambition or one who acts for the needs of survival?”
Book Review: No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien
“They’re the salt of the earth and we are being told to send them over the top to walk across no man’s land with their packs on their backs. It breaks my heart, or what’s left of it.”
Horror and humanity collide. A window into life in London, Yorkshire, and the trenches a hundred years ago. Tolkien writes like an amalgam of his grandfather and Charles Dickens, but his characters don’t engage the reader. The protagonist offers insights to his situation and feelings, but sounds too modern.
“It’s like I looked at the sun too long and what I’ve seen has burnt away the meaning of everything. It’s left me hollow inside.”
Lingered too long in building his world and protagonist. Dickensian detailed descriptions Continue reading
Book Review: The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1) by Glen Cook
“There are no self-proclaimed villains, only regiments of self-proclaimed saints.”
Popcorn for the mind. As the opening round of a fantasy series, it reads like a collection of short stories. There’s a vector, but each chapter reads like a standalone.
“Any man who barely maintains an armistice with himself has no business poking around in an alien soul.”
Good storytelling, from the point of view of a caring, if morally-challenged medic of a mercenary regiment. Less violent than Joe Abercrombie, less humor then Michael J. Sullivan.
“I reached the gates unable to whip a grandmother. Lucky for me, the grandmas were goofing off.”
Digestible narrative gaps. Doesn’t weary or insult the reader with endless narrative. Only one big battle scene–near the end, and it’s way too long.
“I am haunted by the clear knowledge that … , in the end, evil always triumphs.”
Book Review: The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith by Thomas Merton
“By the gift of faith you touch God.”
Thoughtful and thought-provoking.
“The only law we (student Communists) had to obey was our own ineffable little wills. And if, afterwards, we changed our minds–well, were we not our own gods?”
Hard to believe this book was so popular when published in 1948. Merton sounds like a man from a different century, if not a different planet. His generation may have been the last to routinely learn Latin. He touched all the best his world had to offer in Cambridge, Columbia and the fleshpots of New York City and, while still relatively young, he left it–converted to Catholicism and became a Trappist monk.
“I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence. I had to be led by a way that I could not understand and I had to follow a path that was beyond my choosing.”
Many parallels with C. S. Lewis’ conversion at about the same time, as reported in Surprised by Joy. Many converted to Catholicism in mid-twentieth century. That the converts had good and sufficient reason Continue reading
Book Review: The Red Wolf (The Chathrand Voyage #1) by Robert V. S. Redick
“Death is the moment when everything loses value except the truth.”
Competent fantasy series opener. Ensemble cast of introduces themselves by their choices. Engaging people and plot in an adventure road trip by water on the greatest ship in the world. The concept of waking is well-developed, and a fresh way to introduce sentient beings in “lesser” animals.
“No animal, no man, no thousand year old sage is perfectly awake. True waking is … emerging from one cage into a larger, brighter, less lonely cage. It is a task never done.”
Everything that can go wrong does, which is half the fun. Coincidence and good luck Continue reading
Book Review: Peony by Pearl S. Buck
“You paid money for me, but that does not make me yours. A human creature can’t be bought whole.”
Excellent. Buck delves deep into the thoughts and emotions of the title character and those closest to her. Unlike typical novels, the reader is immersed in the flow of hopes and uncertainty of all the principal cast. Based on history, Buck explores the assimilation of Jewish communities which had existed for hundreds of years in China.
“Out of the dark and sullen bottom of a lake the lotus flowers bloomed upon its surface, and she would pluck the flowers.”
A full immersion for the reader in the life and times of a Jewish remnant in China. Paradoxically the Jews in Europe, persecuted to death, kept to their faith and culture; while Jewish communities in China Continue reading
Book Review: West of January by Dave Duncan
“Revenge was my choice … and I was crazy again. That helped a lot.”
Incredible world building. What if a world, very similar to ours, was in tidal lock with its sun–almost? First published in 1989, this tale slowly introduces the problem and how various groups try to solve it. Followed plot line makes sense in the end.
“Why, when the gods created friendship, did they leave us mortal?”
Some great turns of the phrase: “Voice thin as a lark’s ankle.” “As innocent as a raw egg.” “Madness hung over the grasslands like the stench of rotting meat.”
“Nothing argues more convincingly than cowardice.”
Unlike his contemporary Robert Jordan, Duncan puts a huge story into a single volume–one which he finished. There’s potential for a separate novel in each chapter, but Jordan stays focused. The result is a challenging, satisfying epic. Instead of creating a never-ending story, Duncan wrote more novels.
“I want … no great dying, the next time the sun comes west of January.”
Book Review: A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings #1) by Kevin Kearne
“You’ll be safe. Probably.”
As good as Kearne’s Iron Druid series, but needs polishing. I stopped and started reading it several times as the fractured storytelling, while innovative, broke the rhythm. Too many main characters, too many countries and cultures, too little continuity. (A more readable map may have helped, but the ebook map was unreadable.) Everyone sounded the same, despite a maze of cultural details meant to differentiate. In a word: boring.
“My primary talent so far was not thinking things through to the possible consequences of my actions.”
Even with the explanation of how the Bard came into possession of so many journals, the circumstances of several deaths would have prevented him from knowing all he claimed. On the other hand, Kearne ties himself Continue reading