Book Review: The White Hart by Nancy Springer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The White Hart (The Book of Isle #1) by Nancy Springer

(Three Stars)

“Pel shall pay the long-kept score/When the White Hart goes to war.”

Quaint. When published in 1979, this would have been a major accomplishment in epic fantasy, though its borrowings from The Lord of the Rings are many and obvious. It owes as much to nineteenth-century English romanticism and Celtic mythology. Springer did her homework. Still, not a compelling read by today’s standards.

“At the very worst, it will make a fine song.” “May the Mothers grant us life to hear it.”

A pleasant story, well-written, it nevertheless is predictable and syrupy. The plot opens with a strong, believable female lead, then abandons her partway through to follow the story of two men. Disappointing.

“Great is your gift of love … and great will be your pain in it.”

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Book Review: Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Winter of Ice and Iron by Rachel Neumeier

(Three Stars)

“Now is the only time we will ever have.”

A better-than-average modern epic fantasy. Enough originality, despite it Medieval European cultural setting, to engage the discerning reader. Written as if for young adult readers, but some inappropriate subject matter.

“We cut our fingers to the bone/ On shards of passing years.”

Well-developed characters. The point-of-view characters had realistic internal dialogue. You cared about several of them. Good storytelling, though the plot–despite several parallel threads–was very linear. Few surprises, good or bad.

“A chance always comes if one holds to hope.”

The reader never doubts the various, increasing manifestations of evil will be thwarted. I didn’t feel the menace Continue reading

Book Review: An Alphabestiary by Derek Kannemeyer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: An Alphabestiary by Derek Kannemeyer

(Three Stars)

A pleasant, if uneven collection of short poems about animals, real and imaginary. Kanemeyer’s best are comparable with Ogden Nash. Unfortunately as the book progresses (he goes through the alphabet four times), the quality decreases.

A pleasant diversion, even if some fall flat. Most readers will find one or two with mesmerizes. Unfortunately the cute illustrations which accompany the first sets revert to stock images.

A sample: Carpe Noctum

The Fireflies are out tonight.

They flit and flick the lawns with light.

I’ve scores of chores to prioritize,

But first, I’ll watch the Fireflies.

(Full Disclosure: I was loaned a copy of the book in return for an honest review.)

Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton. (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton.

(Five Stars)

“The whole art of guerilla warfare lies in striking the enemy where he least expects it and yet where he is most vulnerable.” Colin Gubbins

The best World War Two history I’ve read in years. One blurb claims, “The last untold story of World War Two.” And a critical story it is. An unlikely collection of English men and women, working outside normal channels but with cover by the Prime Minister, develop and field weapons which solve many problems critical to England’s survival and eventual victory.

“A job is a good one if it looks like an accident, an act of God, or has no explanation.” Cecil Clark

One point can’t be overemphasized: as messy and repulsive as unconventional warfare is, it is more efficient, more effective, and–in the end–more humane than Continue reading

Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

(Four Stars)

“You’re going to have to learn to lie.” “I feel like I’m here to tell the truth.” “Yeah, but not now.”

Hilarious. Sacrilegious, yes. Teen boy humor, yes. Speculative, yes. Historically unsupported, yes. What’s your point? It’s humor. Well-conceived and well-executed. The more familiar one is with the Bible, the more one will get the joke. Many subtle references.

“I don’t know the Torah as well as you, Joshua, but I don’t remember God having a sense of humor.” “He gave me you for a friend, didn’t he?”

Hidden among the slapstick is a sensitive, introspective look at religion in general and Christianity in particular. Moore borrows elements from Continue reading

Book Review: John G. Lake on Healing (Four Stars)

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Book Review: John G. Lake on Healing

(Four Stars)

“Spirit of God in you will go as far as your love reaches.”

An excellent modern compilation of teachings of this famous early twentieth century faith healer. He acknowledges the controversy, even among Christians, and addresses it head-on. He included many notarized testimonies and details so a reader of that day could verify his claims. (Apparently he was even investigated–and exonerated–by the Better Business Bureau.) Because it is drawn from sermons, articles and pamphlets from 1910 to 1930, it is inevitably repetitive.

“Love is the medium that conveys the Spirit of God to another soul anywhere in God’s world.”

Lake’s take on several Biblical text and scientific controversies have been overcome by a century of progress in both areas. Lake’s definition of scientific is how God does things, so the reader should not Continue reading

Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Tales of Old Earth: Stories by Michael Swanwick

(Four Stars)

“You won’t find the natural state here. We’re living in the aftermath.”

A really good collection of short stories. Many good stories about beginnings and endings, especially endings which may be beginnings. Lots of cliffhangers. Some post-apocalyptic, some deeply introspective. Some funny, some tragic, most thought provoking. All well fashioned.

“Self is an illusion … a fairy tale that your assemblers, sorters and functional transients tell each other.”

Swanwick has a gift with word images. Out of a few words, he fashions a complete context.

“…as cozy and snug as the inside of a walnut.”

Skip the Introduction Continue reading

Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen

(Four Stars)

“The sea has protected our people from whatever lies beyond.”

A monumental effort. Deep historical research marred by modern, irrelevant speculation. The depth and detail Rowen attempts leads to so many narrative threads and point-of-view characters (often hopping from one head to another mid-paragraph) that keeping track is a challenge. Too much exposition disguised as narrative. Slow going, but worth the effort.

“The bones of the dead are food for the living.”

A strong point is the evenhanded depiction of the varied beliefs, even when the thoughts or actions seem reprehensible to modern sensitivities. Rowen doesn’t shy away from Continue reading

Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Four Stars

“You know the secret which is the key to my life.”

Unexpectedly good fiction. As deep and introspective as the best modern storytelling though written 150 years ago. Nineteenth century England produced many treasures apparently hidden to American readers by the glare of modernity. A mystery and a romance, of sorts. Based, as they say today, on a true story.

“Life is such a troublesome matter … that it’s as well even to take its blessings quietly.”

Braddon takes the reader deep into both male and female characters. That all is not as it appears is obvious, but what it turns out to be Continue reading

Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell

Four Stars

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” Aristotle

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is probably the most important man in history most of us never heard of. That he was one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers is secondary to his impact on modern western political thought. “The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language,” wrote classicist Michael Grant. Cicero’s thoughts undergirded much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. America’s founders often quoted the Roman.

“His own existence was less secure because his father no longer existed. Another statue had crashed in his hall of life and its senseless rubble littered the floor.”

Taylor Caldwell tried to change that in 1965 with this historical fiction biography. Drawing on speeches and letters of Cicero and Continue reading