Book Review: Rocket’s Red Glare by Cy Stein (Two Stars)


Book Review: Rocket’s Red Glare (A WWII Era Alternative History Novel) by Cy Stein

(Two Stars)

“Sid’s brain ached. As a physicist, it was easy to view daily life as a series of math problems to be solved; everything was potentially doable, wasn’t it? But sometimes, the data had holes. Big holes. Dark holes.”

I don’t normally post reviews for books that rate this poorly. I’m making an exception because I was given an advanced reader copy and asked to review it. Also because there’s the embryo of a really good alternative history story amid the wreckage that is currently Rocket’s Red Glare.

“The thrill of meeting Einstein, coupled with the wonderful half-day spent with Julia, still clung to him like the fragrance of newly blossoming flowers.”

Excellent concept: what if FDR died in the late 1930s and Charles Lindbergh Continue reading

Book Review: The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Good Knight (Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries, #1) by Sarah Woodbury

(Four Stars)

“I can accept that we can’t always live the life we imagined.” “I’ve paid for my choices, Gwen,” Gareth said. “I’d prefer not to have to keep paying.”

Excellent historical fiction. Felt like fine linen, rather than a fully realized tapestry. Got the facts straight, though it lacks the richness of Ellis Peters or Bernard Cornwell. Felt too modern both vocabulary and in character development.

“Speculation is how mysteries are solved. We ask good questions, and we see if Continue reading

Book Review: The Emperor’s Finest by Melissa Cuevas (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Emperor’s Finest by Melissa Cuevas

(Three Stars)

“How was he supposed to make a name for himself when his name kept getting in the way?”

Adequate space opera. Enough contrary to stereotypes to keep it interesting. Skipped basic training; hooray! Most everything predictable.

‘Such cynicism for a young officer.’ ‘Voice of experience. Youth is irrelevant.’

Lost a star for unrealistic space combat. Most operations were drawn from World War Two prototypes, which made next-to-no sense in a futuristic, nigh-tech environment. The needs of the story, rather than military considerations, seemed to drive the battles. The attack on the space platform was especially Continue reading

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (Three Stars)


Book Review: Truthwitch (The Witchlands #1) by Susan Dennard

(Three Stars)

“It is powerful,” she acknowledged. “But it’s not as powerful as people think—and lately, I’m learning that it’s not as powerful as I think. I’m easily confused by strong faith. If people believe what they say, then my magic can’t tell the difference.”

Entertaining excursion into a land where everyone seems to have some sort of magic. Cast is large and complex, since Dennard seems aiming for a long run.

“Safi had her title to protect her, and Iseult had her heritage to damn her.”

Female buddy story. The usual twits who shouldn’t be trusted out of the nursery without Continue reading

Book Review: The Warrior’s Path by Catherine M. Wilson (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Warrior’s Path (When Women Were Warriors #1) by Catherine M. Wilson

(Three Stars)

“There’s no putting spilled blood back.”

More like 3.5 stars. A well-conceived and well-realized epic-style fantasy about a time and place were all (well, most) of the warriors were women. This story follows a young woman on her quest to become a warrior. On the way, she finds value, belonging and love. Not a bad start.

“Tell me later,” she said. “Sit down. Let’s just be quiet for a while.” “I need to tell you — ” “Hush,” she said. “You won’t find the truth in so much talk.” When I stopped talking, my trapped thoughts flew around like dry leaves in a whirlwind.

An iron age culture where all the warriors were women fits modern sensitivities but not historical trends–the Amazons notwithstanding. Not because men are better warriors–though they do tend to have greater upper body strength–but because Continue reading

Book Review: Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt III (Five Stars)


Book Review: Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt III

(Five Stars)

“This is just my government at work. Who is loyal, who is not? Who is a friend and who an enemy? Whoever they say. And the government does not make mistakes.”

Roosevelt shines light on a pivotal time in American history. Not all the World War II drama was on the battlefields; not all the atrocities happened at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; not all the good-old-boy rings were rednecks; not all the heroes wore uniforms.

“You know what I’m saying is right.” “That’s the problem, Eleanor. Everyone knows they’re right. We have law to protect us from our best instincts as well as our worst.” “What rubbish. … You listen to their stories and tell me again that everyone’s right.” “I know the stories. I just came from Tule Lake.”

The best type of historical fiction: hews close to what actually happened, introducing fictional characters and events sparingly to draw it all into one understandable—and dramatic—whole. Events eighty years past might well be medieval for today’s readers.

“What Hoover asks is a betrayal of that trust, of course, but there is a greater one, and I seek to cure it.”

All the major characters willingly break the law to uphold it. Each is self-justified for every action taken. Unfortunately, the protagonist is enough of a society snob (bespoke suits, ready cash, a Packard with tires and gas despite rationing) that many readers won’t identify with him.

“Nobody makes money, my boy. Wealth is not created ex nihilo. The Crash taught us that, if nothing else.”

Most characters accept as axiomatic Keynesian/Marxist dogma that no value is created; it is taken from someone else. The same seems true for other values.

“Law and history are lies we tell ourselves to explain why things should be the way they are.”

Quibbles: Logistics is too easy. Not critical to enjoying the story, but “a procession of black government cars …” or “a long line of Army trucks that assembles …” appear on short notice in the middle of nowhere. Travel is always direct and slowed only for narration. Cash never falls short for resources, even if merely appropriate tennis clothes.

“The story of America is a story of trying to live up to our ideals, of falling short, and of trying again. Thinking about the past is one way we may hope to do better next time.”


Book Review: The Three Kings of Cologne by Kate Sedley (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Three Kings of Cologne (Roger the Chapman #16) by Kate Sedley

(Four Stars)

“Having everything you want’s no good,” she said, “if you’ve got to give your soul in return.”

Excellent medieval mystery, along the lines of the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. Excellent sense of time and place. Our protagonist is a humble peddler who solves crimes on the side. Leavened with self-depreciating humor.

“Women, I reflected, not for the first time, were the losers in the game of life; the thankless drudges who smoothed the paths of their men.”

Don’t start a series in the middle. Having said that, this sixteenth in the series tells the reader enough to without overloading with backstory. I could be wrong but Continue reading

Book Review: Gears of a Mad God by Brent Nichols (Three Stars)


Book Review: Gears of a Mad God: A Steampunk Lovecraft Adventure by Brent Nichols

(Three Stars)

“Now, don’t get all teary on me. You’ll spoil your dime novel hero image.”

Bit of a yawner. Not very Steampunk, thankfully not very Lovecraftian. The not-very-retro-future technology is consistent with early twentieth-century setting; the bad guys are evil, but not supernaturally so. Hilariously anachronistic cover art. No worse than most big-name author, big-name publisher novels.

Logical inconsistencies abound. “There’s only one ferry each day from Vancouver,” yet clearly other people arrive and depart at various times of day. “He gave her arm another twist, and it occurred to her that he thought he was hurting her.” There’s a difference between Continue reading

Book Review: “Redtooth” by Brian Rathbone (Three Stars)


Book Review: “Redtooth” by Brian Rathbone

(Three Stars)

“What did I say?” “You said: ‘I love you all, and I would like to cuddle, but I have a nuclear device in my ear.’”

A humorous science fiction cautionary tale for those who have trouble with auto-completion, auto-translators, and auto-spell correctors. A riff on the intersection between voice-activated assistants and ear buds. This technology is probably not that far away.

“I’m not cheap. I’m just resistant to change.”

Basically an extended gag. The concept is that not all technology advances are improvements, especially to late adopters. Nice cover art.

“The man to your right is a German spy who thinks you’re a CIA double-agent.” “What about the thick-fingered man from the pawnshop? Who does he think I am?” “He’s pretty firmly convinced that you’re an idiot.”

Book Review: Operation Certain Death by Damien Lewis (Three Stars)


Book Review: Operation Certain Death: The Inside Story of One of the Greatest SAS Battles by Damien Lewis

(Three Stars)

‘This is the point in the operation where dog sees rabbit, and dog is most definitely going to go for it. It is at this moment that Operation Certain Death has become Judgement Day for the West Side Boys.’

Well-told of a successful SAS rescue mission in Sierra Leone. Multiple points of view and roughly straight timeline increases drama. American readers are reminded that other parts of the world are in crisis and other major powers are doing something about it. Other nations don’t come off so well.

‘Be strong. A people that is not ready to die for its liberties loses them … Believe passionately in the ideas and in the way of life for which one is fighting. Liberty deserves to be served with more passion than tyranny.’ André Maurois, Memoirs

Each chapter opens with an appropriate epigram.

‘You haven’t seen these people in action. I have. Believe me, if British forces have to come in and rescue us, this place is finished. There won’t be a building left standing.’ ‘Then that, Major, will be a very good thing.’

Not sure whether to classify this as historical fiction or history. Lewis claims much research and reality behind the story at the same time he admits to fictionalizing much of it.

‘The West Side Boys’ leader had managed to develop such a close and mutually beneficial relationship with one of the Jordanians. Arms-for-diamonds deals. The Jordanian made the cash, the West Side Boys could wreak havoc and mayhem. And now they’d just turned up in the camp with some severed Kamajorheads, courtesy of the Jordanian bullets.’

Tries too hard to render the dialects. Diminishes readability without improving the atmosphere. Four different spellings for the f-word. We know many soldiers cannot communication without liberal profanity but it’s too much.

Operation Barras was a gamble that paid off in the end. It is not a gamble that many of the men would ever want to repeat.’