Book Review: Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas

(Four Stars)

“It is remarkable how little concern men seem to have for logic, statistics, and even, indeed, survival: we live by emotion, prejudice, and pride.” DDE

Another timely correction to the popular and scholarly evaluation of the presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower. For years both the media and academia have repeated a false, sometimes willfully so, image of our 34th president.

“The hatchet job was one of the most lasting and effective in political history.”

Thorough research and clear prose undergird Thomas’s work. Unlike what we read at the time and since, he reveals Continue reading

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Book Review: April Morning by Howard Fast (Five Stars)

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Book Review: April Morning by Howard Fast

(Five Stars)

“Yesterday, he was a boy. Tonight, he’s not.” “Now what kind of thing is that to say? That’s exactly the kind of thing a man says. I don’t understand that kind of talk. A boy doesn’t turn into a man overnight. It takes learning and growing and hurting. And most of all it takes time.” “Sometimes,” Father said slowly, “we don’t have time.”

The opening of the American War of Independence through the eyes and emotions of a Lexington teen. Outstanding depth of consciousness. The reader is dragged along as Adam Cooper is yanked out of his very conventional colonial New England childhood into a frightening and blood-soaked adulthood on the day world history changed .

“Then I realized that at this range, even if some of the bird shot did reach the redcoats, it would sting no harder than a mosquito. It was a great relief to find some sensible reason not to go on shooting.”

So much better than other fiction by Fast. Is this the normal or an aberration? Fast captures the feel of the times in the syntax and the ideas the permeate this story. As an eyewitness, Adam doesn’t see or know everything—especially not who fired that shot—but he does filter the action through a realistic, immersive point of view.

“Nobody fights in God’s cause,” the Reverend replied sharply. “Isn’t it enough to kill in freedom’s name? No one kills in God’s cause. He can only ask God’s forgiveness.”

Quibble: Modernity creeps in at the edges. Words like “subconscious” are jarringly out of place. The treatment of native American and women is noticeably better than the norm of those days, but plausible given the family ethic portrayed. Occasional typos mar the text.

“It doesn’t make one bit of sense that the British are coming up with a real army. I mean, what for? I mean, why on earth would they want to start a war? You always read about wars. But no one ever explains why a war starts. They just start.”

What was General Gage thinking? By all accounts, he was trying to subdue or seduce the colonists back into the imperial fold, despite hawkish subordinates. How then could he imagine that an armed incursion into the Massachusetts country would not trigger a fight? (When Governor Dunmore stole the Virginia militia’s powder the next day  (which was too coincidental to be coincidental), “the shot heard ‘round the world” had already been fired. And he almost got a fight, too.) Once the sword of war is pulled, for whatever reason, it’s hard to scabbard.

“The April morning when I departed properly belonged in a past so distant and different that it could hardly be evoked. Even if all the scars were healed, nothing would ever be the same again.”

Book Review: Black Guards by A. J. Smith. (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Black Guards (The Long War#1) by A. J. Smith.

(Three Stars)

“They’ll just assume we’ll go into the wilds and lie low. The idea of us going to Tiris is so stupid it won’t occur to them.” “So, our stupidity is what’s going to keep us alive?” “Precisely … I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Engaging epic fantasy. Good world building. Touted for being Lovecraftian, but I didn’t feel it. In fact, Smith’s supernatural dimension felt more organic to his world. Prose was easy to read.  A little humor.

Numerous non sequiturs: “He was flabby, with little muscle, though still immensely strong.” (Huh?) “… carefully placed a bolt, and pulled back on the drawstring.” (Wrong order.) “She’d fed him some of the baled of straw.” (She picked up bales of straw as she fled? Why didn’t she get something nutritional?) “… as the horses barreled into Continue reading

Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafai and Christina Lamb (Four Stars)

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Book Review: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education for Children and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafai and Christina Lamb

(Four Stars)

“Dear God, I know you see everything, but there are so many things that maybe, sometimes, things get missed, particularly now with the bombings in Afghanistan. God, give me strength and courage and make me perfect because I want to make this world perfect. Malala.”

Unusually well-written topical book. Normally these “as told to” books are not worth the paper, just exploiting someone’s fifteen minutes of fame. I am Malala is distinctively different. Yousafai and Lamb deal in depth with the history of Pakistan and the Taliban, especially the Swat Valley, Malala’s home.

“The falsehood has to go and the truth will prevail.” (Quran) “If one man, Fazlullah, can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it? I wondered. I prayed to God every night to give me strength.”

The story starts on the day Malala is shot, then backtracks to build her world. The detail is exhaustive and intimate. The reader is drawn into Malala’s world and time. Her hopes, fears and aspirations develop organically. It’s real; it’s like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

“I felt like the Taliban saw us as little dolls to control, telling us what to do and how to dress. I thought if God wanted us to be like that He wouldn’t have made us all different.”

Surprisingly—or maybe not—about the only part of the world which rejects Malala is her native Pakistan. Her story—this story—doesn’t fit the narrative which the government, church, and people of Pakistan have developed for themselves. To change that, she has a tough row to hoe.

“They are abusing our religion,” I said in the interviews. “How will you accept Islam if I put a gun to your head and say Islam is the true religion? If they want every person in the world tobe Muslim, why don’t they show themselves to be good Muslims first?”

Malala is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

“Rahanna told me that thousands and millions of people and children around the world had supported me and prayed for me. Then I realized that people had saved my life. I had been spared for a reason.”

Book Review: A Clash of Eagles by Alan Smale (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Clash of Eagles (Clash of Eagles #1) by Alan Smale

(Four Stars)

“Heading west in as straight a line as they could manage. Which, being Romans, was pretty d—d straight.”

Excellent alternate history. Imperial Rome invades thirteenth-century North America in search of gold. Smale drops the reader into the story and supplies details as the Romans march west. Good character and plot development.

“Even when you were younger. Would you have spoiled her?” “You don’t have daughters, do you?” “No.” “Ask me again when you do.”

Lacks a believable antagonist after the opening scenes. Marcellinus is his own worst enemy, of course, but someone to butt heads with would add to the fun. Sintikala is that and more, but Continue reading

Book Review: Reverence for Life: The Ethics of Albert Schweitzer for the Twenty-First Century (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Reverence for Life: The Ethics of Albert Schweitzer for the Twenty-First Century

(Four Stars)

“We never acknowledge the absolute mysterious character of nature, but always speak so confidently of explaining her, whereas all that we have really done is to go into fuller and more complicated descriptions, which only make the mysterious more mysterious than ever.”

“The spirit of the age loves dissonance, in tones, in lines and in thought. That shows how far from thinking it is, for thinking is a harmony within us.”

Intriguing title; intriguing work. First published in 1965, it draws on Albert Schweitzer’s life as a medical missionary in what is now the nation of Gabon. He lived his philosophy, though some will find his words and actions out of step with current style, even allowing for his age.

“Every ethic has something of the absolute about it, just as soon as it ceases to be mere social law. It demands of one what is actually beyond Continue reading

Book Review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: edited by John Joseph Adams (Four Stars)

19386511Book Review: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by John Joseph Adams

(Four Stars)

“Speculations about the mental state of suspects are rarely so fruitful as concentration on the salient facts of the case.”

This anthology breaks the curse of mediocrity which bedevils the category. Worth reading to see how accomplished authors of various genres breathe new life into the familiar tropes of the classic detective duo.

“I wish you all the happiness you deserve.”

Each author puts his or her spin on Holmes, of course, but some manage to turn Holmes and Victorian England upside down. Often to entertaining effect. We find Holmes as a famous serial killer, homosexual, virgin, mystic, and a concert violinist, not to mention Continue reading

Book Review: Beholder’s Eye by Julie E. Czerneda (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Beholder’s Eye (Web Shifter’s #1) by Julie E. Czerneda

(Four Stars)

“Death came in along the ecliptic, undetected until it cracked the starship’s hull and began to hunt.” Did she mean “elliptic”?

Excellent. Czerneda created an alien lifeform which felt both familiar and other. First person narrative draws the reader into the protagonist’s thoughts and crisis.

“I can do this, I thought. I realized, belatedly, that Esch had not doubted me. I had doubted myself.”

In classic fashion, begins well after the start of the story, if not exactly in the middle. Backstory is supplied as needed. Well done.

“There are always those who fear the unknown. And what am I but Continue reading

Book Review: Elias and the Legend of Sirok by Edward G. Kardos (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Elias and the Legend of Sirok by Edward G. Kardos

(Three Stars)

“So now what? What do you think I should do?” “Elias, don’t ask me. Ask yourself.”

Published in 2013, this was the seed for The Amulet – Journey to Sirok, published in 2017. Kardos suggests you start with the final story; I agree. Rough and repetitious, but shows promise.

“It is the natural order of things. It is the way of being one. One nature, one heart, and one soul. It is about being who you are.”

An allegory of the Pilgrim’s Progress ilk, though with a muddled message. More about self-actualization than finding truth. Quasi-medieval setting with many cultural and geographic references to Hungary.

“We allow our victim to destroy himself. Most of mankind does not need help from anyone or anything to destroy who they are.”

Kardos touts following one’s heart, but also tries to create a theistic if not Christian work. Hard to have it both ways. The Bible, believe it or not, is ambivalent. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) “Follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22) I’ll leave sorting that to the theologians.

“It is only when you are empty that you may become full.”

Book Review: Umbernight by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Umbernight by Carolyn Ives Gilman

(Three Stars)

“We were only different from the bacteria because we are able to ask what the hell this is all about. Not answer, just ask.”

Enormous potential. Raises important questions about the limits of rationality, and the stifling impact of dogma, whatever the source. Unfortunately, logic is abandoned early—both inside the story and in the writing. Read it anyway.

“He was an orthodox rationalist, and considered aesthetics to be a gateway drug to superstition.”

Spoiler: no advanced culture would have wasted mass on a supply mission to a new colony with physical books. Lost a star

“The other option, the wise and cautious one, was to let the capsule land and just leave it sitting at Newton’s Eye until spring. But we are the descendants of people who set out for a new planet without thoroughly checking it out. Wisdom? Caution? Not in our DNA.”

Darwinian forecast: this colony will die.

“None of us asked to be born here, exiled from the rest of humanity, like the scum on the sand left by the highest wave.”

(2019 Finalist: Theodore A. Sturgeon Memorial Award, 2019 Finalist: Locus Award for Best Novella)