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

Book Review: Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland

Four Stars

“I’m not at all sure if you know that I’m alive.”

So she was/is. One hundred years old, and still living in Paris, which was the point when she wrote this book sixty years ago. She was a big Hollywood deal before most of us were born.

This short book is a chatty, personal memoir of her moving to Paris and marrying a Frenchman in the 1950s. Paris then–France then–clutched the tatters of its legacy as the center of the world, politically and in fashion. Though she still lives there; she probably doesn’t recognize today’s Paris.

“If you are loved by the French as a whole, you really feel loved.

Her adjustment to France and the French made for many humorous episodes which she relates in a conversational style. She suffered many of the misconceptions of fellow Americans and committed many gaffes, but no faux pas. (The significant difference is explained therein.)

What does every Frenchman have? A liver. And how he cares for it makes for a humorous tale in itself.

She learned, “The importance of tact, restraint, subtlety, and the avoidance of banality.”

Book Review: Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s secret campaign against Joseph McCarthy by David A. Nichols

Five Stars

“Always take your job seriously, never yourself.” DDE

This is what history is supposed to be. Minutely researched, but cogently told. Facts clearly delineated from opinion. Yes, Nichols has and expresses his opinions, but he does not disguise them as facts.

“We can’t defeat communism by destroying the things in which we believe.” DDE

This book is only 400 pages, not 800 like the fashionable historical biographies being peddled today. The footnotes equal a third of the text.

“Eisenhower’s penchant for camouflage contributed to the myth that he would rather play golf than pay attention to weighty matters.” Nichols

Eisenhower may have been the last progressive Republican, of the ilk of Continue reading

Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Arcadia by Iain Pears

Three Stars

“Outrageous coincidence was more normal that carefully formed, reasoned action.”

Excellent world building. Complex time-travel plot with 60s England focus. Having one character a later member of the famous Inklings is a nice touch, including his depreciation of his more talented friends.

“You go and sit down and contemplate your own genius for a bit, and come through when you think you can stand straight.”

The narrative suffers from too many point-of-view characters. The many threads finally come together, but the first hundred pages is heavy going. Extra credit for finishing it all in one go.

“You may have got that from The Wizard of Oz. You steal ideas from everyone.” “I do?” “Yes.” (Pears also borrowed from Fahrenheit 451.)

While the women characters are well differentiated, the men all sound alike. Not sure why one character’s narrative was in first person while Continue reading

Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson

Four Stars

“A man can do but little. Enough if that little be right.”

I’ve read this book before–long, long ago. Knowing the story, but having it told anew was a treat. Perhaps the height of Anderson’s skill as a storyteller. A slightly different take on time travel, but aren’t they all?

“Scientific information is only a glimmer on the surface of a mystery.”

Written in 1971, it grappled with the increasingly dangerous Cold War, which is remote to modern readers as World War One was to Anderson. “Try to understand your world in 1951.” Most of us have trouble imagining our world today; we don’t even try to learn the past, with Santayana’s forecast result.

“We need all the diversity, all the assorted ways of living and thinking, we can get. Inside of limits, true.”

His protagonist creates an instrument “built to his specification in 1980, to take advantage of the superb solid-state electronics then available.” Before you chuckle, consider Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Four Stars

“You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists.”

A 1985 dystopia set in a severe and hypocritical (aren’t they all?) theocracy, Atwood’s tale is a cautionary tale about how American culture could degenerate under the combines pressures of extended Cold War and the environmental assault of then-current industrial practice.

“No empire imposed by force or otherwise has been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.”

The story’s confused chronology is due to the semi-stream-of-consciousness remanences of one of the titular handmaids, partly explained in the accompanying Historical Note. Atwood tells just enough to propel Continue reading

Book Review: The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom by Max Gladstone (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom by Max Gladstone

Four Stars

“I don’t understand.” “Those are the first words of the wise.”

Vintage Gladstone is a one-gulp package. All the best of Gladstone’s world creation and social consciousness in thirty-six pages.

“Lies are particularly suited to the situation. Like art.”

Well-drawn characters. Threads into other realms, clearly defined enough to make this story a pleasure.

“What’s the good of this friendship of yours if you don’t trust me?”

Book Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi

Three Stars

“This isn’t going to end well.” “Does it ever?”

Scalzi delivers the goods. So many other authors of science fiction fail simple narration, if not science. Scalzi is a master storyteller and covers himself on the science front as well. Unlike many first-of-a-series novels, this story has a satisfying conclusion even as it sets the hook for follow-on tales. A good, fast, enjoyable read.

“I’m busy with the end of everything.”

Perhaps compensating for the male cast imbalance of previous works, almost all the major characters are female.

“… the human tendency to ignore or deny facts until the last possible instant, and then for several days after that, too.”

The f-word occurs in some form 202 times. Half of those are to establish the credentials of one of the female leads, but most weren’t necessary. Cost him a star. It’s not as if Scalzi hasn’t Continue reading

Book Review: Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Spellsinger (Spellsinger #1) Alan Dean Foster

Three Stars

“The strange quasi-science [he] called magic. Or was the wizard right and science was really quasi-magic?”

Dreadfully slow pace. Almost quit after fifty pages; almost quit again fifty pages from the end when I realized nothing was going to happen in this volume. This story merely introduces the characters, world and issue for the greater series. Still, Foster tells a good story.

“This land he now found himself in was no more alien-appearing than Amazonian Peru, and considerably less so than Manhattan.”

Populating his world with human-like mammals is automatically works against stereotypes. In addition, Foster works counter expectations with an artsy male, who is repelled by the fantasy work he’s been thrown into, and an athletic female who embraces it.

“The appetite for evil far exceeds that of the benign.”

Many readers love these never-ending tales; I don’t. I won’t be back.

“It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t have any danger.”

Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Fisherman and the Pig by Kameron Hurley

Four Stars.

“Distrust of and disappointment in people had kept him alive this long.”

A fun short story. Great set up and world building is just a few pages.

“It was assumed, in every age, that when one spoke of ‘the war’ everyone else knew exactly which war they were talking about.”

The reader is drawn in and swept along. Perfect ending.

“As much as he wanted closure some days, the deep fear of death … won over every time.”