Book Review: Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard

Three Stars

“I have so long and so often seen the evil effects of presidential fever upon my associates and friends that I am determined it shall not seize me.” JAG

A fascinating excursion into the period of American history largely ignored. Everyone thinks they know, if they care, all about the series of inept Union generals who stumbled through the then-second floor Yellow Oval Room. Millard corrects our misperception with this very human inquiry into the half-year presidency of James A. Garfield. She explores his life and times and provides supporting vignettes of key persons whose paths to fame or infamy crossed that of the ill-fated Garfield, including Chester Arthur, Joseph Lister, Alexander Graham Bell, and Charles Guiteau.

“Future generations would never know the man [Garfield] had been.”

Well-written, but not as good as her later works. Though this book is well-researched history, Millard strays Continue reading

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Book Review: Hero of the Empire by Candace Millard (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candace Millard

Four Stars

“There is an ambition I cherish so keenly, as to gain a reputation for personal courage.” WC

Winston Churchill wanted a war and after three missed attempts–India, Cuba and Sudan–he got it in South Africa’s Boer War. That it was a miserable shame of a war made no difference to Churchill, he was busy inventing himself and nothing short of public acclaim and military honors would do. He got them, and much more.

“Death stood before me. Grim, sullen Death without his light-hearted companion. Chance.” WC

Millard balances the very personal with the historic. Just enough background history and biography to give context without degenerating into a full-fledged biography. Well-researched and well-written.

“When hope has departed, fear had gone as well.” WC

England, on the verge of the Great War, seems to have learned nothing from the American War of Independence nor her colonial experiences in Asia and Africa. As if frozen in some fairy tale, the British army fought the Boer War as if they were facing Napoleon. The results were devastating to both the soldiery and the populace.

“The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults and the rest of your life you spend in discovering his virtues.” Pamela (Plowden) Bulwer-Lytton

Book Review: Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Warriors of the Storm (The Saxon Stories #9) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“A man does not rid his house of wasps by swatting them one by one, but by finding the nest and burning it.”

As Cornwell delves deeper into the darkness of English history, his stories become more purely fictional. No less fun, but his pattern is clearer. Though these stories necessarily focus on men trying to kill each other, the female characters are realistic and occasionally historical.

“It is not difficult to be a lord … or a king, but it is difficult to be a leader.”

Like Richard Sharp, the hero of Cornwell’s other extended historical fiction series, Uhtred of is something of a Mary Sue. No matter what chances our pagan protagonist takes he always lands on his feet.

“A man who loves his leader will fight better than a man who merely fears him.”

Quibble: Modern phrases sneak into the dialogue occasionally, breaking the spell of the storytelling.

“I will never understand Christians.”

[Spoiler] Gomer’s name betrays her identity.

“For the rest of us the future is a mist and we only see as far as the mist allows.”

Book Review: Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Age of Swords (Legends of the First Empire #2) by Michael J. Sullivan

Five Stars

“Some things are unimaginable right up until you are looking at them, and even then, you might not want to believe. Love is that way, so is death.”

If anything, better than the first book, Age of Myths. Superficially Sullivan is not an epic fantasy writer like Rothfuss or Tolkien, but he weaves an excellent story amid afresh, if derivative world. Part of the fun is his tongue-in-cheek homages to classic fantasy.

“I hated my brothers. Dead for three years and they’re still trying to kill me.”

Satisfying conclusion with appropriate hooks into the next stories. Well done. Leavened with humor. Not so much as the Riyria stores, but enough. Waited for second volume for magic school, hooray! And the training was organic, taking the reader inside Continue reading

Book Review: Wizard’s Worlds by Andre Norton (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Wizard’s Worlds: A Witch World Collection, by Andre Norton

Three Stars

“…into a sleep so deep that no dreams walked there.”

Better than average collection of unrelated stories. Variable quality but mostly engaging short stories, some felt like prequels or spin offs of story streams which the reader was expected to recognize.

“Egotism such as hers is dangerous, for it leads a man or woman to believe what is wished is right.”

Unfortunately the eponymous story condones rape as an acceptable means for overcoming a female’s opposition to oneself. Totally unacceptable to even suggest it; worse to imply that it was subsequently tolerable to the female. The collection generally featured sympathetic, well-developed female characters, but still …

“Old gods do not tend to be mild when called on to render justice.”

Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (Six Stars)

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Book Review: Children of God (The Sparrow #2) by Mary Doria Russell

Six Stars

“It wasn’t your fault.” “Tell that to the dead.”

Six? Yes, this is what comes from giving five stars so liberally. This is the best book I’ve read this year (102 and counting), not just the best science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction or biography. Why didn’t it win a cluster of awards? Was it as fun to write as to read?

“Rain fails on everyone; lightning strikes some.”

Not necessary but recommended you read The Sparrow first. Russell skillfully weaves in the backstory when you need it.

“No one was deliberately evil. We all did the best we could. Even so, what a mess we made of everything.”

Each character the protagonist of his or her own story. Russell assures no actors are bad or good in their own eyes. Each point of view character does Continue reading

Book Review: Stealthy Steps by Vicki Kestell (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Stealthy Steps (Nanostealth #1) by Vicki Kestell

Three Stars

“You think you’re scared I’m the invisible freak!”

I liked it. Well-developed tale with a strong, if emotionally immature protagonist. Self-depreciating humor fits the character and story. Everything breaks her way, even the bad breaks. Too easy. Italics overused. “Giggles” too much.

“He’s a hardcore Christian. I couldn’t keep seeing [him] anymore.”

Christian literature, but protagonist realistically resists the initial gospel hard sell. Christian characters well drawn. Some antagonists border on caricatures.

“I was where you are twenty years ago. Different town, same drugs. Different corner, same grave just waiting for me to fall into it.”

Quibble: masked from one angle is not masked from all angles. The problems with real-time, adaptive omni-directional masking are enormous.

“Invisible is not a word that belongs in real life.”

Not so much concluded as finished the opening.

“Was life even worth the never ending struggle?”

Zoning versus Hurricanes

An August 30 Bloomberg Businessweek article blames Houston’s lack of zoning for the severity of Hurricane Harvey’s impact. New York and New Orleans had zoning; they were inundated.

All three cities were flooded. Zoning or the lack of it wouldn’t have made much difference against topography. In Houston’s case a nearly flat bowl of semi-permeable at best land gets over fifty inches of rain.

All three cities had lots of people and businesses in the way of a flood. As American coastal cities swell in population, we will see more, worse examples. Whether zoned for it or not.

Bloomberg made a political, not an economic, meteorological nor geological point.

Could things be done differently? Sure, but hindsight is always 20/20. Neither New Orleans nor New York relocated.

My forecast: expect another of these every decade from now on.

In the face of a natural direct hit, we would do better helping each other. Not throwing bricks.

Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Four Stars

“The entire criminal code of the state of Kansas boils down to four words: Don’t kill the customers.”

Revising history in a pleasant, readable way. Russell looks deep into the facts behind the tall tales surrounding this Wild West icon and comes up with an engaging story of what John Henry “Doc” Holliday may have been at his best.

“Serious as a snake bite.”

Have read enough of Russell to appreciate how her voice and idioms vary with the time and place of her story. Well done.

“The law can relieve a man of guilt, but not of his remorse.”

Russell also gives insight into the southern state of mind after Reconstruction. A lingering legacy of Radical Republican punishment of the South after the Civil War plays out today.

“Being born is craps. How we live is poker. Mamma played a bad hand well.”

Read the end notes to discover a possible connection between Holliday and Gone with the Wind.

“Dear Lord, please, give him time! Please, Lord, let him finish!” “Now. Now. Now. Take me now.”

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

Extraordinary writing. A rich blend of science fiction with philosophic inquiry. The casts (there are two stories, tangentially connected) are deeply and realistically developed to clash, promote, love and hate one another. A first-contact story of the best kind. Humor.

“None of you will ever know what it was like and I promise you: you don’t want to know.”

Folded timeline irritates at first, but is gradually revealed to be Continue reading