Book Review: Seven Days: The Emergence of Lee by Clifford Dowdey (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Seven Days: The Emergence of Lee and the Dawn of a Legend by Clifford Dowdey

(Four Stars)

“McClellan was in fact the most modern of generals then active: he was an executive. His talents were m [sic] organization and administration. But, as a general, McClellan hated to go near a battlefield.”

Most students of history know that George McClellan almost won the Civil War in the spring of 1862. This book explains why … and why not. A monumental effort, involving tracking every major unit of both armies, often with biographies of commanders down to the brigade level. Weather, ordnance and rations are detailed.

“The next day the guns in the unfinished fort at Drewey’s Bluff, turned back the James River fleet of the U. S. Navy, nowhere in the war did so few accomplish so much in significance of the course of the war followed.” (Did you know? I didn’t, but Continue reading

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Book Review: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

(Three Stars)

“Another performance. I figured I would find a way out. But the Hedy I truly was underneath all the external playacting had developed real feelings.”

I read–and am reviewing this–as historical fiction, not a biography. As such it’s excellently composed and written. Using a first-person point of view Benedict takes us deep into Hedy Kiesler/Lamarr’s mind, thinking thoughts that we (and she) have no way of knowing whether Hedy thought, based on her decades of seclusion before her death in 2000. If Benedict had sources for such speculation, she didn’t mention them. Most of the facts reveal Wikipedia-depth research.

“You’re not a Jew, are you?” “No, of course not, Mr. Mayer,” I answered quickly. What else could I say? If my survival in this new life depended on lies, then lies it would be. I was no stranger to them.”

Benedict’s thesis: Hedy was rejected because a woman. Yet fellow inventor (and well-connected) Howard Hughes loaners her facilities and help; why did she not Continue reading

Book Review: “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander (Three Stars)

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Book Review: “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander

(Three Stars)

“To see it would have burst your heart, and then they would have eaten what was left of you.”

Something of a farce. Fun to the point of being silly. Like a one-line joke extended into a story.

“Glamour never worked on cats. They saw right through the Princess’s spell, recognized the kindred hunters beneath, and found pressing reasons to be elsewhere.”

2019 Short Story Hugo Award finalist. Published in Uncanny Magazine 23, July-August 2018.

“It was a good life, sprinkled with just the right amount of companionship and just the right amount of solitude, and none of them ever regretted their choices, which was a fine way to grow old if you can manage the trick.”

Book Review: Star Wanderer by Joe Vasicek (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Outworlder (Star Wanderer #1) by Joe Vasicek

(Four Stars)

“’There’s a real live girl with me on this ship.’ Few thoughts had ever filled him with so much terror.”

Reads like a throwback to the Golden Age of science fiction. Short, young-reader innocent, reflecting values of fifty years ago. Well done.

“You sure make better company than the stars.” “Stars.” “Yes, stars. That’s good.”

Peculiar that two intelligent young adults are together for three months with so little Continue reading

Book Review: “The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer (Four Stars)

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Book Review: “The Thing About Ghost Stories” by Naomi Kritzer

(Four Stars)

“I think they’re the manifestation of people’s desire for answers about death and eternity. But I could be wrong.”

Excellent short story, told from the point of view of a young woman who researches ghost stories. Engaging and plausible, which is a tough sell for some readers. (The cover art is Uncanny Magazine 25, November-December 2018, in which the story appears.)

“Brains are so weird.”

The denouement is obvious, but I’m not telling. Enjoy it for yourself.

“The thing about ghost stories is that even if you have one, the person is still gone.”

(Finalist 2019 Hugo Award for Novelette)

Book Review: The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff

(Three Stars)

“It’s the middle of the night and we’re in the middle of nowhere, thanks to you, so where am I supposed to get wine?” “I don’t know. You’re a wizard. Make some.” “It doesn’t work like that.”

Slows start; too much back story. The story only begins to move a third of the way through. Good trio of protagonists, especially when they antagonize each other. The wizard rocks.

“Soul-linked. He snorted as he pushed open the outer door of his apartment, And all I wanted was Continue reading

Book Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley (Three Stars)

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(Three Stars)

”Everything that’s going to happen has already happened. You just haven’t experienced it yet. We are, all of us, caught within a massive loop of time, bouncing around in the spaces between things.”

Innovative fold-timeline, time-travel story. Narrative follows the protagonist as she tries to figure out when and where she is, what’s happening, and whether she can do anything about it. Hurley worked hard at this; it shows. It could have been the big story of this generation, but it isn’t.

“You all right?” “No. None of us is all right.” “I’m not the bad guy.” “No. We all are.” “I don’t think that’s true.” “Whatever helps you sleep.”

A few decades ago I would have found this cutting edge; now it’s just Continue reading

Book Review: The Dead and Those About to Die: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach by John C. McManus (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Dead and Those About to Die: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach by John C. McManus

(Four Stars)

“Only two kinds of people are going to be on this beach, the dead and those who are going to die. Now get moving!” Col. George Taylor, lead assault regiment commander

D-Day up close and personal. A significant addition to the record of the sacrifice made by thousands of Americans to free Europe from the tyranny of Adolph Hitler. Closely researched and described to put the reader right among the soldiers dying in the water, on the sand, and on the slopes of Fortress Europa.

“All the beauty of the world was gone. Nothing mattered now except this brutal moment, and survival.”

The only way to make sense out of the senseless mess Continue reading

Book Review: Vanguard by Jack Campbell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Vanguard (Genesis Fleet #1) by Jack Campbell

(Four Stars)

“[We thought] we’d all get along, and everyone else would leave us alone because it’s such a big universe.” “Did they ask anybody who actually lives in this universe whether that made sense?”

Best space opera I’ve read in years because it’s more than that genre implies. Team of Sullenbergers space opera, but so much more. I would like to have their luck.

“In a universe run by humans, drills over time often become self-licking ice cream cones that justify whatever purpose those in charge of the drills are looking for.”

Ignore the military stories written by non-veterans. Campbell has been there and done that. It shows. The military heritage is more than Continue reading

Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller (Almost Five Stars)

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Book Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

(Almost Five Stars)

“I thought: this is how Zeus felt when he first lifted the thunderbolt.”

Well done. Follows the formula Miller first employed in The Song of Achilles: making a sympathetic bit character from a Homeric epic–in this case Odyssey–the point of view character for the entire story, expanding and embellishing as necessary. Works. Told in the first person by Circe, this tale weaves the psychology of her estrangement from just about everyone with the tapestry of ancient Greek history and mythology. Introspective but engaging.

“All those years I had spent with them were like a stone tossed in a pool. Already, the ripples were gone.”

Episodic, but with enough foreshadowing to keep the reader involved–mostly.

“Most men do not know me for what I am.” “Most men, in my experience, are fools. I confess you nearly made me give the game away. Your father, the cowherd?”

Readers familiar with Greek history and mythology will Continue reading