Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick

(Three Stars)

“Dysfunction came to define the battle that was ultimately named–perhaps appropriately, given its befuddled beginnings–for the wrong hill.”

The tile misleads: an examination of the origins of the American Revolutionary War in New England. Philbrick examines the historical and philosophic roots of Boston’s role as well as the biography of just about every player. He continues the book for a year after the battle, through George Washington’s assumption of command and the British evacuation of Boston.

“Boston’s patriots were not trying to reinvent the world as they then knew it; they were attempting to get back to the way it had been when they were free from imperial restraint.”

Looking under each stone, Philbrick reveals some interesting trivia. For example, the men General Howe attacked on Breed’s Hill funded a Westminster Abbey memorial for his brother, slain in the French and Indian War defending New England.

“Warren saw himself and all New England in a mythic quest that united the here and now of the present generation with the travails of their glorious ancestors.”

Lots of opinion and speculation. Some well-founded, such as the large role Joseph Warren might have played had he survived. Other is gossip, such as whether Warren got a particular girl pregnant out of wedlock.  “In all likelihood … [Warren] got the young woman named Sally Edmonds Pregnant.”

“The success was too dearly bought.” General William Howe

Careful to credit where due, including the often decisive roles of African-Americans

“I wish [we] could sell them another hill at the same price.” Nathanael Greene

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Book Review: Pawn’s Gambit by Timothy Zahn (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Pawn’s Gambit: and Other Stratagems by Timothy Zahn

(Three Stars)

“Physical reality is never obligated to correspond with our theories and constructs.”

An adequate collection of short science fiction. Quality decreases deeper into the book, however the last tale, the eponymous “Pawn’s Gambit,” is the best of the bunch.

“You risked your life to try to save people whose music you don’t even like.” “People are people, no matter what their tastes are.”

Quibble: No one would fly the two hundred miles from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. Train or car would be faster.

“Not paranoid, you understand, just cautious.”

Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Five Stars)

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Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

(Five Stars)

“All poetry is a call to action.”

Bravo. A romance tucked inside an adventure stuffed into history festooned with whimsy and culture. Fully-realized characters burst off the pages as surely as they rupture the walls of Moscow’s historic Metropol Hotel.

“… and generally clamor about the world’s oldest problems with its newest nomenclature.”

Catches the spirit of each age. His grasp of the history and culture of Moscow in the span from after World War One into the 1950s betrays a respect one who looks for from a native. Pop culture references–music, politics, fashion, movies–appropriate to each decade.

“Adversity presents itself in many forms. If a man does not master his circumstances, his circumstances will master him.”

Comparable to Tolstoy; patronymics, diminutives and other naming varieties included. The scope of this work demands Continue reading

Book Review: Through the Eyes of a Lion by Levi Lusko (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain; Finding Incredible Power by Levi Lusko

(Five Stars)

“Blessed are those who mourn.” (Matthew 5:4) “There are gifts you get from God in the midst of grief that you would never have had the bandwidth to receive if everything was going as planned.”

At first glance, this book is written for a narrow, specialized audience: Christians who have suffered a tragic loss. Actually, it is intended for those who have or will suffer a tragic loss: all of us. Lusko lost a kindergarten-aged child just before Christmas. Your loss may not be so dramatic as his, but you have or will suffer, too, and you will discover him to be a kindred soul.

“God made me stronger, so the pain is not always unbearable, but the weight hasn’t gotten any lighter.”

Non-Christian readers may struggle with the Biblical point of view and vocabulary, but many will find solace in these pages.

“He puts to use what he puts us through. Suffering isn’t an obstacle to being used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before.”

Lusko is a preacher; it shows in his rhythms and alliterations, and his digressions. Forgive him and keep reading.

“When you live a life of faith, there are going to be questions that have no answers, because for there to be faith there has to be mystery.”

Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Robot Who Looked Like Me by Robert Sheckley

(Three Stars)

“Incredulity is not an appropriate attitude in this age of Heisenbergian physics.”

A better-than-average collection of Sheckley’s short stories and novelettes from the early 70s. The title story is among the better. Some humor. The number co-written with Harlan Eislson is sick, as you’d expect.

“When you come right down to it, life was a disappointment and the best it has to offer was never quit good enough. I realize now that I can’t be happy by owning things.”

Book Review: The Nazi’s Wife: A Thriller by Peter Watson. (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Nazi’s Wife: A Thriller by Peter Watson

(Four Stars)

“When your brother is a Nazi; you can’t ignore evil forever.”

Historical fiction, yes; a “thriller”? Not so much. Well written. Close first-person narrative of an art recovery expert after VE Day. Published in 1985; there’s been a sea change in Europe since.

“… People who realized that they would never have as much purpose in their lives, or as much self-respect, as the war had given them. … would never be so happy.

Encyclopedic knowledge of Austria and its art and culture, especially near Salzburg. Much of his knowledge about the inner workings of the army and soldiers seems drawn from hearsay. Watson loves semi-colons; commas, not so much. His punctuation occasionally distracts.

“I joined the army to fight Nazis not to fall in love with their wives.”

Respectful of the religious beliefs of Germans in a way no longer routinely found in literature, but is vital to understanding the motives of some characters.

“The war was over; it was time to put away wartime things.”

Book Review: Dickens: A Biography by Fred Kaplan (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Dickens: A Biography by Fred Kaplan

(Three Stars)

“He took special pleasure in disappointing expectations.”

A monumental work, in both the positive and negative senses. Like many modern biographers, Kaplan includes all manner of trivia and tangential material to pad the overall product. The result is boring to read, but fascinating to reflect on.

William Gladstone reported Dickens remarked that while his “faith in the people governing, is, on the whole, infinitesimal; my faith in The People governed is on the whole illimitable.”

“All crisis was a spur to creativity, all fiction a mirror of imaginative distortion in which the model of his own life became a portrait of his culture and his world.”

Charles Dickens was that rare man who was Continue reading

Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2 by Martha Wells (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Stories of the Raksura 2: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells

(Three Stars)

“Now would be a good time to go, to fly west into the sun with no one to see. Except he didn’t appear to be doing that.”

Anthologies set in the world or featuring the cast of an author’s invented universe allow her to explore side issues, deepen characters and promote the greater series–especially when said short stories are offered free or included in other anthologies. Fans get a fix of a favored setting; new readers can sample without committing to a full novel. So it is here. Not great literature, not even as good as the Raksura novels, but enjoyable nonetheless.

“He had learned from bitter experiences not to try to explain unexplainable things.”

Book Review: The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Serpent Sea (Book of Raksura #2) by Martha Wells

(Four Stars)

“They might be harmless, but Moon doubted it on principle.”

A better-than-average sequel. Expands Moon’s character and the ensemble of Raksura closest to him. Fills in backstory from the first book at appropriate time, but tends toward data dumps.

“Sense doesn’t enter into it where queens are concerned.”

The stakes are high; things keep going wrong; Moon isn’t the only one who is a fish out of water.

“Sometimes I don’t have visions; sometimes I have common sense. Not that any of you listen to me.”

Martha Wells is great at inner dialogue. For an even better sample, try her Murderbot series, especially All Systems Red.

“He felt as if he’d never really come home before.”

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Curse of Chalion (World of the Five Gods #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold

(Five Stars)

“If you lent me a razor now, for me to cut my throat with, it would save ever so many steps.”

Feared they weren’t writing fantasy like this anymore. Excellent in every way. Good world and cosmology building, deep first person point of view, maybe romance, a map, humor. A satisfying ending. What more could a reader want? More? Well, there’s that, too. Bujold is a master.

“His heart melted. Or maybe it was his wits.”

Unique among current fantasy because this world has several fully developed religions, not the cardboard caricatures of most science fiction and fantasy. Bujold presents a supernatural which is series and time appropriate without straying into silliness or social commentary … too much.

“He’d been swimming in a miracle every day of his life, and hadn’t known it.