Movie Review: Dunkirk, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Four Stars)

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theatrical release poster

Movie Review: Dunkirk, written, co-produced and directed by Christopher Nolan

Four Stars

“You can practically see it from here.” “What?’ “Home.”

The best kind of war movie, one that focuses on human-sized stories without losing track of the big picture. Historical fiction, but incredible realism and drama. Multiple viewings necessary to absorb the depth.

“He’s on me.” “I’m on him.”

Only criticism is the folded timeline. Nolan not only cut back and forth between plot lines, but breaks chronology. The attentive viewer sees the same event as many as five times from the point of view of five different characters. It adds depth to the story, but it often knocks the viewer out of the flow trying to figure out when and where we are.

“There’s no hiding from this, son. We have a job to do.”

 

Book Review: Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Three Stars

“Not only could a man’s eyes mislead him but his mind could deceive him as well.”

Gripping historical fiction about New York City 110 years ago, though it reads like a fantasy set in another world. Hoffman weaves the lives two strangers to each other between the opening and closing historical horrific fires. Her historical details are exhaustive and apparently correct.

“To find someone, it was necessary to follow … the way that angels follow men’s lives on earth are said to do, chart each trespass without judgement, for judgement is never ours to give.”

Lots of stereotyping by gender, ethnicity, class, and religion–the easy route to character building. She seems sensitive to conditioned inferiority, though in my experience everyone feels inferior about something.

“He wondered if every criminal saw himself as the hero of his own story, and every thankless son convinced he’d been mistreated by his father.”

Hoffman’s plot involves Anglo-Saxon antagonists, but the real villains of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire were the owners, who were Russian immigrants just like the many casualties. Sometimes the worst crimes are committed by those we think of as “us,” yet we give them a bye in our rush to blame others, who are conveniently “them.”

“I had thought my father could work miracles. But I was wrong. He could only possess them.”

Quibbles: The male protagonist is reported to be 6’2” at age thirteen, despite a childhood of poverty. The first-person chapters are Italicized. Hard to read, though it alerts the reader to potential unreliable narration.

“As he slept he prayed that no one would wake him, for it was in dreams that a man found his truest desires.”

Younger people have purer emotions, less experience. It makes for great drama and sad mistakes.

“Like every good man. He, too, has failed. He knows what it means to be a human being.” “To be a failure?” “To forgive. As he has forgiven you.”

Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

Three Stars

“You never know what will happen next, when once you get mixed up with wizards and their ‘friends.’”

This is a story for children, specifically for Tolkien’s children motivated by the loss of a toy. More than that will spoil the telling. It’s oral tradition started long before any of his published works, though traces of Middle Earth can be gleaned from reading this final text.

“…on the stomach (where dragons are particularly tender.)”

It’s more profitable to compare this story with Farmer Giles of Ham in The Tolkien Reader and Smith of Wootten Minor, not The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. Violates some of the very principles he would elucidate within the decade in his address “On Fairy Stories” in The Tolkien Reader.

“…and saw off in the last West the mountains of Elvenhome.”

A fun read, and a rare look into the developing talent of one of the greatest story tellers of the twentieth century. This edition is fully annotated to help modern readers fully appreciate the tale.

“…as quick as kiss your hand.”

Book Review: The Kingdom by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Kingdom (Fargo Adventure #3) by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood

Two Stars

“Place names are trivial. It’s the meaning we attach to them that counts.”

At some point successful authors conclude they can sell books based on their name rather than the content. Apparently Clive Cussler reached that point when writing this book. It is the kind of fast-paced Indiana-Jones-type adventure readers expect from Cussler, with all the technobabble and product placement appropriate to the genre.

I’m sure Grant Blackwood is a capable person, but someone should have proofread the text. It is rife with howling non sequiturs, of which a few are offered: “razed to the ground,” “cantering slowly,” “a sheaf of blueprints,” and “a scientist by nature and training” (both in 1677). My favorite paragraph included: “The single-engine Piper Cub …. Sitting on opposite sides of the aisle…. The engines began to wind down.” And that doesn’t touch the logical and plot contradictions.

“We won’t stumble into the hands of [redacted], I can assure you.” We know what will happen next.

Book Review: Cokesbury Worship Hymnal (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Cokesbury Worship Hymnal by Abingdon Press

Four Stars

It may seem odd to review a book of songs, but I’ve been using it as a daily devotional guide. Works.

I first became aware of this book, originally published over a hundred years ago, sixty years ago. In a small Kansas church which had dozens of old copies. Every Sunday for several years we’d sing these simple songs of the faith accompanied by an old piano. (Okay, everything about this was old then, except me, and I’m old now. You’ve got that.)

I obtained this copy recently and started through it in order: singing (to myself) the hymns I knew, reciting the others as poems. I was surprised that I remembered more than half. Some in this edition weren’t in the 1938 edition we used then.

It has much to recommend itself. Including the responsive scripture readings, which at the time I was so focused on saying the words in unison that I paid no attention to what I was saying.

A window, for me, into my youth and early life.

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Four Stars

“The unexpected is what makes life possible.”

Excellent. Le Guin demonstrates the verbal prowess that earned her early science fiction honors. Her later stuff reflects her hardening prejudices.

“Almost anything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not toxic.”

Better introduction than Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter. Read this; not that.

“The whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed on Winter. On Winter … one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”

Le Guin reminds us that the issue is not being manly men or feminine women–nor fem men and manly women, or whatever–but being totally human. Modern politics Continue reading

Outlawing Cash?

From the July 12, 2017 Wall Street Journal: “VISA has a new offer for small merchants: take thousands of dollars from the card giant to upgrade their payment technology. In return, the businesses must stop accepting cash.”

Last time I checked cash was “legal tender for all debts, public and private.” How can a business not take cash?

I have a VISA card, but I pay for most of my purchases in cash. Helps keep me from over spending, which would be fine with VISA. They want me to overspend.

Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu

(Four Stars)

“No guns in Container Town.”

See? It can be done. Kick off a series with an enjoyable, self-contained story–not a chopped-off cliffhanger. A near future dystopia with aliens, set in the universe of Chu’s Lives of Tao books. Why wasn’t this Hugo Award finalist?

“It was one thing to witness a slum, it was another to see a beautiful city reduced to one before your eyes.”

Even if you haven’t read previous stories in this setting, Chu focuses you on his protagonist and gently fills in the background as the story develops. The data dumps are appropriately placed and paced.

“Stop acting like life is some precious gift from a higher power. Everything dies, Ella. Everything is expendable.”

Totally immerses the reader in the setting. Captures the sights, smells and tastes of a post-modern slum in Continue reading

Book Review: Roma Mater by Poul and Karen Anderson (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Roma Mater (King of Ys #1) by Poul and Karen Anderson

Three Stars

“God’s hand touches a man and that man turns into one whom others will follow though it be past the gates of Hell.”

Excellent old-fashioned historical fiction/fantasy. Well-researched fourth century setting. Draws the reader into many aspects life. Invented a religion out of whole cloth, but used it to compare and contrast with existing ones.

“Despair was for afterwards. He still had work to do.”

Punctuation irregularities and errors, perhaps optical scanning glitches.

“Magic is ever a two-edged sword, oft times wounding the wielder.”

Why there’s a Spartan on the cover of the ebook edition is anyone’s guess.

“Had he wandered so far, into such foreignness? Had the God of his fathers no longer heard him?”

Broke oft abruptly. Cost them a star. Won’t try the follow-on volumes.

“Wisdom lies in nobody’s gift. We must each forge it for ourselves, alone. As best we can.”

Book Review: The Women of Harry Potter by Sarah Gailey (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Women of Harry Potter by Sarah Gailey

Four Stars

“Ginny let herself be impressed once … and wound up vulnerable and look where that got her.”

I almost didn’t read this collection of posts. I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I read a couple of the books and saw a few of the films, and never connected. So I figured Gailey would have nothing to say I’d be interested in. Wrong.

“These, I must teach to hate.”

I didn’t even know who one of these characters was, but Gailey creates a cogent, interesting essay on each; exploring who they are, what motivates them, and why we should care. Good job.

These posts are among the finalists in the 2017 Hugo Award Related Works. Now that I’ve read them all, I can affirm I liked this one best. Better than many much more famous names who were, IMHO, trading on their names as excuse for publishing drivel.