Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Hard Times by Charles Dickens

(Four Stars)

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls noting but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.”

Stinging indictment of the what-you-see-is-what-you-get materialists of his time and ours. Though he wrote it a century and a half ago, Dickens’ critique of hard-nosed realists  true today.

“The only difference between us and the professors of virtue or benevolence, or philanthropy—never mind the name—is, that we know it is all meaningless, and say so; while they know it equally and will never say so.”

Probably not Dicken’ best story–it lacks the clear central character, the redeeming (if not sticky sweet) ending and the sentimentality of other tales–but Hard Times may be the most–dare I say–Christian of Dicken’s stories. Beyond the numerous references and allusions to the Bible, Hard Times is also a story of Continue reading

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(Five Stars)

“Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you. I know it’s true; racing doesn’t lie.”

Amazing. Books like this are why we should ration our five-star ratings, so that they mean something. You need not love either dogs or racing to love this book; breathing suffices. (The movie is tighter and brighter than the book, but read the book first.)

“We had come so close to greatness. We had smelled it, and it smelled like roast pig.”

Told from the dog’s point of view, Stein both embraces and supersedes the obvious limitations. Excellent characterization and sensory tags. The reader feels what Enzo feels, and it tastes like roast pig.

“The true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles—preferably of his own making—in order to triumph. A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe.”

Enzo has flaws, but most aren’t his doing. What happened to the stuffed zebra and the squirrel may have been his fault, but mostly he was doing the best he could without having thumbs or speaking.

“Somewhere, the zebra is dancing.”

Reading this book, I recalled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Though they overlap in ways that are impossible to explain, this is so much better. Simultaneously more entertaining and more thought provoking. (Tempted to lower that book’s rating to four stars.)

“I am a racer at heart, and a racer will never let something that has already happened affect what is happening now.”

Next time I want to be Enzo. (Take your pick.)

“What I want now is what I’ve always wanted. One more lap, Denny! One more lap! Faster!”

Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

(Four Stars)

“Some people believe to destroy your enemies by making them your friends.” “I find a gun works pretty well too.”

Dresden on the rez. Honestly, not the kind of story I like to read–dark, supernatural urban legend action tale. That said, Roanhorse does as good a job as Jim Butcher integrating her modern/near-future paranormal thriller with both Navajo and Euro-American cultures. Roanhorse takes us deep into the mind and feelings of the protagonist, where even Maggie isn’t comfortable.

“It feels like I can’t tell the monsters from the good guys anymore, so it’s best I pull the trigger and let someone else sort it out.” “You don’t mean that.” “Maybe I do.”

Many references to classic and contemporary culture. Casual readers may miss how connected this story is; they won’t miss Continue reading

Book Review: And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman (Five Stars)

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Book Review: And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

(Five Stars)

“The meaning of life: Company. Company. And ice cream.” “What kind of ice cream?”

Wonderful. Should be read by everyone who is a grandparent, plans to be one, or has grandparents. A poignant look inside generations–consecutive and skipped. Short; powerful.

“Are we here to learn how to say good-bye, Grandpa?” “I’m afraid we are.”

Backman explains that he didn’t write this book for us, but for his family. I’m so glad he shared it. The relationships and the emotions ring true.

Why do people who don’t believe in heaven assume, if they’re wrong, they’ll go there?

“What can we do to help Grandpa?” “We can walk down the road with him.”

Book Review: The Smoking Gun Sisterhood by Thad Brown (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Smoking Gun Sisterhood by Thad Brown

(Three Stars)

“I’m not much of a theologian; but I don’t think any of them made it to the pearly gates.”

Have to take these as they are presented: a sister sub-genre to Girls-with-Swords fantasy. Not that magic is involved, beyond people shooting four and a half pound, .50 caliber automatics one-handed. Hate to be one of the “tongue-clucking critics” mentioned in the preface, but the reader must not only willingly suspend disbelief, but must murder it. It’s all good clean fun–if you ignore the blood and powder burns.

“Not ratting out another biker to the cops was an ingrained part of the code they all lived by.”

Though the stories were published in 2009, they have an 80s vibe–pay phones, fifty-cent beers, and all. Questionable police, gang, and mob procedures, but it’s not that kind of story. Lots of lengthy descriptions and sermons Continue reading

Book Review: The White Hart by Nancy Springer (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The White Hart (The Book of Isle #1) by Nancy Springer

(Three Stars)

“Pel shall pay the long-kept score/When the White Hart goes to war.”

Quaint. When published in 1979, this would have been a major accomplishment in epic fantasy, though its borrowings from The Lord of the Rings are many and obvious. It owes as much to nineteenth-century English romanticism and Celtic mythology. Springer did her homework. Still, not a compelling read by today’s standards.

“At the very worst, it will make a fine song.” “May the Mothers grant us life to hear it.”

A pleasant story, well-written, it nevertheless is predictable and syrupy. The plot opens with a strong, believable female lead, then abandons her partway through to follow the story of two men. Disappointing.

“Great is your gift of love … and great will be your pain in it.”

Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Four Stars

“You know the secret which is the key to my life.”

Unexpectedly good fiction. As deep and introspective as the best modern storytelling though written 150 years ago. Nineteenth century England produced many treasures apparently hidden to American readers by the glare of modernity. A mystery and a romance, of sorts. Based, as they say today, on a true story.

“Life is such a troublesome matter … that it’s as well even to take its blessings quietly.”

Braddon takes the reader deep into both male and female characters. That all is not as it appears is obvious, but what it turns out to be Continue reading

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Five Stars

“Do you think, because I am poor and obscure and plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?”

Amazing how real and relevant this 170-year-old novel is. Heavily autobiographic, it deserves its classic status.

“If all the world hated you, and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

Not as easy to read as works by Jane Austen, but the reflective mind will find much to ponder. Many modern readers may lack the familiarity with French (as a language) and the Bible (as a source of literary allusion) to fully appreciate some of passages.

“Inexorable as death”

Brontë shares a social conscience and impatience with hypocrisy with her contemporaries (Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, etc.) but lacks their sense of humor. Nonetheless, Jane Eyre delivers a gut punch of honesty and introspection. Brontë’s novel espouses a feminism fully in step with modern sensibilities.

“Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts.”

Her critique of Christianity as practiced by some characters would be opaque to most moderns, whose understanding and response to religion has been conditioned by Hollywood. She critiques the religion practiced by some, and is daunted by that of others. The whole work reflects her deep-felt if unorthodox beliefs.

“There is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.”

Book Review: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear (Two Stars)

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Book Review: The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

Two Stars

“We’re not the heroes of the story. We’re those guys who wander in during the third act to pick up the dirty work.”

A pleasant excursion into a world analogous to southern Asia before the British spoiled the local fun. Don’t read the blurb; it reveals too much backstory about the cauled sun and other phenomena of this world, robbing the reader of wonder and discovery.

“Duty above anything else. And then the lifetime regret for choices untaken.”

Decent character and world building. Enough strands that, at first, the reader is adrift. Enough point of view characters to bring the reader into the story without Continue reading

Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, read by Tim Matheson

Four Stars

A fun, seasonal story. The blurb claims Baldacci is “one of America’s most critically acclaimed storytellers.” Never heard of him. It is a good story–mixing (rail)road trip, mystery, romance, humor and advocacy (for increased Amtrak funding). Has a good heart.

A fun read listen. Perfect tale for whiling away the miles on a road trip of my own.

Concern: Current revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood are reflected in one character. What goes on is Hollywood, like Las Vegas, is an open secret which our society has winked and Continue reading