Book Review: In the Region of the Summer Stars by Stephen J. Lawhead (Four Stars)

36491439._sy475_

Book Review: In the Region of the Summer Stars (Eirlandia #1) by Stephen J. Lawhead

(Four Stars)

‘Do you trust me?’ ‘I trust you as much as I trust any man.’ ‘Hmph! There speaks a suspicious man—a wary and skeptical man.’ ‘If so, perhaps I have earned my suspicions.’

Lawhead doing what he does best: light epic fantasy. A fun read with the right mix of protagonist stupidity and nobleness to hook epic fantasy fans. Fast paced and readable. Loosely based on the geography and history of Ireland.

‘Our lives may be forfeit, but Brecan must be stripped of power or he will become invincible—and all Eirlandia will pay the price.’ ‘Put like that, a fella would have to be a fool to Continue reading

Book Review: Faraday’s Cage by C. Sean McGee (Three Stars)

48896071._sy475_

Book Review: Faraday’s Cage by C. Sean McGee

(Three Stars)

“He was, by all accounts, halfway through the race and by the looks of him, his laces were still untied.”

Don’t read this review or the blurb. This is a story best experienced without preconceptions.

“Happiness could be feigned … but disappointment … was as impossible to mistake as it was to hide.”

Ironically McGee’s protagonists struggle with just that humanity to which their science has nothing to contribute. The very things they seek—maturity and meaning along with value—are not subject to their scientific inquiry. The story is fleshed out with very real people, often in conflict, in ways that feel uncomfortably close to reality. Great inner voices.

“It’s just the board, and really enrolments [sic] in general, are leaning more towards … alternate science.” “Grievance studies?” “It’s a changing world, Graham.” “Is this a university or a thrift shop?” “Without students, we’ll be neither.”

Pornography and profanity represent the bankruptcy of moderns for dealing with the vital issues of life. Vocabulary and imagery have slumped to the lowest common denominator of smut. That said, it still cost him a star.

“It was as if the future was a horror movie that he was constantly playing in his mind.”

A visual work: Dozens of sentences begin “Were this a movie …” or “His [or Her] face looked like …” The reader is engaged to fill in the blanks. The enigmatic cover image is appropriate. Needed another proof reading, too.

“What good is diversity if everyone thinks the same?”

Book Review: Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour #1) by Matt Wallace (Three Stars)

25819511

Book Review: Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour #1) by Matt Wallace

(Three Stars)

“I’ll just come right out and say I’m not good with it. It’s the difference between serving demons and being one.” “That’s a pretty fine distinction.” “No, it’s not.”

Good urban fantasy concept: down-on-their-luck muggle cooks happen onto a food service which carters to supernatural clients. Essentially a novel-length expansion of a one-line joke, but well done.

“Demons can die?” “Everything dies, little one.”

Lots of kitchen humor, which folks who’ve seen Ratatouille will get. Whether it’s better is debatable.

“All things are possible. Illusion is often easiest.”

Quibble: “How did she make the eggs.” Betrays a basic lack of knowledge about chickens; no rooster necessary for eggs—just fertile eggs. My chicken expert opines, “Roosters are nothing but trouble.”

“Business as usual. Which is to say our only god is chaos.”

Lost a star for gratuitous profanity.

I’m not sure we want to find out why a billion-dollar corporation needs a magical lock.”

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

25254400

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)

3153910

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)

37864158

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)

31373633

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)

25269507

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)

606989

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)

588747

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