Book Review: A God Against the Gods by Allen Drury (three stars)

Book Review: A God Against the Gods by Allen Drury (three stars)

“I hope you know what you are doing, Son of the Sun.” “I do, Uncle. And it will be best for all. I, who am living in truth, promise it!” 

Why settle for one unreliable narrator when you can have a swarm? Drury projects readers into the minds of a dozen key players to an existential crisis in the Egyptian eighteenth dynasty. The result is confusing and realistic. No one knows and sees all; most are biased and self-serving. Nothing quite so dangerous as believing that you alone know God’s will.

For if Pharaoh himself does not believe in the gods, then what will happen to the land? 

A monumental portrait of a controversial historical figure. Plausible, but Drury projects modern (1976) politics and psychology into ancient Egypt. Over long and boring. Drury depends on the reader to know what happened to Akhenaten; he leaves that out of the story.

Together we will be happy and together we will make Kemet happy. I so decree it and it will be so: For I am Akhenaten, he who has lived long, and I will live in truth forever and ever, for millions and millions of years. 

Book Review: “Burning Books for Pleasure and Profit” by K. J. Parker (four stars)

Book Review: “Burning Books for Pleasure and Profit” by K. J. Parker (four stars)

The very finest kit and materials will only take you so far. The rest has to come from inside

Entertaining short fiction. Parker once again creates a world with a few words. It’s easier when that world is an analog of Medieval Europe, but it’s well done. Protagonist has a conscience but also other, more profound motives.

Raising another interesting hypothetical question: If you don’t remember something and neither does anyone else, did it ever happen

Loses a star for pointless profanity. Yes, one phrase can do it, when it’s phrase like that. Wanted to rate this five.

Evidence, he told me with a grin, is Truth, and Truth never dies; instead, they lock it up and throw away the key

Book Review: Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell (four stars)

Book Review: Murder Most Malicious (A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery #1) by Alyssa Maxwell (four stars)

“As you said, the war is over. The men have come home. Time for you ladies to return to the roles for which God designed you.” 

Miss Marple does Downton Abbey. Not your mother’s cozy murder mystery. A noble house guest disappears, then parts of him appear, and the family middle daughter and her maid go Jessica Fletcher trying to find the body and solve the assumed murder. Clues, motives, and suspects multiply.

“I’m not a modern woman. Not when it comes to matters like this. I need . . . time.”

Christmas 1918 evokes painful memories of The Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Social and technical details conform to the Downtown Abbey norms, if not the actual 1919.

‘It was a situation where there could be no happy outcome.’ 

Characters are fully, if stereotypically developed. Excellent misdirection and foreshadowing before the climax reveal.

“I suggest you both take a cloak. It’s deadly cold outside.”

Book Review: A Noble Cunning by Patricia Bernstein (four stars)

Book Review: A Noble Cunning: The Countess and the Tower by Patricia Bernstein (four stars)

“I would see acres of valiant man slaughtered and young King James drowned in the English Channel if it meant you would come back to me.”

Excellent historical fiction; especially for Bernstein’s first novel. Extraordinary and extraordinarily literate characters. Many historical and cultural connections pull the reader deeply into that time and place.

“I have absolute faith that we can save you, but if you have already given up, we can do nothing for you. All I ask is that you fight for yourself!”

That era’s anti-Catholic sentiment is the warp of the tale. The weft the true story of the historic Winifred Herbert Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale. In most particulars the narrative follows the actual history, even to some details. Why then, did Bernstein change the lady’s identity? (Don’t read her story; it tells all.)

“All other things to their destruction draw, Only our love hath no decay.” John Dunne

Appropriate epigrams open each chapter. Awkward Italics font impedes reading.

“It was all so long ago and far away and had possibly happened to some ancestor of mine, in a previous era.”

(Full disclosure: Got ARC free in exchange for an honest review.)

The Dragon and The Dove Continued Release


Each week in this place two additional chapters will be published from the Young Adult speculative fiction novel The Dragon and the Dove. The chapters will alternate point of view between the protagonists, so readers will receive the next step in each character’s story.

Bookmark this page and return each week on Wednesdays: The Dragon and the Dove

Book Review: Small Acts of Defiance Michelle Wright (five stars)

Book Review: Small Acts of Defiance: A Novel of WWII and Paris by Michelle Wright (five stars)

“It’s not only our precious value of liberty that’s taken a beating in this new France. Equality and fraternity are also fading fast.”

Extraordinary debut novel. World War Two seen from inside occupied France. Honestly tries to capture uncertainty. The protagonist, Lucie, sees the world through artist’s eyes. Portraits drawn, folded, committed to chance.

“Every little way we can find to thumb our noses at the Germans is a small act of resistance.”

Wright takes us deep into her characters as their world upends. Again and again. She captures the reader’s attention and never lets go. Captures the uncertainty And horror of the developing Holocaust. Even gives a fair representation of those who collaborate.

“In the face of futility, only the crazy persist.”

Paris lovers will revel in references to familiar and hidden landmarks.

You are not alone. I see your face, your suffering.

Book Review: Life Dust by Pam Webber (five stars)

Book Review: Life Dust: A Novel by Pam Webber (five stars)

“Quy is what Asians call ‘life dust’ or one who is left behind.”

 Amazing tale of second chances. The protagonist, Nettie (and her now-fiancé Andy) from The Wiregrass and Moon Water, matures and faces new challenges personally and professionally in the early 1970s. Dual-track plot with several cross connections. Dickens would have been proud.

“Sometimes the most valuable lessons are not the ones we learn in a classroom, they’re the ones we learn when people abuse power.”

The best kind of historical fiction, inserting the reader in history. Since Webber is a nurse, we assume she got the nuances of nursing student life right. Vietnam veterans will recognize she got enough of the situation on the ground in Vietnam’s I Corps in 1971-72 and events related to the National League of POW/MIA Families right that she must have consulted those who had been there.

“Never underestimate the power of human contact and what it means to someone who feels isolated and alone.”

Overtly Christian. Optimistic. Not overtly political, though hospital and military life is awash with internal politics. Her characterization of military and medical types rings true. All of which will offend some readers. Those who stick with the story will be rewarded.

“People rarely forgive you for what they do to you.”

As true for her previous books, Webber does not dwell on race though several characters are people of color. Personalities are fully drawn and engaging.

“No one is beyond forgiveness.”

(Full disclosure: I was a beta reader of this novel in 2021. This review reflects my impression then and now. The finished product is even better.)

Book Review: The Lone Wolf by Louis Joseph Vance (three stars)

Book Review: The Lone Wolf by Louis Joseph Vance (three stars)

“I’d like to believe you. But when you ask me to sign articles with that damned assassin—!” “You can’t play our game with clean hands.”

Entertaining, but not as Vance intended. Published in 1914, the stilted prose mimics the previous century. It’s an adventure/mystery/romance novel with an anti-hero protagonist. Anticipates the private detective novels of several decades later.

From its terrific speed the cab came to a stop within twice its length.

Set in Paris before the Great War, but Germans are already heavies. Anticipates international crime organizations too. Much of Vance’s description of automobile and aeroplane performance defies current knowledge, but is assumed to be cutting edge then. A fun read, especially for those who know a bit about The Great War.

And a secret between two is—a prolific breeder of platitudes!

Book Review: Susanna and the Spy (Susanna and the Spy #1) by Anna Elliott (three stars)

Book Review: Susanna and the Spy (Susanna and the Spy #1) by Anna Elliott (three stars)

Everyone in the Rutherford Household was so very ordinary—so completely what they seemed. Could it really be possible that one of them was a murderer?

Pleasant, if formulaic period romance/mystery. Awkward blend of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. Readers interested in a Jane Austen mystery might try Northhanger Abbey.

Verisimilitude errors. “Time for those he works for in London to send word as to his veracity. I should think I have a few weeks, at least, the state of the roads and the mail being what it is.” Kent abuts London; verification could be had overnight. “I’ve been an agent of the Crown since war first broke out with France.” England and France had been at war for centuries.  

Fails to convey the period. Errors in details kick the reader out of the spell of the story. One character sustains several bullet wounds but keeps soldiering on.

Her mission, it appeared, was to call on some of the poorer members of the village and do what she could to scold and bully them into prosperity.

Book Review: Past Imperative (The Great Game #1) by Dave Duncan (three stars)

Book Review: Past Imperative (The Great Game #1) by Dave Duncan (three stars)

“None of it made real-world sense, nor ever would. You could not expect Sherlock Holmes if you already had Merlin.”

Engaging story of people and places who are not what they seem, or even what they themselves believe them to be. Draws on English archetypes and supposed religious prophecy on an almost-parallel world. Bounces between fantasy and science fiction as easily as between the universes portrayed. A small side of historical fiction. Previous exposure to Shakespeare not required but enhances the fun.

“She ducked into a doorway and made herself as flat as paint.”

Both protagonists are unwitting and unwilling pawns in a greater game. Drawing them toward each other compounds their confusion. Great fun for the reader.

“How can I tell if they’re friends or enemies?” “Well, look out for johnnies in black gowns like monks. They’re called ‘reapers’ and they’re deadly. They can slay a chap with a touch. Otherwise—friends will help you. If they try to kill you, assume they’re enemies.” “Why didn’t I think of that?”