Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

(Five Stars)

“I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season.”

Outstanding. A penetrating look at love, war and humanity presented with external and internal dialogues that are simultaneously honest and humorous. Gives the reader a sense of time, place and circumstance which few authors achieve. Captures the feel of being at war, in love, immortal, dying, indignant, and learning to doubt everything, then learning to trust again.

“You are a mousetrap of a friend, all soft cheese and hard springs.” “I use you for practice. One day I’ll have a husband.”

Loosely based on real people (the author’s grandparents) in London and Malta at the onset of Continue reading

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Book Review: The Spy by James Fenimore Cooper (Three Stars)

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Book Review: The Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground by James Fenimore Cooper

(Three Stars)

“The law was momentarily extinct … and justice was administered subject to the bias of personal interests.”

Wonderful Romantic adventure “inspired by a true story” during the American Revolutionary War. Well-developed plot. Cooper’s first “hit.”

“The heart which has not become callous, soon sickens with the glory that has been purchased with a waste of human life.”

So, why hasn’t it more famous, and why wasn’t it made into a movie? Why only three stars? Because, being a very early work, it lacks the stirring storytelling for his later works. In fact, it’s awful. Twenty-five years later he was “compelled to admit there are faults so interwoven with the structure of the tale … it would cost less to Continue reading

Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Five Stars)

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Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

(Five Stars)

“It is not beauty that endures, it’s love that makes us see the beauty.”

This is a book about love: love of self, love of country, love of others. A monumental work: over a thousand pages of text with a huge cast and historic sweep. Yet draws the reader intimately into the lives of a circle of families on the eve of a catastrophe which will transform their lives and their culture.

“The entry of the famished army in the rich and deserted city resulted in fires and looting and the destruction of both the army and the wealthy city.”

Two stories intertwine: the intimate inner life of a circle of young friends worthy of an Austen or Dickens and a detailed analysis of Russia’s role in the Napoleonic wars worthy of a Gibbons or Churchill. For the young adults, the real war is within. For the soldiers, Continue reading

Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen

(Four Stars)

“The sea has protected our people from whatever lies beyond.”

A monumental effort. Deep historical research marred by modern, irrelevant speculation. The depth and detail Rowen attempts leads to so many narrative threads and point-of-view characters (often hopping from one head to another mid-paragraph) that keeping track is a challenge. Too much exposition disguised as narrative. Slow going, but worth the effort.

“The bones of the dead are food for the living.”

A strong point is the evenhanded depiction of the varied beliefs, even when the thoughts or actions seem reprehensible to modern sensitivities. Rowen doesn’t shy away from Continue reading

Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: A Pillar of Iron: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Taylor Caldwell

Four Stars

“Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” Aristotle

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is probably the most important man in history most of us never heard of. That he was one of Rome’s greatest orators and writers is secondary to his impact on modern western political thought. “The influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language,” wrote classicist Michael Grant. Cicero’s thoughts undergirded much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. America’s founders often quoted the Roman.

“His own existence was less secure because his father no longer existed. Another statue had crashed in his hall of life and its senseless rubble littered the floor.”

Taylor Caldwell tried to change that in 1965 with this historical fiction biography. Drawing on speeches and letters of Cicero and Continue reading

Book Review: The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Empty Throne (Saxon Stories #8) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“It probably did not matter what the Witan thought … or what I thought. I should have thought harder.”

A romp through a historic game of thrones. History may not be quite as exciting as fiction, but that’s why we have historical fiction. And few authors blow the dust off the pages of time better than Bernard Cornwell.

“It probably did not matter what the Witan though … or what I thought. I should have thought harder.”

Uhtred may be on his last legs. His near-fatal wound is festering, his king is dying, his family is threatened, and his dreams are unfulfilled. What’s a man do to? If that man is Uhtred, attack.

“I wanted an end to the pain, to the problems, but I also wanted to know how it would all end. But does it ever end?”

Well written. Good map, though unreadable in the ebook format. Love, death, betrayal, and surprises. A real life strong female leader. Leavened with humor.

“As I said, Father, I am not noisy.” “And I am?” “Very.”

No quibbles, just looking for an excuse to insert another text quote.

“How?” “By killing any bastard who opposes her.” “Oh, by persuasion.” “Exactly.”

 

Book Review: The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Flame Bearer (Saxon Stories #10) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“When a man cannot fight he should curse. The gods like to feel needed.”

Read this book. I can’t imagine anyone starting a series with the tenth installment, but if you’ve read a few and slacked off this is a good place to jump back in. Classic Uhtred.

“… and stroked a stone down a sword already as sharp as the shear wielded by the three fates.”

Cornwell is a master of historical fiction, though he admits that he’s run out of history and in this story, “Just about everything is invention.”

“We’re outnumbered and they have the high ground. Does that mean we’re attacking?” “Of course, it does.”

The battle scenes are gory, the coincidences monumental, and the stakes are higher than ever. Leaven with just a touch of humor.

“You’re an idiot.” “Men often tell me I’m like you, Father.”

“Men see what they want to see.”

Book Review: Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Warriors of the Storm (The Saxon Stories #9) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“A man does not rid his house of wasps by swatting them one by one, but by finding the nest and burning it.”

As Cornwell delves deeper into the darkness of English history, his stories become more purely fictional. No less fun, but his pattern is clearer. Though these stories necessarily focus on men trying to kill each other, the female characters are realistic and occasionally historical.

“It is not difficult to be a lord … or a king, but it is difficult to be a leader.”

Like Richard Sharp, the hero of Cornwell’s other extended historical fiction series, Uhtred of is something of a Mary Sue. No matter what chances our pagan protagonist takes he always lands on his feet.

“A man who loves his leader will fight better than a man who merely fears him.”

Quibble: Modern phrases sneak into the dialogue occasionally, breaking the spell of the storytelling.

“I will never understand Christians.”

[Spoiler] Gomer’s name betrays her identity.

“For the rest of us the future is a mist and we only see as far as the mist allows.”

Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Four Stars

“The entire criminal code of the state of Kansas boils down to four words: Don’t kill the customers.”

Revising history in a pleasant, readable way. Russell looks deep into the facts behind the tall tales surrounding this Wild West icon and comes up with an engaging story of what John Henry “Doc” Holliday may have been at his best.

“Serious as a snake bite.”

Have read enough of Russell to appreciate how her voice and idioms vary with the time and place of her story. Well done.

“The law can relieve a man of guilt, but not of his remorse.”

Russell also gives insight into the southern state of mind after Reconstruction. A lingering legacy of Radical Republican punishment of the South after the Civil War plays out today.

“Being born is craps. How we live is poker. Mamma played a bad hand well.”

Read the end notes to discover a possible connection between Holliday and Gone with the Wind.

“Dear Lord, please, give him time! Please, Lord, let him finish!” “Now. Now. Now. Take me now.”

Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price

Four Stars

“To them, to kill in revenge was a duty; to forgive the killing of a kinsman sin.”

Excellent science-historical fiction mashup. Avoids the time travel paradox by having travelers visit a past in a world a few dimensions away from our earth, but recognizably similar.

“… always worrying about someone getting hurt, as if people could keep from getting hurt.”

Changes point of view often–paragraph by paragraph–but with sufficient clues to keep the reader oriented. Deep into the minds and emotions of all the principle characters (who vary enough to reflect vastly different mores and experiences), to the point that we understand the motivation and worldview of those we might normally consider villains. Female lead has near-terminal conscience and indecision problems, which makes her the perfect lens into the story.

“Lovers divided by family and feud made good stories, but in life it was nothing but misery.”

Excellent immersion into medieval culture: not just sights and sounds, but smells and taste …. And all that filth. Music and folk tales deepen our cultural engagement. A skilled archer misses; hooray!

“It was like the music stopped and I had no chair.”

Quibble: Land Rovers haven’t had hub caps for decades.

If I had but a swan’s wings

Far over hills and sea I’d fly–

To my true love’s arms I’d fall at last

And in her arms I’d gladly die.