Book Review: Volk by Piers Anthony (Four Stars)


Book Review: Volk by Piers Anthony

(Four Stars)

“My understanding is growing. But not my ease of conscience.” “War is not kind to conscience.”

Anthony introduces counter-intuitive protagonists who embody new interpretations of the cultures clashing in World War Two. All fall far short of stereotypical and personal perfection. Quality is problematic as a Quaker, adherents of that faith Continue reading

Book Review: Letters to America by Tom Blair (Three Stars)


Book Review: Letters to America: Courageous Voices from the Past by Tom Blair

(Three Stars)

“I don’t measure a man by the size of his wallet.”

An insightful collection of “letters” by varying individuals spread through America the last 200 years. Lots of philosophy of living. Follows many characters to their life’s end. Non-chronological order distracts. Writing is good, if obvious. Some humor, but mostly depressing.

“We mortals corrupt the purpose of life, and then we question God’s being.”

Introductions to many letters tells the reader what to think. Semi-autobiographical section marred by Continue reading

Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

(Three Stars)

“He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself.”

For someone who had never seen a battlefield, Crane captured the wild swings of emotions in soldiers before and during battles. Crane vividly portrays the hopes and fears of a recruit facing fire for the first time. His red badge of courage—a wound inflicted by a fellow union soldier—is in fact a mark of his dishonor, but the youth’s early cowardice is the seedbed of his later courage.

“Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the shoulder blades was far more dreadful than Continue reading

Book Review: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary by Anna Elliott (Four Stars)


Book Review: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continued (Pride and Prejudice Chronicles #1) by Anna Elliott

(Three Stars)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young lady of rank and property will have packs of money- or land-hungry suitors yapping around her heels like hounds after a fox.”

On my second reading, I got a totally different impression and therefore have awarded a higher rating. A better-than-average attempt to continue the story Jane Austen began in Pride and Prejudice. Many original characters return with little development; the reader is assumed to already know them. The dénouement is as inevitable as the original.

“I knew I would never in three hundred years work up the nerve for a dramatic confrontation of that kind. Or if I did, I would stand there, red-faced and stammering trying to think of the perfect retort. Which would probably come to me at Continue reading

Book Review: Fires of Alexandria by Thomas K. Carpenter (Three Stars)


Book Review: Fires of Alexandria (Alexandrian Saga #1) by Thomas K. Carpenter

(Three Stars)

“She would transform the city to a place worthy of the title of the City of Miracles. And not the miracles of the temples. Real, practical miracles that would change people’s lives and free them from the tyranny of the gods.”

Entertaining and educational alternate history. Too bad the writing wasn’t up to the premise. Using Alexandria circa 50 AD as his starting point, Carpenter weaves an intriguing “what if” tale of advancing technology, gender liberation, and personal freedom.

“And to see it with my own eyes. Because one cannot always trust what was written in books.”

He gets more right than wrong, though several gaffs are laughable. “Man-sized multi-firing crossbows” are a staple among writers having no idea Continue reading

Book Review: Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt III (Five Stars)


Book Review: Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt III

(Five Stars)

“This is just my government at work. Who is loyal, who is not? Who is a friend and who an enemy? Whoever they say. And the government does not make mistakes.”

Roosevelt shines light on a pivotal time in American history. Not all the World War II drama was on the battlefields; not all the atrocities happened at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; not all the good-old-boy rings were rednecks; not all the heroes wore uniforms.

“You know what I’m saying is right.” “That’s the problem, Eleanor. Everyone knows they’re right. We have law to protect us from our best instincts as well as our worst.” “What rubbish. … You listen to their stories and tell me again that everyone’s right.” “I know the stories. I just came from Tule Lake.”

The best type of historical fiction: hews close to what actually happened, introducing fictional characters and events sparingly to draw it all into one understandable—and dramatic—whole. Events eighty years past might well be medieval for today’s readers.

“What Hoover asks is a betrayal of that trust, of course, but there is a greater one, and I seek to cure it.”

All the major characters willingly break the law to uphold it. Each is self-justified for every action taken. Unfortunately, the protagonist is enough of a society snob (bespoke suits, ready cash, a Packard with tires and gas despite rationing) that many readers won’t identify with him.

“Nobody makes money, my boy. Wealth is not created ex nihilo. The Crash taught us that, if nothing else.”

Most characters accept as axiomatic Keynesian/Marxist dogma that no value is created; it is taken from someone else. The same seems true for other values.

“Law and history are lies we tell ourselves to explain why things should be the way they are.”

Quibbles: Logistics is too easy. Not critical to enjoying the story, but “a procession of black government cars …” or “a long line of Army trucks that assembles …” appear on short notice in the middle of nowhere. Travel is always direct and slowed only for narration. Cash never falls short for resources, even if merely appropriate tennis clothes.

“The story of America is a story of trying to live up to our ideals, of falling short, and of trying again. Thinking about the past is one way we may hope to do better next time.”


Book Review: The Three Kings of Cologne by Kate Sedley (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Three Kings of Cologne (Roger the Chapman #16) by Kate Sedley

(Four Stars)

“Having everything you want’s no good,” she said, “if you’ve got to give your soul in return.”

Excellent medieval mystery, along the lines of the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael. Excellent sense of time and place. Our protagonist is a humble peddler who solves crimes on the side. Leavened with self-depreciating humor.

“Women, I reflected, not for the first time, were the losers in the game of life; the thankless drudges who smoothed the paths of their men.”

Don’t start a series in the middle. Having said that, this sixteenth in the series tells the reader enough to without overloading with backstory. I could be wrong but Continue reading

Book Review: Operation Certain Death by Damien Lewis (Three Stars)


Book Review: Operation Certain Death: The Inside Story of One of the Greatest SAS Battles by Damien Lewis

(Three Stars)

‘This is the point in the operation where dog sees rabbit, and dog is most definitely going to go for it. It is at this moment that Operation Certain Death has become Judgement Day for the West Side Boys.’

Well-told of a successful SAS rescue mission in Sierra Leone. Multiple points of view and roughly straight timeline increases drama. American readers are reminded that other parts of the world are in crisis and other major powers are doing something about it. Other nations don’t come off so well.

‘Be strong. A people that is not ready to die for its liberties loses them … Believe passionately in the ideas and in the way of life for which one is fighting. Liberty deserves to be served with more passion than tyranny.’ André Maurois, Memoirs

Each chapter opens with an appropriate epigram.

‘You haven’t seen these people in action. I have. Believe me, if British forces have to come in and rescue us, this place is finished. There won’t be a building left standing.’ ‘Then that, Major, will be a very good thing.’

Not sure whether to classify this as historical fiction or history. Lewis claims much research and reality behind the story at the same time he admits to fictionalizing much of it.

‘The West Side Boys’ leader had managed to develop such a close and mutually beneficial relationship with one of the Jordanians. Arms-for-diamonds deals. The Jordanian made the cash, the West Side Boys could wreak havoc and mayhem. And now they’d just turned up in the camp with some severed Kamajorheads, courtesy of the Jordanian bullets.’

Tries too hard to render the dialects. Diminishes readability without improving the atmosphere. Four different spellings for the f-word. We know many soldiers cannot communication without liberal profanity but it’s too much.

Operation Barras was a gamble that paid off in the end. It is not a gamble that many of the men would ever want to repeat.’


Book Review: Beyond the Call by Lee Trimble with Jeremy Dronfield (Four Stars)


Book Review: Beyond the Call: The True Story of One World War II Pilot’s Covert Mission to Rescue POWs on the Eastern Front by Lee Trimble with Jeremy Dronfield

(Four Stars)

“It was a horrific time of my life. I don’t know if I can talk about it even now. I saw atrocities. I saw the worst in people. I was deceived into going there—misled and lied to by my own people.” Robert Trimble

Another great story of the war behind the headlines of World War II. Gripping tale of a bomber pilot who volunteered for a mission then discovered he was actually sent to do another. Well told with sufficient background and detail to Continue reading

Book Review: Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla (Three Stars)


Book Review: Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla

(Three Stars)

“The Indian boy lay hidden in the tall grass.”

Sugar-coated version of contact between native Americans and English explorers and settlers. A young reader’s book published in 1954. Disregarding all the historical inaccuracies—not to mention politically incorrect vocabulary—it still serves its function to entertain as well as, perhaps, encourage further reading.

Little is actually known about the native American who, speaking English, welcomed the Pilgrims at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Intense journalists that the Pilgrims were, his role with them is well documented. Before that, not so much. Bulla’s version is supported Continue reading