Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

(Four Stars)

“Travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”

In 1867 young Samuel Clemens joined one of the first cruises for an extended voyage from New York City to the Holy Land. He serialized his impressions as they went, then sold the aggregate as a book. It was his best-selling book during his lifetime.

“The impressible memento-seeker was pecking at the venerable sarcophagus [inside Cheop’s Pyramid] with his sacrilegious hammer.”

Regular readers of Twain will enjoy this cynical, but less bitter younger version. Despite distancing himself from the “pilgrims” (conservative New England Christians who were the bulk of the party), Twain betrays many of the prejudices of the day. He was particularly critical of the Americans defacing ruins, taking mementos.

“One must travel to learn. Every day now old Scripture phrases that never possessed any significance for me take to themselves a meaning.” (at Beth-El)

I affirm that many of his impressions of the Mediterranean and Levant are Continue reading

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Book Review: Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Artificial Condition (Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells

(Five Stars)

“You need to make better threats.” “I don’t make threats, and I’m just telling you what I’m going to do.”

Love the voice! For having no emotions, he’s so funny.

“Being asked to stay, with a please and an option for refusal, hit me almost as hard as a human asking for my opinion and actually listening to me.”

He’s not a murderous rogue robot; he’s a security unit who has hacked his control module. Self-controlled. An augmented human, human-killing machine construct, a cyborg perhaps. But not a murderbot. Just as comfort units are not Continue reading

Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

(Four Stars)

“You’re going to have to learn to lie.” “I feel like I’m here to tell the truth.” “Yeah, but not now.”

Hilarious. Sacrilegious, yes. Teen boy humor, yes. Speculative, yes. Historically unsupported, yes. What’s your point? It’s humor. Well-conceived and well-executed. The more familiar one is with the Bible, the more one will get the joke. Many subtle references.

“I don’t know the Torah as well as you, Joshua, but I don’t remember God having a sense of humor.” “He gave me you for a friend, didn’t he?”

Hidden among the slapstick is a sensitive, introspective look at religion in general and Christianity in particular. Moore borrows elements from Continue reading

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Three Stars

“I have a plan.” “A plan? Your plans are … uh … should I hide somewhere?”

The good news is that Andy Weir is not a one hit wonder; he writes gripping, realistic science fiction. The bad news is his reliance on profanity to express his characters. (Cost him a star.) Good plotting, good foreshadowing. The usual superabundance of happy coincidences and good luck

“People trust a reliable criminal more readily than a shady businessman.”

Jasmine is a totally unsympathetic character. If anything she’s pathetic. Given choices, she will always take the more self-centered and antisocial. It’s hard to like her, but she has grit and standards. A wet, shivering, but rabid pit bull puppy.

“I only forgave you because I thought I was going to die.”

Quibbles: Pressurized oxygen pipe on the moon’s surface? “We don’t have weather.” But you do have meteorites. “I might have been on the run my whole life, but I wasn’t willing to go without email.” (Will email exist in 10 years, let alone 60 or 70?)

“When does your victimhood expire?”

Weir understands economics better than some Nobel laureates I could name.

“Building a civilization is ugly, Jasmine. But the alternative is no civilization at all.”

Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter (Riyria Chronicles #4) by Michael J, Sullivan

Four Stars

“Are you two always like this?” “He is,” they both said in unison.

Perhaps the best Riyria book yet. Both Royce and Hadrian have more depth. Their relationship is more complex. The storytelling, especially the inner dialogue, is superb. Several distinct and distinctive female characters. Sullivan clearly signals changes in point-of-view character. Why not five stars? See my quibble.

“You just hate being happy.” “I have no idea. What’s it like?”

For those unfamiliar with Riyria (Royce and Hadrian) the fourth book of the second series seems the wrong place to try them out. Not so. Winter’s Daughter is a self-contained, rich Continue reading

Book Review: Age of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Age of Swords (Legends of the First Empire #2) by Michael J. Sullivan

Five Stars

“Some things are unimaginable right up until you are looking at them, and even then, you might not want to believe. Love is that way, so is death.”

If anything, better than the first book, Age of Myths. Superficially Sullivan is not an epic fantasy writer like Rothfuss or Tolkien, but he weaves an excellent story amid afresh, if derivative world. Part of the fun is his tongue-in-cheek homages to classic fantasy.

“I hated my brothers. Dead for three years and they’re still trying to kill me.”

Satisfying conclusion with appropriate hooks into the next stories. Well done. Leavened with humor. Not so much as the Riyria stores, but enough. Waited for second volume for magic school, hooray! And the training was organic, taking the reader inside Continue reading

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Genius may have its limits but stupidity is not thus handicapped.”

Extraordinary writing. A rich blend of science fiction with philosophic inquiry. The casts (there are two stories, tangentially connected) are deeply and realistically developed to clash, promote, love and hate one another. A first-contact story of the best kind. Humor.

“None of you will ever know what it was like and I promise you: you don’t want to know.”

Folded timeline irritates at first, but is gradually revealed to be Continue reading

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (Five Stars)

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Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Five Stars

“How can anyone spend their whole life longing for the day when they become superfluous?”

Incredible portrait of a very credible man. I know him! What can I tell you without giving too much away? A great example of in media res, dropping the reader into the middle of things and letting him sort it out as it zips past him. In the case of Ove, no matter how fast the world zips by, he takes it at a walking pace.

“He’d been a grumpy old man since he started elementary school, they insisted.”

Yeah, it’s PC, but that goes without saying for Right-Thinking people these days. Ove is not an Archie Bunker, however. He’s a finely drawn character.

“It is difficult to admit one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.”

Many pithy epigrams; even more signals to stop and consider. Funny, but thought provoking.

“You only need one ray of hope to chase all the shadows away.”

They don’t make men like Ove any more, at least not very many of them. I have had honor of knowing several, one of whom I’m related to.

“Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say.”

That business about Saabs and Volvos? Absolutely true. It even played out in America in Minnesota and Michigan at one time. (I have owned one of each, which makes me apostate. To be fair, my first example must have been built on Monday morning in Trollhättan.)

“And that laughter of hers, which, for the rest of his life, would make him feel as if someone was running around barefoot on the inside of his breast.”

Movie Review: Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins

Four Stars

“You have been my greatest love. Today you become my greatest sadness. Be careful, Diana. They do not deserve you.”

I grew up under a rock. I never read a Wonder Woman comic book, nor many others. So I don’t know what’s canonical and what’s blasphemy, but this is a cogent whole. For an action movie it’s pretty good.

“A pair of glasses, and suddenly she’s not the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”

Nice fish-out-water sub-theme about Diana in 1917 Europe. And also a moderately funny romantic subplot. Etta, I assume, is comic relief. Steve’s friends are the mixed bag expected of modern storytelling and, in the context, is not less believable than the rest of it. In contrast to other cinema superheros, Diana is positive and self-confident. She is a force for good and happy in that role.

“It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

 

Book Review: Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien de Castell

Four Stars

“Yes, I’m trusting our lives to that fat slug, and yes, of course, he’s going to betray us.”

A little grittier than the first in this series. Classic epic fantasy with a side order of humor. Not heavy reading nor great literature, but enjoyable. Interestingly, all the transformational characters are female. The men are who they are, though Falcio’s struggle is being who he really is.

“The truth that makes our courage fail and our hearts surrender. That we fear most is simply ourselves.”

The stakes are higher and the odds lower, and the protagonist has a one-liner for every occasion. Good story telling. Fun interaction between characters.

“Love isn’t a cage.”

Countless epigrams: some witty, some pithy, some memorable. Like the cover art.

“Happiness is … grains of sand spread out in a desert of violence and anguish.”