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

25489447

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: Beren and Lúthien by J. R. R. Tolkien (Four Stars)

41015249._sy475_

Book Review: Beren and Lúthien (Middle-Earth Universe) by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

(Four Stars)

“He greatly regretted having used the word ‘Elves’, which has become ‘overloaded with regrettable tones’ that are ‘too much to overcome’. Years later, when the Elves of the Third Age had entered the history of Middle-earth, there was nothing ‘fairylike’, in the modern sense, about them.”

First published in 2017, long after the story of the title dyad appeared in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion in 1977, this volume explores the story of the story. Christopher Tolkien mines his father’s literary compost heap to dig out Continue reading

Book Review: Splintered Light: Tolkien’s World by Verlyn Flieger (Five Stars)

19185268

Book Review: Splintered Light: Tolkien’s World, Revised Edition by Verlyn Flieger

(Five Stars)

“Tolkien’s work is more relevant to the world today than it appeared to be when The Lord of the Rings was first published in the mid-1950s. Reader initially enchanted by its fantasy world return again and again to the story for its soberer reflection of the real one.”

Drawing from the entire corpus of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work and influencers such as Owen Barfield, Flieger opens the greater vista of Tolkien’s created universe, especially as it relates to his (and our) own world. First published in 1983 and heavily revised in 2012 as more posthumous works were published, Light analyzes Tolkien and his world.

The Silmarillion can be fully understood without reference to The Lord of the Rings, but Continue reading

Book Review: Sergeant York by Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill (Three Stars)

40122361._sy475_

Book Review: Sergeant York: His Own Life Story and War Diary by Alvin C. York and Tom Skeyhill

(Four Stars)

“I only did my duty to God and my country, and every man should do this.”

The true story of an extraordinary man of conscience who also happened to be an incredible shot with a rifle. York’s struggle with the conflicting dictates of his faith and his patriotism is perhaps a more compelling story that his battlefield exploits, and those—though documented—are so incredible as to seem like pulp fiction.

“Great care has been taken to preserve his mountain dialect.”

Writing this in York’s semi-literate dialect may have played well in the 1920s, but today’s reader will find it obscure and dishonest. This is obviously Continue reading

Book Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot (Five Stars)

Review: “‘No Pagan ever loved his god’: Tolkien, Thompson, and the beautification of the Gods,” by Megan Fontenot

(Five Stars)

“We, who love the gods, do not worship them. The ancients, who worshipped the gods, did not love them. Whence is this?” Thompson

An insightful investigation of the influence of Catholic mystic Francis Thompson on the worldview and writings of J. R. R. Tolkien. Because not only the ancient pagans but modern Christians no longer love their god, this investigation reverberates with immediacy. Not that Tolkien agreed with Thompson at every step, but that Thompson may have introduced some themes and conclusions Tolkien spent his life exploring.

“We are grown older and must face the fact. The poetry of these old things remains being immortal, but no longer for us is the intoxication of both poetry and belief.” Tolkien

Fontenot’s award-winning essay is written as if to discourage readers. Eschewing simple, straight-forward wording, she tortures the reader with convoluted sentences common to academia.

“Elves are there (in Tolkien’s tales) to demonstrate the difference” between “the devices and operations of the enemy” (magic), and “those of the Elves,” and that “their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations: more effective, more quick, more complete. And its object is Art not Power.”

Read it anyway. It’s worth the effort. Quotes from the essay may give a feel for the scope of the essay, but neither this review nor the excerpts to justice to the richness of the work.

“Absolute Nature not in our life, now yet is lifeless, but lives in the life of God: and in so far, and so far merely, as man himself lives in that life, does he come into sympathy with Nature, and Nature with him.” Thompson

“I think that … he understands his impulse to appropriate pagan stories as the impulse toward redemption. To find the good and true at the heart of paganism, in this framework, is to participate in the work of redemption and evangelium—but throughout time rather than space.” Fontenot

“All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.” Tolkien

Book Review: Tap Code by Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry (Five Stars)

46390514._sy475_

Book Review: Tap Code: The Epic Survival Tale of a Vietnam POW and the Secret Code that Changed Everything by Carlyle S. Harris and Sara W. Berry

(Five Stars)

“I am convinced that there is a reason for all of this. Whatever the reason, I am sure we can use this time to become emotionally and spiritually stronger.” Excerpted from Smitty’s first letter to reach Louise, Sep 1965.

Ruminations on the nature of integrity and struggle. Starting with the moment “Smitty” Harris was shot down on April 5, 1965, he and his wife Louise take the reader moment by moment through eight years of combat of a different sort than either imagines they would fight. Treated as criminals instead of prisoners of war, Harris and hundreds of other POWs (including Vietnamese and Thais) suffered starvation, deprivation, and intense psychological and physical abuse, though their captors tried to not inflict obvious wounds.

“If Smitty can do what he is doing right now, I can do this.” Louise

A compelling and well-told history. Told in a conversation voice. Folded timeline confuses. Digressions inside digressions. Needed on more Continue reading

Book Review: Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kochler (Five Stars)

1833117._sy475_

Book Review: Master of Middle-Earth: The Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul H. Kochler

(Five Stars)

“Tolkien was an ecologist, hater of ‘progress,’ lover of handicrafts, detester of war long before such attitudes became fashionable.”

Extraordinary literary criticism. I wish I read this book forty years ago. (Published in 1972, before many of Tolkien’s extended Middle-Earth stories, like The Silmarillion.) Though I have read most of Tolkien’s canon and many books about him, I gained many insights.

“Probably every writer making a secondary world … hopes that the peculiar qualities of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from reality or are flowing into it. The peculiar quality of ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as Continue reading

Book Review: Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s No Limit by Lori van Pelt (Four Stars)

8491278

Book Review: Amelia Earhart: The Sky’s No Limit by Lori van Pelt

(Four Stars)

“Please know I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” (From letter Amelia Earhart wrote and sealed before her world-circling trip.)

Well-written biography of an extraordinary person. Amelia Earhart was bigger than life; she had vision and ability far beyond many women and men of her day. Van Pelt compiles both how much Amelia accomplished but also her goals and ambitions along the way. Much coverage of her disappearance. Not without her warts—she may not have been the best flyer around, but she was among the gutsiest.

“I wanted to fly because I wanted to; not because advance publicity compelled me.” AE

Earhart and many of her contemporaries struggled with Continue reading

Book Review: Elegant Etiquette of the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James (Three Stars)

38234407._sy475_

Book Review: Elegant Etiquette of the Nineteenth Century by Mallory James

(Three Stars)

“The interest is in politeness, not pretension.”

Well-researched and written overview of the standards and changes in etiquette in nineteenth century England. Exhaustive survey not only of etiquette itself but what it tells us about social change and the people of that century.

“Behaving with perfect propriety and civility required no small amount of effort.”

Fortunately, brief as readers will quickly tire of detailed recitations of which authority declaimed which standard and how they might disagree.

“The paying of calls and the leaving of cards can be viewed as a ritual which kept social interaction turning.”

Why would a twenty-first century American read such a book? To ground on in the mores of a society about which mountains of literature and popular media still appear. From Jane Austin to Charles Dickens to Arthur Conan Doyle, appreciating authors of that century expands as one understands the milieu in which their fiction was set.

“When it comes to the behavior of ladies and gentlemen in the nineteenth century, we have to take into account that people were simply people.”

Book Review: Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley (Four Stars)


28264059._sy475_

Book Review: Behind the Scenes: Or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley

(Four Stars)

“Mrs. Lincoln may have been imprudent, but since here intentions were good, she should be judged more kindly than she has been.”

An extraordinary primary source of the 1860s. Elizabeth Keckley, born into slavery in Virginia, managed to buy her freedom by her skill as a seamstress and the help of friends white and black. She set up business in Washington, D. C., and eventually become modiste and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln.

“Mrs. Lincoln’s foresight in regard to the future was only confined to cast-off clothing, as she owed, at the time of the President’s death, different store bills amounting to seventy thousand dollars.”

“The Republican politicians must pay my debts. Hundreds of them are immensely rich off the patronage of my husband, and it is but fair that they should help me out of my embarrassment.” Mary Todd Lincoln

That Mary Todd Lincoln was the source and embodiment of her own troubles is not denied. Rather Keckley draws attention to those who tried to help the trouble woman, and those who did not.

“I believe that I could then have forgiven everything for the sake of one kind word. But the kind word was not proffered.”

A mirror of an age. Some of her revelations are unexpected. Notice the apparent contradiction between the previous and following quotations.

“You do not know the Southern people as well as I do—how warm is the attachment between master and slave.”

Keckley visited her former owners after the war, in apparent harmony.

“Even I, who was once a slave, who have been punished with the cruel lash, who have experienced the heart and soul tortures of a slave’s life, can say to Mr. Jefferson Davis, “Peace! You have suffered! Go in peace.”

Sadly, after this was published in 1868, Mrs. Lincoln suffered more tragedy, with the death of her youngest son, Tad, in 1871. She never recovered.

“What a sublime picture was this! A ruler of a mighty nation going to the pages of the Bible with simple Christian earnestness for comfort and courage, and finding both in the darkest hours of a nation’s calamity.”