Title: The Martyr Author: Liam O’Flaherty Genre: Depressing Historical Fiction Pages: 216 Rating: 3 of 5
This fictionalized account of the capture of a small town in Ireland requires a basic understanding of the Irish Civil War. The edition that I read included a basic overview in the introduction, but my knowledge of Irish history was sketchy enough that I had to supplement from Wikipedia.
This falls into the “War is stupid and depressing and twists people into something ugly” category of war fiction rather than the “honor, heroism, and glory!” variety. O’Flaherty examines the character, motivations, and ideologies of people on both sides of the brother-against-brother conflict. Characters range from a vengeful atheistic communist soldier of fortune to a pacifistic religious officer with a martyr complex (both on the same side) and every shade of zealotry, nationalism, and religiosity in between. There is as much conflict within most of the characters as there is between characters (pacifism vs. patriotism, vengeance vs. love, faith vs. fear, etc.)
After a lot of angry disillusioned “ugliness and heartbreak of civil war and macho soldiers” stuff, the story devolves into an increasingly outrageous faith vs. atheism confrontation which ends with neither side in a particularly flattering light. I appreciated the book for a look at a part of history I hadn’t read about before and for some astute observations about the darker side of human nature, but it certainly wasn’t an enjoyable read.
Title: Damn Lucky: One Man’s Courage During the Bloodiest Military Campaign in Aviation History Author: Kevin Maurer Genre: WW2 History Pages: 320 Rating: 4 of 5 Future Release Date: April 19, 2022 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via Netgalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)
My grandfather was the waist gunner in a B-17 during World War 2. He rarely talked about it, but after he passed away we found a certificate declaring him a member of “The Lucky Bastard Club” for surviving 25 missions over Germany. When I saw this book about a pilot (John “Lucky” Luckadoo) with the same experience I had to read it.
The overall style of the book is a bit uneven. Parts read like a relatively impersonal history book and other parts seem very informal and reads a bit like a “docudrama” in that the author seems to be filling in what his subjects “must have been thinking/feeling” (unless he’s working off amazingly detailed interviews from someone with an incredibly precise memory).
Stylistic oddity aside, I found the subject matter riveting. The author manages to give a sense of the helpless doing-my-duty-and-waiting-to-die feeling of flying repeated WW2 bombing runs. It’s truly amazing that anyone survived the “magic number” 25 missions! This is well worth a read if you are into military history.
I’ve never done this before on this site, but a close family friend is in desperate need of help. He has been dealing with cardiac and GI issue for the last year, including three major life-saving surgeries and at least four other hospitalizations. During that time, he has been largely unable to work…a couple times he was cleared to work, secured a job, and ended up right back in the hospital within weeks.
His recovery is not going well, as he is still frail, needs a cane to get around (and he is only 40ish years old), and seems to spend more time in the hospital than out. my family and I are trying to raise funds via GoFundMe for his ongoing medical bills and other monthly bills so that he at least doesn’t have that pressure nagging at him along with everything else.
Thank you for any help you can provide via this link!
Here is a picture of Dan from a couple years ago when we had a family outing to see the latest Star Wars movie:
Title: Black Wings of Cthulhu 3 Editor: S. T. Joshi Genre: Cosmic Horror Pages: 400 Rating: 3 of 5
Despite having Cthulhu in the title, the Black Wings short story collections feature fewer appearances of Lovecraft’s alien-god-monsters than most cosmic horror collections. They aren’t absent by any means, but S. T. Joshi tends to avoid stories that he considers to be mere Lovecraftian pastiches. Instead, he collects stories that deal with cosmic horror themes (e.g. the utter insignificance of humanity in the face of a vast uncaring cosmos) that may or may not feature Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, and company and may or may not be set in Innsmouth, Arkham, Miskatonic University, etc.. That said, there is enough Lovecraftian name dropping that a person not acquainted with the mythos will probably miss the full impact of some of the stories (some of it gets pretty meta).
One of the things that I like about cosmic horror is that (unlike a lot of horror) it doesn’t usually rely on graphic gore or sex for its thrills and chills. Unfortunately, that doesn’t hold true for all of the stories in this collection, so that was a bit of a disappointment. Overall, this was a pretty typical S. T. Joshi-edited collection. Personally, I think that he is a bit of a snob who takes Lovecraft waaaay too seriously, but he does know how to pick well-written stories.
Title: The Travels Authors: Marco Polo & Rustichello da Pisa Genre: Classic Travelogue Pages: 480 Rating: 2.5 of 5
I read this for the Nonfiction Classic category, but there were enough obvious fabrications and scholarly footnotes noting embellishments and errors that its “nonfiction” status is borderline. However, that’s pretty par for the course for ancient and medieval history books (looking at you, Herodotus!), so I think it counts.
I have read a few other ancient and medieval histories (Thucydides, Arian, various sagas, etc.) and found them mostly informative and enjoyable. Marco Polo, not so much. The seemingly endless catalogue of the climate, religion, political allegiance, natural resources, and market goods of each region through which he travels becomes tedious very quickly.
There are some descriptions of interesting (though not always especially believable) political maneuvering, cultural practices, legends, and cityscapes. You get some sense of what life was like in and around Kublai Khan’s empire but filtered through Marco’s (and Rustichello’s) sycophancy, self-aggrandizement, and ethnocentrism.
I can see why people of his era who were unlikely to ever travel into “mysterious and exotic” Asia would be fascinated by this eyewitness testimony, but it falls kind of flat today unless you’re a historian trying to pick it apart for historical goodies.
Title: Ivanhoe Author: Sir Walter Scott Genre: Classic Historical Fiction Pages: 528 Rating: 3.5 of 5
For the 19th century classic category, I reread Ivanhoe. This is a melodramatic, over-romanticized “Knights in shining armor and outlaws in Sherwood Forest” piece of escapist fluff…and it’s pretty fun if you want a mindless classic read. The author does deal with a serious theme of the evils and foolishness of antisemitism (somewhat muddied by his own portrayal of an important Jewish characters using all the prevailing negative stereotypes), but mostly the book is an excuse to string together all the “age of chivalry” and Robin Hood tropes that you can imagine. If you are willing to roll your eyes and go with the flow, it’s worth a read (though I prefer R. L. Stevenson’s The Black Arrow).
Title: The Goblin Emperor Author: Katherine Addison Genre: Court Intrigue Fantasy (possibly YA) Pages: 449 Rating: 4.5 of 5
This book pleasantly surprised me. The original cover and publicity blurb made me think it was some sort of cutesy YA fantasy clone, but a fellow book blogger’s rave review convinced me to give it a shot. There were a few of the usual YA tropes (teenage outsider whose parents are dead and who doesn’t want the role that has been thrust upon him), but it never descended into the obnoxious whining pity party and simplistic plotting/characterization that I think of as characteristically YA.
Maia, the unloved youngest half-goblin son of the elf emperor has been raised in obscurity far from court, but he is suddenly thrust onto the throne when the emperor and all of his other heirs die in a catastrophic accident. The rest of the book follows the challenges of growing into this role while navigating (potentially deadly) court intrigue.
In my experience, fantasy books that center on political maneuvering tend to be either cynical grimdark dystopias or trashy romance novels disguised as fantasy. This was neither as Maia brings kindness, warmth, and wisdom to the table. There’s plenty of awkwardness, self-doubt, and grief along the way, but this is the story of a refreshingly good-hearted young man.
If you are looking for high action, you’ll want to go elsewhere. If you need a break from angsty anti-hero fantasy this book is a breath of fresh air.
Title: Classic Monsters Unleashed Authors: 30 of “the biggest names in the genre” (according to Amazon) Editor: James Aquilone Genre: Horror Story Anthology Pages: 443 Rating: 3.5 of 5 Future Publication Date: July 12, 2022 (Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review.)
Your enjoyment of this collection will hinge quite a bit on how much you know and appreciate classic monster stories, especially as they have been portrayed on the big screen. With most of the entries you need at least a passing knowledge of the original (or classic screen-adapted) version for the “unleashed” story to really make sense.
There is good variety in the monsters/creatures featured across the collection. I think that Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and werewolves are the only ones to make multiple appearances with 2-3 apiece (pretty impressive in a collection of 29 stories).
That being said, most of the plots fell into just a handful of categories used in various combinations:
Classic monster returns to cause more mayhem.
Try to guess which monster this is about before the big reveal…
Recast monster as misunderstood victim and/or hero as the villain.
Gender swap characters.
Engage in social commentary on gender or race.
I preferred the stories that built on the already-established characters rather than completely re-imagining them, but that’s just my personal taste.
Stylistically, this was a mixed bag. Some stories felt stilted, as if the author was just phoning it in and checking off the boxes needed to make a creature feature. Others demonstrated creativity and variety in language usage (including annoying but clever use of textspeak in Dacre Stoker’s offering). I would say that the well-written outnumber the “meh.”
Overall, this is worth a read if you are into classic monster horror. However, as with many bulky themed anthologies, you might want to take some time between stories so that they don’t start to sound repetitive.
Title: A Scanner Darkly Author: Philip K. Dick Genre: Drugged-out Sci-Fi Pages: 304 Rating: 2.5 of 5
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with a bunch of people who are slowly destroying themselves through drug use, this is the book for you. While it includes definite sci-fi elements (e.g. undercover narcs wear “scramble suits” that completely hide their identity when interacting with other law enforcement), it is primarily PKD’s semi-autobiographical portrayal of the 70’s drug scene.
We are presented with a constant stream of paranoia, delusion, mania, lust, deception, desperation, crime, and any other form of mental illness and misery you can think of. Law enforcement and rehab people serve as little more than sources of additional cruelty, misery, and corruption. I suppose that this has value in that it gives a gritty inside look into the world of addiction and mental illness, but it was just plain depressing and hopeless. This is my third PKD book, and I’m pretty much done with him…writing skill and cool concepts aren’t enough to keep my coming back to his bleakness and cynicism.
I’m back! My wife still has quite a ways to go in her recovery, but we’re out of the woods. So, for the first time in a few weeks, here are a couple short reviews. These are books that I read for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
Title: The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who Was Born in Newgate, and During a Life of Continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, Besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife (Whereof Once to her Own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at Last Grew Rich, Liv’d Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from Her Own Memorandums. (aka Moll Flanders) Author: Daniel Defoe (Probably) Genre: Classic Picaresque Pages: 376 Rating: 3.5 of 5
The full title pretty much sums up the book (and should probably come with a *SPOILERS* tag). Like a lot of picaresque novels, mixed in with our hero’s roguish adventures is satirical commentary on the “polite society” that has led her to this lifestyle. The whole thing feels a bit tongue-in-cheek as Moll’s “penitent” confession of her wickedness frequently has an undertone of pride in her own cleverness. I’m really not quite sure what to make of the book, but I enjoyed it overall.
This starts out as a captivating (if saddening) tale of a young man torn between loyalty to his unscrupulous oil magnate father and his friends (and other workers) exploited by the oil industry. It shines a light on the abuses and corruption in the oil industry and provides a largely sympathetic look at the broad spectrum of union, socialist, and communist movements in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, after a certain point, heavy-handed socialist propaganda (with plenty of sneering at religion and even an encouraging nod toward Soviet Bolshevism) pretty much drowns out any actual compelling story.
It’s going on two weeks since I posted anything, so this is just a quick check-in to let you know that the blog isn’t dead. Corona finally found our house; the one family member who has preexisting breathing issues is the lucky one to catch a breakthrough case. No hospitalization yet but things are a bit touch-and-go so please keep us in your prayers and I’ll be back to book-blogging at some point.