Review: The Tightrope Walker, by Dorothy Gilman

A mystery novel set in the 1970’s. A timid and emotionally clobbered young woman steps out of her comfort zone to solve a cold case from the past. In doing so she learns about who she really is.

Because cell phones just wouldn’t have fit the narrative.

It seems strange that it’s set in the 1970’s but you’ll easily see why the narrative wouldn’t fit the days of cell phones. Once you realize the timeframe it’s really touching. The book embraces a hippie vibe, but the characters are drawn beautifully and the pacing is perfect. The line that sticks is one in which the protagonist Amelia, muses about her broken and tragic childhood:

Sometimes I think we’re all like tightrope walkers. We walk along, but then we looked down and suddenly we just know.

Later a line affirms, “There’s tragedy in everyone’s life.”

Another highlight this book contains a book within a book, rather excerpts of a fantasy novel. Interestingly, Dorothy Gilman went on to write that novel, The Maze in The Heart of The Castle.” Sadly it’s out of print now; ironic because it’s namesake was out of print within this novel.

This book is great for light reading with a romance and a bit of mystery. If you’re looking for a deep spiritual read this isn’t it. 3/5

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Pre-order recommended

With a new Andrew Klavan book on the horizon I thought I should go back and review When Christmas Comes, the first in the series. The new book coming soon is A Strange Habit of Mind, and I already recommend you preorder so that the author continues this series. See my review of When Christmas Comes.

Review: Speechless

Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds by Michael Knowles

This book discusses in detail the origin of politically correct speech and how words influence culture. Even people who totally disagree with the “PC police” end up using and being influenced by speech codes. In fact, Knowles’ premise is that the far left – starting with communists and radicals from Karl Marx onward – have purposely used speech to write the narrative. It’s a very startling assertion, and each chapter crafts a story in support of his premise. For example, one chapter, entitled “Campus Codes and Coercion,” explains the rise of safe spaces and speech codes on college campuses. It’s rather depressing.

Part of what Knowles says here, and on his podcase “The Michael Knowles Show” is that we have to have some kind of standards. The problem right now is that the standards are being enforced by people who do not have “the common good” in mind. It’s about control. But just saying “all speech is protected” doesn’t get us anywhere and won’t counteract cancel culture – we have to provide an alternative.

I recommend it if you enjoy a very scholarly essay full of facts and events.

I don’t recommend if you need a very fast-paced book to get the gist. For the latter group, I recommend his podcast, he’s very easy to listen to. But he does have a very conservative and Catholic worldview.

3.5/5

Review: The Emperor’s Sword, by Andrew Klavan

The Emperor’s Sword by Andrew Klavan

This novel is the satisfying conclusion to a fantasy thriller by Andrew Klavan. Writing a “Christian” fantasy is a perilous task, and this trilogy takes its time setting up the this alternate universe towards its conclusion. Much like the Narnia story centered around the stone table, you could just read this on a superficial level and overlook the mystical allegory, but that would be missing the point. The payoff of this trilogy is Austin’s transformation. More recently Klavan has gone back to writing mystery novels – such as When Christmas Comes, but I hope he’ll write more novels like this one, if only to show how it’s skillfully done.

Austin Lively continues to transfer from one reality to another: from our world, present-day California, and Galliana, a medieval magical fantasy world with talking animals, nymphs, and wizards. And across both realities, the evil wizard Curtin, setting all the violence and destruction in motion in both realities.

The unlikely hero Austin finally reaches the Emperor’s Army in the East, but unfortunately just in time to find that the Emperor has been murdered. Now it’s up to Austin – an erstwhile LA failure and nobody – to stand up for justice and mercy, but still fight against Curtin. His transformation is indeed the payoff of this story, but you’d have to read it to find out what happens.

Again, I don’t think this story is too “political,” but it is ultimately a defense of the Christian worldview. It’s so well-written, however, that it doesn’t feel like a sermon. Worth at least one read, twice is even better.

Pros: Story, characters and setting all expertly drawn. Pacing is usually excellent!

Cons: The pacing really slows down after the fencing competition. Might have been on purpose but that part feels plodding. And some people might not like the mystical allegory of Austin’s transformation.

Score: 4.5/5

Review: The Nightmare Feast

By Andrew Klavan

The second in the series this novel packs a satisfying punch. Of these books, this one may be the best, although you wouldn’t want to miss the very end of this series. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, let me say that the actual titular feast is a deeply disturbing analogy of hell, and Austin’s horror and dread drive him to desperation as he struggles with finding a way out.

I was concerned that Klavan might change the “criteria” for escape, in order to get Austin out of there. Thankfully he didn’t.

By now we’re starting to understand both the strange medieval fantasyland of Galiana – the alternate universe the protagonist steps into—and his mission in the real world, Los Angeles. Both worlds are frightening and crazy, with acts of kindness and nobility appearing in unexpected places. I love it.

This novel is almost perfectly paced, and the ending is a great set up for the next one, The Emperor’s Sword. 4.5/5

Con: you have to read the first in the series to have any idea of what’s going on.

Pro: Even better than the first, Another Kingdom.

Review: Novella – By Divine Right

By Divine Right by Patrick Carr

The first of 5 volumes; this is a novella that introduces us to a strange medieval fantasy world and a self-doubting detective, a reeve, named Willet Dura. His job in the King’s guard is to help patrol the city of Bunard,  which rules the kingdom of Collum. During most days, he patrols the poor quarter, trying to help the people of the city, many of whom he sees as friends. But sometimes he wakes up – in the night or the next day – with evidence that he’s been sleepwalking. Discovering a murder in the city after most of these nightwalks, there is usually enough evidence to exonerate him. But not always. And thus “Doubt can eat a whole right through a man.”

His life takes a very different turn when an investigation of the death of an elderly cleric, thought to have been a stroke, turns into a mystery which threatens his King, puts Willet Dura in mortal danger, and unleashes the forces of darkness itself.

I like the mystery aspect of the book as well as the tie-in to some religious, alt-universe Catholic precepts. But it’s not doctrinal and you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the nuances. Please note I’m not advocating for a return to monarchy or anything like that.

Pros – fast-paced, clear cut plot, short introduction to this strange medieval world.  A protagonist that you can’t help but root for (which segues into the next book in the series, The Shock of Night).

Cons – long descriptions of some of the geography of the city, which some may not like; and the romance that brews in the novella might be a turn-off to some.

4.0/5

Upcoming

Essay on What makes a good fantasy trilogy

Speculative essay on time travel.

Additional reviews, considering some classics and newer works as well:

  • The Tightrope Walker, by Dorothy Gilman
  • The Nightmare Feast, by Andrew Klavan
  • The Emperor’s Sword, by Andrew Klavan
  • Ringworld, by Larry Niven
  • CS Lewis: ‘Till We Have Faces, Space Trilogy, the Great Divorce, Narnia
  • JRR Tolkien: Lord of the Rings, Silmarillion
  • Glory Season, David Brin
  • Terry Pratchett, Circle

Non-fiction:

  • Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds, Michael Knowles

Inspirational:

Comforting the Heart of Jesus, by Fr. Gaitley

Review: Another Kingdom, Andrew Klavan

Another Kingdom

An epic tale about a Hollywood nobody whose mission is to become a hero – unwilling and unlikely. It’s the first in a trilogy and set in LA but also in an alternate realm, the titular universe where the Forest King sends a big rat with a woman’s face to rescue our dislocated protagonist from prison – and an enraged ogre, an affable executioner / interrogator, and a shit monster. Yes, a monster made of excrement. The protagonist, a 30 year old aspiring screenwriter, is Austin Lively. He’s tossed back and forth between LA and the fantasy land, Galiana. Faced with a quest in each of these realities, he finally begins to think they are related.

It’s not your typical book. Engrossing, with all sorts of mythical characters like nymphs and fairies, but in LA, drunken has beens, desperate actors, and of course, the rich and powerful – Hollywood’s elite. The cast of characters is substantial, and I’ve listed most of them below. I thought the book was straight forward but shared the book with a young relative of mine who said it was “too political.” That surprised me as I thought the cultural commentary was spot on. Your results may vary.

I love this story and the distinct, realistic characters. At least, they’re pretty realistic in LA. However, Galiana, the other realm in which the protagonist is intermittently transported to without warning throughout the book, is more of a Narnia – esque place. But the events there are terrible, even horrifying.

I loved this book. I read it three times. And I think, for me anyway, the point is we have to live well – like knights on a quest – and appreciate the pure, true, and beautiful. We have to reject selfishness, and perhaps the self-centeredness of the modern age. Whether you want to put a more political spin on it is entirely up to the you, gentle reader. 5/5

*****

List of characters (partial)

In Hollywood:

A reader – “story consultant.” Austin Lively. (read by Michael Knowles).

Candy – his boss

Ken – Candy’s assistant

Jane Janeway

Schuler (“Skyler”)

Kitten Face, Billiard Ball – thugs tailing Austin.

Sean Gunther – author, who submitted request for Another Kingdom the novel within the novel. Wrote ONE great novel.

Ellen Evermore, mysterious author of Another Kingdom, the novel within the novel

(Henry Quint – head of Mythos entertainment)

Serge Orasgo, multi-trilionaire – owns Global Pictures.

Austin’s brother  —- Richard Lively – senior Fellow at the Orosgo Institute Think Tank and renowned author.

Austin’s parents —-

   Father – Psychology Chair at Berkley

   Mother – Sociology professor at Berkley

Austin’s sister —- Riley Lively. You-tuber, vlogger, conspiracy theorist extraordinaire.

In Galiana

Eastrim, the capital city of Galiana, with Lord Iron in control

Netherdale – home of Lady Betheray

Austin Lively (of course) His mission in the fantasy world, “To find the queen’s talisman and deliver it to Emperor Anastasius. So that he knows to return from the Eleven Lands and restore her to her throne.”

“No fighting men of brave heart and right belief”

Lady Betheray Netherdale,  formerly a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elinda

Lady Kata Palav, also a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Elinda

Lord Winton Iron Netherdale

Sir Aravist Tem, captain of the guard

Queen Elinda, the wise queen who was deposed from the throne by militants (known in LA as Ellen Evermore)

Wizard Curtin

Jailer

Interrogator/executioner (?)

King Tauratanio and Queen Magdala

Emperor Anastasia

Dest (?) Austin’s horse, not named in this novel.

When Christmas Comes by Andrew Klavan

I loved this book. Andrew Klavan just writes so well and the words just flow beautifully so it’s a joy to read. But this is a story that draws you in; and I didn’t guess the reveal too early as I sometimes do! There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about it. I recommend it to all adults who like a fast read and a story with heart.

Synopsis: English Professor Cameron Winter gets drawn into a tragic and gruesome murder mystery when a Desert Storm war hero confessed to his girlfriend’s murder. But Winter’s old flame, seeing her own veteran husband’s struggle with PTSD compared to the confessed killer’s journey, senses there’s more to this story. What could have possibly happened to cause this valiant veteran to murder the woman he says he loved?

Highly recommend. You can read it in a day. 5/5

Review Kiln People by David Brin


Unusual sci-Gi murder mystery cross-over… hard to describe.

 

 

Kiln People by David Brin.

 

Unusual sci-fi murder mystery cross-over….hard to describe. An antiracist call to action? A cautionary tale about the dangers of artificial intelligence and robotic Frankensteins? Is it warning us about the social callus dulling modern sensitivities to the suffering of the masses? Or a call to a dichotomous rational spirituality?

Yes.  If you read any of Brin’s other works, he tells stories in a very rational, pseudoscientific way, but with fantastic climaxes or conclusions, and this is no exception. But the murder mystery underlying the entire plot, with our hero Albert the detective, marks a variation from a typical sci-fi novel. Well worth the read.

Synopsis: In a future world, humans now live seemingly safe lives, while their personal, short – lived clones do all the work. Baked in clay, they usually expire in about 24 hours, but gain a type of immortality by “inloading” their memories back into their makers. Technology of this sort put literally millions out of work and completely changed society. It brought out the best and the absolute worst of humanity. But when even this technology becomes passe greed and ambition spur less virtuous power players to up the ante, risking the existence not just of the cloned “golems” of 9 million on planet earth, but of all humankind.

Well worth the time, even reading more than once. 4/5

 

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