C. S. Lewis Reviews The Hobbit, 1937

A world for children: J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: or There and Back Again (London: Allen and Unwin, 1937) The publishers claim that The Hobbit, though very unlike Alice, resembles it in being the work of a professor at play. A more important truth is that both belong to a very small class of… Read More »

Source: C. S. Lewis Reviews The Hobbit, 1937


A small early birthday gift to myself on the 78th anniversary of this review, originally published in the Times Literary Supplement (2 October 1937), 714.

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (5 stars)

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

5 out of 5 stars

Read in July 2008

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, a novel of epic fantasy relating the struggle for freedom of an oppressed class of people, known as the skaa. A few key players attempt a daring plan to overthrow a seemingly invincible regime, with a supposedly immortal god-like Lord Ruler.

Mistborn’s is fast paced and enthralling. The point of view stays mostly with the two main protagonists, Kelsier and Vin. Kelsier is seeking revenge upon the immortal Lord Ruler, who he blames for the death of his wife. Vin, a street wise and abused young girl, is rescued and recruited by Kelsier to join his elite crew of thieves. We watch her come out of her shell, slowly learning the value of trust and friendship. We also learn of Allomancy, one of the Mistborn world’s forms of magic, through her eyes when Kelsier discovers that she is one of the rare breed of Allomancers.

As Vin’s character develops, she garners more of the focus of the story. We see less from Keslier’s viewpoint. Even though Vin’s had a hard go of it, she can still react with shock to Keslier’s actions and unwavering hatred for the nobles, the skaa who work for them (willingly or not) and the Lord Ruler. The hidden story within the story has the familiar rags-to-riches tale, but with a twist I’ve only seen a couple of times before.

I was completely enthralled by Vin throughout this book, but more so towards the climax. I rarely become so attached to characters that I weep with empathy, and sympathy, for their predicaments. Brandon Sanderson masterfully tugged on my heartstrings with his vivid characterizations. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great action/adventure story, especially one with spunk and heart.

Excellent review from Far Beyond Reality on Janny WurtsInitiate’s Trial, which I read about this time last year. I awarded the novel, the ninth in the Wars of Light and Shadow series, five stars at GoodReads, but never felt adequate to the task of writing a worthy review.  I highly recommend all of Stefan Raets’ reviews and regularly participate in the Beyond Reality GoodReads group where he is a moderator.  I also highly and heartily recommend the fantasy series the Wars of Light and Shadow by Janny Wurts.  Some of the best writing I’ve read, bar none.

Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Larson (3.5 Stars)

The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic, And Madness At The Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Read in January 2012

I wanted to give this four stars, and I leaned heavily toward a 3.5 star rating, but ultimately, I settled for three stars. I liked it, but I did not love it. Bright gems gleamed amid the offal, but not enough of them to dazzle my mind’s eye with the gleam of the White City.

I enjoyed the writing style of Erik Larson, which made it easier for me to read a non-fiction book. Granted, I do enjoy a well written history, but Larson included elements common to a mystery or crime fiction novel that kept me turning pages. That being said, however, the two halves of this book (the history of the Worlds Colombian Exhibition of 1893 and the escapades of Dr. H.H. Holmes (and his many aliases)) interspersed with seemingly irrelevant trivia did not a cohesive whole make. And even though I found some of the trivial excerpts jarring, they nonetheless touched me to the quick. Two or three examples come readily to mind:

Chance encounters led to magic. Frank Haven Hall, superintendent of the Illinois Institution of the Blind, unveiled a new device that made plates for printing books in Braille. Previously Hall had invented a machine capable of typing in Braille, the Hall Braille Writer, which he never patented because he felt profit should not sully the cause of serving the blind. As he stood by his newest machine, a blind girl and her escort approached him. Upon learning that Hall was the man who had invented the typewriter she used so often, the girl put her arms around his neck and gave him a huge hug and kiss. Forever afterward, whenever Hall told this story of how he met Helen Keller, tears would fill his eyes. (p. 285)

(Buffalo Bill) Cody upstaged the fair again in July, when exposition officials rejected a request from Mayor Carter Harrison that the fair dedicate one day to the poor children of Chicago and admit them at no charge. The directors that this was too much to ask, given their struggle to boost the rate of paid admission. Every ticket, even half-price children’s tickets, matter. Buffalo Bill promptly declared Waif’s Day at the Wild West and offered any kid in Chicago a free train ticket, free admission to the show and free access to the whole Wild West encampment, plus all the candy and ice cream the children could eat. Fifteen thousand showed up. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West may indeed have been an ‘incongruity,’ as the directors had declared in rejecting his request for a concession within Jackson Park, but the citizens of Chicago had fallen in love. (p. 251)

No one saw Twain. He came to Chicago to see the fair but got sick and spent eleven days in his hotel room, then left without ever seeing the White City. Of all people. (p. 285)

Another passage (pp. 285-286) recounted a passing of the torch from the pioneers of the west (in the person of Buffalo Bill Cody) and those of the future (in the person of Susan B. Anthony). This encounter, on a Sunday morning at his Wild West Show, “brought the audience to its feet in a thunder of applause and cheers. The frontier may indeed have closed at last, … but for that moment it stood there glittering in the sun like the track of a spent tear.”

I did not find the relation of Holmes’ psychopathic serial killings overly horrifying (and what does that say about me and/or our times?). But neither did I feel compelled to ferret out his motivations or worry whether justice would be served. Larson had to take some artistic license in recreating some of the murders, but nothing modern journalists or other ‘true crime’ authors haven’t done as well. Perhaps the suspense became ‘suspended’ for me since many of the quotes from Holmes referred to his Confession, which implies his capture, conviction and sentence execution.

I finished reading this book a bare two hours before attending the Common Grounds Book Group discussion sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library and featured in the Winter 2012 Adult Reading Program “Destination: Anywhere.” Librarian Katie Stover hosted the discussion in a corner of the Nine Muses Cafe’ at the Central branch. About ten of us (nine women and one brave young man named Alberto) joined in the discussion. The following are some of the questions and answers we tossed on the table among the tea and coffee.

Why is this such a popular book? A look at the behind-the-scenes of this Exhibition and how it came about on such a tight schedule (less than two years) and overcame calamities and catastrophes. Larson’s detailed research made you feel as if you were there, present, at the events occurring in Chicago in the 1890s. He accomplished this without the use of any dialog (beyond quotes from diaries and journals).

Why write these two stories together? And do you believe Holmes committed two hundred murders? Holmes creating his personal ‘deathatorium’ by designing and building his mansion and keeping everyone, including the construction workers, from realizing his real plans.

What happened to his first wife and child? In this respect, the author left us in the dark, never circling back to tie up those loose ends. Perhaps, no record existed to relate their fate.

Why did Holmes do it? Did he believe himself evil? Was he compelled by some physiological imbalance? Holmes was ambitious and driven (contrastingly, so was the lead architect for the White City, Burnham). Yet Holmes held no remorse for his action. He knew he was doing wrong, otherwise why would he have gone to such lengths to cover his tracks and conceal or destroy evidence? We all agreed that being a devil reflected a figure of speech, not a true personification of evil, because if you don’t believe in God, how can you truly believe in the Devil?

We moved on to lighter topics, pondering the ‘cool’ things that were introduced at the Exhibition (some of which still exist today), including: A Ferris wheel, hot dogs, shredded wheat, Cracker Jacks, alternating current electricity, inspiration for Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom (his father was one of the carpenters who built the White City).

I mentioned the research I planned to do based on a couple of sentences found on p. 29: “Three years later a hotel they (Burnham and Root) had designed in Kansas City collapsed during construction, injuring several men and killing one. Burnham was heartbroken. The city convened a coroner’s inquest, which focused its attention on the building’s design. For the first time in his career, Burnham found himself facing public attack.” Again, Larson did not return to this tidbit, so I shall see what I can dredge up from microfiche or microfilm on the Third Floor of the Central branch.

Someone else read a passage the summed up the wonder of the White City (from p. 254):

For many visitors these nightly illuminations were their first encounter with electricity. Hilda Satt, a girl newly arrived from Poland, went to the fair with her father. ‘As the light was fading in the sky, millions of lights were suddenly flashed on, all at one time,’ she recalled years later. ‘Having seen nothing but kerosene lamps for illumination, this was like getting a sudden vision of Heaven.’ Her father told her the lights were activated by electrical switches. ‘Without matches?’ she asked.

Another person contrasted this divine vision, with the irony of boys chasing excitedly after the train carrying Krupp’s gun, which in but a few years would be used to kill them as war erupted across Europe.

Our discussion wrapped up by musing about how easily Holmes faded from one alias to another, how he avoided his creditors and mesmerized women by the dozens. We wondered why only an uncle of one of his wives (some of which he was married to concurrently) saw through Holmes’ beguiling veil to the heart of his dastardly deeds.

Book Review: Eisenhower 1956 by Nichols

Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis–Suez and the Brink of War by David A. Nichols

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I read non-fiction, which isn’t often enough, I tend to favor biographies or histories. I picked up Nichols’ detailed microscopic compilation of a critical year in the life of President Eisenhower based on a review my uncle wrote. Being born and raised and still living in Kansas, I have an understandable preoccupation with one of our most famous and respected residents.

The extent of Nichols’ meticulous research impressed me. His delivery of the facts and circumstances and thoughts of key players (gleaned from personal notes and diaries) brought me to the center of the conflicts and the crises. I queried many older friends and family on what they remembered of 1956 (since I wasn’t born until eight years later), most of whom were too young at the time to really remember the Suez Canal crisis.

That didn’t stop me from feeling an echo of the anxiety and the beginning of our national belief in ‘mutually assured destruction’ (MAD – a very apropos acronym, don’t you think?). Eisenhower’s early understanding of the true horrors of thermonuclear warfare paved the way for his campaign of waging peace, even at the expense of some short-sighted WWII Allies. (For a great glimpse into an early (and now classic) apocalyptic novel, please see Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, originally published in 1959 – click here for my review).

While reading this book, I visited the website for the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. I learned the current exhibit entitled ‘Eisenhower: Agent of Change‘ ran until the end of January and the Library celebrates fifty years in 2012. As soon as I finished the book, I convinced my husband we needed to visit Abilene, since I could barely remember the last/first time I visited the Eisenhower Center (probably forty years ago or more). We spent a pleasant Saturday exploring the Museum, Library, boyhood home (intact and preserved on the grounds), the grounds and the final resting place of Dwight, Mamie and their son Doud (who died at the age of 3 in 1921).

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Book Review: Ready Player One by Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I must say Ready Player One easily and quickly became one of my funnest and most memorable reads of 2011. Wade Watts lives in the not too distant dystopian future (mostly in America, but implied world wide aftermath of the post-fossil fuel era). He (and the majority of what’s left of humanity) escapes the ravages of poverty and orphanhood through the virtual OASIS reality. When the founder and creator of OASIS dies, he leaves his vast fortune (multi-billions) to whoever can find the egg he hid somewhere in the infinitely vast OASIS universe. Since Halliday obsessed on 80s culture, music, movies and early video games, he expected everyone else to join him. He succeeded posthumously by enshrining the clues to the egg in obscure 80s lore.

Ah, the early geeky memories that flashed before my eyes.

I played Zork and Adventure both. Neither of the two computers I grew up with were listed in the book: a home built Digital Group computer running a very early version of DOS and a Xerox 820 running C/PM. My favorite game (also not mentioned in the book), even more so than Adventure, was one called Nemesis by Supersoft. It’s Rogue-like (which I prefer to an all-text based interactive story-type game like Adventure). I yearned to play it again, especially while reading the Second Gate section of Ready Player One, so I found a copy via a Google search. Now to find a C/PM emulator that will run on Windows (or Linus) so I can really revisit the ‘good ole days.’

Wargames and Ladyhawke are both two of my favorite movies from the 80s era and the play a significant role in the egg hunt. On the music font, Rush (one of my favorite bands, after Styx and Kansas) provided key elements to the final third of the quest. I almost dug around in my basement for my old dusty Rush albums, but left them to rest in peace. Besides, my husband’s band covers older Rush songs so I get a Rush-fix at least once a week.

I am very glad Cline didn’t spend much time on the fashions of the day and I ignored most of the other music references (as I was a metal head and refused to listen to pop music). I played nearly all the arcade games mentioned EXCEPT for Tempest.

I wanted more real world information, to learn about the fall of civilization and the consequences of ignoring the ever worsening and appalling conditions rising to destroy what’s left of humanity. Some readers have likened Wade Watts to a ‘Mary Sue’ type character, which is hard to refute since the tale is told in first-person from his point of view. Characterization, aside from Wade, could have been fleshed out more. If a sequel is in the works, I look forward to a deeper look into this world and these characters.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone with a smidgen of geekiness who also happens to be born in the mid-60s or very early 70s (i.e. were you a teenager during the 80s?).

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Novella Review: The Machine Stops by Forster

The Machine Stops The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I found this gem yesterday via Feedbooks public domain short stories listings. I raised my eyebrows when I saw E.M. Forster wrote a science fiction novella (in 1909). I love reading dystopian fiction, provided I space it between less depressing offerings. Forster surprised me with not one dystopian future, but two. His ideas mixed to form a somewhat steampunkish voluntary Matrix benevolent Terminator mashup.

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Review: All Seated on the Ground

All Seated on the GroundAll Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the electronic version via the Asimov’s website: http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0805/allse…

Probably rates a 3.5, but like Connie Willis, I love Christmas and singing in very large choirs. Combining the two, especially with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, is priceless.

And as Aunt Judith and the Altairi reminds us: ‘A prompt handwritten note expressing gratitude is the only proper form of thanks.’ I’ll be posting those notes to friends and family today.

Highly recommended, especially during this joyous season, bearing tidings of comfort and joy to all.

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