Category Archives: Books

“Ithaca: A Novel of Homer’s Odyssey”

Patrick Dillon

This is a retelling of “The Odyssey” from the point of view of Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It’s original, well-written, and a solid coming-of-age story.

Parts I found especially interesting were the portrayal of the post-Trojan War world as being inhabited by physically and mentally damaged veterans and the dilemma Odysseus faces when he has to explain to the citizens of Ithaca why he — the leader — is the only one of their husbands and sons to return from the war.

As much as I enjoyed “Ithaca”, I do think the book suffers a little from the typical tiresome modern “need” to explain-away all the supernatural elements of “The Odyssey” itself. I suppose this is the price we pay for living in a disenchanted world.

“The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life”

Francis Parkman

In 1846 a young, privileged Bostonian spent two months in the West. He traveled with Oregon-bound immigrants, lived rough, and spent a few weeks with the Oglala Lakota. The book Francis Parkman published two years later launched his literary career.

I admit it took me a while to read “The Oregon Trail”; I put it down a few times a left it sit for weeks at a time. But when I tuned my mind to Parkman’s slow — by modern standards — pace, I was able to enjoy it as pure time travel.

“We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers”

Sean Lewis

Beer geeks like me will enjoy this behind-the-fermenter look at a number of craft breweries. Lewis has the advantage of having worked as an intern in a brewery. While his visits to breweries and interviews with their owners and brewers provides the structure of the book, it’s obvious that he’s done a lot of research as well, research he weaves seamlessly into the interviews and tasting accounts.

“The Invisible Man”

H. G. Wells

The first part of the book — the invisible man’s stay at a small town inn — is mostly played for laughs. The second, in which we learn the invisible man’s back story, is much more grim. I wouldn’t put this among Wells’ best works (perhaps the impact is spoiled by having seen the surprisingly good 1933 movie version), but it was fun to read Wells’ exploration of the pitfalls of invisibility.

“Firestorm”

Taylor Anderson

This follows “Rising Tides” in the “Destroyermen” series. There’s plenty of action as the war continues on several fronts and technology advances by leaps and bounds. I only wish Anderson wasn’t so fond of endless lists: list of characters at a meeting, lists of ships in a fleet, etc. The detail can be smothering and doesn’t usually help to move the story along.

“2017 War With Russia: An Urgent Warning From Senior Military Command”

Richard Shirreff

This was written by a former NATO/British general as a warning bout NATO unpreparedness and as a critique of British military spending cuts. It’s presented as a novel but rather than being an action-oriented techno-thriller like the similar “The Third World War” of 1979, Sherreff seems to have cast it as fiction solely to provide fictional mouths to state his opinions. It’s an interesting book but would have benefited from more show and less tell; more action and less exposition.

“Days of Cain”

J. R. Dunn

This is an unusual time travel book that I could barely put down. The idea of people assigned to insure that time travel doesn’t change history isn’t a new one, but here it’s given some interesting twists: the time crime perpetrator chooses to insert herself in Auschwitz and the time travel police, who are themselves from different eras, operate under the direction of evolved humans from millennia in the future.

The Auschwitz scenes are chilling and well-researched and the characters — particularly one Nazi guard — are interesting.

“Kingdom of Shadows”

Alan Furst

This is another atmospheric historical spy novel in Furst’s “Night Soldiers” series (it follows “Red Gold“). The hero is an aristocratic Hungarian advertising executive who, in 1938 and 1939 Paris, becomes involved in helping people escape the Nazis and in schemes to head off war. The events are loosley strung together: this is more a novel of character and setting than of plot.