A book review from The Movie Snob.
Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales, by Russell Kirk (2004). I know of Russell Kirk mainly as an eccentric founding father of modern American conservatism and as the author of the 1953 classic The Conservative Mind. But he apparently has a reputation as an author of ghost stories and gothic tales, so I gave this anthology a try. The stories are strange—very religious in sensibility, and not really scary. I didn’t care for the first few, but I thought they got better as they went along. It isn’t Steven King or H.P. Lovecraft, but if you like weird fiction you might conceivably find this volume interesting.
The Movie Snob pens a book review.
The Warden, by Anthony Trollope (1855). I quite enjoyed this short (203 pages) novel, which is the first by Trollope I have ever read. The action takes place mainly in a fictional area of England called Barsetshire, and I think most fans of Jane Austen (and perhaps Downton Abbey) might feel quite at home here. The action of the story is quite simple. The “warden” is Septimus Harding, a mild, minor Anglican clergyman. For several years, he has had a comfortable living off a very old charitable bequest, for which all he has to do is look after twelve impoverished old men who have come to live at a place called Hiram’s Hospital. But similar arrangements are coming under scrutiny in other parts of England, and there have been scandals when people discovered that the modern arrangements don’t really match up to the terms of the ancient bequests. When a fellow of reforming temperament starts to look into Rev. Harding’s set-up, the good clergyman is shaken to the core to think that he has not been entitled to the money he has taken from the trust and rather freely spent over the years. A fierce archdeacon (who happens to be Rev. Harding’s son-in-law) fights back vigorously against the reformer and assures his father-in-law that they will prevail in court, but to Rev. Harding’s credit he doesn’t want to win—he wants to be right. It’s an enjoyable story, and although the stakes are pretty low, I still found myself sympathizing with Rev. Harding’s distress.
A new book review from The Movie Snob.
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson (2006). A friend recommended this fantasy novel to me, and I liked it. This fantasy world is a dismal place. Ash frequently rains from the sky, most people are serfs or slaves, and there’s a nasty Lord Ruler who has tyrannized the realm for like 1,000 years. But a few people still dare to plot his overthrow, and a resourceful young female thief named Vin gets pulled into their seemingly suicidal circle. The system of magic in this world is pretty complicated, and I didn’t really try to follow it all that closely. Only a relatively few people have magical powers, and to access them they have to ingest and “burn” various metals to achieve the particular metals’ magical effects. (One of the main magical effects these people can pull off is to manipulate metal a lot like Magneto from X-Men.) Anyway, I enjoyed it even without trying to remember what all the different metals can do. Apparently it is the first book in a substantial series, but it also works as a stand-alone tale.
Another book review from The Movie Snob.
Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979). This is another very short novel by Fitzgerald. I liked the first novel of hers that I read, The Bookshop, and I liked this one even better. It’s about a handful of interesting characters who live on boats (mostly on barges lashed together) docked out on the Thames. Apparently Fitzgerald herself actually lived on such a houseboat for a while, so it may be somewhat autobiographical. I won’t go into the plot since it is a very short book, but I will say that I found the characters interesting and their stories involving. Six-year-old Tilda (Matilda) James is particularly likeable. I recommend it.
Book review from The Movie Snob.
The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick (2011). Aw. I just pulled this book off the shelf and discovered it still bore a price tag from my beloved Borders Bookstore, may it rest in peace. Anyway, this is an enjoyable read about the scientific revolution in and around the time of Sir Isaac Newton. Dolnick keeps it pretty simple and even interesting, which is saying something considering that I generally find science pretty boring. But Dolnick knows how to tell a story, leavening the science stuff with juicy tidbits about the plague, methods of execution, and the wicked personal rivalries between some of the scientific figures of the day. I plan to send this volume on to my scientist sister and see what she thinks of it.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978). I had never heard of Fitzgerald until I recently read a short magazine piece calling her one of Britain’s best writers of the 20th century. This is a very short novel, only 123 pages, but it packs a punch. It’s about a youngish widow who decides to invest what money she has into opening a bookshop in her small backwater town. In doing so, she crosses one of the town’s leading citizens. It’s a pretty steely view of small-town life, for sure. I liked it and will look for more of Fitzgerald’s books.
The Movie Snob hasn’t been getting out to the movies, so here’s another book review:
Voyage to Alpha Centauri, by Michael D. O’Brien (Ignatius Press 2013). So what is Ignatius Press, reliable publisher of orthodox Catholic books, doing publishing this great big doorstop of a sci-fi novel? Well, because it has a lot of religion in it (of course). In the fairly near future, man has figured a way to build a spaceship capable of going more than half the speed of light. That puts Alpha Centauri, the star nearest to us, within striking distance—if you’re up for a voyage that will take nine years going out and nine years coming back. Anyhoo, the story is told from the perspective of one passenger on the giant spaceship that is built to make the voyage. There are lots of religious and philosophical asides, and there is also a lot of commentary on the surveillance state. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength a little bit. It’s a weird book, but interesting and definitely different.