June 5th, 2017



Yesterday was also the anniversary of Winston Churchill's "We shall fight " speech, which is as good a reason as any to devote Book Review No. 12 to John Kelly's Never Surrender: Winston Churchill and Britain's Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940.  I've dealt with this epoch of history previously: the book is a recent contribution to the history loosely from Munich to the beginning of the Blitz.

One passage, somewhere early in the book. strikes me as relevant to our current politics.  It contrasts Winston Churchill's stance with that taken by the process-worshippers of Neville Chamberlain's government and the French high command.  Mr Churchill, the book suggests, called on Britons to summon the spirit of Agincourt and Trafalgar: the establishment of the era, offered a muddle that might or might not have worked out.

Let's view Virginia Postrel's recent America Is Awash in the Wrong Kinds of Stories in that light.
Sadly, the big stories competing for dominance today are demoralizing ones. They have more in common with the Lost Cause than with the New South or the Silk Road. One, told by the president of the United States, is that the country used to be great but allowed its greatness to be eroded by foreigners and cosmopolitan elites. It is that story, more than any specific policy agenda, that connects Donald Trump to authoritarian rulers — because it is with versions of that story that so many authoritarian regimes begin. The story of diabolical foreigners and perfidious fellow citizens is, at its core, a fable attacking liberal values. It misleadingly divides the nation into patriots and traitors, the latter defined as anyone who bucks the party line.

The competing left-wing story, against which many Trump voters reacted, isn’t much better. It portrays the American story as nothing more than a series of injustices in which every seeming accomplishment hides some terrible wrong and the country’s very existence is a crime against humanity. What begins as a valid historical corrective, like Landrieu’s speech, evolves into a corrosive nihilism. A culture cannot long survive self-hatred.
That's not wrong, and yet it might be too strong.  Perhaps Mr Trump was summoning the echoes of Valley Forge and Shiloh and Midway and the Ardennes, and Mrs Clinton was ... calling for more of the transnational muddle.  Certainly we can view Mr Obama's doubts about "American exceptionalism" in that light.

Sometimes the circumstances call for a rogue elephant (a line that frequently comes up with respect to Mr Churchill.)  But are those circumstances germane to ours?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Book #29: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

Number of pages: 256

This book is the first Discworld novel that Terry Pratchett wrote for a young adult audience, and it is also a completely stand-alone adventure, about a band of rats led by the eponymous Maurice, who can talk and also go from town to town conning humans.

My first thought was that the story was going to be based on Fagin and his band of pickpockets in "Oliver Twist", but this story makes more conspicuous references to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, as we learn that the group has a young human companion, Keith, who leads them out of town playing his pipes, pretending that he is ridding them of a plague of rats.

However, this book has the characters ending up in trouble at the hands of rat catchers and the threat of another piper who seems likely to want to do something nasty to the rats. Things start taking a turn for the bizarre when...

[Spoiler (click to open)]

It becomes apparent that the rat catchers are trying to create a "rat king", although I didn't quite understand how they were doing this, which would eventually result in particularly unpleasant plague of vermin. As I read it, the concept just sounded like The Human Centipede.

As I read this book, I noticed obvious changes to the writing style, to make the book appropriate for a younger audience, so there was none of the mild swearing found in the adult books; instead, there were lots of references to rats "widdling".

I did notice that this book felt unusually dark at times both for a young adult book and for a discworld novel, and the tone often felt more serious, and more similar to the two adult titles that followed this one, "Night Watch" and "Monstrous Regiment".

I found the character of Maurice to be an enjoyable enough character to read about, certainly one who merited appearing in further titles, though I got the impression that he was possibly meant as some sort of anti-hero character, mostly because he led a band of rats, but also liked to EAT rats (like cats do). There was also some satire in this book, which only started to develop properly towards the end, with references to how rats should be given equal rights to humans, evidently an allegory to the civil rights movement.

Also, the fact that this was a stand-alone book meant that it didn't feel that much like Discworld, because there were no familiar characters, until near the end when Death made an appearance, accompanied the the Death of Rats. Death's scene is probably the best moment in the book, and revolves entirely over the concept of cats having nine lives. Apart from that, the only Discworld elements were brief references to wizards and guilds.

The end of the book seems to be leaving the way clear for a possible sequel, but as far as I'm aware, none was ever written, as the other five young adult Discworld novels all seem to be about the character Tiffany Aching; I'm guessing Pratchett must have liked the character so much that he decided to focus on her.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this as much as some of the older Discworld titles, but it was definitely more readable than some of the later books in the series.

Next book: The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)
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Book 53

One Tequila (Althea Rose Mystery, #1)One Tequila by Tricia O'Malley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know I picked this up for free from a mystery site (thanks to the author for making it free) and I knew it was a ‘love kissed’ one but sadly in this case that meant love triangle, a very tiring one which was the only down side to the novel: a large unresolved triangle but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Althea Rose is a psychic whose mom is a well known psychic. She runs a shop, the Luna Rose, with her best friend, Luna, a white witch. They’re also good friends with, Beau, a gay bartender who wants to get his own restaurant for Tequila Key (a sleepy key off the Florida coast) and with Trace, the man Thea scuba dives with. Beau introduces her and Luna to Cash and his business partner and immediately Cash is asking Thea out and Luna goes out with the partner.

In short order the partner is dead, Luna is suspected of doing it by a rather terrible sheriff and Thea isn’t sure if Cash is completely innocent but she wants him to be. But the onion in the ointment here is suddenly Trace is in her face screaming about ‘why not him?’ meanwhile he’s never asked her out which was so annoying.

She’s soon over her head but she has her psychic powers, Luna’s magic (it’s not Harry Potter but it’s real enough) and that of her voodoo practicing friends and that magic is really the key to solving the mystery. I did enjoy the characters except for Thea’s penchant for screaming at people she thinks are hiding stuff and Trace’s approach to romancing Thea. Loved Thea’s Boston Terrier. It’s a cute enough mystery and I’d read another but I’d hope the love triangle gets resolved sooner rather than later.

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