Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Beat to Quarters

Book Name: Beat To Quarters
Author: C.S. Forester
First Published: 1937

C.S. Forester was a former medical student who wished to become a writer. In 1927, he bought several volumes of The Naval Chronicle, that detailed the professional topics of the Royal Navy during the time of the conflict with Napoleon. Voyaging on a small freighter, he traveled from California to Central America and spent his time reading these books, soaking up all the articles on strategy, gunnery, and seamanship by professional seamen of that time period. By the time that his travels brought him back to England, Forester had plotted his famous novel about the mission of Horatio Hornblower, Beat to Quarters. It would publish in 1937 and would soon be followed by two more books, A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours. In 1939, all three would appear together in one volume as Captain Horatio Hornblower. In 1951, Beat to Quarters would be the source material for the movie Horatio Hornblower starring Gregory Peck.

The novel is about a secret mission to South America by 37 year old Captain Horatio Hornblower. The Admiralty has ordered the thirty-six-gun HMS Lydia and her captain to support a Spanish rebel in order to disrupt the Spanish naval presence in the area. This presence takes the form of a fifty gun ship of the line known as Natividad. Hornblower is ordered “to take, sink, burn or destroy” this vessel that vastly outguns his own ship. The captain soon discovers that the Spanish noble he was sent to support has lost his mind. El Supremo, as he calls himself, believes he is a god and will tolerate nothing but absolute obedience to his will.

Captain Hornblower manages to negate the situation of being allied with a madman and sets out to seek and destroy the Natividad. The Lydia faces this superior ship twice, once in a smartly done night action and a second battle at sea with the two ships exchanging broadsides in a battle to the death.

Weary of battle, Hornblower prepares to return to England. Stopping in Panama for supplies, he is persuaded to take on a passenger for transport, a Lady Barbara Wellesley. Finding the lady to be an excellent whist player and charming companion, the married captain suddenly finds himself engaged in an altogether different kind of battle, one that could sink his heart.

I fell in love years ago with the Horatio Hornblower saga when A&E created its mini-series based on the book series. Strangely, the mini-series did not cover what is considered the defining novel of the saga which is the first book written by Forester, Beat to Quarters. When I set about reading the books, I started with this one and then read A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours. After the main trilogy is read, the books can be consumed in any order. Most of the stories first appeared in serial form in the Saturday Evening Post before becoming novels, which accounts for their stand alone quality. Beat to Quarters is my favorite of the Hornblower saga and should not be missed. It will turn you into a true fan of historical fiction.

Where to find the Book:

You can find Beat to Quarters by C.S. Forester on GoodReads.

Book Review: Persuasion

Book Name: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
First Published: 1818

Jane Austen was forty years old when she penned her last complete novel, Persuasion. Her health was failing as she wrote and she would die at the young age of 41 before this novel would see print. Persuasion was bundled together with an earlier novel, Northanger Abby, and would prove to be her biggest bestseller. It was also the first of her novels to be published under her real name. Previously, all her novels had been written by the pen name “a lady”. While Persuasion lacks some of the polish of her earlier works due to the little time she had left to revise it to perfection, there are many who claim that it is her finest novel and most mature work of all. Persuasion has not been out of print for at least 150 years and is considered in the public domain.

Until this novel, Austen had always taken as her heroine a young inexperienced woman, falling in love for the first time. In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is twenty-seven years old, a spinster with common sense and decency, but with a beaten spirit. For her, love is something that belongs to her past, not the present. Before the novel opens, Anne is briefly engaged to marry a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but was persuaded to break off the understanding by her god-mother for reasons of prudence. She has spent the last eight years regretting this decision, and she does not expect to discover love again.

At the opening of the novel, Sir Walter Elliot, a vain and imprudent baronet, must rent his country house and move himself and his family to Bath to pay off his debts. Where once he and his three daughters were rich and respected, now they are poor and the subject of ridicule. His new tenants are Admiral Croft and his wife, Captain Wentworth’s sister. The pair move into Anne’s former home and invite Wentworth to join them. The tables have turned on the fortunes of Captain Wentworth, where once he was a poor navel officer with dubious prospects, now he is wealthy and an eligible bachelor. Being paid off by the navy, he is of a mind to settle down with the “first woman between 15 and 30” to catch his eye. Anyone, that is, except for Anne Elliot, the woman who had broken his heart.

Anne remains in the area to care for her ill sister, Mary Musgrove and tend to her nephews. Time has not been kind to Anne and she has become wane and thin, exhaustion taking its toll on her appearance. Anne and Captain Wentworth meet again due to proximity. The captain treats Anne with cool formality as he flirts with Mary’s two sister-in-laws. The younger women hero-worship Wentworth as they vie for his attentions, each hoping to capture his heart. At the same time, Anne notices small gestures of kindness in Wentworth’s behavior toward her, as if he can not bear to see her in discomfort, gestures that pull the spinster into a private mix of hopeless pleasure and pain, as Anne realizes that she still loves the captain.

During a two-day visit to the village of Lyme, the Musgroves and Anne meet the naval friends of Captain Wentworth and are charmed by their warmth and hospitality. Released from her obligations and refreshed by the sea air, Anne begins to regain some of her youthful complexion. This is noticed by not only Wentworth, but she is admired by other gentlemen in the village. The party’s visit is brought short by an accident on the Cobb and it is Anne’s common sense that saves the day.

After the visit to Lyme, Anne rejoins her father and elder sister in Bath, convinced that Captain Wentworth is to marry another woman. She takes the addresses of her cousin, William Elliot more seriously as she tries to move on with her life. Bath’s society paint the two as all but engaged. Then word comes that Wentworth and his intended have parted and she finds that the captain has suddenly arrived in Bath. Anne is overjoyed that this might mean she has a second chance at happiness with her captain, but how is she to let him know that he still is in her heart and that she has not accepted William Elliot’s offer of marriage? Would the captain risk making a second offer to her after she had refused him all those years ago?

Attempting to branch out my reading habits from a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy novels, I found a list of classic literature that I decided to use to guide my choice of novels from the local library. One of the authors on this list was Jane Austen. I could not decide which of her novels to begin with and because Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice were not available in the public library, I picked up Persuasion to be the first to cross off my list of recommended Austen classics. Opening the book, I found myself lost in a world of loneliness, sadness and of the hope of a second chance, not only by this quiet young woman, but by a dashing naval captain who was all to human in his hurt and memories of the past. I not only found myself in sympathy with Anne Elliot, but I was fascinated by the culture of the time. The breaking down of the tradition English class system, the elevation of men based on their merits instead of their birth, and the pride that the English people had in their navy. Persuasion reads today as a historical novel with contemporary overtones although it was penned during the Regency period itself. The characters are timeless and the situations as believable today as they were over 200 years ago. I’ve gone on to read all of Austen’s novels, but Persuasion remains my favorite of all her works and to my belief, is the most romantic of them all.

Persuasion Book CoverYou may find Persuasion at Project Gutenberg and in your local library.

Guest Post: Not Just For Christians by Brian Holers

One of the beauties of self-publishing is that the gatekeeper has been fired. In this new world of books made possible by the Internet, no one is left to guard the door. To tell the reader what is what. This state of affairs may introduce an element of confusion for dogmatic readers, but the good news is, new breeds of literature are being created.

Self-publishing allows literature to cross over in new ways. Traditional Christian fiction publishers, for instance, disallow most references to sex, and even the most juvenile profanity. Self-publishing changes this. Not to suggest a writer should ever debase a genre—as writers we are obliged to choose our words carefully. But the old Christian books kept many readers away. “I’m not going to read that. That’s Christian. It’s boring.” Still, nearly every Christian I know periodically swears, fights, and even becomes amorous from time to time. Christians like good stories too, with depth of character, excitement, whimsy, action. The success of a book like The Shack shows the need for stories of real people dealing with real problems, in a faith-based context. It doesn’t even have to be good literature.

As humans, we all look for answers. Stories are stories. Conflict builds to crisis, which leads to a form of resolution. Sure, some people never doubt their faiths, even in the face of horrible tragedy. Others do. Some never ascribed to a faith in the first place, and instead spend their days casting about for a context to this condition we call humanness. The problem with much traditional Christian literature is this; when a character is pushed to a crisis, and the only change we read is “he fell on his knees, then and there, and accepted Jesus into his heart,” that incident may describe a beautiful sentiment, and may have value to a real person in real life, but as a reader, it doesn’t tell me anything. A reader wants details. He wants to see the sweat break out. She wants to hear the thoughts and words that accompany the character’s condition. Literature is literature. We want to see development. We want to get inside the characters. We want to get to know them. That’s why we care. Regardless of the genre label put on the book.

Doxology is a story in between. The book has a religious message; given its primary setting in rural north Louisiana, that message is Christian. But the characters are just people. They experience the same emotions all people do—love, joy, loss. Their conflicts grow and grow until they must be resolved. Like real people, they go astray, take paths of separation from God, or just from what is good for them. They experience desires that can never be fulfilled, want things that can never be had or even understood. They discover the traits in their lives that aren’t working, and set out to find new habits that will work. Many Christian values are universal—a belief, despite evidence to the contrary, that our lives are worthwhile. An understanding that letting go, and learning how little we are in charge, makes life more manageable. A certainty that the kindness and compassion we offer to others is returned to us a hundredfold.

Some say God. Some say the universe. But we all–when we’re honest, and when we pay attention, have a sense of something looking out for us, giving us what we need. Putting people we need into our lives. We give credit for these gifts as we see fit. Good literature promotes a point of view by showing the reader how a character’s modes of operation and beliefs work for her (or don’t). Good literature, whatever its genre, lets the reader inside. Lets the reader do part of the work. Doxology, in this vein, is a story at the crossroad of God and man. It presents God as the characters experience God, and as real people experience God, looking out for them, giving them what they need. Coming to understand how God has been there all along.

Doxology is a love story. Faith plays a role, as it helps the characters find answers and resolution, improves their lives. Like Jody and Vernon and the others, we all look for redemption from brokenness of the past. They and we find it, as people both real and imaginary alike do, in family, friends, productive work, a sense of place, a faith in something greater. Doxology is a story, first and foremost. Its characters face problems. Their conflicts grow. They look for resolutions and ultimately find them, imperfect as they are. We the readers get to know them, and we care. We sympathize. They matter.

Doxology by Brian HolersAbout Brian Holers: An arborist by day and a novelist in every moment he can steal, Brian makes up stories from the treetops. Visit Brian on his Website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

You can find Brian’s new book Doxology on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for an 99 cent introductory price.

Book Review: A Princess of Mars

Book Name: A Princess of Mars
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
First Published: 1912
Original Title: Under the Moons of Mars

In 1911, thirty-five year old Edgar Rice Burroughs suffered a dilemma. His business ventures had failed miserably and he needed more income to support his wife and two children. Being a fan of serial novels, he often told himself that he could write a better story than what he saw published in those pages. As he worked at his brother’s stationery company, he penned a novel on the company pads during his off-hours, telling no one but his wife about it. In the end, he was too embarrassed by the tale to put his name on the manuscript.

The All-Story magazine bought his first story as a six part serial in 1912 and named it Under the Moons of Mars. Due to the typesetter believing that the author’s pen name “Normal Bean” was a typo, the author was listed as “Norman Bean”. The humble serial would become the inspiration of a new sub-genre in science fantasy, the planetary romance. Stories by Burroughs became popular with the public quickly and by 1914 two of his serials were re-printed as novels. His Tarzan of the Apes series was novelized first, followed by his first serial, renamed A Princess of Mars. The Barsoom series featuring John Carter of Mars was born. The novels have since not been out of print for the last 100 years.

A Princess of Mars is the fictional travelogue of Captain John Carter, a Confederate soldier who prospects for gold in the American Southwest after the civil war. After an attack by Apaches, he is mysterious transported to the planet Mars. There on Barsoom, as the planet is known to the natives, he shows great physical prowess as the lighter gravity of the red planet allows him to leap about to the amazement of the four-armed, and tusked men known as Thrak. His skills in battle become renown to all Barsoomians as he gradually battles his way to the top of their society. Driving John Carter to fight is his love for the beautiful princess, Dejah Thoris. The captain spends much of the novel in pursuit of and in rescuing the princess as she is captured by various lustful villains.

I first discovered A Princess of Mars during my early teens at the public library. It was a well-worn, earmarked copy with a four-armed green giant battling a smaller, sword wielding man on the cover. Despite the novel having been written at least half a century before I was born, I was pulled in by the myriad of battling cultures, the intriguing scientific imaginings, and the emergence of love and friendship overcoming the hatred that drove all these different colored people of Mars.

John Carter is a charming narrator in this tale filled with anti-gravity cars, majestic city-states, giant riding thoats, and barbarians of many races. A southern gentleman of the old school, I found his way of offering the hand of friendship to the Barsoomians, a pleasant contrast to the way men are often portrayed in present day. He did not shirk from the violence around him and had the fighting skills to hold his own, yet through it all there was a sense of knowing that things did not need to be this way. His spreading of the concept of peace to the Barsoomians put me to mind of how people must have felt during the First World War, which started the same year that this novel became popular, when their world had gone insane with unheard of violence and war on a scale previously unknown, similar to the fighting that was protrayed on Barsoom. The voice of reason in John Carter was a counterpoint to those feelings that the First World War must have created and struck a chord with readers of his day.

I found the feisty, far from helpless, Dejah Thoris to be intriguing. Women from that era of writing normally did not have such spunk and did not look at the hero with equality as she did. While she does spend much of the novel being captured by powerful villains, she shows herself to be a woman of principle, every bit as much a creature to duty and honor as the hero. I can understand why Dejah Thoris has captured the hearts of so many generations of young men.

I hope you’ll consider reading A Princess of Mars and the rest of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. You can find the ebook version for free at Project Gutenberg, or check it out at your local library.