Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book

The review today is by Paul Garrett

Stephen Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign and Tides of War, about the Spartans, Alexander the Great and Alcibiades, respectively, returns to ancient history with his latest effort, A Man at Arms.

Teleman of Arcadia is a Greek mercenary who once served in the Roman army’s famous Tenth Fretensis Legion. He is dispatched by the Roman consul in Palestine to intercept and stop by any means a dangerous insurgent, said to be carrying a letter that could cause the downfall of the Empire.

When Teleman becomes allied with the man and his daughter, a mute, the mercenary and his little band of unlikely heroes must defend themselves against bandits, Arab mercenaries and The Roman army itself to deliver the letter, which is a missive from the Apostle Paul to the Greek city of Corinth.

Pressfield’s book The War of Art about overcoming “resistance” has nearly taken on the lofty status of Natalie Goldberg’s classic Writing down the Bones or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I have always thought his books about writing to be better than his stories. This book is no exception.

His prose is hard to take sometimes, as his motto seems to be to never use a one or two syllable word when a three or four syllable word is available. I have nothing against what Hemingway called “ten-dollar words” back when that was a lot of money. As a writer of fiction myself, I can sympathize with trying to come up with a word that will evoke the exact meaning or feeling one is looking for, but in an action novel, multisyllabic utterances decelerate the deciphering of the manuscript. It’s sort of like trying to run through ankle deep mud. There are also a few escapes and close calls that stretch credulity.

The book’s saving graces are Pressfield’s insistence on historically accurate portrayals of characters and setting, the many surprising plot twists, the riveting action sequences, and the insight into what it must have been like for the early Christians as they faced seemingly overwhelming odds to keep their nascent religion alive. Though perhaps not Pressfield’s best effort, A Man at Arms is still an entertaining read.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: NORTH TO THE NIGHT by Alvah Simon

Armchair adventuring isn’t usually my cuppa tea. I picked this book up in part because of its subtitle, “A Spiritual Odyssey in the Arctic.”

The book is written by a man who convinces his long-suffering wife Diana that they should live on a boat, and then that the boat should be sailed to the northernmost point possible on the planet so they can live there for a year.

Polar bears are a big feature in the book, mostly how to detect and escape from them. The Simons pick up a kitten as they sail north, naming her Halifax. She becomes a bear detector, companion in the darkness, comic relief, and star attraction for the Inuit who visit the crazy people with the boat wedged in the ice.

That’s the thing about going to the Arctic: getting out again is hard. There are several passages about how the boat suddenly bucks and plunges and ice pieces like killer knives suddenly appear on deck, etc. Also, polar bears.

Diana has to leave in the middle of the winter because her father is dying; kind people come get her because, see above, getting out is hard. And she wasn’t an emergency in the technical sense.

During the year, Simon comes to recognize how much being alone makes you aware of your inner resources, not just surviving, but maintaining sanity. Who are you when no one is looking, literally? The book dealt with that in some aspects, although in true author-to-the-most-people fashion, he leaves how that resolves into affiliational loyalty ambiguous at the end.

There’s a gyrfalcon story that could be considered heartbreaking advocacy, but my favorite was wee Halifax running off an Arctic Fox, and charming an Inuit elder.

Perhaps the most powerful thing about this book is, it made me interested in their journey, even though I never want to go on one similar myself. It is easy for an author to entice people with similar interests to keep reading. I kept reading even though I was halfway to horrified at how strange and different and hard to understand some of their experiences–and even motivations–were. He’s good at making you see what he sees.

Pour yourself a warm beverage, sit back, and watch Halifax romp and the birds fly. And look out for polar bears.


Filed under animal rescue, book reviews, Life reflections, reading, Wendy Welch