Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Book Reviews: Taking a Second Look

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Sometimes it warrants taking a second look at a book; here’s a few books I’ve looked at in the past few years more than once after a review, and why.

First, the only book review I’ve ever had with more than one negative comment at Shiny Book Review was David Drake’s WHAT DISTANT DEEPS (which you can easily find here: I’d said that I didn’t understand why the hero, Captain Daniel Leary, didn’t seem to understand that his best friend and confidante, Adele Mundy, wanted more from him than that and I somewhat took the easy way out in refusing to define what I was talking about.  This called many people to tell me, publicly or privately, that I didn’t know what the (bleep) I was talking about . . . anyway, that review requires more explication, which I’m now going to provide.

Adele Mundy is a very complex woman, and I think David Drake has done a great job in adding to her character through eight RCN (Royal Cinnabar Navy) books thus far.  But she has a lot of built-in tension, and all of the references back to her family (which were murdered, horribly, by political enemies) make it clear she wants more from Daniel Leary than he’s capable of providing.

My problem was that I’d clearly said at first this was a romantic thing that she wanted.  This really wasn’t it, so I went back and softened this slightly — now in the review I say that “Mundy . . . cannot make Move One” due to her own background — but that, too, wasn’t enough.

Several folks who wrote to me pointed to things author Drake pointed out in his personal blog or at the Baen’s Bar Web site (go to and you can find the links from there), but I believe you find what meaning is there from the text alone.  And that meaning in this case shows tension for Adele Mundy every time she thinks about Daniel Leary . . . yet the fact is Adele really doesn’t seem interested in romance with Leary or anyone.  So then the problem becomes, rather than romantic love, what, truly, is it that Adele wants from Daniel Leary?

The Greeks had three different words for what we’d all lump in as one word — “love.”  The closest to what Adele seems to want from Leary is philios, the love of a friend or brother, yet this might not be the true and complete reading (the only thing I am sure of is that Adele does not want eros, or physical love, from Daniel Leary).  Philios is a type of intellectual love where a very smart person can appreciate someone else for his intellect or learning or perhaps even for his high compassion for others, but only on the intellectual or friendship planes.

Then there’s agape, which is a deeper love of friendship than philios, though it can have elements of philios in it (and sometimes even eros as well).  Agape is more of a spiritual love than philios; it also can be thought of as the love of God or Deity, though to my mind that’s not really what the Greeks were about.  (My hunch is that the Greeks didn’t really have a great word for the love of the Deity, so they threw it in with the love one person had for another person that was unconditional — because agape is definitely considered an unconditional love, and aren’t we supposed to love the Deity unconditionally?)

At any rate, Adele clearly wants philios, and probably agape too, from Daniel Mundy.  He’s more than a brother, more than a friend, but can never be a lover due to her own background.  I did not explain this well in my review and I’m sorry.

The next book that I looked at again, this time at the request of the author in question (Troy CLE), was OLIVION’S FAVORITES (available at here: ).  This was a book that I’d received through the Amazon Vine program and, quite frankly, did not understand at all the first time I read it.  Troy CLE’s universe started with THE MARVELOUS EFFECT (available from here: ), a really fun book about a good African-American kid, Louis Proof, but I hadn’t read that book and had no idea that book even existed when I read OLIVION’S FAVORITES.

Now, here was the deal with OLIVION’S FAVORITES.  CLE’s strategy was to write this book — which actually is “part 1 1/2” of the MARVELOUS WORLD series (being the book that in sequence overlapped somewhat with the first book of the series, THE MARVELOUS EFFECT) — because so very much happened to Louis (and his friends Cyndi and Devon) that he couldn’t depict in THE MARVELOUS EFFECT that he really felt it needed to be told as a story by itself.  Making things a little more difficult, in the ARC version I got, there was absolutely nothing depicting anything that had happened in THE MARVELOUS EFFECT (nothing before this one section, which CLE had to take out of the previous book, at any rate), so I had to view OLIVION’S FAVORITES only on its own merits.  But I still didn’t get it and said so, giving it initially only two stars (though three for kids).

At this point, author CLE asked me to please read THE MARVELOUS EFFECT, because he thought I’d enjoy it and he also thought it would help me understand what was going on with OLIVION’S FAVORITES.   Since he asked nicely — and since I really, really don’t like dinging authors for things that they can’t help anyway (it wasn’t his fault there weren’t any explanatory notes in the ARC) — I went to read THE MARVELOUS EFFECT as I felt I could at least do that much.  

I was floored.  

THE MARVELOUS EFFECT, in short, was a whole lot of fun.  I enjoyed it very much, giving it four stars and a strong recommendation at Amazon for both kids and adults.

So at this point, I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to re-read OLIVION’S FAVORITES and understood it far, far better; I still didn’t like it to the level of THE MARVELOUS EFFECT, but at least it was comprehensible and had some funny moments — I actually revised my review, said why I was revising it, and gave it three stars (and 3.5 for kids) and a qualified recommendation (my qualifier was this: please read the first book before this one or you’ll be like me the first time around — hopelessly lost).

There’s only been two other books I have re-reviewed like this (rather than writing two reviews at different places at the same time, these are reviews written on different days with more depth the second time around), the first being THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth (reviewed at SBR, with that review here: ), but the reason for that review was much different.  There, I was unhappy with my first review at because I felt I hadn’t sufficient length to discuss the book, nor why I enjoyed it so very much; with Shiny Book Review in existence by then, I was able to take my further insights to SBR and review THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE to my heart’s content. 

I also did this with David P. Clark’s GERMS, GENES AND CIVILIZATION, mostly because my first review at was a blurb and I felt I could do far, far better.  Clark’s book required more of me than most books (even those on the economy and politics such as the recently-reviewed THE PREDATOR STATE which can be difficult to understand through the first fifteen readings or so), which is why I jumped at the chance to re-review it once I had the chance.  Clark’s book is a rarity in that it’s not too technical to understand; the reason I’d wanted to do better is to explain it in a historical context, rather than just blurbing it as I did the first time . . . I was far more pleased with my second effort, which is here at SBR:

So while it doesn’t happen often, sometimes I do indeed have second thoughts about a book I’ve reviewed, and in general I will try to do something about it (whether it’s writing a new blog like this, or writing a whole new review if I think that’s warranted, I’ll try to make things right).

Now for the real question — does anyone else ever do this?  (Or is it just another of my random quirks?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] Original post by Barb Caffrey […]

  2. Barb:

    Part of Mundy’s problem with Leary is, I would net, the fact that it was his Father that ran the night of the derocktopping, that removed Mundy’s _family_ as Political competitors, Permanently…

    David P. Clark’s book, G., G., and C.? In my opinion, it reads differently, every time I read another book, such as one on Ebola, or one on the original {French} attempt to build the Panama Canal, or even one on the Canadian (Toronto) horrors with a communicable Disease that also attacked members of the medical Establishment! Of course, I also read the storys about the deliberate spread of Opium into the Chinese Empire, differently than a lot of folk do…

    Neil Frandsen

    March 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    • Neil, you’re right about Adele Mundy and Daniel Leary. Really, he’s like her brother but it’s closer than that in some ways and they’re united by their mutual contempt for his father. It’s an unusual and unlikely friendship, but one that exists and helps each other, which is why I consider it closer to agape than “mere” philios.

      You’re right, Neil, that David Clark’s book read differently to me the longer I read it. I’ve actually read that book five times. I don’t completely agree with all of Clark’s arguments, but he’s certainly right that more about the actual _science_ that has happened since time immemorial (but we have only recently, in historical terms, known about in a way we could explain and replicate) being far more to blame, say, for Napoleon’s siege not working than God answering — or not answering, as the case may be — various prayers to that effect.

      Barb Caffrey

      March 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

  3. […] occasionally, have re-reviewed something when I felt I didn’t give someone a fair shake; I’ve discussed that here on my blog before, and while I don’t do it often, if I feel I’ve made a mistake or that there were other […]

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