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The Forever Queen

foreverqueenCurrently on Loan from the Library:

The Forever Queen by: Helen Hollick

The Long War by: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Bad Religion by: Ross Douthat

Other Books I’m Reading:

Don’t Kiss with your Mouth Full by: Henry P. Mahone

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson

I decided not to do NaNoWriMo this year. I was sad about it. Yet, it turned out to be a good thing. There were sick children, and car repairs, and last minute travel. Basically if rocks fell and everybody died I wouldn’t have been in the least bit surprised. While all that was going on, I thought I’d go on a many worlds kick to round out the Finity review.

That turned out to be not the best of ideas. I started The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. However, I didn’t finish. Dick’s actual life is always more interesting to me than his writing. I also started The Long War by Pratchett and Baxter. Got halfway through that before putting it down. There was some question in my mind about series, and maybe the last book was so bad because they were just setting up their universe. Nope. In fact, if you want a full review of The Long War just look at my April 15th 2013 review of The Long Earth and change out the titles in your head.

What could make this all better? Obviously. Vikings. The Forever Queen is about Emma of Normandy. Wife of English king Æthelred the Unready. Isn’t that a great name? He was unready too. Mostly, unready for the Vikings that were ravaging his lands. So his wife Emma has to step up and try to get something, anything done. Which is how she ends up married to the Danish invader, and new king, Cnut the Great.

I’ve got to give Helen Hollick her props. She is writing about an era with not a lot of reference material, and some extremely confusing names, and she’s doing it well. While the book does drag around the death of Æthelred, making the reader wish that Emma would just take care of business already. Still, mostly the plot moves along at an occasionally dry but steady clip.

There are some tragic scenes that are not depicted in overly gory detail. So far less gory than most Viking tales. There is a very upsetting scene of Emma getting beaten by Æthelred that may be difficult for some readers.

Hollick also explores the origins of King Harthancunt, Emma’s son by Cnut, Edward the Confessor one of Emma’s sons by Æthelred, and William the Conqueror who is Emma’s illegitimate great nephew. There are many royal children with very sad lives in this book. In fact the whole era after Cnut is sort of like the year of the five emperors in Roman History. No sooner in one guy on the throne than he is dead and someone else is sticking their face on the currency.

All in all, a solid read.

Favorite Scene: Cnut and Emma meet for the first time.

Favorite Quote: “Ælfgifu of Northampton was two months dead.” – Okay, it may not seem like much, but I had a party.

Enjoyability: Solid four stars.

Where to read this book: Anywhere.

Further reading: Really looking forward to the new Allison Weir, and the new Bernard Cornwell. Both coming out in the next six week. Can’t wait.

1356 – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

The Long Earth by: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The St. Zita Society by: Ruth Rendell

The War of the Roses  by: Alison Weir

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem by: Neal Stephenson (And the giant clock still continues to tick.)

I always like a good MacGuffin.  They make me smile inside.  1356 by Bernard Cornwell presents us with another fine MacGuffin.  Which is appropriate as the book is the follow up to his Grail Quest Series.  Which also had a fine MacGuffin in the form of the Holy Grail.

In 1356 we are treated to a chase across France after the Sword of St. Peter.  The sword, one of many things that Joseph of Arimathea seems to have dumped in England, is supposedly the sword that Jesus stopped St. Peter from using on the night Jesus was arrested.  As such it is either holy, or cursed.  Maybe both.  Throw in a priest with a bird that blinds people, a cardinal that wants to be Pope, some Scotts,  an English Prince, several armies of varying size, a French King,  a virgin knight, and a countess who is seriously not a virgin.  Now there is an adventure.

Sir Thomas of Hookton, returning hero of the Grail Quest series is ordered by his English liege Lord to find the sword.  Thomas who seems to be living happily in France as a war lord for hire, is not thrilled but can’t seem to escape involvement.  A constant theme in poor old Tom’s life.

I did not review the books in the Grail Quest series when I read them.  I didn’t hate them. I didn’t love them.  I assumed the subject matter was the problem.  Grail lore is just not my thing.  I hope some day they find dozens of first century clay cups in Glastonbury.  It would do my heart good.  However, 1356 leaves me with the meh as well.  It is not bad.  It is not great.  I enjoyed reading the book.  It was nice to have some follow up on Thomas. I probably would never read it again.  I can think of other books by the same author that I’d much rather reread.

There are of course the usual number of bloody battle scenes and rape victims everywhere.

I think the interesting part of this for me is what Cornwell is going to do next with this series.  If he does anything at all.  Both the Sword and the Grail have been disposed of by Sir Thomas in fairly lackadaisical ways.  It is entirely possible one or both could be resurrected.  Not entirely unlike another far more famous MacGuffin, the Ark of the Covenant.  Government facilities being what they are.

Enjoyability:  I give it four stars.  Not the best ever.  But good.

Where to read this book:  I probably should have taken this one the coffee shop.

Further reading:  Probably The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett.  I’m fascinated.  There is a character in it named Percy Blakeney.  Two points for anyone who can tell me without looking it up, what other Percy Blakeney I’m thinking of.

Unnatural Habits – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

1356 by: Bernard Cornwell (Yay!)

The Long Earth by: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

The St. Zita Society by: Ruth Rendell

 

Other Books I’m Reading:

Anathem: by Neal Stephenson (Yes.  Still.  I’m enjoying it.  Yet, as books go, it is on the tome side of the line.)

I don’t usually pick up a book based on the cover art.  However, the light and breezy cover art on this book, juxtaposed with the title “Unnatural Habits” was just too much to resist.  As it happens I’m thrilled that I didn’t resist.

Our hero, one Phryne Fisher, is a 1920’s Australian adventuress.  She is a lovely, intelligent, and audacious sleuth, with a cadre of quirky friends, contacts, and family.  When pregnant girls start to disappear from the care of the Magdalene Laundry, and a reporter investigating the disappearances goes missing as well, Phryne get involved.

This book did not really keep me guessing about the ultimate answer to the mystery of the missing reporter.  I got that about half way through. Still there are two other mysteries in this book, and Phryne solves those too.  In the end, the lack of suspense didn’t matter much to me.  The charters are vivid and interesting.  The plot moves along at a steady clip.  There are some red herrings, but mostly it’s a book about following clues, and hunches to their ultimate end.  Which makes it a refreshing read.

I am stunned to find that I’ve never heard of the author Kerry Greenwood before.  Kerry apparently has more than 40 novels to her name.  This book is the nineteenth in the Phryne Fisher series.   I shall clearly have to do some more research and reading.  Yes, that’s right.  The sound you hear is my must read pile getting higher and higher.  I feel critical mass may be near.

There are no actual scenes of corporeal exuberance in this book.  Although it is made very clear that Phryne has a Chinese lover.  He only shows up once, and does not derail the action of the book.  I always appreciate it when a writer feels they have enough material, that we don’t have to pause for the porn break in the middle of the adventure.

I also appreciated the light handed but clear handling of social issues in this book.  It’s not preachy, but the social concerns of the time are very present.  Naturally Phryne has her views, and she is not shy about expressing them.

All in all a well crafted book.

Enjoyability:   Five stars.  

 

Where to read this book:  Anywhere.   It’s got a great non-lurid cover.  

 

Further reading:  Okay, we all know that I started the Cornwell as soon as I got it home from the Library.  

A Summery Summary

I have been reading many books, as usual.  Just nothing recently that’s really made me want to write a review.  Also, I’ve been mentally gearing up for NaNoWriMo.  It’s been two or three years since I’ve finished my NaNoWriMo project on time.  Or in fact at all.  So this year I’m trying to work myself back into a writing schedule.  I feel silly having finished with time to spare three years straight, only to lose my edge.

I did read the first two novels in the Liam Campbell series by Dana Stabenow.  Both Fire and Iceand  So Sure of Death are very entertaining reads.  I confess that I don’t find Liam as interesting a character as Kate Shugak, the authors other major hero.  However, I find the people placed around Liam more compelling than those surrounding Kate.  Which is to say there are four minor characters and one major one in these books, that could easily be spun off into their own series.  I’d be on board.  I also like that these books make me feel like I could possibly survive in Alaska.  Where the Kate Shugak books make me feel that I would surely perish in a horrible way if I set foot in our forty-ninth state.  The Liam Campbell series puts me in mind of my friend Cindy who lived in Alaska for many years, and claims that old saying “the chances are good, but the goods are strange”, is dead on.

For my new book club I read A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers.  I admit, I am not a fan of Inspiration Fiction.  Generally I find the genera to be heavy handed, over emotional, manipulative, poorly sourced, badly executed, faux theological drivel.  That said, A Voice in the Wind was an interesting read.  There are plenty of cliff hangers, red herrings, and game changers to keep the reader engaged.  Francine Rivers is a talented writer.  I am looking forward to the next book in the series, which we are reading for next months meeting.  Be aware, she does stray into some works righteousness theology, and I have questions about how deeply she researched the Roman social order, but all in all, there’s nothing to get unhinged over.  I think most of the ladies in the group were upset by the gore, especially in the first several chapters.  Return readers will not doubt be aware of my Bernard Cornwell fixation, and take it into consideration when I say, the level of gore didn’t bother me.

Just now I’m reading Rift Zone by Raelynn Hillhoues.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I feel a very good review coming on.

Hope everyone had a great summer.  So glad the fall is here.

My (New) Little Corner of the World

Of course part of the fun of moving is losing your sandals for two weeks.  I found them.  In the place I really should have looked in the first place too.  Ahhhhgggg!

As moving inconvenience goes, I think we’ve got most of the paperwork stuff covered.  Also, I can find the church, the coffee shop, the library, and the Walmart.  So I’m good.  And I haven’t been lost once.  I may have finally found a town the right size for me.  Since I spent my first year lost last time we moved.

The library here is beyond charming.  It’s on the lower level of a municipal building.  It’s not huge.  They make up for size by having inter library loan, and a good children’s area.  I’m taking the boys to story time this week.  That should be an adventure.  They also have several book clubs I may have to check out.  However, I think the thing I found most charming was the library delivery service for the homebound.  Now that is knowing your audience.  I mean I won’t be using it.  Still nice to know that if I’m here until I’m 106 I’ll still be able to get my books.  Cause I need my books.

The day we were in to get our library cards, my son B started an discussion between the adorable counter girls about D.C. verses Marvel characters.  I instantly felt right at home.  I’ve never been able to choose myself.  Although the X-men makes me lean Marvel just a little bit.

I checked out some interesting things too.  Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell, which I’ve started twice, and then run out of time and energy.  The library has a good Bernard Cornwell section for a library its size.  Which I totally approve of.  I also got The Other Queen by Phillippa Gregory.  I have to say, I’m mostly interested in this book because it is reportedly about Mary Queen of Scots.  I’ve really gotten interested in Mary lately thanks to a couple Stuff You Missed in History Class podcasts.  I highly recommend them too.  If you never thought history was that interesting, you should check them out.  I think you’ll be proven wrong.  Just by a podcast.  They are all so good, it’s hard for  me to pick a favorite.  But I digress.  Filling out my to read stack this week there is also The Pirate Queen by Susan Ronald, which is a biography of Elizabeth I, and The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.  I’m in the middle of The Palace of Illusions.  So far I’m experiencing approving sentiments.  Also, it makes me think I should be more familiar with Hindu mythology.  But more on that later.

I’m not going to lie.  The boxes are still waist high at the townhouse.  I’m not worried.  I’ll get it all sorted.  At least thanks to this move,  there are no more boxes that give you a whiff of Sugar Beet refinery when you open them.  That was Michigan.  Which was about nine years ago now.  Until this move there were still a couple beet refinery boxes.  Sadly.

Hope everyone is having a good week.  Also a shout out to my friend Cindy who is getting ready to move again.  To New Hampshire.  I hope it goes well.  You’re a better woman than me.  Give C a hug.  And know our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Death of Kings – review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Death of Kings by: Bernard Cornwell

The Forever War by: Joe Haldeman

The Crown by: Nancy Bilyeau

Other Books I’m Reading:

The new Dana Stabenow is on hold for me at the Library.  I think it is called Restless in the Grave.  But don’t quote me.  My mind is on the 9th century right now.

I admit I was worried about Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series after the fifth installment The Burning Land.  I thought I detected the sort of subtle aimlessness in the book that often is the sign a series is about to founder.  I should have had more faith.

Death of Kings finds Saxon Warlord Uhtred poor and living off the estates of King Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed.  He’s still a Pagen, he’s still ready for a brawl, and he’s still very grouchy when mercenaries show up to kill him.  After foiling the attempt on his life with some sheep a shepherd and a large sword, Uhtred marches off on a peace mission to King Eohric.  Naturally it’s a trap.

The next three hundred pages are all that another installment to this series should be.  There are bloody battles, although mostly raids.  Which are actually more fun than the larger battles anyway.  There are fortune tellers and counter fortune tellers.  Traps and counter traps.  I think it’s not spoiling anything to say that Alfred finally dies, and his son Edward takes the throne.  Likewise Aethelwold who has been asking for it for several books now, finally dies in a  largely satisfying way.

Watch for the scene where Uhtred tells the people he’s attacking exactly what he’s doing, and they refuse to believe him for long enough that he has time to do exactly what he said he would.  I admit those scenes are a staple of this series.  Still I’m always amused by them.  This time their are boats.  And don’t boats make everything better?

The main problem with the book is a problem that Cornwell is saddle with by history.  There are simply an appalling number of people running around with very similar names.  Not just the Aethelwolds and Aethelflaeds and Aethelreds, but also a Sigelf, two Sigurds and a Sigebriht.  I am always tempted to wonder what these people called each other when they were alive.  Maybe Edward called Aethelflaed “Sissy”.  Maybe everyone called Aethelwold “Stumpy”.  We’ll just never know.  Yet, Cornwell pushes forward to spite the fact his word processor must be having a melt down.  I don’t blame you if you need a score card.  I certainly thought about using one.

Death of Kings does serve to remind me that Uhtred is getting old.  In his 40’s in this installment.  35 is the average life expectancy for the period.  So it seems the clock is ticking on Uhtred and his ambition of retaking his family home of Bebbanburg.  All along the books in the series have eluded to a future in which Uhtred does accomplish his goal.  Sadly, I’m thinking we’re going to have to get there soon.

As usual I’ll remind you these books are shamelessly gory and should be avoided by sensitive readers.  I’d say Death of Kings is about medium gore for the series.  Less rape than usual.  More  bodies left exposed to the elements.

Enjoyability:   Very Enjoyable.  I give Death of Kings  five stars.

Where to read this book:  Anywhere.

Further reading:  I’ve started on The Forever War, which my husband is shocked I’ve missed up until now.  Also, I’ll be headed to the Library for the new Stabenow.

To Die For – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

The Forever War  by: Joe Haldeman 

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

The Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (Hooray!!)

Other Books I’m Reading:

I’ve been knitting, and not so much with the reading this week.  Also, I have been trying to find a book free for download that I can stomach long enough to write a review.  Either I’m not trying very hard, or there isn’t much out there.  Suggestions welcome.

I read Sandra Byrds’ historical novel To Die For.  I can’t review it.  I just can’t.  The blood bath might leak onto my keyboard.  It’s a good keyboard.  To Die For is one of those novels where the more or less historically named lady falls in love with the more or less historically named man, and they can’t be together for 99% of the book.  And then they can.  There is a good deal of futzing around in very detailed period clothing at more or less historically portrayed places and events.  Toward the end Anne Boleyn loses her head.  Like you knew she would.  In short, I can’t believe I read the whole thing.

After that I did start the Ken Follett book I had.  Then Library called and said my Bernard Cornwell book was in.  Then then there was a happy dance and some snickering from the peanut gallery.  Then I went to the Library.  Which means at some later date I will have to give Ken Follett a try again.  In all fairness.  But not this week.  I’m 12 pages in to The Death of Kings and the body count is already at 13.  I just love how this guy writes.

Enjoyability:   Half a star.  I don’t know how it got published.

Where to read this book:  Nowhere that you will be seen with it.

Further reading: Bernard Cornwell.  And then some other stuff.

Then Came You – Review

Currently on Loan from the Library:

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay  by: Beverly Jensen   (Mostly checked out because of the Stephen King endorsement on the back cover)

The Pillars of the Earth  by: Ken Follett (Which seems unnaturally heavy)

To Die For by: Sandra Byrd

Other Books I’m Reading:

Nothing really at the moment

While I wait for my name to be next on the Library’s waiting list for the Death of Kings, Bernard Cornwell’s new installment in the Saxon Series, I thought I would go on a Science Fiction bender.  That didn’t really work out for me.  I started in on Greg Bear’s City at the End of Time.  Normally I like time shifty, time thready, loopy sorts of stories.  Somehow I just couldn’t get into this book.  I kept thinking it would get better.  “Just ten more pages”, I kept telling myself.  Which is how I read the first 107 pages.  It didn’t work out though.  So I returned it to the Library.  It wasn’t badly done.  It just wasn’t to my taste.  Although, if you happen to dream of a city at the end of time, I understand the Chalk Princess is looking for you.  Run!

Just as I was putting The City at the End of Time down, and looking around for something else, my husband came how with the newest Jennifer Weiner.  He’d spotted it at the Library and checked it out for me.  How sweet was that???

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Jennifer Weiner elevates Chick Fic to Women’s Literature.  She’s one of the very few “women’s” writers that I really respect.  She doesn’t write down to her reader.  Her characters are often realistic, logical, and funny.  Best of all, Jennifer never shies away from showing women being really genuinely evil to each other.  If you don’t believe me, you really have to read In Her Shoes and watch for the step mother.

That said, I don’t know that Then Came You is really a rave.  The characters are interesting and sympathetic.  The pacing is good.  The plot has plenty of twists and turns.  I don’t even mind the lesbian love story.  It’s well done, and the one scene of corporeal exuberance is short mild and easy to skip if that sort of thing bothers you.  However, I get the feeling that this book was going someplace else, and some editor somewhere insisted on a happy ending.

What is it with the happy ending anyway?  Most of the really great  books on earth don’t have happy endings.  Most of them aren’t even hopeful.  Quasimodo dosen’t ride off into the sunset with Esmerelda.  He lays down next to her dead body and dies.  Mannie wins the war, but loses his best friend.  Rhett leaves Scarlett. (As far as I’m concerned there are no follow ups to this book.  So don’t even go there.  Margaret could write!)  Hester takes up her punishment again, and is buried near her lover.  Beth dies, and they always miss her.  None of these books would be classics with out, well, unhappy endings.

Then Came You starts out with heaps of poignant ending potential.  I give you poor college girl Jules who just wants her father to have a chance at rehab, and so donates her eggs to an infertility clinic.  I give you Annie, who just wants to help her family be financially comfortable so she agrees to be a surrogate.  I give you India, who suffers with infertility, and hires a surrogate.  I give you Bettina, lonely, angry step daughter of India who just wants her father’s trophy wife gone.  Each voice separate, different and interesting.  All of them three dimensional and surprising.  All of them concerned with the birth of the same baby.

And then there is a happy ending.  A rather unbelievable happy ending at that.

Read the book.  By all means read the book.  It’s very well written.  Just know that in my mind it ends differently.   Jules is left to wonder what happened to her eggs, and it makes her a better woman this sacrifice without answers.  Annie is left to read about the child she carried in the papers (famous parents) and hope that she is well, while always weighing the comfort she bought with cost she paid.  India raises a child that she loves desperately, but who she feels always compares her to another possible mother.  Bettina comes to understand her father’s love of his wife, and hates him for it.

But of course, that is my ending.

Enjoyability:   Very Enjoyable.  Four stars

Where to read this book:  This is a pot of tea, and a comfortable chair sort of book.

Further reading:  I think Ken Follett.  I’ve never actually read any Ken Follett.

Not Even A King

Currently on Loan from the Library:

Nothing

Other Books I’m Reading:

I’m considering my options.

I ended up returning a bunch of books to the library today without actually reading three of them.  This is very sad to me, and I will surely have to check out at least two of them at another time.  However, the Library computer system is having a meltdown this week.  As it happens I am deeply addicted to having the Library computer system on line.  I can order things in from other places.  I can have exact change on those occasions when I owe money.  I can make sure I don’t have overdue books, because I always lose the little slips they print out for me.  It’s just thrown my world off.  Okay, not my world.  My reading habits.   

The book that I did manage to finish this week was The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell.  I came to Cornwell’s work because I like Vikings and happened across the first book of his Saxon Chronicles at the library.  That series turned out to be everything I think is missing in most historical fiction.  So I read on to his Grail Quest series too.  Don’t roll your eyes.  I know the Holy Grail has been done to death.  Cornwell’s Grail Quest is so far from what I would have expected from a Grail based series that I read them all in about a week and a half.  

After that, there was no way that I couldn’t move on to The Arthur Books.  Although I swore off Arthur years ago after a crazy month during which I read The Once and Future King, The Mists of Avalon, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, back to back, I couldn’t help myself.  Nor was I disappointed.  Cornwell has stripped the Arthur legands back to their root in away that could leave modern readers confused.  There are no knights in shining armor, no round table, and if you can believe it, Arthur is not a king.  

Conrwell, sets his books in the late 400’s.  After Rome has left the isle, but before the Viking expansion into the area which started in the late 700’s.  Many of the familiar players in the story have been recast, or taken from the oldest versions of the legand.   The narrator, is one of Arthur’s knights in retirement as a monk.  His name is Derfel.  Arthur is now a Warlord, the illegitimate son of Uther.  Arthur is sworn to protect the throne of his nephew Mordred.  Mordred, Uther’s grandson, and legitimate heir, is a baby born on stormy winter night, with a club foot, and a displeasing personality.  Lancelot while still there too, is now cast as a cowardly mamma’s boy, who lies to look good in battle.  Guinevere is more huntress than princess.  Morgan is more hag than woman.  And Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, is less Lady, and more half mad priestess.  Meanwhile, Merlin, always a staple of other works, is absent for a full 90% of the book.  Still, it is a deeply enjoyable read, full of dry humor, and well, battles.  

I will say that much of what I enjoy about Cornwell’s writing may be what other people would not like.  These are not books where the historically named rogue woos his historically named lady fair.  These are not books where the author tries to stay true to the facts we know, but ends up wandering in to speculation or supposedly well hidden scandal.  These are not books about how women are the real power behind the stupid stupid men in their lives.  Cornwell’s books are unabashedly bloody, battle filled, and harsh.  No one comes out well, and most people end violently.  A Cornwell book is more likely to have a description of a severed head than it is to have heaving bosoms.  

They are very testosteroni reads and should be avoided by sensitive readers.  

Still, I think they are smart, well written, and more accurate than we’d like to think most of the time.  

Enjoyability:   Very Enjoyable.  I give The Winter King  five stars.  

Where to read this book:  Anywhere.  Just be careful.  It may cause you to be short with people who interrupt you during the exciting parts.  

Further reading:  I was hoping to move on to the next book in the series, Enemy of God.  But since the library is still all widdershins I guess I’ll have to find something around here.  I’d love some suggestions too.  What has everyone been reading lately?

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