Nothing causes me more happy excitement than a fat historical novel by Sharon K.Penman. She has the gift of narrative. She feeds her readers a ton of...moreNothing causes me more happy excitement than a fat historical novel by Sharon K.Penman. She has the gift of narrative. She feeds her readers a ton of background, deftly mixed with the action of her story. The unsuspecting reader learns all this Medieval History without noticing, because they are so enthralled by the pace of her tale's events. Sneaky, sneaky writer!
This particular book tells us of the original "return of the King", the homeward journey, capture, captivity and ransom of Richard the Lionheart following the sad and barren end of his Crusade. It is a sequel to her previous novel Lionheart, which tells the tale of Richard's adventures on Crusade. Perhaps it would be better to call it a companion book, as it has the strength to stand on its own even if you have not read the first book. It is a hefty 600+ pages and is not a book you can gulp in one bite. That is alright with me, as Penman's prose is best taken in bites small enough to savor. We are treated to Richard's perilous sea journey, brought to a change of plan by the news that shifting European alliances have blocked his intended ports to him. Storms force his ship ashore in territory claimed by Leopold of Austria, a prince who fancies his honor has been slighted by Richard in the Holy Land. A series of mishaps land Richard and his men in captivity, transferred from the relatively straight forward and benign kidnap by Leopold into the clutches of Heinrich, the Holy Roman Emperor. Heinrich is here portrayed as a ruthless and cold blooded prince, obsessed with his own dynastic goals and desperate for money to pursue them. He is no friend to the Angevin King and is actually allied with Philippe of France, Richard's worst enemy. Richard's greatest fear is that Heinrich will sell him to Philippe.
Our viewpoint is then turned to Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, as she struggles to keep his son on his throne and to raise the insanely large ransom demanded for the king's release. We also learn of Richard's sister Joanna, the widowed Queen of Sicily, his wife Berengaria of Navarre and a host of others whose lives are interwoven into Richard's tale. Here we have the clash of religions, the lust for power, the love of a mother, the desires of lovers and loyalty and betrayal; all of these mixed into a tasty treat for the lucky reader.
If you are fond of adventure, this has it in the large economy size. If you love suspense, this tale has a boatload. If you are a history lover, this is your meat and drink. Don't dawdle. Get this book and read it!(less)
Fannie Flagg writes with an authentic voice and gentle humor. Each of her characters is palpably real. As her narrative unfolds, a little voice in you...moreFannie Flagg writes with an authentic voice and gentle humor. Each of her characters is palpably real. As her narrative unfolds, a little voice in your brain is saying, "Yes, it's her! I know her, I've met him, golly, yes, my neighbor does that!"
In her most recent offering, she turns her clear gaze on Sookie Poole, a middle-aged housewife in Clear Point, Alabama. Sookie has managed to direct three major marriage productions and is now ready to enjoy her quiet house and spend some time with her husband Earle. She has always subordinated herself to her Mother, the irrepressable, irresistable force in her life. She has been a Good Daughter, a fond mother and a steadfast wife. Surely now she can enjoy some relaxation. But the mail brings a registered letter, that trumpets that Sookie is not who she thought she was, that her family and history were not the impressive monolith she had been taught to revere, and that truth and fiction can blur and collide. The letter catapults her into the world of a close knit Polish family, of four sisters who run the All Girl Filling Station, and to the world of the WASPS; female fliers who ferried planes for the US in WWII. Sookie learned about joyful flight, dire danger and Mother's love in a way she had never contemplated before. She also learned to accept herself, her mother and the narrative of her past.
This is a sweetly told story, but don't make the error of thinking it is a light romance. This tale deals with love and death, responsibility and human folly. Fannie Flagg knows just where each of us is vulnerable and ridiculous, frightened and lost. But she also knows how ordinary people can arise triumphant out of the shreds of their dilemmas and move into a contented life.
I loved this story of a woman like those I know, who had her world demolished and who forged through the remnants with a strength and humor she had never known she possessed. Those who loved Ms. Flagg's previous novels will love this one. So will anyone else who isn't a Grinch.
The City has existed, in its many incarnations, for thousands of thousands of years. It is built in strata, each new layer rising like a phoenix from...moreThe City has existed, in its many incarnations, for thousands of thousands of years. It is built in strata, each new layer rising like a phoenix from the ashes and ruins of the previous ones. Rivers have been built over and turned to use as sewers, hills have been leveled and valleys filled as the City grew, changed and remained. In many places, one can follow down a stair into long past history. The City lives and continues in a constant state of war with its neighbors and rivals. Its citizens believe it has always been so, and fight tenaciously at the behest of their emperor, The Immortal. He lives in a Palace in the central City which like its surrounding city,rises on the remains of previous Halls, corridors, staircases, libraries and dungeons.
Our story is as stratified as the city in which it is set. It begins in the sewers and rivers below the City proper, where the very poor and the very desperate dwell, picking through the garbage of the better off, robbing the occasional corpse and defending themselves from the occasional patrol. We meet, the old man Bartellus and the children Elija and Emly and follow them through subterranean Halls. Gradually we realize that they will become significant to those who live in higher places. We see the eternal battlefields and meet Indara, a swordswoman, Fell Aron Lee, a midlevel commander and other soldiers of endless combat. Again, we realize that they too, have a greater part to play.
Stella Gemmell uses skill and subtlety to build her world for us. It is gritty and sweaty and damp and scary. It is also elaborate and redolent of luxury and corruption. Her characters may not always be sure of their places in this maze, but the author knows where she is going and takes us with her in a most irresistible fashion. At first, I though the action was slow, but gradually I realized the pace was deliberate. It certainly does not lack dire events and deadly dangerous action. Battle, assassination, treachery, fire and flood all occur, with our heroes and villains coping, plotting, living and dying in their wake.
This held my interest and kept me turning the pages frantically. I was reminded of many great cities in history, Constantinople with its immense cisterns, London with its underground rivers and Bazalgette's fabulous Victorian sewers, Rome and Paris with their catacombs and ruins.Any lover of archaeology, history, mythology or military lore will see that the author has surely done her homework. I have to give this my highest rating and I wish I could award some more stars.(less)
I laughed and sniffled over the story, as I did over the first book in this series. Ilona Andrews has become a must buy-must read author for me. Her s...moreI laughed and sniffled over the story, as I did over the first book in this series. Ilona Andrews has become a must buy-must read author for me. Her seriously tough gal Kate Daniels lives in a world where magic and technology come and go in unpredictable "waves". Much of the action takes place in an Atlanta that has been weirdly altered by magic. Kate is a mercenary who troubleshoots dilemmas that result from magical means or "mythical" beings. She does this while obsessively hiding her own murky origins, rescuing the helpless and flirting and irritating the King of the Beasts, a shapeshifter hottie. Truly Ladies, if Andrews' description of Curran does not make you drool, you are ready for a dirt nap. Kate's adventures are self-narrated in a breezy, sarcastic fashion, and her observations on her world and the characters she meets are a treat to my funnybone. Try this one, chuckle a little and enjoy yourself.(less)
What bliss and rapture to walk into the bookstore with money in you...more"Oh rapture! Oh bliss! Oh bliss! Oh rapture!" - Gilbert and Sullivan H.M.S. Pinafore
What bliss and rapture to walk into the bookstore with money in your pocket! What exquisite and singular rapture to find the new Gail Carriger offering nestling on the shelves, just waiting for me, whispering my name. I fell instantly, parting with my cash with a besotted smile on my face.
I was not disappointed. I snickered and chuckled and grinned my way through the whole book. Oh how I wish that I had been able to attend such a wondrous finishing school. I would have diligently studied the art of fan fluttering and I would have eagerly pursued the science of poisoning only half of my dinner guests. Our heroine and her schoolmates attend their classes in a marvelously steampunk dirigible, while fighting off flywaymen and learning to curtsy. There are charming connections to the previous series, but this book stands on its own with perfect posture and poise. It is packaged as a YA, but this 64 year old Nana enjoyed every page. If this one doesn't amuse you, you have a promising career in the mortuary business. Go read it and let it twang your funnybone.(less)
As I write this, it is two in the a.m. and I am almost dizzy with the desire to return to the marvellous fantasy worlds of Days of Blood and Starlight...moreAs I write this, it is two in the a.m. and I am almost dizzy with the desire to return to the marvellous fantasy worlds of Days of Blood and Starlight. I yearn for the desert Kasbahs near Marrakech and the strange and wonderful continents, oceans and islands of Eretz. Laini Taylor made them so tangible that I was almost pained to put the book down. I had the same reaction to the first book in this series and I expect to feel it again as the story is to be continued. Don't let the "tbc" put you off, the story stands on its own, yet promises more wondrous worlds and more hope, love, death and jealousy for the characters. Not only did we have the seemingly doom-filled love of Karou and Akiva, but we had the vengeful White Wolf, the twisted conniving Prince Jael, the staunchly loyal Zuzana and Mik and the brave and defiant Ziri. They are fantastic players in an almost perfect fantasy. This book has been packaged as YA, but deals with mature themes in subtle and sophisticated ways. It swept me away from my mundane cares and dropped me splat into drama. Did I say drama? Aristotle says that true drama should inspire terror and pity. By that definition---yes, I say drama. To enjoy this to the utmost, get the first book. Read it, love it and run out and get this one. Read it, and join me in panting anticipation of the next installment.(less)
Thomas Jefferson was a super-foodie. His garden books and personal journals reveal a guy devoted to good eats. His favorite vegetable seems to have be...moreThomas Jefferson was a super-foodie. His garden books and personal journals reveal a guy devoted to good eats. His favorite vegetable seems to have been sweet peas, he becomes positively rhapsodic over his delectable peaches and he favored game birds such as canvasback ducks. (All good choices IMOH.)So it was just natural that when he was appointed Ambassador to France, he would take his clever and intelligent slave James Hemmings along with him to learn the art of French Cuisine. This involved Jefferson in some small risk, as slavery was illegal in France and theoretically, Hemmings could have freed himself simply by walking out the door and Jefferson couldn't have done zip about it. However, they seemed to have had an agreement, that Jefferson would pay to have Hemmings trained by the best chefs, and Hemmings would return to Virginia and teach his art to another Jefferson family slave, whereupon Jefferson would manumit Hemmings. (Eventually, this actually happened, although with some detours and delays.)
Jefferson did pay rather exhorbitant fees for Hemmings' tuition and Hemmings acquired a package of serious skills. While this was occurring, Jefferson traveled throughout France, learning about wine and olive oil, eating regional specialties and collecting seeds and cuttings. He also learned to use the intimate dinner party as a method of furthuring diplomacy.
When Jefferson and Hemmings returned to the U.S., they introduced or popularized the French fry, ice cream desserts and macaroni and cheese. (What a debt every kindergartner owes to James Hemmings!)Thomas Jefferson bought and served fine French wines at the White House and made champagne fashionable for celebrations. Even when he was all but bankrupt, Jefferson continued to buy French wines and olive oil. His hospitality was famous and so were his desserts. James had taught his arts to his younger brother Peter Hemmings, who taught others in the household. The kitchen at Monticello had been redesigned for the use of French techniques, with a brick stove and copper pots.
All of this story is told in a lively, chatty style by author Thomas Craughwell. It is a compact book, but full of interesting nuggets such as TJ's brief carreer as a rice smuggler. (Honest! Read the book!) It is also illustrated with reprints from Jefferson's journals and Hemming's recipes. This should appeal to the social historian, the foodie, the Jefferson fan and anybody who just enjoys a good read. I would write more, but I'm going into the pantry to look for my ramekins to make custard.(less)
In this fast paced sequel to Ashfall, Alex and his lover Darla leave the relative safety of his uncle's farm to locate his Mom and Dad, who,ironically...moreIn this fast paced sequel to Ashfall, Alex and his lover Darla leave the relative safety of his uncle's farm to locate his Mom and Dad, who,ironically, had left to find HIM. They are parted by "flensers" human refuse who prey upon the weakened populace and eat them. Alex sets out to find and rescue Darla as well as his parents. He tracks her from one band of human rodents to another. Along the way, he meets Alyssa and Ben who had been prisoners of the flensers. Ben has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and his sister Alyssa has resorted to trading herself to thugs to keep him safe. They join Alex in searching and are scooped up together by FEMA contractors who imprison them in a refugee camp. Alex has been through this before and immediately begins to plan his escape. He is shocked to discover that his Mom and Dad have organized the refugees into self protecting groups and are teaching English and self-defense. They refuse to escape from the camp because someone is kidnapping people from the camp and the guards are clearly being paid to look the other way. At this point, Ben comes into his own. Like many persons with autism, he has both high intelligence and obsessive interests. He has always loved military history and his encyclopedic grasp of strategy, tactics and arms becomes key to the remainder of this slam bang action. A particularly satisfying feature of this book is the sensitive but realistic presentation of Ben's character. Another sympathetic portrayal here is of Alex's continuing journey into adulthood. He admits to himself and to Darla that a part of him wanted to find his parents so that someone else would be responsible, but of course, he finds that events have altered both his parents and his own maturity. All of this is played out against the background of endless ice and snow, technological breakdown, famine and scarcity of resources.
I devoured this book in one sitting. I could not put it down. The world that Alex had to cope with was so awful and so real, I just had to find out what happened next. I think that most readers will be as held as I was. This one is a keeper, guys.(less)
It is O'dark thirty in the morning and I have just finished this Marvelous Book. You'll note I used capitals which I did on purpose because this book...moreIt is O'dark thirty in the morning and I have just finished this Marvelous Book. You'll note I used capitals which I did on purpose because this book is something very special. It is hard to find non-fiction which reads lyrically like poetry. Some very fine authors, most of them British, do manage this feat and Peter Ackroyd has done it here. Perhaps he was inspired by his great subject matter.
For a brief disclaimer I'll admit up front that I worship every syllable Shakespeare ever wrote. I have been privileged in the past to enact some of his plays and there is no magic quite like that. When the lines begin to flow, I'll swear you can SEE the energy flowing from stage to audience and back. It's SSOOOOO good!
Some of that energy seems to have osmosed into Ackroyd's high-spirited bio. He deals evocatively with Shakespeare's youth, of his apparent love of nature and the countyside, of the possible ways he spent the so-called lost years, of his family etc, etc. He deftly presents issues that have been debated for hundreds of years, such as was Shakespeare a crypto-Catholic? Did he have marital troubles? How did he think and feel about his writings? Which plays were written when? Ackroyd addresses them all with style and gusto. I'm so impressed with amount of research he had to have done to write this; his bibliography is eleven pages long. Whoo dogies! That's a lot of reading! Along the way somewhere he seems to have absorbed ton of data about the Elizabethan world in much the way Shakespeare himself seems to have done. There are juicy bits about legal matters, courts, deeds, fines and the training of lawyers. There is herb-craft and other medicine, music and dance, daily manners and courtly behavior, and a funny bit with a dog. (OK, I stole that last bit, but so did Shakespeare and Jonson and Marlowe and Kyd!) And did you know that at one time Will lodged at the corner of Silver and Muggle streets? Ya gotta love it! Coming in at a hefty 518 pages, there's a lot to love here.
This wonderful bio will appeal to those who love Tudor and Stuart England as well as to lovers of the Bard and literature in general.(less)