I am not overly familiar with the grand historical chapter of British history known as the Wars of the Roses. I have come across bits and pieces of itI am not overly familiar with the grand historical chapter of British history known as the Wars of the Roses. I have come across bits and pieces of it over the years so feel I have a sort of cursory outline understanding of it. So it has been a great pleasure to read the first book of Conn Iggulden’s series, Stormbird, as well as this second chapter.
The title (in the UK, at least), “Trinity” references the forces allied against King Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, namely York, Salisbury, and Warwick (later to become known as “The Kingmaker”. This book essentially covers their political machinations for the crown and Margaret’s masterful moves against them. This volume in the series covers the time frame of 1454 through 1461. This is a key time in the overall build-up and positioning of the houses of York and Lancaster as well as major events of the war itself, covering the Battle of Heworth Moor, as well as what many believe to be the actual beginning of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of St. Albans in 1455. This volume ends with the critical events at Sandal Castle at the end of 1460 wherein two of the members of the titular “trinity” lost their lives.
This author does a good job of bringing the vastness of the political events that occurred during those years down to the personal level. To my knowledge, all but one of the characters in this book are actual historical people. The one who is not, spymaster Derry Brewer, serves well as a way to let readers see certain key events through his eyes. I was struck particularly with the character of York, who is proving to be a complicated man with complex motivations. While it is clear that neither side of this conflict really wants war, York, in particular seems torn about just what his goals are: protecting the throne for the rightful ruler or becoming the heir himself.
This is not an easy book to follow, especially if the reader’s knowledge of these events is as cursory as mine. This is a complex historical struggle, with some characters shifting allegiances and it’s not always easy to follow the events. To compound matters, names of characters can be confusing with many sometimes being referred to by their given name (Richard) and sometimes by their title (York, as in Duke of York). This is common, of course in historical novels and non-fiction books involving British history but makes it doubly difficult to keep it all straight. And even worse, naming conventions of the time weren’t all that creative. Which Richard or Henry or which Mary are we talking about? And for that matter, which York or which Warwick is being referenced given that they all have sons that take over when a titled position is vacated. Thankfully, this book contains several detailed maps, complete family trees, and a handy list of characters that also includes who they are supporting. Without them, I fear I would have been completely lost.
Overall, these books are a great way to understand what occurred during the Wars of the Roses but at the same time, enjoy a good old fashioned novel of intrigue, political gamesmanship, and fierce battles of honor and revenge. It can be a bit of a chore to get through but worth it in the end. Looking forward to the next chapter in this historical saga. ...more
If you are the type of reader to pay attention to lists, you will often find this book listed among the top 25 all-time best Western novels.
James T.If you are the type of reader to pay attention to lists, you will often find this book listed among the top 25 all-time best Western novels.
James T. Kettleman is a financier of railroads in the late 1800’s with a fortune to rival those of the Vanderbilts. But he started life in the West, learning and growing at the knee of his mentor, a man named Flint. Kettleman left the West at the age of seventeen after the death of his mentor in a shootout in which young Kettleman also made a lasting impression on those that saw his own proficiency with a gun. In the East he became one of the wealthiest financiers in America. All of that happened before the beginning of this book but now, suffering from incurable cancer, he has come back to New Mexico to die alone. He gets caught up in an all-out range war, and doesn’t want his rich and powerful identity known so he chooses to go by the name of his old friend Flint.
There are typical western themes and scenes in this book but there is also quite a bit of interesting perspectives that you might encounter from a railroad financier such as land claims, legal battles over property and the like. It’s a good mix and I enjoyed my time spent with these characters. ...more
I’ve been meaning to try this series for years now, especially since I joined Goodreads and been on the receiving end of much pestering from my GR friI’ve been meaning to try this series for years now, especially since I joined Goodreads and been on the receiving end of much pestering from my GR friends. Of course that’s what friends are for and I am thankful that all of your pestering finally reached critical mass and pushed me over the edge.
I’ve read many a serial killer novel over the years and while I usually still find them at least somewhat interesting, they have tended to blur together in my memory. So to stand out from the crowd I need several key ingredients in any new ones I pick up. Foremost, there needs to be a unique main character. Lucas Davenport certainly fulfills that requirement. Instead of a cliched down and out alcoholic sleuth we have a tough police Lieutenant with a get-it-done reputation. A bit of a rogue and most definitely a womanizer, he likes nothing better than a new perfectly-tailored suit. He is also a man after my own heart: a gamer and even a game designer and has become quite wealthy through a number of pursuits. He is not above using other people, even innocent people to obtain his goals and even more importantly, he doesn’t just bend the rules, he flat out breaks them. He is a vigilante policeman who believes the ends justify the means and doesn’t bat an eye at planting evidence or falsifying facts to make sure the bad guy goes down. Such a character is not always sympathetic but somehow, this author manages to make him so, nonetheless. And that, my friends, makes this book, and presumably, this series, a worthwhile read.
The setting is the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul, also unique to my experience. I get tired of these sorts of novels always taking place in New York, LA or Washington DC. As a reporter and columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for many years, John Sandford (real name John Camp) brings an air of authenticity to this locale and the plot in general. He knows what a crime scene looks like and how the press, the cops, and the public at large react to such things. Fortunately, he doesn’t “write like a journalist”. This is a gripping page-turner of a book.
There is not much of a downside here except for the feeling I got at the end that Davenport himself never changed throughout the novel. He didn’t grow or change in any measurable way. I suspect that is not the case over the course of the series otherwise there is no way it could be so successful after 25 novels and still going strong. The bad guy was intelligent, yes, and is known to the reader from near the beginning of the book (this is a thriller, not a mystery) but for a “smart” fellow he made plenty of mistakes. Thankfully, the plot’s realism depicted luck as a very real part of the way cops catch (or don’t catch) bad guys and here, the police’s lucky and unlucky breaks matched those of the villain so the story absolutely worked.
I’ll be reading more of this series of course and I am intrigued by John Sandford’s style enough to investigate his other series as well. ...more
Any attempt to follow book one of this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and try to live up to the very high bar set by that first book would be amongAny attempt to follow book one of this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and try to live up to the very high bar set by that first book would be among the most difficult of tasks attempted by any author. The first book of a series is always…well…the first book. It’s shiny and new and an amazing new world whereas the second book just isn’t. The fact that this second book was as good as it was is a testament to Scott Lynch’s writing ability and his persistence.
So having said that, this one is still filled with wit and humor, a major caper that morphs into deeper layers of deception, adventure galore, and two main characters that get put through the ringer. Overall, I would say there is a little less conniving thievery in this one and more pure adventurous drive to survive. Locke and his sidekick Jean have entered a whole new region of their world and that means rather a lot of info dumps early on. Nearly two thirds of the novel is a pirate adventure filled with ship life, seamanship terminology, and swashbuckling escapades. Along the way several new intriguing characters are introduced and the ending tells me we haven’t seen the last of them yet.
Just as in the first book, there are several flashback sequences in the first third of this novel but none thereafter. For a fantasy novel set in a world that does have magic in it, there is virtually none of that throughout this book. I flirted with granting a 5 star rating but there were times when it felt too long, with perhaps just a bit too many convolutions in plot. So really it's more like 4.5 stars.
All in all, this was another fun read in Scott Lynch’s world and I will most definitely be back for more. ...more
After six Indiana Jones prequel novels by Rob MacGregor, veteran Martin Caidin took the reins for two novels beginning with this entry in the series.After six Indiana Jones prequel novels by Rob MacGregor, veteran Martin Caidin took the reins for two novels beginning with this entry in the series. Judging by this book, Caidin’s version of Indy is a bit more cerebral and a more mature version. It seems that between the last book and this one, Indy has changed from the “Young Indiana Jones” style, as played by Sean Patrick Flannery in the TV series, to a Harrison Ford style Indy. He accomplishes less by luck and accident than he does by careful preparation and being ready for anything.
Caidin also brings his considerable experience in aviation, especially pre-WWII era flying machines to the plot. Indy is recruited to stop a mysterious group of flying craft shaped like disks or scimitars that have been plaguing the shipping lanes. We see Indy in more of a James Bond-style espionage caper this time around instead of pure adventure. It works OK but somehow didn’t seem quite as “Indy-like” as I was looking for.
Indy’s professorly knowledge on a variety of subjects is on full display throughout this novel. There are several info dumps on subjects such as piloting skills, aeroplane engine mechanics and the Indians of the Southwestern US. There are also mentions of ancient artifacts including a cuneiform-covered cube and a “crystal skull”. Oh my.
[I must digress for one moment to identify a couple of anachronisms that seemed to have escaped the author and editors. The town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is mentioned at one point in the narrative when Indy and his cohorts are navigating the skies in search of the strange aircraft. Keep in mind that this novel takes place in 1930. In point of fact, the town's name was changed from "Hot Springs" to "Truth or Consequences" on March 31, 1950, after Ralph Edwards, the host of the popular game show "Truth or Consequences," called for any town in America to do so - in celebration of the show's ten year anniversary. Indy’s group also references Los Alamos which in 1930 was still just a Ranch School for boys, certainly not a reference point for aerial navigation. Sorry to digress but I felt compelled to point out these errors. Don’t you hate it when reviewers do that?]
This is not the best of the Indiana Jones prequel series but isn’t bad either. There is a lot of planning and coordinating and lots of characters are introduced but, there is not nearly as much action as what a typical Indy fan would anticipate. The finale is well done though and certainly highlight’s the authors understanding of high altitude flying. I also really enjoyed the major character introduced in this novel, Gale Parker, a feisty gal who is certainly more than she appears. I was happy to discover that she will be back in the follow-on novel, Indiana Jones and the White Witch. ...more
I always like to compare Richard Laymon novels with watching a train wreck. It's not necessarily something you want to see but it's hard to look away.I always like to compare Richard Laymon novels with watching a train wreck. It's not necessarily something you want to see but it's hard to look away.
This one was fairly typical of his books: lots of teenage-style titillating sexual innuendos and teasing among a group of young people; bad guys that are just about as clichéd as you can find; and lots of delaying tactics so that the narrative leads you down a path that could have been reached in about half the number of pages. The plot this time concerns a group of six college students who visit their attractive female English professor at her home where an end-of-summer-semester party is happening. The students find a Ouija board and use it to contact a spirit who directs them to a treasure horde in the mountains. There are no thoughts by any of the characters, including the professor, about the Ouija board process or the spirit being nonsense…it’s all real to them and they all expect treasure at the end of the adventure. But that’s not what is important about a Laymon novel. It’s all about the character interaction and how many adolescent sexual thoughts he can get on a single page.
His books are definitely not for everyone but I would rank this one among his top quarter percentile. His pacing drives me crazy and I always want him to get on with the story but his climactic scenes always pay off. Laymon is a good specimen of the “splatterpunk” style of horror author and this novel is a fair representation of his body of work. ...more
The first book of the second four-book set of Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series begins 14 years after the end of the last book. Thursday is now aThe first book of the second four-book set of Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” series begins 14 years after the end of the last book. Thursday is now an experienced mother on top of all of the other roles she plays in the BookWorld, SpecOps, etc. The plot is far too intricate for me to try and relate here but suffice it to say that there is never a dull moment in Thursday Next’s life. I think it is fair to say if you’ve read and enjoyed the previous books you will likely lap this one up as well.
If intelligent wit and humor is something you crave in a reading experience then I highly suggest you give this series a spin, starting with the brilliant The Eyre Affair. ...more
The 13th novel in the Dresden Files series has a tough act to follow. Changes, the 12th novel, was such an amazing and impactful book from start to fiThe 13th novel in the Dresden Files series has a tough act to follow. Changes, the 12th novel, was such an amazing and impactful book from start to finish and provided so many…well, changes to the overall story. I knew the following book would need to be quite different than what we’ve come to know and love about this series. Some readers express disappointment in this novel as a result and I suppose such a reaction is inevitable.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss the plot of this one without major spoilers from the previous novel (even though darn near every other review has already spoiled it) so I won’t. I will say that about six months have gone by between the two books and many of the major characters of the series have evolved significantly, most notably Molly. It’s good to see that Butcher resists the temptation to “stick with what works” and instead moves his characters along in such interesting ways and takes risks with them. This particular book was probably a little more thought provoking and we see Harry more introspective than usual but his humor is as on target as ever and his moral code remains bedrock.
I’ve listened to all of the Dresden books on audio (except the first) and have always been pleased with James Marsters’ (TV Buffy’s “Spike”) performances. Reportedly he was unavailable to narrate this one but I must say John Glover did a great job.
Looking forward to the next in the series. ...more
Ken Follett began his successful rise as a best-selling author with the publication of Eye of the Needle in 1978. However, that was not his first noveKen Follett began his successful rise as a best-selling author with the publication of Eye of the Needle in 1978. However, that was not his first novel. Paper Money was written just before, in 1976, and is described by the author in the introduction as “the best of my unsuccessful books.”
Maybe, but it still didn’t work too well for me. This caper novel lacked a central character but instead told the story from a number of different characters’ point-of-view. We have bankers, newspaper reporters, legislators, crooks and more. Each chapter is devoted to a single hour of the day, and the whole thing is told in chronological order. (Yes…long before the TV series “24” did this). For me though, dividing everything into the various characters’ viewpoints made the plot very choppy and unconnected. Some of the chapters were quite enjoyable while others were not, depending on the character involved. I’ve read other novels that employ this method and they have worked well but this one lost its cohesion early on. Follett shows signs of excellent story telling here and there but to me, it seemed obvious this is an early effort.
Recommended for Follett completests but others will be taking a risk. ...more
This book is the first novel in the “Camulod” series, a nine book set that encompasses the Arthurian mythos from a historical perspective rather thanThis book is the first novel in the “Camulod” series, a nine book set that encompasses the Arthurian mythos from a historical perspective rather than a “fantasy” perspective. I had been reluctant to begin, even though I had heard plenty of good things about the entire series. This was mostly due to the fact that I have read numerous Arthurian accounts, many of them relatively recently, and was unsure of starting yet another one.
So glad I did give it a try though! Right from the beginning it reminded me of perhaps my favorite Arthurian series, Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles. That is to say, this book started out with gritty warfare told from the perspective of the Roman warriors on the front lines, down in the dirt and mud, fighting for their legates, their legionnaires, and for the glory of Rome. The story begins in the final days of the Roman Empire in Briton (~375 AD – 425 AD) and involves several flashback sequences that help establish the two major characters for the novel, Publius Varrus and Caius Brittanicus, both solid Roman soldiers. A career-ending injury to Publius leads to major changes and we quickly pull back from the day-to-day soldiering and begin to see the larger picture of what everyday life was like for citizens in Roman Briton during that era. By the end of the book we get to experience even larger issues as we live through what amounts to the abandonment of Briton by the Roman Empire, just after the overrunning of Hadrian’s Wall and the final shake-up of emperors.
The story is told from Publius’ first person POV as he transforms his life from soldier to blacksmith. There is not a clue that we are in the Arthurian world throughout the first half of the book…it’s pure historical fiction. And excellent historical fiction it is. Well-rounded characters I came to care about and worthy goals I hoped they could achieve. Publius’ quest for Skystones (meteor rocks) is the central driving force but it is not until the second half of the book that we get some clues that this is taking place several generations before Arthur and the gang’s appearance. It is fascinating to read how terms such as dragon's nests, the Lady of the Lake and the Pendragon clan are introduced via perfectly natural non-fantasy methods. No magic what-so-ever in this book.
I suspect this entire series will be a fascinating read. I expect we will see Whyte continue to incorporate traditional Arthurian names, places and events as well as the names of various historical figures that have been suggested as being the possible basis for the original King Arthur legend. This implies, of course, that Whyte's version of history is the true story that has become distorted over time to become the legend and stories of magic that we know today. It should be a great ride. ...more
I have been a fan of Jeffrey Archer’s writing for many years and have read almost all of them. I’ve learned that while he sometimes has a less-than-stI have been a fan of Jeffrey Archer’s writing for many years and have read almost all of them. I’ve learned that while he sometimes has a less-than-stellar outing, I always enjoy his story telling. This one is no exception: I loved the storytelling even when large parts of the novel weren’t really advancing the overall story arcs of the major characters much beyond what we’ve seen before.
This is the fifth novel in “The Clifton Chronicles” which describes the events of the Clifton and Barrington families throughout most of the 20th century, both in England and the US. The previous novel, Be Careful What You Wish For, ended in a major cliff hanger so thankfully this volume began with repeating the final chapter of that last book. Many of us have been waiting a full year to find out the resolution of that incident so it was good to have the details ready at hand. This novel takes the characters from 1964 through 1970, tumultuous years for the world at large as well as for these characters in particular.
While there are some resolutions to some of the long-running plot lines, in general we see much more of the same continuing struggles of our two related families as they face off yet again with old foes in boardrooms, courtrooms, and political corridors. Even though we’ve seen all of this before, somehow Archer is able to hold my interest and keep me wondering what will happen next. He still provides a shock or two but most of the story is about shrewd one-upmanship among the various rivals. One new plotline involving the quest to publish a biography of Stalin that had been confiscated behind the Iron Curtain and its author sentenced to 20 years hard labor was fun to read. And the way Archer weaves in and out of two separate court trials that are occurring on opposite sides of the globe at the same time is riveting. However, once again, the novel ends on a major cliff hanger. Reportedly, there will be seven books in the series so we can expect one more novel still to come with yet another unresolved ending before the final volume.
I almost graded this one with three stars due to the more-of-the-same plot, however Archer gets a bump up for shear enjoyable, page-turning story telling.
My thanks to Goodreads for allowing me to read this book as part of the Goodreads Giveaway program. ...more
Charlotte Armstrong was the next author I tried in my expansive tour of mystery authors of yesteryear. Ms. Armstrong published 29 novels, beginning inCharlotte Armstrong was the next author I tried in my expansive tour of mystery authors of yesteryear. Ms. Armstrong published 29 novels, beginning in 1939 and in 1957, she received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her novel A Dram Of Poison. “The Innocent Flower”, first published in 1945, is the third and final book in her “MacDougal Duff” mystery series.
As for the novel itself, I will say it took me some time to get used to the style. I suppose one could categorize it as “smart mystery/romance”, meaning there was a well-conceived mystery plot but balanced with a romantic attraction between MacDougal and his client. The very first page describes MacDougal being thrust into a potential crime scene, a bit bizarre though because he is asked to stay at the home of complete strangers, babysitting five children and a corpse while the mother whisks a sixth child to the hospital due to a mild illness. That seems to be a strange opening scene but is pivotal in the solution to the crime. From there MacDougal basically falls in love with the kids but is fearful that one or more of them may have poisoned Aunt Emily.
The title of the novel, “The Innocent Flower” is part of a quote from Lady Macbeth, “Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under’t”. This also ties in to the solution to the mystery but I shan’t tell you if it is a clue or a red herring.
Throughout the first two thirds of the novel, there is very little methodic crime solving occurring while instead, the focus is on the interaction of MacDougal and the family. There is a lot of dialogue throughout the book and most of it skirts the truth, leaving the reader to read between the lines about what is actually being said. That can be tough for a reader to grasp, especially when reading it 70 years after publication considering the interim morphing of the English language. There are clues here but both MacDougal and I didn’t pick up on them. MacDougal figured out the crime near the end, of course, and I had to rely on him to tell me along with the rest of the characters what had transpired to cause the death of Aunt Emily. The ending is appropriate for the final book in a series.
In summary, this is a well-crafted mystery with an interesting sleuth but the somewhat obtuse style hampered my enjoyment. ...more
I always enjoy listening to people talk about books or reading or just about any combination. I also enjoy just about anything produced by “The LearniI always enjoy listening to people talk about books or reading or just about any combination. I also enjoy just about anything produced by “The Learning Company” and this was no exception. Professor Timothy Spurgin brings great credentials, a smooth and articulate speaking voice, and a real enthusiasm for reading great literature. His goal is to introduce us to the concept of reading literary works as an art form in itself, and not just as a cover-to-cover exercise.
The lecture series is broken down into two parts. We start with the basics of structure, summary, plot, characters, dialog, etc., establishing the building blocks for the second half of the course. I don’t think I really learned too much here. It was a lot like what you might hear in a high school AP English course. The idea of pre-reading is emphasized as a way to prepare yourself for what you are about to encounter. Similarly, the concept of re-reading is presented not as an option but more as a necessity to truly appreciate great fiction.
The second half of the lecture series delved into more esoteric themes and spent a lot of time on case studies including entire lectures on specific books such as The Age of Innocence, War and Peace, etc., always with the end goal in mind, that of assisting us to develop habits in gaining more enlightenment and not be intimidated when we read such works.
My only negative comment about these lectures is there is a little bit of “looking down our nose” at “lesser literature”. I had absolutely no problem when Professor Spurgin used Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as a way to illustrate poor dialogue. He is spot on in his analysis. But by putting down that book, there is an unmistakable branding of all popular and even genre fiction as simply not worth our time. It’s as if there is no “art” associated with reading what I choose to read approximately 95 percent of the time. When he does choose one “genre” book to delve into, it is HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds and even then, while he praises its merits, he implies its quality is an exception to genre fiction.
All in all this was fun to listen to and served to reinforce my own theories.
Starting into the second half of the alphabet now and I have to say, reading these books at the rate of one every three months or so is just right forStarting into the second half of the alphabet now and I have to say, reading these books at the rate of one every three months or so is just right for my tastes. Coming to each one of them after a short break like that is like visiting old friends. It’s a comfortable fit.
This time around, Kinsey Milhone, former cop turned private detective, takes a side journey to the small California mountain town of Nota Lake where a well-loved and highly respected member of the sheriff’s department, Tom Newquist, has recently passed away from a heart attack. His wife wants Kinsey to investigate what had been bothering him during the final weeks of his life so she can put her mind at ease. It seems like an easy case…either there is something there or there’s not. But it doesn’t take Kinsey too long to find out that Tom had been investigating a murder with ties to her home town of Santa Teresa. Why he was hiding what he had discovered is where the mystery lies for Kinsey. Along the way, Kinsey finds herself in danger when she starts to get too close to uncovering the truth for herself.
Once again we have an excellent plot with superb pacing. The many characters of the small town are well realized and Kinsey’s investigative skills and shear doggedness drive the story. The ending was well done, and in a way that I had not yet seen before, resulting in my own quickening heartbeat as we came to the climax.
I’m tempted to start reading “O” right away but I will force myself to be content to let it hang on the horizon for a couple of months. It’s like eating chocolate chip cookie dough…best to spread out the yumminess. ...more
The 7th and (so far) final novel in the Ethan Gage series continues the fine tradition of swashbuckling adventure as in all of the previous volumes. EThe 7th and (so far) final novel in the Ethan Gage series continues the fine tradition of swashbuckling adventure as in all of the previous volumes. Ethan Gage describes himself as “Advisor, historian, seer, electrician, diplomat, and military consultant; a confidant of President Jefferson, and scholar of civilization.” His adversaries would use different words such as rogue, scoundrel, gambler, thief, deserter, and the like. What’s interesting about these books is that both perspectives are correct.
This novel continues the grand adventure that began in the previous book, The Barbed Crown, with the central emphasis on recovering the lost and perhaps not even real medieval treasure known as the “Brazen head”, an automaton that is rumored to be able to predict the future. The quest actually started in the previous book but was sidetracked by all sorts of interesting historical events and the separation of Ethan from his wife and son. Now as he tries to reunite with them once again his adventures take him back once more to Napoleon’s side (and, in fact, is the one who must tell Napoleon of the great naval loss at Trafalgar). As always, despite his best laid plans, chance and circumstance dictate Ethan’s path and he finds himself fighting as a foot soldier on the French side during the pivotal battle at Austerlitz against the Russians and the Austrians. As always, the author waves actual historical events, people and places into the narrative, providing a wonderful sense of crazy reality.
For the first time in the series, some of the chapters are told from the point of view of Astiza, Ethan’s wife. One chapter is even told from his very young son’s viewpoint. All are in first person but this offers an interesting perspective, given that up until now we really didn’t know Astiza’s thoughts on various events or even, indeed, about Ethan. This really made her come alive in my mind instead of being just another character as in previous books in the series.
According the author’s website, he is working on another Ethan Gage novel. If for some reason that does not ever bear fruit, then this is a nice place to end the series. Even though there is much left in the Napoleonic basket of history from which to pluck adventures, the end of this book does find Ethan and his little family in a good place and with a plan for their future.
I, for one, will be hoping for more of Ethan Gage. ...more
Once again, Erik Larson has identified an important piece of history, one that has often been over-simplified in our educational system, and immersedOnce again, Erik Larson has identified an important piece of history, one that has often been over-simplified in our educational system, and immersed himself in it so as to bring it alive for his readers. I agree with the author’s sentiments as expressed in the afterword when he says that his own knowledge of the Lusitania affair was largely glossed over and that he had thought it had resulted in President Woodrow Wilson’s and the American citizenry’s immediate demand to enter the first World War against Germany. As it turns out, that was not the case at all.
The book covers all angles of the disastrous event that was the sinking of the RMS Lusitania of the Cunard line in May 1915 by a single torpedo launched by a German submarine, U-20, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. (I sincerely hope that is not a spoiler for those reading this review but given the state of education these days…it may be). Just why it was sunk as it neared its destination and what circumstances led it to be targeted in the first place…well, therein lays the real story. Erik Larsen is able to combine the dramatic day-by-day and moment-by-moment events with the big picture political forces at play as well as bring it all down to the most personal viewpoints of the participants.
Larson invests a lot of time during the first half of the book introducing us to individual passengers and crew members. More than a third of those on-board actually survived the sinking and so there is a wealth of material in the form of letters, memoirs, and interviews from which to glean accurate information. The log book of the U boat commander, Captain Schwieger is also available to give a complete account. All of this makes the real-life horror to come all the more realistic but also allows us to rejoice when many of them survive to tell the complete tale.
Comparisons to the sinking of the Titanic, just a few years prior, are inevitable but what made this book intriguing to me are the numerous questions that linger to this day. To quote from the book, " Why, given all the information possessed by the Admiralty about U-20; given the Admiralty’s past willingness to provide escorts to inbound ships or divert them away from trouble; given that the ship carried a vital cargo of rifle ammunition and artillery shells; given that Room 40’s (intel group) intelligence prompted the obsessive tracking and protection of the HMS Orion; given that U-20 had sunk three vessels in the Lusitania’s path; given Cunard chairman Booth’s panicked Friday morning visit to the Navy’s Queenstown office; given that the new and safer North Channel route was available; and given that passengers and crew alike had expected to be conveyed to Liverpool by the Royal Navy—the question remains, why was the ship left on its own, with a proven killer of men and ships dead ahead in its path?” The author hints at the British desire to bring America into the war at any cost but stops short of any actual conspiracy to do so.
This book was an eye-opener for me in several ways. I expected that given the author’s approach to all of his books. I find myself with the need to go back and read the few remaining Erik Larson books I haven’t read for I find myself drawn to his work regardless of the actual topic. My thanks to Goodreads for providing me with a free copy of this book through their giveaway program. This book is due to be published in March 2015 in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the sinking. Highly recommended. ...more
1878 - Burl Channing is a Federal marshal and out to bring who he thinks is a vicious murderer to justice. Frank Killian is the man he is after, a dow1878 - Burl Channing is a Federal marshal and out to bring who he thinks is a vicious murderer to justice. Frank Killian is the man he is after, a down and out gambler who somehow gained a windfall of cash in Nebraska before becoming a faro dealer in Dodge City, Kansas. Their inevitable clash is muddled by a young and independently-minded widow and a host of other fictional and non-fictional characters in one of the deadliest locations of the old West.
This is the first in a long and largely forgotten series of historical western novels written by Hank Mitchum, a house name that includes James Reasoner. I’m often leery of long series such as this, expecting them to have been written by a number of different authors and written purely to formula. I remain unclear if Mr. Reasoner wrote all 52 of the books in this series, which seems unlikely, but I decided to take the risk as he is one of my favorite “comfort” read authors.
In truth, this novel is a little bit on the formulaic western side, but I was happy to see that it wasn’t quite as predictable as it could have been. While the romance subplot was clearly headed exactly where it went, the main storyline revolving around the murder and who was behind it was not resolved until the end. In between, was plenty of nice confrontational drama and story build-up, all presented in an easy, enjoyable style. I appreciate that the story was set against real history in Dodge City, and actual historical events such as the death of Ed Masterson and legendary locations such as the Long Branch Saloon and the original “Boot Hill” are included.
This sort of book was not written to win the Booker Prize but it did serve me well as an enjoyable and relaxing outing between longer and more thought-provoking reads. It’s important to take a break now and then and not succumb to the constant peer pressure to read only hi-brow material. And in today’s entertainment marketplace, there is certainly something to be said for happy endings for the good guys.
I look forward to book number 2, Laredo…and see no reason at this point to not continue on for the next ten years or so to get through book #52 at a leisurely pace. ...more
I came to this novel a little differently than most people. I have read all 15 of the Repairman Jack novels over the last several years, (not countingI came to this novel a little differently than most people. I have read all 15 of the Repairman Jack novels over the last several years, (not counting short stories and the prequel histories), not realizing that the Adversary Cycle should really be read in parallel. So when I finished The Dark at the End I decided I needed to hold off on Nightworld until I had completed this other group of five or six novels. That way I will be ready for the final climactic novel at the end where both series culminate.
So, for me, it was great fun to go back and experience one of this author’s earlier works and his very first horror novel. It was cool to see how some of the major characters came about, (Rasalom and Glaeken) and to match that up with what I knew was coming in later books. Had I come at this one with no prior knowledge I suspect I would still enjoy it thoroughly simply because I like Wilson’s writing style. However it would have been a fairly straight-forward WWII era horror novel with a good twist on traditional vampires and zombie tales and may not have earned a full five starts from me. But as it is, I am happy to say I continue to come back to FP Wilson novels even if Repairman Jack ain’t in it.
Since I’ve already consumed the second of the Adversary cycle, The Tomb (which is also the first of the Jack novels), it’s now on to [book:The Touch|219416. Technically, these three are all stand-alone novels and can be read in any order but I don’t want to take any chances. ...more
This final book of the Oz series by L. Fran Baum is often categorized as the “darkest” of the original Oz books but I really didn’t find it so. I didThis final book of the Oz series by L. Fran Baum is often categorized as the “darkest” of the original Oz books but I really didn’t find it so. I did see at as a little more complex than most of the others but the fact that the author knew he was dying at the time he wrote it doesn’t contribute to any darkness as far as I can see.
In essence, this novel is like most of the others in the series. Several main characters including Dorothy and Ozma, set out to a remote area of Oz because they have found out that somebody hasn’t recognized that Ozma is the rightful ruler of all Oz and they are not following the laws of the land. (Yes, Oz, my friends is an Imperialist land). In fact, the Skeezers and the Flatheads are actually engaged in war, believe it or not, which is most definitely a violation of the rules.
Ozma and Dorothy get trapped and it’s up to their friends, including Glinda to rescue them. Here we do see that Baum likely knew this was his last story because he has nearly all of the major characters from past books make a cameo appearance as they gather to help plan the rescue. This was great to see. Not only familiar recurring characters such as the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman (Nick Chopper), The Wizard of Oz, Jack Pumpkinhead, Scraps (The Patchwork Girl), etc. but we also see some of the lesser “main” characters that round out Ozma’s Counsellors like Shaggy Man, Tik-Tok, Cap’n Bill, H.M. Wogglebug, and even Dorothy’s Uncle Henry.
While the first part of this book was straightforward, I did feel that the major middle section lost its cohesion and sort of fell apart. Solving the predicament of how to rescue Dorothy and Ozma was much more involved than the usual Oz story and required teamwork, lots of ideas, and experimentation. Perhaps this is why some regard this as a “darker” Oz tale. The outcome is not as assured as usual and at one point everybody, including the infallible Glinda feels as if they have exhausted all possibilities. For a child, I suppose, this could be stressful. The final two short chapters were wrapped up at warp speed; I could almost sense Baum’s effort to finish before he drew his last breath.
Obviously, there are numerous further adventures in Oz, written by many other authors. I’ve heard many of them are well worth the read, especially those by Baum’s immediate successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson, but alas, I have no plans to pursue them at this time. My goal was to read all of the originals and now that I have done so, I will move on to other things, always remembering my own adventures in Oz fondly. ...more
The novel is labeled “Gothic Romance” and though I have heard of such a genre I don’t recall ever reading one. After reading this one I would say thatThe novel is labeled “Gothic Romance” and though I have heard of such a genre I don’t recall ever reading one. After reading this one I would say that it means mostly traditional romance mixed with mild horror.
This novel’s plot is a simple one: Catherine, lovely socialite from Boston marries handsome plantation owner Leigh Barnett and moves to Louisiana for a happily-ever-after life. Unfortunately Leigh falls under the sway of a voodoo witch doctor’s spell and morphs into a revenge-filled wife beater.
Apparently this is the first book in a series but I won’t be looking for the second. Published in 1974, I don’t think anybody but me has ever read this one and if so they are too ashamed to admit it. No reviews on Amazon and I had to use my Librarian’s license just to create it here on Goodreads. Now, I completely understand that I am not exactly the target audience for this type of material but any reader would cringe at the cardboard characters and easily predictable plot. Catherine is as naïve as any character I have ever read (and yes, I have read a couple of bodice-ripper romances in my time, just to see what I was missing) and refuses to stop loving her man no matter what kind of childish behaviors he displays. It was just sickening. Other supporting characters entered the story but in the same syrupy clichéd cardboard way. There weren’t even any bedroom scenes to spice up the narrative. Frankly, the only reason I kept reading was in the hopes the witch doctor’s spell would kick in and they would all die horrible deaths. I did get some satisfaction in that regard but won’t spoil it for you in case you want to run out and acquire your own copy of this novel. ...more
A collection of five Bond short stories first published in 1960, three of which have had their titles become the names of Bond films although there isA collection of five Bond short stories first published in 1960, three of which have had their titles become the names of Bond films although there is little else in common. Elements of these stories did become parts of the films and four of them also reportedly were adapted from plots of a TV series that never bore fruit. These stories take place between longer Bond missions and are all quite enjoyable. I still prefer the longer novel-length stories where Bond really gets himself into and out of any a tight spot but these tales are all worth reading for fans of James Bond.
Stories included: - From A View to a Kill - For Your Eyes Only - Quantum of Solace - Risico - The Hildebrand Rarity...more
The second book of the Cormoran Strike series picks up about eight months after the events in the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling. Strike has gainedThe second book of the Cormoran Strike series picks up about eight months after the events in the first book, The Cuckoo's Calling. Strike has gained no small amount of notoriety from the successful conclusion of that case as well as the corresponding cash and spike in business. But he is still getting mostly small-time cases such as spying on cheating spouses to support divorce proceedings. But along comes a nice juicy case which pulls him into the interesting and often sordid world of authors, editors, and the publishing business. Obviously this is a setting that JK Rowling knows very well.
An “almost famous” author has turned up missing…
[Apologies but I must stop to comment on this phrase, “turned up missing”. It’s used all the time but I often wonder...if somebody's turned up, how can they be missing? But I digress]
…and it seems that his latest novel has pissed off everybody in his inner circle of the publishing fraternity. Of course that is the perfect set-up for a detective-style who-dunnit story because literally everybody is a suspect.
I enjoyed this one equally as much as the first Strike novel. The solution to the mystery unfolds very slowly through the methodic step-by-step grunt work of investigation. The plot is intricate and some scenes are pretty gruesome but always correct for the circumstances. There are many long interviews with everybody involved and many red herrings are uncovered and ultimately disproved.
Fundamentally, this is a character-driven novel. The character of Cormoran Strike is, once again, artfully done, meaning he is a complex person with a well-imagined background which drives his work ethic and attitudes throughout the story. And yet he seems very real, not just a character in a book. I can think of no higher praise for an author. But his presence is balanced out perfectly with that of his assistant Robin. Their interaction and partnership continues to grow through this novel just as in the last. I’m very excited to see where these two go in future installments.
JK Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, apparently has plans for at least six more Cormoran Strike novels. I plan to be along for the ride every step of the way. ...more
After having read and thoroughly enjoyed Lyndsay Faye’s two Timothy Wilde historical mysteries I wanted to turn back and read her first published noveAfter having read and thoroughly enjoyed Lyndsay Faye’s two Timothy Wilde historical mysteries I wanted to turn back and read her first published novel, a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a gutsy move I think, to tackle Sherlock in your first book, especially as he takes on the Jack the Ripper case. That alone would give me pause about reading this one, but by now I had great faith in her writing ability and was not disappointed at all.
I loved the way the author created the environment of London during those amazing times. But it would be a mistake to say she was channeling Arthur Conan Doyle. While I always enjoyed Doyle’s Sherlock stories the style of the time was a bit stilted by today’s standards. Faye has her own style but it is perfectly “Sherlockian” in all ways and I felt right at home with her characters and setting. It’s also very evident that she knows her Sherlock Holmes source material extremely well, dropping tiny hints and Easter eggs about other cases that Holmes aficionados will surely appreciate.
The Ripper killings have, of course, launched a thousand stories, and speculation as to his real identity has been debate fodder for decades. Here again, it is very evident that the author has done her research, using historical fact to create her story. Weaving the two together is masterfully done and I loved the way she handled the reasons as to why we haven’t heard Dr. Watson’s account of this tale before now and why the public does not know the identity of Jack or why the killings abruptly stopped.
This is a fun read. Lyndsay Faye’s other mysteries are known for their “literary” style but this one is a bit easier to read and brings back fond memories of a good ol’ fashioned Sherlock Holmes tale. Her Sherlock is just as sharp and tactless as ever but also human as is Watson and the supporting characters.
Lyndsay Faye has most definitely earned her spot on my must-read power rotation list. ...more
Every once in a while I like to read one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction and this time it was Robert Silverberg’s turn. He always provides a gEvery once in a while I like to read one of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction and this time it was Robert Silverberg’s turn. He always provides a good ol’ fashioned science fiction yarn, and doesn’t forget to add the science. He’s always good at playing the what-if question and then constructing a story around it, often including some intriguing concepts to ponder along the way.
The story here is about a man named Lew Nichols who uses stochastic methods to accurately predict outcomes and probabilities. He is so good at it that he is recruited by a team of people dedicated to electing the next mayor of New York, with the ultimate goal of getting their charismatic man all the way to the White House. Lew soon learns of another man who is even better at predicting events though…a man who is 100% accurate because he can “see” the future.
Silverberg uses the concept of alternate realities and parallel universes in a pretty cool way in this novel. His what-if scenario is, “what if our timeline brushed up against a parallel universe’s timeline so we could “see” what’s happening over there? Only that other timeline is flowing in the reverse direction…” So when we see into that other life we are seeing what is still to come in our own lives. A lot of questions arise in Lew’s mind, including the inevitable questions of time paradox and what happens when one witnesses their own death, but Silverberg handles them deftly. Ultimately, he explores the idea of prediction leading to predestination vs. any sort of free will to change our own paths. Intriguing concepts to be sure.
This novel was written and published in the early 1970’s and the plot takes place in the late 1990’s. But just as Silverberg doesn’t forget about the science, he also doesn’t forget about the story and the characters, a problem that seems to routinely crop up in many science fiction novels I’ve read from that era. Curiously, for a novel about accurate predictions of the future, his own view of what life would be like in the late 1990’s was way off. It’s easy to look back from our vantage point now and smirk but much of what Silverberg postulated is similar from book to book and in common with other science fiction authors from that time.
This book was nominated for a number of awards including the Nebula, Campbell, Hugo, and Locus SF awards. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading a few more Silverberg novels that I already have on my shelf....more