Tom Fleck: A Novel of Cleveland & Flodden by Harry Nicholson is set in North-East England during the 16th Century. We follow Tom, a hardworking coTom Fleck: A Novel of Cleveland & Flodden by Harry Nicholson is set in North-East England during the 16th Century. We follow Tom, a hardworking cowman on the Warren estate, as he looks for a way to escape his masters. He unearths a Tudor seal ring from the mud and that, along with a gold torque he helped his father dig up, will start him on the road to freedom. But it's a long and winding road--filled with danger and fighting. For Tom is also a gifted archer and the Scottish clans on the northern border are making preparations for war. After finding what looks to be a promising job with the King's Herald, Tom and his fellows are pressed into service to defend the northern border. Will Tom survive the battle and make his way safely back to his sister....and to Rachel, the beautiful woman he met when he sold the gold torque?
Harry Nicholson's writing and story-telling abilities take us straight back to the 16th Century with nary a bump in the time-traveling journey. As the reader settles in, the 21st Century drops away and it seems more than natural to meet men in chain mail and archers with long bows. Vivid word-pictures tell us exactly where and when we are. But Nicholson is at his very best with characterization. Tom is a likeable fellow--full of dreams and faults and very human. He's got a temper that he needs to learn to control and a streak of friendliness and kindness a mile wide. And the reader is rooting for him from the very start. The supporting cast are just as well-drawn.
Overall, a very interesting and well-told historical novel. Seeing the ending battles from Tom's viewpoint put us right in the middle of the fray. And gave us the story from the man on the ground rather than the knights and landed gentry leading the troops. A very good read with a lovely ending. It was so nice to read a story with a happy ending--not there aren't disappointments and losses along the way. So many modern writers seem to think they have to write depressing endings, because life so often is depressing and disappointing and they want to be "realistic." Sometimes it's good to have a good, old fashioned "happily-ever-after." Close enough to four stars--that's what I'll go with.
[Disclaimer: I have my review policy stated on my blog, but just to reiterate....This review copy was offered to me by the author for impartial review and I have received no payment of any kind. All comments are entirely my own honest opinion.]...more
I'm afraid that A Perfect Red: Empire Espionage, & the Quest for the Color of Desire didn't do a whole lot for me. And I don't think it's Amy ButlI'm afraid that A Perfect Red: Empire Espionage, & the Quest for the Color of Desire didn't do a whole lot for me. And I don't think it's Amy Butler Greensfield's fault. You see, I was kind of confused when I picked this up at my local library's used bookstore in July 2011. The kindly volunteers who manage the store had shelved it on the hardback fiction shelf and when I read the synopsis I thought that this must fictional history. I've read those before--heavy on the history, but still a fictional account. Well. No. This actually is the factual history of the "perfect red"--and expecting a fictional story, I have to say that the historical story bored me. We got really hung up on those Spanish conquistadors and how they didn't take full advantage of the cochineal tribute that their Indian conquests were providing. But tales of "mystery, empire, and adventure" this ain't. Another reviewer on GoodReads mentions the blurb on the back cover where the LA Times says that this book is "rollicking." No, it's not. Informative? Yes. In-depth? Sure--too much so for someone looking for "tales of mystery," "espionage," or a "rollicking" good story. Two stars.
Let me just start by saying that I loved Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Shadow of the Wind. That was a breath-taking novel--exquisitely written and a truly wondeLet me just start by saying that I loved Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Shadow of the Wind. That was a breath-taking novel--exquisitely written and a truly wonderful book. The Angel's Game--not so much. After enjoying Shadow so much, I had high hopes for The Angel's Game. It starts out strong. Again, the writing is good and the plot promises to be interesting. But half-way in I just lost interest. I was suddenly noticing cliches (everywhere) and the plot made no sense to me. And everything was so gloomy and ultra-Gothic. And the dead bodies piling up everywhere....got to be a bit much. I kept hoping that Zafón would start bringing it all together and it would start making sense...and when I closed the book I was still hoping.
The novel is about David Martin, a blood and thunder writer who is struggling to make ends meet. He's living in an old, run-down mansion in the heart of Barcelona furiously trying to keep up the 6.66 pages per day that he must write to meet his contract. Then one night he meets a mysterious publisher who offers him a book deal he can't refuse. But the deeper he becomes involved with the publisher, the more things go wrong in his private life--and the more people he knows wind up dead. He begins to wonder at the connection between the book he's working on and the shadows that seem to haunt him wherever he goes. And he begins to wonder what secrets the publisher is keeping from him.
If there were any real character resolution at the end of this story, that would be a real plus. But there's not. The wrap-up to the mysterious circumstances and the final chapter just left me flat. I'm not exactly sure what Zafón intended his readers to feel at the end of the novel, but I'm quite sure that I didn't. What I did feel was confused and let-down. The writing and the method in this novel would make a whole lot more sense to me if I found out it had actually been written before Shadow of the Wind and was Zafón's first effort. The best I can say for the book is Zafón again does a good job evoking the time period and atmosphere of Barcelona. I admire that part of his writing very much....more
What would you do if you suddenly found out you had a relative of whom you had never heard? Someone who's very existence had been written out of the fWhat would you do if you suddenly found out you had a relative of whom you had never heard? Someone who's very existence had been written out of the family history? And not only that this person exists, but that she has been kept in a mental institution and now needs a care-giver--and you're the one listed as the responsible individual in all the records. This is the dilemmma that faces Iris Lockhart. Iris owns her own vintage clothing shop and is trying to manage her own personal life when she is contacted about the welfare of her great-aunt.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a haunting, disturbing, multi-layered novel. It tells the story of Esme (Euphemia) Lennox, a woman who has been locked away in a mental institution for over sixty years. The narrative uses the memories of Esme and her sister Kitty to slowly reveal the reason Esme was initially placed in the institution. It weaves Esme's story into the life of her great-niece and uses the contrast between the relative freedom that Iris enjoys in today's society and the prescribed life that Esme was expected to live. It is Esme's inability to live within those boundaries that makes her different--and the combination of loves, hates and jealousies that follow her choices in life, as well has her family's inability to accept her differences that result in her imprisonment in the institution.
It is very shocking to discover how little it took to have a woman "put away" in pre-World War II Britain. A husband could be rid of a "disobedient" wife; families could send away and forget about "unruly" daughters; anything inconvenient or "different" could be swept under the carpet and forgotten about--all you needed was one little signature from your local GP. As shocking as this book is, it is also very amazing that Esme kept as much of her spirit as she did. So many women who weren't really mad when first locked away soon lost hope and gave up--even to the point of succumbing to the madness they were initially (and wrongly) accused of.
This was an incredibly fast read. There was a bit of stream of consciousness going on (and we all know how much I love that), but it didn't distract from the story. I was totally caught up in the past and trying to figure out what exactly happened. The ending is a bit shocking as well--but my only quibble with that is the way we're left dangling. A little bit more tidiness would have been more satisfying. But overall--a terrific read. Four and a half stars. ...more
Step into another world...the world of Randall Garrett's Murder and Magic...a world where Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die at the Siege of ChaluzStep into another world...the world of Randall Garrett's Murder and Magic...a world where Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die at the Siege of Chaluz and the House of Plantagenet rules England and a mighty empire even in the 1960s. This is also a world where Magic is science and all the usual scientific methods are underwritten by magical laws and procedures. There is no blood-typing by microscope...it is all discerned by the Law of Sympathy. There are no doctors with pills and serums and potions, but religious Healers who cure more often by the laying on of hands than by the use of herbs. And, finally, it is a world where Lord Darcy, the Chief Forensic Investigator for the Duke of Normandy moves through a very Victorian-era version of the 1960s. He is the greatest detective of his time and uses all his powers of deduction--aided by the powers of the occult.
This book is comprised of four short stories that are full of the flavor of Holmes and Watson, Wolfe and Goodwin and little bit of the cloak and dagger spy trade thrown in. And, "The Muddle of the Woad" has a definite air of tribute to Lord Peter Wimsey--The Nine Tailors in particular. Instead of bell-ringing, we have a focus on woodworking. But a great many of the character names used by Sayers in the bell-ringing scenes may be found here--Masters Gotobed, Lavender, Wilderspin and Venable all tip their hats to the Sayers work. And Master Gotobed is every bit as particular about his woodworking as Harry Lavender ever was about bell-ringing. There is even evidence given by the young woman of the piece--just as Hilary Thorpe provides a vital clue to Lord Peter.
Overall, Randall Garrett has given us a fine look at what the world might have been like in such an alternate history. And he mixes the best of fantasy and detective fiction to produce a very interesting collection of science fiction short stories. The mysteries are fairly straight-forward and most are fairly clued. The final (and shortest), "A Stretch of the Imagination," is the most Holmes-like with Lord Darcy appearing very much as the detective genius with admiring audience and few clues given to the reader, but it is the exception. A very entertaining book--coming in at 3 1/2 stars....more
I'm sadly behind on this review...I actually finished the book on August 19 but between being generally brain-dead after a week of orientating graduatI'm sadly behind on this review...I actually finished the book on August 19 but between being generally brain-dead after a week of orientating graduate students and spending all evening for the last three nights watching "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" episodes/clips on Youtube, I just haven't gotten my act together on Seventh Son. But we'll give this a whirl so I can move on to other books....
Seventh Son is the first novel in Orson Scott Card's alternate American history series. It's set in the early 19th Century in an America where folk magic holds sway and the fate of the New World has taken a slightly different path. Yes, there are United States, but not quite the same ones as here in our timeline. Yes, there was a first president, but it wasn't George Washington. And there is an Indian Nation state that has representatives to vote.
In this world, seventh sons are magical and seventh sons of seventh sons are even more magical than their fathers--and quite rare. Alvin Miller, Jr. is such a one. In fact, Alvin is a Maker, a seventh son with the power to not only create new things out of old, but also to make things whole and to heal. He has a destiny that can help create a good positive future for America. But from the moment of his birth an ancient, dark force, the Unmaker, who will stop at nothing to destroy Alvin and prevent him from fulfilling his destiny.
I am just a bit torn on rating this one. I'm pulled towards a four-star rating by the world-building and the fresh, original feel to this American fantasy/alternate reality. The characters are delightful--particularly Peggy (Alvin's far-off "guardian angel") and Alvin and the writing is particularly strong. There is a character called Taleswapper who goes from place to place telling stories and collecting new ones and the entire book reads like a tale told by a grand old storyteller around the fire. But I'm also pulled toward a lower three-star rating by the infusion of religion. You want to create an America that's based on folk magic and secret powers? Cool. You want to set up dark forces to destroy the ones who hold that power for good? Hey, absolutely. I'm all for that Good vs. Evil thing. But...can't we just do that within the folk magic scenario? That's why we created a whole different timeline America, right? I do get the whole Pilgrim/Puritan vs. "witchcraft" background. Salem and witch burning. I know it was part of the early days of America. But was it necessary to bring in religion and make those who represent it the bad guys? Maybe it was--but when I was reading it just didn't settle right.
My other small quibble is that the blurb on my edition made much of the positive role of Native Americans in this version of America and, perhaps, since this is a series there will be more of a Native American presence in the following books. But there is little here. The mention of those who have voting rights. And a man who is healed by Alvin (in an unexpected way) and who goes off to be a prophet to his people. But no real direct contact with Native Americans beyond that. When I specifically polled some of my friends for alternate history books that involved Native Americans, this series was one that was mentioned. I had hoped for more Native American influence in the opening novel.
Quibbles aside, Card is quite the storyteller in Seventh Son and the story was compelling and interesting. I will definitely be looking to read the next book in the series (Red Prophet--perhaps the title is an indication that there will be more Native Americans....). ★★★ and a half.
According to the blurb on GoodReads, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle considered The White Company his best work and characterized it as "worth a hundred SherloAccording to the blurb on GoodReads, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle considered The White Company his best work and characterized it as "worth a hundred Sherlock Holmes stories." Um. Okay. Who am I to argue with a knighted author? One of his readers, that's who. And I say give me Holmes any day.
So, The White Company is a tale of knights and squires and derring-do set against the backdrop of the Hundred Year's War. There are adventures and wars and jousting and ladies' honor to be defended and brave men to be welcomed home. But, seriously, it reads like a tale for school boys. For the most part, it's decently told and there are even some scenes that are particularly well-done, but overall the feel is not of a decent work of historical fiction, but that of Boys' Own Medieval Stories. The illustrations that accompany the story, while enjoyable, also give the story a juvenile feel. After reading much about how proud Doyle was of his historical fiction, I was expecting something with a little more depth. Perhaps that's my own fault for having false expectations, but that was what I thought.
I will admit to liking the character of Alleyne, the young man raised in a monastery who finds himself thrust out into the world in his twentieth year per his father's instructions. Before he fully renounces the world, he must live in it so he may have complete information on which to base his decision. I find Alleyne's adjustment to his worldly surroundings to be funny and true to nature (although perhaps he overcomes his confusion a little quickly). And I thoroughly enjoyed his interactions with his newfound friends Hordle John and Samkin Aylward. These three men and their allegience to Sir Nigel Loring saved the book for me. Sir Nigel has a bit of Don Quixote about him....but with far more successful results and a bit more reality to his derring-do.
As a tale of honor and loyalty, it is well-written and perhaps if I had come to it without preconceived notions I would have rated it higher. As it is, I give The White Company three out of five stars....more
After watching Gettysburg I had to read the book on which it was based...not only because the movie was very good. (One of the few war movies that I hAfter watching Gettysburg I had to read the book on which it was based...not only because the movie was very good. (One of the few war movies that I have actually re-watched voluntarily--my dad used to love war movies & I've seen all the John Wayne ones more than necessary). I have been interested in the Civil War since taking an awesome course on it in high school from a teacher who was a true student of the period (and who, unfortunately was taken from us much too soon).
This is a book that Mr. Rood (aforementioned teacher) would have loved and would probably had included in the class as required reading if he had known about it then. It brings the 3-day battle to life in such a very real and human way. The friendships that crossed battlelines, the anguish and bravery, and heartbreak.
Again...I love this book. It led me to go on and read more on Joshua Chamberlain--the hero of Little Round Top....more
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is dark re-telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Ever since she can remember, Rebecca Berlin's grandma--called Gemma becauBriar Rose by Jane Yolen is dark re-telling of the story of Sleeping Beauty. Ever since she can remember, Rebecca Berlin's grandma--called Gemma because one of Becca's sister's couldn't say "grandma"--has told her family the story of Sleeping Beauty. But Gemma's version is much darker than the standard versions with no one but Briar Rose waking from the hundred year's sleep and several of Becca's friends no longer want to hear it when they all are young. But Becca always loved the story and Gemma always told her that she was the only one who understood.
So it's no surprise that when Gemma is close to death she makes Becca promise to find her castle and her prince. And then, once she is gone, the family finds a box of papers, photographs, and odd keepsakes among Gemma's things. The more Becca digs into the materials the more she realizes how little they knew about the woman they called Gemma. And the more connections she makes between what she learns and the Briar Rose story her grandma used to tell. She works through the story with Stan, a friend and fellow journalist, until it becomes clear that she will have to make a trip to Poland to make sense of the clues she's found. The clues lead her to one of the horrific extermination camps of the Holocaust. Chelmo--a place of which it is said no woman ever made it out alive.
This was a reread for me. I first read it back at the end of high school when I had recently discovered Jane Yolen. I thought it a terrific and haunting use of the classic fairy tale to represent one woman's negotiation of the terrible experiences she endured during the Holocaust. By masking the events in a fairy tale she told to her daughter and then to her daughter's daughters, by using this particular story to entertain children she was able to bring joy out darkness. She was able to emphasize the very specific happy ending--hers with her family in America--that came out of all grief and loss of the second World War. As the dust jacket flap tells us: "This is a tale of life and death, of love and hate, despair and faith. A tale of castles and thorns and sharp barbed wire." It is a tale of a beautiful princess saved by one brave prince and loved by another even braver and the way love can grow out of the harshest, thorniest soil. I gave it ★★★★★ in high school. I have no changes to make in that rating now.
The High Crusade by Poul Anderson is an interesting historical novel meets science fiction mash-up. Medieval knights are preparing to go to war againsThe High Crusade by Poul Anderson is an interesting historical novel meets science fiction mash-up. Medieval knights are preparing to go to war against France when a strange metallic "sailing" ship descends on them from the sky. Little blue men from another world come boldly down the exit ramp with their awesome ray guns...fully prepared to easily subdue the "barbarians" of this backward planet. But the little blue men have not reckoned with the bravery and hand-to-hand combat prowess of the men of England. And soon Sir Roger, Baron of Torneville has led his men to victory over the demons from the air. He takes one of the aliens captive and forces him to help his men learn to fly the strange ship so he can end the war with France more quickly. The alien double-crosses him and sets the ship on auto-pilot for his race's nearest planetary outpost--thinking that on their home ground his people will certainly carry the day. But, again, he has misjudged the tenacity of the English and soon Sir Roger and his men are on a High Crusade among the stars.
Almost sounds like the plot of a 1950s B movie doesn't it? It's a quite remarkable use of an outrageous premise--that men clad in chain-mail and armed only with swords and lances and maces and shields could overpower beings with laser pistols and nuclear-type armory. But Anderson makes it work. There are great space-age long bow battles, nuclear warheads tossed by catapults, parlay and treachery, and all in the name of the King and Country and the Church. It's a fast-paced, quick read that is more about the adventure than the characters. Fun and light--three stars....more
Meh. I picked this up on the basis of recommendations and reviews back when I was reading the Jean M Auel books (Clan of the Cave Bear, etc). This jusMeh. I picked this up on the basis of recommendations and reviews back when I was reading the Jean M Auel books (Clan of the Cave Bear, etc). This just didn't do it for me. The story line just didn't draw me in like the Auel novels did....more
I like Julian Barnes. That said, I do not like Julian Barnes writing about Arthur & George. I found this to be a very hard row to hoe...kept pluggI like Julian Barnes. That said, I do not like Julian Barnes writing about Arthur & George. I found this to be a very hard row to hoe...kept plugging away at it because i had enjoyed his shorter novels and short story collections so much. But I just think he tried to do way too much in way too many words. This was a big, boring book....more