The basic story outline was interesting enough. This is a mystery novel so I won't give the plot away, but it had legs and a historical backdrop. Howe...moreThe basic story outline was interesting enough. This is a mystery novel so I won't give the plot away, but it had legs and a historical backdrop. However, the novel as a whole had little flesh. A little more work and editing would have been useful. For example, I find myself irritated by repetitious references to a character's nosiness, rather than actions to that effect. The ambiance of Victorian age struck me as little more than a wink. Although the protagonist is a hansom cab driver, much of the dialogue and actions felt modern--he could have been driving a cab. The Jack-in-the-box villains popped up out of nowhere so many times that I had to laugh. The character interior conflict and development was a thread instead of a plot driver. In all, a story that could have been gripping was okay. (less)
Light read. Light on suspense. Light on history. Light on archeology. The Laetitia Talbot protagonist was a fun feminist character with a mix of old-w...more Light read. Light on suspense. Light on history. Light on archeology. The Laetitia Talbot protagonist was a fun feminist character with a mix of old-world decorum and progressive thought.
This was a book from a local library sale. I'm enjoying excursions into genres and authors that I would normally not pick up. The historical lessons were interesting, but I would have enjoyed more or them, and to a greater depth. (less)
This became perfectly clear--I, as a person raised in the American education system, did not get enough world history. This is an unfair statement, co...moreThis became perfectly clear--I, as a person raised in the American education system, did not get enough world history. This is an unfair statement, come to think of it. I wasn't a fan of history classes. Perhaps they were not taught in a way to make them fascinating to youngsters. When I look back, all I remember was a dull skimming of decades full of names and dates with perhaps numbers thrown in. Now I take responsibility for not rectifying my lack of knowledge as an adult. I still haven't engaged in a systematic study of history. The historical novels I've picked up here and there have been luring me into a state of curiosity, which is why I read Jamie Doran's non-fiction accounting of Yuri Gagarin.
Truth be told, I bought the book for my husband because of his interest in astronomy, and then I stole it back. What I've learned is how little we Americans are exposed to history of the rest of the world. To refine that thought--we have to seek out what the rest of the world has been up too and can't rely on what's held under our noses by the common media fire hoses aimed at us daily.
I recommend reading this Starman book. It is about the Russian space program, and in case you don't know it, they accomplished man's first fight in space. Their story is interesting, especially as it brings to life the hopes and dreams of humanity over the geographical and cultural divisions. At the same time, it highlights the unique path determined by Russian culture and politics. Do I contradict myself? Give the book a read and let me know if you still think so. (less)
What is commendable about this work is that Walter Dean Myers has unearthed an amazing story that otherwise would have been lost forever in a decaying...moreWhat is commendable about this work is that Walter Dean Myers has unearthed an amazing story that otherwise would have been lost forever in a decaying package of letters and diary entries in the British Royal archives. Myers hired professional researchers to ensure accuracy in his telling of Sarah Forbes Bonetta's life journey and I had the feeling he never wanted to overstep the bounds of a faithful historian. I applaud the effort and am thankful to Myers for his insight and dedication to bring Sarah's story to light.
The sketchiness of detail and human interaction left me wanting more. I'd love Sarah's biography to be written again by someone willing to step into her shoes and write as she might have experienced a life as an 8 year old African princess saved from death at the hands of brutal King Ghezo of Dahomey and then given to Queen Victoria, who became her patron and the god-mother of her daughter. But, I've read the story of Ghengis Khan by Conn Iggulden, for example, and watched the Khans live and breathe, so I know what can be done.
To write Sarah's novel would require bravery. Myers alluded to what may have been flaws in Sarah's character. Given the privileges she enjoyed, a tendency to become haughty or spoiled is likely. However, I believe her married life had a turning point that would be amazing to explore. But I'm off track. Sorry. In short, this was a fascinating story about a fascinating time in history--it was just a little too short. (less)
The Swerve is a romantic tale of a book lover, but it is so much more. True--it's a tale of passion and sacrifice, but also of fanaticism and philosop...moreThe Swerve is a romantic tale of a book lover, but it is so much more. True--it's a tale of passion and sacrifice, but also of fanaticism and philosophical determination. The war of beliefs that rages today is not new, but is merely a continuation of fear versus reason, and belief versus logic. The violence we see between ourselves stem from the same ignorance and hatred, fear and exercise of domination. Heretics who believed in atoms and the end of the soul were burned at the stake, after torture and mutilation, in the name of religion. Ideas had power then and a whisper of complaint could cost you your life. We war, still, at rallies, marches and over the internet. What is this desire to control the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings, I'll never understand. Reading The Swerve showed me that intolerance is not new, and we have not evolved. Funny that Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. America was built along the linage of Democritus, which describes a civilization more appealing than fire and brimstone. Is fear truly the only way to advance our civilization?
Addendum: A belief system not addressed in The Swerve is a Republican/Conservative one that holds corporations at the same or higher regard as people. Workers and consumers are important only to further the profit of the corporation. Unfortunate side effects such as pollution, toxic products, and dangerous working conditions, and fraud are ignored, denied or tolerated for profit-driven growth. Like the church of old, anyone who disagrees with this will be shouted down, stomped upon, or ridiculed. This election is a battle between humanism and corporation-ists. Like the yin/yang symbol, both sides bear blemishes of the other.
So, new visions have entered the world stage, but the method by which they battle has not changed, it has become more psychological, perhaps, but just as manipulative.
Oh, by the way, I highly recommend this book. (less)
Interesting from a historical perspective, and very educational, as is usual with Eco. The problem is that I read before sleeping and being tired, boo...more Interesting from a historical perspective, and very educational, as is usual with Eco. The problem is that I read before sleeping and being tired, books that are a little boring will put me to sleep quickly. It took a long time to get through it, therefore, but the effort was worth it. (less)
Five Dances with Death is a historical/fantasy adventure in which, much like the sorceress Plume plunges her husband into ethereal travel, the reader...moreFive Dances with Death is a historical/fantasy adventure in which, much like the sorceress Plume plunges her husband into ethereal travel, the reader is firmly immersed in a distant time and place to live in the mind and body of Angry Wasp as he tries to save both his country and his daughter during the onset of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
The writing is a perfect blend of description while maintaining the feeling of having been translated, which grants the the storytelling an authentic voice. In places, the dialogue is both shocking and humorous. The internal dialogue shows such truth and heart, I found myself growing fond of the rash young man who danced with both demons and nobility.
Often I found myself stopping to reread lines that were especially insightful. In one example, Angry Wasp was asked how he and a trader could both want the same thing, yet they could never agree on anything. Angry Wasp replied, "Time after time, your ideas betray the very principles we warriors believe in. You want to ignore insults. You wish to befriend invaders. You want to risk your head to see the obvious." I love the combination of primitive and noble thought--the adherence to ideals pursued to their absolute end. Even when Wasp has his greatest desire in hand, he will not betray the guiding principles of his life to attain it. The struggle is fascinating, as is this "Aztec Supernatural Adventure Novel."
This novel reminds me of another that I enjoyed, Prophets of the Ghost Ants. (I seem to be intrigued by rash and imperfect young heroes on the road to greatness.) Those brash warriors make me wince, yet their actions are never boring. So many NY Times-tooted books that quickly draw large followings seem --often, but not always-- to be shallow, or empty. I'm finding gems among debut writers without all the marketing hype to launch them. I do hope they find their audience as well.
I found nothing to complain about during the entire read of this novel. --And that is highly unusual. I'm now a fan of Mr. Briggs, and am looking forward to the sequel.
Fascinating historical dramatization of the life of Genghis Khan. I was immersed in the voice and imagery so deeply that both the reader and the story...moreFascinating historical dramatization of the life of Genghis Khan. I was immersed in the voice and imagery so deeply that both the reader and the storyteller were secondary to the experience. Life was brutal, yet Genghis was a mixture of ruthlessness and brilliance. Tribal life of the Mongols contrasted with that of the Chin in a very yin/yang extreme way. While abhorrent in many respects, the strength of will and struggle for survival in such a tribal society has much to teach about the nature of mankind. Elements of religion, customs, human relations - all seen raw and basic. I admire the sublime heights of cultured society, but the earthy trials of existence has an austere beauty as well. Well told, well written, and highly recommended. (less)
I'm becoming a fan of historical fiction but have not read enough to offer comparisons or to have developed a distinguishing palate. Nonetheless, I fo...moreI'm becoming a fan of historical fiction but have not read enough to offer comparisons or to have developed a distinguishing palate. Nonetheless, I found The Last Kingdom interesting. There was gore galore, and very little romanticism of the age. One gold nugget I'll take away from this story is its insight into the psyche of a warrior--the drive, the blood lust of battle, the song of the sword -- I can't say I've understood as well as after having read this novel.
The central theme of The Saxon Stories revolves here, around King Alfred. This was a fascinating period of history--the invasion of England by the Danes. The brutality of the age has sharpened my appreciation of the difficulty with civilizing our species. Every gain in an evolved and peaceful consciousness has been hard fought. This fictional walk through history has whetted my appetite for more. (less)
I never considered myself a reader of historical fiction novels, probably due to the manner in which history was/is taught in school. In college, howe...moreI never considered myself a reader of historical fiction novels, probably due to the manner in which history was/is taught in school. In college, however, I had a favorite professor, educated at Harvard, with a keen intellect, and wit. During a class, and I still remember this, he mentioned the Mongols' sacking of Baghdad, where the city folks were so materialistic, they swallowed their jewels, only to have their bellies split open and their treasures robbed. Tremendous libraries and precious art were gleefully destroyed. Civilians were slaughtered and the city's treasury was plundered. The event was an extreme example of cultured civilization falling under swords of ruthlessness.
Well. I suppose that lecture was the reason I impulsively entered the Goodreads giveaway for Conn Iggulden's novel about Kublai Khan. It is a long, rich, finely researched, description of bloody battles, Mongolian strategy, barbarian character, and strength that lifted a family from a roving band of starving nomads to, by the third generation, conquerors of areas greater than those of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. If you would have gauged my level of interest in such things only a week ago, I would have yawned. Now, I'm going to read the first of the Iggulden's series about Genghis Khan, and perhaps the rest of the series as well. Goes to show, you never know a person, until they read a good book, and their interests are set ablaze. (less)
The Time in Between is well written and researched, and enough of a page turner to keep the historical information interesting and far from dry or out...more The Time in Between is well written and researched, and enough of a page turner to keep the historical information interesting and far from dry or outdated. The heroine undergoes quite the metamorphosis from a blank-sheet type of young woman to one with outstanding imagination and courage. Other intriguing characters enter and exit the stage, but Sira steals the show.
The background story of Franco's rise to power in Spain and the influx of Europeans into Morocco was well portrayed. The lead up to WWII on the tail end of Spain's civil war added an especially interesting perspective. I've been to Morocco and have seen the European influence from those times, so I was especially thrilled to read those chapters - a little biased on my part that may have pushed my rating from 4 to 5 stars.
My quibbles with the book were matters of personal tastes: too much frilly fabric in places; several characters/events required a suspension of disbelief; I would have liked more than the outsider's view of Morocco, and the novel could have had more depth (introspective elements were there, but they still seemed undeveloped for such a long and strong work) - without those criticisms, I feel the book would have been close to perfect. Still, this is an intriguing story, well told, and I certainly recommend it. (less)