I stuck through the mediocre plot thanks to the grim atmosphere and sad, almost bitter romance. However, the romantic payoff, while there, was minimalI stuck through the mediocre plot thanks to the grim atmosphere and sad, almost bitter romance. However, the romantic payoff, while there, was minimal, and the resolution of the mystery boring....more
Constantly put forward as a fine example of travel writing, A Time of Gifts is part memoir, part journal, with tangents on literature, history, art, aConstantly put forward as a fine example of travel writing, A Time of Gifts is part memoir, part journal, with tangents on literature, history, art, and architecture. The voices of the young author- callow, brilliant, arrogant- and his much amused older self intertwine. More a series of vignettes and essays than anything else, the book charms as a snapshot of a world lost to time, on the brink of sometimes-total destruction. What carries all forward are arabesques of charming whimsy, prose that soars from one perch to another and looks effortless while in flight.
As he works his way south and east, Fermor meets a set of ever-more poignant characters, the last gasp of the 19th century living on through the long weekend, and their unfathomably cultured children, destined to serve or suffer under decades of totalitarianism. Occasionally Fermor descends into obnoxiously broad parody, divining from the faces and costumes of passers-by exemplars of national character or history. But for the most part Fermor makes friends, and in relating stories of their interest, hospitality, and generosity, he captures honest truths....more
I picked this almost at random, long before I knew of Keenan's rich second life as a professional conspiracy theorist. The Tuareg is an early work froI picked this almost at random, long before I knew of Keenan's rich second life as a professional conspiracy theorist. The Tuareg is an early work from the 70s, and is initially difficult of which to make heads or tails. However, if you ignore the book's pretensions to geography, ethnography, and subtle self-aggrandizement, what comes through is a fascinating snapshot of the Kel Ahaggar at a moment of transition. Keenan's reconstruction of late 19th and early 20th century local history is fascinating, as is his documentation of the Kel Ahaggar's varied transitions to life as French subjects, then Algerian citizens. In refreshing contrast to many accounts of the Tuareg, Keenan largely resists romanticizing the lifestyle and instead describes a highly pragmatic, sometimes predatory social structure that was already in flux by the time the 20th century arrived.
More than anything, it was nice after the intense, and intensely Algiers-focused, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962 to read from a different center of gravity where the war is hardly a blip in comparison to prospects for employment at the French nuclear site In Eker....more
I loved this book. Clark is acutely aware of how the intricate power politics of the early 20th century looked starkly different from a number of diffI loved this book. Clark is acutely aware of how the intricate power politics of the early 20th century looked starkly different from a number of different centers of gravity. He cuts through standard moralizing by acknowledging a basic premise- all the players had strategic interests, and while those interests may have been more and less damaging to the stability of the system overall, it is misleading to cast different players' interests in moralistic terms. However, this is a book far more concerned with the intricacies of bloody Serbian politics and Russian diplomatic history than it is with any grand theory of the case. Clark breaks the run up to the Great War into a clash of power centers, which themselves were systems in which rival powers competed. Individual players' actions could and did play bizarrely outsized roles at critical moments, and historical outcomes are a dance between systemic forces and the devils of miscommunication, poor fortune, and random chance as played out by individual actors.
Clark writes one of the few histories I have ever read with a real feel for bread and butter diplomacy- the strange tyranny of the resident ambassador's views, the slow evolution of policy through endless drafts of banal documents, the cranky foreign minister, the inter-agency competition, the missed meeting, the bungled talking point, the talking point couched in such circumlocution that it suddenly means the exact opposite in the recipient's ears.
Amazing, and I'm not doing this book anything close to justice as it has been months since I finished it....more
Grace and Logan's backgrounds were melodramatic in the extreme. Mia is a plot moppet, seemingly little marked by what is portrayed as a history of extGrace and Logan's backgrounds were melodramatic in the extreme. Mia is a plot moppet, seemingly little marked by what is portrayed as a history of extreme neglect. And yet, something about Young's poorly edited, trite prose hooks me every time. I cannot explain it....more
I wanted to like this quite a bit, but there were plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them, and Peggy never came alive for me as a realI wanted to like this quite a bit, but there were plot holes so big you could drive a truck through them, and Peggy never came alive for me as a real character. I will not be reading onward, alas....more
Spurning one's fiance at the behest of his cold-hearted mother, but for noble reasons that he will forgive once one is forced to spill the whole storySpurning one's fiance at the behest of his cold-hearted mother, but for noble reasons that he will forgive once one is forced to spill the whole story- a classic! (No dramatic tension, just a quick resolution to the story, if one spurns the [implied] filthy lucre like Elizabeth Bennett does.) I did not like Sweet Disorder as much as I wanted to. Phoebe and Nick had delightful tension, and the political and family drama was there in spades. Maybe I over-identified with Phoebe, who had a definite streak of martyr in her. Yet in the end I enjoyed this book far less than The Duchess War, with which it shares a number of common themes and plot elements. ...more
The set up was surprisingly affecting. Cam is the odd man out in the village, a prisoner of his own overly serious and proud manner but also a victimThe set up was surprisingly affecting. Cam is the odd man out in the village, a prisoner of his own overly serious and proud manner but also a victim of a small run in that left him feeling unwelcome in his new home. Rob is a bit sketchier, a widower who has settled down comfortably into village life. The sudden flowering of their relationship was a bit abrupt, but necessary given the format....more
Georgy believes herself the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman and an actress, and seems to enjoy her life behind the stage of the theater in which sGeorgy believes herself the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman and an actress, and seems to enjoy her life behind the stage of the theater in which she has a part time share. Her brother Harry, however, is obsessed with proving his parents' marriage. To do Harry a solid, Georgy inserts herself as a valet into the household of another nobleman invited to Christmas at their ancestral family estate.
Georgy is a surprisingly good valet, and a decent man given her ability to fade into he background as an unobtrusive servant. Nathan is less interesting, a dynamic but someone what bored hedonist who lacks purpose. The chicks in pants dynamic is so cliche but Georgy was interesting as a valet, which made the plot flow. The story becomes boring when Georgy swaps into skirts and Nathan first tries to make her a dirty little secret before repenting and deciding to marry hell or high water. ...more
I can hardly admit this was my first book of 2015. Corny silly nonsense, but kind of fun in a faux-angsty way. Suspend all disbelief- in the first fivI can hardly admit this was my first book of 2015. Corny silly nonsense, but kind of fun in a faux-angsty way. Suspend all disbelief- in the first five pages a medieval prioress refers to a spinal injury- but enjoy the big understanding and dramatic arguments between the protagonists....more
I love the remainder of this excellent old-school quartet, which I have in print. This first installment is without doubt the weakest, with annoying pI love the remainder of this excellent old-school quartet, which I have in print. This first installment is without doubt the weakest, with annoying protagonists, one of which is the worst spy ever. Maybe I've been spoiled by Joanna Bourne, but Adam's inability to focus on his surroundings was not a good look for a master spy. Caroline was a hot mess, and even after she made much of her maturation and new outlook on life, she continued to act like a spoiled child of 17....more
A sharp, clever, gossipy review/revue of the UK of the 20s and 30s by war-poet Robert Graves and Alan Hodge (whose wife Graves shortly swept up and raA sharp, clever, gossipy review/revue of the UK of the 20s and 30s by war-poet Robert Graves and Alan Hodge (whose wife Graves shortly swept up and ran off with). If you are a bit obsessed with this corner of history (as I have been ever since picking up a Dorothy Sayers mystery, and she too is chronologued here), then the book is well worth the time. From dance crazes to political scandal, from recreational drugs to midbrow literature to anti-Semitism and the abdication crisis, the book covers wide ground with incisive wit and a light touch. Obviously, Graves was a bit player himself and it shows, most notably his extended paeon to Laura Riding's poetical vision. Nevertheless, rather delightful, all in all....more
Compulsively entertaining Anglophilia, Double Cross is the story of how the Brits cross referenced Most Secret Sources with their tight dragnet of NazCompulsively entertaining Anglophilia, Double Cross is the story of how the Brits cross referenced Most Secret Sources with their tight dragnet of Nazi spies and managed to turn every Nazi agent in the UK into a double agent. This enabled several elaborate deceptions culminating in Operation Fortitude, a cloak of wild misdirection laid over Operation Overlord. It is hard to say who is more zany and original in Macintyre's cast of characters, the double agents or the MI5 agents who ran them. Nevertheless, Garbo in particular stands out as a man so frighteningly impossible he could only come from history, not fiction....more
I adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. UnliI adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unlike Dear Author, I had and have no problem with Milan's very deliberate use of modern social justice problems in her historicals- identity, autonomy, sexuality, social status, class, and voice were all issues struggled with at the time, as they are today. Our inclination to think that constant forward progress has brought us to this enlightened day blinds us to the reality that we are not the first (nor will we be the last) to try and construct authentic lives in the face of these social barriers.
That said, the romance pancaked on an unbelievable hero. Angst, angst, blah, blah. Now, Leighton of My Beautiful Enemy, there was an angsty hero. Edward? Not so much, although interesting to see that shout out to the admittedly bloody Franco-Prussian war....more
I increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a bI increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a better book by far, rich with small details that brought the interior life of its two protagonists to the fore. In comparison, My Beautiful Enemy is telegraphic, jumping from plot point to action scene in order to bring all elements to a resolution.
I adore Thomas's choice to meaningfully set the book in Ch'ing China, and the fact that while her leads may be British at least in part they have the will and desire to move through the world entire to find a place that suits them both.
However, this story had the potential to be a sweeping epic, big, meaty, sad, and sweet. Instead, by cramming the second half of the story into the slight page count and format of a historical romance, Thomas lost the richness that defined the first chapter. Key moments were compressed, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I wanted much more of everything, and cannot help but wonder if Thomas would be better off self-publishing a la Courtney Milan.
Rich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courRich, evocative, and angsty, this book reaffirmed my love for Thomas's writing. Ying-ying, raised as the pampered daughter of a powerful prince's courtesan, learns at once a series of martial arts from a washed up gambling addict as well as her own vulnerability and isolation due to her gender, birth, and half-racial identify. On the other side of the world, Leighton learns of the secrets lurking beneath his idyllic, privileged childhood. Too good to be true, as a child he sacrifices repeatedly to help the (somewhat hapless, if loving and kind) adults of his remaining family.
This full-length book reads as story in its own right, not as the set up of two characters who meet only once before the end. I'm so happy I read it, and do look forward to My Beautiful Enemy....more
If Olivia is 26 then I don't think I've ever been that young. Yes! I will sleep with you but no emotions ever I promise and best friends for ever! AsIf Olivia is 26 then I don't think I've ever been that young. Yes! I will sleep with you but no emotions ever I promise and best friends for ever! As if. Still, better her than Nate's disturbing inability to take no for an answer. I might think Olivia was behaving like a diva, but the fact that no one would take her very clear no as an answer was disturbing. I can see why the concept is so appealing- Olivia's quirky, eclectic circle of friends would have been great to spend time with if they weren't so interchangable with their traumatic histories and loving partners. Only Cole stood out as a character with real agency and identity. But still, in the end, I do adore an occasional over-hyped fan fic wank, and this certainly fits the bill....more
Finally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naFinally, a nice, compelling, well-written, non-foolish historical. How I've missed thee. Nev and Penelope have the virtue of behaving as the young, naive teenagers that they are without ever seeming cartoonish. The tension over conditions on the home farm was also interesting, a smidge of North and South livening the plot. ...more
Parts were so truly excellent- the age gap between Foye and Sabine is portrayed clearly, with many small betraying gestures on both sides, down to FoyParts were so truly excellent- the age gap between Foye and Sabine is portrayed clearly, with many small betraying gestures on both sides, down to Foye's contentment with domestic bliss and Sabine's restlessness. Other parts are absurd to nonsensical- do ruthless, wealthy Ottoman lords really personally track down wayward English girls because their shiny blonde hair is oh so captivating and harem worthy? You're really going to put your heroine into brownface? It's all the more intriguing because Jewel has clearly done much historical research, and it shows. But the underlying dynamics are classic orientalism. ...more
So maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of WiSo maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Witness between the murder victim and a mysterious Viennese mistress. The high drama, rigid social rules, and hopelessly destructive passion always struck a certain chord and I wanted more...
'Letter from an Unknown Woman' is claustrophobic and laden with risible angst. I am glad I did not stop there, however, as the opening of 'A Story Told in Twilight' is gorgeous and the quiet dignity of the matron in 'The Debt Paid Late' is an excellent rebuke of the pointless tragedy of the unknown woman. All of the stories focus on obsessive first love, embraced in three cases and absent in the fourth. What is now mocked and trivialized (weeping hysterical girls thrusting arms out to the Beatles, Bieber, whomever) is given a rich inner life, heavy with opportunity and danger that is incarnated in two cases by a sexually potent older male artist.
The translation is well done, with simple, clear, and intimate prose:
My husband was greatly surprised to see me back from my holiday so soon, and even more surprised to find how happy and reinvigorated those two days away had left me. He described it as a miracle cure. But I see nothing miraculous about it. Nothing makes one as healthy as happiness, and there is no greater happiness than making someone else happy.
Has rain been sweeping over the city again in the wind? Is that what suddenly makes it so dim in our room? No. The air is silvery clear and still, as it seldom is on these summer days, but it is getting late, and we didn't notice. Only the dormer windows opposite still smile with a faint glow, and the sky above the roof ridge is veiled by golden mist. In an hour's time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem, at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadows were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of use was now seeing the other across a wide space and over many years. But you say you don't want silence now, because in silence one hears, apprehensively, the clock breaking time into a hundred tiny splinters, and our breathing will sound as loud as the breathing of a sick man. You want me to tell you a story. Willingly. But not about me, for our life in these big cities is short of experience, or so it seems to us, because we do not yet know what is really our own in them. However, I will tell you a story fit for this hour that really loves only silence, and I would wish it to have something about it of the warm, soft, flowing twilight now hovering mistily outside our window.
I waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor keyI waffle on this one- I like it well enough to re-read on occasion, and the closeted first husband is an interesting (if fraught) theme in a minor key on the philandering straight first husband, but there is not much novel or particularly well-crafted here to truly hold my attention....more
This classic has sat on my shelf for almost ten years unread- I could never get past the dreadfully pretentious forward, preface, and author's note. HThis classic has sat on my shelf for almost ten years unread- I could never get past the dreadfully pretentious forward, preface, and author's note. However, once you break through, Tuchman juggles five countries and two fronts with a minimum of confusion and a talent for miniature portraits of all involved, from the opaque Grey, the outrageously mercurial French, and the tragic hero Lanrezac to the broken Moltke and the determined King Albert.
Try her descriptions of Joffre: "With few personal ideas of his own, Joffre was adept at taking advice, and submitted more or less consciously to the reigning doctrinaires of the Operations Bureau," and, "Joffre went outside and sat down in the shade of a weeping ash in the school playground. By nature an arbiter, he collected the opinions of others, sorted them, weighed the personal coefficient of the speaker, adjusted the scale, and eventually announced his verdict."
Or this: 'He [Hindenburg] was waiting at the station in Hanover when the train drew in at four in the morning, General Ludendorff whom he had never met 'stepped briskly' to the platform to report himself. On the way east he explained the situation and the orders he had already issued. Hindenburg listened and approved. So was born, on the way to the battle that was to make them famous, the combination, the 'marriage' expressed in the mystic monogram HL that was to rule imperial Germany until the end. When sometime later he was made a Field Marshal, Hindenburg earned the nickname 'Marshal Was-sagst-du' because of his habit, whenever asked for an opinion, of turning to Ludendorff and asking, 'Was sagst du? (What do you say?)"
And this: "As early as August 24 Sukhomlinov, the War Minister who had not bothered to build arms factories because he did not believe in fire power, wrote General Yanushkevitch, the beardless Chief of Staff..."
"At sixty-five, he [Gallieni] was suffering from the prostatitis of which, after two operations, he was to die within two years. Bereaved by the death of his wife within the last month, and having renounced the highest post in the French Army three years earlier, he was beyond personal ambition, a man with little time left, as irritably impatient with the politics of the army as with the rivalries of politicians.
Tuchman's one liners are many, and clever:
"That vexing problem of war presented by the refusal of the enemy to behave as expected in his own best interest beset them."
"This was not necessarily a deliberate effort to be offensive; it was normal for [German] General Staff officers to be offensive."
"In order to arouse feeling against the Russians, the German government had deliberately distributed the refugees in various cities and succeeded in frightening itself."
"Although 1870 proved the corollary of the theory and practice of terror, that it deepens antagonism, stimulates resistance, and ends by lengthening war, the Germans remained wedded to it. As Shaw said, they were a people with a contempt for common sense."
I also appreciated the excellent sampling of contemporary quotations:
(Ruffey to a GQC staff officer) "You people at GQG never read the reports we send you. You are as ignorant as an oyster of all that the enemy has in his bag... Tell the Generalissimo his operations are worse than 1870- he sees absolutely nothing- incapacity everywhere."
(Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren in a 1915 book) "He who writes this book in which hate is not hidden was formerly a pacifist... For him no disillusionment was ever greater or more sudden. It struck him with such violence that he thought himself no longer the same man. And yet, as it seems to him that in his state of hatred his conscience becomes diminished, he dedicates these pages, with emotion, to the man he used to be."
(Moltke to a German official) "Don't bother me with economics- I am busy conducting a war."
Tuchman advances a decent handful of theories large and small- that French deification of the offensive and elan drove their unfathomably bad decision making, that German decision makers stubbornly and almost consciously chose to ignore the consequences of the Schlieffen plan's violation of Belgian neutrality, that the slaughter of Tannenberg was a Russian sacrifice that enabled the French to halt the Germans short of Paris, that the British legend of the Marne is not borne out by facts, which testify to underlying French victories and sacrifices, that all involved succumbed to the age-old antagonism between staff and the field... However, I believe Tuchman's most enduring gift was a clarity of vision that produced a remarkably lucid account of the dissolution of plans and hopes that defined the battlefields of August 1914. ...more
A monumental biography for an amazing woman, A Sword Among Lions walks through Ida B. Wells's childhood in Mississippi, her defining moment confrontinA monumental biography for an amazing woman, A Sword Among Lions walks through Ida B. Wells's childhood in Mississippi, her defining moment confronting lynch mobs in Memphis, and her subsequent august career as an advocate, journalist, activist, and public intellectual. Giddings brings into focus Wells's trailblazing work, including an early and progressive analysis of the social realities underlying lynching, which would take decades for her more privileged black male and white female contemporaries to match. In an era of class condescension and the remnants of Victorian pearl-clutching, Wells grew into a woman unafraid to stake her reputation, and her livelihood, on her conviction that all her people, not just the respectable victims, deserved protection from the state and a fair hearing in court. Her long marriage to Ferdinand Barnett unfolds in the background of her activism, and intrigues with the lack of documentation of what must have been an impressively honest and egalitarian relationship given its impact on both their lives.
This biography is a must read for two reasons. First, America has collectively chosen to forget the bloody, inhumane, shameful, and lingering legacy of slavery to this day. Comforted by the our embrace of a civil rights legacy that is itself lionized but also whitewashed, we do not spend a lot of social energy remembering the violence begotten by racism less than 100 years ago. Wells's sharp-eyed analysis of lynching, of the use of narratives of racial sexual purity and depravity to cover for theft, torture, and murder, and her challenge of state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence against black citizens is keenly relevant today. Second, the book reclaims Ida B. Wells as a pivotal figure in anti-lynching work, anti-racism, labor activism, and feminism. Her contributions, envied, disparaged, and stolen even during her lifetime, should take their rightful place in our recollection of the long civil rights struggle.
Beyond this central thrust, there are too many reasons to read this book, from Wells's complicated relationship with Frederick Douglass to the way she rubbed against all of W.E.B. Du Bois's insecurities, to the lessons about how money drives philanthropic work and often amplifies the voices of those who do the least meaningful work for a cause, and Giddings's excellent accounting of the role black women played in holding the Chicago machine more accountable to black and female constituencies. I cannot recommend this book highly enough....more
The Lily Brand is my all-time favorite guilty-pleasure, cult-read, gothic extravaganza. Unfortunately, Schwab's sophomore effort has all of her firstThe Lily Brand is my all-time favorite guilty-pleasure, cult-read, gothic extravaganza. Unfortunately, Schwab's sophomore effort has all of her first book's plot incoherence with few of its angsty pleasures. The book consists of Celia vowing that no one will take her castle away from her, Celia flirting with Fenris, Fenris displaying a hint of vulnerability before snarling and saying something cruel, Celia feeling hurt, several weeks pass, rinse, wash, repeat. ...more
If not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pIf not quite what I wanted it to be (where is the Joanna Bourne of early 20th century historical romance) I was hungry enough for this setting to be pleasantly surprised by a better-than-mediocre book. Testament of Youth this is not, with even young soldiers thought lost on the front making it through the war intact, but Robson does a decent job of conveying the hopeless mess of life near the front. There are not nearly enough military medical protagonists in circulation (just think of how excellent The Wedding Journey is!) either....more
Absurd, delicious, erotic fluff. The first three quarters of the book are taught with suspense and desire- Hannah knows she should not give in but isAbsurd, delicious, erotic fluff. The first three quarters of the book are taught with suspense and desire- Hannah knows she should not give in but is willing to risk it all for anything that jolts her out of her very mediocre life. Leo is a cipher, and is delectable. However, Leo's heartfelt amends and sudden turn of fortune ruins the end with a mechanically simplistic and saccharine ending....more
Old school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hOld school in the best possible way, this put the fabulous Duran back on my auto-buy list. I had found That Scandalous Summer difficult to start and hard to finish, but then again I regularly crave the meaty, sad At Your Pleasure. While Alastair is a bit much (like The Duke's Perfect Wife's Hart Mackenzie on crack) I like how his crazy, devious brain switches from introverted self-flagellation to cunning revenge. Olivia may be a bit too good to be true but she's understandable even when she's lingering over Alastair a bit too long. In the end, there's little I like more than the penniless heroine running out the door (Jane Eyre! Until You! Lily!) and this book certainly delivered on that account....more