It took me two solid months of dog-walking and listening at other times to finish this book, and since other long-awaited books were calling to me, IIt took me two solid months of dog-walking and listening at other times to finish this book, and since other long-awaited books were calling to me, I was sometimes tempted to take a break, but I feared that if I stopped listening I would not resume. I'm glad I stuck with it, not just to check off another on the Guardian's 1000 Novels list, but because it was a great story written by a great spirit.
Before embarking on this voyage, I knew Les Misérables only from an abridged version in my childhood Book of Knowledge and, of course, the musical. Although I'd listened to the music a lot, I had only seen it on stage in a "Jr." version (acted by young people) and quite recently, the film version of the musical. I enjoyed listening to the book in part because there was so much more of the backstory of the characters. (Not that Schönberg, Boublil, et al can be faulted for what they left out; I think they, and director Tom Hooper, made good artistic decisions to condense the story into a manageable performance.) Through these lengthy character introductions, we learn how Valjean, the Bishop, Fantine, Marius, the Thenardiers and others became who they are. Their various actions become more believable when we can see their pasts. In particular the love story of Marius and Cosette becomes more real by Hugo's following it through its stops and starts. I also learned a bit more of French history, especially the post-Napoleonic time, than I had known before.
Besides its length, flowery language (but I must say Julie Rose's translation seems excellent, particularly in its use of slang), and numerous references to Paris streets and buildings old and "new" (in 1862), modern readers will probably find some of Hugo's ideas about women hard to swallow. Social class, beauty, and relationship or lack of one with a man, seem to define womanhood for Hugo. Even the tragic heroine Eponine does what she does at the barricades only for love of Marius -- she is unable to imagine that revolution could have something to do with her own life. Hugo shows his romantic, Victorian view of women not only in the characters he writes, but in long disquisitions on Womanhood with a capital W, which I suspect even the most conventional woman of his time would have read with an inward smile or shudder.
I enjoyed George Guidall's narration; the only reason I might wish to have read this book in print would be that it annoys me slightly not to see the French names (streets, characters, etc.) and how they are spelled. I'd love to see an annotated version with drawings or photos of objects and places described in the text, but it would be an enormous tome.
I don't know that I would recommend this audiobook to someone driving on a long journey, because some of Hugo's long digressions on convents, sewers, etc. might cause drowsiness. But if for some reason you have 60 or so hours to spend listening to a book, this one really is worth your while....more
I believe Walter Mosley got quite a bit of buzz when he first published Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. I seem to recall that I began to read it at theI believe Walter Mosley got quite a bit of buzz when he first published Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. I seem to recall that I began to read it at the time, but for some reason didn't get very far. Perhaps I just wasn't into noir fiction back then. A couple of years ago we listened to White Butterfly, another in the series, and enjoyed it very much. So when I saw this on Audible I couldn't resist giving it another try.
The narration, by Michael Boatman, adds immeasurably to my enjoyment. Boatman sounds just as I would imagine Easy does (the story is told in first person) and the voices he does for the other characters, including the women, are believable as well. Mosley himself has an excellent ear for dialect and dialog, and the combination of author and narration takes the listener to a completely different place -- in this case, Watts, Los Angeles, 1948.
Devil in a Blue Dress explains how Easy Rawlins went from working in an aircraft factory to being a private investigator. Easy is a black World War II veteran, originally from Houston, who has ended up in Watts and has bought a small house. He is so thrilled to own his own home that he even enjoys receiving junk mail, so when he loses his aircraft factory job because of a disagreement with the white foreman, his main concern is how to make his next mortgage payment. When his bartender friend introduces him to a mysterious white man who offers him $100 to search for a missing young woman, Easy takes on the job, despite some misgivings which turn out to be well-founded.
Although the plot is fascinatingly full of incident, the characterizations and setting are equally strong. Easy is a complicated man with simple desires which the world seems eager to thwart. The setting of LA in the 40s, legally integrated but still full of racism, adds to the tension of the story. Very highly recommended....more
A reader can divide historical fiction into two kinds: the kind where you know the general outline of what happens historically, and the kind where yoA reader can divide historical fiction into two kinds: the kind where you know the general outline of what happens historically, and the kind where you don't. The Janissary Tree was the second kind for me. I know almost nothing about the Ottoman Empire -- a few names, a smattering about the Crimean War and the empire's part in WWI, and the phrase "The Sick Man of Europe." That's about it. In addition, 1836, when the book is set, is a time even in European history about which I knew little. Well, I know a little more now. I enjoyed Goodwin's book possibly more for the characters and setting than for the plot. Goodwin had already written a history of the Ottoman Empire (as well as four other non-fiction books) before this, his first novel. (It appears he's British, thus not eligible for the Best First Novel Edgar, which is limited to American authors.)
Yashim, the protagonist, is a eunuch, but although he is a trusted adviser to the Sultan and the Sultan's mother, he does not live in the Palace, but moves freely around Istanbul. He is called in on two separate investigations, or perhaps three: the death of one of the Sultan's harem; the theft of some of the Valide Sultan's (Queen Mother's) jewels, once owned by Napoleon; and the disappearance of four young officers in the New Guard. Soon the officers' bodies begin turning up, each killed in a peculiarly horrible way. With the help of his two best friends, Panewski, the Polish Ambassador (at a time when Poland as a country had ceased to exist) and Preen, a eunuch who works as a transvestite dancer and prostitute, Yashim eventually solves all the crimes, undergoing some fairly terrifying experiences along the way.
At just under 300 pages, The Janissary Tree was not exceptionally long, but it took me quite a while to read, partly because of other commitments, but also because the plot was not that engaging to me. What kept me reading (besides my vow to read every Edgar Best Novel winner)was the immersion in another world that Goodwin provided. Istanbul in the 1830s was a cosmopolitan city at the heart of a vast and diverse empire, yet it could hardly have been more different from London, Vienna or St. Petersburg. Goodwin brings Istanbul to life; the mystery seems just a device, the plot merely a framework on which to display the characters and setting. Had I been on that Edgar jury, I think it unlikely I would have voted for this work (I'll have to read the other nominees to be sure, and that's another challenge!) But it was certainly good enough to deserve some kind of recognition, and I'll be interested to read the later books in the series. If you like to learn something with your mystery reading and can bear with a rather slow pace, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Janissary Tree....more
A Ripping Yarn! Part of a series (but the first of them I've read) which began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Stolen Lake finds plucky heroiA Ripping Yarn! Part of a series (but the first of them I've read) which began with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Stolen Lake finds plucky heroine Dido Twite aboard a British man'o'war headed for England. As they make their way across the Atlantic, a message arrives by carrier pigeon diverting the ship to New Cumbria. Where? Well, the series takes place in an alternate history where the Stuarts still rule Great Britain, with James III the King rather than Queen Victoria. New Cumbria (roughly Argentina, I think) is part of "Roman America," where Latin is spoken, and was settled by the remnant of the Arthurian Britons after their defeat by the Saxons in 577.
Dido and her companions have one adventure after another and encounter several characters out of Arthurian legend during their travels through New Cumbria and neighboring Lyonesse. Some of the adventures are quite hair=raising (human sacrifice, people eaten by piranhas, etc.) This is not a book for the faint- hearted child, but other reviewers testify that for the right person,of any age, it will become a favorite book. I recommend it and will be looking for the other books in the series as time permits. You don't need to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this book....more
I'm sure I've heard some Georgette Heyer fans recommend this one, but it's pretty much my least favorite so far. I enjoyed the first two in the AlastaI'm sure I've heard some Georgette Heyer fans recommend this one, but it's pretty much my least favorite so far. I enjoyed the first two in the Alastair Trilogy (These Old Shades and Devil's Cub) much more. The Alastairs are a noble family with ongoing ties to France, and a reputation for hot tempers, risk-taking, etc. The trilogy begins in about 1760; the second book is set in pre-Revolutionary France, maybe around 1780; and the third is set in Brussels just before Waterloo. That's the problem. Heyer apparently always wanted to write about Waterloo, did a lot of research, and it shows. It shows too much -- I was constantly skimming through endless lists of generals and troop movements to get to the story. I also didn't think either of the love stories was as believable as those in Heyer's other work. It still held my interest, but is definitely not my favorite....more
Ever wonder if Danny Boyle from Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak novels and Billy Boyle from James R. Benn's World War II series might be cousins? AlthoughEver wonder if Danny Boyle from Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak novels and Billy Boyle from James R. Benn's World War II series might be cousins? Although the two series differ in almost every respect, they have one thing in common -- the character growth of the Boyle boys as their series progress. Each starts as a wide-eyed innocent (despite Billy's police experience in South Boston) and through experience and mentoring learns to deal with moral ambiguity, to find his center, and to judge when to live by the rules and when to break them.
In Rag and Bone, Lt. Billy Boyle's joyous reunion with Diana is cut short when he's ordered to London. A Soviet officer has been murdered execution-style in a London park, and with plans for an invasion beginning to come to fruition, Uncle Ike, newly named commander of SHAEF, wants no friction among the Allied forces. Returning to London to stay with his friend Kaz, a Polish nobleman in exile, Billy learns of the Katyn Forest massacre, which the Soviets are blaming on the Nazis despite evidence to the contrary. Kaz's outrage is such that Billy considers he may be a suspect in the murder. As Billy discovers involvement by the London underworld and the NKVD, the plot grows ever more complicated. The book starts a little slowly, but picks up speed as it goes along, and there is plenty of excitement toward the end. But the most enjoyable part of the book for me was watching Billy's continued character development.
I'm of the generation that, while we didn't live through World War II, grew up with it as recent history, so most of what Benn writes about is familiar to me. However, don't be scared off if you're a younger person who doesn't happen to be a WWII buff. Without being in the least didactic, Benn explains what you need to know to follow Billy's adventures. Highly recommended....more
I'll go back to this one, in which Benjamin January goes to the Rocky Mountains -- I didn't get to finish before I had to return it to the library, beI'll go back to this one, in which Benjamin January goes to the Rocky Mountains -- I didn't get to finish before I had to return it to the library, because of eye surgery and temporary difficulty with reading....more
If Jane Austen's Persuasion is her love letter to the British Navy, then Connie Willis's All Clear, and its first volume, Blackout, are Willis's loveIf Jane Austen's Persuasion is her love letter to the British Navy, then Connie Willis's All Clear, and its first volume, Blackout, are Willis's love letter to the people of World War II Britain. The time-traveling historians of 21st century Oxford are only 120 years removed from the Blitz, but they are surprisingly uninformed about World War II history even after doing research and receiving (it's not specified how) "implants" on details like which Tube stations were bombed. When they find themselves stuck in 1940, they fear that, contrary to what time-travelers have believed, their actions may be influencing the course of history and that what seems like a good action may have consequences that result in a Nazi victory. Meanwhile, they also have to stay alive -- and one traveler, who has already traveled to V-E day, has a "deadline" since the same traveler cannot be in the same time and place twice. The book is full of suspense, romance, danger, history, --- all the things I like, and of course time travel is a favorite genre of mine. So although I seldom read extremely long books any more, I enjoyed these two immensely. They can certainly stand on their own, but I might recommend that a reader new to Willis begin with The Doomsday Book for a bit of background on the time traveling historians....more
The saga of the Morland family continues -- the Morlands are hatched, matched and dispatched in the midst of the 1920s. Since one of the characters isThe saga of the Morland family continues -- the Morlands are hatched, matched and dispatched in the midst of the 1920s. Since one of the characters is a pilot and aircraft designer, there's quite a bit about British aviation; the General Strike of 1926 and the Crash of '29 figure in the story, as well as the extension of women's suffrage in Britain to younger women (I'd forgotten, if I ever knew, that at first only women over 30 could vote). I'm addicted to this series, which was meant to be a painless way to learn British history and does a good job of it. I'd advise reading it from the beginning, though....more
I actually only read Volume 1 of this, will probably read Volume 2 at some point. I also believe I read it all many years ago. The book follows the foI actually only read Volume 1 of this, will probably read Volume 2 at some point. I also believe I read it all many years ago. The book follows the fortunes of several people who are involved in a tontine -- a sort of "last man standing" insurance scheme -- in 19th century England. The reason I might not finish is that it appears the "winner" will be one of the most obnoxious characters in the book....more
It's a while since I read this, but I liked the medieval setting and the moral questions it brought up, and of course, books about the Black Death alwIt's a while since I read this, but I liked the medieval setting and the moral questions it brought up, and of course, books about the Black Death always fascinate me!...more
Somehow I've ended up reading far more Willa Cather than Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Faulkner, her contemporaries and literary equals. This and O PioneeSomehow I've ended up reading far more Willa Cather than Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Faulkner, her contemporaries and literary equals. This and O Pioneers are my favorites. The strong and beautiful Czech immigrant Antonia, seen through the eyes of her neighbor boy who, while not a weakling, certainly doesn't measure up, is an unforgettable character. Most people who don't live there tend to think of Nebraska as a rather boring state, but Cather makes us see its beauty....more
The Morland family deals with the voyage of the Titanic, the British suffragette movement, the beginning of aeronautics, and the run-up to WWI, as welThe Morland family deals with the voyage of the Titanic, the British suffragette movement, the beginning of aeronautics, and the run-up to WWI, as well as more personal concerns. Although these books are about 400 pages, I seem to be able to read them almost at a sitting, and to be almost glued to the chair until I finish. Ms. Harrod-Eagles combines a lot of historical information and complicated family trees with a narrative that just makes you want to keep reading. I'll have a hard time not moving immediately to the next book in the series since I have it on hand. ...more
The state of Indiana has pretty much been "drive-through land" for me over many years of traveling between Minnesota and Maine. Nearly always, we tookThe state of Indiana has pretty much been "drive-through land" for me over many years of traveling between Minnesota and Maine. Nearly always, we took the tollway. The only nice feature of the Indiana State Tollway is that the rest and refreshment areas are named for famous Hoosiers, many, if not all, writers. The Gene Stratton Porter, the Ernie Pyle, the George Ade are some I recall. Should the highway authority need to name any more of these spots, I'd say humorist Jean Shepherd should be first in line, but Jeanne M. Dams would come a close second. Her love and understanding of South Bend shines through every page of Death in Lacquer Red, her first Hilda Johansson mystery.
When I reached Indiana in my alphabetical "A Mystery for Every State" project, I had already decided to give the Hilda Johansson series a try, based on many recommendations on the DorothyL list. I'm so glad I did!
I enjoyed the setting, with its glimpses of domestic life above- and belowstairs in the turn-of-the-century Midwest. the characters, especially Hilda and her beau Patrick Cavanaugh, are both endearing and believable for the period. And the plot surprised me -- I didn't see the ending coming at all! I'll definitely be looking for the rest of the series and hoping it continues for a long time. ...more
As you may have guessed from my love of the Algonquin Round Table folks, I very much enjoy books set between the wars. I thought this one was quite goAs you may have guessed from my love of the Algonquin Round Table folks, I very much enjoy books set between the wars. I thought this one was quite good and I found the character of Kitty (no! Katherine!) Pangborn quite believable and one I'd like to hear more about. In general, I felt Ms. Richards did a great job in giving the flavor of the times. For example, although I've spent time in LA I was really not aware of there having been a lot of oil wells there in the early 30s, but this was the case.
This is in some ways a noir mystery, complete with hard-drinking private detective and other aspects of the genre, but the fact that it's narrated by Kitty moderates the noirishness to a level I could live with. The setting in 1931 Los Angeles is well-researched and the characters are ones I look forward to getting to know better....more
It's very seldom that I'll invest enough time on a book to read 394 pages and then give up, but that's what I did with THE EIGHT. After seeing it mentIt's very seldom that I'll invest enough time on a book to read 394 pages and then give up, but that's what I did with THE EIGHT. After seeing it mentioned favorably several times on DorothyL, I thought it good fortune when I spotted a copy for a dollar at the local hospital auxiliary's book sale. The good fortune was only investing a dollar (and far too many hours) in it. At first I enjoyed the story, which switches from the time of the French Revolution to early 1973, with the unifying factor being the quest to locate all the pieces of a chess set with a mysterious power. However, the whole thing was just going on too long and I was getting a feeling of dread each time I thought about picking the book up. I have fairly little tolerance for historical pieces where a new famous person pops up every few pages. Oh no! It's William Wordsworth! Help, it's the young Napoleon Bonaparte! Ultimately I just couldn't sustain any interest in what happened and decided to cut my losses and put the book in my giveaway box. Just another example of how tastes differ. Not recommended, but then, your results may vary. ...more
I've often read remarks by people who say that Georgette Heyer's books are some of their favorite "comfort reads" to which they return over and over.I've often read remarks by people who say that Georgette Heyer's books are some of their favorite "comfort reads" to which they return over and over. Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian and Bernard Cornwell, with an assist from Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (some of her Morland Dynasty series) had pretty well covered the early 19th century for me, so I felt that Heyer would likely remain a closed book. But then I found the Guardian list, 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read, and on it were two of Heyer's books. Wandering through the library, I noticed one of them among the shelves, a well-used copy of REGENCY BUCK, and thought I'd give it a try.
Although it's characterized on the listing in the front matter as a "historical romance" rather than a "thriller," and was in the Guardian's "Love" category, there was definitely an element of suspense and crime in this tale. An orphaned, but very wealthy, brother and sister, Peregrine, 19, and Judith, 20, decide to remove to London from their native Yorkshire. They find that their guardian, thought to be an elderly Earl, is in fact the new Earl, a man of 35. He and our heroine Judith clash from their first meeting. Anyone who has read a few romance novels, no matter what the setting, will at once assume that these two will end up together. But Heyer keeps us guessing -- perhaps the Earl is even worse than he seems? It's certain that *someone* has a plan: to murder Peregrine, thus increasing Judith's already considerable value as an heiress, and then to marry her. Peregrine's engagement and Judith's approaching majority speed events to a climax. The clues are there, but Heyer is a mistress of misdirection and that kept me reading.
What tempted me at times to give up (instead, I just skimmed) were the seemingly endless pages of description that did not advance the plot, but rather appeared to be simply showing off the author's research skills. Three full pages describing the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, just at a point in the narrative when the reader wants to know what's going to happen next -- maddening! The excessive descriptions of dresses, hats, and gentlemen's wear, complete with fabrics unknown today, made parts of this book a "page-turner" in quite the wrong way for me.
I wonder if the faithful readers of Heyer also just skim the pages of description and concentrate on the nuggets of plotting and characterization, which are the real gold in this book? That her readers are legion is certainly true based on the copy I read -- purchased in 1966, when the first American edition came out (oddly, as the book was published in England in 1935), it's been checked out at least 10 times in the past 6 years, and has had to be rebound at some point because of heavy use.
I won't be rushing to read another Georgette Heyer, but now I think I can see the attraction. And I've spent some mostly enjoyable hours and checked one more book off my list.
I'm coming to realize that I don't read these books for the plots, which are OK but not great. It's the voice of the young narrator, the setting in 17I'm coming to realize that I don't read these books for the plots, which are OK but not great. It's the voice of the young narrator, the setting in 1770s London, and the insights into the beginnings of modern English criminal justice that keep me coming back. In this book, an inquiry into a claimant to a title and fortune links up with both a previous Fielding story and a case from 1763, and both deal with "The Colonies" as they then were. A good but not great entry in this series....more