Sword Song: The Battle For London by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under:Fiction,History — posted by Randolph on October 13, 2016 @ 6:44 pm

Sword Song: The Battle For London by Bernard Cornwell

The book is set in the late 9th century England and involves several of the primary historical figures of Wessex and Mercia. The characters are well-done, they have depth and are interesting. I can’t speak to their historical accuracy, though.

The book gives a very good feel for the time period. The characters strong, their actions are immediate and often cruel by our standards. The culture really comes out.

The story hinges around the fight for London between Danish Vikings in the north and the Saxons in Wessex. King Alfred gives his daughter’s hand in an attempt to solidify his hold on London.

I found the fight scenes very detailed and convincing. Their descriptions reveal well-thought out tactics and formations. You can almost smell the sweat and gore.

I hadn’t realized it was part of a series. It makes a good stand-alone book, though. It helped to solidify my understanding of that period in English history.

The Monk Who Vanished (Mystery of Ancient Ireland) by Peter Tremayne

Filed under:Fiction,Mystery,Series,Sister Fidelma — posted by Randolph on March 17, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

The Monk Who Vanished (Mystery of Ancient Ireland) by Peter Tremayne

This story begins with an attempted assination of two princes, one being the brother of Sister Fidelma. It appears to be an attempt from a neighboring kingdom, one with which they have poor relations. In another event, a monk disappears with a holy relic. As Fidelma investigates, things get much more complex. In a story full of conspiracies, feints, and hidden agendas, it is difficult to discern exactly what is going on. During a court session, in a classic ending, Sister Fidelma clarifies and explains all the events.

These stories are good at teaching about life and the times of 7th Century Ireland. This story explores life in a small town, a monastery, and a little about courts and legal processes. In addition to being a great story, this is a good book for any mystery lover, and particularly those interested in historical settings.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Filed under:Fiction,Humor — posted by Randolph on January 16, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Another collection of stories about Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves. It is enjoyable to watch Jeeves master every situation that Bertie can get into, whether due to his own bumbling or the machinations of his relatives. In this case, Aunt Agatha who is trying to set Bertie up for matrimony. Of course this would destroy Bertie’s character and may even require him to fire Jeeves. In story after story, Jeeves executes the most unexpected solution to a seemingly impossible problem.

The book got off to a slow start, but did provide the expected surprises and humor to make for an enjoyable read. This book, unlike the other stories (that I’ve read) is a novel as opposed to a collection of short stories, but feels like short stories with recurrent and common themes. As with the others, this book is a light read and fairly quick, and worth the time.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

Filed under:Fiction,Humor — posted by Randolph on May 14, 2012 @ 11:24 am

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

This book is the story of Major ernest Pettigrew, retired. It is set in contemporary England. The Major is a bit stuffy, everything has to be proper and just so. The book has a lot of subtle (to an American) British humor scattered throughout in the situations the Major encounters and his prim and proper reactions to them.

The Major is a bit materialistic, especially when it comes to a pair of guns, a pair of Churchills. These were given to his father for an account of bravery. These were split on his father’s death. one going to each of his sons. The Major wishes to mount them so he can impress people of higher status than himself.

The book opens with the brother’s death, now the second gun comes back to the Major and the two are reunited. The death leads the Major to come acquainted with Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani and owner of a grocery.

The relationship between Jasmina and the Major grows through the book, blossoming into a romantic relationship.

The two guns seem to be symbolic of the Majors own emotional state, or perhaps his relationship to Jasmina. Early in the book, the one acquired from his brother is poorly maintained, as is the Major. He takes to cleaning it, and his own state improves as his relationship to Jasmina develops. The loss of the second gun seems to occur as the relationship solidifies, suggesting the two would be united.

the story explores some predjudism through the relationship between the Major and Jasmina.

The Major’s son also plays prominently in the book. He is a bit rude and lacks the refinement of the Major. The Major admonishes the son for characteristics that he does not see in himself.

Although reasonably well written, I found the book difficult to get into. It took half the book before I found the Major likable and was able to appreciate the humor in the book. I don’t regret the time reading the book, but I think I would have enjoyed others more.

The Lacuna: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

Filed under:Fiction — posted by Randolph on April 23, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

The Lacuna: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

From Wiktionary.org:
 From Latin lacūna (“ditch, gap”), diminutive form of lacus (“lake”).

lacuna (plural lacunae or lacunas)
1 A small opening; a small pit or depression; a small blank space; a gap or vacancy; a hiatus.
2 An absent part, especially in a book or other piece of writing, often referring to an ancient manuscript or similar.
3 (microscopy) A space visible between cells, allowing free passage of light.
4 (linguistics) A language gap, which occurs when there is no direct translation in the target language for a lexical term found in the source language

The story is about a writer by the name of Harrison Shepherd, and how he experiences history. He has an American father and a Mexican mother, the first portion of the book takes place in Mexico. His first “lacuna” is the discovery of a cave off the coast that leads to some bones, it hints at an early interest in Aztec history. His first experience with history happens when he has an opportunity to mix plaster for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. He becomes a cook for Trotsky, here he encounters the Russian Revolution and relates that to the reader through the eyes of Trotsky.

Frida sends him to the US to escort some paintings. Here he finds his father. Through Harrison’s eyes, we see the wars, politics, and finally McCarthyism.

The book is told in vignettes, mostly part of Harrison’s diary. some of these stories are good, some are not. They are glued together by general references to events in his past, but this breaks up the flow of the book. It didn’t have the feel of a real diary. Although the books span a lot of the 20th century, but the style doesn’t change with Harrison’s learning, age, or stresses in his life.

My summary demonstrates my feelings about the book. Harrison is a passenger through history and a storyteller. Nothing more. He doesn’t seem to make his own decisions, the events happen to him and he reacts, little more. I did find some of his experiences as a writer to be of interest, and his tribulations in the McCarthy period.

I don’t understand the vast interest in this book. It is well written, but not interesting enough for me to recommend.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

Filed under:Fiction,Kinsey Millhone,Mystery — posted by Randolph on April 9, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

This is the 22nd book in the Kinsey Millhone Mysteries. The books are holding up, but the setting is lagging behind real time. The book mostly takes place in 1988, starting for Kinsey when she notices a small-time shoplifter. In the typical Grafton style, Kinsey gets wrapped up in the events and must look into things. The shoplifting leads her into a big-time racketeering ring.

I have two complaints about the book, first is that Sue Grafton is moving the series away from traditional mysteries. Starting with the previous book, U is for Undertow, it seems to be moving more toward adventure, as the reader knows so much more about the crime than Kinsey does. The book wanders through three different plots that ultimately intertwine. But the reader cannot play detective and try to solve it as Kinsey does.

The second issue is that Kinsey neglected to check surveillance tapes from the scene of the initial shoplifting. Although she had reason not to be interested in them initially, events changed and she seemed to forget about them for too long. It was a plot device to help build suspense, but in my opinion, was inappropriate. This did not detract from the enjoyment of the book.

Overall, it is an enjoyable book and left me looking forward to the next installment.

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One by George R.R. Martin

Filed under:Fantasy,Fiction — posted by Randolph on March 25, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One by George R.R. Martin

Although I found the book enjoyable, I also found it difficult to follow. There are too many characters. A list would have helped immensely. Most of the characters aren’t developed, but it takes a bit to see which are which.

The setting is fantasy, but has few fantastic elements to it until the end. Several times the story suggests the onset of a long (several years long) winter looming, presumably this unfold in a future volume. Their seasons do not seem to be regular intervals. There are also a lot of allusions to dragons.

The story is rather violent. Although far from gratuitous, it seems to convey a feeling for the period. It is gruesome at times.

The story focuses on power grab for the throne of Winterfell, the story has strong allusions to the War of the Roses. There are two houses vying for power and contrasting each other in a very simple good vs. evil story. First is the Stark family, lead by Eddard. He is the epitome of honor. This house if countered by the Lannisters who use trickery to attain their ends when it forwards their goals.

The book is told from a number of viewpoints. To make this a little easier, the focal character of each section is identified as a title. The rapid shit from viewpoint to viewpoint and the cast of characters makes it a challenge to follow at times.

Overall, the story is good. I enjoyed the intrigue, the plots and counter-plots. I think some of the characters could have behaved more intelligently, but it didn’t detract too much from the story.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Filed under:Fiction — posted by Randolph on January 1, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz ZafónThe Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is set in Barcelona.  It starts in the 1950s and spans several years, with the Spanish Civil War as a backdrop.  There is a backstory that starts after World War I and spans the Spanish Civil War.

The story is about a boy, Daniel, who is invited to take a book from the Cemetery of Lost Books.  He is drawn to a book which sets him on a long adventure that begins when he wants to find more works by the books author, Julian Carax.  There are none to be found, and he is possessed with the curiosity to learn whatever he can about Julian.  As he proceeds, he receives some very large offers for the copy of the book he possesses.

As Daniel uncovers fragments of Julian Carax’s life, the author gives us the story of Julian as the second story in the book.  This story starts prior to the Civil War and starts to weave the house of mirrors with Julian and Daniel at the center.

The two stories, and many of their characters show a lot of similarities.  It is like a house of mirrors, where aspects of one person are reflected in another, sometimes stretched, sometimes distorted, and sometimes reversed.  Toward the middle of the book, this made it a bit difficult for me to follow and keep the characters straight.

The middle of the book seemed to flow rather slowly.  Some promising events from early in the book seem forgotten and lost, my wife and I just wanted it to move along.  With all the characters and similarities being thrown about, it became confusing.

As I reached the second half of the book, it started to get engrossing again.  The events pick up and information becomes understood making the book difficult to put down.

As much as it is the story of Daniel and his investigations, it is also a story about human emotions and what they do to us.  I felt the book was an exploration of love and hatred as much as it was a mystery about the book and its author, Carax.

I learned of the book from a BBC podcast on book reviews.  It was so enticing I had to get the book to read.  The book was originally published in Spanish, some of the pacing seemed more appropriate to their lifestyle.  I think the translator did an excellent job.    Although a difficult read at times, I enjoyed it and believe most readers will, as well.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Filed under:Adventure,Favorites,Fiction,Series — posted by Randolph on August 20, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Filed under:Favorites,Fiction — posted by Randolph on July 30, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

This is the story of a young Indian (from India) boy’s survival. The story starts with a transfer of zoo animals, a ship sinks, and he finds himself on a small boat with several animals, including a bengal tiger. The story is well told and captivating. I heartily recommend this book.

(read in July 2008)

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace