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telynor

Telynor's Library, and then some

A woman of a certain age who has three cats underfoot, and has the dream of filling her passport with stamps. Books, classical music, tea, cats, movies, art, fancy needlework,  and anything else I can think of.

_China Dolls:_ Secrets -- and what would you do to keep them that way?

China Dolls: A Novel - Lisa See

I enjoyed this tale of three Chinese-American girls -- Grace, Helen and Ruby -- who start off as chorus girls in a nightclub in Chinatown. Each girl has plenty to hide, where not even a friendship can survive the horrors of WWII, and the prejudice of Americans. One section of the story is set in Topaz, Utah, which is one of the more horrible bits of our history. For anyone who wants an engaging tale set in San Francisco, with plenty of new things to learn, I happily recommend this one. Three and a half stars, rounded up to four stars overall.

For the longer review, please go here:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/4930291-lisa-see039s-china-dolls-it039s-not-all-glamour

_House of Cards:_ A darkly vengeful look at English politics

House of Cards - Michael Dobbs

After sitting down and watching the adaptations of this novel on Netflix with Kevin Spacey in the lead role, I was hooked. I decided to read the original novels, and I was fascinated at how the character of Francis Urquhart came about. Set in the late 80's, FU is the Chief Whip for the majority party, and after the Prime Minister manages to hang onto his job, FU is expecting a sweet plum of a Cabinet position to fall into his lap. But he is passed over and FU vows a bloody revenge on the Prime Minister -- and this novel reveals the convoluted tail of ambition, power and sheer wickedness. If you've only seen the Netflix series (and if you haven't, you should) rest assured that this won't ruin anything. I found it to be an intriguing intersection with the series, and only whetted my appetite to read the rest of the series, and hoped that there will be a third season on Netflix to come. Four and a half stars, and very much recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/4557088-house-of-cards-meeting-the-original-fu-run-run-for-your-lives

All finished.

Expectations of Happiness: A Companion Volume to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility - Rebecca Ann Collins

Well, this was one of those that was less than expected. Longer review to come soon.

_The Emancipator's Wife:_ A slightly different direction from Barbara Hambly, and it works very well.

The Emancipator's Wife - Barbara Hambly With this novel, I found all of my preconceived notions about Abraham and Mary Lincoln turned squarely on their heads and forcing me into thinking about them in a very different way. Once again Barbara Hambly is able to recreate a world that we think we know, and instead one that we really don't. Along the way, there are plenty of controversies about slavery, racism, the Civil War, women's rights, and mental illness. I found Mary's story is a tragic one and one that I found very absorbing all the way to the end. Very well researched and written. Four stars overall and a recommendation. For the longer review, please go here: http://www.bubblews.com/news/3672931-the-emancipator039s-wife-a-slightly-different-direction-from-barbara-hambly-and-it-works-very-well

There's nothing quite like a satisfying reread of a book that I know I will like

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

Spent the last few days indulging in a reread of this one. I hope to have the entire series finished by the end of the year. Nice thing about rereads is that you get to pick up the little details you missed on the first go around.

 

The sheer tragedy of this story is what hit me this time around. Ned Stark falling into the coils of courtly politics. Arya's story just crushes me, but at least she has the grit and determination that it will take to survive; and then there is Sansa, such a twit! Jon finally realizing what it means to be serving on the Wall. I happily loathe the Lannisters, all of them. Well, maybe not Tyrion, I have a bit of hunch that he's the only one here who has a real sense of reality.

 

Then there is Daenerys. Wow.

 

Then there is the death toll. Has anyone ever made an accounting of how many folks end up in graves in this series?

A terrific tale of Adventure and Race in the Napoleonic wars

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo - Tom Reiss

This is the sort of book that I love to read. Full of history and surprises, I had never given any thought to race in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries before. But in this tale of a soldier-aristocrat in revolutionary and Napoleonic France, race certainly matters in the life of Alex Dumas, a man who was born in what is now Haiti as the son of an aristocrat and an African-American woman. There are battles, ups and downs and his very remarkable son. Alexandre Dumas. All kinds of historical tidbits and adventures that go from the Caribbean to France to Egypt and back again. No pictures, unfortunately, but plenty of notes and maps. I give this one five stars and a muchly recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/3488746-the-black-count-a-splendid-tale-of-race-heroism-and-revolution

The Reader's Complaint: what has happened to the publishing industry?

Recently, I went and sorted through a list posted on Goodreads (a site devoted to books and the people who read them), which was touted as the Best Books of 2014, and much to my amazement, there was not one book on the listing of nearly 1000 books that I had read. Now, many of you out there who have been following my reviews might have noticed that I read stuff that's not exactly mainstream. There are very few bestsellers that reach out to me and scream "Try me!" And given my age, the Young Adult/Tweener/Romance genre isn't about to take my interest either.

Not that I don't mind a good fluffy romance now and then for some pure escapism. I adore a well-written romance set in say, ancient Rome, or the Medieval period, the far East, you name it. But of late, ever since the appearance of the Twilight and Twenty Shades (of crap, I must say) series, the romance industry has gone to hell. Historical romance is all Regency tinged with modern bondage, cruel heroes, and hardly a scrap of actual Regency history or indeed anything that would have been appropriate. Or it's alternate-history Tudor fiction that is so badly written and again with little real history, or even romance to it. And I won't even go into the whole paranormal world of vampires, werewolves, et alia, that is out there -- and it's just too out there for me.

As to some of the mainstream fiction, it seems to be lots of magical surrealism if it's coming out of Europe, thinly disguised porn, dysfunctional families, horror novels, and other things that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot net, if just to make a path for myself to the exit. It's depressing.

True, I still have my my tried and true historical mysteries, Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman for my history, and Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian for the best that the Regency and Napoleonic eras can offer. And of course, I still have plenty of good, straightforward history and cookbooks that I can dive into.

I guess what I resent the most is that I hate dropping good money on trash. Is anyone else noticing this trend as well? What have you seen out that there that drives you nuts, and what would you suggest for this reader?

Looking forward to seeing your comments.

A very schizophrenic look at the hunt for poor King Richard's bones

The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds - Philippa Langley, Michael Jones

 

When I heard about this book, I was determined to read it. But before I delved into it, I watched the National Geographic special, and one of the talking heads, Philippa Langley, got on my nerves with her hovering and generally being an annoyance to everyone involved. But the name didn't really register until I sat down and started reading the book, and I figured out that the presenter and the author were one and same. Wherein lays the trouble with this book. Nearly three hundred pages of gushing fangirling from Langley that goes into all about raising money, getting permission to dig, and generally being a pest, while all the time swooning over poor Richard's bones. Then there's Michael Jones narrative, which thankfully, saves this rather forgettable history. Jones looks at the historical facts of Richard III and his family, Henry Tudor, and Shakespeare's version, among others. For those of you out there who like history, if you can overlook Langley's verbosity, it should work. However, despite the maps and colour photos, it's not enough to save this from an average, ordinary blah book dumbed down for the masses. Only somewhat recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
http://personapaper.com/article/27014-the-kings-grave-irritating-blend-of-history-and-obsessive-fangirling

(And thanks to Karla for her oh-so-descriptive comments about Langley's behaviour!)

It's been a week.

This has been a week full of white nights and books. Most of it is hinging on the fact that on Tuesday, I received an email from one of my half-siblings that my natural father had died. I did not know him, we had never met, and only spoken once on the phone. I'll be honest here, growing up without a parent sucks. So it's been a week with a lot of turmoil. To be honest, I wish that I could just go away for a week or two -- preferably by cruise ship, I love traveling that way -- everything is taken care of, and no worries.

 

Reading right now I am using as distraction therapy. It keeps me from mulling over things too much.

Relaunching the Chung Kuo series with Son of Heaven

Son of Heaven (Chung Kuo) - David Wingrove

In the last couple of decades I have become fascinated with Asia, reading whatever I can and hoping that one day I can go there. In the meantime, I read, watch what I can get, and even picking up a smattering of languages. Yep, it's that well-known method of scattershot study for me!

One series that caught my eye back in the 1980's was David Wingrove's series call Chung Kup, a science fiction series of books that envisions an Earth dominated by China, ruled by what are known as the Seven T'angs. The City covers most of the Earth, and the population is composed of nothing but Han Chinese and Western Europeans. While I tend to despite genocidal dystopias, I was fascinated by the world-building and the more subtle characters of the story.

Now Wingrove is relaunching his series, adding in two books at the very start, and filling in some of the blanks. The first book, Son of Heaven, tells the story of Jake Reed, a survivor of the Collapse, when financial markets crashed, and chaos erupted over North America and Europe. Jake barely made it through those awful days, finally finding some sanctuary at Corfe, England. Now twenty years have passed, and now there are strangers and raiders moving west, fleeing something that is following them. Jake thinks that he knows what is coming, but is too afraid to speak up. When he goes with the other men on a trading expedition to the nearby town, a journey of several days, not only are they attacked but Jake is wounded, and hears of something sinister coming from the east.

A hike to the nearby ruins and a pair of binoculars reveals something like a glacier coming. And this time, there is nowhere for Jake and his family to flee to...

I was of very mixed feelings about picking this book up and reading it., given that I'm not much of a fan of genocide, and knowing a bit of what was to come in later novels. But I was also curious, as so much science fiction these days is either drivel or just endless copying of someone else. So this book sat on the shelf for quite a few months (think years) and I finally decided that it was time to sit down and finally read it and make up my mind -- continue on or pull the trigger.

Son of Heaven has two viewpoints. The first was Jake Reed, a brilliant young internet designer who worked in the financial markets when it crashed, and the other is Jiang Lei, a general of one of the Emperor's armies and sometime poet. While Jake is focused on merely surviving and getting his family to safety, Jiang Lei is much more complex. The duty that he has from the Emperor, T'sao Ch'un, is much more difficult. Not only is he in command of men who are not much more than killers, he also has to assess those people who are not Han, and decide if they are worthy enough to live in the future, in the City that is advancing behind them. The ill, the elderly, drug users and 'ethnicities' are to be disposed of and forgotten, while the survivors are reeducated in camps..

Not that Jiang Lei has much choice. His wife and daughters are being held as hostages for his continued co-operation, and worse still, quite a few of his men are members of the secret police -- the Thousand Eyes -- who watch and report everything.

An interesting touch was the various bits of future culture -- one modern author constantly mentioned was Philip K. Dick and his novel Ubik. Many of the references were to music, and at times it did get pretty annoying. Not very many authors can pull it off successfully, and unfortunately Wingrove isn't one of them. While it was interesting, it wasn't that well handled. Pity.

Still, I was interested enough by the end of this one to go onto the second novel in the series, Daylight on Iron Mountain.

This novel gets three and half stars, rounded up to four, and a somewhat recommended. Not for everyone, but it's bearable if you like this sort of thing.

Following up Lionheart with a winner of a novel.

A King's Ransom - Sharon Kay Penman

It's a given that every time Sharon Kay Penman writes a new novel, I'll preorder it, and get my greedy mitts on it. This one I was looking forward to in particular in that it was the follow up to her previous novel Lionheart, which told the story of Richard the Lionheart's time in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade. But many authors skip over what happened to the king afterwards. But in this one, we get to find out what did, and it's a stunner of a tale. Captured by an enemy, Duke Leopold of Austria, Richard faces imprisionment, humiliation and a struggle that he might not win. Along on the story we get to see his siblings Joanna and John, his mother, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, and others. I found it all fascinating, and this book won a spot on my keeper shelves. Five stars overall, and well worth the time. Just keep the hankies nearby for the last part of the book.

For the longer review, please go here:
http://www.bubblews.com/news/2640944-a-kingamp039s-ransom-continuing-the-story-after-lionheart

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

A King's Ransom - Sharon Kay Penman

Oh my this one is good, and worth the effort. Quite a few stories that I hadn't heard of before, and of course, SKP's great writing.

Reading progress update: I've read 30%.

A King's Ransom - Sharon Kay Penman

Reading a SKP novel is like sitting down to a five star meal in a fine restaurant. This is a terrific novel, beautifully written so far, and a lot of little details that fills in the story of what happened to Richard the Lionheart on the way back from the Holy Land. Richard is still imprisoned by the Germans, but things are starting to look up.

 

 

Trifels Castle where Richard was imprisoned.

Great if you want to know about the Tudors and Religion, otherwise it's craptastic

The Tudors: the complete story of Engalnd's most notorious dynasty - G.J. Meyer
This book is bad. It reeks, it is derogatory to its subjects, it insults the reader, and the author is pushing his own agenda here. I really wanted to like this one, and went into it with some optimism that I could learn something new. But no, the author is fixated on religion here, especially in what makes evangelical protestantism different from everyone else. I could have handled this much better if the same amount of space and effort had been devoted to five (almost six) Tudor monarchs -- Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, (Lady Jane Grey), Mary I and Elizabeth I.

But no. We get the same hyperbolic crap to be found in most bad novels about the Tudors. Even worse, the author focuses nearly entirely on Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Henry VII gets a smidgen of a mention -- namely his origins and Bosworth. Then we whip right along to Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, a little about Anne Boleyn, and an awful lot on monasticism, various cardinals and popes, those English noblemen who were protestant leaning, and even more about Religion, and why Catholicism is bad. Alright, not so much on that, but that is certainly the feeling that I had when I finished the book. Even the last four of Henry's wives were barely mentioned, beyond their names and what happened to them. Edward VI isn't given much mention either, just what he did to support protestantism, his Seymour uncles and then John Dudley and Lady Jane Grey. Mary I is treated as a near-hysteric, and then there's her marriage to Philip II of Spain.

Did I mention there's a lot about religion in this book?

Then there's Elizabeth I, who gets about the last hundred or so pages. The Armada is dismissed as a lucky fluke for the English, Elizabeth is vain and insecure, and so the Tudors dwindle on out of history. I hated this book by the time that it ground to a finish. The sources he uses are fairly slight, and while he cites sources, most of them secondary -- this amazes me in that there is a host of primary sources out there. It tries to be a popular history, but the end result is boring and flat. Two stars overall, and not recommended at all.

 

Reading progress update: I've read 75%.

The Tudors: the complete story of Engalnd's most notorious dynasty - G.J. Meyer

This book is becoming unbearably dull. Author wants to talk more about religion than about the Tudors. I hate books like this.

Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

The Tudors: the complete story of Engalnd's most notorious dynasty - G.J. Meyer

Henry VII is skipped right over, with barely a mention, and of course, now we're wading through Henry VIII. At least the background bits are interesting.