Category Archives: History

WWW Wednesday (2012-April-4)

The tornados are here, saving the world is here, Authors4Trayvon is here, and the garden is here.

Now. Wednesday! From shouldbereading:

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

Dissolution  The first in a mystery  series set in the time of Henry VIII, with Matthew Shardlake sent by Cromwell to root out papist sin and debauchery (plus straighten out some financial issues that should result in more money for the Crown, natch) from a problematical abbey. This has been highly recommended to me.  So far I’m greatly enjoying it.


It’s an interesting contrast to Nancy Bilyeau’s The Crown. The more I listen to Dissolution (I’m listening to the audiobook) the more I appreciate the tale Bilyeau told from the more unusual point of view of a young Roman Catholic nun who loves her faith and her Church, and yet also loves England and her King.  This doesn’t take away from Dissolution at all. I’m enjoying it very much. Two sides of a coin, but mysteries, both taking place at about the same moment in time–Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Book Thief. Five stars.

What was it like to be German during the Fuhrer’s reign? Not a member of the elite, but one of the powerless? How many times have people outside Germany pondered whether or not they would have gone along with the crowd, whether they would have drunk the Kool-Aid? The Book Thief explores that idea in unexpected and deep ways.

This is a gorgeously written book. The prose sometimes stopped me cold just long enough to savor it before moving forward. Not so often that it got in the way of the story, just often enough to make this book of difficult subject matter lush and beautiful.

Death’s point of view is fascinating. It gives just enough distance and subjective thought to keep the story from getting too intense. Yes, I love intense emotion in books, and this had its moments. But the use of Death as a character was a profound and appropriate choice, for he brought vision and distance in moments when it was needed. Again, five stars.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Tough question.  I have shoved several aside that were top of my list in order to read library books, and I still have a couple of library books to read. New books are popping into the queue. I can see I’ll never go back to my “must read NAO!” list if I keep this up.  Stay tuned until next Wednesday to find out which book shouldered its way to the top of the stack!

What about you? What are your WWWs? If you post on your blog, leave a link below! Otherwise answer here.


Filed under Books, England, History, Library books, Mysteries, Reading, Review, WWW Wednesday

Rollin' the blogs!

I have discovered an eclectivity of blogs to read this past year or so. [And made up a word. Eclectivity. Use it. I dare you.]

Once upon a time blogs were more popular and there were a number that I read.  I followed them by RSS feed and sometimes if I missed a few days, the feed was so overwhelming I’d just ignore it for weeks.  Not a very efficient method of doing something I actually enjoyed doing.

These days it’s easier. As I’ve pointed out before, all you have to do is sign up [see top of sidebar on right] to get a blog in email.  It doesn’t pile up unread. I can glance and delete quite easily if I don’t have time or am not interested.  Or read and enjoy.  And frankly, all of the blogs I’m following this way are ones I read and enjoy.

Without further ado, let me share a sampling of blogs I enjoy enough to have them delivered via email.

An on the nose title for an off the charts blog. English History Fiction Writers Blog. I discovered it via Nancy Bilyeau, whose Tudor-era mystery will be out in January and I can’t wait. This entry gives a glimpse of the heart of her book, and I’m already salivating.

Speaking of eclectic, Bill Chance is. If you’re from Dallas, I can almost guarantee that this Detroit-transplant has found places you don’t know. His reading and movie-watching are definitely off the beaten tracks and his exploration of the world around him is definitely worth checking out.

Ah, and then there is Peggy Isaacs. I am trying to remember if she let the snark fly when she was taking my classes and honestly don’t recall, but she definitely shares her attitude freely in her blog, and I am vastly entertained. Watch out for the animals. Her Man vs Beast feature is out to get you.

Through another blog, An Austin Homestead [she has a spinning wheel and a Corgi, how cool is that?] I discovered Nude Soap. Primarily because the blogger makes it, and owns the company. I bought some soap and creams for Christmas gifts and everything is getting raves. I can’t say enough about it, and will add it to the pooks recs page. But I have to point out that An Austin Homestead is no longer in Austin. She moved to Oregon! But I’m sure she’ll continue to make me drool over her vegetables and fruits and chickens and what-nots, just like I did when she was in Austin.

This is the impact she had on me this Christmas. Because of her blog, I, pooks, the not-very-domestic-goddess, baked cookies.  And not just cookies–drop cookies that anybody can manage. The roll-and-cut-with-cookie-cutter cookies. I was inspired by cookies on her site, and used the directions from this video, and ended up with gingerbread Texas cookies!

I was going to post a picture.

I can’t find my cable to download the pics.

User your imagination.  They were big!

Meanwhile... Saved! Found the cable!

PS Time is running out. If you want a chance to win a book of your choice in my contest, subscribe to this blog and comment here before midnight Dallas time, January 6!






Filed under Dallas, Education, England, History, Writers, Writing

The Black Hawk, a review

One problem I have with writing reviews is that I don’t like negatively influencing what someone might buy. You know how it goes. Somebody you respect urges you, read this book, and you do and don’t like it. Well, you know, “I love this book and you might, too,” is one thing. But, “This book didn’t work for me and this is why,” has the potential to do something worse, in my opinion, and that’s discouraging someone from reading something they might have loved.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I actually loved a lot about Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk.  

The characterization was superb. I loved Hawker. I loved Owl. These characters were sensitively and exquisitely drawn. I sometimes ached for them. Both were children with horrid pasts who grew up scarred yet amazingly strong. She was French and he was English, and both were spies. They were enemies in love, and it worked on every level. This is romance at its finest.

I’ve sought out other reviews and every one I’ve read was written by someone who had read all of Bourne’s previous books and has waited with great anticipation for Hawker’s story. I wonder how much difference it makes that these reviewers opened the book already knowing Hawker at different periods in his life, had already fallen under the spell of his personality and the things he overcame, and entered the story with that knowledge.

Here’s the way it worked for me. I had read one previous book and honestly, really liked it a lot, and honestly, remembered little about it when I opened this one. And when I opened this one, it worked. I didn’t know Hawker’s past, nor did I know Owl’s. And from the earliest pages I was caught up in their story.

[Do you sense a “but” coming?]

This book is told through a series of flashbacks that were perfectly executed. I never got lost, and once I got into each time period (which didn’t take long) I was caught up in the tensions and dramas of the moment. As a novel, this structure worked.

As a romance novel? Here is my “but” and I offer it knowing that few other reviewers have had this problem. I was never able to sink fully into the narrative of the story–despite how beautifully the relationship was drawn–because it was not told chronologically and did not give me the “romance novel” experience of a building tension that left me breathless, wondering what would happen next. I knew from the beginning what would happen next. They would survive to a certain age and position in London. “How” was a question, but I was robbed of much of the drama. When one flashback ended in what could be seen as an ultimate betrayal of one gravely injuring another, I was not left with the devastated individual dealing with the knowledge that their beloved would think it was done deliberately. I didn’t suffer with the other who must have believed that very thing.

Instead, I was whisked back to the present.

It was only when I finished the book that I was able to put all of this in perspective, to understand how I could find the book so well-constructed and emotionally gripping, and yet feel distanced. It was because the very construction that on the one had worked, did not ever allow me to completed give myself over to the story and live through the characters.

I say this knowing that I am in the minority, and hoping I don’t discourage anybody from reading this book. I do wonder if it would have been different, had I entered the book with the same deep background knowledge and affection for the characters as the typical romance reviewer.

As a novel I would give it 5 stars, meaning, I enjoyed the heck out of this book.

As a romance, I would give it 4, and since it was meant to be a romance I will have to stand by that rating.

But hey, if you like romance, read it and let me know what you think. It’s a book worth reading.

[Subscribe to this blog, comment on the contest entry, win a prize? It could happen!]


Filed under Books, History, Novels, Review, Romance

Review: Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett

The Game of Kings (The Lymond Chronicles, #1)The Game of Kings (Lymond Chronicles, 1) by Dorothy Dunnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally I got past the archaic language and just kept reading, and understand why my friends love this series. It’s excellent, and the good news is that I have five more books to read in it.

Mary Queen of Scots is but five years old, Henry Viii is dead and the English are invading Scotland to capture the child queen and raise her to be their young King’s bride and queen.  It’s a little-explored slice of history that is rife with drama.

This is like James Bond if he were even more suave, even sexier, even more dangerous, had more emotional depth and lived in the time of flounce and lace and dashing highwaymen on dark roads at midnight.  Adventure, betrayal, and a story that twists and turns.  As I said, now I understand.

View all my reviews


Filed under Books, England, Fiction & Literary, Goodreads, History, Reading, Scotland

Leviathan and Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld

Okay, about that steampunk challenge.

One steampunk book a month for a year.  Twelve steampunk reads.

I’m on my third in October.  I could space them out and list/review one a month, but that makes me itch.  I am just going to mention them as I read them, and don’t expect any real reviews from me because that’s too much like work.

Also, the first three have all been audiobooks that I downloaded from audible (if you sign up, tell them dallaspooks sent ya) and so what I will actually be discussing is a different experience than reading.

First, Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, and its sequel, Behemoth. These are YA (Young Adult) novels that have been getting fabulous word of mouth and I finally broke down and decided to read them listen to them. And I’m so glad I did. Set on the brink of World War I, Leviathan begins the night that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated in Sarajevo, with their 15-year-old son being rousted out of bed and hustled away from the palace by a sinister pair of men–and straight into action-packed adventure which continues into its sequel. I don’t know how long the series is projected to be, but there are clearly more coming.

In the meantime in England a 15-year-old Scottish girl is pretending to be a boy so she can be an airman with the British Air Service, as her brother is and her father was before her. Again–straight into action-packed adventure.

In this revisioning of World War I the nations are the same and on the same teams, but many of the details are different.  The world building is superb. The German side are “Clankers” whose war machines are fantastical and mechanical. The English side are “Darwinists” who have created strange new creatures (or “beasties,” as Deryn calls them) to go to war.

Scott Westerfeld’s world is amazing. The action is almost nonstop but always inventive and fresh. The characterizations are rich. At the end of each book are author notes that describe what aspects of the books are true history and where Westerfeld got creative, and I was as fascinated by the real history as I was the books themselves. It was gratifying to see that some of the more interesting twists were historic facts that he’d woven sp deftly into his stories it was impossible for me to know what was real and what was new.

Alan Cumming as narrator is phenomenal. He reads with breathless energy, gives the characters appropriate and wonderful accents that enhance their personalities and backgrounds, and made me want to listen nonstop.  At a time when I was highly distracted by a lot of real life issues, these books were always compelling and easy to fall into.

I highly recommend them as audiobooks or to read. I may actually end up buying these books because the art looks pretty darned cool.


Filed under Audible, Audiobooks, Books, Fiction & Literary, History, Novels, Steampunk, Steampunk Challenge, Young Adult