Posts Tagged ‘history’

Post Shavuot catch-up

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Well, I didn’t finish the dress I’m making DD, so she wore some existing clothes for Shavuot (and was proclaimed very cute when we went out for lunch today). I finally just now got around to adding five books to the reading list from the past few weeks, only the last of which was actually finished today. I’m looking forward to talking about some of them here, at least, and will try to do at least one review tomorrow.

More for the collection! :)

Friday, 20 May 2011
Cover of "Shakespeare's Planet"

Cover of Shakespeare's Planet

We finally got to the post office this morning, for the first time in a couple of weeks, to send off a couple of BookMooch items, and receive several more, plus a couple of much appreciated gifts from my mother. Nothing for the baby this time (although there is one children’s book, it’ll be a few years till she’d be ready for it), and a good few of them were DH’s choices (mostly classic science fiction) rather than mine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t read them even before he does…

    • The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. (My mother and I both read the first five books in this series in the 90s, so now that the last one is finally published she very kindly got me a copy. I don’t have copies of the others, but with that gap I presume Auel will remind us of any details we need to know. I do remember the basic story, and I’m sure the rest will come back to me.)
    • Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. (Both parents have recommended this as an interesting read, so I’m intrigued.)

    • Timescape by Gregory Benford. (One of DH’s choices whose back cover makes it sound like apocalyptic SF.)
    • Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner. (The second of the Boxcar Children Mysteries, as recommended by a couple of my lovely readers/commenters here, so I’ll try to get to this one relatively quickly.)
    • Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman. (I requested the entire set of Hillerman’s Chee/Leaphorn novels on BookMooch, so they’re gradually arriving. I may wait for the rest and then read them through in chronological order.)
    • The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman. (As above.)
    • Cover of The Lovely Bones

      Cover of The Lovely Bones

      The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (I never read this when it was so popular, but it did sound interesting, so we’ll see.)

    • Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak. (DH’s. I haven’t read any Simak yet.)
Cover of "The Planet Buyer (U.K.)"

Cover of The Planet Buyer (U.K.)

  • The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith. (As previous.)
  • Destiny Doll by Clifford D. Simak. (This too.)
  • The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. (And this.)

Down the side of the bed

Monday, 16 May 2011
The Speed of Dark

Image via Wikipedia

I read in bed quite a lot. It’s something I’ve always done, and it goes together quite well with a baby who doesn’t like to sleep without a parent next to her. I usually have a few on the go, piled on the top corner of the bed (in a corner of the room) and occasionally one or two fall down the side, from where I fish them out as I realise they’re missing. The bed got jogged out of place this morning, however, and when I went to retrieve the avalanche I realised that there were a few older escapees. To be unnoticed as missing these were ones I hadn’t actually got into, and sometimes hadn’t even started, but had just thought might be interesting. Anyway, I thought I’d list them here, with comments on how I’m getting on with them. (The order is just as they were piled.)

The ones I really wasn’t reading will probably go back on the shelf for now, but renoticing them has got me intrigued by some of them again. Watch this space to see which ones make it to the ‘Read’ lists…

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

Unstarted, although it looks interesting. Looks a bit different from the other science-fiction I’ve been reading of late.

Cover of

Cover of Farewell, My Queen

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

About three-quarters of the way through this novel of the last days French royal court in July 1789, and enjoying it quite a lot.

Cover of "The Green Flag: A history of Ir...

Cover via Amazon

The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism by Robert Kee

While this officially covers the history right from the 12th century it really picks up the detail from the mid-17th century. I’m up to the late 18th century, approaching but not yet at the 1798 rebellion.

The Little Girl Book by David Laskin and Kathleen O’Neill

A rather different approach to a parenting book than I’ve come across before, this discusses the complicated issue of bringing up little girls while negotiating the stereotypes and sexism of our societies. The book was published in 1992, so still seeing how it stands up two decades later to my own opinions. Definitely interesting, though.

Cover of "Byzantium Endures"

Cover of Byzantium Endures

Byzantium Endures by Michael Moorcock

The two or three chapters I’ve read of this so far are decidedly odd. I’ll give it more time gradually and hope it grabs my attention. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, and yet it was somewhat compelling.

Cover of "PEOPLE OF DARKNESS"

Cover of PEOPLE OF DARKNESS

People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman

I got side-tracked from the Hillerman books, but will get back to them. (I’d better, seeing as I ordered the entire set on Bookmooch!) I’d read a chapter or so of this one, but would probably restart from the beginning.

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

I haven’t read any London since I was seven, and read White Fang in one sitting (staying with my grandparents I picked it up off their shelves to sustain me through a long morning meeting of my grandmother’s). I’m still in the introduction here, and I hadn’t realised what a fascinating life the author himself had.

Cover of How I Came West

Cover of How I Came West

How I Came West, and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker

A rather bizarre collection of often fantastical (but always so far set in modern-day USA) stories that I’m enjoying so long as I read each story in a single sitting, as they can be hard to keep track of after a break.

I don’t think I’ve read a collection of stories that was neither from one of the orthodox Jewish publishers nor aimed at children in an absolute age. (These are definitely not for children, although not crude, just for adults.) I’m enjoying the different perspective, and wondering why the general market avoids them so much.

Med Ship by Murray Leinster

I think this is a compilation of a lot of stories and novellas Leinster set in the same universe, but which aren’t always about the same characters, but I’m not far enough in to be sure.

Cover of China WitnessChina Witness by Xinran

More academic in its feel than the other books by Xinran I’ve read, this offers a very broad sweep of 20th century experience in China, as told by the survivors and thrivers of that period, an apparently reticent and now elderly generation. Each chapter, about a different person or small group, is relatively short, and tends to leave me wanting more, but that’s not a bad thing.

Wisdom of the Fox by Harry Turtledove

I don’t know why I haven’t got into this, seeing as I’ve been enjoying Turtledove’s alternate histories so much. I think I wasn’t really in the mood for what appeared to be more classic fantasy. I’ll try again at some point.

Cover of Wild Swans

Cover of Wild Swans

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

The first book about Chinese history I read. That was as a teenager, shortly after it first came out, and with all the Xinran I’ve been reading I thought I should go back to this one too. I’m picking up on details I certainly hadn’t remembered, partly because I’m older and partly because I do know a bit more about China now and can make more sense of what was going on (not that it’s badly explained in the book, but there’s only so much context a writer can be expected to give). Still looking for other modern writers on the country.

Alternatives

Sunday, 24 April 2011
Days of Infamy series

Image via Wikipedia

53. Days of Infamy by Harry Turtledove

It seems Turtledove writes two types of alternative history: one, as in The Guns of the South, previously discussed here, uses a science fiction mechanism to change things (there time travel, in his Worldwar series an alien invasion); the second, as here, simply posits a different decision being taken somewhere along the line that he feels would have caused a significant deviation from our recorded history. He will then write about the same episodes in history (usually major wars, from the books I’ve seen) through both mechanisms, as completely separate series or individual books.

In this particular book, the Japanese when attacking Pearl Harbor (my UK spell-check thinks that should be ‘harbour’, but as a place name I’m disagreeing) back up the devastation of its forces by air attack with an invasion, taking the islands and thereby not only slowing the Americans down in the Pacific, but also giving themselves a base from which to attack the US mainland‘s West Coast.

This is where I should admit that my knowledge of the Pacific part of WWII is pretty sketchy, and largely based on novels and films. (As a European Jew, my studies of WWII tended towards the Holocaust and the war in Europe.) I can’t comment much, therefore, on where the history and the alternative diverge, but certainly Turtledove makes everything seem pretty plausible.

As a novel, the story certainly works. We have several viewpoint characters, both Japanese and American (and one Japanese man who’s been living on Hawaii for decades but can’t quite understand why his sons consider themselves American rather than Japanese). All but one or two of these are based on and around the Hawaiian islands for most of the novel, and those are US mainlanders who give us some perspective on how things are being seen from afar, as well as in positions likely to get them more involved later in the series. I think the mix is good to show us what’s happening to the various populations involved, and yet the characters are developed individuals that we can care about or at least understand.

I don’t have the sequel to this yet, but I am looking forward to it. I’ve really taken to Turtledove’s alt. history, and they’re good and thought provoking.

Life story

Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Memoirs of a Geisha

Image via Wikipedia

28. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Right from the beginning this reminded me of Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki, which I last read in 2008. Then in the acknowledgements at the end I discovered that Mineko Iwasaki was actually Golden’s primary informant about the lives and customs of the the Geisha, or Geiko of Gion, in Kyoto, Japan. She was a primary member of that circle in the 1960s and 70s, while the heroine of Golden’s novel was there in the 1930s, but one stressed point in both books is the importance of the continuing tradition.

So, the novel. Well the first thing to remember is that this is a novel, historical and researched as it may be. As a story, it works, as the first person tale of a woman’s life among men and women of power, wealth and prestige. (Outside Gion, all those with power are men.) In a way, although the story is very different, it reminds me in that of Moll Flanders (which I haven’t read in many years) and Pamela (which I’ve admittedly only read about). This certainly isn’t a love story.

It’s a good book, but having read Iwasaki’s book I actually found the parts of this about Japan just after WWII the most interesting, as that’s a topic I really feel I’d like to know more about. The rest was more (in the words of a reviewer on Amazon.com) fairytale-ish. Yes the lifestyles of the very very wealthy in Japan, as well as those who served them, is interesting, but it’s simply outside the realm of anyone I’m likely to come across, and yet wasn’t new enough to me in novel form.

Not miserable

Friday, 18 March 2011

Here’s a book I almost certainly wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been for BookMooch. Basically I wanted to get something from someone in another country who wanted at least two to send here, and this looked the most potentially interesting of the remaining inventory.

Cover of Evelyn

Cover of Evelyn

38. Evelyn by Evelyn Doyle

Honestly, when I looked at this book it looked like one of those misery memoirs that have become so popular over the last few years but that don’t appeal to me at all. The first few chapters didn’t dispel that notion, since the maternal care provided to Evelyn and her five younger brothers is entirely neglectful and just appalling. However she really doesn’t wallow in that, and is quite positive about the convent care she received, and never negative about that of her brothers (who were in an entirely different establishment many miles away), which considering all the child abuse scandals laid on the Catholic Church and its institutions in Ireland and elsewhere was almost a surprise! Here it’s the Irish state policy (heavily influenced by the Church hierarchy) that are seen to be at fault, and which are battled by Evelyn’s father, to an eventual change in practice and legislation.

The book was apparently made into a film, which I’ve never seen but which doesn’t sound all that accurate to the book.

Regimentals

Sunday, 30 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I feel like an unusually large number of the novels I’ve been discussing lately have a military setting, but I suppose that’s not specifically a bad thing. There may well be more coming, too, since my DH has recommended the one he’s currently reading…

 

Cover of Landfall

Cover of Landfall

61. Landfall by Nevil Shute

 

This particular novel is set during the first year of WWII, as it had to be for any realism, considering it was published in 1940, and is about a young RAF officer on regular, boring patrol looking for German submarines and other shipping off the English East coast. Between flights he chats up a local barmaid and considers his future RAF career even beyond the current war.

One understaffed day, however, Jerry Chambers, finally sees and sinks his sub, only to get back to base to find there’s a British sub missing and he’s likely responsible…

All in all this is a nice, positive early war novel, before war fatigue had set in. We don’t meet any Germans in person, but they are up to dastardly tricks anyway, and the nobility and honour of our plucky British hero is there to be proven by the simple girl whose heart he’s won.

Class difference in relationships is certainly brought up in this novel, as something that is becoming less important but still has to be overcome, and there is a clear feeling that the war is acting as an equalising force.

Land and Sea

Saturday, 29 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011

Cover of The Sea Kingdoms

Cover of The Sea Kingdoms

13. The Sea Kingdoms: The History of Celtic Britain and Ireland by Alistair Moffat

This book was published after the author produced and presented a television series of the same name for Scottish Television, and many of its flaws and virtues reflect that beginning. I haven’t seen the series (although I might be interested). Roughly country by country the book goes through a broad Celtic history of the British Isles, including Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and even England. It does not give any focus to Brittany, despite the early assertion that Celticness should be defined by language rather than race or other criteria.

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress consider...

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress consider Cornwall to be one of six Celtic nations.

While the editing missed a few things (one chapter in particular has an undue number of proofreading and other errors, and far too much emphasis is laid on mna si being an alternate phrase for bean si, or banshee, when any Irish child should have been able to point out that mná (women) is simply the plural in Irish for bean (woman), and thus mná sí would actually be banshees) the broad strokes of the history seemed correct where I knew enough to comment. My real quibble is with the chronology, which skips around a lot, even within given chapters, often making the point in question less clear. Similarly, a point made in one chapter sometimes appears to be contradicted in another.

Still, allowing for this not being a ‘scholarly’ history, I think it’s well worth the read, for bringing Celtic past and present together, as a true cultural heritage and largely ignoring (or at least downplaying) the tourist tat. It also makes a good argument in bringing forward the sea links that were so important in the early parts of this history (which includes some decent discussion of the Viking influence on the Celtic lands, and a return Celtic influence on Scandinavia) when land travel was often more difficult and nearly always slower.

I enjoyed this a lot, and may well follow up on the bibliography, if I can find the books. (I randomly came across this in a second-hand bookshop in Jerusalem.)

Past and present

Saturday, 22 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I thought I might have a new book for the reading list and to discuss here already, but I haven’t quite finished it, so here’s another catch-up from 2010. Far less frustrating than that current novel, which I’m literally only reading the second half off to discuss here!

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

62. Frogspawn and Floor Polish by Mary Mackie

I assumed I must have discussed this book here before, but apparently I actually hadn’t reread it in the past three years. It’s part of a trilogy discussing the author’s experiences living at Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property her husband Chris Mackie was working at and then managing.

Like the others it is both informative and amusing, with a few laugh-out-loud moments. As a former long-term National Trust member, it’s decidedly interesting to find out more of the behind-the-scenes action, and the lives still lived at these properties we mostly only see as day visitors, trying to get a taste of what went on there in the past.

Despite all my intentions I never did get out to Felbrigg itself, not having any other reason to go in that direction, but I much enjoyed the NT sites in and around London, and previously York, when I was living there. If we lived in the UK I’d probably be a member still.

But back to this book. While I believe all three of the series were written after the Mackies left Felbrigg, this third is the one that’s really set after they left, with much discussion of their later visits back, and reminiscences of their own time there. This makes it possibly more episodic than the others, although I don’t call that a fault.

Well recommended for anyone who enjoys gentle humour, background looks at public places, or National Trust members generally!

Animals at war

Sunday, 16 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011On Michael Morpurgo’s website he has a few different ways to look at subgroups of his books, including categories such as Animal Stories and War Stories. In Morpurgo’s catalogue, however, there’s a lot of overlap in these two categories, and it does seem to work, both to make the different wars more accessible to the child reader (who hopefully hasn’t been through such experiences themself) and to show how wars do affect entire communities, not just soldiers.

Cover of Toro! Toro!

Cover of Toro! Toro!

6.Toro! Toro! by Michael Morpurgo

The slightly ironic thing about this book is that it’s about an animal bred to fight, who because of war (in this case the Spanish Civil War) ends up with a very different fate. The narrator is the little boy of the family who bred these bulls for the bullring, who makes a pet of this one bull, who he names Paco, and cannot bear to see killed.

I feel I know far less than I should about this particular war and the history around it. More good non-fiction to look into! Speaking of which, while my booklists don’t always show it, I am reading a fair bit of non-fiction. Unlike the novels, however, which I tend to devour quite quickly, I generally have several works of non-fiction on the go at any one time, and read them by chapter, page, or even paragraph at a time, meaning they take far longer to come through as finished, and sometimes never do, if I get too distracted. Something to be working on, I think.