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SusannaG

SusannaG - Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady

Just another GR refugee.  Other than that, I had a stroke in 2004, and read almost anything I can get my hands on, though I have a particular weakness for history, mystery, and historical fiction.

Currently reading

The Hanover Square Affair
Ashley Gardner
Progress: 10 %
Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, and the Table (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
Beth Archer Brombert, Massimo Montanari
Progress: 10 %
Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth
Holger Hoock
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Yuval Noah Harari Dr
Progress: 9 %
Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years
John Guy
Progress: 20/512 pages
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
Amy Stewart
The Hundred Years War, Volume 1: Trial by Battle
Jonathan Sumption
Progress: 166/586 pages
King Solomon's Mines
H. Rider Haggard
Progress: 4 %
Queen's Gambit: A Novel
Elizabeth Fremantle
Progress: 22 %
1913: The Eve of War
Paul Ham
Progress: 20 %

Calamity in Kent

Calamity in Kent - John  Rowland

Calamity in Kent, though published in 1950, has the feel of a novel published in 1930.  (Therefore the offhand mentions of the Black Market and rationing felt a little strange.  But they're very accurate for 1950 Britain.)

 

I just couldn't like this one very much.  I think in part because I never really took a liking to our narrator, a journalist.  And in part because this novel's plot is very much "Scotland Yard Inspector decides his journalist friend, Jimmy, is the best choice to investigate weird locked-room murder, and lets him go to it."  Which is the epitome of "not believable."

 

This one has not aged well.

U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club - Dorothy L. Sayers The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful: Three James Herriot Classics - James Herriot Jack of Shadows - Roger Zelazny And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic - Randy Shilts, William Greider Silent Spring - Rachel Carson, Linda Lear, Edward O. Wilson Cheaper by the Dozen - Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Currently $1.99: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy L. Sayers.  The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, by Phillip Pullman.  Jack of Shadows, by Roger Zelazny.  Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

 

Currently $2.99: Three James Herriot Classics (All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and All Things Wise and Wonderful), by James Herriot.  Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh.

 

Currently $3.99: And the Band Played On, by Randy Shilts.  Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson.

The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War: A Novel - Helen Simonson

It is the summer of 1914, and Beatrice Nash, 23, finds herself in Rye, in Sussex, attempting desperately to get a job as a teacher at the local grammar school.  (As Latin mistress, of all things - very shocking for a female!)  She has fled her late father's family, wealthy but highly controlling, to try to make her own, independent life, and is not finding it easy.  For one thing, she's neither as old or as plain as they were expecting.

 

Down in Rye, she becomes involved in the lives of her sponsor there, Agatha Grange, Agatha's husband, John ("something at the Foreign Office"), and their two nephews, close as sons, Hugh Grange and Daniel Goodham.  Hugh is studying medicine, and Daniel has aspirations as a poet. 

 

When the war does break out, life becomes ever more complicated.  Young men start to join up.  There are panicked runs on food and other goods in the stores.  The mayor's wife is even more impossible than usual.  Young ladies of good breeding but little brain start handing out white feathers to young men not in uniform.  Poor harmless dachshunds are attacked.  And the town does its bit by taking in Belgian refugees.

 

There are four narrators - mostly Beatrice or Hugh, but occasionally also Agatha or "Snout," a boy in the village.  Simonson writes well, so it's not really an issue; it's always easy to tell them apart.

 

This novel is every bit as good as Simonson's first novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and a good historical novel.  (I don't recall seeing any historical detail that struck me as improbable or just wrong.)  A thoroughly enjoyable read - I dithered between 4 and 4 1/2 stars.

New York 2140

New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson

New York in the early 2140s, some 125 years in the future, is in some ways the same as it always has been - the crowds and the crime and Central Park and the street urchins and the folks trying to make a fast buck (legally or illegally), the immensely rich few bumping up against great masses of much poorer people, and the illegal immigrants and the squatters and the undocumented and the refugees, but much is changed, too. 

 

For one thing, the sea level is now 50 feet higher.  The ultra-rich have fled to the highest points of the island, where the world's most expensive real estate has been built, while everything below 30th St. is permanently at least partially under water.  The people, however, have refused to leave, and have turned lower Manhattan into "Super Venice."  They have turned skyscrapers into co-ops, with sky tunnels linking them, and all the former streets are now canals full of vaporettos, gondolas, water taxis, and private boats ranging in size from the tiniest zodiac or kayak to deluxe speedboats and salvage tugs.

 

This novel is the story told by selected inhabitants of one of those co-ops - the one in the old Met Life building - from the super to the hackers living in tents on the farm level to the hot-shot young financier.  From the police detective to the undocumented teenagers living in a zodiac in the boathouse, and the immigration lawyer and the animal rights activist/video star/pilot of the airship Assisted Migration, as well.

 

It's told in about as many narrative styles as there are narrators, from the theatrical to the police procedural.  (In many ways the narration reminded me of that of his Mars series, of which I am a fan.)  Normally I take a deep breath at a novel with as many narrators as this one attempts, but Robinson's a good writer (he's won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award), and in my opinion he pulls it off. 

 

It's not a flawless novel, but I couldn't stop reading it. 

 

P.S.  I wanted to put my emoticon at "giddy," but alas, that was not an option.

U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous

The Judas Goat - Robert B. Parker The Shattered Tree - Charles Todd His Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

Currently $1.99: The Judas Goat, by Robert B. Parker.  The Shattered Tree, by Charles Todd.

 

Currently $2.99: His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik.

Agnes and the Hitman

Agnes and the Hitman - Bob Mayer, Jennifer Crusie

Agnes publishes her syndicated food column under the name of "Cranky Agnes," inspired by her anger management issues; she is, however, justifiably cranky one night when a teenaged mobster shows up with a gun, attempting to kidnap her dog.  (She whacks him over the head with a handy cast iron frying pan.)

 

Luckily for Agnes, her uncle the semi-retired(?) mobster has sent a hitman, Shane, to look after her.  And the five million dollars that might be stashed in her house.  What ensues are more attempted hits (on the dog, Agnes, and assorted other people), police investigations, non-police investigations, flamingos, explosions, frying pans, larceny, and a high-society mob wedding.

 

It's a mob-themed romantic comedy-suspense thriller-farce.  And a lot of fun to read.

Six of Crows

Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows can probably best be described as "Oceans Eleven in a fantasy universe." A gang of criminals can get immensely rich, beyond their wildest dreams, if they pull off an impossible crime - in this case, breaking a man out of the world's toughest prison.

 

It manages to be a good read despite having 6 or 7 narrators.  My heart drops as a general rule when I see that many narrators listed, because mostly authors can't pull off that much character creation.  Leigh Bardugo did a pretty good job here - she labels the narrator of each chapter up front (so you don't have to guess), doesn't switch in mid-chapter or even mid-paragraph (I've seen that, and it's not pretty), and they're each distinct characters - you can tell them apart, they all have believable motivations, and they each read differently.

 

Bardugo does not info dump, I am thankful to say.

 

The novel ends on quite a cliffhanger.  (I was not happy, as I was under the impression that this was a stand alone.  Also my library does not have the sequel.)

 

I was also not happy that the novel ended at 76% of the ebook.  Did we really need a quarter of the space for not one, but two previews of other books?

The Poisoned Chalice

The Poisoned Chalice - Bernard Knight

The Poisoned Chalice is an early (I believe second) novel in Bernard Knight's "Crowner John" medieval mystery series. 

 

It's 1194, and John de Wolfe, the coroner for Cornwall under Richard I, is having a busy time of it.  To begin with, Hubert Walter is coming to town.  Walter is the most powerful man in England (Richard I is, as he mostly is, out of the country - currently he is in France, to the regret of the French), as he is both Archbishop of Canterbury and Justiciar (the head of law and justice).  John and his brother-in-law, the local sheriff, are butting heads about who has jurisdiction in the various cases that come up, and hope Walter will settle matters.

 

Meanwhile, he has a case of wrecking to deal with, and then the rape of one young lady of good family, and the death of another.  And their families want justice, and they want it now - and there isn't much evidence, and no real suspect in either case.  But gossip supplies names, and more trouble for all involved.

 

The setting didn't really sing, but was adequately done, and the mystery was very twisty.  (I might even say it was verging on convoluted.)  I might read another one, but I doubt I'd go looking for it in particular.  The list of period terms was useful, as were the two maps, one of 12th century Exeter, and the other of the surrounding region.

Holy Crap

Trump just fired the FBI Director, James Comey.

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/09/us/politics/james-comey-fired-fbi.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

 

Well, who needs a new season of Game of Thrones, when we have it going on in DC?

A Talent for Trickery

A Talent for Trickery (The Thief-takers) - Alissa Johnson

A Talent for Trickery is a historical romance with a Victorian setting (1871, I believe), and unlike many with that era's setting, it thankfully doesn't have a girl in a Regency dress, c. 1815, on the cover. 

 

It features strongly a trope I've certainly seen before, but in science fiction and fantasy, rather than historical romance: the base under siege.  Perhaps the classic TV form of a "base under siege" story is many a Dr. Who serial, both Old and New Who.  (From "Web of Fear" and "Horror at Fang Rock" to "Dalek," "The Time of Angels," or "Mummy on the Orient Express," for example.)  In literature you'll find it everywhere from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones; but I don't see it so often in historical romance. 

 

It certainly kept my attention while I was dealing with a bad bout of insomnia last night.  (I got three hours of sleep.  Luckily, I was able to take a long nap today.)

U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman

Currently $1.99: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie.  Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman.

Ashes of London

Ashes of London - Andrew Taylor

This, ladies and gentlemen, is an official DNF.

 

I don't make those very often; mostly I let a book marinate in my "currently reading" pile, because I might get back to it.  I save DNF for a book that I know I will never "get back to."

 

Ashes of London is one of those.  And I'm disappointed, because I was looking forward to this one.  Mystery thriller set in the Great Fire of London and the aftermath!  Just my type of thing.

 

Not so much.  We start with the fire well under way - with the collapse of Old St Paul's Cathedral, the great medieval hulk, begun by William the Conqueror, that towered over the London of Charles II.  But we don't get a dead body, or anything like a crime.  (You would expect one by 15% in, which is about as far as I got.)

 

Aside from the fire, we don't really get a sense of 1666 at all.  I read historical fiction to get a sense of the past.  I didn't get that feel here.  This could have been any pre-modern time with a big fire.

 

The writing is bland.  We get no real sense of 1666.  The characters are fairly flat.  And we have two protagonists.  (I dislike multiple protagonists, particularly uncharacterized multiple protagonists.  Instead of giving us two flat narrators, how about giving us one interesting and developed one?)

 

So now I'm about 15% in, and nothing is really exciting me about this one.  And then

Taylor decides to start the characterization of our female narrator by having her mustachio-twisting cousin (he fairly screams "I am evil!") rape her

(show spoiler)

, and I am out.  I will never pick up this book again.

 

Because first I was bored, there was neither a sense of the past or a visible mystery to solve, and I didn't care about the characters (I can't even be bothered to remember their names), and then I was offended.  And now I am gone.

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

Well, A Discovery of Witches is a lengthy tome, and I still hold that if you put Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane into a blender and hit pulverize, you'd get this on the other end.

 

On the other hand, Harkness writes better than either Stephenie Meyer or Katherine Howe.

 

Will I read the next volume of this trilogy (which my library has)?  Not sure.  But this was a fun read, despite some of the ludicrous moments.

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling - Ross King

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling is another very good work of art history from Ross King.  It covers in most detail the years 1505, when Michelangelo was called to Rome from Florence by Pope Julius II to make his tomb, to 1512, when he finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  It also takes a good look at Julius II, at Raphael (who was working next door), and to a lesser extent the other personalities dominating the Italian scene in the first decade or so of the 16th century.

 

Michelangelo was as grumpy as he was talented.  He was overjoyed to get the job of making Pope Julius II's tomb (seen as an affirmation that he was indeed the world's best sculptor), and then very angry that Julius changed his mind, and wanted him to fresco a ceiling instead.  (He had not worked in that medium in half his lifetime, since he was a teenager in the shop of Domenico Ghirlandaio.)  I can only envision him muttering, "Damn it, Pope Julius, I'm a sculptor, not a painter!"

 

He continued grumpy as he went to work on the ceiling.  His assistants were annoying.  His neck hurt.  Someone was stealing the marble he had bought for the pope's tomb, which had been left just lying around.  His family back in Florence were all lazy, or unambitious, or too ambitious, and expected him to pay for everything.  He wasn't being paid enough.  The pope was a megalomaniac who knew nothing about art.

 

That last one was pretty much true.  Julius II was a piece of work.  He was intent on re-conquering lands that had formerly been part of the Papal States - and he was then shocked and surprised that when he went to war with his neighbors, they called in someone larger to protect them.  (That would be France.)  He issued coins which compared him to Julius Caesar on one side, and to Jesus Christ on the other.

 

He also did not have great taste in art.  His original plans for the ceiling featured strongly the emblems of his own family - oak leaves - (which would have been much simpler to execute) and Michelangelo rejected them out of hand.  Then, when it was done, he insisted it wasn't really done, because it hadn't been covered in gold leaf.  Julius disliked the existing frescoes in the papal bedroom (the art had been installed by one of his recent, loathed, predecessors, Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia) so much he moved down a floor.  He hired Raphael to decorate the library of his new suite.

 

Raphael was not nearly as grumpy as his rival at work over in the chapel, and was dubious about Michelangelo's skills as a painter - until he saw the half-finished ceiling.  (Michelangelo hated visitors interrupting his work.)  He then paid him a painter's compliment, inserting Michelangelo into the already mostly done "School of Athens."  He immortalized one notoriously grumpy genius as another notoriously grumpy genius - Heraclitus.  (Michelangelo would also paint a self-portrait of himself on the ceiling; as a grumpy Jeremiah.)

 

When the ceiling was done in 1512, Michelangelo might have thought he was done with the Sistine Chapel.  That was far from the case.  He'd be called back to work on its altar wall, painting the Last Judgment, in the 1530s and 1540s.  And while he was still finishing up that work, he got the job as architect of St. Peter's basilica.  ("Damn it, Pope Paul, I'm a sculptor, not an architect!") 

 

Recommended to those interested in Michelangelo, in the Renaissance, or just in very readable art history.

A Day Trip in Madison, Georgia

Yesterday I went on a day trip to Madison, Georgia - the town General Sherman is said to have found "too lovely to burn."   It is filled with antebellum mansions, post-Civil War homes, and a lovely courthouse (it is the county seat of Morgan County) and downtown.

 

We left at an ungodly hour (7:30) and first arrived in Social Circle, Georgia, for an early lunch at the Blue Willow Inn.

 

The front entrance of the Blue Willow Inn.

 

It was sunny, but chilly (about 60F - I am a delicate Southern flower), and very windy.  They have a large and elaborate buffet lunch.

 

About noon we arrived in Madison, which is southeast of Atlanta.  Our first stop was Heritage Hall, which was built by the town's first doctor in 1811.

 

Heritage Hall, alias the Jones-Turnell-Manly House.

 

Dr. Jones moved to this brand new frontier town at 22, with his mother and wife and ten slaves, and after one year of medical school.  He obviously prospered!  There was a scary display of amputation instruments which his son, another Dr. Jones, used during the Civil War.

 

We then visited the Rogers House, built at about the same time, but by people not nearly as rich.  At one time 18 people were living in its then 4 rooms.

 

The Rogers House.

 

We also visited a couple of other homes which are now public museums, and visited the lovely downtown, which has a beautiful courthouse from the 1890s.

 

Morgan County courthouse.

 

The names of the town inhabitants who have served in the armed forces are on bricks in the pavement, with the war noted, surrounding the courthouse.

 

Most of the downtown was rebuilt after 1870, and in brick, after a devastating fire in 1869.

 

One of Madison's downtown streets.  We had a glass of wine at a cafe here in this stretch.

 

Not all of the homes date from before the Civil War - others were built afterwards.

 

The Hunter House, alias the "Gingerbread House," from the 1880s.  Reportedly it has a ghost.

 

A couple were listed as "for sale," so if you've got a million or so to spare, you too could own one.

 

Now, the legend has it that General Sherman thought Madison was "too lovely to burn."  This is not the case - for one thing, Sherman was never in Madison.  He was leading the other half of the army, en route to the state capital at Milledgeville.  The real story is that General Slocum, who was in command of the army who came through, found little that was of military interest there, so didn't burn much.  (The union army destroyed the tracks of the Georgia Railroad in town and the train depot - both used to transport troops - as well as some bales of cotton and a factory which made shoes for the Confederate army.  But they mostly left the houses alone.)

 

We got home about 7:30 at night, totally exhausted.  But it was a lovely day.

A Discovery of Witches - About 10 Chapters In

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

If you took a soupcon of Harry Potter (orphaned protagonist has undiscovered magical gifts), a lot of Twilight (the local vampire is in lust with her because he thinks she smells terrific, and breaks into her flat to watch her sleep), and a good bit of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (a so-called historian knows nothing about doing historical research; the magical past of her own family is an issue), you would have this novel.  I think I'm still reading it because I can't wait to see the next nonsensical development.  (Note: I love Harry Potter, Twilight amused me one night when I had a head cold and 12-year-old me was picking the books to be read, and Deliverance Dane was a massive waste of my time and the author's efforts.)

 

Also it was free.  Which is good.  Because the odds of my keeping this one are approximately 0% at this point; this baby's going back where it came from after I've wallowed in the insanity.