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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 %

Racing the Devil

Racing the Devil - Charles Todd

Racing the Devil is the most recent (I think) Charles Todd "Ian Rutledge" mystery.  And it's a good novel, despite being #19 in a series.  (I always get a bit dubious as a series goes very long.  I'm looking at you, "... in Death.")

 

In 1916, on the eve of the Somme offensive, 7 British officers meet at an ad hoc cantina in a barn, and while getting drunk, find that they are all from the southeast of England, and are all auto racing fans.  They agree that if any of them survive the war, a year after the war ends they will meet in Paris and race their cars down to Nice.

 

Five of them survive to make the race, held in November 1919.  But one of them ends his race in a terrible accident, and they go home not in triumph but a bit saddened.

 

Now, it is the autumn of 1920, and the police down in Surrey are concerned, because they have had an auto accident that makes no sense to them.  The local rector died in a crash, but it wasn't his car; it was the local squire's.  Also, there are traces of green paint on the rear of the car.  Was the rector forced off the road?  Why was he driving the car, in the first place?  Was the "accident" not so accidental?

 

So they call in Scotland Yard, and the Yard sends down Inspector Rutledge.  He must unravel a truly twisty tale, full of murder, attempted murder, blackmail, and kidnapping.

 

Partway through, I figured three or 3 1/2 stars for this one, but Todd managed to pull all the strings together very nicely and made a very solid finish.  At least one evening I stayed up until "gulp" o'clock reading it.  

The dance everyone's doing here in SC after the Gamecocks' win over Baylor tonight.  (The song is "Keep on Dancing," a #4 hit for the Gentrys in 1965.)

Chuck Berry, father of rock guitar (1926-2017).  (This song is "Sweet Little Sixteen," a #2 hit in 1958.)

Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed - Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed is Margaret Atwood's entry in the "novelists take on Shakespeare's plays" lineup, and is her take on The Tempest.

 

Felix, the director of a Canadian theater festival, and a lover of Shakespeare, is planning his latest extravaganza: a production of The Tempest, starring a teenaged gymnast as Miranda.  And then he finds his assistant has betrayed him and taken his job.  His daughter, Miranda, has just died, at age 3.  He is a broken man.

 

And so, using an assumed name ("Mr. Duke"), he goes off into the wilderness to become a hermit, living only with the spirit of his dead daughter.  After a while, he revives enough to stalk his former assistant on the internet, as the latter goes from success to success.  He also eventually becomes the leader of an inmate rehabilitation program, teaching literacy and job skills, down at the local prison. 

 

His teaching method: staging Shakespeare.  The prisoners are both cast and crew (the "job skills" part) for plays like MacBeth and Julius Caesar.  His next production: The Tempest.

 

And then he finds out his former assistant, now a government minister, is going to be attending the performance.  And a plan forms in his mind.  One that will involve some of the special skills of his cast, who include pickpockets, ex gang enforcers, black hat hackers, and a crooked accountant.

 

I dithered between giving this 3.5 and 4 stars.  The writing is pure Atwood.  The plot, however - it's that fourth act that gives me pause.  Is it as good as Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid's Tale?  No.  Is it still an interesting and entertaining novel?  Yes, absolutely.

U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous

The Cruelest Month - Louise Penny Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-41 - William L. Shirer, Gordon A. Craig An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser, Richard R. Lingeman Edward III: The Perfect King - Ian Mortimer 2010: Odyssey Two - Arthur C. Clarke The First World War: A Complete History - Martin Gilbert A Passage to India - Pankaj Mishra, Oliver Stallybrass, E.M. Forster

Currently $1.99: An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser.  2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke.  A Passage to India, by E.M. Forester.

 

Currently $2.99: The Cruelest Month, by Louise Penny.  Berlin Diary, by William L. Shirer.  Edward III: The Perfect King, by Ian Mortimer.  The First World War: A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert.

Captain Blood

Captain Blood: His Odyssey - Roxanne Kent-Drury, Rafael Sabatini

Captain Blood is a marvelous tale of a doctor unjustly sentenced to ten years of slavery in Barbados, his escape to piracy, and his vendetta with both the Spanish and King James II of England.  If I had been an adolescent reading this in the 1920s, when it was published, I could not have failed to give it at least four stars.

 

It is, however, nearly a century later, and I had to dock it for the persistent racist comments, not only about blacks (or "negroes," as this book calls them), but also anyone who isn't an Englishman.  For example, our omnicient narrator is astonished that Captain Blood's father was not a drunkard, because he was Irish.

 

On the other hand, if you want good clean swashbuckling fun, and are willing to overlook the above problem (as the book being a product of its time), this is a corker of a read.

 

It also a produced a fine movie in 1935, starring two relatively unknown actors, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.  (It made both their careers.)

 

Pirates ahoy!

Murder Offstage

Murder Offstage: A Posie Parker Mystery (The Posie Parker Mystery Series) (Volume 1) - L.B. Hathaway

Murder Offstage is a first book in a series ("Posie Parker Mysteries"), and, indeed, is a first novel.

 

It rather reads as a first novel - the plot is too complicated and frenetic, and only barely avoided having the kitchen sink involved.  Murder!  Diamond thieves!  Kidnapping!  Smuggling!  Counterfeiting!  And to top it all off, a Criminal Mastermind with a cat in his lap.

 

Alas, not this one.

 

Did I mention the tired "soused aristocrat with a secret" trope and a plot that just doesn't make terribly much sense?

 

I got it because the setting, 1921 London, and the supposed focus (the theater scene), but I doubt I'll read another one, frankly.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman - Jill Lepore

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is an interesting read - it has great ideas about the history of American feminism, and why it's been grinding gears since the 1970s in many ways, but what it does do, and do well, is take a look at "First Wave" feminism, and at William Moulton Marston.

 

And who was he? 

 

He was the creator of Wonder Woman.

 

And he was a very strange man.  And his most famous creation reflects him in many ways.

 

William Moulton Marston headed off to Harvard just as the battle for woman suffrage was getting very heated in the US.  Ironically, the women voters in those states which allowed it re-elected Woodrow Wilson in the exceptionally tight presidential election of 1916.  (Without the female vote in a handful of states, America elects Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes instead.)  Margaret Sanger and her sister, Edith Byrne, found the organization that would become Planned Parenthood.  Alice Paul's American suffragettes are chaining themselves to the White House gates. NAWSA is leading the charge for the 20th Amendment - the woman suffrage amendment.

 

While a Harvard undergraduate, studying psychology, he invented a lie detector (based on blood pressure readings), but failed to patent it.  He married the girl down the street, Elizabeth Holloway, and they both went to law school (he at Harvard, she at Boston University - because "those dumb bunnies at Harvard wouldn't take women"). After law school, he also got a Ph.D in psychology from Harvard, and went off to the academic world, where he taught psychology at places like Columbia and Tufts.  (Elizabeth Holloway, who got the M.A., but may have done most of the work for Marston's Ph.D, went to work for companies like Encyclopedia Britannica, McCalls magazine, or Metropolitan Life Insurance.) 

 

At Tufts he met Margaret Sanger's niece, Olive Byrne, and after she graduated, gave his wife an ultimatum: either they all three lived together as a threesome, or he would leave her.

 

She chose to stay.

 

Marston, who truly did think of himself as a feminist, certainly did not live in a matriarchy.  One wife, Elizabeth, worked twelve hours a day in Manhattan, supporting the entire family.  The other, Olive Byrne (they explained her presence as "their widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Richard"), raised the four children the women had by Marston.  When she was not writing puff pieces about Marston in Family Circle.  Marston, meanwhile, hung around the house, mostly in his underwear, only dressing up for the occasional client visit.  (He had been blacklisted from academics, for a combination of his very esoteric psychological theories and the rumors about his sex life, and had then failed to make a success of himself in Hollywood.)  His attempts to get the FBI interested in his lie detector only succeeded in getting J. Edgar Hoover to open a file on him.

 

And then, as the 30s turned into the 40s, he noticed that Americans were reading an insane number of comic books, and saw his opportunity.

 

And he created Wonder Woman.

 

The first female superhero.  A feminist role model.  And also a reflection of some of Marston's other interests - she's almost as interested in detecting lies as he was, for one thing.  She's kind of kinky.  (He got a ton of interesting fan letters.)  And she was an enormous success.

 

She hit hard times, however, when Marston died in 1947.  She was given to writers who either didn't know or didn't care what her backstory was, and were certainly not feminists.  The strip's "Wonder Women of History" segment was abruptly cancelled.

 

By the late 1960s, she had been remodeled into a shadow of Emma Peel, and lost her superpowers.

 

And then she was reclaimed by "Second Wave" feminists, like Gloria Steinem.  ABC television came calling.

 

Meanwhile, American feminism splintered, and 1972, and the launch of Ms. magazine, with Wonder Woman on the cover, was the high ground never to be recovered.

 

And, Lepore claims, that's all Wonder Woman's fault.  Having set out to prove that Wonder Woman was molded by American feminism, and, I would say, having done so, she fails to prove (and doesn't really try) to prove that Wonder Woman then molded American feminism in her own image. 

 

Like I said, she makes the argument, but presents no evidence that I would call substantial.  Ms. debuted with Wonder Woman on the cover, yes.  But that doesn't mean that American feminism was now being modeled on Wonder Woman.  Frankly, Wonder Woman is a strong image (what American doesn't recognize her?), and that's what a magazine always wants for its cover - a punchy graphic that makes a statement.

 

Lepore provides almost fulsome detail about anything connected with Marston.  He led a fascinating life.  The material on Wonder Woman, and on American feminism, after Marston's death is almost perfunctory.

 

Lepore got access from DC Comics, as well as permission to use, copious numbers of illustrations from 1940s Wonder Woman strips.  They make fascinating viewing.

Help

I have never used drafts before. 

 

I wrote a lengthy post, saved it as a draft, and it disappeared.  And I can't find it!

 

Where do I look?!?!?!

Cotillion

Cotillion - Georgette Heyer

Cotillion, appropriately enough, is a novel about four couples.  (The Cotillion is a period dance, with four couples, and was one of the ancestors of the American "square dance.")

 

Kitty Charing is in a pickle.  Her adoptive father, generally known as "Uncle Matthew," a penny-pinching miser of an old grouch, has decided that he shall leave his fortune to her - if she marries one of his great-nephews.  (I tell you, there really should have been a square for "Cousin Marriage" in the Romance Bingo.)  Otherwise, she will be left penniless, and he will leave his money to charity.

 

So he invites all five of these nephews down for the weekend, so Kitty can make up her mind. Four men attend: her slow-witted cousin Dolph (he is, however, an earl - but "only" an Irish one, and very much under his domineering mother's thumb), another who is a prim and prissy vicar, the vicar's older (and married) brother, George, and Freddy Stanton - a "Pink of the Ton" (read: fashionista) who neither needs Matthew's money, or wants to get married.  The two not attending are the one in the army, and Jack, Matthew's (and Kitty's) favorite, who is more than a bit of a rascal.

 

Dolph and the vicar promptly propose, and Kitty declines them.  She then proposes to Freddy - a fake engagement, and a very real trip to London.  (She has always dreamed of going to London, and her other plan is to make Jack jealous.  So that he will propose to her, of course.)

 

Down in London, she drags Freddy through almost every tourist trap in town, and leads all of the folks she meets, from Freddy's scatter-witted sister to her only living relative, Camille, on a very merry dance.  Luckily for all involved, Kitty has a good heart, and Freddy a lot of common sense.

 

Since this is one of Heyer's regency romances, there are happy endings all round, of course.

U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous

Still Life - Louise Penny A Fatal Grace - Louise Penny The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie N or M? - Agatha Christie Bare Bones - Kathy Reichs Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

Currently $1.99: Grant Takes Command, by Bruce Catton.  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Dirk Gently's Detective Agency & The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (one volume), by Douglas Adams.  The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie.  Want to read Christie in French?  They have several French editions of her novels, including Murder on the Orient Express and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, for sale at $1.99 each.

 

Currently $2.99: Still Life and A Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny (the first two books in her Inspector Gamache series).  N or M? by Agatha Christie.  Bare Bones, by Kathy Reichs.

How to be a Tudor

How To Be A Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life - Ruth Goodman

How to be a Tudor is exactly what it is labeled as - a "dawn to dusk guide" to the Tudor era.  It covers some of the same ground as Ian Mortimer's Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England, but discusses much that book does not, and covers a wider timespan, from 1485 to the start of the 17th century.

 

And it is excellent.  We start with getting up in the morning, at cock's crow, which in summer would be about 4 AM, and a discussion about beds, and why Shakespeare leaving his wife the second best bed wasn't an insult.  (Beds were among the most valuable things people owned, probably second only to land, if they owned any.)

 

We then go through the Tudor day, dealing with everything from prayers to meal times (aristocrats were very sniffy about the lower orders starting to eat breakfast), and what people ate.

 

What did people eat?  They ate bread, and they spent far more (proportionally) on food than we do.  Consider what you eat today.  How much of it is made of items not grown in Tudor England (basically anything from the New World, from chocolate to corn)?  Substitute bread.  How much of it is available to you this time of year, in a world without refrigeration?  Substitute bread.

 

That's a lot of bread.

 

As with anything, some of the subjects covered are of more interest to me than others - but a truly comprehensive and fascinating book.  Recommended to anyone interested in the period.

My Reading Habits

1. Do you have a certain place in your home for reading?

 

Yes, mostly I read either in bed, or in my recliner in the den.

 

2. Bookmark or a random piece of paper? 

 

I collect bookmarks, so mostly those.  Though if desperate I will use anything.  (My ereader, of course, doesn't need one.)

 

3. Can you just stop reading, or do you have to stop after a chapter or a certain number of pages?

 

I try to stop at natural breaks, which are often chapter endings, but sometimes not (some chapters are really long, and have text breaks).  And sometimes I fall asleep while still reading, like I did one night last week!  I woke up at 4 AM, with my cheek on the page.

 

4. Do you eat or drink while reading? 

 

Not while reading in bed (no practical place to put anything), but if in the recliner, I usually have a drink at least.  (Diet Coke or iced tea, probably.)

 

5. Do you multitask while reading?

 

No.  I have horrible retention if I try it.

 

6. One book at a time, or several?

 

I am the hippie free love type when it comes to books at a time.  I always have at least two, and it might be a lot more.  I try not to start a new one in the same genre as an old one I have going, though!

 

7.  Where do you read, at home or everywhere?

 

Everywhere.  At home, and in cars, planes, trains, and waiting rooms.

 

8.  Do you read out loud, or silently in your head?

 

Mostly silently in my head, but I find poetry is sometimes very nice read out loud, and some things make more sense that way.  (Some Henry Kissenger I read in college I could only get through by reading it out loud.  In a Henry Kissenger accent.)  My Shakespeare professor recommended reading the plays out loud, and that helps, too.

 

9. Do you read ahead or skip pages?

 

I don't skip pages (unless it's a reread, perhaps), but I sometimes read ahead.  Instead of skip pages, I will probably just skim very lightly.  (Sometimes very lightly indeed.)

 

10. Do you break the spine?

 

Depends on the book.  I treat used secondhand mass market paperbacks a lot more casually than a hardback I got for Christmas.

 

11. Do you write in your books?

 

Not in paper ones.  I occasionally leave notes in ebooks.

Sunday Soup: Chicken Tortilla Soup

— feeling hungry

We make this one in the slow cooker, generally using leftover roast chicken.  But you can also make it in a soup pot on the stove.

 

1 or 2 chicken breasts, or 6-8 oz of chicken, or a leftover chicken carcass with some meat still on it

30 oz., or 2 of the smaller cans, of tomatoes, preferably with chili peppers added - we used our own tomatoes, frozen from this summer (we're having a tomato bonanza this year, and still have several hundred tomatoes on the vine)

 a can of enchilada sauce, or a jar of salsa, or salsa verde

2 cups frozen corn

2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons oregano

3 corn tortillas, roughly torn or chopped into approximate 1-inch pieces

 

garnishes

the juice of a couple of limes

parsley (we hate cilantro - use it if you like it)

sour cream

 

serve with

warmed whole tortillas

 

In the slow cooker, you can either put in everything except the garnishes and cook on high for 4-6 hours, or low for 8-10.  (We usually do high for about 4ish hours.)  At the end you'll want to remove the chicken, shred the chicken with a fork, and put the shreds back in.  Serve with whatever garnishes you like (I'm partial to lime and sour cream), and warm tortillas, to eat like bread, with it. 

 

We made this last night, using the carcass of a chicken we had roasted earlier this week.  Delicious.  We still have plenty of leftovers.

Edward III: the Perfect King

Edward III: The Perfect King - Ian Mortimer

Ian Mortimer believes, not that Edward III was actually a "perfect king," but that he was striving towards it - that it was one of his goals in life to live up to the great prophecies made at his birth in 1312. 

 

Edward III was the grandson of Edward I, "Hammer of the Scots," and the son of Edward II, a weak king, and Isabella of France, daughter of Philip IV "the Fair."  (The latter epithet relates to Philip's hair color, not his personality; he was a tough king, and sometimes a very cruel one.)  Isabella would be the only one of Philip's four children (he also had three sons) to produce male children who would live to adulthood, which would result in great tragedy for France for the next hundred years.

 

Few English kings can have come to the throne in a more perilous situation - he was a boy of fourteen, and the puppet of his mother and particularly of her lover, the ambitious Roger Mortimer, Earl of March.  For diplomatic reasons he was almost immediately married to the twelve-year-old Phillipa of Hainault (a principality in what is now Belgium).  He had few friends, and little time not monitored by either Isabella or Mortimer.  He was told, and spread the news far and wide, that his father, Edward II, died of grief in September of that year, while in confinement at Berkeley Castle.

 

At seventeen, in 1330, already a father, and aware of how precarious his situation was, he took an enormous chance, and personally overthrew Mortimer in the middle of the night, while they were staying at Nottingham Castle. He would rule alone for the rest of his life, which would be long (he died only in 1376).

 

However, Mortimer argues, Edward III already knew that he had been lied to in 1327, and that his father still lived.  It's a really interesting argument, and I think he has pretty good evidence.  (Mortimer has a fairly long article on his webpage laying out the general lines of his argument: http://www.ianmortimer.com/EdwardII/death.htm .)

 

Edward III's future prowess as a warrior king is legendary - he would lead the English to victories over the Scots, at Halidon Hill, and the French, at Crecy, Poitiers, and Sluys (the great naval battle of the Hundred Years' War).  What may be less famous is his attention to, and building up of, the English Parliament, his great building projects (he had hot and cold running water in his bathroom!), or his fascination with the new inventions and machinery, such as clocks.  (There's also an interesting bit about Edward III as a model for Arthur in medieval romances.)

 

It may have taken me a year to finish, but I kept getting distracted.  I blame you lot, as I keep thinking "well, that book looks interesting..."

Hunting Shadows

Hunting Shadows - Charles Todd

Hunting Shadows is one of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge mysteries - Rutledge returned from the Western Front to his pre-war job at Scotland Yard in 1919 with a secret - he suffers not only from shell shock and claustrophobia (from being buried alive), but also has a dead Scot named "Hamish" living in his head.

 

By this point in the series it is the summer of 1920, and there have been two murders in the fen country of Cambridgeshire which mystify the local authorities, and they have called in Scotland Yard.  First a guest at a society wedding in the medieval cathedral town of Ely was killed by a rifle shot, and then a solicitor standing for office was murdered, in the same fashion, while making a campaign speech in his rural constituency.  There was a witness to the second crime, but after the local constable and her neighbors mocked her account of seeing a "monster," she has clammed up completely.

 

Scotland Yard sends in Inspector Rutledge, who finds he must discover the facts of past events to find the truth of those in the present.  And it's like finding a needle in a haystack, or "hunting shadows" in a fen country fog.

 

I found this mystery well constructed, and the setting, reminiscent of Dorothy Sellers' Nine Taylors, well done.  However, the cover, though getting the suggestion of fog right, suggests a "pea-souper" in London, rather than the actual rural and small-town setting that makes up the majority of the book.