Friday, July 31, 2009

Beowulf - Howell D. Chickering

Beowulf A Dual-Language Edition
Trans. Howell D. Chickering Jr.
DAW
Copyright Date: 2006
978-0756404260

The jacket blurb:
The first major poem in English literature, Beowulf tells the story of the life and death of the legendary hero Beowulf in his three great battles with supernatural monsters. The ideal Anglo-Saxon warrior-aristocrat, Beowulf is an example of the heroic spirit at its finest.

Leading Beowulf scholar Howell D. Chickering, Jr.’s, fresh and lively translation, featuring the Old English on facing pages, allows the reader to encounter Beowulf as poetry. This edition incorporates recent scholarship and provides historical and literary context for the modern reader. It includes the following:
  • an introduction
  • a guide to reading aloud
  • a chart of royal genealogies
  • notes on the background of the poem
  • critical commentary
  • glosses on the eight most famous passages, for the student who wishes to translate from the original
  • an extensive bibliography
Although I've wanted to read Beowulf for years, I finally got around to reading it just now for the Pre-Printing Press Challenge I set up earlier this year. I've also mentioned some of my thoughts on this translation/edition over the Heaney translation of the poem earlier this month here.

Over half of this edition of Beowulf is comprised of the introduction and the commentaries, both of which were incredibly detailed and thorough. The introduction contains all kinds of information on Old English poetry conventions, naming, vocabulary etc. Part of this is in the form of a pronunciation guide, explanation of stresses and alliteration and much more. The introduction itself has a short bibliography.

Also part of the introduction is a section on critical interpretations, which discusses issues such as how Christian the poem is thought to be. I found the various references to Tolkien and his lecture on The Monsters and the Critics to be rather neat, but I am rather a Tolkien fan.

As to the poem itself, well, I'll admit that I stuck to the modern English translation, even though it doesn't stick to the alliteration. In the years since I took that class in Old English, I've forgotten most of it. Still, there were times I could pick out a line or two.

There's a majesty and dignity to Beowulf that makes it an amazing read, and even the modern English cries to be read out loud. I did find though, that after Beowulf's return from killing Grendel's mother, I lost the thread of the poem and really had a hard time picking it up again.

The greater part of the book is the commentary, where the translator discusses each section of the poem in great detail, including the various interpretations and emendations that have been made over time. Each time, Chickering gives clear references to the original arguments so it is possible to go and find them easily. Quite a bit of the commentary hinges on interpretiations of specific words, and goes into quite a bit of depth.

All of that makes it into what is probably a very good edition for any student of Old English and of the history of the fifth to eleventh centuries in Europe. It's definitely worth the read, and not just because of the place that the poem holds as one of the earliest poems in the English language.

Aerie - Mercedes Lackey

Aerie
Mercedes Lackey
DAW
Copyright Date: 2006
978-0756404260
The jacket blurb:
The young man known as Kiron had escaped death at the hands of the Magi, the ambitious, unethical order of sorcerers that had controlled his home country, Alta, through a magical tyranny of terror.

Kiron had managed to flee Alta with his fellow Jousters and their dragons, some members of the royal family, and close friends. They had escaped to a lost city in the desert, a place now called Sanctuary. From there they had waged war and vanquished their powerful enemy, liberating Alta.

But just surviving in the desert, with more and more sympathetic refugees appearing every day, more people to feed and house, more dragonets to raise, was a daunting prospect. And seemingly just in time, with Sanctuary overflowing, they had discovered and ancient cliff-dweller's cave city, deep in the desert.

No one knew the origins of this mysterious, primitive place made of myriad caves hillowed from the faces of mighty cliffs. And no one could figure out why the caves of the lowest level were huge pits that seemed custom-made for dragons' lairs. But though the primeval city held its secrets, Kiron and his Dragon Jouster army gratefully moved in and called the city Aerie.

But space was not the only issue the rebel nation faced, for though they had conquered the Magi, they had not managed to destroy all of these villainous magicians. Would the surviving Magi try to achieve through surreptitious means the conquest they had not won through violence?

The final book in Mercedes Lackey's Dragon Jouster series, Aerie made a satisfying conclusion. It was a quick read, with some very interesting twists, including to things we already thought we knew, such as the relationship being set up between Kiron and Aket-ten. Is that relationship as much a foregone conclusion as we thought?

There's also more about Kiron's family, one of the unanswered questions from the first book, which comes to light in this book. Really, this is a book that I found I couldn't put down. There's at least two background story plots running through Aerie as well as the main plot.

Unlike the previous two books, where I wasn't certain if I'd read them when they first came out, I'm absolutely positive I hadn't read Aerie before. Like the other books in the series, Joust, Alta and Sanctuary it's a book suited for everyone from teens to adults of any age. There's nothing too graphic in it either, and some thought provoking ideas as well.

Especially concerning religion. Mercedes Lackey has come up with a very interesting religious structure, based on our ancient Egyptian civilization. Although it's clearly set out in the previous books, everything really comes to life in Aerie, including some debates on things typically thought of as evil, such as the god Seft.

I've noted it in my reviews of the other books in the Dragon Jouster series, but the use of the ancient Egyptian culture in this series works very well. Not only that, but it makes for a very interesting change, given that most fantasy I've read (and that includes most of Mercedes Lackey's), aside from the urban fantasy genre, is usually based on a medieval European structure. To use a desert-based climate and civilization gives the books a completely different feel.

Similarly, Mercedes Lackey's dragons in these books. Where dragons in other series, be they the villains, or partners with the heroes, or even an independent being entirely, are often fully intelligent and able to talk, and/or do magic of their own, Lackey's dragons are not. Instead, they're rather like a mix of falcons/hawks and cats. And, they can't breathe fire, or have any other magical power. I can't think of any other author I've read who's done that before.

Overall, I really liked this series. They're fun, quick and clean reads, which make a nice change from heavier fare for the summer.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Free Books Website

I've been poking around with the new Google Wonder Wheel tool a bit this morning, and found this site of free books: PublicBookshelf.

Although the site says it's mostly romance novels, they do have other sections, including science fiction (which is how I found it).

Some of the science fiction and horror (they're grouped together) novels I found listed included:
  • The Colours Of Space by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • and seventeen others I hadn't heard of.
The site also has history books, garden books, mysteries, poetry and many other areas.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sanctuary - Mercedes Lackey

Sanctuary
Mercedes Lackey
DAW
Copyright Date: 2005
978-0756403416
The jacket blurb:
The young man known as Kiron, who had once been a dragon-boy called Vetch, had achieved more than he had ever dreamed possible. He had escaped the Jouster's compound in Tia on the back of Avatre - a scarlet dragon he had raised form the egg - a tame dragon that was bonded to him. As he had crossed the vast desert with the help of the nomads called the Veiled Ones, he had carried with him one of the greatest secrets of his world: the secret to taming dragons. And when he reached Alta, the kingdom of his birth, his bravery had linked him with the family of a powerful nobleman, Lord Ya-tiren, who had, in turn, introduced him and his dragon-taming techniques to the compound of the Altan Jousters. He had been able to gather a group of dedicated young people who understood the rgigors involved and were up to the task of raising a dragonet from the egg.

But there was also a dark side to Kiron's life. For in gaining entree into Altan noble society, he had come to learn many distressing things about who really controlled Alta, especially with the help of Ya-tiren's daughter, Aket-ten, who had the magical Gifts of Animal Speech, Silent Speech, and the Far-Seeing Eye. Aket-ten was a Fledgling of the magical order of the Winged Ones, and this gentle order was being threatened by a more powerful and less ethical magical order - the Magi. The Magi were subtly but systematically draining the Winged Ones of their magic - thus strengthening themselves. But that was only part of the evil picture. For Aket-ten and Kiron soon began to realize that the Magi were plotting to surreptitiously replace the royal Great Ones and rule Alta, and that they they had built a terrible weapon, the Eye of Light, which could kill from afar, and would support their reign with terror.

Once more, Kiron and Aket-ten had risen to the occasion and had managed, through careful planning, to flee Alta with all the Jousters and dragons, some members of the royal family, and close friends, They had escaped to the Lost City of the desert, a place now called Sanctuary.

Kiron knew that they had to hide and increase their numbers before they would have a ghost of a chance against the Magi. But they had garnered a huge advantage - they had freed the dragons of Tia, therefore destroying the Tian Jousters' army and effectively ending the war between Tia and Alta. Only Ari, the Jouster who had trained Kiron, had kept his dragon, and had come to join them in Sanctuary. But just surviving in the desert, with more and more sympathetic refugees appearing every day, more people to feed and house, more dragonets to raise, was a daunting prospect. And it was just a mater of time before the Magi found the hiding place of the rebels and attacked.

Could Kiron, Aket-ten, Ari, and their allies muster their forces in time to face the Magi? And how would they counter the deadly effects of the Eye of Light?

Sanctuary is the third book in the Dragon Jousters series. As with the others, Joust and Alta, along with Aerie, the fantasy overlay combined with the Egyptian culture and landscape make for a very interesting mix.

Rather than being focused on one country or the other, Mercedes Lackey takes things in a new direction with Sanctuary: the Lost City, which is as much a mystery to the characters of the book as it is to the reader.

The ending of Sanctuary was a definite surprise as well, with some very interesting twists. Still, it is somewhat of a "middle book" in the series. A dramatic ending, but there wasn't as much resolution as there was in either of the first two books. Overall, Sanctuary doesn't stand alone as well as either Joust or Alta, at least in my opinion.

I'm actually not sure if I did read Sanctuary before, as it seems vaguely familiar, but I didn't fully recognize any of the events in the story. Perhaps it's just that this is a Mercedes Lackey book, or it could be because the book came out four years ago, and I haven't read it again since.

Either way, it was a very good read, although I did find it somewhat typical of Mercedes Lackey's young adult suited stories. I think I've noted it before, but the Dragon Jousters books are a set that would be quite well suited for either teens looking for more fantasy and for adults of any age who love dragons and fantasy novels. If you're a fan of Mercedes Lackey and you haven't read these books, you should give them a try. They're not exactly high literature, but they are (as are all of her books) a fun, although quick, read.

First (and second) hardcopy book for review.

This is turning out to be a good day. I got my first hardcopy book in the mail for review today. The book is Curse of the Tahiera by Wendy Gillissen.

The jacket blurb:
A journey through haunted forests, through dreams and time.
A story of love, magic and the power of forgiveness.
Rom, a young Tzanatzi outcast and Yldich, a mysterious Einache shaman are on the trail of an ancient curse.
Will they save their people from destruction?
I've had e-books before, which I like (they don't take space on the shelf), but this feels "real". Mailbox Monday is going to be fun next week. I just couldn't wait that long to squeal in glee.

Edited to add:
Double reason to squeal: Defenders of the Faith, by James Reston Jr. just arrived as well (an hour or so later). This one will hold a special place as it was the first offer I got of a book to review. Not to mention that it simply looks interesting.

The jacket description:
A bestselling historian recounts sixteen years that shook the world— the epic clash between Europe and the Ottoman Turks that ended the Renaissance and brought Islam to the gates of Vienna

In the bestselling Warriors of God and Dogs of God, James Reston, Jr., limned two epochal conflicts between Islam and Christendom. Here he examines the ultimate battle in that centuries-long war, which found Europe at its most vulnerable and Islam on the attack. This drama was propelled by two astonishing young sovereigns: Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Turkish sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Though they represented two colliding worlds, they were remarkably similar. Each was a poet and cultured cosmopolitan; each was the most powerful man on his continent; each was called “Defender of the Faith”; and each faced strident religious rebellion in his domain. Charles was beset by the “heresy” of Martin Luther and his fervid adherents, even while tensions between him and the pope threatened to boil over, and the upstart French king Francis I harried Charles’s realm by land and sea. Suleyman was hardly more comfortable on his throne. He had earned his crown by avoiding the grim Ottoman tradition of royal fratricide. Shiites in the East were fighting off the Sunni Turks’ cruel repression of their “heresy.” The ferocity and skill of Suleyman’s Janissaries had expanded the Ottoman Empire to its greatest extent ever, but these slave soldiers became rebellious when foreign wars did not engage them.

With Europe newly hobbled and the Turks suffused with restless vigor, the stage was set for a drama that unfolded from Hungary to Rhodes and ultimately to Vienna itself, which both sides thought the Turks could win. If that happened, it was generally agreed that Europe would become Muslim as far west as the Rhine.

During these same years, Europe was roiled by constant internal tumult that saw, among other spectacles, the Diet of Worms, the Sack of Rome, and an actual wrestling match between the English and French monarchs in which Henry VIII’s pride was badly hurt. Would—could—this fractious continent be united to repulse a fearsome enemy?

Library Loot: July 29

Library Loot is being hosted by Marg of the Reading Adventures Blog this week. Like Mailbox Monday, it's a fun meme to do and to see what everyone else is reading right now (or wants to be reading).

Fairly sparse on the books this time.

Already read, but not yet reviewed:
  • Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey
  • Aerie by Mercedes Lackey
Both of them are part of her Dragon Jousters series and make for a good, clean, fun, fantasy read. They follow on Joust and Alta. They are also books I went looking for deliberately, as I was reading the series.

The one I have yet to read is Unholy Business, by Nina Burleigh. It's a book on the forgery of biblical antiquities such as the James Ossuary. I've got to say it looks interesting. This one is one I spotted on the New Books shelf, and borrowed just because it looked interesting. I must say I like the cover image.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mailbox Monday - July 27th

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia of The Printed Page, and it's a lot of fun to see what people are getting each week.

I missed last week's although I had wanted to post due to not having internet that day. Now I can't remember the books I was going to include.

Anyway, I've got quite the pile this week thanks to a trip to my favorite used book store:

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

I've heard so many good things about this book that it's become one of the few books I recommend to people unread. Now I'm finally going to get a chance to read it myself.

The Amazon.com description:
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
Life In A Medieval Castle by Joseph Gies and Francis Gies

One of their series on medieval life. I already had their books on Life in A Medieval Village (which I've read) and Life in a Medieval City (which I've looked at, but still have on my TBR list). Overall, I've found their books to be quite readable and interesting, although I've seen some debate about accuracy. This is an older book, with a publication date of 1979, so there may well have been some new discoveries and interpretations since it came out. Still, the books make for a good introduction to the subject.

Joust by Mercedes Lackey

Interestingly (and amusingly) I bought this two days after I'd given in and gotten it through interlibrary loan. By which point I'd already finished reading it. My review is posted here.

The jacket blurb:
Vetch was an Altan serf working the land which had once been his family's farm. Young and slight, Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, and starvation if not for anger which was his only real sustenance - anger that he had lost his home and family in a war of conquest waged by the dragon-riding Jousters of Tia. Tia had usurped nearly half of Alta's lands and enslaved or killed many of Vetch's countrymen. Sometimes it seemed that his entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them.

But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon.

From its narrow, golden, large-eyed head, to its pointed emerald ears, to the magnificent blue wings, the dragon was a thing of multicolored, jeweled beauty, slim and supple, and quite as large as the shed it perched on. Vetch almost failed to notice the Jouster who stood beside him. "I need a boy," the rider had said, and suddenly Vetch found himself lifted above the earth and transported by dragon-back to a different world.

Vetch was to be trained as a dragon-boy, and he hardly believed his luck. The compound seemed like paradise: he could eat until he was full, and all he had to do was care for his Jouster's dragon, Kashet.

It didn't take long for Vetch to realize that Kashet was very special - for unlike other dragons, Kashet was gentle by nature, and did not need the tranquilizing tala plant to make her tractable. Vetch became determined to learn the secret of how Kashet had been tamed. For if Kashet could be tamed, perhaps Vetch could tame a dragon of his own. And if he could, then he might be able to escape and bring the secret of dragon-taming with him back to his homeland of Alta. And that secret might prove to be the key to Alta's liberation....
The Forbidden Circle by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Forbidden Circle is the omnibus edition of The Spell Sword and The Forbidden Tower. Both of them are from her famous (and long-running) Darkover series. I've read them both before, but my copies were pretty abysmal: the yellow-spined DAW covers, creased up and with spots pulled away where masking-tape had been peeled off. Please, please, never use masking tape on your books (and this was a used book store doing it for their price tags). The glue never comes off or, if it does, it takes the cover with it.

Medieval English Prose For Women edited by Bella Millett & Jocelyn Wogan-Browne

A smallish book, this contains selections from the manuscripts known as the Katherine Group, and also two parts of the Ancrene Wisse. The text is in the facing page form, where the Middle-English of the original is on the left-hand page, and the modern English translation is on the right. There is also a textual commentary and a glossary for the Middle-English words. Should be an interesting read when (some might say "If") I get to it.

The jacket description:
The Ancrene Wisse, a guide for female recluses in the West Midlands in the early thirteenth century, and the closely related works of the "Katherine Group," offer vivid and fascinating insights into the religious life of the time. The difficulty of the language however, which skillfully blends Latin and native English stylistic traditions, has made the documents largely inaccessible to all but experts in Middle English. This edition presents the works in a new and readable critical text that includes interspersed translations, notes, a select glossary, and a general introduction, making this volume highly useful to undergraduates and generalists with limited knowledge of Middle English.
The Art Of Medieval Hunting: The Hound And The Hawk by John Cummins
Another book on medieval life to add to my TBR list. I'll get to it one day, but it definitely looks interesting.

The jacket description:
The gentlemen of medieval and Renaissance Europe had three all-consuming passions: warfare, courtly love, and hunting with a hawk or hound--and the philosophy behind the last of the trio really encompasses them all. Hunting, the sport of kings, served as training for battle, a rite of manhood, and a powerful ritualistic pastime. In vivid and engrossing detail, here are all the appropriate methods for hunting deer, boar, wolves, foxes, bears, otters, birds, hares...even unicorns!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

As you can see, I've found another Monday meme to participate in. This time it's the "It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" one hosted by J. Kaye of J. Kaye's Book Blog.

Last week I completed the following books:

The Serrano Connection
Elizabeth Moon

A quote from my review:

The Serrano Connection starts out right in the middle of the story, in the aftermath of a mutiny aboard the Despite. That's where things get interesting. I have the feeling that it's continuing on from the ending of Winning Colors in the Heris Serrano omnibus, although I've yet to actually finish that book. The story still makes complete sense though.

The mutiny that Esmaya ended up leading, despite being only a very junior officer being over, she hopes to go back to an ordinary career in the Royal Space Service, while finding out more about this intriguing Ensign she's met. Given that it's at the very beginning of the book, do you really think that's going to happen? Nope. Of course not.

Joust
Mercedes Lackey

A quote from my review:
...At any rate, Joust is a book that kept me up late to finish, and I started the second book Alta right away. Although it was a re-read, that didn't affect the story at all in a negative way (that's something I love about all of Mercedes Lackey's books, they're just as good on re-reading as they were on the first read). Now I've got to find Sanctuary and Aerie to finish the series. Somehow I don't remember if I read them when the series first came out, although I know I read the first two books.

Alta
Mercedes Lackey

A quote from my review:
These books: Joust, Alta, Sanctuary and Aerie are perfectly safe for teens as well as adults, reminding me of the Owl trilogy (Darian) and the Heralds of Valdemar set (Talia), which are also by Mercedes Lackey, in terms of writing style. Also, the ages of the characters are similar to those of many teen books, although it's not explicitly stated anywhere.

Although part of a series, I found that Alta came to a satisfying conclusion of its own. None of this "middle book" stuff where either nothing happens, or the conclusion is left for the final book. Alta almost stands on its own, although there is plenty left for the following books to explore.
The remaining books I've read this past week have yet to be reviewed here:
Sanctuary by Mercedes Lackey and Aerie, also by Mercedes Lackey.

The books I'm currently reading are:
Standard of Honor by Jack Whyte and The Medieval World, edited by Jacques Le Goff.

Standard of Honor is the second book in the Templar trilogy, and The Medieval World is a collection of essays on various aspects of life in the Medieval era in Europe.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alta - Mercedes Lackey

Alta
Mercedes Lackey
DAW
Copyright Date: 2004
978-0756402570
The jacket blurb:
Vetch had done the unimaginable. He had secretly raised his own baby dragon, a crimson female he named Avatre, and when she first took flight he had been on her back. Although Avatre was new to flight, with the help of his trainer and friend, the dragon Jouster Ari, he had managed to evade pursuit, escaping from the compound that housed the dragon-riding troops of Tia, his homeland's enemies. Aided by the nomadic tribes of the desert, Vetch and Avatre had crossed the vast sands heading north towards the lands still held by Alta.

It was Vetch's plan to convey to his half-conquered homeland the secret which he hoped would be the key to Alta's liberation: how to tame dragons. If he imparted this secret to the Altan rulers, would it not give them the edge they needed to throw off their conquerors despite their lesser numbers? And it seemed that his good luck was holding when, after saving a young priestess of noble blood from the dangers of the Great Mother River, he was given entree into the dragon Jouster compound of Alta City.

But Vetch, now calling himself by his birth name of Kiron, was completely ignorant of the true forces that controlled Alta. For though the royal Great Ones sat on the Altan throne, they did not truly rule. In Alta, the Magi, the all-powerful practitioners of sorcery, held the populace - royalty and commoner alike - under the sway of a mysterious weapon. The Magi claimed that the Eye Of Light would forever protect their land from Tia, incinerating enemy troops as far away as the seventh canal. But were the Magi really interested in protecting their land from outside invaders? or would Kiron find that Alta was burdened with a far greater threat than an enemy kingdom - a threat from within its own borders?
Alta is second story in the Dragon Jousters series, and the sequel to the book Joust. Vetch, now Kiron has made it as far as his plans took him. He's back home now, but not all is as it seems. There are more problems than just the Tians invading the borders of Alta, and the worst of those problems are internal.

For all the problems though, between his luck, and the new techniques pioneered in Tia that he's brought to the Altan Jousters, Kiron can make a place for himself in Alta.

As in Joust the Egyptian influences worked into the cultures of Tia and Alta are strong, but they do make for a very different story. The whole atmosphere is different when it's a tropical/desert-based world rather than a northern/European one.

The story was gripping too. I couldn't put the book down, even though I was re-reading it. On the other hand, the last time I read this book was when it came out, back in 2004, about five years ago, so it was almost like reading a new book. For some reason, I don't think I especially cared for the series back then, as I'm now absolutely certain I hadn't read the final book Aerie at all, although I'm loving this world now.

These books: Joust, Alta, Sanctuary and Aerie are perfectly safe for teens as well as adults, reminding me of the Owl trilogy (Darian) and the Heralds of Valdemar set (Talia), which are also by Mercedes Lackey, in terms of writing style. Also, the ages of the characters are similar to those of many teen books, although it's not explicitly stated anywhere.

Although part of a series, I found that Alta came to a satisfying conclusion of its own. None of this "middle book" stuff where either nothing happens, or the conclusion is left for the final book. Alta almost stands on its own, although there is plenty left for the following books to explore.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Joust - Mercedes Lackey

Joust
Mercedes Lackey
DAW
Copyright Date: 2003
978-0756401535

The jacket blurb:
Vetch was an Altan serf working the land which had once been his family's farm. Young and slight, Vetch would have died of overwork, exposure, and starvation if not for anger which was his only real sustenance - anger that he had lost his home and family in a war of conquest waged by the dragon-riding Jousters of Tia. Tia had usurped nearly half of Alta's lands and enslaved or killed many of Vetch's countrymen. Sometimes it seemed that his entire cruel fate revolved around dragons and the Jousters who rode them.

But his fate changed forever the day he first saw a dragon.

From its narrow, golden, large-eyed head, to its pointed emerald ears, to the magnificent blue wings, the dragon was a thing of multicolored, jeweled beauty, slim and supple, and quite as large as the shed it perched on. Vetch almost failed to notice the Jouster who stood beside him. "I need a boy," the rider had said, and suddenly Vetch found himself lifted above the earth and transported by dragon-back to a different world.

Vetch was to be trained as a dragon-boy, and he hardly believed his luck. The compound seemed like paradise: he could eat until he was full, and all he had to do was care for his Jouster's dragon, Kashet.

It didn't take long for Vetch to realize that Kashet was very special - for unlike other dragons, Kashet was gentle by nature, and did not need the tranquilizing tala plant to make her tractable. Vetch became determined to learn the secret of how Kashet had been tamed. For if Kashet could be tamed, perhaps Vetch could tame a dragon of his own. And if he could, then he might be able to escape and bring the secret of dragon-taming with him back to his homeland of Alta. And that secret might prove to be the key to Alta's liberation....

Joust is the first book in the Dragon Jousters series written by Mercedes Lackey, and it takes us back to the slightly young adult nature of some of her earlier books. I'd feel quite comfortable recommending this series to someone venturing out of the teen books into the adult ones, if they liked fantasy novels.

Anyway, Lackey has done something a bit different with this series: She's used ancient Egypt as her model for the lands, religion and civilization of Alta, but especially of Tia. It makes the books both familiar and alien at the same time, I found, as I recognized the source, but I'm not overly familiar with it.

Her dragons are fairly unique as well in the Dragon Jouster series: they're modeled off of cats and falcons in terms of temperament, and unlike most dragon-based novels I've read, they're not intelligent and able to speak, nor do they magically bond with their riders.

Vetch is fairly typical for a Mercedes Lackey character: young, had a hard life, but also has a strong code of honor. He's rather similar to Mags (Foundation, book one of the Collegium Chronicles) or Talia of the Heralds of Valdemar trilogy.

It's rather neat that in the Dragon Jousters books, most of the characters do not have any special gifts. It's only knowledge, determination and skill that enables them to become Dragon Jousters, rather than in the Elemental Masters books or the Valdemar series where the magic (be it true magic or Mind Magic) is a key part of the characters.

At any rate, Joust is a book that kept me up late to finish, and I started the second book Alta right away. Although it was a re-read, that didn't affect the story at all in a negative way (that's something I love about all of Mercedes Lackey's books, they're just as good on re-reading as they were on the first read). Now I've got to find Sanctuary and Aerie to finish the series. Somehow I don't remember if I read them when the series first came out, although I know I read the first two books.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Serrano Connection - Elizabeth Moon

The Serrano Connection
Elizabeth Moon
Baen Books
Printing Date: 2008
978-1416555957

The jacket blurb actually says very little about the story:
Two Full-Length Novels of Space Adventure:
Once a Hero: Esmay Suiza wasn’t a member of a great Navy family like the Serranos. She’d had to make her way on grit alone, which meant it wasn’t likely she’d make admiral, but all she wanted was to be part of the Fleet. But then she ended up a raging space battle, and was the only one who could stop a superior office turned traitor. She had never wanted to be a hero, but fate had other ideas. . . .

Rules of Engagement: Brun Meager is a young woman from a rich and powerful family, which had a lot to do with why Esmay Suiza didn’t get along with her, not to mention both having an amorous interest in Barin Serrano. When Brun was abducted by a repressive religious militia movement that makes the 21st century Taliban look like a bunch of Unitarians, Esmay was suspected of having connived in the capture to eliminate a rival. To clear herself, it looked like Esmay would have to locate and rescue Brun. Time to be a hero again. . . .


This is an omnibus edition of two of Elizabeth Moon's science fiction novels Once A Hero and Rules of Engagement. The next two are being released as one in the beginning of September as The Serrano Succession.

The Serrano Connection starts out right in the middle of the story, in the aftermath of a mutiny aboard the Despite. That's where things get interesting. I have the feeling that it's continuing on from the ending of Winning Colors in the Heris Serrano omnibus, although I've yet to actually finish that book. The story still makes complete sense though.

The mutiny that Esmaya ended up leading, despite being only a very junior officer being over, she hopes to go back to an ordinary career in the Royal Space Service, while finding out more about this intriguing Ensign she's met. Given that it's at the very beginning of the book, do you really think that's going to happen? Nope. Of course not.

As the story goes, we find out more about Esmaya and her background, although some of the details are still not yet filled in. Personally I'd like to find out more about Altiplano, her home planet.

And that's just the first book. In the second book, Rules of Engagement, Esmaya thinks she's finally gotten her life on the proper track, only to run into a political situation which escalates rapidly.

I know I've read these two books before, but it's been so long that reading The Serrano Connection was almost like reading a new book again: familiar, but not. I remembered the very basics of the story (along the lines of "oh...this is the book where such and such happened") as I was reading it.

It's really neat the way she mixes high and low technologies, such as horseback riding and space-flight, and it's all done in such a way that it fits together. The one doesn't seem out of place in the world of the other at all.

Honestly, I think that if you liked the Vatta's War series, also by Elizabeth Moon, I really think you'll like these two books. Now, I am trying to hunt down the next books in the series so I don't have to wait until September to continue reading. Hopefully the library will have them (or be able to interlibrary loan them to me) along with Trading in Danger, the first of the Vatta's War books.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hand of Isis - Jo Graham

Hand of Isis
Jo Graham
Orbit
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0-316-068024
The jacket blurb actually says very little about the story:
Set in ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Chariman, a handmaiden, and her two sisters. It is a novel of lovers who transcend death, of gods who meddle in mortal affairs, and of women who guide empires.
If I were in the regular habit of rating books with numbers or stars, this would be a five star, or five out of five read. I absolutely loved it. Don't let the lack of information on the jacket stop you from giving it a try.

What the jacket blurb doesn't say about Hand Of Isis is that the story is that of Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, and Chariman is her sister and one of her closest helpers. It's not just the story though, but also elements of the supernatural: the Gods of the various religions are real, and they play a role of sorts, making this novel into historical fantasy rather than just regular historical fiction. I will admit that this is a particular favorite sub-genre of mine as well.

We all know the story of Cleopatra, at leas the basics, how she was the lover of Caesar, and then of Mark Antony, and how she committed suicide after he was defeated by Octavian. Given that, we know more or less how the story is going to end. By half way through Hand of Isis I was wishing that somehow the characters would find a way to change what we know from history in order to have a happy ending, even though I knew it wouldn't happen.

Jo Graham wrote characters that just came alive right off the page, from Cleopatra to Dion, their friend. There's no difference from the famous characters to the minor. They all got fleshed out and made real. Quirks, joys, disappointments, they're all there and all part of the characters' lives. Even the cities and temples I could see, hear and smell, even taste as I read.

I couldn't put the book down despite knowing the story, although I don't know the details thoroughly. I think I'm going to have to investigate some non fiction histories and biographies on the subject soon.

That's one thing Jo Graham has done at the end of Hand of Isis. If you want to find out more about Cleopatra and the period, she's included a short Further Reading section. Not too many historical fiction authors do this to my knowledge, and it's something I really appreciate. Katherine Kurtz did it with some of her books, and so has Jules Watson IIRC, but I can't think of too many others off hand.

Although the mass market paperback will be coming out soon, I have to admit that I prefer the cover art on the trade paperback. There's just something about it that catches my attention. Perhaps an air of mystery about the face? And the background reminds me of some of the famous seascapes I've seen in art.

I'll repeat: I absolutely loved this book. If you like historical fiction or historical fantasy, you have to read it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Link to an interview with David Weber

The bloggers at Fantasy Book Critic have an interview with David Weber that's well worth the read. Some of the questions' answers are found in other places as Weber has made them into stand-alone blog posts (in fact, I think I linked to one of them a week or so back), but there's plenty of new information there as well, including the fact that there are to be two novels in the Honor Harrington universe coming out in the next year or so. I'd only known about the one, Torch of Freedom.

The post is long, but well worth the read.

Giveawy Link - Tamed By A Laird

I don't normally do this, but this looks like such an interesting book, I'm hoping to hear more about it even if I don't get a chance to win.

Over at Books and Needlepoint they're giving away five copies of the novel Tamed By A Laird. There's a really good description of the book, and even a few neat trivia facts about the period and region in the post as well. The giveaway ends on August 3, 2009.

Mailbox Monday - July 13

Marcia, the host of Mailbox Monday has the best description for this meme that I've heard yet:
Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count, eBooks & audio books do). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.
(and boy, is she ever right about that!)

Just three books this week:
The Foretelling
Alice Hoffman

The jacket blurb:
Rain is a girl with a certain destiny, living in an ancient time of blood, raised on mares' milk, nurtured with the strength of a thousand Amazon sisters. A girl of power, stronger than fifty men, she rides her white horse as fierce as a demon.

But then there is the foretelling.
The black horse.

In truth, Rain tastes a different future in her dreams. She is touched by the stirrings of emotions unknown. She begins to see beyond a life of war...and wonders...about mercy and men, hope and love.
To be honest, I bought the book based on the cover. I've never read any of Alice Hoffman's books before, and this was on the $4.99 table.

The same thing is true for the second book:
Wolfskin
Juliet Marillier

The jacket blurb:
All young Eyvind ever wanted was to become a great Viking warrior--a Wolfskin--and carry honor out in the name of his fathergod Thor. He can think of no future more glorious. The chance to make it happen is his when his chieftain Ulf is brought the tale of a magical land across the sea, a place where men with courage could go to conquer a land and bring glory to themselves. They set out to find this fabled land, and discover a windswept and barren place, but one filled with unexpected beauty and hidden treasures... and a people who are willing to share their bounty.

Ulf's new settlement begins in harmony with the natives of the isles led by the gentle king Engus. And Eyvind finds a treasure of his own in the young Nessa, niece of the King, seer and princess. His life will change forever as she claims his heart for her own.

But someone has come along to this new land who is not what he seems. Somerled, a strange and lonely boy that Eyvind befriended long ago has a secret--and his own plans for the future. The blood oath that they swore in childhood binds them in lifelong loyalty, and Somerled is calling in the debt of honor. What he asks of Eyvind might just doom him to kill the only thing that Evyind has ever truly loved.

Will the price of honor create the destruction of all that Eyvind holds dear?
The third book to arrive was the final book I ordered last month:
The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families In Medieval England
Barbara Hanawalt

The Amazon.com blurb:
Barbara A. Hanawalt's richly detailed account offers an intimate view of everyday life in Medieval England that seems at once surprisingly familiar and yet at odds with what many experts have told us. She argues that the biological needs served by the family do not change and that the ways fourteenth- and fifteenth-century peasants coped with such problems as providing for the newborn and the aged, controlling premarital sex, and alleviating the harshness of their material environment in many ways correspond with our twentieth-century solutions.
Using a remarkable array of sources, including over 3,000 coroners' inquests into accidental deaths, Hanawalt emphasizes the continuity of the nuclear family from the middle ages into the modern period by exploring the reasons that families served as the basic unit of society and the economy. Providing such fascinating details as a citation of an incantation against rats, evidence of the hierarchy of bread consumption, and descriptions of the games people played, her study illustrates the flexibility of the family and its capacity to adapt to radical changes in society. She notes that even the terrible population reduction that resulted from the Black Death did not substantially alter the basic nature of the family.


Two more books just turned up (e-books):
Storyteller and Flight of the Hawk by G. R. Grove. I just finished the third book, so I'm really glad to see these two.

The Ash Spear - G. R. Grove

The Ash Spear
G. R. Grove
lulu.com
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0-557-06070-2
The amazon.com description is:
"Elidyr Mwynfawr, King of Aeron, was a weak, greedy fool, and like many another such fool, he died of his folly. But because he was a King, in his dying he cost many better men their lives as well, and this was the way of it: for I, Gwernin Kyuarwyd, was there, and saw much of it myself, and the tale that I tell you is true

The Ash Spear is the third book in the series, which starts with Storyteller and is followed by Flight of the Hawk. As such, the reader is thrown right into the action, with little introduction to the characters or the world. I haven't read either of the two previous books and didn't find this to be too much of a problem. The story stands alone, more or less, although there were plenty of references to past actions and events. Despite that, I really have to find the first two books and read them eventually.

G. R. Grove has set this series in the generation or so just after the time of King Arthur, and located it mostly in the Welsh and northern regions of the British Isles. However, from there the story is quite different from most of the Arthurian period stories I've read, which made for a refreshing change: Gwernin, who is both the main character and the viewpoint character is no warrior or leader, but instead is an apprentice bard with a healthy appreciation for the mystical (not to mention the practical).

Also, there is much more of a pagan presence throughout The Ash Spear than I've seen in some of the other stories of the period. However, it works, and I think, that fact is probably fairly historically accurate too, although I'm no expert on the period. Again, it is a refreshing change.

Oftentimes, the names in the story are a bit of a mouthful, and I don't think that a pronunciation guide/glossary for some of the terms used throughout the story would have gone amiss, but it's quite possible to get the gist of them from the context. Perhaps they were explained more fully in the earlier volumes?

At the same time, I found the language and phrasing used helped to set the stage for the period. Sometimes it's more archaic words, other times it's a phrasing where the words are somewhat out of order to the modern ear. G. R. Grove has also included several long selections of poetry, which makes sense, given that the main character is training to be a bard. There's even a section from Beowulf included later on in the book, although it's more scattered lines than an actual excerpt.

Gwernin (as the entire story is set from his viewpoint as he reminisces) is very descriptive about events and scenery during his reminiscing of the story, which all helps to set the stage. It's the details he remembered and added that really allowed me to be able to almost visualise the events and the scenery.

The one thing I found slightly annoying through the story was the repeated formula of "But that, O my children, is a story for another day." It's used to close off just about every chapter in the book, and I think also in other places as well. It's a minor point overall though.

Had I not received this book from the author through LibraryThing's Member Giveaway, I don't know that I would ever have heard about it. I'm really glad I did though.

As I said earlier, I really have to recommend this book, and I'm going to go hunting for the first two in the series.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book Rambling: Translations

This post is inspired by the reading I'm doing for The Pre-Printing Press Challenge.

How important is the translation to your reading, when you're reading an ancient work?

For example, I've had people tell me that the Neville Coghill translation of The Canterbury Tales isn't a good one and that I should find a different translation. I have no idea if this is just scholarly snobbery though (ie the "Newer is Better" way of thinking) or if there is something to it. I keep the translation for a different reason (besides the fact that I like it): Neville Coghill was a member of the Inklings, the group that Tolkien belonged to.

On the other hand, clearly, that's not always the case. In classes over the last year, we were assigned Herodotus, and it was the same translation my mother used when she was taking Classical History, the Aubrey De Selincourt one. I know very well that there are other, newer translations out there (I have a couple of them). Still, this was the one I was the most familiar with, having read parts of it previously.

Right now I'm reading Beowulf (along with all of the other books I have on the go), and I'm really finding that the translation makes a big difference.

I have both the Seamus Heaney translation, which is the one which I believe is most often found in bookstores these days, and the Howell Chickering one. Both are facing page translations, and you wouldn't think there was too much of a difference between them, seeing as it's the same text.

However, there really is a difference. Seamus Heaney has tried, more or less, to hold to the alliteration of the original Beowulf, but has, as far as I can see, chosen to not reproduce some of the rest of the structure of the poem. There is also, in my opinion, a more casual feel to his translation. Most of the book is the poem, which is probably a plus for the causal reader. I know I liked it, being able to jump right into the poem, when I first got the book back in 2004.

Nowadays though, I prefer the style of the Chickering translation. He hasn't followed the alliteration scheme of the original, but the stress patterns seem to be there, as is the caesura of the lines. Also, more than half of the book is made up of the introduction and commentary about the poem. For me, this is a plus as he's included a pronunciation guide, poetic structure analysis (including examples) and other helpful information in the introduction. The pages of the poem include footnotes of emendations and disagreements over word corrections in the Old English as well.

I haven't made it as far as the commentary yet, being just over 1200 lines into the poem, but on a quick skim, I noted that it includes a detailed history of the manuscript history.

What I'd like to find for Beowulf is a translation that does what Tolkien did for the poem Sir Gawain And The Green Knight: His translation includes both the alliteration and the poem structure. Of the translations I've read, this has become my favorite (and not simply because it is one of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien this time).

So, what makes a good translation for you?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

By Heresies Distressed - David Weber

By Heresies Distressed
David Weber
Tor Books
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0765315038
The amazon.com description is:
Now the battle for the soul of the planet Safehold has begun.

The Kingdom of Charis and the Kingdom of Chisholm have joined together, pledged to stand against the tyranny of a corrupt Church. The youthful Queen Sharleyan of Chisholm has wed King Cayleb of Charis, forging a single dynasty, a single empire, dedicated to the defense of human freedom. Crowned Empress of that empire, Sharleyan has found in Cayleb’s arms the love she never dared hope for in a “marriage of state.” In Cayleb’s cause, his defiance of the ruthless Group of Four who govern mother Church, she has found the task to which she can commit her mind and her courage. It is a cause for which she was born.

Yet there are things Sharleyan still does not know. Secrets Cayleb has not been permitted to share, even with her. Secrets like the true story of humanity on Safehold. Like the intricate web of lies, deception, and fabricated “religion” which have chained humanity for almost a thousand years. Like the existence of the genocidal alien Gbaba, waiting to complete mankind’s destruction should humans ever attract their attention once more. Like the existence of a young woman, Nimue Alban, nine hundred years dead, whose heart, mind, and memories live on within the android body of the warrior-monk she knows as Merlin.

And so Empress Sharleyan faces the the great challenge of her life unaware of all that task truly entails...or of how the secrets the man who loves her cannot share may threaten all they have achieved between them...and her own life.


By Heresies Distressed is David Weber's latest book and the sequel to the books Off Armageddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder. It picks up almost directly where By Schism Rent Asunder left off and keeps going from there.

David Weber is well up to his ususal standards in writing interesting characters and exciting events. Even the "bad" characters are three dimensional and complex in their motivations. The way Weber writes, he hints at future events (most of the time) but doesn't give things away, so the reader is always wondering what's going to happen until it actually does.

I commented in my review of By Schism Rent Asunder that I'd forgotten some of the details from the first book, and I found that that had happened this time as well. I've really got to re-read the first two books in the series. At the same time, my note of the second book being a "middle" book also holds true here as well. There has to be at least one more book in the works, given that there are plenty of things the author has left unresolved, including what's going on within the Church itself.

In this book we find out about some other people who have been charting the abuses of the Church in secret, but although there are some rumors of what's going to happen, we're left wondering (along with the suggestion that something's going to happen soon). In other words, there's plenty to build anticipation for the next book when it comes out.

Some people have commented on other blogs that they don't especially like the names Weber is using in this series. Personally, I like it. After all, the colonists were from Earth originally, so the names are Earth names. At the same time, over the centuries, the languages have changed, resulting in what we see in the Safehold series. I'm finding it fun to try and pick out what the original name (and therefore the name that the characters probably think it is) was. Most of the time it is obvious, but sometimes it takes a bit of thought. It's a detail that I like, and I haven't seen too many authors using it.

This is a series that's turning out to be just as good as David Weber's best known series about Honor Harrington, although it's very different. I've seen a few comparisons with the Dahak series as well.

Overall, I really recommend this book and the whole series that it's a part of.

Friday, July 10, 2009

On Religion and Safehold Post Link

I'm nearly finished reading David Weber's latest book: By Heresies Distressed (Should be read tonight and I'll review it tonight or tomorrow if that's the case).

However, I found a link to a link to this post (confusing chain) in my blog reader: On Religion And Safehold. It's a guest post written by David Weber, and I've got to say it's a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a great author.

I must say in the mean time, I'm absolutely enjoying this book, and it's rapidly becoming a favorite. I'm definitely going to have to re-read the previous two books in the series as well: Off Armageddon Reef and By Schism Rent Asunder.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Rambling: Main Characters and Worlds to Visit

I finished reading Memoirs Of A Geisha a couple of days ago now, and ended up thinking abou the life Sayuri lived, which then transformed into musing on the lives of main characters in a lot of other books. This was also inspired by re-reading the thread If You Could Spend A Week In Fantasyland... on LibraryThing.

Take a book that you've loved, any book and here's the question: Would you want to
  • A: take the place of the main character, for however short a time?
  • B: live in/visit that world.
I started thinking about that last night, and aside from a few young adult novels and romances, I'd have to say the answer is no. However interesting the world, there's generally going to be some reason I wouldn't want to live in it (and generally, the more interesting a book is to read, the more that's the case).

Mercedes Lackey's books are a case in point. Aside from the Elemental Masters series, she tends towards unhappy main characters: Vanyel being the best example of them all. On the other hand, Valdemar doesn't seem to be too bad a place to live, but how about the rest of the world? Still, a number of the books in this series have been classified as Young Adult in the libraries. Either way, the Valdemar books are some of the ones I re-read the most often.

Laurell K. Hamilton's books? No thanks! It might be neat to see the worlds she's created for Anita and Merry, but to live in them? Too dangerous, I think, especially if you're anywhere near the main characters.

How about Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott? It's the middle of a war. This world might be great for a guy, but for a woman? IIRC, Isolde is basically sold off to the highest bidder for her husband after her first husband dies (and only days afterwards, at that).

One world I wouldn't mind is that of The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. It's an interesting world and cultures, and also, nothing too bad ever happens to the characters.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Memoirs Of A Geisha - Arthur Golden

Memoirs of A Geisha
Arthur Golden
Vintage Canada
Copyright Date: 1997
9780676971750

The amazon.com description is:
In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha's elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work - suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

Told from Sayuri's perspective as she looks back on a long life as a geisha, Arthur Golden has written an engaging, detailed book from which I found that I could see the scenes he described. His descriptions are vivid, and the characters real (if not always likable). He has even included the fiction of a translator's note at the beginning of the book, adding another layer of verisimilitude to the picture Memoirs of a Geisha forms of Japanese life.

This isn't my typical book reading choice, but I was looking for a change of pace from fantasy and ancient history. I'm glad I did get it. Were I inclined to rate books here, this would be a definite five star novel!

Although I found the first two chapters slow going, I quickly got into this book and found that I couldn't put it down, ending up reading until far to late at night for the last three nights. I had to know how Sayuri was going to deal with the characters around her: Pumpkin, Auntie, Mother and Hatsumomo, not to mention the various clients she had.

I know very little about Japanese culture so I have no idea of how accurate the book is and how much has been romanticized for fiction. Honestly, I'm still trying to figure out if Sayuri had a happy ending or not. She certainly had an eventful life, with the Second World War smack in the middle of it.

According to the author's note at the end of the book, Arthur Golden did quite a bit of research before and during the writing of Memoirs Of A Geisha, including a number of interviews with a geisha.

That's another thing Memoirs Of A Geisha did. It made me think of the Second World War from the Japanese perspective. I'm used to reading and thinking about the European portions of the War, but less so about the Japanese/Pacific aspect.

At times while I was reading, I got the impression of Sayuri's way of life being a dying one. As I said though, with no knowledge of Japanese culture, I have no idea if this impression is the correct one. It was certainly an interesting life she led, and by the end of the book, I rather got the feeling that had I gone to New York, and looked around, I would have seen her on the streets just as she described herself, even though the book is fiction. That's how real the author managed to make her.

I'm curious. I know that Memoirs Of A Geisha has been made into a movie, but I haven't seen it. How does it compare with the book?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tuesday Thingers

I'm nearly finished Memoirs of A Geisha and taking a break from both the book and preserving fruit with this blog post.

Actually, it started life as a comment over at Wendi's Book Blog and took on a life of its' own. As a result, this is my first Tuesday Thingers post.

This week she's asking about social networking sites.

I guess I'm lukewarm at best on social networking. I use LibraryThing the most, although I have a couple of friends that really prefer GoodReads, and who have convinced me to sign up. Personally, although I have an account there, I don't really use it. As a result, I find LibraryThing to be the easier of the two to use. I love it. The site/groups has doubled my wishlist (usually in terms of history books, but it was LibraryThing that introduced me to the Naomi Novik Temeraire books).

I've never looked into Shelfari at all.

I'm getting into Twitter, but I haven't gotten into MySpace or Facebook, and to be honest, I'm not planning to. Twitter I started with the intention of using it mostly to post updates and links for both All Booked Up, which is this blog, and my J.R.R. Tolkien site: Finduilas's J.R.R. Tolkien Page. However, I've started using it to post more and more little updates about what I'm doing. It's strangely fascinating somehow.

If I had to stick with just one of the networking sites, it would probably be LibraryThing. The groups there have been such a help, including finding book titles for me that I'd completely forgotten.

Mailbox Monday - July 6

Mailbox Monday, hosted by Marcia of The Printed Page. is one of my favorite memes to read. It's interesting to see what books people are getting each week.

Anyway, my haul from last Monday to today is the following:

G. R. Grove's The Ash Spear. An E-book that I got through the LibraryThing Member Giveaway program. This is the first time I've managed to get a book through either the Early Giveaway or the Member Giveaway, so that's a landmark of sorts.

The Ash Spear is set in 6th century Wales, in the generation or so following King Arthur. It's the third book in the series, following on Storyteller and Flight of the Hawk. I haven't read either of the first two books. The Ash Spear does make numerous references to the events of the previous books, but I'm finding that I can guess as the events from the context in the current book. Regardless, I'm definitely enjoying it a lot.

The remaining books of the week I bought:

This one turned up actually in the mailbox while I was writing up this post (I ordered it a couple of weeks ago):
Making A Living In The Middle Ages by Christopher Dyer
It's an ex-library book, but aside from the stickers, you'd never know it. No yellowing, no broken spine and no creases. I think I got excellent value here. This is a book which a number of people have recommended as well, so I'm definitely glad to have gotten it.
The jacket blurb says:
In this masterly survey, Christopher Dyer reviews our thinking about the economy of Britain in hte middle ages. By analysing economic developments and change, he allows us to reconstruct, often vividly, the daily lives of people in the past. The period covered here saw dramatic alterations in the state of the economy; and this account begins with the forming of villages, towns, networks of exchange and the social hierarchy in the ninth and tenth centuries, and ends with the inflation and population explosion of the sixteenth century.

This is a book about ideas and attitudes as well as the material world, and Dyer shows how people regarded the economy and how they responded to economic change. We see the growth of towns, the clearance of woods and wastes, the Great Famine, the Black Death, and the upheavals of the fifteenth century through the eyes of those who lived through these great events.

Changes were not always planned or directed by the rich and powerful, but arose from the uncoordinated ambitions and actions of thousands of ordinary people. Making a living in a changing world presented peasants, artisans and wage workers, as well as barons and monks, with dilemmas and decisions. The lives of those individuals were also subject to impersonal forces, such as climate, but the author emphasizes the choices that were made.

This book will guide readers through the controversies of the impact of the Vikings and the Norman Conquest, the importance of population growth, the fourteenth-century crisis and urban decline. Dyer deals with issues in social history which had an impact on the economy, such as family structures, social control and social protest. He uses the evidence of archaeology and the landscape as well as the more conventional records. Clearly and robustly written, this book sets a new standard for the understanding of medieval life.


The rest of the books:
Memoirs of A Geisha by Arthur Golden
I'd never read this book before. However, now that I'm past the first two chapters, I'm finding that I can't put the book down. My guess is that I'll have it finished today or tomorrow.

The amazon.com description is:
In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha's elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O'Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work - suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.
Charmed Destinies, an anthology of stories by Mercedes Lackey, Catherine Asaro and Rachel Lee.
This is not a new book, but a newly released edition of a book from 2003, something I hadn't realized until after I bought it.
The jacket description:
Three classic stories of timeless love and tantalizing fantasy…
Counting Crows by New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey
In Lady Gwynnhwyfar's dark, lonely court, her only ally was noble Sir Atremus, a warrior willing to fight for her honor. But would her powerful spell capture his heart—or tumble the kingdom into chaos?
Drusilla's Dream by USA TODAY bestselling author Rachel Lee
Every night Drusilla Morgan dreamed of courageous and handsome Miles Kennedy. Their quest: to battle evil and find true love. Yet when the sun rose, would Drusilla's fantasy man become a reality?
Moonglow by Nebula Award–winning author Catherine Asaro
In a world where kings married for magic, Iris Larkspur was required to wed the prince—despite the spell that kept him deaf, mute and blind. Healing her bridegroom would take a power greater than any she'd ever known—one only two bonded hearts could provide!
The Lost Capital Of Byzantium by Steven Runciman
I've been to Mistra, the subject of this book, although it's been a few years. As a result, since it was somewhere I wish I'd had more time to explore, I had to have the book, so I could learn more about it. This, by the way, was not the sort of book I even remotely expected to find in my local bookstore.

The jacket description:
Clinging to a rugged hillside in the lush valley of Sparta lies Mistra, one of the most dramatically beautiful Byzantine cities in Greece, a place steeped in history, myth, and romance.

Following the Frankish conquest of the Peloponnese in the thirteenth century, William II of Villehardouin built a great castle on a hill near Sparta that later came to be known as Mistra. Ten years later, in a battle in northern Greece, Villehardouin was defeated and captured by the Byzantine emperor. The terms for his release included giving Mistra to the Byzantine Greeks. Under their rule, the city flourished and developed into a center of learning and the arts and was a focal point for the cultural development of Europe.

Sir Steven Runciman, one of the most distinguished historians of the Byzantine period, traveled to Mistra on numerous occasions and became enchanted with the place. Now published in paperback for the first time, Lost Capital of Byzantium tells the story of this once-great city—its rise and fall and its place in the history of the Peloponnese and the Byzantine empire.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Swan Maiden - Jules Watson

The Swan Maiden
Jules Watson
Bantam
Copyright Date: 2009
978-0553384642

According to the cover of The Swan Maiden:
In this lush, romantic retelling of one of the most enduring Irish legends, acclaimed Celtic historical author Jules Watson reignites the tale of Deirdre—the Irish Helen of Troy—in a story that is at once magical, beautiful, and tragic.

She was born with a blessing and a curse: that she would grow into a woman of extraordinary beauty—and bring ruin to the kingdom of Ulster and its ruler, the wily Conor. Ignoring the pleadings of his druid to expel the infant, King Conor secrets the girl child with a poor couple in his province, where no man can covet her. There, under the tutelage of a shamaness, Deirdre comes of age in nature and magic…. And in the season of her awakening, the king is inexorably drawn to her impossible beauty.

But for Deirdre, her fate as a man’s possession is worse than death. And soon the green-eyed girl, at home in waterfall and woods, finds herself at the side of three rebellious young warriors. Among them is the handsome Naisi. His heart charged with bitterness toward the aging king, and growing in love for the defiant girl, Naisi will lead Deirdre far from Ulster—and into a war of wits, swords, and spirit that will take a lifetime to wage.

Brimming with life and its lusts, here is a soaring tale of enchantment and eternal passions—and of a woman who became legend.

This is a book that I ended up buying because of what I'd read about it on various of the blogs I follow, although I can't now remember the specific blogs that reviewed it. I'm glad I did get it though.

A fascinating fantasy based on an old Irish legend, The Swan Maiden is definitely a good read. Because of the legendary base, you know the story has to follow a certain path to its conclusion, but at the same time I found that I had to keep reading to see how Jules Watson was going to reach that end.

I found the prophecy to be rather reminiscent of Greek myth: Oedipus, Paris etc, where something prophesied occurrs despite the actions taken to avoid it, as though it is the action of avoiding the prophecy that sets it in motion. That, however, seems to be fairly typical of these ancient stories. A warning perhaps?

The setting of the story is iron age Ireland, apparently a few centuries before Christ, but there are, so far as I can tell, not being an expert in Irish ancient history, no real markers to definitively pin a period down.

Jules Watson, the author has created a vivid and realistic (although magical) world which the reader can almost touch, hear and smell. That's one of the things I really liked about the book, the feeling that there was more to the world, and that there were other worlds touching on this one. Every life is interconnected and has it's place.

Aspects of this story reminded me of some of the other ancient-set stories I've enjoyed, such as Epona, written by Morgan Llwellan. Also, of parts of Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon. I will definitely admit that I'm rather partial to the mix of history and fantasy to be found here in The Swan Maiden.

On the other hand, there were times when I found the story to be a bit slow moving and I found myself skimming for a few pages. Not enough to mar my enjoyment though.

Next year, there's going to be another myth-set book by Jules Watson, and I'm going to have to keep an eye out for it as well (not to mention the trilogy she's written, which I have yet to read): The Raven Queen. I get the feeling that it is intended as a sequel to this book.

One thing I wonder at, is given how The Swan Maiden is based on Irish legend, if anyone's read the original legend, how does it compare?

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