3 Sep 2009

Monthly Reading: August'09

Woah there! This has definitely been a month for books! I think I've pretty much gone through most of the books I got last month in London (some of them were pretty quick reads). That's what happens when I've got a supply of entertaining books to look forward to, I tend to devour them! Having family over helps 'cause it means communal reading after lunch or by the pool, in the evening. When we're together it means less TV for me and more books! ;o)

So here's what went on my night stand this month (I hope you enjoy historical fiction and SciFi/Fantasy!)

Azincourt by Bernard Cornwell
Through the tale of an archer, a longbowman in the army of Henry V of England, Cornwell tells us the tale of two battles that shocked Europe in the early 15th century. The first the pillaging of Soissons by French troupes (fighting against Burgundy), the second the famous battle of Azincourt (I have a French education so I'm sticking to the French name!) where the presence of the famous longbowmen basically saved the English troupes from a French army that massively outnumbered them. By making it a personal story of this archer, Nick Hook, we're made to care about the characters and their fate and so get engrossed in the tales of sieges and battles. The descriptions are very vivid and take you back to another time and place. I got a laugh when the army walks through muddy Picardy, and the soldiers' boots get stuck so many decide to go barefoot. Reminded me of a geology outing to the mouth of the Escaut when I was in Belgium, traipsing through the Slick and the Schorre, and our boots kept sticking in the mud, sometimes so abruptly we'd trip and fall on our faces in the mud! :p
The language works as well (although since he decided to mix some French in there in places I wish he would have done it more uniformely, the French soldiers wouldn't be speaking English to each other!). And the book includes a kind of a post-script, with a short discussion on the importance of the longbowman to the English army during the 100 years war (and why the French didn't have any), on the significance of this battle, on Shakespeare's retelling of this event in his play. Very useful for anyone interested in History.
Oh, and I actually picked this one up at the last minute in WHSmith at the airport 'cause they had a 4 for 3 deal (did I mention I'm a sucker when it comes to book sales?) and although I haven't particularly cared for his previous novels (the ones I've read), the subject matter did interest me (I've read way too little in the period of the 100 years war!) so I figured I'd give it a try. Well, yay me! Good choice! It was a very compelling read and I'm sure I'll be picking it up again sometime in the future. :o)

Death's Daughter by Amber Benson
A very quirky and original take on the role of the Grim Reaper! Consider Death as a business man, big CEO of this company that was created in agreement by God and the Devil. Now imagine you're his daughter! Even better, imagine Death and the whole board of executives has been kidnapped and you have to take over his job after passing 3 teensy-weeny little tests (such as collecting one of Cerberus' - the 3 headed dog that guards Hell - puppies... Oops! Well one thing's for sure, hijinks ensue!
Can you tell I enjoyed it? ;o) First person narrative so very dynamic. Entertaining, the story just takes you along for the ride. Although I must admit to not being partial to some of the inner dialogue (parts of it sound influenced by the whole Sex and the City inspired fascination with shoes and clothes that seems to have taken over the pop culture world, what's with that anyway?!) I really liked this original story of a girl who really doesn't want to get involved in the family business, and who can blame her?

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
Alison Weir takes us into the Virgin Queen's childhood and youth. When she's a king's daughter and a princess, when she's a bastard child daughter of a traitor, when she's a king's sister and later a queen's sister until finally the throne is hers. We get to see what's going on during Henry VIII's reign from the point of view of his young daughter, how she begins to understand what's going on around her, how she later tries to avoid being caught up in plots and just survive. We see how Mary's affection for her sister as a child grows cold as they both grow older and Mary starts seeing more of Anne Boleyn in Elisabeth.
I picked this one up on a mistaken conception that I had read a biography of Alienor of Aquitaine by the same author and had found it very well written and entertaining so I thought I'd give her historical fiction a chance. Well I mixed up my authors (I had read Amy Kelly's), need to pay more attention next time! Because although the story was entertaining and I enjoyed the tale of the life of young Elisabeth (Tudor), it wasn't as compelling as I had expected. The writing was a bit too simplistic, bland. The dialogue left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless it does a good job of bringing history to life. So even though I was highly interested by the subject matter (I've always been fascinated by strong Queens such as Elisabeth or even more Alienor), it would have been a better book to check out of a library, not one to buy with the idea of reading it again in the future (as I do most my books). Still, if the story of a young Elisabeth interests you, and you prefer a fictional rendering to a straight biography (which Weir has also written), then you'll probably enjoy this!

Outlaw by Angus Donald
A new take on the Robin Hood legend?! How could I resist!!! :p
One of the books I picked up in London, I read it on my road trip north... even while driving! (no I'm not suicidal, it's just that at some points the traffic on the highway was at a standstill, so I actually had enough time to read 2 chapters! lol!)
This is a much bloodier telling of the legend than any I'd read before. It positions Robin as a rogue warlord in Sherwood, bent on taking down the Sheriff of Nottingham and obtaining a pardon from the king so he can marry his love the Countess of Locksley Mary-Anne. It takes place a decade earlier than other stories (so at the end of King Henry's reign instead of during King Richard's), and is told from the point of view (first person narrative and all) of a young Alan Dale, pickpocket and troubadour in training.
Very thrilling, exciting etc. Very real. Hard to put down. Only bad thing about it is that it's going to be continued (5-part series) and I'll have to wait to see what happens next! On the other hand is written well enough that it's a self-contained novel.

Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
I don't even remember when or how I fell into the amazing world of Dune created by Frank Herbert, all I know is I was totally absorbed by the intricate details and characters he had created for this world. The underlying philosophies (ecology, anti-technology, "civilisation", what it means to be human) challenged my intellect, while the fabulous adventure of it all just fired up my imagination. 7 books was definitely not enough! And while I was wary at first of Brian Herbert's continuing to develop his father's universe with the help of Kevin J. Anderson (and I'll admit they're not up to his level), I'm still very glad they did because it's allowed me to plunge myself back in that world periodically. It's been like becoming reacquainted with old friends, getting to know more about them each time.
This time the authors delve into the life of Paul Muad'dib in the period between Dune and Dune Messiah and between House Corrine and Dune (so we're simultaneously watching the legend of Muad'dib and his Jihad grow and become unstoppable, and we're getting a glimpse into a story of his youth that helps us understand how he became who he is). Although the narrative was very interesting as a whole, I kept getting a bit tired at the constant flipping back and forth between time zones... that's a narration technique that seems to have flourished since Katherine Neville's The Eight and while I enjoyed it at the time (and still do for certain stories), I'm getting pretty fed up with it! It was risky of the authors to write an episode that takes place between the original volumes because it does pale in comparison to those (their other stories are further apart in the History and so don't suffer as much). Because even though they do an excellent job, they're still not Brian Herbert!

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan:
Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief; and The Sea of Monsters; and The Titan's Curse; and The Battle of the Labyrinth
This is a young adult series that posits that the ancient Greek Gods are alive and kicking, and still up to their old tricks i.e. falling for mortal men and women resulting in the birth of half-bloods (not to be confused with a mudblood in the Potter world). Half-bloods as in half gods / half mortal and therefore "heroes" like those from the Greek Legends (Perseus, Achilles, Odyseus, Jason, Theseus etc.). Since the Greek Gods are responsible for the birth of Western Civilisation they move around to stay located at the epicentre of Western Civilisation in its present form, so nowadays that would be the U.S.A. And guess where Mount Olympus is? On top of the Empire State building! :p
So, I normally wouldn't be wandering around the young adult / children's section of a bookstore anymore (unless I'm shopping for my students), but I read about these novels over at NeoLibrarium. One of that blog's contributors -Gambit- was very vocal about these books, about how much fun they are, about how they bridge the (reader's) age gap like Harry Potter did etc. And since I'm still a sucker for anything related to Greek mythology (a subject I used to know to perfection in Junior High, I was obsessed with it!) I decided to give them a try! And guess what, he was right! They are a lot of fun! Very entertaining, hard to put down (which makes them a quick read, easily done in a day) and quite original! Although they don't cross over to an adult audience as well as Harry Potter did (I think the stories are a bit to light-hearted for that, unless there were some hidden depths I missed), they still make for a good read, with some fun characters you want to root for (while you wish they were a bit more developed) and some good laughs whenever our heroes run into some brooding Greek Gods taking on "mortal" guise.
Oh, and the chapter titles are brilliant! "I Accidentally Vaporize My Maths Teacher" "I Become Supreme Lord Of The Bathroom" "I Play Dodgeball With Cannibals" "The Vice-principal Gets A Missile Launcher" "I Wrestle Santa's Evil Twin" and so on and so forth! :p
The books are published by Penguin (at least the UK edition I've got) and say for ages 9+. Well I think 9 might be pushing it a bit, unless your kid is a very good reader (I know the students I had this year wouldn't be able to read them yet), but I'd say they should be very popular with any kid who likes adventure stories, and if from there you can guide towards some of the original Greek Mythology then even better!
Now I hope the fifth book "Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian" hits paperback soon, I'd kind of like to read it and see how that prophecy wraps up! ;o)

Touch Not The Cat by Mary Stewart
I picked this one up out of my bookshelves the other day when I was pondering what to read (not wanting to start any of the ones I had set aside to take to Belgium). It's a dusty, very old volume (book was written in the mid-70s) and I have no idea where it came from as its definitely not my parents' style of novel! I had read it before (was intrigued when I first came upon because I looooove Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy) but only remembered it as an intriguing mystery. Unfortunately I remembered all the other details about 1/2 way through the book so there were no surprises. It's not as good as the Merlin trilogy but it still is a thrilling read, kept me reading so I could see the story wrapped up!


  1. (I hope you enjoy historical fiction and SciFi/Fantasy!)

    I hardly ever read anything else! (for fun anyway)

    I'm intrigued by Amber Benson's book, mainly because I like her, she always seems nice in interviews (assuming this is indeed Tara from Buffy, which I think it is, I remember reading about the book somewhere). I want to read Percy Jackson at some point too, though I might be lazy and see the film first!

  2. Yup it's Tara, that's what drew me to it originally.

    The Percy Jackson books are fun! The movie will probably be a special effects flash, but I'm not sure how I'll feel "hearing" all the 21st century lingo instead of reading it (the idea of a clash between classical Greece and the 21st century kind of worries me)


Hey there! Yes you! The quiet one in the back... I'd love it if you hung out for a bit and shared your thoughts!

I might stop by your place with an answer, but I'm more likely to reply right here so click on "email follow up comments" if you'd like to see what I and others have to say and come continue the conversation! ;o)