Mea culpa

Oh, my poor book blog!  Oh, how I’ve neglected you!  I’m surprised to find that you still exist on the netz.  It’s been a whirlwind past few months, involving lots of schoolwork, work-work, moving, starting new work, and still doing schoolwork.

I did get some reading done, although I didn’t actually keep very good notes, the result of which is that I’ve completely forgotten several books. BOO ME!  For example, all I wrote for Parrot and Olivier in America is “7 out of 10? 6 out of 10?”  I was, apparently, so unimpressed with the book, that I gave away my copy, and so I can’t even skim through it to remind myself enough to write a mini-review.

So, with that said, here’s a list of the books I read over the past two and a half months while I was incognito; some of these I hope to actually post reviews of someday.  I’ll be back, reviewing regularly, in no time!


Card, Orson Scott (or is it Scott Card, Orson?): Ender’s Game:  Believe it or not, I actually wrote a full review of this book.  Stay tuned.

Card, Orson Scott: Speaker for the Dead: And here’s ANOTHER one that I wrote a review about! No way!

Card, Orson Scott: Xenocide: You know, after the first two Ender books, it kinda just went downhill from there.  The books all sort-of blurred together, and the little nitpicky annoyances (and big annoyances – like, hello women? hello lgbt peeps?) that I had with the first two books were magnified after reading, what, seven more? They weren’t annoying enough that I stopped reading, of course, but it was enough to lump all of them into one review, which is coming shortly.

Card, Orson Scott: Children of the Mind: see above

Card, Orson Scott: Ender’s Shadow: “ “

Card, Orson Scott: Shadow of the Hegemon: “ “

Card, Orson Scott: Shadow Puppets: ditto

Card, Orson Scott: Shadow of the Giant: ditto

Card, Orson Scott: Ender in Exile: yup

Carey, Peter: Parrot and Olivier in America: Can’t remember much. 7 out of 10? 6 out of 10?

Cline, Ernest: Ready Player One: Enjoyed it thoroughly. review pending.

Eugenides, Jeffrey: The Marriage Plot: Pretty darn good reading. 8 out of 10.

Herbert, Frank: Dune: Guffaw! Was this seriously taken seriously when it came out?? And through the dozen further books and movies and games, all of which were dozens too many? Wow, I can’t even. 4 out of 10.

Hochschild, Adam: King Leopold’s Ghost: LOVED IT. Cried buckets. review pending.

Shaffer, Mary Ann and Barrows, Annie: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A beautiful book.  Made me cry (and for surprisingly similar reasons as King Leopold’s Ghost). Review most likely not coming… depends on how lazy I get.  For now, 9 out of 10.

Shinn, Sharon: Jenna Starborn: hooooooly shit. So bad. review pending

Shinn, Sharon: Summers at Castle Auburn: this book, despite being written by the same author as Jenna Starborn, is actually really good. review pending

Smith, Alexis: Glaciers: Absolutely beautiful. review pending

Smith, Sherwood: Crown Duel: An old Y.A. favorite, featuring a headstrong protagonist, swordfighting, intrigue, dastardly deeds, and romance of the very innocent kind. 8 out of 10.

Stephenson, Neil: Snow Crash: Chillin’ at Grandma’s. Meh. Let’s say 7 out of 10, shall we?


Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman

Note to all: I’ve gone past a milestone!  About eight months ago (August of 2012), I started this book blog.  My first posts were lists of my top-10 favorite books of all time and the bottom of the bucket: the worst books I’d ever written down notes about after reading.  Since then, I’ve been working through my backlog of book reviews, posting reviews in the order I read the books.  I’ve finally come to the books I read in August of 2012, and so I’ve reached one of the books I mentioned in that worst-books-of-all-time posts.  I’m going to indulge my loathing of this book a little more, and re-post this review now that it comes appropriately in chronological order.

The book:

I have been on a historical-fiction kick lately.  After reading about Scotland in the 11th Century (see King Hereafter), Wales in the 12th Century seemed like a perfect sequel.  Plus, Sharon Penman is known for a series recreating the Napoleonic Wars … PLUS DRAGONS!  How awesome is that?  Who wouldn’t want to go fighting the French ON A FUCKING DRAGON?  However, Here Be Dragons is not said series, and has only symbolic dragons, and I was sorely disappointed.  Reading Sharon Penman after reading Dorothy Dunnett is like reading Christopher Paolini after J.R.R. Tolkein; it’s like trading an ocean for a sandbox.

The plot is ploddingly simple, but Penman tries to shake it up a bit by jumping from year to year, from narrator to narrator.  All of the narrators sound the same, however: naïve and petty, no matter if it’s the King of England or a 6-year-old girl.  Because each chapter takes place in a different year, we just have to assume each person gets older as the numbers turn, without seeing any evidence of character development in the writing.

And the writing!  Ye gods, the writing.  Hear me, O Aspiring Historical Fiction Author: Just because this is Ye Olden Times does not mean you should throw in “mahap”s and “wroth”s whenever you feel like it.  (They were speaking Middle English, Middle Welsh, and Old Norman, anyways, so your fancy words really are just stupidly extraneous.) Sentences such as the following will earn you a shunning: “I know not with whom my mother’ll be more wroth, me or my Uncle Gruffydd…” (p. 28).  Seriously, seriously, that sentence deserves a sharp kick in the nuts.  Here’s another passage that got my goat; in the following, one of the main characters is thinking of Eleanor of Aquitaine: “She knew she should only feel disapproval toward a wayward wife, a rebel Queen, but she was aware, instead, of a sharp, piercing regret, an ache for that wild spirit caged at last within Salisbury Tower” (p. 143).  Wild spirit, indeed.  And again, just because this is Ye Olden Times, you do not need to give narrators olden-ish Thoughts just to make sure we readers understand these characters Think Differently Because They Are Not Of This Millennium, and then suddenly undermine said Thoughts to make the narrator Relatable And Believable for us modern-day, easily gullible readers. 1 out of 10.

Here Be Dragons

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

View from this book:

Chillin’ in the Tetons, summer ’12, happily cracking open a book by one of my favorite authors of all time: Dorothy Dunnett.

The book:

I normally don’t write about re-reads here because, by the second time around, it’s too hard to capture the emotions of a first encounter with a book.  However, Dorothy Dunnett’s works are intricate enough to make each re-read surprising and enjoyable.  This is the second time I’ve read King Hereafter, a standalone book (as compared to her fabulous Lymond and Niccolò series), that combines all Dunnett’s gift for rich detail, plot twists, character development, and the re-creation of the historical worlds she has chosen.

In this particular book, our hero is Macbeth, fabled King of Scotland (whose story bears no resemblance to that of the sly and evil protagonist in The Scottish Play).  We travel to Scotland before it was known as Scotland, journeying through the Orkney Islands, Norway, Denmark, Germany, and Rome in the early 1000s.  There are hints of a Norman future for England, but as of yet, the world of Northern Europe is full of Norsemen and Irishmen, of factions that have all but been erased throughout history, and of men who go a-viking in dragon-prowed longships.

The characters in this book are superbly developed, and they seem to fit right in to their historical time. (What do I know about life in Scotland 1000 years ago? Nothing. This book, however, was pretty darn convincing, and I had no trouble imagining these characters being right at home in their designated era. There’s nothing more annoying in historical fiction than plucky hero(ine)s who have strangely modern sentiments when surrounded by their bumbling, “old-fashioned” counterparts.) Nobody bumbles in this book, and nobody suddenly spouts forth on The Rights of Man in an age where brutal, short lives were the norm.

As fascinated as I always am by Dunnett’s clever wordplay, I feel that her writing got too clever for me in this book.  She wrote the Lymond Chronicles first, and they still stand as some of my all-time favorite books.  King Hereafter came next, followed by the Niccolò series, and with each passing book, Dunnett’s writing grew more and more opaque.  King Hereafter paints a wonderfully rich picture of the turmoil in the northern part of the world at the turn of the last millennium, but it cost a lot of brain power to follow the serpentine plot twists and decipher the references to long-forgotten epic poems.  I could never quite be part of the story in King Hereafter as I could in the Lymond Chronicles, and the entire time I felt like I have to admire this glittering masterpiece from a distance.  For that, I have to knock a point off a Perfect 10, but this book truly is a magnum opus.  9 out of 10.

King Hereafter

The Earth Speaks by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler

View from this book:

Rangering around in Grand Teton National Park during the summer of 2012.  Every visitor center in Grand Teton has this book either in their library or bookstore, and it is treated by most rangers as a coveted relic of Earth Wisdom.  One of my roommates gave me a copy of The Earth Speaks as a going-away gift at the end of the summer of 2011, and I waited until I’d gotten back to the mountains during the following summer to treat myself to this beautiful collection.

The book:

O, Nature!  What are men compared to rocks and mountains?  What are mountains compared to the odes literary men have composed to them?  This beautiful book is bursting with quotes and poems encouraging us all to fall in love with our Mother Earth.  It functions marvelously as a literary anthology and as an almanac of words to live by.  I have composed an entire ranger program around this book, and here’s one of the quotes that has so inspired me:

“This grand show is eternal.  It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” —John Muir

8 out of 10.

The Earth Speaks

Mañana, Mañana by Peter Kerr

View from this book:

Reading and frolicking in the summertime of 2012.

The book:

Having lived for a year (well, eight months, but who’s counting?) on Mallorca, I’m happy to read about my temporary home.  This book was written by a Scottish chap who, along with his wife and two teenage sons, bought a small finca on Mallorca with the intention of settling down.  He narrates charmingly the family’s first summer on Mallorca, although with the amount of anecdotes supplied in order to make this book readable, I’d imagine that a lot more summers’ adventures were condensed into this particular literary-worthy emblematic summer.

If you haven’t lived on Mallorca, then I’m not sure how you’ll react to Mañana, Mañana.  A lot of the “hilarious” stories weren’t actually funny, and a lot of the book’s inherent quirkiness depends on your being able to nod sagely along with the author because you, too, have encountered old Mallorcan women on your walk home every day. (Although, some reviewers apparently thought it was better than A Year in Provence, which similarly details an Englishman’s settling into southern France. So, if you’re into expat-living-with-charming-natives narratives, then this might be your cup of tea, whether you know anything about the island or not).  Apart from the author’s rather terrible mallorquín, the book gave a loving and accurate portrayal of Mallorca about a decade ago, and I loved reading about bits of the island that I’d learned to treasure.  6 out of 10.

Mañana, mañana 2

non-bookish adventure a la mexicana

Poor little book blog.  I neglected you terribly while I frolicked in Mexico for the past week; lo siento mucho.

To make it up to you, I’ll share some nice photos of me having fun while you were home alone, languishing alone and unheeded on the interwebs.

Yup, that's a volcano right there behind me.

Yup, that’s a volcano right there behind me.


Ultimate Relaxation.

Ultimate Relaxation.

Walking in the forest in Mexico in March was exactly like walking in the forest at home in Montana in August.  There were pine trees, fir trees, lupines, groundsel, and it even SMELLED like the Rockies.

Walking in the forest in Mexico in March was exactly like walking in the forest at home in Montana in August. There were pine trees, fir trees, lupines, groundsel, and it even SMELLED like the Rockies.

Thanks, little book blog, for indulging me.  I promise I’ll feed you with new bookish chow soon.