Monday, February 16, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? - February 16th 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted each week over at Book Journey and it's a great way to grow your TBR pile too by seeing what others are reading.

I missed out on posting last week, so I'm going to include my totals in this week's reading. I've also done some book buying this week, so I'm going to include a list of those as well at the end.

Since my last post, I've read:
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor.

Although it took me a lot longer than I thought it would to get through this, it was a fascinating and educational read. If the legends and accounts of the Amazons, be they the ancient Greek, Persian, Chinese or others intrigue you, this is the book for you. Adrienne Mayor has gathered together the legends and the archaeological evidence that backs them up in her quest to prove that the Amazons were not just mythical but were real people.

Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey
Book one of the Mage Winds trilogy.
Read for the Valdemar Challenge and the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge.

Winds of Change by Mercedes Lackey
Book Two of the Mage Winds trilogy.
Read for the Valdemar Challenge and the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge.

I'm currently reading:
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
I started reading this one last night, and I'm already loving it - even though I'm only about 30 pages in at the moment. This was also one of the books I bought in the past week.

Winds of Fury by Mercedes Lackey
Book three of the Mage Winds trilogy. I read partway through the first chapter last night after finishing Winds of Change, and just stalled out. The book starts from Ancar's point of view - a first in the whole series - and it seems like his favorite word is the "B" word. I just couldn't take it at the time.

The books I bought in the past week:
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The product description:
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE • Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.
In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Appearing in paperback for the first time—with twenty arresting new photos and an extensive Q&A with the author—Unbroken is an unforgettable testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit, brought vividly to life by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.

Hailed as the top nonfiction book of the year by Time magazine • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography and the Indies Choice Adult Nonfiction Book of the Year award
I've just started reading this one and I'm already loving it. I can't believe that it took me until now to finally give the book a chance.

The Book of Negroes - Lawrence Hill
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
The product description:
Lawrence Hill’s award-winning novel is a major television miniseries airing on BET Networks.
The Book of Negroes (based on the novel Someone Knows My Name) will be BET’s first miniseries. The star-studded production includes lead actress Aunjanue Ellis (Ray, The Help), Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, A Few Good Men), Oscar and Emmy winner Louis Gossett Jr. (A Raisin in the Sun, Boardwalk Empire), and features Lyriq Bent (Rookie Blue), Jane Alexander (The Cider House Rules), and Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line). Director and co-writer Clement Virgo is a feature film and television director (The Wire) who also serves as producer with executive producer Damon D’Oliveira (What We Have).
In this “transporting” (Entertainment Weekly) and “heart-stopping” (Washington Post) work, Aminata Diallo, one of the strongest women characters in contemporary fiction, is kidnapped from Africa as a child and sold as a slave in South Carolina. Fleeing to Canada after the Revolutionary War, she escapes to attempt a new life in freedom.
Ok. I'm going to shred this blurb a little bit. First of all, that they're saying it's based on the novel Someone Knows My Name - Up here in Canada, the book has always been called The Book of Negroes. It's only in the USA that they changed the name. Second, the blurb given is more about the stars in the TV series. has a better description, given for the illustrated edition (which I would dearly love to have):
This beautiful full-colour gift edition of the new Canadian classic, The Book of Negroes, shares with readers the many photos, works of art and documents that inspired Lawrence Hill to create his award-winning work. It adds to the novel more than 150 images: early maps and documents, archival photos, period paintings and never-before-published pages from the original handwritten ledger called the Book of Negroes. Readers will travel the world with Aminata Diallo, from a West African village to an indigo plantation in South Carolina, through the tough streets of New York City and the harsh climate of Nova Scotia to the coast of Sierra Leone, and finally to an abolitionist’s home in London.
However, I have to agree that the TV series The Book of Negroes was absolutely amazing. I'm now looking forward to the DVD release, and hoping that it comes out on Blu-Ray as well as DVD. There were moments where the series actually drove me to tears - and anger at the treatment meted out to Aminata.

The final book I bought this week was a crochet book:
Blueprint Crochet Sweaters - Robyn Chachula
Blueprint Crochet Sweaters by Robyn Chachula
The product description:
Learn the must-have basics of sweater construction and ways to achieve better-fitting garments!
Best-selling author of Blueprint Crochet, Robyn Chachula presents an approachable resource on the basics of crochet design. This friendly introduction to sweater and garment construction will give you a deeper understanding of working with crochet and help you make better-fitting garments in the process.

In this collection of 16 patterns, Robyn focuses on four basic garment types and their variations--"classic" construction (including raglan, drop-sleeve, and side-saddle sleeve); unique construction (side-to-side or from the bottom up, around the shoulder, and back down); motif construction; and top-down (both round and raglan types).

The perfect introduction to the building blocks of crochet sweater construction, Blueprint Crochet Sweaters breaks down intimidating garment design into easily digestible parts, offering a deeper appreciation and understanding of how to create projects that reflect your own personal style.
I know I've been hesitant to start a project as complex as a sweater - for several reasons, including the cost of that much yarn. Reading through the introduction to this book, well it isn't exactly helping to make things seem simple, but it's certainly going to make sure that I'm prepared when I do attempt a sweater. Not to mention, there are some great looking patterns in here too.

Winds of Change - Mercedes Lackey

Winds of Change - Mercedes Lackey
Winds of Change (Mage Winds book two)
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1993

The product description:
 In The Mage Winds trilogy, which began with the best-selling novel, Winds of Fate, author Mercedes Lackey continues the epic that started with her first published book, Arrows of the Queen introduced readers to the remarkable land of Valdemar, the kingdom protected by its Heralds--men and women gifted with extraordinary mind powers--aided and served by their mysterious Companions--horselike beings who know the many secrets of Valdemar's magical heritage. None but the Companions remember the long-ago age when high magic was lost to Valdemar as the last Herald-Mage gave his life to protect his kingdom from destruction by dark sorceries.
But now the protective barrier set so long ago over Valdemar is crumbling, and with the realm imperiled by the dark magic of Ancar of Hardorn, Princess Elspeth, Herald and heir to the throne, has gone on a desperate quest in search of a mentor who can teach her to wield her fledgling mage-powers and help her to defend her threatened kingdom.
Winds of Change is the sequel to Winds of Fate, which I read and reviewed last week. Again, I found that I couldn't put the book down at all, following the various characters through their lives, although most of the chapters were alternating between the viewpoints of Elspeth and Darkwind, there were chapters seen through Skif's eyes and Nyara among others. And, of course the inevitable chapters from Mornelithe Falconsbane's veiwpoint.

This is the book that had several of my favorite scenes in it - the various tricks played on Falconsbane, Darkwind and Elspeth getting to know one another better - including the fashion show, and, of course, the reveal of Firesong's ancestry.

As with the previous book, there's plenty of foreshadowing going on for future books, and also lots that ties the Mage Winds books in with the earlier Valdemar novels - at both ends of the history, because we're getting a sketched outline of the events from the Mage Wars novels too. And, don't forget the other names that Falconsbane has gone by in previous lives.

At the same time, I do have some nit-picks for continuity and consistency going on as I read these books. Starting with the dyheli. In Winds of Change, they are portrayed as being rather abbreviated in how they mindspeak. However, in the Owl books, they're much, much stronger mindspeakers than that. We also see some slightly different views on Skif's background between these books and Take a Thief. Maybe I'm just more aware of it than usual given how closely together I'm reading my way through Mercedes Lackey's books.

I'm reading this for two separate challenges, the Valdemar Reading Challenge and the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Winds of Fate - Mercedes Lackey

Winds of Fate - Mercedes Lackey
Winds of Fate (Mage Winds Book One)
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1991

The product description:
Lackey, who has enchanted readers since the publication of her first novel, Arrows of the Queen in 1987, scores another hit with the paperback release of the first book in an exciting new series. High magic had been lost to Valdemar when he gave his life to save his kingdom from destruction by the dark sorceries. Now it falls to Elspeth Herald, heir to the throne, to take up the challenge and seek a mentor who will awaken her mage abilities.
As the description is not that great, here's the jacket blurb as well:
High Magic has been lost to Valdemar centuries ago when the last Herald-Mage gave his life to save the kingdom from destruction by dark sorceries.

Yet now the realm is at risk again. And Elspeth, Herald and heir to the throne must take up the challenge, abandoning her home to find a mentor who can awaken her untrained mage abilities. But others, too, are being caught up in a war against sorcerous evil.
The Tayledras scout Darkwind is the first to stumble across the menace creeping forth from the "Uncleansed Lands." And as sorcery begins to take its toll, Darkwind may be forced to call upon powers he has sworn never to use again if he and his people are to survive an enemy able to wreak greater devastation with spells of destruction than with swords...
Yes, this is a re-read, but it's been so long ago that it might as well not be. I remembered the general course of events, but the specifics were almost new to me again. One thing I do remember though, is that the last time I tried to re-read Winds of Fate, I just couldn't get into it. Not the problem this time. Once I was past the first chapter or two, I couldn't put the book down.

I was also noticing a fair bit of foreshadowing going on as well - especially for the next series, the Mage Storms books (Storm Warning, Storm Rising and Storm Breaking). Not only foreshadowing, but little details that tied into the previous books that I hadn't really caught on to before - probably because I have never done a concentrated re-read through the whole series prior to this. It's little things mostly - the off-hand reference to Roald visiting the Plains or the mentions of Jendar for example.

Winds of Fate is the first of several Valdemar books that had black-and-white illustrations between the chapters, - in a few different styles over the series. Its also the first of six or so longer books with a smaller font-size IIRC. I like it, but unlike many of the other books in the series, I don't know if this trilogy crosses over to the YA market as well. On the other hand, I don't think this one's any more dark or violent than Arrow's Fall, so I don't really know.

This was also the first for a new style of story - alternating chapters and perspectives, where one chapter was from Elspeth's point of view and the next would be from the point of view of Darkwind - a Tayledras scout. As well, there were a few chapters from other points of view mixed in, although those were the main two.

I did get more of a feeling of the history of the world through reading Winds of Fate (and now Winds of Change, which I'm reading now) - things just seem to be a bit more fleshed out in these books, and Elspeth as a main character really grew on me.

I'm really struggling to understand why I was thinking that this wasn't one of my favorites in the Valdemar world, because I most definitely enjoyed the read this time.

I'm reading this for two separate challenges, the Valdemar Reading Challenge and the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Big And Lofty Yarns

My latest spinning-related order arrived today from Interweave:

Big and Lofty Yarns DVD
Big and Lofty Yarns
Maggie Casey
Interweave Press
Run Time: 71 Minutes
Copyright Date:2011

The product description:
When you start spinning, it seems like all you can spin are fat, lumpy yarns-then you get the hang of it and figure out how to make fine, smooth, thin yarns, and you spend the rest of your spinning career trying to figure out how to make those smooth yarns big and lofty. In this video, Maggie Casey demystifies the process, explaining just how to make miles of the soft big yarns you want to knit, weave, and crochet with. With this workshop, you will: Prepare you wool on a drumcarder. Learn how to adjust your wheel's take-up. Use the perfect drafting technique for trapping air in your yarn and getting it on your bobbin as quickly as possible. Learn how to preserve the loftiness of the yarn through plying and finishing. Maggie Casey's soothing voice and gentle encouragement are surpassed only by her spinning knowledge gleaned through years of teaching at her spinning shop in Boulder, Colorado. Let her guide you on your spinning journey to a land of big, beautiful yarns-made by you!
I ordered with it 4 ounces of raspberry colored wool roving to practice with.

The irony though, is that I've just started a 200 gram project that's going to take me a while to complete on the wheel: the finest lace-weight that I've managed to date. So, while I can watch the dvd through any time, it's going to be a while before I can put things into practice. Still, I'm looking forward to learning some new techniques.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World - Adrienne Mayor

The Amazons: Lives And Legends Of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World - Adrienne Mayor
The Amazons: Lives And Legends Of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World
Adrienne Mayor
Princeton University Press
Copyright Date: September 22, 2014

The product description:
Amazons--fierce warrior women dwelling on the fringes of the known world--were the mythic archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Heracles and Achilles displayed their valor in duels with Amazon queens, and the Athenians reveled in their victory over a powerful Amazon army. In historical times, Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, and the Roman general Pompey tangled with Amazons.

But just who were these bold barbarian archers on horseback who gloried in fighting, hunting, and sexual freedom? Were Amazons real? In this deeply researched, wide-ranging, and lavishly illustrated book, National Book Award finalist Adrienne Mayor presents the Amazons as they have never been seen before. This is the first comprehensive account of warrior women in myth and history across the ancient world, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Great Wall of China.

Mayor tells how amazing new archaeological discoveries of battle-scarred female skeletons buried with their weapons prove that women warriors were not merely figments of the Greek imagination. Combining classical myth and art, nomad traditions, and scientific archaeology, she reveals intimate, surprising details and original insights about the lives and legends of the women known as Amazons. Provocatively arguing that a timeless search for a balance between the sexes explains the allure of the Amazons, Mayor reminds us that there were as many Amazon love stories as there were war stories. The Greeks were not the only people enchanted by Amazons--Mayor shows that warlike women of nomadic cultures inspired exciting tales in ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Central Asia, and China.

Driven by a detective's curiosity, Mayor unearths long-buried evidence and sifts fact from fiction to show how flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes were mythologized as Amazons, the equals of men. The result is likely to become a classic.
This was the book I pre-ordered back in September on the strength of a friend's recommendation. I'm really glad I did, even though it took me a while to get through it.

The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World is the first book I've heard of to specifically examine the evidence for the existence of the Amazons that we mostly know through ancient Greek legends.

Adrienne Mayor takes us through her conclusions in an orderly and easy to understand manner, using Greek primary source material - e.g. Herodotus and also the Greek myths as well as archaeological evidence - discussing where and how the two match up, as well as where they don't. After she's covered the Greek sources, she branches out into other cultures which have similar myths and does the same with them: India, the Persians, Chinese etc - as well as the surviving myths from the cultures that spawned the Amazons themselves.

Aiding in our journey through these myths are the numerous photographs and maps scattered throughout the book. Most of them are black and white, but there is also one section of colour-plates as well.

This was definitely an interesting read that's making me take a second look at what I thought I knew about some aspects of Greek culture and myth. Overall, I also have to say that Adrienne Mayor is a very good author who transmits information clearly and in an interesting manner - see also my review of her earlier book, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs.

Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Feb. 2, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted each week by Sheila of the blog Book Journey.

Yes, I know I fell silent for the week this week, but it's been more or less a bust as far as finishing any books; something I thought might happen last week when I started reading Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. I'm enjoying the read, but it's slow going - I'm only on chapter 12 right now. I've also had other things taking up my time: work and my crafting projects (but mostly work).

In terms of crafting though, I've gotten a couple more rows done on one of my shawl projects this week, and finished chain-plying the blue Merino-Silk blend. Now I've got to skein and wash it. Most of those two projects have been worked on in my daily 5-10 minutes I've challenged myself to do. Since last July, I've only missed about five days total. Otherwise I've managed to spend at least five minutes a day on some form of craft each day.

Books read in the last week: None

Books I'm currently reading:
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon and the Amazons book by Adrienne Mayor.

Books I'm planning to read:
I refuse to start another book until one of these two has been finished.

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I know I'm a bit late in the day this week, but I got behind on my reviewing so I wanted to play catch-up and get the reviews finished and posted.

Anyway, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a fun meme hosted by Sheila of the blog Book Journey each Monday. The meme allows us to talk about the books we read in the previous week, as well as the books we're currently reading, and even, to plan out the week ahead. It's also been known to lead to toppling TBR piles and other problems like that. Are those even problems?

Last week was another three-book week. I'm really enjoying those. Mostly, that's been due to the Valdemar Reading Challenge and the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge. I've also had some success with some of my other hobbies, finishing a crocheted shawl after more than a year. That's spurred me on with some of my other projects too - I'm teaching myself how to card wool, and I'm about half-done plying the fiber I'd spun on my wheel over the fall and winter.

I read:
  1. Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey
  2. Oathblood by Mercedes Lackey. These are the collected short stories about Tarma and Kethry that were published in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
  3. St Patrick's Gargoyle by Katherine Kurtz.
I'm currently reading:
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. I can't seem to get into Outlander this time, so I've tried jumping ahead by a book to the second book in the series. I've only just started the read, so I don't know yet if this is going to end up being abandoned later in the week.

Adrienne Mayor's book on the Amazons. Almost abandoned, but not quite. I've been enjoying the read, I'm just not reading enough pages at a time to be able to really keep my focus on this book.

With the two books on my currently reading list, I don't know if I'm going to have the time to add any books to the stack. I fully expect Dragonfly in Amber to take up most of the week, if not even longer.

St Patrick's Gargoyle - Katherine Kurtz.

St. Patrick's Gargoyle
Katherine Kurtz
Ace Books
Copyright: 2002

The description from Katherine Kurtz's website:
In St. Patrick's Gargoyle, Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral becomes the target of an act of vandalism, and the gargoyle guardian of the building enlists the aid of an aging Knight of Malta to assist him in his pursuit of the vandals. Combining an interest in Irish history with snatches of Templar lore, the author of the Deryni and Adept series creates a story of angelic powers and demonic forces locked in an eternal struggle. Engaging characters and gentle irony add a light touch to a metaphysical drama that belongs in most fantasy collections.
I've read and reviewed St. Patrick's Gargoyle previously, back in 2011. It's a really good book, but I find that I have to be in the right mood for it these days. This time was close, but not quite, so I found some of the character attitudes to be a bit grating. Still, by half-way through, I was finding that yet again I couldn't put the book down.

St. Patrick's Gargoyle is whimsical at the right times, if more than a bit irreverent, and full of little bits of historical imagery. Also, as with so many other Katherine Kurtz novels, the Knights Templar do come up as a part of the story.

It's reading books like this one that make me want to travel to places like Ireland to see where the author's inspiration comes from. You? Do you find that reading a book makes you want to see the places described?

I know I'll be re-reading this one again at some point. Even when it grates, the story is beautiful - especially the ending.

Read for the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge.

Oathblood - Mercedes Lackey

Oathblood - Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1998

The product description:
This exciting new anthology includes a new novella featuring Mercedes Lackey's most popular heroines, Tarma (one of the sword-sworn and most feared of all warriors) and Kethry (who wields magic and weapons for the greater good), whose fates are suddenly bound together in blood by the powers that control their destinies. Also included in the unique volume is the complete collection of Lackey's short stories about these two brave sisters as they answer the call of their destinies with sword and sorcery!  
Nearly all of the Tarma and Kethry stories published in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley have been collected in this volume, along with two previously unpublished stories.

The stories are:
  • Sword Sworn (which was published in Sword and Sorceress III)
    This story details the events that triggered Tarma's taking the oath of Sword-Sworn, and the events that followed, including her meeting with Kethry.
  • Turnabout (Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine)
    The story behind the song "Threes". Turnabout also formed a chapter in The Oathbound IIRC.
  • The Making of a Legend (Sword and Sorceress VI)
    Leslac's introduction, and rather hilarious. The story behind "The Leslac Version" published in the song section of Oathbreakers.
  • Keys (Sword and Sorceress V)
    Another story that made up a chapter in The Oathbound.
  • A Woman's Weapon (Sword and Sorceress IX)
    Tarma and Kethry end up investigating another poisoning. Rather a neat story.
  • The Talisman (Sword and Sorceress VII)
    Definitely a somewhat different story. And one that shows the dangers of a sword like Need.
  • A Tale of Heroes (Sword and Sorceress IV)
    A happy ending for a side-story. Kethry and Tarma aren't there this time to deal with the main problem, but instead end up resolving problems for some pretty ordinary folk. It's always nice to see Tarma around kids. They love her, and she loves them.
  • Friendly Fire (Sword and Sorceress X)
    This is, in my mind the funniest story of the lot. Just how badly can things go for our two heroes, without anything permanent happening to them?
  • Wings of Fire (Sword and Sorceress VIII)
    Set much later than the other previously published stories, this one has cameo appearances from Kethry's children. Aside from that, it's a story which involves the Tayledras.
  • Spring Plowing at Forst Reach
    One of the two previously unpublished stories, this is a good one. The Stud - and anyone who's read the Last Herald Mage trilogy knows just what horse I'm referring to - well his introduction into the Forst Reach horse breeding program has had some consequences. Consequences that Tarma and a couple of returning guest stars will have to deal with in a rather amusing fashion.
  • Oathblood
    The final story in the series, and the second of the previously unpublished stories. We get a picture of what life was like day-to-day in the two schools - Tarma's weaponswork classes and Kethry's mage-school, as well as getting to know Kethry's children, especially Jadrie. A longer story than all the others, and for good reason.
 There is a possibility of one or two more Tarma and Kethry stories in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, but I'm not sure - Elizabeth Waters and Mercedes Lackey co-write a story called A Dragon In Distress which was published in Sword and Sorceress XII. I have vague memories of the story, but I'm not sure.

Overall, I found Oathblood to be a quick read - though, having read Oathbound just a short time ago, I will admit to skipping the stories that also make up a part of that book on this read. Definitely worth having as a part of your collection.

Read for both the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge and my own Valdemar Reading Challenge.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Goldberry Shawl - FINISHED!!

After well over a year now, I've finally gotten the Goldberry shawl finished. My first post on the subject was on September 26th, 2013, and I finished it today. I'm very probably the last person to finish the crochet-along as well. Better late than never though.

To be honest, I ended up leaving the last little bit off - ran out of yarn, so I couldn't do the two single-crochet rows across the base of the shawl.

I'm definitely looking forward to wearing this at some point in the spring.

Oathbreakers - Mercedes Lackey

Oathbreakers - Mercedes Lackey
Oathbreakers (Vows and Honor Book II)
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1989

The product description:
Evil had cast its shadow over the kingdom of Rethwellan. When Idra, leader of the Sunhawks mercenaries, failed to return from a journey to her home, Tarma and Kethry, warrior and mage, set out in search of their vanished leader.
Oathbreakers is the sequel to The Oathbound, and where I liked that one, I loved this book. It's got one of my favorite scenes between the main characters. Unfortunately, it's also absolutely full of spoilers so I don't want to give it here (and it's about three pages long). Suffice it to say that it's where the book title comes from.

Despite the slightly grimmer tone to Oathbreakers, there are still plenty of moments to make you laugh - usually involving Leslac. As well, we get a look at some of Tarma's other talents as a child-minder and teacher.

Like some of Mercedes Lackey's other early books, Oathbreakers has a section of songs allegedly by and about Tarma and Kethry and pertaining to various events in The Oathbound and Oathbreakers, some of which are absolutely hillarious. I definitely enjoyed reading through them at the end of the story.

Read for the Valdemar Reading Challenge and the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Top Seven Historical Fiction Novels

Inspired by the post over at Anna's Book Blog on her top ten favorite historical fiction novels. Here are my top seven favorite historical novels:

  1. Hand of Isis by Jo GrahamHand of Isis by Jo Graham.
    The blurb:
    Set in ancient Egypt, Hand of Isis is the story of Charmian, 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.

    I love the mix of history and fantasy in this series of Jo Graham's novels.
  2.  Black Ships by Jo Graham.
    The blurb:
    The world is ending. One by one the mighty cities are falling, to earthquakes, to flood, to raiders on both land and sea.

    In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, it is her destiny to counsel kings.

    When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she has been destined for and the most perilous adventure -- to join the remnant of her mother's people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gates of the Underworld itself to lead him to his destiny.

    In the last shadowed days of the Age of Bronze, one woman dreams of the world beginning anew. This is her story.
    Black Ships is set in the same world as Hand of Isis, but covers the time-period just after the Trojan War.
  3. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    The blurb:
    In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, an “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together they endure the agony of footbinding and reflect upon their arranged marriages, their loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace in their friendship, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their relationship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a captivating journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. Now in a deluxe paperback edition complete with an expanded Random House Reader’s Circle guide and an exclusive conversation between Lisa See and her mother, fellow writer Carolyn See, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel is, as the Seattle Times says, “a beautifully drawn portrait of female friendship and power.”
    I've read this book a couple of times now, and seen the movie, loving it every time.
  4. Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
    The blurb:
    The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s revengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome; only two– the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander–survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

    The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters: Octavia, the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra; Livia, Octavian's bitter and jealous wife; Marcellus, Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir apparent; Tiberius, Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power; and Juba, Octavian’s watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals.

    Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place–the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the times. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority.

    Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra’s Daughter is a fascinating portrait of imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and most tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of the past, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.
    I really need to re-read this one actually. The blurb is calling out to me again.
  5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
    The blurb:
    Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

    In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

    Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
    I remember reading this one for the first time over ten years ago. It was a book I picked up on a whim from a charity-sale table, and once I started, I couldn't put the book down. Then I discovered there were sequels...Except, I was about to go away for a month so couldn't borrow them from the library until I got back. Oh, the wait.
  6. Lammas Night - Katherine Kurtz
    Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz
    The back cover blurb:
    What magic can stop Adolf Hitler - History's most evil Black Magician?

    Modern War
    The year is 1940
    Hitler's Germany is about to employ the secret arts of evil witchcraft to destroy England. What can stop them?

    Ancient Weapon
    It is the mission of John Graham, colonel in British Intelligence, to stop the onslaught of evil with an extraordinary strategy that defies all the rules of twentieth-century warfare: Unite the different witches' covens throughout England, drawing upon powers that reach back through dark centuries, in a ritual of awesome sacrifice on the first night of August, the magical Lammas Night.
    An older book that's well worth the hunt if you like historical fantasy.
  7. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
    The blurb:
    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.

    I've only read the book once, but it's stuck with me ever since.
I'd meant for this to go to a full ten books, but I'm reaching a point where they wouldn't truly be my favorites any more, only books I've thrown in to fill out the list.

Monday, January 19, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? January 19th, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a fun and dangerous meme hosted each week over at Book Journey. Fun, because we're sharing what we're reading. Dangerous, well, that comes from adding more books to the already shaky and toppling TBR stacks.

Anyway, it's been a long, long time since I've had a week as good as this past one. I finished reading three books!

Completed reads:

Arrow's Fall - Mercedes Lackey
Arrow's Fall (Heralds of Valdemar Vol. 3) 
Mercedes Lackey

The product description:

With Elspeth, the heir to the throne of Valdemar, come of marriageable age, Talia, the Queen's Own Herald returns to court to find Queen and heir beset by diplomatic intrigue as various forces vie for control of Elspeth's future.
But just as Talia is about to uncover the traitor behind all these intrigues, she is sent off on a mission to the neighboring kingdom, chosen by the Queen to investigate the worth of a marriage proposal from Prince Ancar.
Of the three books in this trilogy, I've got to note that this one has my favorite cover art. My full review is here.

Read for both the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge and my own Valdemar Reading Challenge.

The Children of Kings - Deborah J. Ross and Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Children of Kings
Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross

The product description:
Millennia ago, the planet Darkover, a cold world orbiting a giant red sun, was settled by a lost colony ship from the Terran Federation. Alone on a new world, survivors interbred with the native chieri, psychically Giften alien humanoids. The children of these matings were Gifted with telepathy and other psychic abilities, and their descendants, the aristocratic Comyn, forged a civilization in which the arts of the mind were cultivated and cherished.

When the Terrans rediscovered Darkover, the seven Domains of Comyn struggeld to maintain their unique culture and independence, often at a terrible price. More than once, assassins and environmental saboteurs from the Terran Empire attempted to bring Darkover to its knees and erode the native culture for the benefit of the Federation -- seing Darkover as nothing more than a port of call for Terran military and trade. Eventually, a vicious interstellar war forced Federation forces to withdraw from Darkover, but Darkovans knew that it was only a matter of time before they would return.

Prince Garth Elhalyn has grown up in the shadow of his legendary grandfather, Regis Hastur, one of the greatest leaders Darkover has ever known. But he is also haunted by fear of the insanity that is prevalent in his Elhalyn family line. His world has become an unbearable counterpoint of meaningless aristocratic frivoloty and dangerous political schemes -- plots in which powerful lords attmept to use him to further their own ambitions. He tries his best to better himself through the study of languages, swordplay, and training his psychic laran with his grandmother, Linnea Storn-Hastur, Keeper of Comyn Tower. But Gareth cannot stop dreaming about a future without fame or family.

In a desperate attempt to remove himself completely from the restricted life of the Comyn, Gareth confesses his desire to his powerful grandmother, and with her blessing, disguises himself as a simple trader and travels to Carthon, on the border of the barbarous, warklike Dry Towns. The Dry Towns do not live under the rule of the Comyn, and no one in this isolated part of Darkover will recognize a Comyn lord.

In Carthon, protected by his guise of anonymity, Gareth overhears rumors of deadly, illegal Terran blasters being used in the barren lands beyond Shainsa -- one of the main Dry Towns. If the Federation has returned and is now arming the bellicose Dry Towners with banned technology, it will mean a disastrous conflict for the Comyn of the Domains, who have long sworn themselves to the Compact, an oath of honor that forbids the use of distance weaponry. Venturing deeper and deeper into the desert lands, Gareth stumbles upon a terrible reality no one could have suspected and he is ill-prepared to deal with.

But in fact, Gareth holds the key to protecting his world, if he can only stay alive in the deadly Dry Towns long enough to discover what it is....

The Children of Kings follows The Alton Gift and Traitor's Sun in the Darkover timeline.
Not the best introduction to the world of Darkover as it assumes that the reader already has the background knowledge, but a book I really enjoyed reading nonetheless. My full review can be found here.

The Oathbound - Mercedes Lackey
The Oathbound Book I: Vows and Honor
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1988

The product description:
Tarma witnessed her clan's murder and, swearing vengeance, became a master warrior. Kethry fled her forced "marriage" and became an adept--pledging her power to the greatest good. When Kethry obtains a magical sword which draws her to others in need, the two vow to avenge the wrongs done to womanhood.
This was the third book I read last week, and I haven't had a week like that in well over a year, perhaps two. My full review, though short, can be found here.

Read for both the Hardcore Re-Reading Challenge and my own Valdemar Reading Challenge.

 I'm currently reading:
Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey, the sequel to Oathbound above, and I'm still working away at Adrienne Mayor's book on the Amazons.

I honestly don't know what I'm going to read next, although I suspect that there's a good chance it'll be Oathblood, the completing volume in the Vows and Honor series by Mercedes Lackey.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Oathbound - Mercedes Lackey

The Oathbound - Mercedes Lackey
The Oathbound Book I: Vows and Honor
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 1988

The product description:
Tarma witnessed her clan's murder and, swearing vengeance, became a master warrior. Kethry fled her forced "marriage" and became an adept--pledging her power to the greatest good. When Kethry obtains a magical sword which draws her to others in need, the two vow to avenge the wrongs done to womanhood.
Oathblood - Mercedes Lackey
Neither blurb is all that accurate, they're mostly setting the scene with backdrop information from the first of the Tarma and Kethry short stories from Sword and Sorceress III, which details the first meeting between the two characters. And you don't have to go hunting very far to find that story and the others Mercedes Lackey wrote for that market. They've mostly (I say that, because I have vague memories of one that's not in this collected volume) been gathered together and presented in the book Oathblood.

That first story is really key to understanding these two characters, although enough of it is sketched out through the course of Oathbound that you can pick up on their background.

If you're familiar with the Sword and Sorceress series, one of the chapters in this book will seem very familiar to you - Chapter 6, which was published as a story on it's own in Sword and Sorceress V. It's the story based around the song Threes, and I'm glad it was included in Oathbound as well as the climax of the book is based around the events of that story.

Oathbound and Oathbreakers were Mercedes Lackey's first real forays beyond the borders of Valdemar, fleshing out the world of Velgarth quite nicely, and they're two of her books that I've really enjoyed reading over the years. I certainly enjoyed re-reading Oathbound this time for the Valdemar Reading Challenge and the Hardcore Re-reading Challenge (although it wasn't on my initial proposed reading list for the second challenge).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Book Rambling: What Makes A Successful Book Adaptation?

Inspired by watching the third of the Hobbit movies on Wednesday, I started trying to figure out what, at least in my mind, makes for a good adaptation of a book into a movie or TV show.

I think it's a combination of a few things including just how faithful the makers are to their source material, although there are ways of being faithful that still allow for changes. Also, though, in many ways, the opinion of whether or not the directors/producers are being faithful to the source depends on how familiar the viewer is with that material.

Take Warhorse for an example. I've only read the book once. In my mind, the movie was pretty faithful to the book and they did a spectacular job. Yes, they did make some changes, but I felt that they kept the characters the same and touched on most of the best moments. But, I didn't (and still don't) know every word of the source material.

The movie version of Snow Flower And The Secret Fan was another adaptation that I really enjoyed. In some ways, I wasn't expecting to either because they decided to make quite a few additions to the book in the movie. However, it was done in a tasteful way, and although the movie-makers added their own characters in the modern story-line, the material from the book itself seemed to me to have stayed quite true to the characters and story Lisa See wrote.

In the same vein, but over to TV, are the two shows that I'm watching this year: Outlander (currently on it's mid-season break) and now the mini-series The Book of Negroes.

So far, the first half of the season of Outlander has stayed true to the book, at least as far as I can remember (it's been more than a few years since I've read Diana Gabaldon's books). Again though, barring a couple of additions, the characters are feeling 'right' to me - and even the small additions work. Still, as I've noted with other adaptations I'm watching or have watched, I don't know every little word or detail of these books.

And with The Book of Negroes, I haven't read the book at all. Which is why I'm asking what you think and how the show compares with the book. I have to say, coming at the show cold, without any knowledge from Lawrence Hill's book, it's been pretty good so far.

Now we come to the big ones when it comes to movie adaptations of books. The Lord of the Rings movies and The Hobbit movies. Everyone around me knows my opinions on the Lord of the Rings movies - although I'm finding a new appreciation of the soundtracks of late. Too many changes - most of which were unneeded at least in my opinion. I also didn't feel like any of the characters were true to their source characters at all. I remember making comments along the lines of "the only thing these characters have in common with Tolkien's is their names". It may simply be that this is the one case where I know too much about the books - I've re-read it more times than I can count by now.

Most of the changes that really bugged me were in two general categories:
  • changes to the characters and their motivations. Most of these changes were to the detriment of the characters. Denethor, for example. Where was his dignity? Aragorn too was made less. Sam would never have turned back, even for a moment the way I remember him doing in the movie.
  • Unneeded additions. Did Frodo and Sam really need to be at the battle in Osgiliath? Did we really need to see Aragorn falling off that cliff? 
What really adds insult to injury on the latter front is when they claim that there's too much material and so of course some needs to be cut. Fine. Just don't do it so you can add your own entire storyline in in it's place!

Paradoxically, The Hobbit movies felt truer to the source material - barring, of course the entire stupid chase sequence that lasted through all of them, and a few other specific incidents (Don't get me started on the whole Radagast and his rabbit-drawn sled). In this case, a lot of the "added material" aside from the chase and to a lesser extent the whole Tauriel/Kili storyline is stuff that I have no problems with - most of it is from Tolkien, specifically, if my memory isn't playing tricks, the chapter The Quest of Erebor in The Unfinished Tales.

What is it that makes a movie or tv adaptation of a book work for you?


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