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Interviews | September 2, 2014

Jill Owens: IMG David Mitchell: The Interview

David MitchellDavid Mitchell's newest mind-bending, time-skipping novel may be his most accomplished work yet. Written in six sections, one per decade, The Bone... Continue »
  1. $21.00 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The Bone Clocks

    David Mitchell 9781400065677


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Foreworld #1: The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson
Foreworld #1: The Mongoliad: Book One

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Apologies for any misspelled names in this review �" after all, I did listen to the book.

Set in 13th century Europe, the place is being over run by Mongols. A small band of warriors and mystics think they can save much, if not all, of Europe from the expanding Mongol horde. Of course, the Mongols have a different viewpoint. Cagnan, a capable hunter and tracker who knows Mongol ways, joins a band of mixed and overly optimistic warriors: Illyrian, Eleazar, Ishtvan, Roger, Percival, Teran, Rafael, Hakoun, and others. they have all witnessed the absolute slaughter and desolation left by the Mongols, brought down upon those who defy them. Meanwhile, the remaining sons of Genghis Khan vie for power, grabbing for more and more lands. Ghansook, a Mongol warrior, is sent to keep an eye on Ogedei (one of the Great Khan’s sons), as he tends to sink deep in his cups nightly.

First, this novel is a spin off of something much larger �" a multimedia telling of a saga, the Foreworld Saga. I am not too sure what happened to that original intention, but I can tell you that this book is freaking amazing. I kind of expected each chapter to be written by one or two authors. However, the entire novel flows smoothly, moving from character to character, scene to scene, with no stuttering as one might expect from a book that involves so many unique authors. There is more info HERE in the Wikipedia article.

This book is rich in history and character detail. While there are a plethora of characters, they are each introduced in unique and memorable ways, making it easy to keep them straight in one’s head. Cagnan was fascinating to me because she really doesn’t have any higher calling to stop the Mongols. Her people have ordered her to assist the heroic band in safely crossing some Mongol territory and that is what she is there to do. Along the way, she learns a grudging respect for this mismatched band of suicidal, and homicidal, fools (or heroes if they turn out to be successful).

On the other side of the coin we see some of the leaders of the Mongols, such as Ogedei, and a few of the people who serve him. We glimpse his wives, and we spend some quality time with the warrior Ghansook who was ordered to try to modify his drinking habits. Lian, a learned Chinese woman, is tasked with teaching the brutish warrior some palace manners. In turn, he gives her archery lessons. You can imagine that I got rather attached to some of these Mongols �" they weren’t simply part of a devilish horde intent on over running brilliant Christian Europe.

There’s plenty of quick wit humor and well choreographed fight scenes (some masses, some one-on-one). Brilliant characters are drawn from a variety of cultures: Russian, Hungarian, Norman, Irish, Mongol, Chinese, Japanese, among others. While there are few female characters in this character rich book, I can forgive the oversight because this book was simply a pleasure to listen to.

Narration: Luke Daniels was superb as usual. There were a ton of accents and he nailed them all, making each character distinct. He was able to switch quickly between sexes, accents, and ages as people bantered swiftly back and forth in the story line.
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Northumbrian Thrones #1: Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert
Northumbrian Thrones #1: Edwin: High King of Britain

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Set in the 600s AD in what would some day be called England, the various small kingdoms jokey for supremacy. We enter the story with Edwin, who is a grown man with a deceased wife and two sons. He has also lost his father and his kingdom to the never ceasing political intrigues and warring kingdoms. This time and place is undergoing change. The Anglo-Saxons hold to the old ways, in language, politics, and religion, while the Britons are introducing ideas, language, and religion from the European continent. As you might guess, the culture clashes this causes adds to the grief and consternation of many of our characters, and makes for a riveting story.

The story is well-paced, keeping the reader engaged and moving the story forward without shorting the reader on plot or character development. As Edwin struggles to gain rulership and then hold it, he has to pay price after price. Some of those prices haunt him in the ghosts of the deceased. I really enjoyed the historical aspects of this book: travel by sea was often safer and quicker; having a private room was a luxury reserved for the ruler of the hall and his lady; a war between two kingdoms could have been as little as 100 men (the total of the trained, fighting forces of both factions). Life was gritty, hard, and for many, way too short.

The religious aspect was presented in context, the author showing the mistrust and misunderstanding inherent on both sides. Since each side claims to speak for some supreme being(s), and each side has their rituals (often viewed as magic or casting curses by the other), there were often misunderstandings and sometimes outright competition for supremacy. Edwin, in his rulership, has to learn to walk a fine line trying to keep all happy and from killing each other.

Now here comes my one criticism. The women are few and far between. They occasionally play some pivotal point, but those scenes were sometimes cut short. For instance, Edwin must take a second wife and she suggests he allow her to sit in on his council meetings. He grants her this, even allows her to speak, but before we get to hear her persuasive words, the scene cuts to the hall singer. Once we return to the council, the decision has been made and the meeting is breaking up. The women have limited roles in this book, so I would have liked to see those roles flushed out and made whole in living color.

Even with that one fault, I often found myself staying up way too late reading this book. It’s engaging, educational, gripping at times. Many of the characters are neither good nor bad, all of them being heroes in their own minds, and all of them doing some harm to another. I like my characters like that as I find myself able to connect with nearly all of them at some point throughout the book. This book is a worthy read and I look forward to the second in the series.
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Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
Sisters of Treason

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Opening in the mid-1500s England, the remaining Grey sisters (Catherine and Mary) are still in mourning after the execution of their elder sister, Lady Jane Grey. Mary Tudor rules England and holds strong, vehemently, to the Catholic faith. Religious executions become, perhaps not normal, but far too common as religious intolerance grows over the years. The plot takes place over several decades as Queen Mary Tudor is replaced by her half sister Queen Elizabeth Tudor. Much of the story is told through the eyes of Catherine and Mary Grey, along with their mother’s best friend, the court painter Levina Teerlinc. Catherine is a bit of a flirt and seeks love and safety in affection. Mary Grey, who was born with a crooked spine and a small stature (which becomes apparent with age) must rely on her wits as she has zero prospects for a marriage. With court intrigue ever threatening to turn them into the reigning monarch’s enemy, these ladies are hard pressed to stay out of trouble.

This was an excellent read. It’s that simple. I loved learning about this little corner of history that I was previously ignorant of. I greatly enjoyed the characters. The plot, while driven by history, was still captivating. While I had heard of Lady Jane Grey an her execution I had never considered her immediate family and what became of them. Her two younger sisters were kept close at court, I expect to see if they had any designs upon the throne that needed to be squelched quickly. Jane’s mother goes on to have a second marriage, one that removes her from court but not from worrying about her remaining daughters. With Mary Tudor on the throne, there is royal intrigue constantly circling the Greys as they have a strong claim to the throne via their Tudor blood.

From the artist Levina we learn some gruesome details about the weekly burnings of heretics as Queen Mary attempts to make the whole of England Catholic. Of course weekly executions are never really useful in maintaining a stable government. Queen Mary needs an heir. From Levina, I got a very good sense of constant tension she and the Greys were in. Those wishing for more religious freedom pushed for another queen, one who could reproduce. However, once Queen Elizabeth takes the throne, the Grey sisters may or may not be in worse circumstances.

With all that said, I believe my favorite character was Mary Grey. She is physically deformed in an age where good looks were associated with the grace of Heaven and bad looks (including birth deformations) were often considered the sign of the Devil. due to Mary’s small stature, she is often treated like an intelligent pet or a doll by the courtiers and the Queen. She is commanded to sit upon the Queen’s knee and keep her entertained with her quips. Mary also has to tolerate the rude remarks by the other court ladies when the Queen isn’t looking. Indeed, her life from a young age looks bleak except for the fact that she will never be eligible to rule England as she can bear no children. No, Mary must use her eyes, ears, and mind to sift her way through decades of court intrigue.

Catherine Grey is also interesting because she had so many love entanglements. She was married at a young age, and pretty much in name only, though the two younglings did their best to sneak a few kisses here and there. With the fall of the Greys from grace (execution of Jane Grey), the marriage was ignored by the parents. Catherine goes through a few years of keeping a few young men dancing on their toes around her. Early on, I found her quite vapid, which suited her character’s actions. But as time went on and life became more serious for her, I found myself getting attached to her character too.

Levina Teerlinc as not quite an anomaly of her time; she earned the bulk of the yearly income with her court paintings and kept her household staffed and fed. In an age where so many women were dependent on a husband or male relative, she stood out in this regard. The author included an afterward in which she explained that very little is known about Levina and she was required to make several educated guesses about Levina’s life. I say she did a very good job and made Levina quite believable.

This book makes history interesting not only for showing what the women were up to, but also capturing how the whim of a monarch can affect so many at this time and place in history. The ending was very satisfying, and there were a few poignant moments that got a little tear from me. That speaks to how attached I became to some of these characters.
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Faceoff by David Baldacci

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

A few of these authors I have read before (Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child) but nearly all of them were new to me. This was a great way to check out such a selection of today’s brilliant mystery writers. Of course, I gravitated towards the Pendergast story as I have read a few in this series. I did find Slappy the Dummy rather disturbing, as I found the story on the whole. ‘Rhymes with Prey’ was my second favorite, featuring the paraplegic investigator and his clipped phrases and abrupt, sometimes rude, attitude. ‘The Laughing Buddha’ was an unexpected story. The character Malachai Samuels is a kind of past life psychic, helping people realize who they once were and what their hang ups are from past lives. At first I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it, but now I want to check out both M. J. Rose and Lisa Gardner. I aso want to seek out works by Heather Graham after listening to ‘Infernal Night’. Just a touch of the supernatural gave this mystery an extra facet. Plus that whole mausoleum scene was excellent. Khoury & Barclay kept me on the edge of my seat with ‘Pit Stop’. It was fast paced and intense!

Those were the stories that stood out for me. Many of the rest were interesting. However, ‘Surfing the Panther’ didn’t shine for me. I felt like too much was being crammed into a short story and I never really connected to the main characters. I was looking forward to the Reacher versus Heller story as my man is a fan of Lee Child’s work. I was intrigued and then it was over. Yep, just like that. It went by too quickly.

Other than those two stories, the anthology was a hit. I now have several more authors on my To-Be-Read list (or some would call it a small mountain range). I was kept entertained for most of the 10+ hours of listening time.
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Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst
Midnight in Europe

nrlymrtl, September 22, 2014

Note: Even though this book is #13 in the series, it worked just fine as a stand alone.

Cristian Ferrar is a Spanish emigre living in France, having moved with his family at a young age, completed his schooling, and attained a position at a prestigious law firm. He is the sole financial support for his family, yet even with this on his mind, he can’t turn down the possibility to help the Spanish Republic in their civil war. Set in 1938, WWII wasn’t yet begun, but there is plenty of strive throughout Europe as powers large and small jockey for position and gather in weapons and assets. Cristian teams up with Max de Lyon as they enter Germany in search of a reliable arms dealer. They are joined off and on throughout the story by colorful associates and Cristian isn’t one to put his love life on hold just because he has to worry about spies and thugs.

I enjoyed the tandem plot lines of Spanish civil war and the hints that some bigger war (WWII) is coming. Germany is tightening up her borders and cracking down on dissenters. Russia is building up weapons stocks. The wealthy pick up and leave their homelands in search of safer grounds. There was plenty of uncertainty at this time and Furst captured that very well. Since Cristian’s family left Spain seeking a more peaceful and safer abode, he knows well the double-edged sword of being an emigre. His position at a prestigious Paris law firm, one that also has offices in New York, gave him heady creditability that let his bluff his way through more than one predicament.

While we are talking about Cristian, we have to talk about his ladies. I won’t talk about all of them, because that would take too many paragraphs. I will say that he seems to be a considerate lover, and usually a good one. Of course, his predilection towards love affairs from the start of the book made me suspicious that a woman may lead him into trouble with his spy work, so when that did happen, it was not a surprise. While there are several ladies in this novel, they are merely two-dimensional at best (they have a front side and a back side, and both are usually pleasing to Cristian’s eye). None of them have any role that impacts the plot and nearly all of them are love interests, though we do have at least 2 motherly figures tossed in. I think it is obvious that I would have enjoyed some of the ladies to take a more active role in the plot instead of being scenery.

Putting that one criticism aside, we had a pretty interesting plot that centered around trying to get weapons/armaments out of one country and into another. This was far more complicated than any movie ever depicted it and I was right there with Max and Cristian feeling their determined frustration over the matter. The story took us to several countries as secret agreements were made and potential assets were spied out. There were some grimly humorous scenes tossed in that made the book a joy to listen to.

As with any good historical fiction, I learned a few things. I won’t bore you with all of them, but here are two that I found particularly interesting. During this time, the Reich of Germany supported public nudity, as admiration of the ‘perfect Aryan body’ was very important. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy naked volleyball (except for maybe the heavy breasted �" male or female!)? The second little bit was that Cristian took a date to an expensive restaurant and they were given male & female menus. The Lady’s menu lacked any prices. I guess in 1938, it was assumed in all the swanky places that the man was paying. An entertaining read!
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