I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Radcliffe Emerson, the irascible husband of fellow archaeologist and Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, has earned the nickname "Father of Curses" -- and at Mazghunah he demonstrates why. Denied permission to dig at the pyramids of Dahshoor, he and Amelia are resigned to excavating mounds of rubble in the middle of nowhere. And there is nothing in this barren area worthy of their interest -- until an antiquities dealer is murdered in his own shop. A second sighting of a sinister stranger from the crime scene, a mysterious scrap of papyrus, and a missing mummy case have all whetted Amelia's curiosity. But when the Emersons start digging for answers in an ancient tomb, events take a darker and deadlier turn -- and there may be no surviving the very modern terrors their efforts reveal.
“Catastrophically precocious”—this is how Amelia Peabody Emerson describes her young son, Walter Emerson (better known as Ramses, for his demanding nature). Several times during this novel, a chill runs down her spine when she wonders just where her darling son is and what mischief he has found in which to embroil himself!
The fact that the author herself is an Egyptologist really makes these books fun. She uses all the historical archaeologists as characters for Emerson to roar and bellow at when he is not debating archaeological issues with vicious thrust-and-parry.
I still love Amelia, armed with her parasol, seeking out clues. Ramses is lawyer-like in his reasoning, endeavouring to manoeuvre around her prohibitions. But “da cat Bastet” really steals the show in this installment—somehow I picture her as a haughty Siamese.
Jazz Bashara is a criminal. Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.
Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.
Well, we all knew that this second novel by Andy Weir couldn’t be as good as The Martian, didn’t we? Not that it’s a bad novel, but very few books could live up to the level of that his first effort. I think the author is brave to issue it and keep on writing. I’ll be willing to read his third novel, too. The Martian was great because the mission was pretty simple: Get the hell off Mars! This story has more complexities, as there are many other people involved and not all of them want our protagonist Jazz to succeed.
I’d also be willing to bet that Weir has read Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress more than once. Jazz is certainly a competent & independent woman, albeit a little less voluntarily subservient than Heinlein’s supposedly strong, independent women. (Weir credits a number of female friends & acquaintances for proof-reading to make Jazz more realistic—there are still hits & misses, I think, but overall it’s not an awful portrayal). And like Heinlein, Weir is really, really interested in technical details (welding in a vacuum, anyone?).
In Weir’s world, the Moon city Artemis is sort of a colony of Kenya—a surprising little twist that I really liked. I did wonder a little bit about the correspondence between Jazz and a pen-pal in Kenya—it was a moderately useful tool, but I also found it a bit confusing, until I figured out that Jazz really was unwilling to be honest with anyone, sometimes even herself. But I adored Fidelis Ngugi, the “mayor” of Artemis, with all her plotting & planning!
To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.
In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.
I was fascinated by this account of the libraries/archives of irreplaceable old manuscripts in Arabic and other languages of North Africa and the Middle East. The first chapters introduce us to the main players in the manuscript biz, as they try to find & trade for these delicate, rare documents and set up local archives to store them.
I think many people forget how sophisticated the Arab world was, back when Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages. They were responsible for maintaining scientific knowledge, mathematics, medicine, and philosophy, while Europeans were being held back by a repressive Church. The Renaissance began when Europeans re-discovered the books that had been preserved by the Arabs.
I don’t know about you, but I remember being taught the history of civilization in grade school. I think it must have been about Grade 5 or 6 that we learned about Mesopotamia being the Cradle of Civilization and being part of the Fertile Crescent. And still, Western governments & researchers seem to be surprised to discover that non-European people had complex civilizations complete with books & universities. I was glad to see the people of North Africa hanging on to their patrimony and keeping these manuscript collections in their own countries, as they have the expertise to read and interpret them. Too often this kind of collection gets whisked off to some Western repository where it attracts limited interest and travel costs prevent African scholars from accessing them.
Reading about the history & variety of extremists in the area certainly gives one pause. So many of the names of the major players were familiar to anyone who follows the news, especially the kidnap victims. I was interested to fill in the details on why these events happened and what else was going on behind the scenes. I still don’t really comprehend the level of hostility of groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban to art, culture, and literature, but I understand that they have a potentially mistaken idea of what early Islam was like (just as many fundamentalist Christians seem to have a skewed view of what early Christians were like). It seems like most fundamentalists have the same view of the world, i.e. that it is just a temporary waiting room before the real deal, the hereafter. What a limiting way to look at the world!
As a library worker who has dabbled in archival and museum collection description, I have to say that I was sincerely jealous of the people who got to work with the marvelous collections described in this volume. I would give my eye teeth to be involved in the cataloguing & digitization of such a significant resource!
My new reading blanket is altogether too cozy--I feel asleep with the book in my lap! I may have to go back to my skimpy, thin blankie if I am going to get much reading done.
Such a rarity and I appreciate it very much. Saturday will be errand day and Sunday will be for cooking. With lots of breaks for reading.
And I will finish The Mummy Case, dang it! Don't know why I've been so easily distracted from it, but I will finish it this evening.
The Great Starvation Experiment is surprising--I am finding it somewhat creepy! Who would do this to their fellow human beings?
Have a great weekend!
The great annual Fair of Saint Peter at Shrewsbury, a high point in the citys calendar, attracts merchants from far and wide to do business. But when an unseemly quarrel breaks out between the local burghers and the monks from the Benedictine monastery as to who shall benefit from the levies the fair provides, a riot ensues. Afterwards a merchant is found dead, and Brother Cadfael is summoned from his peaceful herb garden to test his detective skills once more.
What a pleasure it is to find a character and a series that I consistently enjoy. Four books into the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, and I am well and truly hooked. So I am well pleased to see that I still have 16 books ahead of me. The trick will be not to read them too quickly!
Brother Cadfael is a wonderful medieval sleuth—he’s participated in the Crusades, he’s had love affairs, he’s a man of the world, but he has chosen “retirement” in Shrewsbury Abbey. I think his philosophy would be that God helps those who help themselves, although in this installment he receives one of his greatest breakthroughs by withdrawing to the chapel to pray. Abbey politics also feature in these books and Cadfael is getting used to a new leader (and they seem to see eye to eye).
People are people, regardless of time period. Young people are going to have strong opinions, occasionally drink too much and embarrass themselves, fall in love, and generally do the things that young people do. Including getting implicated in crimes. Cadfael is wonderfully non-judgmental for a monk and full of quiet wisdom. A person who notices small details and can put them together quickly & accurately, he is an excellent forensic investigator before such a thing was considered.
A joy to read this comfortable, entertaining series.
Love at first sight turns into newlywed bliss for former librarian Aurora Teagarden-until violence cuts the honeymoon short.
Wealthy businessman Martin Bartell gives Roe exactly what she wants for their wedding: Julius House. But both the house and Martin come with murky pasts. And when Roe is attacked by an ax-wielding maniac, she realizes that the secrets inside her four walls—and her brand-new marriage—could destroy her.
When your hobby is studying True Crime stories, what do you want as a wedding present? Well, a mysterious house where the whole family has vanished without a trace, that’s what. And that’s exactly what Aurora Teagarden gets from her new husband, Martin. She gets a few other secrets rolled into the bargain without her knowledge, however, that lead her to wonder whether she’s made the correct choices for her life.
The amount that I enjoy Charlaine Harris’ mysteries seems to depend more on my frame of mind than anything else. When I’m in a receptive mood, I’m willing to just go with whatever scenario she dishes up. When I’m perhaps a bit cranky, I start questioning those plot choices and I don’t enjoy the story quite so much.
This time out, I feel a bit cranky about things. Although I thought that the reveal of what actually happened to the Julius family was very well done, I found the relationship developments between Roe and Martin to be questionable. Who in their right mind goes into a marriage with unanswered questions of that magnitude? When you have an opportunity to question the ex-wife, why would you shut her down? And why would you ever go to your former date for marriage counselling?
Yeah, yeah, small town, limited number of people, blah, blah, blah. I’ve lived in a small town and I don’t find it realistic. But I’ve never lived in the Southern States, so what do I know?
I actually own a copy of the next book in the series, which I picked up in a second-hand bookstore. So I guess I will be continuing on at some point, when I have the crankies under control.
The willow bends and does not break, but the wind that blows from the west has a name...and that name is Khan--Jenghiz Khan. It is to the north of ancient China where lies the greatest danger and no one is safe, especially foreigners.The man known to the Chinese people as Shih Ghieh-Man faces the greatest danger. He is an enigma--a man of strength with no perceivable vices. To survive the coming storm, he allies himself with the beautiful T'en Chih-Yu, a woman warrior desperate to save her people from the Mongol horde.But the man who offers his help has another, older name-and a terrible secret. For he is the Count St. Germain...and the greatest gift he can bestow can be bought with blood...or death.
This installment of the Saint-Germain chronicles didn’t quite hit the spot for me—it seemed to cover a lot of ground (literally), a lot of tragedy, and did it all without much point. It wouldn’t have taken much to push it into 4 star territory, just a bit more focus. As it stands, this book felt to me very much like two excuses to push Saint-Germain into a Chinese and an Indian woman’s beds, and little else.
I can certainly see why female readers find Saint-Germain a sympathetic character—age doesn’t mean much to him, considering how old he is, so even we older readers can envisage ourselves as possible love interests for this enigmatic vampire. Plus, as the Indian woman, Padmiri, discovers, he is all about female sexual satisfaction. She describes a subsequent lover as willing to get her aroused because he knows that it will benefit him, but her arousal & satisfaction are not truly that man’s focus.
Two enormous, diverse countries are explored in this novel and both got short shrift. When the story begins, Saint-Germain has already been in China for some time, long enough for a university to decide that they would like him to leave. At no point is the reader told why Saint-Germain chose China or what he was trying to accomplish there. India is just a way-station on his travels “home,” and the potential for interesting adventures is hemmed in by the rather histrionic plot in which a young priestess of Kali attempts to capture & use Saint-Germain as a sacrifice to her goddess.
For me, the most engaging and interesting part of the book took place as Saint-Germain and Roger over-winter in a Buddhist monastery and get to know the nine-year-old lama in charge of the lamasery. It is a small section, disappointingly quick to pass.
What should have been a more pressing problem—Saint-Germain is running out of his supply of his native earth—doesn’t get nearly the attention that it should. Especially since he and running water don’t get along and he will need to put to sea to get home. Another irritant (for me), was a series of letters from two Nestorian Christians travelling in China, but who remained completely unexplained. It is not until the very end of the book that the survivor of the pair crosses Saint-Germain’s path and I assume that it is a set-up for another volume.
Still, despite my criticisms, I enjoyed this fluffy little fantasy tale and I will definitely continue on with the series.
Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. In this fascinating account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries and tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.
Mary Roach never disappoints me. She is interested in unusual subjects and she approaches them with a slightly off-kilter sense of humour. However she has finally found a subject that I can’t read about while eating--I had to save this book for after-supper reading.
We hate to be brought face-to-face with our mortality and that is exactly what human cadavers do. We have to consider who they were before death and that we will be like them some day. I think even Ms. Roach found herself testing her usual gung-ho boundaries during this research. She talks about the line that she had to ride, to be sufficiently respectful of the dead (who, after all, still have people in the world who care about them) and her usually irreverent self. She retains the humour by making fun of her own reactions.
As a society, we don’t like to think about death, yet we get all emotional about using human bodies (which were donated by those who used to inhabit them) in safety tests of various sorts. I guess it’s not as dignified as we expect the dead to be treated. It also seems to be extremely uncomfortable for those doing the testing.
Weird and wonderful, this is everything you wanted to know about being dead, but were afraid to ask. Mary is rarely afraid to ask. If you enjoy this book, I would recommend her logical following volume, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife.
She flees on her wedding day. She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection. She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father. She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan. The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.
Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia escapes to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.
Holy Mother of Love Triangles, Batman!
However, having said that, it’s a common trope in Romance novels, and is used quite effectively in this YA novel. Of course our main character is a princess, one who has become a runaway bride. Unwilling to marry for political purposes to a young man that she’s never even met, Lia takes off on her wedding day and sets her sights on becoming a commoner.
Enraged that his bride has kicked over the traces, her betrothed goes looking for her. He seems unsure of quite why—maybe he just wants to look at the woman he’s lost, maybe he wants revenge. Also pursuing the fugitive bride is an assassin from a neighbouring kingdom whose job it is to eliminate the princess and thus make sure that these two countries don’t unite against his.
The inevitable (in romantic fiction) happens and both young men unexpectedly find that they really like Lia. They both (unwisely) spend time with her and learn the reason that she fled and the things that matter to her. Lia finds that she likes both young men, not knowing that they have ulterior motives for spending time in her company.
I have to say that it took me 2/3 of the book to figure out which name belonged to which man! I could have sorted it out, but preferred to just plough on until the matter sorted itself out. I didn’t really find the assassin’s task to be a sensible one—just let the princess stay lost and the situation resolves itself! Plus, Lia’s quick adaptation to working at an inn seemed too easy. Despite those misgivings, I think that my teenage self would have loved this book. It makes at least as much sense as the Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart books that I was devouring at that age!
Hopefully I'll have at least a little time to read this weekend.
I'd like to finish The Mummy Case, which I haven't had enough time to enjoy.
Next books due at the library: Stiff and The Kiss of Deception. Both have holds and can't be renewed, which makes them priority. I always enjoy Mary Roach's writing, so I know Stiff will be fun, but I've forgotten all about The Kiss of Deception, so I'll go into it blind and see how things go.
In other news, I've got company coming for dinner on Saturday night, so I must do a mountain of laundry, clean the bathroom, and scrub or vacuum all the floors on Saturday morning.
Sunday will be a cooking and reading day, with any luck.
Enjoy your weekend, folks!
An autobiographical narrative in which the author describes his experiences in Nazi concentration camps, watching family and friends die, and how they led him to believe that God is dead. Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.
I chose this book as one of several Remembrance Day reads. I read Viktor Frankl’s Man's Search for Meaning just before it and, although there are many similarities, there are also interesting differences.
Reading about life in a concentration camp is a brutal experience. Frankl had the advantages of being a grown man and a psychiatrist when he entered the system—he understood human behaviour, both good and bad, and could make assessments that the teenage Wiesel wasn’t able to. The fact is that anyone who survived the death camps ended up doing things that were selfish in order to survive and people who are starving don’t have the emotional energy to spare to care about others. They are numb to both their own suffering and that of even their own family members. Knowing that other prisoners were in worse shape and could have used more help and/or sympathy left these survivors with terrible guilt, feeling that they were faulty human beings who should have done better. They saw horrible things, they did things that they judge themselves for, and it is absolutely no wonder that they had psychological issues for the rest of their lives.
Where Frankl emerged from Auschwitz with a renewed sense of purpose, Wiesel seems to have changed profoundly—from an innocent, religious, and scholarly young man, he became a crusader to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. This book is a testament to his experience, his survival, and his mission.
Allan Quartermain is a sequel to the famous novel King Solomon's Mines. Quatermain has lost his only son and longs to get back into the wilderness. Having persuaded Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good, and the Zulu chief Umbopa to accompany him, they set out from the coast of east Africa, this time in search of a white race reputed to live north of Mount Kenya. They survive fierce encounters with Masai warriors, undergo a terrifying subterranean journey, and discover a lost civilization before being caught up in a passionate love-triangle that engulfs the country in a ferocious civil war.
I have read Haggard’s She and King Solomon's Mines, and I basically knew what to expect when I began Allan Quatermain. In many ways, AQ is a combination of the other two novels, but not quite as good as either one of them. It’s an adventure fantasy, starring rich Englishmen in deepest darkest Africa. They shoot a lot of animals and incidentally kill off quite a few African servants in the course of their quest. And what are they searching for, you ask? Why an unknown civilization of white people in an area where almost no one has gone before.
When the men find their Lost Civilization, Haggard doubles down on a good thing. Instead of one mysterious white woman ruling the area (as in She), he provides two of them in this novel! And just to show that the love triangle trope is not unique to modern romance literature, both of these queenly personages fall head over heels in love with Allan’s companion, Sir Henry. To say that this causes problems is an understatement. Also similar to She is Allan’s position vis-à-vis Sir Henry, just as Horace Holly played wise, humbler advisor to his young companion Leo.
I adore Haggard’s She, having discovered this portal to fantastical adventure during my high school years. I feel affection for all of his work because of that and it is impossible for me to rate it objectively, but if you are only going to read one of his adventure fantasies, choose She and get to know She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Allan is just not quite as much fun.
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Frankl's theory-known as logotherapy, from the Greek word logos ("meaning")-holds that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful.
If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.
This seemed like a fitting book to read on the Remembrance Day weekend, especially since I recently read Anne Frank’s Diaries. It is a harrowing reading experience, but also strangely comforting. Frankl details his concentration camp history in order to show us the how and why of survival.
I think it was Frankel’s even-handedness that impressed me the most. He sees evil when it presents itself, in the form of sadistic guards and other prisoners who lord it over their peers, but he also acknowledges the presence of good people in difficult situations—the server in the food line who always scoops from the bottom of the soup pot, giving everyone a chance at one of those longed-for peas, the guard who nudges the weaker prisoner towards lighter duties, the fellow marcher who offers a hand.
Survival is often a matter of luck—choosing the right work assignment or choosing a favourable move to another camp, but each person was also responsible for their own luck by paying attention and helping others when they were able or stroking the ego of a guard when the chance arose. Frankl points out that most of those who survived had a bigger goal—a loved one to be reunited with or a project to be finished. He credits his half-finished book with getting him through a bout of typhus during his imprisonment.
A tale of grim survival, leading to a sympathetic psychiatric theory. Have you identified your purpose?
As the evil minions of the undead Sithi Storm King prepare for the kingdom-shattering culmination of their dark sorceries and King Elias is drawn ever deeper into their nightmarish, spell spun world, the loyal allies of Prince Josua desperately struggle to rally their forces at the Stone of Farewell. And with time running out, the remaining members of the now devastated League of the Scroll have also gathered there to unravel mysteries from the forgotten past in an attempt to find something to strike down their unslayable foe.
But whether or not they are successful, the call of battle will lead the valiant followers of Josua Lackhand on a memorable trek to the haunted halls of Asu'a itself - the Sithi's greatest stronghold.
A satisfying ending to an engaging trilogy. I can see why this final tome was originally published in two parts—it was a definite door-stop! I sprained my wrist two years ago, and I found that old injury aching at the end of lengthy reading sessions!
However, the size of the volume was necessary in order to tie up the many, many loose ends from the first two books. I especially appreciated the return of “Rachel the Dragon” as an honoured elder lady, even as I grieved the loss of other characters. I also have to say that I appreciated the focus on Miriamele, despite the fact that she often came across as spoiled and irrational. I was able to endure that portrayal because Simon was often angry and petulant for no particular reason that I could discern either. Equal opportunity bad behaviour!
I appreciated that Osten Ard was not just a clone of Middle Earth. Williams gave the world his own structure and rules, and created unique creatures and challenges for his characters. I really liked the ending--it worked for me. I always feel the tug of emotion as the war ends and the circle of friends must split up to return to their own lives—happy to get back to normal, sad to be parted.
Book number 267 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.
I’ve got an extra-long 4 day weekend coming up. This is a good thing—my house looks like a bomb went off in it! Tomorrow I have to get things cleaned up and do a mountain of laundry. I’ve also been planning to make an Chicken Peanut Stew in the slow cooker (on a day when I can be home to supervise it, I hate leaving a slow cooker on when I’m out of the house).
I’ve also got thoughts about doing up some freezer meals, which would entail a bit of shopping, organizing, labelling, etc. Plans to make Nuts & Bolts for Christmas have also been floating about in my brain, forget the sugar plums! While I’m shopping for the freezer meals, I might as well shop for that project too.
But I have my relaxation planned as well. The library practicum student that I’ve been working with gave me a bottle of wine yesterday as a thank you! What a nice young woman she is. And of course, I’ve got my pile of books to work on.
Next due at the library is To Green Angel Tower, which is enormous and I am half way through. I’ve got an interlibrary loan coming due—Allan Quatermain—and another due in the near future—The Path of the Eclipse. If I can make progress on those three over the next four days, that will make my life easier. I’m also partially done The Mummy Case and it should be a quick finish.
Have a lovely weekend, all, and I’ll be back on Tuesday!