Oathbreaker

This is the second book in The King’s Hound trilogy. And no, this has nothing to do with The Hound in Game of Thrones. This is a fairly simple story of an illuminator (the guy who did the fancy illustrations back when books were very, very rare) and a minor noble who lost his estate. The fun part is that it’s set in a historical period when England was in complete flux. Angles, Saxons (one can imagine Jutes), Danes, and of course Vikings (Danes were sort of domesticated Vikings).

Winston and Halfdan are asked to check out rumors in various villages. Along the way they encounter a murder mystery and investigate that. There isn’t much more to this, the conclusion could have gone any which way… but in the end it doesn’t matter. The real reason to read this series is “day in the life” of pre-medieval England. And in that it stands up nicely.

Give this series a whirl, don’t expect too much, enjoy.

The Powder Mage trilogy

I’ve been reading a ton of books this year – but I haven’t always made time to review them. So with that in mind let me suggest The Powder Mage trilogy. I stumbled on this series via a post-trilogy book Sins of Empire. I liked the world-building and characters enough in this book to check out the initial trilogy. And wow, I wasn’t disappointed!

If you’ve read steampunk this is sort of like that only flintlock-punk perhaps. Technology in this world is circa 1700 in many ways; flintlocks, muskets, and still people charging around with sabers and pikes. But there is sorcery too. And new on the scene is a new kind of wizard; people who power their abilities with gunpowder. It sounded stupid when I first read the description but trust me, it’s a lot of fun.

24363267

Don’t be bothered by the silly words on the cover… it’s a good book

The plot can be a little disjointed at times; every so often something happens that absolutely makes no sense. At other times we get characters popping in or out that will never show up again. But these are quibbles. I enjoyed the series immensely and tore through them. I found myself up way too late at night reading these three books.

I look for ward to book #2 of the new series when it comes available in 2018.

An interesting word – draíochtúil

I am currently reading “The House on an Irish Hillside” – so far this is a lovely read about a couple who moves from London to the Dingle Peninsula. We spent a lovely few days in Dingle in the 90s and I still fondly recall the perfect pubs there.

The word of the day though is draíochtúil – an Irish word I cannot begin to pronounce. Look at that spelling! And recall that in Irish “Taoiseach” is pronounced something like “tea socks” except for “socks” is smoothed out a bit. Whoever did the orthography for Ireland did them no favors. Turns out draíochtúil is pronounced something like “dreck dull” but the ‘ck’ gets a bit of the Swiss-German treatment.

But I digress – draíochtúil means numinous, another word I really didn’t know. If you’ve ever been to Slee Head in Dingle or spent time in a lovely west coast Irish pub, well, if that’s about as close to cozy divinity as things come.

Book: The Coral Thief

I just finished reading The Coral Thief. I’m not entirely sure how to classify this book. It’s not a thriller, it’s not just historical fiction, and it’s certainly not a mystery or even a love story. Well… it is a love story of a kind in which the author clearly loves Paris.

The plot is fairly simple: boy meets woman on a stagecoach, woman robs boy, boy falls in love with woman. The rest is fairly boilerplate and would be a dull slog if not for the fact that the writing is compelling, the characters at times rise above average, and the historical setting of post-Napoleon Paris is enchanting. At times the characters are cliché – the tough French inspector (Javert apparently), the mysterious stranger, the ex-royal now turned thief, etc. You’ve seen these characters before. But the story holds together for all that as it’s stitched with lovely images of Paris before the Paris you know now. You will still know the Marais, but now instead of a tourist-thronged mess it was a warren of thieves and beggars. You will be amazed to hear of people washing clothing in the Seine.

I recommend seeing “Midnight in Paris” before reading this book. It will help set the right tone.

Book – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

I read Ghost Train to the Eastern Star a few years back. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember what exactly it was about and whether I liked it or not. Being a fan of Paul Theroux I decided that I had the time and I wouldn’t mind reading another book about trains (aside: reading travel books about trains is almost as relaxing on trains).

The book takes the reader from London to the farthest corners of Japan (north and south) largely by train. There are a few ferries in the middle and a few airplane rides when necessary but most of this book is viewed from a train. And it’s lovely. The writing is evocative and it makes the idea of sitting unwashed on a train for seven days across Russia interesting.

Highly recommended if you enjoy travel books.

My Notes

I kept more notes than usual in this book as the vocabulary was challenging at times without being overly pompous or unnecessary.

  • “Without change there can be no nostalgia”. Lovely phrase I captured in the book. We all like nostalgia but without trying new things, failing, moving, and trying again then the past will be just like today.
  • “Yes, and mainly from scholars. Scholars need to validate the status quo, or they will lose their funding.” We all need to eat of course but recent articles point out that a) not much of what is considered science is read and b) much of what is considered science is not replicable. Which means that scholars are basically validating the status quo.
  • Orotund: had to look this up. It means full, round, imposing.
  • frotteurism: doing a nasty bump-and-grind. Basically what perverts do on subways.
  • Hokkien-speaker: a Chinese dialect in wide use across Asia.
  • adumbrated: to produce a faint image or trace of something.
  • A joke about the old Soviet Union (which also works for Comcast by the way): “You know the joke?” she said. “A woman wants to buy a car. She is given a voucher and told, ‘It will be delivered in ten years.’ ‘Morning or afternoon?’ she asks. ‘Why do you want to know?’ She says, ‘Because the plumber is coming in the morning.’ It was like that.”

New word to me: ‘phocine’ – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

Source: Amazon Kindle: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

One of the enjoyable things about reading a good writer like Theroux is he stretches my understanding of the language.

post office, where he was a senior official. Though elfin (or even phocine)

Phocine – of, relating to, or resembling seals. I’m not sure how many times I can use this word but I’ll try.

Interesting phrase – Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

Source: Amazon Kindle: Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar

I try to record interesting notes and highlights as I read. I am re-reading “Ghost Train” right now. I know I’ve read it before but for some reason Amazon pushed this book to my Kindle during a recent upgrade. As I started to skim the book it occurred to me that I truly didn’t remember anything from this book. So here I go again.

I came across this lovely sentence:

Why is the motorway culture drearier in Europe than anywhere in America? Perhaps because it is imitative and looks hackneyed and unstylish and ill fitting, the way no European looks quite right in a baseball cap.

Motorway culture, especially along an Interstate, is not all it once was in America. But the baseball cap thing… is spot on! It’s just impossible for a European to wear a baseball cap and not look ridiculous. It’s similar to an American wearing a scarf (with the caveat that an American in Europe can carry this off at times).

Semper Fidelis: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire (Medicus Novels Book 5) B+

Semper Fidelis: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire (Medicus Novels Book 5) – Kindle edition by Ruth Downie. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Use features like bookmarks, note taking and highlighting while reading Semper Fidelis: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire (Medicus Novels Book 5).

Source: Semper Fidelis: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire (Medicus Novels Book 5) – Kindle edition by Ruth Downie. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

The fifth book of the Ruso / Tilla series. By this point the series is getting a little tired; the books begin to feel like Scooby Doo episodes.

  1. Ruso, the doctor, will get into some sort of scrape and luck his way out.
  2. Tilla, the native Briton, will get into some other scrape.
  3. The murder mystery will be solved in the last few pages with the help of at least one deus ex machina.

And yet… I read this book and then bought book 6 as well. Downie has a good handle on writing in the period when Rome had invaded and settled England. It’s an interesting period to read about as it doesn’t come up in school very often. The invasion started with Julius Caesar in 55AD but took nearly 100 years before the fighting finished (and even still most of Scotland was never settled). This book is set around 122AD when the emperor Hadrian had started construction of his famous wall. Clearly the Roman occupation of Britain was a lot longer than I had otherwise known. 383 AD was nearly the end of Roman rule with. Put it that way and Rome ruled Britain for twice as long as the United States has been a country.

This series is a nice way to access some of the history of this time. Yes, it’s fiction. Yes, the leading characters are getting a bit worn around the edges. But it’s still a fun, light, easy piece of reading.

 

The Relic Master: A Novel (B)

Source: Amazon Kindle: The Relic Master: A Novel

I like Christopher Buckley books. I tend to find them funny and I also tend to learn something new as they are set in history that I usually am unfamiliar with (or at least deeply familiar with).

This is a fun romp. A little dark at times and somehow feels unfinished, like the editor didn’t quite do the job. But if you have a yen to read about a “relic dealer” i.e. someone who bought and sold pieces of the bodies of saints or of their implements or of the Holy Cross, or the Shroud of Turin then this is the book for you.

My Highlights

I found several items of interest in this book.

  • pari passu: this means “side by side”   Read more at location 811
  • And here, perhaps, was the greatest irony of all: Frederick himself remained devoutly Catholic. So far as anyone could make out, he didn’t agree with Luther on a single point of his heretical doctrines.” Read more at location 819
    • This was an interesting nugget of information and something of which I was unaware of in the history of the Reformation.
  • Take away a Spanisher’s red paints—his massicot, sinopia, carmine, bole, cinnabar, lac, madder, solferino, vermilion, Pozzuoli, crimson
    • I liked this quote simply for the many ways of describing “red”.
  • hortation: to exhort or to urge on. I’d never seen this usage before.
  • peine forte et dure: a form of medieval torture. It means ‘hard and forceful punishment’.

Books: At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir ( C )

Source: Amazon Kindle: At Home on the Kazakh Steppe: A Peace Corps Memoir

I struggled with this book. I’ve read a lot of travel books lately. I go through phases like this: sci-fi and fantasy, serious books, business books, a biography or two, and then back to tales of living somewhere else. I should map this out but if I had to guess I read a lot more “living elsewhere” books during winter. If you’ve lived a winter or two in Seattle that would make sense.

This book… at the end I didn’t feel I had a good sense of Kazakhstan or even really the small town the writer lived in. I had a good sense that she was experiencing the highs and lows of moving abroad. It’s harder than you might think and yet also in some ways a very easy adventure (disclaimer: moving to Switzerland and France is no doubt less jarring than a small town in Kazakhstan). Still I felt disappointed that there was a lot of talk about marital difficulties vs. what the town and people and country are like. The entire upheaval of a nation that had formally spoken Russian for decades but could suddenly use its native Kazakh was briefly touched on but never dealt with well. I would have liked more of that.

It wasn’t bad and it took a lot of courage for the writer (and one presumes her husband while reviewing the drafts) to put this out there. But it doesn’t make up for the fact that I don’t seem to know much more about Kazakhstan today than I did before reading the book.