Read This at Your Peril
My Facebook friends and readers already know that this blog vanished in a puff of smoke two days after I’d posted it. But for the benefit of those of you who do not hang out on Facebook and may have wondered if you’d hallucinated reading it, it was indeed up and then gone, thanks to the host, which was in the process of migrating its servers. I can only hope it never happens again, for although I can re-post it, as I am now doing, all of the original comments were zapped into a black hole of cyberspace. Anyway, once again here is the blog, Read This at Your Peril.
I am sorry it has taken me so long to put up a new blog, but no sooner had I finally vanquished that pesky pneumonia dragon than the deadline dragon moved in. At least this delay gave more of you a chance to enter Pauline Toohey’s drawing for her novel, Pull of the Yew Tree. Pauline and I are happy to announce that the winner is Barbara, no last name given, who posted the eighth comment. Barbara, please contact Pauline at email@example.com or me at firstname.lastname@example.org, so arrangements can be made to send your personalized copy of Pauline’s novel. Thanks to all of you who took part in the drawing.
Now, why the warning? Because I’ve already enticed so many of you into joining me on the merry road to book bankruptcy, and I am about to do it again. But I did have a twinge of conscience, so I decided to play fair. If you continue to read this blog, you will find a number of books that you are going to find very tempting. Some I have had a chance to read myself, others not yet thanks to the deadline dragon. Because deadlines have become as tight as nooses nowadays, that means I have had to seriously limit my pleasure reading time, a real sacrifice for anyone who is an avid reader, which I’ve been since the age of five or so. But they are all on my TBR list, and they are all books that I think are likely to interest my fellow lovers of history.
I’ll begin with the ones that I was actually able to read. I’ve just finished M.K. Tod’s Lies Told in Silence, a novel set in France during World War I. This was one of mankind’s most tragic wars, not only because of the staggering death toll, but because it need not have happened. Most of you are probably familiar with the famous comment by the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, as war loomed. Looking out the window at a man lighting the gas lamps in St James Park, he said sadly, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Considering the bloody history of the 20th century and the continuing global conflagrations in the 21st century, it is hard to argue with him. M.K. Tod captures this sorrowful sense of loss as men and women were caught up in a tide beyond their control, one that would transform their lives beyond recognition. She has created characters that readers will care about and has very effectively dramatized how soldiers suffered, physically and psychologically, in the so-called “Great War,” a theme that continues to resonate with us today. Her novel is now available on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Lies-Told-Silence-M-K-Tod-ebook/dp/B00LEYV2PI/ref=la_B00ELV1H7E_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404232864&sr=1-2
I also recommend The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, author of the moving The Secret Life of Bees. This novel is the story of two truly remarkable sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who were born into the aristocracy of the Ante-Bellum South, but were those rare individuals who were guided by conscience, not society’s dictates. For the Grimke sisters, that meant a rejection of slavery, becoming abolitionists, and in time, suffragists. I wish we had more people like the Grimke sisters, but I am glad we do have Sue Monk Kidd to keep them from being forgotten.
Another book I enjoyed was I am Livia, by Phyllis T. Smith, a novel about the Emperor Augustus’s formidable consort, Livia. My views of Livia were formed by the classic BBC series, I, Claudius, which means I imagined her to be a woman you’d dare not dine with. Ms. Smith treats Livia more kindly than Robert Graves, but I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt; after all, I hoped that readers would do that for my revisionist portrayal of Richard III. And after I finished the novel, I investigated a bit; in other words, I Googled Livia, and discovered that her hands were not quite as blood-stained as I, Claudius would have us believe.
And I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to read the ARC for An Air of Treason, by P.F. Chisholm, the newest entry in her wonderful series about Robert Carey, the real-life, swashbuckling cousin of Elizabeth Tudor. These books are so much fun, filled with action and humor and surprise twists and fascinating details of Elizabethan life. An Air of Treason revolves around one of the most dangerous mysteries of Tudor England—the fate of Amy Robsart, Robert Dudley’s unwanted wife. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of entering Robert Carey’s world, the first in the series is A Famine of Horses. I cannot recommend these books highly enough; I think they are that good.
Briefly detouring into the realm of non-fiction, I have to mention Sharan Newman’s Defending the City of God, a biography of Melisende, Queen of Jerusalem in the early years of the turbulent 12th century. And in the autumn, we can look forward to a new biography of Edward II, by Kathryn Warner, who probably knows more about Edward’s life than he himself did. The next two books are not historical, at least not in the medieval sense, but I wanted to remind you how much I enjoyed Kirk Douglas’s I am Spartacus, his account of the making of this classic film about the slave who was able to threaten the very foundation of ancient Rome And another compelling book is The Elephant Whisperer by Anthony Lawrence, written by a man who devoted his life to the preservation of these magnificent animals.
We all have series that we love, so here are a few of mine. Steven Saylor’s Gordianus books are set in the waning days of the Roman republic. Bernard Cornwell has created one of my all-time favorite characters in Uhtred, star of his Saxon series. His latest is The Pagan Lord, and for new readers, the first one is The Last Kingdom. This next series is not at all medieval, but Dana Stabenow’s mysteries set in Alaska and featuring the unforgettable Kate Shugak and her equally memorable wolf-hybrid, Mutt, are so much fun that it might not be completely legal. I also recommend Sharan Newman’s Catherine Levendeur series set in 12th century France, Priscilla Royal’s mysteries rooted in 13th century England, and C.J. Harris’s mystery novels set in Regency England. Both Sharan and Priscilla delve into matters not often touched upon in novels of the Middle Ages, each having a character who has an outsider’s perspective, Solomon, a Jew who does not find life easy in a Christian society and Brother Thomas, a young monk who struggles to understand why God has given him forbidden urges that his Church condemns as mortal sin. Both men are true to their times, reflecting the beliefs and mores of their medieval world, but their vulnerability can be heartbreaking and gives their stories a complexity not always found in novels meant to entertain. Lastly, for my fellow dog lovers, there are the books of David Rosenfeld and Spencer Quinn, which combine suspense with humor and reflect their own affection for our four-legged friends. The first in David’s Andy Carpenter series is Open and Shut, his newest Hounded, due out in July. Spencer’s Chet and Bernie series has a new entry, Paw and Order, which will be published in August, and the start of their career begins with Dog on It.
Now for books that I’ve not been able to read yet, which I hope to read in the future. Laurel Corona’s The Mapmaker’s Daughter is set in Spain on the eve of the expulsion of the Jews. Paula Lofting has written a novel set in 11th century England, Sons of the Wolf. David Blixt’s Master of Verona sounds like a fascinating journey into Renaissance Italy, with no less a guide than the oldest son of the famed poet, Dante. Margaret Skea ‘s Turn of the Tide explores clan loyalties in 16th century Scotland. Charlene Newcomb has written a novel that I’d be interested in reading, Men of the Cross, the story of a young knight who follows the Lionheart to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade, where he finds a forbidden love and discovers the high price that battlefield glory exacts from soldiers; readers of A King’s Ransom know that I have great sympathy for the toll that PTSD has taken upon fighting men down through the ages. And in the autumn, Judith Starkston’s novel about the Trojan War, Hand of Fire, will be published, as will Alix Christie’s Gutenberg’s Apprentice, set in medieval Germany and dealing with an invention of great importance to any book lover. Finally, we were recently discussing on Facebook whether there were any novels written about Edward III. Well, guess what I found? Fields of Glory by Michael Jecks, which focuses upon that very king and the Battle of Crecy.
See why I gave you all fair warning? This blog is like a banquet for book lovers, with delicacies to tempt every palate. Please feel free to join the Book Bankruptcy Party and suggest books of your own that you either enjoyed or hope to read. We can always argue that spending money on books is actually a virtue, right?
Now I shall go back to fending off the deadline dragon. Once I finally got A King’s Ransom off to my editor, I’d hoped to see the last of him, but he was called back into service for the new book—Outremer, the Land Beyond the Sea–set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the latter years of the 12th century. So far he has confined himself to lurking in the shadows, watching me with glowing red eyes and blowing smoke rings to amuse himself. As long as he does not start snacking on sheep or spaniels or worse, like Daenerys’s fierce pets in Game of Thrones, I’ll try not to complain.
June 28, 2014, re-posted on July 1, 2014