Hrolf Kraki’s Saga

Poul Anderson

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This retelling of the Danish Sagas by Poul Anderson is very true to the original, even to the point of starting generations before the title character comes on the scene. No one lives in a vacuum and one hero’s life has roots in the past.

Generations of betrayals and heroics led up to the point where Hrolf appears, and they all have a part in making his destiny. Our benefit is having someone like Poul Anderson to make the legends accessible to our time. I confess, though, that I liked Three Hearts and Three Lions better.

Blood Bones and Butter

Gabrielle Hamilton

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Humble people who are afraid to take a chance usually don’t run successful restaurants in New York. Humble women don’t stand a chance. Talented, opinionated, self-reliant people like Gabrielle Hamilton have a chance if they have the talent to back it up, and she has it in spades.

Step by step through her unlikely life, she carries us along on her journey to top chef of Prune restaurant in NYC. Along the way we learn what it takes to be a chef and way they make such lousy spouses. Driven by their desire to excel, and the demands of their profession, they are married to the restaurant with little time or energy left over for people.

This lively account of her life shows the price she pays and whether she thinks it is worth it. Lively, honest and fascinating, it give a glimpse into the life of a top chef.

The Accidental Tourist

Anne Tyler

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I had heard the name from the movie starring William Hurt and Geena Davis and that is about all. So when it turned up for $1.99, I decided to give it a chance. Boy, did I get my money’s worth.

When Macon Leary’s son is killed in a burger joint robbery, his life comes to an end. Frozen within himself he mechanically goes through the motions of living, but he is dead inside. Unable to give or take comfort from his wife, his marriage falls apart. He is left to live alone with his rituals and a vicious and uncontrolled dog, Edward. He pulls further and further into himself. When the dog hospital refuses to board Edward so Macon can travel to England to write another of his dreary guidebooks for business travelers who want to feel they never left home, he is forced to find an alternative. On impulse, he chooses the Meow-Bow Animal Hospital, and his life is never the same.

He meets Muriel, the dog trainer, and she turns his life upside-down. She is everything he isn’t: spontaneous, free, happy-go-lucky.

How their relationship develops and how he finds himself breaking out of his dreary routine against himself, supplies with bulk of the novel. Rich in observation and free of the usual romance tropes, this delightful novel delights and entertains at every turn. Highly recommended.

Culloden

Murray Pittok

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I was part of the great unwashed who believed Culloden was a battle between hordes of poorly trained highlanders up against well-drilled and well-equipped British soldiers. I had an excuse for this that doesn’t involve novels. I watch an episode of the television show You Are There, which portrayed important historical events as if they were actually happening and being reported by Walter Cronkite on site interviewing participants. It was riveting, and though I must have watched several episodes it is the Battle of Culloden I remember best.

This book was a revelation to me, especially the second half. Pittock described the effect of the battle on the attitude of the British and the Scottish people for years to come. He uses examples of art to show how public opinion was formed, not by historical accounts, but by sentimental and inaccurate paintings.

This was a fascinating account of the battle and its aftermath that changed my thinking about this important battle.

Bloodline

Brian O’Connor

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I suppose the author is sick of being compared to Dick Francis, but there are worse authors to be compared to. His main character seems to be lacking to masochism gene that is such a prominent element in Francis’ characters. This guy knows how to enjoy himself.

A workmanlike murder mystery, but for me the attraction is the life of professional jockey and the horses. I would read another Brian O’Connor book with equal enjoyment if horses were at the center of it.

The Lords of Arcadia

R. Lee Smith

#1: The Care and Feeding of Griffins

#2: The Wizard in the Woods

#3: The Roads of Taryn MacTavish

#4: The Army of Mab

The Care and Feeding of Griffins (Lords of Arcadia Book 1) by [Smith, R. Lee]

Damn you R. Lee Smith! Is every book you write a compulsive page-turner? Lucky for me I started this series at a time when I had no commitments and could devote all my time to reading.  When I was not reading, I was thinking about getting back to the books to find out what happened next. Now that I know what happens next, I can reread the books, slowly savoring the character development and descriptions.

I have listed these books in one review because they are essentially one story, starting with Taryn’s finding a griffin egg as a child. When the egg hatches, she is at a loss to know how to care for it. Her search for knowledge eventually leads her to another world. She finds mythical creatures such as minotaurs, wizards, and centaurs, only they are fiercely protective of their land and not friendly to humans.

As she struggles to survive, protect her griffin, and learn how to survive in this strange world, she comes to a deeper understanding of herself and her place in this world.

The themes I have come to recognize in Smith’s works are all there: a heroine in an unfriendly world, beauty-and-the-beast, and the importance of sex as a means of communication.

By the end I was exhausted and sorry the story had come to an end.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood

Diana Gabaldon

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I first started reading this bloated and undisciplined melodrama in November 2014, and it has taken me two years to wade through Gabaldon’s most recent book.

The plot is so complicated with subplots that each character gets only a few pages before we jump to another subplot. Of course there’s Claire and Jamie, now an officer in the Continental army; Ian, Jamie’s nephew, an Indian scout for the army; various other relations of Jamie’s, including his sister Jenny and her offspring; Brianna (in modern times) and Roger, who has traveled back to the 18th century searching for his lost son; Sir John, an officer in the British army and his brother; and William, Jamie’s illegitimate son who was raised by Sir John, also an officer in the British army. At least, if I recall correctly no one gets raped in this book.

Why do I punish myself by reading these books as they come out if I dislike them so. Well, aside from a certain masochism, when she wants to Gabaldon can write a compelling scene. That’s one reason. The second is that I’ve spent nearly 20 years reading these books, and they have to end soon. Please God.

 

 

 

Memoirs of Gen. William T. Sherman—Volume II

William T. Sherman

Memoirs of Gen. William T. Sherman - Volume 2 by [Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh)]

After reading The March by E. L. Doctorow, I was curious to know what Gen. Sherman himself thought about the destruction he worked upon the south, so I started reading his memoirs. He didn’t actually say much about the march in his memoirs, just stated his opinion that the south started the war, and he was going to make them feel it.

Even though I never learned what I wanted to know, the memoirs were fascinating. Sherman retired from the army, spent time in California during the gold rush and settle down in Louisiana as head of a military academy when war became apparent. He resigned his job, took up his commission in the army and became a soldier again.

The bulk of the book takes place during the war years, and his memories of the war are fascinating. I am sure Civil War buffs (of which I am not), salivate at his detailed descriptions of various battles and letters back and forth between him and other officers. I confess they bored me stiff and I skipped a lot. They are stiffly written in military-speak, and I didn’t find them very interesting. There were other descriptions that were interesting, including an account of the death of his son the deeply touch the reader.

After the war my interest picked up as Sherman became embroiled in politics and found himself going back and forth between President Johnson and General Grant. He was very uncomfortable in this position and extricated himself as quickly as possible. He liked Washington D.C. as a city, but loathed the politics.

He ends the book with his retirement from active duty, and one must consult other sources to find out about his activities after retirement. One remarkable statement of his was in response to an attempt in 1884 to place him on the Republican ballot as president, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.” It doesn’t get more emphatic than that.

He died of pneumonia seven years after retirement at age 71. He served his country proudly and felt he had nothing to apologize for.

 

Benediction

Kent Haruf

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What a lovely and gentle book. We travel with Dad in his final days of life, as he struggles to wrap up his affairs and say his goodbyes to his family and friends. Along the way we learn about his estranged son and meet a pastor who is just a bit too Christ-like to suit his congregation.

Haruf’s writing, as usual, is plain and simple. Not a large book, but every word is necessary. Like Stewart O’Nan at his best, he gives the impression that every word is polished until it glows. On now to read The Tie That Binds.

Highly recommended.

Highly recommended. I have read three Haruf books, and he hasn’t disappointed me yet.