Sunday Sum Up

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Really. It’s been hot this week. I’m sitting here with a big fan about three feet from my face. The high temperatures might be part of the reason I devoured Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman in two days. Thinking of a snowy Norway helps keep my mind off the oncoming summer.

On the bright side, I’m taking a pottery class starting this week. I haven’t touched clay since I was in college, so I’ll be brushing up on some very rusty skills and maybe come out of it with a cup or bowl or two. I’ll keep you posted!

In addition to The Snowman, I finished up Conn Iggulden’s Bloodline and Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban.


I am currently reading three books, and I’ll have to start another one pretty soon. I have several eBooks on hold from my library, and they usually auto-download when they come available, so I’ll be minding my business and all of a sudden a book shows up on my phone. The books I’m working on are The Black Company by Glen Cook, The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel, and The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen is the most recent download.


I’ve read fifty-three pages of The Black Company, and I’m still not sure what I think about it. The characters are certainly interesting, but the plot is flitting around a little, and it’s hard to get a sense of exactly what’s going on, what with all the “that sucked, so we’re going over there. But we found out that it sucked over there, too, so now we’re going here”. I could do with a little more description of the events and the world, honestly, but I’m probably going to give it to page one-hundred before giving up on it.

The Glass Universe is as interesting as Sobel’s other books, but there are so many names to keep track of! Also, I’d thought it would revolve around the women of the story, but there is a lot to do with the men. It makes sense, given that it’s the men who are running the program that hired the women to process and interpret all the information they gathered, but still.

I haven’t really started on The Bear and the Nightingale yet. I glanced at the first page, was intrigued, and then decided that I should work on The Glass Universe on my lunch break today. I haven’t started The Star-Touched Queen at all. I don’t mind being in the midst of four books at once, but I’d like to get my mind made up about The Black Company and get closer to finishing The Glass Universe.

In other news, I ended up with two free tickets to see A Quiet Passion tonight, so I’m taking a friend out for a movie and drinks. Neither of us knows much about it besides the facts that it’s about Emily Dickinson and it’s been very well reviewed.



Sunday Sum Up

Another Sunday has come around, and it is definitely June outside. You wouldn’t think that an 86°F day with low humidity would be so stifling, but there’s not a breath of wind outside so the air is just sitting there, slowly cooking under a sunless sky.

I am not looking forward to summer.

Anyway. I’ll cross that muggy bridge when I get there. Right now, books! I finished three of them this week- The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein, Margaret of Anjou by Conn Iggulden, and Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes (I’ll post a review for this later in the week).

I’ve already started two other books, Bloodline by Conn Iggulden, which is the third installment of his Wars of the Roses series. Thanks to a gripping plot and fascinating characters, I read in bed for an hour longer than I intended to, so I’m already to page 125. Looks like I’ll be finishing this one in a hurry. Because I always like to have a digital book handy in case of long lines at the grocery store or whatever, I downloaded Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban, because who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare retelling? I’ve never read Carey’s work before, so I’m looking forward to it.


In other news, the podcast Invisibilia is back for a new season! It’s an offshoot of the stellar Radiolaband the first two episodes deal with emotions, how they are made, and the their consequences in both everyday and extreme circumstances. I’d be listening to it right now, but I can’t listen to people talking and type at the same time. Might have to hurry through the writing of this!

Neil Gaiman has been working to raise awareness and money for the plight of refugees around the world, so when the comedian Sara Benincasa jokingly asked if he would do a reading of the Cheesecake Factory menu if she raised $500,000 for refugees, he agreed. The campaign has raised just over $87,000 so far. You can find it here:  neil-gaiman-will-do-a-live-reading-of-the-cheesecake-factory-menu-if-we-raise-500000-for-refugees. The minimum donation is $10, so chip in if you can. It’s a worthy cause.

Margaret of Anjou

61w-zvQfd+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Margaret of Anjou (The Wars of the Roses #2)
by Conn Iggulden
464 pages
published 2014

From Goodreads: The brilliant retelling of the Wars of the Roses continues with Margaret of Anjou, the second gripping novel in the new series from historical fiction master Conn Iggulden.

As traitors advance . . . a queen defends.
It is 1454 and for more than a year King Henry VI has remained all but exiled in Windsor Castle, struck down by his illness, his eyes vacant, his mind blank. His fiercely loyal wife and queen, Margaret of Anjou, safeguards her husband’s interests, hoping that her son Edward will one day come to know his father.
With each month that Henry is all but absent as king, Richard, the duke of York, protector of the realm, extends his influence throughout the kingdom. A trinity of nobles–York and Salisbury and Warwick–are a formidable trio and together they seek to break the support of those who would raise their colors and their armies in the name of Henry and his queen.
But when the king unexpectedly recovers his senses and returns to London to reclaim his throne, the balance of power is once again thrown into turmoil. The clash of the Houses of Lancaster and York may be the beginning of a war that could tear England apart . . .
Following Stormbird, Margaret of Anjou is the second epic installment in master storyteller Conn Iggulden’s new Wars of the Roses series. Fans of the Game of Thrones and the Tudors series will be gripped from the word “go.”

The synoposis is not wrong. I think fans of Game of Thrones (or A Song of Ice and Fire, if you’re talking about the books) would like this series. It’s full of political intrigue, battles, and spies, though there aren’t any dragons. I’m okay with the lack of dragons.

I’ve read about the history of the Wars of the Roses, I’ve watched the Shakespearean plays based on this time period, and I even watched the wretched The White Queen tv show that made witchcraft into a thing that actually worked (what…?).

Someone needs to stop turning Philippa Gregory’s books into television shows, and turn to Conn Iggulden instead. It’s one thing to read in the history books about battles and casualty counts, and who wrote what edict and when. It’s quite another to have someone write a vivid novelization of the whole affair, where you come to like and care about a character, only to have them cruelly cut down in battle. I even respected Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York who is presented as something of a villain, but he loves his country and has grown so frustrated with how Queen Margaret and her faction have ruled the country that he rises against them to ‘free his King from the wicked councilors who surround him’.

You have to respect Margaret, too, though. She came to England as a slip of a fourteen year old girl, and now, years later, she has a backbone of steel and is capable of raising an army to defend her husband, King Henry VI and secure her son Edward’s position as heir to the English throne.

There are too many things going on to summarize this book in a couple of paragraphs, and you could check the Wikipedia page if you want a summary of the dynastic wars that spanned generations and ended up giving us the Tudor dynasty.

Suffice it to say that Conn Iggulden has written another fantastic book that is fast-paced and full of action, but isn’t lacking in real human emotion, either. Take the queen, for example: as the years of Henry VI’s illness progress, Margaret’s love for him withers, and her motivation to fight moves away from him to protecting her son’s rights. The various houses are still at each other’s throats, there are betrayals, men who are loyal to the death, and overall brilliant prose that doesn’t let up or let you go.

And I don’t even mind that Iggulden will switch point of view from one character to the next without warning.

I already have to next book waiting for me on my bookshelf, and I look forward to getting started.

** Note, Margaret of Anjou is also titled Trinity, a fact that confused the heck out of me when I was looking through the books at the library.

Stormbird (The Wars of the Roses #1)

17830079Stormbird (The Wars of the Roses #1)
by Conn Iggulden
Historical Fiction
482 pages

From Goodreads: King Henry V – the great Lion of England – is long dead.

In 1437, after years of regency, the pious and gentle Henry VI, the Lamb, comes of age and accedes to the English throne. His poor health and frailty of mind render him a weakling king -Henry depends on his closest men, Spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, to run his kingdom.

Yet there are those, such as the Plantagenet Richard, Duke of York, who believe England must be led by a strong king if she is to survive. With England’s territories in France under threat, and rumours of revolt at home, fears grow that Henry and his advisers will see the country slide into ruin. With a secret deal struck for Henry to marry a young French noblewoman, Margaret of Anjou, those fears become all too real.

As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who, or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?

I’ve been searching for an historical fiction author whose books I can sink my metaphorical teeth into (as opposed to literally throwing them at the wall) for some time now, and have mostly come up short. Sharon Kay Penman started out great, but Falls the Shadow got so choppy I abandoned it just under two-hundred pages from the end, Helen Hollick’s The Forever Queen suffered from too many POVs crammed into the opening few chapters, and don’t even get me started on Philippa Gregory. There have been others through the years, but I don’t remember authors’ names or book titles, as they were largely forgettable tales. Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon stories are well-written and memorable (I read The Last Kingdom earlier this year), but I haven’t felt like I need to sit down and devour the series asap to find out what happens.

So I was starting to despair of ever finding an historical fiction author whose books didn’t annoy me in one way or another. Enter Conn Iggulden.

Who hasn’t heard of the Wars of the Roses, whether it’s because that’s a darned catchy name for a decades long series of civil wars, or because you’re a history nut who can name every little political player in the whole conflict? I tend toward the latter, because history is awesome.

Stormbird begins early in the reign of Henry VI, who ascended the throne in infancy after the death of his martially-minded father, Henry V. Sadly for England, the younger Henry is hardly like his father. Weak in both mind and body, Henry VI (just Henry from here on) prefers to spend his days in prayer, leaving the ruling of the kingdom to other men- specifically to his spymaster, Derihew Brewer, and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. The two men walk a delicate line, as the Duke of York leads a power faction, and it takes very little effort to sway Henry’s opinion one way or another. So to try to wrest all control away from the Yorkist faction, Derry and Suffolk put together a plan to marry Henry to Margaret of Anjou, a French princess who is related to King Charles of France.

There is little room for error, though, and once it is discovered that lands held by the English will go back to French rule upon Margaret’s marriage, chaos ensues. Thousands of English families are forced off their lands in France. Many rebel, and King Charles’s response is to raise an army that will sweep every Englishman away from French soil.

Meanwhile, back in England, the treaty that turned over those initial territories has proven to be politically disastrous for Suffolk, though Margaret herself has suffered little from xenophobia, and indeed cares greatly for her new country, and especially for her husband, Henry, whose mental and physical health are still in decline. Though she is only fifteen when she’s crowned Queen of England, she quickly learns how to navigate the intricacies of politics and proves to be a fierce defender of her husband’s crown.

Her strength- and the crown’s- is put to the test, though, when Jack Cade leads a peasant rebellion to London itself. Stoked by widespread anger from rampant injustice, poverty, and the loss of the French territories, Cade’s army threatens to shake England apart.

This is, of course, a simplification of the events of Stormbird, and if you’re a fan of Shakespeare, English history, or both, the plot will sound very familiar, as the dynastic struggle is the subject of this historical plays, Henry VI, pts. I and II (beautifully executed in the Hollow Crown series produced by the BBC). There are, of course, a lot of differences, one of the primary points regarding the relationship between Suffolk and Margaret of Anjou. Shakespeare casts Margaret as a villainous, scheming, adulterous woman seeking power for herself and eventually for her son. In the plays, she has an ongoing affair with Suffolk, who is also a villainous figure.

Iggulden’s depiction of Margaret, I think, is more true to history. While it’s true that Henry was not in France for the initial marriage ceremony, and that Suffolk stood in his place, that alone doesn’t mean that he and Margaret were lovers. It just means that Margaret’s wedding was a little weird, and not where she expected it to be. Iggulden portrays the relationship as friendly, as they traveled together back to England, and I would daresay that she would have been inclined to favor Suffolk, given that he was a close adviser to her husband-to-be.

Above all, Iggulden’s portrayals of all the characters, whether they’re royal or lowborn, treat them like human beings, with a range of thoughts, feelings, and desires. No one here is specifically written as a villain, except perhaps the Duke of York (though he generally comes off as frustrated as to what is happening to his country), or even as specifically good. Everyone has nuances and even moral people can do bad things.

The prose is strong, as well. At points where some authors are prone to sweeping descriptions or over-the-top sentimentality, Iggulden keeps it simple and direct with elegantly crafted writing that keeps you in the story without becoming distracting in itself. He also manages to give the book a sense of history without lecturing the reader (or having one character ramble on to another about things they should both already know). King Charles might mention the ‘disaster at Agincourt’, or an English Duke might look at a cardinal and think, ‘he’s also the one who sent Joan of Arc to the pyre’, but that’s it. If you don’t know what Agincourt or Joan of Arc are about, you’re going to have to look them up, because the characters aren’t going to tell you.

And I suppose that’s one of the strengths of Stormbird– the fact that, while the characters have a place in our history, they didn’t know what their eventual fates were going to be during their lifetimes. Maybe they knew they would have a place in great events, but they did not know the effects their actions would have on history. There is, I think, a propensity for authors and filmmakers to place a great emphasis on a character’s destiny, as though the fall of Richard III or the ascension of Elizabeth I were fated to happen, and nothing could stop them. But at the time, those outcomes were not guaranteed. A minor twist of fate could have had Richard III winning the Battle of Bosworth, not Henry Tudor, and Elizabeth I would never have existed. Iggulden does not fall for that, though, and Stormbird makes you feel like anything could happen, even if you already know what happened.

I will definitely be looking for the rest of the books in the Wars of the Roses series. If they’re anything like Stormbird, they’ll be fantastic reads, too.