Mini-Reviews of Books I’ve Recently Read

It’s been a while since I’ve done some book reviews, so here are some books I’ve read recently that I have particularly enjoyed. Since I have little time to read, I mainly listen to audiobooks while at work, so these are all reviews of the audiobooks.

  1. All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

birdsskyAnders is the editor-in-chief for the fabulous sci-fi web site io9. Her latest novel is an unusual and refreshing genre-blend of fantasy and sci-fi.

Patricia and Laurence are two outcasts at school who become friends. Laurence is a science geek who has already invented a two-second time machine and Patricia—well, Patricia is a witch who can talk to animals. Losing touch with each other during middle school, they meet up again as adults in San Francisco. Laurence is part of a group that uses technology to avert catastrophes, and Patricia belongs to a band of witches that tries to do good without self-aggrandizing.

Both groups purport to be about staving off mass catastrophe, but for some reason Patricia and Laurence’s reunion seems to be causing it.

It’s a little difficult to fully describe this book—I’ve never read anything quite like it. It starts out as a coming-of-age story, then clips past that. You’ll find yourself chuckling even as it seems the world is coming to an end. Anders masterfully combines familiar tropes from both genres and then weaves them into something that feels completely new and different. I quite enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more novels by Anders in the future.

  1. A Knight of Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin

knightseven2This is a compilation of several stories that take place in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe (known to TV fans as the Game of Thrones universe) almost a century before the opening action of A Game of Thrones. The Targaryens are still in possession of the Iron Throne. What makes the stories special is they are not told from the point of view of the movers and shakers in the political arena, but from the point of view of Dunk, a humble hedge knight.

Humble he may be, but he has as his squire young Egg, who is in reality the Targaryen prince Aegon.

Through the adventures of this delightful oddball pairing, Martin explores some of the events that will eventually lead to the overthrow of the Targaryen line and war(s) brought about by other claimants to the Iron Throne.

What’s amazing here is how Martin shows that history can turn on a dime and for the most unexpected reasons. This is a terrific book and a must-read for fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. For those who’ve been hesitant about dipping into the behemoth novels in the series, this is a nice gateway introduction (which, of course, would need to be reread later to catch all the ways it presages the events of the main books). I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

hamilton2Yes, yes, I am all Hamilton, all the time, since I discovered the soundtrack album for the Broadway musical. (I’m currently working on a blog post about the soundtrack, which will be ready soon, I hope.)

But I was a history nerd way before this. Even before I picked up the album, I downloaded the audiobook.

Chernow is an exceptional historian (though I do have a couple of beefs with him; more about that later). He is meticulous in his research and is one of the few history writers I’ve come across who manages to avoid making events seem dry and remote. You will immediately understand why Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of Hamilton the musical, was inspired to start working on a stage adaptation only two chapters in.

My beefs? Every time he referred to the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings relationship as a “romance,” it made me cringe. He also assumes an awful lot about real people’s thoughts and feelings based on their expressions in PAINTINGS.

On the other hand, he highlights mostly-ignored Eliza Hamilton’s accomplishments as the caretaker of her husband’s memory, an abolitionist, and advocate for orphaned children.

Whether you’re a history nerd or not, this is a fascinating portrait of one of the most interesting of our Founding Fathers, and adds lots of context for fans of the musical.

  1. Born with Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew

bornteethI’ve been a fan of actress Kate Mulgrew since she played Mary Ryan on the now-defunct soap opera Ryan’s Hope back in the 1970s. It was no surprise to me that she went on to a long, successful career in film, theater, and television. Most people today recognize her as Captain Kathryn Janeway from the TV show Star Trek: Voyager. She has recently won new fans with her role as Red in Orange is the New Black.

Born in into a large Irish-Catholic family, Mulgrew explores both her upbringing and the course of her career, which took off at an incredibly young age. If you’re looking for tons of gossipy tidbits about either her Ryan’s Hope or Voyager days, you’ll be disappointed. But as a portrait of an ambitious, talented actress who faces the many ups and downs in a career—as well as personal tragedies, including the loss of a sister and a 20-year search for a child she gave up for adoption—it is utterly compelling.

Mulgrew herself does a stellar job of narrating the audiobook.

5. The Accursed Kings Series by Maurice Druon

ironkingThis series of historical novels, written in French during the 1950s, was recommended by a Game of Thrones super-fan on Twitter. Supposedly, these books, about the political upheaval caused by disputed successions of French kings during the early part of the 14th century, were a big influence on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

I tore through the first two books, The Iron King and The Strangled Queen, like a mad person. THEY ARE AMAZING, among the best historical novels I have ever read. I was devastated that the other five books were not available on Audible.

But—HAPPY COINCIDENCE—right after I started writing this post the rest of the series became available on Audible. YAY!

I have already finished the third book, The Poisoned Crown, and am half-way through the fourth, The Royal Succession.

The kings in question are “accursed” because King Phillip the Fair and Pope Clement V decide to suppress the Knights of Templar. As he is dying in the flames, their leader curses their accusers to the 13th generation. The pope dies, throwing the church and European monarchies into chaos because a divided conclave refuses to elect a new one for two years. Phillip, who was a strong leader, also dies, which touches off a long struggle for power among his less capable sons and other French nobles.

Don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say there’s plotting, betrayal, and murder galore. A noblewoman named Mahaut makes Livia from I, Claudius seem like a sweet schoolgirl in comparison.

These books are so great they are the only thing that can get me to take a break from listening to the Hamilton soundtrack yet again.

6 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews of Books I’ve Recently Read

  1. Hey, it’s probably out of topic, I just wonder how do you set the ‘related’ section below the post to look like that? Mine doesn’t show images of related posts.

    1. Go to your admin screen, then select “reading” under “settings” on the list at the left. It will take you to a screen where you can choose to show images.

      (Deborah, I’m following you because I saw you’ll be writing on Gone with the Wind for the de Havilland event.) 🙂

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