Category: Books

Book Review-The Age of Ceasar

 I promised myself I would do a few serious books this year, and have gotten several completed. My definition of serious? Classics, biographies and non fiction. While several fiction reads have been toward that direction, I’m not counting them. The one I just completed was inspired by Girl #2 being home. I admit I had it checked out for six weeks before I finished, but I didn’t start it until the latter part of June, so it was about a month of fairly steady reading.

Plutarch was an ancient writer, and he did the biographies of a variety of Romans. His original works were paired, allowing the reader to compare two lives, one lived well, and the other not so much. In this version, the translater, Pamela Mensch, selected five Caesars, so you are basically reading five biographies by Plutarch, with Ms. Mensch’ annotations. Mary Beard, (very famous and amazing classicist, according to a girl #2, wrote the intro which helps someone like me understand what’s going on!) There are five biographies: Pompey, Cicero, Brutus, Ceasar and Antony.

My conclusions? Most of these guys were more honorable then your average U.S. Senator, regardless of party. I had never heard of Pompey, but he was quite a tactician and pretty humble. I hadn’t realized that Cicero was so high in the political structure (he was consul!); he was a great orator of course, but he could turn the entire country with his words, and loved Liberty above all else. Several times it talked about him ruling Rome without holding office because he was so influential. Brutus wasn’t the bad guy most think he was, Ceasar was understandable, and Antony couldn’t keep his toga on….I found Plutarch surprisingly engaging, even funny. He was pretty relaxed in his narration, and the sections were small, so it was easy to find a stopping place. I found myself wishing for an ancient map to track everyone’s moves, because most of these five intersected with each other throughout their lives.

So, if you want to learn something new this summer, you may want to check this out! I was surprised in a good way, finding this much more interesting and engaging than I had anticipated. And, as with any classic, you learn that man really hasn’t changed that much over the centuries, we can be brilliant and quite stupid, depending on the day!

Book Review–The First Princess of Wales

Karen Harper’s historical novel is about Joan of Kent, who lived in the 1300’s and eventually married the Black Prince, Edward of Wales, and was the mother of Richard II. To say she had a checkered past, is to put it mildly, but considering the prince waited to marry until he was nearly 30, in an age where one could easily be dead by 30,  you can’t help but wonder if this was indeed a love that spanned time! 

This story did get me looking up all sorts of stuff, more info on Edward, Joan, surcotes, and kirtles, even the plague! It covered battles, described knights and their chargers, medieval warfare, lots of interesting fodder for a history buff like me. I didn’t care if it was close fiction or grandiose fiction, I was intrigued by the court politics, power of the King and everything else from a time period with which I am ill acquainted.

For a medieval novice, I found it interesting, and it piqued my interest enough to have me looking up the real history, so I call it a win!

Book Review-Circling the Sun

Another semi-biographical fiction read by Paula McLain, this one explores the very unusual life of Beryl Markham, the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo, flying from England to Nova Scotia. 

I was reading this during a very busy time, and it took me longer than usual to get through it. It isn’t a thrilling page turner, but chronicles real life, which has its moments of drama, but  is often just the daily routine. Some people would find that boring, but I am intrigued to learn about how others lived, even during the ordinary times. Maybe because I grew up in a dairy farm, where the goal is to keep every day the same…calm cows are happy cows, you see.

What kept me reading? I had never read about colonial Africa, and most of the book is set in colonial Kenya in the 10’s through 30’s. Having little knowledge about this part of the world or this portion of it’s history, my brain just filled up with the descriptions of the life and the countryside. It sounds like scandal followed this woman everywhere, though the author kept the details to a low roar. Considering the era, this lady had some trouble with propriety, or maybe her childhood rendered her immune, it’s hard to say, but sometimes I caught myself wondering what could she be thinking?!!??

This book is probably not for anyone looking for a light, fun read. It chronicles real life, and this life was quite human. However, if you are interested in learning about a different time, a very different world, or a lady that breaks the mold society expected, it is an intriguing read.

Book Review-Love Finds You in Lahaina Hawaii

Bodie Thoene has written some of my favorite book series, so I decided to check this one out of the library, even though the title sounded odd for her. What most would assume is a typical romance novel is far from it. It is actually two stories in one, and they are woven together to create an interesting read. One is set in 1973 and the other in 1898. I was not disappointed with a fluffy romance novel, but an intriguing and mysterious story.

I’ll just quote Bodie’s forward: “…in 1976. Brock and I met an old Hawaiian woman with a binder of early photographs beneath the enormous banyan tree across from the Pioneer Inn. It was among those sepia photographs that I first saw the haunting face of the beautiful young princess. When I asked the old woman about Princess Kaiulani, she smiled and said, ‘There is a difference between LEgend and the Truth. All is not as it seems in the history books. The true story of the Kingdom of Hawaii is a secret that has not yet been written.’ This is, in part, the story we heard that day.”

Of course it is fiction, some of the time sequences don’t match with the historical record, but is it ALL fiction?  While it wasn’t a typical can’t-put-it-down Thoene read, it was a good summer read, and one that kept me pondering for several days after I finished!

Book Review–John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams  by Harlow Giles Unger, was one of my self imposed serious reads for this summer. I knew some of his story, but the biography really captured his essence.

This was a fascinating boy/man. He witnessed the Battle for Bunker Hill from the hill above the family farm, regularly had afternoon tea with Thomas Jefferson in France, went to Russia as the diplomat’s secretary/interpreter at 14, and that’s just the first few chapters! His ethical fiber was so impressive, as was his scholarly diligence. Truly, if he ran for president today, I would have to say our country doesn’t a man of his caliber!

I picked this biography up on a whim, because I wanted a book to hold in my hands, instead of my iPad…WOW! John  Quincy saw so much world history live and in person, it is mind boggling! Were I in the classroom, I would require every high school student in America to read it. I’ll be reading this one again. Just think, this one person was President, held multiple Ambassadorships, served in the Senate, the House, turned down a nomination for the Supreme Court..

Book Review–The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

beekeeperFirst, thank you Kerry from Love Those Hands at Home, who recommended this book. It is a winner! My only regret is that the volume that came up first from “on hold” land was the audio version. It was great to sew and listen, but I enjoyed this one so much that I may buy it so I can hold it in my hands and read it again and again. The  Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King, was published in 2010, so it’s been around awhile, but I had never seen it. 

The story is the first in a Sherlock Holmes series set during World War I. Mr. Holmes is now retired, but meets the precocious orphan Mary Russell. The story details their friendship, Mary’s subsequent training and a case or two that cements their friendship and collaboration. 

When they first meet, Mary is a gangly teenage with a smart mouth, and the story is told from her point of view, in first person. And yes, you will learn a little something about bees as well! There are more in this series, and I will be checking them out from my digital library, you can be sure!

Book Review–My Brilliant Friend

 My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is a great read. Yes, there is some drama, and intensity, but I most appreciated the look into real life growing up poor in Italy in the 1950’s. I am very interested in seeing how the two protagonists’ lives progess. I would definitely take this with me camping or on vacation, it’s not so involved that you can’t put it down, but makes you want to go back and find out what happens next, perfect for a summer read. Here’s an “official” synopsis; it provides an overview much more eloquently than I can.

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.   Europa Editions