December 18, 2009
Robin Hood by J.C. Holt
Who was Robin Hood, if the man existed, and how has the lore surrounding him evolved? J.C. Holt traces the legend of Robin Hood back to the area of Wakefield and Barnsdale forest in 1225.
One of the key things that I learned from this book was the distinction between tales taking place in Barnsdale vs. Sherwood forests. I realized that growing up, I heard the Sherwood stories, in which Robin and his Merry Men fight against the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Whereas the older Barnsdale stories had an abbot and others as enemies.
Holt pieces together evidence of the geography of the legends, the audience they were directed at- originally yeomen, a class of household servants and how they spread and developed later on. He bemoans the obscuring of the older tales and their in his opinion, debasing.
Though it was quite informative, I also found parts of it to be rather dry. I think it’s better to read this if you’re more familiar with the Robin Hood legends. As I have just begun studying them, I realized I kind of jumped into the deep end of the pool with this one!
Read in April 2009
December 16, 2009
The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip
This is a beautifully written novel, that reads like a fairy tale with its simple yet poetic language. I can see why it won the World Fantasy Award. Sybel, a young woman trained in magic by her late wizard father lives on Eld Mountain alone with the legendary beasts he collected.
One day, a baby is brought to her to raise. In spite of her doubts, the boy Tamlorn grows to melt her heart and reconnect her with humanity. Her suspicion of human society and its politics and wars seems warranted however, when Tamlorn’s true parentage is revealed and she falls in love with an enemy of his people.
McKillip says many interesting things in here about love, relationships, power and how easily it corrupts. It went in a different direction than I expected. My main complaint is, the writing became rather melodramatic and soap opera-ish in the last third or so of the book. Still, I overall enjoyed it and would recommend it to fantasy-lovers.
Read in September 2009
December 15, 2009
The Red-Haired Girl in the Bog: the Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit by Patricia Monaghan
Fantastic! In Patricia Monaghan’s various pilgramages to Ireland, she explores the landscape with dindsheanchas, traditional stories associated with places, many of which I’d never heard of. The anecdotes she shared of her adventures and people she encounters were interesting. She also includes many insightful commentaries about history and modern issues facing both Ireland and the rest of the world- from ecology and economics, to the survival of language and culture. Her descriptions of the land make you feel like you’re there. I can’t wait to travel to Ireland!
One critique I do have to give though, is that Monaghan cites a variety of sources, many of which are good but the scholarship of some are questionable. However this is more of a fun, casual read than a scholarly book, but there is a wealth of information here.
I’d also love to see similar books about Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall as well as non-Celtic nations.
Read July 2009
While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer
While I’d heard news stories about cultural tensions with Muslims in Europe esp. France I did not realize the full extent of these problems. Bawer details many outrageous human rights abuses especially of women, children, gay and Jewish people by Muslim immigrants.
He blames European countries’ policies of multiculturalism & cultural relativism for being so “tolerant” of Islam that they turn a blind eye towards extremism. He claims that any criticism of Islam is suppressed as being racist.
He points out that the U.S. is used to immigration and encourages new citizens to see themselves as Americans, and embrace common values of democracy and equality, but Europe was not prepared to integrate large numbers of immigrants from drastically different cultures, and native Europeans have a lack of confidence in their cultural values stemming from the World Wars and guilt over colonialism.
One big caveat I have with “While Europe Slept” is that Bawer does not cite his sources- no footnotes. It seems odd, especially when he mentions specific incidents and quotes. That said, it has sparked my interest to further research Islam in Europe. I think he raised some valid criticisms of European policies, though I do think he has a bias against the E.U. that didn’t seem especially relevant to this book. His dismissal of any real racism or discrimination towards African & Asian immigrants in Europe seems unfair and dishonest.
Read July 2009
December 14, 2009
Well, it seems dear readers I have been neglecting this blog. I have been posting my reviews elsewhere, on my Goodreads account, and on Visual Bookshelf on Facebook. But I have forgotten about this blog! If you have a Goodreads account or would like to create one you can follow my reviews there, its the place that I update the most. So I will be posting the books I have reviewed since then up here. But I have a lot more to say about book-related events in my Twin Cities, Minnesota metro area, upcoming releases & comparisons to book-related movies and other things that are not reviews. My original intent for this blog was for it to be about my hobbies in general, including crafts & genealogy so I will also consider if I still want to do that. Even if I do, it will still probably mostly be about books!
One change I would like to make would be to post pictures & links for each book, so you can click on a book that interests you and go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or another site to learn more, and possibly buy it. However, I would like to encourage you to support your independent bookstore, as many of them have been going out of business due to competition with these corporations. Keeping mom & pop stores alive helps your local economy and adds unique character to the place you live in. I will be thinking about how to solve this problem. In the meantime, you can still go to Indie Bound (formerly BookSense- I hadn’t realized they’d change their name til I just checked it today!) to find your closest independent bookstore. Also, try your local library. The price is right! And if they don’t have what you’re looking for, talk to a librarian about inter-library loan.
Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card (1 of Tales of Alvin Maker)
The book is set in an alternate colonial America, where practitioners of magic have been exiled. Alvin Miller is born the seventh son of a seventh son- and thus his family & community expects him to be destined for greatness- that is if he can survive to adulthood. For he seems continually set by accidents. Is someone- or something out to get him?
Yet while a supernatural threat may be looming, religious, political and racial conflicts are closer to home.
I enjoyed the historical scenario, as described and revealed by Card. I was reminded a bit of Little House on the Prairie, despite it being an earlier time period, settling a homestead is much the same.
I might’ve given it more stars but I thought the characters were not very well-developed. This is just the first book of a series, though so I expect Alvin and others will become more fleshed out in later books. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in early American history, folklore and folk magic.
Note: just a warning that the Native Americans are referred to as “Reds”, “savages” etc. which was rather jarring to me. I don’t think (I hope!) Card means to be racist, but rather it’s meant from the settlers’ POV.
Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (Book 2 of Temeraire series)
Throne of Jade begins with Capt. Will Laurence being informed by his superiors of a diplomatic problem. Since Temeraire’s egg was acquired by the capture of a French vessel, and the egg was a gift from the Chinese, they now want Temeraire back! After some negotiation, it’s decided that Laurence will accompany Temeraire on a voyage back to China and they’ll figure out what to do there.
Some have complained that the sea voyage that takes a good chunk of the book is rather slow, and it can be at times. But I found the culture clashes between the British and the Chinese to be very interesting.
Upon arrival in China they discover the very different way dragons are treated there. The Chinese were the first to tame & breed dragons, and so they are much more common there than in the west. Thus, their roles are not limited to the military. I think the best part of this book was watching Temeraire mature & grow as a character as he begins questioning the status of dragons. Novik brings up many thought-provoking moral and cultural issues. It seemed like it took me most of August to get through this book, but it was worth it!