The Deerslayer

Did you know that The Last of the Mohicans is actually a series? We see series all the time now, but we don’t think about them much back in the 1800s. Maybe they happened more than I realize. I’ve seen books with multiple volumes and one title, but this is the first I’ve seen in an actual series like this.

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James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Leatherstocking Tales about an adventurer called Natty Bumppo–a white man who was raised among the Delaware Indians in the what is now New York. Even though he was raised among the Native Americans, he loathes the idea of harming his own kind. He hunts (giving him the nickname of Deerslayer), but he does not like the idea of war. He crosses paths with two white men, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom who have taken up scalping for trade, and try to convince him to do it with them. He tries to convince them to stop, but they don’t listen and are trapped by the dangerous Huron tribe.

This book…I just…have really mixed feelings.

I liked Bumppo’s character. He’s a good man, and he just wants to be left alone in the woods. Also, he’s asexual. He has a chance to marry the beautiful girl, and he says, “Meh…no thanks, I think I’ll go back and head off back in the trees, but thanks. Let’s just be friends, k?” He joins the fight because he has to get the idiots out of danger, but I got the idea that it was really really complicated and was just messing things up for him. Towards the end, Judith asks him if he wanted to fight and he tells her that while he can now claim the title of Warrior, he hates it and fights only out of necessity.

Also, the descriptions of the land are beautiful. This is written by someone who has spent a great deal of time in upstate New York. My Coursera professor added this to our historical fiction syllabus–which is why I am reading it now–and he showed us a picture of the lake Cooper references. The details are perfect, down to the exact spherical boulder on the shoreline.

However, I struggled a great deal with the racial context. I think sometimes it is hard for me to remove myself culturally from what I know now about the struggles/pain white men have caused in this country. I’m not even sure if that sentence made any sense. But even though I know in my head that Cooper was using the terminology that his characters would have called “injins” and “red men,” it still just makes me cringe. Bumppo and Hurry Harry have a pretty heated debate about the differences between white men and red men–Bumppo is trying to convince Harry that all men are equal, even if culture and tradition is different–and it just gets really ugly. It hurts my heart to know that I could pick that conversation up, take out “red” put in “black” and drop that conversation pretty much anywhere in the US right now, and it would still fit exactly.

I don’t talk about that subject much, mostly because I don’t know what to say, and what I mean will never come out right. But that part of the book really got to me, and I couldn’t leave it out.

There isn’t much else–the book is a little hard to follow at times. It is pretty chaotic. People have multiple names and there isn’t a whole lot of setting buildup. This is one that I read Wiki before I reviewed to make sure I understood what I read. I’m not ashamed to admit it, people!

This isn’t really a book I’d recommend, unless you really like old adventure stories. But, I know I’m going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans at some point for the Boxall 1001, so I stuck it out.

Seriously though, I am going to make someone else write my TBR for September. Why did I do this to myself? WAR WAR WAR DEPRESSED WARWARWAR DARK WAR

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Cyropaedia

Have you guys checked out Coursera yet? If not, you definitely should. It’s a website solely devoted to providing quality online college courses from real professors from real colleges for free (you can pay for certificates if you want/need them). I’m on my second class now–a class about historical fiction called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” Sounds super interesting, right?

Because it’s a class on fiction, there’s a pretty substantial reading list, and the class is “Go At Your Own Pace.” Now, the professor told us we don’t have to read everything on the syllabus but…come on, you guys know me well enough to know I’m sure as hell gonna try. Or at least the ones I can get for free on Kindle and Google Books.

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First on the list is Cyropaedia, an ancient book written by a student of Socrates. Composed around 370 BC, it is supposedly the first historical fiction novel–a political romance.

The eight books follow Cyrus the Great of Persia from his early beginnings as a rambunctious teenager until he is old and dying. During his lifetime he builds a magnificent empire in what today is the Middle East. He did this not just by conquering nations, but by also gaining the love and trust of his people and soldiers, and thus made many allies.


Image credit:  http://syria.ewas.us/

I never quite understood the “romance” part of the book, though I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. However, this book is very much a war epic. I kept wondering if this was required reading at West Point or during any Officer’s Training, because if not, it should be. The military strategy discussed is probably ancient and outdated for use with our technology now, but the motivational speeches made by Cyrus and his generals are some of the most epic I’ve ever read. I did run out of steam towards the middle because of the battle descriptions, as I tend to do with this sort of thing, but otherwise, the characters are absolutely captivating.

Xenophon is not an author we hear about much (ok, at all) in the literary world today, at least for those of us average folk. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Homer, sure. Xenophon is never mentioned. But this book was excellent, for what it was. Perhaps not to my usual tastes, but it was captivating from beginning to end.

 

Buy it here!

The Prince and the Pauper

Sometimes I wonder if kids today still get the same stories that we grew up on. Remember Velveteen Rabbit? That was always my favorite. Or The Little Engine that Could, Babar the Elephant, The Giving Tree? Are those still around? Do kids even know what Aesop’s Fables are anymore, or is it just that Mama Llama book every day?

That is maybe the only thing I miss about not having kids of my own–sharing my stories. I have nieces and nephews, but it’s not quite the same when you aren’t there to read to them every night.

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The Prince and the Pauper is one of those stories I remember hearing at some point. Or maybe it was just seeing the Mickey Mouse version. But I know that story by heart, and as I was reading Mark Twain’s book, I kept wondering if my littles would ever hear this one.

Another thought I had while reading it–I never realized before that this was a legend of Henry VIII’s son. As much as I love his court, I didn’t make the connection. This was apparently Mark Twain’s first attempt at historical fiction, and it’s such a silly little tale, but I quite enjoyed reading the full version. I will say that it is much more…vivid…than the Disney version! Not such a kid’s story, this one.

If you are as in love with Henry’s court as I am, this is worth the read. Mark Twain is so much more than Huck Finn. Who knew?

The Horse Healer

There is something so romantic about the horse–the way they move, their spirit, the bond we form with them. More than any other animal, the horse is interwoven into our stories and history. We needed them to work and to travel, but not only that they have been our partners and friends.

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Such is the bond told in The Horse Healer. Diego and Sabba are almost soulmates and have a grand life adventure in Spain during the Crusade era of the late 1100s.

I found the subject matter of this book extremely interesting. It is historical fiction, and while the main character was made up–the events and royalty/nobility are based on real people. The story is also extremely culturally diverse. Toledo, which is where much of the plot takes place, is the “City of Three Cultures,” and there is a constant battle between the Christian and Muslims (Moors), especially, as that is the main focus of the book. There is some reference to the Jewish circle, but it is mainly pointed at business.

One thing I did find particularly intriguing is the group of Muslim soldiers called Imesebelen. They were extremists, as explained by one of the Moor characters, and the description he gave echoed so closely to our modern day description of ISIS. I just found it so interesting that even back in early history, Christians misunderstood the violence by those  extremists so badly that it caused a whole prejudice of a culture. And it is still going on today…when we have access to way more information.

I did find the book a little rocky as far as writing style. Sometimes it would be really great and fun and easy to read, other times I’d be really confused or bored. Great subject matter though, and something I’d like to research more.

One more note about this–It comes out April 14, and the original publication is in Spanish! The ARC I’m reading has been translated into English.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #44:  A book that was originally written in a different language

Disclaimer:  NetGalley provided this ARC in return for an unbiased review.

At the Water’s Edge

Normally, I don’t review books that I don’t finish, but since I had a few loyal readers specially mention that they had At the Water’s Edge on their TBRs and wanted to hear what I thought about it…

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…I didn’t want to not give my opinion.

I’m sorry guys. I hated it. I couldn’t even make it to 25% before I had to stop. The dialogue is nothing but bickering, Nessie is barely a mention about a photo, and the WWII history is hardly even a background. It’s more over the top speakeasy drunkenness than anything else. And while sometimes that can be done really well…this one is not.

Sorry to let you down, but I knew you were waiting on this review.

 

Disclaimer:  NetGalley provided this ARC for an unbiased review.

 

Rebel Queen

I read Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti a few months ago, and was completely drawn into her historical fiction, so when NetGalley offered me the ARC of her new book Rebel Queen my reaction was a resounding YES PLEASE!!!!!!

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There is “historical fiction” that is loosely based on a time period or event, but I never really take it any more seriously than any other fiction book that I read.

Than there is REAL HISTORICAL FICTION, where the author does buckets and buckets of research, and the end product is more fact than novel. There’s usually a hefty author’s note at the beginning, and an even bigger one at the end, explaining all of the changes made to the real events. And when you read the book, it does not take long to imagine yourself in ancient Egypt, or in India during the British colonization.

This is how I feel when I read Michelle Moran’s books. I really liked Nefertiti…I LOVED Rebel Queen. It is one of those books that even when I am not actively reading it, I’m playing parts of it in my head. Serious book hangover here. Last night while I was cutting potatoes for dinner, I was definitely reliving scenes from the Rani Mahal.

There’s such a vast spectrum of culture described in this book, and I was completely enthralled. And then when the bright colors of India clash up against Victorian England–it is almost comical to watch–the difference in modesty rules:  showing belly but not breasts vs breasts but not belly, men eating with women, kissing hands. Brightness does not always mean vulgarity.

The strength of female characters in this history is what struck me the most. The Rani and her Durga Dal are fierce competition for the British. In a country where most women are in purdah, and where in the rest of the world women are seen as meek and mild socialites, having a group of educated, strong, fighting women is such an amazing thing to me. These are good heroes. Can we start teaching our girls about these women in school?

This book is a win. It’s release date is set for March 3, and it is definitely on my TO BUY list!

Disclaimer:  This ARC was given to me by NetGalley.

I’m going to count this as #28 on PopSugar Challenge (A book with antonyms in the title), because it’s probably as close as I’m going to get.

TreesofReverie December Readathon – Daily Challenge #1 – Introduction

Show or explain to us what your collection of books looks like. Do you have a specific way or order to how you like to keep your books?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am mildly obsessive about certain things. My reading habits are where I am the most compulsive, probably because it is the one thing in my life that has been the most constant.

My books HAVE to be arranged alphabetically by author, then title. There is no other way to do it, in my mind. They have always been this way, and they will remain this way. Every time I get a new book, it immediately gets shelved, and that can be a painstaking process sometimes, because everything has to get shifted–especially if that book is towards the beginning of the alphabet!

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There are a few exceptions to the alphabetic rule…but very few.

I have a To Be Read shelf now, but those books are also in order by author, of course.

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I also have pulled some “reference” and “miscellaneous” books out of the regular collection, mostly because they just didn’t fit into any real order and they were messing up the aesthetics…and most likely they are going to end up in a closet soon, because I’m running out of space in my two bookcases.

Do you have a moment in your life where your love of books and reading became significantly evident? Is there a particular thing, event or person that influenced your passion for books?

I don’t remember not reading. My love for books is more like breathing than an actual hobby. My mom told me once that when I was little, before Kindergarten, she came upstairs and found me sitting on the floor reading one of her romances. I looked at her and said, “Mommy, this book has people kissing, and they aren’t married. You shouldn’t read this.” I can remember sitting at the base of our giant bookshelves up there and just being surrounded by books, pulling them all off the shelves so I could look at them all.

What sort of book or world is your favourite to get lost in?

I love fantasy the most–but it has to be the kind of fantasy that is rooted in historical legend. Books like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. You know the kind I mean. The worlds that feel like you could almost step into it yourself.

I also really enjoy historical fiction based on real people, where the author has done extensive research. I want to be so transfixed that I feel like I am actually there, walking with the person.

What book/s would you recommend to others so that they could have a chance to get lost in your personal ‘bookish world’?

Any of the books I’ve already mentioned. The Thorn Birds, of course. The Secret GardenThe Slow Regard for Silent Things is another one of my more recent favorites, but they’d also need to read the rest of the Kingkiller Chronicles first.

 

Are We Sure This is Fiction?

The best authors somehow transport us to different worlds, different times. For the moments we are lost in between pages of the book we are reading, we are no longer sitting on the little brown couch in the upstairs bedroom of our apartment, or the hammock in our parents’ backyard. In those moments, we are far away in the mountains of South Carolina, we are running from Grievers in a maze, we are dancing in a huge manor house during the London Season.

Most of the time, our fiction is obvious. But sometimes, the most wonderful books pull us in so hard that when the white pages hit at the end…we blink back into a reality with a hangover so fierce it is incomprehensible.

I often find that, for me, these are usually historical fiction, especially based on real people, famous people. Maybe it’s because the books are based on facts I already know, and that helps push me into the story deeper. Whatever the reason, I am usually transfixed by the history and the characters.

Here’s a few historical fictions that I have…a few of my favorites.

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What books seem the most real to you?

Nefertiti

It’s been a little while since I’ve read a true historical fiction novel. Sure, a lot of what I read has old world feel to it, but it all seems to be based in fantasy.

It was refreshing to take a dive back into a period of time that actually happened–1300 BC. I was reading names that, while I couldn’t necessarily pronounce them, I at least recognized them from World History classes. I like making the connections between those people in stories like that, seeing their actual relationships (knowing of course that they are somewhat fictionalized, since we cannot know exactly what happened so far in the past). It helps to put a face on those dull lessons that I had back in school.

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Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti was extremely entertaining, while being educational. There was so much about that period of time that I did not previously know. For instance, I did not know that having two wives was the norm, or how Nefertiti became Pharaoh. The competition and politics between the two gods was extremely interesting as well, especially when it came to changing the names. I didn’t even make the connection to King Tut at first…until they changed his name!

I have mixed feelings about the sisterly perspective. On one hand, it gave us an outsider’s look–and so we could see much more about city life, and the emotions separate from Nefertiti. However, that means we didn’t get to know anything about her secrets, her true power, and her relationship with Pharaoh. And maybe that was the point–probably no one knows the things that she did. Those are known only to Nefertiti. Still…I have so many questions!

If you like historical fiction, you’ll enjoy this. Mut is a terrific narrator, and the rest of the characters are really enjoyable. Everything meshes well in the novel, and it’s just a smooth, lovely read.

Secret Organizations

In March 2006, Dan Brown published The Davinci Code, and the world went crazy for it. The mysteries of the Templar Knights and the legend of the Holy Grail–that’s been in so many movies and books, it was destined to be a best seller. I fully admit to having a serious professor crush on Robert Langdon.

A lesser known book came out just a few months later in November. Raymond Khoury published The Last Templar. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I remember it as a cop thriller mixed with historical romance. Khoury just came out with a sequel, which I picked up. I will probably reread the first book again before I tackle the second so maybe I’ll do a dual review.

The Templar Knights mix in to my fascination with lords and ladies and love of all things medieval. Their legends are all around mysterious, and their legacy branched into so many dark and secretive organizations. I’m sure most of it has been exaggerated in fiction, but it sure is fun to think about.

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