Monthly Archives: October 2012

Books! Is your father a werewolf or just mad? #cbr4

I am down with a good historical fiction about a strong woman, and The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny seemed to fit that bill. Set in the late 16th century, our “strong-willed Venetian woman” (according to the publisher) is shunned by the medical community in which she so longs to participate after her doctor father goes wandering off on some journey to … do something … write his book of illness I think (or is it her book?). Who knows. Anyway, 10 years later she gets a mysterious letter from her father in which he tells her, “Don’t follow me!” She of course follows his path and chaos ensues. Well, chaos for a 16th century woman.

I tried to like this book and there are some things I found attractive. First, as she is traveling she decides to continue her father’s work (or is it hers?) by creating entries on various maladies (mostly affecting women). Many of these passages are quite lovely and inventive. Second, the language is beautiful. You can tell that the writer is a poet. Writing like this points to O’Melveny’s love of the language:

“Sea people, then. Well, come in. Lake people aren’t so different. We both share the flux of the water, though we lake dwellers keep more to ourselves, I think. It’s the knowing of a place bound by mountains. While your water seems without end.”

That is a beautiful passage. It is gorgeous and seems “important”. But it is so not how people talk at any time period in history. Because of the strangeness of the dialogue and the bizarre malady descriptions, I kept thinking that these must be extended metaphors for something.  When reading works with heavy symbolism sometimes you can overlook the things you don’t understand and just listen to the language or story, but I could never get over that hump with this novel. I found it hard to trust the story or connect with the characters. First, the journey seems completely artificial. A very intelligent woman goes on a journey and doesn’t start with where her father was last seen, which is actually close to Italy, but instead follows her father’s exact footsteps that he took over 10 years. On the journey people keep telling her that they haven’t seen her father in years. Well, of course they haven’t!  Second, I started feeling disconnect in the references to the lost father. I kept wondering if he was a werewolf and I had inadvertently picked up historical fantasy again. Or was he just mad? Or was being a werewolf a metaphor for madness? What is it?

It is never a good sign when I am reading and the primary question I ask myself is “What the hell is going on?” Beautifully written, but not one I will ever pick up again.

Books! A hawk and a dove walk into a bar … #cbr4

and the Cold War starts and ends and throughout they remain friends.

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson is a fabulous double biography of two of the most influential thinkers during the Cold War. We see Kennan as he develops his strategy of containment as a young FSO in Moscow and then Nitze as he subverts it with NSC-68. We see Nitze becoming a forceful anti-Soviet crusader while Kennan becomes the more passive but eloquent anti-nuclear sage.

Thompson covers their lives from their early careers to their very last days while keeping the reader’s eye on the bigger story of the Cold War. Unlike Gaddis’ biography of Kennan, we aren’t immersed in the minutiae of the two men as much and Thompson does a great job setting the stage for readers who might be unfamiliar with details of the period. Even if you aren’t a Cold War history buff or a fan of these two men, the story of the Cold War is accessible as told by Thompson.

I have to mention my favorite line from Kennan, which Thompson quotes. You need to understand that Kennan was a fabulous and prolific writer in addition to being an authority on Russia. He wrote after the Cold War that “The suggestion that any Administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish.” (pg 331)

I so wish Kennan were still around today …

Books! The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

I doubt I’ll make my 52 books for Cannonball Read, but I’ve read more this year than last already. Woohoo! So, in the spirit of completion I have a backlog of reviews.

The Twelfth Enchantment was recommended to me by a friend and I am thankful for that. I had never heard of David Liss and now I want to read more of his works. If you have recommendations, let me know.

It is about a soon-to-be destitute young woman in early nineteenth century England who discovers through a random string of circumstances, and a run in with Lord Byron, that she is capable of much more. Magic, secret societies, fairies are all present but with unique twists.

I was a bit skeptical, especially after the Discovery of Witches, but it was quite entertaining. It was one of the few books this year that I couldn’t wait to return home to. Great read if you are looking for a well-written adult historical fantasy-romance.