Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Rec: Oi, Tudors whores!

Elizabeth & Leicester: Power, Passion, Politics, by Sarah Gristwood

In my youth (god, I can SAY that, how horrible), I was an English history major. At U.C. Berkeley. I actually toyed with the idea of getting a Ph.D, applied, was accepted, and was informed in my acceptance letter that there were no jobs and if I wanted to pursue academia, go forth, but be prepared to flip burgers for a living. Which prompted me to go to cooking school instead! Yes, true story.

History remains a passion and you really can't get any more passionate than those damn Tudors. I have purchased every major popular history on that family and a goodly number of academic tomes on them, and they continue to fascinate.

This is another book on Elizabeth and Leicester. It's well researched, and I like how this author cites other authors' theories (this is a well travelled road and one hell of a crowded field), because a tremendous amount of this is just that: theory. She paints a much broader and interesting portrait of Leicester than I've seen in previous books (sort of the point), with less emphasis on Liz (which is good, because, yeah, I've read a lot on her). There is much sensible interpretation here with some interesting asides. I especially like her take on Cecil and Leicester, which has always been my interpretation, that once Cecil realized that Leicester had no chance of becoming her consort (and more to the point, Leicester realized it), that they could unite and concentrate on their mutual goal. Which was to keep Elizabeth on the throne.

The writing is quite engaging, and I was left with a sadness about these two. They were of a kind. The sort that took fate by its ears and wrestled it to the ground, at great personal cost, however. I didn't need the appendices on popular cinematic treatments, and, I suspect, given the quasi-academic tone of this book, her publisher probably gently insisted on it as a marketing tool. Ignore them. This is welcome addition to my burgeoning bookshelf on the Tudors.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book review: Harry Potter peeps and the Lexicon

The Lexicon by Steve Vander Ark

I'd been waiting for this book forever. I'm heavily involved in HP fandom (yes, I'm one of those nuts that attend wacko fandom conventions), and I've been following the lawsuit between Mr. Vander Ark and Ms. Rowling for ages. I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores about the lawsuit because I could see both sides to it. I will say that Mr. Vander Ark's website is superb and a font of knowledge for all things Potterish. Would that I could say the same thing about his book. I bought it, I'm not sorry I bought it, because sometimes it's a bitch just to turn on your laptop when you must know which Death Eaters survived the battle at Hogwarts (which I ended up finding at the Wiki page!), but I was disappointed.

The Lexicon is strictly alphabetical; which means it's set up like a dictionary. Which doesn't really work because I might have an inkling to how a word might be spelled and a vague idea about it's meaning, but in the HP world that means jack shit when you want to know a spell for tying one's shoelaces! I suppose you could look up the Latin for shoelace (I've done that!) and extrapolate from there, but the format assumes--rather conclusively--that you have a pretty accurate working knowledge of the HP world. The lack of an index is pretty damning, and I can only assume it was part of the deal between Vander Ark's publisher and Warner Bros.

For example, a listing of all the spells would seem to be a no brainer, but nope, not available. Who's in Slytherin house? You have to flip through the entire frigging book to find out who is in Slytherin. It certainly is nice to pick up this book and flip the "M"'s so that I can find out how to spell McGonagall (I always want to add another n), but it's frustrating if you want to, say, look up a list of teachers at Hogwarts. It seems like half a book. I find myself going BACK to the website because of the way this book is organized. I had anticipated that I would use this book instead of the website, and now I find that in most cases I will be returning to the website

Book rec: French history, sex, and Louis XIV

Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser rarely disappoints and this book is no exception. This is a nice compliment to the letters of Madame Sevigne, because until now I really could not understand quite the "fervor" of Madame' S's letters to her daughter regarding the rising stars and the been-there-screwed-thats who were gracing or exiting Louis XIV's bed. All is now explained. And yes, we are absolutely indulging in some self-admitted wish fulfillment here, because in the end it is the bookworm, the studious one, the intelligent woman who ends up being the "wife" of Louis XIV in all sense of the word. Okay, aside from shoe-horning myself into Louis XIV's bed (and this man sounds fascinating), what is even MORE fascinating is the tug of war between Louis' emotional needs (his mistresses were not just a f**k), and the direct conflict of maintaining his "mistresse et titres," and his role (which he took extremely seriously) as a moral example, a role that he saw, and others also saw, as part of his role as king. Not to mention, he was as concerned for his mortal soul as any Catholic (and he was quite devout), and his struggles with the church and how this impacted his stature as a moral leader was fascinating. Exceptionally well done book.

The sad case of the slacker blogger

Yeah, it's been a while. I've been distracted. The dog lovingly referred to as the disease magnet contracted a massive eye infection that has resulted in meds that are reaching the stratosphere in terms of dollars. It was like having a newborn, I kid you not. For three weeks solid I was setting my alarm clock every night to med her up every three hours. The good news is that she won't lose her eye. The bad news is that she's blind in one eye. And oi, the diabetes factor and the not-healing factor that goes along with it, and, cripes, I hate diabetes. It's too involved to go into here, but there really is a post lurking in me about dogs, unqualified love, and how much is too much to spend? We reached that point thousands of dollars ago, but... Ugh.

Then one of the parental units had a major illness. He's okay, but it dregged up a lot of stuff about my relationship with my "real" father and my relationship with my stepfather and how I mourned my real father for the father I wish he'd been, and I will mourn my stepfather because he was actually a father to me. You know, came to graduations, etc. That sort of thing. Anyway, he's doing well, back walking his two miles a day, mentally as sharp as a tack, so I don't have to face that just yet. But suckage on a massive scale for a few days.

Then I'm having my post-book existentialist crisis about writing. Won't go into the boring details, but I've just upped my hours at work to help pay for college-age kidlet and I have about twenty books I want to write and no time. And the book business is a BUSINESS (as this blog will attest) and where do I go from here? I don't know. Still mulling this one over.

I am disappointed with Obama and the current stance on the DOJ memos. At least they released them, although they have made it clear that they have no intention of prosecuting those who violated our Constitution. Don't get me started on the wire-tapping. I have become a Glenn Greenwald fanatic over on You should too.

I am boycotting Yes, another long post that won't see the light of day, but this has not seen much print (although online it seems to be a huge story, largely in part thanks to Twitter), but essentially has been, for a GOOD LONG WHILE, disabling the search capability, deranking, and refusing to publish sales stats for books that deal with GLT issues. FYI, they deranked "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx! They are claiming it is a recent phenonmena and are blaming it on some poor French programmer (which in doubt, blame the French!) mucking around with the code of their filtering script, but based on the number of blogs I have read on this subject, they've been quietly doing this for yonks. I've been visiting the amazon site for a few days and an apology has yet to appear. I order a ton off of amazon (yes, while supporting the indies as well), but a letter from me will be forthcoming. I was sad to see that this didn't make headlines in the S. F. Chronicle. I disagree with the concept of filtering ANYWAY and this sneaky behind the scenes attempt to control what I buy and what I don't buy is unacceptable. What, your five-year old is going to bring up salacious titles? SO? Another instance of an organization pandering to the right wingnuts, as opposed to putting the responsibility of where all this belongs. With the parents! I'm sure that Borders will appreciate my business. amazon continues to deny that this was nothing more than a glitch, and evidence keeps mounting that, no, it isn't.

And as I'm light on my own book news, I'm going to start posting my book recs here. I don't read as much as I used to, but I can usually tear through a book in a couple of days. Book rec one to follow!