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Books by the Blogger:

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


paperback | Kindle | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

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Authors & publishers:
I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them. The blog, however, will continue, and if you've got a good first line to share for TwitterLit please do so here.



  
From a random review:

  


March 2014: Book notices

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J.R. Rain, Silent Echo

J.R. Rain's Silent Echo is kind of a strange read. On the one hand, it's very repetitive. A few facts are drummed into the reader's head: the protagonist, Jim Booker, is dying from AIDS-related cancer (though he's not gay); he's being cared for by an almost saintly friend, Numi, a Nigerian who is gay; Jim needs Numi's help but is uncomfortable about being the recipient of his ministrations because Numi's a gay male. On the other hand, despite the repetition, Silent Echo winds up being highly readable. Perhaps this is because it's pretty short (though it arguably should have been shorter). Perhaps the repetitive bits just make the story go down easily because you don't have to think about them much. The story, by the way, is that Jim is a private eye specializing in lost persons cases--or at least he was before his illness debilitated him. In Silent Echo he winds up investigating a series of murders, a case which, if he solves it, could bring him some closure before death: he's been burdened by guilt related to one of the murders for more than twenty years. So, not a bad read, all in all. It makes me a bit curious to see how Rain's other novels compare.

Richard Bach, Illusions II

Not really a sequel to the original Illusions, which I loved back in the day (but read decades ago). Illusions II is strange, brief account of the author's recovery (and his seaplane's recovery) from a near-fatal crash in 2012. Disappointing, really, though I hate to say it.

Rysa Walker, Timebound

I enjoyed this YA book about a teenager, Kate, who finds out from her grandmother that she has the ability to travel through time. Turns out she's the only one who can save the world as it is from nefarious elements bent on changing the timeline to their advantage. She winds up time-hopping back to the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 to set things right. If you've read your Devil in the White City you'll remember that the Chicago Exposition was the hunting ground of serial killer H.H. Holmes, so it wasn't a particularly safe place to be....

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

John Green's story about two teens with cancer who find true love in a support group is pretty much a perfect book. The subject matter is the sort of thing I would normally run from: there's enough sadness in the world that I don't normally want to subject myself to it in fiction. But while the book is sad, it is not primarily so, I don't think. Certainly one can revel in the love story Green's characters get to enjoy, whatever the confinements and brevity of their lives. I was, at any rate, forced to read the book by my twelve-year-old daughter. Having finished it she collapsed in some kind of swoon on the floor of my study. Upon reviving, she pressed the book into my hands, opened it to the first page, and commanded me to begin.

February 2014: Book notices

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Lee Goldberg, The Walk

Lee Goldberg's The Walk tells the story of network exec Marty Slack's multi-day walk home from downtown L.A. after a massive earthquake levels a huge swath of California. He has adventures along the way--near-death experiences and acts of heroism, much of it in the company of a likable if two-dimensional bounty hunter named Buck. The plot line seems the sort of thing many television series are made of. A wandering man passes through the lives of the various characters he meets on his journey--think Bill Bixby's David Banner or, mutatis mutandis, Michael Landon's character on Highway to Heaven, or Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap. Except that Marty's walk can't last more than a few days, so, no series. At any rate, I really enjoyed this. The only thing that would have made it better is a map detailing Marty's travels, since I found the geography hard to visualize.

Joseph T. Hallinan, Why We Make Mistakes

It's been about a week since I finished this book. Usually I jot down my thoughts immediately after finishing a book, but this time I kept forgetting to do so. Maybe that's fitting in this case, because I found the book itself to be pretty forgettable. It was enjoyable in the reading, I know, but a week on now I would have to go back and read a summary of it to describe any of the contents. Probably this is just me, in my reading slump still, reading a book that didn't quite fit my needs at the moment, rather than any failing on the part of the author

Hy Conrad, Mr. Monk Gets on Board

The Monk books tend to offer readers some combination of three elements: pathos, usually related to revelations about the depth of Monk and Natalie's relationship; humor, usually proceeding from the dialogue between Monk and Natalie; and storyline. In this latest installment I'd say that humor and pathos are all but lacking, while the storyline is quite good. The book is certainly a good read, but I do hope that the author makes with the funny next time. (I note that I found Hy Conrad's first installment in the series lacking in humor and pathos as well, so this is a disturbing trend.)

Jager, Eric: Blood Royal

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Little, Brown, 352 pages
1st published: 2014
4 stars

I read Eric Jager's The Last Duel (my review) some eight years ago, and it still stands out for me as one of the best books I've read since I began blogging books. I was delighted, then, when the author sent me a copy of his new book, Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris. As the subtitle promises, Blood Royal tells the story of a crime, the murder of Louis of Orleans, who was struck down one night in 1407 by a gang of assassins. This was no ordinary murder, because Louis was the brother of the King of France, Charles VI (a.k.a. Charles the Mad). Charles' intermittent bouts of insanity led to disputes between Louis and a cousin, John of Burgundy, over the regency and guardianship of Charles' young heir. Louis, then, was more involved in the government of France (and, incidentally, with Charles' wife Isabeau) than he would have been were his brother not crazy.

Roughly the first half of Jager's book tells the story of the build-up to the assassination and the investigation of the crime by the Provost of Paris, Guillaume de Tignonville. Jager also provides us with backstory about Tignonville and the prisons and executions he oversaw--very interesting, gory stuff. Tignonville's original police report is extant, happily, preserved on a parchment scroll, and it allows Jager to paint a detailed account of what happened in the days leading up to and immediately following Louis' murder. Ordinary Parisians, by virtue of living near the scene of the crime, were suddenly part of a nationally important investigation, and their everyday movements, documented by interrogators, became part of the historical record. As Jager writes in his epilogue, "The events of November 1407 lit up their lives like a flash of lightning, and the Provost's scribes briefly captured their excited and worried voices, which then fell into silence and near oblivion." I can't emphasize enough how interesting I find this sort of history, getting a glimpse of the lives of ordinary people from a lost world going about their ordinary business: a purveyor of wicker baskets, a nosy neighbor woman who slept in the nude, watercarriers who made their living delivering buckets of river water to private residences.

The second half of the book deals with larger issues, the national and international ramifications of Louis' murder: civil war in France, renewed hostilities with England, the unthinkable savagery of the Hundred Years' War. Tignonville is mostly missing from this part of the book, and ordinary folk are looked at only in the aggregate. This larger story is of course the big picture stuff that changes history, but for me Jager's story--and nonfiction generally--is most successful when it focuses on and fully unpacks small events. And Jager is expert at doing so.

January 2014: Book notices

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Jeff Abbott, Adrenaline

Adrenaline is the first book in Jeff Abbott's series of Sam Capra novels. Sam is a CIA agent stationed in London when the book begins, happily married to a fellow agent and with a baby on the way. But his world explodes into chaos one morning with scarcely a moment's notice, and he spends the rest of the book's some 500 pages chasing bad guys by way of trying to put his life back together. Adrenaline is the sort of novel I like, all spies and, well, adrenaline against a cool European backdrop, but about two thirds of the way into this one I pretty much wanted it to be finished. It just felt over-long, and I'd lost interest in the plot. Given the reading slump I've been in for a while, however, the fault may lie in me rather than the book. I wouldn't be averse to reading the second book in Abbott's series at some point (The Last Minute), just not yet.

December 2013: Book notices

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Brad Stone, The Everything Store

I'm a big fan of Amazon and so was eager to read this book. Still, I'm a bit surprised at how interesting I found it. I don't think I could as happily read about the history of any other company--with the possible exception of Twitter. Stone writes about Bezos' personal life to an extent: his work history pre-Amazon, and there's a bit about his life growing up and his estranged biological father. But mostly the book is about the meteoric rise of Amazon and about Bezos as CEO--he's volatile, merciless, almost, in pursuit of his goals, far-sighted, and absolutely brilliant. It's a fascinating story. I suppose it's odd, but as a long-time customer of Bezos'--I placed my first order with Amazon on October 25th, 1997--I almost feel I have a personal stake in his company, devotion I don't feel toward any other business, including Apple. But then, it's not only the retail business: it's affiliate links and Prime delivery and my beloved Kindle Paperwhite and video streaming and Vine and Mechanical Turk. Amazon is a huge part of my life, and it directly affects me literally every day. Anyway, that would explain my interest in the subject matter of Stone's book. As for the book itself, the author has done a good job. The hard work he surely put into researching the topic hasn't bogged the story down (although there are a lot of employee names thrown around that one tends to forget). It's highly readable, and really it's a book that had to be written.


About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  




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