Category Archives: reading

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

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The Monday Book: THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie Ten Boom

hiding placeI thought about blogging this book in the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings, but wanted to wait a week.

Aside from the easy tease that tomorrow is a mid-term election and we’re all tired of politics and looking for a place to hide from it, this book is no joke. It is intense yet accessible.

For those unfamiliar, it is about sisters in a watch-repairing Dutch family, happy people with a strong Christian ethic. When WWII breaks out, they hide Jewish people. This brings them close to The Resistance–which they don’t work with, other than hiding and moving Jewish people as best they can. There is a poignant scene when Corrie is asked to pass along intelligence that she realizes will get a German officer killed, and refuses to do so. The young Resistance worker in her kitchen is gobsmacked and furious. They become suspect–despite considerable sacrifices.

The scene has come to me again and again in these turbulent times where no one can be neutral and expect to be left alone. If you’re not for, you’re against. You can’t stand in your kitchen and refuse to condemn one man to death while saving six more people in a closet upstairs. Both sides would kill you.

The Hiding Place also asks ethical questions about what it means to be light in a dark place. The family is eventually betrayed, and while the Jewish people they are hiding escape, Corrie, her father and sister do not. The latter two eventually die in a concentration (prison) camp. The women are in their fifties when the Nazis round them up. Betsy is not in excellent health. Yet she insists on standing at the edge of morning roll call, taking the brunt of the cold wind, so she can protect younger women. This infuriates Corrie. When a woman is beaten to death in front of them, Betsy and Corrie have very different reactions.

Corrie also talks about two Somali Jewish women who distrust everyone else in the hospital where she is meant to be a patient, but instead winds up bringing bedpans to others. When she attempts to help the women, who are isolated in language and race, they throw their gangrenous bandages at her. Corrie has to come to terms with what help means, when, and how.

I loved this book as a child too young to understand some of it subtleties. I loved it as a college student enough to write about it for a literacy project, igniting an interesting argument with a professor. I love it now because, in a storm of words bent on winning, it tells the story of a family that redefined what “winning” meant on their own terms. They paid for it, but they also left a legacy that allows Quakers and moderates, and quiet bunny rabbit peaceniks to find a place to stand when people all around scream “If you stand there you’re ______ (insert bad thing here).”

On Christ the solid rock I stand, best as I can interpret him in the whelming flood, alongside the Ten Boom Family, who did an amazing job of not being on anyone’s side while helping everyone they could.

 

 

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The Monday Book

Jack gets to write the Monday Book post – so it’s a day late – –

Bringing Columbia Home – Michael D. Leinbach, Johnathan H. Ward

columbia

I stumbled upon this book in Greensboro NC where Wendy was doing a promotional event in a bookstore. Being a bit of an air and space freak I couldn’t resist it.

This is the whole story of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle disaster, and Leinbach is probably the best person who could have written this book as he was at the center of the mission.

The book chronicles the whole tragic story from the first contradictory clues and suspicions all the way to the gathering of wreckage and crew remains. Along the way we encounter the interactions between rural Texans, Federal agencies, State organizations, NASA professionals, fellow astronauts and the family members of the doomed crew.

The things that stood out for me were –

The very sensitive handling of everything to do with the crew, their families and the inevitable evidence relating to their last minutes. The amazing ‘ownership’ by locals of responsibility for laborious searches for the tiniest fragments in pretty terrible conditions. Then the equally laborious technical work to try to establish what caused the catastrophe.

The book doesn’t shirk placing blame where needed but also lays bare the sheer risks that inevitably accompany space travel. I have visited the air and space museum in DC a number of times and always marvel when I look at the Apollo capsules. How anyone could sit in that atop a rocket and be blasted into space is completely beyond my comprehension!

Just last week I wrote about my memories of the PanAm 103 bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland and I couldn’t help drawing some parallels with the Columbia disaster. I suppose the biggest difference is that the crews of the space shuttles knew the risks involved!

Finally – it was shown after the cause of the crash was established that there would have been no way to rescue the crew even if the damage to the wing had been known. So, as they were carrying out their scientific work they were already doomed.

The book is written for the layman, is easy to read and I found it completely gripping from start to finish.

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The Monday Book: TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt

wolvesThis is a complicated book. Its central character is 14 and has that bouncy back-and-forthness of wisdom and childhood coming out in lovely sentences like “That’s what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth.”

The book is about June, her older sister Greta, their late Uncle Finn, and Finn’s partner Toby. Finn is June and Greta’s mother’s brother, and both adults are talented artists. But one is doing taxes and one is dying of AIDS. Like I said, it’s complicated.

The writing is beautiful. Some of the main points are kind of unbelievable–like two girls from Westchester can get up in the middle of the night and drive to Bellevue without their parents noticing, etc. But overall the emotional range of the characters and the plot driven by their needs, angers, and hopes holds up well. Everybody wants something. Not everybody can say what they want, or why they don’t want some of their other family members not to get what they want. That’s the point around which the action rotates.

If you like character-driven drama, you will love this book. If you remember ’80s AIDS–ignoring, exploring, deploring–you will love this book. If you have no patience with unresolved plot points, you might not. There are some loose threads left dangling, but as Stephen King says, “Life has a lot of those. Why shouldn’t writing?”

The weirdest part for me, but the part that many reviewers liked the most, is how the sisters used a painting their uncle had done of them to communicate with each other. Worth a lot on the art market, the girls deface it to send coded messages when words fail them. It was an intriguing take on the art book genre.

Overall, I love the way Brunt writes, and how intensely she draws her main characters. One paintbrush up for TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME.

 

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The Monday Book (series) GUEST AUTHOR WILLIE DALTON

ad picThis week’s Monday Book comes from my friend and fellow cat rescuer Willie Dalton. I don’t normally care for paranormal romance, but her series was so imaginative, based on such an interesting premise, that I read and enjoyed it tremendously.
“You’ll never guess what happens next…”
    That’s the tagline on my logo, and I tend to hold true to that.  In the writing world there are plotters, and there are pantsers, writers that write by the seat of their pants and wing it, I’m the latter. I’m usually just as surprised by the twists my books take as anyone who reads them. I like things this way though, I’d bore myself otherwise.
    My most recent works “The Gravedigger Series,” takes you on the journey of life and death through the eyes of Helena Pierce. Hel, is a small town gravedigger, following in the footsteps of her adopted dad, Ray. She’s tough, both physically, and emotionally from being in a male-dominated line of work. It surprises her as much as anyone when she falls in love with the mysterious Raphael who shows up in her cemetery one day and it makes it all the worse when she meets her own unexpected death soon after.
  Hel wakes up in the underworld and takes on the role of reaper, but there are no black cloaks and scythes, just another shovel. Now she’s digging people up from the other side of the grave so their souls can move on. Vampires roam the underworld, and a new lover has her intrigued but she can’t move past everything she left behind.
  In, “Digging Up the Dead,” and most recently, “Digging to Hell,” the underworld opens up even further and Hel finds herself in the presence of gods she thought only existed in myths. Was chance the driving force behind this life of death and heartache she knows so well, was it love, or was it fate?
  A lot of people ask me how I came up with the idea for this series. Sadly, it came from my other passion as a kitten rescuer. Many tiny kittens come to me each year, too fragile and weak to last more than a few hours, or days. I have spent many hours digging tiny graves and grieving for these lives that didn’t stand a chance. I’ve poured my blood, sweat, and tears into the ground to give these babies a final resting place while their spirits sprint over Rainbow Bridge. I found a solace in writing these books, and a way to channel the heavy emotions that the work brings on. Digging a grave, even for an animal, is humbling and raw. Growing up, it was always men who would bury pets that passed, partly because it was very physical and partly, because men are less emotional. I think the idea of women digging graves adds in that nurturing, emotional element that takes us from the ones who bring new life in, and then see it to the end.
Facebook.com/authorwilliedalton

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The Monday Book: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

This week’s review is by Jack – –

BriefHistoryTime

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this. Probably it’s because I assumed it would be dry, very scientific and heavy going. Instead it turned out to be (mostly) the very opposite!

There were certainly a few places where I had to read and then re-read in order to get my head round some pretty startling and deep stuff. But Hawking leads his readers on a gentle upward slope through history while paying due respect to all his scientific predecessors, colleagues and contemporaries.

We begin with Copernicus and end in a black hole!

In many ways this book is an autobiography as it details Hawking’s developing theories while also occasionally giving brief glimpses of his personal life and its challenges. I loved the part where he gave up his PhD studies following his diagnosis and being told he only had a few years to live, only to get married and realize he had to get a job. So he completed his studies, got a job that became his raison d’etre and lived for many more years.

The writing style is pitched at the non-learned casual reader and is gently humorous throughout.

I particularly liked how generous he was towards others working in the same field – collaborators, colleagues and even rivals.

Finally, and most intriguing of all perhaps, is his frequent reference to a ‘creation event’. He is very careful not to discount the idea of a ‘creator’ with all that implies. He suggests that the more we delve and discover, the more there is to find – – –

All in all, a very well deserved best seller which I can now thoroughly recommend to anyone else who might have been wary, like me!

 

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The Monday Book: THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury

The-Martian-Chronicles(picture courtesy of By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31139878)

Sometimes you pull out an old favorite – or to be specific, you’re shelving in the bookstore and it falls off as you’re putting something on the shelf, and you pick it up and that’s you lost the rest of the evening.

But gained so much more. I love Bradbury’s writing, and I’d forgotten how he saw the slow progression of Earth people onto Mars, the many ways he’d envisioned people’s hearts moving through Space and not changing much once they landed in a new destination.

Chronicles is a mishmash of short stories, all centered around the theme of Earth colonizing Mars over time, but each a freestanding piece with few overlapping characters. I LOVE the ones where he explores social justice, as in Black People go live on Mars and when the White People blow up Earth, they have to ask permission to come ashore. I love the one where forgotten scary characters from Folklore take up residence because Earth minds don’t have room for them any more. I love the one, early in the book, where an unhappily married Martian couple wind up being the demise of the first explorers. Think of it: the colonization of another planet, ended by a jealous husband?

Bradbury thought of this and so much more in his Chronicles. They don’t feel dated. Even though he invented things willynilly and didn’t see half of what technology actually delivered coming, Bradbury’s writing feels timeless because it focuses on people: what we want, what we fear, what we crave (which is a little different than wanting) and what we pretend we don’t fear. So very interesting to read in the lyrical prose he pulls together. He’s so quick, like a comic caught in print.

This judge gives Martian Chronicles all the stars.

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