I read because I must. It's like breathing to me. And I love talking about books. But I'm also an Arsenal fan, a wine drinker, a music lover and weirdly obsessed with pop culture. I mostly blog about books, but sometimes about things I'm thinking or doing. When I'm not on the blog, I'm scoping deals for a professional services company, hanging out with friends, or seeing some live theater.

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Book 6: Warrior Queen

Posted on 31 Jan 2010 In: Reading

The story of Queen Bouidca, Warrior Queen by Alan Gold

Appropriately listening to Big Wolf Pappa’s “Warrior Queen” while writing this post.
Warrior Queen is a fictionalized retelling of the story of Britain’s Celtic Queen, Boudica. Full disclaimer time. My knowledge of the expansion of the Roman Empire into Africa, the Middle East, and Europe is hazy at best. Of course I’ve heard the history of some of the corrupt rulers, including Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. But I have to confess it will take more research than I have done to this point to say with certainty which parts of this story are historically correct, and where things have been fictionalized or even best-guessed. I’m summarizing here what I think of the book. It is fiction, though, so I fully recognize that things may be referred to here as fact that truly are not. Now, moving on….
Warrior Queen tells the story of one Iceni queen, Boudica, who led Briton in an uprising against the Roman Empire in 60 A.D. The Empire levied heavy taxes on even those Britons who were considered “friends of Rome.” Boudica and her husband were the rulers of the Iceni tribe. Boudica’s husband, knowing his death was near, created a will, without Boudica’s knowledge, that gave half the Iceni wealth to Emporer Nero and made his two daughters Queens with Nero. When Boudica tried to get the will enforced, she was publicly whipped and her daughters raped by the Romans. Intent on revenge, Boudica became the Warrior Queen, aligning tribes with centuries-long history of warring with each other, to take on the Roman empire. I’ll stop there- the story is really quite interesting, certainly a David and Goliath type of tale. But I don’t want to share the ending here.
Aside from telling an interesting and compelling story, one thing the book does well is switch narration between Boudica and other Britons and the Romans. Balancing multiple viewpoints in a story can be challenging. Since there is no omniscient character, an author must take care to ensure that each character know and reveal only what is in their power to know and reveal. Too many vacillating viewpoints can confuse the reader. Alan Gold manages his characters and narration carefully, to avoid just such confusion.
This story did not move with the pace that I expected it to, although by the end I was both anxious to turn the page, and dreading the same. Anxious, because the tension and excitement were building, and dread because I did not know quite how this story was going to end, and wasn’t sure I was going to be happy with the ending. I think that made up for the pacing.
I enjoyed the Druid and Roman culture and history that were presented in this story. I learned some things I did not know. I’ve long been fascinated with the Celts and Druids, so seeing the imagery of the Beltane festival and other symbolic ceremonies here was especially enjoyable for me. The Romans derided the British barbarians for their worship of gods and goddesses associated with nature, but there’s something comforting in that same reverence to me, and I really enjoyed reading that part.
Some things that stood out to me while reading this book. As is the case with seemingly all invasions, there was an element of a clash of religions here. The Romans sought to eradicate the Druid tradition and replace it with the Roman gods and goddesses. The same, time-worn and still true today story of “My religion is better than yours.” Seems to be at the root of so many wars, doesn’t it?
When I read of Boudica’s internal struggle with how much of the Roman culture to embrace, I started thinking about what I would do in a situation like that. Prasutagus, Boudica’s husband, was of the belief that friending the Romans would preserve their lives and livelihood much better than would an attempt to fight against them. Should they fight, they would at best end up slaves of the Empire. At worst, they would die at the hands of the Romans. So they compromised, and cooperated with the Romans and then were betrayed by the very same. At that point, freedom became paramount. Death was preferable to living as a Roman subject, in any form. I don’t know what that point is for me. What is the thing that is so important to fight for, that I must not be silent and begin to fight against it now? What is that thing I would give my life for? I do think sovereignty and freedom are in that list, but are there other things now that I should be fighting for and am not?
That is not a complete digression from the book. I think any good story should make you think about whether or not you would have the courage to act in the way the protagonist does. Of course Bouduica had her flaws. But she got it, she understood, that there are things that are worth fighting and dying for. Shouldn’t we all know at what point we would do the same?
A statue of Queen Boudica still resides near the Houses of Parliament in Britain today. I’ve pasted a link here to a Historic UK site that provides an image of the statue and a brief history of Boudica. http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/England-History/Boudica.htm
I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in historical fiction, or Celtic and/or Roman History.
Next up? I’m not sure… I’ll have an audiobook review here soon, Harry, a History, by Melissa Anelli. I’m contemplating Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone next, as I want to re-read the entire series before the first of the last two movies comes out in November. But I have several other books I’m interested in as well, so I need to decide what to read next.

Bonus Book: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Posted on 17 Jan 2010 In: Reading

I can’t really count this book in the 52 in 52 tally because I started it before I began my little adventure. But, I just now finished it, and I enjoyed it. Thought I would write about it anyway.

What if Narnia and Hogwarts were real? Or even magic itself, like we’ve read about in these books? Such is the premise of The Magicians. Both the Narnia and Harry Potter sagas are mentioned by name, but of course The Magicians has its own magical land called Fillory. Our hero, Quentin, has grown up reading all about Fillory and its stories and Queens and Kings. I couldn’t help but recall all the stories of Narnia with the mentions of Fillory. And like Harry Potter, Quentin thinks he is an ordinary student but finds himself a new pupil at Brakebills, a magical school in New York.
But this isn’t some allegory about Christianity and our choices. Nor is it the story of an epic battle between good an evil. While both elements are alluded to and serve as a subtext, the real issue at stake is what happens when we aren’t happy enough in our own reality?
The great theme of Harry Potter, that Love can conquer any evil, and that those who love us never really leave us, just happens to be told in a Magical world that exists within our own. Wands and spells are weapons, rather than guns.
As I mentioned earlier, the Chronicles of Narnia are a great Christian Allegory, with Aslan representing the Christ and the final book in the series, The Last Battle, reading much like the New Testament’s Revelation. Magic and talking animals exist in Narnia, much like in Fillory.
What makes the Harry Potter and Narnia stories so appealing, and what is the Hook in The Magicians is that so many children and adults who have read these series think how great it would be to live in Narnia, to be able to wave a wand and have the potatoes peeled. In other words, the magic in these books is a means to an end, a metaphor, an agent to progressing a story. I admit that I often joke, “If I only had a house elf…”
This rambling is getting to the point of what would really happen if we suddenly had magic at our disposal? In theory, it would fix everything… but would it? And what if those fabled places of our childhood did exist after all, and we were able to discover them, would we find them to be paradise? Is happiness and contentment a choice, really?
Of course there’s some great magical imagery in the book, and complex relationships between the characters. But these questions about what real happiness means are at the heart of the novel. And if you lose everything, what do you have left to find?
Took me a while to finish this book because of this 52 in 52 challenge I set myself, but I’m glad I read it.

Book 5: Fragile Eternity

Posted on 17 Jan 2010 In: Reading
Melissa Marr’s Fragile Eternity is a continuation of the Faery saga that begins in Wicked Lovely.

I first happened upon these books because of the cover art. Intense colors, intriguing pictures. So I picked up first Wicked Lovely and then Ink Exchange. Like the Twilight series, these are geared towards young adults, but I think they are in a completely different class than the vampire saga.
This series centers around Faeries, who dwell alongside mortals. Most mortals cannot see Faeries, but a few are gifted with the Sight and are able to see them.
In Wicked Lovely the King of the Summer Court is looking for his Queen, who happens to be a mortal high schooler named Aislinn who has always been able to see, and fear, the faeries.
Fragile Eternity is the sequel to Wicked Lovely (but third in the series-Book 2, Ink Exchange, focuses on the Dark Court) and Aislinn and her mortal boyfriend, Seth, are trying to figure out how their relationship can exist in Aislinn’s new world. As Aislinn learns to be a now-immortal Queen to the Summer Court and find her place in that world, she and Seth are trying to navigate their own way with a threat of war between the Faery courts- a war that could destroy humanity.
So yes, it’s Fantasy. But for a lot of reasons, I find this series much more compelling than Twilight. Yes, I know I’m risking bodily harm by legions of teenage girls and suburban moms (should more than 3-4 people ever read this blog) by making that statement, but hear me out.
First, this series is darker and edgier. Melissa Marr describes herself as voted most likely to end up in jail when she was in high school. She seems to bring that side of herself, along with her addiction to fabulous tattoos and a quest to meet interesting people, to her characters. They are more real, more complex than in a lot of young adult serialized fiction. Seth has a lip ring, a pet boa constrictor, and lives in train cars. Ink Exchange starts with Leslie’s quest for the perfect tattoo, which she seeks to help her overcome a horrific trauma. The characters have real teenage flaws which make them more identifiable, in a lot of ways. Certainly more issues than I had in high school but more the kind of people I think I would be drawn to if I were in high school now.
Second is the faery lore that is included in the books. Faeries cannot be trusted. Any deal a mortal makes with a faery will likely be much more advantageous to the faery. Faeries cannot lie. so the nuance, the particular words they use to convey something, are very important. Loyalty is everything. Faeries are weakened by steel and iron. Faeries are immortal.
I love Ireland, and this particular novel I really enjoyed because that affinity. Many of the faeries have Irish names, for one thing. When I was in Ireland this summer, I saw the Faery Tree at Tara. Local lore says that you can leave a gift for the faeries at that tree, and should they accept your gift, they will grant you aid. However, to take a gift from the tree is to invoke the wrath of the faeries and is done at one’s own peril. I felt more connected to the book having seen this place and heard more of the faery lore myself.

The Faery Tree at the Hill at Tara
One thing that really stood out for me was Marr’s description of a movie Aislinn and Keenan, the Summer King, watch. “An indie film about street musicians falling in love while they both belonged elsewhere. The music and the message were perfect, poignant, and heartbreaking.” (p.291) I got such a kick out of reading the film description and thinking to myself, ‘That sounds like Once’ and reading just a few sentences later that it was indeed Once that Marr meant. I completely agree with her description and highly recommend both the film and its soundtrack.
The fourth book in the series is due out later this year, and I’ve already pre-ordered it from Amazon. Highly recommended for anyone who likes Fantasy. So far, Marr is staying true to her characters and the rules she is setting up for their world. I’m confident that however this series ends, it won’t be with a Breaking Dawn styled cop-out (my opinion) ending.
So, here we are, 16 days into January. Five books complete, 47 more to go. Next Up is Warrior Queen, a novel based on Celtic Queen Boudicca (http://www.unrv.com/early-empire/boudicca.php)

Book4: The Assault on Reason

Posted on 12 Jan 2010 In: Reading

Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason

I’m not sure what Al Gore wanted to provoke in people reading this book. I’ll summarize my reaction in one word: Angry. This book made me angry. Angry at the Bush Administration, all over again. At our Congress. At a handful of our judges. At those appointed by politicians. At some faith leaders. At people in general. At myself.

Why? Because Al Gore touched a nerve. Published in 2007, Gore’s work highlights the number of areas where we are allowing our political, spiritual, and corporate leaders to govern by something other than reason. In the first draft of this post, I listed the litany ills Mr. Gore highlights. I made the decision to not rehash them all here.

Mr. Gore points out that the number one source of information today is television, a one-sided flow of information at best. When this country was founded, it was by people who valued reason and discourse. Gore offers that as time has passed, we’ve become more inclined to act irrationally, basing our decisions on fear and blind faith more than reason. We’ve had leaders who have exploited this trait. As rational beings, when this type of propaganda and manipulation is exposed, we should question it and hold the perpetrators responsible. Yet for whatever reason, no pun intended, we’re less likely to do this now. We’re less likely to even know about it.

Mr. Gore’s book certainly made me think. I often joke that I get all my news from Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, and I do watch the show religiously. I read the news headlines every day, from several sources. But I’ve been negligent lately. I listen to my iPod in the mornings while I am getting ready for work. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be listening to NPR. I’ll be paying closer attention to what the New York Times and the BBC are publishing. I’ll be holding my representatives accountable.

I honestly wondered at the beginning of this book if Mr. Gore was writing it as more of a “Told you so” after “losing” the 2000 election. The more I read, though, the more I saw how much we as a society are not using reason, how much I’m not using reason, and the consequences of that apathy. I finished the book with a renewed commitment to doing what is right rather than what is easy.

So, ten days into January and I’ve completed four books. I’m pretty pleased with that. But I need something less intense for the next book, so I’m going back into fiction. I’ve started Melissa Marr’s Fragile Eternity, and I’ll be posting on that next. Checkout wickedlovely.com, a Melissa Marr fan site if you’d like a little insight into the Faery world that is the heart of the Wicked Lovely franchise.

Book 3: Bitches on a Budget

Posted on 9 Jan 2010 In: Reading
Bitches on a Budget by Rosalyn Hoffman
Formatting edited and reposted
I’m in the lovely Kendall Square Marriott in Cambridge, MA. My flight home was cancelled; I have an incredibly early wake up time in the morning to make my rescheduled flight. I finished another book, so thought I would take a few minutes as blog my take on my latest read.
With the provocative title Bitches on a Budget, Rosalyn Hoffman and Karen Conner, who co-wrote a portion of the book, take sassy ladies all over on a journey to determine how to maintain a sense of style in this insane economy. I was fooled. I thought this book was going to be about how to get out of debt. No. Thankfully, this book assumes that all its reading divas already know what they need to do financially to stay afloat in these tumultuous times. We just want a way to do it in style, of course. And this book comes through there.
Chock full of those things on which to splurge, and others on which to save, Bitches on a Budgetprovides saucy oversight on how to live decadently on a budget. Get the T’s at Target. Are all those expensive skin care items really worth it? I adore my Dior skin care, but now I’m thinking, how badly do I really need it, if Boots will do just as well? How does one travel in style for less these days? And did you know Whisky (the Scottish spelling) is the new Cosmo?
My new virtual friends in the Bitches world tell us how to have it all without spending it all.
Yes, the title is provocative. I had a great conversation with one of the flight attendants on my way up to Boston about the book. The title will certainly spark curiosity. I’d love to see my friend Kate at Fusion of Style (http://fusionofstyle.blogspot.com/) elaborate on the fashion buying tips. You won’t learn any new groundbreaking financial management tips here, but that is kind of the point. Really, we all know what we need to do. This book makes it FUN. But you’ll get some website gems, some excellent (sounding) recipes, and a dose of sass not found any other book I’ve read about budgeting.
Highly recommend!
Next up? Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. I started it tonight. Thought I might finish it on the flight home tomorrow, but since the flight is so obscenely early (yet I’m grateful to be getting home), I may sleep instead.