Book Review: A Burnable Book

A Burnable BookThe Booklover’s Rating:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, although there hasn’t been much time to fit many of the books of this genre or any other in my schedule lately.  A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger is definitely worth making time for and it is difficult for me to believe that this is a debut novel.  The story is well told.

The story begins with a young woman’s murder on the moorfields.  Just before the young woman is attacked, she hands a book over to a maudlyn (a prostitute).   Thus begins Holsinger’s wonderful weaving of the lives of the low-born and the high-born in London, 1385.

King Richard II is surrounded by ruthless courtiers–including his powerful uncle,  John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s artful mistress, Katherine Swynford.  Across London, songs are heard from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings, with the final prophesy being young King Richard’s assassination. Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a “burnable book,” a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen  into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a conspiracy that reaches from the king’s court to London’s slums and stews–and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to the king (William Morrow, 2014).

Bruce Holsinger, a medieval scholar, has written a wonderful first novel that seems to place you directly in London centuries ago (the book left me feeling a little nostalgic for the pace of life in 1385 London).  You should definitely turn to the back of the book before beginning and read Mr. Holsinger’s notes and familiarize yourself with the cast of characters.  It is a little tricky to sort everyone and every place at the beginning, but keep going.  A Burnable Book is a fabulous read.  Now to add Ian Mortimer’s book Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England to the “to-read” list.  The early life and customs of England can be quite fascinating!

Book Details:  Published by William Morrow (February18, 2014), 464 pages, ISBN: 0062240323.

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25 Books That Will Blow Your Mind

This post on Business Insider made me re-evaluate my “To-read” list.  I also wondered how I missed so many of these books – I guess there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Take a look and see if you need to add some of these books to your list and put them toward the top.

While I have read some and are familiar with many, two on the list are of particular interest to me.  Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Marakami and and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.  Marakami’s novels have been on my “To-read” list for awhile, but haven’t quite made it to the top.  Please leave a comment if you have read any of Marakami’s novels or any of the others on Business Insider‘s list of 25 Books That Will Blow Your Mind.  I would like to hear your thoughts on these interesting books!

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Book Review: After I’m Gone

The BookloLippmanver’s Rating:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was the first book I’ve read since finishing The Goldfinch by Donna Tarte.  I can honestly say I prefer After I’m Gone.  I know you’re thinking “How can you compare the two books?”  Well, let’s start with the characters.  Theo Decker in  The Goldfinch is just not likeable and neither are any of the other characters in the book.  On the other hand, After I’m Gone has a few likeable characters beginning with the former police doing the investigating.  You can actually sympathize with the characters in Laura Lippman’s book, not so much with the characters in The Goldfinch.

The book begins with the flight of Felix Brewer, a family man facing a ten-year prison term for gambling and racketeering.  He is helped in his escape by his mistress and her sister.  Ten years later to the day, the mistress, Julie also disappears.  Eventually Julie’s remains are found, but the investigation into her death becomes a cold case.

Twenty-six years after Julie’s disappearance, Roberto “Sandy” Sanchez, a retired Baltimore detective working cold cases for some extra cash, begins investigating her murder. What he discovers is a tangled web stretching over three decades that connects Felix Brewer’s wife, three daughters, and his dead mistressSomewhere between the secrets and lies connecting past and present, Sandy works to find the truth.

Just like any booklover, I have my favorite authors and Laura Lippman is one of those favorites for me.  If you are a Tess Monagham fan, don’t despair, she makes a brief appearance in Afer I’m Gone and I have to say that Laura Lippman handles it beautifully.  You definitely need to read this novel.  It is a perfect diversion from the everyday and you will grow to care about Bambi and her daughters, they seem so much like some of the people you may know.

Book Details:  Published by William Morrow (February 11, 2014), 352 pages, ISBN: 0062083392.

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A January Book Preview and Giveaway

Invariably January means quiet time to read at my house and many others.  The holiday hustle and bustle is over, company has exited the building, decorations are put away.  It is finally time to put dinner in the crockpot, brew a cup of tea,  and pick-up a good book.  So what can we look forward to in 2014?  Here are some of the books on my to-read list for the first month of 2014:

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee is due out is this month.  Many of Chang-rae Lee’s novels are grounded in reality, examining the worlds of displaced outsiders from the Korean War to the lives of immigrants in the present-day United States. His latest book is set in a dystopian American future where declining urban neighborhoods have been transformed into “highwalled, self-contained labor colonies,” whose Chinese immigrant residents work catching fish for the surrounding elites. As with any good dystopian work, it promises to highlight and draw parallels with growing inequalities in our own society, which might “change the way readers think about the world they live in.”

In Orfeo Richard Powers follows a retired music professor who’s built a DIY genetics lab where he finds musical patterns in DNA sequences. When his dog dies unexpectedly, the FBI seizes the lab, and he goes on the lam. It seems that DNA and music are inextricably paired for Powers, who noted in an essay on having his genome sequenced, “If the genome were a tune played at a nice bright allegro tempo of 120 beats per minute, it would take just short of a century to play.” Sounds interesting!

Sonja Condit’s book Starter House caught both my mother’s and my attention.  Starter House is a debut novel and will come out in paperback.  The book jacket description is of a “haunting and eerie ghost story about a newly wed couple whose new South Carolina home holds mysterious and deadly secrets that will threaten them and their unborn baby.”  this book should appeal to fans of The Thirteenth Tale – that’s me.  You can see how this book made it onto this list!

The Guardian‘s blurb about Dominion, C. J. Sansom’s new book, was enough to get me interested.  It read, “An invented mid-20th-century Britain that has the intricate detail and delineation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s middle earth.  Powerfully evoked. Tremendous.”   I’ve been meaning to read Sansom for awhile.  I think this will be the long-awaited opportunity.

James Rollins partnered with Rebecca Cantell for his newest offering.  I have been a fan of James Rollins for awhile and I’m not sure how I feel about this partnership.  I am not familiar with Cantrell and I really dislike romance, so will so this ruin it?  Does Cantrell write romantic mysteries?  I hope not.  Anyway, Innocent Blood is part of The Order of the Sanguines  series and is supposed to offer “international adventure, supernatural mystery, and apocalyptic prophecy.”  No mention of romance, so it sounds pretty good to me.

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball takes place in a small Japanese town.  When eight people disappear from their homes with only a playing card marking their doors, one man, a thread salesman, confesses to the crimes and is put in jail, but refuses to speak. These disappearances form the mystery around which Jesse Ball’s fourth novel is constructed, and which obsess a journalist who shares Ball’s name. Interview transcripts make up the central text of a story ultimately concerned with speech, silence, and the control of information.

coverThe Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani is a crime novel set in Las Vegas. Salazar, a detective, is determined to solve a string of recent murders before he retires. He enlists the help of an expert in psychopathy, Dr. Sunil Singh, who is haunted by a betrayal of his loved ones in apartheid South Africa. “Here in Vegas,” Abani writes, “the glamor beguiled and blinded all but those truly intent on seeing, and in this way the tinsel of it mocked the obsessive hope of those who flocked there.” Abani’s prose is supposed to make this novel and especially good read.

Alena by Rachel Pastan is another mystery on my to-read list for the first month of 2014.  This book is “both an homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and an insightful meditation on our obsessive preoccupation with death.”  Alena opens as Bernard, Alena’s best friend and also his worst friend, recounts a dream about Cape Cod.  On the cape Bernard owns a museum, which was curated by Alena, who died under mysterious circumstances two years earlier.   On a trip to an international art show, Bernard finally finds a replacement curator for his museum and there the intrigue begins.

AlenaNow for the giveaway! I have an advance reader’s edition of Alena by Rachel Pastan to give away to one lucky reader in the United States.  To enter, leave a comment telling me what new book you are looking forward to reading during January.  If you subscribe to this blog, leave a second comment telling me that you subscribe.  There are a maximum of two (2) entries per person.  I will choose the winner randomly on or about January 23, 2014.  This is the day Alena will be in the bookstores.  Good luck!

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A Fresh Start for the New Year and a Warning

messy-bookcaseA New Year often brings the urge for a fresh start and  with it the urge to declutter our lives and spaces.  Michelle Slatalla, a writer for one of my favorite Websites, issues a warning on too much decluttering (hint: it involves books)!  Make sure to read her article and as usual at Gardenista, the accompanying pictures are gorgeous!

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On Book Club Choices and Having an Open Mind

Labor DayRegular readers of this blog will know that I don’t particularly care for romances.  Having said that, you are challenged to find a review of a romance novel in this blog!  Nonetheless, I offered no complaint when my book club decided to read Labor Day by Joyce Maynard and then go to the movie when it opens in late January.  This is not an unusual practice for my book club which also read the book Julie & Julia and then went to the movie based on the novel a few years ago.  The book Julie & Julia was enjoyable and attending the movie as a group was great fun, so an open mind is what is called for with regard to Labor Day.

As with most book clubs, we try to serve something in keeping with the theme of the book when we meet.  My personal best effort at this was in serving a Bailey’s Irish Creme cheesecake purchased at a local bakery when we read The Gathering by Anne Enright (a book I enjoyed very much, but the rest of my book club did not particularly care for).  This time the task is not going to be easy since the book takes place in the late summer, and it is the dead of winter.  However, the film trailer features a peach pie, so that seems a good choice since peaches can be bought canned!  We are located in the southeast, so peach cobbler it is.  As a treat for my readers, here is an easy peach cobbler recipe for a cold winter day:

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
Dash of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 stick butter
1 large (or two regular) cans peaches in syrup

Preheat the oven to 350F and spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or 12-inch cast iron skillet) with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Melt the stick of butter and pour it into the prepared baking dish. Mix the milk into the dry ingredients, whisk until the lumps are gone (the batter will be very thin), and then pour this batter over top of the melted butter in the prepared dish.

Pour can(s) of peaches over top of the batter, syrup and all. Do NOT stir this! Bake the cobbler for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and almost set. Serve warm with a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

I hope you enjoy the peach cobbler and the book, but most of all read Labor Day and then look forward to the movie.  After all, Kate Winslet is starring as Adele Wheeler and she was absolutely great in the movie adaptation of Little Children.

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The Booklover: 2013 in Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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