Kress, Nancy. Beggars in Spain.

NY: Morrow, 1993.

Kress is one of the best science fiction novelists around and has been for a couple of decades. So, even though she’s won several serious awards, it’s a puzzle why she’s not better known. Perhaps it’s because she writes not space opera and shoot-‘em-ups, or interminable fantasy series, but novels of the mind that deal with actual science. Her books assume the reader will make the effort to think about what she’s saying. And perhaps that says something depressing about the SF market these days.



Fraser, George MacDonald. Royal Flash.

NY: Knopf, 1970.

The Prisoner of Zenda was one of the most popular novels of the late Victorian era, but this second packet of Gen. Sir Harry Flashman’s memoirs will tell you what really happened — and you can blame it all on Otto von Bismarck, the most arrogant and reactionary Teutonic imperialist ever to kick a peasant.


Heyer, Georgette. The Grand Sophy.

NY: Putnam, 1950.

Forty-five years ago, when I was beginning my library career, my first assignment was in the Popular Fiction section of the Main Library, where I couldn’t do too much damage. As part of my continuing education, my supervisor had me read a wide variety of novels that were not previously to my taste, everything from Grace Livingston Hill and Max Brand to Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart. You can’t recommend to patrons what you’re not familiar with yourself. Among the works I found on my plate were the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer (a genre she invented), which I quickly discovered were exceptional in their lucidity of style, their high humor, and their delightful character portraits.


Published in: on 24 July 2011 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bartlett, Robert. England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, 1075-1225.

Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 2000.

This first volume in the “New Oxford History of England” covers the period in British history of most interest to me — from the conquest to the end of the Norman-Angevin dynasty and the loss of Normandy to France. It also covers those monarchs I find most fascinating: William I, William II, Henry I, Matilda, Henry II, and John.


Cole, Julian. The Amateur Historian.

NY: St. Martin, 2007.

Ten years ago, as a young Police Constable in York, Rick Rounder failed to prevent a man he had once known at school from murdering his own young daughter and then killing himself. Rick takes it badly, quits the force, and leaves England. Now he’s back, with a gorgeous black Australian-American girlfriend in tow, and attempts to set himself up as a private detective. And his first case, in which he proves himself to be not much of a detective at all, goes completely sideways.


Perkins, Lynnne Rae. Criss Cross.

NY: HarperCollins, 2005.

This story is YA in intent but it’s a good read for anyone, really. The characters are around fourteen, mostly, all living the same neighborhood. The plot seems haphazard at first, jumping from one individual or small group of friends to another as they move from spring into summer, but the theme is “connectedness,” the ways in which people’s lives intersect for the strangest reasons — or for no discernible reason at all. (more…)

West, Paul. Oxford Days.

Latham, NY: British American Publishing, 2002.

Among American academics who are also at least part-time Anglophiles there is often a fascination with — almost a yearning for — the University of Oxford, the font of higher education and scholarship among English-speakers. I share that fascination and I’ve always enjoyed books about Oxford and even films and TV dramas set there (yes, like Inspector Morse), and so I picked up this volume on the strength of its title.


Published in: on 14 July 2011 at 5:06 am  Comments (3)  
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Davies, Robertson. The Lyre of Orpheus.

NY: Viking, 1989.

This set of three novels more closely resembles a triptych than the usual sort of trilogy. The first published volume, The Rebel Angels, and this one are the side panels while the middle volume, What’s Bred in the Bone, forms the middle panel. That middle book tells in detail of the multifaceted life of Francis Cornish, while the first and third volumes are both set after his death and deal with the effects Francis’s life has had on his friends and colleagues.


Published in: on 12 July 2011 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stein, Mark. How the States Got Their Shapes.

NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

When I was in 4th Grade (it was Toledo that year, just after California and just before moving to Europe), there was a big U.S. map — bigger than I was — hanging up at the front of my classroom and I took almost every opportunity to study it. I was fascinated by the way a single line, starting at the bottom of Virginia, swept west all the way to Nevada — except for a couple of jogs on both sides of Missouri. How did that happen?


Published in: on 10 July 2011 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fraser, George MacDonald. Mr. American.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

Fraser, of course, is well known for the marvelous “Flashman” historicals, but he wrote other novels as well (not to mention stage plays, screenplays, and critical works). This book runs to more than 550 pages, but it breaks neatly into two halves, so it’s almost like a lead-in novel and a sequel; the two sections differ in flavor, too. It’s the summer of 1909 and Mark Franklin, American, disembarks from an ocean liner at Liverpool with very little to his name, apparently, except some rather old clothes, a large quantity of cigars, a pair of six-shooters, and a fancy Mexican saddle.


Published in: on 7 July 2011 at 2:06 pm  Leave a Comment