Penny, Louise. The Nature of the Beast.

NY: St. Martin, 2015.

This is number eleven in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete, one of the most recognizable cops in Canada (he’s often in the papers) and now retired to the tiny, off-the-map village of Three Pines, down near the Vermont border. And this one includes a large swath of genuine history that most people, even most Canadians, have never heard of before.



Thomsen, Brian M. & Martin H. Greenberg (eds). A Date Which Will Live in Infamy: An Anthology of Pearl Harbor Stories That Might Have Been.

Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2001.

As a working archivist & historian for fifty years, and a science fiction junkie for rather longer than that, I’ve always been a sucker for the alternate history yarn. Change one tiny, believable thing and what are the consequences? (And the tinier and more mundane the change, the better.) The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has long been a popular “point of departure,” if only because what actually happened seems like such a confluence of coincidence and serendipity in retrospect. The Japanese basically caught every good break it was possible to catch.


Hill, Paul. The Anglo-Saxons at War, 800-1066.

Barnsley, Yorkshire: Pen & Sword, 2012.

Ever since doing my undergrad history degree in the 1960s, I’ve had a strong and continuing interest in both the early medieval period and in pre-gunpowder military history, so I was pleased to happen upon this well-written work by a noted expert in both subjects. Hill is a well-known lecturer and past curator of the Anglo-Saxon museum at Kingston-upon-Thames, where a number of the Saxon kings were crowned, and he’s produced several previous volumes on closely related topics.


Published in: on 14 February 2018 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Griffiths, Elly. The House at Sea’s End.

NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2011.

This is the third in the series featuring Dr. Ruth Galloway, archaeologist in the wilds of northern Norfolk, and the quality remains high. Ruth lives almost by herself in a small cottage out on the edge of the saltmarsh, which can be something of a trial in the winter, and now she has a new baby, too. (Her relationship with the father provides one of the continuing themes in the series, and it’s nicely handled.)


Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game.

NY: Tor, 1985.

There’s a rather short list of really important modern science fiction novels, the books that influenced the next generation of both readers and younger authors. This is one of those novels. The original novelette version was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula and the novel-length version won both those awards. It’s also a book that hardly anyone who’s read it shrugs off. They tend either to love it, for a whole bunch of reasons, or to hate it, for a whole bunch of other reasons.


Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

NY: Random House, 2000.

I have no excuse for the fact that this marvelous Pulitzer-winning epic sat on my “To Read” shelf for most of a decade before I got around to it. Once I started it, though, I found it difficult to put down. I’m ordinarily a fast reader (I never skim, I just take large mouthfuls of text), but this one is more than 630 pages of dense narrative, so it took awhile. You’ll want to read slowly and savor Chabon’s use of the language as well as the immense amount of social history and artistic detail he packs into every scene.


Taylor, Jodi. A Second Chance.

Abercynon, Wales: Accent Press, 2014.

The “Chronicles of St. Mary’s” series, about time-traveling British historians in the not-too-distant future, has more than a few strange elements, including a bit of mythological fantasy thrown in (Kleio, the Muse of History, is also the Director’s steely-eyed PA). This third episode takes the mix to a whole new and rather complicated level.


Eisner, Will. Life, in Pictures: Autobiographical Stories.

NY: Norton, 2007.

Eisner is very much the godfather of the modern graphic novel. There’s a reason the field’s most important award is named for him. This fat compilation volume brings together five previously published pieces, two of them quite long, which are drawn from his own life and ancestry — and if not entirely in a factual sense, then in tone and in general approach.


Pelecanos, George P. The Double.

NY: Little, Brown, 2013.

This is the second entry in the author’s new series set in the nation’s capital and it maintains both the frenetic pace and the often dark psychological tone of the first one. Spero Lucas is an adopted Greek, a Marine vet of Iraq, and both an investigator for an attorney and a finder of lost cash and goods for anyone willing to pay his forty percent recovery fee. And while he makes a pretty good living, it’s not really about the money for him. It’s about the danger and the action, the buzz he got clearing houses in Fallujah.


Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.