LeGuin, Ursula. Lavinia.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

LeGuin was best known, of course, for her innovative, highly intelligent science fiction, but she also produced some very poetic historical fiction. The classics aren’t taught any longer, so not many younger readers will ever have heard of Virgil or the Aeneid, but that’s the subject of her last novel.


Published in: on 20 August 2019 at 4:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Arnold, Elana K. What Girls Are Made of.

Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2017.

This is one of the stronger YA novels I’ve come across recently, and I suspect it won’t be to the taste of many teenage readers. “There’s no such thing as unconditional love,” Nina’s mother told her when she was fourteen. “I could stop loving you at any time.” Nina took that to heart when she finally acquired a boyfriend, and so she’s willing to do almost anything to keep him.


Published in: on 14 September 2018 at 6:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Edmondson, Elizabeth. The Villa in Italy.

NY: HarperCollins, 2006.

This author has produced a series of “Vintage Mysteries,” all set within the past few generations, that I have found very entertaining. (Maybe it’s because I’m old enough that some of them take place within my own lifetime.) This one follows the classic mystery method more than some of her others, and it’s quite good. I’m sure some people will consider it a “women’s book,” which I frankly find annoying; a book is either well written or not, and that’s really all that matters.


Published in: on 3 December 2016 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Grisham, John. The Broker.

NY: Doubleday, 2005.

This is one of Grisham’s lighter, non-courtroom yarns, and it’s pretty good. Joel Backman (the wheeling-dealing lobbyist and power broker of the title) was about to go to trial for various sorts of bribery and international corruption six years ago, and was giving as good as he got, but then he suddenly pled guilty and practically fled to a federal prison for protection. Various other governments, both theoretically friendly and definitely otherwise, would like a piece of him, all because of a super-secret surveillance satellite system high-jacked by a group of hackers — and to which Joel now has the only software key.


Published in: on 15 February 2016 at 8:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rosenberg, Charles. Long Knives.

Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2014.

I’ve never heard of this author, which isn’t really surprising since this is only his second novel. He’s a Harvard Law School grad (and editor of the Law Review) with a long career as a litigator and law professor, so I guess we can trust him to get all the nuts and bolts right in a legal novel. His abilities as a fiction author are something else altogether. (more…)

Published in: on 27 October 2014 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pope, Dudley. Ramage’s Challenge.

London: Alison, 1985.

This is the 15th book in the series about the adventures in the Napoleonic wars of Captain Lord Nicholas Ramage, RN, which appears to be slowly running out of steam. The first third of the book is mostly a detailed travelogue of Tuscany, where the author, like his protagonist, obviously acquired many nostalgic memories. Unfortunately, this consists mostly of inflicting long strings of Italian place names on the impatient reader, and not much else. Pope seems determined to note the identity of every village, hill, and stream he can locate. And, just in case you weren’t paying attention, he points all this out numerous times.


Nicolle, David. The Venetian Empire, 1200-1670. (Men-at-Arms series, 210)

London: Osprey, 1989.

I’ve long found the history of Venice and its sprawling commercial empire to be fascinating. Built on pilings in the lagoons at the top of the Adriatic, it was in most ways a thoroughly Italian city-state, but it also borrowed heavily at various times from the Byzantines and the Turks. In many ways, Venice deliberately set itself apart from the rest of Western Europe.


Published in: on 19 March 2014 at 5:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Connolly, Peter. The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens & Rome.

NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.

There’s nothing like precise, clear artwork to enhance a volume of ancient history and archaeology, and this is one of the best around. Athens and Rome were the two most important urban centers in the ancient world (relative to the development of Western culture, anyway) and about half this oversized volume is given over to each city.


Published in: on 19 June 2013 at 5:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Matyszak, Philip. Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day.

NY: Thames & Hudson, 2007.

I’ve read several purported travel guides to various periods in history and they generally come off as too “cute” and trying too hard. This one is different.


Pym, Barbara. An Unsuitable Attachment.

NY: Dutton, 1982.

In 1977, Philip Larkin (who was offered but declined the honor of Poet Laureate) famously wrote an article for the Times Literary Supplement in which he described Pym, who had just published her seventh novel, as “the most underrated writer of the 20th century.” That acclaim from a respected source helped, but she still never achieved the sort of recognition she deserved from the general reading public, and it’s a puzzle why that never happened.


Published in: on 19 January 2013 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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