Friday, May 2, 2014

March Books I Loved

A wonderful biography of Edward I, also known as Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots. From Edward's birth (not the firstborn son) through his tempestuous adolescent years often spent in opposition to his father, Henry III, the biography paints a grand yet intimate picture of Edward's life. He switched sides according, always, to his own interests--perhaps shown most vividly in his friendship with Simon de Montfort that ended with Simon's death and Edward's brutality to his surviving sons. Edward had a clear vision of his rights and helped create a central government that survived his own son's weakness as Edward II. I think the title says it all.

I could have sworn I'd read everything Rendell has ever written (including her Barbara Vine books) but I stumbled across this book at Powell's in Portland and eagerly snapped it up. Though written under the name Rendell, it has more in common with her psychological books written as Vine. The story is pure spy: safe houses, dead drops, code names, and double agents. But the spies are schoolboys, playing out a version of the Cold War in between homework. When adult John Creevey stumbles across their coded messages, he becomes convinced it's the work of gangsters. While he spirals down after the destruction of his marriage, the boys find themselves in actual danger. Like all good spy novels, to tell too much is to give it away--but I will say that this was a novel I've had a hard time getting out of my head.

Another used book I stumbled over at Powell's during my February visit, this is a memoir of an American scientist and his family living in Oxford for a year in the 1960s. I picked it up for my mother-in-law, who lived in England for several years with her husband and small children in the 50s, but found it highly charming myself. From the differences in heating and shopping to the way parents interact with their children's schools, Beadle is an interested observer who never condescends but paints every difference with genuine affection for England.

GRACE: A MEMOIR/Grace Coddington
Another memoir, this by the creative director of Vogue who shot to surprising fame in the aftermath of the documentary The September Issue about Anna Wintour and Vogue's behind-the-scenes. Grace tells the story of her life from a small town in Wales to international travels as a model and her work in magazines. She knows everyone in fashion and has stories to tell, but she does it all with her blunt good-humour that was evident in the documentary. (Which film I highly recommend!)

WORDS OF RADIANCE/Brandon Sanderson
At last! The second in The Stormlight Archives series. I love everything Sanderson writes, but the Mistborn trilogy will always be my sentimental favorite as the first of his works I read--and The Stormlight books take their place beside other fantasy series for which I eagerly await each new release (Scott Lynch and The Gentleman Bastards, Patrick Rothfuss and The Kingkiller, & of course Martin's Game of Thrones.) Each of these series have in common a world vividly realized, painted with color and detail I envy, and containing characters that leap off the page into my heart. Words of Radiance continues the story of former slave, Kaladin, who has powers he fears to reveal. My favorite person in this book is Shallan, a young and brilliant girl from an exceptionally troubled family who may know even more than she thinks she does about the way the war is about to change. Sanderson never disappoints. If you like epic fantasy, this is a writer for you.

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