The War That Ended Peace



by Margaret MacMillan

Published 2013

So, I don’t know that any of you have been following me since I first started this book blog (originally on tumblr) back in December 2011, but the very first book I ever reviewed online was called George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I.  At the time, I had realized that my 20th century history was incredibly weak, and was determined to do an independent study on the subject.  Using Tapestry of Grace as a general outline for reading material, I jumped right in.  But, per usual, I found myself getting bogged down with questions.  By Week 3 of Tapestry, I was already supposed to be blowing through World War I, but I had no idea why World War I was happening.  I stumbled across the George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm book and decided to give it a whirl, and it was fantastic.  The problem is, that was in 2011, and I’m still only partway through World War II.  THEN FictionFan published a review of The War That Ended Peace.  Despite all my reading on World War II, the first World War is the one that’s continued to hold my fascination, and I couldn’t resist what sounded like an amazing read, even if it did mean spending almost 700 pages going backward on my history timeline.

This book was well-worth the effort.  As an American, I always greatly appreciate reading world history books written by non-Americans, especially covering a topic wherein the Americans were (per usual) rather late on the scene.  MacMillan takes a gigantic topic and makes it incredibly readable.  The book flows well, and the writing was excellent.  I also loved the fact that the pictures/photographs were scattered throughout the text instead of in clumps of pages here and there (this  means the pictures aren’t on the traditional glossy paper, but that’s okay with me), because it really helped to break the text up a bit, aiding in the ease-of-reading.

In a way, this covered a lot of the territory I’d read in the Royal Cousins book, but the perspective is different enough to make this read just as interesting for me.  MacMillan makes an effort to draw some parallels between the ramp-up to WWI and current events.  Most of the time this was interesting, although sometimes it felt almost too random – I’d be right in the thick of a narrative from 1907 and all of the sudden, “very similar to China in 2011” or something, and it was a bit jarring.

Overall, though, I highly recommend this book.  For the amount of information that it covers, it is remarkably easy to read.  Frequently, non-fiction books involve far too many people, but MacMillan makes them interesting enough that they are memorable, and she reminds the reader of who someone is if it’s been too long since he was last mentioned, which I appreciate.  (It can be very frustrating when an author expects me to remember who “Copenhagen” is when I haven’t heard from Copenhagen in 173 pages.)

I will say that one of the things that really struck me was how, relatively, a very small number of people  made the decisions that started the war – millions of people die, and for what?  Did normal, every-day Germans really want more territory?  Or were they just interested in growing some food, going to work, raising their children, living their lives?  So often, history books use country’s names as though they are people – Germany did this, Belgium thought this, France wanted this.  But the truth is, it’s a few leaders of each of those countries who are doing, thinking, and wanting: I truly believe that what most of the people want is simply to be left alone to live their lives in peace.

One of the reasons that this book was so intriguing was because, besides the obvious parallels that MacMillan specifically mentions, there are plenty of times where it is easy to see similar things that are happening around the world today.  The quote “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it” seems particularly apt when reading about World War I and its seemingly arbitrary causes.  Sometimes, when the circumstances are just right, it doesn’t take much to start a war.

Charmed Life



by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1977

So I’m afraid that my reading (and thus this blog) has been in a bit of a rut lately …  frankly, I’ve cheated a bit on my usual rotation because I’ve been enjoying the Amelia Peabody books so much that keep skipping over the boring looking books so I can get to the next Peabody story!  That, combined with the fact that I’ve also read several Pride & Prejudice variations/sequels that were so dreadful/fanfictionish that I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve read them, means that this blog has been a tad repetitive.  And while that trend will likely continue (because let’s face it, I read basically the same types of books all the time), I’ve branched out a bit by starting Diana Wynne Jones’s “Chrestomanci” series.

This is a series that I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time (pretty much every since I found out about Jones about a year ago when I read Fire & Hemlock).  The problem is that everyone seems to have a different opinion on the order in which the books should be read.  Some people are adamant that they be read chronologically.  Others are just as determined that they only be read in published order.  Some people are ambivalent, saying that they can be read in any order – except you have to read first (there are multiple opinions one which book is).  I just couldn’t decide how to do it!

In the end, I ran into someone on tumblr who convinced me to go with the published order, mainly because we got into a passionate discussion about the injustice of the Chronicles of Narnia being republished in chronological rather than original published order; we agree that this is a terrible, terrible decision, and we both spend time thrusting The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe into people’s hands and demanding that they read it before reading The Magician’s Nephew no matter what the numbers on the spine say.

ALL THAT TO SAY that Charmed Life is the first-published of the Chrestomanci books, and so I read it first.

The other problem I have with reading/reviewing Jones’s books in general is that she has an almost cult following.  I’ve discovered over the years that I’m simply not clever.  I read books and more or less take away the actual story from them.  But extrapolating theories and making insightful and subtle connections – not my thing.  (Case in point: I have been mocked by multiple people online for my personal indifference towards the A Series of Unfortunate Events books.  I just didn’t “get” them.  No one ever bothers to explain what it is that I haven’t gotten, but I’m apparently incredibly obtuse for not getting what I’m supposed to get, because while I appreciated the intriguing writing style, the point of those books is just beyond me.)  So sometimes, while I enjoy Jones’s stories and characterization, I find her endings a bit abrupt and disappointing.  But I’m scared to say so because the entire We-Love-Diana-Wynne-Jones-Club jumps all over me for my inability to “get” her writing (tumblr, I’m mostly talking to you).  Ah well.  I guess what I’m saying is – reading is about opinions and is incredibly subjective, so if I decide I do or don’t like one of Jones’s books, please don’t let that take away from your ability to enjoy (or not) what she’s written.

Wow, this is a really long entry that, thus far, hasn’t actually reviewed a book!  Gracious.

So.  Charmed Life.  It was a good book and I liked it.  I found Gwendolyn to be above-and-beyond disturbing.  She gave me the legit creeps, and while I could somewhat understand Cat’s love for her, since she was his sister, etc., I couldn’t really understand why he continued to yearn to have her back even after discovering how she had used and abused him.  Consequently, Cat kind of got on my nerves.

The concept, however, that every time there’s a major battle or decision or whatever, that another world is created that has the opposite result, so that there are multiple worlds all similar yet different – I love that idea.  It’s perfect, and it gives Jones the ability to write about a world that is a lot-but-not-exactly-like our own.

Overall a strong 4/5, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series (I’ve only read The Magicians of Caprona so far).

Waking Rose



by Regina Doman

Published 2007

So, this is the third book of the Fairy Tales Retold series.  While the first book sort of introduced everyone and the second book focused on the older sister, Blanche, the third story is about the younger sister, Rose.

In the beginning, Blanche marries her hero, Bear, and they continue on their road of perfect coupleism.  Meanwhile, Rose has long harbored feelings for Bear’s younger brother, Fish, but Fish doesn’t reciprocate, a point he makes abundantly clear.  Rose decides that it is time to move on from Fish, and to simply enjoy life.  That fall, she starts school at a small Catholic college a few hours from home (but only about an hour from Fish).  She makes friends, becomes involved in the school play, and starts research for a huge paper.

First off, I’ll say that this book was fine.  The story was alright, and Doman’s ability to write a story sans magic that is still definitely a fairy tale is still impressive to me.  But out of the four Doman books I’ve read (I haven’t reviewed The Midnight Dancers yet), this one was by far and away the most far-fetched.  Just…  too much.  Too dramatic, too over-the-top.  While I really enjoyed watching the relationship develop between Rose and Fish (I think that that was really well done), the overall plot left me raising my eyebrows in confusion and surprise far too often (and not the good kind of surprise – more like Why in the world did you just do that?!!?  How is that a natural way for these characters to act/react?!?!).  

On top of that, Doman seemed determined to write this book very formally.  There’s a hint of that through all her books, revealed in the usage of words not always included in our common vernacular, but she goes overboard in Waking Rose.  For instance, this sentence:  “The progeny of the deceased nurse looked at each other dubiously.”  Are you serious!?  Couldn’t we just say “Mark and Frances”??  The whole book is like that.

The other thing (while I’m on a ranting role) that irrationally annoyed me about this book was the fact that whenever she switched viewpoints between Rose and Fish, she would title the new section “His” or “Hers.”  The point of view changes actually worked perfectly fine – it was an excellent way to get to know the two characters.  But neither voice was the first person – both were told in the third person, so it’s immediately obvious that we’ve switched to what Fish is thinking/saying/doing from what Rose is thinking/saying/doing.  The whole His and Hers things just seemed clunky and unnecessary (almost as unnecessary as me bothering to gripe about it).

Despite all that, and despite using a coma again to further her plot, overall the story wasn’t dreadful.  I haven’t been doing a very good job giving specific rankings to books lately (trying to get better again!), but I’d probably place the other two around a 4/5 (maybe more like high 3s??), and this one at a low 3/5.  A fun read, but one that could have easily been shorter, simpler, and a little more believable.

True Courage



by Dee Henderson

Published 2004

I AM SO BEHIND ON BOOK REVIEWS.  Sorry!  It’s been crazy busy somehow, but I have a couple of Amelia Peabody mysteries, two more Regina Doman books, the first couple of books in Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci series, a Robin McKinley book I’d never read, the beginning of Donita Paul’s dragon series, and the long-awaited The War That Ended Peace that I’ve been reading for MONTHS.  So hopefully I’ll have some time for posting soon!

For now, let’s wrap up Henderson’s “Uncommon Heroes” series –

This book was really a one-off.  The other three books, while not particularly building on each other, still went together, with characters who had been in forefront of earlier books appearing in the background, and vice versa.  But no familiar faces appear in True Courage, and I really have no idea why it’s considered part of the series instead of just its own book.

True Courage was also a lot more intense than the other three books.  While they ended up being more about the relationships, this book had a bit more kick to it, with an actual criminal to pursue.  Obviously, Luke and Caroline’s developing relationship is a large part of the story, but there was a lot more of the thriller about this book.  However, it was no near the standards of the O’Malley series, and while this book (and the other three) were fine reads, I would definitely recommend starting with the O’Malleys for some actual don’t-read-by-yourself-on-a-stormy-night thriller material.


“Lord of the Silent” and “The Golden One”


Published 2001, 2002

!!!! I am nearing the end of the Amelia Peabody series, and I’m actually super sad about it.  The character progression in these books has been excellent, and I have grown quite attached to the Emerson family.  But with only three more volumes left, I am rapidly nearing the end of my time in early-20th-century Egypt with these eminent archaeologists/detectives.

For those who have been following along, the two books prior to these held some major plot twists.  With the background of World War I, and the reintroduction of Amelia’s truly diabolical nephew, Percy, the books were also a bit darker than the rest of the series.  With The Lord of the Silent, however, Peters returns to her somewhat lighterhearted stories.  With a startling revelation about arch-nemesis (and apparently impossible-to-kill) Sethos at the end of He Shall Thunder in the Sky, his involvement in these next books was even more entertaining, exciting, and intriguing.  

Ramses and Nefret are finally married.  As a side note, that was a love story that has gone on through multiple volumes, yet really didn’t seem to drag (except, possibly, in Guardian of the Horizonbut that could be because that book was not published until after the last volume chronologically; for that particular character-development line, Peters had already rather confined her characters).  Now that they are married, everything is perfect.  Peters writes about their love and about learning to  be married perfectly.  She also really develops the relationships between the two couples (Emerson + Amelia and Ramses + Nefret) as they all learn to relate together as adults – a lesson that was hard-learned in the previous two books.

Peters tells us that, after their marriage, Nefret assists Ramses in writing his third-person narrative (“Manuscript H”) which makes up a good portion of the books.  Previously, Nefret’s voice was heard through her letters to her cousin Lia; now both she and Ramses tell their part of the story through the Manuscript.  Especially in Lord of the Silent, the two couples actually spend a decent amount of time apart.  By using two voices, Peters is able to tell two separate stories that (of course) turn out to be one.

These books are great fun; despite their length, I have trouble putting them down.  I think that part of the reason I love them so much is because Amelia and Emerson are so devoted to each other and to their family.  In the introduction of one of these books (I can’t remember which, and they’ve already gone back to the library), Peters tells us that she is proud to present more material from “Amelia Peabody Emerson – Egyptologist, wife, and mother” (or something like that) and goes on to say that she believes that Amelia wouldn’t argue with the order.  However, I think that she would.  While the Emersons are completely committed to archaeology, and are ardent in their attempts to preserve and record Egyptian history, both Emerson and Amelia frequently show through their actions that nothing is more precious to them than their family, and that they are willing to make any sacrifice in order to keep them safe.

Throughout these two books, especially, they work together as a united front, with that sort of “one for all and all for one” spirit.  This family loyalty and love is a huge part of what  makes these books so very enjoyable – the laughter, tears, sorrows, and joys shared within this family are what make them so realistic.


True Honor



by Dee Henderson

Published 2002

This is the third book in Henderson’s “Uncommon Heroes” series.  These books are stories that focus on members of various branches of the military.  The first two, as a I mentioned, were really more love stories than thrillers.  In True Honor, though, the thriller aspect does make a bit of a reappearance.

Henderson started writing this book in 2001, which, as you may recall, was interrupted by the tragedy of 9/11.  Henderson felt the necessity (since her stories are usually set in “today”) of restructuring her story to engage this monumental event.  Over ten years later, it’s actually quite intriguing to read a book that was written in the throes of the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a reminder of many of the conflicting feelings from that time.

One thing that really stands out is the idea that 9/11 was an act of war, that led to war, and that that war would have clear parameters and a tidy ending.  In 2014, we know that that wasn’t the case.  The “war on terror” was nothing if not consistently vague.  Henderson manages to combat that in her own story by creating a very specific villain for her characters to chase, thus enabling her story (and characters) have closure in the end.

This was as well-written and engaging as most of Henderson’s stories are, especially when I was able to set aside the knowledge of what was going to “happen next” in real life, and simply enjoy the excitement of the fictional story I was reading.

I think the problem with this book was that it was a bit emotional (being written at an emotional time), and that it couldn’t decide if it should be more of a love story, like the first two in the series, or a thriller, like the O’Malley stories.

Overall, this was probably my least favorite of all of Henderson’s books I’ve read to date (although since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of them, especially the O’Malley series, that’s really not much of a criticism), but was still a decent read.



by Helen Lowe

Published 2008

You don’t have to follow my blog very long to know that I really enjoy fairy tales, and retellings of fairy tales.  I’m always interested to find a new perspective on an old story (or old perspectives in new stories :-D).  Thornspell purported to be the story of the PRINCE from Sleeping Beauty.  And since that is actually one my favorite fairy tales (both in the original and, actually, Disney’s animated version), I thought I would give it a try.

Unfortunately, the main word that comes to mind is just dull.  The story never really engaged me at all.  The characters, especially Prince Sigismund, never really stirred a lot of sympathy in me.  I didn’t really care a lot about their successes or failures.  I’m not sure why, though, because the premise is promising.

I think part of it was that it felt as though Lowe was sort of making up rules for the world as she went along – and that’s a totally different feeling from an author who tells you different rules as you go along.  For instance, someone like J.K. Rowling may tell you a new rule in the third book, but, in retrospect, you can see how that rule has actually been operating throughout the earlier stories; you just weren’t consciously aware of it at the time.  But with Lowe, the introduction of new rules or parameters consistently felt a bit jarring, a sort of, “Oh, I guess I’d better tweak this so I can make this happen” kind of feeling.  Personally, I feel like this is the big difference between fantasy writers who really make a story believable, and ones who just write an alright story.  (Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Robin McKinley, Patricia Wrede – I could go on, but those are the ones who immediately come to mind as authors who have mastered the ability to build incredibly real worlds, ones where the rules seem so natural that everything flows beautifully.)

The other problem was that Lowe wanted to somehow build a relationship between the prince and the sleeping princess, except, of course, she’s sleeping.  She she creates this sort of ethereal ghost-person-girl who comes along and happens to save the prince multiple times.  But since we aren’t actually told that this is the princess until the very end, it left me, as the reader, feeling a bit conflicted.  Yes, it’s awesome that he really likes this fairy-girl, but we’ve already learned that he has to marry the sleeping princess so…???  It also felt as though this aspect of the princess was created simply so the princess could be a strong, independent woman; even though the story was technically about the prince and his perspective, this strange girl kept inserting her story line – it felt jarring.

Overall, the characters felt stiff and unnatural, which was in keeping with the entire world.  While a good concept, the writing didn’t flow in a way that actually engaged me, and finishing it was more of an exercise in the desire to not have a DNF than any real interest in the conclusion.

Black as Night

by Regina Doman

Published 2004

So my sister really wanted to borrow this book before it was due at the library, and she spirited it away before I had a chance to take a picture…

At any rate, this is the sequel to The Shadow of the Bearand, like the first book, is the retelling of a fairy tale – except set in modern times, without magic.  In Black as Night, Doman tells the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I was more than a little impressed at how she capture all the basic tenants of the story even though she didn’t have magic, a witch, or dwarfs.

Doman seems to understand what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale, and thus her stories are unmistakably fairy tales.  Black as Night was fairly believable.  The story was well-paced and engaging.  In this particular instance, dumping us into the middle of the story and then feeding us bits of the back-story as necessary really worked (sometimes it’s just confusing), as it definitely added to the confusion and terror that Blanche (the heroine) was feeling.

I think that the scariest part of this story was the same as it was with The Shadow of the Bear – injustice.  That Blanche, though completely innocent, could be so completely framed, was terrifying.  That those whom she should have been able to trust now suspect her, leaving her friendless and alone – that really fit the essence of the story of Snow White.

As I mentioned when reviewing The Shadow of the Bear, Doman is unashamedly Catholic, and her characters are as well.  This is a major part of the story, but it works.  Anyone who has truly come to grips with their religion knows that it is a huge part of who you are; the Catholicism of Blanche and some of the other characters is an intrinsic part of who they are, and without that aspect, much of their motivation, hope, encouragement, and yes, even frustration and despair, would be lacking.

While I think that the book will read fine for someone who is not particularly religious, it may still make someone who believes differently uncomfortable.  For me (a protestant Christian), the only confusing part were moments where Doman assumed that her readers were Catholic and thus would completely understand what was going on.  It wasn’t usually difficult to follow, but, for instance, she seems to assume that the reader will know the difference between a friar and a monk.  It’s a sort of running joke throughout the book where someone says something about a monk, and one of the friars points out that they’re actually friars.  I had no idea that there even was a difference, and finally had to look it up.  It seems as though it would have been just as easy to, the first time it was mentioned, actually tell the readers – something along the lines of, “Oh, we’re not monks – our focus is on serving those around us, rather than living a cloistered life – we’re friars.”

A large part of this story is Blanche not knowing if she is going crazy or not, and Doman gives us that very well – wasn’t even sure whether or not Blanche was going crazy.  Even though at times it felt a little over-the-top, Blanche’s paranoia and fears were very real.

This book was longer than The Shadow of the Bear, and in some ways it felt too long.  I can’t say exactly where it dragged, but it did, a bit.  It was a book that, when I was actually reading it, I didn’t want to put down, but when I wasn’t reading it, I didn’t feel inspired to pick back up.

In short, it was a gripping read, but could have lost some pages without losing too much story.  It was intense, well-written, an excellent fairy tale, though perhaps overly religious for some.  However, I definitely recommend it as a sequel to The Shadow of the Bear (they really need to be read in order).