Reading and Watching List by Jayne
Three modern young people commit a crime against an old woman who sends them back through time to the time of King Henry II (known as Fitzempress because he was the son of Empress Matilda) where they must solve serious personal problems by making use of the legal system.
When she was alive and two of her books were reissued, I had hope that more of her OOP titles would become available. So far, no joy. Since you’ll either need to lay out a pretty chunk of change or find a library that does ILLs to read it right now, I had put off reading it. Well, I’m not getting any younger and it’s dawned on me that I really ought to read some of these books I’ve hunted down over the years. With that in mind, I’m reporting on this in case a) it’s ever reissued (please, Lord) or b) devoted fans are doing the mental debate about splurging.
This is – I believe – Diana Norman’s first published book. In ways it shows yet in the bulk of it, I found it hard to believe. Perhaps it’s that “polished until you could see it from space” quality that first books have as authors spit shine them for agents but for the most part, this book doesn’t read as a newbie. Yet, yet …. I must be honest and say that there are some plot holes and things glossed over. It’s a time travel that comes with a bonus witch free of charge so even from the start you’ll need to put your believability hat to the side and just go with it.
Once you do that, it’s wonderful for a number of reasons. Norman always did such a great job, IMO, of putting the reader into historical situations and making them so damn real. This book is superb for that. I can feel the desperate determination of the peasants to get their fields plowed because if they don’t, they know they’ll starve over the coming winter. I’m there with the Cornish miners sapping a castle during a siege and terrified that the castle inhabitants will reverse the situation and kill them. Worried about germs? Try living in a world packed with plague and no decent doctor on the horizon for the next 800 years. Need someone to blame for your problems or trying to get out of a debt? The Jews are handy scapegoats and none will lift a finger to stop you starting a pogrom. Is your family looking to save on a dowry or has your betrothed found a better match? It’s into a convent with you though as a woman you might find you have more power there than anywhere else in this world.
And as always, Norman delights in portraying Henry II and his struggles to bring laws to England to take the place of the superstitious claptrap that masqueraded as justice. There’s something that happens, right at the end of the book, which still puzzles me a bit and which seems a little out of place. It’s almost on the last page, really and took me aback trying to puzzle it out. Still it’s one of those things which I can edit out of any reread.
My verdict on it is I loved reading it even with its flaws and deliberately modern sounding language. But I would hesitate to spend what most online UBSs are asking for it. Maybe one day it’ll be reissued and then I’d suggest scooping up a copy but for now, I’d wait. Unless you can read it for free. B
Maria Finn’s husband was cheating. First she threw him out. Then she cried. Then she signed up for tango lessons. It turns out that tango has a lot to teach about understanding love and loss, about learning how to follow and how to lead, how to live with style and flair, take risks, and sort out what it is you really want. As Maria’s world begins to revolve around the friendships she makes in dance class and the milongas (social dances) she attends regularly in New York City, we discover with her the fascinating culture, history, music, moves, and beauty of the Argentine tango. With each new dance step she learns—the embrace, the walk, the sweep, the exit—she is one step closer to returning to the world of the living. Eventually Maria travels to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, and finds the confidence to try romance again.
As exhilarating as the dance itself, the story whirls us into the center of the ballroom dancing craze. And buoyed by the author’s humor and passion, it imparts surprising insights about how to get on with life after you’ve lost in love.
Sunita listed this as one of our Daily Deals a while ago and something about it caught my attention and got me to buy it. It’s actually a memoir of the author’s recovery from her husband’s infidelity and her choice to boot him out and start divorce proceedings. Looking for a way to take her mind off the implosion of her life, she starts taking Argentinian tango dance lessons in NYC.
The specification of “Argentinian” tango is important (which I didn’t know when I started the book) due to its difference from American tango which is apparently flashier and more “dancing with the stars” in style. Finn mentions watching the show and raging at the misinformation spouted on it about tango. As the book progresses, all the various aspects of traditional tango are presented as the author learns them. We also watch her progress from a heartbroken woman to a more confident one – at least dance wise – and to some degree in her personal life as well. One thing that really stood out to me is how snobbish and nasty more experienced NYC tango dancers are. B-
December, 1943: A badly damaged American bomber struggles to fly over wartime Germany. At the controls is twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Half his crew lay wounded or dead on this, their first mission. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt fighter pulls up on the bomber’s tail. The pilot is German ace Franz Stigler—and he can destroy the young American crew with the squeeze of a trigger…
What happened next would defy imagination and later be called “the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.”
The U.S. 8th Air Force would later classify what happened between them as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention for fear of facing a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search the world for each other, a last mission that could change their lives forever.
I had read about this book a while ago but it took a sale for me to buy it and then it got lost in my endless TBR files. Something made me put it on my ereader a few weeks ago and then when I’d finished a book for a regular review and was looking for a breather book, I saw it and thought, “Let’s check this out.”
It turns out it is fascinating and a pager turner. The opening remarks from the author are enough to choke you up if you remember TWA 800. Then comes the story of how the author came to start recording the stories of Allied WWII vets and how he stumbled on a story he wasn’t initially thrilled to learn more about. However, as he got the full story, he got involved in what turned out to be a years long effort to see it got the acclaim and attention it deserves.
The book title says it all. A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II. The good and noble can be found in that war but must be searched for but here is a real example. It’s the story of how one German Air Force pilot and the crew of one shot-to-hell B-17 bomber (imagine the Hollywood movie “Memphis Belle,” only this was real) met in the skies over Germany for a few fateful moments. But it’s much more.
Told alternately, we learn the early lives and then wartime careers of pilots Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown. How Franz fought in Africa before being pulled back to Italy – a point where he knew the war was lost – and then Germany before he lived through the slow death of the Third Reich which took Germany down with it. How Charlie lied about his age before taking his bomber crew to England for their first – and fateful – flight to Bremen before they struggled to regain their flying mojo and complete their 25 missions and go home.
The second amazing thing is that both survived the war and never quite put the incident out of their memories though both – for different reasons – never talked about it during or after the war. This is followed by fateful thing number three when both begin searching for what happened to the other with absolutely no information to go on yet somehow the fates intervened.
It’s a fabulous story, well told and hard to put down. Yes, it does have an honorable German military man but from what is told about the professional pilots Franz flew with and other actions they took to save the lives of Allied POW flyers, I can believe it and was pulling for them all to survive the final implosion of the Axis. Once the story was revealed, Franz wasn’t universally hailed for what he did – even forty years later – but to the end, he felt he’d done the honorable thing and only thing his conscience would allow.
I can easily see why this book has got such high marks and positive reviews. B+
As You Wish by Cary Elwes
From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.
The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.
Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets and backstage stories.
With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.
I had been interested in reading this book since its release but frankly wasn’t thrilled about the price tag. After waiting for any potential drop for months, I got a chance to listen to the audiobook. Since I’d also wanted to try doing that again, it seemed like a good sign. The book is very enjoyable and well read by Elwes himself along with a few of the other actors and Rob Reiner. A few of the others involved were read by someone else. Overall, it held my interest for its 7+ hour length and it was great fun hearing them reminisce about being hired, their impressions of the other actors, Goldman and Reiner, the famous scenes, the behind the scenes stuff, the film’s release and its amazing life in the 25 years since then. If you’re looking for any dirt or badmouthing, you’ll have to look elsewhere as this is a loving tribute to an experience many still regard as one of the best experiences in their careers. B
Okay, now some of what I’ve been watching lately.
Paris, 1761. Brilliant young Parisian police commissioner Nicolas Le Floch works under Monsieur de Sartine, the Royal Lieutenant General of Police. Louis XV’s kingdom is plagued by conspiracies and murders. With the help of his faithful subordinate Bourdeau, Nicolas solves mysterious disappearances and sorts out awkward scandals. From seedy taverns to the muffled hallways of Versailles, from brothels to the Chatelet prisons, he tracks and stakes out suspects, questions witnesses, gathers evidence, foils traps, and unveils plotters.
A friend of mine clued me in on this French police procedural series set in Paris during the mid 18th century. Based on a series of books by Jean-François Parot (which have been translated into English, though the Amazon reviews are lukewarm on the translation) we see Nicolas solving intricate cases and repeatedly running into the scandals of the high and mighty (including Louis XV) while doing so. Each episode is about 90 minutes and they are gorgeously filmed. The DVDs (with English subtitles) can be purchased or streamed at Amazon if you are a Prime member. They can also be viewed at youtube (note there is a black bar at the bottom of the screen but I can see enough of the text to follow along) though since I’ve started watching, these have been removed and returned there at least once. Warning – there is brief nudity every now and then but it does seem to be germane to the plot.
In this groundbreaking series, presenter Michael Wood tells the story of one place, the village of Kibworth, Leicestershire, throughout English history. Using archaeology, landscape, language and DNA, Wood uncovers the lost story of this community.
I got turned onto Michael Wood’s (Oxford educated historian and broadcaster) documentaries (the one on India is so-so, the Shakespeare one is good, and the Trojan War one is pretty good though a little repetitious but wow, were his jeans tight) and this is the latest one I’ve seen. In it, he investigates English history through an English village (even turning the villagers themselves into archeologists) from its days during the Roman occupation up until now. Even given his sometimes OTT extravagant enthusiasm, it’s fascinating stuff.
Filmed in six countries over a two-year period, this documentary follows four sommeliers as they embark on an all-consuming course of study for the prestigious (and nearly impossible to pass) Master Sommelier exam.
My knowledge of wine basically boils down to, “do I like this sip I’ve just taken enough to swallow it and finish the glass or am I going to spit it out?” But these students studying for the Master Sommelier exam know everything. Every country, every type of grape, every vintage, well … basically everything about wine and have to be able to show their expertise on the spot. Some study for years before attempting it while others take the exam multiple times before finally passing. But when they finally do they’re almost instantly snapped up for prestigious jobs. I do feel sorry for their “wine widows” though.
Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Spending long stretches in Antarctica for more than a decade, documentarian Anthony Powell uses his camera to capture the extremes of human and animal existence, as well as the polar landscape’s icy beauty.
Not to be confused with Werner Hertzog’s excellent documentary “Encounters at the End of the World” Filmmaker Werner Herzog takes you on a wild and woolly journey to the South Pole in this Oscar contender — from the National Science Foundation’s headquarters on Ross Island to some of Antarctica’s most remote and dangerous terrain. (which I also recommend) this is told by the scientists and workers who spend months at a time in Antarctica including the uber-hardy ones who stay the whole winter. Wow, just wow. The true love and fascination they have for Antarctica shines through.
Four ordinary women with an extraordinary flair for code-breaking and razor-sharp intelligence skills are the focus of this murder-mystery drama. Having served as code breakers in World War II, the four now focus their talents on catching killers.
I totally misread the blurb for this one and thought it would be a fictional account of the young women who worked there during the war. Nope, it’s actually about four friends who met there but who are now living in post war London who begin to solve crimes using their super smarts and skills honed during the war. I’ve just seen one series so far and was very impressed with the costumes and scenery. The mystery is actually pretty good though the very end, when one woman does something incredibly silly, was annoying. But still, a series focused on smart women! I do plan to watch more.