Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Books I’ve Read While I’ve Been Ill

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Folks, I’ve spent most of the last three or four weeks sicker than I don’t know what . . . but I have read a number of very good books.  Some are new, some aren’t, but all kept me interested and focused.

And as I really didn’t want to have to blog yet again about how terrible I feel, I figured I’d concentrate on the books instead.

The one author who consistently has entertained me during this time — aside from my old standbys — is Regency romance novelist Judith A. Lansdowne.  Ms. Lansdowne’s last book, JUST IMPOSSIBLE, was published in 2004, and is about the unlikely pairing of William, the Duke of Berinwick, and Lady Julia Delacroix.  Julia has a secret that’s likely to take her life if she’s not careful, and Berinwick decides to mix in mostly because there’s something to the stubborn set of her chin that intrigues him.  (Julia also doesn’t like men very much.  There’s a reason for that.  Which makes this unlikely pairing all the more compelling, as Berinwick is a decidedly strong man in more ways than one.)  How these two meet and eventually end up together is very intriguing . . . one enjoyable read from cover to cover.

Anyway, you want to read Ms. Lansdowne’s work primarily because there’s a lot of humor in it.  But there’s also pathos, genuine emotion, and some rather complex situations . . . really fine writing.  (I hope Ms. Lansdowne will soon put her work up as e-books, providing the rights have reverted to her.  Her writing is way too good to be left in obscurity.)

The other three or four books I’ve read that I’ve really enjoyed during this time were mostly new ones.  First, I read Victoria Roth’s INSURGENT, the sequel to DIVERGENT, both starring Beatrice “Tris” Prior and her love interest and combat instructor, who goes by “Four” but whose real name is Tobias.  These books are about a dystopian society that split into five factions and shut off the city of Chicago, apparently to see what the five factions were likely to do in an enclosed space.  It is unknown whether Chicago is the only place these factions exist, but what is known is that you have one chance to change factions — when you turn sixteen and take part in a “choosing ceremony” after taking a whole battery of assessment tests.

Roth’s work is absorbing, and as such I really enjoyed reading INSURGENT even though there’s a great deal of violence and some really awkward situations for the heroine, Tris.  (Tris’s brother, in particular, is a rather ambivalent character.  I still can’t figure him out.)  The romance between Tris and Tobias is quite strong, with some believable tension between them that’s not all sexually related.  And the action scenes are first-rate.

I’ve read K.E. Kimbriel’s FIRES OF NUALA, which I hope to review soon over at Shiny Book Review.  (I must have more concentration than what is currently available to me in order to do so, as it’s a complex plot that deserves to be explained as well as I can without giving away all the plot-points.)  Let’s just say that Ms. Kimbriel’s novel is excellent, and it kept me riveted.  And if you like science fiction novels where there’s great, unexpected romance with believable complications along with intrigue and a subplot about how only corrupt people deserve to be taken (“con only other con artists,” in brief), well, you will love FIRES OF NUALA as much as I did.

I’ve also read Travis Taylor and Stephanie Osborn’s A NEW AMERICAN SPACE PLAN, which is just as it sounds — a rationale for what the United States of America needs to do in order to stay in space and create many new jobs.  This is an absorbing piece of non-fiction written in a compelling and likable style — and is yet another book I hope to review, and soon, over at SBR.  (Why this illness just refuses to leave is beyond me.  But it definitely has cut down on my reviewing.)

I also read Ally Condie’s REACHED, the third book in a dystopian trilogy about yet another failed society and how they try to control everyone.  The characters of Cassia and her two love interests, Xander and Ky, are interesting.  There’s a vicious Society which kills off everyone at age 80, a rebel group called the Rising, which opposes the Society, and a third group made up of Aberrations (people the Society didn’t really plan on having, so they denigrate them, marginalize them and exploit them whenever possible).

REACHED shows what happens when the Society is overthrown.  But it’s not as easy as all that to get rid of old habits overnight, much less the people who were the actual movers and shakers of the Society — which all three teens find out.

Mostly, the story is gripping but incredibly downbeat. There’s a plague to be fought against, which is why the character who does the most and actually grows and changes the most is Xander, a medic (called a “physic” in this universe).  Which is rather odd, because this trilogy started out in Cassia’s point of view.

Anyway, it held my interest, but it was definitely one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in quite some time.

Finally, I’ve been reading a book by Carl Sferrazza Anthony about a forgotten First Lady, Florence Kling Harding, called FLORENCE HARDING: THE FIRST LADY, THE JAZZ AGE, AND THE DEATH OF OUR MOST SCANDALOUS PRESIDENT.  Mrs. Harding was a trailblazer in many respects; she was honest, forthright and opinionated, and believed that women should have the same rights as men — including the rights to vote, play in any sports and work in any job.

However, Mrs. Harding’s husband was the weak-willed and amoral Warren G. Harding, a man who definitely could not “keep (his) legs closed,” as the saying from the MAURY show goes.  (Usually about women.)  In fact, Harding slept with so many women that his own father, according to author Anthony, once told Harding that if he’d been born a woman, Harding would’ve been constantly “in the family way.”  (I laughed out loud at that one.)

President Harding himself is the main reason why Mrs. Harding gets knocked down on the various First Lady rankings, even though as First Lady (for two-plus years, until her husband died in office), she did many good things.

And that’s just not right.

Mrs. Harding’s only real crime — if you can call it that — was to fall in love with Mr. Harding.  She was brilliant, and he definitely wasn’t; in a later age, she would’ve been the politician and probably would’ve divorced Harding many times over due to his rampant infidelity (as she apparently knew about at least three of his affairs, with two of those affairs resulting in illegitimate children that she may or may not have known about).  She had no children with Harding, and only one child overall by a previous, common-law marriage.

Anyway, Mrs. Harding was the first divorced woman to become First Lady.  She more or less created the modern “photo-op.”  She talked with journalists, which before she became First Lady wasn’t a regular occurrence (or even a semi-regular occurrence).  She helped her husband understand legislation and deal with various legislators, as she could keep it all straight — and he definitely couldn’t.

But with all of her good qualities — and I believe she had many — she also had some bad ones.  She was so loyal that she actually burned many documents after her husband died, mostly because she wanted to shield her husband.  (Laudable, but I wish she hadn’t done it.)  She trusted the wrong doctor, a family friend she’d known for many years, when a different (specialist) doctor told her flat-out that Harding would die if he didn’t rest and that even if he did rest, he still might . . . yet because of her trust in the family friend, her husband died sooner than he might have on a grueling coast-to-coast trip.  (They even went to Alaska.)  And she’d been known to use corporal punishment on the newsboys she  supervised as the business manager of her husband’s newspaper, though to be fair many people used corporal punishment at that time and very few people batted an eye at it.

Anyway, it’s very easy to see that Mrs. Harding should be classified right up at the top of the list with Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. (Eleanor) Roosevelt, not at the absolute bottom of the list of First Ladies.  Mrs. Harding was a very strong, tough and smart woman who helped her husband quite a bit.  She was an excellent First Lady up until her lone bad choice — that of the family doctor rather than the specialist — spiraled into her husband’s passing while in office, then compounded the problem by burning a whole lot of records needlessly (possibly to help shield her husband’s fallen reputation).  She has been unfairly maligned by history, mostly because her husband was a failed President . . . and I think that unfair treatment deserves to end.

So in that respect, I’d say that the two books that have captivated me the most during this three- to four-week stretch of illness have been JUST IMPOSSIBLE and the book about Mrs. Harding.

And really, when you’re ill, isn’t that the best you can possibly ask for?  Some books that take you away from it all?

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Written by Barb Caffrey

February 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Barb,

    I have a book to recommend to you; it is “Through the Burning Steppe: A Wartime Memoir” by Elena Kozhina. It is a true story of survival written by an enchantingly wonderful one-time writer. I have continued to hope she would write again but, so far, no luck.

    One reviewer wrote: “As affecting as an historical novel, Elena Kozhina’s jewel of a memoir is poised to become a classic of the genre. Already drawing comparison to similar works by Tolstoy and Gorky, “Through the Burning Steppe” reveals a natural writer of unerring grace.”

    Chris

    February 17, 2013 at 11:11 am

    • I’ll have to look it up, Chris. Thanks for letting me know about it. It does sound quite interesting.

      Barb Caffrey

      February 18, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      • Local library system has a copy, so I’ve asked that it be sent out to my library. If I’m fortunate I’ll have it within a week’s time. 🙂

        Barb Caffrey

        February 18, 2013 at 7:14 pm

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