What I Read October 2018

I managed to finish three books in October; I feel great. And I finished a fourth on the first day of November, so I have a head start on next month. I don’t really have time to search out new books, so I am mostly just finishing up things that are already sitting on my shelf. Hopefully I will get back to my expected pace before too long.

The Poisoned Pilgrim

Oliver Potzsch

This is the fourth Hangman’s Daughter story. This time, Magdalena and her husband Simon are part of a pilgrimage to the monastery at Adenachs. There, a sickness breaks out and Simon is tasked with containing it. At the same time, one of the monks is murdered and the suspect just so happens to be an old friend of Jakob, the hangman. The three of them try to solve the eventually plural murders and the mystery of the spreading illness, they run into mad science that call to mind Frankenstein and The Sandman.

I bought this whole series because Amazon had them for cheap. I keep reading them because they are fine. They have a format I like, being mysteries, and an interesting setting, but I have not found any of them to be particularly good. They are simply fine. I am hesitant to lay that on the author when the books are translated, but word choice problems abound. Maybe Magdalena is as shrill in the original as she comes off here, but it is a bad change for what has mostly been an enjoyable character. The mystery here is mostly fun for how many different ideas pop up, the solving it is actually not especially complex. I’ll read the next one sooner or later.

Napoleon A Life

Andrew Roberts

A thorough and enthralling look at the life of the most interesting man of the last two hundred and fifty or so years. Roberts takes a fairly positive stance on Napoleon without descending in hagiography. It is simply very detailed and attempts to give some perspective on a man of whom there are still wildly divergent opinions nearly two hundred years after he died. I will admit to being something of an admirer myself, and I found this book to be amazing.

The highlights are the battle sections. They are detailed and as honest as can be. It shows how where Napoleon was truly successful, with his pace and catching opponents unawares as well as with concentrating his forces to defeat fractured alliances, but it also is honest about his failures, especially in his later defeats, when Napoleon lost the battles though simple, and in retrospect obvious mistakes.

It also gets into the thorniest matters of Napoleon’s life. Like him giving his brothers crowns and kingdoms only to be met with incompetence and unfaithfulness, though much of that was brought on by Napoleon himself. He did pull back from some of the reforms of the French Revolution, but he also helped bring the country out of the Reign of Terror and the subsequent instability. He set codified laws. He committed massacres in the Middle East. He fought many wars, but started few. Napoleon is a complex figure and this book really lays out all of that complexity. I can’t read it without being at least partly enamored of him, and a little sad that his end was what it was. But I also can not ignore the bad. I really liked how Napoleon: A Life painstakingly showed all of him that it could.


Steven Brust

I read a couple of Steven Brust books over the last year or so and I like them fine, and I feel much the same about this one. I got it for Christmas and just now am getting around to reading it. Its fine. Brust has an aversion to explaining anything about his world. I thought that problem with the first book of his I read was because it was a spin off several books deep in the series. But this first book does little to ease the reader in. It is a small problem, much of what isn’t said can be learned through context, but it is a barrier to really getting into the world. Here, he just doesn’t have the space for it. Jhereg is a fairly tight little heist story. Pages of world explaining exposition would kill the pace. However, certain fundamental facts don’t get mentioned until things are pretty far along. Like the fact that the protagonist is married, for instance. Keeping up with the twists and turns, however, require some knowledge of the rules and the book is reticent to give readers that knowledge. I still mostly enjoyed it; it flowed along pretty quickly and tells a fun story in not a lot of pages. I will likely try to pick up some more books in the series when I have time to read again.


Last Month in Reading: March

This was not a good month for me, reading wise.  Mostly because all the new handheld games I intend to buy this year came out this month and I used time that would normally be reading time as Tactics Ogre and OkamiDen time.  But I still got four books read, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Fer-de-Lance Rex Stout

This is the first of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries.  I can see why he is considered one of the greats of the genre.  This is a terrific mystery.  Nero Wolfe seems to be a progenitor of the irascible, eccentric detectives popular today, like TV’s Monk or House (Doctor, yeah, but House is totally a detective).  Wolfe’s eccentricities, for those unfamiliar, has him refusing to leave his house to investigate, leaving it all to his assistant Archie Goodwin, who is the narrator.  Archie Goodwin does all the legwork, but Wolfe uses his findings to solve the case.  It is an interesting, workable good set-up. The actual case they solve is not exactly complex, but it is not too simple.  The brother of an acquaintance of Wolfe turns up missing, then a respected man turns up dead with little explanation.  Wolfe puts the two together and realizes that they are connected.  So he sends Archie to look around.  It follows in the standard manner of mysteries, with Archie and Wolfe getting closer and closer to the truth.  Though it ends with Wolfe crossing the line from eccentricity to sociopathy.  I’d recommend it, and I’ll be reading more of Stout’s mysteries.

Napoleon’s Wars An International History 1803-1815 Charles Esdaile

Charles Esdaile’s Napoleon’s Wars is a thorough account of the Napoleonic Wars.  I should have known how annoyed I get with this book when I purchased it.  Esdaile is British, I am a Napoleon apologist;  should have known his take on Napoleon would be one I did not like. Don’t get me wrong, the book is well written and accurate, but he seems to be trying to equate Napoleon with Hitler and cajole readers into thanking Britain for saving the world from him. Every good thing Napoleon did is set as merely a ploy to get to more war and killing.  While no one can argue that Napoleon was not inclined to battle, I do not think the rest of what he did is easily swept aside.  The wars of the time were almost as much the fault of the leaders of other nations as Napoleon.  Still this is definitely a worthwhile read, though possibly more dense that a casual reader would appreciate.

Mariel of Redwall Brian Jacques

Mariel escapes from the pirate Gabool the wild, journeys to Redwall and then goes back to rescue her father, Joseph the Bellmaker. (Remember the Joseph Bell from Redwall?)  Joined by new friends from the Abbey she treks back to the fortress of the increasingly insane Gabool.   I actually like the cast of this book more than the ones from Redwall or Mossflower.  Martin is kind of boring in life, but as a ghostly protector, he is great.  But here we get Mariel and the first more nautically themed Redwall book.  Also, the first female main character.  It is kind of hard to separate these books after a while, because they all are very similar.

Martin the Warrior Brian Jacques

This is my least favorite of the Redwall series so far.  The bad guys are ridiculously incompetent, and the knowing what happens next makes the book is predictable.  It seems like Jacques realized that Martin did little in his previous book (Mossflower) and needed another book to make him seem as important as he does the books where only his spirit appears. This book details an adventure of Martin’s before he comes to Mossflower.  As usual, there is a horde of vermin and imperiled good animals.  The most interesting thing in this one it the troupe of traveling performers, who sadly get to do little performing.  Martin and his newly met friends escape from  , then bring an army back to take him down.  You know, the usual Redwall stuff.  The fun of these books is not in their plots, which are standard adventure fare, but in the execution.  And Martin only slightly under delivers on that.