Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hippie, by Barry Miles. Bounty Books, 2013 (first printing 2003)

Barry Miles knows about what he’s written about here; he lived it. From the Beat culture of the 50s to New Wave and Punk, he was there. The title is misleading in a way; while it’s about hippie culture, it is also about the Beats, Black Power activists, the start of Gay Pride, and musicians- lots and lots about the musicians; people I tend to think of as separate entities from the peace, love, pot, and granola hippies. Of course not all hippies were dropping out; many *were* activists; there is no hard line that says “This is a hippie and this is not”. But it’s more a history of the era in general than about the entire hippie movement.

I found it very interesting; while I lived through the era I was just a little too young (and too much of a book nerd) to participate in much of it. This book illuminated things that I saw from the edge looking in. The book is visually very appealing; there are very few pages that don’t have images on them. Photos, album covers, and posters are all part of the imagery. It’s like a coffee table book, but with smaller dimensions.

The book doesn’t beautify the hippie scene. He writes about both the good (peace demonstrations, the Diggers, wild fashion, hopes for a more egalitarian future, Woodstock, activism) and the bad (hard drugs like meth and heroin, the Hell’s Angels moving in on the scene, Altamont, Manson, Kent State). It’s a very even handed approach. Now, I think I need to go listen to some 60s music.  

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Book of Esther, by Emily Barton. Tim Duggan Books, 2016

“The Book of Esther” is an alternative history, fantasy, kind of steampunk (except the motive technology is gasoline driven instead of steam- petrolpunk?), Jewish Joan of Arc, gender bending, coming of age story. And I’m sure there are some bits I’m forgetting there. Oh, yes, there is a quest and a clash of armies.

The story has a lot going for it. It’s around 1941, when, in our history, Nazi Germany attacked Russia. In this world, the Germania is making a push to take over the Khazar kaganate on the way the Rus. Every country seems to have its own technology; the Germanii have fixed wing monoplanes and tanks, while the Khazars have mechanical horses and biplanes. The Uyghur, who control huge oil fields and seem to be run mafia style, have mechanical horses and air vehicles which have flapping wings and are pedal powered. And the mystical Kabbalists can make golems. Oh, and there are werewolves.

Ester, the 16 year old daughter of a high ranking official in the capital city of Atil, has lived an easy life. There are servants and even slaves to do the unpleasant work. She can easily take the best mechanical horse from her father’s stable and go riding, even though it’s not actually allowed. In two months’ time she will be married to the chief rabbi’s son, which, despite the marriage being an arranged one, does not displease her.  She finds the boy attractive and pleasant. But during a visit to the huge refugee camp that surrounds Atil- the refugees have been fleeing as the Germanii advance into their countries- Germanii planes fly over, taking pictures of the city and its defenses. Her whole life and focus change at that point; she must do everything she can to help defend her country. Even though her father shushes her away to her room when she has told him what she saw. And, because of the rules of her state/religion say a girl can’t fight (or do a lot of other things), she decides she must become a man. The only way she can imagine for this to happen is to go to the Kabbalists.

This is already a long review, and that just gets us through the set-up. In the first few pages, the author has to set up the alternative history, the religion (a type of Judaism), the family dynamics, and the technology, so it’s a pretty dense read. And things don’t get any easier as we go. It takes 100 pages to get to the village of the Kabbalist, and it’s only a two day ride on the mechanical horse. Things don’t speed up after that point. It’s a rather slow read, because while there is always something happening, it’s frequently people talking about things like ‘Do golems have souls?’ or if it’s all right that her little brother is also her slave, or whether Esther wants to marry her fiancé or make out with the Kabbalist who accompanies her back to Atil, along with her army of golems, refugees, and Uyghur mafia types.

I was fairly glued to the book, but I also found it irritating in its slowness. I like Esther because, while her initial quest is not at all thought out, she does it for the right reasons. It never seems to occur to her to simply disguise herself as a boy to join the fighting; her trust in her religion says she has to be a man, so a man she will become. The other characters don’t seem developed at all. There is a whole lot of ‘stuff’ but no three dimensional quality to it. And I’m not sure if this is the first of a series or not; the ending is totally unsatisfactory as nothing is resolved in any aspect. I kind of hope it’s a series and the author can flesh out these people and resolve some of the philosophical questions they’ve raised, because they’ve been left in a mess. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power, and Intrigue in an English Stately Home, by Natalie Livingston. Ballantine Books, 2016

 Cliveden is a huge house that, when first built, seemed to be way out in the country but extremely easy to get to from the English capital via the Thames. While it existed before 1666 (as a hunting lodge), it wasn’t until that date that the Duke of Buckingham bought it and began extensive renovations, making it into a truly grand house. Since that point, it’s been a home to the Duchess of Buckingham, a Countess, another Duchess, a Princess of Wales, and an American who was the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. It was the site of the beginning of a government scandal. It’s not been a cherished family home passed down through generations; it’s been sold many times, burned down multiple times, and now is owned by a company that runs it as a hotel.

What Cliveden is in this book is the spine that holds together the biographies of five women. The first section is a bit odd, as it’s not so much about the Duchess of Buckingham but the Duke’s mistress, Anna Maria Talbot the Countess of Shrewsberry. He actually bought Cliveden so they could live together there; scandal and legal proceedings drove them apart and Anna Marie never lived there. The Duchess became the first mistress of Cliveden as a manor house.

The lives of all of the mistresses of Cliveden- ‘mistress’ in the sense of being the lady of the house, not, except for Anna Maria, a lady kept on the side-  are inextricably twined with the Royal Family and the government. One was the best friend of Queen Victoria; another would have been queen herself had her husband not died prematurely. A fair bit of the book is not about the lives of these women, but about the government and the royals, because that is what influenced them the most. Those were the sections where it bogged down a bit for me, but the history is pretty necessary to understand the lives of these women. The story is well written and interesting, and, thankfully, comes with a cast of characters at the front of the book, or I would never have been able to follow who was who.

I find it odd that the author, who is the wife of the current owner of Cliveden-well, he owns the company that owns Cliveden- doesn’t have anything in the book about herself and her journey to Cliveden. She is, after all, the current mistress of Cliveden.

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I got this book free from the Library Thing's Early Reviewers program, in return for an unbiased review.

neither of these things influenced my review.