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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The subject of Africa and Africans and the relationship of Africans to Americans is one of my fascinations. I read Ms. Adichie’s novel, Americanah, with that fascination firmly in place. But the book was just ironic, sarcastic, and insightful enough to make me a little uncomfortable. I don’t think I’d enjoy meeting the author, and I don’t think she would like me very much. (According to one character in the novel who may or may not speak for the author, “American conservatives come from an entirely different planet,” obviously not a good one.) I feel as if Ms. Adichie, assuming her characters speak for her in some respects, would have something sardonic and probably also uncomfortably perceptive to say about me and my interest in Africa and my WASP background and my conservative Christian worldview.

Through her main characters, Ifemelu and Obinze, especially Ifemelu, the novelist has a lot to say about Nigerians and “Non-American Blacks” (NAB’s) and American Blacks (AB’s) and American Non-Blacks and Brits and other Europeans and poor people and rich people and bourgeois middle class people and everyone else whose weaknesses and foibles Ifemelu manages to expose and ridicule and deflate. Thought provoking, yes. But Ifemelu is also self-absorbed, sometimes pitiable, and irresponsible and unreliable. In short, she’s a real person with a sin problem, although she wouldn’t use that term.

Ifemelu is a Nigerian immigrant to the United States. She leaves Nigeria partly to escape from the lack of choices there and from her dysfunctional family and partly to study in the U.S., the land of opportunity. She finds that when she comes to America, she suddenly becomes “black”, a category she never considered one way or another back in Nigeria. She is subject to the racism, overt and subtle, that American Blacks encounter and deal with all of the time in this country. And she also becomes “African” in the eyes of many Americans, black and white, who tell her about their charitable contributions to an orphanage in Zimbabwe or their trip to Kenya or their love for Mother Africa, as if Africa were one big country, and of course, she would identify with people and entities half a continent away from her own nation and culture.

Ifemelu, however, is an honest and incisive thinker, and she forges her own identity in the U.S. She eventually becomes a blogger with a widely read and profitable blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black. She writes about race in America, about black women and hair, about subtle and not-so subtle racism, about Michelle and Barack Obama, about her own experiences as an immigrant to the U.S., and about the people and interactions she observes. Her blog posts about race in particular prick the consciences and destroy the pretensions of many of her readers. (The unrealistic part, of course, is that she makes quite a bit of money as a result of the popularity of her blog. How many rich bloggers are there?)

Americanah is a smart, penetrating, rather dramatic look at the immigrant experience and at the emigrant experience and at the experience of returning home. But it made me feel the way I feel when I’m in the company of intellectual people who spend their time mocking and pointing out the defects of those who are “beneath” them, outside their little clique. Americanah is an opinionated book, and it’s not a kind book. The characters in the book are honest, possibly right about many of their opinions and insights, but not very compassionate or forgiving.

“What are you reading?” Kelsey turned to Ifemelu.
Ifemelu showed her the cover of the novel. She did not want to start a conversation. Especially not with Kelsey. She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.
“Is it good?”
“Yes.”
“It’s a novel, right? What’s it about?”
Why did people ask “What is it about?” as if a novel had to be about only one thing. Ifemelu disliked the question; She would have disliked it even if she did not feel, in addition to her depressed uncertainty, the beginning of a headache.

At the risk of being relegated to the realm of all the Kelseys of this country, despite my lack of “liberal” credentials, I will say that Americanah is about the Nigerian immigrant experience, both in the U.S. and Britain. It’s also about the issues and stresses of being a black woman in America, specifically in the Northeastern part of the U.S. And it’s a novel about romantic love, and lost love and recovered love. The ending, like the detail of the money-making blog, struck me as unrealistic and unlikely. But I did learn a lot along the way.

Warning: Self-absorption and sexual license abound in the novel, just as they do in the real lives of many, both Africans and Americans. That part of the novel is almost too realistic.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

There are a few authors I could read all day, all week, and never get tired of their books, their characters, and their writing style. Whereas some authors I read and enjoy but then need a break—Dickens or John Grisham or even Tolkien. Others are so delightful and amusing and light-hearted that I could take a steady diet and not feel too over-filled or burdened. P.G. Wodehouse, Jan Karon, Agatha Christie (well, maybe not “light-hearted”), and Alexander McCall Smith fall into the latter category.

Mr. McCall Smith has written several series of novels set in various locales, and I’ve enjoyed at least a few of the books in each series:

Corduroy Mansions in London
44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland,
The Isabel Dalhousie novels, also in Scotland,
Professor Dr. von Igelfeld novels in Germany and other settings,
and of course, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency set in Botswana, Africa.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon is the latest, and perhaps greatest, of this best-selling detective series. I enjoyed the contrasting of modern ways and the old conservative ways of traditional Botswanan culture—and the compromises between the two. I enjoyed the two mysteries and their cozy solutions. I enjoyed the continued unfolding of the friendship between Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Grace Makutsi. And Mma Ramotswe’s husband Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni continued to work in this book as in others at loving and caring for his traditionally built and professionally astute helpmeet. The supporting cast in this series also make an appearance and add to the story, each in his own way: Mma Potokwane, Phuti Radiphuti, and the apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell.

A couple of quotes, just to brighten your day and give you something to think about:

On forgiveness:
“She had forgiven him, yes, but she still did not like to remember. And perhaps a deliberate act of forgetting went along with forgiveness. You forgave, and then you said to yourself: Now I shall forget. Because if you did not forget, then your forgiveness would be tested, perhaps many times and in ways that you could not resist, and you might go back to anger, and to hating.”

On beauty:
“You could be very glamorous and beautiful on the outside, but if inside you were filled with human faults—jealousy, spite, and the like—then no amount of exterior beauty could make up for that. Perhaps there was some sort of lemon juice for inside beauty . . . And even as she thought of it, she realized what it was love and kindness. Love was the lemon juice that cleansed and kindness was the aloe that healed.”

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This Sherlock Holmes tribute starts off slowly, but the pace picks up about halfway through when the author has finished setting up the relationship between Holmes and his teenage, female apprentice, Mary Russell. Mary, a sharp-eyed, feminist mirror image of Holmes himself, is, from the beginning of their acquaintance, mach more actively involved in Sherlock Holmes’ experiments and detection than was the ever-admiring, but frequently dim-witted Watson. Russell, as Holmes calls her, becomes Sherlock Holmes’ protege, and eventually his equal partner in sleuthing as the two of them face off with an enemy even more subtle and diabolical than the deceased Moriarty.

I had a good friend in high school/college days who was a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. I preferred Nero Wolfe or Miss Marple. I wish I knew where Winona was. I would definitely recommend The Beekeeper’s Apprentice to her—and to any other Sherlockian mystery fans, at least those who aren’t offended by the non-canonical addition of a female genius apprentice who sometimes outdoes even the Great Sherlock Holmes himself in her deductions and observations.

I’m in the middle of the second book of the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and the feminist themes are definitely predominating in this one. However, the plot and characters and the writing are all stellar, and I’m definitely in for the long haul, unless the quality goes down or the feminist* propaganda gets to be too much. I’m looking forward to getting to know Ms. King’s version of Sherlock Holmes and his (now) partner, Mary Russell, over the course of twelve books.

*I would never use the word “feminist” to describe myself because the term has way too many connotations and associations that are anti-Christian and anti-male. However, Mary Russell’s version of feminism, so far (only in the second book), has much to recommend it. Ms. Russell is an independent and highly intelligent young woman who is learning how to relate to and older male mentor in a way that is dignified and and at the same time grateful for the things that he is able to teach her. So far, I like Mary Russell very much.

March by Geraldine Brooks

March, Ms. Brooks’ take-off on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. I found it to be an odd little novel. Ms. Brooks takes a fictional character, Mr. March, father to the “little women”, and places him and his family in a real world with people who actually lived in Concord near the Alcott family, namely the Emersons and the Thoreaus. Then, the author sends March off to war, just as he is off “where the fighting is” in Little Women, and she tells most of the story from his point of view. It’s an odd point of view, that of a vegetarian, abolitionist, peace-loving philosopher-soldier-chaplain caught in the midst of horror and insoluble moral dilemmas.

The tone and voice of the novel matched the rather stilted nineteenth century style of Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, and while this style of writing was a little disconcerting at first, I soon began to like it and to feel transported to the Civil War era when men wrote flowery, loquacious letters to their loved ones.

“I have now traveled so far south that I find myself come to a place where our common expression ‘white as snow’ has no useful meaning. Here, one who wishes his words to make plain sense had better say ‘white as cotton.’ I will not say that I find the landscape lovely. We go on through Nature to God, and my Northern eye misses the grandeur that eases that ascent. I yearn for mountains, or at least for the gentle ridges of Massachusetts; the sweet folds and furrows that offer the refreshment of a new vista as each gap or summit is obtained. Here all is obvious, a song upon a single note. One wakes and falls asleep to a green sameness, the sun like a pale egg yolk, peering down from a white sky.”

March is an adult novel, and in it, the “perfect” Marmee and the idealized Father March become real flesh and blood people with faults and passions and uncertainties and doubts about their own choices and abilities. March, in particular, is a man who finds himself in a place and time where his ideals and moral philosophy are tested and found wanting. And still he and his wife, the Marmee of Little Women, come through the fires of war and suffering with admirable character and fortitude. There is much to respect in Geraldine Brooks’ March, even though Bronson Alcott and I would find much to disagree about in real life. (I’m not a transcendentalist nor a utopian nor a vegetarian nor a pacifist nor a Unitarian/free thinker.)

The novel does a good job of bringing out the impracticality and impracticability of March’s/Alcott’s beliefs and still making him admirable as a man who tried, at least in the fictional version of his story, to remain true to his principles. I think all of us, as we age, feel the tension between the youthful ideals that we still believe to be right and good and true and the imperfection and fallenness of the world we actually inhabit, including the impossibility of remaining pure in our own execution and implementation of those ideals and principles to which we bear allegiance.

“You are not God. You do not determine the outcome. The outcome is not the point. . . The point is the effort. That you, believing what you believed—what you sincerely believed, including the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’–acted upon it. To believe, to act, and to have events confound you–I grant you, that is hard to bear. But to believe, and not to act, or to act in a way that every fiber of your soul held was wrong–how can you not see? That is what would have been reprehensible.”

“[T]here is only one thing to do when we fall, and that is to get up, and go on with the life that is set in front of us, and try and do the good of which our hands are capable for all the people who come in our way.”

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I was deeply disappointed by this long, engaging, insidious apologia for assisted suicide, or “mercy killing” as the euphemism goes. I saw this title on so very many end-of-the-year favorites lists, and I thought it sounded engaging. It was. The characters were appealing, and Louisa Clark’s project to make her quadriplegic “patient”, Will Traynor, take an interest in life, kept me turning the pages to see what would happen.

I didn’t want easy answers. I know people who live in chronic pain, and I know people who deal with severe disability every day of their lives. It’s not easy, and their problems should not be trivialized by an unearned and unexamined happily-ever-after ending to a novel. However, (SPOILER: I’m not at all reluctant to write spoilers for a novel that engages in blatant propaganda), the ending to this novel trivializes life itself, and its ending makes the lives of disabled people and people who are in pain seem cheap and worthless.

Serendipitously, I saw a tweet today that connected me to this blog post quoting Marilyn Golden, Senior Policy Analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, at a disability rights group blog called Not Dead Yet. These are some reasons she gives to be concerned about laws being proposed in in such far-flung places as Scotland, New Hampshire, and New Mexico—and about the legalization of assisted suicide that is already in effect in Washington state and in Oregon:

Deadly mix: Assisted suicide is a deadly mix with our profit-driven healthcare system. At $300, assisted suicide will be the cheapest treatment. Assisted suicide saves insurance companies money—even with full implementation of the greatly-needed Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”).
Abuse: Abuse of people with disabilities, and elder abuse, are rising. Not every family is a supportive family! Where assisted suicide is legal, such as in Oregon, an heir or abusive caregiver may steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug—no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know?
Mistakes: Diagnoses of terminal illness are too often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives, where assisted suicide is legal.
Careless: Where assisted suicide is legal, no psychological evaluation is required or even recommended. People with a history of depression and suicide attempts have received the lethal drugs.
Burden: Financial and emotional pressures can also make people choose death.
Unnecessary: Everyone already has the legal right to refuse treatment and get full palliative care, including, if dying in pain, pain-relieving palliative sedation.
No true safeguards: Where assisted suicide is legal, the safeguards are hollow, with no enforcement or investigation authority.
Our quality of life underrated: Society often underrates people with disabilities’ quality of life. Will doctors & nurses fully explore our concerns and fight for our full lives? Will we get suicide prevention or suicide assistance?

Of course, in Me Before You, all of the family are motivated by pure concern for the quadriplegic Will. Will himself makes a completely autonomous and carefully considered decision to kill himself, and no one is allowed to really argue that he is in no condition to make such a decision. One character, Will’s caregiver’s mother, is outspoken and unshaken in her opposition to “mercy killing”, but she is a peripheral character and the only one who is not finally recruited and convinced by Will’s suffering and his determination to support him in his decision to end his life.

A book that showed both (or many) sides of this issue, even if it ended in the same way, would have been worth reading. As it is, Ms. Moyes has used her admittedly fine writing talent to propagandize for death, and I think it’s a pity.

Not recommended.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

“In true romance fashion, it’s pretty easy to guess how the relationships will all work out.” ~Susan Coventry at ReadingWorld.

Susan made this rather predictable observation about a different Regency romance novel that she was reviewing, but the truism pretty much sums up Edenbrooke as well. I picked up Edenbrooke from my library bookshelf because I needed something light, and easy, and yes, predictable, to distract me from the not-so-light, not-so-easy, and not predictable at all things that are going on in my real life. Edenbrooke served its purpose admirably.

Gentleman meets lady in dire circumstances. Her carriage has just been attacked by a highwayman, and she has escaped, barely. The gentleman is at first unhelpful and insufferably rude. Then, he realizes his mistake and becomes quite charming. The two develop a bantering relationship, interspersed with smoldering looks, racing pulses, and lots of double talk. Misunderstandings ensue. The Noble Idiot plot is enacted on both sides: she must give up him because her twin sister planned to pursue him first, and he must not pursue her because honor forbids that he do so while she is a guest in his house (really?).

Misunderstandings are eventually cleared up to the satisfaction of all concerned. Barriers to true love are removed. Pulses continue to race. Smoldering looks become passionate kisses, and all live happily ever after.

Thank you, Ms. Donaldson, for an afternoon of pleasant distraction.

Note: Both Edenbrooke and Ms. Donaldson’s second Regency romance, Blackmoore, are billed as “A Proper Romance.” There are no sex scenes, and the prose never turns even slightly purplish. “Proper Romance” is a product category of Shadow Mountain Publishing, which is, in turn, the general trade imprint of Deseret Books, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints (Mormon). There is nothing specifically “Mormon” about Edenbrooke.

Shadow Mountain Publishing announces a new brand of romance novels, appropriately dubbed “a proper romance,” with the newly released title Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson.
This new brand of “proper” romance allows readers to enjoy romance at its very best—and at its cleanest—portraying everything they love about a passionate, romantic novel, without busting corsets or bed scenes.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Are you afraid of the continued encroachment of Big Government and Big Business and Big Internet on the privacy of individuals? Are you worried about the implications of surveillance drones, cashless business models, data-mining, and internet search engines that seem to be more and more ubiquitous and indispensable to more and more people? Have you opted out of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and all other social media sites because you want to keep your self to yourself?

If you answered yes to all three questions, you don’t need to read The Circle, but you’ll probably want to read it because you’ll find your own opinions about privacy, the internet, and our own Brave New World, validated and extended in this fictional dsytopia where “The Circle” of everyone knowing everything about everyone is almost complete. If Eldest Daughter wanted to win her friends over to her way of thinking about what the internet is doing to humans and to their social abilities and to their privacy rights, she would give a copy of The Circle to each of them with an admonition to read at their own risk.

Scary stuff. It’s somewhat unbelievable that the main character, a young college graduate named Mae, is so gullible as to never really question, even once, the vast internet conspiracy (or benevolent business model) that is called The Circle in this story. In fact, Mae is a frustrating character, so blind to the consequences of her actions and to the implications of a society built on the concept of complete and total transparency, as to be rather mindless. However, this book isn’t about either plot or characters: it’s about propaganda. It’s about what living a virtual life in a virtual world with social media as our most vital connection could do to us. Have we become, or are we in danger of becoming, rather mindless ourselves? Are we willing to give up all of our freedom for the sake of safety and security? Could our private lives and our independent judgment be taken away, or could we be induced to give them away, piece by piece, for a mess of pottage?

SECRETS ARE LIES, SHARING IS CARING, PRIVACY IS THEFT!

If you believe these central organizing “truths” of The Circle, read The Circle and think about the real implications of a world that is totally and mandatorily transparent. If you believe that Google and Facebook and Twitter are the opiates of the masses, and that 1984 is closer than we think, read The Circle and be vindicated. If you’re philosophically opposed to agitprop and think you already know all about the message Mr. Eggers has to preach, skip it.

Bottom line: flat characters, unbelievable plot and characterizations, thought-provoking message.

Note: I do not usually give “stars” or numerical ratings to books, and after reading The Circle, I doubt if I ever will again. I can’t believe all of the people on Goodreads who say they have read the book and are still giving it a numerical rating. The sheer farce of assigning everyone and everything a numerical value and “liking” or “not liking” it is well-parodied in The Circle. So, just don’t do it, folks. Books are not numbers. (Although I kind of like “like” buttons . . .)

And, yes, I know that the gadget I’m using to allow you to share this review on social media sites, says “sharing is caring” just below this post. Irony or the beginning of the approach to Armageddon?

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

“Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced.”

I like spy stories, especially true spy stories. Author Ben MacIntyre’s story of Eddie Chapman and his activities as the consummate double agent for Britain during World War II is particularly fascinating because it’s well-researched and full of details that were gleaned from recently declassified MI5 files.

So, first, I had to get straight the difference between MI5 and MI6:

“The Security Service (MI5) is the UK’s security intelligence agency. It is responsible for protecting the UK, its citizens and interests, against the major threats to national security. The Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or MI6) operates world-wide and is responsible for gathering secret intelligence outside the UK in support of the government’s security, defence and foreign and economic policies.”

Well, that’s clear, but I can see how during a war like WW II when the outside threats (of German infiltration and even invasion) were quickly becoming inside threats, the lines would get a little blurred. Anyway, Eddie Chapman worked for MI5 because he came to England as a Nazi spy and saboteur. When he reached Britain, parachuted in by his German employers, he immediately reported to MI5 about what the Germans had taught him and what they wanted him to do while he was “in the field.” (The Nazi wanted him to sabotage and blow up a factory where British warplanes called Mosquitos were being manufactured.)

Mr. Chapman is an interesting character, a very flawed hero. He was “a man who kept every option open, who seemed congenitally incapable of taking a bet without hedging it.” Terence young, the filmmaker, who had known Chapman before the war, wrote to MI5 officials about Chapman,”One could give him the most difficult of missions knowing that he would carry it out and that he would never betray the official who sent him, but that it was highly probable that he would, incidentally, rob the official who sent him out. . . . He would then carry out his [mission] and return to the official whom he had robbed to report.” Chapman had a girl in every port, or country, and he seduced each of them into thinking that she was the only one. But when none of his long-term partners was available, he found it necessary to visit prostitutes or find a new paramour. He performed some incredibly valuable missions of misinformation and spying for the British, but he was paid mostly by the Germans who believed that he had done great things for their side.

If you’re interested in World War II, British intelligence services, James Bond and the like, espionage, or just morally ambivalent characters, Agent Zigzag is a good read. MacIntyre does tell what happened to the major players in this episode of double and even triple cross after the war was over, and the index is useful for finding specific incidents and information if you’re studying the era and the subject.

Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

If you’re a logophile, a lover of words, you’re bound to like this beginning book to a five volume series, set in sixteenth century (1547) Scotland. The hero/villain of the tale, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is a veritable fount of words, a repository of language, a giddy young man with a facile and garrulous tongue. Here are just a few of the beguiling, beauteous, buxom words I descried in the course of reading this historical fiction adventure:

Enteric: of or pertaining to the enteron; intestinal.
Decorticating: to remove the bark, husk, or outer covering from.
Damascened: of or pertaining to the art of damascening (to produce wavy lines on Damascus steel).
Decumbiture: Confinement to a sick bed, or time of taking to one’s bed from sickness.
Peripetia: a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal, especially in a literary work.
Yaffle: another name for green woodpecker, imitative of its cry.
Parure: a matching set of jewels or ornaments.
Sphacelate: To develop or produce gangrenous or necrotic tissue.
Hebetude: the state of being dull; lethargy.
Bauchly: in an inferior or substandard way
Cibation: The act of taking food; (Alchemy) The process or operation of feeding the contents of the crucible with fresh material.
Predicant: preaching.
Talion: lex talionis; exaction of compensation in kind.
Thrawnness: twistedness; crookedness; distortion.
Snib: a bolt, catch, lock, or fastening on a door or window.
Encysted: to enclose or become enclosed in a cyst.
Frangible: easily broken; breakable.
Corium: Anatomy, Zoology , dermis. (skin?)
Probang: a long, slender, elastic rod with a sponge, ball, or the like, at the end, to be introduced into the esophagus or larynx, as for removing foreign bodies, or for introducing medication.
Roulade: a musical embellishment consisting of a rapid succession of tones sung to a single syllable.
Crapulence: sick from gross excess in drinking or eating.
Fossa: a pit, cavity, or depression, as in a bone.
Hackbut: harquebus; any of several small-caliber long guns operated by a matchlock or wheel-lock mechanism, dating from about 1400.
Squab: a nestling pigeon, marketed when fully grown but still unfledged.
Calx: the oxide or ashy substance that remains after metals, minerals, etc., have been thoroughly roasted or burned.
Columbarium: a sepulchral vault or other structure with recesses in the walls to receive the ashes of the dead.
Pannage: pasturage for pigs, esp in a forest; acorns, beech mast, etc, on which pigs feed.
Sudorific: causing sweat; diaphoretic.
Insifflating: (insufflating?) to blow or breathe (something) in; to breathe upon, especially upon one being baptized or upon the water of baptism.
Canescent: covered with whitish or grayish pubescence, as certain plants.
Barghest: a legendary doglike goblin believed to portend death or misfortune.
Fugitation: Scots law, a judicial declaration of outlawry; the act of fleeing.
Escharotic: producing a scab, especially after a burn
Limmer: chiefly Scottish, scoundrel.

Yes, Mr. Crawford and I are both a little drunk on words. But there’s a story here, too, a plot just as labyrinthine and inscrutable as the conversation and the literary allusions that the characters strew about with merry abandon. And some intriguing characters, especially Mr. Crawford of Lymond himself. If you love Scotland and its history, if you love language, if you’re fond of old-style romantic adventures like The Three Musketeers or The Scarlet Pimpernel, if you like dashing young rakish heroes, medieval conspiracy and intrigue, and literary and philosophical allusions galore, you might very well relish The Game of Kings.

By the way, I wondered throughout the book if the words themselves were actually historically accurate: in other words, could a man living just after the death of Henry VIII in Scotland use all of the words that Crawford of Lymond uses? It would be difficult for a writer of historical fiction to be completely, historically accurate in terms of language, and sadly I figured out that Ms. Dunnett is not. At one point Master Crawford sarcastically tells his brother who is handling his poor, wounded body rather roughly, “I enjoy sadism, too.” Unfortunately, in a strike against historically accurate language, Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, from whose name the word “sadism” is taken, didn’t live until the latter half of the eighteenth century. And several of the words that are defined above were dated in the online dictionary as coming into the language after 1600. Oh, well, you can enjoy the inundation of words and story in this novel anyway, without worrying about whether each word or phrase that Francis Crawford of Lymond uses would have actually been available to him. Lymond is a regular Shakespeare: he makes up his own appellations when the common tongue of the time period fails him.

I’m planning to proceed to the reading of the second book in the series, Queen’s Play, just as soon as I can get a copy from the library. It’s about the child, Mary, Queen of Scots, in France, as Lymond of Crawford works to guard Mary’s and Scotland’s interests in the court of French King Henri II and his queen Catherine de’Medici.

12 Best Adult Fiction Books I Read in 2013

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. I just finished this story about an author who courts danger by using the people of her small English village as characters in her novel. It was lovely.

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert, reviewed at Semicolon.

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. I couldn’t really write a decent review of this probably-too-long story about the aftermath and reverberations of the Columbine shooting in the lives of a young couple, but despite having scenes and and indeed, entire sections, that could have been edited out (IMHO), the parts that were good, were very, very good. Actions matter. No man is an island. We make choices that affect others.

Doc by Mary Doria Russell.

The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, reviewed at Semicolon. Spy fiction/romance with all the twists and turns that would be expected in both.

January Justice by Athol Dickson, reviewed at Semicolon. Mr. Dickson, one of my favorite Christian authors, enters the genre of detective thriller with a complicated hero in a sticky situation. And there’s no explicit sex, bad language or nastily described violence.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reviewed at Semicolon. This novel from a Nigerian/American author is classified as young adult fiction in my library, probably because the narrator is fifteen years old, but I think it will resonate with adults of all ages, and with readers around the world because the themes–abusive relationships, religious legalism, freedom, and the source of joy–are all universal themes.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, reviewed at Semicolon. Sweet and sassy, and the author is over seventy years old? Congratulations, Mr. Bradley!

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, reviewed at Semicolon. Set in Nigeria for my West Africa reading challenge.

A Light Shining by Glynn Young, reviewed at Semicolon. Sequel to Dancing Priest, the story of Michael Kent, Olympic cyclist, Anglican priest, and orphan with a mysterious past.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. A post on the Futuristic Computer Techie Fiction of Cory Doctorow and Mr. Cline.