The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley – Book Review

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

Matt and Elle, Elle and Matt. The two have been together for as long as either of them can remember, from the day that infant Elle was brought home from the hospital when Matt was two. After a terrible breakup as teenagers and a time apart, the two eventually marry and are stronger than ever, despite their problems with infertility. Until, that is, Matt gets a call. Elle has fallen off a ladder at her brother’s house and is at the hospital. As a neurosurgeon, Matt understands the severity of Elle’s injuries, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is not something from which Elle can recover, if she lives at all she will be a vegetable and there is no chance of recovery. Everyone close to Elle knows that she has no desire to be kept alive by machines, not after her mother’s chronic illness. Matt is fully prepared to pull the plug on his beloved wife, until he finds out that she is pregnant, in her first trimester. Elle has always wanted for them to have a child and Matt believes that this desire would have trumped her fear of being kept alive by extraordinary measures, but can he convince everyone else to keep Elle alive long enough to give their child a chance?

The Promise of Stardust is an incredibly moving book. Sibbley has a background in nursing, so she understands the medical and ethical issues at stake after Elle’s accident and is able to convey them to the reader without making a novel read like a manifesto. Sibley’s characters are wonderfully drawn, particularly Matt. He is at once both conflicted and supremely sure that he knows his wife and her wishes better than anyone else. What really draws the reader into The Promise of Stardust is the fact that all of the characters therein are acting in what they believe is Elle’s best interest, in accord with what they believe her wishes were. There is much conflict and strife, but it all comes from a good place. I’ll tell you that I personally was on board with Matt’s point of view, but I did find myself wondering how reliable his memories of Elle were; was he remembering things selectively because it meant that he would potentially have a tangible reminder of his marriage? A book club could talk about this for hours.

The Promise of Stardust is a debut that readers won’t be able to help but engage with. It is an incredibly emotional read, but not in a manipulative way. There is an incredible amount to discuss here, Elle’s case has ramifications in the questions not only about end-of-life issues but also about women’s right to choice. Sibley presents it all very evenhandedly, resulting something that is really the ultimate book club book.

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History in an Hour: Henry VIII’s Wives & 1066 – Book Reviews

History in an Hour: Henry VIII’s Wivcs by Julie Wheeler
History in an Hour: 1066 by Kaye Jones
Published by HarperCollins UK

History in an Hour is a series of short ebooks and audiobooks. I would call them novellas, except there’s that thing where they are nonfiction. Each title is 40 pages or so and they serve as a quick overview to the subject at hand. Obviously scholars of the given topic are going to think they left things out (cue the guy leaving reviews at online book sites that they left out X obscure fact), but they are not meant to be the be all and end all of any topic. Also, they are slightly UK-centric, so if you’re looking at big topics like a World War, etc., you might find a bit of selection bias.

I bought a few of these when they were on sale awhile back and have been occasionally reading them between longer works. I started with Henry VIII’s Wives, as I know a fair amount about them, having read widely in fiction and nonfiction on the topic. Wheeler certainly hit all the salient points. Henry VIII’s Wives would make a wonderful crash course for someone who wanted to brush up on the basics before reading something more in depth set in the time period.

For my second History in an Hour book, I decided to go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and read 1066. I do know that 1066 is the date the William the Conqueror and the Normans conquered England, and I could probably have muttered something to you about the Battle of Hastings, but I had no idea about the why or the how. To be completely honest, I’m still a bit confused, primarily because 1066 was a much more complicated year than I knew. It makes sense now that internal strife allowed for the external conquest, but it hadn’t ever occurred to me before.  1066 does include a timeline of pertinent events in the back, which was a helpful review after having read it, although it might have helped me more had it been in the front to prime my brain for all that it was about to receive (and so I could have referred back to it more easily).

Based on these two titles, it seems that History in an Hour is at its very best as a refresher course for the basics and perhaps also as an initial foray into a topic about which you know nothing. I will definitely read more of these titles.

Source: Personal

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Interview with Bernard Cornwell, author of 1356

Bernard Cornwell has been a force in historical fiction since the 1980s with the release of Sharpe’s Eagle, the first in his series about a British soldier during the Napoleonic War. Since then he’s written around fifty historical novels. His most recent is 1356, a novel of the battle of Poitiers. Cornwell stopped by to answer a few of my questions about his prolific writing career.

DevourerofBooks: Can you give us the one sentence synopsis of 1356?

Bernard Cornwell: 1356 is an historical novel postulating a series of unlikely events that culminated in the battle of Poitiers which took place, unsurprisingly, in 1356.

Dob: Why the Hundred Years War, and the Battle of Poitiers in particular?

BC: I wrote a trilogy set in the Hundred Years War and 1356 is really the fourth book of that trilogy!  I was born and raised in England (but have spent most of my adult life in the States), and the English tend to define their history by the long rivalry with France. The most famous battles of English and British history are all against the French; Hastings, Crecy, Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo, yet Poitiers was just as decisive and in some ways more astonishing than Agincourt, but strangely it is a little known event.  It’s also a magnificent story, how a small English army is trapped by the French King, how they attempt to surrender, have their terms rejected and so are forced to fight and, in so doing, win a crushing victory which ends with the French King in English captivity.  Fact, they tell me, is stranger than fiction, and Poitiers stretches credulity, but it’s all true and is, as well, a terrific story!

DoB: What is it that drew you to historical fiction as an author? Have you always been interested in this genre?

BC: We write first for ourselves, and so we write what we want to read. From a child I loved historical fiction and so when I gave up my proper job (I was a television producer with the BBC) I naturally wrote what I wanted to read. Initially that was the Sharpe series about a British rifleman fighting against Napoleon, which was a rip-off of the Hornblower books, but the repertoire has expanded since those early days.

DoB; After approximately 50 books, how do you continue to find new topics to write about?

BC: The difficulty is not finding new topics, but winnowing down the vast number of possibilities that history offers. I have enough ideas to keep me going for at least another hundred years, but tobacco, whiskey and other joys will ensure that I won’t last that long.  The ancient classical aphorism is right, ars longa, vita brevis, and I’m not saying what I do is ‘art’, but it certainly takes a long time and life is, indeed, short. A book takes, roughly, six months to write and while I used to write two a year I have given up one of those to appear on stage in a summer-stock theatre each year. So one idea a year?  Out of all history? Out of the long centuries of conflict and drama and passion and cruelty and disappointment and ecstasy? There’s no shortage of topics!

DoB: What books are you reading right now, or what books are on the top of your to be read pile?

BC: I’m reading Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, who wrote the magnificent Will in the World, which is one of the best books about Shakespeare. Swerve is about the rediscovery of Lucretius’s poem de Natura Rerum and its effect on Renaissance thinking, which sounds fairly dry, but Stephen Greenblatt is incapable of writing a dull book. It’s a book about the birth of modern thinking, and it’s terrific!  I’m also reading Sam Willis’s In the Hour of Victory, which is a fascinating redaction of the dispatches sent to the Admiralty by Royal Navy commanders during the Napoleonic Wars (shades of Hornblower).  Next on the list, and much anticipated, is Stuart MacBride’s Birthdays for the Dead. I’m a huge fan of police procedurals and love Stuart’s books (Scottish noir). His series beginning with Cold Granite is, for me, a must-read!

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Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Published by Harper Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

From the publisher:

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

Isolated by the storm, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer among a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s most famous books, and for good reason. By placing the murder on a train stuck in a snow bank miles away from anything, Christie freshened up her manor house murder scenario, while still maintaining the ‘it must have been someone here!’ vibe for which she is so famous.

In the midst of a number of Agatha Christie books were I easily solved the murders, Murder on the Orient Express was a refreshing change of pace. This is on par with And Then There Were None for pure brilliance as far as suspect and method of murder, and I’m not sure if I could have ever guessed the culprit, as I have in so many of her books recently.

Poirot isn’t typically my favorite Christie protagonist, but Murder on the Orient Express is well worth reading.

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Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers – Mini Book Review

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
Published by Bourbon Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

From the publisher:

Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiancE died in the manner prescribed in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman’s noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to prove her innocent–as determined as he was to make her his wife.

For years I have been hearing praise of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books from book bloggers whose taste I trust, and the four Harriet Vane books seem to be particularly well regarded. Personally, though, I just totally failed to connect with and care about Lord Peter, he simply didn’t appeal to me at all. Perhaps because Strong Poison comes in several books into the overarching Lord Peter Wimsey series, but there didn’t seem to be much character development and I more or less lost interest in him.

I do suspect that I might have enjoyed Strong Poison were Harriet Vane actually in it more. Because she is on trial for murder and has only just been introduced to Lord Peter, Harriet only directly appears in Strong Poison a few times, the story consists mostly of Lord Peter trying to prove her innocence without her. I’m going to give this series one more try with Have His Carcase to see if my hunch about enjoying Harriet more than Lord Peter is correct, but that will be do or die for me.

Have you read any of Dorothy L. Sayers’s mysteries? What did you think?

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Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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