Viking Research: Starter Collection

All About: Venturesome Vikings (All About... Book 6)All About: Venturesome Vikings by P.S. Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m planning to dive into a bit of research on Vikings, so while I wait for heftier texts to arrive, I checked out a few available resources on audiobook. I wanted to develop a better basic understanding of Vikings, so that it makes it easier to approach potentially heavier and denser texts.

This book would be great for that 8-12 age range, but it’s also handy for adults. It gave me a good basic overview of some things I should be aware of and potentially investigate further, in regards to Vikings. If I had just needed to learn a few basics, this book would have covered it. It was also engaging, and I’m happy that I read it.

Book 139 read in 2018

Pages: 93


The Norsemen: Understanding Vikings and Their Culture (The Modern Scholar)The Norsemen: Understanding Vikings and Their Culture by Michael D.C. Drout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a highly engaging, well-researched collection of lectures on the Norsemen, including Viking history, culture, mythology, and religion. I love it, because it reminds me of a favorite college professor who really broke things down and explained what parts of beliefs are true and what parts of those beliefs are missing which would help further explain the full truth of a culture, people, or incident.

Anyway, I’m preparing to do a bit of heavy Viking research, for. . . reasons. So I tackled this as a warm-up to get me interested in the topic and start developing a base layer of knowledge and understanding. This was excellent for that, and I may go back and listen to it again after I finish my research, as there are some really interesting thoughts and ideas here that I’d probably like to consider/reconsider after I do a bit more research.

Book 140 read in 2018

Pages: (See note in chart)


Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse MythologyAsgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology by Mary H. Foster
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

These stories are okay, and it helped me gain a somewhat better understanding of the Gods of Norse religions, though I question if personal biases were in play here that make this a less than valid source. However, I didn’t read this for specifics, so much as just to get a baseline for some of the Norse mythology before doing further and more in-depth research into the matter. For that purpose, this was somewhat useful.

The presentation isn’t as engaging as it could be, as although the information is shared in a story format, it’s a bit flowery (lots of adjectives that are often redundant and aren’t helping the stories along). Seriously, it feels like almost every noun has an adjective to describe it, which just makes me think they should have used better verbs and nouns, so that so many adjectives wouldn’t be necessary.

Anyway, why that is annoying is because there tends to be too much telling, with a lot of passive sentences in some sections, and we all know that when it comes to engaging stories, active sentences and showing are almost always preferred over passive and telling.

Basically, this crosses the weird divide in the land of nonfiction, as it’s not presented in a textbook/ report/ essay/ lecture based nonfiction format, but it also doesn’t read easily like fiction does. In the end, it’s less engaging than fiction, which means I might have actually preferred a more clinical approach in this instance.

Book 141 read in 2018

Pages: 99 pages

 


Tales from the Norse LegendsTales from the Norse Legends by Edward Ferrie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I definitely do not recommend the audio version of this book, as it is very poorly recorded and cued. It’s almost impossible to hear the story at even the loudest volume. To make it worse, they added in really loud background music, which makes it even more difficult to actually hear the story.

I supposed they did that for dramatic effect, but the reader is good and could have pulled it off much better without background noise. When I can barely hear a story, and it’s interrupted again and again by loud music that completely covers the reader, that makes it even more difficult to connect to the work.

Honestly, this isn’t bad. It’s better than the last book I read on stories of Norse mythology. It is probably even better in print, but I doubt I will revisit it in another format, as I suspect I can find better collections. Something more in-depth would probably suit me better at this point, but if you want a quick glimpse, this might work for you.

Book 142 read in 2018

Pages: 67


The VikingsThe Vikings by Frank R. Donovan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been doing some research on Vikings, and as a result, I’ve been reading different resources related to the topic. I really liked this one. It’s easy to read and comprehend, and it hits you with straightforward information, without feeling boring or dry. I used this list to help make a list of ideas and topics that I want to research further.

This focused a lot on the travels, conquering, and spreading of the Vikings and elements of their culture across continents and time. That was great for me, because I’ve already read two books on Norse mythology and stories of Asgard, as well as a couple of other really brief and general books about the Vikings.

I listened to the audiobook, which was good and engaging.

Book 143 read in 2018

Pages: 109


The Sea Wolves: A History of the VikingsThe Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There’s some really great information here, and at first, I was really enjoying this one. I previously had read some very flowery renditions of Norse mythology that hadn’t sat quite as well with me, so the straightforward, no nonsense approach of this text really appealed to me.

Then it all became a bit textbook heavy and dense, and I started to lose focus. It would probably be best not to attempt to get through this in one sitting, but that’s what I did. Now my brain is exhausted, but not in a pleasant way. I have to confess that the longer I read, the less I truly absorbed the information.

I listened to this on audio, which I think helped me stay focused and on track, but there’s so much to take in that I sometimes wished I could just see the text. It’s definitely more of a research resource, which is actually why I read this. I’m getting ready to dive into some Viking research and thought this would help get my brain in the right mode. I’m hoping I absorbed some useful information so that when my heftier texts arrive, it will be easier for me to read those.

Book 144 read in 2018

Pages: 302


Guts & Glory: The VikingsGuts & Glory: The Vikings by Ben Thompson
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I do not under any circumstances recommend this, as having read 8 Viking books and sat through 2 lecture series now, it became clear very quickly that this resources is biased, over-generalized, and over-dramatized. I am by no means an expert on Vikings, which means the discrepancies are clear and in your face. I didn’t go looking for them. They came to me.

What this book does is tell some half-truths about the Vikings, which are very misleading. I believe it does this so as to add “excitement,” for the target age, but I prefer accuracy. I couldn’t even get through the first chapter without lecturing the book four times on how it’s spreading misunderstanding with the bad jokes and Viking stereotypes. In fact, I had to take this book with a grain of salt and then just shake it off, to try and make sure none of the misinformation stuck to me.

When the book is not spreading half-truths, it’s busy wielding 5 adjectives per sentence, which are less than factual and rather exhausting. Basically, the attempt to be descriptive really missed the mark.

This is surface-level research presented in a way that is intended to be intriguing, dramatic, or interesting, but it has little care for accuracy. Now, that’s not to say that nothing is accurate. There’s some good stuff here, but I think most audiences would have trouble differentiating the 75% of truths from the 25% of half-truths, mistruth, personal judgment, bias, and stereotypes, which is why I’m opposed to this book.

Also, it’s definitely a biased, male perspective on the Vikings, with little regard or respect for the females of the society, despite how important they were to Viking culture. Ugh. Please save me from the overdose of testosterone. Heaven forbid we assume a girl may want to read a book about Vikings, or even that a boy may enjoy reading about Viking without any sexist language.

If you want a cheap laugh, at the cost of the full truth, then maybe this book is for you. As someone who served as a middle school librarian for 6 years, I would not have wanted this resource on my shelf, because students inherently trust nonfiction books to be truthful, as is evident by some of the reviews for this book.

This is too busy being cute to be truly accurate, and since it was only published in 2015, well past the point where some of this additional information and research on Vikings became standard knowledge, I don’t forgive it of its sins. I suspect the goal here is to push out as many “exciting” nonfiction offerings as quickly as possible, rather than to produce a good, accurate resource. Under the circumstances, I’m sure many people have purchased this without even realizing the issues.

Book 144 read in 2018

Pages: 320

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The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their LivesThe 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story is one that deserves to be told. It’s a true story about an agender student who is set on fire on a bus. The content is good and worthy of a book. However, it was just an okay read for me. I struggled with the presentation, particularly in the first half. While I usually applaud a unique style and/or daring approach, this is one that appears interesting but doesn’t always read well.

The style is somehow both flowery and clipped. Also, for me, the first half of the book was too cold and emotionless. As a result, I held the book at arm’s length. Yes, I know it’s nonfiction, but it’s still presented as a story, which means I expected to get caught up in a story. There were moments that caught my attention, but those were so short I could barely enjoy them before being thrown back into the clipped report style.

Basically, it’s nonfiction that occasionally reads like fiction. The start is extraordinarily clinical and does a lot of listing of facts, which did not pull me in. The author likes to use passive sentences with 3-4 adjectives for everything, followed by no action, which is off-putting and doesn’t really give me a better understanding of the situation or the setting. Examples (not exact quotes): The bus was hot, muggy, musty, chaotic, and crowded. It was loud, obnoxious, rowdy. The kids were tired, wired, etc. . . You get the picture, and often these sentences back up together, so it’s just one list of adjectives after another.

Since this is nonfiction, I guess it doesn’t have to follow the “show don’t tell” mantra of fiction writing, so it doesn’t. There’s lots of telling, and many sections read more like a text book, report, or newspaper article. There are occasional disruptions of what feels like random poetry, but that is really out of place and doesn’t make sense with the rest of the story and structure. As a result, it disrupts the story more than it adds to it.

Honestly, this would have been easier to read if it had just been straightforward nonfiction or all in a newspaper or report format. I think the transitions are poor between the varied styles, and that’s really at the heart of what bothers me and disrupts the story. The small bits that do read like fiction would draw me in. However, that just caused a bigger disconnect, because then I wanted the whole book to be that compelling. I especially dislike when it shifts from 3rd person to 2nd person, as that really pulled me out of the story.

That being said, I still believe this is a story worthy of being told, and I know it’s going to connect with some people. I probably just wasn’t the right reader for this book. It would also be a good book for discussion, and it could even be broken down into segments and discussed both out of order, or even out of context in some instances.

Book 137 read in 2018

Pages: 320

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Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander (Outlander, #1)Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has an addictive quality, and though I started it once before and didn’t get far (traffic, exhaustion, stress), I’m happy that I finally gave this another try. I’m definitely obsessed at this point and will read onward, but I gave it only 4 stars, as there are some things that could definitely be better considering the heft of the book. I’ll list those at the bottom and block them due to spoilers.

I’ll also block the complaints, as I don’t want everyone to focus on those, as I overwhelmingly enjoyed this book. I have already started book two, and I am definitely becoming an Outlander fangirl. I am hoping that as the series progresses that it will continue to improve and address some of the things I think are an issue and/or a disappointment.

So first up, we have the things I liked:

—Jamie Frasier. He’s kind of a mess, but let’s face it. Who isn’t at 23? No offense to 23-year-olds. Come back in 5 or 10 years, and that comment might make a weird sort of sense. Also, Jamie lived in a different time and world, which definitely muddies the waters of acceptable behaviors. I can’t help but gape at him. He does a whole lot of things wrong, for seemingly the right reasons, which makes him a fascinating companion for the journey.

—Jamie also won March-Ab-Ness and was voted Audible’s Best Book Boyfriend of all time, and all for very good reasons. He’s swoony and frequently charming, though rarely on purposes, which is an admirable quality. Also, his mouth and brain don’t always connect, which can be in turn, upsetting, amusing, and quite romantic.

—The way Claire and Jamie bicker amuses me to no end.

—The relationship between the two is surprisingly adorable, at times.

—The age and experience gaps between Jamie and Claire, which add another layer of interest to the story.

—The historical setting, and in particular, the ways of the Scottish Highlands and the different clans.

—The comparisons of medical treatments across time

—The drama, and boy is there a lot of it.

—Kilts. Yes, I said it. Don’t go all Braveheart on me. Very handy buggers, and when worn by a handsome, well-muscled Scottish warrior, nobody would dare argue their sex appeal.

—Jamie’s stories of his past, which are all pretty much upsetting, but the way he tells them is captivating.

—A scene late in the story where he teaches a small boy an important life skill. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean. It totally cracked me up.

And now, we have my relatively minor complaints, which will contain SPOILERS:

—Where was the culture shock? Yes, there was some here and there, but in my opinion, it wasn’t sufficient. Claire traveled back a good distance in time, and though we saw differences referenced, we saw very little culture shock and almost no grief over the loss of her husband and previous life. I guess you could argue that she wasn’t too attached to those, but if that’s the case, then why did we have to read so much about her previous life before traveling back in time?

The beginning was very drawn out, and I know it was to show contrast. However, it also made us invested in who Claire was in the present time. If that is of little or no consequence to Claire, herself, then we could have summed up her current world in a chapter or less and gone straight into the time travel. But we didn’t do that. The book forced us to invest in her present, and when it threw her back in time, I expected her to be reeling with confusion, making constant time period blunders, and to be suffering some sort of sadness over loss of her previous life. I could have used more struggle and emotion tied to this. It would have made it seem like a harder situation to have been thrown back in time, and a harder choice not to return to her present. Instead, it’s hard for me to even buy in on the fact that she wants to return to her previous life, because she gave it up so quickly and easily.

—I’m also upset that I don’t understand how the time travel works. It’s not that I wanted Claire to go back to Frank, but I would have liked for her to go back, just so I could better understand the rules of the time travel. Also, she definitely left a lot of loose ends when she disappeared, and I feel like she should have addressed them.

I know the risk was that she may not be able to return to Jamie, and yes that would have upset me. If Jamie is her number one priority (and it seems like it), then it makes sense that she stayed. But on a book nerd level, it’s not satisfying that I read an 800+ page book on time travel and still don’t understand how it occurred or what the rules of the time travel are. This may just be that my sci-fi interests are sometimes stronger than my historical romance interests, which means I was really interested in how all this occurred, whereas other readers were probably along for the romance and intrigue.

—I hate that a lot of the bad guys in the story are both gay and sexually abusive. I understand this is a historical novel, and behaviors towards gay men were far different in this country and time period. I totally get that. This is not a deal breaker for me, and yet I still hate it that the root of what is bad in many of the characters I severely dislike in this story is that they are men who want to rape either men or boys. One character like this, I would have understood and swallowed. It’s the multiples that upset me, especially in light of the fact that we didn’t see any characters who like someone of the same sex and were still decent people. Now, I do understand that LGBT advocacy isn’t the point of a story like this, especially considering it was originally published in 1991. I can’t judge it against books now published in 2018. That’s not fair, so this isn’t the end of the world. It’s just something to be aware of.

—The story spends an excessive amount of time on some traumatic events, while other traumas are merely brushed aside. It’s the imbalance that’s exhausting. Some traumas could have used to been addressed better, and others were drawn out so much that it basically brought the story to a standstill so the characters could roll around in their trauma for multiple chapters. I’m not saying that trauma doesn’t have a widespread impact. It does. But the traumas in this story caused pacing issues, which started to make character reactions and behaviors seem unreliable. I think it actually served to reduce my overall sympathy, in some instances, which I know was not the end goal.

–There are a lot of side characters, and some of them are not well-fleshed out, even considering the length of the story, which made it difficult for me to keep track of some people and why I should even care about them. But there were others that were 3D that I completely loved, so it was hit or miss on side characters.

Despite these complaints, I still loved the story as a whole, and I read it through in record time. I will absolutely continue the series, because there is so much more that I liked than what I felt fell flat. Also, it’s just a completely compelling read. I don’t want to put it down, and that’s what I want from my fiction, even if there are a few flaws.

Book 136 read in 2018

Pages: 850

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy, #1)The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an adult fantasy novel that starts in the Middle East in the 18th century then runs sideways into an Arabic fantasy world complete with an enclosed city made of brass and 6 djinn tribes with a history of cultural clashes, social and political warfare, and servitude. Throw in a wily con artist with some unexpected abilities who is on the run in the human world, and a parallel POV of the highly moral second son of the djinn king in the parallel world, and things get interesting.

The story is delicious, with the perfect amount of world building, good pacing, a solid and interesting magical system, a unique setting, and strong character development.

This book came highly recommended by a room full of adult services librarians, so I knew immediately that I would pick it up. My only regret is that I didn’t wait until November 2018 to start this, as now I’m desperate for book 2, which is not yet published.

Book 135 read in 2018

Pages: 533

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