Monday, August 31, 2009

Love in the time of Henry. A Historical Novel Review.

At the King's Command
(The Tudor Rose Trilogy, Book 1)
by Susan Wiggs

Cover: I like. Generic, but pleasing. Headless woman strikes again! What cover will she appear on next?!?

Summary: Juliana Romanov is a young girl when she witnesses her family's murder at the hands of treacherous aristocrats. She was princess of Novgorod, and now she is nothing; if she wants to keep her life, she'll have to go on the run. Fleeing with a band of loyal gypsies and her dog Pavlo, she sets out for territories unknown.

We jump forward in time to catch Henry VIII, king of England, in bed with Stephen de Lacey's intended. Stephen, baron of Wimberleigh, has had enough of the hypocrisies of the Tudor court, and doesn't hold back from mouthing off to the most frivolous king of the age. Luckily for him, the king is in a magnanimous mood, and only commands that Stephen get himself re-married as quickly as possible. Unluckily for him, the king assures that Stephen get himself re-married that day, to the first eligible woman he sees: a gypsy stealing his horse.

Of course, the gypsy is none other than Juliana, forced into exiled poverty, having finally made it to England to beg King Henry's help in righting the evils done her family. She never counted that no one would believe her to be the daughter of a Russian lord, however, and so she finds herself carted off to be the bride of the reluctant Stephen at his home in the country.

Stephen can only count the days or weeks until he can be rid of the upstart gypsy girl and continue mourning his dead wife. Juliana is determined to free herself from this unwanted marriage and continue pursuing justice. But perhaps the two of them can find strength and hope within each other...

My Review: This historical romance follows the classic Pygmalion storyline: a wealthy, stuck-up gentleman must prove himself by taming a half-wild girl. There is a makeover. There are lessons on how to behave in society. There is no singing, but there is gypsy dancing, so...

I really liked the pacing and characterization of this book; I think they set it apart from the typical romance novel. While there is an enormous leap forward in time, of which we never learn much, it takes a significant amount of time and development for Juliana and Stephen to discover that they are each others' perfect matches.

And that isn't to say that they start out as perfect lovers. Stephen must overcome his introversion; his natural inclination is to keep all his sorrows and shames to himself. I don't know whether that is a result of the fact that he feels entirely alone since his wife's death, or that he maintains an old guilt complex. It's probably a mixture. He keeps himself from becoming attached to Juliana not because she is uncouth, which is what he tells himself, but rather because he is afraid to love someone. He's not sure he deserves the happiness of a good marriage again. He's nothing special; why should he get two lovely marriages when he has only ever done the wrong thing? He also hides an enormous secret, which we don't discover until well-into the novel, that explains a lot of his brash behavior.

Juliana, on the other hand, must to a certain extent give up on her inimitable drive for justice. She is so caught up in getting what is her due that she finds she must slow down and take the time to help others before she can help herself. As the years pass she loses sense of who she truly is. She can't figure out where she belongs: in a royal court of Russia, with a roving band of gypsies, or settled in this bedeviling lord's home.

It takes time and individual will for the two to come together. Neither one is able to change the other; change must come from within. They must choose each other. And, of course, the ending is entirely satisfying.

The two protagonists are definitely people of their time. While Juliana is spunky and willful, it is as a gypsy that she became so, not as a court lady. Stephen treats his wife, and women in general, as a Tudor man might have done. Though Henry VIII's fictional command to Stephen was outrageous, we can possibly believe that something of the like could have happened, especially later on in the monarch's life.

There were a few instances of weird description that had me smiling. "Clever laces" and "rosy bosom"... so Stephen's dressing laces are members of Mensa, and Juliana has rosacea?

There was some questionable historical content, as well. I don't know how likely it was that a Russian noble lady would be perfectly fluent in English and understand English court customs. This novel takes place, after all, more than 100 years before Peter the Great idolized Western culture and modernized Russia into a unified, powerful empire. She more than likely would know nothing of England, from what I understand of the situation.

Still, this was a thoughtful and charming romance. I think I will keep an eye out for the sequels coming out in the future.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's website

Note: This is a reprint from the original, known as Circle in the Water, published in 1994. The final two books in the trilogy are slated to come out in September and October of this year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I read on my summer vacation... A Non-Historical Book Review.

Duma Key
by Stephen King

Cover: Cheeeeeeeeeeesy.

Summary: Edgar Freemantle, a rich and successful businessman, is the victim of a horrific construction accident that results in the loss of a limb, brain damage, and his life turned upside down. He's jobless, his wife has left him, and he can see little opportunity for happiness in his future.

So he drops everything and moves down to Duma Key, a remote island off of Florida, for an extended vacation. Perhaps a change of scenery and a little alone time is all he needs to set things right with his life. He settles in a large estate he begins to call "Big Pink," and is lulled into a sense of contentment to the sound of the shells clacking in the surf underneath the house.

Elizabeth Eastlake is the owner of his rented property, but she's certainly not keeping up the place; she suffers from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's and depends entirely on her lawyer, Jerome Wireman, to take care of everything. Edgar comes to enjoy his time with Wireman and "Ms. Eastlake," but something in the Key is disturbing him. Ever since he took up painting as a hobby to take his mind off his pain and loneliness, he has found himself painting things he couldn't know are true. He paints his daughter standing with a man, and the next day discovers his daughter is engaged. He also goes into trance-like states and paints horrific images. His greatest concern, however, is that he can paint things that become true. Is it a gift or a curse? And is he the only person who has been affected thus on the island?

My Review: This could have been 200-300 pages shorter than it was. Or rather, several hours shorter, since I've been listening to this one on CD in my car for some time. It was read by John Slattery (whom you may know as Roger Sterling on Mad Men), who did a fantastic job.

That being said, I can't help it: I'll always love a Stephen King novel. I probably read one every summer. I'm biased to this work because I love so much of his other stuff. I was bound to like some things in Duma Key, so I'd be interested to hear if any of you have read this and little-or-nothing else by Stephen King. Once again, I must split this review in two:

The Good:
  • Stephen King is one of the few writers who can truly cause me to have nightmares. I watch horror movies every once in a while, and I've read Poe, Stoker, and others, so I consider myself somewhat desensitized. King can still freak me out long after I put the book down, and Duma Key still contained a few of those terrifying scenes. When Ms. Eastlake says into the phone, "My father was a skin diver," I heard it in my head, perfectly creepily. Say what you will, the man can still create atmosphere like no other.
  • Edgar himself was a likable enough hero. He seemed to genuinely care about his family, even though he had absolutely no sense of saving himself from certain peril.
  • Ms. Eastlake is a great, creepy character. While I didn't have a personal attachment to her, I liked the darkness that seemed to permeate the chapters where she appeared.
  • King has been working lately with a theme along the lines of reality is thin. This appears in his short story N. and is spoken aloud by several characters in Duma Key. The idea that there is a darkness, perhaps a chaos, lurking all around what we know as reality, and that there are some places on Earth where it breaks through, and maybe we help it break through, is frightening and believable, and very intriguing. I'd like to see him develop this theme in future stuff, but perhaps he has to think about it a little more before he continues to tackle it.
And now The Bad:
  • Edgar, horrible things are happening to you. Why did you not leave the island when you had the chance? I know the obvious response is, "Well, then there wouldn't have been much of a novel, would there?" But come on, King, you're better than that: give us a good reason he would stay there.
  • I didn't like the character of Wireman at all and he's quite prominent throughout the story, so this was something of a problem. He kind of has this hackneyed, cliche manner of speaking, and he's kind of an oversharer, and basically I didn't understand why Edgar was so eager to become friends with him. I mean, I understand that Edgar was lonely and would have made friends with a dog if he'd had one at that point, but still, King, you're better than that. Don't let your secondary characters become Saturday morning TV show cutout types.
  • Oh, man, there's a little, "With our powers combined, we will defeat this evil once and for all!" at the end that almost made me throw the CD out the window. I listened to 16 CDs for this ending?!? I'm not going to say what happens, but it was disappointingly mundane.
  • Edgar's adult daughter is written as a very childish figure, in her speech and behavior. While it could just be a character distinction, I'm more inclined to think it was a lack of realism in writing how young women speak. I have to admit: I've never met someone who spoke like her.
  • So. Much. Digression. I feel like King is sometimes high in concept, low in practice. He comes up with a great idea, but then fizzles out when he fails to come up with a satisfying conclusion or explanation. Here, I think that's exactly what happen, so he leans on digressive scenes and plotlines and character arcs to distract you form the fact that he doesn't know where the story is going. That never used to happen in his old work, like 'Salem's Lot and Cujo and Carrie. There was so much that did not add to the story that I felt like it was really a mark of poor plotting, and was just to add another hundred pages or so onto this cinder block of a book. I like a long novel as much as the next person, but I like it when it's full of relevant plotting and characters.
  • The worst offense was the "revelation" of truth behind the bad things happening on the key. There wasn't a whole lot of logic to it. It was anticlimactic. This wasn't a good villain, and I feel like his other work develops the "bad side" of the story so well, so I was terribly disappointed.
So, there you have it. It's not as bad as it could have been, but it could also have been better.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's web site

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fall is creeeeeping up on us, and so is the RIP challenge!

It truly is a dark and stormy morning here in the North, so it is fitting that Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is getting the RIP Reading Challenge ready to begin on the 1st of September. Say what you will about cold weather, but I love Halloween and Fall atmosphere!

The challenge is to read in the Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural genres by October 31st. The great thing about this challenge is that you can choose different "readers' perils": you can read 4 books, 2 books, 1 book, or just stick to short stories. Carl will be hosting Short Story Sunday on his blog.

Seeing as I am a huge scary short story nut (Lovecraft, Poe, King... I'll get into it later this week), I will be going through "Peril the Second" and reading 2 books:

1. The Vampire Armand by Anne Rice
2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

However, another cool thing about this challenge is that you can always edit your reading list, so if I find I can fit more in, I will definitely do so! I will be reading some short stories as well and posting those on the weekends.

I hope you'll participate with me!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A retelling of Donkeyskin, or Allerleirauh. A Historical Fantasy Review.

by Robin McKinley

I like this one quite a bit. It's subtly suggestive of a fantasy, with the gravity-defying hair, and the dog is beautiful. It's intriguing.

Summary: Lissar is the forgotten daughter of a magnificent king and queen. Her mother is the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms and her father is handsome and renowned for his bravery. They are wrapped up in one another and oblivious to the shy, awkward daughter who haunts the castle. The queen, however, is not long for the world, and when she passes the kingdom is grief-stricken. The king cannot imagine following his advisers' counsel that he must remarry, for what lady could compare to the most beautiful woman in the known world? Lissar consoles herself by raising a sighthound and becoming familiar with the healing powers of herbs that grow in her garden.

As Lissar grows more and more beautiful, nearing adulthood, she begins to resemble her mother, until she is almost an exact likeness. And the king in his mad grief cannot let go of the memory of his lost love...

My Review: This is a beautifully written and poignant novel, but I want to give a warning: it is what you think it is. Lissar becomes a victim of a horrific crime, and the second part of the novel is a redeeming story of strength and hope in the face of evil. It is difficult to read, and so I won't recommend this to everyone. It is also graphic (though necessarily so) in its depiction of the crime, and I know if I had read this younger than 14 or so, I probably would have been pretty disturbed.

McKinley notes the Charles Perrault version of Donkeyskin as her source for the original fairy tale, though there are numerous other versions, all likely dating from the middle ages. The story itself is typically left out of collections or edited from its truer path due to the nature of the content. Fairy tales these days are typically expected to be light and easy, with a clear moral and adaptability to any situation. But if you read into the older, "left out" Grimm fairy tales, you'll see much darker fare such as Donkeyskin. Fairy tales and folklore were often meant to scare children out of doing something wrong. In the original version of Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off their heels and toes trying to fit into Cinderella's glass slipper. While Donkeyskin is probably on the more extreme side of these darker tales, there are plenty of others that include gruesome details and bad ends.

Deerskin is fascinating from a historical perspective, in that regard. We probably also tend to think of the middle ages as a chivalric era and high morals, but that time period gave birth to this horrific tale of corruption and decrepit kings.

McKinley writes the story in a believable way. There is some magic, yes. There are a few dragons, myths, and impossible feats. But the greater part of this novel is its believable heroine, her attachment to animals, and the chance for redemption. The first part of the book details Lissar's early life and the death of the queen, and I read with trepidation and disgust, I was so involved in the story. The crime against Lissar was horrible because it was such a real example of the dangers women have faced throughout history.

The second part of the story makes this a book that you won't regret haivng read. Instead of leaving you feeling hopeless and ashamed of the horrid things that can happen in the world, you're left knowing that there might be a second chance for happiness. Lissar, who seems to have suffered the worst kind of fate, becomes a beautiful creature, able to seek justice for herself and others. While this is definitely a rough book to get through, it is ultimately an intricate examination of humanity, and a celebration of resilience.

Buy this book on Amazon

Visit the author's web page

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Brunch

Food: Quaker oatmeal that I actually cooked over the stove with a little warm milk, some fresh blueberries, and good old Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Book at table: At the King's Command, the recently re-published first book in "The Tudor Rose Trilogy" by Susan Wiggs. And yes, I do read romance novels at breakfast on occasion.

As Fall approaches, I'm a bit nostalgic because it has now been a full year since I returned from my stay in Argentina. I spent last summer living and working in Buenos Aires and I loved every minute of it. Due to my academic and work schedule, I could not fit in a return trip this year, so I browsed for Argentina-related books on my last book shopping excursion.

There are plenty of contemporary and otherwise notable books from and about Argentina:

  • Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges. A collection of short stories that is almost without-genre, it is so groundbreaking in its style. I read this before I left for Buenos Aires and was so glad I did. The English translation is quite well-done, too. If I had to classify it, I suppose I might call it surrealist-modern-fantastical-existentialism.
  • El tunel by Ernesto Sabato. A man contemplates every sort of scenario that might happen, were he to speak to the woman he believes he has fallen in love with. Again, it's very modern, trippy, and fantastic. I was recommended this book while I was abroad and read it quite quickly. It's difficult to find in English.
There does not seem, however, to be a lot of historical fiction that takes place in Argentina. Before my trip, I read Lawrence Thornton's Imagining Argentina, and reeeeally did not like it. The novel is about a man with a psychic ability to "see" the victims of La Guerra Sucia and enable their family members to find the survivors. However, he has a long and difficult road ahead of him in trying to find his own kidnapped wife. The "Dirty War" as we know it in English is a devastatingly sad story on its own, and this novel features quite a few disturbing torture scenes that finally caused me to put it down without finishing it. I know the book has gotten good reviews, but I found the writing to be wooden and some of the factual details to seem skewed.

Other than Thornton's series, however, I could hardly find anything historical fiction-wise regarding Argentina, and I wish there was a lot more.

What historical time period or location seems like it needs further historical fiction writing? What is an "obscure" time period or location that you have read about recently and enjoyed?

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I haven't been around much lately; final summer term exams, taking care of my housing at school, and my job took up all my spare time (I've barely been able to get 50 pages into the historical romance I picked up recently!). I apologize for not posting this earlier, but I'm back and will be back here at The Courtier's Book posting about books, movies, and brunching starting tomorrow!

Coming this week: two book reviews, some exciting historical news, and a little more Jane Austen!

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Amadeus" this ain't.

A while ago I talked about modernized interpretations of the past when I posted about the Jane Campion film Bright Star slated to come out later this year. Now, we have something completely different...

Mozart, l'Opera Rock is a staged operetta portraying the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but with a twist. The costumes, music, and likely the whole thing is deliberately anachronistic to connect the great composer's life and impact with today's culture.

Normally, I might think: "But... if you're not going to play Mozart's actual music, then what's the point in doing a fictionalized bio on him?"

And then I saw this clip that has been released to promote the production. Beware before you click; there is semi-nudity and it's probably not a work-safe video.

I think I kind of love it. It's kind of how I imagine Vogue magazine might make a historical musical. C'est avant-garde, mais c'est francais, mon petit chou ;-)

Go here to see the official site for Mozart, l'Opera Rock. My French is far from perfect, but I managed to navigate my way around, so if you have a reading knowledge of the language it should be fine.

Here is a clip on Youtube from the song "L'assasymphonie," and here is "Tatoue moi." It's fairly obvious who is Mozart, Salieri, Death, etc. Enjoyez!

If you were/are in France, would you go see this show? What do you think of modernizing the life of Mozart? Moreover, are you in love with the costuming, or do you hate it (I think you can only go one of two ways on this)?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thrifty Thursday... I am out of alliteration.

In the midst of a heat wave going through much of the continental US, I hope you're all keeping cool and relaxed, preferably with a book in hand. I've been doing some reading specifically for my summer term classes as they wind down toward final exams, but I'm otherwise still enjoying some Patrick O'Brian and a little Anne Rice on the side. Anyway, on to the treat...

Susie over at All Things Royal (a terrific, royal-themed history and book review blog) is hosting a Tudor-themed giveaway. Go here to read all about her trip to Hever Castle, the lady Anne Boleyn's home, and to get a peak at her terrific prize!

In other Tudor news, I recently read that Joely Richardson has been cast as Catherine Parr for the fourth and final season of Showtime's The Tudors, which will air next spring. I think Richardson's a very good actress, having liked her a lot in Nip/Tuck, but I'm wondering how they will make her and Henry look closer to the same age, seeing as Jonathon Rhys Meyers is younger than her while Henry was actually older. Thoughts???

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Web Spotlight Wednesday: The Medieval Sourcebook

Trying to make your way through the fabulous The Name of the Rose and getting caught up on references to old Church doctrine? Do you need a translation of Anna Comnena's The Alexiad after reading Anna of Byzantium? Then you might like to check out...

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook

The site is hosted by Fordham University and is touted as the place to get free primary source documents from the middle ages (low and high) from varying perspectives. I was recommended it a couple years ago when I took several courses on medieval history and needed quick reference access to major documents. I wouldn't say it's "light reading," but if you really need to get the bottom of what really happened at the Council of Trent, then you can find it quickly, easily, and gratis right here. Basically, if you're a research geek like me, you'll love it. Either that, or this is old news for you and you already have the site bookmarked.

The great thing about the Sourcebook is that it's a good survey of all the pivotal documents and it's easy to find everything. The site is a bit "old school" in it's design, but since it's worth is in the richness of its content, and it's easily navigable, I didn't find that a hindrance at all.

Monday, August 3, 2009

You haven't seen WWII like this since a Cary Grant movie: A Historical Novel Review

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War
by Gordon Zuckerman

Meh... The six stars that appear to be "hanging" off the top of my cover seem a bit pasted-on, in a last-minute style because maybe the designer thought there wasn't enough going on, but otherwise it is suitably dark and no-nonsense for a wartime thriller.

Summary: We have all heard the phrase "money makes the world go 'round," but we haven't seen it come to fruition quite like this. In this first novel in a projected series by Zuckerman, six post-grad students act like the "Cassandra" of World War II; under the tutelage of the mysterious and powerful "Dr. Tom," they were brought together to solve the equations behind the "Power Cycle." They believe they have predicted the beginning of a massive war based on the patterns of industrialists and their manipulation of international finances. We all know they're right: World War II breaks out, and German steel, weaponry, auto, and shipping magnates are secretly behind much of it... even Hitler himself is unaware of just how fundamental is their influence.

Fast forward to 1943, and the six students had gone their separate ways. They themselves are each descendants of powerful bankers and capitalists, so they are easily occupied. One, however, the Swiss banking heiress Claudine, has kept tabs on several of the Germans, and doesn't like the patterns she sees. She reenlists the help of her old cohorts to track the movement of their funds, and together they realize they must take matters into their own hands. In their bravado and self-sacrifice, they name themselves "The Sentinels," and they will do anything they can to prevent another hellish tragedy, even if it means risking life and limb.

My Review: I got an ARC from the author and was excited to get to it because a) I love a good thriller and haven't read one since May, when I read Jurassic Park again in the wake of Michael Crichton's death, and b) I like WWII stories quite a bit and haven't really sat down to one since Atonement several years ago. So, The Sentinels: Fortunes of War was ending quite a few reading droughts for me.

For a thriller, this novel has quite a large cast of main characters. There is Jacques, who apparently likes wine, women, song, and combatting "imperialistic conquest." Henri Demaureux and his daughter Claudine are bankers from Geneva, who pursue skiing the Alps as much as fightin totalitarianism. Mike Stone is boxer, banker, and expert embezzler (at least when it comes to stealing from the "wrong kind" of people, like those bent on world domination). Cecelia Chang is brilliant, forthright, and first in the U.S. line of defense against financial destruction. Tony is a cool heir to an Italian vinery and Ian heir to an auction house fortune, but we don't see much of either of them.

And so on and so forth. We meet the colorful cast of The Sentinels themselves as well as their allies, and one thing is certain: everyone is powerful and also happens to be incredibly attractive. We hearken back to a time when "the men were men and the goils were goils," so there's a little bit of romance mixed in with the spying escapades. While counterfeiting the German industrialists' financial deposits, Jacques finds himself in the middle of a love triangle: does he stay with Natalie, the charming actress, or Claudine, his old friend and trusted coworker? None of his friends seems to care about this predicament. Thus, I was more intrigued by the relationship between Mike and Cecelia. They are both driven, ambitious, and energetic. Mike treats Cecelia like an equal, even in this period before feminism, and that makes sense amongst this group of progressive, intellectual friends. They would do anything for each other, and that was fun to read about.

The book is a little heavy on the exposition. There's quite a bit of "But surely, you can't mean..." going on and "As I said already, and for some reason feel the need to restate...", but it's the most prevalent in the first third of the book. Zuckerman paces his story so that the Sentinels must bring themselves to become spies and actually go out on covert missions. They are dealing with incredibly rich individuals and organizations, after all; they know that discovery could mean certain death. So, I would say that the first part of the book is like a Greek drama in that the action happens off-stage and everything must be "spelled out" for the audience, but later on we get to see things happening. It also means that a little time on characterization goes missing, since we go from exposition directly to action; there's not much room to endear us to the heroes. We agree with their mission, and we want them to succeed, but the more minor characters, like Ian and Tony, lose out on earning much interest from the reader.

As for the subject matter, which on the outset seems a bit heavy: Zuckerman handled it deftly and with enough skill that one doesn't need a finance degree to understand what's going on. I happen to be an Economics student, so I agree with his theories on money being the prime mover of wars and history. Technically, and from what I know of political science, this is Marxist theory, where history is a progression of markets and workers, and of course the financial giants work into that (it's only Marxist in that he was the first theorist to talk about History with a capital H in purely Economical with a capital E terms, not in reference to that it promotes pure Marxism, and by that I mean what we would typically term "communism," and... oh my lord, I'm DONE). Regardless, it made for an exciting premise and made sure that this was something of an "intelligence thriller", as well.

Overall, I liked the subject matter, the setting, and the basis of the characterization. There were some narrative issues, with the pacing and the minor characters, and it's not John Le Carre, but on the whole a fine debut thriller. It will be interesting to see if Zuckerman continues on with "The Sentinels."

Visit the author's website (and read the first chapter free!)

Buy this book on Amazon

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Brunch

Food: Just some Dunkin' Donuts coffee, although that's currently my "everyday" favorite to make!

Book at table: Riders by Jilly Cooper (awesome soapy re-read). Which brings me to my discussion today...

I loved horses long before I loved history, as a subject and as an activity. When I was younger, I read every sort of young adult book and series about kids and horses that I could get my hands on. I collected Bonnie Bryant's The Saddle Club (which eventually numbered in the hundreds, though I had outgrown them by then) and Joanna Campbell's Thoroughbred series, specifically. I read every book that Margeurite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague) ever put out and I probably re-read many of these. I lived too close to a major city to realistically own a horse, so horse stories were my favorite, fantastic vehicle. When the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Racing Championships rolls around in October this year, I am planning a fun week here at The Courtier's Book on racing history.

Fast forward to now, and I'm still reading them. My tastes have changed slightly... I stick to the adult section for the most part. I loved Seabiscuit and Horse Heaven and several romances. Now, however, I also read for educational purposes. While I didn't own my own horse, I did take lessons, and now I'm getting back into the sport of dressage. Just in case you're curious, dressage is descended from the training that horses used to receive in the military. It stretches back all the way to the Greeks as a discipline, and involves perfecting the horse's response to the direction of the rider, conditioning and athleticism, and maneuvering complex changes of pace and speed. It is sometimes called "ballet for horses," because horses often look like they are bouncing and dancing, and the event is occassionally choreographed to music for "freestyle" competitions. If you've ever seen the "White Lipizzaner Stallions" perform, they are doing very high level dressage, involving the "airs above the ground," which include remaining on their hind legs alone for long periods of time, jumping straight into the air from a standstill, and jumping while rearing on command, all of which would have been put to use in ancient battle tactics.

So I'm reading some fun literature and some serious literature on horse sports right now that I picked up from my local library. I have a couple books on basic dressage to get me in the right mindset to restart my lessons, in particular.

A little bit ago, a meme was going around asking what kind of books are particular to you, as a reader. Mine is not probably as obscure as others, but it has turned to riding theory books focusing on dressage.

What is a tinier, specific genre that you're always happy to get a copy of? Are you a history buff of a certain period, character, or event, or is it something else entirely that floats your boat?