Last Update 10/15/21

Table Number Seven by Victor Canning, Ulversoft, 1987 

This posthumous novel was completed by Canningís wife and sister. Although there are hints of adventure about it, for the most part it is a shipboard romance. A variety of characters are gathered for a cruise for different reasons, and true love comes unexpectedly. One of the characters appears to be a genuine psychic. Itís not clear how much of this Canning wrote before his death, but it seems likely that he planned for livelier events. 10/15/21

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, Anchor, 1838 

The first hundred and fifty pages of this are excellent. A young Italian becomes infatuated with Napoleon and tries to join his army just as the Battle of Waterloo is getting under way. The chaos on the battlefield reminded me of Stephen Craneís The Red Badge of Courage. Napoleon is defeated and he returns to Italy, only to discover that he has been declared a criminal for siding with Napoleon. Over the course of time, he gets around this charge and has a series of love affairs. One of his admirers gets involved in an assassination plot. He becomes a fairly influential clergyman. The book presents an interesting picture of northern Italy of that time and the characters are wonderfully well drawn. 9/26/21

The Hunting Sketches by Ivan Turgenev, Signet, 1852 

This is a collection of quite short pieces, many of them not really stories because there is no real plot, generally portraying peasants and the rare merchant in Russia. There are ongoing themes Ė most of the stories are designed to point out the way the lower classes are mistreated by the aristocracy and how the social system is stacked against them. Turgenev often used satire to drive his point home. I enjoyed the majority of these and a few will leave a lasting memory.  9/17/21

Defy the Foul Fiend by John Collier, Penguin, 1948 (originally published in 1934)  

Collierís third novel was his only non-fantastic one. Itís the life of an illegitimate man who grows up almost in a vacuum, with no education and almost no socialization. As an adult, he leads a nomadic life until he finds a woman with whom he falls in love. He attempts to become more integrated with society and they marry, but it is doomed from the start. The ending is tragic and there are a few other low spots in his life, intermixed with a kind of wry humor. The witty prose is the high point. 8/24/21

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, 1862 

A young man returns home following his college stint and brings a friend, Bazarov, who is apparently the first Bolshevik to appear in Russian literature. Bazarovís nihilism upsets his friendís father and uncle and he eventually returns to his own family. He and his father are both doctors and they practice together for a while, but Bazarov is a disturbing element no matter where he is. Ultimately he makes a mistake while performing an autopsy, is infected, and dies. The story is not remarkable, but the interactions of the two generations is what the book is really about and in that sense it has not aged much at all. 8/19/21

The Runaways by Victor Canning, Scholastic, 1971 

First in a YA trilogy about a boy who runs away from home. In the first book, he inadvertently shares a barn with a cheetah who has escaped, while carrying a litter, from a wildlife refuge. Although they intersect, most of their adventures are separate. He uses a false name to get a job in a kennel after living in a barn for several days. The cheetah has her cubs, explores an artillery base, and then suffers a fatal injury toward the end of the story. The boy rescues the cubs and secretly returns them to the wildlife refuge before running away again to have a new adventure. This was filmed for television. 8/6/21

Flight of the Grey Goose by Victor Canning, Heineman, 1973    

Second in the Smiler trilogy for younger readers. The runaway boy and his dog rescue an injured goose from a wildcat after reaching Scotland. The main story is pretty obvious. He is sheltered by a bird loving recluse with a large mansion full of various valuable objects. While he is away, thieves arrive so Smiler takes the valuables and hides in a cave so that they canít find him or the loot. They eventually leave but they alert the authorities and the boy is on the run again. 8/6/21

The Painted Tent by Victor Canning, Morrow, 1974 

Final book in the Smiler trilogy. The young runaway takes refuge on a farm whose owner is also a fortune teller. Much of the story involves a falcon who escapes from the cage where it has lived its entire life. Smiler helps it to survive until it is able to learn to fly and hunt for itself. His problems with the law are cleared up at the end thanks to the confession of the real culprit. Very low key adventure aimed at young adults. 8/6/21

The Red and the Black by Stendhal, 1930 

Julien Sorel is an ambitious, naÔve, and egocentric young man who becomes a tutor, has a love affair with his employerís wife, is exposed and sent into a kind of quasi-exile. He acquires a mentor who soon arranges for him to become a member of Parisian society, although he despises most of the people he meets. He eventually becomes engaged but the old scandal arises and his fortunes take a turn for the worse. Furious, he returns to his home town and shoots his former lover in the middle of a church service. Although she survives, he is sentenced to death and eventually is executed. It is hard to feel much sympathy for the protagonist, who does not seem to recognize other people as actually being people.  Stendhal is a writer I missed during the years when I was devouring the classics from this period. 7/25/21

Fall of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell, Del Rey, 2007 

Final volume in the Troy series, completed by Gemmellís wife following his death. The climactic battle is underway, although we obviously know how it ends. Helikaon organizes a series of naval engagements while Hektor and Achilles command the main armies. King Priam has gone insane. Odysseus reluctantly joins with Agamemnon in a cause he does not believe in. Various other characters live or die as the story dictates. This is straightforward historical fiction. There is no noticeable drop in the quality of the writing which makes me wonder if Stella contributed to any of the previous novels. 7/21/21

Shield of Thunder by David Gemmell, Ballantine, 2006 

Second in the Troy trilogy. Odysseus attempts to remain neutral, but King Priam of Troy is just as unreasonable a King Agamemnon of the Myceneans. The other city states are forced to pick sides as the war seems inevitable. Achilles is defeated, but that doesnít change things as the Greeks construct the infamous Trojan Horse. Middle volumes of trilogies are usually dull but Gemmell keeps the plot churning as the various characters slide into their places in the tragic series of events which reach their climax in the final volume. 7/16/21

Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell, Del Rey, 2005     

First in the Troy trilogy, which is straight historical fiction without a hint of the fantastic. The chief protagonist is Helikaon, a Dardanian who is allied with Troy against the Myceneans under Agaememnon. There are lots of familiar names here, but this is merely the buildup to the war. There are multiple assassination attempts and a few of the familiar names become casualties. The Trojans are not much of an improvement over their Greek enemies. The story ends with a rebellion in Troy and a short siege, which is broken when Hektor and his army return from fighting the Egyptians in time to drive off the attackers. Gemmell was very good at battle sequences. 7/11/21

Archipelago on Fire by Jules Verne, 1884  w2187 

The Greek war of independence is the setting for this comparatively short adventure novel. Most of the battles described here are naval. There is a loversí triangle of sorts, extortion, and sudden reversals. A young woman vows to make up for her fatherís sins Ė he has since died Ė before she can marry the man she loves. The closing chapters involve a confrontation with pirates near the island of Crete. This was another surprisingly good but relatively unknown Verne story. 7/4/21

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