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A Hard Day's Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song - Steve Turner

Insightful, comprehensive, a great way to enhance your enjoyment of the classics.

[(A Little Princess: The Story of Sara Crewe )] [Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett] [Feb-1999] - Frances Hodgson Burnett

After all these years, still one of my favorite books. Essentially a fairy tale, Sara's story sees her lose her father and fortune, leaving her in the cruel hands of Mrs. Minchin and her boarding school for girls. Worthy of a Dickens villain, Minchin turns Sara into a virtual slave to the other girls and sticks her in a cold attic, where her imagination, the friendship of a few girls, her own goodness, and the kindness of an exotic stranger next door help sustain her every day. I first encountered this story in the immortal 1986 Wonderworks miniseries, still one of my favorites. The Disney version is fine on its own but changes too much and tacks on a happier ending. It doesn't capture the essential sadness of the story which gives it its sharp corners as does its hints of Victorian snobbery.

The Dark Island - Henry Treece, Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn

The usual superb blend of fiction and history with gorgeous prose and vivid scene-setting. Great middle chapter of this sage.

2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke

A completely different experience from the film. Whether or not it's lesser will depend on what you want from the basic story. I equally loved both.

Red Queen, White Queen - Henry Treece, Jim Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock

With his usual elegance, Treece shows us Boudica's AD 60-61 revolt from the perspective of a pair of Roman soldiers sent to kill her. Suspenseful, informative, emotional, tightly written.

The Tigress of Forlì: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de Medici - Elizabeth Lev

"Se io potessi scrivere tutto, farei stupire il mondo" (If I could write everything, I would shock the world). -- Caterina Sforza to a monk during the last decade of her life.

A superbly researched biography of an extraordinary woman we don't hear enough about except her connection to the Borgias. Her story is a lot more interesting than Lucrieza's. At ten she was married to Sixtus IV's nephew, the archenemy of the Medicis Girolamo Riario. After Riarlo's assassination by the Orsi, she became the regent for her son Ottaviano and immediately hunted down her husband's killers as well as anyone remotely connected to the conspiracy, including the Orsi women and the Pope's governor. She trained her city's militia herself and personally oversaw all manner of public policy. Caught up in the Italian Wars and betrayed by Naples, she earned the enmity of Venice until their ally, Caesare Borgia, eventually captured her. It's a wonder Hollywood hasn't come along to do a bang-up job in her life, something better than the schematic portrayal she gets on The Borgias.

The Great Captains - Henry Treece, James Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock

The usual enjoyable Treece. I'm having a lot of fun going through his novels. An underrated writer for sure, though he's as good as Lloyd Alexander and his books are chockful of well-done research that really immerses you in these worlds he writes about. Here, he does away with the romaticism of the Arthur legend with a ruthlessness worthy of George RR Martin, Robert Holdstock, or Maurice Druon. This gives us back the historical characters as they might have lived in their time.5 stars.

Spellcaster - George Bachman

Part regency romance with an occult streak, though partly set near the turn of the century, part de-romanticized medieval quest fantasy, this book tells two stories in parallel: a debutante searches the occult underground for a cure to visions which seem to be destroying her body, while the objects of some of the visions, a medieval knight, fights his away across a 14th century France that has already mostly succumbed to Reimar Hane, master of the Livonian Order, who holds the duchess Marie of Hainaut, and with her the fate of all France, captive. Uses alternate history in an interesting way with two protagonists faced with making evil choices for the greater good.