Thursday, September 25, 2014


Nevada Barr

            I love Anna Pigeon. Although, in my opinion, the quality of Nevada Barr’s writing has not been of the same quality lately as her earlier Anna Pigeon books, I am always excited to immerse myself in Anna Pigeon’s world.

            In Destroyer Angel, Anna takes a vacation with an old friend, Heath Jarrod, her daughter Elizabeth, her dog Wily, one of Heath’s friends, Leah Hendricks, and Leah’s daughter, Katie. Anna’s fans will remember Heath, Elizabeth, and Wiley from Hard Truth (though Wily apparently dropped the “e” from his name as he aged). This time, Barr’s setting is not a national park; rather, the group is camping in upstate Minnesota.

            It’s nice to reconnect with old friends.  As expected, there are bad guys – we meet them early in Destroyer Angel – and Anna ends up beaten bloody at the end. To this extent, Destroyer Angel is formulaic. But I found that, once I was immersed in the book, I didn’t mind.

I really enjoyed Destroyer Angel. For awhile, I was back in nature, saving the world with Anna Pigeon. The Minnesota winds gently rekindled my dream of becoming a park ranger from the dying embers of Anna’s last campfire.

            I don’t understand how – or why – but Anna never fails to encounter the worst that humanity has to offer. And, once again, Barr has done a splendid job of making the bad guys really, really bad. She has a knack for capturing monsters – but also for helping Anna to overcome obstacles and to prevail. And through it all, Barr never lets Anna lose her sense of humor. These bad guys are not only bad, but they’re litterbugs, and this is very annoying to Anna:

Anna was glad she’d killed two of them.
What’s the penalty for littering, Ranger Pigeon?
Death, you slovenly pig.

Destroyer Angel, p. 242.

            But, I think it is the ending that I liked the best. Despite the fact that my adventure with Anna Pigeon was over, the end of Destroyer Angel took a twist that I didn’t see coming. It made me laugh, it made me smile, and it has me looking forward to Barr’s next Anna Pigeon adventure.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

ROBERT THE BRUCE King of the Scots by Michael Penman

King of the Scots
Michael Penman

Robert the Bruce: King of the Scots is a detailed biography of the famous Scottish king written by Historian Michael Penman. As I am an amateur armchair historian, I feel ill-equipped to review this massive, detailed, professional work.

            Before reading the book, I was aware of Bannockburn and fascinated by Robert the Bruce – but, I was aware of little else. This immense historical tome has changed that.

            Although Penman claims that Robert the Bruce focuses on Robert’s fifteen year rule after Bannockburn, the book, like the story, begins much earlier. Penman describes the climate into which the Bruces claimed rights as heir to the Scottish throne, as well as the contrary rights claimed by others. We learn of the complex machinations, the political climate of both England and Scotland, and the competing claims that led up to Robert Bruce being crowned king of Scotland. We see how masterful Robert was at reading and handling the politics around him, as well as at dealing with adverse natural conditions that challenged the country. Penman explains how Bruce handled these difficult situations, conspiracies, and changing political and religious climates, both within and without Scotland. Bannockburn was a turning point, and Robert’s method of rule also changed. The book continues through – and beyond – Robert’s death, resulting perhaps from leprosy.

            I was amazed to learn how “hands-on” and “down in the trenches” a ruler Robert was. In addition, he appears to have been very savvy and sophisticated.  But, as I have already admitted, I am no Historian.

            I enjoyed Robert the Bruce, and I learned a great deal. I did not, however, particularly care for the writing style. Although the book is informative, insightful, and appears to be well documented, it is not an easy read. While reading it, I frequently wished that I could sit down and do some rewriting of it.

            In addition to the writing, I was most frustrated by the organization. Penman would be progressing through time and then suddenly the book would seem to jump backwards in time. Though the book appears to progress chronologically, it jumps around so much that I quite honestly cannot understand the organizational understructure. Perhaps this is simply the bane of the discipline.

            Nonetheless, to chronicle Robert the Bruce’s rule is a massive undertaking, and the result is chocked full of much detailed information. Penman should be commended for his masterful reconstruction of the life of Scotland’s beloved hero.