Sunday, May 5, 2024

Wrap Up: March and April 2024

Haven't had the energy or inspiration to write reviews of late, but here's what I've read recently.

March 2024:
Books Read:
The Lantern's Dance by Laurie R. King (2024)  3/5 stars
If it hadn't been a Russell/Holmes novel, I wouldn't have rated it this high as there really isn't much to it.  Loving the series, though, I'm generous.

Audiobooks Completed:
Young Queens: Three Renaissance Women and the Price of Power by Leah Redmond Chang (2023) 5/5 stars 
Excellent read. 

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford (2005) 4/5 stars

April 2024:
Audiobooks Completed:
Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay (2003) 4/5 stars 
Loved, loved, loved! 

Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay (2006)  4/5 stars  
Really enjoyed this one; maybe even more than Color.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

February 2024 Wrap-Up

Books Read:
Death of a Bookseller by Bernard J. Farmer (1956)  3/5 stars
This had a promising start with strong writing, interesting characters and an intriguing plot certain to appeal to the bibliophile.  Unfortunately, there was little detecting by the lead character, and I found both the solution and the wrap-up to be disappointing.

The Night She Died by Dorothy Simpson  (1980)  3/5 stars
This mystery had an interesting and well-written start, but was bogged down by unconvincing speculation and tenuous connections.  

Six Feet Under by Dorothy Simpson (1982)  3/5 stars
This is a generally well-written and engaging mystery, but the solution wasn't fully satisfying or convincing.

Puppet for a Corpse by Dorothy Simpson (1982)  3/5 stars
Simpson writes well, but ultimately the solution was a disappointment.  I own more in this series, but am undecided as to whether I'll read them.

Rogue's Holiday by (Margery Allingham writing as) Maxwell March (1935)  3/5 stars
This mystery/thriller is  melodramatic, implausible, and probably written as a potboiler, but is nonetheless still highly entertaining for those readers who appreciate the less high-brow fringe of the Golden Age of Mystery.

Where There's a Will by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1912)  3/5 stars
In this precursor to the screwball comedy, Minnie tells what happens when her employer, the owner of a health spa, dies and leaves it all to his grandson -- provided he arrive on a certain date and make a go of the enterprise.  It's laugh-out-loud funny, well-written and, though not as fantastic as Rinehart's 1909 novel, When a Man Marries (my review here), it's still vastly entertaining.

Another One Goes Tonight by Peter Lovesey (2016)  4/5 stars
Diamond saves a life, only to become convinced that the man he has saved is a killer.  This is another strong book in a solid series, well-written, engrossing, and entertaining. Lovesey and his Diamond are among my top favorites. 

Audio Books Completed:
The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy (2017)  4/5 stars
Generally well-written and always interesting, this nonfiction account of social climbing in America's Gilded Age gives a basic understand of the times as well as biographies of some of society's most important persons.  

Henry V: The Warrior King of 1415
by Ian Mortimer (2009)  4/5 stars
This gives a day-by-day account of the King's life in the year 1415, building up to the great battle of Agincourt, and then winding down with the aftermath of this victory.  It's a fascinating account with a great deal of information provided, and gives a rounded picture of Henry as well as a feel for Medieval England.  I also appreciated that Dr. Mortimer kept much of his personal opinions and discussions for the chapters afterwards.  Overall, I certainly enjoyed it and would be interested to read more biographies by this historian.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

January 2024 Wrap Up

Books Read:
The Stretton Darknesse Mystery by Moray Dalton (1927)  4/5 stars
This generally well-written,  and quite enjoyable book begins as a gothic tale, then turns into a satisfying and engrossing mystery.  

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't): Making the Journey from "What Will People Think?" to "I Am Enough" by Brené Brown, Ph.D. (2007)  5/5 stars
I didn't realize that shame was an issue for me until I began this book at my therapist's recommendation.  Dr, Brown's research has changed my outlook, and has given me healing, encouragement, and resilience techniques.  I feel strongly that every woman should read this, regardless of whether or not she feels it's applicable to her. 

The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves  (2022)  4/5 stars
The mystery was intelligent and interesting, with believable characters and mostly believable motives.  Overall, it's another strong book in this generally excellent series. 

Death in the Cup by Moray Dalton  (1932)  3/5 stars
This was a less twisty, easier to solve mystery than what I've come to expect from Dalton's work, but it was still enjoyable, well-written, and entertaining.  I'm so glad that Dalton's books are being republished, and while this isn't one I would suggest as an introduction to her, I do recommend her for lovers of crime novels of this era.

Lie Beside Me by Gytha Lodge (2021)  4/5 stars
This is a complex, twisty, and generally well-written mystery-thriller that kept me engrossed. The personal drama of some of the detectives, however, detracts from the main plot, and the book was overloaded with what felt like too many storylines.  Despite this, it was an above average book in a series that I recommend.

St. Thérèse

Stronger than Steel: Soldiers of the Great War Write to Thérèse of Lisieux
forward by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (2021)   4/5 stars  
These letters are written by WWI soldiers, explaining how St. Thérèse helped them through the dangers of trench warfare.  As such, this isn't really a book one can rate, as it's only letters without prose, and is an emotional read rather than an informative one.   It would have been better, I think, had the author given information and details about the War and/or St. Thérèse . Otherwise, it's a moving read, especially for those like myself with a strong interest in both Catholicism and the First World War.

Brothers York by Thomas Penn (2019)   5/5 stars
This is an excellent joint biography of King Edward IV and his two younger brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III).  Penn discusses their family relationships as much as their politics, while filling in historical background through interesting contemporary sources.  It's easy to follow, well-written, and (for this British history fan) extremely entertaining and engaging. 

Blood Sisters: The Women Behind The Wars Of The Roses by Sarah Gristwood (2012)  4/5 stars
This is a history of the Wars of the Roses with the focus on seven women who had important roles during this conflict.  Due to the lack of records available (as is true with most women's history), Ms. Gristwood does make inferences, as well as sharing her theories about certain incidents, but is upfront about doing so and gives her sources.   The prose is not the most lively, but the subject is interesting enough to keep the reader engrossed. While I would suggest having a basic understanding of the era and the war to enjoy the book to the fullest, I otherwise definitely recommend it.

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell (2022)  5/5 stars  (my review here)

Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused by Mike Dash (2000)  3/5 stars
This gives an account of history of the tulip, it's early days of popularity in the Ottoman Empire, the mania caused by a combination of love of tulips and pure greed in the Netherlands during the 1630s, and it's decline as a flower of fame.  Though the never-very-lively-to begin-with narrative is too dry at times, as it was all new to me, I still found the book to be fascinating.

Did Not Finish:
How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created our World & Everything In It by Arthur Herman
I loved Herman's book about the British Navy (my review here), so was excited to read this one.  Unfortunately, I found it so dull that I stopped after a few chapters.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne by Katherine Rundell

Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne 
Katherine Rundell 
5/5 stars 

Disclaimer: I am a long-time John Donne fangirl. 

Rundell examines the poet and Protestant priest John Donne (1571 or 1572 - 1631) through the lenses of the various facets of his life and personality, bringing him vividly to life. Her prose is wonderful, and the book is engaging and engrossing. She is an unabashed lover of Donne, admitting that this is as much an "act of evangelism" as a biography, and her enthusiasm is contagious.

My only quibble is that Rundell credits Donne with an unusual outlook on pain and suffering, when said outlook is actually the traditional Catholic one that he (raised as Catholic) would have grown-up practicing.
Given my history, I was bound to love this book on an emotional level, but I feel that it is worthy of praise on the intellectual level as well.
John Donne, c. 1595

Monday, January 15, 2024

December 2023 Wrap Up

Nancy Mitford

Books Read:
Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford (1932)  4/5 stars
A laugh-out-loud, delightful between-the-wars story of a Christmas house party and it's repercussions. 

The Lark Shall Sing by Elizabeth Cadell (1955)  4/5 stars (my review here)

The Blue Sky of Spring by Elizabeth Cadell (1956)  4/5 stars  (my review here

Six Impossible Things by Elizabeth Cadell (1961)   3/5 stars  (my review here)

Iris in Winter by Elizabeth Cadell (1949)  3/5 stars
An enjoyable story of siblings and their relationships, experiences and mishaps, with light romance thrown in.

The Waiting Game by Elizabeth Cadell (1985)  4/5 stars
Light, enjoyable, and not always predictable, The Waiting Game is one of Cadell's last novels.  Taking place in the 1980s, it lacks a little of the charm and grace of her books from earlier decades, but is still satisfying and entertaining.

Tutankhamun's Trumpet: Ancient Egypt in 100 Objects from the Boy-King's Tomb by Toby Wilkinson (2022)  5/5 stars
I absolutely loved this fascinating, informative book.  Wilkinson gives a history of Ancient Egypt, using 100 different articles found in Tutankhamun's tomb as a jumping off point for each topic.  It's well-written, surprisingly engrossing, and gave me a new interest in Ancient Egypt. 

Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph by Lucasta Miller (2021)  4/5 stars
This is a light biography of the poet Keats given in nine vignettes of sorts, based on what affected the poems he wrote at that period in his life.  I've never cared much for Keats or his poetry, and this didn't change that opinion.  Nevertheless, it was well-written and interesting, particularly the social history aspect.

Didn't Finish:
The Earl and the Pharaoh: From the Real Downton Abbey to the Discovery of Tutankhamun by The Countess of Carnarvon (2022)
This was such a disappointment.  The author whitewashes the Earl's past, gives excruciating details about nothing, and writes most dully.  I adore social history, am recently interested in Egyptology, and the Earl's lifeline follows my period of most interest and yet, I simply could not finish.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Waynes of Wood Mount

This is a three-book series by Elizabeth Cadell about the Wayne family and their friends, focusing on relationships, with light romance thrown in.  The publishes states that these books stand alone, but I feel that they should be read together, in order, to best appreciate the characters.

The Lark Shall Sing (1955) 4/5 stars
The Blue Sky of Spring (1956) 4/5 stars
Six Impossible Things (1961)  3/5 stars

In the first book, The Lark Shall Sing, the Wayne family of six siblings (aged 24 down to 7) is introduced.  They've been orphaned, and were scattered around the country for a year.  Lucille, the eldest, has decided to sell the family home, Wood Mount, and her two sisters and three brothers are horrified.  They descend on Lucille, to beg to stay at Wood Mount as a family.  What follows is a sweet tale of family relationships, lightly romantic, gently humorous, and fully enjoyable.  

The Blue Sky of Spring follows the oldest brother, Nicholas, the woman he loves, and an American stranger.  Again, it's a gentle book about relationships -- friendship, romance, family -- with an interesting and not fully predictable plot.  The Waynes are charming and their situations heart-touching, and the book is completely entertaining.

In Six Impossible Things, Julia, the youngest sister, returns from studying abroad, a local friend is getting married, and a stranger involves the Waynes in her attempt to break up from a controlling and vindictive fiancé.  The result is an appealing, mostly lighthearted story of romance, friendship, and connections, but one not as substantial and griping as the previous two in the series.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

November 2023 Wrap-Up

Books Read:
The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers by Stuart Palmer (1947)  3/5 stars
I've read the first of the Miss Withers mysteries, and enjoyed it in general.  This is a set of average short stories, and I don't think that she and her friend Inspector Piper show up to their best advantage here.  

The Man of Dangerous Secrets by (Margery Allingham writing as) Maxwell March (1933)  3/5 stars
The far-fetched plot was often ridiculous, but managed to be mostly entertaining, though slow at times.

Fishy, Said the Admiral by Elizabeth Cadell (1947)  4/5 stars
This is a delightful and entertaining novel of family and friend relationships, wrapped around a light romance, and filled with a good deal of charm.  I certainly enjoyed it.

Audiobooks Read:
To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World by Arthur Herman (1975)  5/5 stars
This is a stupendously good history of the British Navy, well-written, intelligent, easily accessible, and totally engrossing.  I highly recommend it!

An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew
by Annejet van der Zijl, translated by Michele Hutchison  (2015)  3/5 stars
This promised to be an interesting book, based on the summation of Tew's life in the blurb, but it was spoiled by historical misconceptions (and even some inaccuracies), poor writing (or translation?), and the fact that the author made the men in Tew's life the focus, with her as a sort of side character. It was, overall, quite disappointing.

A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology by Toby Wilkinson (2020)  4/5 stars
This is a fascinating account of the British, German, and French attempts to gain Egyptian artifacts, beginning with Napoleon's Egyptian campaign through to Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922.  Wilkinson writes well and presents his information in an accessible fashion and, in addition, makes the characters and situations come alive.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.