Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Year in Review: October through December

I made a really big list

I'm slower this time around in getting my year end review in order, so I'm totally thrown off. It's May 2020, but I'm looking back now on October through December 2019. Oh well, guess I'm just going to go with the flow?

I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

 The Time-Traveling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette The Time Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
I was still in the grip of my September-induced Motivation to Meet All My Yearly Goals and so I decided to pick up this book: on my shelves since 2017. I was surprised by how much I loved the first book and I was looking forward to this second installment even more because of the Marie Antoinette focus. I adore Marie Antoinette. Unfortunately, I don't think Bianca Turetsky does. Add in a meh love interest, considerably less time spent in the past, and another time-traveling fashionista with a bit of an attitude and consider me disappointed. So disappointed, in fact, that I decided to break up the series and give away my beautiful print copy. I guess I just can't abide someone dissing MA. 

Stormy PetrelStormy Petrel by Mary Stewart
I've heard Mary Stewart's last three books were different from all her others. They're supposed to be softer, quieter, sweeter. That's exactly what I was looking for and now I've read all three. Sadly, Stormy Petrel is perhaps my least favorite of the three. Or, maybe it's tied with Rose Cottage for number two. Or maybe slightly above Rose Cottage. I don't know. Either way, it's not my number one (that would be Thornyhold), but it's also pretty darn good. I can definitely see myself rereading this, and forgetting enough of it that rereading will be a delight.

The Orange Trees of Versailles (Les Orangers de Versailles, #1)The Orange Trees of Versailles by Annie Pietri
I can almost say the same thing about this as I said about The Mozart Girl: This is such a little book but still managed to pack in so much. I loved the mix of perfumery and French royal history, though I could have wished for a little more detail on both fronts. Still, for such a short book, I can't complain. Athenais has been a villain for me ever since watching Versailles and seeing her played to perfection by Anna Brewster, so I liked the Super Evil version presented here. While the climax is not at all historically accurate, it does draw from a similar enough accusation that ultimately led to her downfall and I'm surprisingly not bothered by it. 

The Christmas Spirits on Tradd StreetThe Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street by Karen White
It felt weird reading this in October rather than December, but I didn't set the blog tour schedule. Still, the days were getting darker and colder and it was certainly starting to feel like winter, if not Christmas. I'm learning that I don't do well with this time of the year, so it was nice to spend time with some early Christmas festivities and old favorites and this helped me feel more cheerful than I otherwise might have felt. Is this mind over matter? Perhaps. 
Heart of Darkness 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I really love this cover. I actually owned a dingy mass market paperback of this book years ago that I had long since given away because it just seemed like such a drag. And boring, oh god, so boring. I also somehow mentally mixed Heart of Darkness with Paradise Lost and so I had this mental image of European colonialism, African jungles, Satan, and moralizing gloom.

But then someone I know started referencing Heart of Darkness as a (not very nice) description of some people we know and after feeling both lost and curious through the course of several conversations I looked up Heart of Darkness, saw it was only 166 pages and figured, "Why not?" I'm glad I did. (Also, those references? Spot on.)

The Ghost-Feeler: Stories of Terror and the SupernaturalThe Ghost-Feeler by Edith Wharton
I love October because I love Halloween and Halloween means ghost stories. I spent the last two weeks of October savoring these stories, turning the final page at the start of November. Edith Wharton played around with different styles and approaches and she excelled at all of them. I was pretty convinced that I liked Edith Wharton a whole lot after reading Ethan Frome and Age of Innocence, but after The Ghost-Feeler she entered into Favorite Author status.

The Glimpses of the MoonThe Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
Well, after that Favorite Author realization I wasn't about to abandon her. The thing about Edith Wharton, though, is that she doesn't exactly write uplifting books. I wanted something light and romantic, but also, you know, Edith Wharton. After combing through Goodreads and trying not to read spoilers, I finally found The Glimpses of the Moon, which was supposed to be exactly what I wanted--and it was! I feel like Glimpses is to Wharton what Northanger Abbey is to Jane Austen, and NA is my favorite JA. Perhaps because of its lighter tone and happier ending, Glimpses isn't quite as memorable for me in the details as some of her other stories (she's so good at vivid scenes), but that will only make it all the more enjoyable when I reread it.

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
I wanted to continue in a similar vein-- uplifting, calm, historical but not *too* historical and so I sought out a whole slew of classics that fit the bill. I decided on The Enchanted April, and not only because it's a pretty short one (though, yeah, that was a big draw). I loved it. I was really starting to settle into this pleasant bubble of gauzy white dresses, lovely gardens, gigantic houses, and lives of leisure and luxury. It helped stave off some of the doldrums of dark November.

The Making of a Marchioness, Part I and II (Emily Fox-Seton #1-2)The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
And another. This one was off the rails. It started out like a super saccharine version of a Jane Austen novel. Imagine Persuasion minus the earlier rejection but with an extra heaping of Old Maid and starring an even more angelic Jane Bennett-esque lead. Then transition into the slapstick Gothic thrills of Northanger Abbey with a cameo from an exotic witch-doctor Mrs. Danvers ala du Maurier's Rebecca and the Ridiculous dial cranked up to 11. It was a blast!   

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria - France, 1769 

Marie Antoinette (Royal Diaries) by Kathryn Lasky
I think I needed a break from the low-grade classics after that last whirlwind. I had also been reading a lot of e-books and with the end of November looming I was starting to feel the pressure of Unmet Goals. This book got me a double dose of box checking: owned since 2014 and historical fiction. I was woefully behind on my goal for reading historical fiction, particularly historical bio, and I wasn't too happy about that. I make my reading goals because I know reading those books makes me happy, so I wanted to make sure I was actually doing the things that make me happy. And this book? It made me happy.

The BorgiasThe Borgias by Christopher Hibbert
Historical and owned since 2013. Check and check! Christopher Hibbert clearly adores Cesare, and while he definitely sung his praises, that didn't stop Hibbert from detailing out Cesare's flaws as well. And, oh god, I learned far more about Cesare's experiences with syphilis than I was ever expecting to know. I was in the middle of a rewatch of the Showtime series of the same name and so this was a nice parallel.

A True Home (Heartwood Hotel, #1)Heartwood Hotel: A True Home by Kallie George
Owned since 2017--check! December started and I had some ground to cover. This was short, short chapters, adorable illustrations, and MG. I tore through it and loved every second. It was so heartwarming. I just wanted to hug it.

The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIIIThe King is Dead by Suzannah Lipscomb
Well, the heartwarming reprieve was over and I dove back into historical murder, mayhem, death, and disease. While short, this was a powerhouse of a book. I felt a little like I was reading Lipscomb's dissertation, but I mean that in the best possible way. There was a youthful eagerness, an excitement, curiosity, and investment in the topic that came through every page and that made this a joy to read. I enjoyed the way Lipscomb approached the topic, focusing on the final decade, year, and month of Henry's life, piecing together how the events during these times all shaped how he wrote his will and his hopes for his son's reign. I've seen a number of Suzannah Lipscomb's historical TV shows (so good!) and reading this book felt just like listening to her talk, which is a very good thing.

Heart's BloodHeart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
The year was winding down, my goals were almost met, and I felt Heart's Blood pulling me to it again. Though I first read this book in the summer of 2015 and though the book takes place across a summer, for some reason this feels like such a winter book to me. I guess it's the Beauty and the Beast storyline where everything feels bleak, dark, and cold like an abandoned garden in the dead of winter...and then slowly but comes back. That's a good message for me to read in the doldrums of winter! 

1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb
After the smashing success of The King is Dead I couldn't stop myself from diving into this book (they're both so short!). I liked it. I did. But I think Suzannah Lipscomb did a better job convincing me that it wasn't just the events of 1536 that changed Henry, but rather the events leading up to and then culminating in 1536 that profoundly impacted him. 1536 didn't just happen in a bubble; there was over a decade of events that all stacked together and took Henry to this final climax of horror...and then set him on the path he would follow until his death. So, I don't ultimately agree with her conclusion, but I loved the journey she took me on to get there.

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Now this is a winter book. I love so much about this series. I cried at the start, I cried at the end. Vasya's relationships with the Winter King, the Bear, her brother, and sister, the magical creatures, and, of course, the horses...I don't even know what to say. I love them all. I love how these books feel like Russian fairy tales mixed with Russian history, both timeless and old. They feel palpable and the imagery...ah I feel like I'm in the pages of Laurel Long illustrations or those Russian lacquer boxes. Breathtaking, heartbreaking, beautiful.

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
I picked this up after watching the Witcher series on Netflix. Yeah, I know, me and everyone else. I was surprised by how much I liked these stories. It feels weird going back to my fantasy roots...and the ingrained flood of knee-jerk excuses for actually liking fantasy books. Interesting. I guess it really has been a while since I've felt guilt or shame for reading what I like.

Elizabeth the GreatElizabeth the Great by Elizabeth Jenkins
This book took me flipping forever to finish. I started reading at the end of September (the day I bought it, go me) and I didn't finish until the penultimate day of the year. This wasn't because I didn't like the book. I loved it. It's because it's a print book and I couldn't find an e-book version to read. The font was tiny, the book was awkward to hold, I didn't have that nifty "X number of minutes for this chapter" thingy that I have on my e-reader. Yeah, ok, I'm a total e-book convert.

But, whatever, I read it and I loved it. Between this book and Susan Kay's Legacy you can consider me an Elizabeth I convert, too. It took me a while to warm up to her, and I still think she's crazy as all get out, but I feel for her now.

Mary, Bloody Mary (Young Royals, #1)Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer
Was I going to be able to squeeze in one final book to make a cool, round 80 books read in 2019? Ha, yes, it's all about choosing the right book, and I knew Carolyn Meyer would have my back. Also, book I owned since 2014 and historical bio. Nailed my goals.

I liked reading this book right next to the book about Elizabeth I. Seeing the two sisters side by side, and so soon after immersing myself in Suzannah Lipscomb's Tour of Henry's Horrors, really brought home how terrible their situations were and how much blame can be laid at the feet of their father. It was also interesting to see how these first two queens of England blazed the trail. Their experiences were so similar and so different, and their personalities were shaped in ways that make perfect sense given their history. I find both of their stories so tragic, and it's made even sadder by the fact that they were not able to form a positive relationship with each other.

So often historical figures are shrouded in History's Mysteries and we can only guess at what they must have thought or felt or even what their personalities might have been like. Sure, we're doing the same thing with Elizabeth and Mary, but they feel much more real, nuanced, and understandable.


Well, that's it for 2019. October through December continued very happily and I was able to redirect my reading to happy escapes rather than letting the darkness of winter plunge me into the depths of despair (I use that Anne of Green Gables reference whenever I can and no one ever gets it so they just look at me funny and think I'm terribly dramatic).

I need to remember this moving forward. I noticed this quarter that I didn't quite focus on and immerse myself in the books I was reading as much as I did over the summer, and that's a shame since I read some wonderful books. Squandered opportunity, and I want to take that lesson learned to heart and focus on my book fully and completely in the moment. Whatever's on my mind can wait.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...