Wednesday, June 3, 2020

January's Reads Reviewed

Mini-Review Roundup

So, I'm trying something a little different this year. Instead of focusing on single-review posts, which, let's face it, I haven't been doing much of lately, I'm going to try mini round ups. Maybe that will work? We'll see.

Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #0.75)Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
After enjoying the first book, I decided to keep going with this series until I didn't want to read it anymore. See, I'm still having commitment issues, and that makes no sense considering I actually really like these books. This collection of stories focused far more on Yennifer and Geralt's relationship and had a mix of stories that were included in the show and a few that weren't. All were good and added depth to the characters and stories that the show just glossed over. I liked the show a lot more before I read the books and saw how much better things could be.

I warmed up to Yennifer much more than I did in the TV series. See, in the series she's kind of awful, but I didn't get the impression that we were supposed to think that. I got the impression that we were supposed to think she was an awesome badass and her yearning for children and anger at the sorcerers who "stole" her ability to have children (after, you know, demanding they do it) was supposed to be righteous.  In the books she's even more awful, but it's very clear that you're supposed to think that. She's flawed and nuanced. As a result, she has depth and I actually care about her and her relationship with Geralt becomes both tragic and epic. That I can get on board with.  

The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret DouglasThe Other Tudor Princess by Mary McGrigor
I started reading this in September 2018, put it down at 55% in October and didn't pick it back up again until January 2020. In the year in between readings my knowledge of the main players (Margaret Douglas, Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart, etc.) has grown significantly (Leanda de Lisle's excellent Tudor was the perfect prereq).

I remember putting the book down in part because I was having trouble keeping track of everything and everyone. Picking it up now, I was able to follow everything much better. It's a short book, and maybe it's a little too short for the reader with very little knowledge of the time period. A lot is glossed over in order to keep that page count down, and that combined with so many people with the same name makes this perhaps not the best introduction to the era. Another reason not to read this without pre-knowledge? There are a surprising number of silly errors like referring to Anne Boleyn as Catherine Howard's aunt (she was her cousin) or calling Henry VII Margaret Tudor's grandfather (he was her father).

However, go into this with some background knowledge and it's a great, quick review that hits all the high points while adding a lot of extra tidbits to keep things interesting. Chapters are super short, the writing is pleasant to read, and I cared about Margaret. I like these quick overview types of books as they help me make connections between the individual components I've gone more in depth with (or have heard about in passing through some of those in-depth excursions, like Arbella Stuart). We also got to go more in depth with Margaret Tudor, which provided nice background.

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
So, this was nothing like I was expecting. I had images of a posh Audrey Hepburn and high society ritzy glitz. Clearly, I haven't seen the movie. Or maybe the movie does give that impression. I don't know, I haven't seen the  movie. Anyway, that's probably a good thing because I don't think I would have liked this book at all if I had seen the movie first.

The book isn't uplifting. Holly is a mess, and while this contributes to her charm and attracts men left and right, it's also pretty tragic. She's a fascinating person in that rubberneck at an accident kind of way and if this story had been longer I don't think I would have liked it as much. As it is, it's the perfect length to draw me in, keep my interest, leave before overstaying its welcome, but leave a lingering impression. I'm glad I finally read this one.

I wasn't planning on reading the three short stories also included in my copy, but I'm very glad I did. Each had that same fascinating draw-you-in vibe of the first, but in three very different ways. The first was intriguing in a way I can't quite put my finger on, the second was sad and had an old west vibe even though it took place in a prison, and the third is easily my favorite: a Christmas memory of a young boy with his grandmother.      

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American HistoryEmpire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwyne
Loved this. Immersive writing, quick pace, chapters were a little long for me, but that just goes to show how interesting it was that the large chapters didn't deter me. I tend to shy away from this subject because it's hard to find books that focus on the facts of history and don't color things with the perspectives of the present. Thankfully, this was a brutally honest take with no villains and no heroes- just straight up history. Though, I have to say, I loved the Texas spirit.  

MinetteMinette by Melanie Clegg
Ah, it's so hard to read historical fiction that ends on a high note when you know it doesn't ultimately end that way.

Anyway, that aside, I loved this book. Well-drawn characters, good pacing, immersive history. I felt for Minette and I loved the characterization of her mother. The focus on how these two women felt in the aftermath of the revolution and how these events shaped them was well done...and heartbreaking. Not much insight into Charles II or Louis XIV, but that's okay. Melanie Clegg is a historical author to watch.

The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious DynastyThe Tudors by G. J. Meyer
Well, G. J. Meyer clearly is not a fan of Elizabeth I. He didn't sing Henry, Edward, or Mary's praises either, but their sections were a lot more balanced. Elizabeth, not so much. Apparently, she didn't do anything right and anything good from her era was either propaganda or someone else's achievement.

That aside, this was a nice overview of the Tudor era and worth reading. I liked Leanda de Lisle's Tudor more, but this one is still worth reading. While his Elizabeth section was clearly biased, it was still interesting to entertain that point of view and reexamine the popular narratives.

Chapters alternated between the chronological history (larger chapters) and historical asides (shorter chapters) that often took a deeper look at a particular aspect of the narrative covered in the prior chapter. Sometimes these asides gave insight into a minor player, more often they gave more general historical depth to one of the major issues of the time like corruption in the church, the history of Lutheranism, the Tower of London, Parliament, and so on.

I looked forward to these chapters. They added something to the book that let it stand apart from all the other Tudor books. I also appreciated how they were paired with the greater narrative. Some books just focus on these broader topics (Life in Tudor England type books) or take a whole book to focus on one of those topics, but this combination of royal narrative and supplementary asides helped root them in the larger context, making both sections better as a result.


Two books I put down earlier and picked up again only to quickly polish them off. Four historicals, three of which are non-fiction. One print copy owned since 2019. One classic. One fantasy. All adult. Engaged with all of them. All winners.

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