BerlinBibliophile's Books of 2019
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Happy New Year everyone!
This year I plan to continue to try to read more books that I already own rather than buying new ones all the time. That's difficult for me, but if I don't try I won't get anywhere at all, will I?
And now, on to my first book of the year, which I started reading at three in the morning on the train home from a New Year's Eve party.
1. Murder by the Book, Claire Harman
I really enjoyed this book. It takes an interesting moment from history, a brutal murder, and uses it as an occasion to not only talk about the murder itself, but about the influence of the emerging mass media and the way the event influenced public opinion on popular culture.
The murderer in this case, in one of his many contradictory statements about his crime, said that he had been driven to commit the murder by a popular book about a criminal, Jack Sheppard. A media frenzy about morality in popular culture followed. I thought it was especially interesting in comparison to today, when the new mass medium of video games is often blamed for violence, instead of popular novels, as it was then. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And one thing that stays the same is that Claire Harman writes excellent and entertaining books.
A year full of books
A year full of friends
A year full of all your wishes realised
I look forward to keeping up with you, Miriam, this year.
Happy New Year, Miriam. The Harman book sounds interesting. I will look for it.
Happy reading in 2019, Miriam!
We are planning a stay in Berlin early May, let me know if you would like to meet us.
>2 PaulCranswick: thank you, Paul! A very happy new year to you as well, and I hope that you will enjoy meeting all your reading goals.
>3 drneutron: thank you!
>4 BLBera: happy new year! I really enjoyed it, and it's not too long, so it's not a huge commitment in case it's not your style. But I thought it was great. :)
>5 FAMeulstee: Happy reading! Sounds good! What will you be doing here?
2. Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, Alison Weir
Another tale from Alison Weir I really enjoyed. I think it's great that she portrays these six women in ways we maybe aren't used to seeing them in - Anne Boleyn as very reluctant about a relationship with the king, Jane Seymour as enthusiastically consummating her own relationship to the king before they are married. I think it does one good to have one's view of historical figures shaken up every once in a while, and to remember that very much of what we "know" about them is supposition.
And quite apart from that, this is a really good character study and a very entertaining novel.
I especially enjoyed it because I visited Hampton Court Palace while I was reading this book, and it was amazing to see evidence of these events still there hundreds of years later. Catherine of Aragon's pomegranates decorating a doorway, one of Anne Boleyn's crowned eagles in a corner of the ceiling of the great hall, Jane Seymour's Phoenix rising from a castle decorating the whole ceiling just one room further on... amazing that we still have these things to look at now.
3. The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
This book is a little strange. It has very little plot, it is simply a detective, laid up in bed, examining the facts of the case of the Princes in the Tower with the help of some historical fiction, some school books, some biographies, and a research assistant. This book seems less a novel and more an argumentative line for the reader to follow. Now, I agree with most of Tey's conclusions. But it still feels a little patronising to have all the right answers spoon-fed to the audience in small easily digestible chunks, all the while the policeman is thinking about the stupidity of historians and how very obvious this all is to right-thinking people with common sense. It also stretches credulity that a young man with no actual job at the British Museum is able to find, get access to, and read all relevant contemporary and Tudor documents in a matter of days and with apparent ease.
4. The Hills Have Spies, Mercedes Lackey
I was a bit disappointed in this. Usually, I love Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series, but this one just didn't work for me. It starts with the fact that the plot only starts moving because Mags, who we've been following now for eight books, makes the most un-Herald-like decision of his life, and decides to just not rescue kidnapped Valdemarans who are being held as slaves.
Everything is also just a little bit too easy, with two daring rescues of baby animals whose families end up doing all the heavy lifting in their little spy operation. Then again, it couldn't really be considered competent spying to pretend to be an intellectually disabled boy (pretty offensive) who stays in the dog kennels all the time and makes no attempt to find out what has happened to the kidnap victims or where they are. Finally, the ending. The villain self-destructs, making Mags' and Perry's presence completely irrelevant, and they end up saving not a single person. All the kidnapped people have been brutally murdered and eaten while Perry was messing about with the dogs. There is no urgency at all in the point-of-view characters about saving them, and they seem to be entirely forgotten in a plot that is ostensibly about saving them. Very stupid, un-Herald-like behaviour all around. This book made me like Mags much less as a person and character, and I can't say I had a good start with perry either.
I so hope that Mercedes Lackey will finally start writing books about ANYONE other than Mags again.
>6 BerlinBibliophile: We have our vacation in Berlin from 6 to 12 May. Doing touristy things, sightseeing, visiting museums. We have planned a visit to the Komischer Oper on the evening of the 9th. Maybe we can have diner with you, and/or spend an afternoon or evening together, if you have time.
>8 FAMeulstee: that sounds good! I would like that. I should be in Berlin then. I don't know my schedule yet though, because that is next semester.
5. Warcross, Marie Lu
I read this book for a reading challenge, and wasn't sure about it before I started, but I ended up quite liking it. The protagonist was very likeable and her life was interesting, and the world the book is set in was cool. The plot twist at the end was a bit obvious, but the ending still managed to be suspenseful up to that point. I will be checking out the next book.
>1 BerlinBibliophile: You hit me with a BB right from the start, Miriam. I have added that one to the BlackHole.
Have a great reading 2019! Best of luck to you on reading more from your shelves.
>10 FAMeulstee: That will only be in April, I'm afraid, when the next semester starts. But I'm sure we'll be able to find some time we both have free.
>11 alcottacre: Thank you! I'm trying, but I must admit that so far I've mostly been reading new books. Christmas presents always want to skip ahead in the queue somehow... :)
6. The Language of Thorns, Leigh Bardugo
I really loved this collection of original fairy tales set in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Verse. All the stories are wonderful, but they have such different flavours that it's easy to believe that they really do come from different cultures and countries. They are also beautifully illustrated. It's breathtaking to see the illustrations grow and blossom from page to page, and finally to find an amazing full-page illustration at the end of each chapter, which sums up the characters wonderfully. I think the illustrations here are not just decoration, they are in a dialogue with the text that deepens the understanding of both.
It's a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it.
7. 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear, James Shapiro
This book focuses on Shakespeare's creative output during a single year, 1606, and on the historical events which influenced that creativity. As always, Shapiro strikes a great balance when writing about Shakespeare, between giving the reader the possible options at times when the historical record is unclear (which is most of the time) and still cautioning against speculation and transparently biographical readings of his plays.
He draws a convincing picture of a year in which crisis followed after crisis. 1606 saw the prosecutions and executions of the men behind the Hunpowder Plot of November 5 1605, as well as the propagandistic fight against equivocation, demonic possessions, James I's frustrated quest for Unity of his kingdoms, a state visit from the king of Denmark, and a terrible plague outbreak. No wonder that this time of a shifting status quo led to Shakespeare's plays of that year to include echoes of all these events.
James Shapiro is always great when it comes to Shakespeare, and in this case he writes a really good, readable account that draws together many confusing historical strands into a greater whole. This book left me feeling that I now knew more about these Shakespearean plays, which I had already studied in extensively, than I did before.
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