Books I’ve Read This Week: January 15-21, 2018

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 3: The Reading Schedule. At the end of Week 3 of my Book a Day 2018 project, I have settled into a regular reading schedule, starting books in the evenings and continuing them in the mornings, finishing the following evening and starting the next book. I’ve also established a pattern of reading material. Each week’s reading list includes 1) A scholarly history book in my field (My 2nd book Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette is part of the Queenship and Power series and I have been reading other recent titles in this series in recent weeks); 2) A work of classic literature; 3) A novel or work of popular history that’s outside my field 4) Plenty of royal history! Here are this week’s reviews:

 #15 of 365: William IV: A King at Sea by Roger Knight

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 103 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Read: January 15, 2018

Review: A good overview of the life and reign of King William IV (Queen Victoria’s uncle and predecessor). Knight is critical of William’s career as a naval officer but concludes that he was a success as king because he was willing to listen to advice. There is some insightful analysis of William’s personal life as well. Knight praises William’s longtime mistress Dora Jordan as “remarkable and openhearted” but has a mixed view of Queen Adelaide who helped William get his finances under control but opposed political reform in the 1830s. I would have been interested to read more about William’s relationship with his ten children with Dora Jordan and his travels in British North America and the Caribbean. Knight concludes with a wide range of suggestions for further reading.

#16 of 365 Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Format: Audiobook, 14 hours and 52 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from audible.com

Genre: Classic Novel

Dates Read: January 12-16

Review: I listened to the audiobook of Far From the Madding Crowd after watching the 2015 film starring Carey Mulligan. In the film, Bathsheba Everdene is always at the centre of events but in the novel, there are numerous chapters from Gabriel Oake’s perspective and much of the narrative follows other characters observing Bathsheba rather than Bathsheba herself. Thomas Hardy’s descriptions of nature and rural life at the time are beautiful but the narrator’s generalizations about women are painfully dated and distract from the story. The audiobook is well narrated, capturing the regional accents and the songs in the text (which are different from the songs in the film). The novel was enjoyable but not quite what I expected.

#17 of 365 Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 416 pages

Read: January 15-17, 2018

Acquired: Review Copy

Review: I enjoyed Princes at War by Deborah Cadbury and looked forward to reading her research about Queen Victoria’s efforts to arrange marriages for her children and grandchildren among Europe’s royal houses. I especially enjoyed the first two thirds of Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking where Queen Victoria’s strong character and opinions are present on almost every page and the correspondence of her grandchildren demonstrates their efforts to manage her expectations concerning their personal lives. The book is filled with extracts from royal diaries and letters and the personalities of Albert Victor, George V and Queen Mary, Queen Marie of Romania, Grand Duchess Ella, and Czar Nicholas II and Empress of Alexandra of Russia are particularly well illustrated.

The book loses a bit of focus in the final chapters as Cadbury expands the scope of her work to discuss the place of Europe’s monarchies during the First World War then relates this material back to the broader theme of royal matchmaking in the final few pages. Cadbury devotes the greatest amount of attention to the courtships and marriages of Queen Victoria’s most prominent grandchildren and I would have been interested to read more about the marriage prospects of their lesser known cousins.

#18 of 365 The Memoirs of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester by Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 208 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: January 18, 2018

Review: Queen Elizabeth II’s late aunt, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester was witty, well traveled and a keen observer of changing social customs and the nature of royal life. Her personality comes alive in her memoirs. Alice begins by describing her aristocratic Scottish childhood as the daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch. Her family employed one maid who made the boiled eggs for breakfast in the stillroom while another maid made the scrambled, fried and poached eggs in the kitchen. As an adult, Alice traveled the world. In her 20s and early 30s, she spent time in Kenya (where she learned Swahili), South Africa, India and what is now Pakistan (where she joined a dangerous expedition to the Afghan border). After her marriage to Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester at the age of 34, she undertook a busy schedule of royal engagements during the Second World War and overseas tours including two years as viceregal consort of Australia. Henry and Alice brought their young sons to Australia and there are fun anecdotes about the royal children on tour.

#19 of 365 Anna of Denmark and Henrietta Maria: Virgins, Witches, and Catholic Queens by Susan Dunn-Hensley

Genre: History

Format: E-Book, 230 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: January 19, 2018

Review: An innovative comparative study of the first two Stuart queens consort of England, Anna of Denmark (queen to James I) and Henrietta Maria of France (queen to Charles I). Susan Dunn-Hensley places each queen in the cultural context of how women were perceived in early 17th century England and Scotland, focusing on their organization of court masques and their participation in these theatricals. Anna of Denmark has been dismissed as “stupid” by a number of her past biographers and the author’s research demonstrates that she was in fact “a shrewdly political woman.” The lasting influence of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots over the image of subsequent royal women also informs the book. Well written and thought provoking.

#20 of 365 Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Genre: Historical Fiction

Dates Read: January 16-20, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 15 hours and 48 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: I enjoyed Belgravia more than Julian Fellowes’s other novels but not as much as his television series, Downton Abbey. The early Victorian setting, with the aristocracy coming into contact with a rising middle class, is engaging and the audiobook is well read by Juliet Stevenson. The plot, however, moves slowly in the middle chapters as half a dozen characters investigate a mystery is already known to the reader from the first chapters of the novel. I would have preferred the point of view to have been focused more closely on Charles and Maria and the mystery to have been revealed to the characters and the reader at the same time. A good story, which could have been better plotted.

#21 of 365 Flapper by Joshua Zeitz

Genre: History

Date Read: January 21, 2018

Format: Paperback, 338 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Book City

Review: I bought this book after reading a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. Zeitz provides a good analysis of American consumer culture and changing attitudes towards women during the 1920s. The illustrations, including photographs of actresses and advertisements from the times, capture the aesthetic of the era. The focus is almost exclusively on the United States and it would have been interesting to read more about how the Flapper phenomenon shaped popular culture in other regions of the world.

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