Books I’ve Read This Week: January 22-January 28, 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 4: Books, E-Books and Audiobooks: At the end of week four of a my Book a Day 2018 project, I’ve discovered that one of the keys to completing a book per day is a balance of different book formats – traditional books, e-books and audiobooks. Each day, I read part of a physical book or e-book and listen to part of an audiobook, finishing one or the other. Audiobooks have been especially helpful to keeping the reading going as I listen while walking or making dinner. This week’s reading includes three hardcovers, two paperbacks and two audiobooks with an e-book, Empress Adelheid and Countess Matilda: Medieval Female Rulership and the Foundations of European Society, ready to go for tomorrow! Here are the past week’s reviews:

#22 of 365 Charles II: The Star King by Clare Jackson

Genre: Royal History

Date Read: January 22, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 128 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Review:  A concise, thematic biography of Charles II with a strong focus on the King’s image both during his reign and in the centuries following his death. Jackson examines the interplay between Charles II’s personal and political lives including public concern regarding the influence of his mistresses on state  policy. The last chapter, entitled “Afterlives” is particularly interesting as Jackson observes that popular and scholarly perceptions of Charles II today are very different. “The Merry Monarch” – a nickname not originally intended as a compliment – is viewed is a positive light in popular culture but more critically by scholars who have analyzed his shortcomings as a ruler. Jackson holds a more favourable view of Charles II, noting that he kept his throne, in contrast to his father, Charles I and brother, James II.

#23 of 365 Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin

Genre: Memoir/Travel Literature

Date Read: January 23, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Acquired: Received as a gift

Review: Flaneuse blends history, literature and Elkin’s own life, reading as a memoir of her experiences walking the cities where she has lived. There is a strong focus on Paris, where she has spent much of her adult life with forays into her childhood neighbourhood in New York, her time in London and Venice and a difficult year in Tokyo. The opening chapters were particularly well crafted as Elkin examines the experiences of Virginia Woolf, George Sand and other literary flaneuses, examining the history of attitudes toward women walking alone in cities.

#24 of 365 The Ideas Industry by Daniel W. Drezner

Genre: Non-Fiction

Format: Audiobook, 10 hours and 58 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: January 21-24, 2018

Review:  The focus of The Ideas Industry is the nature of commentary on political science, economics and foreign policy in the American public sphere but certain themes apply to a variety of disciplines such as scholarly engagement on social media. I found the last few chapters particularly interesting as they analyze why particular individuals and ideas achieve public prominence. I would have been interested to hear more analysis of the impact of the changing academic job market on the careers of public intellectuals. The audiobook is well read by Adam Grupper.

#25 of 365 Haiti: The Aftershocks of History by Laurent Dubois

Genre: History

Format: Paperback, 448 pages

Acquired: Review Copy

Dates Read: January 24-25, 2018

Review: I have previously read Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution and A Colony of Citizens: Revolution & Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804 by Laurent Dubois but was less familiar with modern Haitian history. Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, written in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, provides a good analysis of the past 200 years of Haitian history. Dubois discusses the cultural impact of Haitian intellectuals and writers as well as political history and economic developments. There is strong analysis of the lasting negative impact of the early 20th century American occupation and the 19th century indemnity imposed by France. I would have liked more detail on the events of the most recent decades preceding the earthquake.

 #26 of 365 Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Genre: Classic Novel

Format: Audiobook, 6 hours and 27 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Listened: January 24-27, 2018

Review:  Agnes Grey was based on Anne Bronte’s own experiences as a governess and examines the difficulties of this position. Agnes faces low pay, long hours (extended with additional duties at a moment’s notice), obnoxious employers, and a succession of troubled children in her care.

Agnes is sometimes dismissed as a bland character compared to the passionate Jane Eyre in the novel written by her elder sister, Charlotte Bronte, but she has a great deal of quiet strength and advocates both the humane treatment of animals and the importance of empathy toward others, subtly critiquing the behaviour of the elites (especially elite parents) of the time. Agnes becomes a governess not only to help support her family but to achieve self determination and prove her ability to take care of herself in times of adversity.

#27 of 365 William III and Mary II: Partners in Revolution by Jonathan Keates

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 112 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Robarts Library, University of Toronto

Date Read: January 27, 2018

Review: This short biography is subtitled “Partners in Revolution,” challenging the traditional narrative of the Glorious Revolution, which focuses almost exclusively on William III at the expense of his wife and co-monarch, Mary II. Keates is careful to give Mary her due, stating that “There was always more to Mary than Protestant piety, and a fondness for knitting, old folk songs and blue and white porcelain” noting that she was praised for her political abilities as well as her willingness to undertake public engagements in contrast to her more reserved husband.  I’m not sure if I agree with the author’s conclusion that William and Mary are little known today because there was a comparative absence of scandal in their public or private lives. Mary’s willingness to join her husband in overthrowing her father, King James II, was highly controversial at the time. The book provides a strong analysis of William and Mary’s impact on British history, however, and I wish it had been longer.

#28 of 365 The Grand Duchess of Nowhere by Laurie Graham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback, 341 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books

Date Read: January 28, 2018

Review: Most historical novels about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution focus on the last Czar Nicholas II, his wife Empress Alexandra and their children. Laurie Graham instead tells the story of Grand Duchess Victoria Melita or Ducky as she is nicknamed, who divorced Alexandra’s brother Grand Duke Ernest Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt to marry Nicholas’s cousin, Grand Duke Kyrill Vladimirovich and found herself at the centre of an early 20th century royal scandal. The novel is written from Ducky’s perspective and includes lesser known members of her grandmother Queen Victoria’s family and the extended Russian Imperial family who rarely appear in historical fiction. The author dramatizes Ducky’s experiences in the First World War and Russian Revolution including her family’s efforts to escape over the border into Finland. An entertaining read.

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