Books I’ve Read This Week: January 29-February 4, 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 5: A Community of Readers Since the beginning of 2018, I haven’t just been reading a book every day. I have also been posting one sentence reviews on Twitter and longer reviews here on the website and on Goodreads. My reading list has elicited strong opinions, mostly positive but occasionally scathing. This week, my review of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country received responses from twitter followers who “loved this book” while my praise for Queen Victoria’s Descendants prompted another twitter follower to observe that the author  “is one of the most prominent experts on modern European royals.” In contrast, my tweet about A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle prompted multiple tweets by one follower critiquing Sherlock Holmes beginning with “You have aggressively poor taste. Dear heavens.” I expect more social media feedback of all kinds will arrive in the coming weeks as my Book a Day project continues! Here are this week’s reviews:

#29 of 365 The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell.

Genre: Memoir/Travel

Dates Listened: January 27-29, 2018

Audiobook: 9 hours and 45 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: I visited Copenhagen in 2013 and 2014 and noticed numerous distinctive aspects of Danish culture including open faced sandwiches in every cafe and groups of toddlers on field trips with their day care groups. I enjoyed reading Russell’s experiences of moving from the UK to Denmark. She has a great sense of humour and captures the culture shock of arriving in small town Denmark in the middle of winter after building a career in London. Each chapter covers a different theme from leisure to food to parenting to Christmas traditions. There is a brief discussion of the Danish monarchy in the final chapter. Queen Margrethe II is one of Europe’s most popular monarchs with 77% approval ratings though few Danes would describe themselves as monarchists beyond their support for their own royal family. The audiobook is well read by Lucy Price-Lewis in an upbeat, English accent. A fun and informative read.

#30 of 365 Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Genre: Popular Science

Dates Listened: January 29-30, 2018

Audiobook: 3 hours and 41 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: A short overview of a series of fascinating topics related to the universe including the Big Bang, telescopes, galaxies and exoplanets. The prose is gloriously descriptive and your can picture the astronomical phenomena being described, especially while listening to the audiobook read by the author. I found the section on exoplanets and how they are studied to be especially interesting. An enlightening read, which reminded me of past visits to the Natural History Museum in New York.

#31 of 365 Queen Elizabeth II (Pocket Giants) by Victoria Arbiter

Genre: Royal Biography

Dates Read: January 30, 2018

Format: Paperback, 128 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Indigo Books

Review: A good overview of Queen Elizabeth II’s life and reign. Arbiter is particularly effective at capturing the social and cultural changes that have occurred over the course of the Queen’s life. For example, she mentions that in 1947, the future Queen Elizabeth II promised to “obey” Prince Philip while Lady Diana Spencer and Catherine Middleton did not do the same at their weddings in 1981 and 2011 respectively. There is also analysis of the changing royal image in the media and the evolution of popular expectations of the monarchy. I would have been interested in reading more about the Queen’s Commonwealth tours and her subtle political influence as Head of the Commonwealth.

#32 of 365 Queen Victoria’s Descendants by Marlene Eilers Koenig

Genre: Royal History

Dates Read: February 1, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 191 Pages

Acquired: Purchased from Amazon.ca

Review: A wonderful resource for learning more about Queen Victoria’s more obscure descendants. Anyone curious to know more about what happened to Kaiser Wilhelm’s children and grandchildren after WWI or how the Scandinavian royal houses and interconnected will find this book valuable. I was interested to learn that a few of Queen Victoria’s descendants settled in Canada including Prince Karl of Leiningen and Lady Iris Mountbatten in Toronto and Princess Frederike of Hanover in Vancouver. The illustrations are beautiful.

I read the 1987 edition so the genealogy does not include Queen Victoria’s descendants born since then (there are two updated versions) and the laws of succession have changed for most European monarchies to allow absolute primogeniture in the decades following the publication of the book. The book is still a valuable resource.

#33 of 365 Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Genre: History/Biography

Dates Read: January 12-February 2, 2018

Acquired: Received as a Gift

Format: Paperback, 832 pages

Review: I greatly enjoyed this absorbing biography of Alexander Hamilton and hope to see the musical. The sections about Hamilton’s difficult childhood in the Caribbean, his prolific writings, his achievements as Treasury Secretary and the fatal duel with Aaron Burr were particularly engrossing. Chernow’s research is impressive and he captures Hamilton’s complicated personality, which combined a towering intellect, ambition and the ability to place himself at the centre of events with a extreme sensitivity to insults and occasional poor judgement, including his affair with Maria Reynolds. Chernow also rescues Hamilton’s devoted wife Eliza from obscurity and reveals her role in her husband’s career as well as her pioneering work with poor and orphaned children and commitment to preserving his legacy.

#34 of 365 A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Genre: Classic Fiction

Date Read: February 3, 2018

Acquired: Found at Home, Origins Unknown

Format: Paperback, 114 pages

Review: I have been watching the BBC Sherlock Holmes TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch in recent years and I read this book to see how the original stories compare to the adaptation. Sherlock’s personality and conviction that he knows everything that is necessary to be known is similar in the book and the series. The novel goes in some surprising directions, however, including a backstory for the mystery that involves Mormons and the westward expansion of the United States. The rapport between Holmes and Watson is more strongly developed in the TV series than in the novel where the characters who are not Holmes receive little development.

 #35 of 365 We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Personal Essay

Format: Audiobook, 64 pages

Purchased from Audible.com

Date Read: February 4, 2018

Review: I have previously read the novel Half a Yellow Sun and listened to the We Should All Be Feminists Tedx Talk by the same author. The audiobook of We Shall All Be Feminists, which is read by the author, expands on the points in her Tedx talk, providing a deeply personal essay about why society should reclaim the word feminist, which the dictionary defines as “A person who believes in the social, political&economic equality of the sexes,” and raise children to follow their interests and abilities rather than traditional gender roles. The Tedx talk is 30 minutes and the audiobook is 45 minutes and I would have happily listened to a much longer book about the author’s experiences, attitudes toward women in society and how “sometimes it is the little things that sting the most.”

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One thought on “Books I’ve Read This Week: January 29-February 4, 2018

  1. Pingback: Books I’ve Read This Week: February 26-March 4, 2018 | Carolyn Harris

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