Books I’ve Read This Week: January 1-January 7, 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 1 –¬†Book Selection:¬†My Book a Day 2018 project is off to a strong start as I found plenty of time to read this week while at home recovering from the flu. My biggest challenge was choosing among my books. In recent months, my to-read shelf has expanded greatly. I have been sent review copies of recent royal history books, received copies of books by other authors at literary events and purchased signed books at book launches. I participated in a bookstore marketing workshop last year and received a substantial gift card. I love browsing second hand bookstores and rarely leave one without purchasing a few titles. Last summer, I bought a monthly Audible subscription and often purchase additional audiobook titles in the Daily Deals. After examining my book stack, I decided to read two royal history books, three other works of non-fiction, and two novels (including a classic) this week. Here are my reviews:

#1 of 365: The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine

Genre: History 

Format: Hardcover, 1104 pages

Acquired: Purchased at Indigo, Yonge&Eglinton, Toronto

Dates Read: December 26, 2017-January 1, 2018

Review:¬† The House of Government begins “This is a Work of History. Any resemblance to fictional characters, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental” and what follows is a thousand page Russian history book that reads like a classic Russian novel complete with interconnected families, political intrigue and sudden rises and falls and fortunes. Slezkine examines Moscow’s “House of Government,” the residence that housed some of the most prominent figures in the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s and their families. The book provides a fascinating looks at the social and literary history of Russia between the Revolutions of 1917 and the Second World War and is particularly compelling when it compares public and private life in the Soviet Union.

#2 of 365 The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

Genre: Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 227 pages

Acquired: Purchased at an Alexander McCall Smith book signing at the Toronto Reference Library

Date Read: January 2, 2018

Review:¬† I’ve read the entire No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and enjoy Detective Precious Ramotswe’s quiet wisdom and insights. For longtime readers of the series, The House of Unexpected Sisters is an especially enjoyable read because the central mystery concerns the detective’s own family and childhood.¬†(Another mystery, concerning a wrongful dismissal from an office furniture supply warehouse provides some comic relief as Mma Makutsi, Rra Polopetsi and Charlie all bring their own approaches to the case.) If this is the final book in the series, it provides an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

#3 of 365 Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Genre: Classic Novel

Format: Audiobook read by Prunella Scales, 6 hours, 45 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from 

Dates Listened: January 2-3, 2018

Review:¬†A gentle and witty social satire of small town English life during the 1830s and 1840s. There are many depressing 19th century novels but Cranford has a happy, heartwarming ending for all the characters and is enjoyable from beginning to end. The audiobook is well read by Prunella Scales, who does an excellent job of bringing out the personalities of the characters and the humour in the social situations. For readers interested in royal history, the novel contains hint of the cultural impact of King William IV and Queen Adelaide as the town general store sells bonnets based on the claim that the same designs were worn by the Queen (and admired by the King), and the women of Cranford embroider “loyalty woolworks” consisting of portraits of Queen Adelaide.

#4 of 365 The Crown: The Official Companion: Volume 1 by Robert Lacey

Genre: Royal History

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Acquired: Review Copy

Date Read: January 4, 2018

Review: Excellent companion volume to Season 1 of The Crown on Netflix. Beautifully illustrated with images from the TV series and historical images of the royal family, demonstrating how the series recreated particular scenes and costumes. Each chapter examines an episode from Season 1, separating fact from fiction and providing mini biographies of major and minor characters. Royal titles and styles, royal residences and frequently misunderstood terms such as “regnal name” and “morganatic marriage” are also explained. Recommended to all viewers of The Crown on Netflix who are interested in learning more of the history behind the drama.

#5 of 365 Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Genre: History

Format: Audiobook read by Ruth Redman, 14 hours and 16 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Listened: January 3-January 5, 2018

Review: Lucy Worsley’s biography of Jane Austen is told through the study of the houses that Austen lived and visited and the portrayals of domestic life in her novels. Austen and her mother and sister experienced frequent moves and financial troubles over the course of their lives and the instability of Austen’s domestic settings informed the concerns of the heroines of her novels. Worsley’s enthusiasm for Austen’s writing and the historic houses of the time is clear throughout the text and she reads the introduction and epilogue of the audiobook. A fascinating listen, filled with details about Austen’s domestic life and the challenges faced by Georgian women.

#6 of 365: Frontier City: Toronto on the Verge of Greatness by Shawn Micallef

Genre: Non-Fiction

Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages

Acquired:  Purchased at Indigo, Yonge&Eglinton, Toronto

Read: January 5-6, 2018

Review:¬†In Frontier City, Micallef examines of Toronto’s recent municipal politics, public transit, construction and the system of ravine parks that connects the city. In each chapter, he visits a Toronto neighbourhood with a candidate for city council, examining the common concerns that knit Toronto together as a city. The book is filled with thoughtful insights about how Toronto’s past continues to shape perceptions of the city and the potential for an exciting future.

#7 of 365. George and Marina: Duke and Duchess of Kent by Christopher Warwick.

Genre: Royal History

Format: Audiobook read by Gildart Jackson, 7 hours and 35 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from

Dates Listened: January 6-7, 2018

Review:¬†In George and Marina, royal biographer Christopher Warwick provides a good overview of the lives of Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle and aunt, the Duke and Duchess of Kent. (As “Aunt Marina,” the Duchess makes a brief appearance in the final episode of Season 2 of the Crown on Netflix). The book provides an especially interesting summary of Marina’s extensive connections to the royal families of Europe including the Romanovs. Both her grandmothers made narrow escapes from the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Marina’s influence on women’s fashion and George’s enthusiasm for interior decorating are also discussed in the book. I would have been interested to read more about the Duke and Duchess of Kent’s Commonwealth tours including the Duke’s time in Canada during the Second World War and Marina’s extensive travels during the 1950s.

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