Books I’ve Read This Week: The Cruise Ship Library

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 34: The Cruise Ship Library: I spent the last couple weeks of August lecturing on a Baltic Sea cruise. While I brought a few books with me, I made good use of the ship’s library and found a number of interesting titles there. Mostly historical fiction but also some royal history and society and culture. Here are this week’s reviews:

#232 of 365 Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Dates Read: August 19-22, 2018

Genre: Business/Society

Acquired: Borrowed from the Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 352 pages

Review: A thoughtful and nuanced examination of gender, work and caregiving and why work-life balance remains elusive. In addition to sharing her own experiences navigating work and family responsibilities, Slaughter provides suggestions concerning how careers and workplaces might be re-envisioned to take into account the full range of the human experience including parenting and caring for aging parents. She also observes how existing solutions such as flexible work policies on paper are inadequate as many do not feel comfortable using them. Slaughter focuses almost exclusively on the United States with a few comparisons with other countries and I would have been interested to read more about the global context for the issues discussed in the book. An interesting read, especially after reading The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partenen.

#233 of 365 Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: August 22-25, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from the Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 544 pages

Review:  While I enjoyed Alison Weir’s novels about King Henry VIII’s wives, I found her dramatization of the tumultuous life of Eleanor of Aquitaine disappointing. As Weir states in her afterword, her focus is on Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II. As a result, she leaves out some of the most interesting periods of Eleanor’s life including her participation in the Second Crusade and her efforts to raise a ransom to free her son King Richard I during the Third Crusade. Both Henry and Eleanor are presented as one dimensional figures governed by their physical passions to the exclusion of almost all other considerations, especially during the first half of the book. Weir repeats every rumour about Eleanor’s personal life to such an extent that the novel reads as though it was written by one of her detractors. The book improves during the scenes with Eleanor’s children and during the Queen’s time in captivity but there are far better novels about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, including the works of Sharon Kay Penman.

#234 of 365 My Husband and I: The Inside Story of 70 Years of the Royal Marriage by Ingrid Seward

Date Read: August 25, 2018

Genre: Biography

Acquired: Borrowed from Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 296 pages

Review: A good overview of major themes in the lives of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh including their interests, parenting and social lives. For readers who have read other books about the royal family, however, there is little new material and a lot of repetition. The speculation concerning Prince Philip’s personal life has already been examined in detail in Gyles Brandreth’s book, Philip and Elizabeth. Prince Charles’s childhood difficulties received extensive attention in biographies of Charles by Jonathan Dimbleby and Sally Bedell Smith. The book also devotes more than one chapter to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, another topic that has been the subject of numerous other books. A well known narrative, published in honour of the Queen’s 70th wedding anniversary.

#235 of 365 Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

Date Read: August 28-30, 2018

Genre: Historical Fiction

Acquired: Borrowed from Cruise Ship Library

Format: Hardcover, 340 pages

Review: A beautifully written novel about the artist Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf and the origins of the Bloomsbury group. The novel is written as Vanessa’s diary and the letters and telegrams of her friends and family. Vanessa acknowledges Virginia’s genius but Virginia’s possessive attitude toward Vanessa causes them both a great deal of unhappiness and heartbreak. I liked how the changing culture of the times are woven into the story including post-impressionism and the prominence of the younger generation of European royalty after the death of Edward VII. Fascinating afterword by the author about the lives and careers of the characters after the end of the novel.

#236 of 365 The Angry Tide (Poldark: Book 7) by Winston Graham

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date Read: August 25-26, 2018

Format: Paperback, 612 pages

Acquired: Purchased from BMV Books, Toronto

Review:  One of my favourite books in the Poldark series. I have not yet watched Season 4 of Poldark on PBS so I did not know how events would unfold in the novel and enjoyed both the surprises and the heavily foreshadowed developments. It was good to see the return of Verity, one of my favourite characters from the early books to counsel Ross and Demelza as their marriage faces difficulties yet again. The relationship between Morwenna and Drake continues to be touching and tragic. In addition to the engaging characters, Graham captures the atmosphere and changing culture of the times. For example, there is a scene on a visit to London where Demelza tries the latest fashions and Ross mistakes the empire waist dresses of the early 1800s for petticoats as they are so different from heavier 18th century fashions. An enjoyable read. I look forward to finishing the series.

#237 of 365 The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Genre: Historical Fiction

Acquired: Borrowed from Cruise Ship Library

Date Read: August 26-27, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 468 pages

Review: As a novel, I prefer The Fortune Hunter to Daisy Goodwin’s other books because it focuses on a single event, Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s visiting Britain, rather than a years long time frame. As historical fiction, however, the novel is best described as inspired by true events but mostly a work of the author’s imagination. Some of the dramatic embellishments are more convincing than others. I enjoyed Charlotte Baird’s fascination with photography and the manner in which the royalty of the time period were coming to terms with photographs shaping their public image. The relationship between Bay Middleton and the Empress of Austria was unrealistic though and does not really match Elisabeth’s character. A fun read with a satisfying ending but some unbelievable scenes.

#238 of 365 Brooklyn by Colm Toibin 

Dates Read: September 3-5, 2018

Acquired: The book swap table on the cruise ship

Format: Paperback, 262 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Review: A peaceful, relaxing read, much like the film based on the novel. Eilis emigrates from small town Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s and gradually builds a new for herself then must decide whether it would be possible to resume her old life after all the changes she has experienced. As in the film, I enjoyed all the small cultural differences between Ireland and the United States including customer service and how to spend a day at the beach. In contrast to the film, the novel ends quite abruptly and I thought that Eilis’s thoughts on her decision should have been expanded. Perhaps a chapter set six months or a year after the end of the novel would give a better sense of closure on the characters.

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