My Year In Reading – 2013

Since my parents are coming up here for the holidays, I’m going to write this post a little ahead of time. If I finish any books between now & then end of the year, I’ll add them to the list.

This year was a weird year for me. I started physical therapy and was completely unprepared for how much worse my brain fog was made by the increased physical activity so I read less than half the amount of books I read last year. I also wasn’t able to keep up with my book reviews for CBR5 or even for Goodreads, so this won’t be a massive link-filled post. I’ve starred the books I recommend. (If a book is the first in the series, then I’ve just starred that, rather than every book in the series – if you read the first, you can decide for yourself if you want to read farther!)

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews
Bite Me, Your Grace by Brooklyn Ann*
How to be Sick by Toni Bernhard*
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce #1) by Alan Bradley* (I recommend this series to anyone who likes cozy detective stories)
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce #2) by Alan Bradley
A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce #3) by Alan Bradley
Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson #7) by Patricia Briggs (I *love* this series)
Storm Front (the Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher*
Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain*
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll (a reread)*
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (a reread)*
Grace by Grace Coddington* (I highly recommend for anyone who loves fashion)
Spoiled by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron*
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (a reread)*
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Feast of Souls (Magister Trilogy #1) by CS Friedman (a reread)*
Wings of Wrath (Magister Trilogy #2) by CS Friedman (a reread)*
Legacy of Kings (Magister Trilogy #3) by CS Friedman (a reread)*
American Gods by Neil Gaiman (a reread)*
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (a reread)*
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (I can’t remember if I’ve read this before)*
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman*
The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone*
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre*
An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer (ugh do not read this book – so boring)
The Stepsister Scheme by Jim Hines
The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin
Furious Love by Kashner & Schoenberger (read for the juicy stories about Burton & Taylor, not the writing style, which is mediocre at best)
LaBrava by Elmore Leonard*
50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Scott Lilienfield*
The Sisters by Mary Lovell (a biography of the Mitford sisters)*
Storm Born (Dark Swan #1) by Richelle Mead (a reread)
Thorn Queen (Dark Swan #2) by Richelle Mead (a reread)
Iron Crowned (Dark Swan #3) by Richelle Mead (a reread)
Shadow Heir (Dark Swan #4) by Richelle Mead
Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville*
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell*
Still Midnight (Alex Morrow #1) by Denise Mina*
The End of Wasp Season (Alex Morrow #2) by Denise Mina
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman (I actually did the audiobook version, narrated by Samuel West & it was FABULOUS.)
Mistborn: the Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson*
The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) by Brandon Sanderson
The Hero of the Ages (Mistborn #3) by Brandon Sanderson
Archangel (Samaria #1) by Sharon Shinn (a reread)*
Jovah’s Angel (Samaria #2) by Sharon Shinn (a reread)
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (a reread)*
Troubled Waters (Elemental Blessings #1) by Sharon Shinn (a reread)*
Building Stories by Chris Ware*
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson*
Fables (#1): Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham*
Fables (#2): Animal Farm by Bill Willingham

Currently Reading:
Middlemarch by George Eliot
How The Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman
The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Royal Heirs (Elemental Blessings #2) by Sharon Shinn

Best Historical Non-Fiction – 16th century edition

My tweep Christopher Leathley and I indulged in a marathon history discussion on Twitter last night, with loads of book recommendations, and that has inspired me to write a blog post on my favorite non-fiction books.

Since 16th century British history is my favorite, I’m starting there.  When assessing these books I take into account the following things: quality of the research, quality of the analysis, readability.  Almost all of the books on this list are so well-regarded they show up frequently in the reference pages of other books on the era, always a good sign.

James V by Jamie Cameron

If you are looking for a well-researched biography on James V, this is the one. There may be others out there that are as good, but I have not yet been exposed to them.

The Life & Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives

It’s surprisingly difficult to find biographies of Anne Boleyn that are both well-researched and offer interesting analysis.  This book is by no means my favorite non-fiction book, or indeed my favorite on Anne Boleyn (because, honestly, I have yet to read a biography of Anne Boleyn that I feel is spectacular), but I found this book to be a useful enough resource that I have a first edition copy in my collection.  I particularly like the fact that Ives is careful to note his attributions, or at the very least the texts on which he is basing his ideas. There are assertions made by the author that I don’t entirely agree with -the available evidence on Anne Boleyn’s early life is quite slim and as a result almost all biographies on her are largely extrapolated. Overall a well-researched biography. I think some of Ives’ conclusions seem over-confidently stated, but for all that this is the best of the most recent crop of Anne Boleyn biographies.

The Boy King: Edward IV and the Protestant Reformation by Diarmaid Macculloch

I’m particularly interested in the Edward IV’s brief reign, and just generally in the Protestant Reformation. When it comes to scholarship on the Protestant Reformation, these days Diarmaid Macculloch is the man (references to his work on these topics literally dominate the field) and this book is a wonderfully well researched.

James IV by Norman MacDougall

Everything I said about the James V book above applies to this one, unsurprisingly as they are published in the same series. I would be quite interested to know if there is another James IV biography that is as well-regarded as this one as I haven’t been up to date on this field for the last five years.

Queen Katherine Parr by Anthony Martienssen

As far as I know, this is the only biography of note on Queen Katherine Parr. I badly want someone to write a brilliant book about her, even more than I want one on Anne Boleyn. I personally think Katherine Parr has been unjustifiably relegated to the rule of Henry’s nursemaid when in fact she played in important role in the politics of the country both before and after his death, was the only one of Henry’s wives to write and publish, and was every bit as impassioned about the Reformation as Anne Boleyn.  I personally think that Parr had far more influence on Elizabeth I than she’s given credit for and I would love to see this topic thoroughly explored.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this biography by Martienssen, he’s working on the slimmest of available evidence, but when evidence is in short supply, good analysis becomes even more important and I feel there’s more room in this field for discussion.  (But I am not up to date on academic writing in this area. I’m sure there are many fascinating doctoral theses on these particular subjects.)

The Rough Wooings: Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1551 by Marcus Merriman

Now we’re cooking with gas! I *adore* this book. The period of Edward IV’s brief, minor reign is an absolutely fascinating one to me, filled with a high-drama combination of religious and political upheaval.  This book focuses entirely on England and Scotland’s tempestuous relationship during this period and it is fantastically well researched and written.

The Anglo-Scots Wars 1513-50 by Gervase Phillips

If you are a fan of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond chronicles and want to know more about the real-life military history that informed those books, then look no farther than this one. It’s a very well-researched book that focuses entirely on the military aspects of Anglo-Scots relations during the mid-16th century (whereas Merriman covers a tighter time period and broadens the scope to include diplomatic relations). If you’re looking for descriptions of the various battles and skirmishes that happened in this period, this is the book for you. Warning: it is absolutely a military history and is very detailed which means it can be… dry.

Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey

I don’t always agree with Starkey’s analysis but I don’t think anyone can fault his scholarship. I like this book because it focuses on the time before Elizabeth became queen, an era of English history I find particularly interesting and which is underrepresented in biographies on Elizabeth I.

Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

I feel slightly resigned by all the Starkey that’s on my list (in fact, almost all of his books are in my collection – insert eye roll here). The truth of the matter is that during a certain era, Starkey’s scholarship was absolutely (if, I think, justifiably) dominant. The quality of his research is excellent and what I particularly like about him is his analysis. I do not always agree with him, but I appreciate how well he makes his arguments. If you have Alison Weir’s book on the same subject, I beg you to give either this or Antonia Fraser’s book a try. I’m going to be classy and refrain from telling you my feelings about Alison Weir’s scholarship and writing. I’m just going to imply them. (And if you’re feeling generous and want to buy me a hardback first edition copy of the Fraser for my birthday, which is on August 18, I would gratefully accept it.)

The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn by Retha Warnicke

Yes. Two books on Anne Boleyn are in my list.  That’s because, as I mentioned with Parr, when the evidence is slim, it’s really important to have different analyses to draw upon. This book is older than the Ives book and has its own flaws of assumptions and overly confident assertions. I wish both authors would have taken more time to debate the merits of the evidence on Boleyn and offered better justifications for their own theories but often that simply does not happen in mass-market style biographies. So far no one (that I know of) has written a truly excellent biography of this most infamous of Henry VIII’s queens. I cannot say that I favor one book over the other, but I will say that if you choose to read either and do not have a thorough grounding in the subject matter or available evidence, take these biographies with a grain of salt. There is simply not enough data to confidently state certain things about Anne Boleyn as fact. Anyone who tells you otherwise is, well, selling you a story.

EXTRA CREDIT: To Be Read Books

Every now and then, when I have a chunk of cash to spend, I invest in my collection. The following books were purchased based on the fact that they are more cited by other academics and mass-market writers than any other books on the subject matter. I have not read them so am unable to provide my own take.

The Chronicle and Political Papers of King Edward VI, edited by W.K. Jordan

Edward VI: The Young King by W.K. Jordan

Edward VI: The Threshold of Power by W.K. Jordan

The Oxford Martyrs by D.M. Loades

The Reign of Mary Tudor by D.M.Loades

My Year in Reading – 2012

2012 was my first year participating in Pajiba‘s Cannonball Read (CBR) project and I had an absolute blast.  I’ve already signed up for 2013’s CBR.  While I often write reviews for books I read on Goodreads, I don’t always do so and I also felt a little more pressure to write more complete reviews for the CBR blog.  As a result, when I moved in March, I got 20 books behind and it put pressure on me for the rest of the year.  I definitely feel the quality of my reviews suffered from my being so far behind (never mind the fact that I missed being the first person to write a 52nd review).  For 2013, my resolution is to stay up to date on my reviews!

At the bottom of this post is a complete list of reviews (alphabetized by author, then title) along with hyperlinks to my reviews.  But I thought it would be fun to summarize the year with my thoughts on the books I’d read.

A note on how I rate books:

  • One Star: a book I hated
  • Two Stars: an OK book
  • Three Stars: a good book
  • Four Stars: a great book
  • Five Stars: a favorite book (that means a book that I’ve read at least twice and still love)

Ten books that rocked my world in 2012 (in order from most to least rockin’):

I can not emphasize enough how much you should not read these books:

Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Message Down Under may be the worst, most pernicious book I’ve read in my life.  If I ever were to burn a book, this one would qualify.  I actually trashed my copy, rather than donate it as I usually do.  I didn’t want to be responsible for more people reading this book.

Mutant Message Down Under by Marlo Morgan (1 stars)

I violently disliked Galen Beckett’s Mrs. Quent trilogy.  And yet I read all three books.  Because I am masochistic like that.

I wasn’t crazy about Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, which I abandoned with book five, but I didn’t hate it. Still, see what I mean about the masochism?

Writers I fell in love with this year:

The World Writers Conference in Edinburgh this year was the gift that keeps on giving because most of the writers I fell in love with (Jackie Kay, China Miéville, Denise Mina, Patrick Ness) were encountered while watching the youtube footage of the conference.

  • Jackie Kay
  • Kelly Link
  • China Miéville
  • Denise Mina
  • Patrick Ness
  • John Scalzi

Writer whose book I didn’t love but who I still love:

Lev Grossman

Three of my reviews were published on Pajiba.com:

This year I learned:

I do not like serial storytelling.  It’s one thing when all the books in a series are available but I absolutely loathe getting to the end of a book and not feeling satisfied by it.  This year I read all of Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares books, but there was a months long gap between the first four books and the fifth while I waited for it to be published.  Despite the fact that it was only a months long gap, not the customary year (or in, ahem, George RR Martin’s case, years), I found that I had forgotten enough of the events of the first four books to feel lost.  I’d also stopped caring about the heroine and her plight.  Similarly, I found the Sirantha Jax series unputdownable but couldn’t get into the final book in the series when it was released months after my reading the first five books.  So I ended up returning it unread.  I think one of the reasons I love Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series (which I reread this year) is that each book tells a complete, satisfying story.  Yes, it’s best to read the books in succession, but they never end with a cliffhanger that makes you feel like the story isn’t done.

*****

Hope you guys like the reviews!  Let me know what you think!

The reviews: