December 30, 2015

The Cast of 2015

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This is a moment I always enjoy: the moment at the end of the year when I get to look back, sometimes happily, sometimes with a bit of annoyance, at what I've read over the past twelve months.  It's a fun tradition that requires little brain power and no originality, and as Jenny reminded me of it by posting her 2015 book list, I decided to follow her lead in topic and style and roll out the (eclectic) literary cast of 2015.  Hope you don't get bored by the histories.

2015 book list

january

The Moon Spinners [Mary Stewart] - My first read of the year, this one had gorgeous prose on the one hand and a not-so-compelling story-line and romance on the other.  Light, inspiring when it came to description, but ultimately a bit frustrating.

To Change the World [James Davison Hunter] - A compelling, thought-provoking, dense work, one which probably needs to be read more than once to be "gotten."  Hunter's call for "faithful presence" and a Christian challenge to the world via "a bursting out of new creation from within it" is worth reading, considering, and realizing.

february

The First Crusade [T. Asbridge] - Read for a course on the Crusades I took in the spring.  Light and accessible, but heavy on the adjectives and adverbs (history can be interesting without reliance on these grammatical tools! really! it can!) and lacking, in my opinion, a good balance of historical empathy and moral discernment.

They Found Him Dead [G. Heyer] - I don't think I'll be reading any more of Heyer's mysteries - or if I do, it will only be when I really need something light, quick, and mindless.  Characters, prose, and resolution here were all pretty unremarkable; Agatha Christie has more challenging, satisfying mysteries, however cliche that opinion may be.

march

Much Obliged, Jeeves [P.G. Wodehouse] - Needs no commentary.  And honestly, I can never remember what happened in a given Jeeves & Wooster novel; they're all much alike, but make for fun occasional reading.
The Fourth Crusade [D. Queller & T. Madden] - Also for the Crusades course!  This one was at the opposite extreme from The First Crusade: good on analysis, a bit weak on drama.  Seriously, the crusaders breach the walls and all the authors say is that we know these particular people died.  Really? Where's the blood and gore, people?

april

Around the World in Eight Days [J. Verne] - Where is the hot air balloon?  I specifically signed on for a hot air balloon.
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes [A. Maalouf] - For some reason I didn't put this on my Goodreads account; I think I must not have wanted to rate it.  At any rate, while I do think it is excellent to have works that portray the Crusades from the perspective of the Arabs (the Frankish perspective gets most of the limelight), I remember finding this attempt problematic - to say the least.

may

The Great Plague [Moote & Moote] - Doesn't Moote & Moote sound like a law-firm out a Dickens novel?  Anyway, this was the assigned reading in the three-week course I took this past May on "Plague! In the 1660s," and it was excellent.  Cheerful?  No.  Surprisingly compelling and even inspiring?  Yes.

june

Jamaica Inn [D. du Maurier] - du Maurier, why did you let me down?  Your prose was beautiful as always, your depiction of Cornwall haunting and bleak - and then I got to the end and wanted to bean the characters with my life science book.  Go. To. Your. Rooms.

The Perfect Prince [A. Wroe] - I don't even know what to do with this one.  It began so intriguingly, with such attention to detail - even the detail of a signature or an illustration; aaaaand then there I was in a bog of information and names and I was alternately confused, bored, and guilty (maybe I should care how much the pews in the church cost? But I don't?).  I don't think I'm building a summer home here.
july

Sir Nigel [A. Conan Doyle] - This book seemed to alternate between romanticism and realism, and I liked the realism better.  Conan Doyle has some compelling descriptions and interesting side characters, but Sir Nigel himself was too ideal for me.
august

American Lion [J. Meacham] - Totally arbitrary read - I don't do much American history - that unfortunately didn't turn out to be a gem.  In fact I complained about the style and the use of sources all the way through.  I think my family wanted me to stop reading.

Faith and Treason [A. Fraser] - Among the top two or three books I read this year (which isn't saying much, because this year saw a lot of 2 star books).  I was going to say it blew me away, but that's kind of a bad pun for a book dealing with the 1605 Gunpowder Plot...  Drama, empathy, argument, a grasp of the sources: it has it all.  Except it was so good that when the conspirators were caught, I was disappointed.  That might not be a good thing.

september

She-Wolves [H. Castor] - Mini-bios of some of England's ruling ladies since the Empress Maud (who, by the way, is the coolest.  Just pointing that out).  Some were more interesting than others, but the prose is burdened (again) with melodrama.

october

The Ghost Map [S. Johnson] - Congratulations!  You win Worst Book of the Year!  The arrogance of it took my breath away, while the commitment to urbanization and the almost callous treatment of individuals left me angry.  
The Prince [Machiavelli] - Read for a course on political thought, this classic work was alternately funny and perplexing.  On the one hand, it seems refreshing after you've been reading Plato, because Machiavelli deals with things as they are in real life; on the other hand, he doesn't concern himself at all with larger moral truths or with how things should be.  Also, I love how he keeps saying Cesare Borgia was the very model of a modern major general...and yet Borgia got sick and failed at everything.  Score one for "Fortune."

For All the Tea in China [S. Rose] - Pretty sure this is the only book my list shares with Jenny's.  A slim read and good for any tea-drinker, if rather in need of some polishing and FOOTNOTES.  Or at least endnotes.  Please.  Please?  No?  Okay, fine.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [R. L. Stevenson] - I'd been wanting to read this for a while, but despite its atmosphere, I just didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  "I consider morals to be an admirable trait of character in a book, but they can be overdone."

november

The Great Influenza [J. Barry] -  Like The Ghost Map, this was read for a course on the history of Western medicine I took this past semester.  Better than The Ghost Map in that it has a far better handle on the sources and a much more nuanced reading of them, it nonetheless could have done with some slimming down.  

december

Great Expectations [C. Dickens] - Finished this one before Christmas.  It wasn't actually my favorite Dickens of the ones I've read thus far; the ending was...too happy.  I would have liked some more bitter in that "bittersweet."  Oops.

In Defense of History [R. Evans] - My advisor got me this for my birthday back in January, while I was taking a course on historiography, and I just finished it yesterday (no, I haven't been reading it all year).  It's both solid on its philosophy of history and funny in its treatment of other historians or historical controversies.  A gem with which to finish out the year.

what did you read this year?  was it a good year by the numbers, or did you find some new favorites?  neither? both?

6 comments:

  1. Points for the Gilbert and Sullivan reference. :)

    I had the same reaction to the ending of du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel. I keep looking for another book of hers that will satisfy me as much as Rebecca, but it hasn't happened yet...

    Have you read Doyle's The White Company? An elderly Sir Nigel is a rather humorous supporting character in that. I haven't read the prequel.

    Confession: The Moonspinners is my second-favorite Mary Stewart book. If it had a weak point it was that the romance is conjured up pretty quickly (a common weak point in most of her books, except where the lead characters know each other already), but I did love it overall.

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    1. I've also read du Maurier's "The Glass-Blowers," which was fascinating -- I liked the fact that it was a kind of fictionalized history of her own ancestors, but that she didn't pretty them up -- but also rather gloomy and unsatisfying. The characters weren't likable; I don't think they were meant to be. But her prose is just so. darn. beautiful. She's one of those few writers who could write nearly anything and have it be engrossing. I also have really enjoyed Mary Stewart's prose in the couple of books I've read. Again, I wasn't in love with the characters in The Moon-Spinners, but I completely see why you liked the book so much (I'm pretty sure I got it after reading your review/recommendation): it's tense, the descriptions "entrancing" (as you aptly put it), and the plot engaging. And I do think I preferred the hero to the hero of Nine Coaches Waiting.

      I haven't read The White Company yet! The edition I have is a combined Sir Nigel and The White Company and I considered reading the latter first, it being his more popular (and the first written, I think?), but decided to read them in chronological order. But I do have it available to read!

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    2. Oh, I forgot all about The Glassblowers! Probably because it's rather different from her usual thriller/suspense type novels. I did enjoy that one. And I completely agree with you about hers and Mary Stewart's gorgeous prose—that's a good part of the reason why I enjoy their books. That, and the fact that they're both terribly good at really getting inside their narrator's heart and mind (even when, with du Maurier, the narrator can be an exasperating person).

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  2. It's been another light year of reading for me (here's hoping next year I can find the time and mental stability to actually get books read), but there were a couple of note.

    This summer I re-read Roverandom [Tolkien], which is always a comfort read for me. A homemade mashed potatoes and gravy sort of fare, and the fiction book I always turn to when my soul needs healing.

    As an early birthday/Christmas present I got a boxed set of the Hunger Games trilogy, and I was very excited to read those if for no other reason then to assess the hype for myself (having not seen any of the movies either). So far (I've read the first book and barely started the second) there has been quite a bit of grating info dumping--particularly at the beginning as the MC talks to herself in her head incessantly about anything and everything because the author had no other means of communicating set-up information--but overall I've enjoyed the journey. Plus I give high marks for Collins's worldbuilding.

    Other than those, there was the obligatory scattering of textbooks. I didn't keep track of textbooks as a whole or individual excerpts therein (I need to make a habit of tracking books-read some New Year's Eve henceforth), but off the top of my head two excerpts of particular note were from...

    "'A Statement on Genital Mutilation' from the Association of African Women for Research and Development". Fascinating document on how Western ethnocentrism and sensationalistic crusading hindered the anti-mutilation efforts in Africa, with readily practical implications for today.

    The memoirs of Rudolf Hoss, Kommandant in Auschwitz. Even if his perspective was intentionally misleading to partially justify individual German soldiers' actions during the war, the germ of truth remains /fascinating/ and highly impactful.

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    1. I hear you. I have been feeling guilty off and on this year over the number of light reads or rereads (not shown on this list) that I've turned to in lieu of new/more substantial books. Mostly James Herriot, but the Wodehouse counts too. Sometimes, though, it's better to leave yourself refreshing reads -- especially after you've been plugging away for classes at things like the memoirs of Rudolf Hess. XD

      I haven't read Roverandom! Jenny has several years ago, but I have not, even though I hear it's good. The fiction book I always turn to... I think mine would have to be The Gammage Cup, even if Howl's Moving Castle runs a pretty close second. If you haven't read The Gammage Cup, you (and everybody else) should. A children's book, maybe, but great for all ages.

      I typically don't count books I've only read portions of for various classes, just because, even though I expended lots of mental energy on them, it doesn't seem fair to say I read them unless I started at the beginning and read all the way to the end. This year such snippet-reads included Plato's "Republic" (most of that) and Augustine's "City of God" (hardly any). I do add the books I read completely, though, because otherwise I'd feel worse about my annual book list. Adding the school books reminds me that, oh yeah, I was actually doing something with my time. XD

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    2. Quite so. XD

      You should sometime. It's a delightful children's Faerie Tale (my favorite Faerie Tale period, I think) that Tolkien wrote for a son bereft over the loss of his toy dog. Ooh, I'm going to have to find and read that one.

      Right. I usually feel the same, but this year was such a wasteland of reads I was particularly desperate. xD

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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