In 2017, I experienced something of a reading renaissance. I read 102 books in 12 months – like, who actually am I? I’ve always been a reader but I surprised myself with my own zeal. But, enough humble-bragging, to see my year in review, head over to my Goodreads account.
Now, on to my January reading wrap-up in order of ascending ratings:
This is a compilation of sex scandals and extramarital affairs of royal historical figures. Reading this felt like falling into a Wikipedia rabbit hole, each chapter making me want to pull my phone out to Google for more details. Like after reading Marguerite Louise d’Orleans sick burn to her husband:
“No hour of the day passes when I do not desire your death and wish that you were hanged…”
“What aggravates me most of all is that we should both go to the devil and then I shall have the torment of seeing you there…”
There’s just enough here to give you the highlights of these women’s more intimate moments but with a caveat: the author, Eleanor Herman, is weirdly unkind to her subject matter. Take this passage, for example, on Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard:
“But silly Catherine was a poor candidate for queen. Like a good-natured dog she thought only of present enjoyment or pain. Thinking of past errors or future repercussion seemed to be beyond her limited intellectual capacity. She enjoyed each moment to the utmost until the master’s voice bellowed out loud and threatening. Then she feared and, like a dog, did not understand the words but only that she would undergo imminent punishment.”
Ok, damn, Herman. Why so salty? “Sex with the Queen” is fun and fast. But, there’s a thread of unnecessary judgement and wild speculation that’s sometimes hard to ignore.
I picked this up after an Audible sale. This is often referred to as the best primer for Taoism. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a philosopher so this was harder to get into than I thought. As an audiobook, I also had a hard time differentiating between the narrator’s version of Eeyore vs. Pooh or other similar characters like Piglet and Rabbit. And, it’s hard for me to really buy into this philosophy at all – that things are as they’re meant to be, in their natural state. If that’s the case, my natural state is spiteful cynicism.
Let’s be real. I think part of the reason we’re fascinated with true crime nonfiction is because we sometimes get to hear directly from the survivors. We get to be witness by proxy. Did they know what would happen? What did they see? How did they feel? Sarah Perry gets into all of this from the start of her memoir and the shock of her mother’s death is real and incredibly sobering. Perry doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable imagery and descriptions (e.g. the “sturgeon” will stay with me for a long, long time).
This is a powerful memoir about the repercussions of unspeakable violence and a daughter piecing together memories of her mother.
Whenever I wrap-up a YA read, I always feel obligated to insert this disclaimer for context: I’m one of those snobby YA readers who set expectations unreasonably high and scoff at the faintest whiff of a trope or cliché. I now realize that can be part of the appeal of YA; books that are interesting yet reliable. After reading Perry’s memoir about the murder of her mother, The Star-Touched Queen was a perfectly timed, much-needed emotional palette cleanser. The world-building is magical and rich, the story well-paced and imaginative, the romance tolerable. As one reviewer pointed out, it doesn’t appear to pass the Bechdel Test but maybe this time around I just didn’t need it to.
Do you stop to look at dumpsters that are on fire? I do. That’s why I gave this 5 stars. Let’s be real clear here: this isn’t a The Heart’s Invisible Furies 5-star kind of rating. Or, a One Hundred Year’s of Solitude 5-star kind of rating. This is pure trash but also completely compelling, jaw-dropping, cringey trash – enough to burn and provide energy for a small subdivision for an entire month. When I couldn’t get a hardcover fast enough, I bought the Kindle version so I could start killing brain cells immediately. In the rush to publish, the Kindle version is riddled with typos and print errors but it’s a reflection of the subject matter which is also – you guessed it – total garbage. Is it even fair to count this as nonfiction? No, probably. Is everything in here 100% believable? Yes, and that’s what makes it so scary.
That’s it from me for January. Let me know if you’ve read any of these titles or plan to in the comments below!