November 2020 Reading Wrap-up

I’m beginning to think I might stress-read. Despite being completely overwhelmed with school, I still managed to read 19 books this month. I mean…wow. That’s not a massive amount for me in the summer, but in the school year when I’m working 8 hours a day on school? That seems like a lot.

Anyway, I’m going to contribute the book count mostly to the two book challenges I did this month. I read a bunch for my Goodreads Historical fiction reads (mostly bad) and for my Beauty and the Beast retelling challenge.

Because next week is finals week and I’m overwhelmed with so many final papers, let’s not mince words and get to the books.

1 Star

The Book of Longings
  • The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd (published April 2020)
    • So I understand this book is controversial (it literally tells the fictionalized story of the wife of Jesus), but I found it also lacked any sort of historical realism or religious theology. It felt most of the time like the author read a Wikipedia article about an aspect of Jewish or Christian teaching and was like, “Yep, I’ll put that into my book without actually understanding any of the philosophy behind any of this.” I kept trying to suspend my disbelief because, after all, this book is fiction. But the whole point of historical fiction is that it’s grounded in real history, and this book is more like a fantasy book of how the author wants Christian philosophy to be like, not what it was. It didn’t help that none of the characters felt like real people and instead stereotypes of the points the author was trying to make.

2 Stars

  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (published March 2020)
    • There are some things to like about this book (like some of the historical details), but for the most part it was one of the more boring books I have ever read. It takes flowery language to a new level, bogging down the narrative so that it felt like only 25% of the book was story and the rest was just description. The narrative also feels distant from the characters, and I could never care when any of them were hurt because I felt like I didn’t know them at all. Agnes (Anne) is the only character I felt was at least partially developed and even she was unrelatable. It’s a pity, because I love Shakespeare and pretty much anything having to do with his era. It didn’t help that the writing felt modern, and not historical, though I understand O’Farrell couldn’t exactly write in Elizabethan English.
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (published March 2020)
    • I feel bad disliking this book, both because I loved the setting of Native American tribes in the 1950s and because it is inspired by the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, an Indian who fought for reservations’ rights. However, there are so many characters and subplots that after a while I stopped caring about more everything. I really liked Thomas’s character, and Patrice was interesting as well. I liked the idea of how some Indians wanted to assimilate outside of reservations while others refused to leave. But the plot moved like an inch-worm, and a lot of the sub-plots were tied together by pretty loose threads. The end was also pretty unsatisfying, as it felt like nothing had been achieved or concluded of the main plot.
  • The Henna Artist (The Henna Artist #1) by Alka Joshi (published March 2020)
    • I really loved the beginning of this book. 1950s India lends itself to a complex social system and culture, between the conflict between British and Indian, and tradition and progressive ideas. I adored learning about the culture, and despite the book having so many characters, I still found it understandable because we were grounded in Lakshmi’s perspective. However, as the story continued, I found all the characters, especially Lakshmi, continued to make stupid decision after stupid decision. It slowly wore me down to thinking the book was average, and then finally hating it by the end. I feel really bad about this because it had such an amazing start, but by the end I disliked it.
  • Bookish and the Beast (Once Upon a Con #3) by Ashley Poston (published Aug. 2020)
    • I liked the premise of this book, and Sansa was the most adorable dog character! I also enjoy when fairytales like Beauty and the Beast are told in the modern day in less than a literal sense (with Beast being a horrible person on the inside, but handsome on the outside, which is an intriguing twist). However, this book really fell flat for me. Rosie had serious #notlikeothergirls vibes, even if all these guys were vying for her attention and she was described as pretty ordinary. Vance was kind of an asshole (forgive my language), and such a contradiction as a character. One moment he would be friendly and kind and the next arrogant and selfish. I understand that Poston was trying to portray a character who hides his good self behind a façade of coldness, but he kind of just came across as a jerk to everyone. I did enjoy the random literary references, however, like to Howls’ Moving Castle and Pride and Prejudice, but I just didn’t really enjoy the romance.
  • Beauty and the Beast (Once Upon a Spell #1) by Vivienne Savage (published Oct. 2016)
    • I loved the idea of the beast being a dragon shapeshifter, and some of the interactions between Anastasia and Alistair were quite cute. However, I found this book pretty disappointing. Edward’s character was entirely pointless, and Anastasia’s father’s character made no sense. The whole plot about Ana’s magic was completely ignored for 80% of the book into it was actually important to the plot. Like she went from doing small spells to suddenly being powerful with us seeing no growth in her. The whole romantic dreams where she saw Alistair as human were just kind of disturbing, considering they were dreams. I just felt like the book failed on most of it’s points.

3 Stars

  • The Mirror & the Light (Thomas Cromwell #3) by Hilary Mantel (published March 2020)
    • This is the first book of the series I’ve read (I probably should have read the first two books first, but too late now), so it’s unfair for me to rate/review it completely unbiased, but here we go. This is an exceptionally written book, filled with political intrigue and surprisingly detailed historical context. It humanizes characters I’ve learned about in history class, and I especially adored examining Thomas Cromwell as a character, as well as historical figures like Henry VIII and his daughter Mary. Though all the different characters named Thomas seriously confused me. However, it isn’t my type of book. I prefer books which focus on a few characters in detail instead of a lot of characters in general. I also am not a fan of books entirely about political intrigue. Saying that, just because this is not my type of book does not mean it’s not an excellent historical fiction which definitely deserves to be on Goodreads’ Awards this year.
  • Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon (published April 2020)
    • I won’t say this book does anything new which other westerns have not done better before, but I did enjoy it. It contrasts a sweet love story between a white woman and a half Indian caught between two worlds, and the harsh reality of traveling out west doing the 19th century. Naomi’s character began feeling too modern, which is my pet peeve in historical fiction, but by the end of the story I found she fit more into her era. John Lowry, the main love interest, was by far my favorite character: stoic but also incredibly insecure and good. A lot of characters die of disease and other types of death, so don’t go into this expecting all happiness and romance. But it’s a nice story and one I enjoyed reading.
  • Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America by David K. Richter (published 2001)
    • This is a nonfiction book which examines the perspective of Indians in the formation of early America, instead of looking at it from the perspective of Europeans coming to America. I did enjoy the deep historical analysis into the primary sources which documented Native American voices, as well as Richter’s complex analysis of early American history. However, Richter also takes a lot of liberties with history, using primary documents from European perspectives and writing “imaginings” from Indian perspectives. He also doesn’t always stay on topic, trying to fit a lot into each chapter, though some are easier to follow than others. If you are interested in early Native American history, I recommend it, but otherwise it’s a bit dull.
  • 5-Ingredient Recipes: 21 Easy Dinner Ideas with 5 Ingredients or Less by Prime Publishing (published 2014)
    • I won’t say any of these are particularly new recipes, but it is a nice, short collection of meals for people who don’t want to bother with tons of ingredients and like to keep things simple. The dishes are all mostly acidic, and a lot of the casseroles would need like a side salad. The last few recipes are all desserts, and I don’t commonly eat sweets with my dinner, so the last part of the book I wouldn’t even use. But still a nice, short, recipe book.
  • The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross (published May 2018)
    • I really loved the attention to detail about the original fairytale. So many Beauty and the Beast retellings seem to go off the Disney version, as opposed to the darker original one. And this one I felt truly captured the feel of the original and the loneliness within the Beast’s heart. It is told from the Beast’s perspective, and the writing is quite flowery (a bit too much for my taste, but some might enjoy it). Where this book fell short was in it’s slow pacing and Isabeau’s (a.k.a. Beauty) character. There were so many unnecessary scenes, especially having to do with Isabeau’s sisters. Isabeau herself is sweet and kind, but very perfect. She is more of a caricature, not as much a person. Which is a pity, because I thought the Beast’s character was better developed than I’ve seen in most B&B retellings.
  • Beauty and the Clockwork Beast (Steampunk Proper Romance #1) by Nancy Campbell Allen (published Aug. 2016)
    • I adore steampunk books, so my favorite part of this book was the technology of a Victorian steam world. I was also very intrigued by the mystery aspect, and really happy with the conclusion with the reveal of the bad guy. Saying that, I just did not feel the romance. Miles was way too angsty for me, without really having a clear motivation for being a jerk. Lucy was contradictory half the time, from mild woman who lets herself be pulled around by a man to confident woman in charge of her life. And I never felt their relationship built. There was the initial attraction and then they were in love. I just didn’t buy it. But this book was a fun read just for the mystery and world and I will be definitely looking into reading the sequels!
  • Beauty and the Baron (Forever After Retellings #1) by Joanna Barker (published Jan. 2019)
    • One of the main failings of this book to me was it’s short length. I felt like the romance didn’t have time to grow naturally, and so Rose and Henry were kind of just forced together. Henry was never really a beast, and instead a fair judge of character. The more darker, mysterious parts didn’t really have time to build suspense either. All my critiques come down to that the book tried to do too much for its length. Saying that, it’s a sweet story. I liked both Rose and Henry on their own, and a lot of the elements introduced (Rose’s father losing his money and the bookstore he owned, for example) were interesting. Just the ending felt very rushed.
  • Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay (published July 2013)
    • This is definitely the darkest Beauty and the Beast retelling I have ever read. I loved the dark world and many of the themes. However, I found the romance a little dull, and the ending felt really rushed. A lot was not explained in the end, and it didn’t help that most of the ending twists were revealed in the beginning prologue. I enjoyed a darker look at the classic fairytale, but I saw a lot of ways it could have been improved.

4 Stars

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State by Hanan Eshel (published July 2008)
    • This is kind of a historical contextual background to the Dead Sea Scrolls. I am not biblical scholar or expert, but I appreciated how even though Eshel makes specific arguments about the figure in the Dead Sea Scrolls, he also gives countering opinions of other scholars. It is quite a contextual book, however, and if you have no knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it might be difficult to read it. I read it for a class I took on the scrolls themselves, and without reading more, this book is sometimes hard to understand. But if you want to learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, Eshel’s detailed research and understanding of history is for you.
  • On the Eve by Ivan Turgenev (published 1860)
    • I really enjoyed this book. It demonstrates a lush backdrop of early 19th century Russia, especially the conflicts between Russians and Bulgarians. The ending is not unexpected, but also rather sad.

5 Stars

  • Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality by Mother Angelica, edited by Raymond Arroyo (published 2007)
    • I admire Mother Angelica so much, and I grew up as a young child seeing her on TV. These little life lessons are practical, harsh, and humorous. It is encouraging to read about a woman who never gave up hope, who suffered from weaknesses and turned to face them instead of running away. She gave so much to living the life God asked of her and it was through immense hardships. She is an inspiration to me, witty, funny, and abrasive, but also honest and kind. I really enjoyed this collection of her words.
  • Of Beast and Beauty (Daughter of Eville #1) by Chanda Hahn (published June 2019)
    • I cannot describe just how much I loved this book! It felt so nostalgic to me, with similar vibes to some of my favorite authors like Sherwood Smith and Clare B. Dunkle. It has this perfect balance between a magical adventure and a heartwarming romance. It’s not all that similar to the original tale of Beauty and the Beast, but it does feature the theme that all people are beautiful in the eyes of those who love them, even if sometimes we struggle to love ourselves and see ourselves as monsters. Rosalie is such a relatable protagonist. Xander, the main love interest, is kind of unlikable in the beginning, but by the end I became to understand his motivations better and realize he was a flawed but good character. I felt like all of Rose’s sisters were forgettable characters, but then I realized they are featured in their own adventures and thus understood why their presence in the story was necessary. I truly adored this book and highly recommend it!
  • Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn (published Jan. 2014)
    • I really adored this book. It’s short, but it takes a deep dive in the Biblical and historical origins of Christmas. I especially appreciated the references to historians like Josephus and the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as I’m taking a class about the Dead Sea sect in college this semester. Really well written. Both easily understandable but also filled with knowledge.

That was a long post…sorry about that.

Have you read any of these books? Do any of them look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

9 thoughts on “November 2020 Reading Wrap-up

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