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What Jennie’s Been Reading (Since September 9th)

By Jennie
So, when last I wrote, I was reading four books at the same time; three long dense books and one other, shorter book. I’m still reading the same three long books, but figured it was time for an progress update, as well as some brief mentions of what else I’ve read.

Bleak Houseby Charles Dickens: I’ve moved a little closer to the end of this extremely long book, though I still probably have a quarter to go. At least the threads of the various plotlines are coming together a bit now, which makes the story easier to follow. Still, I probably won’t be dipping into Dickens again anytime soon after I finish this.

London’s Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions of London’s Georgian Age by Dan Cruickshank:  Okay, I complained about this book at length the last time, but shortly after I wrote that, I read the best anecdote ever in it, one that makes all 500+ unscintillating pages worthwhile. It concerns a certain Colonel Charteris , a Georgian-era figure of such infamy that when he died in 1732, a “furious mob tried to tear open his coffin to fill it with dead cats (emphasis mine) and mutilate his corpse.”  I simply loved the mental image conjured by this rather ghoulish story.  For some reason it called to mind one of my favorite minor characters from The Simpsons. Seriously, it made the book for me.

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The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: I’m really digging this book. Sometimes with big, difficult books I almost feel like I have to question myself as to whether I’m really enjoying the book, or just feel like I have to say that I am, sort of like a parent praising their 4th-grader’s art class project. But I really do like The Brothers Karamazov. Yes, it can be a slog at times, and my attention wanes; I rarely read more than 20 pages at a time. But there is an essential humanity to the characters and the story that I find both relatable and fascinating. The Elder Zossima is depicted in such a way that he could easily be an unbelievable character – too good to be true, or kind of the 19th century Russian version of a hippy-dippy new-ager. Dickens couldn’t write such a character without making him a figure of fun, I don’t think (and that’s not a knock on him, because I do like Dickens’ skewering of characters; the comparison just occurred to me because I’m reading the authors at the same time). I got to musing about Dostoyevsky and decided that perhaps one of his chief characteristics as a writer was an almost painful sincerity. This didn’t work as well for me in Crime and Punishment, because the characters, especially Raskolnikov, didn’t resonate with me and I found it hard to understand or sympathize with them. Anyway, I am coming up on being halfway through TBK, meaning I only have about 600 pages to go!

The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville: I will go on record as not getting the fuss about this one. It was okay, but the nuances that other readers saw in the book just didn’t register with me; it ended up reading like a middling English historical. I will give the author another try, though, since so many other readers seem to think she’s something special.

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Saving June by Hannah Harrington: Review to come. This is a YA I saw on NetGalley and requested because I’m trying to read more YAs, and the subject looked interesting. It definitely felt like a YA at times in terms of the sophistication of thought expressed by the narrator, a 16-year-old girl whose older sister has just committed suicide. But the characters were appealing and the road trip they take was involving even when the plot got a little trite.

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A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant: Like seemingly almost everyone else who has read this January release, I was blown away by this book. The setting – 19th century Sussex – is familiar and the plot is nothing terribly special (well, I liked the plot, but I don’t really care about plots, anyway). But the writing and characterization are excellent  – really, one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and a very exciting debut.

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Madam Bovary’s Daughter by Linda Urbach: I just started this historical fiction – literally, I’ve only read 10 pages, but so far, so good. I vacillated a bit on reading it; I do like historical fiction, and the blurb sounded interesting, but I can’t help but remember that my one experience with Madame Bovary (not the book, but a television adaption) was not a pleasant one. Man, Emma Bovary was one heinous, selfish cow. I think I was supposed to get some sort of larger message from the story, something appropriately feminist about the horrors of a stifled life. But mostly I just wanted to smack the bitch. Hopefully, her daughter is more bearable.
Since I’m almost done with the Cruikshank book, I’ll be starting a new non-fiction book shortly. I have a zillion non-fiction books tbr (way more non-fiction than fiction at the moment; my pile always seems to tilt strongly in one direction or the other – I rarely have equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction tbr, for some reason), but I’ve narrowed it down to a few possibilities. Any advice/thoughts would be appreciated!:

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Leningrad by Anna Reid – I’ve been really interested in the Siege of Leningrad since reading The Bronze Horseman.

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Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff – I don’t have a huge interest in the subject, but everyone seemed to think this was a good book, so I picked it up at some point.

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A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo – I’m interested in Greenwich Village in the 60s, if not specifically Bob Dylan. My parents met in New York in that era, and supposedly the author’s sister was my dad’s girlfriend before he met my mom.

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The Greater Journey by David McCullough – I just love David McCullough, and I’m interested in the subject (Americans in Paris in the 19th century).

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Bess of Hardwick by Mary S. Lovell – I love this author, who wrote one of my favorite non-fiction books, a fascinating biography of the Mitford sisters, and I recently read her biography of Jane Digby. I don’t know much about Bess of Hardwick, but if Lovell is writing about her, I’m guessing she’s interesting.

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Until next time,

Jennie

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

17 Comments

  1. DS
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 10:16:36

    Bess of Hardwick is one of my favorite historical characters. I don’t know about the Lovell book but it would take a lot to make Bess’ life boring. She must have had amazing charm or character because her portraits are plain to say the least, which makes her success even even more interesting.

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  2. GrowlyCub
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 10:20:40

    The Bess of Hardwick sounds majorly interesting. Will add it to my GR shelf. Thanks!

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  3. Alley
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:01:26

    I’ll be keeping an eye on your updates re: Cleopatra. I had to give up on it, astonished that anyone could turn the story of such a fascinating woman into such a boring book. I’m wondering, though, if I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I was reading it (I’m one of those people that goes through a romance phase, then a mystery phase, then a nonfiction phase, etc.),

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  4. Susan Reader
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:04:24

    I associate Bess of Hardwick with the saying about the great house she built: “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”–which is almost literally true (there are some nice pictures online). She was the second-wealthiest woman in Britain (after the queen) and it shows–so much money she didn’t care about the window tax that was making ordinary people brick up windows in their houses to save money. She also covered the top of the house with giant lacy stone monograms (ES since she was Countess of Shrewsbury). I think they look a little tacky, but she certainly didn’t lack self-confidence.

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  5. Kim
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:07:56

    I enjoyed David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol, but I’ve never read Dickens’ Bleak House. Have you tried anything by Alexandre Dumas yet?

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  6. Amy Kathryn
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:30:23

    I really enjoyed The Greater Journey. In fact, I had to find a couple of the books and journals referenced in it (most are available as free ebooks). It was my first experience reading him but not my last. I picked up the Bridge recently and am looking at his others.

    Thanks for mentioning Mary Lovell. I will have to check her out.

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  7. DS
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 11:35:53

    Dorothy Sayer named the Oxford college Harriet Vane attended Shrewsbury after the Countess.

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  8. Alexis
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 15:41:03

    Some of these books sound intriguing. I’m going to go and look them up. Thanks! :)

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  9. Jennie
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 15:50:49

    @Kim: I’ve still not read Dumas. My next iPhone read will probably be “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins; a friend says it’s her favorite book ever. I may try Dumas after that – do you have a favorite of his?

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  10. Jennie
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 15:54:05

    @Amy Kathryn: McCullough is responsible for making John Adams my favorite Founding Father. His bio of Adams is great. I also love his narration – he has a great voice (he narrated Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary) and a manner that is oddly soothing.

    If you try Lovell, start with The Sisters – such a fascinating book!

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  11. Jennie
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 16:00:30

    @Alley: Uh-oh. You’re the second person who has said the Cleopatra bio was boring. My enthusiasm is waning.

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  12. Jennie
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 16:45:25

    Thanks, all, for the info on Bess of Hardwick – it makes me eager to start the Lovell book.

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  13. Chelsea B.
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 17:25:59

    Haven’t read any of those (haven’t heard of a few, either, haha) but I couple I want to check out.

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  14. kim
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 17:51:23

    @Jennie I enjoyed his most famous novel, The Three Musketeers. You can’t go wrong with The Count of Monte Cristo either.

    Another good author to try is Henry James.

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  15. Jaclyn
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 18:52:19

    I haven’t read Bleak House, but I did recently read Oliver Twist and loved it. Maybe I’ll try Bleak House this winter. Several of my colleagues at work highly regard Woman in White, it’s been on my TBR for a couple years. My favorite Dumas is The Count of Monte Cristo. And if you want to read a novel with a plot about the hunt for a book that’s tied to Dumas & his being part of a Satanic cult try Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas.

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  16. Jennie
    Oct 10, 2011 @ 23:27:43

    @kim: I’ve read Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw (I liked the latter better than the former, but they were both good), but haven’t tackled any of James’ bigger novels.

    I might go for The Count of Monte Cristo before The Three Musketeers. Dumas wrote The Man in the Iron Mask, too, right?

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  17. Sirius
    Oct 11, 2011 @ 09:54:12

    @Jennie: I second and third suggestions about Dumas – Three musketeers, Twenty years after – loved so much. CountMonte Cristo – same thing. I start scowling every time I watch Count Monte Cristo movies, I have not seen a single adaptation yet that IMO gives this book justice. Actually, wait, no I am lying, funnily japanese anime did an awesome awesome job, ten times better than any movie that I saw.

    And you inspired me to pick up Brothers Karamazov again, maybe fourth time will be the charm for me :). I want it to be, because I love Dostoevskiy so much and this is one novel of his that I could not get through.

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