Books/Reading

Book Reviews

I’ve finished up several reads all at once, and since two of them were quick reads I don’t want to devote a lot of review time to, you get the digest version of those plus one nonfiction book that is worthy of a bit more notice.

Synopsis from Goodreads: This seminal period of British history is a far-off world in which poverty, violence and superstition went hand-in-hand with opulence, religious virtue and a thriving cultural landscape, at once familiar and alien to the modern reader. John Matusiak sets out to shed new light on the lives and times of the Tudors by exploring the objects they left behind. Among them, a silver-gilt board badge discarded at Bosworth Field when Henry VII won the English crown; a signet ring that may have belonged to Shakespeare; the infamous Halifax gibbet, on which some 100 people were executed; scientific advancements such as the prosthetic arm and the first flushing toilet; and curiosities including a ladies’ sun mask, ‘Prince Arthur’s hutch’ and the Danny jewel, which was believed to be made from the horn of a unicorn. The whole vivid panorama of Tudor life is laid bare in this thought-provoking and frequently myth-shattering narrative, which is firmly founded upon contemporary accounts and the most up-to-date results of modern scholarship.

This fun nonfiction book highlights 100 objects from the Tudor period that represent tiny snippets of history throughout the period. The book is loosely broken up into larger categories like Science, Religion, and Manufacturing. To be honest, it’s pretty amazing most of the items still exist and probably a quarter of them have been found in the last 35 or so years by metal detectors or artifact hunters, including the one that opens the book, a gilded metal pin showing a boar that was found at the location of what is now felt to be Bosworth Field and probably belonged to an upper member of Richard III’s retinue.

As you might imagine, with 100 objects, the book only devotes a couple of pages to the object’s description and the back story to place it within the history of Tudor times. Each item is shown in a photograph, however, so it’s fun to be able to see the actual item the chapter is focusing on. None of the objects and their provenance are greatly expanded upon, and it does assume you would know at least the basics of Tudor history and the kings and queens who reigned in order to place an item within the appropriate timeframe over the course of about 150 years. My favorite items (this will not be a surprise) are the more “social history focused” pieces including one woolen mitten knit of “soft white wool” and trimmed at the cuff with a row of broken garter stitches in a darker (possibly dark purple at one time?) wool, and the knitting frame developed to knit fine silk stockings during the reign of Elizabeth I.

I really enjoyed this one and it inspired me to look for a few more books on the Tudor period that focus on this type of social-based history told through the lives of (mostly) everyday objects. This was book 2 for Nonfiction November, and book 23/24 for my Fall Into Reading Challenge.

Two other books I’ll make note of here, although not review extensively are:

What I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey, which is a compilation of essays she wrote as editor of O magazine that are her musings on things that she has figured out over the course of her life. I think I would have enjoyed this one if I had read it more like a daily devotional and not all at once, since the essays kind of run together if you read this as an entire book. I admire Oprah and her drive, her kindness, and her amazing career, but I’m not particularly “fan-ish”. I think some of the pearls of wisdom she includes are very true and good words to live by, but it’s also kind of hard to read her ideas about “staying humble” and “taking time for yourself” when she’s commenting that she’s writing this from the beachfront of her Maui property. Those are hard suggestions to follow if you’re a struggling single mom, or a dad working 3 jobs to support his family. This was a lukewarm read for me.

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron, which is book 11 in the Jane and the…. series, and the next one in line (and on my shelf already) after book 10, which I reviewed a week or so ago. This one sets Jane at her brother, Edward’s, estate which is near one of the pilgrimage routes to Canterbury. Some kudos for this mystery series apply – I enjoy the historical research and the plot line, and of course Jane Austen as the sleuth and heroine of the books. Definitely would recommend this one and the entire series if you like historical mysteries.

The above two books were numbers 21 and 22 in the Fall Into Reading Challenge.

2 thoughts on “Book Reviews

  1. About the Oprah book: I think there are a lot of books with essays that work better when read in chunks instead of all at once. I can see where it wouldn’t be as enjoyable reading that all together.

    The Jane Austen mysteries sound amusing!

    1. Yes – agreed! Probably not the best book I could have chosen for the “Person of color” prompt, but I absolutely couldn’t get into the one I had picked, and then started another one based on a review (which I’m enjoying but the author is Latino and not a person of color), so I wanted to grab something without a lot of fuss or muss. 🙂

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