50 books

Apr. 17th, 2006 11:33 pm
ella_menno: (books)
1. I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles
2. The Queen's Fool by Phillipa Gregory
3. Suitors to the Queen: The Men in the Life of Elizabeth I of England by Josephine Ross
4. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
5. The Virgin's Lover by Phillipa Gregory
6. Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
7. Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir
8. The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu by Allison Janse with Charles Gerba, Ph.D.

9. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

The second Tudor-era book written by Starkey that I’ve read. I find his writing style enjoyable – he avoids the pitfalls I’ve run across in other historical books, that of being deadly dull – though his need to end every. Single. Chapter. With the sort-of cliffhanger does get tiring after the first few hundred pages. One thing I particularly enjoyed was how he didn’t short-change the wives who weren’t Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn – yes, these are the two best-known of his wives, but the others also have fascinating stories, and though they get fewer pages, there is just as much attention to detail in their treatments.

10. The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

I found this work of Weir’s to be vastly better than Henry VIII: The King and his Court, which was mentioned in my last 50-books update. Of course, in the interest of fairness, I do have to note that I found the subject matter far more interesting in this book – there was considerably less of the “accounting ledger” type of information that was so prevalent in the earlier work. I think Weir did a nice job of not only presenting the background of each figure, but interpreting how that background affected the adult each royal child became.

11. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

This is almost a cheat, as I’m pretty sure I’ve read it before, but as I remembered so little of the book, I’m going to count it as a “new read.”

Although dry in sections, there’s enough food for thought (pardon the expression) in this book to make a person seriously re-evaluate her eating habits. Not merely an expose on the realities of how fast food is prepared – though that is covered, and the ‘yuck’ factor is pretty darn high – Schlosser also shows how the fast food juggernaut has changed farming, which of course impacts all the food available to the average consumer. On a personal note, I will say that I’ve neither purchased, consumed, nor allowed my kids to consume any fast food since completing this book. I hate to make “always’ or “never “ statements, but I don’t see that changing any time in the near future.

12. The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

Since books like this do get published, I have to assume I’m not the only person out there who finds tales of diseases and disasters to be absolutely fascinating. I can’t feel right about calling this ‘entertaining’ reading, but I can absolutely tell you that it was compelling. Kelly uses the words of those who lived (and, in many cases, died) during the plague epidemic of 1348-9 to startling effect in his narrative – in more than one instance, a thought is interrupted by the 14th century writer and never finished, as he’d died during the writing. Fascinating – I was especially pleased with the map of 14th. Century Europe that was printed inside the cover, as it helped me follow the path of the plague as it ravaged the continent. As an extra, the final chapter deals with “plague deniers,” and convincingly refutes their assertion that the Black Death was not, in fact, plague at all.

13. The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, by Dr. Rachael F. Heller and Dr. Richard F. Heller

This book came as a right old slap in the face, I tell ya. Up until the last year or two, I’d always been the kind of person everyone hates, in that I could eat anything I wanted without gaining weight. (Please don’t slap me.) Well, suffice it to say that that’s changed – but what was even worse, from my POV, was how lousy I felt. It’s no shock to me to be told my eating habits were lousy – though I technically spent a couple years as a vegetarian, the more accurate term would have been “starchitarian.” Bread, cookies, and noodles were the mainstay of my diet, and I didn’t see an issue with that. Sure, I was tired more often than not, and sure, I’d get the munchies at night, and yeah, no carbohydrate was safe during that certain couple of days in my cycle, but so what? Indeed. These Heller folks pointed out that the way I was reacting was very close to an ‘addiction’ – and this is not a term I use lightly, as I’m one of those people who’s not a fan of the popularity of making everything a syndrome and everyone a victim.

However. Just as an experiment, I tried changing my eating habits. (I’ll admit this was a great deal easier since my husband started the South Beach diet at about this time.) Gave up my bread, by and large. Changed to whole-wheat pasta. Cut out the big, starchy, cereal and toast breakfast, and increased the amount of protein I ate.

After less than a week, I noticed the difference. More energy. Less insane desire for naps. More patience. More activity, and willingness. It was amazing – I still have to shake my head in near-disbelief that changing what I eat makes such a difference in how I feel. Which, when I put it in writing, is such a no-brainer I could just slap myself.

Can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve backslid over the last few days – darned bunny, carting his sugar-laden swag into my house! – but I can easily remember how much better I feel when I cut down the carbs, so I’m highly motivated to keep it up.

14. The Wars of the Roses, by Robin Neillands

I picked this up at a used bookstore in the hopes of getting a background framework for the Tudor era, for the turmoil that was the monarchy in those days. This is the type of history book I’m used to, and the type that turned me off to history in general – dry as a bone, taking events that were, I’m sure, intrigue-filled, passionate, and dramatic and turning them into a bland list of names, dates, and deaths. I was grateful for the information it gave me (for one thing, it certainly helped me better understand Henry’s near-maniacal quest for a male heir, though didn’t increase my sympathy), but I’m sure the material could have been better treated in the hands of another author.

Two more to come tomorrow - too tired to finish tonight, and the next two deserve proper (awake and alert!) attention, as I liked them so much.

50 books

Jan. 31st, 2006 10:36 pm
ella_menno: (blue pen)
50 books in 2006

1. I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles
2. The Queen's Fool by Phillipa Gregory
3. Suitors to the Queen: The Men in the Life of Elizabeth I of England by Josephine Ross
4. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
5. The Virgin's Lover by Phillipa Gregory


6. Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

The husband brought this book home because so many people at work were saying what a good read it was. Now, normally, the kinds of books that get recommended to him are..."good cures for insomnia" might be the most tactful way to put it. I expected this book to be more of the same, but was pleasantly surprised to find it quite entertaining. (Honestly, I'm not sure I'd have bothered flipping through it but for the fact the author's given name is "Paco." I had to read Paco's Story for a class on the Vietnam War, and the name is unusual enough that I wondered if there was any connection.)

Anyway. I picked up some information in this book that I'm sure I'll keep in mind next time I'm out shopping. Hey, I'm now aware of the "butt-brush factor"!

7. Henry VIII: The King and His Court by Alison Weir

Yeah, more Tudor stuff. Chose this one in order to gain more insight on the physicality of the locations, clothing, and daily schedules of the time period I've been reading about in (several) other works. Learned some things I wish I could forget - did I really need to know about how the kitchen staff of the Elizabethan era often urinated right next to the cooking area? - but the details will certainly be advantageous when I'm reading more books set in this era. Which, yes, I do plan to do.

8. The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu by Allison Janse with Charles Gerba, Ph.D.

I thought this would be funny, a light read along the lines of The Hypochondriac's Handbook, which is amusing because it takes itself so mock-seriously. Germ Freak, however, was written by an Actual Germ Freak, who really wants to save the rest of us from ever getting sick again. Not terribly amusing, and I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know (Wash your hands after you touch things in public areas! Paper toilet seat covers don't actually protect you from germs! Antibacterial soap isn't going to keep you from getting colds because they're caused by viruses! Eating at a buffet-style restaurant is a bad idea!) Overall, a waste of my time.


End of January and I've only read eight books. (Nine, if you count my Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix re-read, but I figured re-reads shouldn't count for this list.)
ella_menno: (blue pen)
Yeah, I thought I'd try this. Perhaps it'll encourage me to read something new, instead of re-reading the HP series for the bajillionth time.

50 Books in 2006

1. I, Elizabeth, by Rosalind Miles

A book I purchased on a whim. My intent was to buy another of Phillipa Gregory's books - I read The Other Boleyn Girl last year and liked it very much - but I was captivated by the image on this book's cover.

This, I felt, was pretty close to a mesmerizing read. Though it's a difficult style to pull off, I'm quite fond of the use of first person narrative, and it was done well in this book. The author did a lovely job of showing how Elizabeth subsumed her private will for the public good without making it seem like it was easily managed. Elizabeth seems very real, and the story reads like it may well have been an actual biography, rather than a fictionalization. I may go back through this book, now that I have more of the facts about this time in history.

2. The Queen's Fool, by Phillipa Gregory

Ah, Phillipa. I've read three of her books so far, and while I enjoy her style, I need to remember to pace myself a bit more when reading her stuff. Her protagonists are always 16th century women who are surprisingly independent for their time (sounds a bit Mary Sue-ish when I put it that way, doesn't it?), and it does tend to get repetitive when read back-to-back. This book is different from her others in that Hannah, our leading lady, is a commoner who ends up working in the courts of both Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. Hannah was, to me, more likable than the heroines of Gregory's other two books: Mary, who is the Other Boleyn Girl, was a bit too naive and passive for my liking, and Gregory's Elizabeth is too much the cold, manipulative brat to be at all likable.

3. Suitors to the Queen: The Men in the Life of Elizabeth I of England, by Josephine Ross

After two novels that speculated on the virginity of England's "Virgin Queen," I had to get myself some non-fiction to see what these authors were basing that speculation on. Quite a bit, as it turns out; seems that gossip and scandal were not only present, but thriving in the courts of the 1500's. (Why this surprised me, I don't know.) A fact about Elizabeth that's universally agreed upon in everything I've encounterd is that she played the game of courtship like nobody else; she kept some of her suitors on a string for years in order to manipulate foreign and domestic policy and events. I think it's too easy, perhaps, as we sit here in the 21st century to forget how absolutely without precedent it was for a woman to rule, and rule without benefit of a man as King or King-consort. Elizabeth might have had her faults - lots of them, it seems - but she knew how to use what others perceived as her weaknesses to her advantage. She fascinates me, can you tell yet?

4. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne, by David Starkey

Another non-fiction book. This one reads like a novel. In his introduction, the author says that he intended to write out Elizabeth's journey to becoming Queen without the end in mind; in other words, he meant to keep the suspense of the events as they played out for those who lived them. I think he does an admirable job of this. Some chapters were a bit dull (I'm sorry, but I can't get emotionally invested in the Princess Elizabeth's "many dwellings and properties," no matter how they're written about), but overall, it was both entertaining and informative.

5. The Virgin's Lover, by Phillipa Gregory

This is the book I mentioned in #1, the book I intended to buy. I'll admit right off the bat that the title suckered me into this one - yes, I'd read other things by the author and liked them, but dude - "The Virgin's Lover"? Please - that begs to be read!
This is the story of Elizabeth's affair with Sir Robert Dudley, a relationship mentioned in just about every source I found about this Queen, both in print and on line. Just the few facts historians are sure of have the makings of a fascinating story - Elizabeth and Robert were friends and playmates since childhood; for nearly two years, they were rarely out of one another's company; Robert's wife died under mysterious circumstances; Elizabeth and Robert openly spoke of getting married on at least one occasion; the Dudleys had betrayed the Tudors for two generations past; and there's more I'm not remembering right now, but do you see what I'm saying? With historical details like these, who needs fiction? Gregory does, however, take the details that survive and weaves them into a gripping story. There's betrayal, there's lust, there's a secret betrothal, there are assassinations, there are martyrs and heretics and traitors and executions and religious upheaval, and oh! It's such a story, such a tale. I myself don't normally care for historical fiction (not that you'd know that from this entry!), but I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for an engrossing read. It's like the Jackie Collins of the Tudor era!


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