Hello, everyone! I know I’m late with this post, but I need to continue this tradition of a monthly book wrap-up, so that I least have some continuity in my life! Just kidding! Or am I? You be the judge.
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
Quick synopsis: Best known for his short work The Story of Your Life, which inspired the movie Arrival, Ted Chiang continues his tradition of creating mind-bending science fiction stories that question our society’s growing dependence on technology and highlight how that technology has shaped our relationships with ourselves and others.
My thoughts: I’m not usually a fan of short stories, as I like to bury myself in long sagas while the world burns around me, but I really enjoyed this collection. Science fiction can sometimes be an alienating genre for the uninitiated (like myself), but Chiang presents difficult, high-brow concepts in a way that any reader can understand. My favorite stories in this collection were the ones that focused on how technology is shaping interpersonal relationships, such as the standout novella The Lifecyle of Software Objects, which dealt with the idea of humans creating AI beings as pets, and the consequences of that creation. Chiang’s greatest strength is his ability to demonstrate the emotional stakes of our reliance on technology. Although he is not the greatest at writing dialogue or three-dimensional characters, his stories never lack a beating heart at the center, and will leave you contemplating them for ages after you turn the last page.
To read or not to read? Definitely read it. And maybe cry a little afterwards.
Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir
Quick Synopsis: She may be one of the most infamous women of all time, but her story is often overshadowed by the man who murdered her, King Henry VIII. Alison Weir rectifies this situation by giving Boleyn her due and telling the story from her perspective, from her childhood spent abroad at the French court, to the decade long on-and-off relationship with Henry, to her eventual execution at his behest. Weir doesn’t shy away from the more complicated aspects of Boleyn’s character, including her notorious dislike of Catherine of Aragon, but at least she gives her a chance to speak for herself.
My thoughts: Another month, another chance for me to read some Tudor historical fiction. I’m slowly working my way through Weir’s Six Queen series and I love it! The novel doesn’t add any groundbreaking insight into Boleyn’s character, but by bringing her letters to light, and attempting to give her some motivation besides “evil greedy whore,” Weir breathes complexity and warmth into a once universally hated woman. Her story has always been a tragedy to me, the quintessential tale of a meteoric rise followed by an equally quick fall, and I appreciate that Weir gives Boleyn her chance to be a tragic hero/anti-hero of her own. The past few years have seen many books attempting to portray Anne Boleyn as an ambitious woman trapped in an impossible situation, and Weir’s novel is an admirable addition to the genre.
To read or not to read? Read it! And then, if you ever have the chance, visit Boleyn’s grave at the Tower of London. It’s a haunting spot that really makes one feel lucky for being a woman of the 21st century instead of the 16th.
Wintersong by S. Jae Jones
Quick synopsis: Liesl has always been overshadowed by her siblings, her beautiful sister Käthe and violin-prodigy brother Josef. Forced to hide her own composing talents, Liesl has contented herself with supporting her family and the promise of an ordinary life. But when she meets a mysterious stranger at the market, memories of a childhood spent playing music with the Goblin King resurface, and Liesl reckons with the fact that she may not be so ordinary, after all. When her sister is kidnapped by the Goblin King and taken to the Underground, Liesl must venture after her and confront her hidden past, as well as the possibility for a frightening new future.
My thoughts: I wrote a more extensive review of this book here, but basically, I loved this book. The atmosphere is beautifully haunting, the prose is elegant, almost musical, and Liesl’s character arc is amazing. I loved the romance between her and the Goblin King, and the author’s way of making artistic creation seem like a metaphor for love. It’s a gorgeous book, and should have been a stand-alone. Take my advice and don’t read the sequel.
To read or not to read? Read it and get lost in a fantastical world. But please, don’t read the sequel unless you want an unwelcome dose of reality.
Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda
Quick Synopsis: Many of history’s most powerful women get a bad rap, but few have been as defamed as Catherine de Medici, the queen of France most notorious for overseeing the horrific St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Author Leonie Freida gives Catherine the royal treatment in this lush biography, tracing her life from her traumatic childhood in Florence to her life as Queen of France. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all present in this book, giving an unprecedented look at Catherine’s exciting life.
My thoughts: This book was a tad difficult to get through, just because of how dense it was in terms of information. Frieda does not skimp on the historical context and makes sure to give the reader plenty of information on the multitude of schemes, conspiracies, and alliances present in Catherine’s world. I enjoyed getting new context on famous kings such as France’s Henri II, especially learning about how awfully he treated Catherine while promoting the interests of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Even though the book is dense, Frieda’s writing style is crisp and easy to read. I personally like reading biographies of queens on lazy days when I have a lot of time to spare. I find I need to give books like these my full attention in order to keep track of everything that’s happening. So if that’s not your thing, this book might not be for you, but if you’re looking for a heaping serving of history, then take a big bite.
To read or not to read? A great read for history buffs, maybe not to so much for the unenthused.