Archive for October, 2020

Daughters of Chivalry

Saturday, October 31st, 2020

By Kelcey Wilson-Lee

The Short Take:

This non-fiction book focused on the five daughters of England’s King Edward I who survived to adulthood. Unlike Disney, historians have largely ignored princesses–unless they went on to marry kings. However, Wilson-Lee’s book shows that they had more influence than you might think.

Why?

Eleanor, Joanna, Margaret, Mary, and Elizabeth were distinct individuals. Though the courses of their lives were supposed to be dictated by their kingly father and the men they were betrothed to, they each faced challenges that required personal initiative.

Wilson-Lee largely avoids speculations and makes it clear when she does make a supposition. That can make the reading a touch drier but these women are so interesting you should still enjoy the read. Mary was pledged to the convent at the age of six but lived a life of rich privilege. Prestigious matches were arranged for the other four, though the outcomes were not as expected. Rebellious Joanna did as she wished. Eleanor and Elizabeth were both intellectually curious. Several of them faced moments of crisis where their influence and abilities had important impacts on the lands their husbands ruled. All knew that when they married they would still represent their father’s interests whether at home or abroad and did so willingly.

While focused on more practical matters, the author doesn’t neglect the pomp of Edward’s court, with descriptions of bejeweled dresses and lavish banquets. However, it is the preparation of these young princesses for the important (if often forgotten) roles they would play that takes center stage.

A Little Plot:

Wilson-Lee picks up her tale when Edward I and his wife return from a crusade, bringing a new daughter to join the children the pair left behind. She then follows the lives of the five daughters up to their deaths.

For more about Kelcey Wilson-Lee and her books click here.

The Midnight Library

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

By Matt Haig

The Short Take:

Nora already felt like her life was a mess then it got worse. So she decides to end it all but instead of becoming dead she winds up in a library with countless books describing other lives she could have had–and that she can now try out.

Why?

This starts out as a very depressing read but quickly perks up. The protagonist has burdened herself with numerous regrets over the course of her 35 years. Now she is given a chance to try out those could-of-been lives and see if one of them suits her better than the disappointing one she attempted to leave.

In a way this is a self-help book in the form of a novel. As Nora learns about herself readers can apply those lessons to their own lives. It’s a clever way to reach people who might never visit the self-help section of a store and it nicely follows Haig’s memoir Reasons to Stay Alive.

This insightfulness does not get in the way of the novel’s charm. The writing is lively and bright. The various lives present highly diverse experiences, ranging from rock star to glaciologist; occupations which hold a lot more interest than most people’s lives offer.

I’m sure this is going to be a huge book club book, and deservedly so.

A Little Plot:

Nora’s life is a ball of regrets. Then she gets fired and her cat dies. She decides to commit suicide but the process delivers her to a strange library with a librarian like Miss Elm from her high school days. And Miss Elm offers her the chance to find her best life.

For more about Matt Haig and his books click here.

Troubled Blood

Monday, October 12th, 2020

By Robert Galbraith

The Short Take:

Another engaging Comoran Strike mystery but at over 900 pages, it was far too long. This complex mystery features a lot of characters. And the plethora of horoscope/astrological references could get old. But if you’re a Strike fan, the developing relationship between he and Robin made it worthwhile.

Why?

Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the book, though I did find myself skimming the astrological stuff. Investigating a disappearance that took place 40 years earlier required some heavy lifting from our fictional detectives (as well as the author). Many associated with the original disappearance had died or disappeared. Except for the daughter of the missing woman, other family members wanted to let the past be past. It posed a major challenge for Comoran and Robin,

As a side note, there were several other cases the detective agency also had to resolve. These largely involved the stake outs typical of most investigative work. I have always appreciated that this series puts the monotony and deep research private investigators engage in on full display. These are not glamorous jobs–except when that exceptional case comes along.

Determining if this disappeared woman was another victim of a serial murder or had met some other fate was one of those exceptional cases.

A Little Plot:

Margot Bamborough disappeared in 1976. The police assumed she was the victim of a serial murderer but the case was never solved, her body never found. Her daughter has a chance encounter with Comoran Strike which leads her to hire him to investigate. Even though he knows the chances of learning anything are slim, he is intrigued enough to take the case. He and Robin Ellacott have a year to figure things out.

For more about Galbraith (an alias for J. K. Rowling) and this series of books click here.

Squeeze Me

Monday, October 5th, 2020

By Carl Hiaasen

The Short Take:

Hiaasen’s Florida-focused mysteries are always a wild romp. This one is no exception, featuring gigantic snakes, the Florida presidential compound, and the rich and powerful snobs of Palm Beach.

Why?

Be ready for one crazy read as Hiaasen takes you from a drunken charity ball to the Winter White House to the Everglade swamps and back again. It’s outrageous, irreverent, and pure fun; a perfect respite from the real world.

Of course, if you are like the members of the (fictional) Potussies, who worship everything about the president the Secret Serve refers to as Mastodon, you might take umbrage. But in that case, Hiaasen’s probably not for you anyway.

A Little Plot:

At an exclusive charity ball, ultra-rich dowager Kiki Pew disappears. The next day Angie Armstrong gets a call from the manager of the ball’s venue to collect and remove a huge python. Angie puts two-and-two together. But when the president gets wind of Pew’s disappearance/death he decides a group of violent immigrants have targeted his supporters and makes it a major part of every speech. Mayhem ensues. As does the appearance of more pythons.

For more about Carl Hiaasen and his many books, click here.

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