Weekly Reads – November 13, 2022

Hello all! I skipped my update last week because, by the time I would have posted, I hadn’t yet finished a book. I figured I should wait until I actually had a book update!

This past week has actually been a quiet one for us. The kids had Thursdays and Friday off from school (Thursday was a teacher work day and Friday was Veteran’s Day). I can’t say we did much of anything during those days, besides sleeping in! This coming week is a full week for the kids at school and then they have the following week (the week of Thanksgiving) off.

I have started doing some Christmas shopping, but my kids are hard to buy for! I realized it is because they so rarely see commercials. They just don’t know what is out there and what they might want for Christmas or a birthday or whatever. I have had them work on Amazon gift lists, but even that is hard!

We are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for friends as usual this year. I’ve been doing this for several years and I have the menu down pat, but I’m thinking of tinkering with it a bit this year. I’ve been searching for some unusual recipes that we might like, but I have yet to find anything that really appeals to me.

Lillie and I are continuing to work on the BookTube channel. We’re still trying to figure the ins and outs of it all, but I’m managing to get 2-3 videos up a week. I’m still trying to convince Lillie to come on, but so far Chris has been the only one who is game.

Speaking of books….

As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn at Book Date and her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop.

Last week, I finished:

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Date finished: October 31, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A

I remember going to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. It’s a beautiful painting, and you can’t help being in awe of it, even though it is surprisingly small. But you also feel like you are markedly separated from it because they keep it behind thick glass. That’s how I felt about this book.

There is so much to recommend in this book. The writing is gorgeous and evocative. The characters are deeply developed, and you can feel their pain as they deal with the death of their loved one. The world of this story is almost tangible. Just on these points, I would recommend this book.

However, the centerpiece of this book is like the Mona Lisa; we can see them, but only from a distance. I wanted to get to know Vivek, but we only met them through their friends and family. There are a few moments when Vivek speaks to us from the great beyond, but mostly they are a distant character whose death is the cause of the anguish of the book. While we can witness the emotions of this book, it’s hard to feel the feelings ourselves.

There is enough good in this book to lead me to recommend it, but I can only imagine how amazing it would have been if Vivek was a more active character.

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry that Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak
Date finished: November 6, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ / New all-time favorite!

I spent most of my college career reading history books. While I enjoyed earning my degree, I have only rarely read a history book since graduation. As this book came to me described as “a history book that reads like a novel,” I knew I had to try it.

I had never heard of Brunhild and Fredegund, even though my degree is in Medieval History (to be fair, “medieval history” is considered by many to start in 800, and these two queens lived during the 6th century). It took Eleanor of Aquitaine to interest me in the medieval world, but she doesn’t hold a candle to these two queens.

I learned so much from this book. I ended up taking pages of notes and then regaling my husband with random facts about the Merovingians, which I’m sure he appreciates to no end. But, I’m left wondering why there has never been a movie–or, probably better yet, a prestige TV drama–of these two women. I recently described Brunhild and Fredegund as House of Cards and Game of Thrones, respectively. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

This is not a “history textbook” but rather a work of narrative nonfiction, which is what makes it so accessible to readers. One thing I noticed in so many history books is that historians sometimes get so deep into the weeds that they start to see the people they are studying as chess pieces rather than humans. Puhak not only doesn’t fall into that trap but sassily points it out when she finds examples in her research.

While I would recommend this book to anyone, I have this caveat. When writing history or historical narrative nonfiction, the author cannot control the plot’s events. This book can be incredibly brutal. Puhak does an admirable job of writing the harder parts with accuracy and compassion, but that doesn’t change the fact that this tale has its share of the hard stuff. A reader would need to accept things for what they are: recounting events that happened and that the author has a responsibility, rather than a choice, to depict them.

I have not stopped thinking about this book since I finished it, and I eagerly await someone to bring Brunhild and Fredegund–and this book–to the screen.

The Last Séance: Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie
Date finished: November 11, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ / A

What a fun and unexpected collection!

I picked this up in time for the spooky season and after finishing the collections of Poirot and Marple stories. I expected this to be full of stories that might initially seem supernatural but would ultimately be a mundane whodunnit. There are some of these stories in this collection, but also some genuinely creepy stories that made my skin crawl.

The more earthly stories were just what you would expect from Agatha Christie. Many are standalone, but some Poirots and Marples are thrown in for good measure. This is not to say that they don’t fit in the collection–even these stories are unsettling and play on the darker side of humanity.

On the other hand, the supernatural stories go against what we expect from Agatha Christie. Among the phenomena are seances, haunted houses, and a doll (if you know, you know). These are written with the same pacing and suspense as in modern horror novels.

I truly enjoyed this collection and can see myself pulling it out every October. If you want something unexpected from the Queen of Crime, this will definitely fit the bill.

White Houses by Amy Bloom
Date finished: November 11, 2022
Rating: ⭐⭐ / C

In short: Great premise but terrible execution.

I was excited to read a book about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. I had heard about their relationship in general, but I had never really known the details. After reading this book, I still don’t know. It’s not that Bloom doesn’t tell us a story. It is more like she threw all the elements of her story into a food processor, pressed purée, and then poured this out.

Let me start with the positive. Amy Bloom’s prose was lovely, although it sometimes teetered into purple territory. There were some nice turns of phrase that would catch my eye.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what was going on here. I never knew exactly where we were in the story. At first, this seemed like a dual-timeline story. However, it quickly just turned into a time-hopper. I think with a historical novel, especially one set in the not-distant past, it is natural to try to tie the narrative to actual events. Perhaps Bloom intended to disrupt that tendency? If so, it did her no favors.

For about half the book, I lamented that this book was told from Hick’s point of view. She just seemed so dull next to Eleanor. Then I realized it wasn’t that Hickok was bland but that Bloom seemed so busy trying to tie Hick’s personality up with Eleanor’s that she never developed her character.

The best way I can describe this book is that it is like being in a house watching what is going on outside through a window–but that window has a sheer curtain pulled over it. You can see muted colors and movements, but nothing else.

I’m currently reading:

Instead of listing it here, I’ve put it all in a video!

You can also see my October wrap-up video here.

9 thoughts on “Weekly Reads – November 13, 2022

  1. I’m always amazed at readers who are able to read more than one book at a time. I’m dipping my toes in by reading one print and one audiobook but I need to be sure that they are very different. Great video, by the way. I love the way you write about the books you read too. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is a part of me that always wishes that I was only reading one book at a time, but I just can’t seem to stick to that! I guess I’m just a book polygamist through and through!


  2. It is hard to Christmas shop now! I have the same here- two Amazon wishlists in lieu of, you know, a normal want list haha. And I can’t believe Thanksgiving is only a week and a half away…

    The Dark Queens definitely sounds promising!


  3. Great list, and nice video.
    Am adding this history book to my TBR! I did all my studies in France and read a lot of stuff on the Middle Ages, my favorite period in history, but I have only heard about these two ladies, and don’t remember studying much about them.
    And when I listened to all of Hercule Poirot (https://wordsandpeace.com/2021/12/06/may-2020-november-2021-19-months-with-hercule-poirot/), I remember running into a few stories that were more on the supernatural side, and AC was there so good! Adding that collection as well.


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About Melinda