Review: Marie Antoinette: The Journey, Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser’s comprehensive biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey inspired a film starring Kirsten Dunst in the role of the queen some years ago. Essentially, Fraser’s portrayal of the queen is sympathetic. Not well educated or especially groomed for a role of greatness, Marie Antoinette found herself packed off to France at the age of fourteen to make a political marriage. It seems the French never really warmed to her, and in the end, she became a scapegoat for the entire French Revolution. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her, and Fraser clearly wants the reader to feel sympathy for the woman whom history misremembers as suggesting, upon hearing of the lack of bread and subsequent starvation of her people, “Let them eat cake.”

I started reading this book over a year ago—on February 8, 2015, to be exact. I have been picking away at it here and there, but I never found it so engaging that I couldn’t put it down until the Revolution started and Marie Antoinette’s tribulations truly began. I think, and I’m probably not alone in this, that the most interesting thing about Marie Antoinette is her death. It sounds terribly cold and callous to put it that baldly, but as a queen she was fairly similar to most aristocrats. A little vain, a bit frivolous, and not terribly smart. She seems to have been devoted to her children. She also seems to have had genuine great affection for Louis XVI. Antonia Fraser argues that Marie Antoinette had an affair with Swedish Count Axel von Fersen. Whatever the true nature of their relationship, they were great friends, but Fraser really seems to want this affair to have happened, and I think her treatment of that particular aspect of the biography suffers as a result—too much conjecture, and not enough real evidence, especially given how carefully Fraser describes the queen’s utter lack of privacy from the moment she entered France. The whole story just doesn’t hang together well.

On the other hand, the portrait Fraser paints of the imprisoned Marie Antoinette as pious, stoic, and forgiving is admirable and seems to square well with other historical evidence I’ve read. In her last days, her treatment was much harsher than her husband received prior to his own execution. She was separated utterly from every aspect of her former station in life, from her children and other family to her comforts and even occupations. In the end, she emerges as an admirable figure through the fortitude she displayed as she faced death. There is a horrible sentiment expressed by the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” after he shoots and kills the Grandmother: “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” It’s a horrible thing to say, I suppose, but Marie Antoinette was undeniably a brave woman at the end of her life. Whatever she may have been in life, she didn’t deserve for her life to end the way it did.

Fraser’s biography is, in the end, not without its faults, but it is certainly thorough and the reader senses the affection the author feels for her subject. Perhaps because this book is Marie Antoinette’s story, and not a story, necessarily, of the Revolution that killed her, one will not learn a great deal about many of the other movers and shakers in the events of the time, though Fraser did clear up a few issues I had difficulty understanding—why Marie Antoinette was so reviled, for one thing, and on a more minor point, the difference between the Girondins and Jacobins (I was quite fuzzy on that point, thought I admit I haven’t read widely on the Revolution, and that confusion may easily have been cleared up elsewhere as well). Robespierre, for example, is mentioned only a handful of times. While he never seems sympathetic in anything I’ve read about him, I can’t deny he’s a great deal more interesting to me than Marie Antoinette.

In some ways, I don’t feel like I’ve been quite fair to Marie Antoinette in this book review, but the truth is that I didn’t quite find her fascinating enough to merit the comprehensiveness of this biography, however fascinating her death might have ultimately been. In a way, I sort of felt like one of those gawkers passing an accident on the side of the road. Still, I can’t deny that Fraser does her best, and Marie Antoinette comes to life and ultimately emerges as a sympathetic person in the pages of this book.

Rating: ★★★½☆

I am going to count this for the Mount TBR Challenge because I’ve been meaning to finish it for a long time, but I’m not sure about counting it for the Shelf Love Challenge because it hasn’t really been neglected on my shelf if I’ve been picking away at it for a year.

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Sunday Post #43: Unfilmable Books

Sunday Post
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my AP Literature students are reading both Mrs. Dalloway and The Remains of the Day this year. Knowing there are film versions of both books (and that The Remains of the Day in particular was well regarded), I decided to watch them this weekend and see if I want to use any parts of either film in class.

The first thing I thought after I finished watching Mrs. Dalloway, which had a great cast—Vanessa Redgrave is Clarissa Dalloway and Rupert Graves is Septimus Warren Smith—is that some books are just unfilmable. The movie stuck to the plot well enough. In a book where not a lot happens, at least on the exterior, that’s not to hard to do. What is nearly impossible to do is to capture the interior monologues of both Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. I thought for sure perhaps some brilliant cinematography would capture the breathtaking imagery in Mrs. Dalloway, but not really. I was particularly disappointed in the scene in which Clarissa buys the flowers. In the book, it’s a master class in imagery that leads directly to memory, but in the movie, it’s a brief scene that is stripped of almost all of the punch it packs in the book. I might show clips of the film precisely so students can discuss why it isn’t filmable or how they might have filmed it instead.

On the other hand, The Remains of the Day was brilliant in all respects save one: the ending. In the book, you see a slightly different ending when Stevens realizes how he has spent his life, and it crashes over him. His stiff upper lip barely quivers in the film. To me, that’s a pretty substantial change, and I don’t like it at all. As to the acting, though, brilliant, of course (what would you expect out of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?). The scenery and sets are absolutely gorgeous. I thought more than once of Downton Abbey and the passage of all those old manor houses. I suppose many of them are now basically open for tours and are sorts of historical monuments to another time. This book, as it turned out, was quite filmable, or at least resulted in a really good film. You probably knew that, though, because I think I’m the last person to see that movie.

In other bookish news, I’m wondering what is wrong with me for not really liking Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun much. I’m going to finish it, I guess, because I’m pretty far in, and I do sort of want to see what happens to everyone. I’m really annoyed by how long the chapters are. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere when I’m reading because the chapters are so long. So many people I know have loved this book. I am just sort of bored with quirkier-than-thou teenagers, erudite and intelligent beyond their years. John Green is responsible for this trend, and I think I’m going to complain about in the march #ShelfLove entry on tropes I’m sick of in literature next month. After John Green made it so lucrative, it seemed like every other YA author had to copy it. I know plenty of smart teenagers. I’m not saying kids like these kids don’t exist. I just… don’t think I’m the audience for these books anymore.

My book club is reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and all I can say is holy heck! How did this guy get me interested in something I have zero interest in? That is one helluva trick. The writing is fantastic. I’m not too far in, just about 50 pages so far. I can really see the people he’s describing. They are real, flesh-and-blood people, and I already care a lot about them, and even though I know they won the Olympic Gold in 1936, it’s still unfolding like one of those mysteries, where you can’t see how it will turn out in the end. That is another neat trick. Plus, two interesting connections already: Brown mentions rowers practicing at Lake Quinsigamond, which is literally right where I live. My attention was caught immediately. But then, he delves in the background of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, who grew up poor and down on his luck in Spokane, WA., which is where my grandfather was born. The family stories were so similar in some ways, I found myself immediately rooting for Joe Rantz. What a great book! And see, only about 50 pages in, whereas with I’ll Give You the Sun, I’m about halfway through and still not really sure how I feel.

I’m still working on Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and dipping into other books here and there. I bought myself two books. I couldn’t resist. Neither of them has been on my TBR list very long, but I do really want to read both of them.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set in Papua New Guinea before (Euphoria), and after reading both A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, I fell in love with Virginia Woolf.

In other news, I was quite sad to hear of the passing of Harper Lee, though it is true she hasn’t been in good health, and she was advanced in years. I wrote about her influence on my decision to become an English teacher on my education blog. To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books to teach. Sad, too, that Umberto Eco has died. I have a copy of The Name of the Rose, I haven’t read it yet. I have seen a film adaptation, though, and really enjoyed it.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share our own exciting news. My husband has written a book tie-in to the show Better Call Saul (a spinoff of Breaking Bad) called Don’t Go to Jail!: Saul Goodman’s Guide to Keeping the Cuffs Off. I’m really excited for him. This book is the realization of a lot of really hard work (I know—I was there!), and it’s something he’s dreamed about doing for some time. It’s available now for pre-order, and it will officially be released on April 5, so run out and get it! You will love it, especially if you like the show already.

So that is how my reading week is going. How about yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #42: Ratings

Sunday Post

Greetings on this frigid Sunday in New England. My wonderful hubby actually ventured outside today to help our neighbor jump start his car. I told him, and I meant it, that he’s a good neighbor. He said the air felt like frozen knives. I am glad it’s warming up before I have to go back to school after the holiday weekend.

I have been giving some thought to book ratings. I find that Amazon’s ratings are sometimes a bit on the high side, and otherwise, they can be a mixed bag in terms of helpfulness as many customers rate things like packaging. I find that infuriating because it doesn’t tell me anything about the book. Of course, the more popular a book is, the more accurate the ratings seem to be.

Goodreads, on the other hand, has a rating system that works as follows:

Rating: ★★★★★ = it was amazing
Rating: ★★★★☆ = really liked it
Rating: ★★★☆☆ = liked it
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ = it was ok
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ = did not like it

I don’t really like this rating system, so on my Goodreads profile, I explain what my own ratings mean. To me, 3 stars is a bit low for a book that I liked. To me, that’s an okay book. I think 2 stars is low for an okay book. To me, that’s “I didn’t like it.” I reserve 1 star for books I hate. I don’t give 1 star ratings often because I don’t finish books I hate very often. Same with books I don’t really like. So I have a lot of higher ratings, or at least a lot of ratings from 3-5 stars. I know a lot of folks who reserve 5 star ratings for the best books of all time. I don’t. I give 5 stars to books I love. They might not even be my favorite books, but if I loved reading them, then they get 5 stars. I suppose we all need to figure out our own system for rating books, and I don’t usually hear much from others about my ratings. However, a few years back, a Goodreads friend (someone I don’t know well) commented about my higher book ratings. I didn’t unfriend him over it, but I thought about it because I thought he was rude. I disagree with many of my friends’ ratings, but our responses to books are personal, and no two people ever read the same book, so it’s natural that we will feel differently. I don’t let anyone shame me into “grading harder.” I think that’s ridiculous.

I don’t know why that was on my mind, but it was. Today, I recorded my last lesson for the online guitar class I have been taking through Berklee College of Music and Coursera. It has been a lot of fun. The instructor is quite good, and I found I learned a lot more theory this time around than I did when I took guitar classes in high school and college. Actually, I learned more theory than all the years I was in school band, come to that. I found it really fascinating, and now I want to take the music theory course on Coursera. I would really like a more advanced guitar course, but I am not sure there are plans to create one. I’m not the only student who is interested, though, if the forums are any way to judge. I am starting to get some good callouses on my left hand fingers.

I am glad I have a three-day weekend. I am hoping to catch up on some reading tomorrow. I am nearly finished listening to the third book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, The Book of Life. I might be able to finish it tomorrow some time, in which case I’ll post a review here (with my own star rating, too). I have been trying to finish Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser. It’s hard to tell because I’m reading on Kindle, and the book has a lot of end notes, but I think I’m getting close to the end. At any rate, the Bastille has been stormed and the royals have been forced to the Tuileries. I am not really sure how I’m feeling about I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I can tell you I don’t like the really long chapters. I feel like I have to stop in the middle of something because I can’t read chapters that long in a go. I’m also not grabbing the book when I want to read, which is telling.

I am turning in. I need to do a bit of planning tomorrow, and I want to read a bit before I go to sleep. I hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s Day.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #40: The First Sunday of 2016

Sunday Post

Happy New Year! I hope everyone is enjoying a last evening off before returning to work. I needed another week, I think. This weekend, I’ve been curled up with Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Historian. I think I have about 140 pages left in that one, but it’s over 700 pages, so I’m actually in the home stretch. I will save my comments for the review.

I have also been dipping into Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette, but I haven’t made much progress with Simon Schama’s Citizens. I listened to the first chapter of the final book in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness: The Book of Life. I am mainly curious to find out how the series ends.

I did not get a chance to show you what I got for Christmas.

Dana's Guitar

I started playing guitar in high school and even took a classical guitar class in college, but I admit I haven’t played much in years. I have an acoustic guitar, but I have always really wanted an electric guitar, ever since high school. I used to look at pictures of guitars and dream. I have been playing, and things are starting to come back. I am taking an Introduction to Guitar class through Berklee College of Music on Coursera. The course officially starts tomorrow. I’m very excited to see what I can learn. If you haven’t tried out any of the free courses on Coursera, you should check them out. I have taken some really interesting ones.

I am excited for the new season of Downton Abbey tonight, even thought it’s the last one. Did anyone catch the special episode of Sherlock? I loved it! I really wish they could air the next season soon, but I understand that now that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are big movie stars, it’s hard to schedule filming Sherlock. What a great show, though.

This week will likely be a busy one, with the return to work. I am hoping to grab some time in the evenings to read. I definitely want to finish a couple of books I’ve had going on my Kindle for a while.

What are you up to this week? What are you reading?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #39: The Last Sunday of the Year

Sunday Post

It has been a little while since I’ve written a Sunday Post entry. December proved to be a busy month, and I have to confess that time off on Sundays wasn’t really spent writing and reflecting so much as trying to catch my breath before Monday.

I have been off work for a week’s vacation and have one more week before returning. Aside from some grading, which I will need to make some time to do in the coming week, I was able to catch up before vacation. I’ve been doing quite a lot of baking, as I typically do over the holidays: gingerbread, cookies, scones on Christmas.

My husband is visiting his parents in Tennessee, and I know they’ll be glad to visit with him. It’s pretty quiet around here without him. Not that he makes a ton of noise or anything, but you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, I have been finishing books quickly. I finished the following books since my last Sunday Post entry:

I am in the middle of a re-read of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, this time as an audio book, and man, am I ever reminded of why I love that book so much. And yet again, it has reminded me of why the French Revolution is so endlessly fascinating. I am currently watching a History Channel documentary of the French Revolution on YouTube. I am reminded once again that I still haven’t read Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama, though I have a hardcover copy, nor have I finished Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser or Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. The Marie Antoinette biography has been in my sidebar for a long time. I would love to find another really good historical fiction book set in the French Revolution. I have already read Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran. I am not sure about Hilary Mantel’s novel A Place of Greater Safety. Have you read it? What did you think? I absolutely loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, but I wasn’t sure about this one. The reviews are not as glowing, and it’s a long book to commit to. I ought to just take the plunge. I’ve been thinking about reading it long enough.

I’ve had a quiet last Sunday of the year with my kids. All in all an enjoyable day reading and relaxing.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

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Sunday Post #13: Not Much Reading Going On

Sunday PostI have not had a lot of time to read over the last two weeks with some extra work, and I’m hoping it changes in week ahead. I did finish the first volume of John Lewis’s memoir March, and I immediately purchased the second volume. It was weird. I ordered the book from Amazon on a Friday night, and I received the book the following Sunday. I have never had that happen. Since when do carriers deliver on Sunday? I must have missed that memo. I am not complaining—just surprised. I don’t know. Maybe I am a bit worried about carriers and days off. Still, if they are delivering on Sunday, they must get some other day off, right?

I am still reading the other books I started prior to or near the beginning of the month: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser, Pleasantville by Attica Locke, The Annotated Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I have to admit I’ve put aside the Marie Antoinette bio for the most part because the other two books are more pressing for me to finish. Pleasantville is part of a TLC Book Tour stop here on April 17. I am trying to finish The Annotated Wuthering Heights for a challenge.

I like to listen to audio books while I clean house or make soap, so I started Katherine Howe’s Conversion, which I think is her first, and perhaps at this point, her only YA book. I am liking it so far. As someone who has visited Salem and lives in Massachusetts, I can appreciate the research that Howe always does with her books. I did notice she made Channel 7 the ABC affiliate in her book, but Channel 5 is actually Boston’s ABC affiliate. I wonder if she was made to change that because of legal concerns. Otherwise, I haven’t noticed any wrong notes. The book’s narrator, Khristine Hvam, nails an early American Massachusetts accent (at least based on what I understand it sounded like). I love Katherine Howe, not just as a writer, but as a person. She is so kind and personable to her fans. I am glad to see her returning to “witches” again. I will read practically anything with a Salem Witch Trials connection (practically, I said—I imagine there are some books I’d avoid). As a teacher at a New England prep school, there is much about St. Joan’s that I recognize, too.

Last week was the first week I’ve missed the Sunday Post meme since I started doing it. Truthfully, I didn’t have much to report at that point. Still, I am a little bummed I forgot to post. I am hoping some things settle down so I have more reading time. I always, always say that we make time for things that are important, and when people ask me how I find time to read, I say that I make time because it’s important. I have not been making much time lately.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #9: Spring Break!

Sunday PostMy spring break started this weekend. More time to read! I didn’t have a lot of time to read this week, so unfortunately, I didn’t make a whole lot of progress to report about.

In my last post, I reported I was about an hour away from finishing Neil Gaiman’s short story collection Trigger Warning. I still am. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it at all this week. I also haven’t picked up Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser in the last week. However, I did start Candide by Voltaire for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. Well, I read the introduction, at least.

Mainly, I have been reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. Fantastic so far. I find sometimes I have to put it down for a while almost because it’s too much sensory input. I am not sure if that makes sense, but the descriptions are so vivid, and given it’s a book about Vietnam War photojournalists, it’s quite intense. I have always felt sort of a weird connection with that war, as though it somehow defined the world in which I grew up. I guess it did. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born, and in many ways, it didn’t seem over. I remember the Vietnam vets and the controversy over the Vietnam Memorial. It was as I was growing up that artistic media like movies and TV seemed to be exploring the war for the first time. The book is so fantastic that I really wish I had a book club to discuss it with. I wonder if I can convince my book club to read it. I did talk them into reading Wolf Hall, and I’m not sure I get two turns in a row, or that folks will want to read two historical fiction novels in a row. The Lotus Eaters is reminding me a lot of Hemingway—not so much stylistically, but perhaps the poetic way in which Soli describes war. If any characters might see poetry in that situation, it might be combat photographers. I don’t know.

The journalists were in a questionable fraternity while out in the field, squabbling and arguing among themselves, each sensing the unease of the situation. No getting around the ghoulishness of pouncing on tragedy with hungry eyes, snatching it away, glorying in its taking even among the most sympathetic: “I got an incredible shot of a dead soldier/woman/child. A real tearjerker.” Afterward, film shot, they sat on the returning plane with a kind of postcoital shame, turning away from each other.

In terms of the present moment, they were despicable to the soldiers, to the victims, to even themselves. In the face of real tragedy, they were unreal, vultures; they were all about getting product. In their worst moments, each of them feared being a kind of macabre Hollywood, and it was only in terms of the future that they regained their dignity, became dubious heroes. The moment ended, about to be lost, but the one who captured it on film gave both subject and photographer a kind of disposable immortality. (111)

 

Pictures could not be accessories to the story—evidence—they had to contain the story within the frame; the best picture contained a whole war within one frame. (118)

Exquisite.

So that was my reading week. How was yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #7: Forest and Fen

Sunday PostI finished up two books this week, but I am waiting to review both of them. The first is William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which I had never read before, but had decided to read way back when I read A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (review). It was during that year that Shakespeare wrote As You Like It. I liked it, though not as much as some of Shakespeare’s other plays, but I wanted to watch a movie version of it so I could review both the play and the movie version together. Unfortunately, Netflix is being extremely slow about sending it along.

The other book I finished just today is The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I am reviewing this book as part of a TLC Book Tour this coming Friday. The book has an interesting premise regarding the after-effects of a heart transplant, and it did get me thinking quite a bit, but more on that this Friday.

Both books allowed me to explore two counties in the Reading England Challenge. The Forest of Arden in As You Like It was in Shakespeare’s own home county of Warwickshire. Sadly, I discovered, not much of it remains aside from a few very old trees. The Tell-Tale Heart is set in some smaller towns around Cambridge in the Fens in Cambridgeshire. Both books relied a great deal on setting in the stories to the extent that moving them might change the story quite a bit, especially in The Tell-Tale Heart.

I am still reading Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I will probably take up a new paperback today since Marie Antoinette is on the Kindle and Trigger Warning is an audio book. Some weeks ago, I was feeling in the mood for The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. My dad was serving in Vietnam when I was born. He left when my mother was, I think, about six months pregnant with me. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set there. I have several students from Vietnam. Last year, one of my Vietnamese students used to have really interesting conversations with me about the differences between our countries.

I am still waiting for The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan and I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira to arrive in the mail, though I’m really looking forward to reading those books. I did order them from third-party sellers, so shipping is not the quick Prime shipping I’m used to from Amazon. I think I have decided to read Hilary Mantel’s massive French Revolution novel A Place of Greater Safety as well. I am not sure when I’ll get to that one, but I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. I’ll likely get that on the Kindle so I don’t have to try to hold it up.

In case you missed it, I posted my review for Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. I haven’t written any other reviews this week, nor have I started other books.

Given how much snow we’ve had, I suppose it’s logical that I have been able to do so much reading. I think I’ve read more so far this year than I can remember reading in the same time period… ever. Also, my kitchen scale broke, which is a necessity for soapmaking, so I wasn’t able to make soap this weekend either. It’s sad because I have a few wholesale orders and a custom request as well as some spring soaps I want to make up. It will have to wait!

In other bookish news, I have a book club! I am an idiot and somehow missed the memo about the book we were supposed to read until it was too late for me to finish before the meeting, but I did go, and we did talk about the book, and it was wonderful. For the record, the book I was supposed to read (which is on my list, though I didn’t get to it this time) was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. We are reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for next time, so I should be in good shape for that meeting at least.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #6: A Year in France

Sunday PostIt’s been a quiet week. We had more snow over this weekend, but I’m not really sure how much. Did you know we are the snowiest city in the US? I’m sure you’ve heard a great deal about all the snow Boston’s been getting, but her lesser-known neighbor to the west, which is, after all, the second largest city in New England, has had hardly any mention. My children have a winter break this week, but I just have Presidents Day off. I hope the streets are plowed before I have to go back to work Tuesday. I can’t remember the last full week of work I had. I think it might have been before MLK Day.

I’m still reading the four books I started last week:

I have read three acts of As You Like It. I will probably finish it this week. I have listened to several stories from Trigger Warning. At this stage, much as I like Neil Gaiman’s reading, I am wondering if I did the wrong thing by listening to it on audio instead of reading it. The stories are not similar at all, but I have no sense of them as separate and will not be able to remember their titles without help when I review the book. The book I’m most enjoying at the moment is Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette. She emerges as quite a sympathetic character, which I understood was the case with this biography before I started reading it. I can definitely see how Sofia Coppola used it in her movie (which I discussed last week). One of the ways I can tell I’m interested in a book, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, is when it prompts me to start looking things up. In the case of this book, it’s the labyrinthine French aristocracy that is more than a little difficult to keep up with (and the helpful family trees at the beginning of the book don’t show up well on the Kindle). There are a lot of folks to keep track of.

I was also trying to figure out who might be the King of France today if the Revolution hadn’t happened. Folks, the answer to that question (besides being moot because the Revolution DID happen) is a rabbit hole you might not want to go down. I was going to try to summarize it, but I can’t. Suffice it to say, there ARE royalists who want a monarchy, despite France being pretty proud of being a republic and celebrating Bastille Day, and they are basically split three ways, so there are three Pretenders to the French throne (four, actually—and that part is complicated). Who knew? You can dig into it starting here if you like. You were warned, though.

I did just order a couple of Belle Époque novels:

Don’t those books look great? They both feature Edgar Dégas. I read a Kindle preview of the first book, The Painted Girls. It grabbed me. Well written and evocative of the time in just the few short pages I was able to see. The second book, I Always Loved You, is about Mary Cassatt’s relationship with Dégas. One of the reviews I read convinced me to get it.

I’m still looking for more French Revolution books. I’m a bit daunted by Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. It seems to have some mixed reviews, and it’s over 900 pages long. Have you read it? I’d be interested in your thoughts. A book that long is a huge commitment, even considering how much I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. It does look interesting, however, and I’m intrigued that it features Desmoulins, Danton, and Robespierre. So many books seem to take the Royalist perspective rather than that of the Revolutionaries. I read a bit of it as a Kindle sample, and I liked what I read, but I’m still not sure.

This is shaping up to be a French year in terms of historical fiction for me, isn’t it? There are worse things than spending a year in France, I suppose. One of the things I love about books is that even if I can’t really go somewhere, I can go there in a book. And it’s not limited just to place. I can go to any time as well. I suppose that is one reason I like historical fiction so much. I admit, however, I’m starting to get pickier about what I’ll read. I downloaded samples of a couple of other highly-rated books with positive reviews, and deleted them after a page or two. A couple of years ago, I think I might have kept reading.

Coming up this week you can look for my review of The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore (TLC Book Tour). I’m hoping I will also have a review of As You Like It, but I’m not sure I’ll have finished anything else.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #5: History Makers

Sunday PostSince last week, when I mentioned that we have all the snow, I can tell you we probably have five feet on the ground with more on the way tonight and tomorrow. My children have yet another snow day tomorrow. My own school just called me to let me know I also do not have school; however, I do believe I have a meeting via Google Hangout, and I need to make some soap for a wholesale account, so I imagine I will be busy. We have had record-breaking snowfall the last few weeks.  The Sunday Post is starting to sound monotonous with the weather report each time. When you’re more or less snowbound, however, there’s not much else going on.

I finally finished listening to the audio book of Diana Gabaldon’s novel The Fiery Cross this week. I also finished reading The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. Look for the review for that book to be posted on 2/17. I started reading four books this week as well:

The Tell-Tale Heart, like The Serpent of Venice, is part of a TLC Book Tour. I’m reading As You Like It as my Renaissance selection for the Literary Movement Challenge. Finished Act I as of yesterday. I am listening to Neil Gaiman read the short story collection Trigger Warning. After finishing The Fiery Cross, I didn’t want to dive right into another really long Gabaldon audio book right away. I have had Marie Antoinette: The Journey in my Kindle library for a very long time, but I finally decided to read it after watching the Kirsten Dunst film Marie Antoinette, which reminded me how fascinated I am by the French Revolution and all the history leading up to it.

The movie itself, I have to say, was kind of weird. The costumes and sets were gorgeous. The music was strange. Some of the casting was bizarre. The jury’s still out on whether I liked it or not. I searched in vain for a documentary about the French Revolution on Netflix last night, so I decided to start reading the book. Also on my list at some point is Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction set during this time period as well, so let me know if you know of anything. I have previously read Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution (loved!), Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, and Melanie Clegg’s The Secret Diary of a Princess. And of course, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. I can’t recall any others, so let me know what I’ve missed. I am not particularly more interested Ancien Régime versus post-Revolution or nobility versus Estates-General. I’m not picky.

I love reading historical fiction, which is one of the reasons I always try to participate in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, no matter how active I actually am in the challenge. If I had to peg my favorite periods, I would say 18th and 19th century America (particularly New England, but really, it’s all pretty interesting), the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, 18th century France and England, and 19th century England. I do not much like to read WWII historical fiction, which reminds me of a post of Stefanie’s that I read over at So Many Books: “Books I Won’t Read.” I am not going to go quite so far as to say I will not read books about World War II. I really hesitate, though. I find it mentally exhausting and very depressing to read about that war, for obvious reasons. Inevitably, the books are heart-wrenching. I hate to say it feels like manipulation on the part of authors to write about the events of that war, especially when they really happened, but it’s also quite difficult to criticize. After all, anything you say in critique of books about the Holocaust just makes you sound heartless. So, I’m really careful about what I choose to read from that era. If a book has a whiff of cashing in on that tragedy at all, I can’t read it.

So far, I’ve finished seven books this year. I can’t recall ever having read that many at this point in the year. Honestly, I think the goal I set of reading 52 books has been a good motivator for me. I know I’m making more of an effort to read. I think of myself as a slow reader, but it looks like I have managed to pick up speed over time without noticing much. I very rarely can sit and read an entire book all day, and I haven’t tried timing myself to see how fast I’m actually reading. It’s more just a sense I have that I’m able to read books faster than I have in the past.

The biggest news in the book world this week is the impending publication of Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, which will feature an adult Scout Finch. Some speculation in the media has made me wonder if Harper Lee was aware of what her lawyer was doing, but it’s hard to tell. This New York Times story does a fair job discussing the controversy. I am going to read the book. I have actually already selected it for my school summer reading choice. I called dibs the day the announcement was made. I am not going to miss another Harper Lee novel. Am I worried it might not be as good as To Kill a Mockingbird? Of course. It’s natural. But there is no way I’m going to miss it. And while I’m on the subject, I wish Goodreads would stop people from reviewing or rating unreleased books. Or, to be more specific, unreleased books that no one has read yet. I actually find ratings and reviews from folks who had uncorrected proofs or early access through other channels helpful. This book already has a 3.72 rating on Goodreads. Come on.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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