I think this might be the year that I get back into blogging regularly. I kind of lost patience last year, for a variety of reasons. But now I have a new three-column template that I’m finally happy about (except for the fact that it has fixed columns)–and I’ve decided that I’m going to start posting book reviews again. And of course, I have this huge backlog that looms larger every week. So first, I need to play some catch up.
Last year, there was a plethora of books about England, starting with Edward Rutherford. He writes these long, sprawling tomes that span centuries. They’re a little like Valerie Anand’s Bridges of Time series , only in a single volume. I started with The Forest, continued with Sarum, plodded through London, and then lost all patience with The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga (which I include here despite the fact that it’s not England). Reading these is fun and like a little history refresher–but they’re also disjointed because they consist of a story in this time period, then a story in the next, and so on. Some of the sections are really short, and I often felt that just as I was getting into them, they were over.
Anyway, I then read my way through a whole bunch more books set somewhere in the long span of English history. Philippa Gregory, Diane Norman, and so on and so forth. They were fun and entertaining, but not really much more than that.
Two stand out.
First, Tom Bedlam: A Novel (George Hagen), which tells the improbable, but no less compelling for it, story of a Victorian boy who starts out as the son of a factory worker who is plucked from obscurity by his grandfather, educated, sent to medical school, and eventually ends up in South Africa. I enjoyed this Dickensian story mainly because I really grew to like the characters. It didn’t even bother me that Tom’s later years aren’t nearly as informed by his early ones as they should have been.
Second, Mistress of the Art of Death (Ariana Franklin), which managed to be both a thriller and historical novel–as well as surprisingly literate for either genre because it starts off with a twist on the Canterbury Tales. When children are brutally murdered, people start accusing the Jews–auguring ill for the crown’s coffers. Henry II sends off the Salerno for the best coroner in order to determine who the murderer really is. And instead of a man, they get a woman. The 25-year old Adelia sets of for England under some duress, and she finds the place to be brutal. England is not sure what to make of her either. Of course, she solves the mystery, finds some love along the way, and pretty much every other plot point required–but this was very fun and truly a joy to read.