Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Middle Sister's September Reads

Interesting mix of nonfiction, fiction, and fictionalized biography this month.

Improbable Women by William Woods Cotterman Interesting concept--compare five of the women who explored the Near East in the nineteenth ad early twentieth centuries,  all of whom the author asserts were influenced by the legend of Zenobia. Unfortunately, he doesn't demonstrate an interest in Zenobia on the part of the two twentieth-century explorers, but the book would have worked fine without this hook. The book does well by the first three women, Lady Hester Stanhope, Lady Jane Digby el Mesrab, and Isabel Burton, with interesting biographical information and excerpts from their memoirs and letters and others recollections to breathe life into these women. The book falters when it discusses the two more recent explorers, Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark, although Ms. Bell's life is more fully fleshed out than Ms. Stark's. This is a bit incongruous, as there is an excellent recent biography of Gertrude Bell and previous biographies of Freya Stark that could have been used to flesh out the women.  Nonetheless, if you enjoy biographies and travelogues, this book will keep you entertained. (Net Galley)

Richard III by Annette Carson A distillation of Ms. Carson's recent biography of Richard III (on my Amazon wish list, buy the way), the short book focuses on what she calls the Great Debate, the accuracy of his reputation as it has come down through 500 years. Nice summary of the actual facts as known, what is not known, where the popular factoids originated, and the players in the complicated War of the Roses. And it gladdened my heart to read "history is written by the winners" and the reader being urged to consider the sources and mull that facts herself before coming to a conclusion. (Net Galley)

Murder on the Orient Espresso by Sandra Balzo Nifty little twist on the country house murder mystery of classic novels, with a group of mystery conference attendees, organizers, and speakers marooned on a train ride in the Florida Everglades while a fierce storm rages around them, nasty enormous snakes threaten them, and someone is killed. Honestly, the snake incident totally grossed me out. But the main character, Maggy, is likeable, the action moves along at a fair clip, and the revelation of whodunnit, while not completely surprising, included enough red herrings to please cosy mystery lovers.  (Net Galley)

A Wilder Rose: Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Their Little Houses by Susan Wittig Albert Ms. Albert and I seem to have loved the same children's authors: first she wrote about Beatrix Potter, and now Laura Ingalls Wilder. This ficitonalized account of the collaboration between Rose Wilder Land and Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House books addresses aspects the recent biography of Rose Wilder Lane has made famous--namely, that Rose edited, in come places, extensively, her mother's books to make them more professional. I have no problem with that concept, but when that recent bio was published, the vitriol directed at the author was stunning. Apparently there are a lot of Little House lovers out there who are convinced that a frontier woman with a grade school education didn't ever need the services of an editor, and anyone who says otherwise is the devil. While the shifting POV is not my favorite literary device, I enjoyed the book. And have not had my fond memories of the Little House books forever tainted.

St. Peter's Bones by Thomas Craughwell Interesting short nonfiction book on twentieth century archaeology beneath St. Peter's Basilica that may have identified the bones of St. Peter himself. Good summary of the archaeology completely marred by the author's personal diatribe against the reforms of Vatican II at the very end of the book.

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