Wolf Hall

  • Title: Wolf Hall
  • Author: Hilary Mantel
  • Date of Publication: 2009
  • Finished Reading: 2/8/13
  • Pages: 650

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I enjoyed reading this one. The story of Henry the VIII and his wives has been told so frequently that I was a bit skeptical about reading yet another version. Mantel makes it a fresh story by telling it from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell. Her writing style was a bit confusing and difficult to follow at first. She writes in the third person, using the pronoun “he” often without a clear indication of who “he” refers to. After the first dozen pages or so, though, it was much easier to follow.

Mantel’s Cromwell is a charismatic man, accomplished in learning what makes people tick. She  captures the political intrigue of the Tudor period as well as the minute details of Cromwell’s personal life and the people he lives with. I especially liked how she refurbishes Cromwell’s reputation in this novel. In many accounts of the Henry the VIII story, Cromwell comes off as a villain, with Thomas More as a saint. More is portrayed by Mantel as a priggish bigot who had his own intolerant “right” version of Catholicism; pity for you if you didn’t believe it to the letter.

All of the famous characters of the Tudor court are here, with some wonderful minor characters, including Cromwell’s children and wards. Because Mantel writes the story from inside Cromwell’s head, a lot of the historical backstory is left out. I frequently needed to do a bit of research to figure out what was going on. The writing is stunning, and surprisingly funny at times. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the dialogue.

I gave it 4 of 5 stars, it would have been a 5 if it weren’t for the awkward use of “he” that kept me guessing which “he” Mantel meant. I look forward to reading the second installment of the story in Bring Up The Bodies.

Catherine The Great

Book Title: Catherine The Great, Portrait Of A Woman                                                               Author: Robert K. Massie                                                                                                                   Date of Publication: November 8, 2011                                                                                              Finished Reading: 12/31/12                                                                                                                  Pages: 574

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This was a good read, but not terrific. A large part of the book was devoted to Catherine’s life prior to becoming Empress of Russia, going into great detail about her relationship with her mother, as well as the early years of her marriage. She was hauled off to Russia as a teenager by her scheming mother to marry her cousin Peter, the heir to the throne. The marriage was a disaster, and eventually she embarked on numerous liaisons, resulting in the birth of her three children all by different men.

She managed to grab control as Empress after her useless husband’s ascent to the throne. Catherine is portrayed in Massie’s biography as a very sympathetic and engaging character, being largely self-educated and with grand ambitions to be an enlightened ruler. She did indeed institute many progressive reforms, though regressed towards despotism towards the end of her rule.

Massie writes in a very conversational tone; despite the length of the book and the sometimes confusing historical context, the book reads more like a novel. He documents his story with a nice bibliography, though maps would be helpful in understanding the political story. It also would have been useful to have an index of the “cast of characters”. Between the large number of characters, and the many Russian names, it was difficult at times to keep track of everyone.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

2013 TBR List

12 books, 2 alternates! The rules are that I have to read 12 previously unread books in 2013, then post a short review. Or at least post that I finished them. The books all have to have a “published date” before 1/1/12. If I hate any one of the 12 and can’t finish it, I can pick one of the two alternates. Here we go. These are all from my shelves, either real or virtual (Kindle).

1. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (318 p)

2. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (650 p)-Completed 2/8/13

3. The Master Butchers Singing Club, Louise Erdrich (388 p)

4. Night Train To Lisbon, Pascal Mercier (438 p)

5.Snow, Orhan Pamuk (426 p)

6. Bloodsmoor Romance, Joyce Carol Oates (615 p)

7. Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes (150 p)

8. Life of Pi, Yann Martel (356 p)

9. 22 Britannia Road, Amanda Hodgkinson (323 p)

10. Swamplandia, Karen Russell (316 p)

11. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie (552 p)

12. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, (862 p)*

And the two alternates:

1. Andersonville, MacKinlay Kantor (766 p)

2. World Without End, Ken Follett (1014 p)

I know, I know. There are a lot of classics in there that I should have read before. That’s one problem with being a prolific book buyer. I buy far more books than I can read, and there is always something newer and shinier, or at least closer to the top of the stack, to catch my attention. That’s also a relatively ambitious list, with 5092 pages for the first 12, and 1780 pages for the two alternates.

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How about you? What are you planning to read in 2013?

* Edited 12/30/12 to change #12 to Anna Karenina. I’ve never read it, which is a bit ridiculous.

Well Here We Go!

Just what I need, another blog! This will just be for my reading. I’ve decided to do the TBR 2013 book challenge, so I made a spot for it all its own. Who knows what might end up here. The goal is to read 12 books in 2013, all published before January 1, 2012. So far I have a huge stack of books culled from my sagging shelves of Books I Will Eventually Read Someday. Now I just need to weed them down to 12 (plus 2 alternates in case I pick a dud that gets burned in the back yard).

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Stay tuned for the Big 12 list!