|Books read, early January
||[Jan. 17th, 2011|10:16 pm]
David Baldwin, The Kingmaker's Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses. I love microhistories, and I'm pretty fond of the Wars of the Roses, so I thought this would be a good idea. I thought wrong. This is a classic case of an historian overreaching himself. He had enough material to write an essay about Warwick the Kingmaker's sisters, possibly, and essays don't do as much for you as books in a number of ways, so he padded it out with general history of the Wars of the Roses, wildass speculation about the women in question, and a little bit of personal agenda about Modern Times. Wheee. See, microhistory is good stuff if you have documentation about the people in question and theories about how they illuminate something interesting and underexamined. This? No. Just no. (Seriously, who would read this book if they didn't already know about the broad outlines of the Wars of the Roses? Nobody jumps up and says, "Oh, fascinating, Warwick's sisters!" if they don't already know from Warwick. Honestly.)
Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland: Volume 1: the Origins to 1795. This is a very smoothly written and interesting history of Poland, with lots of entertaining little historical tidbits as well as the broad general sweep you're going to need if you're going to fit the history of an entire country into two volumes. I'm looking forward to the second volume, but not quite right away; I had had sort of enough of Poland for the moment when I finished Volume 1. But not, I hasten to specify, too much of Poland. Just enough.
Phyllis Ann Karr, At Amberleaf Fair. Short and rather practical about magic and very much itself. I liked the toymaker, and I liked how food allergies were a fantasy novel plot point in a magic-related way. This was a very low-key book in some regards, very intimate scale, and I don't mean that as a complaint.
Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. I read this because I'd read the two before it, and Larsson is now dead and won't be adding endlessly to the series. Sometimes a sense of completeness bites us in the butt. If I hadn't known it would really-for-truly be the last one, I'd have quit several times in the first 200 pages. This is about Bad Guys Getting Their Comeuppance. Repeatedly. Tediously. Largely through the wheels of the Swedish criminal justice system. The stuff that actually happens in this volume, rather than being referred to from previous volumes, seems mostly tacked on so there will be something happening at all. I feel that this is not actually a productive use of my time: if you've enjoyed the first two, I probably won't successfully talk you out of finishing the series. But I do recommend against it.
Oliver Sacks, The Mind's Eye. This is Sacks Being Sacks. The chapters on various neurological conditions, many of them vision-related, are longer than the chapters in Musicology, and more satisfying. It's not quite to the level of his early best things, but it's still pretty darn good, and sometimes one just needs more new Oliver Sacks, and this is that. But if you haven't read any Sacks, start with something else.
Patricia C. Wrede, The Seven Towers. This is an early work of Pat's, and I wanted to like it more than I did. The princess is named Crystalorn. Which is...kind of indicative, honestly. It is That Kind Of Fantasy; if you aren't in the mood for That Kind Of Fantasy, you won't be in the mood for this. This is another thing that's fine enough if you really want one of its kind, but I wouldn't start reading Pat's stuff here.