I tried to get back in nonfiction this month — I really tried — but the books I picked up just can’t compete with fiction.
I am not the kind of person who abandons books or doesn’t finish them. Maybe the habit got ingrained in me during school where I had to finish whatever I was assigned to read, whether I liked it or not? I could write a whole post debating the pros and cons of not finishing books vs. seeing them through.
But I got about 50 pages into this one and just couldn’t get into it. I expected to read a memoir with anecdotes about how Middlemarch and reading Middlemarch influenced or impacted the author’s life. I did not expect to read a book report on Middlemarch. And maybe because I haven’t actually read Middlemarch (and don’t really want to), but just reading a very long synopsis bored me to tears. And, to be honest, I had other books calling my name and at that time I was more interested in them. I’d still like to pick this back up in a month or so and see if I can get through it when I’m in a different frame of mind.
I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
Hah. After the unbelievable, epic wait for this from the library…maybe I got too excited about it? Maybe I really needed to read it around December/January when resolution-ing is in full swing?
Either way, I was very underwhelmed. The first half of the book — the theory/philosophy, I think Danielle called it — was interesting and full of insight, but (because it was the “theory/philosophy” section) left me going “…great. HOW do I do that?” How do I figure out what my “core desired feelings” are? And then how do I go about basing my life around them? It was all stuff that sounds really great if you’re in a certain position and are able to take certain actions.
And then I had to return the book before I was able to go through the workbook section, so maybe I just kinda failed at meeting it halfway.
Now this…this redeemed the month for me (reading-wise). Lionheart is the fourth installment in Sharon Kay Penman’s epic saga of the Plantagenets, starting with Empress Maude and her fight for England’s throne (When Christ and His Saints Slept), continuing with her son, Henry II and his indefatigable queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Time and Chance, dealing primarily with Henry’s relationship with Thomas Beckett, the ill-fortuned Archbishop of Canterbury, and Devil’s Brood, showing exactly why Henry and Eleanor are not Parents of the Middle Ages), and now telling the story of Richard Coeur de Lion and his journey to Outremer and attempts to recapture Jerusalem in the Third Crusade.
Guys. If you have even the slightest bit of interest in historical fiction, in the Middle Ages, in anything related to European royal families…you have to read these books. When Christ and His Saints Slept made me realize that I love historical fiction. I’m no history expert, but it certainly seems like Penman does her research and takes great care to make her books as accurate as possible (she includes extensive Author’s Notes and Afterwords sharing how she came to certain conclusions, what sources she used, and what liberties she took for the sake of a good story).
So not only does she really make historical figures come alive (I love her version of Eleanor), I feel like when I read these, I learn a lot about different parts of life in the 12th century — what it’s like when a city is under siege, how husbands and wives related to each other, what the Christian faith meant to different people, how they traveled, and so on. It’s also fascinating to learn about how geographically different Europe looked a thousand years ago. Richard was King of England, but he also held lands all over what we now see as France. Phillipe Capet ruled over a France that looks nothing like the country we know today. And somehow — I’m a little fuzzy on this — Richard was king of England, but also Duke of this land and Count of that and somehow was also a vassal of Phillipe.
Anyway. Lionheart lived up to its prequels. It did drag a bit in a few places — I was more interested in the interpersonal relationships, say between Richard and his sister or his wife, or the completely fictional Morgan and Mariam, than battle scene after battle scene. And, as always, there are a crap-ton of characters and it’s not always easy to keep names and allegiances straight. Richard really comes to life on the pages (and if anyone wants to turn this book into a movie starring, say, Chris Hemsworth, I would not be opposed in the least) and now I have to get my hands on A King’s Ransom, which describes Richard’s not-very-pleasant journey home after the Third Crusade.