Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors (The History of England, #1)Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intended for a popular audience, not an academic one. There are no maps, no genealogical tables, and no footnotes. The style is breezy and narrative, ranging back and forth from kings and politics to the common people. Lots of digressions on various topics like architecture, games and sports, the development of bronze, the practice of medicine, etc. This covers prehistory up to the Tudors, so there is a clear sense of the development of various institutions over time. In his “conclusion” the author emphasizes his decision that this focuses on England only, leaving Wales, Scotland and Ireland for other historians. Though we do get a brief page on Owen Glendower. This isn’t the best historical overview I’ve read, but I enjoyed it, and 4 stars means I’ll likely read more in the series. If I have a complaint, it is that it tries to cover too much. I would have preferred a separate volume on the Plantagenets, which would have allowed a little more detail.

Book description: In Foundation, acclaimed historian Peter Ackroyd tells the epic story of England itself. He takes us from the primeval forests of England’s prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He describes the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French. With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place and his acute eye for the telling detail, Ackroyd recounts the story of warring kings, of civil strife, and foreign wars. But he also gives us a vivid sense of how England’s early people lived: the homes they built, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, even the jokes they told. All are brought to life in this history of England through the narrative mastery of one of Britain’s finest writers.

An Untamed State

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a book I would have chosen voluntarily – it was for a book club. Although I join book clubs because I want to read books like this that are outside my comfort zone. Giving this a rating is extremely difficult. The writing is quite good – the subject matter is horrendous and disturbing, so I’m not going to say “I really liked it”. Not a book I will forget, but I wanted to learn more from it about Haiti and the awful divide between rich and poor. Maybe there isn’t more to know. This doesn’t really fit my theme of “black-lives-matter.” Yes, it is set in a culture where such kidnappings happen every day, but it isn’t about race. Mireille could be any woman in any culture. Women are always the victims. You cannot feel sorry for the men who act out their anger and rage and their quest for power and money. This is the story of one such woman, her life divided starkly into “before” and “after,” and the people (and readers) who struggle to comprehend what she went through. Yes, I felt as helpless and as frustrated with her as her husband Michael. Which doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s just that the magnitude of damage portrayed (physical and psychological) is far, far outside my own experience. And God willing, always will be.

I loved the relationship between Mireille and her mother-in-law Lorraine. I’ve lived in Nebraska, and now rural Minnesota, and I know farm wives just like her, cautious, slow to warm, and self-deprecating, but it is Lorraine’s practical, no-nonsense compassion that allows Mireille the safe place and the time she needs to come to terms with her ordeal.

Book description: Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men. Held captive by a man who calls himself the Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As her father’s standoff with the kidnappers stretches out into days, Mireille must endure the torture and rape of the men who resent everything she represents. After her release, she struggles to find her way back to the person she once was.

Happy New Year 2017

Every year, starting as early as November, I try and set out my reading goals for the coming year. My overall total is always 48 books, but that doesn’t stop me from setting out grand pyramid goals, which if I actually completed them, would require reading well over 100 books. And every year I choose some sort of unique “theme.” There was the year I read books related to Moby Dick in some way. The _____ Wife titles. And titles with birds in them. Last year it ended up being non-fictions books about the Plantagenets because that’s what I chose to present as part of a reader’s advisory panel at the Minnesota Library Association annual conference. I hadn’t planned to participate, but volunteers were short, so I came up with a topic and stepped in. Naturally these themes don’t go away after a year. New books keep coming out, and I keep adding to those lists. I’ll never read all the Wife titles on my To Be Read (TBR) shelf!

2017 might be the year I play catch up. Catch up on books I’ve started and stopped for whatever reasons, series I want to continue, books that have been on my TBR shelf the longest. And now, all the books on the Plantagenets that I wanted to read and didn’t get to. My overall goal was not even close for 2016. I managed 36 books, and 7 of those were rereads of Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mysteries which I did not review here.

So here is my pyramid for 2017 – I do allow books to count in more than one column, so my overall goal is still only 48 books…

12 books: Started, never finished (these will all overlap)

11 books: Historical fiction (can overlap, but not including Walter Scott nominees, below)

10 books: Daytimer’s Book Club (this is a group I manage through the library and I pick all the titles we will read. We meet monthly, but I’ve already read two of the titles – that’s why it’s 10…)

9 books: Next in series to read (but not including Mrs. Murphy rereads)

8 books: Newest TBR (Library books currently checked out, and any that catch my eye this year and add…)

7 books: Oldest TBR

6 books: Mrs. Murphy rereads

5 books: Walter Scott nominees

4 books: Medieval non-fiction

3 books: Leftovers from previous themes

2 books: Black Lives Matter (this is sort of a mini-theme for the Daytimer’s Book Club this year, so this is expanding on that theme and not including Daytimer’s books)

1 book: Understanding Politics, or “How the Hell did Donald Trump get elected” (not something I want to read, but I feel I should)

Wish me luck! I’ve created a separate page, which I will try and remember to update as I finish my books.