Posted on January 26th, 2013
This year I set a goal of reading 100 books. Ten down. I decided that I would let myself read more fiction, because 1) I need to and 2) I’ll rock that goal if I do.
Conveniently, my phone has decided that it will no longer permit me to play Words with Friends, so I have a bit of extra leisure. This is what I’ve read:
A House in Gross Disorder: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven by Cynthia Herrup. 3 stars.
I really should give it two, but I’m glad this book was written, and I’m glad I learned about this case.
It’s on an amazing piece of history: the trial of the 2d Earl of Castlehaven for rape (forcing a servant/favorite to rape his wife and another his daughter-in-law) and buggery. The trial takes place in 1631, when Charles I is king (especially given his father’s court), right before everything in England goes to shit.
Lawyers everywhere should know everything about this trial. It raises all sorts of evidentiary and sovereignty issues. It’s important in the development of queer rights.
But this book is excruciatingly dull. It’s repetitive. It’s nonlinear. The prose is turgid. The really interesting parts (for lawyers — the trial!) is cursory. I don’t know how you can make the sex trial of the (17th) century boring, but…
The American Cousin (Signet Regency Romance) Three stars.
Read for Regency Errata: here’s the scoop.
Unnatural Murder: Poison At the Court Of James I by Anne Somerset. Five stars.
Jacobean intrigue, homosexuality, illicit lovers, murder (or was it?), and a whole mess of criminal trials presided over by Coke and Bacon. It does not get better than this for a lawyer who loves early modern history.
It’s extraordinary. I’d give it six stars if I could. I’m well on my way to being an Anne Somerset groupie. (She is one of the historians whom I’d like to adopt me. I realize that would have made her a very young mother, but I’m willing to lie about my age.)
Empowering Gifted Minds: Educational Advocacy That Works by Barbara Gilman. Four stars.
Don’t judge. Maybe I am like every other mother who thinks her kid is gifted. Maybe I’m wrong. But this book was great for learning about testing methods and how to work with the school system to get bright kids enrichment and other things they need to succeed. In all honesty, I skimmed everything for older kids and focused more on the aspects for younger children.
History of the House of Lords by Lord Longford. Four stars.
This book is like having your own personal earl (it’s written by the 7th Earl of Longford) tell anecdotes about parliamentary history and procedure. If that is your thing, you will probably enjoy this book. If it is not your thing, you probably won’t.
I enjoyed it. I normally speedread — it’s just how I read; I didn’t know that wasn’t typical until I was in my late twenties — but could not do it for this book. Nope. I heard a very RP sort of voice narrate the entire book. It took a long time and it was disconcerting.
Lord Longford was known for his investigation into pornography…and in reading this I had a vague feeling of reading something pornographic. I didn’t read it outside the confines of my office. I’m too damned American to be permitted a book about the House of Lords? I don’t know. I hope not, because there is Peers, Politics and Power: House of Lords, 1603-1911 waiting for me. And if you go to the link, I didn’t pay anywhere NEAR that!
Interesting trivia: Lord Longford was the father of Lady Antonia Fraser (who is also welcome to adopt me, although she has plenty of children already). His wife wrote the introduction to the book, which describes the induction ceremony of a new peer to the House of Lords. She, too, was a writer and historian. The book is almost worth it for the introduction alone.
The Explorer by James Smythe. Three stars.
What an interesting, odd dirty space novel. I started it at midnight one night and finished at 2 AM. If this wasn’t written with a mind to be turned into a film, I’d be very surprised. I had thought it would be a one trick pony, but there are some nice twists. (I’d tell you more than the blurb did, but then you’d hate the spoilers.)
It’s rare I comment on an author’s bio, but my god, he comes off like a conceited jerk. If he wrote it himself, shame on him. If someone else did, what the hell were they thinking?
It’s probably 3.5 stars. Rounding down because 1) it’s a very short book, 2) narrator’s voice was grating and contrived at times, and 3) it veered into misogyny.
The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV by Anne Somerset. Four stars.
This is the French version of the Salem Witch Trials, except it took place about a decade earlier and lasted longer — the French are always so avant-garde.
In a nutshell: there’s mass hysteria over poisonings, which results in setting up a investigatory commission. (It’s really investigative and judicial.) This casts a wide net that ensnares not only the usual suspects, but also some important figures at court. Incredible claims are made. People are tortured, have hands chopped off, are beheaded, and burned. I came away from this thinking, “Yeah, the guillotine really was a humane invention.”
Legal trivia aside: The French had an interesting way of using torture to extract confessions or information: only after a defendant had been convicted would he be tortured. He’d be allowed to rest (this is usually when the defendant would offer up more information). *Then* he’d be executed.
This was less readable for me because my French is poor, my memory for French noble titles is worse, and I had to constantly flip to the cast of characters to keep track of people.
Daring Masquerade by Mary Balogh.3 stars.
I read this for Regency Errata. It didn’t have enough history in it worth nitpicking, but it did kill a couple of hours.
Not Quite Dead Enough (Nero Wolfe Mysteries) by Rex Stout. 4 stars.
This was a reread. I love Nero Wolfe and I miss the TV show with Timothy Hutton (his voice as Archie now narrates every Nero Wolfe story I read — but since he spoke quickly as Archie, this breezes right along). This book is a reprint of two 1940s wartime stories.
A Short History of Parliament: England, Great Britain, The United Kingdom, Ireland and Scotland (Heritage Matters) edited by Clyve Jones. 5 stars.
This is basically Parliament 101. It’s a readable textbook, and since I am in the process on geeking out on the history of Parliament, I loved it. You’re not going to find in depth analysis here, but this is a great place to start. The introduction made me laugh out loud, which was surprising. I wish all of my undergraduate history texts had been this entertaining to read. I think I annoyed my husband by constantly saying, “Hey, listen to this…”
And I’m currently reading Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow, who is the other historian I want to adopt me (again, completely willing to lie about my age!). So far, it’s been absolutely delightful.