Books I read in 2021: Part 4

Today I'll be sharing an overview of the books that I read between October and December 2021. I read a total of nine books that were, for the most part, considerably different from each other. Unsrprisingly,  historical fiction was again the most common genre that I read but there were also a few books with a magical realism or fantastical theme. I also finished a biography about Violette Szabo, an SOE agent during WW2. As has now become my habit, I will share a little bit about each book and hope you will find a few to add to your own 'to be read' list.

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd

This book is narrated from the point of view of  Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, or creature as he is called in this book, that was fist made known to the world by Mary Shelley in her epic novel Frankenstein

In a deserted pottery in Limehouse, Victor carries out experiments on newly-dead corpses in the hope of resurrecting them. The result of his experiments is the creature that is famously, though erroneously, known as Frankenstein.

Sincerely Loree: The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd
This book was just not for me.The author brought early 19th century London to life perfectly but that's probably its only redeeming feature. The male characters (Frankenstein, Shelley and  Byron) were detestable (except for Frankenstein's young servant Fred) and the only interesting personality was the 'creature' who was forced into this world by a man intent on fulfilling the role of creator. Shunned by the rest of humankind for his grotesque appearance, the creature becomes an outcast intent on destroying the man who created him. Like the original, this book encourages the discussion of how far Man should manipulate nature to replace God but it left me cold. I suppose that once a story is told its retelling will never be quite up to par.

Genres: science fiction. horror

My rating: 2 

Leopard At The Door by Jennifer McVeigh

This story is told from the perspective of Rachel Fullsmith who returns to Kenya after spending six years in a boarding school in England. She finds the country much changed and feels like an outsider in the only place she considered home. As the story progresses we see that her sympathies clash with those of her immediate family and that her outlook is very different from that of the previous generation.

I definitely needed to read this book because it took me outside my usual comfort zone (books set in Western Europe and North America). This book about colonial Kenya and the Mau May revolts in the 1950s gave me a lot to think about, especially by considering the different perspectives and ideologies of the characters. Jennifer McVeigh was able to effortlessly transport me to a place I have never been. I could almost feel the heat of Africa rising through the soles of my feet.

⚠️ Attempted rape, violence, death of a parent, casual racism

Genres: historical fiction, Africa

My rating: 4

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

In the autumn of 1686, Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin life as the wife of the wealthy trader Johannes Brandt. Johannes is kind but distant and seeks to make up for this by giving Nella a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of an elusive miniaturist whose tiny creations soon start to mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways. 

Sincerely Loree: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I feel rather ambivalent about this book. I didn't love it or hate it. I thought that the descriptions of late 17th century Amsterdam were well done and it is clear that the author has researched this time period well, which is always a bonus. This novel had a good sense of place, it was fast-paced and there were enough secrets and hints of mystery thrown in to keep me reading on. The first two parts of the book were intriguing and definitely drew me in. But after that it went a bit downhill as there were too many loose ends. I've learnt that there is no be a sequel so it could be that many of my questions will be answered if I decide to read it and that may change my overall opinion of the story. 

Genres: fiction, mystery, fantasy

My rating: 3.1

The Secret  Life Of  Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Lily Owens has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother. Her father is abusive and she only has one friend: Rosaleen, a black servant with a sharp exterior and tender heart. In the Sixties in South Carolina, segregation was still practised and racial tensions explode one hot summer afternoon. Rosaleen is arrested and beaten and Lily helps her to flee from jail. Now fugitives from justice they find sanctuary in the home of the Boatwright sisters who are beekeepers but also so much more.

This book is a wholesome, if rather slow, read. I would have liked it more if I could have identified a bit better with Lily Owens. But I'm not fond of liars, even in fiction. And Lily is a pathological liar alsmot until the end.

August Boatwright definitely kept the book going for me and, in spite of her faults, I was glad that there was a happy ending for Lily. I enjoyed all the facts about the bees and have decided that everyone needs someone like August Boatwright in their lives. The Secret Life Of Bees borders on fantasy in many places, which is fine for me, but other readers may find they have to suspend their disbelief to make the story work.

Genres: coming of age, fiction

My rating: 3

Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have by Susan Ottaway

A comprehensive, if sometimes dry, biography of SOE agent Violette Szabo. Susan Ottaway clearly did a lot of research to write this book about one of WW2's most famous heroines and, in doing so, has shed new light on aspects of Violette's life and work that may not be so well known. She has also righted some myths surrounding Violette that have persisted for decades. However, there were times when the author kept going off at a tangent, describing events and people that had little to no connection to Violette, and this somewhat marred my enjoyment of this book.

Sincerely Loree: Violette Szabo: The Life That I Have by Susan Ottaway

Violette Szabo (born Violette Bushell) was a British-French Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent during the Second World War. On her second mission into occupied France, Szabo was captured by the German army, interrogated, tortured and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, where she was executed on 05 February 1945 at the age of 23. She was posthumously aware the George Cross, the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance.

Genres: non-fiction, biography, WW2

My rating: 3

In The Company Of The Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Bucino Teodoldi, a dwarf, and his mistress, the beautiful courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini, escape the sack of Rome in 1527 and settle in Venice. With very little money and no friends, except for the enigmatic healer known as la Draga, they must use their wits to establish themselves in this city on the water.

This story is narrated by Bucino and, unfortunately, there are pages and pages when we are inside his head. Bucino is not just a pimp but a philosopher and, although I initially found him endearing, in the end it was all a bit too much. I was very much intrigued by Fiammetta and she made the story come alive but the author chose to focus on Bucino leaving Fiammetta very much in the background and I think the plot suffered because of this because she seemed like a highly interesting character. For example, I would have loved to learn more about the dynamics between Fiammetta and La Draga and the friendship that developed between them but we only ever get to see the healer through Bucino's eyes and his opinion is often not very kind. I enjoyed the first two parts of this book but the third veered off into a totally unexpected direction that I am not sure worked very well.

Genres: historical fiction, Italy

My rating: 3

The Collector by John Fowles

Frederick Clegg collects butterflies and takes photographs. He is reclusive and is obsessed with young art student Miranda. Frederick abducts Miranda and locks her up in his cellar, hoping she will eventually grow to love him. Miranda does try to understand him and even feels compassion for him but, inevitably, things do not end well.

Sincerely Loree: The Collector by John Fowles

There's a lot to say about this book but I'll try to keep it brief. It's dark and shocking and definitely not your average read. But there's a lot to think about and much to discuss. It made me feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic, which is probably what the author was aiming for, and Frederick Clegg is perfectly portrayed as utterly despicable. We're inside his head for more than half of the book so it's not a pleasant read. But it's definitely an interesting one - although not for the faint-hearted.

Genres: thriller, fiction, horror (psychological)

My rating: 3.6

Dark Aemelia by Sally O'Reilly

Aemelia Bassano, the daughter of a Venetian musician, is a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. She had a love of  poetry and learning and develops into a beautiful woman with a sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemelia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon until her path crosses that of the impetuous young playwright William Shakespeare and they begin a passionate but ill-fated affair,

I enjoyed this book that was inspired by Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady'. It is a fantastical tale in which magic, the supernatural and superstition abound and the narrative manages to intertwine the lives of Aemelia and Will with the bard's notorious Scottish Play. Aemelia Bassano Lanyer is an intriguing figure. Maybe she comes across as a little bit crazy at times but I genuinely cared about her.

The whole story is based on supposition as there is no historical evidence to suggest that Aemilia was, in fact, Shakespeare's ' Dark Lady' but I never look for facts in a work of fiction. I thought that this novel was entertaining and that it really brought to life early 17th century London. The squalor and disease leap off the pages, as does the low esteem in which women were held. It was heartbreaking to realise what few rights women had and how they were pretty much the property of their fathers or husbands. Aemelia did not fit into this mould very well and chafed against it but was close to helpless to do anything to change it. Dark Aemelia is an unusual book that will probably not appeal to everyone due to some of its subject matter.

Genres: historical fiction, fantasy, supernatural, romance

My rating: 4

My  Name Is Eva by Suzanne Goldring

Evelyn Taylor-Clarke, now in her 90s, lives in a care home and pretends to have dementia to cover up some past actions that are about to catch up with her. I found the whole premise that the novel is based on to be very flimsy. The story leaps back and forth through multiple timelines but we only ever get to see Evelyn's point of view through a series of flashbacks and various letters to her dead husband, Hugh.

Sincerely Loree: My Name Is Eva by Suzanne Goldring

Young Evelyn seems pleasant, if rather naive, but her actions later on in life are extremely questionable. Older Evelyn, with her constant insistence on how she is outwitting everyone, eventually becomes rather tiresome. Throughout the book I could do nothing to suspend my disbelief in the plot. Unfortunately, I didn't really care for Evelyn and just felt sorry for her as it did not seem like she had a very fulfilling life: no friends and no family, except for a niece she disliked, and all because she wanted to exact revenge on Stephen Robinson, the man who she felt was responsible (without any actual proof) for the death of her husband during WW2. Undeniably, Robinson was a nasty piece of work but I thought that her actions only put Evelyn in the same league as him.

I suppose I wanted Evelyn to be a heroine but all I got was a caricature of a person that I couldn't connect with. There are many people who have enjoyed this book and my opinion seems to be in the minority. Maybe this book was just not for me.

Genres: historical fiction, WW2

My rating: 2.2 

With that I've summed up the list of books that I read during 2021. They were a diverse kettle of fish with The Collector and Dark Aemelia standing out in the fiction category due to their subject matter. I now have 22 books already waiting for me to dig my teeth into in 2022 (what a coincidence, 22 in 22). In the meantime, I am passing the time reading a couple of books from the Narnia Chronicles since I think that this time of the year is made for easy reading, especially when you're stuck in quarantine like we are. 

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the readers of this blog a very happy new year. May we all pull together to defeat this microbe that has been wreaking havoc with our lives since 2020. Wishing you all health and joy. I will be back with more to say in 2022 and I hope you will be here to read it.


Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Interesting list. Thank you, I always enjoy how well you write about both pros and cons of the books.
What a memory, "The Collector," I read in high school. It haunted me for years. Maybe it is one of those books to read again.

Loree said...

@Mawywn: yes, it is a very chilling and thought-provoking book.

Debbie Nolan said...

Loree thank you so much for your opinions of all these books. This is quite a list. I have always wanted to read "The Secret Life of Bees". Sue Monk Kidd has written other books too. She is a very interesting author. Well I will look forward to your 2022 list. Hope you are enjoying the Chronicles of Narnia. Take care and God Bless!

Pipistrello said...

You are a harsh critic, Loree! Such an interesting mixed bag in your roundup, as ever. I have read the Sarah Dunant, and the next in her loose "trilogy", and thought this was the better of the two. It seems I enjoyed it more than you may have - but I'll usually happily lose myself in most period writing. There's a beautifully filmed tv adaptation of The Miniaturist if you're interested to seek out - I think it was last year I watched it - and thank you for the reminder about it as it sounds like it's going onto My List :)

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

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