Book Reviews 1/17

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Shades of Milk and Honey is the kind of book I wish I had written myself. What if magic existed in the Regency Era, and young ladies were expected to be able to weave its illusory powers as an accomplishment alongside the pianoforte and painting? You’ll find at least half a dozen tributes to Jane Austen here, but the story still maintains an originality all its own.

Although it is a fast and easy read, I found the modern tone a bit too anachronistic. Still, the descriptions of glamour, pelisees, and gentlemen on horseback are most diverting. Magic isn’t used as a crutch for good storytelling–the plot is compelling even without the fantastical elements.

The author does not possess Jane Austen’s singular wit and deep insight into the human psyche, but hey, sometimes a cravat is just a cravat. If a spectrum exists, I imagine nonsense like Lost in Austen on one far end and the true classics written by Austen herself on the other. In my estimation, Shades of Milk and Honey falls center-right toward Austen, and that’s good enough for me. I’ll probably read at least one of the sequels.

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A Natural History of Dragons is an alternate history set in the Victorian era. Can you believe this cover? It makes me happy just looking at it. Note to book publishers everywhere: stop using cheesy photo manipulation. Commission real artists for a change!

My interest in this book was piqued when I learned that the author enjoys roleplaying (ah, a fellow gamer!). If you love zoology, mythology, Victorian romance or dangerous expeditions akin to Darwin’s voyage on The Beagle, this story is for you.

I’m sorry to say the author trots out the tired trope of the oppressed Victorian woman. The feminist parti pris only weighs the story down, unless you’re the type of reader who thrills at this kind of whitewashed retelling of history. It does create a good vantage point for people to look down their noses at the past and feel smug in their own modern sensibilities. In point of fact, women studied history, literature, astronomy, botany, mathematics and, yes, zoology. Mary Anning was perhaps one of the most acclaimed paleontologists of the Victorian era, praised by no less than Charles Darwin. By attempting to make the protagonist so forward-thinking, the author actually underestimates and devalues women of that era.

Still, one can forgive such a commonly held misconception, particularly since this book is set in an alternative timeline. The memoir is full of humor and suspense, the illustrations are delightful, and I’ll be spending a little more time with dragons exist in the sequels.

howtoliveon24hoursadayFirst published in 1910, How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (link to the audiobook for $0.99) is a brief treatise on how to truly live versus merely existing. Bennett worried that the swelling middle class in post-industrial England was falling prey to the monotony of the 40 hour work week. Sound familiar? In order to break the mindless work-eat-sleep-work cycle, he suggests seizing upon a certain amount of leisure time and using it to better oneself.

The author advises carving out time to read great literature, take an interest in the arts, learn a new skill, or practice inward reflection gained by the reading of philosophy. He then coaches you on creating and sticking to a routine without becoming a slave to it. Definitely an inspiration as we start the new year!

“Which of us lives on twenty-four hours a day? And when I say ‘lives,’ I do not mean exists, nor ‘muddles through.’ Which of us is free from that uneasy feeling that the ‘great spending departments’ of his daily life are not managed as they ought to be? Which of us is not saying to himself — which of us has not been saying to himself all his life: ‘I shall alter that when I have a little more time’? We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”

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