The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick. 1/5
I thought I would like this book-it’s got lots of elements I usually enjoy: archives, antiquarian books, manuscripts, lost documents, secret places and things related to history. But alas. It’s got too many problems for me to enjoy, starting with the use of the term “Dark Ages,” which historians and literature scholars and everyone in the know stopped using years ago because of its problematic assumptions. Right there the book’s offended or come across as so poorly researched and written that no one with interests in history would read it. Then there was the claim that Welsh was “incomprehensible.” That just turned off all of the language nerds. Then there were the characters, who were right out of central casting and notably lacking in depth. In fact, the main character’s complaint that her relationships go nowhere–and/or that she can’t maintain relationships–is because she’s so flat as a character that there’s nothing for anyone to be attracted to. Add to these things a bevy of minor irritations because of lack of research and understanding of the scholarly fields the author is trying to tap into, and the book is a mess.
The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia. 2/5
The beginning of this book hints at the magical realism of Garcia Marquez and others from Latin America, but the novel never really fulfills this. What follows is a rather tepid family saga, set during the Spanish flu, Mexican governmental reform and land rights issues, and women’s rights during the early 20th century. None of the characters are particularly well-developed or deep, and the writing was occasionally awkward and difficult to parse.
Death and Destruction on the Thames in London by Anthony Galvin. 1/5
By the writing style I assumed this was for young readers. Then I read a passage quoting Samuel Pepys’s description of him having sex with one of his servants and it was a bit explicit for the ages 6-8 set. So then I though, “perhaps it’s just condescending.” This was verified as I read further. It’s condescending and annoying and not very historical. It’s full of anecdotes, mostly told badly, with some asinine sexist jokes. There’s little actually about the Thames; the connections are very tenuous, as in Jane Grey was executed and was transported via the Thames to the Tower. Give it a miss.