I’m still running a little behind with these mini-reviews, but we’re slowly catching up. This book are from the end of November into the very start of this month, and we’re sticking with the strange mix of things—we’ve got two art history books, a mystery novel, a romance and a literary dystopian but let’s jump straight in.
Old Mistresses: Women, Art & Ideology by Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock
I’m an art history major who is particularly interested in female artists and this was recommended to me as one of the foundational texts of feminist art history. This was first released in 1982 and it’s clear that it’s one of the early texts on the subject. The thing about reading books like this that were published a while ago is that so much of the discussion has been built up and analysed by newer books and articles that this doesn’t really offer anything. That’s not the fault of the book—it’s just that I’ve read these same arguments that have been expanded further in so many other things that this was no longer really relevant to my own learning. Some of the chapters were still interesting to read, but there was nothing in here that was new to me. I think it might be a good place to start if you’re new to the topic, but otherwise, there’s so much out there these days that seems a little obsolete.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell #1) by Laurie R. King
Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a mystery kick, and I figured it was probably about time that I picked up this one. I’ve been sort of vaguely aware of this for a few years now, but to be quite honest, my interest in Sherlock Holmes never really went past the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch. But one of my best friends, Mel, really likes this series, so I thought I’d give it a shot for her. At the start, I was really enjoying it—I was a bit apprehensive about Mary being fifteen and Sherlock so much older, and that didn’t really go away, but the story was interesting enough that I could put that out of my mind. The first 200 pages kept me interested, but as I got further in, it just felt like it started to drag, and I stopped enjoying myself. While this edition is only 350 pages long, it has small writing, and it really felt like it was taking forever to read. In my opinion, it definitely could’ve been cut down to fix the pacing issues. I also didn’t really love Mary or Sherlock—they definitely got on my nerves a bit. All that being said, I do own book two so I’ll probably end up giving that one a try as well, even if I just end up DNFing it.
Twelve Caesars: Images of Power from the Ancient World to the Modern by Mary Beard
I don’t really know why but at the end of November, I suddenly just got the motivation to finish this, having started it earlier in the year. I was a huge fan of SPQR when I read that in 2021, but I’ve felt a little let down by Mary Beard’s other works, and unfortunately, this one didn’t break that mould. This is a really interesting book—it’s well-researched and completely jam-packed with fascinating information, and I honestly wouldn’t expect any less from Beard. I don’t know whether it was just me, but this one was missing Beard’s usual style of writing—I loved SPQR so much because it feels like Beard is personally telling you the information; her voice is so clear and easy to follow. In comparison, I really struggled with this one and had to reread sentences multiple times to try and catch what was being said. This is also decidedly an art history book—Beard is talking about coins, sculptures and paintings for most of the book rather than actually about the Caesars themselves. As an art history student, knowing about the artworks, painters and collectors, from previous classes I’ve taken, that Beard mentions was really the only thing holding me together. I found that names were often dropped without context, and I spent a good amount of time googling people who kept coming up just so I could keep them straight in my mind if nothing else. I struggled a lot with the ancient history aspect—it’s not an area I know much about beyond what I’ve read from Beard before, but this book seems to expect that its reader has a very good grasp of both ancient history and art history before picking it up—a far cry from the more accessible SPQR. All that said, I didn’t dislike this, but I think it’s something I’d enjoy more with a great knowledge of those topics.
With You Forever (Bergman Brothers #4) by Chloe Liese
It’s always a good day when I get to return to the world of the Bergman Brothers. This series has become such a comfort to me that getting to read them feels like coming home. I had a feeling that I’d love this one been more than usual because I’ve really enjoyed when Rooney, the female MC here, has popped up in the other books. I absolutely love her friendship with Willa, so I was so excited for her to have her own book. And I did love it. This one feels especially cosy because of the way Rooney and Axel are a little isolated, but in a way that just felt comforting. There’s still a little bit of that Bergman family banter that makes this series so fantastic, but this one felt a little quieter. I’d been a little hesitant about the marriage of convenience plot in this one, but honestly, Rooney and Axel are so adorable that it was just a lot of fun. I also really loved the animal companions in this—usually, I’m not a fan of pets in books as much as I love them in real life, I think it’s just the result of watching way too many sad animal movies as a kid. Thankfully, there’s no animal-related drama so this is a safe one if that sort of thing also makes you anxious. And as per usual, the disability/chronic illness representation was fantastic but Chloe Liese is always brilliant at that.
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
This was one of my most anticipated books of the year, but I really didn’t expect to get to it at this point. I was on the waitlist at my library in spot number 20, and then a few days later, I got a message to say it was available to pick up. Of course, I had to read it immediately, especially now it wouldn’t be one I could extend. I was honestly surprised by how quickly I got through it—I read the whole thing in about two days. This book is very strange—both in terms of plot and the response I had to it. The main feeling I had was that if any other author had written this, I would’ve absolutely hated it. This is not my type of story at all—it’s very literary in that it’s driven by characters rather than plot events, but it also has that very whimsical style of writing. I finished the book feeling very unfulfilled and unsure about the ending and the whole purpose of the book. And yet, I completely trusted Ng’s ability to tell the story and to keep me interested. She has this narrative power that very few other authors do for me that just completely takes hold. It’s almost like this compulsion to continue reading. So while the story itself left me wanting more and usually I’d give that a two star rating, I still feel in complete awe of Ng and giving this anything less than a four star doesn’t feel right. This is definitely one of the most quietly beautiful and powerful reads of this year, and quite possibly ever.