I'm afraid I didn't enjoy this book as much as so many other readers did. Everything about this novel is dark - the characters, the descriptions, the...moreI'm afraid I didn't enjoy this book as much as so many other readers did. Everything about this novel is dark - the characters, the descriptions, the plot line, and even the scenery contribute to a feeling of darkness closing in around you.
America has been burned and there is little left except for evil and outlaws. A father and son travel a road, supposedly heading for the coast, and they walk - following 'The Road' - across what is left of America to get there. They encounter mostly evil along the way, but a few bright spots of sad goodness. Don't expect an action-packed thriller here. Rather, the book is introspective and focuses on the father and child and how they relate to the changed world around them.
A novel told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette, this sympathetic portrait paints the French queen as a naive but well-meaning young girl who is...moreA novel told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette, this sympathetic portrait paints the French queen as a naive but well-meaning young girl who is completely unaware of her responsibilities and the consequences of her innocent actions.
Novels about Marie Antoinette seem to fall into one of two camps: either they portray her as an innocent or a serpent. The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in between. It is up to you to read as much as you can and then make up your own mind. This novel, with that in mind, is well worth reading. The court descriptions are rich in detail, but never tedious or detracting from the story. Marie herself comes across as a bit simpering, though, and there are times you want to just give the girl a good shake and tell her to "wake up!." Aside from that, it is an enjoyable read and a nice departure from the swamp of Tudor England novels out there.(less)
The second novel in Sharon Kay Penman's Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy was released in 2003 under the title Time and Chance. Picking up where When Chris...moreThe second novel in Sharon Kay Penman's Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy was released in 2003 under the title Time and Chance. Picking up where When Christ and His Saints Slept left off, it continues to follow the fascinating story of the Plantagenet's quest to rule England, Normandy and ultimately far beyond.
In Time and Chance, it is Maude's eldest son, Henry, who picks up the fight for the crown and goes on to become King Henry II. But England and Normandy are just a small piece of the empire Henry would come to rule. Enter Eleanor of Aquitaine, the infamous beauty who would become the one woman in history to hold both the title of Queen of France and Queen of England in her lifetime.
Penman's characterization of Eleanor is riveting. Shrewdly intelligent and ambitious, it is Eleanor who orchestrates her divorce from the overly-pious King Louis VII and throws her lot in with Henry instead. As a result, Henry and Eleanor ruled an empire that stretched all the way to the Mediterranean -- not an easy piece of real estate to manage in the 12th century -- and much of Time and Chance is concerned with the various upheavals and rebellions Henry had to quell.
Despite their hectic schedule, Henry and Eleanor still find time to produce eight children (lovingly referred to by later chroniclers as "the Devil's brood") and Henry, like most other royal men, found himself a mistress by the name of Rosamund.
One of the more interesting aspects of Time and Chance is the exploration of Henry's complicated relationship with Thomas Becket, his friend, chancellor and later Archbishop of Canterbury. As the legend goes, Henry and Thomas had a falling out and Henry, out of frustration, asked the infamous question: "Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?!" Or at least, words to this effect. (Penman wisely chooses a variation of this phrase in Time and Chance.) Regardless of the exact phraseology -- history is a bit fuzzy on this point -- the result was catastrophic. Thomas Becket was murdered in his own church, paving the way for his martyrdom and haunting Henry for the rest of his life.
If there are any problems, it is with the sheer volume of historic events Penmen packs into this novel. Events of such a grand scale led to a fracture in the flow of the narrative. After building tension with Henry and Beckett, the conflict then goes unmentioned for several chapters. Likewise with Henry's stormy relationship with Eleanor. The result is a somewhat disjointed feeling to the story, although Penman must be forgiven for this considering the large time frame she is covering.
Despite this small flaw, there is no reason not to pick up this second book of the trilogy. Time and Chance focuses on the political scene of the 12th century and provides the necessary broader picture that paves the way for the newly-released Devil's Brood, which explores, on a more personal level, the disintegration of Henry and Eleanor's marriage and the hornet's nest of children they produced.
Remember your college Greek mythology classes? If your memory is a little fuzzy, it will all come flooding back to you when you read Margaret George's...moreRemember your college Greek mythology classes? If your memory is a little fuzzy, it will all come flooding back to you when you read Margaret George's Helen of Troy. Ms. George recreates the story from Helen's point of view and beginning with Helen's childhood, she paints a fairly vivid picture of Helen's family, her home of Sparta, and the circumstances that led to her sad marriage to Menelaus. When Paris enters the picture, as I'm sure you remember, it's pretty much game-over and the beautiful Helen is spirited off to Troy, leading to the infamous Trojan War.
Peripheral characters make the novel quite enjoyable: Priam, Agamemnon, Cytemnestra, Odysseus and Hector, amongst others, all make a good showing and are quite developed, character-wise, for a novel this length. (I'm sure 638 pages seems like a lot, but for the legend this encompasses, Ms. George had to condense quite a bit here.)
Now for my reaction: I never quite developed any sympathy for Helen and Paris. Their utter selfishness came across as irritating, as opposed to uncontrollable fate. I continually felt the need to give Helen a slap and tell her to "buck up." Paris came across as immature - not a man to fall in love with, but a boy who feels entitled to whatever he wants, at any cost. The supporting cast is delightful, however, and made the story worth a read.
This isn't a so-called "heavy read" by any means. It rather strikes me as something that might be classified as a summer beach novel. Fun, but not serious historical fiction. (less)
If you are a fan of British history, particularly the Tudor period, you are probably familiar with this author. Alison Weir is a noted historian and p...moreIf you are a fan of British history, particularly the Tudor period, you are probably familiar with this author. Alison Weir is a noted historian and proliferate writer of many well-received non-fiction books, including 'The Princes in the Tower' and 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII.'
'Innocent Traitor' is the author's debut fiction work and I'm pleased to report that she succeeds quite well. The story of Lady Jane Grey is a small footnote in British history. Upon the death of young Edward VI, Jane's family schemes to use her tenuous royal connections (Jane was Henry VIII's great-niece) to set Jane upon the throne of England. Her reign lasted just nine short days before the rightful heir to the throne, Queen Mary I, seized power. Jane was only fifteen years old and her story definitely falls into the "tragic" category.
Ms. Weir's novel tells Jane's story, flitting between several points of view, including Jane herself, her mother Frances Brandon, her nurse, Queen Katherine (Parr), Queen Mary I, and John Dudley, Jane's husband. In a lesser author's hands, the numerous and rapid changes in point of view could have resulted in a confusing, disjointed work. But Ms. Weir manages it fairly seamlessly and the different viewpoints come together for a more complete understanding of Jane and circumstances swirling out of control around her.
In the end, we are left with a compelling portrait of a very young, naive teenager who had the misfortune of being born into an overly-ambitious, scheming family who did not scruple to use this innocent girl to achieve their own ends. Tragically, it is Jane who must pay the ultimate price for their follies.
This is a piece of historical fiction that I would recommend even for those who don't typically delve into this genre. Young adults (especially teenage girls) would likely find this story compelling and find a level of empathy with Jane.(less)
Every once in a blue moon, a novel comes along that reminds you why it is you are obsessed with books. This is that book. It may be as close to perfec...moreEvery once in a blue moon, a novel comes along that reminds you why it is you are obsessed with books. This is that book. It may be as close to perfection as a novel can get.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society tells the epistolary story of one Juliet Ashton, a columnist and new author living in post-WWII London. Through her witty, insightful letters we are introduced to the delightful inhabitants of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel occupied by Germans during the war. A much larger tale emerges and we, along with Juliet, are drawn into their world.
Think of savoring a meal at your favorite restaurant. You want to relish every bite and each bite tastes better than the last. That is what it is like to experience this novel. Each letter, each paragraph, is delicious.
Do NOT miss reading this book. Go out and get your hands on a copy right now and then set aside the next couple of days to read it. You will not regret it.(less)
Requiem, and you'll forgive me for shortening the title, manages to defy any one genre: part historical fiction, part Gothic romance with a healthy do...moreRequiem, and you'll forgive me for shortening the title, manages to defy any one genre: part historical fiction, part Gothic romance with a healthy dose of magical realism. It is the story of author Mary Shelley and her extraordinary, unconventional (and that is putting it mildly) life as experienced by Anna, a modern day American scholar on a research trip to England. It is Anna who finds herself, via a rich tapestry of dreams within other dreams, actually becoming Shelley. Are dreams reality? Where is the line drawn? Is there a line?
The early 19th century was a time of literary upheaval: rebellion against the Enlightenment period, which emphasized reason above all else, arose in the form of Romanticism and placed great importance on emotional interpretation and creation of literature and art. The great authors and poets of the time were not singular entities. They were close friends and confidants; contemporaries who fed off of each other, sharing ideas, beliefs, and even (so it's been claimed) their spouses.
Ms. Dwyer cleverly immerses us in Mary Shelley's life and that of all of her contemporaries: her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and essayist Charles Lamb, to name a few. Their lives were filled with passion, betrayal and heart wrenching loss. They threw societal mores and values out the window and paid the ultimate price. The superb narrative in Requiem is so compelling that the reader receives a first-rate education in Romanticism without realizing it.
Ms. Dwyer demonstrates a command of the time period with accurate historic details and realistic dialogue, neither of which bogs down the narrative. The story immerses you an exciting period of literary history when boundaries were pushed and broken.
Highly recommended for your own personal reading enjoyment, I would also recommend Requiem as an extraordinary book club selection - there's enough fascinating material here to keep a book club occupied for months! If you are familiar with Mary Shelley and her intimate circle of Romantic Poets, this book will delight you. If you aren't, I'd venture to say that Requiem surpasses most college courses on the Romantics available today. Either way, this book is a treat.(less)
The remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman began in 1996 with the publication of When Christ and His Saints Slept. Thus begins t...moreThe remarkable Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman began in 1996 with the publication of When Christ and His Saints Slept. Thus begins the remarkable story of the Angevins and their conquest of the English throne.
In the fall of 1120, off the coast of Normandy, the infamous White Ship ran aground, leading to the drowning of William Adelin. This in itself may have just been a footnote in history but for the fact that William happened to be the only legitimate male offspring of Henry I, Duke of Normandy and King of England. As you might imagine, this presented quite a problem.
This is where Penman's fascinating tale of royal machinations and scheming begins. The novel follows the story of Henry I's daughter, Maude (remembered historically as Matilda, but to avoid confusion Penman -- thankfully -- uses the interchangeable name of Maude) and her quest for the throne of England, which was skillfully wrenched away by her likable, politically inept cousin, Stephen of Blois.
The politics and players of the time were numerous and convoluted, but Penman doesn't simplify to appease readers. Instead, she embraces it and the result is one of the most intelligent, informative novels of historical fiction to grace our bookshelves. Tangled relationships are clearly defined and twisted motives are neatly presented, making for a historically accurate account of one of the longest, bitterest fights for a throne that was to last well over a dozen years and ravage the English countryside. The devastation and death it brought to the English people was so complete that chroniclers of the day referred to their period as the time "when Christ and his saints slept." (Catchy, huh?)
At 768 pages, this isn't a light read by any estimation. The thirty-four years covered in this novel ends with the death of Stephen, leaving the rapt reader to rush over to Wikipedia to find out what happens next. Thankfully, it also left the door open for a sequel, the second book in the series, Time and Chance.
As usual, Penman provides the reader a thorough author's note to explain any historic deviations in her story. She explains the use of any fictional characters and carefully clarifies time and place, which only adds legitimacy to her already meticulous presentation.
If you haven't yet picked up a Penman novel, When Christ and His Saints Slept is the perfect introduction to a writer renowned for her command of historical fiction. (less)
The newly released To Siberia, by award-winning author Per Petterson, is a poignant story of a young girl and her brother growing up in northern Denma...moreThe newly released To Siberia, by award-winning author Per Petterson, is a poignant story of a young girl and her brother growing up in northern Denmark during World War II and the life-altering ramifications following the Nazi invasion of Denmark.
The sparse, almost poetically written story is recounted by a 60 year-old woman looking back on her childhood and her special closeness to her older brother. Growing up in hard economic times in a remote part of Denmark with a family focused on survival left little room for love and nurture. The siblings learn to rely on each other instead and like all children growing up in small towns, they dream of the day they will leave: our narrator dreams of taking the Trans-Siberian railroad, while her brother longs for the day he can leave for Morocco.
Family tragedy forces the narrator to rely even more on her brother and later, as he becomes more involved in the Nazi resistance, his actions will lead to events that will change not only the directions their lives take, but also their perceptions of the world and the people in it. This is as much a tale of how events shape the person we become as it is a stark coming-of-age story.
Concentration on the part of the reader is mandatory: time and place will change quickly, often within a single sentence. You will not find a comprehensive history of the Nazi invasion of Denmark here. The novel is more like a series of snapshots which, when pieced together, reveal the personal consequences of an historical event.
If you are looking for a quick, easily digestible read this is not the book you are looking for. But if you are willing to put in the effort, you will be rewarded with beautifully written passages that will stay with you for a lifetime. (less)
For many fans of historical fiction, Jean Plaidy's books are a treasure. For me, they are like a favorite blanket: perhaps a little dated and not on t...moreFor many fans of historical fiction, Jean Plaidy's books are a treasure. For me, they are like a favorite blanket: perhaps a little dated and not on the cutting edge of a fad, but something familiar and comfortable.
The Queen's Secret, originally published in 1990 by G.P. Putnam's Sons and then reissued by Three Rivers Press in 2007, was one of Plaidy's later works and tells the story of Katherine of Valois, wife of Henry V, mother to Henry VII and by virtue of her second marriage to Owen Tudor, the founder of the Tudor kings of England.
The story is told in Katherine's voice and begins with her childhood in France as the daughter of King Charles VI, known to history as King Charles the Mad. Unable to maintain his lucidity or authority, France deteriorated into civil war in the early 15th century and the English, led by King Henry V, were able to divide, invade and conquer.
In the aftermath of the infamous Battle of Agincourt (remember? Shakespeare, anyone?), a tenative peace treaty was negotiated which acknowledged Henry to be the successor to the French crown once mad King Charles kicked the proverbial bucket and also threw in poor Katherine to sweeten the pot for Henry. They were married soon after and she bore him one child who would later become King Henry VI, although her new husband croaked soon after.
Being a widow turned out to be a good thing for Katherine. She fell in love with a Welsh commoner named Owen Tudor. They married in secret and went on to have four children, through which the Tudor line of kings would emerge. For those unfamiliar with this part of English history, I won't give away the ending, but it is a compelling tale.
Plaidy is, as usual, very true to her characters and historical facts. The voice of Katherine is almost child-like, which helps Plaidy disseminate the convoluted politics of the day in a manner readers can easily keep up with, but also likely reflects Katherine's actual knowledge of events. Despite being Queen of England, there seems to be little historical evidence that Katherine had anything to do with political intrigue. The dialog is beautifully simple, as well. Think Anna Sewell and Black Beauty.
The only complaint I had was a slight mix-up in the author's own timeline: in the story, Katherine and Owen, we are told, become lovers on the night that Katherine's young son, Henry VI, is taken from her at the age of two to be raised in another household. Later, we skip ahead in time and young Henry is now five years old when Katherine discovers she is pregnant by Owen. Plaidy writes
"Why I should have been so surprised, I cannot imagine. Owen and I had been passionate lovers for some months." (Katherine in The Queen's Secret)
Well, I suppose three years can be considered "some months," but the inconsistency leaped out at me. This, coupled with the constant foreshadowing of doom and gloom, were my only bugaboos about the story.
But these small flaws should be overlooked in the face of such a wonderful tale. This is a time period not often covered by historical fiction authors. Katherine and her contemporaries, such as Joan of Arc, were to change the fate both England and France. I highly recommend this read to any historical fiction fan as it makes accessible a time period too often overlooked.
Brilliant story involving King John, Richard the Lion Heart, and John's illegitimate daughter Joanna, whom he wed off to Llewelyn, Prince of North Wal...moreBrilliant story involving King John, Richard the Lion Heart, and John's illegitimate daughter Joanna, whom he wed off to Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales. A little too romance-y, but excellent. First in a trilogy; followed by 'Falls the Shadow' and 'The Reckoning.'(less)
For those of you who are tired of the endless empty campaign promises, finger-pointing, and soapbox platforms, author Marty Beckerman has provided som...moreFor those of you who are tired of the endless empty campaign promises, finger-pointing, and soapbox platforms, author Marty Beckerman has provided some much-needed comic relief in the form of Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots.
It has ever been my contention that if we picked ten random Republicans and ten random Democrats off the street and locked them in a room together, we'd find that we meet in the middle more often than not. The problem is - and has always been - that the important issues are not decided by the "average" American. Rather, it is people with extreme, inflexible platforms who do their best to polarize the American public and make compromise impossible.
In a quest to understand the fundamentalists at both sides of the political spectrum (you know, the ones who make compromise impossible), Beckerman spent four years in their world, interviewing, attending thier funcions and rallies, and just in general taking one for the team and saving the rest of us from their extremist vitriol. Covering incendiary topics such as abortion, women's rights, freedom of speech, and international relations (amongst many others), Beckerman pokes fun at the ridiculous lunatics who shape our laws and policy, making for many laugh-out-loud moments.
As the title of the book implies, Beckerman goes after the left and right ends of the political spectrum with equal zeal. But underneath the sarcasm and humor this book brimming with good research. And it has to be, because you wouldn't believe the idiocy of our leaders without documentation to back it up. With biting wit and commentary Beckerman reveals the root of voter apathy: what sane person even wants to wade through the lunacy surrounding politics?
A word of warning: Dumbocracy is not for the prudish. Like most of us, the subject of politics brings forth language that would make a sailor blush (with apologies to any sailors out there) and this author is no exception. Crossing the line into unnecessary crudeness in places, you might want to skip this if you have delicate sensibilities. Don't say I didn't warn you. But you will laugh till your sides hurt, so don't say I didn't warn you about that, either.(less)
Devil's Brood is the long-awaited latest installment of Sharon Kay Penman's brilliant Eleanor of Aquitaine series. Preceeded by When Christ and His Sa...moreDevil's Brood is the long-awaited latest installment of Sharon Kay Penman's brilliant Eleanor of Aquitaine series. Preceeded by When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance, Devil's Brood seamlessly picks up the story of King Henry II and his dysfunctional family just as his eldest children reach adulthood and begin wreaking havoc in Henry's world.
Where Saints and Time and Chance were a recounting of the convoluted politics of the time and the circumstances that led to Henry's grabbing of the crown and his marriage to Eleanor, the famous Aquitaine heiress and former Queen of France, Devil's Brood is a portrait of a family disintegration. Penman was faced with the difficult challenge of supplying credible motivations for these larger-than-life historical figures, something that often cannot be gleaned from pure research. Happily, she exceeded expectations and has produced not only an historically accurate and detailed novel, but a psychological study of a family meltdown.
Penman succeeded in avoiding one-dimensional characters with singular motivations. Like most families, the Plantagenet family falls apart due to human failings still found today: infidelity, immature and rebellious teenagers, pride and stubbornness. Each character has an opportunity to stop this train wreck, yet none do and tragedy ensues.
The only character who escapes Penman's analysis is Rosamund Clifford, Henry's mistress and a thorn in Eleanor's side. Although she has quite a role in the story, it is unfortunate that her motivations are simplistic and a bit of a cliche: she appears to be only an insipid and vapid goody two-shoes. Any sympathy or understanding for her character is difficult to muster and her eventual exit from the Plantagenet's lives is somewhat of a relief, if only because reading about her becomes quite tiring.
Penman is a master of dialogue and Devil's Brood continues her tradition. Few historical fiction authors have the ability to seamlessly weave such pertinent period information into their dialogue. She also provides biting wit, which in the case of Henry and Eleanor is particularly appropriate (how many of us can forget Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn battling it out in The Lion in Winter?)
Fans who have eagerly awaited this release will not, thankfully, be disappointed in this newest Penman novel and I daresay some new fans will be created who will now join in the vigil for the next novel in the series. Whether you must beg, borrow or steal (or perhaps just simply purchase) this book, do so. You won't be sorry you did.(less)
As a true Jane Austen fan, I had until recently shunned all attempted "sequels" to any of Ms. Austen's great works. Fearing disappointment, I did not...moreAs a true Jane Austen fan, I had until recently shunned all attempted "sequels" to any of Ms. Austen's great works. Fearing disappointment, I did not want to sully what to me is the perfect novel: Pride and Prejudice. As it turns out, I need not have worried. The term "sequel," I am happy to report, has no application whatsoever to Jane Owide's delightful novel, Lydia Bennet's Story.
The novel explores the life of Lydia, the youngest and arguably most insipid Bennet sister. What if Lydia wasn't as vapid as many surmised? What if she was just a silly young girl who made the typical mistakes of the young?
Author Jane Owide, thankfully, makes no attempt to be Jane Austen. Writing in third person with occasional glimpses into Lydia's diary, Owide brilliantly takes a supporting character from a classic tale and uniquely makes it her own. Lydia is presented as a normal teen-aged girl with normal teenage concerns and immaturity and the unfortunate luck to cross paths with that infamous 19th-century player, Mr Wickham. This doesn't mean she isn't endearing: quite the opposite. After all, it's difficult not to identify with thoughts such as
"Mr Wickham will NOT be forgiven for his behaviour, though I can think of nothing else, playing over the scene in my head with a different ending each time. I now know just how I should have behaved and what I should have said which is vexing in the extreme."
By the end of the story, Lydia's actions were quite forgivable in my eyes. She made mistakes many of us can sympathize with, having made many of them ourselves, albeit in a different century. Over-weening pride - an allusion to the novel from which she springs - only compouds her misjudgments.
The underlying seriousness of the follies of youth notwithstanding, the novel is lighthearted enough for enjoyable read and I was quite pleased to discover that it may be considered a stand-alone story, meaning that one need not be an Austen aficionado nor even to have read Pride and Prejudice in order to enjoy this book. If, however, you are a serious Austen fan and are loath to try reading one of the many "sequels," you can safely set aside that fear in this instance and sit down with a very enjoyable tale. Happy reading! (less)
How does one approach a novel that, at it's core, is a beautiful story idea and solid foundation, but the mechanicals of the actual writing are hamper...moreHow does one approach a novel that, at it's core, is a beautiful story idea and solid foundation, but the mechanicals of the actual writing are hampering the telling of that story?
The premise is solid: a grown man returns to his childhood home in a Northeastern farming community for a routine visit and pays a visit to one of their neighbors, an elderly man whose family had been farming their land since the Civil War. A picture on the wall sparks an interest in the history of the area and the elderly neighbor relates his poignant family history. As one of the original families to settle the area, their history is the town's history and parallels such as these are drawn throughout the book.
The telling of this insightful story, however, gets lost in the presentation. There is a overuse of ellipses in the dialogue, which is a bit distracting and confusion often arises over inconsistencies with the characters.
To be fair, one has to understand that the author, Henrik E. Sadi, is not a native English speaker, being born in Norway and growing up in the Middle and Far East. I simply cannot imagine the inherent difficulties in writing a novel in another language, so I feel compelled to applaud anyone who would try.
But again, aside from the technical portion of the writing, I cannot emphasize enough the heartfelt premise of the story. To seek out our own history and where we come from is a inherent human desire (okay, salmon have it too, but don't get picky with me here) and Mr. Sadi has struck a chord in this novel.
Our own stories, like the ones in Jenford, are filled with sadness and disappointment. Mr. Sadi does a commendable job of portraying this sadness without dragging the story into desolation. And while you shouldn't expect a happy ending, you can expect a satisfying one. (less)