After reading Margaret George's Elizabeth I, which covered that redoubtable monarch's final sixteen years, I wanted to read more about the earliest ye...moreAfter reading Margaret George's Elizabeth I, which covered that redoubtable monarch's final sixteen years, I wanted to read more about the earliest years of her reign. Letton's The Young Elizabeth covers the decade between Henry VIII's death and her ascension to the throne, bringing me tantalizingly closer to understanding what formed her and the challenges that she faced to claim her crown. Obviously, nearly the first thirty years of Elizabeth's reign are not covered by either of these novels, so I'm left wanting to read more, but remarkably, Elizabeth feels much the same person in both these novels, despite great differences in their style, narrative length, and point of view.
Letton writes dialogue that sounds to my untrained ear historically accurate, which I appreciate and miss in more contemporary historical fiction. While George's first-person story often left me feeling as though the scope of Elizabeth's life had been narrowed too much, Letton's more impartial, limited third-person left me at times too distanced from Elizabeth and some of the important people around her, such as Thomas Seymour, who married Henry's widow, Kate. Kate, by all accounts, had a warm heart and succeeded during her reign in creating a family of sorts with her stepchildren, including Elizabeth. The triangle that emerges among these three seems fraught with so much emotional tension and potential drama that I found myself disappointed in Letton's storytelling.
Letton introduces Robert Dudley, who may have been Elizabeth's great unrequited love. Their initial meeting at Letton's hand is both telling and yet not very compelling, especially as Dudley's father is the same Duke of Northumberland who is executed for treason after marrying another son, Guildford, to Lady Jane Grey and crowning her queen in order to deny Queen Mary. Although Elizabeth is off scene for much of this drama (and powerless), she's not entirely without danger given Mary's bitter, suspicious nature and fanatical Catholicism. (less)
As much as I enjoyed the descriptive writing -- boy, can Margaret George make me experience the reality of living as an Elizabethan -- and the deft ha...moreAs much as I enjoyed the descriptive writing -- boy, can Margaret George make me experience the reality of living as an Elizabethan -- and the deft handling of a middle-aged woman's viewpoint, I struggled to finish this novel. I even struggled as I read it to identify what, exactly, my issues were with it. Was I just not in the mood for a novel that stretched more than 600 pages? Have I gotten so used to reading my guilty-pleasure reads that I can no longer tolerate the slower pace and richer language of less-formulaic fiction? In all honesty, I made it halfway through Elizabeth I before whatever magic glue pulls a reader through a book ran out. Given that I know how it ends, I had little motivation to keep reading. Perhaps for the less-knowledgeable reader, not knowing how Elizabeth's relationship with the Earl of Essex develops is enough to maintain suspense. But, from a purely dramatic standpoint, it is a tepid suspense even so.
In the end, I'm perplexed about what George could have done differently to keep my attention from wandering. After all, the broad strokes of her narrative were already defined for her and likely well known. Even her use of Elizabeth's cousin (and Essex's mother) Lettice, added little drama and seemed designed to mitigate the limitations of a first-person narrator (Elizabeth). Yet Lettice is really only a commentator on the action rather than an actor. Elizabeth herself, although a queen who must have had a very busy life ruling her kingdom, comes across as having little to do or think about save Essex and, occasionally and as an afterthought, the vile Spanish. There is very little about the continued religious fragmentation of English society beyond Elizabeth's mention that she has done her best to hold her beloved country together.
George opens the novel dramatically with the Pope's blessing of papal bulls condemning her, the Spanish Armada setting sail, and Elizabeth anxiously awaiting the fate of England and herself. After that, the action dwindles, and almost all of it is "off stage" because neither Elizabeth or Lettice are able to see or experience most of Essex's adventures and plans. Essex is a cipher, known only through the biased prism of each woman's eyes. Both women come across as highly intelligent and mostly reasonable (if biased toward one another), but I was left frustrated with my inability to decide for myself about Essex's character and motivations.
As with most historical novels that I read, I've developed a strong desire to learn the actual details of Elizabeth's life and reign. Even the small amount that I've uncovered makes me yearn to read a novel of her early years, the ones after her infamous mother, Jane Boleyn, is beheaded and she is shuffled away from court where she is a sad reminder of Henry's desperate and divisive attempt to beget a male heir. I want to read about her romance with Robert Dudley, her terror at being sent to the Tower (her mother's last home) by her eldest half-sister Bloody Mary, who had every reason to dislike and distrust her, and her choices about her advisers, the men who empowered her to rule. I want to read all the drama and conflict inherent in the tumultuous early decades of her reign, including her clever handling of all her suitors and her house arrest of her cousin and rival, Mary Queen of Scots. I think that that story would provide a nice counterbalance to George's reflective, almost elegiac, story. (less)
This book is difficult to review, especially as I read through large parts of it a while ago. It isn't the sort of book meant to be read from cover to...moreThis book is difficult to review, especially as I read through large parts of it a while ago. It isn't the sort of book meant to be read from cover to cover (hence the noted repetition in other reviews), but something a reader picks up and puts down as the whim moves her. Perhaps that's why it got to be over the top for me, leaving me a little nauseous and Shakespeare tainted. While it's true that as I've gotten older and seen more Shakespeare performances that I've picked up a lot more on the double entendres and sexual puns, it's also true that I've found them appropriately funny or salacious within the context of his drama. And my respect for his talent and art has grown commensurately.
However, reading snippets from multiple plays quoted to support various interpretations -- interpretations emphatically as explicit and blunt as Ms. Kiernan could make them -- almost killed my joy in Shakespeare's language and storytelling. It's not that I question whether he was as bravely bawdy as she gleefully insists. It's just that the greatness of Shakespeare lies in the totality of his poetry and playwriting. Shakespeare might have indulged his and his audiences' need for sex, magic, and murder, but he never pandered only to those needs, which is what Filthy Shakespeare seems to do.
My solution for the icky feeling reading this book gave me? Why, to go out and watch Shakespeare. (less)
As someone who has in recent years enjoyed The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, True Blood (although not the Sookie Stackhouse book...moreAs someone who has in recent years enjoyed The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, True Blood (although not the Sookie Stackhouse books that the HBO series is based upon), J. R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, and even Bram Stoker's Dracula, I've only begun to indulge my latent thirst for stories about monsters, magic, fairy tale creatures, romance, and all things mysterious and implausible (I've also enjoyed Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next stories and a Charles de Lint novel). Besides the fantastic, I've spent a good deal of time delving more deeply into history, another subject near and dear to my heart. A Discovery of Witches, a largely original story for adults involving vampires, witches, and daemons by Deborah Harkness, satisfies my reading interests and tastes very well indeed.
Readers of the other variations on vampires that I mention above will recognize some of the contemporary elements that Ms. Harkness draws upon. Matthew de Claremont, the main vampire, is an older, more complex, angrier -- and therefore more believable -- Edward Cullen. Matthew even (usually) hunts animals to feed upon.(Vampires feeding upon animals may come from Ann Rice rather than Stephenie Meyer, but I confess to a shallow understanding of vampire lore. I do know that neither eighteenth-century Balkans vampires nor Dracula ever drank anything but human blood.) There are many other ways that Harkness borrows from contemporary vampire lore, yet to use her own metaphor, the alchemy of her own additions makes her vampires uniquely her own creatures.
Diana Bishop, the main witch, is a historian of science, specifically the birth of science through early studies of alchemy. Suffice it to say that Diana has more in common with Harry Potter than Bella. Yet Harkness has chosen to ground her witches in more familiar tropes (there are no Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans or Floo Powder). Diana, in fact, is the descendant of Bridget Bishop, who was hung for witchcraft during the Salem witchcraft trials.
And while the story is a romance, it's not a romance novel. Matthew and Diana's romance is the engine that drives the bigger story that is populated with "creatures" (witches, daemons, and vampires) from three continents). It is a metaphor for alchemy, but alchemy itself has already been transformed into science (I particularly like the idea that vampires are drawn to laboratory sciences), so Matthew and Diana's romance is also about evolution in which two species mate for survival. A Discovery of Witches has it all for those of us who love science, history, mythology, and romance. I'm looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.(less)
I received a copy of this novel from the author, David Lentz.
As stories about the protests that began as "Occupy Wall Street" continue to spin out in...moreI received a copy of this novel from the author, David Lentz.
As stories about the protests that began as "Occupy Wall Street" continue to spin out in the news, moving further afield in the U.S. and even going global, it's clear that many people see stockbrokers and other money managers as key players in our current economic woes. For the Beauty of the Earth, narrated by young hedge-fund manager Bruce Warrick, offers a timely and cautionary tale about the seductive power and potential for abuse among those who manage billions of dollars in stock equity. Indeed, Warrick's experience in the world of high-finance and free markets seems designed to fit the darkest suspicious of the Occupy movement.
Throughout the narrative, Warrick's skills as a financial wizard are either hampered or enhanced by his narcolepsy (a disorder that has him falling asleep at the most inconvenient times), depending on the given viewpoint. The narrative itself has a vague, dreamy character in keeping with Warrick's frequent narcoleptic episodes and lucid dreaming. These episodes are so debilitating, in fact, that readers may come to suspect that his boss, Hastings, dissembles when he describes Warrick as an investing genius, having hired him to act primarily as a figurehead.
The pivotal moment comes when Warrick challenges the enigmatic Keynes Society who dictates his trading choices. Despite this burst of rebellion, Warrick finds himself a pawn in a series of events orchestrated to take advantage of his continual loss of consciousness and his desire to expose the power brokers. Although these events have all the makings of a fast-paced thriller, Lentz chooses to have Warrick (and the reader) learn much of the truth secondhand. Like the Occupy protesters, readers looking for a tidy resolution to corrupt financial institutions will be left with Warrick's solution instead: to consider how to live life to the fullest with those gifts that they've been given, to cherish every moment, and to appreciate the beauty of the earth.(less)
I'm not sure what I thought I was picking up when I requested Laura Blumenfeld's book Revenge from the library. If I'd considered more carefully, I mi...moreI'm not sure what I thought I was picking up when I requested Laura Blumenfeld's book Revenge from the library. If I'd considered more carefully, I might have thought that Ms. Blumenfeld would define revenge and then show how it's practiced across cultures before sharing numerous stories from various countries and from across history.
That's not exactly what Revenge is about, although it does include some objective discussion of what revenge is and how some people undertake it.
Revenge is Blumenfeld's memoir based on her father's shooting during her freshman year of college. Her father, a rabbi, had been visiting Jerusalem's Western Wall when a young Palestinian student randomly chose to shoot him. As a journalist later working for The Washington Post, Blumenfeld's background and experience allowed her to explore her own feelings and pursue her own motives under the guise of writing about revenge. (Actually, it's unclear to me whether her book was intended from its inception to be a memoir based on her need for revenge or whether her pursuit of the personal during her research caused her to turn what had been intended as something more objective into a memoir.)
What results is a highly readable story in which Blumenfeld manages to portray herself as naive and irrational, yet sympathetic. (I marveled at her skill in doing so because throughout I was also aware of her talent and intelligence as a writer.) Even though I sympathized with her patient and long-suffering husband, Baruch, I nevertheless wanted Blumenfeld to find a way to get past her desire for some kind of recognition or restitution for her father.
Throughout the year that she researched her book, Blumenfeld daydreamed about meeting the man who shot her father ("the shooter" is how she refers to him) and shaking him to make him respond to her anger and frustration about the event. To make him see her father and herself as people who matter. Yet she also wanted to reconcile her visceral urge with her more rational sense of justice, the need for due process, and the fair application of law. Her quest to understand her own drive for revenge drives her story.
I found the end of her tale rather satisfying, especially the lead-up to the climactic moment when she meets the shooter. In many ways, I found Blumenfeld's quest admirable and thought-provoking. What would I do if someone had shot my father, unprovoked, and for ideological reasons that didn't involve him? What would you do?
St. Thomas Aquinas wisely said, "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible," and to that, I...moreSt. Thomas Aquinas wisely said, "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible," and to that, I would agree. C. S. Lewis, however, did his best to explain the heart of what he terms "mere" Christianity, avoiding doctrinal debates for the most part (I assume those better versed would be able to call out areas where he didn't succeed). He reminds me of G. K. Chesterton, whom I believe he read in his journey from atheist to Christian (Chesterton also began as an atheist who became a vocal Catholic Christian).
The book is a published version of a series of radio talks that he gave during World War II, so his arguments are necessarily plain and not deep. While I found the chapters satisfying for my current needs, there are obvious drawbacks to such simplicity. (less)