Peter Ackroyd may very well be God. I haven’t met him but I’m feeling pretty good about this. Any other explanation as to how he manages to produce so...morePeter Ackroyd may very well be God. I haven’t met him but I’m feeling pretty good about this. Any other explanation as to how he manages to produce so many huge books filled with so much knowledge in such a short space of time (commonly termed “prolific,” to be concise), all so well written, comes up short. I bow to him. Even genuflect. He is my hero and he is superhuman, with an exhaustive bibliography unparalleled by any writer save, perhaps, Joyce Carol Oates. His body of work encompasses:
Three volumes of poetry
Thirty-four works of nonfiction (to date)
Six television programs
As I said, unparalleled. I have read precious few of his writings. There is much work to be done, all of it pleasant.
This second volume in his History of England series is exhaustive and exhausting, though not necessarily in a negative way. The level of detail is staggering, best ingested in small portions. This is not a book to race through. Rather, the more slowly you work your way through the better, to aid in the memorization of the cast of characters buzzing in and around the Tudor family like bees in a hive. It’s nothing if not phenomenal. Perhaps majestic. Mind blowingly incomprehensible. Very, very impressive.
Ackroyd begins with Henry VII, whose victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field assured him the throne, ending the Wars of the Roses. The simplified story is that Henry’s son Arthur inherited the throne from him, taking Katherine of Aragon as his wife. Arthur was not long for this world. Enter Henry VIII, who married his brother’s widow, immediately beginning the series of affairs that lead to much beheading of suspected unfaithful wives. Oh, but the beheadings and elicit sexual exploits are all but microscopic compared with the Reformation, England’s break from the Catholic Church effected by Henry’s demand his marriage to Katherine of Aragon be annulled, so he could marry that tramp Anne Boleyn. And the political intrigues, and the wars, and Henry’s ballooning weight and ulcerous legs. And the treachery. And the wars. And the blood and the blood and the blood. At the same time it’s riveting, it’s disgusting.
Upon Henry VIII’s death, the powers that be went mad jockeying for power. The winning straw was drawn by Lady Jane Grey, or her uncle, rather. Jane was too well educated to believe this could ever be a good thing but she had no choice in the matter. Into the Tower she went while, it was hoped, things would settle down enough to bring her out to rule. It was not to be. Poor Jane was executed – after nine days as queen – upon the successful rout by Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary. Mary, a devout Catholic who abhorred her father’s break with the Church in Rome, went about the business of undoing what her father had started, destruction of all Catholic trappings and killing of those practicing the religion. “Bloody Mary” attempted a bit of religious cleansing of her own, sentencing hundreds of Protestants to death for the crime of obeying the monarch, her father, who threatened to kill them for being Catholics.
It wasn’t really such a great time to be English.
After two years, Mary sickened and died. A bit of relief there, when she was succeeded by Henry’s son Edward VI, the product of his marriage to that slut Jane Seymour. Edward was nine years old upon his accession, so his uncle Edward Seymour acted as regent until the day Edward would come of age. Without his lifting a finger, Protestantism at last came to be the de facto national religion of Britain during Edward’s regency. It’s a really long story, filled with yet more killing and manipulation. But, as far as almost-monarchs go, Edward VI didn’t seem half bad. He’s largely in the background, left to his own devices save for the occasional raising of his head to ask a question or declare something or other, but what we do know of him may have made him a decent monarch. Damn the 16th century and its short life spans!
Edward sickened and died in 1553. Following Edward was Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, monger of wars and cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots. Then things really got interesting. Wars and intrigue, political back-stabbing and attempts to marry Elizabeth to various leaders for reasons of political gain characterized Elizabeth’s rule. Overshadowing it, how to solve a problem like Queen Mary. The English defeated the Armada and Elizabeth kind of, sort of worked out the whole religion thing.
Of course, Ackroyd fills in a few more details. Never before have I felt I understood the complex relationships amongst the Tudors and their hangers on until reading this volume. The family is a universal favorite, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I icons of British history, yet the whole story of who did what to whom – and who didn’t but got beheaded, anyway – is far stranger than any fiction. Peter Ackroyd accomplishes a breathtaking juggling act, keeping it all straight with minimal confusion for the reader busily working out all the Henrys and Edwards and Marys, and what country was at war with which in an age when power and alliances shifted seemingly daily.
He’s so easily read, unlike any dry history we all suffered through in high school. I don’t know how he nails it but he does. He’s developed a method of telling a complex story in a straightforward way, so there’s no having to go back and read pages or even chapters to understand what’s going on. I already said it: he’s God. Or at least the God of British history. This is why I’ll be going back to read the volume preceding Tudors, The Foundation, and look forward to Volume III. The accomplishment thus far is astounding.
If you’ve had an interest in the Tudors, don’t bother with any other, single book. Read this, then have a go at Hilary Mantel’s series if you’re like me and hadn’t made it far before getting too muddled to carry on. I feel much less intimidated by British history of this era now, much better educated, though there’s more to be known. That’s the encouraging part, what makes my heart beat a bit faster. Riveting as this read was, fantastical and entrancing, it leaves out much branching off from it.
There is always more to be learned. Thank God – a/k/a Peter Ackroyd – for that.(less)
A new book by Diane Setterfield is cause for celebration. Her freshman outing, The Thirteenth Tale, was a delicious gothic novel involving the daughte...moreA new book by Diane Setterfield is cause for celebration. Her freshman outing, The Thirteenth Tale, was a delicious gothic novel involving the daughter of a bookseller and a ruined old house. Universally loved, it was – surprisingly – a genuinely wonderful book. Popularity doesn’t always equal quality but it certainly did with The Thirteenth Tale. A delightful surprise and well-deserved success for a new writer.
Like other fans of her first book, I’ve been looking forward to her second. It’s a wait that’s felt interminable: six years to be specific. But she’s come through with a corker, a second book arguably better than her first.
Yes, BETTER THAN HER FIRST. You read that correctly.
Bellman & Black is dark. Very dark, as the title suggests. William Bellman is the main character, at the beginning of the book a young, typically high-spirited, rambunctious boy fond of hanging out with his friends, committing small acts of badness. In the opening scene he sports a slingshot. Taunted by his friends and despite his own queasy feelings of unease, he aims a small stone at a rook impossibly out of range. But his trajectory, the arc of the stone’s flight, is perfect. He picks off the bird, knocking it to the ground, dead:
“He felt something move in his chest, as though an organ had been removed and something unfamiliar left in its place. A sentiment he had never suspected the existence of bloomed in him. It traveled from his chest along his veins to every limb. It swelled in his head, muffled his ears, stilled his voice, and collected in his feet and fingers. Having no language for it, he remained silent, but felt it root, become permanent.”
- Bellman & Black
Young Will could never have dreamed the ramifications of killing a rook, an act he regretted but too late. The price he pays throughout the remainder of his life is inordinately steep, the story accompanied by Setterfield’s complete and thorough re-telling of the legend and lore of the rook, a bird with a long and storied past. The tale unfolds slowly. Deliciously – though painfully – so, as Will grows up, marries and makes his way in the world.
In the great scheme of things, despite the loss of so much he should have felt more, all that motivates him is success in everything he touches. He’s willing to work for it, around the clock if necessary, with more efficiency than any other human being could be expected. The toll it takes, in the form of nightmares and insomnia, brings him low but his determination powers him through. Yet, curiously, it isn’t the money he craves. He lives the life of a monk in his cell. Rather, it’s his mania for excelling he cannot resist. Others in his circle who see his success at first feel jealousy, yet once they weigh the cost find it not at all worth the price.
William Bellman ultimately builds around himself an empire, dedicated to the expensive necessities surrounding mourning in Victorian society, a time in which the observation of death is virtually a competition. The proper accoutrements surrounding it are many and expensive, if done correctly – and they must be done correctly. Only the dirt poor were excused from showy, lavish funerals requiring everything from the appropriate crepe cloth for black dresses to the nodding black feathers adorning the six horses pulling the funeral carriage. Death being inevitable, and the Victorians holding it in such esteem, the business is secure. After all, one thing no one can escape is dying. Success building upon success he soon becomes one of the most respected and prosperous businessmen in the city.
But oh, the price he pays.
The more wealthy he becomes, the less human he behaves. Paranoia mounts. He starts seeing birds everywhere: threatening, purply-black birds with sharp beaks an implied threat. In the background a certain Mr. Black lurks, a mysterious, threatening entity from earlier in William’s life. As with the nightmares and the paranoia and the horror of birds, Mr. Black inspires in him a level of dread and white-knuckle fear he can’t express but also can’t escape.
Of course I won’t spoil the plot for you; that would be as much a tragedy as the storyline of Bellman & Black, a novel that moved me deeply. It’s gothic, improbable and filled with hints of the supernatural, yet at its core the truth is all too possible. What makes the heart ache are the brief moments of clarity, when Will realizes what he’s become yet does nothing. His drive to succeed is just too strong; it is his undoing.
And the prose! Flawless. I love finding little niggling details to complain about in every book but I couldn’t find even one in Setterfield’s second book. For all that The Thirteenth Tale was an especially well-written book, this one really is – as I said earlier – even better. If you loved her first book you should consider pre-ordering – or putting on hold at the library – Bellman & Black. Did this book take so long because she was going over it with a fine-toothed comb? Certainly seems like it. And it was worth the wait.
You will love it. YOU WILL. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.(less)
This is the fictional re-telling of the Amanda Knox murder case. Quite good, definitely makes you ponder guilt and inn...moreFor discussion on BookBrowse.com
This is the fictional re-telling of the Amanda Knox murder case. Quite good, definitely makes you ponder guilt and innocence and if either can ever be proven. Maybe I'll review after the discussion. Sorry, I shouldn't review it before...(less)
Another book I'm discussing on BookBrowse.com. I don't read historical fiction, normally. I hate the feeling I don't know fact from fiction without go...moreAnother book I'm discussing on BookBrowse.com. I don't read historical fiction, normally. I hate the feeling I don't know fact from fiction without going off and making a big project of it. I don't have time for that. If I want to know about the subject - Katherine Parr, in this book - I'll read a bio. If I want fiction, I'll for the most part avoid historicals.
But I enjoyed this one. Katherine Parr's a neglected wife of Henry VIII, maybe because she survived him so is less interesting... But actually, she isn't. She's a sharp one. That's how she survived.
I had faith in the writer's historical research, based on comments from other group members and a bit I read. So this is historical fiction even those who dislike the genre enjoyed. Which probably says something, don't you think?(less)
Just brilliant! If you're fascinated by the city of Amsterdam, or just love history, this book will show you all the city's sprawling history, what ma...moreJust brilliant! If you're fascinated by the city of Amsterdam, or just love history, this book will show you all the city's sprawling history, what makes the Dutch the people they are. Short connects all the dots, showing relationships between people you've heard of and people you haven't. It has it all, from the politics to the East India Company to Rembrandt and other artists...
I made it through this year’s Booker Prize winner but it was exhausting. The book’s a brick, packed with characters, the plot twisting and turning on...moreI made it through this year’s Booker Prize winner but it was exhausting. The book’s a brick, packed with characters, the plot twisting and turning on itself so many times I didn’t even try to keep count. I didn’t keep all the plot lines straight, a fact that may make other readers feel a little better. The reviews I read revealed the major relationships to watch and I heeded their advice. Aside from that, I managed to follow a couple others and that’s as well as I could do without keeping a score card. If you can honestly say you made it through this book without nearly losing your mind, I salute you. In my case, I highlighted passages madly, thinking I could always come back to them, trying to make sense of things. Trouble was, things weren’t conveniently truthful nor linear.
In short, my method didn’t work so well.
The Luminaries is set in New Zealand, during the late 1860s gold rush, similar in many ways to the California rush of the 1840s which I suppose makes sense. One gold rush in a largely unpopulated and wild area is equivalent to another, I imagine. I find the gold rush era compelling and it’s certainly a fantastic setting for all manner of depraved and troubled characters. Catton took full advantage of that, creating such a cast of characters I’ve personally never encountered outside the novels of Charles Dickens.
What a wild, wild ride…
The setting of the book is unrefined, populated with prostitutes and prospectors, bankers and opportunists. Chinese workers perform the hard work for a tiny percentage of the profits. Murders aren’t uncommon and jailers are so busy prisons are in desperate need of expansion. Back-stabbing, suspicion and any vice you can name run rampant, including very high-profile drug addiction.
As the tale opens, a new arrival named Walter Moody enters the scene, finding a group of twelve men gathered in a hotel for the purpose of trying to get to the bottom of a murder, as well as a disappearance, of two local men. As for the rest, I can honestly say it’s far too complicated for me to dissect, as stories are told and disproved, alibis declared and found to be lies. In the end there is a trial. Witnesses testify to things the reader could never have guessed, while in the midst of it all everything is confused, turned on its head. I couldn’t explain it all if you paid me.
The very heart of the book actually contains a romance, if you can digest that. The young whore, Anna Wetherell, is in love with… No, I won’t tell, not that it really gives much away, in the grand scheme of things. I could reveal a few dozen plot points that would still have no chance at all of spoiling the plot of this book. It’s just… Oh good God. It is what it is.
The question remains: was it a worthwhile read? Tough to say. Had it not won the Booker, and had NetGalley not provided me with a copy, I wouldn’t have finished reading it. As it is, I picked it up and put it down innumerable times, when it’s a book best read in long sessions. Note taking is highly encouraged. I don’t know how one can keep track of anything, otherwise. I don’t have time for such extensive scholarship, not when it’s a modern novel. A classic, okay. But The Luminaries isn’t time-tested. It just exhausted me.
If you enjoy 800+ pages worth of convoluted puzzles – and unreliable characters – you may find this the god of all such books. It isn’t without merit, by any means. It contains lots of fun passages, many tongue-in-cheek humorous moments, as well as some which are poignant. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, etc. The characterization is staggering, the handling of so many plot lines impressive to the extent I can’t even think of a word to describe it. Masterful, that does the trick.
The fact the author was 22 when she wrote this book will make your head explode. If you’re a writer, it will send you away sobbing. It’s just unnatural what Eleanor Catton managed to pull off. No one should be able to create such a symphony from this wild cacophony. But she did. I bow to her, while at the same time I admit it was all far too much for me or my enjoyment.
As author Jay Parini puts it:
“All really good books shatter their generic origins, becoming a thing unto themselves. But rarely has this axiom held more firmly than in Eleanor Catton’s thrilling – in every sense – second novel. The sheer weight of the narrative might seem daunting; but dismiss that. She is among the finest of storytellers, drawing us forward through a labyrinth of lives, all of them converging in ways you could never easily imagine. I didn’t want this novel to end.” —Jay Parini, author of The Last Station
Unlike him, I wanted it to end, before my brain exploded. My mantra: please let it end, please let it end… It’s a singular experience you can only understand if you attempt it. Let’s leave it there.
I’m a bit befuddled as to why the Man Booker committee chose it, and still think the honor should have gone to the incredibly spare prose of Jim Crace, but there’s no accounting for it. I guess it was the mammoth accomplishment of the book, which I still maintain was far, far too much. Earlier I compared the work to Dickens but I love Dickens and find his complicated plots satisfying. The Luminaries? Not quite so much.
But congratulations, Eleanor Catton. You managed something that will keep the literati busy a long time. Well done for that.(less)
You may say the Monsterjunkies are an unconventional family, which would be an understatement. Father Talon, mother Pandora, children Crow (Cromwell)...moreYou may say the Monsterjunkies are an unconventional family, which would be an understatement. Father Talon, mother Pandora, children Crow (Cromwell) and Indigo live in secluded MJ Manor, a great estate hidden behind high, stone walls and a forbidding gate. To the citizens of Foggy Point, Maine the family is an enigma.
Talon - Dr. Monsterjunkie, in the Maine College Biology Department – is an expert on all creatures thought to be extinct, collecting and housing them on the grounds of MJ Manor. It’s his vocation to protect these specimens, keeping them from the prying eyes of the world, which could bring harm to them, intentionally or not. Dr. Monsterjunkie was, by trade, a cryptozoologist.
Crow and Indigo, teenagers at the local high school, took a lot of abuse for being so different from the “norm.” Bullies made fun of both for their goth style and Crow for his shyness – not to mention the both of them lived in a mysterious home tucked away from view. Legend had it something dark went on there, which did the two of them no good.
Crow’s nemesis called themselves “The Maine Gang,” made up of classmates Todd, Edgar and Larry. Their mission: to gain entrance to MJ Manor, for purposes of finding out what really was going on there. Little did they realize what lay behind included a Pterodactyl named Periwinkle and a Sasquatch named Beauregard… to name just two of the protected creatures.
Until Pandora, the stunningly gorgeous mother of the two teens, brings an exotic owl to a class career day, the other kids know nothing at all about the sorts of animals kept safely tucked away. Also on this day, the children meet two new people in town: Ed Hodges, a widower, and his teenaged daughter, Winter. Ed’s passion was bringing teenage bullying to the fore, in an attempt to diminish the harm it brings. This meeting also served to introduce Indigo to her new best friend, when she met Winter Hodges.
This is the novel’s turning point, when the teens’ classmates get an inkling what they’re missing. Though they treat Crow and Indigo with more respect, their desire to see the other creatures grew almost unbearable. Clearly, the only way to stop their pestering was to show them, once and for all.
But was that really the best idea? And would it bring the bullying to an end?
You’ll have to read the book to find out where things go from there. It will keep you interested, invested in caring about these characters, through the end. Erik Shein has created a fascinating world of otherworldly beasts, cared for by an eccentric but close and loving family. The stage is set for adventure.
Very highly recommended for pre- to early teen readers and a valuable addition to fiction teaching kindness and understanding in a way young people won’t find “preachy.” Unique and compelling, The Monsterjunkies would make excellent summer reading.
- Lisa Guidarini, Amazon Vine, Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) judge and member, National Book (less)
When a newborn child is placed into its mother's arms the joy is indescribable; finally, after all those months of anticipation and trepidation the ch...moreWhen a newborn child is placed into its mother's arms the joy is indescribable; finally, after all those months of anticipation and trepidation the child lies cradled in her arms. Beneath that portrait of perfection lie all the raging hormones associated with pregnancy and the body's adjustment to nursing and caring for a baby, not to mention the emotional component, which is off the charts. For all too many women, though, the period following the birth of a child can bring on a darkness, a deep depression made all the worse by societal expectations once your child is born you will feel nothing but relief and joy.
For too many, this is the furthest thing from the truth.
Laura Rude's Creating Postpartum Wellness addresses this serious condition in a caring and thorough manner, raising awareness of what constitutes more serious depression that needs intervention, as opposed to the normal exhaustion and bleary-eyed overwhelming state all parents pass through as they adjust to life with a newborn.
Her book helps guide women, and those who care for them, through the options for treatment as well as providing good, sound medical advice on basic self care as a means of helping mothers along. The information is thorough, including everything from potentially helpful changes in diet to suggestions on how to choose a therapist.
Rude's tone is understanding, gentle in a way those suffering from the often-brutal reality of depression will likely find encouraging. The breadth of her research, as well as her suggestions as to methods of helping alleviate the condition, is impressive; it's obvious she's done her homework. I cannot imagine a more comprehensive treatment of the topic, nor one written so well. I would have no hesitation suggesting this book to anyone suffering from postpartum depression, or, actually, depression in general.
- Lisa Guidarini, Independent Publisher Award (IPPY) judge, National Book Critics Circle (less)
Business/self-help isn't my usual genre but Mr. Stanzione approached me with the possibility of my reviewing his book and, after reading it, I give it...moreBusiness/self-help isn't my usual genre but Mr. Stanzione approached me with the possibility of my reviewing his book and, after reading it, I give it my endorsement. It's tough out there; God knows I've learned that over the past month, after losing my own day job. Suddenly I'm getting a lot more interested in books about how to get your life back on track.
The economic outlook is bleak and getting bleaker by the day. This won't come as a surprise to anyone. What we don't always realize is there is hope out there; it's largely a matter of mind-set and putting in the time it takes to earn success. The current economic climate is not for the wimpy, nor the half-hearted. And Vince Stanzione is just the kind of book we all need to get our heads out of the sand and give our careers - and lives - 100%.
How you look at your life and situation is a huge element in your success. The Millionaire Dropout teaches you how to adjust your thinking, to look at your outmoded mindset and readjust it to help change your old, ineffective habits.
But this isn't just another general "think positive" manual. Stanzione offers concrete advice on how to change at a reasonable pace, breaking it down step by step to help real people make progress without becoming burned out or discouraged. He addresses things like becoming overwhelmed, taking advantage of connections you may not have thought about, considering adding to your education: all real-life, down to earth suggestions to help anyone move forward and become unstuck.
He discusses evaluating your skills, assessing your current career path and considering the possibility you may be in the wrong profession. Current trends, the psychology of what people buy and why and using the internet to your advantage are all very relevant and sometimes over-looked aspects of job hunting. The Millionaire Dropout covers all these avenues and a lot more.
Not all books on the topic of job hunting and finding your niche are created equally: Stanzione's book is a practically, useful and well-written guide to achieving your goals and living your dreams. He writes in understandable language, using real-world examples. Very highly recommended for everyone unhappy with their current employment situation or those who are out of work and pounding the pavement. Maybe you're looking in the wrong direction. The Millionaire Dropout can help anyone in need of useful career - and life - advice.
It’s the early 21st century and the dot com bubble has yet to burst. Businesses are making money hand over fist, raking in indecent amounts of money....moreIt’s the early 21st century and the dot com bubble has yet to burst. Businesses are making money hand over fist, raking in indecent amounts of money. Leo Foxe, a businessman ruthless in his determination to avenge his father’s infidelity to his mother, is determined to create an empire far bigger than that his father had built and lost.
To accomplish his goal, Foxe forgoes hiring more expensive Europeans, choosing instead the far cheaper labor of eastern Indians. Sensing a news story told from the perspective of out of work Europeans, reporters Jerry Peterson and Kari Ertenmann are hot on his trail. Getting the scoop and ready to submit his article, at the last minute the publication decided to give another reporter the story. Soon after, Jerry, and his article, disappear.
Having fallen deeply in love with Jerry, Kari is distraught by his absence. After some time passes she discovers he has returned to the U.S. An eventual visit to locate and win him back find him terribly weak and ill - too ill to return to Europe with her and continue his investigative report. Instead, he sends Kari back to follow the story.
Alongside her is reporter-in-training Anton von Flamberge, Kari assigned as his mentor. In the course of their investigation the two hear stories of desperation told by European workers passed over for the exploitation of cheaper, often inexperienced, Indian laborers. Someone is illegally importing Indian workers, paying them cut-rate salaries, bypassing the law.
And then people start dying, the first one of the eastern Indian workers in Europe illegally. Soon after, Kari’s assistant Anton shows her an obituary. It was for Jerry Peterson, reported to have died in a fire back in the U.S.
The love of her life gone, Kari and Jerry, undaunted by the growing violence, re-double their efforts to find an answer to the deadly mystery, danger close on their heels.
The Girl Who Put Out the Fire is a well-plotted thriller. The prose is assured, the characterizations strong. The story could have been a bit tighter, the book made more lean and suspenseful, but as it stands the story pulls off a realistic romance set against the background of the sort of corporate greed that’s been making the news over a decade. A compelling read.(less)
Fannie Flagg-like, with perhaps a bit more bite. It has movie adaptation written all over it. Basically, it's about a group of African-American women,...moreFannie Flagg-like, with perhaps a bit more bite. It has movie adaptation written all over it. Basically, it's about a group of African-American women, in southern Indiana, and their men - of varying degrees of integrity. One can communicate with ghosts, one was the local beauty and one suffers from having married the high school football star turned womanizer. Not without its redeeming qualities but not my type of book. Would never have read if it hadn't been a book group read. (less)