For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't liking this book. After all, it concerns Jack the Ripper, a topic I enjoy dissecting (har harFor the longest time, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't liking this book. After all, it concerns Jack the Ripper, a topic I enjoy dissecting (har har), the writing flows easily and moves quickly, and the story idea is an intriguing take on the infamous murder-mystery. It wasn't until the climax of the book that I was able to put my finger on the problem: we're continually told how brilliant the protagonist, Audrey Rose Wadsworth is. We're told she's the most brilliant of her uncle's protoges, we're told her intellect is astounding, such that it's stifled by Victorian standards of feminine behavior and thus requires her to act in unfeminine ways, such as becoming her Uncle Jonathan's apprentice and assisting with his work as coroner, in order to explore her own nature. We're TOLD all these amazing things about Audrey Rose, but we never SEE any of these behaviors in action. Instead we see a spoiled, petulant girl constantly on the verge of stamping her foot in frustration, who constantly blushes and flushes, who does nothing to earn the high praise of the community built around her. For instance, the young man who falls instantly in love with her, despite her obliviousness (natch), is continually astounding Audrey Rose (always Audrey Rose; god forbid we should call her plain Audrey – how common!) with his Sherlockian deductions, yet Audrey Rose is meant to be just as brilliant as this Thomas Cresswell. So why isn't she coming up with equally brilliant deductions or, better yet, besting Thomas'? (Something I would've loved to have seen her accomplish.) It's as though the author didn't quite know the best way to show Audrey Rose being intelligent in the Victorian setting she'd created for her character.
Yet Maniscalco certainly knew how to show off Audrey Rose's feminine side by having her frequently gush over a new gown, a new way of doing her hair or makeup, or by having her flat-out saying: “I was determined to be both pretty and fierce, as Mother said I could be. Just because I was a girl interested in a man's job didn't mean I needed to give up being girly. Who defined those roles anyway?” (Beyond the fact that this entire statement is stuffed with anachronisms ['fierce' as in “grrrrl power” didn't even exist as a concept at this time and neither did 'girly' in this context], the whole thought process just doesn't ring true for this kind of character, considering her upbringing, her class and station. I mean, yes, suffragettes were beginning to come into their own during this period, but typically upper-middle class young ladies were not of their ilk, especially not independent of any other rebellious female role model.) The idea of showing that a girl can be all science-y and girly at the same time is great... when it's done even-handedly. That didn't happen here.
As to the rest, it all seemed to be a case of a great deal of effort for very little result. By that, I mean, the complex and almost overly-convoluted story has Audrey Rose and Thomas dashing hither and thither in their quest to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper's true identity - the "stalking" part of Stalking Jack the Ripper, one presumes - but the places they visit, the people they see, and the "clues" they gather don't actually seem to add up to anything concrete. Worse still, all their antics only serve to place the two of them in dangerous situations, which only makes them look foolish and irresponsible. Especially since the mystery of the story is so, I'm sorry to say, laughable. It's obvious from the word go who the perpetrator is, so while the twist ending is, indeed, quite gruesome, it's not in the least surprising. What is surprising is just how surprised Audrey Rose is Jack the Ripper's identity. So much for her brilliance.
And don't even get me started on the "romance" between Thomas and Audrey Rose. It's one thing to have two characters who bicker in an affectionate way, their irritation with each other masking a deepening attraction, with perhaps the bickering acting as a manifestation of their confusion over how to handle said attraction. But with Thomas and Audrey Rose, all their awkward back-and-forths are just that, awkward. Not to mention shallow, never seeming to lead to any revelations about themselves or how they feel about each other: every time Audrey Rose snarled and sniped at Thomas, we were treated to her thoughts about him, which consisted of her gushing and blushing over how hawt he was (and, yes, I use the modern vernacular because her thoughts were not those of a Victorian maiden, at all), yet just at the moment she would seem to soften towards him, marking some kind of progress in their "relationship", she'd bristle and get her back up again. No progress was ever made. Then again, it was hard to blame her when Thomas behaved like a complete dick, constantly preening as he smugly told her he knew just how much she wanted to kiss him, that he knew she couldn't resist him, that eventually she would capitulate and fall into his arms, blah blah blah. I get what Maniscalco was trying to suggest with Thomas's egotistic behavior, but it was just too heavy-handed and therefore off-putting.
Basically, the overall impression I had throughout the entire book was of modern characters stuffed into a period setting. While Maniscalco's writing dropped you into the depths of 1880's London - complete with gaslights, horse-drawn carriages, the peculiar miasma which could only belong to the Thames River, and fog-shrouded streets - the characters, most especially Audrey Rose and Thomas, were 21st century creatures through and through. I don't expect modern authors to recreate the language of Dickens, Trollope, or Hardy, but I do expect the characters to be fully of the era in which they live. Maybe the problem stems from Stalking Jack the Ripper being a YA novel. All I know is that I kept waiting for Audrey Rose to whip out a cellphone from her drawstring purse and for Thomas to use his laptop to Google Map their next Jack the Ripper stakeout.
Maniscalco's writing is eloquent, and she started with an intriguing kernel of a story. Sadly, it got away from her, especially at the climax of the story. But Stalking Jack the Ripper is a promising debut novel and it'll be interesting to see what this author produces in future.
Book received from the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an unbiased review....more
A novel told from the perspective of Katherine of Aragon, stretching from those first heady days when she arrived in England as the bride-to-4.5 stars
A novel told from the perspective of Katherine of Aragon, stretching from those first heady days when she arrived in England as the bride-to-be of Arthur, first-born son of King Henry VII, to her last painful and ignominious hours she spent as the discarded, yet defiant, wife of King Henry VIII.
I must say, the book started off rather slow for me: once the drama of Katherine's marriage to Arthur had passed and she and Henry were married, most of the time was spent wrapped up in Katherine's wedded bliss, which seemed a bit too . . . blissful for a woman, especially a high-ranking woman, of this period. For instance, the first time Henry is unfaithful, Katherine is shocked and hurt by his behavior. Really? Should she be? After all, it's not like love or even affection between royal spouses was the norm, despite the appearance Henry gave of being as in love with Katherine as she was with him. Aristocratic and royal marriages were made for alliances, for power, not for love; adultery, on the man's part, was the accepted norm. So it seemed strange for Katherine, the daughter of Isabella of Aragon, to exist in a cloud of naivety and meekness. But then things start to pick up once the King's Secret Matter, which soon becomes the King's Great Matter, gets exposed and the hurly-burly with Anne Boleyn begins. Then we see the fire of Katherine of Aragon spark to life as she fights for her husband, her marriage, her title, her daughter, and her entire life and future.
This is not an unbiased book, nor should it be. This is a highly personal tale, told completely from one woman's perspective. Such a singular perspective doesn't allow for an unbiased telling. We see the events of this well-known historical period through a single set of eyes, augmented by the opinions of those in her household who are loyal to her, those who fight for her rights against those of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn will get her say in the next book; in this book, she is only the “night crow” or “that woman” or "the Lady." And that's fine. This is not a history book or even a biography. This is historical fiction. Get interested in the history behind the story, but don't get your history from the story, even though this particular story is being told by an historian.
And a good one. Alison Weir thoroughly immerses us in the world of Katherine, her household, her retinues and routines, her high and low fortunes. We are with her every step of the way as she lives through the disappointment of her marriage to Arthur, as she floats through the glorious first years of her marriage to Henry, as she slowly becomes beaten down, small defeat by large, when Henry finds Anne, leaves Katherine, and splits Christendom in two in his quest to satisfy his desire to have a male heir. By the end of the book, it's quite easy for the reader to loathe both Henry and Anne as Katherine suffers repeated bouts of ill health, living in constant fear from the specter of poisoning hanging over both her and her daughter, Mary's, heads. Each illness of Mary's fills the reader with the same pangs of terror as it does Katherine, despite knowing that Mary survives these years of hell, years which imprint on her character indelibly.
However, because we are getting a story from Katherine's perspective, that also means we're getting a Tudor-washed, Ferdinand-washed tale as well, as is to be expected. So, in order for the Tudors to be winners, Richard III has to be the villain. In order for Ferdinand to be ruler of Spain, Juana has to be mad. It's a bit hard to swallow at first, but I had to keep telling myself, history is written by the victors. Henry VII and Ferdinand were the victors; Richard III and Juana were not. Alison Weir does a good job of explaining the choices she made as a writer in her Author's Note, explaining she changed relatively little in attempting to evoke the sights, smells, and textures of a lost age. She also explains how writing the book from Katherine's perspective granted her a different, more intimate psychological perspective on this amazingly scrupulous, lionhearted, and resolute woman, which in turn allows us to better understand why Katherine wouldn't have knuckled under and given in to Henry's demands, for though the idea of Katherine retiring to a convent and becoming his "sister" might seem reasonable to us now, to Katherine, they were utterly repugnant.
Of course, probably the most famous incident in Katherine's life was her first marriage to Arthur and whether or not it was consummated. For what it's worth, I have always been of the opinion that it hadn't been, that Arthur had been too sickly and all his hearty exclamations of “My throat is parched for I have been this night in the midst of Spain!” were just ego-boosting boasts from a young boy who wished to appear masculine in the eyes of his court. While I have no doubt Katherine would've done everything in her power to protect herself and her daughter, her faith was too strong to allow her to lie about something as crucial as consummation....more
There are some classics that are yearly re-reads for many people. For some it's Little Woman, for others it's Pride & Prejudice, The Catcher in thThere are some classics that are yearly re-reads for many people. For some it's Little Woman, for others it's Pride & Prejudice, The Catcher in the Rye, Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, or any other number of great titles of classic literature. For me, it's the complete Anne of Green Gables series. I discovered the books way back in the mists of my childhood and they're so intertwined with the Sullivan Entertainment miniseries from 1986 (starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, and Richard Farnsworth) that it's hard to remember the exact order of things: did I watch the miniseries first and then read the books, or did I read the books and then get all excited over the fact that a miniseries was made? Either way, I do know that, growing up, I had access to an excellent public library, so I didn't actually have a large collection of books at home, which makes those books that I did own rather memorable. I can remember being presented with the boxed set of the paperbacks for my birthday (the miniseries came out in February and my birthday is in March) and the first book's cover had a photo of Megan Follows as Anne, sitting on the train station bench when she first arrives in Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island. Those are the same books I own today.
Though I may not remember the details of that first encounter with L.M. Montgomery's novels, I do remember, vividly, how entranced I was with Anne. I wanted to be her: I wanted to have her bright red hair; I wanted to live in a farmhouse on P.E.I.; I wanted to find a kindred spirit best friend, as Anne found one in Diana Barry; I even wanted to become a teacher for a brief flash in time because of Anne. For several years, I have to admit, I went beyond mere fandom into obsession; everything about Anne and L.M. Montgomery I gobbled up, including more books by the author (I've read pretty much her entire catalogue). I have a book called The Anne of Green Gables Treasury, full of recipes and crafts to recreate your own Anne Shirley experience, along with a history of L.M Montgomery, P.E.I., teachers and teaching during the late 19th/early 20th century, even a floorplan of the Green Gables farmhouse (something I particularly adored). I read that treasury cover to cover and back again, nearly as many times as the books themselves. Lucy Maud may have dreaded writing Anne through college (and beyond), but I couldn't get enough of her creation: I'd read the books, then watch the miniseries (yes, by that time I'd gotten it and the sequel on VHS), or the other way around. I'd also bug my friends about the books, encouraging them to read them, talking the series up until they finally gave in out of sheer exhaustion. Eventually they'd thank me, but before that point it was a toss up as to whether they'd kill me first.
Sadly, for whatever reason (probably an overload of books to read for "official" reviews), I haven't read my Anne of Green Gables series in at least three years, if not more. I know, I know, shame on me. I'd like to say I'll rectify this egregious oversight sometime soon, but I fear that'd be a lie. Which is a shame. Because I've missed my yearly visits to Avonlea and Green Gables and that beautiful, gentle, idealized fairy tale of a past. Disappearing into Anne's world was a great way to forget the troubles of this one, if only for a few hours at a time....more
As we learned in The Accidental Empress (which one must really read in order to understand Sisi's motivations and emotional handicaps, and no4.5 stars
As we learned in The Accidental Empress (which one must really read in order to understand Sisi's motivations and emotional handicaps, and not ignorantly write her off simply as a spoiled horse-lover), Elisabeth was not born to the position of Empress. Her childhood was unbelievably free and unstructured; her parents allowed her and her siblings to run wild, literally, through the Bavarian countryside. She never had to deal with convoluted and constricting rules of etiquette, procedures which dictated her every move from the moment she woke to the moment she went to sleep. So when she married Franz Joseph and became Empress, and found herself trapped by this system of stultifying rules, some of which were so ridiculous as to be unbelievable (there was a top-secret "Imperial Fold" of the napkin, people, that was a guarded state secret passed down orally to only a few living people at a time; that's the kind of detail-oriented, anal-retentive system we're talking about), her response was to run away. So that's what she did, through most of her career as Empress. And when she couldn't run away, she learned to control those few things which hadn't been stripped away from her: her toilette and dress, her exercise regimen, her diet, and her corset, all of which became near-obsessive rituals as the years went on, creating a woman who was more statue than human. But a beautiful statute nonetheless, one that became a favorite of newspapers and photographers, who documented her every look and action, turning her into a fashion icon and her style into the aspiration of thousands of women.
In Sisi: Empress on Her Own we see a woman who has lost some of the fragility of the earlier novel, who has grown strong from her success in helping creating the Austro-Hungrarian dual monarchy, who has found fulfillment in raising her third and final child far away from the stifling Hapsburg court, a child she's almost smothered with her thwarted maternal feelings. And yet this is still a woman who can't figure out how to have a relationship with her two older children, who can't figure out how to navigate the treacherous waters of the Hapsburg's Hofburg Palace without courting controversy or comment, who still hasn't yet come to grips with the enormity of her role as Empress. Pataki brings Sisi to life in all her heartbreaking, confounding, frustrating glory in a portrayal that's both sympathetic and unflinching in showing Sisi's flaws. After all, as Pataki says in her author's note, Sisi inexplicably stayed out of her son's, Crown Prince Rudolf's, life even though he displayed the same sensitive, high-strung temperament as she and would most likely have benefited from a closer relationship. Sisi also refused to intervene in Rudolf's marriage to Princess Stephanie of Belgium, vowing to be unlike her interfering mother-in-law Princess Sophie, even though she knew the marriage would create only unhappiness on both sides. And Sisi never seemed interested in regaining a relationship with her eldest daughter, Gisela, for what reason, as Pataki states, we can't know, but that lack of interest simply adds to the frustration we feel toward Sisi.
One of the interesting aspects of the book was watching the descent into madness, through Sisi's eyes, of King Ludwig of Bavaria, Sisi's cousin. Ludwig was yet another tortured soul, much like Sisi, who threw his country into bankruptcy with his reckless building projects, which were undeniably magnificent (like the remote mountain castle Neuschwanstein) but just as undeniably frivolous, and into scandal with his strangely intimate relationship with the composer Richard Wagner. There is a reason Sisi and King Ludwig II are referred to as the "Fairy Queen" and the "Fairy Tale King" as they both seemed to be slightly not quite of this world, as if they were perhaps changelings left in place of their more mundane copies. After Ludwig's sudden, mysterious death in 1886, Sisi's life seemed to become one, long string of tragedies: her father died in 1888, her son Rudolf died in 1889 in the scandalous murder-suicide with his lover, Mary Vetsera, which became known as the Mayerling Incident after the hunting lodge where they were discovered, her sister died in 1890 along with Sisi's close friend (and rumored lover) Count Andrassy, and her mother died in 1892. Is it any wonder that after Rudolf's death it was rumored that Sisi dressed in black for the remainder of her life?
Pataki's writing is rich, dramatic, lush, confident, and an utter joy to read. As another reviewer pointed out, one finishes this book with a great many "What if?" scenarios running through one's head, a great many questions and a near-sadness over the choices made by and made for Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Sisi: Empress on Her Own is a book that leaves you wondering, pondering, and wanting to know more, and that is the sign of a well-written, well-researched, well-structured book. (Just for comparison, Philippa Gregory's books simply leave me wondering how the hell she got published in the first place, so putting her and Pataki together in the same league is a head-scratcher for me.)...more
Book the ninth in The Morland Dynasty seems to be a bit of a outlier in that there's no great single drama driving the story as with previous novels,Book the ninth in The Morland Dynasty seems to be a bit of a outlier in that there's no great single drama driving the story as with previous novels, no villainous vixen pushing her way to the front of the book. Instead, one could almost call this a "boring" novel in that it's a simply series of Morland family vignettes interspersed with British, European, and now, American history.
We have the main Morland branch, headed by Jemima, blissfully married to Allen MacAllen these twelve years (the book starts off in September, 1773), still struggling to reclaim the glory of Morland Place from the ravages and near-bankruptcy it was brought to by Jemima's first husband, Rupert, the 4th Earl of Chelmsford. Then there's Henri Marie FitzJames Stuart, the bastard offshoot from Annunciata's side of the family, the hidden-away son of Marie-Louise, brought up in France by Aliena as a way for her to absolve herself of her sins and in hope this particular branch of the family - with its terrible secrets - might die. And then we have Charles Morland, Jemima's cousin who crosses the Atlantic to settle in Maryland, wedding the indolent Creole beauty Eugenie-Francoise de Courcey and realizing that, perhaps, marrying for beauty alone is not the wisest of moves. In this way we are able to watch the biggest event of this period's history, the American Revolution, unfold from three separate viewpoints. Even more interesting, we American readers can see the Revolution from the British viewpoint, providing a curious and entirely new perspective on our history. From the French side of things, we are given not just the aftermath of their participation in the American Revolution, but the nascent beginnings of their own Republican upheaval to come, as the philosophies which began as idle pastimes in aristocratic salons filtered down to the bourgeoisie and proletariat, where they take root and flourish. With terrible consequences, as we soon find out.
One of the more enjoyable entries in the series, I found, simply because there was no harpy or virago stealing the spotlight and making the Morland's (and, by extension, the reader's) lives miserable. Jemima is almost disgustingly happy in her marriage, and while she's occasionally oblivious to her children and seems unable to connect with them at times, it's no different from the kind of crisis of parenting any parent, in any era, goes through. Parenting style aside, Jemima's strength, generosity, and character harks back to a much earlier matriarch of the family, Nanette Morland. Whether an accidental or a purposeful move by Harrod-Eagles, it's simply another way the thread of history runs through the Morland Dynasty....more
Book number eight in the Morland Dynasty series, The Maiden is set in the early decades of the eighteenth century, during the tumultuous years when boBook number eight in the Morland Dynasty series, The Maiden is set in the early decades of the eighteenth century, during the tumultuous years when both the Stuarts and the Hanoverians laid claim to the English throne. The plot revolves around James Edward (Jemmy), Annunciata's nephew and sole heir to the Morland heritage. To help counteract the taint of Catholicism attached to the Morland name and secure a Hanoverian connection to safeguard his family's future, Jemmy enters into an arranged marriage with the proud Lady Mary, a joyless marriage which produces their daughter Jemima on whose shoulders rest the entire prospect of the Morland Dynasty. (Nice, right?)
Annunciata has even less to do in this book than before (which is to be expected, considering the woman is in her seventies), but her presence isn't missed much considering we're given yet another despicable female to take her place, embodied in this volume by Lady Mary Holles: cold, haughty, and disdainful who treats her husband and her daughter with chilling hatred. The first because, thanks to a misunderstood eavesdropped conversation, she believes Jemmy also hates her (and they couldn't actually speak with one another to clear things up, oh no), a situation further exacerbated by her equally proud and standoffish companion, Lady Dudley, who only encourages the distance between husband and wife with her poisonous advice regarding Lady Mary's marriage as well as her supposed higher status to her husband:
'Being a young man, he will probably want to trouble you that way a good deal at first. But if you endure it, and shew your disapproval as a gentlewoman should, simply in your bearing towards him, I daresay that you will gradually be able to lead his mind towards better things. Most importantly, you must never cry out, however much it hurts. It would be exceedingly improper to make a sound of any sort at such a time, and it is a woman's fate to endure pain in silence. [That entire passage gave me acid indigestion.]'
'Like you? Why should he like you? ... When I was a girl... [i]t was not considered at all proper for a husband and wife to be affectionate towards each other. ... You should not encourage intimacy from him. ... No, Mary, I hope I shall never see you demeaning yourself to be friendly towards your husband. [I had to take some Tums after reading that bit.]'
(It doesn't help that Jemmy has the backbone of a jellied eel; I don't advocate wife-beating, but there was at least one instance where a good smack to Lady Mary's face would've done a world of good.)
And the second because, thanks to a hard birth which left Lady Mary crippled, she's resolved to take away any happiness which might come to Jemima. Which includes her marriage:
But she did not want Jemima to be happy: if possible she would like her to be as unhappy as she [Mary] had been all these years. Where to find a husband for her daughter who would appear to do her credit, yet would make her miserable?
Even as a fictional character, what kind of mother could think that way? It's utterly depraved and hideous.
Reading this series, I have to wonder: What kind of women does Cynthia Harrod-Eagles have in her life to keep writing such twisted bitches?...more
After the last book, I began this one hoping to see very little of Annunciata, a woman who I'd grown to loathe. Amazingly enough, two things happenedAfter the last book, I began this one hoping to see very little of Annunciata, a woman who I'd grown to loathe. Amazingly enough, two things happened as I continued to read: Annunciata rather grew on me and I found myself coming to actually admire her, especially towards the end of the book; this was most likely as a result of Annunciata being in her fifties when the book began, so therefore her character had mellowed (plus, with the great love of her life no longer around and her having so mellowed out of the high emotions which created such grand passions, we didn't have to endure the tedium of every man in the vicinity immediately falling at her feet in instant love/lust/desire, not to mention the disgust when, invariably, Annunciata's needs and desires overrode those of any other, usually resulting in the destruction of their happiness and health); secondly, an even worse female came along, displacing and, quite honestly, making Annunciata look good by comparison. India Neville is picked to marry Matt Morland, Annunciata's grandson and heir to the Morland Dynasty, initiating the naive young boy into manhood; as a result, she leads the besotted idiot a merry dance, keeping a firm schedule on their sex life and her pregnancies so that she might do the rumpy-pumpy with anything in breeches who comes her way. As she whispers into Matt's satiated ear on their wedding night, "Like a duck to water." Calling India a bitch gives all us bitches a bad name.
The back part of the book rather drags a bit, concerning the movements and battles of the Jacobites. Harrod-Eagles doesn't quite have the knack of creating stirring battle scenes, so I rather skimmed/flipped through those sections. However, I'd say, all-in-all, this book is an improvement over the previous one....more
God, this book seemed interminable! I can't blame the story or the writing or the research, all of which were up to Harrod-Eagles's normal, excellentGod, this book seemed interminable! I can't blame the story or the writing or the research, all of which were up to Harrod-Eagles's normal, excellent standards. No, I blame *growl* Annunciata. I loathe that spoiled, narcissistic, self-indulged, self-centered, amoral, and thoroughly sybaritic bitch. She never grew, never changed, never left behind any of her selfish ways; was perfectly content, happy even, to leap from man to man, husband to husband, uncaring as to what vows, what laws of man or God she broke, unfeeling as to whose hearts she trampled in her quest for a life in which her needs and her whims were satisfied. To hell with anyone who might dare get in her way or oppose her desires. Including her own children, one of the main nuisances in her life once they aged past the cute and easily-passed-off-to-nanny infant stage.
Every time Annunciata climbed into a saddle, I hoped she'd break her pretty white neck....more
I have to say, I am enraptured by this series; I must be as I don't use the word enraptured very often. Actually, I think this is the first t4.5 stars
I have to say, I am enraptured by this series; I must be as I don't use the word enraptured very often. Actually, I think this is the first time I've ever used that word. Huh. Weird. Anyway, with these books I may not always agree with the historical viewpoint Harrod-Eagles presents (at least not initially, not until I do further research and some critical thinking and realize, duh, I should've come to these conclusions myself years ago, knowing what I know about how history is written. But I digress). What was I saying? Oh, yes, I might not always agree with her viewpoint, but she involves me in these characters' lives to the point where I feel the same sort of disappointment when the younger generations fall away from Morland traditions, when they move away, marry poorly, choose different destinies than what their parents and grandparents had in mind for them. I become so wrapped up in the story that I feel the same sense of loss when the world the previous generations knew falls away and becomes lost; these on-paper people become real to me so that I cry when they lose babies, feel happy when they fall in love, become angry when they make stupid decisions and hurt their loved ones. Which is exactly why I gobble each book up because I just can't get enough.
This book is set during the reign of Elizabeth I, with a lot of focus on her struggles with Mary of Scotland and the Catholic threat to her throne. As with the previous two books, though, the history is not the main focus – it's simply a ribbon floating through the plot, a line to which stories can be tied, even used to propel the action or as a setting, but which always remains firmly in the background. And that might seem strange to say when the storylines of certain characters, Nanette and William, mainly, actually focus on their time at Court serving Queen Elizabeth and includes conversations between, say, Nanette and the Queen. But those scenes are actually in service to the story of the Morlands, to the drama revolving around that family and the problems encountered by them at any particular time. And the Morlands at the center of this book are Nanette Morland, the young girl embroiled in the last book's romantic drama, now middle-aged and reminiscent of her ancestor, Eleanor Courteney; John Morland, the son and heir of Paul Morland III; and Jan Chapham, Nanette's adopted son whose connection to the Morland blood and name leads to friction later on. Of course, there are quite a lot of other assorted Morlands to the story, as well as Butts, the other family inextricably tied to the family, but those are the three main satellites around whom the other Morland tales revolve. I will admit, toward the end of the book, the many names can get a bit overwhelming especially of the younger - second and third - generaions, to the point where every few pages or so I was flipping back to the family tree printed at the front of the book, for which I was extremely grateful.
The only issue I take with the book is the subplot involving the younger son of Paul III, William Morland. As a young boy he's called an angel-child by his governess for his fair looks, his gentle, biddable nature, and his pure treble voice. It's that voice that initially propels his story, taking him to a life in the church and thence to Court, where his looks dazzle all. When we finally meet William properly, hear his thoughts and pick up the thread of his story, he's at Court and a troupe of actors has blown in; William, who has always felt something was missing from his life, is completely bewitched by these men, especially their leader, Jack Fallow. Suddenly something clicks and, close to a personal epiphany, William runs off with this acting troupe; after searching for him, his family decides he must be dead and so writes him off as such. Except for Nanette. She sends her personal servant out as a private investigator and he eventually tracks William down in a tavern, dressed, made up, and behaving as a woman. And quite obviously the lover of Jack Fallow. Eventually, disillusioned with Jack (who by now has a new lover) and the life of an actor, William gets a job in a tavern, marries the daughter of the owner, has children, remarries when his wife dies in childbirth, marries again when his second wife dies in childbirth, leaves the tavern and returns to the acting troupe, all in a mental fugue as he tries to understand what his life's purpose is. It's only when he returns home that he has that ultimate epiphany and achieves his goal. My issue with all of this is, what is William? initially I thought him to be Harrod-Eagles first gay character; I mean, it only took three books to get one, which seems rather unreal even taking into account the lowered life expectancy, famine, disease, infant mortality, and other methods of weeding out the population in medieval England. But then William marries and has kids without ever acknowledging his earlier homosexual behavior with Jack. It just seems like something of a cop-out. There were many effeminate young men who played women's roles on the Elizabethan stage who were raging heterosexuals; there were many who were also homo- and bisexual. Was gay life during that era dangerous? You beat your sweet bippy! But keeping William gay all the way through would've felt more authentic than the wishy-washy, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink manner in which he was portrayed. And if it was simply about William's need to find his raison d'etre, couldn't that have been done without him dabbling as a gay man? I don't know, it just made me scratch my head.
Other than that one little blip with William, I ate this book up, to the point where I had to slow myself down until I could finish when I was able to afford the next couple of books in the series. Thank you, eBay!...more
*sigh* Once again, I have to write that I will be posting a full review soon. I swear! Hand to whatever god you hold faith in! I will say this, I can'*sigh* Once again, I have to write that I will be posting a full review soon. I swear! Hand to whatever god you hold faith in! I will say this, I can't see what those who gave this book a 1-star are talking about as far as claiming that Pataki didn't do her research or that she wrote the book based only on reading Wikipedia. Um, no. Pataki makes it very clear in her author's notes what was fact and what was fiction, the fantastical truths of Sisi's life that she couldn't not use and those little things she fudged to make her story better. Not to mention Pataki gives a list of reference books she used in her Acknowledgments. Maybe I'm naive, but when an author lays out her research materials and lists all the facts she used and those she played around with on the table, I tend to believe that author. It also helps when the story that's been created by said author is well-written, engaging, entertaining, fast-moving, compelling, and attention-absorbing, as is the case with The Accidental Empress.
Do you think this could count as a full review?...more
I admit it: For the first time, I've jumped on a literary bandwagon. And, yes, I'm annoyed, mainly because I had to request the book from the libraryI admit it: For the first time, I've jumped on a literary bandwagon. And, yes, I'm annoyed, mainly because I had to request the book from the library and waiting in the queue was a major pain in the ass. No, but seriously, this wasn't a whim brought on by the new BBC adaptation; having been a fan of the original series starring Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza, I intended to read the series way back when. (Not when the original series came out—I'm not that old! I'm simply talking sometime in the late 90s, maybe early naughts.) But I never got around to it—one of those situations of getting caught up with other books and losing track of my to-read list. (This was well before I'd stumbled upon Goodreads and its handy virtual library shelves.) Then I bought the DVD set of the original series a couple of years ago and it reminded me of the books, but, weirdly enough, at that time my library didn't have them. You'd think the Poldark series would be a pretty solid, mid-20th century classic set of books for a library to own, but since it's the Sourcebooks copy they own now, with Aidan Turner from the new BBC production on the cover, they obviously only bought in it the past couple of months or so. Aaaaand I'm getting off track.
Anyway, this is billed as a classic romance, but it's not, not really. At least not in the way you'd expect. After all, it's written by a man and (not to get all reverse sexist here, but) men don't really do romance. Don't expect flowery prose, complicated and complex conversations concerning the relationship, softly lit and erotically charged love scenes, etc. In fact, beyond a few musings from Ross (“Hmm, I still regard Elizabeth, but Demelza takes up most of my thoughts,” “Hmm, I think I'm falling in love with Demelza,” that kind of thing), it's more about the actions than any deep feelings expressed. Which is fine, but rather leaves one wanting. I mean, you go from Demelza as urchin to Demelza as bedmate and wife and wonder, where was the actual wooing? Then again, it's symptomatic of the time period and the region: life in Cornwall in the 18th century was short and harsh, so there was little time for extensive romance; you found someone you liked well enough, agreed to make a life together, and did so. Which is just what Ross and Demelza did.
Short-shrifted romance aside, this book is mostly about Ross (obviously, otherwise it would've been titled Francis or Elizabeth) and how he fits back into life in Cornwall after fighting in the American Revolution. When he returns, his father is dead, his family farm is in ruins, the family servants are slovenly sloths, and his mining interests are all but exhausted. Basically, Ross has nothing and must rebuild his life from the dust and debris of what he's given. As he figures out how to come back from this precarious position, we also watch him develop as a person; when he returned, he was not much changed from the angry young man who'd left--a bit wearier, a bit more cynical of human nature--but the small joys found in his new life eventually sand away the rough edges that remain and while Ross still rebels against the class system that keeps the poor poor (and starving, near homeless, jobless, and without any means of improving themselves), he's less likely to use his fists to fight the injustice he sees (although that doesn't mean he won't if it comes down to it; Ross doesn't become a total pussycat). And that's what makes Ross unique; even though he's a country squire, someone of a higher class than the farmers and miners whom he supports, he'd much rather socialize with his "inferiors" than with those who are his supposed peers, and there are several occasions when he rails against those of his class for remaining willfully oblivious to the suffering of the lower classes.
If Winston Graham isn't generous with romance in his dealings with Ross and Demelza, he is, however, overflowing in his love for the Cornish people and countryside. And that's where the book shines. The landscape comes to life--the roiling sea, the salt-wind-swept grasses and heath, the dangerous and claustrophobic mining caves--along with the rough-and-tumble people who struggle to eke out an existence in this harsh, but beautiful land. But you also see and feel and smell the horrors of the time, the casual cruelty of beatings and cock fighting, the unwashed bodies crawling with lice, the crowded jails filled with forgotten souls, their only companions Pestilence and Death. This balanced perspective keeps the novel from becoming either too saccharine or too grim.
About the only real criticism I have is for the language. Oh, not that it's salty or anything (it's not), but there are occasions where reading the dialogue of certain characters was quite difficult. One, the young wife of the local doctor, because she had a speech impediment--she lisped quite badly--meaning I had to read and re-read what she said several times to understand it, and sometimes I still didn't fully comprehend certain words, even when I used the context of the entire sentence, so I simply gave up and moved on. The other occasion was the patois of the native Cornish speakers; most of the time it was pretty easy to work out what was being said, but occasionally it got a bit thick--Jud in particular--again necessitating a couple of re-reads before I got the gist of things.
In a slightly off-topic rant, reading the book gave me a new appreciation for the TV adaptations, though. The first one, with Robin Ellis, followed the books much more closely, while the second adaptation was quite a bit freer with the story. Then again, that seems to the be the trend whenever a classic miniseries is remade: the story is trimmed, oftentimes quite dramatically; the source novel is only lightly touched upon; and most importantly the “cheesy” soundstages and interior shots are exchanged for location and outdoor shooting, which is fine except when certain productions seem to go overboard in that direction just to prove a point. You notice that? The original Upstairs, Downstairs had 68 episodes and while it wasn't shot on a soundstage, it was shot pretty much exclusively inside 65 Eaton Place, Belgravia, London. The new Upstairs, Downstairs had, what, only 9 episodes as well as outside and location shooting alongside filming at 35 Clarendon Square. The original Forsyte Saga runs for 26 episodes and more closely follows the book, which includes making Soames Forsyte the bastard he is, while the later Forsyte Saga runs only 10 episodes and is quite a bit more loosey-goosey with the story. (And there are a lot of people who hate that this later version made Soames more sympathetic, going against the grain of the original story.) Personally, I like the later version of The Forsyte Saga mainly because of the luminous Gina McGee, but I acknowledge it takes quite a few liberties with the source material. And then we have our current topic, Poldark. The original TV production ran for 29 episodes, which allowed for a deeper exploration of the books' storyline, while this newer production seems to be skipping over some bits. And, don't get me wrong, I admire Aidan Turner's tumbling, windswept curls as much as anyone, but it seems like most of the shots seem to be of them rather than of anything else. I know I'm exaggerating, but you get my drift. And why do we still not have a Demelza with black hair, as she is in the books? I love gingers, I do; I wish I was a ginger and have dyed my hair often enough to achieve that end, but still... Demelza has black hair, even with her fiery personality. Okay, rant over.
To get back to the book (after all, this is a book review, right? Right): At the end of the day, this is a solid mid-century historical fiction novel, with the slightly stilted writing style typical of that era. Yet it remains a strong, highly readable story focused, at heart, on the same human emotions and turmoils from which we still suffer today....more