India Black is a well-written and entertaining read, featuring a no-nonsense, street-wise, and book-smart whore-turned-madam who is the names...more3.5 stars
India Black is a well-written and entertaining read, featuring a no-nonsense, street-wise, and book-smart whore-turned-madam who is the namesake of the book. While I do like India and her voice, there was something about her that felt off, and after thinking about it I've come to realize that I really don't know her that well. I find that odd because the book is told first-person. Even though this is the first in the series and some authors may not want to divulge everything about a character, I think there needed to be more tidbits about India. What's her history? How did she grow up? Was she groomed to be a whore? Etc., etc., etc. Besides, French is the secretive one, we don't need two mysterious characters in one book. As for the attraction between India and French promised on the back of the book, well, it wasn't there. Now there's the promise for that in the future, but there weren't enough scenes with the two of them together for anything to actually happen except some minor discussions about the issue(s) at hand, some bantering, and a decent amount of bickering -- though luckily not too much of the latter to annoy.
The plot is fine, but there's really nothing new to distinguish it from others in Victorian mysteries. Actually, the book doesn't feature any mystery what-so-ever and it's more of a chase to retrieve top secret government documents; I've heard the term caper thrown around and that sounds about right for this book. After a while I felt like I was in Groundhog Day -- same scenarios popped up under different circumstances, but all with the same outcome, which became tiring. The historical facts would have been better served had they been more smoothly incorporated into the story rather than dropped in big chunky lumps that often bored me (and I like history). The atmosphere of the book was fairly well-done, though it seemed a bit too polished and clean, so a little more grit would have given it some needed realism. The main character is a madam who can't possibly live in best neighborhood, and no matter how well-mannered, groomed, or intelligent she may be, she has to live in a tough place.
While I do have those minor issues about the book, the question is, "Would I read the next book in the series?" Yes, I believe so, because overall, I did enjoy this foray into India Black's world and it has the makings of a very interesting series.(less)
The Book of Fires was not an easy book for me to get through. Not that it's a bad book, far from it, but because of its slow and steady pace I had to...moreThe Book of Fires was not an easy book for me to get through. Not that it's a bad book, far from it, but because of its slow and steady pace I had to stop quite often to get my bearings. This is a very well-written book but it is also a very detailed one as well, sometimes to the detriment of the book; I felt like I was wading through facts and the story fell to a standstill at times. The lectures on fireworks and how they were made in the 18th century could have been fascinating, but they bored me, mainly because they were lectures and didn't fit into the book. Agnes was a confusing narrator, and while I can buy the uneducated yet bright and thoughtful type of character, I never felt for her as a human, she had no identity. The whole book was this way, and to put it bluntly, it felt dead, there was no sense of living in these pages. I think many people will enjoy The Book of Fires, but it left me cold, and for a book that features fireworks, there isn't much of a spark and bang between its covers.
Epitaph for Three Women turned out to be far less about these three women than I was led to believe by the book's description. Broken into th...more2.5 stars
Epitaph for Three Women turned out to be far less about these three women than I was led to believe by the book's description. Broken into three parts titled Katherine of Valois, Joan of Arc, and Eleanor of Gloucester, only Joan, or Jeannette rather, has an actual story that follows her path in life. The other two are background players to the politics going on at the time, especially those concerning the Dukes of Bedford and Gloucester and England's fight for France. Whenever Katherine enters the picture, it's all light, airy, and extremely romanticized, especially in regards to Owen Tudor. For most of the book they live a totally idyllic life that doesn't feel realistic in the least. Eleanor Cobham is portrayed as a scheming, crown-hungry social climber who proves far too trusting of witches and soothsayers. Isabeau of Bavaria fares even worse and I got tired of the constant references to how whorish she was. Since this was written, historians have looked into the accuracy of her reputation and dismissed certain facets as untrue. Still, this isn't a completely bad book. Putting aside Katherine's storyline where she only made cameo appearances anyway, I enjoyed the first part the most. Not knowing much about this period, the history was fascinating. The second featuring Jeannette was my least favorite, but I lay full blame at my feet because I have just never cared for Joan of Arc's story, so found most of this part boring. While there was some interesting information in the book, I didn't love the book but it's an easy introduction to this particular time.
For more information on Eleanor Cobham, I recommend Susan Higginbotham's guest post at Madame Guillotine.
Originally Reviewed: October 17, 2012 Received: Local Library(less)
Going into The Other Boleyn Girl I already knew that the historical details weren't very factual, but I had this laying around and needed something bo...moreGoing into The Other Boleyn Girl I already knew that the historical details weren't very factual, but I had this laying around and needed something both light and set in the past, so I figured this would do nicely. The writing itself is perfectly fine, and mostly, I did enjoy the book. Although, for the first half, it seemed as if everyone only wore red and by the end I got so sick of hearing about Anne's "B" for Boleyn necklace I could scream.
Mary Boleyn, the narrator, is a strange character: sympathetic and of reasonable intelligence one minute, a moronic irritant the next. Personality-wise she went up and down and back and forth. First she was fine not being the King's favorite anymore and seeming to want to leave the court life for the country to be with her children, then she was jealous of a title Anne received, years after the affair between Mary and Henry was over. Possibly this was put in as part of the rivalry between the sisters, but it didn't contextually fit. Her development could have used more work and she didn't mature or change much throughout the whole book, especially between the years 1522 to 1533. I seriously got tired of everybody's patronizing and calling her a fool all the time. They should have just named the book, The Foolish Boleyn Girl. I find it hard to believe Mary was so ignorant the king would have continued to have her as mistress for four years, give or take. She had to offer something other than good looks and being great in the bedroom. Anne herself sure was a piece of work, and even though she was pretty much evil throughout the book, I did still feel sorry for her at the end. Jane Parker was a one-dimensional malicious harpy who wasn't given a reason why she was that way; she was just the resident baddy to the Boleyns. To me, it felt like defamation of character.
Politics and the separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church were merely mentioned in passing as court life and its primary players took center stage. The whole incest plot, I could have done without. Now if it were the absolute truth then it'd be okay, but since it's highly debatable and based on hearsay, I found it unnecessary and gratuitous. Around the two-thirds mark, the pace let up and it became more sluggish and boring, and it wasn't until the last sixty pages that it recaptured my attention again.
As long as readers know going into this book that the history has been twisted around and invented for pure sensation, then it's fine as a fictional read, but take any "facts" with a grain of salt. While it was an okay read, I didn't love it, but it managed to divert my attention for a few days.
One last note dealing with the fourth question in the Q&A with Philippa Gregory in the back of the book:
How about Mary and Anne's brother, George? Did he really sleep with his sister so that she could give Henry a son?
Nobody can know the answer to this one. Anne was accused of adultery with George at their trials and his wife gave evidence against them both. Most people think the trial was a show trial, but it is an interesting accusation. Anne had three miscarriages by the time of her trial, and she was not a woman to let something like sin or crime stand in her way--she was clearly guilty of one murder. I think if she had thought that Henry could not bear a son she was quite capable of finding someone to father a child on her. If she thought that, then George would have been the obvious choice.
Obvious? How in the world is that obvious? You cannot be serious, Ms. Gregory. Now I'm far from an expert in Tudor England, but I cannot imagine that being a common practice. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about this time could tell me if that ever happened, because it just boggles my mind that George would be the "obvious choice." Not to mention, who the hell did Anne supposedly kill? I hadn't heard that anywhere. Even my searches are coming up blank.(less)