Even though John Wilkes Booth is the “main man” behind the assignation of Abraham Lincoln; his fellow conspirators have lately drawn curiosity. This iEven though John Wilkes Booth is the “main man” behind the assignation of Abraham Lincoln; his fellow conspirators have lately drawn curiosity. This includes Mary Surratt whose own son was involved and her boardinghouse served as a meeting place of sorts. Susan Higginbotham re-imagines the plot and characters involved in, “Hanging Mary”.
The immediate drawing force of “Hanging Mary” is the accurate tone and atmosphere of Civil War- era Washington City both in terms of narrator voice and setting. This is impressive due to this time period not being a standard Higginbotham background (the author has previously written novels set in Medieval and Tudor England). “Hanging Mary” is voiced by Mary Surratt and one of her boarders Nora Fitzpatrick; but also follows the intrigues of various conspirators and John Wilkes Booth. Each character has its own personality so this never becomes overwhelming.
The main issue with “Hanging Mary” is that it starts slowly (this is common place for Higginbotham novels) and includes a lot of dialogue (which isn’t always every reader’s cup of tea). This does pick up slightly but not as much as one would hope. Not much truly seems to happen in the novel and events are mostly discussed versus lived. This dissonance is especially true because Mary and Nora tell the story but aren’t involved in the plotting first-hand. To this end, Mary doesn’t feel as accessible even though she is the main character and her feelings or psyche isn’t thoroughly felt.
On the other hand, this somewhat distanced- Mary provokes the thoughts that Mary didn’t know much about what was going on (even under her own roof) and therefore implies her innocence. Alas though, being a HF novel, Higginbotham could of focused on her more versus the filter material which appears in the pages.
On a positive note, Higginbotham obviously conducted extensive research which is evident for those familiar with the topic (and is accurate on the whole). Also compelling are the little Higginbotham-isms that regular readers of hers always notice—small sarcastic quips and Easter eggs alluding to English history. Higginbotham’s subtle but comedic innuendos are always welcome!
Part two of “Hanging Mary” is much more riveting: the events taking place finally take off (mostly focusing on the trial of the conspirators) and the pace and prose are livelier. This is also supplemented by Higginbotham offering the reader true historical facts. However, it can be said that Mary still doesn’t come alive and isn’t that open to the reader. Despite this though, the emotional ante is raised on the subsequent pages much more than previously and therefore genuinely draws the reader in.
The concluding chapters of “Hanging Mary” are certainly Higginbotham’s strongest. I have read countless history and HF books recounting hangings, beheadings, and murders; and yet the text was vivid and hauntingly real, emotionally. The reader will feel like he/she is up on the scaffold about to meet death. It is an extremely sharp and memorable ending resulting in provocative reading. Higginbotham also offers a detailed “Author’s Note” regarding the historical merits of the story and some sources for further reading.
“Hanging Mary” is a strong novel in terms of an introduction to the characters/conspirators involved in Lincoln’s assignation. Sadly though, something simply missed its mark as Mary wasn’t fully brought to life. Despite this, Higginbotham’s writing is approachable and entertaining and is therefore suggested for readers interested in the conspirators. Higginbotham shifted remarkably well to penning a novel set in a different time period than her usual novels which is worth giving her credit for. ...more
Emma of Normandy is best known as the mother of Edward the Confessor despite her own queenly life dramas which are worth noting on their own grounds.Emma of Normandy is best known as the mother of Edward the Confessor despite her own queenly life dramas which are worth noting on their own grounds. Patricia Bracewell returns with the second book in the ‘Emma of Normandy Trilogy’ revisiting Emma, Aethelred the Unready, Athelstan (his eldest son), and the villainous Elgiva in, “The Price of Blood”.
“The Price of Blood” is very similar to “Shadow on a Crown” in terms of structure, style, prose, and essence. Bracewell introduces the cast of characters and even a glossary of terms which is very helpful as “The Price of Blood” follows in its predecessor’s footsteps of alternating chapter view points from character-to-character (you will flip back to the descriptions). In line with this, “The Price of Blood” wouldn’t really work as a stand alone novel and is definitely recommended to be read as a follow-up to “Shadow on the Crown”, as intended.
Bracewell’s novel begins with a somewhat slow start which eventually melts into a faster-paced plot. The story isn’t necessarily as eventful or action-packed as “Shadow on the Crown” but there is still something magical about it which encourages page-turning. Bracewell’s descriptions are vivid and sometimes borderline literary and raw which adds depth to the pages.
“The Price of Blood” is standout on the front that it eschews fluff for a historical/political focus. Yes, there are some magick/spiritual meanderings along with the slight mention of sex and romance but overall the text will satisfy history lovers.
One of the highlights of “The Price of Blood” is Bracewell’s ability to make each character thrive in his/her own personality. Each figure is alive, believable, and unique with individualistic merits. This makes the varied story viewpoints easy-to-read and adds a macro view to the plot versus causing confusion. Although, Emma is once again not as mainstream as preferred but Elgiva certainly expands intrigue in “The Price of Blood”.
As Bracewell’s novel progresses (slightly past the halfway point); the plot thickens and becomes more eventful. Moreover, Bracewell’s interpretations of the possible emotional impacts of events is standout and adds a sort of psychological baring to “The Price of Blood” making the novel more layered and multifaceted than many other HF novels.
The final chapters of “The Price of Blood” are fast-paced and move at a steady pace leading to a solid conclusion that is both a cliffhanger and stirs emotions. Without a doubt, Bracewell leaves readers anxious for the third novel and aching for more.
Bracewell leaves “The Price of Blood” with a sufficient ‘Author’s Note’ explaining her liberties, conjectures, and inspirations. It should be noted that much of “The Price of Blood” is fictional aside from the actual political stirrings which have been chronicled. Yet, the novel is not fluffy and is strongly informative and rooted within the time period. On an aside, a genealogical table would certainly be helpful to most readers.
Overall, “The Price of Blood” is not as strong as “Shadow on the Crown” and feels more like a buildup to the third book from the first. Despite this, Bracewell’s prose is solid, the story is meaningful, and the novel is moving. Although the text may confuse as a stand alone novel; it is a must-read for those whom read the first novel and it definitely builds anticipation for the third. ...more
Long before the fascination with the ‘Little People’ starring in multiple reality shows; there were two mini-celebrities (no pun intended) who paved tLong before the fascination with the ‘Little People’ starring in multiple reality shows; there were two mini-celebrities (no pun intended) who paved the way. General Tom Thumb (Charlie Stratton) and Lavinia Warren were performers under PT Barnum during the Civil War era. Despite the country’s upheaval; Charlie and Lavinia achieved stardom and mingled with the top-most figures in history. Nicholas Rinaldi brings their story and marriage to life in, “The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb”.
There is no denying the writing skills of Nicholas Rinaldi concerning the infusion of “The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb” with vivid descriptions and illustrated visuals. The test sparkles and shines, without a doubt. Yet, there is a chunky dissonance to the story which causes the novel to fall flat. First of all, “The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb” is told in a past-tense voice with the events being expressed as memories instead of truly living them with the characters. This results in a huge gap between the reader and Charlie; preventing one from really getting into his head.
There is also an issue with Rinaldi seemingly not knowing the theme to his own novel. Much of the text focuses on the Civil War and although this is detailed and passionate; it feels unrelated to the real crux of Charlie and Lavinia. The transitions between these subplots are not smooth and therefore feel like separate novels. There are also moments when the plot (and text) feels too modern. Although these are not excessive; they are very noticeable and are therefore jarring to the reader.
“The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb” falls more into place around page 100 when Rinaldi begins to alternate voices between the two characters with respective chapters being told by each. Lavinia’s characterization is actually more developed than Charlie with a stronger voice and more openness even though Charles is the main character.
Halfway through, the plot thickens slightly and the pace increases making the novel much more readable (and enjoyable). On the contrary, though, something is still ‘missing’ with an absence of truly revealing the characters. This can best be described in a sort of nonfiction way. Meaning, that Rinaldi could probably pen a strong, unbiased, nonfiction piece better than a novel requiring creativity.
The major issue with “The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb” is that instead of becoming better, the story becomes very repetitive and unbelievable as the pages progress. I have read much about the characters previously and Rinaldi took quite a lot of historical liberties. As this is a HF novel; Rinaldi reserves that right but at least the events could have been more life-like versus silly and impossible.
The concluding chapters of “The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb” are rushed and inconclusive leaving many unanswered questions. The ending is not as memorable as Rinaldi hopes it to be. There is a very brief (about 4 lines) mention of the historical liberties in the author’s “acknowledgements” which frankly is quite disappointing at the lack of detail.
“The Remarkable Courtship of General Tom Thumb” is simply not enthralling and isn’t what it sets out to be as it is barely a novel on Tom Thumb. On the contrary, it is more of a Civil HF so if that is your forte; then by all means read this novel immediately. Sadly, the true voices and lives of the characters are never properly revealed. My suggestion for a much better HF novel on the subject is The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb. On the plus side, the novel is a quick 1-2 read so it doesn’t take up much time. ...more
“The Marriage Game” is immediately flooded with red flags and cringe-worthy moments starting the novel on a poor note. As soon as page 10, Weir strike“The Marriage Game” is immediately flooded with red flags and cringe-worthy moments starting the novel on a poor note. As soon as page 10, Weir strikes with historical inaccuracies. Whether this is due to Weir’s own beliefs on the matter or merely taking a historical liberties on the pretext of fiction; it is not of concern. The point is that the general reader will accept this as truth and run with it based on Weir’s fame for penning nonfiction history books.
Even aside from this blatant error, “The Marriage Game” is no better than a YA novel and a boring one, at that. Elizabeth is depicted as a one-dimensional, shallow character; not truly exploring her womanly strengths and weaknesses. Her romance with Robert, her refusal to marry, and the proposals from foreign princes are all portrayed by Weir as nothing more than high school drama. Plus, it is the same thing on each page. Nothing truly ‘happens’ and the plot doesn’t intensify or progress.
Weir over saturates the text of “The Marriage Game” with, “As you know, Bob”-style storytelling in order to set the stage and explain Tudor back stories. This is tedious and slackens the already slow pace of the novel. Also evident is a chunky narrative with clear up-and-down arcs which are too extreme: i.e. slow and exciting then repeat several times.
“The Marriage Game” does have some strong moments such as the scandalous death of Amy Robsart (Dudley’s wife). Although Weir doesn’t pursue this in depth, she explores some of the possible theories providing the reader with historical context. This is also true for other topics in “The Marriage Game” such as the situation with the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots and other political forays. Weir would have done much better composing a novel focusing more on these historical events instead of an entire text on repetitive love and marriage.
The conclusion of “The Marriage Game” feels like a different novel entirely by taking a complete 180-degree turn off the marriage topic and instead focusing on the Spanish Armada. This is strikingly emotional (in comparison to the former portions of the novel) but is noticeably disjointed leaving the love subject unanswered and merely forgotten.
Weir utilized an ‘Author’s Note’ using it to explain some historical liberties, her opinions, and inspirations. Although, I would have preferred deeper explanations for the benefit of those general readers not as familiar with the topic; it is still quite useful.
Sadly, “The Marriage Game” can be summed up as a heavy disappointment: one-dimensional, fluffy, boring, and quite meaningless. It is not only light on the history but also doesn’t really encourage the general reader to engage in further research. “The Marriage Game” is nothing more than mindless entertainment (a fast read) and is only suggested for those unfamiliar with Elizabeth and Tudor England. Those well-read on the matters will gain absolutely nothing from “The Marriage Game” and are better off skipping it. ...more
Whether as a child or as an adult; the life of Queen Elizabeth I was quite interesting and dramatic, to say the least. Margaret Irwin begins her ElizaWhether as a child or as an adult; the life of Queen Elizabeth I was quite interesting and dramatic, to say the least. Margaret Irwin begins her Elizabeth Trilogy following the future Gloriana as a young teen aging both physically and mentally in, “Young Bess”.
Irwin’s writing strikes the reader with instant literary tones in the realm of flowery descriptions, symbolism, and vivid imagery. This captures the reader without turning “Young Bess” into a fluff piece by focusing ardently on historical events (“Young Bess” is more history than fiction). The issue with this is that there are some historical inaccuracies but perhaps Irwin can be forgiven as “Young Bess” was published in the 1940s.
“Young Bess” can definitely be described as ‘dry’ as the text contains little dialogue and the narrator merely describes events instead of allowing the reader to live through them. Much of the plot is a history recap versus actually revealing Elizabeth, at all. In fact, Elizabeth feels sort of like an afterthought instead of being a main character.
There are quite a few instances where Irwin tries to create controversy by simply name-calling characters and using elementary-level teasing instead of imaginatively weaving it into the plot. This feels like debasing the events and doesn’t truly add anything to the story.
At approximately the halfway point, Irwin infuses “Young Bess” with a bit more of a fictional styling creating a faster pace amongst the pages. Elizabeth begins to come off the pages much more in comparison than she was and Irwin explores angles on how her childhood may have affected her adult self. Also evident at this point are unique highlights which other Tudor HF novels never focus on (such as Thomas Seymour’s time spent in Hungary). This is quite welcomed.
In true Irwin style, “Young Bess” jumps between characters and their points of view of the story. This, luckily, is not overwhelming to the reader and does not create any chunkiness (although it reduces the spotlight on Elizabeth even more). Another common Irwin trait, heavy foreshadowing, is infused into the text of “Young Bess”. This is more noticeable for those familiar with Elizabeth and may not be as striking to the general reader.
The concluding chapters of “Young Bess” are quite evocative with emotion and shed an understandable and relatable light to the hysterical feeling surrounding the execution of Thomas Seymour and the last days of King Edward’s reign. Sadly, this still bypasses the views of Elizabeth and ends the novel rather abruptly (this may be due to the fact that there are more books within the trilogy).
Like most other older HF novels; Irwin did not include any notes to explain any historical liberties taken or a genealogical table which could be of use to the general reader.
Overall, “Young Bess” is rather strong in terms of historical focus but weak when it comes to retaining the essence of a novel. The pages fail to bring Elizabeth alive therefore eclipsing any character growth while the plot doesn’t express a proper arc. “Young Bess” is consequentially somewhat dry and flat. The novel basically displays an absence of excitement or that special, “oomph”. Despite these complaints, “Young Bess” is a rather good historical overview for those seeking less fluff and is therefore recommended for readers interested in the Tudors. ...more
Everyone knows the play, “Romeo & Juliet” and how it concludes. Yet, how many stop to imagine how each character came to be in his/her position? LEveryone knows the play, “Romeo & Juliet” and how it concludes. Yet, how many stop to imagine how each character came to be in his/her position? Lois Leveen does precisely this re-imagining in, “Juliet’s Nurse”. Leveen’s novel is a sort of prequel to “Romeo & Juliet” envisioning Juliet’s household and childhood years; especially that of her relations with her nurse, Angelica. As one can suspect, this can either make “Juliet’s Nurse” quite riveting or a poor excuse for ‘fan fiction’.
The story of “Juliet’s Nurse” begins with an instant dive into Angelica’s point of view/life with no introduction in a sort of short story-esque format. Although this works in many other novels adding layers of depth; it creates a barrier between the character and readers in “Juliet’s Nurse”. One doesn’t fully understand Angelica or feel her inner thoughts are broken down completely.
Undeniably, Leveen’s take on Juliet’s childhood and familiar characters (Tybalt, Lord Cappelletti, Friar Lorenzo, etc) is unique, colorful, and offers a set-up to the famous play. The text is often times vividly illustrated and poignant. Yet, although the prose isn’t bad per se; the plot is slow. In the simplest terms, nothing truly happens and the relationship between Angelica and baby Juliet is uneventful. There are many instances where the reader may stop to think, “What is the point and what is this leading to?” Again, “Juliet’s Nurse” isn’t badly written; it is merely the plot that is too thin.
Despite this, “Juliet’s Nurse” does have some intriguing, whimsical, and humorous moments. Plus, Leveen interweaves some poetic prose reminiscent of Shakespeare’s play and a little philosophical thought here-and-there which strengthens the novel.
An odd and overly done detail of “Juliet’s Nurse” is the focus on the highly amorous sex life of Angelica and her lusty husband, Pietro. This may have some sort of motive on Leveen’s end but it was completely lost on me, feeling unnecessary and with no cohesive connection to the plot. It basically seemed like Leveen either wanted to add shock value or thought a HF novel taking place in Italy had to include sex. In spite of these complaints, “Juliet’s Nurse” is not a dense novel and therefore flows easily and reads quickly. In this manner, the accessibility provokes the reader to continue on.
The second half of “Juliet’s Nurse” skips ahead to Juliet’s teen years becoming focused on the famous play’s events. Although the plot becomes more riveting with Juliet being no longer a baby and Leveen’s prose becomes more poetic; it also feels like another novel entirely resulting in some choppiness and confusion in regards to consistency.
The concluding chapters of “Juliet’s Nurse” heavily recall “Romeo & Juliet” but also stand firm in their unique angle of focusing on familiar events with that of Angelica’s views/feelings. On the other hand, some of Leveen’s depictions are silly and unbelievable with the original play. The ending of “Juliet’s Nurse” wraps up the novel with a moralistic overview while an ‘Author’s Note’ explains the basis of the story in relation to the play leaving a memorable ending note.
Overall, “Juliet’s Nurse” is well-written in terms of prose but the plot is a little flat and thin. This doesn’t mean that “Juliet’s Nurse” is terrible (it isn’t) but that it isn’t mind-blowing. Regardless, being that the novel is a quick read; it is suggested for those who enjoy “Romeo & Juliet” or are fans of the author (I would read more novels from Leveen). ...more
Some people get only 15 minutes of fame. In the case of Tudor-era Queen Jane Grey, this fame is extended to nine days (in actuality, it was a bit moreSome people get only 15 minutes of fame. In the case of Tudor-era Queen Jane Grey, this fame is extended to nine days (in actuality, it was a bit more). Deborah Meroff tells the story of the ‘Nine Days Queen’ in, “Coronation of Glory”.
“Coronation of Glory” begins with the overdone writing tactic of starting a historical fiction story with a character looking back at his/her own life in order to tell the “true” version of events. This lack of creativity flows into a first-person narrative, thus resulting in heavy, “As you know, Bob”- style storytelling in order to explain historical context. This prevents the reader from truly experiencing the story and makes “Coronation of Glory” better suited for readers new to the topic.
Also annoying in “Coronation of Glory” is the stereotypical characterizations. The figures do not evolve and are portrayed in aggravating ways (the future-Queen Elizabeth is a complete bitch even as child [even bashing her own mother], Jane is a naive girl who always sees the best in everyone, Thomas Seymour is a pompadour, Francis Brandon is abusive, etc). All of this causes the story to be rather flat and uneventful.
Meroff’s plot is quite inconsistent as some parts read no better than a YA novel while there are a few moments with deeper thoughts and literary language worth noting. This weaves a very up-and-down storyline which is also infused with an overabundance of foreshadowing that frustrates readers familiar with the events.
One of the biggest turnoffs is Meroff’s habit of stressing familiar relations between characters such as calling Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ every two seconds and Jane addressing Thomas Seymour as her ‘guardian’ in each line. This isn’t necessary. We get it!
Looking for a positive note? “Coronation of Glory” is not overly romantic or fluffy. Granted it is dated being 35 years old and not 100% historically accurate; but it isn’t as bad as many other HF novels. The novel isn’t too exciting but at least it isn’t pure fluff which makes it decently readable.
Meroff’s work falls victim to believability. Jane Grey being best friends with Lady Margery (the mother of the Seymours)? I think not. Jane acting like a child one moment but then speaking like an articulate adult the next and then like a child again? No, not buying it. Unfortunately, this breaks reader attention and causes choppiness which Meroff certainly did not intend.
Approximately halfway, “Coronation of Glory” focuses too much on romance. Luckily, this doesn’t linger and Meroff finally creates a stimulating tale when Jane takes the throne. This is definitely the first time the novel is more than dull. The only issue is that it is portrayed exactly like every other novel on Jane Grey. However, it could be argued that other authors were influenced by Meroff as this one is almost four decades old.
The final chapters of “Coronation of Glory” are quite vivid and emotional as though Meroff waited until the end to add some plot volume. The conclusion is memorable although the epilogue is from the point of view of Jane’s maid (Ellen) and is in a completely different tone than Ellen spoke throughout the entire novel. Regardless, the meaning is clear and the lasting image is solid.
It should be noted that Meroff does not include any notes regarding the historical merits and liberties of the story (most older novels don’t). There is a bibliography, list of characters, and genealogical table but they are located at the end and can therefore be easily overlooked.
“Coronation of Glory” is sadly flat, stereotypical, and lacking any complexity of unique storytelling. On the other hand, I have read worse HF novels. This is one to not rush into reading but suggested if you must read all Jane Grey novels. Otherwise, “Coronation of Glory” is best recommended for readers new to the topic or YA readers (as the novel reads somewhat like a YA novel). ...more
Although the US Military accepts women in its ranks; many view it as a man’s world. Imagine how much of a man’s world it was in 1782 during the last lAlthough the US Military accepts women in its ranks; many view it as a man’s world. Imagine how much of a man’s world it was in 1782 during the last leg of the Revolutionary War. Deborah Samson, a 22-year old female, wanted a life of adventure versus that of an indentured servant. Wearing men’s clothing and calling herself Robert Shurtliff; she enlisted in the Continental Army. Alex Myers, a descendant of Samson and a Transgender who understands female-to-male roles; opens up Deborah/Robert’s story in, “Revolutionary”.
The onset of “Revolutionary” instantly grips the reader with a strong, creative, and well-written writing style which is echelons higher than most during their first historical-fiction novel. Although there is too much instant drama which feels like an effort at shock value; Myers still executes the concept well and maintains the pace, encouraging page-turning. Not only is reader attention maintained but Myers packs a lot of story into few pages which will surprise the reader with how much has occurred while few numerical pages have progressed. This is not a negative thing, however, and merely emphasizes the complexity of “Revolutionary”.
Although Deborah/Robert isn’t introduced in the traditional way with a usual character arc; one does feel like her personality is understood. On the other hand, it would be expected that “Revolutionary” would have a strong focal point on the physical and mental conflicts which Deborah encounters posing as a man. Although discussed, Myers doesn’t stress this emotional aspect and loses a strong thread in the novel.
In a related sense, “Revolutionary” is predominately a war novel. The reader will not truly gain a look into Deborah/Robert’s inner psyche as much as preferred and will instead learn more about life in the army during the Revolutionary War. In fact, the characterization is weak at some points and the story could have been told by anyone versus this fascinating figure. On the other hand, the army/war depictions are so lively and real that it is almost unbelievable that Myers hasn’t stepped out of a time machine and experienced it firsthand.
One of the biggest frustrations with “Revolutionary” is the ease with which “tricky” events are solved for Deborah/Robert. Every time her secret is about to be exposed, she barely worries about it and the tension is over immediately with her mystery secure. This is unbelievable as life is not that easy and one can pretty much bet that it wasn’t that easy for the real-life Deborah/Robert, either. Another issue begins approximately 90 pages in when Myers flip flops between the Deborah and Robert names so much (within the same sentences) that it begins to feel like two separate people versus solidifying the essence that Deborah was becoming Robert more and more. Basically, the opposite effect occurred than what seemed to be Myers’s intent.
Some readers may find the plot slow in the respect that it oftentimes feels like “Revolutionary” isn’t leading to a climax or “point”. Each page is merely filled with descriptions of military training and thus, the meaning is lost. This would be remedied by a strong character study on Deborah/Robert’s emotional sanity/feelings but again: that angle is not the main idea in the novel.
At the three-quarters mark, “Revolutionary” does a 180-degree turn and highlights the previously lesser-discussed emotional gender identity struggles in Deborah/Robert’s mind. Myers also shocks with not one but two very large and unexpected events; and adds romance. The fact that these are out of “left field” but mesh smoothly into the story demonstrates Myers’s composition skills.
The conclusion of “Revolutionary” felt somewhat weak and a bit too “cheesy” but not so much that it is was a detriment to the overall novel. Sadly, Myers did not include an ‘Author’s Note’ explaining the historical liberties taken within the story which is disappointing.
Despite some aches and pains with execution, “Revolutionary” is a strong, vibrant, and heavy historical novel which demonstrates Myers’s passion on the subject and his historical research. Being both well-written and compelling, I would certainly read another HF work from the author and recommend “Revolutionary” to historical fiction lovers.
Imagine receiving a miniature house – a replica of your own – as a wedding gift from your new spouse. Not exactly diamonds, is it? What if miniature fImagine receiving a miniature house – a replica of your own – as a wedding gift from your new spouse. Not exactly diamonds, is it? What if miniature figures began appearing as small play versions of the real thing: your furniture, family members, and even pets? Add some suspense and mystery and you have Jessie Burton’s debut novel, “The Miniaturist”.
“The Miniaturist” is a creative and unique novel based in 17th century Amsterdam following the life of Nella who is newly married to Johannes, a merchant trader. Everything around Nella is instantly turned upside down, fortified by Marin (Johanne’s sister), Cornelia a maid, and Otto, a servant. Life is shaken up even more with the receipt of a miniature cabinet (sort of like a doll house) with which Nella receives life-like figures from a mysterious miniaturist.
Although the plot sounds unbelievably contrived (and even somewhat juvenile); Burton pulls it off remarkably. The story is engrossing with instant repertoire and attachment to Nella. In fact, all of the characters are stand-out and bask in their own spotlights. These are certainly not stock characters.
The main highlight of “The Miniaturist” is Burton’s writing style. Although her prose is accessible (the novel is a relatively quick read and also features short chapters); it is eloquent and rife with symbolic language and beautiful visual descriptions. Burton’s novel is borderline literary and one can picture a forthcoming novel venturing down that path. Much of the text is poetic and sparkling but in a very organic and unforced manner.
On the other hand, the plot line involving the miniaturist is forced; being silly, unexplored, and not smooth (or natural) with Nella’s behaviors/responses. Basically, even though the title of the novel deems that the miniaturist would be a main focus; it is actually a subplot in the “The Miniaturist”. This will cause some unease amongst those readers hoping the title reflects the central theme.
“The Miniaturist” has some slow moments but can still be described as a page-turner. Not to mention, the pace and story both pick up as the novel progresses with many unpredictable and exciting turns. Burton can’t be accused of foreshadowing.
The historical merit of “The Miniaturist” feels accurate with Burton having clearly conducted extensive research into the era, culture, and ways of life. All of the elements in “The Miniaturist” are very ‘real’ in this sense.
Burton’s writing is slightly weakened with the climax which is too much like a fairy tale attempting to overreach with underlying morals and philosophies but failing to do so. The final chapters are rushed while the conclusion is “too happily ever after” and yet lacks a true sense of finality with unanswered questions. Not to mention, the plotline concerning the actual miniaturist was barely even grazed! Bluntly, Burton fell off the ball a bit, so to speak.
Despite a weak ending and some flaws (the thin focus on the miniaturist being the biggest one); “The Miniaturist” is a rather strong debut with elements of literary fiction being present. Burton’s talent and creativity is clear and one can argue that she will only improve with time. I would definitely read more works from her and recommend “The Miniaturist” to those readers who enjoy historical fiction leaning towards historical suspense. ...more
They say that a “picture is worth a thousand words”. So, how many is a painting worth? What is the story behind a painting? What secrets do the modelsThey say that a “picture is worth a thousand words”. So, how many is a painting worth? What is the story behind a painting? What secrets do the models hold? Nina Siegal explores this theme in, “The Anatomy Lesson” based on “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp”; a painting by none other than Rembrandt.
Siegal’s premise follows the perspective of several character involved in the end produce of Rembrandt’s painting: the thief whose body is dissected and is the basis of the painting, his lover who is carrying his child, Rene Descarte, Rembrandt himself, and the curio who procures the body. Add in a modern art historian restoring the painting in contemporary times and “The Anatomy Lesson” has quite a cast.
The issue with the novel is Siegal’s decision to alternate each chapter with a different character’s narrative (and even of 1st person and 3rd person views). Although her intention is clearly to build layers and demonstrate the various lives and paths touched by one painting; the story is choppy and somewhat visceral. The reader has difficulties truly “getting into” the story (which can seem pointless, at times) and none of the characters truly resonate with the reader or evoke as much emotion as they potentially could. On the other hand, Siegal successfully delineates the voices, with each character possessing his or her own personality and quirks. There is no fear of confusing the key players.
Siegal marvelously weaves an illustrative story (despite the character jumps) in terms of language and visuals. The text is flowery (but not overly so) and is historically accurate. Often times, the reader will see the plot play out like that of a vivid film. “The Anatomy Lesson” has a special element which can’t be exactly pinpointed but it sure encourages page turning!
With progression, “The Anatomy Lesson” becomes much stronger and more compelling as Siegal find her wave and rides it. The text is more natural and the detective-esque connections between the characters are interesting and answer any questions/loose ends which readers may have. This adds an essence of mystery but without any pent-up tension or dead ends. The negative aspect of this is that the reader just begins to fall deep into one character’s storyline when the chapter ends and bring out about another narrative. This may have been a technique to build the suspense but I found it flighty and inconsistent to the story arc.
Despite any of my complaints, “The Anatomy Lesson” builds depth halfway through and begins to add moral lessons. The reader will contemplate on how much lays in what can’t be seen while being gratified by the story. Siegal’s text is a fast and accessible 1-2 read but it isn’t fluffy and is instead very ‘real’: simple but illuminating, as well.
The climax of the novel is strong and emphasizes the moral and philosophic traits of the tale but without “trying too hard” to prove a point. Again, Siegal leaves the reader in a position to dive deep into personal thoughts. Sadly, the conclusion is a bit rushed and weaker in comparison to the rest of the novel especially with the spiritual-themed ending pages. On a whole, “The Anatomy Lesson” doesn’t round out well or feel properly “closed”.
The most impressive note of the novel is that the story takes place in one single day but is captivating enough that it feels longer and more carried out. “The Anatomy Lesson” combines elements of a short story or novella but incorporates a strong HF novel format.
An Author’s Note exploring the historical merits of story is absent (there is a slight note in the beginning but more details on historical liberties would have been welcome).
Overall, “The Anatomy Lesson” isn’t perfect but Siegal’s passion for writing and talent is clear (but needs some work). The novel is inconsistent and straddles between a 3 and 4 star rating. At the same time, one can feel what the book ‘could be’ and therefore I would read more from Siegal in the future. “The Anatomy Lesson” is recommended for HF and art history lovers who seek a quick read but without the fluff of many other HF novels. ...more
Love ripens everyday, near and far, in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it can feel bigger than life and becomes one’s whole being. Take such a love storLove ripens everyday, near and far, in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it can feel bigger than life and becomes one’s whole being. Take such a love story; add in the 1989 Omaha World’s Fair, a little mysticism, and you have Timothy Schaffert’s “The Swan Gondola”.
The bare bones of “The Swan Gondola”, which follows the relationship of Bartholomew “Ferret” Skerritt and his love for Cecily; could be simply described as a plain, romantic tale. However, the novel is anything but simple and ordinary. Told amongst the backdrop of the Omaha World’s Fair, complete with the magic of carnival life; Schaffert delivers a spiritual and whimsical plot which is unique and utterly compelling. “The Swan Gondola” is a special novel which demands page-turning.
The content of “The Swan Gondola” is not a typical novel as there isn’t a ‘traditional’ introduction or growth of a story and instead the reader is instantly thrown into what feels like the thick of a plot. This works to the novel’s benefit, however, making it both intriguing and multi-dimensional. Schaffert’s storytelling is poetic and highly illustrative adding to the depth of “The Swan Gondola”. In fact, the take is so imaginative that the text flows like a film with strong, vivid imagery that the reader can almost claim to see. Suddenly, pages have passed without even noticing!
Schaffert provides a cast of characters with individualist personalities and quirks; with each experiencing personal self-growth. Ferret isn’t what one might think he seems to be and he bonds well with the reader. This adds strength to “The Swan Gondola” and compels the reader to want to know what happens.
Although the essence of the book is a love story, it is not told in a way that is cheesy or overdone. The plot is well-paced, smooth, cohesive, and believable. Often times, Schaffert delivers lines which are heartfelt, deep, and lyrical while also encouraging the reader to dwell on what was just said (in a good way). The prose is accessible and relatable. However, some readers may be discouraged by Schaffert’s high focus on details/descriptions of surroundings to help create the story. Although Schaffert’s use of this makes sense and has sufficient reasoning; this style isn’t for everyone. The Swan Gondola” also isn’t a dialogue-heavy novel which may deter some readers.
One of the strongest characteristics of “The Swan Gondola” is that it is never predictable. It is suspenseful in its own right but again, in a very natural way. There are some allusions made to “The Wizard of Oz”, which Schaffert admits to; but these are not in relation to the plot and more so with small details and symbolism. In no way does “The Swan Gondola” feel like the same story, so have no fear.
There is an issue with an inconsistency with historical accuracy. Although Schaffert’s description of the World Fair, carnival life, and the general way of American life during McKinley’s presidency is lush and colorful; there are jumps where the text is too modern but then reverts back to a historical back-peddle. Fortunately, this doesn’t effect the novel too much but it is noticeable.
Regrettably, the last quarter of “The Swan Gondola” slumps in strength and fails to provide the, ‘oomph’ Schaffer presents throughout the novel. The plot takes an elementary turn which is both unbelievable and forced. Although these concluding chapters attempt to capture the spiritualism of the era, the text plays out more like a young adult novel. Yet, despite this, Schaffert offers quite a few surprises while also solving some of the novel’s riddles. Not to mention, the symbolism is heavy and becomes clear making “The Swan Gondola” gripping with a burst of philosophy underneath it all. The ending is a bit too ‘happily ever after’ but this also agrees with the fairy tale-like aspects of the novel.
Overall, “The Swan Gondola” is a terrific novel with depth, surprises, and well-written text. Other reviewers have compared it to “Water for Elephants” and “The Night Circus” which I can’t attest to, not having read these novels (I have only seen the film version of “Water for Elephants”). I would, however, compare it the film, “Big Fish”. “The Swan Gondola” is the type of sleepy novel which will certainly arouse large audiences in due time and will flutter a few film studios into a film adaptation. Either way, the novel is great and recommended for those interested in a historical fiction love story during the turn of the century. I would certainly read more from Timothy Schaffert in the future. ...more
For staunch Tudor lovers, the name Margaret Pole is not an unfamiliar one. Yet, even though the Countess of Salisbury was smack-dab in the middle of cFor staunch Tudor lovers, the name Margaret Pole is not an unfamiliar one. Yet, even though the Countess of Salisbury was smack-dab in the middle of courtly drama; she seems to play a side note in most books. Phillippa Gregory brings Pole to the forefront in her latest historical fiction novel, “The King’s Curse”.
Before I even proceed further, I want to make something clear for those who aren’t regular readers of my reviews: I do not think of Gregory as a God nor of her work as the Bible. Her books of the past few years have been fluffy, filled with historical liberties, and with an overabundance of fantasy topics like magic. Don’t even get me started on her obsession with the, “As you know, Bob”- style of writing. To say the least, I have not been impressed. Lo and behold though, ladies and gents, because it appears that PG finally listened to complaints and produced a work which actually isn’t terrible!
“The King’s Curse” begins with Pole characterized as an adult so there is no discrepancy of the strain of growth from childhood to adulthood. Following Pole’s life (both personal and courtly); her feelings and role come alive with a strong portrayal. Readers will actually feel as though they are walking into Margaret’s psyche and not in a dummied down version, either. Margaret is both believable and accessible.
The most stroking trait of “The King’s Curse” is its accuracy which has not been the way to describe PG lately. In this novel, Gregory stuck mostly to the facts with the liberties being more on par with various debated theories historians have proposed versus fluff created in Gregory’s mind. Meaning, the novel is NOT thoroughly accurate but the inaccuracies are based on proposed theories and ideas. The descriptions and speaking style feel mostly authentic and the visuals are rich. Best of all? The “As you know, Bob” style is very limited! It is still present but rarely. I’m telling you: “The King’s Curse” is a million times better than the past few years of Gregory output.
The pace of the plot is also solid and with an exciting heartbeat. Although much of the novel focuses on courtly affairs (the downfall of Henry VIII); the novel is moving and dare I say: a page-turner. All of the other characters are well portrayed with Mary Tudor (future Queen Mary) being a standout. In fact, many of the events are quite vivid and emotionally poignant. No mention of magical crap was even needed to do so (believe it or not, the silly curse is barely mentioned despite the novel’s title).
On the negative end, some of the hatred in “The King’s Curse” towards Anne Boleyn and the frustration with Henry VIII is somewhat over the top. Yes, Margaret was a supporter of Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor but the spewing of anger and calling Anne a ‘whore’ numerous times was a bit much. We get it! Margaret didn’t like Anne! Sheesh! On the other hand, this is a sort of refreshing look from the opposition of the Anne camp versus those novels focusing on Anne’s wit and charisma. Regardless, some Anne supporters may be offended or annoyed.
Notably, Gregory intersperses the novel with genealogical charts (instead of singularly just in the beginning of the novel) which illuminate some of the figures featured in the respective chapters. This is definitely unique to “The King’s Curse” (and I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or not).
The final quarter of the “The King’s Curse” suffers from a great decline in the pace and effectiveness as much of the plot is told (with the characters discussing events) versus being ‘lived’. This is tedious, boring, and sadly more like Gregory’s other novels. This flows into an anticlimactic ending which is rushed and not on-par with the lead-up of the entire novel.
On the bright side, Gregory does explain some historical liberties in her ‘Author’s Note’ hopefully showing readers that her writing is not the word of God. Plus, her sources listed are those which Tudor readers are familiar with and mostly support.
Overall, quite shockingly, “The King’s Curse” is unlike Gregory’s recent novels with very little or none of the traits readers have been complaining about. The angle of the story is unique while Margaret Pole is presented as a complex figure inviting further research which is quite a feat coming from Gregory. “The King’s Curse” may not be the best historical fiction novel on the market; but the best from the author in years.
Note: My rating is perhaps more of a 3.5 in terms of HF novels overall (and therefore I would have given it a 3 rating) but because I am taking into consideration PG’s other works and comparing it to those previous works; it is being rated as a 4 ...more