John le Carre perfectly described this book, "Superb. Meticulously researched, splendidly told, immensely entertaining, and often very moving." I'll j...moreJohn le Carre perfectly described this book, "Superb. Meticulously researched, splendidly told, immensely entertaining, and often very moving." I'll just add that this is one helluva book. It made me laugh, it broke my heart and it blew my mind away. Ben Macintyre is the kind of storyteller that I can only dream of becoming. Zigzag is, by himself a highly entertaining and compelling character, but he truly came alive for me with this book. And although a complicated story that was undoubtedly extremely challenging to research and put together, Mr. Macintyre brings it all together so well that I never got lost among all the twists and turns and all the people who come and go. I was sad to come to the end of the story and I pity the next book I pick up to read because it has a big act to follow. If you're at all interested in WWII and/or espionage, read this book. I think you'll be glad you did. (less)
An entertaining read even when it gets to the dark and gruesome time of the Terror, a testament to the author's light touch and flowing prose. This is...moreAn entertaining read even when it gets to the dark and gruesome time of the Terror, a testament to the author's light touch and flowing prose. This is a historical fiction that is heavy on the fictional side but, as the author herself says, this is a historical entertainment, not a biography, so don't let the deviations from accepted history in the story tie you into knots.
Its a believable look at Marie Antoinette's inner world through the diary she left behind when taken to her execution. We first meet her in the midst of family tragedy when she was a child and takes us through her journey to becoming a wife, a mother, a queen and then a prisoner. This Marie is, by turns, sympathetic and then not likable. Every now and then she has moments of clarity when she understands there are people in the world who have virtually nothing and is moved to make at least small gestures. She is fond of her husband, kind to her servants, and loves her children. On the other hand, she is clueless enough to think that wearing a pair of gloves at least 3 times will help the country's finances and feels no guilt at going outside of her marriage. Yet she can't be completely blamed for her shortcomings; she was raised and lived in a rarefied world where she was expected to forever be on the cutting edge of fashion, and nothing much was expected of her beyond providing an heir to the throne.
Reading novels and histories of the French Revolution always leaves me feeling conflicted about it. On the one hand, I can wholeheartedly understand the people reaching their breaking point of poverty, hunger, lack of freedom and bad luck and wanting to lash out. On the other hand, they went beyond fighting for their liberty and remaking their government and country straight into savagery and cruelty. Indeed, they created a society where there was no true liberty at all.
As far as I know of (and I could very easily be wrong on this, I'm not a Marie Antoinette expert), the real Marie left no written record of her thoughts like this, something that all historians long to find in connection to historical figures. She may or may not have resembled the Marie to be found here in this novel, but either way, its questionable that she deserved what happened to her, at least in my mind.
I enjoyed the book enough to want to check out other books by this author. (less)
*Possible spoiler alert if you are unfamiliar with the Elgin Marbles*
I got off to a slow start with this book and ended up not wanting to put it down....more*Possible spoiler alert if you are unfamiliar with the Elgin Marbles*
I got off to a slow start with this book and ended up not wanting to put it down. Ms. Essex takes the reader on the extraordinary journey behind what we now call the Elgin Marbles. Beforehand, I knew very little on the subject beyond that they were removed from Greece by the British during the Napoleonic era and that the controversy rages on as Greece continues to advocate for their return. What I didn't know was the back story of exactly how the marbles came to live in the U.K. and of the couple who are at the heart of the story: Lord and Lady Elgin. We begin with their journey to Constantinople as British envoys to the Ottoman Empire, with some flashbacks to their brief courtship in Scotland. Elgin is obsessed with enhancing the arts in Britain by bringing back sketches and molds of the statues and friezes around Athens. As time passes, we become better acquainted with their sense of their culture's superiority as they interact with the Turks and the Greeks. Elgin and his staff become convinced that mere sketches and molds won't do but rather they must remove the marbles from Greece in order to preserve them from the harm being done. The more involved everyone becomes in transporting the marbles, the higher the price the Elgins will have to pay. How the British government comes to be the owner of the marbles makes for fascinating reading. Did the Elgins do the right thing by taking the marbles? Should the marbles be returned? You'll have to decide for yourself :D.
Along with the story of the removal of the marbles is the story of the creation of the marbles. At various times throughout the novel, you'll step back in time to Athens in 5th century B.C.E. Perikles is foremost among the Athenians and he shares a mighty vision with the artist Pheidias to show the world Athen's greatness. At their side is the fascinating Aspasia, Perikles's mistress. She is someone who is unwilling to accept all of the limitations placed on women and lives openly as a Philosopher. We get to see the Parthenon come into being through her eyes, as well as the controversies they caused even then.
I wish half stars were an option; I can't quite give it 4 stars, but 3 stars isn't quite generous enough. I did enjoy the book and learned more about...moreI wish half stars were an option; I can't quite give it 4 stars, but 3 stars isn't quite generous enough. I did enjoy the book and learned more about William Shakespeare in the process as I'm more familiar with his writings than his personal life. I like stories that take a history mystery and present a feasible "what if" scenario, and this was a fun read.
The story entails this: what if the back-to-back marriage records at the Register at Worcester were not the result of a "clerical error" but rather the result of Will being involved with two women at the same time? The author takes the idea that behind that one line in the records there was an entire life to explore. In Ms. Harper's vision, Will and Anne Whateley grew up together and later fell in love. They married in secret and then that night Anne finds out there's another Anne, this being Anne Hathaway, who is carrying Will's child. With society on Anne H's side, she becomes Will's "legal" wife, leaving Anne W. with a broken heart. Far from being over, the relationship between Anne W. and Will goes on for decades as they endure long separations, death, heartbreaks, misunderstandings, persecution, and danger in rough and tumble times.
What I liked about the Anne W. character was that she wasn't just blindly in love with Will; she was feisty and independent, often angry with herself for continuing to love him, often angry at Will for his actions, and no fool about her place in his life. I think many of us can understand the complication of not being able to let go of someone that we probably should, even when we know it would be better that way.
Many historians today dismiss the possibility that Anne W. ever actually existed and that she was merely a mistaken entry in the records. While there may be no other known records of her at this time, it seems a shame to dismiss an entire life without being sure. Maybe she did exist, maybe she didn't, certainly its possible that Will, who spent more time apart from his wife than with her, could have had another lady love who inspired him, even if it wasn't someone by the name of Anne W. Until evidence of Anne's existence comes to light, the debate will rage on. In the meantime, the mystery of it all is enough to keep us intrigued.
There's a very interesting 4 part documentary on Netflix called In Search of Shakespeare to help flesh out Will and his world.
This was such a delight to read. If you enjoy Little Women then you will probably like Marrying Mozart. The Weber sisters are never dull, particularly...moreThis was such a delight to read. If you enjoy Little Women then you will probably like Marrying Mozart. The Weber sisters are never dull, particularly Sophie, the youngest. Before reading this, if I thought of Mozart it was just as a brilliant child prodigy composer and player; I knew nothing of his life as an adult. I tend to think of the great classical composers as being very serious individuals, and really they were the rock stars of their day. It was so much fun to see another side of Mozart come to life. I didn't want this book to ever end. (less)
Interesting. I didn't know much about Kat Ashley beyond that she was a favorite of Elizabeth's. As the author discusses in her notes, researching anyo...moreInteresting. I didn't know much about Kat Ashley beyond that she was a favorite of Elizabeth's. As the author discusses in her notes, researching anyone in the Tudor-era can be challenging, and Kat herself is evidently quite a mystery; everything from how to spell her name to who her parents were and what year she was born in. So if the author played fast and loose with Kat's life in order to weave an interesting story, I think she can be forgiven.
I did feel, though, as if plausibility was being stretched a bit far at times, especially in the beginning, but the story grew on me as I went along, mainly because any story about the Tudors is going to suck me in. I came away from it feeling that I've read better but also read worse when it comes to historical fiction.
So far I haven't had any luck finding a full biography of Kat Ashley, beyond a few articles online. If anyone knows of one, please clue me in, I would love to read more about her. Despite any faults the novel might have, I found her to be a fascinating character. She must have been a strong woman to go through everything she did. I doubt I could have survived three months in the dreaded Fleet Prison, let alone everything else she went through. She's someone who is ever present when it comes to the Tudors in fiction and film, but usually overlooked so it was fun to read a story through her eyes.
If the link below works correctly, it will take you to a manuscript of William Cecil's state papers, which includes some mentions of Kat, as well as providing a good idea of just how challenging it can be to research Tudor sources (just trying to decipher a couple paragraphs made my head hurt, lol).
I wanted to like this book, I really did. I generally love anything to do with the Tudors, and I enjoyed the author's book, The Hidden Diary of Marie...moreI wanted to like this book, I really did. I generally love anything to do with the Tudors, and I enjoyed the author's book, The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, so I had some reasonable hopes for this one. Much as I tried, though, I couldn't get into it. I would read, and read, and read, come up for air and find I had only managed to read a few pages when it felt as if I had been reading forever. There were times when it showed promise and I felt a little more engaged. I think my problem with it was partly because I couldn't get past the deviations from historical record and partly because the author's take on Catherine clashed with my take on her. I just about went mad at wondering how someone as intelligent as Catherine could fall for such a rotten apple as Thomas Seymour. Hopefully he was somewhat worthier of her in real life than he was in this book (although I have my doubts on that matter). All that aside, I'm still glad that I read the book because, after all, it let me spend time with my favorite royal family. If it was possible to give half stars on Goodreads, I would give it 2 and 1/2 instead of 2 (2 isn't quite generous enough, 3 maybe a little too generous). (less)