This book started slow but definitely picked up. It spans quite a few decades, presidencies, families, and political beliefs and how a small group of...moreThis book started slow but definitely picked up. It spans quite a few decades, presidencies, families, and political beliefs and how a small group of women helped influence Georgetown. The book does a good job of showing how the women's influence grew, peaked, and waned, which was well done, but the biggest problem is that the book is supposed to be, according to the cover, about Kay Graham, Lorraine Cooper, Evangeline Bruce, Pamela Harriman, and Sally Quinn. The author, however, indulges his whims too often and goes on tangents about Elizabeth Taylor, the Clintons, Ben Bradlee, and a host of other characters who may be entertaining, but are tangential to the main "characters" who made up the Georgetown Ladies' Social Club (a name given by President Reagan). The book needed some editing and a tighter focus, but was overall a gossipy, behind-the-scenes look at an exclusive neighborhood and its influence on politics, policy, entertainment, and society in general. Other anecdotes include stories about Truman Capote, Tony Geary (AKA Luke Spencer on "General Hospital"), Sen. John Warner, Julia Child, Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara, Chris Matthews, Strom Thurmond, and Jackie Kennedy.
The group of women experienced nearly every situation imaginable: murder, suicide, rape, adultery, fame, miscarriages, wealth, celebrity, infighting, legal battles, divorce, and, above all, a front-row seat to many of the mid-to-late 20th century's major figures and events. These women were almost uniformly from wealthy, privileged backgrounds, and were groomed from early on to be perfect hostesses; the youngest women discussed at length, Sally Quinn, did not come from such a background and had a very different Georgetown experience, but hers was nevertheless probably my favorite story.(less)
This whole series was a letdown--cliched, sloppily written, and, throughout most, boring. The Luxe series was far superior, and I wish I'd just reread...moreThis whole series was a letdown--cliched, sloppily written, and, throughout most, boring. The Luxe series was far superior, and I wish I'd just reread that series.(less)
I have really loved Schmidt's other novels, so was really excited to start this one. However, I was incredibly disappointed--this novel lacked the cha...moreI have really loved Schmidt's other novels, so was really excited to start this one. However, I was incredibly disappointed--this novel lacked the character development, intriguing plot, and heart that he does so well in his other work. This novel was split between the present-day and an imagined land, but I found the diversion to the other planet an intrusion on the story of the Peppers. The "language" of the O'Mondims seemed like a garbled version of pig latin, and neither land is fully fleshed out enough for readers to feel invested in. (less)
I really like that Philippa Gregory is working to bring the role of women into history books, and this series was immensely fascinating, as I knew not...moreI really like that Philippa Gregory is working to bring the role of women into history books, and this series was immensely fascinating, as I knew nothing of the women of the War of the Roses (unless it was in "Richard III", and great liberties were taken rendering it not historically reliable). I was confused as to why this was not the first in the series, or at least published before "The White Queen," as "Lady of the Rivers" tells the story of Jacquetta Woodville; "The White Queen" is the story of her daughter, Elizabeth, during her marriage to King Edward IV. The last third of the novel leads up to the events of "The White Queen," which again makes it curious that Gregory published this one last in the series. But I admire the work Gregory puts into studying history and reading academic texts, which lend her fictional novels a bit more authority than others may. (less)
This is a really fascinating look at three highly influential women who are all but forgotten from history--first, Jacquetta Woodvllle, a high-born wo...moreThis is a really fascinating look at three highly influential women who are all but forgotten from history--first, Jacquetta Woodvllle, a high-born woman who became duchess and mother and grandmother of 2 queens. She was close with Queen Margaret of Anjou, married to Henry VI, and may have met Joan of Arc. She was married to the man who gave the order for Joan of Arc to be burned as a witch. Little is known about her; what we know comes mostly from the biographies of those she surrounded herself with and customs of the time. She likely gave birth to 14 children, 13 of whom appeared to have grown into adulthood. Her oldest, Elizabeth, married Edward IV, and is the subject of the book's second section. Edward IV succeeded Henry VI (it is likely he murdered, or at least gave the order, to assassinate Henry VI), and is famous for being one of the "sons of York" so famously described in the opening lines of "Richard III." Elizabeth was married and had 2 sons with her first husband, who was killed fighting against Edward and the Yorks, but was married in secret to Edward and it is likely they married for love. She, like her mother, was incredibly fertile and bore around 13 children herself.
Jacquetta and Elizabeth Woodville are so fascinating because they had front-row seats to the conclusion of the War of the Roses; indeed, Jacquetta witnessed a major Lancaster defeat while accompanying Queen Margaret to the front lines. The Woodville family was staunchly pro-Lancaster; they fought alongside the Lancasters, and, in Jacquetta's case, had a close relationship with the king and queen. It is amazing, then, to witness their about-face in loyalties. Indeed, Jacquetta was tried and nearly burned as a witch; rumors that she and/or her daughter enchanted Edward follow them to this day. It probably doesn't help, either, that Jacquetta was the only witness at Edward and Elizabeth's secret marriage, and helped arrange the service. Regardless of their former Lancaster alliances, Elizabeth Woodville became Queen Elizabeth of York, and her family was given wealth, choice marriages, titles, and land, causing a great deal of consternation among those close to Edward. Her father and brother, John, were killed during an uprising early in Edward's reign; after Edward successfully squashed all uprisings, there was a period of some peace and the question of the succession was, for a while, settled. (Elizabeth's 2 sons with Edward, Edward and Richard, are the famous "boys in the tower" and whose mysterious disappearances led to the succession of Richard III).
Elizabeth, the White Queen, likely exerted a great deal of power and influence over Edward, despite his womanizing and cavorting. There are known reports of Edward's fairness in dealing with disputes when he was in London; when he was on campaign or Elizabeth was far away, he tended to act more rashly and emotionally. We know Elizabeth kept her family safe during many rebellions, and gave birth to her daughter, her first child with Edward, while in sanctuary. We know Elizabeth did not like Edward's brother George, Duke of Clarence, and was probably happy and urged Edward to give George the ultimate punishment. She seemed on good relations with Edward's youngest brother, Richard, though it is mind-boggling to think that she could have considered any of the following: forgiving him after he possibly murdered or had something to do with her sons' disappearance; marrying her daughter Elizabeth to Richard (though they would have needed papal dispensation); creating alliances with Margaret of Anjou and attempting to overthrow Richard III with her help; having positive relations of any kind with Richard when he killed her brother Anthony; and forced her into sanctuary...again.
Elizabeth and Edward's daughter Elizabeth married Henry Tudor, who killed Richard III at Bosworth Field and became Henry VII, effectively ending the War of the Roses (or the Cousins' War, as it was known then). Though she didn't live to see it, she would be grandmother to Henry VIII, great-grandmother to the more famous Elizabeth I, and responsible for uniting the houses of York and Lancaster at last.
The King's Mother, which is the shortest and last section of this book, deals with Margaret Beaufort, who mothered Henry Tudor, later Henry VIII. She was only 12 when married, and 12 or 13 when she had Henry, extraordinarily young, even for medieval England. She was married 4 times, and, while pious and educated, married wealthy men and died a very, very wealthy woman. She was separated from Henry for 13 years, while he was in hiding in Wales and France with his uncle Jasper. Henry fought the York armies, though unsuccessfully, finally winning the crown--and the kingdom--when he killed Richard III. Legend has it that Henry VI, during one of his awake, lucid moments, prophesied Henry's success and eventual coronation, but there is no definite evidence that such an event actually occurred. Margaret was, by all accounts, pragmatic, stoic, determined, and working for the good of her son, always. It wasn't until Henry was older and Edward IV died that Margaret realized her son could, in fact, be king; while she had ambitions for him, the crown was, for a while, even too ambitious a goal. Margaret was always known as the King's Mother; after Henry's coronation, she was a constant companion and consultant to her son, probably creating a rift between her and her daughter-in-law. By contrast, Elizabeth Woodville was sent to Bermondsey Abbey, given a small allowance, and buried with little ceremony; Margaret was buried with great fanfare and mourning by London.
Margaret's chapter is shorter than the others, which is fine since her story lacks the legends, rumours, and passion of the Woodville women. Jacquetta is largely forgotten by history; Elizabeth has not fared well in history due to Tudor historians (and Tudor propagandists like Shakespeare) describing her, her family, and her reign in unflattering ways. It is also interesting to see where Philippa Gregory has taken liberties with her fiction; whether she did it knowingly, before the research for this nonfiction work, or just did it to creatively enhance her work, is unclear, but it was amusing to see what changes she made. I do appreciate Gregory's work in exposing the hardships women faced--it is well-documented that women lacked agency and were often forced into situations by their fathers, husbands, and/or customs, but these three particular women helped shape and participated in historical events that led to the Tudor dynasty, the end of the Cousins' War, and ended questions of succession for quite a while.
Finally, this is a good primer for people who don't know a lot about medieval England; while this book isn't all-encompassing, it does mention generations prior to the Woodvilles and Beauforts and does a good job explaining norms, practices, and life in general during medieval England. It was a frightening time for women, especially women like Jacquetta and Elizabeth who were educated, powerful, and shifted alliances, and left unprotected during long periods of war.(less)
Though it's a children's book, it is a really fascinating history of the song "We Shall Overcome," and how it has evolved over time, from slave spirit...moreThough it's a children's book, it is a really fascinating history of the song "We Shall Overcome," and how it has evolved over time, from slave spirituals to songs of freedom. Stotts also shows how it has been used in the U.S. as a song of unity during Civil Rights, a song of protest during the late '60s about Vietnam, and a song of hope after 9/11. He also explains how it has been used around the world through different protest movements: South Africa during apartheid, China during the 1988 Tiannamen Square protests, the USSR during the Cold War, and many others. It's told in a way children could understand, but I really found it interesting to see how this song has evolved over time and been used around the world.(less)
Brief plot summary: Dana and her white husband Kevin are moving into their new home in 1976 California. All of a sudden, Dana becomes dizzy and wakes...moreBrief plot summary: Dana and her white husband Kevin are moving into their new home in 1976 California. All of a sudden, Dana becomes dizzy and wakes up in 1815 on a Maryland plantation. She saves the life of the boy who would become her great-great-grandfather, Rufus--who is also the son of the plantation owner. Dana is summoned somehow by Rufus when his life is in danger, and Dana needs to keep him alive. She nurses him back to health after illnesses and injuries, and while not technically a slave on the plantation, she works with and like a slave, and is even sent to the fields for a day. She is whipped, beaten, tries to escape, nearly raped, and sent to sleep either in slave quarters or the attic on a straw pallet. Eventually, though, Alice, a freedwoman who marries a slave, is bought by Rufus and bears his children, including Hagar, who is Dana's great-grandmother. Dana convinces Rufus to free Hagar and her brother after Alice kills herself; the climax occurs (which I won't explain and spoil) and Dana is transported back to her present for good.
This is the stupidest cover for this book. Second, while I wasn't blown away by the storyline, I do appreciate what Butler is doing: the symbolism of Dana's arm being ripped off on her final return to California represents how slavery has left its mark on society and Dana in particular; the sudden time-travel between 1976 and the 19th century, where Dana is transported, represents the abrupt disorientation and anxiety slaves surely felt upon their arrival to America during the Middle Passage; and reiterating what Douglass emphasizes in his "Autobiography," which is that slavery exacted a toll on the slaveholders as well as the slaves. Butler nicely highlights how dangerous life was back then, for blacks (for obvious reasons) and for whites (especially those who helped blacks). Simple cuts and injuries become life-threatening when there's no aspirin, antiseptic, or concern for germs. Mosquitoes are deadly creatures carrying malaria (or ague). Bloodletting is the go-to treatment, etc. The most intriguing point Butler explored was how easy it was to become enslaved--after being whipped (not even that badly, according to Rufus), Dana doesn't attempt another escape--the fear she feels is palpable, as is her concern for the other slaves on the plantation. Selling one's children is a punishment that neuters some characters' desire to escape or find freedom, which is another way of keeping people enslaved. It was interesting to observe Dana's transition from early on--the why-don't-they-run mentality--to how conflicted she becomes about her feelings for Rufus and the white slave owners. A final point Butler drives home is the idea of being educated--Dana is frequently, and by many characters, called an "educated nigger," though Dana realizes after her capture that all her smarts and knowledge of what's to come can't help her when she's in a society that doesn't consider her a person. She has no rights, no money, no freedom, to means of transportation, nothing that isn't provided for her by the plantation. She is beholden to Rufus' family which of course complicates her feelings and views of slavery. Ultimately, Butler is telling readers that we can read about history--study it, even--but until we live history, we can't fully understand the nuances and experiences of a time period.
Initially, I wasn't buying into the time-travel aspect, because there is no explanation for how Dana travels, why time stands still in her present while moving ahead in the past, why this is considered science fiction, but after a while, it doesn't matter. By setting the novel in the bicentennial year, and the climax on 4th of July, Butler is highlighting the enduring legacy of slavery and the injustice of our nation's independence while denying it to millions of blacks for centuries.
I'd really like to teach this and see what students think. As long as I can find another edition, that is...(less)
I didn't love it the way I loved "Out of the Dust," but she brings the landscape of Vermont and southern Quebec to life in a very vivid way. Karen Hes...moreI didn't love it the way I loved "Out of the Dust," but she brings the landscape of Vermont and southern Quebec to life in a very vivid way. Karen Hesse herself walked the trail she has her protagonist take, and included in the novel are her own photographs of that journey. Personally, I didn't feel that they added anything, but perhaps someone with a more discerning and knowledgeable eye would find them more impactful.(less)
Many reviews have said what I'd say about this book: don't expect to find Harry, wizards, or any supernatural/fantastical elements here. If you remove...moreMany reviews have said what I'd say about this book: don't expect to find Harry, wizards, or any supernatural/fantastical elements here. If you removed the author's name from the book, you'd never guess this was J.K. Rowling--and that's not a bad thing. "The Host," Stephenie Meyer's adult novel, bears little difference from her "Twilight" series, which makes this reader wonder how much range and creativity she has. Rowling, however, has again created a world that readers can fully inhabit and developed characters that are fully developed. They are complex beings, and you can tell this is an adult novel because the line between good and bad is very blurred in "The Casual Vacancy." Unlike HP, this book has heroes who do bad things, and characters of questionable morals who end up doing "the right thing."
Don't read this book hoping for the happy Harry ending; this is a book that features abuse (sexual and physical), drug addiction, rape, poverty, politics and the need for power, and the ugliness of the "haves" when dealing with "have-nots." It's nice to see Rowling stretching her creative wings, and trying a new genre. My quibbles are also what other reviewers have said: the grittiness could go further--it's barely PG-13, when she seems to think she's writing R-rated stuff; and the ending is a bit rushed. However, I will say that I had no idea what was going to happen, and it's nice to read a novel where I can't figure out what will happen to each character.(less)
It took some time, but I eventually got into the story and really liked it. At first, I thought the premise was a bit weak and wondered when the plot...moreIt took some time, but I eventually got into the story and really liked it. At first, I thought the premise was a bit weak and wondered when the plot development would actually begin. A is the protagonist, a non-gendered entity (for lack of a better word) who enters a different body every day. Things begin to go awry when he meets Rhiannon and falls in love with her; the rest of the story is their attempt at a relationship.
A in some ways has an ideal "life"--he gets to experience life as a male and female (and, in one case, as a transgender). He inhabits a gay teen's life; a lesbian teen's life; a girl with "Beyonce's body," and the body of his love, Rhiannon. How many of us would love to know what it's like to be the opposite gender for a day? What would it be like to be our boy/girlfriend for a day? What would it be like to be a different race, ethnic background, homeschooled, or have many siblings, no siblings, and/or abusive parents? It was fascinating to see the relationship between A and Rhiannon develop, and how their love transcends gender, sexuality, race, religion, and those other signifiers of culture (which, I believe, is the point of the story--that we impose restrictions on ourselves regarding who we are, who we love, and what we look for in our mate, but true love really does transcend those things). The heartbreaking part of the story, which A slowly realizes, is that he will never have a family of his own--never have an identity, personality, relationship, or career that he chooses. Everything is forced on him and changes daily when he changes bodies. There is nothing to mark his time on Earth, and nothing to mark his passing.
Overall, the book is an interesting commentary on society and identity. It's a fairly short read with lots to think about.(less)