Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mini Review: VIII by H. M. Castor

3 out of 5 stars

How many Tudor books are there?

Now how many are written from the perspective of Henry VIII?

VIII is the only book I know of that takes this approach (though if there are others, please share!) and for that alone I'd say it's worth reading.

At least for Tudor fans, because I'm really not sure it stands on its own for the non-Tudor fan. There's a lot of jumping around, and Henry VIII is not the most likable person so I wouldn't really recommend this to readers who aren't already invested in Henry's story.

VIII follows Henry's life from early childhood through death, but significantly more emphasis is placed on his youth. Childhood through Catherine of Aragon takes up more than half the book, Anne Boleyn gets about a quarter, and the remaining four wives share the final quarter.

See a problem? The pacing and plotting of VIII was inconsistent and uneven. This is further exacerbated by pages and pages spent on Henry's early years, primarily focused on jousting, gambling, and other sporting activities. Learning about Henry's interest in jousting is good. Having it repeated over and over without adding anything new to the narrative isn't very good.

A lot of focus is also spent on Henry's visions. This was a nice way of showing Henry's belief in a god-ordained rule and his fears of deviltry (both which had a significant impact on his actions), but I think the author took things too far. I read too many pages about fictional hallucinations and not nearly enough about actual historical events.

On the positive side, H. M. Castor does a nice job providing context and motivations for Henry's actions. The psychological and historical impact of the Wars of the Roses, the rule of his parents, and the death of his brother are all explored to explain his drive for sons and empire building.

Henry's relationships with his mother was particularly well drawn, though I take issue with the way his relationship with Arthur and his father (oh what a one note villain!) was presented. I was hoping VIII would provide me with more of the "why" behind Henry's actions, and H. M. Castor does a pretty good job addressing this.

That said, once you get beyond Henry's early years, you're almost better off watching Showtime's The Tudors. As for depictions of Henry's personality, the show does a better job at displaying the nuances of Henry's character. H. M. Castor's Henry was a little too one note and rarely showed the softer, caring, passionately loving side of Henry that made him such a mercurial terror. 

The most disappointing thing about VIII is how many major historical events are completely omitted or seriously glossed over. Wolsey goes from being alive and in favor, to dead. Ditto Cromwell. Thomas More is barely mentioned. Suddenly Henry is married to Katherine Howard, then all of a sudden she's dead.

Important events like this are told briefly, often after the fact, and in an extremely flippant manner. As a first person narrative, this does help establish Henry's callous personality well, but, as I said, it removes all nuance and distorts his character. His agonizing over his decisions did not come through at all.

Bottom line

Worth the read for Tudor fans for the novelty factor of finally having a book told from Henry's point of view instead of one of his many wives. The chapters are super short (1-4 pages on average), so even though this is a big book (my copy clocked in at 415 pages), it's still a fast read.

I think the best approach to VIII is to look at it as a part of a whole. On its own, VIII stands poorly as a one stop shop exploration of Henry VIII. But, as another book among many to read to explore the Tudor era, it proves a nice addition.

There's a lot of promise here, but I think a heavier hand on the part of the editor and a more nuanced approach to Henry's personality would have done wonders. I'm curious to see what H. M. Castor writes next, but I would check it out of the library first.


Looking for another book like this? You might like:

 Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mini Review: The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Library (now own)
4 out of 5 stars

Elizabeth of York is one of the blander players in the turbulent Wars of the Roses, but Margaret Campbell Barnes did a great job crafting an engaging story despite having limited material with which to work.

I couldn't help but feel utterly disappointed by the cold relationship that never warmed between Henry VII and Elizabeth, but that is hardly MCB's fault (blame Henry VII).

I know, I know, I'm always going on about historical accuracy and not liking liberties taken, but this book would have been fantastic if MCB had taken big liberties and written in a slow burn romance between Henry and Elizabeth.

And then it would have been historically inaccurate and I would have complained.

And swooned!

But complained. And I can't accept historical inaccuracies on such a grand scale, even if my romantic, traitorous heart wishes it so.

So, instead I followed Elizabeth around in her awkwardly NOT first person narrative (third person was used, but it so felt like it should have been first person) as she lamented her loveless husband, her uncomfortable past (I liked how MCB handled the Richard III romance question), and her uncertainty over the fates of her brothers and the identity of the pretenders.

While this isn't all battles and pomp, I absolutely loved it. Elizabeth came alive as a person, and her thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears were so palpable. I especially liked how MCB approached the issue of the pretenders. Elizabeth's reactions and torn loyalties were spot on to how I would imagine them to be and described in a way that I ached for her.

While this book is, at its heart, about Elizabeth, The Tudor Rose does a great job portraying Henry VII and the political tightrope he walked. So much Plantagenet/Tudor fiction focuses on the big battles and bold personalities, but not much attention is usually placed on this interim period (after the wars, but before the six wives). Which is a crying shame, because this time period is turbulent and tense and jam packed with political intrigue!

Recommended to history fans. I am now on a quest to find more books by MCB, which is proving to be difficult since, outside of The Tudor Rose, none of my libraries carry her books. Oh well, I will prevail, because I am without a doubt reading more of her books.


Like this book? You might also like:

Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

2015 Challenge: Re-Read Challenge

Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati and So Obsessed With
Starts: January 1, 2015
Ends: December 31, 2015
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

I always feel guilty rereading books, but I also really enjoy rereading my old favorites. Especially when I'm feeling vulnerable to scared or sad or disoriented (which are all feelings that go along with Big New Changes, even when they're good).

So, I've been doing a little rereading this year.

And I've been enjoying the heck out of it. So much so, that I almost don't even feel guilty for taking precious reading time away from new-to-me books.


But! Adding books to lists makes me feel better. So I went out and found a challenge solely so I could add my guilt-tinged rereads to a totally guilt-absolving list of accomplishments.

Yep, I'm feeling better already.

Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

8. The House on Tradd Street by Karen White (audio)
7. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
6. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (audio)
5. The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas
4. Queen of the Darkness by Anne Bishop
3. Shadowland by Meg Cabot
2. Heir to the Shadows by Anne Bishop
1. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer (audio)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

DNF Explanation: Housewitch by Katie Schickel

ARC from publisher
DNF on page 191 of 352

With its Witches of Eastwick (the tv show) meets Practical Magic (the movie) vibe, Housewitch was a book I could have easily liked. And I almost did like it. Or, I did like it, mostly. Kind of.

See? I'm feeling ambivalent here.

Look, in theory, I really liked Housewitch. All of the ingredients are there and the writing is easy and comforting. It's like lounging inside wearing sweats even though it's sunny outside. Fun, soothing, nice.


I read a little over half the book and Allison had only just started to embrace her magic. And when she finally did? Sure, it was fun. But it was fun like lounging around watching infomercials in your sweats is fun. I mean, these witches hold the magical equivalent to Tupperware parties. That's nice, and I kinda actually want my own magical Tupperware party, but it isn't exciting.

I think part of my wishy washy feelings come from Allison herself. She's so meh. I think she's supposed to be easy to relate to and represent "normal" but she just came across as dull. Like the before photos on a shampoo commercial. Hanging out with her was exhausting in the same way lounging around all day in sweats watching infomercials totally destroys all motivation to do....anything.

Dragging things down even more was Allison's kooky aunt and her coven of eccentric magic folk. I think her aunt was supposed to come across as endearing, but to me she came off more like a dirty bag lady who lives in the park talking to squirrels and yelling at you to stay away from her benches. I didn't like being around her and couldn't wait for her scenes to end. Extra points off because she and her fellow witches weren't very nice to Allison.

My favorite parts were when Allison finally embraced her magic and joined the local It Group of witches. I liked hanging out with Allison and co as they made magic beauty masks, soaked in magic spas, and concocted magical "do whatever I want" potions. This was fun. This is why I read magic books.

So I really, really didn't like that sinking feeling in my stomach that these ladies were up to no good. (I could be wrong! Remember, I didn't read to the end to find out!) I didn't want the lesson that using magic for beauty lotions is bad or that you shouldn't cast spells to make you rich. I may sound like a petulant kid or a shallow woman, but, hey, I'm ok with that. I would totally use magic to make myself pretty and rich.

At this point I DNF-ed because a) I wanted to preserve my happy shallow fantasies without moralistic lessons, b) I just wasn't invested enough to read more, and c) I couldn't stomach another scene with the aunt.

Bottom line

I knew this book wasn't going to be more than a 3 star read and I had a big pile of better books waiting to be read. If I were stuck on a plane or on vacation then I would have happily read to the end and enjoyed Housewitch as a decent but forgettable 3 star read. It's a good beach read and if you click with Allison and her aunt, then you'll probably like it even more.

This is an adult book, btw. Allison is a married mother of three and there's enough of that to likely turn off YA only readers.

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

 Click on the covers to go to my reviews.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DNF Explanation: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden
Library (thank goodness!)
Rating: DNF on page 100 of 385

Review prologue

My husband and I both read a lot, but we rarely read the same books and I've wanted to do a read-along together for a while now.

He read and loved Conn Iggulden's series on Genghis Khan, so I was super excited to see the same author was going to write about a topic I actually want to read about—The Wars of the Roses (sorry Genghis!).

And by super excited, I mean I obsessively stalked multiple library systems for a year trying to get my hands on a copy.

That great day finally arrived and my husband and I sat down together, each with a copy of the book, and began reading. It was adorable.

Then, about an hour into reading, we turned to each other and simultaneously did the hesitant, "Soooo how are you liking it?"

And then we both caved and admitted that we were not liking this one bit.

I'll give this disclaimer: I'm not sure why this book irritated me as much as it did. Sure it had flaws I can point out, but so do other books that admittedly don't bother me like this one does.

The actual review

Surprisingly, Stormbird was not written very well. The sentence structure was pretty simplistic, which made for a very easy read (plus!) but definitely not of the caliber I was expecting. You know how sometimes adult authors try to write for young adult audiences and "dumb down" their writing as a result? That's what this felt like. It didn't feel very historical, either.

It was also so excruciatingly SLOW. I read up to page 100, which is over a quarter of the way through the book, and Henry VI and Margaret hadn't even been married yet! This should have been covered in a chapter or two. (For those less historically inclined, imagine if it had taken over 100 pages to get to the "You're a wizard, Harry!" part. Not good.)

Iggulden fills the pages with so much pointless stuff, and I don't mean historical details. I seriously would have loved accurate historical details. Alas, accuracy doesn't seem to be a priority for Mr. Iggulden. The stuff there is more just random scenes that made me wonder what was the point of reading them. Even worse, most of them follow fictional characters.

When he does write about real people, they're painfully one-note. Richard of York and his wife Cecily are EVIL *insert cackling laugh* I was half expecting Cecily to whip out a dalmatian puppy skin coat to wear to the banquet.

But back to those fictional characters. Conn Iggulden made his favorite fictional character Derry Brewer a total Mary Sue who is SURPRISE! actually THE person responsible for all those Very Important historical events. I really hate historical inaccuracies, but I truly loathe fictional thunder stealing.

Not only does the character get credit for negotiating something Very Big, but in real life this event played a large part in the death of the actual person who is responsible for the negotiation, so attributing it to the fictional Derry Brewer didn't sit right with me.

Not to mention his cringe-worthy interactions with York (a spy of no station is calling the Duke of York Richard and treating him like an unruly cub? And Richard of York is cowering? Seriously??)

Iggulden also makes such a huge deal about his fictional character coming up with this ingenious, never before seen, blow your minds with his awesomeness idea that led to much swirling anticipation and tension that we wrung our hands over for an entire chapter wondering if he'll be able to pull off this novel idea for a...

wait for it...

A proxy wedding!

Seriously?! Proxy weddings were an established thing at the time. Fictional Mr. Brewer gets NO POINTS for that.

I'm also not buying that Derry Brewer could dupe everyone into believing the king of England had traveled to France for a marriage (because, sure, kings were in the habit of doing that sort of thing *eyeroll*) and then pulled a "Psych! Going home now!" move at the last minute (effectively leaving poor Margaret waiting at the alter, because that wouldn't offend anyone) with the paltry excuse of he wasn't feeling well...when in fact he had never actually left England! I'm supposed to believe this is actually a plan? A legit plan? That everyone buys and no one questions the total, obvious lack of a king, entourage, and months of planning?

And that's when I DNF-ed.


Looking for Wars of the Roses books? You might like:
Click on the covers to go to my reviews

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review: A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack

ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley
336 pages
4.5 out of 5 stars, Special Shelf

I requested this book for review because it is part of the Proper Romance series (standalone clean historical romances) and Blackmoore is also part of that series. Since I loved Blackmoore and I'm desperate for more like it, I hoped A Heart Revealed would be a good bet.

It was!

This is one of those sighing books. You know, the kind where you pause in reading over a scene to sigh in happiness. The kind where you clutch it to your chest after turning the final page and sigh in satisfaction. The kind where you think about little scenes after the fact and sigh with joy.

I was hoping for that, and I was very happy to get it.

What I wasn't expecting at all was the non-romantic sub-plot to grab my attention so strongly. Amber has a fall from grace, but I never in a million years would have guessed these circumstances. They were so different and so horrifying and I was completely sucked into Amber's plight.

Her situation also leads to some serious character changes, and I found myself almost rooting for the situation to get worse and worse (and it does) just so I could see Amber triumph over these hurdles. Another surprise for me was how important the friendship relationship became. I was just as invested in Amber's rocky but blossoming friendship as I was with her romance and her personal journey.

As much as I love reading about romance, I don't typically like it when the entire plot revolves around the romance, so I was both surprised and pleased to find A Heart Revealed stands up well in both the romantic and non-romantic parts. If the romance were completely removed, this story would still stand strongly on its own.

But the romance? Definitely swoony. The reading scene and the tea scene, sigh, sigh, sigh. Those were scenes to savor and reread (and I have). 

So why not a full 5 out of 5 stars? Well, Amber's transformation was a little unbelievable at times, and this is in part because a lot of her personal journey takes place off stage. I wish that part had been fleshed out a bit more, but clearly it didn't affect my enjoyment much.

Bottom line

I'm now a big fan of the Proper Romance series and very interested in reading more. Each book is a standalone story with totally different characters. I wish they were more easily identified in a list somewhere.

(I'm also now super paranoid about my hair, which will make more sense when you read the book.)

Friday, April 10, 2015

DNF Explanation & Giveaway: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

#2 in the Seraphina
ARC from publisher
Read 139 of 608 pages

I wasn't a huge fan of Seraphina, but I liked it enough to want to read the sequel.

Unfortunately, I didn't like the sequel enough to finish it.

I am very much in the minority on this series and I really, really wish I could love it as much as everyone else seems to love it. I think my issues with it are more on the personal side of things and those are usually hard to articulate. But I will try.

Five reasons Shadow Scale is not for me
(kinda spoilery for Seraphina)

1. Seraphina is not slumber party material for me

She seems so dreary and almost contradictory. I think that's in part because she is actually a pretty decent character, but she does not see those good qualities in herself. So her actions show one thing and her self-evaluation says another. 

I can see how that could work as a writing approach, but for me, that way of presenting her characterization isn't pleasurable to read. It makes Seraphina come across as a drag and I can't enjoy her more positive qualities. 

She also spent a good part of Shadow Scale making some stupid decisions and assumptions regarding the other half-dragons. This is her "lesson" in the book, so at least the point is that her decisions aren't correct. That makes it better, but still not fun to read.

2. The writing doesn't work for me

It feels so plodding. Like I'm swimming through honey. Making this Seraphina's "voice" makes her seem like such a bore. For me, I really think I would have enjoyed this more as third person. Though, I imagine that would be hard to do given all the action that takes place inside Seraphina's head.

3. Her garden

It is explained much more in this book, but I just...don't care. I don't care about Jaounella and Seraphina's presentation of her rubs me the wrong way. She's very knee jerk about it all, and that's frustrating to me. It makes Seraphina seem reactionary, unreasonable, and hyper-sensitive. And cowardly.

Since I don't know what happened in the past, all I can do is base my impressions off of the little information Seraphina gives me now, and that isn't enough for me to sympathize with her in this situation.

It just frustrates me and makes me want to tell her to suck it up and face her fears. After all, all I have as evidence is Seraphina successfully beating and containing Jaounella. So how bad can she be? (possibly very bad, but that isn't being communicated well).

4. Characterization

It seems to have suffered a lot in the sequel. In the first book, the side characters were so vivid and full of life. Here, they seem like sketches of themselves. Like we're relying solely on the development of the first book to carry over their characterizations in the sequel. 

As a result, characters I loved in the first book I just don't care about at all in the sequel. I'm so disappointed by this because I adored the character interactions in the first book.

5. I'm not into where this is heading

I read vague spoilers about what happens in the rest of the book and it doesn't really appeal to me. I don't feel invested in the story and what (I now know) will happen. I also don't like the resolution to the romance. 

Bottom line

There are certain authors I instantly click with and it's like they're writing specifically for me. Rachel Hartman is the opposite. There's just something that doesn't click with me.

Info for the giveaway:
  • What you can win: A finished copy of Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is US/CA only
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on April 30th 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...