Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mini Book Reviews: Two Tudor Queens

Katheryn the Wanton Queen by Maureen Peters
Goodreads
3 out of 5 stars

I wasn't expecting much from this book given that I wasn't hugely impressed with the one other Maureen Peters book I read, and I was both spot on and pleasantly surprised. Spot on because this really isn't a book that will leave any kind of lasting impression on me.

It's a basic rundown of events from Katheryn's time growing up with Manox and Dereham going through to her time as queen and then ending with her death. It's all told from the perspective of a barely developed fictional lady, and Katheryn is a distant character who is hard to sympathize with.

But, Katheryn is depicted in a somewhat nuanced way that gives a glimpse into her character. It's not flattering, but it is an interesting piece to add to the historical patchwork. Her character her is very similar to how she was portrayed by Showtime's Tudors series.

There aren't many books about Katheryn, and while this one wasn't particularly memorable, I think it's still worth reading.


My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Goodreads
2 out of 5 stars

What a disappointment! I've had this book on my shelves for years and I'd always just assumed I was going to like it. I've enjoyed the other MCB's books I've read and I have a favorable opinion of Anne of Cleves. Plus, this is pretty much the only Anne of Cleves book I could get my hands on, so I just wanted it to be good.

Recipe for success, right?

No, sadly not. Anne was a strange mix of really dislikable and Mary Sue perfect. Or, rather, it felt like the author tried to make her perfect and make everyone react to her as if she were perfect (which felt so weird, historically speaking), but I just couldn't help but hate her. Her thoughts and actions were not sympathetic and did not endear me to her, which is  difficult to achieve considering how her historical situation is pretty darn sympathetic.

I'm still not ready to admit how much I disliked this book. So much potential! I hope my next MCB book is better.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book Review: Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

#1 in the Rosemarked series
Pages: 400
Released: November 11, 2017
Publisher: Disney
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I really wasn't planning on reading this book either, but this is twice now that Disney has sent me a book I didn't plan on reading and I ended up enjoying it a whole lot. So, points to you, Disney.

The thing is, while the plot sounds right up my alley (fantasy, conspiracy, hate-turned-love romance, war, spies, etc.), Livia Blackburne's books and I have a love-hate relationship. I adored her short story Poison Dance, and I was so excited to read the series it was setting up, but when it came to the actual novel I couldn't even finish it. It felt like it was written by a completely different author. I figured the short story was a fluke and I pretty much wrote off anything else she wrote. Which is why I hadn't even bothered considering Rosemarked.

And, to be honest, it was all smooth sailing. There was this distance with the characters that made their narrative voices feel muffled and monotone. Sure, there was emotion, but it felt dull and muted like it was underwater. Had the book not been so long, giving me enough time to really get to know them better and become invested in their stories, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much.

But, the book is long, and so we got to spend a lot of time together. The chapters alternate between Zivah and Dineas's narrative focus and that switching combined with fairly short chapters and a slow-burn plot kept me engaged. Their voices were distinct enough, though I appreciated the chapter headings indicating who was speaking. By about halfway through I solidly cared about them and that feeling only grew as I read more.

As the plot progresses the emotions run deeper and deeper and I found myself invested not just in the characters and the story, but also in the idea. I know that doesn't make much sense, but there's an almost philosophical conundrum the characters experience that made me wish I was reading this with a book club so we could discuss all the angles and ramifications. 

The plot and world building are intriguing and I enjoyed reading about them in their own right. The crows, snake, and disease were interesting and well thought-out. I could wish for a little more depth to the empire/conquered peoples, but maybe that will unfold more in the sequel.

I was disappointed when the book ended because even though it was long, I wanted to keep reading. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next one.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book Review: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick


Pages: 514
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Released: 2011
Received: Own
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars Goodreads

I'm pretty sure this is the first Elizabeth Chadwick book I've read, and I have many others on my TBR. I've heard great things about her and so my expectations were high.

Sadly, I met Sharon Kay Penman first. Her recounting of The Anarchy was so much more visceral. The tension between Matilda and her husband was crackling. The scope of the war was huge and devastating.

Elizabeth Chadwick's version just fell flat in comparison. It seemed apologetic for Matilda's temper and Geoffrey's violence. While it seemed like she tried to humanize the characters, there was always an emotional distance and they felt very much like characters rather than people. The only exception to this is of Henry I's second wife. I liked her characterization in this book a lot and wish the book had been about her instead.

I had been hoping for heavier historical fiction with excellent characterization, but instead this felt fluffy and very surface level. More like Christy English and Anne O'Brien than Juliet Grey or Susan Kay. That isn't terrible, but it was more of a forgettable book than I was hoping and expecting.

Well, I won't write off Elizabeth Chadwick just yet and I'll give her other books a shot. I probably would have liked Lady of the English a lot more if I hadn't had the comparison. And, really, if an author is going to suffer in comparison, they can do far worse than to have that comparison be against Sharon Kay Penman. 


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book Review: Seven Kings of England by Geoffrey Trease


Pages: 164
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Released: Originally published 1955, re-released 2017
Received: Netgalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I like non-fiction history books that are broken up into snippets that focus on different historical figures. I also like non-fiction that reads practically like a novel. I also like books with nice covers.

Well, two out of three isn't bad, and clearly it's the nice cover that Seven Kings of England lacks. I almost didn't download this from Netgally but then I saw that little "read now" button and for some reason the fact that I didn't need to wait was the final push I needed to commit to an impulse read.

I'm glad I did. His writing style was easy, enjoyable, and fun. Each section focuses on a different king, and they seemed to be chosen randomly based on the author's liking of them. The focus of each section was also random, though the flavor of each king's life was generally communicated with a linear narrative that highlighted selected facets of their lives. Nothing is super in depth, but it was all pleasant to read. There really wasn't a section I didn't enjoy.

I'm mentally adding Geoffrey Trease to my small but beloved group of historical non-fiction authors who I enjoy reading just as much as fiction (joining Thomas B. Costain, Robert Lacey, Carolyn Weber, and Dan Jones). He has a book about queens (or two books? It's not clear if it's a re-issue of the same book or two separate books) that I wish was available, though as of now I can't locate a copy.




Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mini Reviews: Fluffy YA history and fashion

Confederates Don't Wear Couture by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads

Fun, fun, fun. This book had all the ingredients I needed for a light, fluffy, pick-me-up kind of book. I enjoyed the first book Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink, but I think this one might have been even better. You also don't need to read the first book to enjoy the second (the only spoiler for the first book is who Libby ends up with romantically, and it's really no surprise in the first book).

Sassy gay best friend Dev is pretty much the reason for most of my enjoyment. He spends the entire book joyously reveling in crafting period-appropriate fancy dresses, appreciating the southern gentlemen in uniform, pining for quality coffee,  squealing in terror at the ghost, and coming to Libby's rescue repeatedly with sarcastic sympathy and pretty clothing. He was a delight.

I would happily read more books in this series, as long as Dev continues to steal the spotlight. Alas, I don't think more are planned.


The Time-Traveling Fashionista: On Board the Titanic by Bianca Turetsky
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads

Overall, I liked this book and I plan on reading the sequels. I figured I should get that out right up front because there were a few things I was kind of meh on, but they clearly weren't deal breakers. So, the things I didn't love:

The pictures were...I don't know, kind of blah? So was the main character. She felt kind of distant, and I think that's because the writing just wasn't that great. There also wasn't any sense of urgency with the plot, which kind of just meandered along.

But, the pictures were also interesting to look at and they made for a really fast read because almost every other page has a picture of some sort on it. The chapters are also really tiny, so, again, super fast read. There were two side characters that really didn't play much of a role but I'm a sucker for the witchy, eccentric lady duo (think Hilda and Zelda in Sabrina the Teenage Witch or the two witchy aunts in Practical Magic) and these were fun. I wish they had more page time, but hopefully they will in the sequels.

I also learned a lot I didn't know about the Titanic, the famous people on the ship, and the fashions of the time. This in turn inspired an hours-long internet research binge after I had finished the book. Always a plus.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review: Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

#1 in the Royal Bastards series
Pages: 352
Released: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Disney
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Well, this was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a court story with a bunch of anachronistic and hard to like royal bastards. I was fully expecting to DNF after a few chapters of drunken lazying about with big chips on our shoulders. I even thought this was historical fiction with a ton of liberties.

Apparently I didn't pay much attention to the blurb? This is pure fantasy. There's about one chapter of the above before very quickly diving into murder, magic, mayhem and perilous flight. The entire book is spent on the road trying to get to a royal city while being pursued by murderous bad guys and running across creepy, deadly wildlife. Basically, it was non-stop action and the pages flew by.

The bratty bastards were also not what I was expecting. They were actually likable. Sure, they're very tropey (tough girl with a soft heart, geeky smart guy, good looking quiet warrior, guy-next-door, and kind princess who is more than she seems), but they were likable tropes. I enjoyed reading about all of them and I cared what happened to them. Plus, there's romance and it hit at all the right spots.  There were a few surprisingly emotional moments that added a level of depth.

The world building is pretty standard fare for medieval-ish fantasy. There aren't orcs and elves, but there are taverns, magic-users, and battles. There's a conquering history that has laid the groundwork for the current rebellion and while it's fairly thin on substance, it gets the job done. The magic is interesting enough and the Narnia-ish turn-people-to-stone magic is suitably horrifying. I liked the inclusion of the gross fantasy creature and I don't think you can go wrong with giant magic explosions (of which there were several). 

I'm wavering between a 3.5 and a 4 and I suspect that in a few months I'll have forgotten most of what happened, but I'm bumping it to a 4 because it was just plain fun. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Book Reviews: Tudor Round Up

 
Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
Pages: 539
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Leanda de Lisle has written what I consider to be a worthwhile (non-fiction) addition to the massive Tudor library. I picked this out as part of my "moving TBR" (that is, all the books that my old library has that my new library doesn't have) and, yeah, picking up such a doorstop while getting ready to move all during a two week window of time was a little intimidating. 

But, I did it. And I actually really enjoyed it. There was something almost cozy about reading through such a familiar story and I really appreciated how Leanda de Lisle added her own touches so it felt familiar but not boring. Her perspective and focus on Margaret Beaufort, Margaret Tudor, and Margaret Douglas was especially interesting. The way she presented their stories helped tie all the events from the Wars of the Roses, Henry VII, Henry III and the rest of the Tudors all together, helped fill in some narrative gaps, and gave more depth to the stories of the more major players. I gained a lot of new insight through this approach.

I love that the author was more sympathetic toward Mary I, and I definitely got the feeling she was far more on the side of Catherine than Anne. And not overly fond of Elizabeth or Edward. She's also not a fan of Richard III, but not wholly in favor of Henry VII either and really not a fan of Henry VIII. So, biases definitely came through, but I wasn't turned off by them.

Tudor starts with Catherine of Valois' death and paces through the Wars of the Roses and then continues through to the death of Elizabeth I. It's detailed and follows the narrative timeline, but it doesn't delve into minute details. Very much recommended.

The Tudor Tutor by Barb Alexander
Pages: 160
Received: Library
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I mean, it was fine. I guess.

There's way too much effort focused on trying to be witty and write in a comedic bloggy kind of way and not enough effort focused on actually being funny or writing about history. The writing style wasn't bad enough to induce an eye-roll sprain, but it was close. It's reminiscent of bathroom books and has this smarmy blend of mocking superiority with a slangly attempt to appear casual and hip, while also being totally smart and stuff because this is, like, a history book.

So, yeah, I wasn't in love with it. 

The Tudor Tutor also suffers from the "technically correct, but..." syndrome where the author writes something that's technically true, but they provide so little context, leave out vital information, and jump onto the next snippet so quickly that it leads the reader to draw an inaccurate understanding of what actually happened.

While the reader with more Tudor knowledge won't fall into that pitfall, there isn't much to this book for them. It's a bare-bones rundown of events that won't add much to the knowledge base of a reader whose sole familiarity with the family is through Jonathan Rhys Meyers' interpretation on Showtime's series. For the reader who hasn't even seen the show, well, this wouldn't be a terrible place to start, but there are far, far better out there.  


Catherine of Aragon by Alison Prince
(also known as My Tudor Queen)
Pages: 160
Received: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Ok, this wasn't nearly as bad as this author's book about the princes in the Tower. I get the feeling the author likes Catherine (she gave her strange focus in the other book, which really has nothing to do with Catherine). This is another book where the story is told through the eyes of a servant, but in this case it worked about as well as that device can work for me.

The chapters were short, the story basic, but this was a solid addition and should be enjoyed by readers who like the Scholastic My Royal Diaries series and books like them. Recommended.



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