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.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Book Review: The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken


#1 in the series
Pages: 362
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Released: September 5, 2017
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Alexandra Bracken and I have a rocky relationship. It started out with flailing love, fizzled with lukewarm disappointment, and sunk to the bottom of the ocean with a vow never to pick up another one of her books again.  

So why in the world was I reading The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding then? Well, because I'm  a sucker for pretty things and when the publisher sent me an ARC in a pretty box with fall leaves, throwback Halloween candy, apple cider mix, and other goodies? Um, yeah, like I said, I'm a sucker.

I'm glad my will is so weak and Disney decided to send me an ARC because, overall, I had a nice time with Prosper Redding. It's not a perfect book. It's actually pretty rough. The pacing is off, the plot is tenuous, the characters are underdeveloped and pretty stock, and the main character felt like he couldn't decide if he was 12 or 17 years old (for the record, I would have preferred 17. It rang truer.). If I didn't know any better I'd think this was a debut.

But all that said, I still just liked the book. It felt good, if that makes sense. It felt like a Disney Channel Original Movie. Kind of goofy, far from perfect, but light, airy, and fun. The atmosphere of the story evoked all the right fall feelings: crisp air, the silliness and creepiness of Halloween, sweater weather, and childhood bliss.

Not much happened overall, and while there are a lot of pages in the book, this is very much just an introduction to the story. I suspect that when all is said and done, all the books in the series probably could be edited down into one book. So, will I read the sequel? Maybe. I'm not rushing out to get it, but if I came across it in the library or was sent a copy, I'd read it. If not? I don't know that I'd go out of my way to get it.







Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Reviews: Wars of the Roses Round Up


The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Pages: 206
Received: Library, own
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads 

I read this book in bed while recovering from a cold, which is the best way to read this book as main character Inspector Alan Grant spends the whole book bedridden recovering from a broken leg. Being in a similar situation made me feel even more connected with the story.

Grant spent his time researching through history books and applying his detective's mind to unraveling the mystery surrounding Richard III, Henry VII, and the murder of the princes in the tower and I happily sleuthed alongside him.

I am still so pleasantly surprised by how absolutely enthralled I was by The Daughter of Time. It's a pretty straight forward book and there's a ton of "telling," so much so that it almost feels like I spent the day chatting with a historian rather than reading a fictional story. The chapters move along pretty quickly and are usually only about ten pages or fewer.

For me, the jury is still out on who did in the lost princes in the tower, but I tend to lean on the side of sympathy toward Richard and blame to Henry. I'm ok with reading the "blame Richard" side, but I definitely appreciated Josephine Tey's take instead. Her explanation seems reasonable, and even if historically we may never know, story-wise she wrote a compelling narrative.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy Wars of the Roses and Tudor history, though the anti-Ricardian may struggle.
 

The Lost King by Alison Prince
Pages: 96
Received:
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

Wow. This book is...not very good at all. It's super short and the chapters are usually only a few pages long, but that's about the only positive thing I can say.

The story is narrated by a fictional "observer" character in the form of a servant. This is a narrative device I usually don't like, and in such a short book it felt even more useless. We even get a few bits and pieces from her personal life, but this felt even more pointless considering how much of a non-character the narrator turned out to be.

But, whatever, if that was the worst thing then it wouldn't have bothered me that much. No, the reason this book gets such a low rating stems entirely from its historical inaccuracies. Simple things that could be found on the Wikipedia page aren't even correct! What is accurate is presented in such an abridged way that readers with little to no knowledge of the time will likely come away with an inaccurate understanding of people and events.

Definitely not recommended.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh


Pages: 208
Published: 2009
Received: Library
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

*sigh* I was so hoping to love this one. I don't remember if I had added this to my TBR before or after reading Leah's review, but either way her review upped my expectations and excitement a lot. Hate turned love romance, historical setting, so much of this was calling my name.

Unfortunately, I read Lord Fenton's Folly before I read A Matter of Class and the former must have been heavily inspired by the latter. I felt like I was reading a rehash of a story I already read. That isn't a total dealbreaker (let's face it, I'm the type of reader that has no problem reading the same story over and over...as my Tudor, Arthurian, and Wars of the Roses reading list can attest), but the insubstantial characters did nothing to capture my interest.

It's kind of hard to get invested in a story when the only thing it has going for it is a romance with a plot I've already read and characters for which I can't muster up a care. The final blow was the fact that the book it so reminds me of is not one I particularly enjoyed, so my associated feelings were doing this story no favors.

My overall impression? A lukewarm meh.

It's a shame, because I feel like I probably would have enjoyed A Matter of Class much more had I not read Lord Fenton's Folly first. I don't think I ever would have loved it, but I probably would have liked it more. Oh well. It's funny how an experience with a book can be so affected by previous reading adventures.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith


Pages: 233
Published: 1998
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

This series was super popular when I worked in my public library in New York (over five years ago! Time flies!) but I had always kind of shrugged it off as "not my thing." Which is funny, because I apparently had a completely inaccurate idea of what this book was even about (I thought it took place in England. Or America.)

That said, over five years ago this probably really wasn't my thing. My thing was mostly YA and middle grade, usually focused on fairy tale retelling, fantasy, and magic. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is none of those things. It's a book about an adult woman in Botswana, Africa and the narrative meanders through multiple little mysteries while providing a local flavor and sense of place.

Honestly, while my reading focus has definitely shifted lately, I'm still not sure if this subject is my thing. But this book? Definitely my thing. Main character Precious Ramotswe has such an appealing voice and I had such a nice, relaxing time following along with her as she went about her life and investigated different mysteries. Precious is adept at coming up with clever ways to ferret out the truth of a situation and I was continually amused by her approach. I even shared a few of the stories with my husband.

A significant part of the book focuses first on Precious's childhood and father, meandering through this time period without much focus. I normally would have been bored and frustrated, but I liked the writing style and characters enough that I was actually really into it. The characters all come alive and it's easy to love and hate them as appropriate. It was also fun getting a glimpse into a culture and country I don't often read about. Eventually it gets to the mysteries and these read like multiple short stories rather than one overarching mystery.

Everything was wrapped up at the end, so if you want to read it as a standalone that's totally fine. I haven't read the other books in the series yet, but I do plan on reading at least one or two more. I don't know that I'd read the entire series (it's really long!) but I can see myself picking up another one when I'm looking for something like and sweet. I picked this one up completely unplanned, much like a checkout line impulse buy, directly after reading Helen's review, and I'm very glad I did.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mini Reviews: Middle Grade Books


The Grave Robber's Apprentice by Allan Stratton 
3 out of 5 stars
 
Well, this has been on my TBR for quite some time, and I guess I'm glad to have finally read it. It's one of those books that as perfectly pleasant while I was reading it, but almost immediately upon finishing it I started struggling to remember what it as about. So, not really a lasting impression kind of book.

It did remind me of Joshua Khan's amazing series, which is both a positive and a negative. The positive is that's a pretty good association. The negative is that The Grave Robber's Apprentice falls flat in comparison.

But, all that aside, I did enjoy it. This is a fast-paced, short-chaptered middle grade story with stock but endearing characters and a story I was interested in following. Kids will probably love it. Overall, recommended.



Horton Halfpott by Tom Angleberger
4.5 out of 5 stars
 
This one was also short, short-chaptered (sometimes even a page!), super fast read, but unlike The Grave Robber's Apprentice, this one sparkled with creativity. The writing style was charming and funny, the characters, while stock, still leapt off the page. This is the kind of book that makes me want to use words like delightful. Very much recommended.



 The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld
2 out of 5 stars

Meh. I was fresh off the high of Horton Halfpott and hoping for more fast, fun middle grade levity but this one kind of put a damper on my streak. It wasn't bad, exactly, but it wasn't great either. Even though The Grave Robber's Apprentice wasn't blowing me away with originality, it still had a plot that was unique enough to be its own.  

The Perilous Princess Plot was just trite. Stereotypical princess (stupid, silly, pretty, focused on romance) gets herself into trouble and stereotypical anti-princess princess (smart, brave, doesn't need a man, amazing!) gets her out of trouble. It was all just dripping with cardboard girl power. And, because that really was the focus of the story, everything else in the book felt like it was only there to prop up the tired old feminist spiel. Which, really, does weaken the message.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith


Pages: 343
Published: 1943
Received: Library, Own
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

*sigh* I've had this book on my TBR for so long, and during that time I've had my expectations bar set all over the place. I don't think I really had a clear idea what type of book this even was for the longest while. At first I was expecting more modern (a quick glance at the publication date set me straight, eventually), then I thought more Austen-Keeping-the-Castle feel (it's not, though KtC definitely pays homage to ICtC), at some point I think I had a vibe of American Gatsby-ish something (closer, though still wrong country), until finally settling on reality, which is a coming of age story set in 1930s England.

Whew. Ok. So even after starting the book it took me until about halfway through to finally realize what I was getting and wasn't going to get. And, that's where my dissatisfaction comes in. It's a very nice story. I like the characters a lot. I love the setting (crumbly old castle!). But, I wanted something to happen and it didn't and while I get it, I'm still not happy about it. I know, very vague.

I also feel so old saying this, but the teenage melodramatics and hyper-hormonal puppy love was not really my thing. I liked Cassandra a lot in the first half of the book when she was all sweet, and then she went full on teenager and it was kind of painful to read about. It sucks being a teenager and while Dodie Smith totally captured that feeling perfectly, it's not really a comfortable feeling or one I'm really aching to revisit.

There were also some not quite kosher romantic things going on surrounding the adults and teenagers in the story and none of that sat very well with me.

Well, that makes it sound like I didn't enjoy this book very much at all, which isn't the case. It's beautifully, vividly written and I was completely transported into the story. The sister's romance was much more up my alley and I wish we had more of an insider's look into that part of the story. The scene with the bear was very funny and I'll likely not forget many of the scenes (I started listing them and then realized I was listing more than half the book). I also have to mention that castle again because I adore it. While everything didn't go exactly as I wanted it to go, I appreciate this book very much and I'm happy to have finally read it.







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