Wednesday, December 30, 2015

DNF Explanation: Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas

Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas
DNF on page 95 of 233

This book wasn't awful, but it just wasn't good enough to spend more time with it (even with the short page count).

The weak link is the premise. Told from the perspective of Marie Antoinette's assistant reader Agathe-Sidonie, already it's pretty clear that this is going to be a very peripheral perspective. Marie Antoinette was no reader, that's for sure.

Points off already for me because I prefer reading from the perspective of the actual historical figures, not their lackeys (even when done well. See The Winter Palace). But I knew what I was going into.

What I was hoping this perspective could at least give was a good historical recounting of the confusion and fear during those harrowing days and nights after the Storming of the Bastille.

Chantal Thomas does do this. Her account is good, but it is only just good and this falls flat when I've already read great. Reading these scenes just made me want to put down Farewell, My Queen and re-read Juliet Grey's series instead.

Part of this was because I think Juliet Grey did a better job (and of course it's right in the thick of things), but also because Juliet Grey made me care deeply for Marie Antoinette, whereas Chantal Thomas did not make me care at all about Agathe-Sidonie. She's a very insubstantial character who seems to exist in the narrative solely to admire Marie Antoinette (which, granted, she does a very nice job with this, even if it does come off as a bit of a Mrs. Danvers).

The problem with the peripheral character perspective is that Agathe-Sidonie doesn't know all of the interesting things that were happening. She notices the king and queen are upset about something, but she doesn't know why. She hears rumors, but she doesn't know the truth. She sees Marie Antoinette walk past her, but she doesn't know where she's going or where she's been.

While I do see the value in this type of story, it ultimately falls flat because there wasn't much depth to Agathe-Sidonie. If I'm going to experience this story from the outside looking in, then I at least want to feel something for the character I'm following. Instead, Chantal Thomas doesn't seem to care much about Agathe-Sidonie as a person going through this harrowing time. She is only there to wonder and think about how Marie Antoinette must be feeling, and for that, I'd rather just read from Marie Antoinette's perspective.

Plus, I want to KNOW, not float through apathetic guesswork. I think this approach may have been interesting to a point but ultimately boring and frustrating account if I hadn't already known all the things Agathe-Sidonie can only wonder about from the sidelines.


Looking for similar books? You might like:
Click on the cover to go to my review

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mini Review: The Reign of Henry VIII by David Starkey

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

This is another one of my experimental forays into historical non-fiction, and unfortunately this is another book that takes more of the "academic" approach.

Instead of quotes and historian comparisons, David Starkey's narrative does flow nicely and he does offer his own opinion on what is The Truth (more on that soon). So, that's good.

The reason I'd classify this in the more academic group is because of the structure of the book. Each chapter deals with a different faction or major influence on Henry, but there is only the loosest of timelines followed and huge amounts of information are left out.

That's not a criticism on the book itself, because this is not a 101 level book and so it's assumed the reader already has knowledge of all the major chronological high points. And, for the most part, I did.

So why the problem? Chalk it up to my personal preference. I'm a reader who likes things repeated. I don't like this approach of delving into the details and foregoing the greater context, even if I know the greater context. Yes, the trees are nice, but I want to focus on the details of the trees without losing the context of the forest. I think that makes the details hit harder and the momentum and tension build to greater heights. But, hey, I also prefer novels.

Points for teaching me about the various factions influencing Henry and really driving home the point that the manipulations going on in Henry's court were downright scary! While none of the factions explored were new or surprising, I really liked the deeper look into them and this gave so much more background to the long string of wives (and why they were toppled). I also really liked his treatment of Wolsey.

Still, despite all that, I couldn't help wanting more out of everything. But, that's as much a compliment to David Starkey as it is a complaint.

I've heard David Starkey can be pompous, and I definitely saw why people have lodged that complaint. He injected his own commentary and bias here and there, and while I think it was supposed to come across as smugly funny (oooh look how offensive I can be!) it came across to me as more forced and flat. So, I'm not offended like some other readers, but I'm not impressed by these witticisms either.

Will I read more David Starkey? Well, I own a copy of his biography on Elizabeth I, so I'll at least be giving that a try. Overall, he definitely knows his subject matter very well and while I don't love the way he chose to present it, this approach may in part be due to the nature of this book. He also wrote a mammoth book on Henry's wives, so that may be more what I'm looking for.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DNF Explanation: Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Received: Library
Read to page 178 of 328

Some books make me feel uncomfortable, and usually I can't put my finger on exactly why, but the feeling is a strong NO THANK YOU. Nameless falls into that category, and without a solid main character to help me through, I DNF-ed.

The world is intriguing with its mobster-like vampire families and unique take on paranormal beings. This is probably why I read as far as I did and I was tempted to read more just so I could figure out exactly what was up with this world.

Because, yeah, it's unique, but it's also seriously vague. Like, dreamworld vague where some pieces are super clear and others are foggy and when you put them together you have something that kinda makes sense but also totally doesn't.

And then there's the characters, which is where that icky vibe comes in for me. Main character Cami is supposed to be a teenager but she reads more like a shy, traumatized little kid. Fine, if not exactly sleepover party material, but that also makes for some weird dynamics with her family and friends.

Her somewhat incestuous relationship with her adoptive brother also skirts my comfort line. Combine the childish mentality, trauma, and clingy relationship she has with her adoptive brother with her lusty incestuous feelings and that starts to enter a realm of which I'm not sure what to make.

By the time I DNF-ed at about the halfway mark the plot had only very, very slowly started to form around Cami as The Chosen One and her brother as the chosen consort and I just could not get on board with Cami—broken five year old minded Cami—as someone capable of ordering a pizza without having an internal meltdown let alone taking on the mantle of some great and powerful leader.

To be fair, I probably would have stuck with this one to the end if I had liked Cami. The world has potential and even though the romance had a degree of eyebrow raising, Lili St. Crow still managed to get some swoon in there. Alas, Cami and I just weren't meshing and by the time I decided to DNF I realized I was hoping some villain would knock her off.

This is book one in a series, and while I'm guessing there's an overarching plot, each book follows a different main character and probably wraps up her individual story by the end of each book. Cami's friends definitely seemed like better characters, so the sequels might be worth checking out. But, of course, I DNF-ed this one, so fair warning I'm just guessing on how it wraps up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Review: The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

297 pages
4 out of 5 stars

Catherine Howard is not a Henry VIII wife I've given much thought toward. My initial introductions to her were not very positive, nor did they go into much depth. Basically, Catherine was a fluffy headed wonton who died because she cheated on the king. The end.

Except, when is a person ever that simple?

Well, shame on me for not putting much thought into Catherine beyond that. But, thankfully, Alisa M. Libby decided to look deeper.

The King's Rose follows Catherine's first person perspective starting at the very end of Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves and covers her marriage to the king straight until her death. The chapters are very short and that, combined with the lower page count, make this a pretty quick book to read.

The events aren't all that spectacular or exciting, so readers who aren't historical fiction fans, and in particular historical biographical fiction, will likely be pretty bored with Catherine's story. While there is romance, it is not particularly romantic and definitely not swoony. Also, Catherine has a lot of sex, so this one is much more YA and up. But that's all pretty much a limitation of, you know, historical fact.

Mostly the book focuses on Catherine's feelings, and in this Alisa M. Libby excels. It's easy to judge Catherine's situation from the outside looking in and it's easy to conclude she was stupid and got what she deserved (a sentiment seared into my memory by wife number six in Ann Rinaldi's excellent Nine Days a Queen).

But how would you feel if you were a child, trapped in a marriage you didn't ask for, pressured by your family, forced to sleep with an old man, blackmailed, in love with someone else, desperate for a son, and terrified by the example of four prior wives—two of whom were rejected, one who died in childbirth, and one (your cousin!) who was beheaded?

That's a pretty sucky situation. In The King's Rose, Catherine's emotions are vividly portrayed. I felt consumed by constant fear and desperation and finally, finally I felt like I could understand why Catherine would do what she did. Of course we don't know if that explanation is what actually motivated her, but it makes sense and I imagine even if that wasn't the actual impetus she was probably still feeling those things to some degree.

Bottom line

I'm a big fan of historical biographical fiction, so The King's Rose was a hit with me. I appreciated this closer look at Catherine as a person and I finally feel like I sympathize with her and her situation. Alisa M. Libby humanized Catherine and I now care about her as a person instead of brushing her off as "the silly fifth wife, now moving on." I hope Alisa M. Libby writes more historical fiction.

Looking for another book like this? You might like:

Click on the pictures to go to my reviews/Goodreads

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan

Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan
Pages: 336
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Released: September 15, 2015
Received: ARC from publisher, via Edelweiss
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The first two books in this series, Maid of Secrets and Maid of Deception, were much better than this book. But, I expected that. 

The first book follows Meg. I like Meg. She's feisty, theatrical, dramatic, and a super spy. The second book follows Beatrice. I like Beatrice. She's a mean girl with heart, and all the sass and sympathy that goes along with that. Both of their romances were swoony with great guys.

This third book follows Sophia. Sophia is a dishrag. She's meek, weak, and oh so boring. Her romance was weird and I still don't get it. Though, for a brief time there in the paranormal beyond world (that I also still don't understand) it was smoldering with potential.

The plot also felt like it wandered all over the place with no purpose. I know things happened, and if I try to recite events I can do it, and some events are actually even great, but I still can't shake this overwhelming feeling of nothing is happening, even though that isn't even true. I think it's just that I didn't care because whatever was happening was happening to Sophia and Sophia is boring.

Bottom line: Chalk this one up to me just disliking Sophia. I'm still excited to read the next book in the series (especially if it's Jane's book, because Jane is badass). 

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