Friday, September 30, 2011

A Royal Likeness by Christine Trent

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ 
Obtained from: Kindle Loan
Read: Feb. 7, 2011

As heiress to the famous Laurent Fashion Dolls business, Marguerite Ashby's future seems secure. But France still seethes with violence in the wake of the Revolution. And when Marguerite's husband Nicholas is killed during a riot at their shop, she leaves home vowing never to return. Instead, the young widow travels to Edinburgh and joins her old friend, Marie Tussaud, who has established a touring wax exhibition. Under the great Tussaud's patient instruction, Marguerite learns to mold wax into stunningly lifelike creations. When Prime Minister William Pitt commissions a wax figure of military hero Admiral Nelson, Marguerite becomes immersed in a dangerous adventure--and earns the admiration of two very different men. And as Britain battles to overthrow Napoleon and flush out spies against the Crown, Marguerite will find her own loyalties, and her heart, under fire from all sides. With wit, flair, and a masterful eye for telling details, Christine Trent brings one of history's most fascinating eras to vibrant life in an unforgettable story of desire, ambition, treachery, and courage.

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Go into this novel with an open mind. Having any sort of preconceived expectation of greatness will result in sound disappointment. A Royal Likeness picks up where The Queen’s Dollmaker left off, makes a dramatic departure from its processor and never looks back.

Trent could not settle on a story line. Marguerite starts as the aspiring entrepreneur we know from the previous novel but quickly becomes Tussaud’s apprentice, hero of the battle of Trafalgar and the central component in political dealings for the good of the empire. Personally, that never came together for me. I felt like the author opened a history book and said “hey, this looks interesting, where can I fit it in?” Trent has some talent as a writer but her inexperience is self-evident. The constant changes in storyline and characterization are exhausting to read. 

Her fictitious players have such dramatic changes in their basic makeup that they almost invalidate the original novel. Claudette is content attending social outings and playing mother hen to her children? This is a character who journeyed to France during the Revolution for a doll order. I cannot believe she would settle down into a life of blissful domesticity. Where is the fire and passion that drove her to become the best dollmaker in London? Nathaniel and his mother were thrown in for comic relief but they play such an insignificant part that their presence comes off as a cheesy attempt to create continuity between the novels. And since when is Nathaniel obsessed with his sister-in-law? Marguerite was poised to follow in Claudette’s footsteps but her determination and overall interest in her art is thwarted and never recovers. Her character moves into wax modeling but the inquisitive little girl who peppered the doll shop staff with technical questions never resurfaces. Marguerite takes on the role of place holder. The story revolves around her but she never comes through as particularly interested or devoted to her craft.

The historic cast is also ill-treated. Madame Tussaud’s broken English and overall characterization felt abrasive. I cannot picture a woman with her talent and level of success being such a complete stick-in-the-mud. Why were Nelson, Grey, Pitt and Fox invited to the party? Their part in the story could have been another book entirely – hopefully one with a completely separate cast since the idea itself wasn’t a bad one.

In all honesty, I wish I had skipped this one. I would much rather see one well developed storyline than read a hodgepodge assortment of half-baked ideas. Read The Queen’s Dollmaker and leave it at that.

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Marie drew in her breath as she tried to think how to best answer. Her future depended on her next words to this man she both feared and detested...
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Beware, Princess Elizabeth by Carolyn Meyer

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ 
Obtained from: Local Library 
Read: Sept. 30, 2011 

Imprisonment. Betrayal. Lost love. Murder. What more must a princess endure? Elizabeth Tudor's teenage and young adult years during the turbulent reigns of Edward and then Mary Tudor are hardly those of a fairy-tale princess. Her mother has been beheaded by Elizabeth's own father, Henry VIII; her jealous half sister, Mary, has her locked away in the Tower of London; and her only love interest betrays her in his own quest for the throne. Told in the voice of the young Elizabeth and ending when she is crowned queen, this second novel in the exciting series explores the relationship between two sisters who became mortal enemies. Carolyn Meyer has written an intriguing historical tale that reveals the deep-seated rivalry between a determined girl who became one of England's most powerful monarchs and the sister who tried everything to stop her.

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Elizabeth I
The younger daughter of Henry VIII, Elizabeth’s future was far from certain. She enjoyed the benefits of a royal heir for only a short period, being declared illegitimate about the same time her mother lost her head. She was only returned to the line of succession during Henry’s sixth and final marriage. Her childhood was marked by a series of stepmothers; one dying in child-bed, one set aside, one beheaded and one who was lucky enough to be widowed before Henry tired of her.  Though a child, I believe she took to heart her father’s inconsistencies, noting the lack of security which supposedly accompanied a marriage.

The chances that Elizabeth would ascend the throne were minimal, being behind both her younger brother Edward and older sister Mary in Henry’s Third Succession Act. Both of Henry’s daughters were again struck from the succession by their brother Edward, who left the throne to his cousin the Lady Jane Grey upon his death. Jane’s tenure lasted a mere nine days. Whereafter she was imprisoned in the Tower and eventually executed for high treason.

Hailed at her coronation, Mary soon fell into her subject’s disfavor. Her persecution of Protestants earned her the moniker Bloody Mary. A Protestant herself, Elizabeth’s position was a precarious one. Like her older sister before her, she defied her monarch and held to her convictions and much like her sister, lived in fear that her religion would be her death warrant.

Discontent soon burned as brightly as Mary’s Protestant subjects, lending support to those who wished to see Elizabeth on the throne. The Wyatt Rebellion gave Mary reason to place her sister in the Tower of London. I imagine the sentence was frightening as prisoners rarely escaped the Tower alive but doubly so for Elizabeth whose own mother was executed on the grounds some eighteen years earlier.

Elizabeth as depicted in Beware, Princess Elizabeth is an ambitious young woman. I feel it is a true enough assessment of her character as Queen but premature for the period of Meyer’s story. Elizabeth’s position was never as secure as Meyer implies. Elizabeth also seemed overly confident in her conviction that she would one day rule England. I am sure Elizabeth was aware of the possibility and even took steps to have it realized, but considering the uncertainty that marked her adolescent years I don’t believe she was at any time assured she would take her father's throne. Raised in the knowledge that Queen Anne was beheaded, witness to the trial and execution of Queen Catherine, spectator to the political games that cost Queen Jane so dearly, I remained convinced that Elizabeth was very much aware that the crown offered as much security to a woman as did the state of matrimony.

Historically accurate in detail but I found this installment disappointing in its black and white interpretations. It may be appealing to younger readers but 
even then, I would suggest looking elsewhere for introductory material on the Virgin Queen. 

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The moment had arrived. My sister was dead, no longer my enemy. I had survived this first great challenge. Yet as long as I had prepared for this moment, expected it, feared it and desired it, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I fell to my knees...
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ 
Obtained from: Personal Library 
Read: Sept. 23, 2011 

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother’s political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon. Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen. Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.

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Marie Antoinette is a hard personality for me to like. In most of the literature I’ve come across, she is depicted as something of a twit. Becoming Marie Antoinette is no exception; in point of fact, this particular incarnation describes herself as “no more talented than a parrot or a trained monkey.” As a reader I find it incredibly frustrating to follow a character as dense and frivolous as Grey's Maria Antonia. Still,  I remain hopeful that an author will one day take up the challenge and gift this unfortunate Hapsburg a degree of substance.

The author may not have presented a new version of the Archduchess but she does offer a fresh look at a period which is often overlooked, her childhood. Everything from the need for braces to the troublesome issue presented by the size of the Maria’s forehead is integrated into the narrative. While it makes for somewhat tedious reading, Grey's efforts are admirable.

Maria Antonia bored me but the I found the depiction of her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa quite fascinating. The Hapsburg matriarch gave birth to sixteen children over a period of twenty years. Do the math. Almost as soon as she was done having babies she was beset with the task of marrying them off. Thank heaven she was a royal and didn't have to worry about the details of actually raising her brood. Grey's Empress isn't particularly maternal but can you really blame the woman? Having so many pregnancies must have been exhausting and it certainly explains her exasperation over Maria's inability to conceive an heir in the early years of her marriage. 

Becoming Marie Antoinette is good starting point for freshman scholars but I think more savvy readers will be disappointed. The story itself has much in common with Titanic; even the novice historian knows the ending. The trick is in bringing something new to the table, a  twist that captures the imagination. Whether Grey’s telling will do so has yet to be seen.

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Think of the family motto: Others wage wars to succeed, but you, fortunate Hapsburg, marry! Sometimes I think Maman had so many daughters because she has so many enemies!
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ 
Obtained from: Local Library 
Read: Sept. 26, 2011 

The story of Mary Tudor's childhood is a classic fairy tale: A princess who is to inherit the throne of England is separated from her mother; abused by an evil stepmother who has enchanted her father; stripped of her title; and forced to care for her baby stepsister, who inherits Mary's rights to the throne. Believe it or not, it's all true. Told in the voice of the young Mary, this novel explores the history and intrigue of the dramatic rule of Henry VIII, his outrageous affair with and marriage to the bewitching Anne Boleyn, and the consequences of that relationship for his firstborn daughter. Carolyn Meyer has written a compassionate historical novel about love and loss, jealousy and fear - and a girl's struggle with forces far beyond her control.

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Mary I
I wage a personal war against the stereotypes that plague stepfamilies. I grew up in one, was, for a time, a stepmother in my own right. Wicked is not a universal descriptor in the realm of stepparents, but as mine has refused to speak to me for more than three years now, I understand it is sometimes an all too accurate descriptor. One such example is the case of Mary Tudor and her stepmonster, Anne Boleyn.

Mary was born the beloved daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Queen Catherine. Their only surviving child, she wanted for nothing. She lived a blissful existence, the cherished heir to the throne, until the arrival of Anne Boleyn. Mary's father was not known for his fidelity but Anne was unlike any of Henry's previous mistresses. Ambitious and cunning, Anne's seduction of England's king set in motion a chain of events that would alter the course of the entire nation. Henry's daughter 

As Anne's star rose, Mary's fell. She lost her mother, her father, her title, her inheritance and eventually, even her legitimacy was thrown to the wind. She was forced into the service of her infant sister, Anne’s daughter Elizabeth, and came under fire for her Catholic faith. Had Mary been a few years older she may have been spared this fate, protected by an alliance to foreign kingdom. A few years younger and she may have been restored to favor before she was considered a spinster. Fate, unfortunately, is a fickle mistress.

My only criticism of Meyer's work is that it focuses less on Mary than it does the impact Anne  had on her life. While an important aspect, I was disappointed to never get a sense of who Mary actually was


Mary, Bloody Mary is a solid if somewhat concise introduction to the early life of Henry's oldest daughter, picking up shortly before Anne's arrival and concluding just after her execution. While not the whole story, I admire Meyer's decision to omit the more graphic events of Mary's tenure as Queen from the narrative in consideration of the target audience. That being said I am firmly against the censure of history and greatly appreciated the appearance of these details in the historic notes. 

Recommended to adolescent readers of Tudor fiction.


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I came very near to confessing to Susan that at times I, too, hated my father. It would have been so much easier if I hated him in the same way I had come to hate Anne Boleyn - pure, simple hatred. But I did not. I could not. I had not given up hope, even yet, that someday he would once again regard me as his perfect princess, his precious pearl.
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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Barbed Wire and Roses by Peter Yeldham

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ 
Obtained from: Local Library 
Read: Sept. 15, 2011 

It was exciting to be on our way at last...but we were such innocents. We had no idea of the hell that lay ahead. Even if we had known, what could we have done about it? They were our golden youth, seeking adventure on foreign battlefields. The First World War in 1914, that everyone said would be over by Christmas, and Stephen Conway rushes to enlist in the belief he should fight for King and Empire. Leaving behind a new wife and a baby on the way, he soon finds himself in the trenches of Gallipoli. Four horrific years later, Stephen is the only survivor of his platoon, shellshocked and disillusioned, and during the heat of battle on the bloodstained fields of France, he mysteriously disappears. Stephen's ultimate fate is still a mystery when more than eighty years later his grandson Patrick finds a diary that leads him to Britain and France on a journey during which he unexpectedly finds love, and the truth about his grandfathers's fate that is even stranger and more shocking that he imagined.

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I’m not kidding; I have started this review at least a dozen times. I just don’t know where to begin. Barbed Wire and Roses is such a unique reading experience that I don’t think I am capable of composing anything that would do it justice.

The book is really two story lines. Stephen Conway is a young man who, like so many in times of war, is swept up by romantic notions of victory and heroism on the battlefield. He volunteers for the army in the early weeks of WWI, leaving behind a new wife and the child she unknowingly carries. As the weeks turn into months and the months into years, Stephen loses his naivety, his friends and eventually his mind under constant bombardment of the enemy.

Two generations later, Stephen’s grandson is plagued with questions regarding the war diary of a man he never knew. Seeking answers, Patrick and his sister scour the internet but can’t find a single scrap of evidence to prove Stephen Conway died in 1918 as family legend suggests. Bedeviled by the unknown, Patrick begins a journey that will lead him half way around the world in search of answers.

Stephen’s is one of the most intriguing war stories I have ever read. He is without doubt a hero but he is by no means the stereotypical personification one usually encounters. I would try to explain but I think Patrick Conway says it best, “[Stephen] is scared shitless most of the time.” Stephen’s struggle with PTSD struck a chord with me. A former military wife, I remember the pre-homecoming meetings where spouses were coached on recognizing the symptoms. A few weeks after my ex-husband’s return a marine on the same base blew his brains out after taking the life of his spouse. Living in a time and place where the disorder is considered very real I found it hard to comprehend Stephen’s situation. These men were mentally disturbed by their experiences yet many were given white feathers and still more were diagnosed fit to return to battle. It is an alarming concept flawlessly recreated under Yeldham’s pen.

Patrick’s narrative was decidedly less moving but it is not without merit. I had little sympathy for the character but I felt his experience showcased a different aspect of Yeldham’s talent. Every character Patrick encounters, no matter how insignificant has a distinct personality. Not only that, they are without exception multidimensional! Off the top of my head I can’t think of another author who has exerted so much effort in regard to the supporting cast.

The history itself captivated my attention. The last American doughboy died in February of this year fighting for a national memorial to honor the thousands of men who served in the conflict. That fact alone should tell you how much weight WWI carries in this part of the world. Gallipoli, the Somme, Ypres; I am humbled to admit these were little more than names in history book prior to my reading. More than that, I was entirely ignorant of Australia’s involvement in the Great War. Needless to say I spent a fair amount of time referencing the events. Yeldham’s work is entertaining but also fascinating even for those whose knowledge extends only to a few place names and the required background reading for All Quiet on the Western Front.        
                                                                                                                 
Yeldham’s story is a beautiful tribute to the Lost Generation, an intensely moving novel that will haunt the reader long after the final page. 

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We came here too young, too sure of ourselves. We'd begun to believe we were special, like the British papers said. Even their generals praised us, which should've been a warning. Generals sit in safety far behind the lines, they play their games of war and never count the cost. Look, we're as shat-scared as everybody. And why not? Gallipoli was bad, but this is a bloody carnage. There is a dreadful feeling of utter hopelessness here, and we play a game of tag with death every hour of the day.
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Heart Remembers by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library 
Read: Sept. 5, 2011 

Cover Blurb: United by blood, divided by time, will three orphan train siblings ever find one another again? Orphaned in a tenement fire, three Irish-immigrant children are sent to Missouri to be adopted. Despite eight-year-old Maelle's desperate attempts to keep her siblings together, each child is taken by a different family. Yet Maelle vows that she will never stop searching for her brother and sister... and that they will be together one day in the future. Seventeen years later, Maelle is still searching. But the years have washed away her hope... and her memories. What are Mattie and Molly doing now? Where has life taken them? Will she ever see her brother and sister again?

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Sawyer covers a lot of ground in My Heart Remembers. Immigration, Ellis Island, crowded tenements, sweat shops, foundling asylums, orphan trains, early photography and religion. Against this backdrop she relates the story of three siblings, separated by tragedy and united ­by a common cause.

The Gallagher kids survive terrible misfortune only to be divided by circumstance. Left in an orphan asylum, the siblings are selected for relocation, unwittingly becoming 3 of the estimated 200,000 homeless youngsters who travelled west in search of families. Children were often separated from their siblings during the process and since there were no regulations, interested parties were allowed to take children in as anything from indentured servants to family members. Sawyer’s use of premise was reasonably moving.

The truly impressive aspect of the novel was Sawyer's incorporation of child labor. Young children were an integral part of the industrial revolution and an immensely popular source of cheap labor. Petey is a member of the supporting cast and the most captivating character in the entire book. His plight tugs at the heartstrings from the abuse he suffers as a shop boy to the horrific accident that leaves him crippled with an uncertain future. 

Unfortunately, integration of historic fact doesn’t make a book. The characters are flat out boring. One dimensional characters make great villains but poor protagonists. The Gallaghers needed to experience internal conflict and growth. As it is we see them primarily as shallow beings wallowing in their own self-pity. Matthew eventually stands up for himself but as we were denied the narrative of his adolescence, the moment doesn’t pack much punch. Similar issues plague Sawyer in her characterization of Maelle and Molly.

Having been driven from the church by intolerance, I have no appreciation for statements such as “Given Isabelle’s cold treatment, she wouldn’t have taken the other woman as a Christian.” Being a Christian doesn’t make you a good person any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. Self-reverence and exaltation violate the base teachings of the Bible and frankly make me sick. Bad form.

A bland story with an all too convenient conclusion. Touching but too fluffy for my tastes.

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Had she ever considered how fortunate-how spoiled-she was while growing up? These children made her view the world in a different way, and she wasn't sure she liked it.
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Log-Cabin Lady by Anonymous

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ 
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: Sept. 5, 2011

The Log Cabin Lady is the autobiography of a woman who leaves behind a simple life as a pioneer to enter the privileged and alien world of the rich. Feeling isolated and out of place, she struggles to learn the rules and etiquette that her in-laws expect her to follow. To make matters worse, her husband is posted to England and the Log Cabin Lady finds herself grappling with the quirks of British manners and royal protocol. And then come the horrors of the Great War and, through the eyes of the Log Cabin Lady, we watch as the world begins to change. This is a story about overcoming social barriers, developing self-confidence and holding on to the beliefs and values that make us who we are. Written in 1922, this anonymous autobiography spans the period from around 1880 (when the author was aged about three) on to 1897 and being presented at court to Queen Victoria in her diamond jubilee year, through to the long years of the Great War and its aftermath.

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The writing itself is repetitive and erratic, altogether amateurish but there is much value in the content. The Log Cabin Lady is the intriguing memoir of a woman who witnessed the dawn of the 20th century. The author, an anonymous society wife, relates her personal history from her humble upbringing to the conflict of 1914. The book leaves much to be desired but offers fascinating insight to the ideas and concerns of a woman who grew up before the suffrage movement as well as the fierce pride the author had for America and her people.

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There are twenty million homes in America. Only eight per cent of these have servants in them. In the other ninety-two per cent the women do their own housework; bring up their own children, and take an active part in the life and growth of America. They are the people who help make this country the great nation that it is.
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Friday, September 9, 2011

Love from the Ashes by Denise A. Agnew

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: Sept. 6, 2011

During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, privileged Grace Wyne and Irish immigrant Nathaniel Dempsey fall in love. They seek a new life together, but society, her family, and nature itself, wage war against them. Their forbidden love is a sure formula for disaster.


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Agnew doesn’t have a firm grasp on historic fiction, but she knows how to write a love scene. Perhaps I am still reeling from The Captive Queen, but I felt the incident in the library was beautifully executed even if it did bear a certain resemblance to Atonement.

Grace wasn't my favorite leading lady. She starts strong but quickly loses her momentum. Her drive dissipates as soon as Nate enters her life. Grace and Mary attend suffragette events throughout the book yet the reader is never privy to the goings on of these meetings. This is what I mean when I say that Agnew doesn’t have a great foothold in the genre. The suffragettes weren’t weak willed ladies who sat around sipping tea. The author had the opportunity to mold Grace in the image of these strong, independent, determined women and she let it slip through her fingers. And what is with the nightmares of burning mansions and buildings pitching from their foundations? Was she supposed to be a clairvoyant?

I am going to digress a moment so please bear with me. I spent the better part of the last twenty years living on the San Andreas fault. I’ve experienced a fair number of quakes, nothing compared to the 1906 one of course but Northridge wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. It scared the shit out of me. Smaller quakes made the walls shake and two sent my dog running to my daughter’s side but most of the time, you can’t feel the damned things.

Now back to Love from the Ashes. Agnew includes a handful of quakes prior to the big one. Thus far I have been unable to confirm or discredit their occurrence. I would be upset if I found that Agnew over exaggerated or completely fabricated these events for the purpose of her story. California has enough problems without people thinking the world is about to open up beneath their feet. If they did happen to the degree Agnew described I am upset with her for giving them so much weight in the story. By the morning of April 18th I was bored with the idea. Too much exposure to it underplayed impact of the moment. I was yawning when I should have been shaking in my boots.

I wouldn’t judge it so harshly if I didn’t think Agnew was capable of more. A decent read but lacking in places. 

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Lust. It had to be lust. Since he'd started working in the Wyne household he hadn't visited Flynn's House of Pleasures down in the Slot. He just couldn't. Somehow it didn't feel right. And it had nothing to do with being a Catholic.
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Captive Queen by Alison Weir

Rating: ★   ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: Aug. 28, 2011

Nearing her thirtieth birthday, Eleanor has spent the past dozen frustrating years as consort to the pious King Louis VII of France. For all its political advantages, the marriage has brought Eleanor only increasing unhappiness—and daughters instead of the hoped-for male heir. But when the young and dynamic Henry of Anjou arrives at the French court, Eleanor sees a way out of her discontent. For even as their eyes meet for the first time, the seductive Eleanor and the virile Henry know that theirs is a passion that could ignite the world. Returning to her duchy of Aquitaine after the annulment of her marriage to Louis, Eleanor immediately sends for Henry, the future King of England, to come and marry her. The union of this royal couple will create a vast empire that stretches from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees, and marks the beginning of the celebrated Plantagenet dynasty. But Henry and Eleanor’s marriage, charged with physical heat, begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries, and a devil’s brood of young Plantagenets—including Richard the Lionheart and the future King John. Early on, Eleanor must endure Henry’s formidable mother, the Empress Matilda, as well as his infidelities, while in later years, Henry’s friendship with Thomas Becket will lead to a deadly rivalry. Eventually, as the couple’s rebellious sons grow impatient for power, the scene is set for a vicious and tragic conflict that will engulf both Eleanor and Henry. Vivid in detail, epic in scope, Captive Queen is an astounding and brilliantly wrought historical novel that encompasses the building of an empire and the monumental story of a royal marriage.

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*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

Henry II and his wife Eleonora
What makes a book a memorable reading experience? For me it comes down to three things: a good plot, interesting characters and compelling writing. In reading the back cover, Weir’s The Captive Queen appeared to have two of the three.

Eleanor is a choice candidate for leading lady. I've admired her since I first discovered her story some years ago. So much so that her name was one of the first I considered when naming my daughter. All things considered, it is fair to say I have a well-established preconception of her character. I wish I could say I was happy with Weir's version but I'm afraid our ideas clashed considerably.

Plot is the easy one here. The story was already written and since Weir previously published a nonfiction biography on Eleanor, I am willing to bet she didn’t look far for resources. Eleanor’s is a story worth telling. Regrettably, this detail is the only thing the author and I agree on.

Randy was not a word I associated with Eleanor until I read The Captive Queen. Maybe it was the moment Eleanor "cherished [Henry's member] in both hands." Maybe it was Eleanor's distress over sharing a bed as she would be unable to masturbate with an audience. Maybe it was the phrase “well-endowed stallion.” It doesn't really matter; I was disgusted by the tastelessly pornographic imagery. I don't doubt Eleanor understood the power of feminine sexuality but I take issue with the vulgarity of the Weir's depiction. I simply can't condone her debasing of Eleanor's character to that of a licentious doxy. She obviously had an active sex life and one would assume she welcomed the attention as she had a rather large number of children but that doesn't mean her sole motivation was a sea of raging hormones.

The majority of the supporting cast is undeveloped, not to be confused with underdeveloped, just plain undeveloped. Look at Petronilla. She has one scene when she comes to her sister's court, disappears from the text for fourteen years, has a second scene during John's birth and shortly thereafter, we learn she drank herself to death. Were we readers supposed to care? Eleanor’s sibling isn’t the only character to suffer from Weir’s negligence. Eleanor's eleven children share only a handful of scenes with their mother but rarely utter more than a sentence or two.

I’ve done a fair amount of ranting thus far but I am not above giving credit where it is due. Annoying and flawed though he is, Weir's Henry II is a well-rounded personality who is all too easy to hate. Again, my opinions were not in line with the author's but I feel Weir succeeded in relating her version of Henry. The reader actually experiences the death of his father, his wild tantrums, his relationship with his wife and his love affair with Rosamund which allows us to really understand the character as Weir perceived him. Eleanor does not enjoy the same treatment. The reader is told what to think of Henry's queen as we rarely get into her head outside the bedroom.

The style of writing leaves much to be desired. The first forty-two chapters are mind-numbingly slow. Weir should have summed up the events in a series of flashbacks. This technique would have cut the amount of content considerably but it would have been more appropriate for her abilities. Weir's relaying of facts is wonderful  for nonfiction but it makes for very poor storytelling. She sabotaged her own work by biting off more than she could chew.

I firmly believe it is possible to write a compelling and entertaining novel of Eleanor's life, Weir just wasn't the author to do it. Perhaps I will read Penman's novels while I await the publication of Chadwick's books. Readers who are unfamiliar with Eleanor of Aquitaine may find value in The Captive Queen but I would advise those who are well acquainted with her story to steer clear.

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None of us know exactly what lies beyond the door to eternity, but if Our Lord is kind, our loved ones will be waiting there in his tender care and we will be in a paradise far beyond our earthly imaginings.
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Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: Aug. 28, 2011

Magic is dangerous--but love is more dangerous still. When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos. Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own. Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

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Disclaimer: I have no interest in Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. I enjoy urban fantasy but of late, anything geared towards the teen bracket sets off alarm bells. Don’t misunderstand; young adult lit isn’t all bad. I am just tired of all the authors who are picking at Stephenie Meyer’s leftovers. 

I took a chance with Clockwork Angel for one reason: the cover. It fairly screamed H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. So what if it involved vampires and warlocks, I was tempted. Sadly, the steampunk aspects are minimal, beginning and ending with the concept of a clockwork army. Well executed but hardly competition for Westerfeld’s Leviathan books.

The characters are interesting enough though I feel as if I’ve met William Herondale and Theresa Gray before. There is nothing particularly compelling or distinctive in their makeup. Jem Carstairs is a different story entirely. Physically altered by his terminal condition and dependent on opium of all things, to prolong his existence. I have to hand it to Clare for originality, at least when it comes to her characters. You might have guessed where I am going with this. Two guys, one girl, overused plot device. Personally, I can’t wait till the love triangle twist is put to rest.

Clare’s writing didn’t speak to me. There were moments but I struggled to remain interested between them. Pacing problems aside, I really appreciated the literary references to titles such as The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe and A Tale of Two Cities. It was a wonderful surprise and a welcome change from authors whose knowledge of the classics ends with Shakespeare, Austen and Bronte.

Solid if not especially memorable. Recommended to fans of Patricia Briggs.

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Whatever you are physically, male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy - all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. Whatever the color, the shape, the design of the shade that conceals it, the flame inside the lamp remains the same. You are that flame.
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