The Kingmaker’s Daughter

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

9781451626087

I was really excited to read this one. I love Philippa Gregory. She is one of my favorite authors, and definitely my favorite writer of historical fiction. Every so often I crave the world of royal intrigue, and Gregory almost always delivers.

Unfortunately, this book falls into the “other” category.

“In this New York Times bestseller, Philippa Gregory tells the tale of Anne Neville, a beautiful young woman who must navigate the treachery of the English court as her father, known as the Kingmaker, uses her and her sister as pawns in his political game.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter–Philippa Gregory’s first sister story since “The Other Boleyn Girl”–is the gripping tale of the daughters of the man known as the Kingmaker, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters, Anne and Isabel, as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right.
At the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows from a delightful child to become ever more fearful and desperate when her father makes war on his former friends. Married at age fourteen, she is soon left widowed and fatherless, her mother in sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne manages her own escape by marrying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but her choice will set her on a collision course with the overwhelming power of the royal family.” — Indiebound

I did not enjoy this book much at all. I felt it was very hurried, with very little character development and almost no substance or emotion. I did not care for the characters at all, and I didn’t feel any emotion when they were in danger or trouble. It was so hasty that their problems developed and were solved almost on the same page.

Toward the end, things got a little more detailed, and the story engaged me more. But truthfully, I only bothered to finish the book because I paid for it and felt I had to. That said, I will still read the rest of the books in the series because I feel that this is a fluke on Gregory’s part, and I am interested in the saga of the Cousin’s War.

13.17–The Night Circus

13.17–The Night Circus

I am so excited to review this one. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a thing of beauty. If there was a single flaw, I was completely unaware of it. It is a magical, captivating novel, and I adored every second I got to spend with it.

Goodreads Summary

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

The novel is set in the Victorian Era, but has no coherent timeline. Almost every chapter is set in a year different from the previous chapter, so that the reader has to put the story line together on his or her own, a trait which I loved.  It made the novel just as elusive as the Cirque itself, and it caused me to devour every page faster than the last so I could find the next piece of the puzzle.  The time period in which it sets is part of what makes it so incredibly beautiful.  Sumptuous silks, brocades, and velvets; dancing flames and primitive electricity; trains; cities just beginning to bustle with industry; opera; theater; elegant parties and dinners…the world of the circus performers is glamorous with an undercurrent of repressed sexuality and magic.  The setting itself, even without the plot, is wholly unique and captivating.

There is something so impossible about the circus itself that makes it difficult to describe in any review.  It is more than just the fact that it opens only at night and is deserted by day, or that everything within it is black and white, and it’s full of people who can work real magic, rather than just sleights of hand.  It’s more than the two powerful magicians who oversee the work of their students.  Perhaps it’s the romance of the “love letters” that Celia and Marco create for each other, or the fact that each member of the circus is suspended in time, as is the circus itself.  Whatever it is, the pervading air of somethingness, of otherness, about Le Cirques des Rêves truly invites you in and makes you comfortable.  I found myself simultaneously wanting to find out how it would end and wishing it would never end so I could stay inside the gates of Le Cirque des Rêves as long as possible.

Speaking of ending, I loved it.  It was perfect.  Morgenstern sets up a horrible situation that it was difficult to imagine a way out of for Celia and Marco.  Yet one forgets that in this world of Morgenstern’s creation, magic is possible and the possibilities go on forever. I enjoyed her solution to the conflict.  It wasn’t perfectly happy and it wasn’t piss-your-reader-off tragic.  It was just right.  Literally everything about this novel was perfect from beginning to end, and I truly applaud Morgenstern for writing one of the best novels I’ve ever read in my life.

Sadly, I’ve discovered that it’s going to be made into a movie.  It’s only of those novels that is so incredibly perfect, and so much fun to imagine for yourself, that I don’t even want to see the trailer.  I don’t want any director’s limited vision ruining what Morgenstern has so perfectly created in my imagination.

12.34–The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

12.34–The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

 

This book was an absolute delight to read.  I’m not a big mystery enthusiast, but this book was well-written, well-plotted, and intelligent in a way that many mystery novels are not.

Mary Russell is a fun character to delve into.  King wrote the story in first-person from Mary’s point of view, and Mary is delightful.  The Sherlock Holmes that the reader sees in this novel is not the same as that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original portrayal of him.  In this novel, he is 30 years older, seemingly retired, and much less sociopathic than the original.  It’s a little hard to get used to, because the original Holmes is strangely lovable as an asshole, but I came to love this one too.

Mary and Sherlock meet one day as she is walking across the fields of Sussex.  With her face buried in a book, the fifteen-year-old nearly tramples him, and that is their first fateful meeting.  After a brief conversation, in which Mary startles and fascinates him with her sharp wit and cunning intelligence, he brings her back to his cottage, where  he lives in retirement.  There, Mrs. Hudson feeds her undernourished frame, and her friendship with Holmes solidifies.  Shortly, she begins to come to his cottage multiple times a week, and an unspoken agreement that he will train her as his apprentice arises.  The majority of this novel is back story, though eventually they begin to solve cases together, until the last big one of the novel breaks over their heads like a storm surge.  I confess, the mystery of it was cunningly constructed, and I did not see the resolution coming at all.  This may be because I rarely read mysteries and am not used to deducing the outcome, but I like to think it’s because King is a clever writer.

The prose is extremely enjoyable.  Mary Russell is extremely intelligent and well-spoken.  Her vocabulary is exceptional, and I had to make a list of the words I did not know.

per·i·pa·tet·ic:  [per-uh-puh-tet-ik]

adjective

1.  walking or traveling about; itinerant.
Wonderful, fun read. I couldn’t put it down! I highly recommend it for fans of mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and strong female protagonists.  Thanks so much to Peri for recommending this novel to me! I can’t wait to read more in the series.  You recommend more books to me than I do to you!


12.19–Frankenstein

12.19–Frankenstein

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So sorry I’ve been out of it lately. I’ve been job hunting, and we all know how fun that is. Also, I’ve been creating a new domain all my own, www.BibliographyBlog.com, and that’s taken some work.  But I’m back! And hopefully back to normal.

Obviously, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein needs no introduction.  It is read every year by perhaps millions of kids all over the globe (or it’s supposed to be…we all know teenagers don’t love to read the things they’re told to read). This, then, is less of a review and more of my reactions to the text.

In school, I loved studying the Romantics.  As bombastic, long-winded, and miserable as they are, I felt at that time that I identified with them.  In some ways I still feel that way, but it is mostly their regard for nature and their hope for escape from the complicated society of man that I feel.  The melodramatic sorrow is something I’ve mostly left behind. Still, I love the Romantics.  In the center of this movement exists Gothic literature, and at the center of this–perhaps the most famous work of Gothic literature–is Frankenstein.

The incredible thing is that this enduring work of literature and the infinitely infamous monster therein were created by a teenaged girl as the answer to a challenge by her older husband and friends.  For those that do not know the history of the novel, Mary Shelley and her husband Percy visited Lord Byron in Switzerland.  One night, Byron proposed a challenge to the poets residing in his home: create a ghost story.  For days Mary strained her brain in an attempt to come up with something good enough to compete with the Romantic titans around her.  According to Mary herself, she was visited by the specter of the very monster she would proceed to create, and out of that visitation arose one of the greatest stories of all time.  It has been adapted for the screen more than any other work of fiction in history. It certainly makes one reflect on our present society.  It was written by a teenager, and most teenagers now can’t even read it.

The text itself is beautiful, and utterly different from what most people think they know of it.  There is not much of a description of the monster himself, and what does exist is nothing like the public’s common conception of him. He is large, yes, and ugly.  But he is extremely smart, well-spoken, and very fast.  He possesses super-human strength, but his massive size seems to reflect the massive heart within him, capable of great love, or of great sorrow and hatred.  Sadly, it is this last emotion that he settles upon in the end, after his creator has rejected and betrayed him. Events do not move swiftly and the novel is not packed with action. As with any good work of Romantic literature, it is mostly self-reflection, thoughts on the great beauty of the surrounding landscape or the nature of man and beast, or long passages of “woe is me” written in about 14,000 different ways.

So, what’s to like about the novel? After all, it’s full of sorrow and tragedy and wrath and destruction. To start, language.  Call me a nerd (I’m totally ok with that), but nothing really gets to me like beautiful, elevated language.  In Mary Shelley’s time, people spoke and wrote in a way that is elegant and thoughtful.  There is a lot of vocabulary in the book that was unknown to me, and I like to think I have a somewhat expanded vocabulary. Both Frankenstein and his monster are bombastic and loquacious. The monster tells a story that lasts for several chapters. Though it could have been shortened drastically, the language is so mesmerizing in its eloquence that one hardly notices the passing of the pages.

Frankenstein’s story, similar to those of the infamous Doctor Faustus or Lord Byron’s Manfred, tells of a man who seeks knowledge far above what man is entitled to know of the universe.  He seeks to create human life, but the unnamed forces of nature do not seem to appreciate this, nor does Frankenstein truly understand how to do so, and his experiment goes horribly wrong.  As with other Gothic heroes, Frankenstein is extremely melodramatic. It is possible for him to solve his own problem in one of several ways, but he must choose to focus on something other than how horrible is the abomination he has created.  Sadly, he cannot move past the hideousness of the creature and the things it does when it is hurt and lonely. He loses everything and everyone he loves due to his single-mindedness, and the creature pulls Frankenstein down to the creature’s own level: completely alone and devoid of happiness. Frankenstein is punished for his arrogance and ambition by powers much greater than himself.  It is this epic human struggle, so common throughout this literary movement, that I find so emotional and compelling. Having never seen any of the numerous Frankenstein adaptations, I had virtually no concept of what the story contained (excepting the obvious). It was extremely intense and stressful for me to read this book, as I knew that nothing good could happen, but I couldn’t help but hope anyway!

I loved this book. The fact that a girl so young could write such an enduring and tempestuous work–one that caused numerous powerful emotions to arise within me–is incredible, and I admire young Mary Shelley greatly for her brilliant work.  It is so unbelievably beautiful.

 

12.18–The Lady of the Rivers

12.18–The Lady of the Rivers

I am such a huge fan of Philippa Gregory. I just think she is the bee’s knees.  The Lady of the Rivers is the third book in The Cousins’ War series, which follows the War of the Roses. This novel is the prequel to The White Queen–the first of the series.

Jacquetta is a descendant of Melusina, a river goddess, and therefore possesses special gifts–namely the second sight.  An early experience with Joan of Arc and her untimely demise gives Jacquetta a life-long fear of using these gifts, though she is occasionally ordered by her sovereign to do so.  Her marriage to the Duke of Bedford and her early widowhood yield her great privilege throughout her life, but also put her in great danger as England’s political cauldron boils over into chaos.  Standing by her side through all of these troubles is her second husband Richard Woodville, who she married for love, and her innumerable children.

Philippa Gregory does extensive research on all of her novels and this one is no exception.  Jacquetta was a real woman whose life occurred right at the beginning of the War of the Roses. Gregory became fascinated by this relatively overlooked woman and expounded on her story.  As ever, I am astounded by Gregory and her capacity for creating beautiful stories out of minor characters from history.  Jacquetta is an easy heroine to love.  She does all she can to protect her husband and children during this dangerous period in English history.  She is a close friend and confidant of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI.  Henry comes to the throne as a boy and never quite becomes a man. He is always naive, and Margaret is no help in that vein.  Jacquetta and Richard attempt to herd them in the right direction, but the monarchs’ petty quarrels with the Duke of York evolve into all out war within their lifetime.  Jacquetta, thrust very close to the throne by circumstance and some family meddling is caught in a vise from which she cannot escape.  Her instinct for self-preservation and diplomacy make her one of the most admirable women in the court of Gregory’s creation.  She is gentle and loving to her husband and children, and sweet to a fault with the queen.  The fact that she’s descended from a goddess and possesses supernatural powers is just a bonus.

The love between Richard and Jacquetta had me burning with envy throughout the entire novel.  As with Gregory’s other books, The Lady of the Rivers spans a very long period of time–from Jacquetta’s childhood to her twilight years.  Richard loves Jacquetta from the moment he sees her as his lord the Duke’s new bride until his death decades later. Though they spend much of their life apart, their passion never fades and neither of them strays from the other.  Each time they are separated, Jacquetta is frantic for his safety, and they fall into each others’ arms like young lovers on his return, even after she has borne him 14 children (ouch!).  In a genre in which it seems like everyone sleeps with everyone (at least according to our favorite juicy historical fiction) it is really refreshing to read about a couple that is still happily devoted to one another.

Gregory’s novels can sometimes be a bit repetitive, especially in this time period.  She does a lot of jumping forward in time, and skims over events that she deems less important to her stories.  During this war, the power switches sides a lot, and everyone accuses everyone else of treason.  Though a lot of people cry foul on each other and it can seem rather trivial and petty, Gregory does a fine job of reminding the reader that this situation is constantly life-and-death for Jacquetta and her family.  It adds tension to the story and keeps the reader engaged despite the repetition.

This is by far one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels.  Though I try not to read books in a series right next to each other, I may have to go pick up The Kingmaker’s Daughter, just because this novel left me craving more of her writing style.  Definitely read it!

12.5–The Pillars of the Earth

12.5–The Pillars of the Earth

As promised, a review on a bestseller. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is fantastic. It took me forever to read because it’s nearly a thousand pages long and I worked 12+ hour days all last week. What time I didn’t spend working I spent sleeping, so I did not accomplish much on the book. Still, I read every spare moment I had, including the ride to work and a little bit after shifts when I should have been sleeping (more).  It was fantastic, and I hated putting it down as much as I was forced to last week.

To give a synopsis is an incredibly difficult task, as the novel is long and covers almost the entire lifespan of the characters.  The entire plot is based around the construction of a magnificent cathedral at Kingsbridge Priory in England.  There is no end to the political intrigue and clerical corruption, and the lines between good and evil are very clearly defined.  William Hamleigh, the most notorious baddie I’ve encountered in ages, is an ever-present destructive force, and repeatedly obstructs the process of the cathedral and the happiness of the good characters. Among those we root for are: Prior Phillip, Tom Builder, Ellen (Tom’s wife), Jack, and Aliena.  Tom especially is a character that invites the reader to love him. He is strong and sweet and honorable, though perhaps a little too naive and trusting at times.  Ellen and Aliena are strong women who blaze their own trail, and are smarter than most of the men around them.  Jack inherits Tom’s sweetness and gentle strength, and becomes one of the most lovable characters in the entire novel.  All these characters’ stories begin apart from one another’s, and Follett slowly brings them together to entangle them irrevocably.

Follett’s characters are well developed and beautiful.  His plot is intricate and masterfully crafted.  I was disappointed, however, with the slight predictability of it.  Please do no misunderstand. I adored this novel and wanted to read it every spare second I had, even if I only accomplished one page.  But I found myself being able to predict what would happen, or at least that something would happen.  I understand that an author must do things to keep his novel interesting–one cannot fault Follet for that.  Still, the pattern of up, down, up, down, up, down was a little too formulaic and regular.  I found myself frustrated that the characters I loved could not simply settle down and find happiness.  None of the evil-doers were given what they deserved! I wanted William Hamleigh to die painfully and shamefully, but this hope was repeatedly foiled.  Follet kept me on the edge of my seat, but half the time it was out of anger and the desire to see the enemy brought low.  I have mixed feelings about these emotions he evoked in me.  One the one hand, they made me mad, but on the other, they kept me engaged in the story and enticed me to learn more. Perhaps this is the mark of a truly masterful author?

Another thing that did very much impress me was his research and knowledge of the time period about which he is writing.  I learned so much about medieval life, architecture, and engineering.  I learned what I flying buttress is! I had no idea that early cathedrals were thick, stocky structures with tiny windows.  Nor did I ever think about the origins of stained glass.  Sounds nerdy to get excited over such things, perhaps, but I’ve never denied the fact that I’m a nerd.  Any new opportunity to learn something about history or the development of humankind and its technologies, especially if it’s in the form of narrative, is welcome to me.  I truly enjoyed this book not simply for its plot, but its heavily researched descriptions and its ability to teach me something new.

If you can take on the daunting task of reading through 983 pages of minuscule text, I highly recommend this book. It has a little bit of everything: history, romance, drama, violence, corruption, and the enduring promise that good will always trump evil, even though the odds seem impossible and hope is often lost.  A great read, and well worth its popularity.  Thanks to Lauren for bumping this up to the top of my reading list!