Monday, February 3, 2014

October - December 2013 Book List

This is not going well, is it?

Inferno by Dan Brown
The Last Dragon-Child by Mikaela Steele

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

August - September 2013 Book List

The Bridesmaid by Beverly Lewis (Book 2 of the Hickory Hollow series)
The Guardian by Beverly Lewis (Book 3 of the Hickory Hollow series)
The Choice by Suzanne Fisher

Quick Thoughts 
The Guardian: The only book of Beverly Fisher's that I've read that starred a non-Amish heroine. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the personal growth that each of the two adult heroines went through in this book.

The Bridesmaid: I enjoyed the premise, but really The Guardian is a much better book. If I had to pick one, I'd choose The Guardian. The characters here were fairly standard Amish fiction characters I think.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Choice by Suzanne Fisher

Prior to this book, my only exposure to Amish romantic fiction has been the works of Beverly Lewis. Therefore I was immediately surprised by the non-Amish (to me) sounding names. I was also surprised by how quickly the plot moved along although at the end it all made sense.

The real hero does not make an appearance in the blurb, and did not appear in the flesh until after the death of the red herring hero. In this respect the blurb did a good job of leading me down a merry path. I was expecting a story about love growing in a marriage of convenience - that seems to be quite a common romance novel theme - but this book upended my expectations by chapter 6.

The heroine is not obviously a role model or obviously NOT a role model. In this respect Fisher has given us a more real to life heroine than most romance novels - Amish or otherwise I would think. Other than being extraordinarily pretty, there was no one trait about her that particularly stood out, making her both more ordinary and more unusual among her usually one dimensional contemporaries.

For a romance novel with slow moving Amish protagonists, this was a page turner. The underlying mystery in the book was kept at a low simmer consistently throughout and the final unraveling was both believable (if foreseeable) and gently satisfying.

Somehow although this book did not come across as gentle as Beverly Lewis', and I would say is drawn with bolder colors, the final impression is that of a gentle story about gentle people handled gently by a gentle author. Nothing really stood out - and yet it wasn't a waste of time. It's just a gently satisfying read.

(gosh could I use the word gentle any more often in one paragraph?)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

July 2013 book list

Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman

June 2013 Book List

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Red Queen and The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

I'd actually read The White Queen a while ago when it first came out. I'd enjoyed it and when I saw the The Red Queen at the library, I couldn't help but be intrigued. Lady Margaret Stanley had played such a very small part in The White Queen, appearing only at the end, and yet her life and that of Elizabeth Woodville (the White Queen) would soon be entwined for the rest of their lives through their children.

I would definitely recommend reading these two books side by side. Each book was written from the viewpoint of the protagonist, so having both books forces the reader to see the War of the Roses from both sides. For me, it also provoked some thoughts that would not have come to me had it not been for comparing both books or reading one book with the other in mind. Somehow, having both viewpoints forced on me only accentuated my awareness of all that I did not know. Both books together also compounded the irony of what happened next.

I wonder if it was deliberate but The White Queen, that was published first, presented a heroine who was portrayed as likable, despite being, in many ways, enviable. A beautiful older woman (alright, not by that much) who snared a king and had a large and close-knit family. A merry, loving
woman who was loved in return.

On the other hand, The Red Queen, came across as hypocritical and fairly unlikable, despite her modern persuasions (she takes delight in learning Latin!) and pitiable early personal history (married at 12 to a much older man, a difficult birth at 14, her only son being raised far away from her).

I started out liking Elizabeth Woodville uncritically, and mourning her losses. It wasn't until I read The Red Queen that I reconsidered my viewpoint. (Whereas if I had read The Red Queen first,  I doubt I would have changed my assessment of either queen). The White Queen makes much of Elizabeth's and her mother (Jacquetta's) potential witchly powers. Every once in a while, these powers were utilized to help her husband's cause. Sometimes, however, she hurt her enemies, and did not regret it one whit. In fact, she even directly ill-wishes King Richard III. The irony is that she eventually forgives him and even contemplates marrying her daughter to him, only to have him die as
a result of her ill-wishing. (But it's ok, her daughter still gets to be queen anyway). In addition, it wasn't clear what, if anything, she did for the people of her country (although her brother, Anthony Woodville, seems to have been something of a renaissance man and was probably a good advisor
to the king). Perhaps she also gave King Edward IV good advice during the long peaceful years of his reign, which both books glosses over (since peace is nice but quite uninteresting).

But basically, next to Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville comes across somewhat clichedly blonde - beloved by her hot husband (not that this stopped him straying, but she is still first of the many in his heart), beautiful, happy, loving when loved, vengeful when crossed, interesting
until compared to the fascinating Margaret Beaufort.

Now Margaret is quite unlikable, in part because her worldview is so warped. We ought to like her - her attitudes should appeal to the modern reader. However, she also presents a classic case of projecting her own weaknesses onto her enemies. Even while she scorns Elizabeth's grasping after power, she acts in ways to ensure her own and her son's power. She claims to be devoid of vanity, yet longs for the attention of multitudes. Her one claim to virtue that is perhaps true is that of a freedom from lust - however, this is more likely a side effect of three arranged marriages, the first of which was rough and unloving; and having the man she loved (in her own way) usually far away geographically. Perhaps also her love for power exceeded her lust - this was probably true of the man she fell in love with, for he chose to have her stay in England rather than join him when she was widowed for a second time. She veils her own grasping after power in religious garb - her son is the rightful king ordained by God while Edward IV was nothing more than a mere pretender. She also never tried to understand her home and hearth loving second husband, scorning him and loving another, despite his  kindness toward her. Despite her firm religious principles and almost vegetarian diet, she also may have set in motion the events that caused the two princes in the tower to vanish, perhaps to die. In short, Margaret is a deeply flawed woman, and perhaps this is why she is
more interesting than Elizabeth.

I do wonder how Margaret and Elizabeth got on after their offspring were married - my bet would be not at all. Most of the animosity is really from Margaret directed towards Elizabeth, and it is the animosity of a sad, plain, attention-seeking girl towards that of a happy, beautiful, effortlessly attention-grabbing woman. I also wonder how she felt when the man she loved was married off to Elizabeth's sister, one of the many scorned Woodvilles. How did she feel about her own daughter-in-law taking precedence over her among the women of the country? Much to our loss, Philippa Gregory does not deign to imagine it for us (for now, anyway).

As for Elizabeth, I wonder how she and her daughter felt when Prince Arthur, her eldest grandson, died. She would not have lived to see Henry VIII work his way through six wives, but surely she would have thought of the curse she'd wrought upon the murderers of her two sons. Wouldn't it be ironic if it turns out that Elizabeth and Elizabeth of York ended up placing a curse on their own descendants? Even we the readers will never know because Philippa Gregory never reveals what actually happened to the princes in the tower.

Anyway, even though these books stand alone very well, read the two books together - they complement and somehow amplify the message contained in the other. I will definitely be looking out for the other books in this series - I believe the next is about "The Kingsmaker's Daughters" i.e. the Neville girls who married George and Richard respectively. Something tells me they will probably come off a lot better and more sympathetic than they did in these two books and I will have to adjust my opinions yet again.