Book! the white princess #cbr5

My first negative review of the year was for a Philipa Gregory novel, The Kingmaker’s Daughter (The Cousins’ War #4)Keep in mind that I’m not a Gregory hater, but I fully realize that she is a certain type of historical novelist and there are certainly better writers out there. She can spin a decent yarn and they go by quickly.  This one just goes quickly.

So, The White Princess is the newest in the series. I had to finish out The Cousins’ War series just because I can be a purist. The Cousins War is a fictional retelling of the War of the Roses from the perspective of the primary women–Jacquetta, Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville, and Elizabeth of York–each book dealing with a different woman. Elizabeth of  York who marries Henry VII is the subject of The White Princess. Apparently there will be one more book on Margaret Pole, Elizabeth of York’s sister.

While Elizabeth of York is a much more compelling character than Margaret Beaufort (windbag) and Anne Neville (dull, dull, dull), there are some definite flaws in the telling. For one thing, Elizabeth constantly talks about how she was born to rule and Henry VII wasn’t and yet she seems amazed that a king in a troubled kingdom might want to dispose of some pesky rival heirs to his throne.  Plus she seems amazed to find out that, yes, her mother, Elizabeth Woodville probably did scheme against Henry VII. Even if you could overlook Elizabeth of York’s lack of worldliness, the paltry love story doesn’t hold much interest for them or the reader. I didn’t even feel sorry for Elizabeth and Henry when they finally realize they hate each other. Basically I could see why.

I applaud Gregory’s tenacity in wanting to tell the story from all sides, but some historical figures just don’t make for interesting reading. Elizabeth of York in The Kingmaker’s Daughter was an interesting minor character, especially when she begins her affair with King Richard III. But after she marries Henry VII she turns into a mind-numbing doorpost. She’s just there to help tell the larger story and, oh, to have Henry VIII. That’s it.



Beach read. Maybe. Goes by quickly.

Books! Everyone is named Thomas

Oh Cannonball, how I have missed you! Usually spring semester is not so busy but usually I am not taking a class while teaching and working full-time. Oh well. Here’s to summer…

The one fun book I read this semester was Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I bought the book when it first came out and just now got to it as part of my Mount TBR Challenge. It was definitely a highlight of my semester though.

Thomas Cromwell is our guy in this chronicle of the early years of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s love affair. From humble beginnings, he starts his professional life as an assistant to Cardinal Wolsey but after Wolsey’s death he becomes a minister to the King. Along the way he meets Cranmer, Anne and Mary Boleyn, the rest of the Boleyn gang, Thomas More, and a very young Jane Seymour. As it is a planned trilogy, with Bring up the Bodies out now of course, it ends on the cusp of the shift in Henry’s feelings towards Anne and the disgrace of Thomas More.

The book reads beautifully and Cromwell is an extremely sympathetic character. Mantel’s writing has a nice cheekiness to it that often feels self-referential. The quote “Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories” is  a nice commentary both in relation to action in the story but also to the process of telling this particular story.  While she absolutely must take liberty with the characters’ comments and actions to tell this story, she tries to stay true to life as much as possible (very much unlike the tv show The Tudors that took many liberties). In contrasting the two approaches, I prefer this Thomas Cromwell to his small screen counterpart, but I was surprised at how petty and irritable she made Thomas More as he is typically portrayed with more nobility. Honestly, it was quite fun.

The book slows a bit toward the end, but most of it has a nice pace. If you know nothing about the Tudor period at all, it could be potentially difficult to read, especially keeping track of the characters. Nevertheless, it is one of my favorite of the year. Historical fiction at its finest!

Books! Philippa Phones It In #cbr5

In last year’s Cannonball Read I didn’t review books that I didn’t particularly like. I tend not to give up on books (except Twilight) because I obsessively like to finish things, but I couldn’t bring myself to write a few of those reviews.  This year I am going to do a full Cannonball if it kills me, so here is my first negative review for CBR5.

Generally I don’t mind Philipa Gregory’s books. She doesn’t write particularly good historical fiction compared to some other authors, but her books make for nice escapes if you like history. They aren’t horrible bodice rippers and they do have some truth. They also don’t make you weep too much for the state of fiction (unlike Twilight). So, yes, I’ve read a few of her novels. 

The Kingmaker’s Daughter (The Cousins’ War #4) continues a series on the women of the Wars of the Roses. They do not need to be read in order as each book tells the story from one woman’s perspective. Honestly I think it is a really cool idea, but the books are a mixed bag. The White Queen is the best so far. The Lady of the Rivers and The Red Queen were fine, but had issues. This one might frankly be the worst.

Part of the problem might be the lack of source information for the main character, Anne Neville, who marries King Richard III. Gregory’s attempt to fill in the blanks mostly falls flat. She tries to make it exciting by having Anne victim to overbearing parents, including a mother who inexplicably forces Anne to deliver her sister’s baby in a storm on a boat, but I was really bored with most of it. The character isn’t interesting enough to make the slow times around her more engaging.

In addition, Gregory just blasted this novel out without any concern for, well, the reader. There are continuity issues that even I noticed (Anne steps down from a mounting block twice in one paragraph). The narrative is repetitive and grammatically problematic. Every sentence ends in a comma, what do you think of that, this writing style gets annoying, seriously. And did I mention repetitive?

Finally, the series phenomenon is killing me. Between Pure, The Century Trilogy, All Souls Trilogy, and the ongoing Cousins’ War (a fifth is in the works), I have my reading lists locked up for the next few years. The obsessive side of my personality is having a hard time disengaging (except Twilight, nixed that one early on).

While you don’t have to read these books in order, I had to rack my brain to remember what the heck happened with the other women. Part of this is my fault. You know you read too much fiction about a historical time period when they all start to run together. But much of this is the publishing industry’s laziness. They capitalize on a good thing and keep it going whether it should die a quick death or not (die! Twilight!). That’s not Gregory’s fault really, but it is yet another reason I disliked this one.

Anne was dull dull dull and Philippa seemed to phone this one in. Meh, back at ya.

CBR4 5: Lionheart by Sharon Kay Penman

I’ve tried reading Sharon Kay Penman’s While Christ and His Saints Slept about three times now and have never been able to finish it. It is faithful to the events of “The Anarchy” but it is so faithful that about halfway through I always get bored. Maude is a strong, but overly stubborn woman. Stephen seems like a well-meaning, but misguided jock. Neither of them are particularly sympathetic and the secondary characters don’t draw any attention. Her latest novel, Lionheart, was the complete opposite. Even with a very familiar storyline, Penman keeps the characters and events engaging throughout its 600 some pages.

With Lionheart, Penman follows the events of the Third Crusade and the escapades of King Richard I (the Lionheart) and his (sometimes) merry band as they head for “Outremer.” She also chronicles the lives of the the Christians living permanently in “Outremer,” primarily the Kingdom of Jerusalem (a wholly unknown entity to me).

The secondary characters are quite fun especially the random assortment of knights, and the female characters do not read like caricatures for the most part.  As there are so many characters I sometimes had difficulty following their back stories. I had to flip back and forth several times to remind myself who this particular Henri was and if he was the same as that Henri. Penman is consistent with titles and names, though jotting down characters might be helpful. My only criticism of the book is that the proliferation of characters prevents any real development. There are just too many of them at times.

Penman has written a very detailed but still engaging account of Richard I’s Third Crusade. I don’t know if I just like this story more or if her writing has fundamentally changed, but I’m more inclined now to pick up another of her works. Christ and His Saints may still need to sleep though.

CBR4 3: The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory

Chronicling my historical fiction fun reading isn’t something I ever imagined doing, but I also usually don’t read so many books in one month. Thanks Cannonball Read for the motivation!

Last week I read the The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory. It is the first in The Cousins’ War series that covers the lives of three women during the War of the Roses. I started with the second novel, The Red Queen, which overall I thought was good for Gregory but I hated the main character. The main character in The White Queen is Elizabeth Woodville who marries (or seduces if you prefer) King Edward IV of England. She is an interesting and controversial historical figure because she was a commoner who married a king of England. Because of her family’s meteoric rise to power through her marriage, they quickly gained many enemies. When Edward’s reign was contested by his brother, etc she and her family became targets. Her sons by Edward IV are the princes in the tower whose deaths were attributed to Richard III (although I guess that doesn’t really hold water anymore).

I personally found the character of Elizabeth more engaging than her rival Red Queen, which is funny considering my friend Janel had the opposite impression (Ah, the joys of reading). While the use of magic is quite heavy handed at times, I found the character less grating and her story is much more varied that Margaret Beaufort’s constant praying and cackling that “My son will be king!”

I was also really impressed with Gregory’s scenes of the armies on the move, in particular the description of the Duke of Buckingham’s failed rebellion in the face of the (“magic”) storm. Her descriptions have definitely improved even if the dialogue may seem a bit off at times.

Overall it is a good series for historical fiction. I am on the waiting list for the final book in the triology the third in what may be a long running series (Wha?! The War of the Eoses did end, Phillipa), The Lady of the Rivers, about Elizabeth’s mother. I’ve read that it is the weakest of the three. We will see soon!