Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"The Queen's Rival" by Diane Haeger

Title: The Queen's Rival
Author: Diane Haeger
Published: New American Library, 1 March 2011
Where I Got It: The publisher sent me an ARC

[No, I'm not back. I received this book 3 months ago, read the book that night and wrote this review the next day. I wanted to post the review closer to the initial release day....so here it is!]

It's official - Diane Haeger is one of my favorite authors. I love her ongoing series about Henry VIII's court, and The Queen's Rival was no disappointment. I read it in less than 24 hours.

This book explores the life of Bessie Blount, one of Henry's very first mistresses. Though not much is known about Bessie's early life, we follow her through her years as a maid-of-honor to Queen Katherine of Aragon, her affair with Henry, and the birth of their illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. Little Henry is the only bastard that the king ever acknowledged as his own. Barely at the age of ten, young Henry was bestowed as the Duke of Richmond - he was later seriously contended to become the king's heir to the throne. Bessie's and the king's affair comes to an end when the child is very young, mainly due to two new girls at court: the Boleyn sisters. Mary Boleyn is just a brief dalliance, but Anne is a tempting, alluring, and lustful object for the king to conquer - but we all know how that story ends. The book concludes with the death of teenaged Henry Fitzroy. The grief that his two parents feel is heartbreaking; Bessie, because she lost her dear firstborn son and reminders of happier days with the king, and Henry because he has lost his one and only living son, and possible heir. 

Diane Haeger always picks very interesting figures to write about (I loved The Secret Bride, about Henry's sister Mary). Bessie Blount was very prominent in her days at court, days that are often forgotten when Anne Boleyn and more notorious women later come into play. It was refreshing to read a book that took place around Henry VIII but did NOT focus on one of his wives. I also liked this look at the younger (20ish) Henry VIII; I've read too much about him where he's just the old, fat ailing King. Here, he was a man with whom every woman at court was in love with. Bessie was a character I like very much. She is portrayed as a very clever girl, if not a little too lovesick sometimes. She certainly led a very interesting life. I also read elsewhere that Bessie later briefly served Anne of Cleves - can you imagine how awkward that would be?? 

4.5 stars to a well written and very interesting book. DEFINITELY recommended to all lovers of the Tudors and romantic historical fiction. Go out and buy it the second it comes out! It'll be worth it. A big thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC - it was much appreciated!

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Where is the good in goodbye?"

Okay. I know I've done this before, but this time is for real. I am for all practical purposes shutting down my blog. I have absolutely no motivation to keep it up and maintained. If I feel like I am being forced/obligated to post, then something is wrong. I see other bloggers who have such a love for their blog put together amazing, thought provoking posts....and I feel so inferior in comparison. It's not overshadowing that is making this decision for me, but just stress in my life. Things aren't going so well for me at the moment.

While I won't be posting on this blog, I'll still be contributing to The Broke & the Bookish on a regular basis. I'll have new reviews going up there. Also, I have recently discovered tumblr, and am OBSESSED. I update that a lot. I'll also still be on goodreads and of course Twitter, though I may be a little quieter.

I'm so glad I got into the book blogosphere and am so glad I met some of you. It's just time to take a break.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

IMM (5)

I feel so brave attempting another In My Mailbox vlog...I think, if it's possible, I may be getting slightly less awkward. Anyways, In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren. It's a great place to showcase book we've recently received!

Books Mentioned:
The Queen's Mistake by Diane Haeger
Poison Study by Maria Snyder
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

Blogs Mentioned:
Tahleen's Mixed-Up Files (thanks again for the book!)

I now realize how heartless I sound when I'm talking about my sick roommate....but she's really evil.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Jane Austen: A Life Revealed" by Catherine Reef

Title: Jane Austen: A Life Revealed
Author: Catherine Reef
Published: Clarion Books, April 2011
Where I Got It: netgalley.com

Jane Austen may be the author of easily one of the most popular novels of all time, but how much to her readers actually know about her? In my case, not much. Sure, I knew a few things about her, such as that fact that she never married, and....well, that's it.

After finishing Jane Austen, this is in no way true anymore. Catherine Reef's book, while favoring a younger audience, is extremely well written, interesting, and very  informative. The book covers Jane's entire life and almost every aspect of it: her upbringing, schooling, parents, siblings, young love, sickness, and of course, her writing. All of her novels are summarized rather extensively; I initially thought this was an unnecessary part to the story, but the author lets the summarizations connect to Jane's life and the modern movie adaptions are also visited.

Now we all know that every single one of her six novels focus on young women whose economic and social future depends on the fortune they marry into. While this simple plot may sound trivial and petty to us, this was probably the number one worry of females in this era. Historically, women typically did not inherit anything from their parents, except maybe a small sum of money, so they had to look to potential husbands to assure their futures. The richer the man, the better. If women could not find a husband, they were written off as spinsters and became financial burdens to the family members that had to support them for the rest of their lives. Jane Austen experienced these troubles firsthand; though she received several offers of marriage in her youth, she never married and was passed around from her parents and brothers until her death. The fact that she was still able to inject so much humor and wit into her stories puts her miles above what the typical 'spinster' would have done. She obviously loved her family very much, particularly her fellow unmarried sister Cassandra.

Faults? I can only think of one: the pictures included don't really have anything to do with the page they are placed on. You may be reading a section about Jane's writing, and here's a picture of her brother talking about his political career. Sometimes the pictures even served as minor 'spoilers,' alluding to things that hadn't been mentioned yet in the text. Maybe this is only because I'm reading an early version of the book, hopefully this is cleared up during publication!

I'd give Jane Austen somewhere between 4.5 and 5 stars. Like I said before, it was an extremely interesting read and I learned a lot...so much so, that I was able to use some of this knowledge in a paper I wrote for my Theories of Literature class. Recommended if you like biographies, history, and obviously, the wonderful works of Jane Austen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Top 10 Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid

I haven't done a Top Ten Tuesday in FOREVER! I've missed doing them and this week's topic, books I wish I'd read as a kid, was a good place to jump back into things. I read constantly as a child, so I'm not sure I missed out on too much...but hey, you can never read too much.

  1. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - Yeah. I didn't read these until the summer of 2009 when I was 18. If I liked this so much in college, imagine what they could have been when I was younger!
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis - I've got the whole series on my shelf only because I found the whole hardcover set for 99 cents. They just seem like so much fun.
  3. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  4. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls - I know! I've never read this one! What is wrong with me? My favorite Lit teacher tells us constantly how he reads this book on the treadmill at the gym with tears running down his face. Sounds intense to make a grown man still cry!
  5. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  6. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  7. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh - I remember seeing this movie in theatres and still being bothered that I hadn't read the book. The early start to a long lasting pet peeve.
  8. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket - I always remember these books selling out at the Scholastic book fairs at my school (I wish we still had these!!!!!). I should have gotten into them at the time.
  9. Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli - I used to call my childhood best friend Maniac McGee because her last name is McGee...maybe it would have been nice to know what the heck I was calling her! She's still my best friend to this day, but I've matured in my nicknames for her. I call her McGeek.
  10. I don't have a number ten. oopsie.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Wolf Hall," or where Anne Boleyn is AWESOME

So, I adore the show The Tudors, this can be no secret. I may or may not have spent all day Sunday watching the marathon on BBC. I love the history and time period first and foremost, but I also like the costumes and particularly the actors who bring such life and feeling to the characters. While Johnathan Rhys Meyers is not your typical Henry VIII (very slim and brunette), his queens usually stole the show (namely Natalie Dormer and Maria Doyle Kennedy as Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, respectively). Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk was the ladies' eye candy and the actress playing Katherine Howard was...well, the airhead. However, in the first three seasons, there was this somewhat seedy character always lurking in the background, Thomas Cromwell. He has some big roles in the overall story, he managed to get Henry divorced from Katherine of Aragon, was able to send Anne Boleyn to her executioner, engineered the destruction of the Catholic church in England, and found Henry his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves. And of course, we all know his unfortunate end. I've always found Cromwell to be a very interesting guy, so I jumped at the chance to read a book about him, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It follows his life from about 1527 to 1535, during the years Cromwell worked as secretary to Henry VIII.

One of the things I noticed about Cromwell in The Tudors was that he was almost always alone. His wife gets one mention early on (historically, she died soon after), and we see his son exactly two times. Cromwell just seems to be a loner; sad and misunderstood. Well, in this book, his children, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews, cousins, and various wards all live with him. He is definitely not a lonely guy...in a way this made me happy. He didn't seem like such a tragic character when I found this out. Overall, I loved the way the author portrayed him. I think Hilary Mantel must be a very humorous and sarcastic woman, for she sure injects it into almost all of her characters.

I've read many books about Anne Boleyn, but this portrayal of her is hands down my absolute favorite. The best word that I could come up with to describe her is feisty. Cromwell thinks she may be a little psychotic, and he has perfect reason to. She calls Jane Seymour 'pasty-face' and vindicates her evil uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. She thinks her sister Mary Boleyn is a slut and Cromwell is an ugly little man. Yet through all of this apparent bitchiness, I saw her as a witty and extremely sarcastic girl....all still likable somehow. She knew her place but knew how to use it to her advantage. I'd recommend this book just for the Anne Boleyn angle.

One of the big problems with this book is sparse usage of names; the text is littered with personal pronouns. Just keep in mind that whenever you see a 'he,' 'him,' or 'his,' it is 98% of the time referring to Cromwell. It still can be a hassle to read the book, especially when new characters seem to get introduced out of the blue, but I promise, if you can handle it, it'll all be worth it. It was such a different angle on what I already know so much about, it was quite refreshing - 4 stars. I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from the book, there were dozens of them!

"A little later, he hears that Anne has taken the wardship of her sister's son, Henry Carey. He wonders if she intends to poison him. Or eat him." (pg. 131)

"The boy has lingered at the door to drink in his praises. A hard Cromwellian stare - the equivalent of a kick - sends him out." (pg. 154)

"At New Year's he had given Anne a present of silver forks with handles of rock crystal. He hopes she will use them to eat with, not to stick in people." (pg. 273)

"The king is a complainer too. He has a headache. The Duke of Suffolk is stupid. The weather is too warm for the time of year." (pg. 282)

"Believe me, God intends some peculiar blessing by this princess [Elizabeth]." (pg. 450)

"The child Elizabeth is wrapped tightly in layers, her fists hidden; just as well, she looks as if she would strike you. Ginger bristles poke from beneath her cap, and her eyes are vigilant; he has never seen an infant in the crib look so ready to take offense." (pg. 512)

"Incest is so popular these days!" (pg. 556)

Also, a big thank you to Passages to the Past, and Picador, the publisher, for providing me with a copy of this book!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In My Mailbox (4)

Another attempt at In My Mailbox, hosted by The Story Siren!

OK, first of all, the volume is wayyyy low, so you'll have to turn it up. Second, I just came back from a run when I recorded this, so I look like a hot mess. Other than that....yeah. :)

Books Mentioned:
Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Child Called 'It' by Dave Pelzer
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin

Other Books Recieved:
Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
The Queene's Cure by Karen Harper
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Queen's Rival by Diane Haeger (An ARC that I've actually already finished! You can read my review on goodreads, here.)
Between Two Queens by Kate Emerson


And here is the cover for The Glimmer Palace. Isn't is GORGEOUS?!


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