This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, Mary Lydon Simonsen
2.5 roses

After (finally) reading Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I was interested to see how some of the multitudes of "sequels," spin-offs, etc handled the story. I was lucky to receive Ms. Simonsen's book for review from Sourcebooks. In it, she tells the P&P story from different points of view.

There is no need to rehash the story line of P&P; the back cover of this story implies that this novel is going to be told from the viewpoint of Darcy's younger sister Georgiana. That is what really tweaked my interest as I love seeing different views of the same story. However, this one wasn't exactly what I expected. Considering what was mentioned on the back cover I thought the entire novel would be told from Georgiana's point of view with possible some insight from her cousin Anne de Bourgh but that is not really what we get. While there is quite a bit from Georgiana's viewpoint there are numerous chapters that are told from various other characters' points of view. I was rather disappointed with this. While the story was familiar and the chapters told by other characters were entertaining (especially the ones told by snobbish Caroline Bingley!) I was really hoping for a real insight into Georgiana and her personality, her thoughts on her brother, etc, and I just didn't feel that there was much of that here. I didn't really feel like I knew too much more about Darcy's younger sister than I did at the end of P&P. As for Georgiana and Anne's matchmaking, it pretty much consisted of what you would expect from young girls (but I won't spoil the fun by mentioning what they are here!).

I know it seems like I did not enjoy the book at all but I did, it just wasn't exactly what I was expecting (or hoping) it would be. There are some beautifully written scenes and some that really had me chuckling (like the observations made by Miss. Bingley). I just feel there was so much more potential here in telling the story from the viewpoint of a character that is not described in very much detail in the original. All that aside, it is a fun read and I do always enjoy seeing a well known story told from a completely different perspective.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 in Review!!

In total I read 47 books last year which is down from the previous year (but I wasn't dealing with as much sickness in the house or a pregnancy!). As expected, the majority of those were historical fiction but I did throw in some others for variety! Here is a rundown of my tally:

Historical Fiction: 33 (mainly British)

Austen: 7 (including "sequels")

Nonfiction: 6

Contemporary Fiction: 1

Of course there were some books that I absolutely loved and there were those that really fell short. Here are my top 5 picks for 2010:

Honorable Mentions would have to go to:

Hugh and Bess, Susan Higginbotham
The Seventh Son, Reay Tannahill
Virgin: Prelude to the Throne, Robin Maxwell
The Founding, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

I can't wait to see what will be on my 2011 list!

*I borrowed the "Best of" image from Historical Tapestry.

Book Review: The Queen of Last Hopes

The Queen of Last Hopes, Susan Higginbotham
4 roses

I was honored to receive this early for review (and I'm ashamed it's taken me this long to put my review up) but I was a bit hesitant because Margaret of Anjou is not one of my favorite people in history. However, as it is written by the wonderful Susan Higginbotham, I knew it couldn't be anything but good and I was right.

I am not going to rehash the plot line of the novel as many folks are familiar with the twists and turns of the Wars of the Roses. The story follows Margaret's life from the time of her betrothal to Henry VI in 1444, through all the ups and downs as Queen of England, and ends with her death in 1482. Being a Yorkist myself I was wondering how I would get through a book about a Lancastrian Queen but I found it was a very good and informative read. Most mentions of Margaret in other novels of the time are quite scathing and make her into a she-wolf. Her reputation down through history has not been painted in a favorable light. Higginbotham shows us that there certainly could have been a much different side to this Queen. Here Margaret is shown as being extremely loyal and ambitious but also loving and courageous. Not knowing much on Margaret's life beyond what is barely mentioned in other novels, it was very interesting to see Higginbotham's take on how Margaret dealt with a husband who went "mad," the rumors floating throughout the country concerning her son Edward, the people's dislike for their French Queen, and her constant struggle to retain her husband and son's birthright - the throne of England. Most of the story is told from Margaret's point of view though there are some chapters told from the view point of Henry VI, their son Edward, and a few of the Beauforts. In some novels this can muddle the storyline and make it a bit difficult to follow but not here; the other viewpoints will really help the reader understand the turmoil of the time period. The novel follows historical events in order without any confusing flashbacks (which in many other novels can muddle the story) and each chapter begins with the date so it is really easy to follow. The characters are carefully written, their own personalities fleshed out, and their actions and feelings are quite believable (there are many, many characters in this novel but there is a handy list at the front of the book that should be helpful!). There are wonderful descriptions and details of life in England in the 15th century and Higginbotham's writing can transport you back in time.

As usual, Higginbotham's wonderful writing and attention to historical detail weave a very intriguing story. As a Yorkist, I was worried about how the players on that side of the line would be shown and while they are obviously not supposed to be the "good" guys in this novel, in no way are they painted as horrible monsters. I also really liked the prologue and epilogue Higginbotham included; they really make an impact. This is a novel I would highly recommend to all readers interested in the Wars of the Roses as it gives a refreshing new look at a woman who, when mentioned in history, is usually maligned.

*I received this novel for review from Sourcebooks.