Archive for April, 2011

Title: The White Queen

Author: Philippa Gregory

Published: Pocket Books, 2010

Genre: Historical novel

Blurb: 1464. Cousin is at war with cousin, as the houses of York and Lancaster tear themselves apart…

…And Elizabeth Woodville, a young Lancastrian widow, armed only with her beauty and her steely determination, seduces and marries the charismatic warrior king, Edward IV of York.

Crowned Queen of England, surrounded by conflict, betrayal and murder, Elizabeth rises to the demands of her position, fighting tenaciously for her family’s survival. Most of all she must defend her two sons, who become the central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing Princes in the Tower.

Set amid the tumult and intrigue of the Wars of the Roses, this is the first of a stunning new series, in which internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings this extraordinary drama to vivid life through the women – beginning with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

How I came to own it: Christmas or birthday present, can’t remember which.

What I thought: At its worst, this could be cringe-worthy. The characters could be one-dimensional and the prose over-modified and over-the-top. Worse, there was, at times, a Mills and Boon bodice-ripping thing going on. Edward IV says to Elizabeth, “Wife, bed.” And I laughed out loud. The whole Melusina thing was also silly.

Thankfully, though, there were more complex and interesting bits, particularly Elizabeth’s attitudes to each of her children. Overall, this was an enjoyable enough read.

Rating: 2.5/5

How I’m doing: 46 to go.


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In My Mailbox (11)

“In my mailbox” is a not-very-weekly-in-my-case meme hosted by The Story Siren in which people share the books that they have acquired that week. I threw the rules out of the window long ago. Let me just tell you about a couple of books I bought a few weeks ago, at a send-hand bookshop in Norwich.

Rather than being books I intend to read from beginning to end, I will be dipping in and out of these for my PhD. So I’m not counting them as on the TBR pile, which remains at 47.

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Title: The Crow Road

Author: Iain Banks

Published: Abacus, 2010 (originally 1992)

Genre: Novel

Blurb: ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.’

Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and future, he is also deeply preoccupied: mainly with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances….

How I came to own it: I bought it for book group.

What I thought: I did something utterly out of character. I left a book half-finished. I have decided that life is too short to read books I’m not enjoying.

The really irritating thing is that I don’t really know why I wasn’t enjoying it. It was well-written. It was funny (okay, it was slightly funny – I felt it was trying rather too hard). The narrative structure was interesting: the focus was on Kenneth and his son, Prentice, and their relationship, jumping around in chronology to different episodes in each of their lives. The story just failed to grip me. Sorry, Mr. Banks.

Rating: 2/5

How I’m doing: The pile now stands at 47.

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This is my second book read for the Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: Vanity Fair

Author: William Makepeace Thackeray

Published: Penguin, 1994 (originally published 1847-8)

Genre: Novel

Blurb: A richly comic dissection of English society during the Napoleonic wars.

Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley together leave the shelter of Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. They now inhabit the infinitely more fascinating and dangerous Vanity Fair where the only standard is worldly success. Becky, charming and amoral, is well-fitted for the fight; when an ill-judged bowl of punch ruins her plans for marriage, her quick wits soon find a range of an alternatives. But sweet and sentimental Amelia only longs for her worthless soldier lover.

There are battles, military and domestic, fortunes made and lost, elopements and betrayals. The corrupt, the grotesque and the downright wicked all struggle to make their way amongst the tawdry glamour of the Regency. And through the narrative strolls the relaxed figure of the author, pointing out a moral here and there as he shines a light into society’s murkier corners.

How I came to own it: I don’t remember. This is another old one.

What I thought: Initially, I was enraptured: primarily because of the narrator, who, ironic and detached, was making asides and pointing out the characters’ folly in a style worthy of, if harsher than, Jane Austen. The author had a keen sense of the ridiculous which renders much of this book utterly hilarious. By the time I’d got past the middle, however, the delight wore off. I felt that this, like many Victorian novels, was too long, but maybe that’s just the attention span of the YouTube generation. What I found rather tiresome was the relentlessness of the cynicism which resulted in an absence of genuine sympathy for anybody. The novel parallels the lives of wicked but clever Becky with saintly but foolishly sentimental Amelia.For much of the story, Amelia’s down and out whilst Becky, in spite of her humble birth, is queening it up. There is, of course, plenty of scope for the stereotypical Victorian moralising here. But, refreshingly, it comes with a twist: instead of our being encouraged to get soppy over the goodie whilst hissing at the baddie, the norm is parodied and we mock Amelia’s soppiness. We are spared complete despair at human nature and given the real hero, William Dobbin. He is, naturally, perfect in every way, and thus the novel escapes saying anything worth saying about how life is really more complicated than heroes and villains. Nevertheless, an enjoyable, very funny read which raised interesting questions, if only half-heartedly.

Rating: 4/5

How I’m doing: TBR pile stands at 48.

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