Search

misskatesaysdotcom

Just another WordPress.com site

Tag

historical fiction

Miss Kate’s CBRV review #9: City of Women, by David R. Gillham

Image

 

1943 Berlin. The title of this book refers to the fact that at this point in WWII, Berlin is basically populated mostly by women holding the home front together.

Sigrid is the wife of a soldier away at war. Middle-aged, living in a drab apartment with her horrible mother-in-law, she goes through the motions every day. She works at an office, tries to make her rations go as far as they can, tries to keep her had down and be a model citizen.

She has desires, though. Sigrid can’t stop thinking about her former lover, who is Jewish. She has lost contact with him and is frantic to hear whether he has managed to get out of Germany. There are other people who enter her life, as well: the high-ranking Nazi officer and his pregnant wife who move in to her building, the young girl downstairs working as a mother’s helper who is more than she seems.

Soon Sigrid is involved with things and people she knew existed, but was careful to avoid. She is faced with the choice of either continuing to ignore the reality around her, or to face it and do what is right.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Sigrid felt real to me: intelligent, passionate – she is compelling, a hausfrau who rises above what is expected of her. What struck me the most, I think, is how nuanced many of the characters are. Like real people, they are neither completely good nor bad.    

I highly recommend this book.

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

Advertisements

Miss Kate’s CBRV review #8: Lady of Hay, by Barbara Erskine

Image

OK. This book looked promising to me at first. Part historical fiction, part thriller/romance/fantasy, it seemed the perfect Next Read. But for me it devolved into full-on hate read.

Set in 1980s London, the book centers on Jo Clifford, a “modern, independent career woman”. She is a journalist, and in the course of researching a story on past life regression, she is hypnotized and begins to have visions of life in the 12th century. it turns out that Jo is the reincarnation of Matilda de Braose, wife of William de Braose, actual historical bully, and one of King John’s closest friends.

As she goes deeper and deeper into the investigation, Jo starts to regress automatically. She has no control over when or for how long these sessions last. She gets more and more involved with Matilda’s life, believing that YES, she is Matilda.

This part was interesting. Although a lot of the real Matilda’s life is murky, it’s obvious that the author did her research here. De Braose was a noble with lands in Wales, and was responsible for some pretty gruesome attacks on the local population. He was raised up quickly, and when he angered John (a petulant SOB if there ever was one), he lost everything. While de Braose fled to France, his wife Matilda and oldest son were captured and starved to death at Corfe castle in 1210.

Again, I enjoyed the parts of the book that dealt with Matilda. But Jo was a bore, and my heart sank every time the book switched back from Matilda’s story. Seriously. Jo is supposedly a “strong” woman. How I we know? Because we keep being told this. There’s clearly no evidence of it in over 600 pages, as she really has no personality. Ugh. (I’ve never read Barbara Erskine before, so I can’t say anything about her other work, but I’m not likely to try her again.)

I generally don’t like straight romance novels but I like good writing, so I gave this book a chance. Is this a Romance novel? I don’t know. The “romance” itself was pretty sickening. The men in her life are the Worst. SPOILER! Everyone Jo knows was also regressed. They knew her in the past, all want her now, and at various times they: let themselves into her apartment/hypnotize her against her will/RAPE!/BEAT!/or just creepily take advantage of her. But at no time does this nitwit consider calling the cops or even changing her freaking locks. CHANGE YOUR LOCKS!

She just keeps going back for more. And on. For 600-plus pages. I’d say that this is the author’s commentary on the mindset of an abused woman, but I think that would be giving her too much credit. I honestly believe that Erskine thinks this shit is romantic.

Lady of Hay could also have used an editor – at over 600 pages, I can’t tell you how much time is wasted describing about Jo’s latest linen shift dress or how often she shared dinner and a bottle of wine with Nick despite the fact that he’d tried to strangle her the night before. the story could easily have been told in half the pages. At one point, about 500 pages in, new characters are introduced out of the blue and become important for a hot minute. I liked them, but kept waiting for them to have a purpose. I frankly would have preferred the book to be about them.

Why did I keep reading? Because I’m not a quitter, that’s why. But seriously – if you want to read a good book about the Plantagenets or Wales in the 12th Century then read Sharon Kay Penman. Spare yourself this dreck.

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

Miss Kate’s CBRV review #4: Lorna Doone: A Romance Of Exmoor, by R.D. Blackmore

9780199537594_p0_v1_s260x420

I read Lorna Doone as part of my effort to read more of the classics, and I’m glad I did. This is the late 17th century in England, a time of political and religious strife. Charles II has just reclaimed the throne after years of exile.

Told in the first person, it is the story of John Ridd, a simple farmer living in Exmoor with his mother and sisters. Nearby live the outlaw clan the Doones. The Doones had once been wealthy nobles, but had lost their title and lands due to a lawsuit, and have since taken up banditry. John is a young boy when his father is murdered by them during a highway robbery. The Doones live in a heavily guarded valley and are pretty much untouchable.

One day, while out hunting, young John meets Lorna Doone. (She was kidnapped as a little girl and raised as a Doone.) Over the years they meet in secret, and fall in love. Eventually she tells John that she is slated to marry Carver Doone, the son of the Doone leader and a pretty bad guy. The Doones will then take her inheritance. As their romance matures, John becomes determined to save Lorna from her wicked family.

The story starts off slow, but builds and becomes exciting in parts. There is love, loss, battle scenes. Lorna Doone has never been out of print, and it’s easy to see why. The writing is extremely Victorian – Blackmore suffers in some parts from excessive wordiness, and his female characters are a bit one-note. Frankly, I found Lorna herself to be somewhat of a simpering bore. But as a modern kid of girl, I can’t expect a 19th century male author to share my sensibilities!

Where Blackmore’s writing shines, though, is in his descriptions of country life. Taking into account the upheaval in England during the Industrial Revolution, the author’s love of nature and the older ways of doing things are evident on every page. (Now I want to re-read Middlemarch.) Lorna Doone is not a quick beach read, but it’s a good one!

Read more reviews at Cannonball Read 5: http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

Miss Kate’s CBRV Review #3: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent

Image

Set in 1820s Iceland, Burial Rites is a novel based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir. In 1829, she was executed for a double homicide, the last person to be so sentenced in that country.c

At this time, Iceland is a backwater, provincial outpost whose officials have to answer to Copenhagen. There is no prison, so Agnes is sent to a farm to wait out her sentence. It’s a lonely place, and the family with whom she is staying (understandably) distrust her. She becomes close with the young clergyman sent to prepare her soul for the afterlife, and eventually, heartbreakingly, her full story comes out. As we hear of Agnes’ life, you get the sense that in this time and place, a woman like her never had a chance and that her fate was probably inevitable.

Burial Rites is not just the story of Agnes, though. It is rich with a sense of time and place, the descriptions of the stark Icelandic landscape vivid. We witness the effect Agnes has on those around her. As we near her execution time, the sense of dread is palpable. It’s a sad but beautifully written story.

It’s a sad, yet beautifully written story.

Read more reviews at http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

CBR V review #1: A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel

Image

(It’s July! Been reading like crazy, but I never seem to be able to sit down and actually write a review.)

I am a huge fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and the sequel Bring Up The Bodies. I enjoy her spare writing, how she can convey so much in only a few words.

Eager to read more from her, I picked up A Place of Greater Safety. I had no idea what I was getting into. Make no mistake, this is a good book. But it’s not an easy read by any means. It is the story of the French Revolution, as experienced by Georges-Jacques Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, and Camille Desmoulins. Young lawyers from the the provinces, they come to Paris to earn their fortunes. (As a side note: It’s been a LONG time since high school, and am embarrassed to admit that I can’t remember hearing the name Desmoulins before reading this book, although I was familiar with Robespierre and Danton.) Robespierre is slight, rigid, distant. Danton is his opposite – huge, overbearing, loud, sexually voracious. And ugly. That point is made often. Desmoulins is flighty, charming, pretty, a genius, and is a friend to them both. All are ambitious. They talk, scheme, conspire, cheat on their wives, argue and scheme some more.

They are exhausting.

We tend to like our Revolutionary heroes, well, HEROIC. We expect them to be self- sacrificing, uncomplicated, high minded patriots, willing to die for freedom. And personally, I like having a protagonist I can get behind. Perhaps that’s simple minded of me, but generally I need to get invested in SOMEONE if I am to stick to a 770 plus page book. And these are difficult men to root for. Truly. These characters – these PEOPLE – are complicated, frequently unsympathetic. There is no doubt that they firmly believe in their revolutionary ideals, but their fervor often takes a back seat to their personal ambition and appetites. The only one for whom this is not the case is Robespierre, and weirdly this only serves to make him even less sympathetic than the more human Danton. Robespierre is cold and hypocritical, condemning bloodshed on one hand while signing the arrest warrants of former friends with the other.

And this is, I think, where Mantel’s brilliance as a writer comes through. Her characters no longer seem like characters, but human beings, with good points and bad. We are forced to except them for who they are, not who we wish they were. Once I made peace with this idea my enjoyment of this book increased. She made me like the villainous Thomas Cromwell before, and she kept me reading here. (Although seriously? Desmoulins and his antics – and Mantel’s obvious love of him as a character – continued to annoy the crap out of me.)

Be warned. This is not beach reading. There is a cast of thousands, although fortunately there is a glossary to keep them straight. While Mantel writes in her notes that this is not meant to be a complete history of the French Revolution, there were instances where I did more research to understand exactly what was going on, and who was who. The petty rivalries! The squabbling factions! I hadn’t thought about the Brissotins or Girondists since…a really long time ago. There is a lot of information to process here. One criticism I do have is that Mantel will suddenly change the point of view, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph. It happens throughout the book, and made it difficult to know exactly who was speaking/thinking at the time. Sometimes I had to go back and reread for clarification.

We can never truly get into the mind of a long dead historical figure. Mantel does a masterful job of filling in the blanks and framing the action with actual speeches, diaries and letters. I recommend it. Please read it and let me know what you think!

http://cannonballread5.wordpress.com/

CBR4 Review #13: Last of the Amazons by Steven Pressfield

I really like Steven Pressfield as a writer. My favorite book of his is Gates of Fire, about the Spartan stand at Thermopylae. He is able to bring Ancient Greece to life in a way that other authors can’t.

In the Bronze Age (and before Homer), Theseus, the king of Athens, travels on a quest where he encounters the Amazons nation. They call themselves tal Kyrte (the Free People), and live by a strict code of honor. These warrior women are bound to each other in war and marriage. They welcome the Greeks, but when their Queen Antiope falls in love with Theseus, things get sticky. The queen’s defection is seen as a betrayal. Antiope’s tal Kyrte lover Eleuthera leads the Amazon invasion of Greece, with the destruction of Athens as their ultimate goal.

The book is told from 3 points of view: Mother Bones, an Athenian girl raised on Amazon stories, Damon, her uncle, and Selene, an Amazon warrior (and close companion to Eleuthera).

The story is involving. I confess I was unfamiliar with the details of Theseus and Antiope’s story, so I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Pressfield’s descriptions of life on the steppes were, for me, the highlight of the book. We gets sense of the desperation in a culture that’s on the verge of extinction and knows it.

The battle scenes were a bit too detailed for me, though. I found those portions a bit of a slog – not because of the subject, just that who was marching in front of who and where the Amazons dug their latrines just seemed to take up a lot of space. Space that could be filled with more action! But that’s just me. I also felt the ending to be a bit rushed. Pressfield doesn’t seem to have much use for his characters once the main storyline is done. Things are wrapped up pretty quickly. All in all, though, these are minor quibbles. I enjoyed this book.

http://cannonballread4.wordpress.com/

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑