Posts Tagged ‘England’

Someday My Prince Will Come – Book Review

May 2, 2008

Someday coverWhen I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess. I was positive I was going to meet and marry Prince William. In fact, I was so sure that I was going to become a princess that I constantly practiced drinking my ‘tea’ with my pinky finger up in the air. I did that so much that, to this very day, I cannot sip or pour a beverage with my pinky on the glass, can, or bottle. This even applies to pouring soda from a two liter bottle into a cup. Finger in the air. Always.

I’m sure lots of little girls had similar experiences, so I am sure that many of us can relate to Jerramy Fine, author of “Some Day My Prince Will Come” as I did. The daughter of die-hard hippies, Jerramy had an odd fascination with royalty from the first moment she was able to express it. She knew about things like armoires and chambermaids at an age this knowledge seemed highly unlikely – it certainly did not come from her TV-disdaining nudist parents.

I was a fairly fickle four year old. Around the same time I had decided I was to marry Prince William, I ALSO informed my mother than when I was approximately 20 I would be marrying my best friend Ryan. Well, all of these years later I am not marrying either Ryan or William. Jerramy, however, was more unremitting. Not only when she was four, but also when she had graduated from college, she was certain she would one day meet and marry Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, Peter Phillips. “Some Day My Prince Will Come” is Jerramy’s memoir of her quest to become part of the royal family.

I could not decide whether Jerramy was completely fantastic and hilarious, or just completely insane. A bit of both, I think. Half the time I was laughing, half the time I was just shaking my head at her. There but by the grace of God go I, I suppose. I all but read this book in one sitting – had I not started it before I absolutely had to go somewhere, I would have simply read it straight through. This book is really, truly fantastic. Not only is it endlessly entertaining, but Jerramy learns, and shares with us all, some wonderful (but not overdone) morals about the true meaning of loyalty. Go out and find this book!

Buy this book on Amazon – Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess

Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide – Book Review

May 2, 2008

Kings and Queens of England CoverThe fantastic thing about books chronicling the rulers of Britain is that, even if they are from the 1970s, they aren’t all that out of date.

I picked up Jane Murray’s “The Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide” from a library bookstore recently because, well, why not? I am unashamedly interested in British history and British royal history. The last such book I read, Norah Loft’s “Queens of England” was very interesting in that it looked exclusively at Queens, whether they were regnant or not; however, it didn’t keep me from getting muddled about the line of succession from Queen Victoria to QEII (all those Hanovers/Windsors seem to have the same names).

I must admit, I’m still a bit muddled about the more recent kings, but this book cleared things up for me somewhat. As interesting as it was to read about all of the Queens, it is somewhat more instructive (to my mind) to read about all of the actual rulers. One thing I also appreciated about this book, in contrast to Loft’s book, is that it is written for an American audience. Essentially, as the title implies, it was written for American tourists to brush up on their royal history before their trip or carry the book around with them and look up a monarch when they see his or her name mentioned somewhere around Britain. Because of this, it also didn’t have the blatant pro-monarchy agenda of Loft’s book, written just four years later.

Obviously no book can cover every ruler from Edward the Confessor to Queen Elizabeth II in an in-depth manner, but I thought Murray did a good job at hitting the high and low points of each ruler. Definitely enough to help American tourists remember the difference between Edward II and Edward IV. The only odd thing about this book was that it started in the ‘present’ and worked its way backwards towards Edward the Confessor. Although this at first interrupted the flow for me, by the end I think it helped me piece everything together.

Year of Wonders – Book Review

April 28, 2008

Year of Wonders coverThere are certain authors about whom much is said on LibraryThing. Authors like Margaret Atwood seems to be a special favorite, as does Geraldine Brooks. I had never read anything by either of these women and felt quite deficient. I will be reading Atwood’s, “The Handmaid’s Tale” in mid-May for a group read, but I have begun my experience with Geraldine Brooks in “Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague.”

A novel of the plague. Sounds just fascinating, right? Okay, granted, that does sound like something that would be interesting to me no matter what, I am a huge nerd, after all. Amazingly enough, however, I think it is ALSO something that would be interesting to other people.

This novel is based on a small town Brooks happened across in England that was touted as the ‘plague’ town. In 1666 this town was infected by the bubonic plague and they willingly shut themselves off from contact with all of those outside their village from something around an entire year. Not surprisingly, much of the town died (I don’t think this is a spoiler, it was the freaking plague!).

While this is historical fiction, specifically the type of historical fiction which places partially fictional characters (Brooks uses the names of real people only where her depictions are based solely on historical fact) around a real historical event, there is also fantastic character growth and development. I felt that Anna, Elinor, and Michael (at least) were real people that had really gone through this ordeal. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that Brooks found diaries with thoughts and feelings poured out upon their pages, but no, she is just actually that good of a writer.

Whether you are interested in learning something about the bout of plague which ‘plagued’ the town of Eyam in the 17th century or whether you want to read some non-fluffy, solidy written fiction with well-developed characters, Year of Wonders is a book I would highly recommend. I guess all those LibraryThingers were right about Geraldine Brooks!

Go ahead and buy this book on Amazon – Year of Wonders

Queen of Shadows – Book Review

April 22, 2008

Edith Felbar’s Queen of Shadows is the story of Queen Isabella of England, later called the “She-Wolf of France”, queen of King Edward II. Isabella’s story is told by the fictional Gwenith, a Welsh woman who comes to court to serve her. Although Gwenith’s original motive for coming to court is to exact revenge upon Edward for his father’s cruel treatment of her people, she grows to love the Queen she serves.

Edward was an alleged homosexual (although not so ‘alleged’ in Felbar’s novel) who was, like Queen Victoria in Plaidy’s book, frequently ruled by the men around him. In this way he is ruled by the Hugh the Despensers, Elder and Younger. Hugh the Younger (and by some accounts Hugh the Elder as well) was another of Edward’s alleged lovers and exacted a great deal of power of Edward in their relationship, alienating much of the country, including Isabella. The climax of the book, and of Isabella’s story comes in her attempt to take power for herself and her son, and to overthrow the rule of the Despensers.

Queen of Shadows seemed fairly clearly to be a well-researched book, and it was certainly good, but definitely not fantastic. At some points the book moved too quickly through seasons and years, which kept me from gaining much empathy for the characters (real people!) and their emotional states. Yes, you could understand Isabella’s fury at her treatment at the hand of the Despensers, but you could not truly feel it.

This book is another that I would recommend to those who read historical fiction for the specific purpose of having a quick, accessible introduction to historical events. If you are interested in the basic storyline of Edward II and Queen Isabella, by all means read this book. If you want a great novel, there are probably other things that you could choose.

Buy this book on Amazon: Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II

Fact, Fiction, and Phillipa Gregory

April 8, 2008

I just found a very interesting essay/statement on Phillipa Gregory’s website about the fact and fiction in her novels about the Boleyns, the Howards, and the Tudors. She includes some of her research as well as her process. It is quite an interesting perusal for anyone who has read her books.

Sacred History of Britain – Book Review

March 28, 2008

Sacred History of Britain CoverI found The Sacred History of Britain by Martin Palmer on the discount table at Half Price Books for $5. Sometimes there is a good reason that books are on the discount table, but I decided to give it a chance anyway. Religion? British history? A bargain? Count me in!

I am very glad that I gave this book a chance, as it was quite intriguing. In all seriousness, it was a very interesting book. As the title perhaps implies, Palmer traces the idea of the ‘sacred’ from British prehistory, by use of archeology through the advent of Christianity in the isles up to the present day panoply of religions in Britain (including the profusion of Christian sects).

I really appreciated Palmer’s evenhandedness on this subject. He is a Christian, I would guess an Anglican from the work, and he sets out that fact from the beginning of the book so that you can be aware of any possible bias. He was more than willing, however, to be candid about issues the church has had with corruption, etc. He seemed to try very hard to divorce his personal emotions regarding the church from this work. He was almost poetic about some of his experiences with sacred places in Britain, yet he de-romanticized everything from pre-historic religion to the Reformation.

Palmer is a great writer who kept the history interesting and kept the pace of the book moving. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest either in the history of religion or in the history of Britain. Secular history buffs won’t feel preached at and should enjoy a different perspective on British history.

Buy this book on Amazon:The Sacred History of Britain: Landscape, Myth & Power:The Forces That Have Shaped Britain’s Spirituality

Queens of England – Book Review

March 14, 2008

Queens of England coverQueens of England by Norah Lofts is a comprehensive overview of every Queen of England beginning with the wife of William the Conqueror and going through Queen Elizabeth II. It was a remarkably easy read, considering it comprises about 900 years of English royal history. It was also a very engaging read, I learned about many queens I had never heard of, the wives of many kings I had never heard of.

The book, however, definitely had an agenda. While it didn’t ruin the book for me, it definitely dampened my enthusiasm for the the work a little. When I noticed the chapters on each queen start to get much longer shortly before the reign of Queen Victoria (as many pages on Caroline of Brunswick as Elizabeth Tudor? And as many on Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz as Mary Tudor? Really?), I thought that I detected a 19th and 20th century bias. By the time I reached Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II, I realized that a ‘recent history bias’ wasn’t quite what the issue was. The book actually seems to have been written as an apologetic for the modern institution of the monarchy, to establish the long history of English royalty and in doing so argue for its continuation in the person of Queen Elizabeth II.

Lofts directly addressed some specific criticisms against the Queen and in fact attacked what she referred to as the “Age of Criticism.” This aspect of the book made the last two chapters my two least favorite of the book. The book had some other issues as well.

First, Lofts definitely assumed a fair degree of prior knowledge with British history, she would make off-hand comments referring to other events or the fates of the princes and princesses who were the progeny of whatever queen was currently being discussed. As the book was clearly written for a British audience (to whom else would she need to defend the continuation of the monarchy?), perhaps that was actually a fairly safe assumption and, while I was often confused, the nonchalant references sometimes made me simply want to know more about the subjects.

Second, there seemed to be some significant editing errors. There were absolutely sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs, of which I could not make heads or tails no matter how many times I tried. Often these sentences or paragraphs seemed to be flatly contradictory, so I would generally just skip them and read on.

Lastly, I simply wanted more information about many of these women! Some had as little as two pages, including a picture.
However, even with these problems, Queens of England is a book I would recommend to anyone with an interest in royalty, the history of England, or just of the lives of women throughout history.

Buy this book on Amazon: Queens of England

Victoria Victorious – Book Review

March 11, 2008

Victoria Victorious cover“Victoria Victorious” is one of the the longer of the Jean Plaidy books I have read. Now, this makes some sense as Queen Victoria is still the English monarch with the longest reign. However, the length, composition, and flow of the novel reminded me greatly of “Queen of This Realm,” Plaidy’s novel of Queen Elizabeth.

Indeed, Victoria herself seems to be inviting a comparison between her life and reign and that of Queen Elizabeth I. There is a scene near the beginning of the novel where Victoria is young and is playing with her dolls. One of her dolls is a doll of Elizabeth I and Victoria shows a strong amount of disdain and dislike for her, calling her “that doll” or “that Queen.” The emotion seems to be one almost of fear, fear that Victoria cannot live up to Elizabeth, that she can never be as great as Elizabeth. I know very little about Queen Victoria other than what Plaidy presents, but as far as Plaidy’s writings on both queens, it seems Victoria’s fears came true.

There are two things that stand out about Queen Elizabeth, particularly in Plaidy’s “Queen of This Realm”: the first thing is that, above all, Elizabeth is determined to keep the love of her people; the second is that she shall be King as well as Queen and will be ruled by no man. These political determinations of Elizabeth’s serve her well and keep her crown relatively safe on her head. Victoria’s crown seems to be safe only because by that point in British history, the monarch has become largely a figurehead and few outside figures care to challenge her right.

By no means did Victoria keep the love of her people. She had, I believe, 7 assassination attempts, although evidently not all of them were in earnest. Nor did she seem to care to keep the people’s love. Whenever they turned against her, Victoria turned back against them, railing about their stupidity and willingness to be led. Actually, it seemed that it was Victoria who was willing to be led…

I had high hopes for the Queen when I was reading about the girl. When she was younger, Victoria seemed able to stand up for herself and what she thought right, most tellingly to her mother and her mother’s…whatever he was…John Conyer. Once she is Queen, however, Victoria seems to simply float merrily on behind whatever man has earned her trust, be it Lord Melbourne, Benjamin Disraeli, or Prince Consort Albert.

Honestly, this was probably my least favorite of all of Plaidy’s books I have read. However, I do not think that this was necessarily because of failings on her part. First of all, it may be possible that I simply prefer to read historical fiction with a greater historical distance from the present, I constantly found myself trying to figure out the lineage to the current British royals, and perhaps that simply is not as interesting to me. Second of all, the events in Victoria’s queenship seem to come out from nowhere and disappear back to nowhere; however, this seems to be more of a function of her not having a particularly good head for politics, nor being particularly interested in it, at least as Plaidy writes her. Third, I fairly disliked both Victoria and Albert, as well as many of the people around them. Unlike regular fiction, where it is not typically well received to write thoroughly unlikeable characters, historical fiction is trying to convey the lives of real people, many of whom are quite unlikeable. It may simply be that Plaidy found Victoria unlikeable and wrote her thus, without simply giving in to the rumors about her.

Overall, this book seemed a good introduction to the reign of Queen Victoria – no matter how obnoxious and smug I found her husband to be.

Buy this book on Amazon: Victoria Victorious: The Story of Queen Victoria