Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The King's Grace by Anne Easter Smith

Book Description:

All that history knows of Grace Plantagenet is that she was an illegitimate daughter of Edward IV and one of two attendants aboard the funeral barge of his widowed queen.  Thus, she was half sister of the famous young princes, who—when this story begins in 1485—had been housed in the Tower by their uncle, Richard III, and are presumed dead.

But in the 1490s, a young man appears at the courts of Europe claiming to be Richard, duke of York, the younger of the boys, and seeking to claim his rightful throne from England's first Tudor king, Henry VII.  But is this man who he says he is?  Grace Plantagenet finds herself in the midst of one of English history's greatest mysteries.  If she can discover the fate of the princes and the true identity of the mysterious man, perhaps she will find her own place in her family.

My Review:

I enjoyed this book very much.  I have my doubts whether the mystery of the two princes in the Tower will ever be solved, but this book presents such a convincing story of what might have really happened that it almost seems as if the author was there.

The characters were all very well fleshed-out and even Elizabeth Woodville was mostly sympathetic.  I loved Grace Plantagenet from the very beginning of the story.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Book Description:

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster.  If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war.  Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn.  The pope and most of Europe oppose him.  Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell:  a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition.  But Henry is volatile:  one day tender, one day murderous.  Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?  In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is "a darkly brilliant reimagining of life under Henry VIII....Magnificent" (The Boston Globe).

My Review:

I believe one of the main objectives of any writer of historical fiction is to provide a motive for why a historical person acted as they did; to give them conversations and actions that seem to fit the character as the author has envisioned it.  In that respect, Hilary Mantel has done an excellent job.  Not much is really known about Thomas Cromwell, and Ms Mantel has created a living, breathing, complex human being.  His actions and words throughout the book seem eminently plausible.  I have a much better understanding of the events of that time than I ever did before.  I felt sympathy for nearly every character in the story.

However, Ms Mantel's writing style is abrupt and choppy in the extreme.  I found myself looking forward to finishing the book!  Her point of view is awkward and she rarely refers to Thomas Cromwell by anything other than "he," so I found myself having to read sentences and even whole paragraphs over again to determine if the "he" was still Cromwell or someone else this time.  Very exasperating!

Still, it was a good book, and many others have given it rave reviews, so lovers of historical fiction may like it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Book Description:

In 1905 a young kitchen maid leaves Fairley Hall.  Emma Harte is sixteen, single and pregnant.

By 1968 she is one of the richest women in the world, ruler of a business empire stretching from Yorkshire to the glittering cities of America and the rugged vastness of Australia.

But what is the price she has paid?

A magnificient dynastic saga, as impossible to put down as it is to forget.  A Woman of Substance is truly a classic novel of our times.

My Review:

While I wouldn't put this book in the same league with Gone With the Wind as some people have, I did enjoy the story immensely.  The characters were fully and richly conceived.  My only complaint there was that Emma sometimes seemed to good to be true.  Some of the other characters were just a little too despicable, too.

The story kept my interest throughout.  I enjoyed the plot twists and turns, and I especially enjoyed the descriptions of clothing, buildings and furnishings.  However, since I prefer historical fiction, primarily in the 16th and 17th centuries, the time period of the early- to mid-20th century didn't really grab me.

This is the second book I have read by Barbara Taylor Bradford, and this one was far superior to Her Own Rules.  Since this was Ms Bradford's first book, I assume she put everything she had into it.  She also wrote two sequels to A Woman of Substance, and I wouldn't mind reading them, if they happen to come along, but I won't go out of my way to get them.  I suspect they will not be as good as this book, plus they will undoubtedly focus on a more current time period, even, than this book did.