Thursday, October 24, 2013

Loving Will Shakespeare

Loving Will Shakespeare. Carolyn Meyer. 2006. Harcourt. 272 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

Loving Will Shakespeare was the very first Carolyn Meyer novel I ever read. It was LOVE. Loving Will Shakespeare was also one of the very first novels I ever reviewed here at Becky's Book Reviews. (To be precise, it was my SECOND review.) So I have wonderful memories of this one. I recently decided to reread it. 

Loving Will Shakespeare is the fictional memoir of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. After a brief framework is provided, the novel opens with the christening of William Shakespeare. Agnes Hathaway is in attendance. (I believe she is seven?) The age difference between these two is obvious from the start. The obstacle for the author to overcome is how to create a romance between the two in a believable way when the time comes.

Why did I love Loving Will Shakespeare? I think one of the main reasons is that it was so incredibly rich in detail. I really got a sense of what it was like to live during this time. Through Agnes (or Anne) readers get a chance to see this world up close. The lambing, the sheep-shearing, the sowing and reaping, the holidays and festivals, Twelfth Night and May Day. There is a great sense of community. Also the uncertainty of life. The health risks of living during this time in history. The recurrence of the plague that proves devastating or heartbreaking. The risks every single woman faces with each pregnancy and childbirth. The need for remarriage, the blending of families, etc. 

The other reason may be the presence of Will Shakespeare himself. Though this is a mixed blessing. Will is presented as having a way with words, a true gift, a BIG dream. He doesn't quite fit in his setting. He wants more. He can be charming and work hard. It's not that he's dreaming so big that he's lazy. Readers see him in cozy friendship with Agnes for many years. What he is thinking of this older woman readers can't quite be sure of. But from her point of view, this friendly young man is good fun but not a potential mate. She isn't wow this fourteen year old boy is oh-so-dreamy.

Will Shakespeare is not Anne's first love-interest. She has been disappointed in the past in her crushes and suitors. One man she truly loved--the two were even engaged--but he died of the plague. The wooing between the two [Will and Anne] occur when he's seventeen or so. He's started writing poems--sonnets--and songs. And he's a great dancer. He is persistent and she's willing.

But if this love story has a romantic ending, it's definitely bittersweet. For after just a few years of marriage...Will Shakespeare leaves his wife and three children to go to London to make himself into SHAKESPEARE. He becomes famous and successful. And his family is largely not a part of his life in any meaningful way. Anne is not a nagging wife; one to beg her husband to stay. She lets him go with grace and courage believing that he will do great things.

If music be the food of love, play on...
To be or not to be...

© 2013 Becky Laney

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Caroline the Queen

Caroline the Queen. Jean Plaidy. 1968. 415 pages. [Source: Library]

Caroline, The Queen was my first introduction to the historical writer Jean Plaidy. (It is the third book in the Georgian Saga.) The novel opens shortly before the Prince of Wales, George Augustus, learns that his father (whom he REALLY hated) has died and he is now king. Caroline, his Queen, may be the main character of this one, but she is not our only point of view--far from it. This novel tells many stories from many different points of view.

Husband and wife. The novel spends some amount of time with George II and his wife, Caroline. She is presented as being oh-so-clever. Readers are never allowed to forget for a moment that Caroline is smarter and wiser than her husband. George is presented as a complete fool: short, ugly, boring, bad-tempered, easily flattered. Caroline loves being married to him because she can rule through him. But she has absolutely no respect for her husband. Caroline is presented as noble because she tolerates her husband's many mistresses.

King and mistresses. The novel mentions George II having many mistresses both in England and Hanover. His mistresses are presented as a necessary, oh-so-expected habit. Kings have mistresses, he is now king, therefore, to show how kingly he is, he must have mistresses, the people will love him even more because he is acting like other kings. Future kings must have mistresses as well. To be Prince of Wales gives you freedom to gather as many mistresses as possible and put them on display. Some of George II's mistresses are quite "old" by the time he is king. He visits them on schedule not out of desire but out of habit. The last half of the novel focuses on the King acquiring much younger, much prettier mistresses.

Family. The glimpses we get of Caroline and George as parents is disturbing, at least in my opinion. Frederick, the prince of Wales, is DESPISED by both of his parents. He is their oldest son, but both of his parents HATE him and wish that he'd never been born. Neither wants him around. And he knows it. He hates them both. At one point he's shown as hating his mother even more than his father because he feels his father is just being ruled. Some time is spent on their other children. But I can't say that Caroline and George were extraordinarily good parents to any of their children. Anne, the oldest girl, is given some time in the novel.

Prince of Wales. Some time is spent with Frederick and his friends and mistresses. Readers see people trying to get close to him so they can use him, people trying to get favors. Some spy on him and tell all to the powers-that-be.

Politics. Caroline has several politician friends--notably Sir Robert Walpole and Lord Hervey. She loves power and politics and manipulating things behind the scenes so that George does precisely what they want without being wise to the fact that he's being manipulated. 

The novel was quite interesting and very readable. The characters were all believably flawed; I found no one sympathetic, however. I liked this one. 

© 2013 Becky Laney

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Prince of Foxes

Prince of Foxes. Samuel Shellabarger. 1947. 433 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger. (Thanks Semicolon for the recommendation!) This historical novel was originally published in 1947. It is set circa 1500 during the Italian Renaissance. It features glimpses of four Borgias: Pope Alexander VI, Cesare, Lucrezia, and Angela--a cousin. The hero is an ambitious but not ruthless young man initially in the service of Cesare Borgia. His name is Andrea Orsini. He's been sent to Ferrara in order to pave the way for Lucrezia's third marriage. (The potential groom--or the potential in-laws--are NOT thrilled or receptive to the idea of this marriage.) But Andrea Orsini is good at what he does. He even compels the assassin who was sent to kill him to switch sides. (His name is Mario Belli). But while he is satisfied to stay in Cesare's service when it suits him, when it gets a little too personal, well, he takes a stand for better or worse.

Prince of Foxes is historical romance at its best. Andrea Orsini is a great little hero. He falls hard for the (married) woman that Cesare Borgia promised him. If or when Cesare conquers that city (kingdom-state), Orsini will receive her as his reward for loyal service. Her name is Lady Camilla. She becomes very friendly with him, even flirty, I suppose. But she is a good wife who never leaves Orsini's company without urging him to do EVERYTHING in his power to protect her husband's life. Because his love for her is so strong, so transformative even, he no longer wants to "win" her as a prize. He knows that this husband's death is practically essential to his ambitions, and more importantly to Cesare's ambitions, and, so the conflict will end with him having to make a big decision.

I really loved this one! It is so well written too!

Orsini did not conceal the twinkle in his eyes. "No doubt. There are few who can match the divine genius of my lord Cesare."
"Of course," Lorenzo agreed. He would have liked to add: "Fratricide! Assassin! Bandit!" but he said merely, "Divine genius is well put."
"And let me tell you," smiled Orsini, "that he is not the monster that you people of Venice make him. Is not gossip the mother of monsters, Maestro? He has great ends and lets nothing distract him. Perhaps merely he's too consistent. Hard, if necessary; selfish, yes (and who isn't?); but able, of great virtu and splendor. A valiant prince...I'd wager you'd love him, Messer Lorenzo, unless you stood in his ways."
"Probably," said Lorenzo, doubting it. "I rejoice to learn about him."
"Look you" -- Orsini leaned forward -- "if he were a painter, he would use rich colors. Life is his canvas." (7)
Decidedly, thought Andrea, the illustrious Duke Valentino played in luck. He did not even have to pursue his victims: they came to him. But what could Orsini do about it? Indeed, what did he wish to do? (85)

© 2013 Becky Laney

Monday, October 21, 2013

Charlotte & Leopold

Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of the Original People's Princess. James Chambers. 2007. 256 pages.

During her life, Princess Charlotte was the most popular member of the royal family. She was more popular than her grandfather, George III, and her father, the Prince Regent (George IV). Her life was certainly interesting. Her father and mother were CHARACTERS. They often made fools of themselves to the media and society in general. They were always fighting one another, always bickering, always trying to outdo one another. I'd already read a biography of Caroline. The focus on her parents is almost necessary to explain her childhood and upbringing. It also helps explain her popularity, to a certain degree.

The second half focuses on her love life, on her suitors and would-be suitors. The book focuses, of course, on the man she married, Prince Leopold. He's an interesting character as well! And his story does not end with his wife's death. The last chapters of the book follow his life...

I liked this one. I did. I also really loved Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain's Greatest Monarch. The books overlap on their focus of Princess Charlotte. Both books bring the Georgian royalty to life, highlighting some of the more interesting members of the family!

© 2013 Becky Laney

Monday, October 7, 2013

Great Tales From English History, vol. 3

Great Tales from English History, volume 3. Robert Lacey. 2008. Little, Brown. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

This is the third volume in Robert Lacey's Great Tales from English History. I have reviewed both previous volumes: one, two. It covers the years 1690-1953. Diverse subjects are covered as well: religion, politics, science, philosophy, war, inventors and inventions, explorers and travelers. One thing I definitely noticed was the focus is less on royalty and the aristocrats.
The job of the historian is to deal objectively with the available facts. But history is in the eye of the beholder and also of the historian who, as a human being, has feelings and prejudices of his own... So let me try to be candid about some of my own prejudices. I believe passionately in the power of good storytelling, not only because it is fun, but because it breathes life into the past. It is also through accurate narrative--establishing what happened first and what happened next--that we start to perceive the cause of things, and what influences human beings to act in the noble and cruel ways that they do. I believe that nobility actually secures more effective outcomes than cruelty, though the story of the slave trade in the pages that follow might seem to challenge that. I also believe that ideas matter, that change is possible, that knowledge dispels fear, and that good history both explains and facilitates all those things. (3)
Overall, this series has been wonderful. I've loved these short tales. I've loved the focus on individuals, loved the chronological arrangement, loved seeing the big picture come together. I enjoyed the first two volumes in this series a little bit more than this third and final volume. But I am so glad I discovered the series!!!

Highlights from this volume include:
  • John Locke and Toleration
  • Union Jack
  • Britain's First Prime Minister
  • Born Again
  • Dick Turpin -- Stand and Deliver
  • God Save the King!
  • Dr. Johnson's Dictionary
  • The Madness of George III
  • Wellington and Waterloo
  • Stone Treasures Mary Anning and the Terror Lizards
  • I Will Be Good -- Victoria Becomes Queen
  • Prince Albert's Crystal Palace
  • Women and Children First -- The Birkenhead Drill
  • The Lady of the Lamp and the Lady with the Teacup
  • The Great Stink and the Tragedy of the Princess Alice
  • The King's Horse and Emily Davison
  • The Greatest History Book Ever
  • Dunkirk -- Britain's Army Saved by the Little Boats
  • Battle of Britain -- the Few and the Many
  • Code-making, Code-breaking - 'The Life That I Have'
  • Decoding the Secret of Life
Horrible Histories connections:

Dick Turpin
George the I Doesn't Understand English (Creation of First Prime Minister)
Born 2 Rule (The 4 Georges) (song)
Bonnie Prince Charlie
Queen Victoria and Albert(song)
Victorian Inventions (song)
Transportation Song
Florence Nightingale 
Mary Seacole Song
Suffragettes Song
RAF Song
Stinky Parliament
Napoleon Report

© 2013 Becky Laney

Friday, October 4, 2013

Roses Have Thorns

Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I. Sandra Byrd. Simon & Schuster. 336 pages.

I just LOVED this one! I remember really enjoying Sandra Byrd's previous novels in this series--the Ladies in Waiting series, but this one may just be my favorite!!! The first novel is To Die For; the second novel is The Secret Keeper.

The heroine of Roses Have Thorns is Elin von Snakenborg (aka Helena, Marchioness of Northampton). Elin travels to England in the service of a Swedish princess; she remains in Britain to serve Queen Elizabeth. Elin has fallen in love and plans to marry. Until the time her marriage can take place--certain things have to be put in order first--she will joyfully serve Queen Elizabeth. There is some adapting to be done, of course, but Helena does settle into her new life.

Roses Have Thorns is dramatic and romantic. And as you might have come to expect from any book on this time period--politics! If you love reading about the Tudors, then Sandra Byrd's series is a must!!! I've read a handful of books set during Queen Elizabeth's reign, and this is one that presents her at her best and worst. In other words, she's believably human.

I loved so many things about this one!!! I loved getting to know Helena. I loved seeing the details of court life! The writing is wonderful!
© 2013 Becky Laney

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper. Sandra Byrd. 2012. Simon & Schuster. 352 pages.

I really enjoyed Sandra Byrd's To Die For. I equally enjoyed her newest novel, The Secret Keeper. Like To Die For it is set during the reign of Henry VIII, readers get the opportunity to view Henry VIII's last wife through the eyes of one of her closest friends. Juliana is our heroine, and she's in the service of Kateryn Parr. These two companions come to be close friends through the years which gives Juliana plenty of perspective on court life and the king and his three children.

While the book doesn't exclusively focus on the English Reformation--the Protestant Reformation--it certainly is one of the strengths of this one. Faith, religion, politics, and power struggles, this book has them all. The book also explores women's roles and rights. Intelligent, strong-willed, passionate-for-a-cause women who spoke out were taking a big risk. The book suggests to a certain degree that women had to use their power subtly and behind the scenes.

The narrative is personal, and it's a redemptive love story in a way. I definitely liked it and would recommend it.

© 2013 Becky Laney