Sunday, October 26, 2008

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

THE KING'S ROSE is a YA historical novel about the life of Catherine Howard, the fifth of Henry VIII's unhappy brides. It was written by Alisa M. Libby, a Library Thing author. I was fortunate enough to be sent an advance, uncorrected galley copy to read and review prior to its publication, which is scheduled for March of '09. And I do mean fortunate, because THE KING'S ROSE is really good! In fact, from the first page, I was drawn into the world of Catherine Howard ~ a world that is utterly foreign to our own familiar modern sensibilities, yet with strange similarities that pull at the heart.

THE KING'S ROSE was written in the first person, and the story is told by Catherine Howard as if the events of the story are happening as we read them. The pacing is good, the dialogue and descriptions of 15th Century life in England well done, but the characters were the real pull for me. I can also attest to this being an intelligent and honest novel about a young girl (she was only 15 when she was required to wed the aging and ailing king) written for a young adult audience yet also suitable for older adults with discerning taste in historical fiction.

Having read a great deal of history about the Tudor period, as well as enjoying the BBC production about Henry VIII's escapades, I knew what the sad outcome of Catherine's tale would be. Even so, I devoured the story as if it were completely new to me. And, in a way, it was: most of what I've previously read and seen about this young woman (did I mention she was only 15 when she married the 50-year old king?) have portrayed her as a silly, romantic, greedy, weak-willed though cunning whore, yet THE KING'S ROSE paints a quite different picture. Yes, Catherine is a bit silly sometimes, a bit romantic, and she does love pretty things, but she is also an astute observer, has a good idea of the peril she is in, acquiesces to her power-hungry family's commands in everything, knowing she had no choice, and still tries to be a good wife to Henry, though that last is doomed to failure in that vicious court.

I did not come across any historical anomolies such as are usual with writers of Tudor historical fiction (such as Philippa Gregory), but, even if I had, it would have had to be a huge one to ruin the charm of this novel for me. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly for young adults (I'd say from at least 14 years or even older) and adults who enjoy historical fiction.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Broad Street by Christine Weiser

As I may have mentioned before, I'm not a fan of chicklit, but, having read and enjoyed Broad Street, that may change.

For a debut novel, Ms. Weiser's Broad Street is very readable, with good character development and characters for whom I came to care a great deal, an interesting and in-parts quite amusing story, and a writing style that was at times almost elegant. It could have used one more go-through by a copy editor, but otherwise was tightly written but for one minor yet puzzling glitch early on that threw me right out of the story until I decided to ignore it and went on reading. Also, I thought that the very last paragraph (prior to the Epilogue) kind of fizzled (though I won't say more about either because I don't want my review to contain any spoilers).

Other than that, I found a lot to like in the story of Kit Greene, heartbroken and filled with self-loathing after her long-time philandering boyfriend dumps her for another woman. It isn't a spoiler to say that the ex, Dale, a singer in a rock band, is a pretty sleazy character from whom she is well parted, though she isn't quite ready to realize that yet. At a party to which a well-meaning friend persuades her to go, she meets the beautiful Margo, whose current boyfriend Pete is also a singer in a rock band, as well as being about as irritatingly immature and sleazy as Dale. Kit and Margo get drunk together while engaging in a sad bit of male-bashing, and make a pact to start an all-girls rock band of their own, though neither of them are musicians.

What happens in the following months might seem predictable, but it's still fun to follow Kit, who turns out not to be as helpless and self-pitying as she seemed, as she and Margo form their band, scrape together money to hire a place where they can practice, and then find gigs. It would have been particularly fun if I either lived in or came from Philly, where all the action takes place. In fact, I've never been to Philadelphia before, but, after Broad Street, I almost feel as if I know the city.

I won't go further so as not to spoil this for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but I will say that it's well worth the time it took to read, and I will be be looking for more by Christine Weiser in the future. Oh, yeah, and I'll be loaning my copy to my 25-year old daughter who currently lives in NYC and is in theater.

Finally, congratulations to Elizabeth who is the winner of the drawing for a copy of Broad Street. Thanks to everyone who commented and entered the giveaway; I only wish I had enough copies to give to all of you! (But, if you are interested in reading this, you can request it by joining Early Reviewers at

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer

Well, first of all, what a lot of memories were stirred by this book! I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, my mom was raised in Mayor Daley's backyard (so to speak), and I was 20 years old (and pretty wild) in 1968 when the events written about occurred. It was a crazy time, and scary, and what's scarier is that the more things seem to have changed, the more they have stayed the same. Only the names have changed. We are in the midst of social and economic crises ~ as we were in '68. We are in the middle of a very unpopular war ~ as we were in '68. The only difference is that the kids today don't seem to be very concerned about much of anything except having fun, looking good, and getting ahead. So different from the youth of the late '60s/early '70s. In some ways that's not so bad ~ according to Mailer, we were a romantic, highly unpractical bunch, but we sure were idealistic. We were in-your-face rebels. We were prepared to die for the cause.

As for the book itself ~ Mailer seldom wrote "just the facts, ma'am." Instead, he would take off on flights of literary ecstasy, as if he had written those bits while high on speed with a few shots of bourbon as chasers, and I found myself struggling to comprehend and often had to reread whole paragraphs to get the gist of what he was saying. His frequent references to himself as "the reporter" got a little tedious after awhile, and I had to steel myself to get past them. The bouts of self-castigation and soul-searching in which he engaged during those days are described in gory detail, too raw and brutal to be easy reading, but they have made me want to read a biography about the man.

I loved the descriptions of Chicago and its citizens. When he wrote about the riots and the police brutality, I trembled inside, as if it were happening now, all over again. The descriptions of his fellow intelligentsia of the movement and the crazy lengths to which the radicals wanted to take us (though I remember thinking it all made perfect sense back then) were hysterical. And the part where he describes his inspection of the troops and later examination of the barbed-wire covered vehicle was priceless. What they did (or attempted to do) to him for his minor defiance was pretty surrealistic. No wonder, having grown up in that milieu, I still don't like cops.

The first part about Miami and Nixon was interesting but not gut-clenching. It was in the second half, when he wrote about what happened in Chicago, that he took my breath away. Toward the end, I felt like I was on a runaway express train, a juggernaut racing toward a terrible plunge over the cliff, unable to stop myself from turning the pages.

This wasn't an easy book, but it was timely and well worth reading, if for no other reason than the historical political insights, but there is so much more here for anyone willing to make an effort.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

I just finished an audiobook reading of The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman. All I can say is wow.

This is the first book since Find Me by Carol O'Connell that made me cry, yet I never felt that the author was manipulating my emotions (which is, perhaps, why I was able to let go, since the pathos was so subtle and crept up on me that I wasn't prepared).

The entire book was dark, and for at least half of it I disliked the unnamed female narrator/protagonist who was whiny and self-absorbed to the point of cruelty. Through this part of the book, she remains entrenched in the childhood belief of magical thinking, where everything that happens is all about her, a misconception that I myself have to struggle against, even now in my sixth decade.

The last half of the book details her redemption. This part was so powerful and intense that I was left literally breathless and, as I said, I actually found myself sobbing at times. It is a story of a woman who, after a terrible tragedy in her childhood that she believes she caused, retreats into a place deep inside herself that is cold and isolated from humanity and love. From that icy depth she exists, all the while trying to make sense of Death. It is only when she is struck by lightening and survives that she begins to thaw and ends up making sense of Life.

This is a book I am sure I'm going to reread again, it is that good.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Results of Mr. White's Confession Drawing

Drumroll please...

The winner of the random drawing is Irene Yeates! Congratulations, Irene. I will be sending an email requesting your address. As soon as I get that, I'll get the book out to you.

Thank you to all who partipated in my first-ever (of many) book giveaways.