Friday, September 27, 2013

Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever: A Book Review

Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France
Author: Evelyne Lever
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: 2000
Pages: 374
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Married for political reasons at the age of fourteen, Marie Antoinette was naive, impetuous, and ill equipped for the role in which history cast her. From her birth in Vienna in 1755 through her turbulent, unhappy marriage, the bloody turmoil of the French Revolution, her trial of high treason (during which she was accused of incest), and her final beheading, Marie Antoinette’s life was the tragic tale of disastrous circumstances colliding.

     Drawing upon diaries, letters, court records, and memoirs, Evelyn Lever paints vivid portraits of Marie Antoinette, her inner circle, and the lavish court life at Versailles. Marie Antoinette dispels the myth of the callous queen whose supposed response to her starving subjects was the comment, “Let them eat cake.” What emerges instead is a surprisingly average woman thrust into a position for which she was wholly unprepared, a combination that proved disastrous both for her and for France. this revealing story of how Marie Antoinette kept her dignity and courage when Fate turned its back and she lost everything: throne, children, husband, and-- in a very public and cruel execution--her life.

     My Review: Marie Antoinette has always been one of history’s most hated figures. She is known to be the evil queen of France, whose response while watching her subjects starve was, “Let them eat cake!” Indeed, my French grandmother told me stories of Marie Antoinette’s horrible evil deeds that would scare as a child. My grandmothers first words of the story was, “Marie Antoinette was evil, Lauralee, so very evil.” Indeed, at the end of her tale, my grandmother would say, “It was a good thing for Marie Antoinette to be beheaded. She deserved it because she did not care about her people.” However, in Evelyn Lever’s biography of Marie Antoinette, I got the opportunity to separate fact from fiction. It turns out that Marie Antoinette did not say, “Let them eat cake.” Instead, this book tells the tragic tale of Marie Antoinette’s life starting from her idyllic life in the court of Austria to the end of her life at the French guillotine.

     Marie Antoinette, in the beginning of the biography, is described as lazy. She did not like to study and would like to play with her siblings and put on plays. At 14, her mother used her as a pawn to strengthen Austria’s alliances with the most powerful country at that time, France. When she married the Crown Prince of France, Marie Antoinette is stubborn, judgemental, easily gullible, and naive. She makes the wrong decisions that will eventually lead to the French Revolution. During the French Revolution, we readers do admire her courage, and we feel sorry for her losing both her husband and her children.

     Overall, this is a balanced biography of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette lived a sad life, for even at the court, there were pressures that were demanded of her, and when she did not fulfill those pressures, she was mocked, slandered, and criticized. Her life is both a horror story and a morality tale. Indeed unlike the fiction in my grandmother’s tales, I found Marie Antoinette to be a victim rather than a villain. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, and who is interested in learning about the true story of Marie Antoinette.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen: A Book Review

Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
Pages: 338
Source: Netgalley/ Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A writer and his demons. A woman and her desires. A wife and her revenge . . . 

     Inspired by literature’s most haunting love triangle, award-winning author Lynn Cullen delivers a pitch-perfect rendering of Edgar Allan Poe, his mistress’s tantalizing confession, and his wife’s frightening obsession . . . in this “intelligent, sexy, and utterly addictive” (M. J. Rose) new masterpiece of historical fiction. 

     1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism and opportunity, poverty and crime. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering, if only to help her fledgling career. Although not a great fan of Poe’s writing, she is nonetheless overwhelmed by his magnetic presence— and the surprising revelation that he admires her work. 

     What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair . . . and with each clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover. But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed, Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . .

     My Review: Frances Osgood is famous for having a literary courtship with Edgar Allan Poe, but according to many historians, despite their passionate love poems to each other, their relationship was platonic. However, the author, drawing upon recorded events, letters, and Poe and Osgood’s writings, believes that Poe and Osgood were actually lovers. Mrs. Poe at first approves of Poe’s and Osgood’s friendship, but when their relationship grows, she becomes jealous, possessive, manipulative and desperate to keep her husband’s love. The author tells a tragic love story of two women’s love for one man.

     The story begins after the success of Poe’s poem, "The Raven." Frances Osgood, a struggling writer and the protagonist in the novel, strives to have the success as Edgar Allan Poe. She has the fortune to not only meet Mr. Poe, but also to become friends with his wife, who is a fan of her poems. Because she is in the Poes’ inner circle, she soon learns their dark secrets. Soon, her relationship with the Poes begins to create gossip and soon her reputation has become notorious.

     Frances Osgood is, at first, an abandoned wife that strives to support herself and her daughters. She is smart, and compassionate. She is also a little vain for she cares about being in high class society. She does have a moral conscience for when she begins her romance with Poe; she does feel guilty because she knows it is wrong to have a romantic relationship with a married man. Mrs. Poe is frail and sickly. She comes off as childish, but she is known to be highly educated. She adores her husband and is his most ardent fan and supporter of his works. When she finds out about her husband’s love for Frances, she is heartbroken and feels empty and discarded. She is desperate to do anything to win back the love of her husband. However, both the characters of Frances and Mrs. Poe are eclipsed by the character of Mr. Poe himself. Mr. Poe is without a doubt, the most fascinating character in the novel. In the beginning of the novel, he is a ladies man, and even Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, squeals like a fangirl when Mr. Poe is near. He is known to be cynical and makes rude comments to other writers, accusing one of plagiarism. Behind his cynical persona, we find that Poe is a man haunted by his dark past.

      Overall, this novel is filled with suspense, betrayal, obsession, and forbidden love. The characters are well-developed, and the plot is executed very well. The writing is beautiful, haunting, and lyrical. The story is a dark thrilling tale. I would recommend this book to fans of Edgar Allan Poe and gothic fiction.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Daughter of Camelot: Empire of Shadows Book 1 by Glynis Cooney: A Book Review

Daughter of Camelot: Empire of Shadows Book 1
Author: Glynis Cooney
Genre: YA
Publisher: Mabon Publishing
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Pages: 425
Source: NetGalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Filled with terrific suspense and budding romance, Daughter of Camelot is a fast paced adventure set against the turmoil at the end of the Arthurian era.

     Raised in the shadow of a fort dedicated to training Knights of the Round Table, Deirdre thirsts for adventure. 

     Instead, at 14, she is sent to court to learn the etiquette and talents of a young woman. 

     Court life, however, is more fraught with danger than she expected, and Deirdre finds herself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches deep into the very heart of Camelot. 

     All Deirdre thought she knew and believed in—loyalty, love, bravery—is challenged when she embarks on a quest to defy Fate and save the King.

     My Review: This novel is a fictional story whose plot surrounds the mythical tale of the fall of King Arthur. The protagonist is Deirdre, a spoiled daughter of a chieftain who has grown up on the glorious conquest and adventures of the Knights of the Round Table. However, when the fatal prophecy of King Arthur is starting to unravel Deirdre fears that not only does it involve King Arthur’s death, but the death of her world. In an effort to prevent King Arthur’s prophecy, Deirdre embarks on a quest to save the king and her world.

     The setting of the story shows a vulnerable, broken, and divided kingdom. Across the northern borders of Britain are their enemies of Pictavia. Yet within Britain, after the fall of Lancelot, most of the chieftains begin to doubt King Arthur. The realm is torn apart, with some being loyal to King Arthur and others plotting to depose him and put his nephew on the throne. Not only are the political factions divided, but also religion is too. Some are for the old pagan religions, while others are for the new Christian religion. Because of these divisions, the kingdom of Britain was weakening, and may be creating their country’s downfall.

     Deirdre’s character is spirited, bold, and romantic. She is a tomboy and dreams that she will also have a romantic adventure as the Knights of the Round Table. However, she is quick to anger; she sometimes does mean actions and says hurtful things, and she is prone to jealousy. Sometimes she is naive and can act childish. However, she does grow up and tend to make smart decisions.

     Overall, this book is filled with  suspense, adventure, humor, love and loyalty. It is also about friendship and family. However, what I don’t like about the book is that the author needs to work on character development. It is unclear what Deirdre’s gifts are, and most of the characters’ actions are based on telling rather than showing. For instance, Deirdre’s female companion is given a spear and has some training sessions, yet she does not use any of her skills. The romance in the book is forced, for we see none of their actions of their love, but are instead told that they love each other. There are details that are mentioned but never explained. For instance, we learn that a mad monk has killed a dwarf’s father, but we are never told how or why he killed him. The subject is never brought up again, and the reader can just as well forget that it was ever mentioned. Most of the characters are one-dimensional. However, this is a fun novel and is good for light reading. I recommend this book to fans of King Arthur legends.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shadowfell (Book 1 of the Shadowfell Series) by Juliet Marillier: A Book Review

Shadowfell (Book 1 of the Shadowfell Series)
Author: Juliet Marillier
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Publisher: Alfred K. Knopf
Release Date: 2012
Pages: 416
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: It's name is spoken only in whispers, if the people of Alban dare to speak it at all: Shadowfell. The training ground for Rebels seeking to free their land from the grip of the tyrannical king is so shrouded in mystery that most people it to be a myth.

     But for Neryn, Shadowfell's existence is her only hope. She is penniless, orphaned, and utterly alone--and concealing a treacherous magical power that will warrant her immediate enslavement should it be revealed. She finds hope of allies in the Good Folk, fey beings whom she must pretend she cannot see and who taunt her with chatter of prophecies and tests, and in  a striking, mysterious stranger, who saves her from certain death but whose motives remain unclear. She knows she should not trust anyone with her plans, but something within her longs to confide in him.

     Will Neryn be forced to make the dangerous journey alone? She must reach Shadowfell, not only to avenge her family and salvage her own life, but to rescue Alban itself.

     This first novel in a new trilogy from enchanting fantasy author Juliet Marillier is a captivating tale of peril, courage, romance, and survival.

      My Review: In the initial novel of the Shadowfell series, Marillier introduces us to a series of interesting characters, including the heroine, Neryn. Neryn is a teenage fugitive on the run with her father from the evil King Keldec's enforcers. After all, in King Keldec's land, having uncanny, or magical abilities can mean death, or a mind bend, leaving one a shell of a human being. Neryn is possessed of an ability, but how great or how small is it? After being gambled away by her father in a game of chance and then almost immediately orphaned, Neryn finds herself owned by mysterious young man named Flint. Flint seems to know Neryn is more than she seems, and also suspects that the only place left for her to safety is the hidden realm of Shadowfell, where people with uncanny abilities can live in relative peace. At least until King Keldec's enforcers find them, but can they?

      Marillier introduces us to several interesting and mysterious characters in Shadowfell, many who are more than what they appear on the surface. Neryn is obviously a special girl, but just what are her powers, and how can she learn to use them properly? Flint is faced with a myriad of difficult decisions and moral choices. Just who is he, and will he betray Neryn to the enforcers? Other magical creatures are introduced, and they are fascinating characters that will obviously play a larger role in the later books. They are personable, and help Neryn discover with her quest.

      Marillier’s magical world is a bit complex. The weather seems to be mostly cold and dark. It is a symbol for how grim Alban is under tyranny. While much of the setting is left largely to the readers imagination, her descriptions of the northern section where Shadowfell lies is written in great detail. Most of Marillier’s details of the land Alban involve the people Neryn encounters. No one trusts each other, and Neryn has to learn who to trust and who not to trust.

      Overall, this book is a fabulous start to the series. I look forward to reading the next installment in Neryn’s adventures. The only drawback from this book occasionally is that there are sections where magical creatures talk in old English, and it slows the pace of the reading down trying to decipher what they are saying. I would recommend Shadowfell to Lord of the Rings fans, fans Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and fantasy lovers.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney: A Book Review

Author: Ellen Cooney
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Publerati
Release Date: September 16, 2013
Pages: 248
Source: I got this from NetGalley as a request from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: One Family. One Table. One Meal. 350 years.

     This dramatic highly inventive novel presents the story of one family through many generations, as Thanksgiving dinner is prepared.

     The narrative moves swiftly and richly through time and changes as we experience the lives of the Morleys against the background of the historical events. This is history that comes fully alive, for we become part of the family ourselves, sharing their fortunes and tragedies, knowing their truths from their lies, watching possessions handed down and lost forever. All along, in the same house, in the same room, Morley women are getting dinner ready, one part time at time, in a room begins with a hearth of Colonial times and ends as a present-day kitchen.

     Thanksgiving serves up history, in lively, entertaining way that offers an original viewpoint of the everyday concerns of family across the generations.

     My review: Thanksgiving is an American holiday that symbol is a family and tradition. In Ellen Cooney's novel, Thanksgiving, it focuses on Thanksgiving of the Morley family tradition from pre-colonial America to the present time. The story is told in short vignettes from the women's perspective. It is the women who have contributed much to the traditions of the Thanksgiving meal that has been passed down to the present Morley family's Thanksgiving dinner.

     This book is a generational story that starts in 1662 in pre-colonial America from the perspective of Patience Morley and how turkey became the center of their Thanksgiving meal. The novel then continues to tell the story of her descendants. In the background, the major events in American history has affected the Morleys. Some of the events that the author makes references to are: the American Revolution, the Civil War, women's suffrage, WWI, anti-prohibition, WWII, Vietnam War, and the assassination of President Kennedy. It is also enjoyable that despite of the historical references, the author also made modern references like South Park.

     I liked the message of the book, which is that we are still deeply connected to the past. The women in this book are matriarchs of the family. They are independent and are leaders of their household. Each of these women are deeply respected by the Morley men, and it is the women who have made an impact on their family. They are smart and have helped teach the children of the next generation. However, some of the women in the novel are not likable. While these women are strong, intelligent, and independent, some of them can be judgmental, stubborn, fussy, and tend to frequently nag and criticize. These kinds of women I would most likely want to avoid, and I don't want to be near them at a Thanksgiving meal.

     Overall, this is an excellent novel about the meaning of family. This book is filled with family loyalty, humor, and love. The setting is well-developed, and the characters are very realistic. This novel is about how the Morleys still participate in their family traditions. I would have liked this book to start with an introduction of the present Morley family and then go into the pre-colonial times so the reader could have more focus on the contributions that these women made to the modern Morley Thanksgiving dinner. This novel will appeal to people who are not only interested in American history, but also to those who are interested in the importance of family.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars