11 Jan 2010

Monthly Reading: December'09

This would have been "Historical Fiction Month" had it not been for a couple of "vampire" books my sister gave me at Christmas! ;o)
I don't think I've read this much in a single month in a long time! Not since the last time I had some major travelling hours (in planes/trains/cars) to deal with...

Le Lit d'Aliénor by Mireille Calmel (in 2 parts)
Historical fiction with a Fantasy twist? Centred around one of my favourite historical figures? Count me in!!! This is a retelling of the life of Alienor of Aquitaine who in the 12th century was Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, then the only Queen of France who went on a Crusade and astonishingly managed to get a "divorce" -i.e. annulment- from the King Louis VII and then married Henri d'Anjou (Henry Plantagenet, Henry II of England) and went on to become a Queen of England (mother to Richard Coeur de Lion, John "Sans Terre" etc) who held her own against the King on more than one occasion (as anyone who has seen The Lion in Winter knows) and worked diligently to strengthen her sons' roles and figures as Kings of England. A strong, fiery, intelligent woman who inspired the famous troubadours of old, I read another biography of her (as in young adult novel / historical fiction: Aliénor, Deux Fois Reine by Polly Shoyer Brooks -which I just realised was a translation!) when I was in jr high and since then have been hooked! Amy Kelly wrote an excellent biography (Eleanor and the Four Kings) which reads like a novel, but it has been really fun actually reading a novelised version of Alienor's life again.
This time the story is told through the eyes of Loanna de Grimwald, a direct descendant (through a maternal line of Druid women) of Merlin and Vivian of the Lake. Like her mother and previous ancestors she's sworn to protect and do what's best for England and has been placed in the young Alienor's household by her to be her friend and to guide her through her life 'till Henry of Anjou is old enough to marry her (he is 11 years her junior) and so her wealth and influence (the Duchy of Aquitaine was the biggest in France) can help him claim the English throne that his mother Mathilda has been unable to recuperate. Unfortunately Alienor gets married off to the King of France first and so Loanna has to run interference...
The telling alternates between first and third person narrative (we're not limited to Loanna's recounting of events) and is lively and easy to read. Set in a very interesting period of history, it's a tale of love, passion, adventure, religion, druidism, crusades, troubadours... FUN!

The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
So far my favourite in the series! I so enjoyed it I really had nothing to gripe about for once! :p
Perhaps it's because it feels more "real" by not trying to sneak us into a historical figure's head. It's still first person narrative, but doesn't feel annoying like that in "The Boleyn Inheritance".
So, we're still in Tudor England, during the final days of sickly Edward's reign. We get to witness the acclaimed rise of Catherine of Aragon's daughter Mary to the throne as the first reigning queen of England, and then see her fall from the people's love by her insistence in marrying a Spanish Prince (who helped ruin the country by dragging them into Spain's battles vs France) and in introducing the Inquisition to help save her subject's souls, on the stake if need be. Sigh! Fanatics, always a problem. Through it all we're living the life of Hannah Verde, a secret Jew who with her father fled Spain and after her mother was denounced to the Inquisition as a "marrano" (term for a converted Jew who isn't truly converted, with "dirty blood"). She has visions and is placed by Lord Henry Dudley at court as the "Holy Fool" to King Edward. She later gets sent to Mary (while still a Princess and heir to the throne) and so witnesses the accession and the consequences of all the plotting for the 9-day queen Lady Jane Grey from that end. Mary trusts her completely and so on more than one occasion sends her to Princess Elisabeth because she can't trust her own sister anymore believing her to be plotting for the throne... Tudor intrigues all around! All the time poor Hannah lives in fear that her own secret will be discovered (although she is very good at pretending to follow the "proper" religious practices) and that she will follow her mother's path to the fires of "purification"...

The Running Vixen by Elisabeth Chadwick
Too much of a focus on the romance and not enough on the history, sigh!
For once I should have judged a book by its cover... with this tagline: "A forbidden love takes England to the brink of war", what could I expect? Yikes!
Having just finished reading "Le Lit d'Aliénor" I was definitely up for some more Medieval historical fiction, particularly as this took place a generation earlier and featured two of the same historical figures (Geoffroy of Anjoy and Empress Mathilda). Big mistake. Oh well, live and learn! ;o)

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory
Hmmm... the author is dashing my hopes for her increased quality in writing that I had felt when reading The Queen's Fool. Once again (as in several of the previous volumes) the story feels a bit insipid, lacking a real drive, something to pull us along through the story. We're back to rather superficial tales at a moment in history when so much was happening, it's frustrating! And as a fan of the historical image of a "strong" QE1, the portrayal of one of England's most beloved monarchs in this books leaves me bleh. As for the "Lover" in question, well if I wasn't too fond of Robert Dudley after TQF, I'm even less so after this one!

The Vampire Diaries by L.J.Smith
If you're curious about this tale, don't bother with the books, go straight to the TV series on the CW! They took the bare bones of the original books' plot (two vampire brothers after the same girl, both in their past human life and again now) and fleshed it out considerably. The characters in the TV series feel more real, more alive, more vibrant and with clearer motivations.
My sister gave me these as a Christmas present, and I'm glad because I was very curious about the source material (I'm really liking the TV series! and sooo glad they decided to not make Elena a blond!), but they are typical teenage novels from the early '90s. There's not much substance to them, they're very "dramatic" and "emotionally charged". But they do catch one's interest, pulling you through the story (kind of like Twilight does) because you really want to know what happens next! Must say: woah are they short (made for teenagers' short attention span?)! It's a good thing my sister gave me all four stories (The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, Dark Reunion, in two volumes) because otherwise it would have been quite frustrating! Each book kind of just ends without having a real ending (except for the third), and the story picks up in the following volume right where the previous one left off. No recap, no re-introduction to the characters or the general plot. Nothing. (except for the 4th book which starts 6 months after the 3rd). They have awoken my curiosity as to how the TV series will unfold, how far will the main plot stick to the source material and how much will they make it their own?


  1. The Lion in Winter = Best. Film. Ever.

    (Well, you know, apart from Lord of the Rings and Gladiator and Titanic...)

  2. It's always fun to read things other than text books on break. You'd thing you wouldn't want to read anything - but you do - just not anything that smells of education. :-)

  3. Juliette: Indeed! (although I wouldn't really include Gladiator in that list, lol!)

    Nancy: I've always enjoyed reading on breaks! Actually I've always enjoyed reading at any time in general! :p


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