Monday, December 20, 2010

We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners and Rivals by Gillian Gill (2009

I read We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners and Rivals by Gillian Gill (2009) and quite frankly couldn't put it down. The Victorian royal family and their many descendants have held a fascination for me for years, and I didn't think an author could possibly put a new spin on one of the most famous relationships of all time. But Gill's work is incredibly interesting and fresh. The subtitle "rulers, partners and rivals" certainly captures the flavor and tone of Gill's dual biography.

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (2010)

I read The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (2010) and I was incredibly disappointed. A boring Gregory book? Anathema! I can only suppose what went wrong - perhaps she was contracted to write so many books in this new Cousin's War series a year, and so has to churn them out without her usually thought and care. Perhaps Margaret Beaufort Tudor Stafford Stanley isn't as interesting a character as Elizabeth Woodville - too much piety and conniving coldness and not enough sexy witchiness. Although thinking more deeply about Margaret BTSS and picturing her, you come up with an incredibly interesting story - this young woman plotting and plotting and plotting her whole life. She could have been plotting for herself, but instead she put her son first. (I actually think the whole point of the book was that she did plot for herself and her own personal power, but it was a boring, unedited, sketchy, disjointed journey to that point).

I can only hope that if the Cousin's series continues, the next one will be as good as The White Queen or The Other Boleyn Girl or The Queen's Fool. I kept wondering who would be the next historical character in the usually deliciously gossipy spotlight - Princess Elizabeth who married Henry Tudor? Sad Anne Neville? (I just looked it up - Jacquetta of Luxumbourg, then Princess Elizabeth; interesting...)

When Gregory is good, she's fantastic. Usually when she's bad, she's still interesting. That's what made this book such a disappointment.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We Two: Victoria and Alberty, Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill (2009)

I am reading We Two: Victoria and Albert, Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill (2009) (which I am enjoying immensely) and The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory (2010) (in which I am immensely disappointed). What has struck me is how young everyone is. Victoria becomes queen at age 18. She marries 20 year old Albert when she was 21. In The Red Queen, Edward IV becomes king at age 19. Margaret Beaufort starts plotting for her young son Henry Tudor at age 17. No wonder we've had so many wars - the life expectancy assured the world for much of history that most people were impetuous teens and twenty-somethings. I remember the hideousness of being a teenager and the non-stop drama and romance of being a twenty-something. Add the heady rush of war and royal politicking to the mix, and you end up unreflective impassioned and probably pretty dangerous diplomacy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We Two: Victoria and Alberty, Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill (2009)

I am reading We Two: Victoria and Alberty, Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill (2009) and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I've read so many books about Victoria and her family that I didn't think I could discover anything new to know. But Gill puts a new spin on the poisonous relationship between Conroy and Victoria, pointing out (quite astutely, I think) that Conroy was a genius as PR whose germ created the modern gemutlich Royal Family. He's always portrayed as this machiavellian machinator whose every move is to thwart the freedom of Victoria for his own gains - this bit of revisionist cheerleading for Conroy provides some new food for thought!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mark Twain: Man In White, The Grand Adventure of His Final Years by Michael Shelden (2010)

I read Mark Twain: Man In White, The Grand Adventure of His Final Years by Michael Shelden (2010). It's a surprising pageturner and incredibly sad. I knew some bare bone facts about Mark Twain and enough of his emotional life to know that his humor hid a dark side. But the last years of his life were heart breaking. A man full of such joy and lust for life, struck by tragedy after tragedy. He definitely knew the highest highs and the lowest lows. Still, when it's all said done, I hope I can be a "man in white" at the end of my life. Mark Twain was a one-man red hat society, long before it's existence.

I love the interplay between Twain's daughter Clara and himself - that classic problem of being the daughter of a famous man!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Homesick: My Own Story (1982) and China Homecoming (1985), both books by Jean Fritz

I read Homesick: My Own Story (1982) and China Homecoming (1985), both books by Jean Fritz. I think they are the only books by Jean Fritz I've ever read, although I'm familiar with some of her other books.

As a child, why do we love the books we loved?

Homesick was one of my favorite books growing up. I remember Mrs. Stadelman, by public librarian, giving me the book (although I could be wrong about that; memory is a faulty thing). If it was a new book to the library when she handed it to me, I must have been in fifth or sixth grade. Like all books, it was a whole new world completely different from little Wilson, Kansas (pop. 1000). No one wrote about small towns like Wilson for kids back then, and I'm not sure they do now. What I read and loved then took me to other places besides Wilson - to China, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, to other places in New York City, or to unnamed towns with unfamiliar family structures. Rural life, when depicted, was from the past; there weren't any modern farm kids in children's lit back then. If there are modern farm kids in children's lit now, they are migrant workers; and small towns like Wilson still aren't depicted in children's lit. Most writers must live in big cities.

That probably didn't matter to me anyway back in 1982 - I wanted to escape from Wilson, not read about it. China in the 1920s was a good escape - rickshaws and revolution and servants. But Jean's life was also almost the same as mine too - bullies, bossy adults, innocence lost. Those are common themes to kids of all ages from all time periods.

China Homecoming I discovered much, much later - in 1985, when it was published, I had stopped reading books for kids (although secretly I was probably still reading them) and moved on to books for adults. I can't remember when I found China Homecoming - in college maybe? At least late high school - and was so pleasantly surprised to find out what happened to Jean. Back when I read it, China was still waking up, so what Jean described when she visited China in the early 1980s was just starting to change into the China we know today. It's a completely different place now, and I wonder if Jean has returned since then. She's apparently still alive - I can't find any mention of her death anywhere online. I wonder what she thinks about China now.

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