Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: "Royal Romances" by Leslie Carroll

Hello, hello.

I don't usually read non-fiction (unless it is particularly riveting) but I have particular interest in European royalty, so I gladly picked up Leslie Carroll's most recent non-fiction.

Like many, I am pretty enamored of the goings-on of history’s royal families and I'll even admit that I got up at 5am in the morning to watch the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In Royal Romances, Ms. Carroll delves into this well-loved subject with fervor. Twelve royals are profiled: from the rather obscure Charles VII of France to modern-day Prince William of Wales (hoorah!). Each section features an introduction to the era and the royal in question, followed by individual passages on the women or men involved in the romance.

Overall, the entries make for fascinating reading, though at times there is a little too much detail. As a result, the pace sometimes slows to a crawl. And with the exception of the entries on England’s George VI and Prince William, all of the romances discussed focus on affairs with both suitable and unsuitable paramours. While salaciousness makes for fun reading, only a few imperial love matches can be found in history. Counterbalancing the torrid passions of the nobility with some good old-fashioned “Happily Ever After” would have made this book really shine.

Nonetheless, Leslie Carroll knows her subject and handles it well. Those obsessed with the back door romantic dealings of Europe’s royalty will find treasure in Royal Romances.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Review: "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival" by Jennifer Chiaverini

As promised last week, today I am reviewing Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini. I received an advanced copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

I mentioned last week that I love seeing Civil War fiction on the market. Since my own "Rebel Heart" was set during the same time period and I was generally told by agents and publishers alike that the era is tough sell, I'm glad that some novels set during this period are getting through. Personally, I think novels with anti-slavery protagonists are considered PC enough for publication while novels that tackle the gray areas of slavery get overlooked. Yes, I'm talking about my own novel. But I digress.

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival is based upon real historical characters (for the most part). The main protagonist is Kate Chase, one of the leading society hostesses in Washington in the years preceding the Civil War. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, was an accomplished politician who tried on several occasions to become president, but he was never able to clinch the nomination. Kate is the consummate politician herself, though she does so in the ways afforded to women of the time period. She was a beautiful, witty, accomplished intellectual who with single minded tenacity,
Kate Chase in 1861
sought to forward the political ambitions of her father. But being a paragon often leads to some difficult to swallow character traits. I had a love/hate relationship with Kate. While I admired her determination to excel in a world dominated by men, she could be petty, vain, and prideful. Many of her personal decisions and reactions were lamentable, though she was always spot on when it came to dispensing political advice to both her father, and later, her husband.

The novel itself is fast paced and slow in turns. The first fifty pages dragged along in attempt to bring the reader up to speed on Kate's past. Often the narrative was bogged down with tedious political maneuverings and play-by-plays of daily events. Still, I found myself staying up well past by bedtime on many occasions.

As the ending played out, I found myself wondering why the book was even called  Mrs. Lincoln's Rival as the lady in question rarely appears throughout the novel. She is much talked about, and Kate was clearly her rival in the social world of Washington, but to name the entire novel after a trumped up rivalry was a bit of a stretch. The novel could have stood along on Kate's merits. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel (even if the Civil War was forced into the background and was rather sanitized in its depiction) and recommend it to lovers of American and women's history.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: "Mistress of My Fate: The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot"

Happy New Year folks! My apologies for the radio silence but I was taking a much needed breather during the holidays. But now it is back to work both literally and figuratively. I hope to have more reviews for you in 2014. I've recently acquired an account for Netgalley, and have started reading and reviewing upcoming novels outside of my regular duties for the Historical Novel Society. I'm currently reading Jennifer Chiaverini's "Mrs. Lincoln's Rival". It is always nice to read a novel about the American Civil War. Recently it has seemed to be an untouchable subject in historical fiction, and while I would prefer to see more Southern accounts represented (naturally), it is still good to see some books getting published.

But until then, I bring you a review of Hallie Rubenhold's "Mistress of My Fate: The Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot". It has been on my TBR list for quite some time so when I took a road trip to Virginia in October, I picked up the book on CD from the local library and started listening.

"Mistress of My Fate" follows the triumphs and woes of Henrietta Lighfoot or rather as she began, Henrietta Ingerton. What follows is a fascinating account of a well-bred woman's fall from grace, all in pursuit of love.

Set in the lush and bawdy 18th century, Ms. Rubenhold presents a wonderful historical. It is well researched and thoroughly ensconced in period details. Some authors cannot seem to strike the right blend of historical details; they either go overboard and bore the reader or they casually throw in references in order to maintain the label of historical fiction. Of course she does have a PhD in history with an emphasis on the 18th century so well she should have a good grip on this period. But unlike some academics who try to jump into fiction, she is actually good at writing!

I will admit that the story itself sometimes drags. The author certainly puts the main character Henrietta through her paces, not making anything easy along the way. Things are so hard for Henrietta, that sometimes I was compelled to roll my eyes at yet another obstacle being thrown in the heroine's way. She could be somewhat wishy washy at times as well. I found myself wanting to shake her and scream, "DO SOMETHING!" She whines a lot, but it is so well rendered I could almost visualize her gnashing of teeth and the wringing of her hands.

Despite these flaws, I was compelled to keep reading. Or in this case, listening as I had the audio version of the book. I didn't finish on my road trip (it is very long book) so I was smuggling the CDs into work so I could listen while at my desk! The narrator (Moira Quirk) was brilliant and it was amazing that she could differentiate the large cast of characters. I particularly liked her dramatization of Phillip Quindle.

I am very much looking forward to the second installment of Henrietta's story entitled "The French Lesson" which Ms. Rubenhold is currently working on. For more information on this book, check out Henrietta's website.