Monday, January 15, 2018

778 (2018 #1). Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession

by Alison Weir

This is the second in noted Tudor historian Alison Weir's fictional series, "Six Tudor Queens," about the wives of Henry VIII.  At 541 pages, this one is a little shorter than the first in the series, but would still have benefitted from some trimming.  The long seven years when Henry was waiting for his first marriage to be annulled are quite tedious.

Much more interesting were the first and last parts of the book.  I knew Anne Boleyn had spent time in the French court, but was not aware that she had also spent time in the Netherlands under the regency of Margaret of Austria, who was a capable ruler.  Weir implies that these two experiences led to Anne's progressive attitudes, and she also supposes that Anne did not love Henry beyond his capability of putting her in a powerful position.

Once Anne and Henry do marry, the book gets interesting again.  Weir sets up various situations that could explain Anne's innocence of the charges later brought against her.  Her depiction of Anne's death is rather gruesome.  All her suppositions are explained in an eight-page author's note, but there are no references in this work of fiction.  Oh, and the family tree at the beginning of the hardbound edition I borrowed is very messed up in layout.

Weir sums up her purpose with this book in the author's note as follows:

In writing this novel from Anne's point of view, I have tried to reconcile conflicting views of her, and to portray her as a flawed but very human heroine, a woman of great ambition, idealism, and courage who found herself in an increasingly frightening situation.

I think Weir succeeded.  I will be reading the rest of the books in this series.

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Sunday, December 31, 2017

777 (2017 #75). A Time to Grieve

by Carol Staudacher

My cousin and his wife sent me this book after the recent death of my father, with a note that it had brought him "some comfort and solace" as he'd lost his mother just seven months before.

It did bring me comfort and solace.  The book is divided into three sections, to correspond with three "broad and overlapping" (page 2) phases of grief:  Retreating, Working Through, and Resolving.  Each section has a number of quotes from others who have been through grief, with each quote followed by observations and an affirmation or meditation. 

Although it's not recommended to use the book this way, I read it straight through, for the first reading.  I found myself turning down the corners of pages where the topics spoke to me.  Given that I started reading this a good six weeks after my father's death, it's not surprising that nearly all of my turned-down corners were in the Working Through section (which is also the longest section).

The book has an index to some of the emotions and feelings one might experience during the grief process, so you can go directly to the relevant pages.  I expect to go back to this book often in the coming year, folding down new corners, and likely turning others back up.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received this book as a gift from my cousin, and plan to hang on to it for a while.]

Friday, December 29, 2017

776 (2017 #74). Hap & Hazard and the End of the World

by Diane DeSanders

I didn't like this book.

I chose it from the November batch of LibraryThing Early Reviewers books based on the described setting (1940s Texas, Dallas after World War II), a blurb from a Booklist review ("“Paints a vivid picture of childhood in postwar America"), and the fact that the parents in the story are named Dick and Jane, who were the main characters in popular basal readers used from the 1930s through the 1960s.  I had to wonder if that was intentional. Author Diane DeSanders is a 5th-generation Texan and a history teacher, so I guess I was hoping this book might be historical fiction.

Instead, it reads more like a memoir of an unnamed daughter in a dysfunctional family.  It bothered me that this second-grader narrator was never named.  I found the entire book to be rather depressing, and I didn't really get the sense of place that I was hoping for.  If I hadn't needed to write a review for Early Reviewers, I'm not sure I would have finished it.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

775 (2017 #73). The Atomic City Girls

by Janet Beard

The title of this book is misleading - only two (half) of the main characters are women - and one has to wonder if author Janet Beard, who was born and raised in eastern Tennessee, titled it this way because of  Denise Kiernan's bestselling nonfiction, The Girls of Atomic City (which I now want to read).

Joe is a black man from Alabama who is part of a construction crew building plant facilities and the town of Oak Ridge to house all the workers needed for a top-secret operation.  Sam is a Jewish physicist from New York who previously taught at Berkeley, hired for the science side - he knows they are manufacturing the uranium needed for an atomic bomb.  June and Cici are Tennessee girls, two of many women hired to monitor dials and switches on big machines called calutrons - and to not ask any questions.

The fictional stories of these characters pale beside the descriptions of life in Oak Ridge in late 1944 into 1945, something I knew nothing about.  Indeed, for me the most interesting aspect to this book were the period photographs from Oak Ridge.  I hope that the final version of the book includes these, preferably larger, and definitely with captions to provide more information about them, as these black-and-white images from the 1940s are all governmental works and thus in the public domain.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[I received this advance reader edition through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Saturday, December 23, 2017

774 (2017 #72). Katharine of Aragon, The True Queen

by Alison Weir

Noted Tudor historian Alison Weir has started a new series, "Six Tudor Queens," about the wives of Henry VIII.  At 602 pages, this first one in the series is probably a couple hundred pages too long.  For me, it dragged at times, particularly in the years after Henry sent her into exile.  But with the author being Weir, you know it will be close to the truth.  In her author's note, Weir states that "many of the letters quoted in the text are genuine, even if I have slightly modernized the language.  The same is true of a substantial amount of the dialogue."

The book covers Katherine's arrival in England in 1501 as the bride-to-be for Henry's older brother, Arthur, through her death in January 1536.  There are family trees (as of 1501) in the front of the book, but no bibliography, only mention in the author's note of "recent research by Giles Tremlett and Patrick Williams" who also wrote recent nonfiction books about Katherine.

Weir sums up her purpose with this book in the author's note as follows:

I have tried to show...that modern preoccupations with women's rights, feminism, and political correctness had no place in [the past].  Katherine's situation, as a woman, and her willing subjection to Henry in all things except those that touched her conscience, may seem shocking to us, but for her they were normal, right, and not to be questioned.
I have tried in these pages to evoke the sights, textures, sounds, and smells of an age, a lost world of splendor and brutality, and a court in which love, or the game of it, held sway, but dynastic pressures overtook any romantic considerations.  It was a world dominated by faith and by momentous religious change...This was Katherine's world, and we can only understand her properly within its context.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Thursday, December 21, 2017

773 (2017 #71). The Translation of Love

by Lynne Kutsukake,
read by Nancy Wu

This novel by debut author Lynne Kutsukake explores a little-used setting for historical fiction:  post-World War II Japan, during its occupation by the United States.  The story is told through five voices:  twelve-year-old girls Fumi and Aya, their male teacher Kondo, Fumi's older sister Sumiko, and Cpl. ­Yoshitaka (Matt) Matsumoto.  Aya is a Japanese-Canadian "repatriated" with her native Japanese father to his homeland after the war.  Sumiko works as a bar girl, entertaining American occupation troops, to buy food and medicine for her family after her father's bookstore is bombed out.  Kondo moonlights translating and writing letters in English, mostly for bar girls whose American boyfriends have gone home.  And Matt, a Japanese-American whose family was interred in the war (despite his older brother earning a Purple Heart when killed in action in Europe), works for General Douglas MacArthur's office as a translator.

Sumiko goes missing and Fumi gets the English-speaking Aya to write a letter for her to MacArthur asking for his help finding her.  The girls end up giving the letter to Matt, and he and an office typist, Nancy (another Japanese-American, but one still trapped in Japan since Pearl Harbor) decide to help the girls find Sumiko.  Kondo gets pulled into their story as well.

In an article, the Japanese-Canadian Kutsukake said,

The idea came from a book called Dear General MacArthur, written by Japanese historian Rinjirō Sodei. The book is a study of the letters written to General MacArthur during the occupation period...So I began thinking about what kind of person would write a letter to General MacArthur.... I wanted the person to be a 12-year-old because General MacArthur quite famously called Japan "a nation of 12-year-olds."

Nancy Wu is an appropriate narrator for the audiobook and makes the 12-year-olds sound just their ages.  This was a great debut novel about a time-and-place setting that I knew little about.

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The e-audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

772 (2017 #70). The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah,
read by Polly Stone

Wow, what an incredible book.  "The Nightingale" is the code name for a member of the French Resistance during World War II, and it's also the last name (in English) for three characters in the book, Vienne Rossignol Mauriac, her younger, single sister Isabelle Rossignol, and their father Julien Rossignol.  They are each part of the resistance, in different ways.  Vienne's story in some ways is the most compelling, for she has to pretend to be "normal" both for the sake of her children and because of the German officers billeting in her home.

Kristin Hannah states in her author's note and a conversation in the reading group guide that she the inspiration Isabelle on a "young Belgian woman named Andrée de Jongh, who had created an escape route for downed airmen out of Nazi-occupied France" while researching the Siege of Leningrad (also in World War II) for her novel Winter Garden (which I found disappointing).

I think this book succeeds because it's all historical fiction, not a blend between that and contemporary realistic fiction as is Winter GardenPolly Stone was an excellent reader - she has lived in France, and it shows in this audiobook, which won the 2016 Audie Award for Fiction and was a finalist for best female narrator and Audiobook of the Year. 

© Amanda Pape - 2017

[The audiobook, and an e-book for reference, were both borrowed from and returned to my university library.]