Friday, May 31, 2013

340 (2013 #24). A Dangerous Inheritance

by Alison Weir,
read by Maggie Mash

This book has the subtitle (visible on the print copy) of  "A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower."  Historian Alison Weir uses the ongoing mystery of what happened to the "Princes in the Tower," the young sons of Edward IV of England, as the thread to tie together two stories of two royal women born about 70 years apart.

Lady Katherine Grey (1540-1568) narrates her story in first person.  She is the sister of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, subject of another Weir novel, Innocent Traitor.  Katherine has a rather sad, short life, under the constant suspicion of her jealous cousin, Queen Elizabeth I - as Katherine also has a claim to the throne.

The other story is told in third person, and is about Katherine "Kate" Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of Richard III.  The connection is that Kate was married to William Herbert, who is distantly related to Katherine's first husband (in a non-consummated marriage), Henry, Lord Herbert.  Katherine finds a portrait of Kate in the Herbert family home, as well as a pendant and packet of letters by her (all fictional).

In the letters, Kate tries to puzzle out what happened to the Princes in the Tower, desperately wanting to believe her father had no part in their murder.  Katherine whiles away many of the hours of her imprisonment pursuing the same quest.

Very little is known about Kate Plantagenet - only the fact that she married William Herbert in 1484.  No one knows when she was born or died, and she apparently had no children.  This gives Weir lots of room to build a fictional life for one heroine, going so far as to imagine Kate was in love with her first cousin, John de la Pole, first Earl of Lincoln, who was loyal to her father.

As for Katherine Grey, in her ending author's note, Weir states, "I have adhered closely to the facts where they are known, although I have taken some dramatic license" (page 499). There's a third point-of-view in the book as well - the latter half of the story has numerous "interludes" with scenes with Elizabeth, which Weir says "are there to show Elizabeth's point of view; without them, she comes across as a cruel persecutor" (of Katherine; page 500).  However, these scenes don't change my conclusion that Elizabeth was extremely harsh towards her rather foolish kinswoman.

I listened to most of the audiobook, which is 21 discs (25 hours, 41 minutes) long.  The book is read far too slowly - I had to return it to the library before I was able to complete it.  Narrator Maggie Mash does a good job with young female voices, especially Katherine Grey.  However, the males she voices are frequently too loud, as if they were shouting.  There are also a lot of long and unusual pauses throughout the narration.  This is the first book I've listened to read by Maggie Mash, so I am not sure if that is her typical way, or if she was directed to read the book so slowly.

Nevertheless, I had to finish the book with the print version, which has some useful genealogical charts at the beginning, to help the reader keep the characters straight.  This was an interesting book about two lesser-known women from British history.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my public library.]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

339 (2013 #23). The Silver Star

I thoroughly enjoyed the other two books by Jeannette Walls that I've read - The Glass Castle, her memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional family, and especially Half Broke Horses, her "real-life" novel about her grandmother's life in West Texas and Arizona in the early 1900s.  So, when I had the opportunity to get an advance reader edition of her latest book (to be released June11), I jumped at the chance.

This book is definitely fiction, but I see a lot of The Glass Castle in it.  The main character is called Bean, but her real name is Jean.  Bean has an older sister named Liz (Jeannette Walls has an older sister named Lori).  Their mother, a single parent in this book, leaves them alone frequently for long periods of time while she pursues her own selfish,  unrealistic dreams - much as Jeannette's real mother did.  Much of the story takes place in a small Virginia town.  Jeannette's father grew up in a small West Virginia town, and much of The Glass Castle takes place there.  Walls is definitely writing what she knows.

In the story, when their mother leaves them alone for too long, twelve-year-old Bean and fifteen-year-old Liz, who are half-sisters, head from California to the small Virginia mill town where their mother grew up and their widower uncle, a hoarder (like Jeannette's mother), still lives in the old family mansion.  It's 1970, and the town suffers through some pains of integration of the schools, yet I would hesitate to call this book historical fiction, as that is just a small part of the story.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I don't think its as good as Half Broke Horses or even The Glass Castle (both of which I rated 5 out of 5 stars).  Bean was a spiky, well-developed character, but the others were flat or stereotypical.  Some of the events in the story stretched plausibility.  That works in a memoir and might work in books meant to be humorous (like Jack Gantos' Dead End in Norvelt), but it did not work so well in a story with a serious plot event.  I won't spoil it, because this is a fast, easy read, but I felt a bit let down.  It was as if the book was The Glass Castle Light.  Maybe my expectations were too high since Walls' other books that I've read were SO good.  Since the narrator is a precocious twelve-year-old, perhaps the book will find a more receptive audience in young adults.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[This advance reader edition was given to me by the publisher at the 2013 Texas Library Association conference.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

338 (2013 #22). Anne Frank: Beyond the Diary

by Ruud van der Rol and Rian Verhoeven

Like Inside Anne Frank's House and the Anne Frank graphic biography, this book was produced by the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, the source for many of the photographs in the book, which is subtitled "A Photographic Remembrance." 

This book would be an excellent companion to the reading of Anne Frank's diary by students, probably about grade 6 and up.  While it does not have as many photographs as Inside Anne Frank's House, some of the images were ones I had not seen elsewhere, and the text in this book is more readable (even though it is also translated from Dutch). 

One of the most interesting images is on page 89, of a group of Frank family photo albums retrieved from the Secret Annex at the same time Anne's diary was saved.   I was pleased to see that the family had been able to bring their cherished photo albums with them into hiding, and that the albums have been preserved.  I can see hints of photos in that album that I haven't seen elsewhere. Now I need to search for a book that replicates the albums!

© Amanda Pape - 2013

 [This book is part of my personal collection. It is a library discard purchased at a used book sale.]

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

337 (2013 #21). Inside Anne Frank's House

introduction by Hans Westra, Executive Director, the Anne Frank House

I read this book, which is subtitled An Illustrated Journey Through Anne's World, as an accompaniment to Anne Frank:  The Biography. This is a beautiful, large, coffee-table style book full of wonderful photographs of Anne Frank and her family, the people who helped them in hiding, and the hiding place itself.

The first part of the book is background on the Frank family and the others that hid with them, with (on many of the 33 pages) the bottom fourth of the page devoted to photographs illustrating what was going on in Germany and the Netherlands in the 1915-1942 time period, providing some context. This is followed by a fold-out page with a cutaway diagram of the interior of the building at 263 Prinsengracht where the eight Jews hid.

The next section is the main part of the book, which follows the museum route through the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Hans Westra, its executive director, writes,

After the arrest on August 4, 1944, the Secret Annex was emptied of all its furnishings by order of the German Occupation authorities. To provide a better impression of the situation during the hiding period, color photographs of a temporary refurnishing of both the front part of the house and the Secret Annex, are included in this book. In 1954, black & white photographs of the Anne Frank House were made by the photographer Maria Austria. Many of these photographs also appear here. 

The color photos of the refurnishing are quite interesting - one can see that the eight in hiding were crowded, yet the warm colors and lighting and the quality of the furnishings makes one feel they weren't too bad off. Including the 1954 black-and-white photos was important. They are stark, as most of the rooms were still empty or nearly empty since the 1944 arrest. Anne's attempts to decorate the room she shared with her sister (and later, a dentist in his 50s) with pictures and magazine clippings of movie stars and other things that interested her, are quite poignant, as they appear in both the color and the black-and-white photos.

The final section of the book covers the period after the arrest of those in hiding and two of their helpers, with detail on what happened to each of them.  There's also a discussion of Anne's diary, its publication, and the preservation of the Anne Frank House.

While the photographs are stunning and informative, the text that accompanies them is rather weak and sometimes confusing.  Perhaps the text suffered in translation from Dutch to English.  Nevertheless, the book is an outstanding addition to the body of works on Anne Frank, and especially nice for those who might never visit the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

336 (2013 #20). Anne Frank: The Biography

by Melissa Müller

Like most women my age, I read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a young teenager, and was quite inspired by it.  Doubtless it has a lot to do with why I enjoy writing so much today.  I kept a journal for a number of years that evolved into one much like Anne's - minus the life-threatening situation she was in, of course.

Since then, I've done a little bit of reading here and there about Anne and her life before and after the two years in the "Secret Annex."  This book by Melissa Müller, originally written in German and translated by Rita and Robert Kimber, is an update to Müller's 1998 book of the same name.  It contains 30% more material than the previous version, including correspondence by Anne's father, Otto Frank, with family in the United States as he attempted to emigrate with his family; and more information about the betrayal of the Secret Annex and the fate of the people there.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book, to me, was the revelation about five previously-unpublished pages of the diary in 1998, when Müller first published this book.  They were given to her by a gentleman who had received them from Otto before Otto's death.  Also, the diary I read growing up was Otto's edited  "c-version" of the diary, a compilation of Anne's own original "a-version" (not all of which could be found), and the re-write (the "b-version") she started on May 20, 1944, only 10 weeks before the betrayal, where she re-wrote everything through March 29 of that year.  Now I am very eager to get my hands on a copy of the revised critical edition (864 pages, published in 2003), which lays out these three versions side-by-side to make them easy to compare.  Apparently, though, even this edition has some edits, with 24 words (probably embarrassing to someone still alive) cut from the May 6, 1944 entry, and an entry that should be dated October 30, 1943, placed at November 7, 1942 instead.

But I digress.  Obviously, Melissa Müller's updated biography of Anne Frank has sparked an interest in learning more, as all good biography should do.  The book includes family trees, a number of photographs, an "epilogue" detailing what happened to various people (and the diary and the Secret Annex) after World War II, an afterword by Miep Gies, one of the helpers of those in hiding who preserved Anne's diary, and extensive end notes.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

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

Sunday, May 26, 2013

335 (2013 #19). Outlander

by Diana Gabaldon,
read by Davina Porter

This book was the selection for my local book club for May 2013.  I'd heard of this series (this is the first book) and had always wanted to read it, so I was glad.  However, after finishing this book, I'm unlikely to read any more in the series.

The member who recommended the book and led the discussion has been to the Scottish Highlands, where the book is set, and I can certainly see why someone who's been there would be a fan.  Perhaps I'd feel differently if I'd been there as well.

I started out listening to the audiobook (pictured above).  British actress Davina Porter is fabulous as the narrator, which is the main character Claire from the story.  She also does an excellent job with voices for the other main character, Jaime Fraser, as well as all the other Scots and English in the story.

However - this book is (TOO) long.  It is 627 pages in hardbound and 28 discs in audio format!  I'd borrowed the audiobook from the public library, and unfortunately, I had to return it (someone else had placed a hold on it) before I was able to finish it.  I borrowed the hardbound print copy (pictured left; it has a much prettier cover) from my university library and finally finished the last 50 pages of the book the night before the book club meeting.

The story is a mix of fantasy (Claire finds herself sent back in time from 1945 to 1743), historical fiction, and romance, very heavy on the latter.  I don't mind the sex, but there seemed to be more than necessary in this book.  For me, it got in the way of the historical fiction, my favorite genre.  I got some idea of what life might have been like in 18th century Scotland - but not much. 

I also had some issues with an incident (beginning on page 287) where Jaime beats Claire (and seems to enjoy it), and with some of the awful things that happen to Jaime in later parts of the story.  Again, I'm not a prude, and I realize times were different in 1743 than they are now (or even were in 1945), but I felt Claire was a little too accepting of a beating from a man she supposedly loves and supposedly loves her.  I also felt the descriptions of what happened to Jaime were a little too gratuitous for my liking.  Finally, I found Claire's moral compass to be a little off.  She feels a little guilt about betraying her 20th century husband Frank Randall, but not a lot, once she has (to save her life) to marry Jaime, a 23-year-old hunk four years younger than herself.

Others have done a far better job than me outlining the problems with this book.  Bottom line:I'm glad I read this book to see what all the fuss was about, but am not at all interested in the rest of the series.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook, and a hardbound copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library and university library respectively.]