Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Ruins of Lace (Iris Anthony)

This book will be for sale October 1, 2012.

When I first began this book, I thought to be reading a simple, possibly frilly book about the back-alley lace trade in late 1600's France and Flanders. Imagine my surprise when the story is told from the alternating, first-person points of view of seven different players, one of whom is so improbable, I just did not know how it could possibly flow.
But flow it did! From the almost blind, convent-bound lace-maker who will soon be turned out, to an evil gender-confused Count who believes contraband lace is his salvation, the son of a leper who must smuggle lace to save his family's legacy from said evil Count, and a dumb-as-a-box of rocks soldier honor-bound to find the hidden lace, it was an intricate and intriguing read. (I will not name the improbable player, as I want it to be a surprise to all who read this book.)
This is one of the most satisfying stories I have read in some time. There was nothing frilly about this book, nothing fragile and demure. It was fast-paced, and held no punches.
I highly recommend this book

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Last Empress (Da Chen)

And now for something completely different...

Mentally-disturbed.  Over-sexed.  Selfish and self-loathing.  Meet our hero, Samuel Pickens,son of an up-right and  prosperous turn of the century New England lawyer.  Expected to follow in his father's oppresive and repressed footsteps, he meets the beautiful and fresh young Annabelle after his first tawdry affair with an older woman and his life begins to revolve around her.  Even after her tragic death, her flitting butterfly spirit guides him in his every move, from finishing school, through his first marriage, his parents' deaths and his fateful trip to China, where Annabelle was raised as a Christian missionary.  He becomes the tutor to the effiminate and intelligent puppet Emperor of the Qing dynasty and falls in love with the very young and very jaded Empress Q. Samuel becomes the Emperor's right-hand man to his own detriment, and when he and Empress Q are forced to make a run for their lives, both their fates are sealed and it is just a matter of time before they are discovered. 
The descriptive writing in this book was thorough and poetic, though I felt at times a little convoluted and tedious.    The dialogue is realistic, the characters fully developed.If you enjoy a little Eastern mysticism together with an abundance of individual depravity, this is the book for you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Second Empress (Michelle Moran)

The Second Empress: A Novel of

The Second Empress (August 2012) is a delicious book.
It covers the last 6 years of Napoleon's reign, beginning with the decision to divorce his beloved Josephine (by his own admission the only person or thing he ever really loved) and choose a new bride who can breed for him an heir.  He chooses Maria Lucia, the beloved Austrian princess who has been raised to believe that she will become the regent of Austria for her eldest brother (he is mentally incapable) when her father passes.  Maria and all of Austria is devastated, but if Napoleon's choice was questioned, her father's kingdom would be forfiet.  So she goes and discovers the peculiar and crass court of the Bonapartes. 
The sisters Pauline and Caroline Bonaparte, the former who takes a different lover every week and is convinced she and her brother should be together, and the latter who thinks of nothing but her own kingdom.
As always with Michelle's books, all the characters were interesting and engaging, and although there were secondary characters, there weren't so many of them that they over ran the story and bored the reader.  The story is told from alternating points of view, Pauline's, Maria-Lucia's, and Paul's, Pauline's perceptive Haitian servant.
For all of strict military campaigning, for all of his masogynistic ways (such as pushing his Empress's face into a dish she was eating because her waistline was expanding), he could not seem to control his family.  Their ambition and their selfishness helped to destroy what he had built.

"“From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step”
― Napoleon Bonaparte "

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The King's Concubine (Alice Perrers)

This is the story of Alice Perrers, infamous mistress to King Edward III of England.  The story is told from her point of view, first person, and covers her life from being a foundling raised in a stifling convent, to her escape as wife to the elderly Mr. Perrers, then her unfortunate return to the convent after his death. And of course, her fateful meeting with Queen Philippa and all the timeless drama that followed.
Being told from Alice's point of view, the reader begins to understand her behavior, which at the time was considered scandalous.  This novel asks the question, "Was she a gold-digging, unprincipled harlot, or was she simply doing what was best for the King, and England, and taking what she could along the way?" 
You must admit, she never left the King by choice.  Was that because she couldn't get anything if she wasn't there with him?  Or was it because she truly cared for the King?  Not only that, but what forces were pushing her to behave the way she did? 
This book answers those questions with much insight and poingnancy.  The story never stopped.  I was not bored for a moment, a page, a sentence.  What a life Alice lived!
I adore this book.  I adore this author. 
I definitely recommend this book.  The subject, the imagery, the dialogue, the drama made for an excellent read.