Thursday, December 24, 2009

C is for Carolly Erickson

Here is a review I wrote for Historical Novels Review regarding Carolly Erickson's latest novel:

Historian and novelist Carolly Erickson takes another foray into fiction and delivers a sweeping tale spanning the life of Mary Queen of Scots. The novel, told from Mary’s point of view, focuses on the queen’s whole life, not just the time she spent in captivity, which adds more life to the story and gives readers a more complete picture of who Mary Stuart was.

The story begins with the young Mary’s betrothal and marriage to the king of France, which did not last long before the young, sickly king died. Her mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, is portrayed as an imposing and cruel figure in Mary’s life, and Mary rightfully fears what will happen to her if she remains at the French court. The widowed queen feels very alone with only her beloved grandmother there to support her. Mary returns to her birth land of Scotland after the death of her mother, the ruling regent. She is quickly surprised by the different life she is thrust into and must quickly adjust from the serene, cultured French court to the rough, undisciplined ways of Scotland. Mary is living in turbulent times, with very little guidance, and fears betrayal and uprisings at every turn. Her cousin, Elizabeth I, who always viewed Mary as a threat, plays a very small role in the novel. Instead, the book is more focused on the relationship between Mary and her second husband, Jamie, Earl of Bothwell.

Erickson writes from the perspective of what if and fills in the gaps that history has left. Her style makes for an entertaining story about imagined events and people in the life of the Queen of Scots. As long as readers are not looking for historical accuracy in every part of the plot, they should be pleased with Erickson’s take on the life of the headstrong and tragic queen.

I also really liked her nonfiction book Royal Panoply: Brief Lives of the English Monarchs. Erickson, the author of several royal biographies and fictional accounts of historical figures, brings readers a brief introduction to each of the English rulers. Starting with William the Conqueror and ending with the present queen, Elizabeth II, Erickson devotes about ten pages to each monarch. She focuses on each monarch’s entire life, from birth to death providing engaging details and entertaining facts about each royal over 1000 years of Britain’s past. A recommended read for those interested in English history but want the short version of it!

B is for Burning Bright

I have to admit that Burning Bright is my least favorite of all of Tracy Chevalier's books. But I was very excited for this one because I love William Blake- both his poetry and art. When I was in library school, my archives class took a field trip to one of the museums in Tucson, AZ which had a few of Blake's prints from his Book of Job series. I was estatic!
So, I was really looking forward to this novel. I even interviewed Tracy Chevalier for Public Libraries. We had a great conversation, and I learned that she is really down to earth and that we both shared a love for unicorns when we were children. If you have never read Chevalier before, I'd start with her famous Girl With a Pearl Earring. My favorite though is The Lady and the Unicorn. The Virgin Blue is also an excellent read.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A is for Abundance

Marie Antoinette states, “Like everyone, I am born naked,” at the opening of Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund. Her remark sets the tone for what follows- a fictional memoir of her life where we learn that underneath all the glitz and glamour of being the queen of France, she’s a regular woman like everyone else. Marie Antoinette recounts her life from her baptism in the Rhine to be reborn a French citizen all the way to the final moments before she faces the guillotine. Readers get a taste of French food, architecture, music, and the palace of Versailles while we learn about how Marie Antoinette comes to court a silly young girl aimed to please and grows into a woman through the experiences of motherhood and loss. Even though we know how the story ends, Naslund does an excellent job of telling it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge

I decided that I am going to participate in Historical Tapestry's "The Alphabet in Historical Fiction" challenge. Over the next year, I'm going to go through the alphabet, and take a look at historical novels that fit the letter of the week. I have a feeling that many will be ones that I have previously read since I am so busy with reading for reviews and book diuscussions. I will try though and read some that I haven't already.