Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Princess Ben is a random book that I found in the Savers book section. Buying books at Goodwill or other thrift stores are almost always a good deal and worth a try.

Princess Ben is a young adult book and I've always subscribed to the theory that books are books, no matter the age level or content. I like science fiction and fantasy, and I'll give young adult books a shot. I normally read before bedtime, and I favor books that I can easily get through and be taken on a ride.

Catherine Murdock takes her time during the first half of the book to paint a picture of the main character, Princess Ben. It is told in the first person point of view and also written in what I've dubbed, "old timey" upper class royal English. I was caught off guard and for the first 3/4th of the book, was extremely bothered by it. Hindsight is 20/20 and I find it interesting how my feelings towards the book seems to be correlated by how I how I felt about the "old timey" writing.

Murdock does extremely well characterizing Princess Ben during the first half of the book, because I couldn't stand her. Princess Ben's parents die in the first 20 pages of the book, and though I knew this was supposed to be a traumatic event in her life, I didn't even feel bad for because of how spoiled rotten she is and how obsessed she is about "delectable treats" and either shoveling her face with food or finding food to shovel her face with. Though Princess Ben is raised outside of the castle, it is abundantly clear that she has been sheltered and waited on by her mother her entire life, and has no perspective about herself.

Even though I found that Murdock's writing towards Princess Ben successful, halfway through the book is where the plot and character growth seems to fall apart. Princess Ben finds a magical room when she is locked in the tower and very quickly, learns some magic. I would have liked to read about Ben's attitude changes while she attempts magic. However, she learns some magic and then flies out of the room on a broomstick when the ball doesn't go her way all in quick succession.

Without giving too much away, Ben goes on to encounter different characters and develops certain relationships with them as she tries to solve the mystery surrounding her parents' deaths. After all the concentration on Princess Ben's awful spoilt nature, I wanted more of a redemption story along with more chapters about the other protagonist, Prince Florian. I felt like the story turned into a 'tell, not show' when it came to character growth and romance. It's understandable that first person is limited, but maybe a few third person chapters with just Prince Florian?

Nevertheless, I was not annoyed with the "old timey" English writing with the remaining 1/4th of the book. I thought the writing had a lot of action and shows Princess Ben doing some really heroic things. I also found it amusing when other fairy tales, or items from other fairy tales were mentioned in the book. Either it was an attempt on a fresh take or a "wink" in terms of mentioning well known fairy tales, it didn't matter to me.

Overall, if you like "old timey" writing young adult that attempts to retell popular fairy tales, Princess Ben is for you.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Book Review: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

This book was part of the series couple with the famous The Other Boleyn Girl. I've always been a big Philippa Gregory fan, and I've read other books by her such as The Virgin Queen,  The King's Fool, The White Queen and the already mentioned The Other Boleyn Girl.When I went to the book fair, I picked up 3 books by her, and The Boleyn Inheritance being one of them.

Philippa did not disappoint! I was a bit put off of the title because I didn't want to read more about Anne Boleyn, but she expertly wraps Anne's history and what it meant for Jane Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Anne of Cleves. Even though this book is historical fiction, it definitely made me rethink who Henry VIII was. Henry VIII is is the most famous king known in popular culture due to his love life, but we only know him with his messy divorce from Katherine Aragon and his disastrous marriage to Anne Boleyn. He is frequently described as young, ginger, tall and very, very handsome.
In other historical fiction novels, movies and TV shows, he cruelly sends Anne to the chopping block and goes on to marry Jane Seymour. In the movies, novels and TV that I've watched, It seems to me that he's always characterized as a heart-broken king who is desperate for an heir. 

That is not the case in this book. When he marries Anne of Cleves, he's old, fat and suffering from gangrene or another type of festering wound in his leg. Through out the book, Philippa details King Henry's madness and shows through first person point of view how the women he marries are the first to feel the brunt.

I was heartbroken for Anne of Cleves because she really did want to do a good job at being queen. I cringed when the king kissed her, and instead of being seen as handsome, he was pushed away in disgust. I wanted her to use her goodness and devotion for a new family, but I knew that she would never be married after her divorce. You almost wanted to shake the king and say to him that Anne was the woman for you!

Katherine Howard was written beautifully. I loved how the tone changed from Anne to Kitty to Jane. Katherine was a very silly girl which makes it even worse when she marries the king. Not only is she unintelligent, she does not have a clue to the dangers that surround her. She is written like a typical teenager who doesn't know her own mortality. 

Finally, Jane Boleyn. Just, wow. I loved the subtly of how Philippa wrote the crazy. Jane Boleyn, who justified her actions as actually saving her husband George and Anne through the Boleyn name and inheritance. When she is carried off to the chopping block at the end and she wants to justify her actions to the court, I was appalled, but I also felt very sorry for her and all the people that she hurt. 

Even though I knew exactly what happened,  I was still in suspense over the progression of the events. When I was reading, I really felt like I was actually in court and almost feared for my life too! I remember romanticizing medieval times, but it must been so scary to live in a place where the king's word was God.

Finally, I liked how Anne was brought up, but I loved the picture she painted about the real criminal--the Duke of Norfolk. A Howard, he let both of his nieces to die as well as Lady Rochford. He is soulless and he gets out of the whole mess scotch free. 

Overall, I really liked the book. It was an easy read about one of the most scandalous times in Medieval England. Philippa wrote about Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, two lesser known victims, I mean wives, of Henry the VIII. If you like historical fiction and you would just want an easy read full of scandal and drama, I would recommend this book. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Book Review: Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxton

I followed the book series because I loved Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I've read The Forest House and Lady of Avalon. I loved her writing style and I loved the time period (Roman/Celtic) and I loved how it was very female centered. Her books told the stories of women and even though it is in the fantasy genre, their relationships are dynamic. They love each other, they hate each other; they are sisters, daughters, mothers, friends and enemies. Basically, she writes real women… you think would be more common in story telling.

When I picked up Priestess of Avalon, I knew that Marion passed away during the writing of this book and her assistant, Diana L. Paxton took over writing the series. I read other reviews where other readers LOVED it or other HATED it.

And I have to say…

I didn’t LOVE it, but I didn’t HATE it, either.

It preludes Lady of Avalon, but crosses over and sort of ends right as Lady of Avalon picks up. Which… ok, I’m neither here nor there on the references. I admire that Paxton tried to keep the story chronically accurate. However, when Lady of Avalon characters were mentioned, it took me a moment to remember who it was and what was going on during that time. It would have been easier if Paxton and Bradley reminded the reader who the character was… which leads me to my next point.

This was the first book told entirely in 1st person point of view. Bradley’s other books were 3rd person, and gave the Bradley a chance to dive into the lore and the magic behind Roman Britannica. The reader learned how other characters thought of each other, which is what is missing from 1st person. I only knew how the main character, Eilan/Helena, felt about those she encountered. I was interested in how the people felt about her. 

I’m not sure if 1st person is what made Paxton’s writing felt flat but I thought she attempted to match Bradley’s writing style. Like I said, the lore was accurate, even though Paxton followed one woman’s journey through life instead of focusing it on the Priestesses of Avalon.

Because the story follows Helena, the focus shifted away from the magic of Avalon and addresses Christianity. This is nothing knew since Mists addresses this topic. Throughout the book, Helena struggles with Christianity and The Mysteries, and I liked how she doesn’t choose just one faith—she integrates both of them.

What was different about this book as well is the focus of Helena’s son, Constantine of Rome. Yes, that Constantine. Yay for history, but one of the reasons I was always drawn to Bradley’s Avalon series was that it was so focused on women. Yes, there are many men in the books, but they never felt like they dominated the story. I felt that with this book, Constantius and Constantine just dominated the story. It was all about how them and how Helena was at the mercy of men.

Finally, the length of the book was a bit long and I felt it was long to read. I didn’t feel the need to pick it up night after night. I didn’t wonder what was going to happen. It was just a story I was reading, which was very different than the sensation from Bradley’s other books. I thought it was a 50 pages too long.

Overall? I won’t be reading Paxton’s other novels in the series. I would give this book 2 and ½ books out of 5 books.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Loot!

My favorite festival occurred this past weekend, and my fiance and I went on Sunday. It was in a different place this year and though it was very stressful getting there (with a Ravens and I think an Orioles game going on at the same time?! If not, it sure felt like it...) it was well worth it! Used books for 5 dollars and under! How awesome is that!

I was on the hunt for my next author, Octavia Butler, but alas, she was nowhere to be found. I tried sci-fi, fantasy, black authors, fiction... but her books alluded me. I like to think that her fans love her books so much that they can't bear to part with them. :-) My second theory is that they were all scooped up on Saturday.

As you can all see, there are a few Anne Rice books creepin' in that pile of books. In my last (and first!) review, I stated that I wasn't in a rush to read more of her books, but since it was there and for cheap... I figured, why not! Violin is completely separate from the Vampire Chronicles and it's a ghost story! Interesting....

In my list I have a few Artemis Fowl series books and books by Philippa Gregory. Finally, I procured few random books that sounded interesting. I usually try to stick to series books and when it's exhausted, I go on the hunt for another series. However, I couldn't pass up the lone science fiction book (that stated on the cover that it should be made into a series!) as well as the fiction book about living in Japan. It's a dream of mine to visit!

Now, it will take a bit before I begin to work through my (new) pile. A few days ago, I began reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's Priestess of Avalon, which is a prequel to the bestseller Mists of Avalon. Unfortunately, this is the novel that Marion passed away during it's construction and Diana L. Paxson completed the book.

I do quite well in finishing books and pacing myself, however The Windup Girl sounds great! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Blood and Gold by Anne Rice

I stumbled upon Anne Rice's Blood and Gold among other various Anne Rice novels at the Baltimore Book Fair last year. Of course, I watched the movie, "Interview with a Vampire" with the beautiful Brad Pitt and not so crazy then, Tom Cruise. We were all jealous of Kirsten Dunst's lucky role. I heard of Anne Rice, and I heard that her books were pretty good. 

So, with that in mind, I set upon reading all of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicle books and slowly went about buying or borrowing the rest of the novels. What I didn't realize was that Blood and Gold was one of the latest books in her series, and Queen of the Damned was very early. Now, there are a few more books in her vampire chronicle series, which combined the Mayfair Witches, which is also another series that I've read by her. 

With the completion of Blood and Gold, I'm not sure if I will rush to read the remaining few books, Blackwood Farm and Blood Canticle despite the muchly anticipated new book,  Prince Lestat. I don't know, maybe I'll give it a try.

Anne Rice, over the years bounced wildly between good fantasy, to allegory, to religious fanaticism and finally, biography. Her latest book, Blood and Gold is not my least favorite book I've read by Rice, but it's certainly not my favorite. 

Marius, a very ancient vampire who sired Armand and a present character in many of the other books, takes the stage. The same set up of the book occurs but instead of David Talbot scribing memoirs, Marius seems to find it suitable to tell his whole life story to a random ancient vampire who literally came up out of the ice and found Marius. This vampire, who I can't remember the name of, is looking for Mahret, who sired him. Was this vampire mad at Mahret? I'm not sure, nor do I even care, but as Marius dived into the tale, this vampire simply puts away his urges to seek her out and listens to this stranger's long winded story. 

I'll confess, I was relieved that Rice stayed away from religion, the searching for salvation and the question of God. Whether vampires are damned and whether their souls could be saved are frequent motifs in the vampire chronicles series, but for a few books she goes into great detail about religious dogma and even discusses Angels in her vampire chronicle books (really, Anne? Was that a hint of things to come?). In 'Blood and Gold,' however, Rice's writing echoed back to her earlier work with Marius searching for companionship, love and his strong desire to be a teacher and supreme over his pupils. 

I was riveted for the first half of the book. It was an exciting read and I was very glad for the fast past and various action scenes with Marius. Nevertheless, the book was  about 200 pages too long. We found out what happened to Bianca as well as the break up between Armand and Marius. We also uncover Marius' backstory with 'Those Who Must Be Kept.' It seemed to be the same information read in earlier books, except it was Marius speaking instead of Armand or Louis. 

As a reader, I found myself becoming very bored with the book after the exciting first half. I read 'The Vampire Armand' right before I went into this one, and it seemed like nothing new was shared. Sure, I read Marius' perspective, but it doesn't make it new. 

 Overall, I place Blood and Gold above The Vampire Armand and Memnoch the Devil but it pales in comparison to Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned. So, if you like to commit yourself to one author at a time, or book series at a time, make sure to space out the books so it doesn't feel like you are reading the same book over and over.