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.