Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: April

Plain Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour by Laurien Gardner: Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
I've read quite a few books about The Tudors and, although I'm not an expert per se, I have learned a lot about them. The majority of these books have been non-fiction but I do take a romp through the historical fiction from time to time. And, lately it seems there has been a run to jump onto The Tudor band wagon. Case in point this relatively new historical fiction series by Laurien Gardner with each book in the series dedicated to one of Henry VIII's six wives.

"Plain Jane" is about his 3rd wife, Jane Seymour. I lost count of how many times Jane (or others) referred to herself as "plain" (I suppose the author wanted to reinforce the title of her book) and found it a bit rather like cheating when I read in the author's afterward that her sources for the book had been better written non-fiction books about The Tudors (all of which I'd read). Maybe I was disappointed that I hadn't thought about writing such a series; certainly, I have enough Tudor trivia floating around in my head!

Anyway, the bottom line is; I picked this book up in a used book store while in FL. It was readable enough but, frankly, a bit silly. Not QUITE a bodice buster; more like a Barbara Cartland romance, but, definitely written for those who are looking for a romantic tale.

I guess I need to stop reading these fictionalized accounts because, in the end, they just get on my nerves!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Really Good/4 Stars
This was a fantastic read. In addition to (always interesting to me) descriptions of life for all classes of Chinese women back when foot binding was still practiced (really not all that long ago), "Snow Flower" was, in essence, about friendship. Any woman who has ever had a best friend who felt like she was closer to you than anyone else in your life will appreciate this tale of life-long friendship and what can happen if you, at any point in time, ever allow your heart to harden.

Other books I've read that fall into the genre of "Chinese women who've lived torturous but extremely interesting lives" are: The Binding Chair by Katherine Harrison, Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (and there was a sequel which I have not read) and any tale by Amy Tan, but, in particular, The Joy Luck Club.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson (CD): Really Good/4 Stars
I found this absolutely hysterical. Although Bryson is 13 years older than me, his memoir about growing up in the 50s and 60s in the midwest brought back so many similar childhood memories! This is a must read (or listen to, which is what I did); a quick, fun romp through the past for all Baby Boomers.

My guess is, you'll recognize at least one of the characters he describes from your own childhood; not to mention, his descriptions of family get-togethers, food, school, movie theaters, playing outside all day, America's fascination with appliances, cars, TV and even The Happiest Place on Earth!

I read Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" for book club in 2009; it was interesting enough; his style is quirky, but, this one was much more amusing!

The Soloist by Steve Lopez (CD): Sold/Good 3 Stars
This is a realistic rendering of caring for a person who has a severe mental illness. As this is a true story, I have to hand it to Steve Lopez for taking something that started out as merely a job to the point where he came to sincerely care about a perfect stranger, and, a perfect stranger with more than the usual "baggage".

As many of us who love someone with a mental illness already know, Lopez learned that there is a lot of "one step forward, three steps back" and that he couldn't, in the end, "cure" Nathaniel; only be a friend who cheered him on when he could and left him alone when he had to.

I would have given this a "4" except for two things. One: I thought there was a bit of "over do" with the "steam of consciousness" scenes (Nathaniel's jumbled "speeches"); meaning, a few illustrations of this was sufficient to get it. Secondly, I didn't quite care for the way Lopez began to refer to Nathaniel as "Mr. Ayers". I "got" why; it just seemed false. I know, I know, this actually happened so this is why it was written; I guess it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I'd definitely recommend this, however. Now, time to see the movie!
The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell: Solid/Good 3 Stars
Book five of The Saxon Stories finds our hero Uhtred alive and well while battling Danes and entering into at least two new romances. Whew, busy guy!

Seriously, these are fun books. I have a great time reading them (although some are a bit better than others). Cornwell, probably best known for his Sharpe's series of books (made into a PBS TV show), writes in a lively, wry style with non-stop action and a smattering of history thrown in for good measure (these books focus on Alfred The Great of England; the king who united the various parts of England into one kingdom).

I keep waiting for a PBS TV show based on these books. I wonder who'd play Uhtred?

If you're looking for something relatively light but not complete drivel, I'd definitely recommend these books.

Mrs. B

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