Boleyn Inheritance Is Risky Business

The Boleyn InheritanceThe Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the 16th Century there could be no greater honor than to become the Queen of England. Yet, in her 3rd book about the Tudors called, “The Boleyn Inheritance”, Philippa Gregor explores the least known wives of Henry VIII. History has reported Anne of Cleves as ugly and shy while Katherine (Kitty) Howard reportedly was beautiful but stupid. There must have been more to these women for them to have risen to status of Queen.

Gregor bases her novel on fact and does a lot of research. You’ll notice a significant difference in her Tudor series compared to the recent Showtime hit, “The Tudors” which is a fictional soap opera using historical characters – not based on fact. While handsome Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrayed Henry VIII on Showtime, the truth is that by 1539 when Henry was about to marry Anne of Cleves he was a fat, farting, flesh-rotting old man who ruled his kingdom with a hangman’s noose and an executioner’s axe.

There is little known about Anne of Cleves and her successor Katherine Howard prior to their marriages to Henry. Yet Gregor weaves an interesting tale of court intrigue and plotting around these two queens, alongside the story of Jane Boleyn, wife of George Boleyn who was beheaded with his sister Anne, 2nd wife to Henry VIII. It is the braiding of these three women’s stories that makes this such a compelling read. While each woman struggles to control her destiny the reader learns what a truly dangerous place the court of Henry VIII was, especially to a woman. Each woman makes her own choices based on their ages, their past, and what they want in the future. And we see how the cards play out for each of them.
What does Gregor teach us in this tale of plotting and murder? It turns out that age does not mean innocence. Pretty creates vanity but vanity isn’t pretty. That cunning does not mean wise. Not always, but sometimes, honesty and pure of heart prevail.

It would be so easy to gloss over the bad parts of Henry VIII’s reign for when he was young he was the most handsome and enlightened King in all of Christendom. But to forget the truth of his legacy of tyranny would be another crime against the people of 16th Century England. And to forget his Queens, and the women of their courts, who paid first-hand for Henry’s madness and the greed of the men in his counsel would be unforgivable. Women of today need to learn from these former victims of manipulation to stand on their own–to truly rule their own destiny.

Anne of Cleves was, indeed, a visionary of female independence. She was the only Queen of Henry VIII’s to survive him and live an independent life. (Katherine Parr survived only because Henry died before serving her arrest papers.) If Anne of Cleves could manage to carve out a life for herself after Henry and be happy, every modern girl should be able to be a woman of independent means. Anne proved that by keeping your head up and holding firm, we women can do anything.

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India Black Is A Whore – And A Whole Lot More!

India BlackIndia Black by Carol K. Carr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

India Black is a whore and she is not ashamed of her profession. She has worked her way off of her back, owns her house, and efficiently runs her establishment as the madam/businesswomen. She is both street-smart and intelligent; having tended to the higher ranks of soldiers and lower ranking government officials she’s picked up some book learning in order to cater to their foreplay idiosyncrasies. Her life was looking pretty good as a madam – that is until one of her regulars goes toes up during his weekly visit. It isn’t too long before Mr. French, a government man of undisclosed job title, shows up to help her dispose of the body. Before India can blink she is engrossed in a Russian-Turk-British triangle of espionage that has her racing across England risking life and limb.
Ms. Carr’s creation of India Black rivals the spunk and determination of Charles Portis’ character Mattie Ross in True Grit – although where Mattie is young and innocent, India is beautiful and worldly. The first person narrative is witty and sharp. The story flows as if you and India are sitting in front of the fireplace having tea and chiseling (I mean nibbling) one of Mrs. Drinkwater’s ginger biscuits while sharing a secret between close friends. Whereas that ability to tell a good story in and of itself is usually enough to make a good read, what contributes to the success of “India Black” is Carr’s balance of world history with a dose of ironic common sense. Reading Carr’s blog, we may find the influence of this balancing act in her Midwest upbringing overshadowed by the cloud of political injustice that clung to her family for over 100 years.
Finally, what appeals most to me about “India Black” is the vocabulary of the prose. While most popular fiction prescribes to the adage that Americans can only read at an eighth-grade level and dares not to challenge us, Carr freely uses words I haven’t seen since studying for the SAT test in high school. It’s a refreshing change to have my brain stimulated while enjoying a fictional novel. Carr writes tantalizing sentences containing such words as profligate, corpulent, and vicissitudes to name a few. And yet the strong vocabulary never seems out of character for our heroine, India.
If you like mysteries…
If you like history…
If you like to think while consuming your fiction…
You must read “India Black” – and I’d wager future offerings from Carol K. Carr are only going to get better.

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Fork or Spoon

My husband and I have had a long-standing discussion over the proper utensil to eat certain foods. I won’t bore you today over which of us prefers what, but I hope you might help me decide which way the masses felt about this with a quick little survey on the subject.  If you are up for a quick poll, I promise a future post with interesting details about how this debate keeps coming up.

Old School Marketing Killing Publishing

Yesterday (Jan 18th), Shadowfever, the fifth book in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series was published. I have to say that I’ve been counting down the days to this release. Moning’s Fever Series is one of the most exciting, leave-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat Fae thrillers involving an enticing mixture of mystery, magic and sexual tension. I’m always happy to open to that first page of a new Fever book and crushed when I close the back cover because the time until the next installment is a long, painful torture that only a true fan can feel.

I admit it. I bow my head in praise to the storyteller that is Karen Marie Moning.  Everyone has their idols. If I could I would soak up as much storytelling knowledge from Moning as I could. I would own all her books and study and dissect them for plot, character, and setting. But I just can’t buy them. Why not? Because I will not kneel to the empire that is the American Publishing Industry.

Publishers have a unique opportunity to emerge from this recession as innovators. They could lead the electronic publishing revolution and show the world how old school businesses re-invent themselves to stay ahead of the times.

Sadly, publishing houses prefer to hold the reins tightly on e-publishing choking the life out of a newborn industry before it has a chance to spread its wings and fly. Greed (or debt) has the publishing houses focusing on this new source of revenue as the savior of their sinking ships. Yet it appears as if they do nothing to change their standard operating procedures which burn an endless supply of cash. Naively publishers assume that dedicated readers will pay whatever price to read their favorite authors like junkies getting the next fix. I admit that true readers will constantly demand new books and authors.

What publishers aren’t seeing in this equation is that dedicated readers are educated. They read after all. Today’s readers aren’t just the bookish literary types. Readers include business savvy men and women and technology innovators who are themselves creating new media. This new generation of readers and book buyers are aware of several benefits of e-publishing:

  • Readers can carry literally thousands of books with them on one e-book device.
  • E-books don’t kill trees. Don’t require printing. Don’t require shipping.
  • E-books can be purchased, downloaded and read immediately.

Book publishers should look at the music industry for an example of how electronic media can change (and save) an industry. For example, Taylor Swift’s album, Speak Now is available in multiple formats:

  • MP3 Download $8.49
  • Audio, CD $12.99
  • Audio CD, Deluxe Edition (Extra Tracks) $39.99

Now let’s compare that pricing structure to that of the recent release of Shadowfever.

Barnes & Noble has the following prices listed for Shadowfever (Amazon’s match):

  • E-book $9.99
  • Hardcover $13.82
  • Mass Market Paperback (due out Aug 2011) $7.19

Now, I’m sure that some of you will point out that for the extra $2.80 you’ll buy the e-book on the day it is released and have your favorite new book immediately. But I just can’t justify paying more for an electronic copy if it would cost less to get a hard copy. Even if that meant that I had to wait until August to get that paperback version. I’ve never in my life bought a hardcopy book on the day of release; I know if I’m patient the paperback will always come out cheaper and take up less space on my bookshelf. The e-book should be even cheaper.  Logically, an e-book should reduce the production cost and that should be passed on to the consumer so that we will buy more books. MORE BOOKS!!! Instead the publishers are trying to grab as much money as they can for fear that their industry is dying.

It is only dying because publishers are killing it.

I would buy more books if publishers would just make it economical for me to do so. But instead of owning Shadowfever – which I want to buy – I’ve reserved it at the library. Random House will make no money off of me this week.

Years from now, maybe, when Random House feels that they have bled all the money from us that they can and they put Shadowfever on some holiday weekend sale I’ll get it. But for now, I’ll read it for free along with the 32 other people that I see have already reserved it at my public library.

I won’t be buying any e-books unless I can get them for less than the paperback. In this age of economic upheaval, I’m not just buying a good story when I purchase a book – I can read one of those at the public library any time I want – I’m buying into the fact that the publisher of that book knows how to run an efficient and innovative house so that it will be around to finish publishing a book series I start reading.

If like the music industry, on the day of release, book publishers offered a hardcover ($$$), paperback ($$), and e-book ($) option each with the appropriate pricing structure, the industry would see a growth in sales overall. I would buy the e-book immediately. I have a friend who would always buy the hardcover, because that is her preference. But we would both make a purchase. And I’d make more purchases more often.

For now though, I’ll continue reading new releases from the library. Maybe someday I’ll own them. Maybe by the time the price is right, my interest will have faded and I’ll never buy them. It’s clear to me that the old school marketing of books is going to be the death of the publishing houses. I hope publishers see that before it is too late.

Vixen – In Training

Vixen (Flappers, #1)Vixen by Jillian Larkin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like reading historical fiction because it is an interesting way to learn history and it teaches you that no matter the societal protocol of the time people are the same. That’s why we have the seven deadly sins after all. If you are a churchgoer you have accepted that people are sinners; that they are fallible. And yet we accept images of respectability for people in particular eras.
That’s what Jillian Larkin has created in her new series The Flappers. The first book, called “Vixen”, starts with the image of high society and young private school girls of incredible wealth. But all that prim and proper respectability has restrained the energy of romantic beautiful girls and, like little kids let loose at recess when the girls get a taste of freedom, they run fast. In 1923 that means finding the most hush-hush speakeasy in Chicago and pretending that they are no longer high school seniors but dames with worldly Flapper bobs. But speakeasies aren’t just popular for the illegal liquor they serve. They’re filled with dangerous gangsters, smooth jazz players, and venomous women jealous of another pretty face.
I picked up Vixen while browsing the local library and was actually surprised when I got home to discover this was a young adult book. The rather grown up Flapper on the cover never gave me a high school impression at all. But I had never read a novel set in the roaring 20’s and I thought this would be an exciting new period. The hard part was, I didn’t like any of the characters. They worked hard to not want anyone to like them either. It seems to be a theme of the 20’s to be verbally shallow and mean to other people. Maybe that’s a trait of the rich. Or maybe it’s the high school immaturity showing through. However, by the end of the novel, people were showing some warmth, and the mystery of the series started to show itself. But it all seemed to take too long.
The book centers on several women (and their associated men). Gloria is the perfect society daughter from a newly rich family about to marry one of Chicago’s most eligible bachelors, but she longs for something different, something more, something that will make her heart sing. Clara is Gloria’s cousin visiting Chicago to help with Gloria’s wedding, but really she is there to start a new life of respectability since she’s already a ruined woman back home. Gloria’s best friend’s parents are too busy living up the roaring 20’s to pay any attention to their daughter, Lorraine, so it is no wonder that Lorraine starts to panic when she realizes that once Gloria gets married she’ll be truly alone. And then there is Vera, the ultimate sexy Flapper working at the speakeasy who has nothing but contempt for Gloria the second they meet. They are four beautiful girls but darn if I can tell you which one is the vixen. Maybe they all are?
Like its female characters, I felt like Vixen was playing dress up but never really became the book that it had the potential to be. There were too many unanswered questions, too many stray characters walking through, too much life not yet lived which could not be expressed on its pages. Maybe the author needs the rest of the series to express it, but again it seems too long for these fast living girls to grow up.
I’d still like to read a book set in the 20’s, because I don’t think that the Flappers series is going to have me doing the Charleston anytime soon.

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Book Review: To Hold The Crown

To Hold the Crown: The Story of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York (Tudor Saga, #1)To Hold the Crown: The Story of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by Jean Plaidy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Getting the crown is only half of the problem. What do you do once you wear the golden crown with jewels? For Henry VII his goals were to have sons, bring financial stability to England, and avoid war whenever possible. Those are admirable goals for a King in 1483 when he seized the throne at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

But even a merciful King who only used violence when England was threatened, would soon have blood on his hands. What is right for England – and if it benefited the King – that had to be right? But would everyone in England agree? Is there intrigue in every “friend”? And Henry VII spends all 23 years of his reign looking for the next threat, the next uproar, the next expense to his throne. Sometimes, the threat seems as close as his son.
Ms. Plaidy has woven an interesting tale that I’m sure would be a worthy read for our leaders of today. They have a lot to learn from the pale skinned and evil-eyed leader of England.

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Ninjas Are What’s Missing In America

Actually it is what we learn from Ninja Warrior that is missing in America. In America today we are so overly concerned about not hurting any one’s feelings that everyone has to be considered a winner; there can never be a loser. No one ever learns to lose and the lesson that comes with losing. But if you watch Ninja Warrior you see that there are a few things still worthy in the world if Americans would just stop talking and start doing.
Humor
Every Ninja Warrior competition has it fair share of comedians and local heroes. No one expects these competitors to win, but they come out in their finery and they smile and bow and they jump around excitedly and they compete. And when they land in the frigid ice cold water for their efforts, they smile and thank the crowd for the opportunity to perform for them today.
It teaches us all not to take life too seriously and to have fun and to laugh once in a while.
Strength
Whether it is a men’s, women’s, or mixed competition you always discover an athlete or two who excel in strength of body and mind. The Ninja Warrior competition is built so that each competitor must learn to control their strength and use it as needed.  But then also rein it in and let the mind settle so that they do not rush into the icy water instead of crossing the finish line. There is as much strength to be had in lifting a heavy wall as knowing when to slow your pace and let your mind settle. Each require personal strength and a true Ninja Warrior requires both.
It teaches us that there is a power within us that we can control and use at will to help ourselves and others.
Honor
I have seen all of the Ninja Warrior competitions and what amazes me is how honored the competitors are to have competed. No one criticizes the course. No one bad mouths another competitor. Everyone is supportive to have made it as far as they have in the competition. Even when no one makes it to the final challenge and when no Ninja Warrior is crowned. There is no drama. There is sorrow that the competition is over. There is failure. But there is always the knowledge that these athletes will be back. That a true Ninja Warrior will not give up his/her quest. There is always honor in knowing you did your best; even if your best wasn’t good enough to win.
It teaches us that there is a reason for this world. With honor our life has a purpose and that makes every life worth so much more.
In America
We make sure that every competitor gets a prize and feels rewarded for their efforts. No one feels as if they lost anything. Losing is not something we teach anymore. When children are grown and they meet with disappointments, what will they do? They have never had to deal with disappointment. There is a side of our society, the poor and neglected side. They live with disappointment all of the time; scraping just to get by and survive. They are not taught how to properly deal with losing either. They have no respect for themselves or their neighbors. They see no future. No reason to be here on earth that gives them reason to be happy.
Our news shows sensationalize acts of violence among teenagers as if we are clueless as to how this can happen. If you don’t teach our young the proper way to handle situations they will come up with solutions themselves. What they come up with will always be the most reactionary, the most emotional, and the most violent that they can think of. If they feel pain, a sharp emotion that will still get through the barriers they have built up to survive, then they are still alive.
We have to teach people about honor. We have to give them mental and physical strength so they can be proud of themselves. And we all have to learn to enjoy life for the mere act of living.
Life is too short, too precious to waste on anything less than an honorable life.