Exciting News about Historical Fiction Lovers Book Club!

January 21, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction | 8 Comments
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As I mentioned before, I joined the Book Clubs application on Facebook and started my own online book club ~ Historical Fiction Lovers.  We started the club reading Loving Frank and seven of us completed the Reader’s Guide and Review form.  There was some really good discussion, especially about Mamah and her choices.  I found out that HFL was awarded the first Book Club of the Month award and I am SUPER ecstatic about it.  Here is what was posted on the site about our book club:

A passion for novels blending history, literature and romance is what drives January’s Book Club of the Month: Historical Fiction Lovers. The group, created by Jennifer, is a good case study of how to run a successful online book club.

Jennifer, who juggles a career and a family, somehow finds time to blog (http://literatehousewife.wordpress.com), participate in reading challenges and run her group, Historical Fiction Lovers.

The group’s January selection is Loving Frank, a novel by Nancy Horan about a scandalous romance between the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mamah Cheney, a well-educated, independent and married Chicago woman. It’s not escapist fare.

As a leader, Jennifer sets a tone for the group by suggesting appropriate novels, and then discussing which novels will be read and when. She also organizes discussions in an easy-to-follow manner.
As a thank you, we will be sending Jennifer five books to distribute as she sees fit. Please let us know if you feel your group is ready for the spotlight in February!

Historical Fiction Lovers is one of more than 100 public Book Clubs and 20 private ones created by our members. There are clubs built around specific authors or book series, some are regional, but most concern categories of books such as mysteries, romance or classics.

We are especially grateful to Book Club leaders such as Jennifer who help drive discussions, select good books and invite their friends to take part. We encourage every member to contribute new topics or respond to comments or questions by other club members. Book Clubs is a community-based application and member participation is vital to a successful experience.

cover-of-soul-catcherOn top of the honor of winning, my group receives five copies of our chosen book for February, Soul Catcher by Michael White.  I’m awarding a copy of this book to the five members other than Rusty Weston, the soul behind Book Clubs, and myself a copy of Soul Catcher.

Here’s a brief description of the novel from the HarperCollins website:

Augustus Cain is a damaged man haunted by a terrible skill: the ability to track people who don’t want to be found. Rosetta is a runaway slave who bears the scars, inside and out, of a life of servitude to a cruel and unforgiving master. Her flight is fueled by a passion and determination only a mother could feel, and she would rather die than let anyone drag her back to hell. In a dark, volatile time prior to the Civil War, fate has bound the hunted and hunter on a remarkable odyssey from Virginia to Boston and back again—an extraordinary test of character and will, mercy and compassion, that will change them both forever.

Interested?  Why don’t you join us?  Click here to buy the book and here for a look inside the novel.  Book Clubs is a Facebook application.  It doesn’t take long to join and it’s free.

#135 ~ My Lady of Cleves

January 14, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading | 9 Comments
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My Lady of Cleves: A Novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Anne of Cleves was the most unlikely of all of Henry VIII’s wives. She did not especially want to be queen, she was not physically beautiful, and she was rather forced upon him in order to produce an heir. Yet, along with Katherine of Aragon, she is a wife to which Henry should have cleaved to permanently. She is also my favorite. The first time I learned of her and found out that she was from a territory that is now the Netherlands, she had a special place in this Dutch heart of mine. Therefore, when I first heard of this novel on Reading Adventures, I new that I had to read it. I couldn’t have been more pleased when a wonderful co-worker of mine gave it to me for my birthday. Thank you, Poorna!

From the beginning, Barnes covers the known facts about the search for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne’s betrothal, her first regrettable moments with Henry, their short marriage, and swift divorce deftly. As much as I loved The Boleyn Inheritance, it is the author’s interpretation of those events that make this novel such a delight to read. For example, Barnes’ Anne did not want to leave her country, her family, or her people. This is just as well because her sister Amelia was prettier and was excited by the prospect of becoming queen. To her surprise, Hans Holbien, the artist sent to paint the portraits of the royal daughters of Cleves saw a beauty in her that most missed. The way this quality was painted is exactly what captured Henry’s eye. Unfortunately, Henry couldn’t see that when they met in person. The way in which the events surrounding their divorce played out in this novel was interesting and this view of Anne was endearing. I like to think of her in this way.

There was one lost opportunity in this novel. After Henry chooses Anne, we next find her on her journey to England. We do not experience how the news of Henry’s choice impacts Anne, her family, or the people she serves. We do not see her leave her home for the last time. We do not see how being overlooked by a king affected Amelia. As Anne’s life in England as it pertains to the throne are well known, it is precisely those missing details that would really grab and inspire my imagination. Certainly I can make up my own scenes, but I read historical fiction to have those undocumented moments come alive on the page. This was a minor drawback. It did not keep me from enjoying this novel at all. Still, the mild disappointment over what could have been, especially with an author so skilled, remains with me.

My Lady of Cleves is a novel I will always cherish. She was a strong woman who had to work hard to overcome her looks, which always felt like a shortcoming to her. I can’t quite place my finger on a specific passage, but Chapters 17 and 18 were beautiful in the way in which they depict the turning point in Anne’s life. What was accomplished there made the novel and solidified Anne’s place in my heart among Henry’s wives. She deserved the freedom and solitude that she found at Richmond. I’d wager that she was the only woman deeply involved with Henry who died happy and content with her life. I am glad that the author chose to bring Anne to the forefront. Historical figures do not have to be tyrants or tarts to be compelling. Sometimes a heroine with just a dash of fire when scorned is exactly what is needed to satisfy. This novel is a must for Tudor fans, but would be a delight for any reader.

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To buy this book, click here.

#134 ~ Loving Frank

January 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading | 10 Comments
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Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

In search of a home of his own, Mr. Edwin Cheney of Chicago convinced his wife Mamah to agree to commissioning a local American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design and build their family home. Mr. Cheney gained his house, but he couldn’t have known that he would ultimately lose his wife to the architect. Loving Frank tells the story of the love affair of Mamah and Frank from Mamah’s perspective. Mamah’s decision to leave the husband for which she never had any passion cost her as well. In her time, adulterous women lost custody of their children and their reputations to boot. Her story is one of heartache, sensuality, and the discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.

Loving Frank reads like a story out of 19th feminist literature like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In so many ways, unfortunately, Mamah is the embodiment of Edna Pontellier. She finds her self dissatisfied with domestic life and agonizes over the realization that she really knew beforehand that she shouldn’t have married Edwin. Although he respects her father and cares for her family, he is not a creative soul. Frank Lloyd Wright is. As he, too, has grown unhappy in his own marriage, it’s only a matter of time before the two begin an affair. After leaving her family to run away with her lover, she comes face to face with the reality of living with Frank. Frank may be a man of vision, but he is all too human. He has deep character flaws that cause her distress and embarrassment. The guilt of leaving her children and the ill effects of being under the harsh spotlight of a the scandal loving media start to take their tole. It is only after attending a speech by Ellen Key, a feminist writer famous in Europe, that she starts to understand that the secret to her own happiness and fulfillment can come from no place but within herself.

Mamah and Frank are both self-centric people and are often unlikable. They both want the fairytale life, but tend to whine when it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter. Although he thought of Mamah as his intellectual equal, Frank was dismayed repetitively when she wanted to leave his side to pursue her own goals. Mamah continually found it difficult to love Frank through his human weaknesses. They both wanted nothing more than to express their creativity. Neither really cared to get their hands messy with the work of keeping relationships together. Had fate not intervened in the end, it seems doubtful that their relationship could have survived after the drama created by their scandalous relationship died down.

This review was difficult to write. I enjoyed Loving Frank , despite the fact that portions of the novel seemed long and dry. Given their personalities, it was often difficult to sympathize with Mamah and Frank. That being said, to enjoy a novel, it is not necessary to like the main characters. Lolita is one of my favorite novels, but I do not like nor agree with Humbert Humbert. The exploration of feminism in the early 2oth century through Mamah’s growth as a woman was very interesting. In that day and time, a woman lost her place as mother when she willingly gave up her place as wife. For women with children, personal freedom came at a huge cost. As the narrative tended to wander off course in some areas and then the author included too many unnecessary details in other, there were loose ends that were not tied up in the end. What could have been a brilliant, emotional and powerful conclusion to Mamah and Frank’s story fizzled. I would still recommend this novel, most especially for a class about early feminist literature. Although this is a work of historical fiction, it would provide the perspective of a woman living in America at the time.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#133 ~ The Sister

January 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills

Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion.  She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath.  She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea.  To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement.  When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother  Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister.  She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects.  It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator.  This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.

Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer.  Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research.  While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.

This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed.  No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration.  In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader.  Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel.   The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character.  She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well.  There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend.  That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting.  Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.

This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised.  Who exactly is the sister?  What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not?  If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did?  Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse?  At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me.  However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations.  Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion.  The Sister invites additional readings.  It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time.  While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth.  She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.

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To buy book in audio, click here.
To buy this book, click here.

Who the Tudor Are You?

December 29, 2008 at 10:38 am | Posted in Historical Fiction, LIfe | 11 Comments
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I found this fun quiz sponsored by The Tudors on today’s Early Buzz on PopCandy (thanks Whitney!).  It’s entitled “Who the Tudor Are You?” and after answering a few simple questions, it identifies who you would be in Tudor England.  To my surprise and shock (being Roman Catholic and all…), I am a Bishop and can expect to live for another 11 years so long as I keep the King happy – lucky me:

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Who the Tudor are you?

#132 ~ The Conqueror

December 28, 2008 at 9:13 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading | 6 Comments
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The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer

The Conqueror tells the story of William the Conqueror, from his bastard birth, to his life as the Duke of Normandy, and finaly to his triumphant rise to the throne of England. Given the circumstances of William’s life and the political climate of both Normandy and England in the 11th century, this is quite an undertaking.

After reading The Reluctant Widow, I was very excited to start The Conqueror. My thinking was that if I loved her Regency Romances, I would really love her historical fiction. I was mistaken. Unlike The Reluctant Widow, this novel took me over a week to finish. This was mainly due to the slow and inconsistent pacing of the plot. While much time and energy was spent on William the Conqueror’s numerous battles, very little was spent on his relationship with Matilda or who he really was as a man. This lack of character development was true throughout, filling pages with numerous supporting characters between whom I could not readily distinguish. For me, they further bogged down the story and made it seem even that much longer than it really was.

There were flashes of Heyer’s brilliance when she tells of the circumstances of William’s birth, when she introduces Raoul, the fictional man through whom we meet William as a man and learn of his exploits, and when she tells of William’s “courting” of Lady Matilda. I also found it interesting to learn of ways in which William modernized the warfare of the day through strategy and the inclusion of archers. Clearly, William is a man capable of capturing the imagination of readers nearly a full century after his full and adventurous life. Unfortunately, this potential was lost to me amidst the superfluous characters and many of the battles in Normandy that did not add to the plot or provide any additional insight into William or, for that matter, Raoul or Matilda.

While The Conqueror did not engage me or take me away to time and places of William’s life, I am glad to have read it. This novel is best approached as one to read over a period of time. It would be interesting to read this in chapters or sections as a prelude to a thorough biography. I am curious to learn more about William, Matilda and and the lives of their children. In that way, this novel was a success. I hope to find a good book that focuses on the life that William and Matilda shared. If you have any suggestions, I would be most appreciative.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#131 ~ The Jewel of Medina

December 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 9 Comments
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The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones

A’isha is a 6 year old girl who, after her parents betrothed her to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was required to remain in her family home until she had her first menstrual period.  For an adventurous girl such as herself, she is tortured by the limitations placed on her simply because she was betrothed.  She dreamed of escaping to freedom with the Bedouins with Safwan, her childhood friend during the entire length of her purdah.  When she witnesses a woman from her clan dragged away by a man who would disgrace her as well,  A’isha can barely contain herself from taking up a sword and defending her neighbor herself.  She may have been young and she may have been a girl, but she had the heart of a warrior.   It was this spirit which caught the eye of Muhammad and changed her destiny.

I first heard about this novel in August when it was reported that Random House was pulling its publication for fear of angering Muslims and perhaps inciting violence.  This reminded me of the events surrounding Salmon Rushdie and The Satanic Verses.  I found the decision disappointing.  Self-censorship out of fear of what might happen is in some ways worse than forcible censorship because it isn’t always as visible.  How many other books have never been published out of fear?  Thankfully, it was finally published by Beaufort Books in the United States.  When I snagged a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I was very curious to see just what it was that caused such a large publisher to back down.  This is a novelization of a portion of Muhammad’s life through the eyes of his most notorious wife.  Still, he was portrayed with warmth and empathy.  His charisma and love of Allah are obvious, but so is his humanity.  While I suppose any fictionalization of Muhammad may anger some Muslims, no offense was intended.  Canceling this publication was much ado about nothing.

As most established religions have struggled against the treatment of women and their roles in society, A’isha’s character is especially interesting as (to Western eyes) Muslim women seemed to be the most imprisoned by their faith, family, and spouse.  The only issue I had with this novel was the story line surrounding the way in which the rules surrounding facial covering became part of Muslim life.  Making a vision seem convenient to Muhammad felt like an “easy out” that was not at all in line with his character.  I do not know exactly how this came to be part of the Islam faith, but it seems to have sprang more from the existing culture than from Allah.

The Jewel of Medina is a fast paced and engrossing look at the beginnings of Islam through the eyes of a young girl who eventually becomes the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  At the beginning I was reminded of The 19th Wife because of the common themes of plural marriage and being married to a prophet.  The 19th Wife and The Jewel of Medina are both ambitious novels attempting to provide insight on the origins of world religions through the stories of the women involved.  Interesting that both novels would be published this year.  For me, Jones’ novel worked where Ebershoff’s did not.  From the moment that A’isha is married to the much older Muhammad, I could not put the book down. This novel’s insights into living among sister-wives were more compelling and, as there is only one voice telling the story, the reader is always fully aware of the opinions coloring the story.  While we can’t truly understand today without knowledge of the past, by leaving the modern out of The Jewel of Medina Sherry Jones brought early Arabic culture and the roots of Islam to life without much of the  cynicism of today.

I cannot recommend this novel enough.  It is a wonderful way to learn about the origins of Islam through the eyes of a complex and strong young girl and then woman.  A’isha does not conform to my ideas of a typical Muslim woman anymore than she did during her day and age.  She had to fight for her place in Muhammad’s harim and for the place of women in her society.  Being so much younger than her husband, A’isha’s story does not end upon Muhammad’s death and I am eagerly waiting for the sequel.  The Jewel of Medina, like all of the historical fiction I’ve enjoyed, has peaked my interest in Islam, Muhammad and his wives.  I absolutely enjoyed the adventure and I’m sure you will, too.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#129 ~ War on the Margins

December 10, 2008 at 10:48 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Religion | 11 Comments
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War on the Margins: A Novel
by Libby Cone

When France fell to the Nazis during WWII, the Channel Islands fell as well, despite the fact that they were a part of the British Commonwealth.  Jersey, the Southern-most of the three islands, is the setting of Libby Cone’s novel about the way in which the Channel islands and its citizens were impacted by Nazi occupation.  Here, we meet Marlene Zimmer, an anxious single, orphaned woman in her mid to late 20s working for the Jersey Aliens Office.  This is where Jersey citizens were requested and then forced to register as Jews when they met the ever broadening requirements.  Although she considers herself a Christian and a British citizen, her father was Jewish.  When the office is finally instructed to classify Jews as foreigners, Marlene’s nerves can no longer take the stress.  She leaves her work, her flat, and her identity behind to hide on the island in hopes of somehow surviving the remainder of the war.  What she finds is work on the Resistance and a place to belong with Lucille and Suzanne, partners in life, art, and politics.

There are several stories told in this novel: Marlene’s reaction to Nazi occupation and her Jewish heritage, Lucy and Suzanne’s early life and current work resisting the occupation, and Peter’s journey as a Jew imprisoned and shipped to the Channel Islands for slave labor.  Marlene is the main character and her life flows through those of Lucy, Suzanne, and Peter.  I was most interested in Lucy and Suzanne’s story.  They were fascinating women and I enjoyed reading about their work for the Resistance.  As much as I liked Marlene, I would have loved to have read a novel entirely about them.

Intermixed within each character’s stories, there were chapters containing official communications between the Nazis to the Aliens Office and the registered Jews on Jersey requesting information about their status and their future. While Marlene worked for the Aliens Office, it made sense to me that they were there – as if Marlene was reading them and discovering what was happening.  After that, If felt that they got in my way. This is partially due to the fact that the novel’s layout is structured with double spaces between lines which made these sections especially hard to read.  After I found that I could follow the political changes easily through the context of the story, I began skimming and then skipping them altogether.

War on the Margins brought a perspective of the Resistance Movement during WWII that was unique and interesting.  I found the strength and creativity of Lucy and Suzanne refreshing and engaging.  This novel has encouraged me to look more into underground efforts against the Nazis in occupied territories.  Although the formatting of the text was unusual, I quickly got used to it with the exception of the communication chapters.  The novel read quickly and kept me interested throughout.  It would suggest this book to anyone interested in WWII, living under Nazi occupation, and the Resistance.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#128 ~ The Reluctant Widow

December 7, 2008 at 9:23 am | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading | 9 Comments
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The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

Elinor Rochdale, the daughter of a disgraced member of the aristocracy, is headed by coach to a rural village where she has been offered a position as a governess for a wealthy family.  She is bored to tears by working as a governess, but since her father’s suicide, she has no other choice.  Her extended family has been less than gracious to her.  As she steps off the coach, a driver asks her if she is the one who answered the advertisement in the paper.  After she says yes, she is shuttled into a wonderfully luxurious carriage and taken quite a distance.  Although it is very cold outside, she is snug in the carriage and quite surprised that the family hiring her would go to such lengths to see that she arrives in comfort.  What is not yet known is that the driver was talking about an entirely different advertisement.  Mr. Carlyon  posted for a woman to marry his disreputable cousin, Eustace Cheviot.  This misunderstanding takes Elinor’s life into quite an unexpected and mysterious direction.

Carlyon, a wealthy landowner and Eustace’s reluctant guardian.  He is under suspicion of acting in his own best interests, not his cousin’s.  Because of Eustace’s near constant drunkenness and gambling problems, there wasn’t much in his estate that wasn’t owed to debtors.  Still, Eustace held title to Highnoons, an estate he inherited from his mother, that was near Carlyon’s own estate.  Highnoons was no price, however.  Eustace let it fall into disrepair just as he had his own young body.  As such, Carlyon was desperate to marry Eustace off, so that he would inherit nothing from the young man upon his death and thus be free of suspicion.  When Elinor walks into his home, he sees her as the answer to his situation and will not take no for an answer.  Despite her protests, Carlyon knew that she would accept his offer after he learned that she grew up in privilege.  He may have found an inheritor for Highnoons, but he did not gain the return to a more trouble-free life. Elinor proved to be a tough customer, not easily won over like most others.  Time and time again, Carlyon had to prove himself by her.

The Reluctant Widow is full of interesting characters, humor and farce.  Elinor is a strong woman who, despite everyone’s deference to Mr. Carlyon, tries to stand up to his requests.  She cannot understand why others, even those who have just met him, are so eager to follow his commands.  She enjoys the fight every bit as much as he does.  Nicky, Carlyon’s younger brother, and his dog Bouncer provide a lot of laughs as this young man tries clumsily to live up to his brother’s reputation.  I enjoyed watching Elinor’s relationship with Nicky grow throughout the novel.  Despite having married into the family only a few hours before becoming a widow, it is clear that Elinor was the right fit for that family.  Nicky needed her solid feminine influence just as much as she needed his company to keep from growing too morose and frightened over the situation at Highnoons.

This is the first novel I have read taking place in England’s Regency period and I absolutely loved it.  It would be the perfect book to get lost in while curled up in bed or on the couch.  I thought I was taking a chance on this book because I’m not one who normally reads books classified as historical romance.  I’m afraid I may have underestimated the genre.  Not all romances are equal and this is far from the a Harlequin title and more engaging to me than something by Danielle Steel.  After just one novel, I can see her quickly becoming one of my new favorite authors.  I am very excited that SourceBooks is reissuing many of Georgette Heyer’s 50+ novels.  If you haven’t read Georgette Heyer or would not normally pick up a historical romance, I strongly encourage you to give The Reluctant Widow a try.

This review is lovingly dedicated to Dewey, a woman who helped make the book blogging community what it is today.

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A special thanks to Bethany at B&b exlibris for designing this beautiful graphic.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#126 ~ Mansfield Park Revisited

November 28, 2008 at 2:26 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading | 8 Comments
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Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment by Joan Aiken

I first read Mansfield Park in my early 20s.  A co-worker let me borrow her copy.  It was my introduction to Jane Austen and, perhaps as a result, it has always been my favorite Austen novel.  Although I’m not much of one for sequels to significant novels when they are not written by the original author (don’t even get me started on what’s happened to Gone With the Wind…), the thought of heading back to Mansfield sounded very pleasant.  I was hoping it would prompt me to re-read Austen’s classic.  Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but I was quickly reacquainted with Mansfield Park and its inhabitants and neighbors through Aiken’s Mansfield Park Revisited.

This novel picks up with Susan Price, Fanny’s sister, living with Lady Bertram and her cousin Tom.  Tom, as the oldest son, has recently become the Lord of Mansfield Park after the unexpected demise of his father.  Edmund and Fanny, married with two children, live at the Parsonage.  Maria Bertram, disgraced after leaving her husband for Henry Crawford, a man who abruptly showed her the door, is not discussed.  Julia, who made an equally impulsive and regrettable match, has two unruly sons and is constantly at Mansfield Park conniving to make a match between her sister-in-law and the new Sir Thomas.  Lady Bertram, who mourns her husband only as much as is required, has even less interest in her children now than she did before they lived with her.  The story gets started when, after Edmund and Fanny leave to tie up lose business ends for the late Lord Bertram in Antigua, an extremely ill Mary Crawford returns to rent the White House in hopes of improving her health.  Her arrival raises what would be considered an uproar in an otherwise sleepy Mansfield Park.

At just 201 pages, Mansfield Park Revisited is not a lengthy novel, but there were portions that felt long.  This can be attributed to a rather tame story line and the amount of inner dialog that could have been better conveyed through action.  Julia and her sister-in-law Charlotte could have made a winning foils if only they did something other than gossip or complain.  Susan equally could have been a stronger character had her struggles been more difficult to overcome.  Lady Bertram also would have been more fun had she a little of her old bite back.  When a hair covering lent to Susan by Mary did nothing to create drama, I started praying that Maria would come back to spice things up a little.  This would have been a better novel had the author spent more time on the Roman excavation picnic and all that transpired afterward.  The story line would have been better suited for a shorter novella.

Although it was not what I had hoped, it was a relaxing read. I would compare it to fan fiction, so the subtitle “A Jane Austen Entertainment” fits it very well.  As the novel became more engaging toward the end and I found the conclusion satisfying, I would recommend this to other Jane Austen fans who like having something around the house or in your purse to read off and on as the mood strikes.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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