Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Reading the Morlands: "The Princeling", completed

The Morland heirs definitely improved in this particular generation.

On looking at the next book in the series (The Oak Apple), I found that it had skipped James I and VI entirely, and I found this to be quite a shock.    But in thinking about it, there's a reasonable gap between The Dark Rose and The Princeling as well.  Long enough, at least, for Nanette to spirit Mary Seymour away in really interesting use of the ambiguity of history.

The Princeling opens with Nanette and James Chapham at home with Jan, their own boy Alexander, and Mary Seymour.  One probably has to be a devotee of Tudor history, and particularly of Henry VIII's final wife, Katherine Parr, to realise what a shock that was for me to read.  'But Mary Seymour died!' I said to myself - and dashed off to do some cursory internet research.

Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour, almost certainly did die, probably around age two.  But the point is, there's no absolute proof of her death, just her disappearance from the historical record at about age two.  Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father died - executed for treason against Edward VI - less than a year later.

By breaking the narrative for ten years between the end of The Dark Rose and the beginning of The Princeling Harrod-Eagles forgoes what might have been an interesting tale of bringing Mary Seymour to the Mill House and Morland, but she also avoids the tangle of explaining exactly how that happened.  By the time The Princeling opens, Mary is well past the age where there is no more mention of her in the historical record, and so she is able to fall in love with John Morland, marry Jan Chapham, and go entirely un-merrily through the rest of her life.  (I do wish she had been a bit pleasanter a character, but her resentment regarding the loss of her fortune rang entirely reasonable to me.)

Also on the topic of the ambiguity of history - I was worried for a time that Will was going to turn out to be the "real author" of Shakespeare's plays.  My timeframe may have been a little wonky there, but I'm VERY glad that Harrod-Eagles didn't go in that direction.

But still, a ten year break in narrative is not that much.  Nanette got a book and a half, after all (for which I'm pleased, even crochetty and old, I still loved Nanette.)  Going into The Oak Apple (arrived on hold at the library today) we're about to skip an entire reign and thirty years, going straight to Charles I.  I realise that the series began with the intention of covering "great moments" in British history rather than the whole of it, but why do so few writers of historical fiction cover the succession of James I?  (Plaidy skipped the accession of James I as well, focussing instead on the story of Robert Carr and Frances Howard.) 

Does anyone out there have any recommendations for James I era fiction?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sunday Reads: 28 September

I have read so much less than usual this week.

I think this is because the GF is home on school holidays, and so the routine is different.  I did finish The Princeling (post to come), but there were a lot more blog posts and reading-on-the-internet than reading books.


 Freedom Climbers by Bernadette McDonald - After a few tries, I managed to move from the preview on my Kobo app to the full version, and I'm now pretty much half way through.  This is about Polish mountaineers, including Wanda Rutkiewicz and Jerzy Kukucza, and the extra barriers faced by Polish climbers until the fall of the 'Iron Curtain'.  Technically this is a book of history, but I'm counting it as a non-history read for the purposes of this post or I'd really have nothing else to write about.

I've got Gemma Malley's second dystopian trilogy from the library (it starts with The Killables).  It's unrelated to her Declarationverse, and I'm looking forward to it - once I get it out of my bag.

And I really need to move Kaleidoscope onto my Kobo instead of just having it on my computer, because I want to read all the other stories (and to see if anyone has answered my "same sex couples in dystopias" question - it really is frustrating that Veronica Roth is such a conservative Christian and wouldn't even consider such things.)

Review: Escape from Cockatoo Island, by Yvette Poshoglian

It is 1879, and life in the Biloela Industrial School is tough for eleven year old orphan, Olivia Markham.  Her windswept days are filled with sewing, washing, aimless roaming, avoiding the girls from the Reformatory School, and hoping to be apprenticed by the colony.
Sydney is rapidly growing and modernising, but Olivia can only imagine what life is like byond the shores of Cockatoo Island.  She dreams of freedom, friendship and above all, family.  Can she ever escape?  From the back cover.
First things first: I picked this book up having confused Cockatoo Island with the Quarantine Station, and probably Fort Denison as well.

(Secondly, when I looked up Cockatoo Island while writing this review, the website was advertising School Holiday Activities which, after reading this book, I don't think I could cope with At All.)

Although I really liked Olivia from the beginning - her connection with Newcastle, home town of my partner, helped a lot - it took me a while to get into this book, which is sad for a book that's only 162 pages long.  Once I finally did (one day when I was home sick and could read without interruptions - except from the cats) I pretty much raced through it.  The problem I'm now finding with the Australian Story series is that they're too short in comparison to Our Australian Girl's four-book series: the character development is so much shallower than I want it to be.

I don't know that I have a lot to say about this one really.  I guess it may be falling victim to Showing Its Research, but I didn't really mind that (even though I need to know how to avoid that failing myself).  I perked up at the mention of Sydney places I know, like the Pitt St Church (one of my churches, when I lived in Sydney).

The book has certainly piqued my interest in the history of Cockatoo Island itself - but I still wouldn't be going to school holiday activities at the former site of an Industrial School and Reformatory for Wayward Girls...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Reading the Morlands: "The Princeling", pt 1

Currently at p326 - my thoughts

So, I was wrong on the identity of "The Princeling".  Instead of  the Queen, it's John Morland's intended.

There seems to have been a definite improvement in the character of Morland heirs.  At least for the moment.  

Nannette remains the most interesting character for me, and following that, Jan, John and Mary Percy.  Mary Seymour, of course, is fascinating.  Impressive use of uncertainty in recorded history - I'll write more on this in the proper review.

It's funny looking at the backs of books further on in the series: I have no sense of connection to those characters, and won't until I know how they connect in with the characters I know.  The whole thing is fascinating.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sunday reads - 21st September

So this week, I finished The Jewel, read Ally Condie's Matched in less than 24 hours, and began Kaleidoscope.

Matched, by Ally Condie, is the first of a dystopian trilogy. On the back cover, one of the blurbs (from Family Circle) is something along the lines of "For those of you who like romance with your totalitarian government". Which is ... interesting.

I'll probably pick the next one up when it comes through returns at work, but I don't know that I'll seek it out.

As a result of reading this book, I did begin to formulate a theory of reality TV and YA dystopias: I posted  my initial thoughts here earlier this week.

A question I've been pondering this week: why are there no queer couples in these YA dystopias?  Does no one ever Match with another girl or another boy?  And how would you write something like that without it basically happening in one of those pre-existing universes and being fic.  Part of me hopes that question will be answered in the other book I've just started reading...

Kaleidoscope, from Twelfth Planet Press and edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, is an anthology of YA sci-fi and fantasy with diverse lead characters.  So far I've only read Tansy Rayner Roberts' "Cookie Cutter Superhero", the first story in the collection.  It was so brilliant I had to put down the book and walk away to let it sink in.  Even though the very next story is by Ken Liu, and I've heard amazing things about his work, I couldn't just go straight on to his story after reading Tansy's.  I think this is going to be the book of the year for me.

(Also, "Cookie Cutter Superhero" puts an awesome turn on my abovementioned reality TV theory of dystopias.)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On the Reality TV theory of YA Dystopias

I doubt that this is original at all, but in my recent bout of dystopia-reading (The Selection, Matched and The Jewel) I'm starting to wonder whether there are a finite number of streams to which YA dytopias adhere, all of them related to reality television.

There's the "Survivor" stream, which includes The Hunger Games and Divergent.

There's the "Bachelor" stream, to which The Selection and The Jewel most definitely belong.

I feel like Matched might be a sort of "Survivor"/"Big Brother" crossover, and now I need to look at the other dystopias I've read to see if they fit into this pattern.  That said, I'm mostly thinking the post-Hunger Games books: I've been reading YA dystopias since ... well, since a random not-entirely-post-apocalyptic story on For the Juniors, on the ABC, when I was a kid.  And a lot of those pre-date reality TV.

But so many of the books these days seem to stem from either "Survivor" or "The Bachelor" - am I totally off the planet, or do I have a point?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Sunday Reads - 14 September

I know I used to do Wednesday Reads, but this is a bit of a change-up to accommodate the change in direction of the blog, and a bit of a pun, as well.  And with this I'm thinking of Sunday Reed, owner of "Heide", a house (and now gallery) in the Melbourne suburbs with a grand historical art connection.

So: non historicals that I've been reading include:

  • The Jewel, by Amy Ewing.  Part of my current attraction to craptacular dystopias seemingly based on contemporary reality TV.  Like Kiera Cass' "The Selection" series, this is part of the "based on The Bachelor" subgenere of dystopia - although this one has definite links to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale as well.  Which just makes me think I need to write posts about my first reading of Handmaid's Tale as well as her historical Alias Grace as well.

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.  This year's Hugo winner for best novel.  The Galactic Suburbia girls were so pleased that this book was nominated, and so was John Scalzi, that I put it on hold the day the Hugo win was announced.  I will definitely be reviewing this on Goodreads once I finish it, and linking it to a Sunday Reads post.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Reading the Morlands: "The Dark Rose", completed

So - I haven't been entirely put off this series yet.  I finished The Dark Rose this morning, and am still intending to dig into The Princeling later today (point of interest: The Princeling is about Elizabeth I, not about Edward VI.  On the one hand, I get it, especially as I'm expecting a lot of Oh, Noes, Womenfolk cannot rule, look at Queen Matilda!  But I expect it confused a few people on publication, too.)

But back to the book I've just finished reading.

Nanette = awesome.  Especially for inserting an entirely fictitious character relatively well into real events.  Kudos to Harrod-Eagles for not overplaying her hand, and for keeping Nanette's close involvement with the court to only two Queens.  Nanette's taste in men = far better at the end of the book than in the middle.  I still say that the majority of Morland heirs are utter gits.  Young Paul seems to be a little better, though.  (No idea if he'll still be alive when I open the next book.)

Religious conservatism of the Morlands: not as well explained/justified as I would have liked.  I could have done with the conversation between Nanette and James Chapham on such things going on for another page to actually talk about it instead of just stating the position.  H-E's (it's too long to type, I'm lazy today) position seems to be "they're Northern, therefore".  Don't know whether this doesn't satisfy me because I'm Protestant, or because I'm not English, or what.  But I'd certainly like further explanation - I may get it later on, of course.

H-E does have her favourites, doesn't she?  But then so do I, it's just that they're not hers.  And on the continuum of Jean Plaidy through to the HBO? Showtime? series The Tudors, H-E isn't all that bad.  She doesn't delete an entire line of the family, leaving the kingdom without an eventual heir, for example (I just recently watched all the way through The Tudors.  I'm not sure I can manage a blogged rewatch - not for a few years, anyway, but I do want to post something about it here at some point.)

So yes - not giving up on it just yet.  :-)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Reading the Morland Chronicles: "The Founding", completed

My thoughts, having finished:

I really do find the overly romanticised versions of Richard III tedious. 

As I read, I really did try to keep in mind the characters as people of the time, without instantaneous communication, the knowledge of history books, and etc.  These were Yorkists, through and through, and their support for Richard makes sense - but I still think we got the plaster-saint version of Richard, and that just irks me.

Eleanor was a fabulous character.  The connections to the Courtneys are going to make things interesting as the series goes along, and her strength and determination were well calculated to catch my attention.  It was a good thing - from my perspective - that Harrod-Eagles decided to focus on a female character for the first book.  If I had instead been confronted by the male characters as the focus, I might have given up already.  (I've already commented, in my first post about book two, how little respect I have for Ned and Paul Morland, son and grandson of Eleanor, and this is because of their lack of respect for women.)

I told a colleague I wasn't sure I'd stick with the series.  Perhaps I was having a generally negative day that day, or feeling hurt on behalf of Henry Tudor (and more to the point, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville - both women I have a great deal of time for, but who were rather hard done by in the latter parts of this book.)  As I write this I'm more than halfway through the second book: The Dark Rose, and have the third, The Princeling, on loan to start reading straight away.

So I may not be *loving* this series, but I'm finding enough in it to enjoy critiqueing and exercising my mind that I'll keep going for the moment.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Reading the Morland Chronicles: The Dark Rose, part 1

(I've finished The Founding, but haven't managed to write up my thoughts yet.  Or rather, I'd written them up, but they didn't save (damn the iPad app).  But I went straight on to the second book in the Chronicles.)

My opening thought - as shared with Twitter - about this book is that Paul, like his father Ned, is a jerk.

I'm at page 385 now, and that opinion hasn't really changed much.  I still really dislike Paul and (vague spoiler) I have massive issues with Nanette's taste.

I did love the beginning, and the connections being made with the Parr and Boleyn families, and can see Nanette's childhood connection with Katherine Parr making her time as Queen quite interesting for Nanette.  It's an interesting portrayal of Anne Boleyn, too, although I am bristling at the implications being made towards poor Mary Boleyn.

I also have problems with Harrod-Eagles' preface, which says that Henry only ever had two mistresses.  1) That's only counting the ones he didn't eventually marry, and 2) isn't counting Madge Shelton, for at least another one. And it's just being disingenuous.

I don't really want to end up hate-reading this series, but it just galls me.  She seems to have taken all my pet peeves and used them in the books so far.

I still like Plaidy better.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Reading the Moreland Chronicles: "The Founding", pt 2

Where I am up to: p 428.  I had hoped to finish reading The Founding this weekend, but I had a busier weekend than I'd expected... and then there was this:

When I say "I should have known" - they're in York.  Quite apart from the fact that Eleanor is in love with the 3rd Duke,, *and* that I know it's decidedly unfashionable to not be a Richardian in historical novel circles (in case I need to say it again, I consider myself a Richard-cynic, and although I have read Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time I found it utterly infuriating.  I'm not an anti-Richardian, but I'm definitely not a Richardian.)

And so having the Moreland's so completely pro-Richardian has put a bit of a spanner in the works of my reading.  (Picking up The Princeling and discovering they're Catholics in the reign of Elizabeth I hasn't helped either.  Every time I read such things I tend to rediscover just how Protestant I am - which is a reminder that I really should re-post my review of Gregory's The Queen's Fool.)

Anyway.  I was really quite saddened by the death of Isabella, and am quietly pondering what her death says about Harrod-Eagles' approach to things:  I will be keeping it in mind as I read further.  Her presentation of Jocosa is similarly thought-provoking, bound up as it is in her presentation of Edward IV's army vs Richard's, and where she's going with that.  Dickon is fascinating, but I don't think that H-E will spend nearly as much time on his motivations as I would like her to.

I found myself skimming last night rather than actually reading: the Richardian proselytising just got a little much.  But I am trying to actually read it properly - truly I am.  I've got the second book The Dark Rose out of the library in anticipation of finishing this one, so I certainly hope that by next Monday I've moved on to that one from this.