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review 2020-01-16 04:44
To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker
To Dance with Kings - Rosalind Laker

This book was full. Full of detail. Full of characters. Full of buildings. Full of emotions. Full of bad choices. Full of stupid girls. 


I'm going to veer off course here just a little bit. Every book I have ever read about the French royal court is full of stupid, stupid women. The only exception seems to be Catherine de Medici. And she's not French. She's Italian. I'm going to go back and check out my reviews of past books. I'm pretty confident in this statement. Women at the French court, no matter the era, were stupid and constantly made head banging choices. A prime example is the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy by Sally Christie. I encourage you to check out my reviews. It's some of my best work. I welcome any book suggestions that will counter my personal theory.


Back to this book.I enjoyed the first 30%. Marguerite was an intelligent, hard working woman. She had skills other than bedroom skills and she put them to work. She was not going to take a handout from her rich lover. She understood the importance of being independent. Marguerite had very modern sensibilities. That didn't mean Marguerite didn't make some stupid decisions. She did. In her defense, if I had been forced to live with a woman like Suzanne, I might do some pretty stupid things too. The reader walks through life with Marguerite while she navigates life in the court of the Sun King, has her heart broken, and finds love again. 


At the astounding age of 42, Marguerite gives birth to her daughter, Jasmin. Here the book starts to fall apart. Jasmin is spoiled. While Marguerite wants to keep her only child firmly grounded, papa indulges her. I think we all know how that goes. Jasmin makes bad choice after bad choice. Eventually those choices land her married to a vile, abusive, banished Duc. Jasmin's husband is your typical violent drunk. The only thing the author forgot to give him was a curling mustache. At some point, Jasmin has a daughter of her own who she calls Violette. More bad choices follow. All the while we are suppose to believe that Jasmin is actually an intelligent, caring, compassionate woman who cares deeply for the plight of the French common people. All of those things are true but they become hard to swallow when surrounded by all of the other obviously moronic things Jasmin does.


We never really get a full Violette story. This is perfectly fine. The little bit of Violette we do get is exasperating. Her choices make her mother's look intelligent.  She exists as an avenue to Rose. Rose is Violette's daughter who ends up being raised by Jasmin. Rose enters the book at about 70%. Honestly, if Rose was the only person featured in this book, that would have been enough for me. Rose's story puts the reader in Marie Antoinette's inner circle as the events of the French Revolution unfold around her. It's dramatic. It's emotional. It had me yelling at my husband to find another room to breath in. There is a scene towards the end that follows the execution of Marie Antoinette that had me full on ugly crying. I would read that section of the book again. Not the rest. Just that part. 


I need to veer off course here again. In a time when the average life expectancy of a French citizen was between 25 and 30 years of age, the people in Laker's book managed to live incredibly long lives. Many of the main characters reached at least 70s and in some cases 90s. While I understand that Laker's characters were much better off than most French people of the era, it is incredibly unlikely that so many people would live so long. Smallpox ran wild in France and the vaccination wasn't available until the early 19th century. However, I have seem some evidence that suggests Marie Antoinette introduced the smallpox vaccination to the French court. Some could argue that demographic information from the late 18th century is a little skewed due to the sheer amount of executions that took place during the years of the French Revolution. While that's a valid point, the French government didn't keep accurate data during the Revolution years. Specifically any data pertaining to life expectancy of men. I welcome any thoughts on this. 


This got a little longer than I intended it to but I had a lot of book to deal with. 


Read from 12/23/2019-1/16/2020

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review 2019-11-13 20:12
History and Historical Romance
It Started with a Scandal: Pennyroyal Green Series - Julie Anne Long

I tend to get all breathless and twitterpated when I discover a new historical romance writer I enjoy, sending out profligate hold requests at the library. That was the case with Julie Anne Long, whose Lady Derring Takes a Lover was so beautifully choleric on the ingrained sexism of the time, and features a found family plot and exquisitely rendered female relationships. I maybe don't need to say this, but I will anyway: as much I enjoy a historical, the baked in acceptance of social norms which are, to put mildly, antique, and to put more specifically, fucked beyond the telling of it, makes me often quite itchy while I read.


This is figleafed in ur average historical romance: industrialists are all, to a man, fair minded and generous, having acquired their fortunes without being the rapacious monsters they all, to a man, were. The aristocrats -- the dukes and earls and the like -- may have daddy issues, struggling under the injurious regard of their Old Testament fathers, but these paternal and paternalistic dinosaurs are emblematic of a outdated mode of lording over great swaths of land and hundreds, maybe thousands of people. These new sons are embodiments of a New Aristocracy, one that views its marriages as meritocracies, the perfect embodiment of noblesse oblige. 


I was just reading one recently where the industrialist romantic lead mentioned offhand his ownership of cotton mills, and my mind leapt right to tour of Lowell, MA I took some years ago. Lowell is a locus of both early American industrialization, and the inevitable labor movements that follow once people grow weary of being ground down by engines, spitted by the spearpoint of progress. Young women, girls really, worked 12 hour days six days a week until they coughed themselves into an early grave due to the cotton fibers they inhaled, the factory air muzzy with a fog of particulates. (It is also the hometown of Jack Kerouac.) That's the problem with historicals: they are inescapably based on history, which features a boot on a throat in one permutation or another for as far back as one can manage.  


So, the endgame of this little diatribe was some dissatisfaction with It Started With a Scandal. On every objective metric, this is a fine novel, with excellent characterization, smooth pacing, and well drawn sexual tension. Long is a smart, interesting writer, and I will continue to read the shit out of her back catalog. However, I was never quite able to get over the fact that our romantic lead was a prince of Burgundy or Bourbon or somesuch, a French aristocrat who fled France during the Revolution. He's very put out by the fact that his ancestral lands are not in his family's possession anymore, and spends much time glowering and throwing vases in fits of pique. The leading lady, his housekeeper, vouchsafes to feel bad for him quite prodigiously. She is herself just weeks from penury -- she and her child -- so she knows what it is to lose things. 


To which I say: bah. The French aristocracy deserved to have their heads separated from their necks. They were indolent, greedy, dissolute shits whose venality resulted in the abject poverty and misery of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people. So boo fucking hoo about getting run out of the country where our hero was born into incredible wealth and privilege. (I may have my back up after seeing some billionaire -- there are only 600 or so in America, a listable group of people -- literally crying on television because someone might tax him commensurate with his wealth. Meanwhile millions of Americans go bankrupt or just fucking die due to a medical insurance system designed to maximize profits at a brutal human cost. Fuck, and I can't stress this enough, every single billionaire.) 


I am aware of, and engage in quite happily, the sort of historical blindness required to enjoy a historical romance. I am not going to nitpick inconsistencies unless they are egregious and/or not in service of the final resolution. But sometimes I'm in my own place in history, where I cannot unsee the parallels to current, ongoing, often fatal injustices in the world. I am not going to waste time feeling bad for people who have had everything and then some given to them by accident or birth who, just occasionally, feel thwarted in their every impulse. Our heroine's soft-heartedness looks soft-headed. 


I've said this before, but I'm going to repeat it: every romance has the echoes of a less satisfactory conclusion embedded within it. Without the invisible authorial hand, our housekeeper's life would end in brutal poverty, discarded by a "polite" society predicated on systematic exploitation. Mostly I'm satisfied with these romantic revisions -- that is the point of a historical romance novel, n'est-ce pas? I can and do acknowledge this freakout is largely on me -- I do not want to enbussen Long, who seems a very fine writer, because of a personal convergence of things. But sometimes I just can't. The romantic conclusion ends up seeming such a petty, priapic thing, the tumescence of love blotting out all impediments to our lovers, even the important, necessary, and structural ones. 


Probably I should just back way from historical romance for the time being, library holds notwithstanding, until some improbable time when our brutal history is less brutal. I'll be busy holding my breath. 

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review 2019-06-25 14:43
The Crimson Heirlooms- Hunter Dennis

      This historical fiction reads more like a book written in the 19th Century than one written in our time, which says something for the quality of the Dennis’s creativeness. One must qualify that by pointing out that there is a great deal of modern rather than 19th Century word usage and sentence structure, but for the modern reader that simply sharpens understanding, rather than detracting from the historic placement. Time shifting word patterns have often give even the greatest literature from past centuries a turgid heaviness. So I think the author was right to not too deeply play his use of 19th century ‘building materials’.

      As one is absorbed in the series of period specific vignettes, which make up the book, the descriptive detail effortlessly levers imagination back through time. I would find it hard to believe that Dennis hasn’t read a great many of the classic fictions from the period, allowing his writing to absorb something of those famous authors tones. The modern reader needs to be warned that this book also has a slow rhythm, is very long descriptive detail and has a primary plot that is almost an irrelevance. What Davis does do with a certain brilliance is draw us to the ‘atmospheres’, the social drama, the real histories, of the 18th and 19th centuries.

      My strongest criticism is firstly that the book is overlong, being at least two good-sized reads in one, and that, secondly, I see no value in flicking backwards and forwards in time. The later confused me, causing a struggle to put together the jigsaw of characters and events. I am, I’m sure, hampered by being a particularly slow reader, so necessitating many periods of reading interwoven with the demands of my real world. Particularly with my memory being far short of excellent, I was too often left half drowned. The book is far too long for all but a few to read at one or even two concentrated sittings. I would love to see this book re-engineered into a simple linear chronology.

      Overall, it would be most ingenuous of me not to give this book five of those ridiculous stars. However, I feel this reads more like a work in progress than a finished article. This is the first part of a series, but that doesn’t mean that this volume is correctly ended in adagio rather than climatic allegro. The read finishes with an intellectual plot resolution of sorts, but with none of the fortissimo that some earlier episodes in the book achieved. In short, a wonderful read that is somewhat spoiled by a lack of input from a good content editor.


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review 2019-03-29 04:47
Sky Without Stars is an epic futuristic reimagining of Les Miserables in space 'et c'est magnifique!'
Sky Without Stars - Joanne Rendell,Jessica Brody

Les Misérables, the historical classic novel set during the French Revolution and written by Victor Hugo in 1862, may never be seen the same way again after you read this YA sci-fi re-imagining. Sky Without Stars is the first in a series of novels in the System Divine set on the planet Laterre, where the divide between wealthy and poor is massive, and signs of revolution are everywhere.


There is so much to say about this book that it’s hard to know where to start in describing it, especially without revealing too much. While the size of it is daunting, its pace is even and kept me enthralled throughout; I didn’t want to put it down at all over an entire weekend. You also don’t have to know the story of Les Misérables (and many readers will likely only know the story from the several films of the same name) so I'll be a heathen and say it doesn’t matter if you haven't read the original book this is based on.


This glorious epic novel follows the lives of Chatine, Alouette, and Marcellus, and we gradually find out how a thief, a guardian, and a general can have such desperately different lives but actually have a lot in common.

Within the Frets of the planet Laterre, Chatine survives as a thief, her parents run a gang, and she hides her identity by posing as a boy. Beneath the city in The Refuge, Alouette lives within the Sisterhood, protecting the only surviving library of the Old World and unbeknownst to her, has been living her life behind a web of lies. Meanwhile, Marcellus, grandson of General Bonnefaçon, struggles with the responsibilities of living up to the standards of his grandfather and doubts the government he is supposed to serve and stand by. The paths of these three characters intersect in a fascinating world that melds scenes from Hugo's epic novel with a space-age future where humans have inhabited multiple planets many centuries from now. I found all three of them to be multi-faceted and to constantly be in tune with what was going on around them, and even when they were struggling or seemingly at their worst, I found myself pulling for them.


I was easily drawn in with the excellent world-building, which has shades of rebellion that made me think of Star Wars, but the new planet that everyone has inhabited still feels very French, with Français used throughout the book, so it keeps the heart of Les Misérables close. The science fiction comes across as plausible and frighteningly realistic (the best kind to read, in my opinion!). I lapped up all the details in this world that was created for these characters: Everyone has electronic ‘Skins’ implanted in their arms, and audiochips in their ears, and the squalor that everyone lives in is hard to digest; it made me think of Bladerunner, that fusion of the old and new. The very fact that the written word has become extinct, that books have become extinct (and protected by the Sisterhood) is heartbreaking. Being able to actually read has also become a rare skill.

The planet is illuminated by three fake Sols and the moon has become a prison colony, even the use of fire has been banished. It seems there is some forest on the outskirts of the city and on the periphery of LeDome; all of these environments and areas are sketched out in a map in the front of the book. There are also other planets described in the System Divine and I really hope they are visited in subsequent novels in the series.


Authors Brody and Rendell have created an entire imagined parallel universe that I could’ve kept on reading about for hours longer, no matter how sobering and dark.

There is action, adventure, science-fiction, romance, the feeling of reading a history, as well as political intrigue, an underground revolutionary uprising called the Vanguarde. Based on one of the greatest novels of all time, ‘Sky Without Stars’ depicts a future where the chasm between classes has grown exponentially, but the layers in between make this novel irresistible.

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/34513785-sky-without-stars
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review 2018-09-07 17:00
‘Enchantée’ will sweep you off your feet and take you back to 18th-century Paris; this historical fantasy is rich with magic, romance, and even some actual events
Enchantée - Gita Trelease

*Warning: words en Francais may appear sporadically.


This book is…enchanting. I didn’t have it on my radar until quite simply everyone seemed to be asking about this novel about two sisters living in Paris during the French Revolution, one with the gift of magic, and with the desperate need to get themselves out of the dire situation they are in. They are poor, with Camille using her magie to turn pieces of metal they find in the dirt into coins, while Sophie is ailing, weak with a terrible cough. Their brother Alain is a drunkard and cruel, deeply in debt from his gambling, and the sisters just dream of finding a home away from their brother, Sophie perhaps marrying into aristocracy and money, while Camille has dreams of owning a print shop like her deceased father once did.


I’m not usually swept up into a book such as this, one that is a spell-binding combination of magic, romance, historical fiction, and fantasy, but although it’s a long book (some parts seemed overly long, and I felt like the whole thing could have been quite a bit shorter), I was entranced by the characters, as well as the setting.


Author Gita Trelease has painted a vivid portrait of Paris in the 18th century in ‘Enchantée’, when the contrast between the rich and the poor was stark, and Marie Antoinette was taking court. Readers will be pleased to know that they will served up ‘beacoup de’ servings of what it was like to live as a French aristocrat at that time, as Camille takes on a new persona, as the Baroness de la Fontaine, when she uses her ‘magie glamoire’ to gain entry to Versailles to play and turn cards. While there she rubs elbows with the rich she would otherwise detest, but ends up making friends as she makes enough money to change things for herself and Sophie. She internally struggles with her use of magie and the differences between the rich and the poor at that time, even though she is using it to change her fortune.


There’s a ‘rags-to-riches’/Cinderella tale here, a face-off between the handsome suitors (the handsome, devilish rogue, Seguin, and the more reserved but romantic ingenue, Lazare). The book provides a wonderful look at the culture of the time (I absolutely loved all the research obviously done regarding the use of hot-air balloons; that was probably my favorite part), as well as our protagonist wrestling with so many ideals and virtues. This gives a fantastic deeper edge to the book, and gives a real nod to climate preceding the Revolution. The poverty that was experienced by the ‘poor’ thanks to the disparity created by taxes and wheat prices, is fervently clear throughout, and it’s the thing that drives Camille all the way through her saga at Versailles, and pushes her use her magie. But the question is always, is it worth it? And does this make her just like the aristo? I think the answers are a bit murky at the end, despite the ‘happy ending’.


I would very much imagine that many of those who have fallen particularly for the setting of belle Paris, have not had the privilege, like myself, of visiting France, and may not even speak much French; the book is addled with short French phrases, for which, Trelease has put a glossary in the back of the book. It may remove a little enjoyment to keep looking things up, if you don’t know the meaning of those words, but my guess is you have rudimentary French knowledge to have interest in the book in the first place. I appreciate the explanation of all the historical facts and figures as they appear in the book, as they are fascinating.


The pace of the book picks up rapidly at about half way through the book, which I felt could have been a lot plus rapide; I feel as though a historical fiction/romance is a bit extravagant at close to 500 pages. If you’re looking for a book with lots of action and adventure, this one isn’t it, and thanks to the coy teasing nature of the romantic flirting, even that isn’t super juicy and doesn’t take up a wild amount of those pages. But of the ones that it does, they’re not overdone or too sickly sweet.


‘Enchantée’ is a fabulous romantic story set in Revolutionary France and I’d say ‘vas-y’ (that means go for it), if you’re enamored by historical romance at all. This has a sumptuous setting, unique voice, and made a change in all the YA I’d read lately.

By the way, Paris remains one of my most favorite cities today; take a plane and read ‘Enchantée on the way (sorry that you have to wait until February for it, malheureusement)!


Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/36613718-enchant-e
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