The Queen’s Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray – Audiobook Review

The Queen’s Lover by Francine du Plessix Gray, narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
Published in audio by Penguin Audiobooks, published in print by The Penguin Press, both imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Swedish Count Axel von Fersen is the infamous lover of Marie Antoinette, the French queen who would lose her head. The two meet while Marie Antoinette is still the dauphine and their relationship continues throughout the rest of her life. Indeed, von Fersen is even the brains behind the royal family’s unsuccessful attempt to flee the country once the Revolution begins to get truly dangerous. Even so, he is typically a minor character in the story of the French Revolution. In The Queen’s Lover, we see the entire situation from Axel’s point of view, including his life after the execution of his beloved queen.

Thoughts on the story:

The Queen’s Lover is told as if posthumously through von Fersen’s diaries and memoirs, which themselves seem to have been written after the majority of the events in question. As a result there is – strangely, for fiction – essentially zero dialogue. This give the narrative almost a clinical feel, Axel seems to be reporting on the events in question more as a historian would than as a participant would, creating a less compelling narrative than one might expect from Marie Antoinette’s lover. von Fersen himself also comes across as fairly unlikeable, professing his great love for Marie Antoinette, all the while having affairs with other women even while the queen is still alive.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Edoardo Ballerini actually brings more depth and emotion toThe Queen’s Lover than is necessarily indicated in du Plessix Gray’s story, making it a better listen that it might otherwise be. At times I nearly even forgave Ballerini’s von Fersen for his infidelities, but when the king is only one of two husbands he is cuckolding, it is difficult, even with Ballerini’s sympathetic narration. There is not much cause for Ballerini to give characters different voices due to the lack of dialogue, but his vocal changes give depth to the difficult situations described.

For more, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I wish du Plessix Gray had simply written this as nonfiction, it could have been interesting and informative, but it was a bit odd as fiction. If you are going to attempt this, I strongly recommend the audiobook, as Ballerini keeps the story moving.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey – Book Review

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

This is the second book in the Marie Antoinette series. I have previously reviewed the first book, Becoming Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette is now Queen of France, following the death of her husband’s grandfather. However, she is not yet a mother, nor has she even been given the opportunity to become one. As a women who both wants to become a mother and a queen whose duty is to become one, this childlessness leaves a hole in the queen’s heart. For Marie Antoinette, that hole is partially filled with parties, Le Petit Trianon, card games, and extravagant coiffures and gowns. Her extravagances lead her to be increasingly despised, particularly as members of the extended royal family create a smear campaign against her as a way to weaken the king’s authority and enhance their own.

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans the time between when Louis and Marie Antoinette become king and queen and the meeting of the National Assembly and the storming of the Bastille. Over the course of the book Marie Antoinette becomes a mother and matures, but if anything her reputation with the French public becomes worse. As in Becoming Marie Antoinette, Juliet Grey has transported her readers into 18th century French court life and particularly Marie Antoinette’s consciousness. I really appreciate that Grey has decided to take a trilogy to tell Marie Antoinette’s story, instead of simply a single novel, because it really helps readers understand how and where her world went so terribly wrong. Not only are Marie Antoinette’s motivations – particularly for her party girl ways early in her queenship – more easily understood, but so are the reasons for the French Revolution. In fact, I think only in nonfiction have I seen the causes of the French Revolution so well laid out.

This period of Marie Antoinette’s initial queenship is perhaps not the most exciting period of her life, but Grey manages to keep Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow interesting. I appreciate that the books in this series could be read as standalones if one has a basic knowledge of the history, but they are undoubtedly more effective when read in series order. I cannot wait for the The Last October Sky, the last book in this series, which is scheduled to be published in 2013. If these first two books are any indication, The Last October Sky will be a powerful read.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean – Book Review

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Xenia has always been a strong young woman, sure of what she wants. When she marries it is as much for love as anything else, and Xenia desires little more than to have a child with her husband. However, Xenia fails to conceive for many years, and when she does conceive she loses. Always sensitive and prone to prophetic dreams, the last straw for Xenia is when her husband dies in a freak accident following a ball thrown by Empress Elizabeth at the palace. Before long, Xenia has lost all reason and disappears, only to reappear some years later as the soothsayer and healer, St. Xenia.

Dean’s The Madonnas of Leningrad is one of the last books I read before I started blogging and I adored it, so when I heard she had another novel coming out, I jumped to read it. In some ways, The Mirrored World is slightly less accessible than the WWII-era The Madonnas of Leningrad, as many Westerners may never have heard of Russia’s St. Xenia. The Mirrored World is a reimagining and humanizing of the saint’s life from the point of view of her cousin, and I can’t help but think it would be somewhat more meaningful and compelling if one is familiar with the saint in the first place.

That being said, The Mirrored World is still a strong book. Dean’s writing is lovely, and her main character – Xenia’s cousin – is well-drawn. Xenia herself is somewhat vaguer, but as she becomes a holy fool, that is a wise decision, as attempting to get inside the mind of a disturbed and grieving woman who disappears and reemerges as a soothsayer seems a recipe for disaster.

The Mirrored World is an interesting look at a historical personage about whom I knew very little. Even if you have no inherent interest in St. Xenia, Dean’s writing still makes this a book worth reading. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon – Book Review

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta, an imprint of Random House
This is the 2nd book in the series, review may contain spoilers for earlier books

Claire and Jaime are back again, trying now to prevent the battle at Culloden Field, in which Claire knows thousands of highland men will die. In an attempt to change history, they travel together to France to try to subvert the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

“Dragonfly in Amber” has perhaps the most confusing opening of any book I have ever read. When we last left Claire at the end of “Outlander,” she had decided not to go back to her own time, but to stay with Jaime. At the beginning of “Dragonfly in Amber,” she is back in the present with a grown daughter, trying to find out who of all of the men she had known made it alive through the battle at Culloden Field. I wondered if I had skipped a page in “Dragonfly in Amber,” or whether I had misinterpreted or misremembered the end of “Outlander.” Before too long, though, it all made sense again, and I was happy to be back, drawn into the lives of Claire and Jamie once more.

As with “Outlander,” I felt that “Dragonfly in Amber” was just a bit too long. And really, it is a testament to Gabaldon’s writing and storytelling that her 800+ page books are only a little too long, and not painfully too long. Still, though, it makes me hesitate a bit to get to the later books, which are even longer. Even so, I am loving these books and have no plans to stop the series any tiem soon.

Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – Audiobook Review

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy and Bahni Turpin
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio; Published in print by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Synopsis:

After both of her parents die on their crossing from Ireland to America, seven-year old Lavinia is taken on as an indentured servant by the captain of the ship on which she sailed, in order to pay for her fare. As the only white indentured servant on the plantation, Lavinia’s place is somewhat uncertain. She lives with the plantation slaves, but is educated by her master’s family and treated completely differently than is the rest of their help. Inevitably, as Lavinia grows up, her dual identity as a white and eventually free person and someone who considers herself part of a family whose other members are enslaved causes problems that may put her and those she loves in danger.

Thoughts on the story:

I don’t know if it has to do with the books I happen to pick up or what is being published at any point in time in general, but I oftentimes find myself in a morass of historical fiction, drowning in books which are all on the same topic. As such, “The Kitchen House” was very refreshing indeed. I have only read one other book with a character who is an indentured servant, and the quality of the writing and storytelling was definitely better in “The Kitchen House.” Lavinia was not the only narrator, the enslaved woman with whom she lived, Belle, also narrated some chapters, although she had a small percentage of the book as compared with Lavinia. Grissom handled the dual narrators well, however. Belle was able to show the reader things that Lavinia could not know, but was given enough depth and emotion that her narration did not seem just a cheap plot device, but actually enhanced the story being told.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I thought the narration was terrific. For more specifics, please see the review I wrote for AudioFile Magazine.

Overall:

I think this would be enjoyable either in print or in audio. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Audible
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio/Print*
Amazon: Audio/Print*

Source: Audiofile Magazine, print copy from publisher
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.