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

Iā€™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.
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The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann – Book Review

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann
Published by Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Emil Larsson finally has the life he wants as a well-regarded Swedish customs official. In addition to his salary, being a customs official gives him the opportunity for some extracurricular compensation. This plus his winnings at cards gives Larsson a very nice living. Unfortunately, everything he has is now at risk, as his supervisor is threatening to let him go if he does not get married and settle down. Luckily for Larsson’s position, Mrs. Sparrow – the proprietor of the gaming parlor he frequents – has had a vision about him, a vision that promises him love and connection. To find out how to bring this love and connection about, Mrs. Sparrow is going to practice a form of divination she created herself, the Octavo, which will help Larsson identify the eight people in Stockholm who can help him realize the vision. Before long, Larsson finds himself caught up in the revolt of the nobles against King Gustav, an event that is precipitated by – and may have serious repercussions on – the ensuing French Revolution.

Based on the dust jacket description of The Stockholm Octavo, I was a little bit afraid that Engelmann was trying to promote a New Thing through historical fiction. Thankfully, this turns out not to be the case. The characters certainly believe in the power of the Octavo wholeheartedly, and for all I know Engelmann also believes fervently in these sorts of connections, the The Stockhom Octavo is not setting out to create a fad. Instead, it is a recognition of the interconnectedness of human lives, and the way interpersonal relationships have shaped our shared history.

Larsson starts out as a brash and often obtuse young man whose only real thoughts are what he can gain from any given situation. The processes of first laying out the Octavo, and then of deciphering which people in his life fit the positions of his Octavo force him to become more aware of the humanity that surrounds him and of the greater good. He begins to be less selfish, and more in tune to the needs of others instead of only himself. In the first ten pages, Emil Larsson is a character you are not sure you can spend an entire book with, but by the last ten he is a character you are glad you did.

I was not quite as caught up in The Stockholm Octavo as I hoped I might be, based on the reactions of some readers I trust, but I did very much enjoy it, and I believe it is a book that will stay with me. 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.

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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.

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The Black Count by Tom Reiss – Book Review

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
Published by Crown Books, an imprint of Random House

Alexandre Dumas is the author of some of the best-known works in Western literature. What little boy doesn’t have some concept of the three musketeers? Heck, The Three Musketeers has lent its name to a candy bar, and The Counte of Monte Cristo inspired the popular tv show Revenge (which I love). Dumas did not, however, create these stories from whole cloth. Instead, his novels were at least partially based on the exploits of his beloved father Alex Dumas, a man of African decent who went from slave in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) to general in the French army during the revolution.

The novelist tried to make light of the racist insults, but they must have stung. The greatest sin of all, however, was that his father, General Alex Dumas, was forgotten. The son never managed to discover the full truth about his father, or to restore his place in the history books. But he avenged his father in another way, by creating fictional worlds where no wrongdoer goes unpunished and the good people are watched over and protected by fearless, almost superhuman heroes – heroes, that is, a lot like Alex Dumas. -p. 14-15

In The Black Count, Reiss gives a full picture of Alex’s life within the context of Alexandre’s adoration of his father and the socio-political changes undergoing France. As might be expected, Reiss has much to say about race and slavery in France and its colonial possessions. Alex Dumas had the rare opportunity to arrive in France at the height of freedom for persons of color in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

With the Revolution in 1789, the dream of equality in France suddenly seemed almost limitless. Dumas was not the only black or mixed-race Frenchman to rise up.. -p. 10-11

Revolutionary France was even more egalitarian, as is evidenced by the fact that Dumas managed to rise to the rank of general; his son would be less lucky as France would become again more hostile towards people of color under Napoleon’s reign.

In addition to shedding light on race relations in 18th century France, The Black Count is also the best account of the French Revolution I have ever read. Not only are the events of the Revolution laid out clearly and concisely, Reiss also addresses the root causes, including some I’ve never heard before. I now have a better understanding of the French Revolution, as well as Napoleon’s ascendancy than I ever have before. Best of all, Reiss kept The Black Count interesting, even when getting into the nitty gritty of battle campaigns against powers hostile to Revolutionary France.

If you have even the vaguest interest in Alexandre Dumas, the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, or the history of slavery and race relations, The Black Count is a must-read. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* 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.

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Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly – Audiobook Review

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering
Published in audio by Listening Library; published in print by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House

If you posted an audiobook review today, Thursday June 9th, please leave your link in the Mr. Linky before midnight Central time (US) and you will be eligible to win a prize.

Synopsis:

Andi should have everything going for her: well-to-do family, great school, brains, beauty, and musical talent. Somehow, though, none of that means anything since the death of her little brother, Truman; a death Andi witnessed and for which she blames herself. Andi is angry, at herself and at the way her parents fell apart after Truman’s death. Nearly flunking out of school and not particularly well liked by much of anyone but one friend and a guitar teacher, Andi is even considering suicide.

And then she gets dragged to Paris over Christmas break by her father, who has been appointed to do the DNA testing on a heart purported to be that of Louis XVII, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Furious at being dragged along by her father like a child, Andi is suddenly motivated to work on her senior project by the promise of a plane ticket home. At roughly the same time, she discovers a very old diary, written by a girl around the time of the French Revolution; a girl who, it seems, knew Louis XVII; a girl who was in political trouble.

Alexandrine’s story begins to exert the same, or even stronger, pull over Andi as a trip home, and Andi begins to lose her present troubles in those of the past.

Thoughts on the story:

Early on, Andi is very difficult to take. The reader truly wants to sympathize with her, after all, this girl witnessed the death of the brother she so dearly loved. The evidence is pretty clear that she wasn’t this horrible before Truman’s death. But really, Andi is horrible. She is rude, vindictive, and self-loathing, whiny, a difficult character to like. It isn’t until she gets to Paris that this begins to change. Donnelly has Andi on a very believable arc of growth, but that does require allowing her to continue to be awful just to the point where she strains the reader’s empathy. By the time Andi starts to grow, you are so relieved that you no longer have the unbearable urge to slap her, that you fall headlong into the book.

Perhaps the best part about Revolution is how Andi and Alexandrine’s storylines converged. Both are fascinating and engaging, and they mirror one another in not overly obvious ways – the parallels are clearly there, but Donnelly sees no need to beat her reader over the head with them. When the storylines come together, though, that is when Revolution becomes impossible to put down.

Thoughts on the audio production:

As I mentioned earlier this week, I often have trouble with the narrators of young adult books sounding too old. Emily Janice Card was probably just on the cusp of this for me. Certainly she didn’t sound quite like the seventeen year old that Andi is. After pondering it for the first 30 or 45 minutes, though, I decided she was analogous to the 30 year olds that play high schoolers in movies and sitcoms. Clearly most actual high school students don’t sound/look like that, but it is close enough that you can still suspend your disbelief.

If anything, Emma Bering sounded even older than Emily Janice Card, but for Alexandrine, that worked. Both Andi and Alexandrine had been through a lot in their lives, but in Andi’s case it turned her into a petulant child, while Alexandrine was forced to mature very quickly. With this characterization in mind, the different aged sounds of their voices worked perfectly, and the fact that Bering gave Card a voice to sound younger than worked very much in the favor of the audiobook, keeping everything reasonable for girls in their late teens.

Apart from possibly sounding slightly old, both women were amazing narrators, breathing life into their characters. I would not hesitate to listen to anything either of them narrated.

Overall

This was an amazingly well put together book. The amount of research required, as well as the necessity to create parallels between the girls that felt natural, could have resulted in an awkward info dump, but Jennifer Donnelly wrote an incredibly moving story that was expertly narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering. You can’t go wrong with Revolution in print or audio.

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

Source: library.
* 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.
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