Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – Audiobook Review

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Macmillan Audio, published in print by Henry Holt & Co, both imprints of Macmillan

Bring up the Bodies is the sequel to Wolf Hall.

Synopsis:

His attempt to marry Anne Boleyn irrevocably changed England, but now Henry VIII is growing disenchanted with his wife. Her one living child is another mere girl, like his child with his first wife, Katherine, and although Anne has conceived since she has failed to carry any more babies to term. In addition to feeling cheated in the return on his investment, Henry also finds himself increasingly intrigued by shy, quiet Jane Seymour. There is only one man who the king trusts to do his bidding and make sure that his ends are achieved: Thomas Cromwell.

Thoughts on the story:

In Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel continues telling the story of Cromwell and his machinations on behalf of Henry VIII. She clearly took to heart the criticisms of Wolf Hall, particularly that it is at times difficult to follow in the myriad of “he”s. In Bring up the Bodies, Mantel frequently clarifies when talking about Cromwell, the phrase “he, Cromwell” is sprinkled liberally throughout the text. It is actually present to the extent that it seems a bit overdone, almost as if she was attempting to prove a point about her choices in Wolf Hall. Bring up the Bodies is shorter and, in general, much more accessible than Wolf Hall while still being incredibly well-written.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Simon Vance was ON with his vocal differentiation and accents in Bring up the Bodies. I was initially put off by his voices for both Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but shortly after each of them first speak, Mantel describes their voices/accents and Vance’s interpretations match perfectly.  The audio format does bring out Mantel’s “he, Cromwell” more prominently to the point where it is almost annoying, but Vance’s appealing narration smooths over that minor textual irritation.

Overall:

As much as I enjoyed Wolf Hall, I found Bring up the Bodies to be even better. I highly recommend it in general, and even more highly recommend having Simon Vance whisper Mantel’s fascinating words and stories into your ears.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

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: Personal.
* 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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Gilt by Katherine Longshore – Audiobook Review

Gilt by Katherine Longshore, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda
Published in audio by Penguin Audio; published in print by Viking Juvenile, both imprints of Penguin

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.

Thoughts on the story:

Oh, you guys, I loved Gilt so hard. SO hard. Catherine Howard is a hard wife of Henry VIII to know what to do with. Unlike Anne Boleyn it seems likely that she was actually guilty of the crimes of which she was accused, so then the question becomes whether she was naïve or calculating; did she somehow fall into a trap of adultery or was she out to get what she wanted? The problem with telling her story is that the naïve girl who simply wants to love her dear Thomas Culpepper is sort of boring, and the young woman who is not above using her sexuality to manipulate situations in her favor isn’t the most likable of characters.

Katherine Longshore solves this problem by giving us the spoiled, manipulative Cat that we love to hate, but not forcing the reader to experience the entire story through her unsympathetic point of view. Instead of we are treated to Cat’s meteoric rise and downfall through the eyes of Kitty Tilney, a hanger-on and distant relation who always considered Cat Howard to be her best friend. Cat uses and abuses Kitty in ways that increase the drama of the story without giving way to melodrama. It also allows for a story of Kitty’s personal growth in a real and organic way, which means that Gilt isn’t just repeating a tired old Tudor storyline.

One note: Gilt is being marketed as a young adult novel and certainly works as one, partly because of the ages of the main characters, but it is a very mature young adult novel and doesn’t shy away from the adultery, rape, and politics happening at court. There is no reason why adult fans of Tudor historical fiction should shy away from this one based on the marketing label.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Jennifer Ikeda does a great job narrating Gilt. She’s believable as Kitty and does a good job with the voices. Like Longshore, she does a wonderful job finding the balance between expressing the drama inherent in the story and avoiding unnecessary melodrama.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I have every confidence that I would have loved Gilt in print, but the audio is a fantastic option as well. Really, I’m just glad I got to experience Longshore’s version of Catherine Howard.

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.
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The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau – Book Review

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau
Published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Joanna Stafford’s family has been repeatedly touched by scandal. First her uncle is executed for treason, and now her beloved cousin Margaret is condemned to be burned at the stake for her part in an uprising against Henry VIII and his persecution of the old (Catholic) ways. Even absent her family connections, Joanna is a suspicious figure as a novice Dominican nun in a time when the King has broken with the Pope and is shutting down religious houses throughout the country. Between the family treason and the religious leanings, Joanna finds herself in great trouble when she becomes involved in a commotion during Margaret’s execution. Imprisoned in the tower, along with her beloved father, Joanna is offered a single way to save both herself and her father by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester: she must return to her convent and find the crown worn by the Saxon King Athelstan. As soon as Joanna returns, however, people begin turning up dead, complicating her mission and making her wonder just what this relic really is.

The Crown  would best be classified as a historical thriller, but to my relief, Bilyeau’s writing style is much more closely aligned to the historical fiction genre than to the thriller genre, avoiding the short chapters with cliffhanger endings that are a hallmark of many thrillers. Bilyeau develops her characters well; Joanna is certainly a fully-fledged person and, although the reader does not have access into the minds of the other characters, all of the secondary characters are complex enough to be realistic as well. Even Gardiner manages to avoid being a two-dimensional villain. Each chapter has rich historical detail interwoven with the story, bringing a sense of authenticity, without ever devolving into info-dump territory.

The storyline Bilyeau created for The Crown is fascinating as well. Even while Joanna is in the tower the action continues to move forward and the reader begins to get a sense of the political intrigue occurring throughout the court and the religious orders. The legend of Athelstan and his crown is teased out perfectly, enough information is given to keep the reader from becoming frustrated, but enough is also withheld to keep the level of suspense high.

The Crown may be a debut novel, but it is a fantastic example of the historical thriller drama. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, I highly recommend picking up The Crown.

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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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – Book Review

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

If you don’t already know what this book is about, there is a good chance this isn’t the sort of book you would like, because this has got to be hands-down the most talked about historical fiction novel of the past 12 months: Henry VIII’s court from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view.

Thomas Cromwell. Not, perhaps, the most sympathetic character from Henry VIII’s reign, and there were an awful lot of unsympathetic characters running around that court. In most works of historical fiction, Cromwell is vilified, detested; he is a horrible, horrible man who craves naught but power and influence. Honestly, doesn’t sound like the sort of man that I would like to read a 600 page book about, whose head I would want to be in for that long.

But Mantel does something special with Cromwell in “Wolf Hall.” She humanizes him, and actually makes him sympathetic. Honestly, I’m not even sure how she did it. Although we are somewhat in Cromwell’s head throughout the story, her narration is still in third person and somehow everything seems a little  on the distant side – I felt almost as if I was watching everything take place through a pane of frosted glass. And yet, I felt that I understood him, that I cared what he thought and felt.

One of the main things that everyone has talked about with this book is the fact that it is a difficult read. In particular, Mantel almost always refers to Cromwell simply as ‘he’ and, yes, when he’s talking to other men, that gets very confusing. And really, some of the passages are just plain dense, and a bit hard to get through, in the second and third sections particularly.

But then, in the second half of the book, it just all came together for me. I was completely drawn into the story by that point, I was used to Mantel’s writing, and it all just flowed. I loved it. LOVED it. I’ve never read Tudor fiction like this, I’ve never seen Cromwell as a character like this and, despite early difficulties, I absolutely adored it.

If you love literary fiction and historical fiction and are willing to put a little work into your books, I highly recommend “Wolf Hall.”

A note on how I read this: I actually read “Wolf Hall” over about six weeks, reading a section each weekend to discuss on Monday with a friend. Although the discussions petered out, I think that reading it like this really worked well for me. Trying to read the entire thing at once might have burned me out, but having it as my weekend read with other books during the week always left me wanting more, particularly towards the end when I got really into it.

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

This review was done with a book received as a gift.
* 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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