Elizabeth I by Margaret George – Book Review

Elizabeth I by Margaret George
Published by Penguin Paperbacks, an imprint of Penguin

Much has been written about Elizabeth I, but the majority of it seems to concentrate on the earlier years of her life. Her alleged affair with Thomas Seymour, her life under her sister Mary’s Catholic rule, and the relationship between Elizabeth and Robert Dudley (were they lovers? did he kill his wife in hopes of marrying Elizabeth?) all are highly scrutinized events in historical fiction. The latter part of the reign of Gloriana, however, tends to be largely glossed over. After executing her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, most novelists seem to think that Elizabeth has little else of note, other than the battle with the Spanish Armada and perhaps a few pages about the execution of the Earl of Essex.

Margaret George, however, gifts her readers with an indepth look at Elizabeth’s later years with her latest book, Elizabeth I. George’s book begins with England’s first battle with the Armada, instead of ending there. What follows is the story of a woman at the height of her powers as she begins the decline into old age. Of particular emphasis is Elizabeth’s tumultuous relationship with the Earl of Essex, a man who goes from being a pet of hers to a major threat to her throne.

I must admit, the narrow scope of George’s book surprised me. I’ve previously read her books on Cleopatra and Henry VIII, and they are sweeping epics, covering the majority of the subjects’ lives. Elizabeth I compares to these earlier novels in length, but covering only 15 or so years, it marks a change in style for George; it is not a view of Elizabeth’s entire life, or even her entire reign, but a close look at the events at the end of her life. That period given less than 50 pages by so many novelists is granted nearly 700 pages in George’s work, enabling her to go deep into Elizabeth’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, as well as those of the people around her.

Of particular interest are the sections narrated by Elizabeth’s cousin Lettice. Lettice is often described in novels as looking very like Elizabeth, but even prettier, which would not have endeared her to the queen. The real break between the cousins came, however, when Lettice married Elizabeth’s beloved courtier Robert Dudley (he of the ‘did-they-didn’t-they’ relationship). What is often glossed over, though, is the fact that Lettice was also the mother of the rebellious Earl of Essex, a role that put her even more at odds with her queen.

It is really quite amazing how much new understanding George is able to bring to such an often memorialized woman, reign, and time period. She excels at spending just enough time on events that she is able to convey the full extent of their significance, but not so much time that she belabors her point or bores the reader. Although Elizabeth I is quite long, it never feels overly so. Margaret George has proved once again that she is perhaps the consummate historical novelist of our time. Highly recommended.

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Source: Library.
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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Audiobook Review

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, narrated by Kate Rudd
Published in audio by Brilliance Audio; published in print by Dutton Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Hazel Grace Lancaster isn’t a huge fan of her cancer support group. It is the same thing over and over, other than the fact that the list of the dead grows ever longer. When smart and cancer survivor cynical Augustus Waters joins the group to support a friend, though, Hazel finally has a reason to go, and a reason to connect to the people around her. As a cancer kid who has been out of school for years, Hazel is no longer particularly close to her peers, but Augustus understands her in a way that others cannot. And, perhaps most importantly, he understands her love of Peter Van Houten’s book, An Imperial Affliction. In fact, Augustus is even willing to use his wish for a trip to Holland so that he and Hazel can meet Van Houten and attempt to gain closure on his story.

Thoughts on the story:

Many people have felt emotionally manipulated by The Fault in Our Stars, but I don’t think it is particularly manipulative. The main characters are, after all, a boy who is in remission with bone cancer and a girl with terminal thyroid cancer. There is inherently some measure of manipulation in such a story, unless the author goes the direction of being completely unrealistic. Once you sign on to read a book where nearly everyone is incredibly sick, you must expect some incredibly sad moments. John Green definitely brought the sad and emotional moments in The Fault in Our Stars. One of the most emotionally affecting moments is Hazel’s determination that she will not be a grenade in the lives of people she loves, hence her attempt to distance herself from those around her.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kate Rudd is a wonderful match for The Fault in Our Stars. She perfectly captures both Hazel’s fear and her sarcasm. It is amazing how she and Green’s words can cause a listener to actually laugh out loud about the plight of being a teenager with cancer, but she does and it is incredibly effective. It is important to be careful to when and where you are listening to this, though, because the audiobook is, at times, tear-inducing.

Overall:

Yes, this is a very emotional book, and as such won’t be for everyone. I can certainly understand that some people have felt manipulated, but I found The Fault in Our Stars to be a tragically lovely book, one that is certain to work well in either print or audio.

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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: 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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Divergent by Veronica Roth – Book Review

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Published by Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Beatrice Prior – who will soon reinvent herself as Tris – has never really fit in with her faction. She is just not Abnegation material. Luckily, in just a couple of days she and all the other sixteen-year-olds in this dystopian future Chicago will have the opportunity to choose whether to stay in their factions or choose a new one from among the five in the city: Candor, Abnegation, Dauntless, Amity, and Erudite. Leaving Abnegation would mean that Beatrice would have to leave her family behind forever, but staying would mean not being true to herself. Unfortunately, Beatrice isn’t any more sure about where it is that she does belong. Not Erudite, not after the lies they have spread about the people of Abnegation, and probably not Candor – only ever telling the truth isn’t particularly appealing – but where? Sixteen-year-olds are given a test to help them choose their placement, but Beatrice’s test is strangely inconclusive, a fact that she is warned to keep to herself.

Divergent is a much-raved about YA dystopian novel. I found it enjoyable, but perhaps not as fabulous as everyone else seems to think it is. Roth is an incredibly engaging writer, and Tris is a great character, surrounded by other great characters. My only real problem was with the premise. The factions seem to have no idea what is happening in the world around them, for all intents and purposes the universe is no bigger than the greater Chicago area. Less believable, though, is the idea of the factions in the first place.

Dystopian societies often have odd and somewhat unlikely governments and structures. The best novels, though give their odd structures a believable background. Either there needs to be a reasonable explanation for how they came to be, or they need to follow somewhat from the current state of the world. The factions of Divergent didn’t really do either. They provide a very interesting set-up to the story, yes, and they allow for great commentary on human nature, but I simply could not see where they came from.

All this being said, Divergent is highly engaging, enough so that I do plan on reading the sequel, Insurgent, which is out later this year, in order to see if the world building is further developed.

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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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The End of Everything by Megan Abbott – Audiobook Review

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott, narrated by Emily Bauer
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio; published in print by Regan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

Synopsis:

Lizze has a wonderful life for a 13 year old girl. Since her parents’ divorce she doesn’t see her father – he moved to California – but living next door to her best friend Evie Verver makes Lizzie feel as if her family is complete. Evie’s feminine yet strong older sister Dusty is more central to Lizzie’s life than is her own brother, and Mr. Verver is a father-figure extraordinaire, plus perhaps a bit of a crush of Lizzie’s. When Evie disappears suddenly after school, though, Lizzie’s entire world turns upside down. As the person who spent the most time with Evie, Lizzie is convinced that she must know something that nobody else knows, something that can save Evie. Without her friend, Lizzie feels empty, and she cannot bear Mr. Verver’s pain, or the speculations of the girls in school as to what has become of Evie. The more she digs into her friend’s disappearance, though, the less convinced Lizze becomes that she really knew Evie at all.

Thoughts on the story:

Missing girl novels are not exactly few and far between, and they have been attempted by some fabulous authors – Stewart O’Nan’s Songs for the Missing and Hannah Pittard’s The Fates Will Find Their Way come to mind – but The End of Everything proves to be a very strong entry in the field. Looking at the entire incident from the point of view of a young girl brings an entirely different perspective. So many of these books are told at least partly through an adult’s eyes (or the eyes of multiple adults), but Lizzie brings an innocence and an urgency to the situation. So often the adult characters move very quickly to despair, or a hope that somehow seems bereft, but Lizzie continues to believe not only that Evie can be saved, but that she is the one who must somehow hold the key. Despite the fact that so much of the book is very internal with few actual plot points, Lizzie’s perspective on the situation makes for a compelling read.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Emily Bauer and Kate Simses are absolutely my favorite female narrators of young adult books. Like Simses, Bauer is both compelling and believable as a teen or young adult. While she doesn’t quite sound 13, she definitely has a young enough voice to allow the listener to suspend disbelief and accept her as a young teen without being pulled out of the story by an overly mature voice. She does a wonderful job narrating the oft-disturbing The End of Everything, thoroughly convincing me that the problems I had when listening to one of her prior audiobooks had much more to do with the story and the way the character was presented by the author than the way Bauer voiced her. This is definitely a strong audio.

Overall:

Abbott has created an extremely strong story of loss and fear, which is only enhanced by Bauer’s compelling narration. This is a great listen, but would likely be just as fabulous in print, pick it up either way.

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

I encourage you to review any audiobooks 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: 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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The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson – Book Review

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Published by Putnam Juvenile, an imprint of Penguin

Rory Deveaux is used to her life in Louisiana, but she’s still excited about the prospect a year at a British boarding school. Her parents will be teaching in England for the year, so going with them seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Rory’s arrival in London coincides with the anniversary of the first Jack the Ripper murder, and what appears to be a spate of copycat murders. When Rory sees a man who seems to be the number one suspect, she suddenly finds herself in very real danger.

The Name of the Star is an incredibly entertaining book. Rory is an interesting and complex character, in a fascinating – if somewhat unconventional situation. Johnson has a very engaging writing style, and she can draw the reader into even a Jack the Ripper ghost story.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Name of the Star, although I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it being a series. I think it was a great success as a standalone, but Rory’s continued adventures with the cast of characters she met in The Name of the Star don’t terribly excite me, although I’ll be more than willing to read the next book and see where Johnson takes the story.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

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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