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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Winter King by Thomas Penn – Audiobook Review

Winter King by Thomas Penn, narrated by Simon Vance
Published in audio by Blackstone Audio, published in print by Simon & Schuster

Synopsis:

In 1501, the War of the Roses came to an end when Henry Tudor, soon to be Henry VII, defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry VII was now King of England. It was assumed he would rule through the right of his wife, Elizabeth of York, Richard’s niece, but instead Henry surprised everyone by claiming to rule in his own right. When he began dating his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth, he suddenly gained the ability to decry – and punish – as treasonous anyone who served Richard to the end.

The Tudors are perhaps the most famous and popular dynasty in English history. Certainly, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Henry VII’s son and granddaughter, are outsized personalities who unsurprisingly draw attention to the family, but Henry VII made both to of their reigns possible. Henry VII is frequently overshadowed by both Henry VIII, and by his Yorkist predecessors, the golden Edward IV and the much-maligned Richard III. However, he is the man who is able to set such a prominent dynasty of the Tudors on the throne through, doing so by controlling England with an iron fist; from executing those who were a possible threat to his dynasty, to his shrewd negotiations over the fate of Catherine of Aragorn after the death of her husband, Henry’s oldest son Arthur.

Thoughts on the story:

In Winter King, Penn lays out the history and significance of Henry’s rule with great clarity and insight. For the first time, for example, I understood the significance of and reasons for Henry VIII’s execution of Dudley and Empson upon his ascension – a fact that is much mentioned but rarely expounded upon, beyond the fact that they were perhaps the most hated men in the kingdom. In fact, all devotees of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I’s rules would do well to read this engaging history of the founder of their dynasty, as much done by Henry VII set the stage for actions they took during their own reigns.

Thoughts on the audio production:

In The Winter King, we see Simon Vance at his best. He narrates at a good speed to keep the history moving, without going so quickly that it is difficult to keep up with the myriad of people, events, and significances. His voice is at once soothing and engaging, drawing the reader into the world of 16th century England.

Overall:

This is a fascinating and very well narrated account of Henry VII’s reign. Readers new to Tudor politics may want to stick to print, so they can go back and forth and remind themselves of who is doing what, but Vance’s narration is a superb way to experience Winter King for those with even a passing familiarity of the time. Highly recommended.

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

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: 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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Sister Queens by Julia Fox – Audiobook Review

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox, narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Ballantine Books, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

Thoughts on the story:

Fox recounts the stories of Katherine and Juana in a clear and straightforward manner, making Sister Queens both fascinating and easy to understand. One thing I particularly appreciated was her nuanced view of Katherine of Aragon. Katherine is generally portrayed as a saint in historical fiction, a woman completely beyond reproach who would never let a falsehood cross her lips for fear of offending her God. Fox disputes this stereotype, while still acknowledging the importance of religion in Katherine’s life, and the religious implications of her fight to save her marriage and her adopted country from Henry’s break with the church and Anne Boleyn’s Protestant leanings. Juana’s story is also put forth in an interesting manner, but as less that Fox recounted shocked or surprised me I was slightly less captivated by it. Fox is not afraid to admit where the historical record is lacking enough that nothing can be said with certainty – was Juana mad? did Katherine and Arthur consummate  their marriage? – and reevaluates such questions throughout the narrative as events continue to unfold, encouraging readers to consider the entirety of the evidence, rather than simply the propaganda put forth throughout the centuries. Fox keeps the sisters’ stories moving forward, while still engaging in a good amount of historical depth, it is really very well done.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Rosalyn Landor fit this history very well, with her elegant and poised narration. For more, please see my AudioFile Magazine review.

Overall:

A fascinating history, and a well-produced audiobook. Either way you win, I think.

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

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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