this week I'm reviewing two historical fiction novels and a biography. Ready? Let's get started:
I've always had a bit of a crush on Charles II, the merry yet rather melancholic Stuart monarch who presided over the glittering court of the Restoration era. His long string of mistresses is equally fascinating, so I was expecting to love Girl On The Golden Coin, a novel about Frances Stuart, a cousin and lover of Charles II. But I couldn't. It was just ok.
Frances and her family, exiled from England, spent years in the household of the Queen Mother Henrietta Maria at the court of Louis XIV of France. When Frances refuses to become his mistress, the French King orders her to seduce Charles II to convince him to form an alliance between their two countries. The Queen Mother, a fervent Catholic, also wants Frances to became her son's mistress, replacing Lady Castlemaine in that role, and then influence him to convert to Catholicism. If Frances refuses, her mother's secret will be revealed, and her family will therefore be disgraced. But then something unexpected happens. Frances falls in love with Charles, and feels guilty at all her lies and plots. Trapped in a web of political machinations, she is torn between her love for Charles, who considers her an angel and believes that she can help him became a better man, and her duty to protect her family.
There is the potential for a great story here. Sadly, the book is quite boring, and not just because the pace is quite slow. After all, many great novels flow slowly. It's just that nothing really ever happens here. The plot is quite uneventful, really. And almost until the end, I felt like I was reading a High School novel set in the Stuart court. The political machinations and squabbles between mistresses remind me of teenage dramas in modern TV shows. The characters too fit into standard, stereotyped roles. Lady Castlemaine is the mean girl who throws a tantrum whenever things don't go her way, King Charles is the rake who strives, and fails to be good, and Queen Catherine the poor girl everyone takes advantage of and makes fun of behind her back. It doesn't help that the story is told in the first person, so while we have access to Frances' thoughts and feelings, we don't really know what makes the other characters tick and what prompts them to act in the way they do.
Another thing I dislike is that the characters mostly talked about, rather than lived, the events of their time. Because the novel is told by Frances, any event she doesn't take part in must obviously be related to her, or by her when talking to someone else. It's a common problem with this approach, and one that doesn't help to enliven the plot. Unfortunately, using a first person narrator has become quite common lately, which is a pity because it works for very few novels. This one certainly hasn't benefited from it.
And that's a shame because Jefferson is a skilled writer. She has obviously done her research and her prose is beautiful. Despite all its flows, Girl On The Golden Coin is not bad as a first effort and I look forward to reading more from this author. I hope she will choose the narrator of her story more carefully next time, though, because it was using the first person that, to me, caused the problems that have turned a story with the potential to be gripping and thrilling into a boring high school drama. Overall, though, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Frances and Restoration England, both a figure and a period sadly often neglected by historical novelists.
Available at: amazon
This is what I call a descriptive novel. That's a novel where the real protagonist is the city, or place, where the action takes place. In this book, that's, of course, Venice. Morelli is obviously in love with the city, its traditions, and its history. She describes every palace and canal, its inhabitants and their roles, in minute detail, making 16th century Venice come to life.
The other protagonist is Luca Vianello. Heir to an esteemed gondola making family, Luca's whole future, including what job he'll do and who he'll marry, has already been decided for him. But Luca longs for the freedom to make his own choices, and, after her mother's death, he leaves his family and tries to make it on its own. It seems, though, that Luca can't escape from gondolas. It's his ability with them that gets him hired by a famous painter as a gondolier. In his house, he also meets, and falls in love, with Giulana Zanchi. She belongs to a noble family, and his love for her will land him in prison.
Like Girl On The Golden Coin, The Gondola Maker too uses the first person narration, and features a pretty uneventful plot. Luca spends more time taking care and repairing his gondolas, or relating what he sees while sailing through the canal (all things which are very detailedly described), than just living his own life, or reflecting on his feelings and actions. This will make you either hate or love the book. Me? I liked learning all this stuff about gondolas, yet, it's undeniable that it bogs down the book somewhat. At times, The Gondola Maker reads more like a lovingly written essay than a novel, so I was surprised to discover that I still cared quite a lot about Luca and what happened to him.
Beautifully written and meticulously researched, The Gondola Maker provides a fascinating insight into the Venice of its time. If you love Venice, gondolas, or this kind of descriptive novels, I think you will enjoy this book very much too.
Available at: amazon
I hate the way our society treats fat people. Yes, obesity shouldn't be encouraged, but bulling people and making them feel inferior for the way they look and how much they weight is hardly the best way to fix the problem. It's wrong, it's demeaning, and it just makes things worse. Being fat is not just a matter of eating too much and exercising too little. Often, these bad habits are linked with emotional and psychological issues, and the incessant scrutiny and criticism these people, and their bodies, are under every day only aggravates them. That's why books like this are important.
Monica Parker has been overweight pretty much all her life. In her memoir, she bravely shares her struggles with her weight, her desire to shed the pounds, the many fad, often dangerous diets she tried, the huge amount of money she spent in her efforts to lose weight, and the many insecurities and self-esteem issues she has about her body.
As Monica tells the story of her life, the reader gets to see both how the environment she lived in and the issues she had to face throughout the years contributed to her weight gain (and, at times, loss), as well as how her weight affected all areas of her life, thus creating a vicious circle that's hard to break. And yet, Monica never lost her sense of humor. Her bright and fun personality always shined through, helping her, despite all her problems and insecurities, to make her dreams come true and form a family with a lovely man who loves her just as she is. She is truly a wonderful woman.
Getting Waisted is not really a survival guide, though. It doesn't really give you practical tips to survive in a society obsessed with being thin. It also ends rather abruptly, missing the opportunity to reflect, and expand, on her struggle with her body and what she learned from it. But maybe that was never her intention. Instead, Getting Waisted helps you understand what goes on in the mind and soul of a fat person. Those who are overweight will be able to relate to her struggle, while those who have always been thin will learn what it is like to be fat in our modern society, and what fat people go through every single day. It's not pretty. I highly recommend this everyone, but especially those who struggle with their weight and aren't happy with their bodies.
Available at: amazon
Have you read these books? If so, what did you think of them? If not, would you like to?
Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.