Monday, March 23, 2015

The Plantangenets: The Kings That Made Britain

Derek Wilson's The Plantagenets is the literary equivalent of a survey course.  Wilson provides quick biographical sketches of the kings and the highlights (or lowlights of their reigns in clear, concise language.  There's nothing special, but he does include the modern opinions of Richard I (brutal and negligent towards his kingdom), John (an able administrator if a poor king), and Richard III (the victim of a Tudor smear campaign), and by stripping the Wars of the Roses down to the basic facts, makes the inter-family civil war comprehensible.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Weaker Vessel

I'm not sure how I feel about The Weaker Vessel.  The topic (women in 17th Century England) interests me, and I enjoy Antonia Fraser's writing style.  I should have loved the book, but for some reason it didn't make much of an impression on me.  Perhaps it's because I read it over the course of six very stressful weeks and couldn't devote enough mental energy to the lives of the dozens of (mostly) noble women Fraser profiled.   A few weeks later, only shadows of the political maneuverers, writers, holy women, merchants, and actresses remain in my mind, along with the nagging suspicion that the understandably missing lives of poorer women (who would have been illiterate and therefore would not have left letters and diaries) would have made The Weaker Vessel much more interesting.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jane and the Canterbury Tale

I miss Lord Harold, and Jane does as well.  Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries became a bit more somber with his death, and I miss the lightness of the earlier books.  Jane is also aging - she's now nearly 39 and the flirting now falls to her niece, Fanny Knight.  She still enjoys a lively party, though, and Jane and the Canterbury Tale opens at a society wedding.  Adelaide Fiske, after a scandalous first marriage and widowhood, has married an army officer and all seems well until Fanny stumbles across the freshly dead body of Adelaide's first husband.  Naturally, Adelaide's brother and new husband are suspects, as is her cousin who expected to marry her, and the mysterious man who delivered a bag of tamarind seeds to the wedding.  Jane, of course, teases out the truth in the tales told by all the suspects, and while the book was entertaining, the solution wasn't totally satisfying.  I enjoyed Jane and her interactions with her niece and her brother, Edward Knight, but the mystery didn't live up to Barron's prior installments.