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Charlene Vickers RSS Feed (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

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Dissolution: A Shardlake Novel
Dissolution: A Shardlake Novel

3.0 out of 5 stars An excellent protagonist and well-devised plot, but there are problems, June 28, 2014
For the most part I enjoyed this novel. It's unusual to find a novel written from the point of view of such a self-loathing yet self-righteous protagonist. Matthew Shardlake is not a deeply written character - we don't feel his anguish when he cries, or his fear when he fails - but he is three-dimensional for all that. He undergoes very realistic character growth in response to the events of the novel and is forced to confront his own inadequacies in a more believable way than the standard mystery novel "what a fool I've been for only displaying ten times the genius of any real person" that occurs far too often especially in English mystery fiction. The secondary characters are for the most part also three-dimensional, and the plot is well planned out.

I didn't enjoy everything about this, however. The biggest issue that I had was his characterization of Thomas Cromwell. I don't mind that he's Darth Cromwell here; he probably was in real life. No, my issue is that Sansom's Cromwell is careless, open-mouthed, and totally heedless of his own safety - when it suits the story. He blabs to Shardlake, a man he barely knows and does not even trust, of his deceits and lies, freely admits that his hands turned the rack, boasts of his graft and corruption. It's unrealistic: a Cromwell who committed such horrors would not confess them to the protagonist, if to anyone.

There are a few historical errors too, which are surprising to find in a novel written by a historian. Some are piddling: we have October 31 occurring two weeks after October 24 at the beginning of the story, and Cromwell's wife is still alive. Others are more serious; the plot hinges in part on a certain historical individual having been racked, when the historical record is rock-solid certain that he was not. Another character's life is spared because he is a second cousin of Jane Seymour (whom he never met); I find this care for a distant family member unlikely given how many of Jane's second cousins fared in real life (e.g. Anne Boleyn).

But I still enjoyed this novel, and will be buying the next one. So, three stars?

A King's Ransom (Plantagenets Book 5)
A King's Ransom (Plantagenets Book 5)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $13.00

5.0 out of 5 stars So many heartbreaking characters, so little luck, June 10, 2014
Legend has it that Richard I of England, the original "Fortunate Son", was the author of his own good luck. And that's true, at least up to his attempt to capture Jerusalem: the failure tripped a switch in Richard, and from then on everything he touched turned not to gold but to lead. Trapped in a loveless marriage, forced to return to England to prevent a coup but barred from almost every port in the Mediterranean, separated from most of his guards, shipwrecked, brought down by malaria, nearly starved, hunted down, imprisoned, forced to bankrupt his country to pay a king's ransom: even all that didn't underline his failure to the same extent as his only choices of heirs, both wholly inadequate, both certain to destroy everything he and his father had fought for.

Sharon Kay Penman brings this part of Richard's tragic history to life. Richard here is no miracle worker, no golden idol: he's the cynical, brilliant stage manager (witness his landing in Outremer as described in Lionheart) with endless charisma whose naive belief in his own publicity both saves and damns him. The other characters are as good: his squire, the German boy Arne, who grows up by Richard's side; his cousin Morgan, who finds he can't adapt to peacetime; his sister Joanna, who pays the price for her privileges; the nasty John; Eleanor, politician to the very end.

I loved this book, and would highly recommend it.

A History of Britain, Volume 1: At the Edge of the World, 3000 BC - AD 1603
A History of Britain, Volume 1: At the Edge of the World, 3000 BC - AD 1603

2.0 out of 5 stars Not impressed with Schama's accuracy, June 10, 2014
There's an old joke about how newspapers are unfailingly accurate except when they report on something you're familiar with. You could say the same thing about this book.

I'm not a professional historian, but I do know quite a bit about the Tudor era: more than Dr. Schama, I'm afraid. Mistakes - not differences in interpretation, but straightforward errors of fact - litter the text. He confuses Mary and Margaret Tudor at one point, has Anne Boleyn in the wrong country in 1524, makes Catherine of Aragon her father's sister (and calls the blue-eyed, redheaded Catherine "dark"), positively dates Mary Boleyn's secret affair with Henry to a specific year, and credits Thomas Wyatt with X-ray vision that could pierce even the stone walls of the Tower of London.

Given all the mistakes in an area I know something about, I'm not sanguine that the other sections are reliable - which is a shame, since he's an engaging writer. I can't recommend this book, though.

Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys
Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and His Six Wives Through the Writings of the Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys
Price: $9.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of Chapuys's career in England, April 29, 2014
This book delivers exactly what it claims to do. it's well-researched, clearly written, and citations are clear and copious. The author wisely doesn't try to extrapolate where Chapuys - or, more correctly, his surviving letters - fail us, nor does she leave us wanting more. I especially like how she explained Chapuys's complicated relationship with Princess Mary, and it left me wondering how much good he did either England or the Holy Roman Empire in the long run.

I recommend this book.

Moth To The Flame:  The Story of Anne Boleyn
Moth To The Flame: The Story of Anne Boleyn
Price: $4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Anne the out of date, April 10, 2014
The biggest problem I have with this novel is that Ms. Warwick has based it on assumptions about Anne Boleyn's life that have been challenged or outright debunked in the past thirty years. She appears to be writing from the same sources used by Jean Plaidy - Anne is born in 1507 here, she has a defective finger, she arrives in Mechelen and Paris as a little girl, and so on. Plaidy can't be faulted for having got these things wrong - how could she have known writing in the 40s that all this would be debunked years later - but this writer, who published in 2013, should know better.

The work is also overly melodramatic and formulaic. Anne is a stereotypically wilful and feisty romance novel stock character; she doesn't act or think like a young Tudor woman. Especially strange is how at ten she's turning heads and inflaming desire. Ugh. (Although it's true that girls could be married at twelve in those days, that didn't actually mean that they grew up quicker than they do now.)

One good point: Ms. Warwick doesn't have her characters blithely mucking up titles and styles left and right. This is much appreciated.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 10, 2014 8:19 AM PDT

Ted Cruz to the Future - Comic Coloring Activity Book
Ted Cruz to the Future - Comic Coloring Activity Book
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.08
9 used & new from $4.97

61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't go wrong with a Calgary boy, March 24, 2014
I'm always happy when a book by a fellow native-born Calgarian hits the shelves, and this is no exception. Cruz's eye for line and colour - white, just like the never-ending snow of our shared hometown - makes this book a treasure to be enjoyed for years to come.

Although at 24 pages...isn't that a bit long for those Tea Party types to slog through?

Covenant With Hell (Medieval Mysteries Book 10)
Covenant With Hell (Medieval Mysteries Book 10)
Price: $6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Character development, February 12, 2014
I have always loved this series for its fully realized characters and its atmosphere. The plot here is a bit repetitive - another willingly weak woman taken in by a male con artist - and that's why I haven't given it five stars. But otherwise it is excellent.

The Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon)
The Unquiet Bones (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon)
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars I liked this very much, February 12, 2014
I loved the atmosphere of this book. I loved the characters, especially the protagonist. I love that Master Hugh grows as a character during the novel. I love that someone is setting works after the "Great Dying" (what we call these days the Black Death) that show how society had been transformed. The plot depends a bit too much on coincidence especially in the second half, but that's a common fault of first novels and not a major one.

At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn
At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $8.89

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Brave Sir Surname runs amok, February 12, 2014
Author goes out of the way to get names, family relations, titles, and styles wrong in uniquely impressive fashion.

Listen: if you think you're too special a snowflake to sit down, do the research, and actually learn how your character should address, refer to, or think about someone at a royal court, there's a cure for that: DON'T WRITE ABOUT ROYAL COURTS.

TV Tropes has a page dedicated to titles and addresses - it's called Knight Fever. It takes ten minutes to read. Anyone can get it perfect on the first try without hard work. So why does every writer come up with nonsense like "Sir Norris" or "Lord Norfolk"? And why do editors not catch this? You make your protagonist or POV character sound like an ignorant idiot when you get it wrong. Shouldn't you care about that?

To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn
To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $9.72

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The writing is grand. The research, not so much, February 8, 2014
Dear American writers,

* Get your history right. If you are writing about the state of the Reformed Church in 1530 London, for instance, know what that meant. Don't extrapolate. Specifically, don't make Anne Boleyn wax extensively over her belief in salvation by faith alone when the Reformers hadn't even got that far yet by her death - and when Anne herself is known to have believed so strongly in salvation by good works that she mentioned it to almost everyone she knew, even on the day of her death. It was an absolute rock-solid cornerstone of her faith, and to claim otherwise skates perilously close to knowingly bearing false witness for your own purposes.
* If you can't be bothered to read up on how titles and styles are used and use them *perfectly* (hint: google "TV tropes knight fever" for an excellent overview), write about the common people. Brave Sir Surname didn't run away; he never existed.
* If you feel the need to change history, go big. Don't change little things. It comes across as either deceitful or sloppy.
* Fight the urge to make sympathetic characters perfect.
* Fight the urge to make unsympathetic characters monsters.
* Avoid urban legends. "Rule of thumb" does not refer to wife-beating, Ms. Byrd. No, it does not. Really, no.

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