Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Lady Elizabeth

The Lady Elizabeth, By Alison Weir

Elizabeth's mother, Ann Boleyn has just been executed.  Mary, her half sister, has come to visit to tell the toddler the news.  At 3 years old, Elizabeth is surprisingly (and somewhat unbelievable) aware of what's going on, and understands what she's being told.  And thus opens the story of Elizabeth's childhood.

We go from the time that Ann dies to Mary's death and Elizabeth's famous quote, "This is the Lord's doing, it is marvelous in our eyes" when she is proclaimed Queen of England.

There is so much information out there about this woman, that I find all the different opinions of her muddle in my brain and I get confused about what is fact and what is fiction.  Weir, quite obviously, is a fan of Elizabeth.  And does not portray her to have many, if any, flaws at all.

Which is ridiculous.

Elizabeth got in so much trouble throughout her youth I find it hard to believe that she wasn't actively guilty in some of it.  The affair with Thomas Seymour, the Dowager Queen Catherine's husband, is shown as to be entirely his fault and she the innocent victim.  Save for the fact that the author admits Elizabeth was more than likely infatuated with him.

At 13, of marriageable age by the times standards, Elizabeth would have, and should have, known better.  Was Thomas Seymour scheming to have more influence in the realm?  Sure.  Definitely.  He was  clearly at fault.  But Elizabeth was not blameless, and her later fame for flirtation would indicate that she was partly culpable, and deserved the stricture that she was given when the affair came to light.

The next ... all the protestant plots to put her on the throne during her sister's reign.  Weir writes that Elizabeth had nothing to do with any of them, and was just the rallying point for the rebels and she had no part in planning.  I. Don't. Know.  I just don't believe it.  Even in the novel she is actively planning her government should Mary die (when Mary died, for they start talking of it as a foregone conclusion).

So here's my big problem with the book ... the author wrote Elizabeth sort of as a hypocrit.  Which I have no doubt that she was.  She attended Mass to keep her sister appeased even though she pretty openly reviled the Catholic faith.  She feigned illness when called to court to keep from being punished, and she openly manipulated pretty much any man that came into her path.  Any person, for that matter.

But the part that bugs me, is that Elizabeth (in the novel) reads as a hypocrit but still believes herself to be  innocent of all wrong doing.  "I love the Queen!"  but "She is a dreadful Queen, I hope one day to be Queen!" but "I would never threaten the Queen's reign!" but "I love and cultivate the love of the people I  hope to one day rule!" but "I'm so shocked that they rally to me! I had no idea!"

What poppycock.

This was probably the other side of Philippa Gregory's version (Virgin Queen) which is sort of an ironic title since Gregory pretty openly thinks that Elizabeth was ... um ... loose with her morals.  Weir on the other hand believes Elizabeth to have been a true virgin, dispite the escapades with Thomas Seymour.  Wier thinks she's good and just, Gregory thinks she was petty and fickle.

The truth is probably somewhere closer to the middle.

The book, as fiction, was good up until the last 150 or so pages.  It has never taken me so long to finish a book.  It was as if all action ceased.  And primarily that's because - it did.  She was in the tower and under house arrest for the better part of Mary's reign, so there wasn't much of a story to tell except, "Woe is me, I love the Queen, but I hate the way she rules, and the people love me, but I did not act traiterously! No not me!  Never!  Hurry Cecil, devout protestant and known enemy of the throne, tell me what to do!"  Over and over and over again.

On the whole, glad I read it, enjoyed the different point of view up until Elizabeth was in her 20s.  Then, the virtuous act just got old.  I can love Elizabeth I and still believe that she was flawed.  And for all the animosity that Mary had toward Elizabeth, it stands to reason that Elizabeth harbored some herself.  But not Weir's Elizabeth.  But, to each his own.

If you like historical fiction on the Tudors, you should read this.  It's well done.  Despite my bickering with the author.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Weight of Silence

Calli Clark is 7 years old.  She has not spoken a word since she was four.  Petra Gregory is her best friend, who has taken to speaking for her, and protecting her.

Early one morning, Petra's parents wake up to discover her missing.  Looking for her at Calli's, they discover that Calli is missing too.

The novel is told from different narrators points of view.  And I can't really put my finger on it, but I think that it changes from 3rd person to 1st quite a bit?  A little bit distracting, mostly in Calli's chapters, but I think this was done because Calli doesn't talk?  I don't know.

Spoilers below ... minor ones.

The bulk of the story is the investigation, and looking into the parents.  Primarily Griff Clark, who has a history of alcholism and being a bully.  But even, albeit briefly, Calli's older brother Ben.  Antonia doesn't really come to the conclusion that her abusive husband is, in fact, abusive, until the very end of the novel.  Which was a little disheartening to me.  At the end she grieves over the choice she has made to stay with him through it all when looking at what it has done to her children.  This seemed dense to me.  Lady, he threw you down the stairs in front of your 4 year old daughter.  You just now put it together that that may have scarred your daughter (who doesn't talk, mind you - sheesh) for life?

There were other odds and ends about the Gregory's family, told from the Dad's point of view, but it didn't resonate and I skimmed a bunch.  Thought it was useful in moving the plot, looking back.

The story was fast paced and engaging.  I literally read the final 200 pages in one sitting.  Antonia and Louis were the most interesting characters, even though I think the author wanted me to think that Martin was really interesting, he wasn't.  He felt like a literary tool for moving action forward.

I was surprised by the ending, which is always fun because usually you can spot where they are taking you.  I recommend this for people that like mysteries, or small town stories.  The subject matter is disturbing, and honestly I don't usually read stuff that involves hurting children because I just can't stomach it.  There is enough hardship in the world I don't need to read about it in my recreation time. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Kindle Books

Okay there is so much out there I want to read.  But between buying maternity clothes and planning for baby, I haven't bought a book in a while.  I'm struggling!  So much on this list I want to read ...

Books I want to buy on the Kindle:

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater
Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Wings, Aprilyne Pike
Shadowlands, Alyson Noel
The Queen's Mistake, Diane Haeger
The White Queen, Phillippa Gregory
Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffeneger
City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass (Mortal Instrument Series)
Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosney
Same kind of Different as Me, Ron Hall
Those who Save us, Jenna Blum
Knit Two, Kate Jacobs
Knit the Season, Kate Jacobs
Nanny Returns, Emma McLaughlin

To read before I start buying these:

Weight of Silence - reading now
The Lady Elizabeth, Alison Weir
A Great and Terrible Beauty

If I get through those three ... I'll be pleased.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The 19th Wife

Excerpt from GoodReads:
It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

I received this book through the giveaways section over at GoodReads. I had no idea what it was about and then one day my mom said she was reading it and I was surprised so I picked it up and plowed through it.

We start off in present day Utah, a member of the reculsive "Firsts" has been shot through the chest at close range with a shot gun. His 19th wife, has been charged with his murder. Jordan Scott reads this at the online paper (he is in California) and recognizes his mother as the woman charged. Jordan Scott was excommunicated from the compound when he was young (12? 13?) and has not seen either his mother or his father (the deceased) since.

He's compelled to help her, drives out to Utah to see what's what. Intertwined within that, is the store of Elilzabeth Webb and her daughter Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young's 19th wife, taking place in the mid-1800s and into the 1809s, when the LDS church banned polygamy.

Parts of this back history were dry and meandering so I skimmed, but towards the middle and end it was very compelling. You could fill a lot of bathtubs with what I do not know about early Mormonism and it's early leaders, and this book did not paint them in a very favorable light. At one point I turned to my husband and said, "There's a major university in this country named after this guy?" But I imagine there is probably more to his story than this one books fictional account.

The present day story was full of bad language that just seemed gratutious. But I think what the author was trying to do, was show how the early adults entered into polygamy willingly, for their faith, and then how that decision shaped the children that were affected. Several times the main character says adults should do what they want but when children are involved they can't.

The resolution of the murder in the present day arc ended rather ubruptly, but it was kind of like, "oh I see," when it did. The clue that led the police to BeckyLynn was an online chat her husband was having, someone was knocking on the door and the other individual asked "who?" and he replied "#19". BeckyLynn was his 19th wife. The clues that led up to the ending were kind of pointless, and didn't really help tie anything up, as it all happens quickly when Jordan finally finds the one important piece of information.

It's galling to me that polygamy and child brides still exists today. It amazes me that still, to do this day, we have no idea how many "wives" Brigham Young or Joseph Smith had. And it amazes me further that these groups claim religious peity and that it has nothing to do with their baser urges, and yet they excommunicate the young boys from their compounds.

The clue that solves the murder for Jordan, it sort of helped me figure out how we have no idea how many wives these men had. Or other men like them for that matter. They don't count them all. They don't count the ones they are not currently "visiting." So if they no longer visit a wife, she is no longer counted as a wife. Though she has no recourse, can't marry anyone else, and is stuck trying to scrap by a living through whatever means necessary.

I enjoyed the book as it's subject matter fascinates me the same way train wrecks hold an audience. If you are at all into religious history I would recommend this to you.