Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ending February With A Fascinating Book

Since I’ve been reviewing books on Amazon, I very often read other’s reviews. Today I took a look at some of what Amazon calls its Top Reviewers. I can’t believe the number of books and other items they are able to review in one year. Particularly, since they are not being paid to do this. It is a labour of love—but not an easy one—and I am in awe of them.

I feel I’m an avid reader but certainly not a speedy one. My husband can devour a book in one day and he can read two or three to my one. But I know that he sometimes skims. Usually, unless it’s a real page turner and I stay up half the night, it takes me about three days to read a book. I like to savour the descriptions and sometimes read over the dialogue two or three times. And when I read something that's been foreshadowed, I go back and try and find it. I think that’s because I’m trying to become a writer and reading another author's work is one of the best ways to learn the craft.

The book I’ve read for today’s review is called “In a Far Country”. It’s about India so it’s one that took me a few days to read. I love books on India. In the ‘40s, when I was a little girl, my uncle was a missionary in India. One of the very first illustrated books I ever received was from him, about a little brown boy who became a Christian. I can’t remember his name but I’ve been an India affection ado ever since. Of course, I saw the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and am delighted it has won so many Oscars at the Academy Awards. Two of my all-time favourites are M.M. Kaye’s “The Far Pavilions” and “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Now I’ve discovered this Canadian writer, Linda Holeman and I’ll be looking for more of her work.

Here is my review of “In a Far Country” by Linda Holeman:

As the daughter of poor medical missionaries in India, Pri Fincastle’s life was far from glamorous or easy. There was much to do and she spent her time tending the gardens, learning the languages of the area and helping her parents look after the needs of the villagers who come to the mission for medical relief. There is little occasion for fun or frivolity in her austere upbringing.

As well, the atmosphere at the mission is not a happy one and there is much about her family’s strange situation she can’t understand. While she recognises her mother’s slow descent into madness, it is not until the tragic death of both her parents that she learns a part of the dark secret that the mission station holds. That knowledge leads her into even more distressing circumstances and towards the compelling and gripping conclusion.

I can’t say this is always an enjoyable read—it is often disheartening and depressing—and yet it held me spellbound. Ms. Holeman is an extremely competent writer whose wonderful descriptions bring the hot and sundrenched countryside of India to life. Nevertheless she often has a tendency to be far too wordy. A good edit could do wonders for the story as, sometimes in a particularly exciting moment, you just wish she would get to the point. And I’m not crazy about the title. It seems rather insipid for such a powerful story.

February has seemed like a long month since I’ve had a cold for most of it. I’m glad it’s coming to and end.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"The Lady Elizabeth" -- More Tales About Tudors

Since this month has been all about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and the writing of books, I thought I'd share with you my latest book review on Amazon. I find that, as a writer, it is important to constantly read other's works. Writing the reviews keeps me in form for my own work.

I'll be back to talk about travelling in a couple of weeks.

This is a gem of a book for history buffs. The story takes us into the formative years of the young princess, Elizabeth—from the death of her mother, Anne Boleyn, to the day she is proclaimed Queen of England.

Having just finished reading “The Boleyn Inheritance” by Philippa Gregory, it was interesting to compare Alison Weir’s version of much of the same period of Tudor rule in England. Ms. Weir is a historian turned author, and her novel “The Lady Elizabeth” is an interesting account of the childhood and adolescent years of Henry’s youngest daughter. Where she does stray from the actual known facts of Elizabeth’s life, she explains her reasons very nicely in the Author’s notes. As she tells us, writing historical fiction is somewhat different than writing a history book.

The story opens with the three year old Elizabeth learning of the death of her mother, Anne Boleyn. She is totally distraught about losing her beautiful mother but idolizes her father, who hasn’t yet begun to show the signs of illness and aging that are soon to come. I found Ms. Weir’s take on Henry somewhat more sympathetic than the mad monster Gregory paints him. One can almost feel sorry for the aging king as he rails against his loss of health, looks and virility. The few passages showing him with his three children are heart warming and the sadness all three feel at the death of their father is palpable.

After Henry’s death, life becomes increasingly dangerous for Elizabeth as, time after time, she foils Queen Mary’s attempts to destroy her as successor to the throne. As “Bloody” Mary’s obsession with the Catholic Church and her hatred and suspicion of her half sister grows, the people she rules become more and more sure that the younger woman is the one the truly want on the throne. From time to time it seems that Elizabeth will never be able to survive the intrigues and alliances set up to trap her into treason.

Of course, as we know from history, she does and her reign turns out to be one of the most successful in all the annals of England monarchs. However, “The Lady Elizabeth” is a fascinating glimpse into, what was probably the most dangerous period in the life of Elizabeth I.