Friday, May 21, 2010

Number 11 is The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory. I've never read any of Gregory's other books, such as the best selling The Other Boelyn Girl. For some reason, I don't find the Tudors all that interesting. Or rather, I don't find the Tudor males all that interesting as I do find Elizabeth I quite fascinating. ANYWAY, so the reason I did pick this book up is because it deals with the Wars of the Roses, which is a point of English history I've long been interested in, probably since I first read the line uttered by Susan in Prince Caspian "Oh dear, this is more confusing than the Wars of the Roses".

So anyway, yes, I picked this up and dived in. The White Queen herself is the wife of the Yorkist king, Edward IV. Edward spies the lovely, widowed Elizabeth Woodville while riding through her family's lands, and they both instantly fall for one another. They marry in secret, and this marriage is not popular amongst Edward's advisors and family. The Woodville's previously supported the Lancastrian claim to the throne, but of course switch allegiances once they are connected to the Yorks.

It's a good look at the use of much of the feminie power struggle in the Wars of the Roses. Elizabeth positions her family and children into places of power to secure the York hold on the throne. The problem is that there is almost as much infighting in the York family as there is against the Lancastrians. And the main figure behind the Lancastrian claim to put the ailing Henry VI back on his throne is through his indomitable wife, Margaret d'Anjou. Another of the central characters is Elizabeth's French, wise-woman mother, who has a bit of magic to her.

It's a fun book, a nice love story and a different look at the Wars of the Roses. It seems to be fairly historically accurate while infusing the characters with enough personality to keep it interesting.

I may go on to pick up the next book in the series, which, I know doesn't really end well for the Yorks...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book number 10. 10!! I've finally reached double digits this year!... sigh. Took me long enough.

ANYWAY... Book number 10 is A Gentleman's Game by Greg Rucka. Now, I'm more familiar with Rucka as a comic book writer. Mainly from his run on Batman, and then his relaunch of Checkmate. His Batman stuff I though was... ok, but I really enjoyed Checkmate. But the reason I read this book is that I have read his entire run of his self-created series, Queen and Country. I read Queen and Country because it is basically a comic-book form of the old British series, the Sandbaggers, which was something I'm very glad my husband made me watch.

So anyway, A Gentleman's Game revolves around the same cast and crew as Queen and Country, main character Tara Chase is Minder One, head of the elite covert ops team sent in to do the dirtiest of dirty work Britian can come up with. And after an attack on the London Underground by Muslim extremists, Tara is dispatched to Yemen to kill a Saudi Arabian religious leader, who presumably is ultimately behind the attacks. Tara fufills her task, but the collateral damage she is also forced to assassinate is somewhat politically sensitive, and because of this, Tara finds herself persona non grata and persued by her own government.

I have to give it to Rucka, his pacing is extremely good and his action scenes are well done. I had wondered if the lack of pictures would hinder his words, but he gets his words across to create lovely pictures themselves. The characters are a wee bit cliche (or maybe I just think so because I have seen the Sandbaggers), with your tough-as-nails, more dangerous than any bloke, Tara Chase and the gruff but extremely professional D-Ops, Crocker and the rest of the usual suspects. One of the main characters is an ex-British national who has converted to Islam and we see the terrorist POV from him, which I did find very interesting, but I also felt his story line was tied up too quickly.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. However, I think that I would prefer him to tell more Queen and Country stories in their original, comic book format. That way I can picture the characters as they're drawn, and not as those from the Sandbaggers, which is what, for some reason, I was doing.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book 9 is The Torontonians by Phyllis Brett Young.

Ok, the first thing I must mention here is that I am a born and bred Torontonian. I am (on my mother's side) a 5th generation Torontonian. I love this city. I know it has it's problems (as do most large cities), but overall, I am happy and proud to call Toronto my home and my hometown. So you can see why I would pick up a book called The Torontonians.

Published in 1960, this is actually quite the feminist book of suburban housewife ennui and desperation. This is interesting because it really came before a lot of the big feminist manifestos of the 60s. And yet, here it is, a sort of Revolutionary Road set in Toronto and the surrounding (make believe) suburb of Rowanwood. (which I *think* is a Richmond Hill stand in?)

I liked this book a lot mainly because of the setting. It's interesting to read of a Toronto that's similar, but not exactly like the one I'm familiar with. Neihbourhoods such as the Annex and Forest Hill make appearances, and it speaks of the interesting divide of above the hill and below the hill (Toronto has a part of the Niagara Escarpement crawling through it, making a fairly significant climb uphill between St.Clair and Eglington avenues), with the well off spreading above the hill. I found that interesting because the philisophical division of Toronto is not so much north and south, but rather it is East and West, with Yonge St as the dividing line. Native Torontonians are usually from the East End or the West End and cross over with only great difficulty (I am a West Ender).

Anyway, the book itself deals with one Karen Whitney, Toronto born and raised, well-educated, upper middle-class background, house-wife, empty-nester, who is, as we met her contemplating suicide. She is so tired of her empty existence in Rowanwood, which boils down to finishing and decorating her home, throwing parties she has no desire to throw (and attending such things as well), and having to deal with the secrets and numbing lives of her neighbours. She is sick of it all, and unable to articulate why she is not happy with her life, but she's not.

We see Karen's life in flashbacks, juxtaposed with her life now. She still has many of the same friends, and sometimes they are part of the problem with her life. The one thing I did really like about this book was that her husband, Rick, is not part of the problem. He is supportive and loving and not sleeping with his secretary, and that almost seems like a nice change, especially compared with the boorish, stupid, neglectful, cheating men that make up many of the neighbours. Rick isn't sure what to do about Karen's problems, but he's also wise enough to know that she has them and that she has to find a solution herself.

Basically, the solution seems to be to move the hell out of the suburbs and back to Toronto. I could've told you that ;)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Number 8 for 2010 is Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. This book is basically a book about the power of creation, both on an individual and cultural level. Set in post WWII England, the main character, Steven Huxley returns to England on news of his father's death. Upon return to his family home, he learns of his father's obsession with the neighbouring Ryhope Wood has now become his brother's obsession as well.

What Huxley the elder discovered, was that every folkhero and legend who had ever been known in English history has an archetype, or mythago as Huxley called them, residing in the woods, whose very existence was tied, not to belief in the legend, but simply to the imagination of the surrounding minds. While some of the mythagos are of popular characters, like Robin Hood or King Arthur, many more of the mythagos encountered by the elder Huxley and then later Steven and his brother Christian, were forgotten except within the confines of Ryhope Wood.

Of course, the obsession gets out of hand when Christian disappears into the woods, looking for his lost, mythago love, Guiwenneth. She being the same mythago their father fell in love with, and who would later also claim Steven's heart. But the thing with Guiwenneth is, is she the same mythago each time, or a little bit different each time depending on whose mythago she is?

Christian's return for Guiwenneth (who has fallen in love with Steven and is basically living with him), is sudden and violent. It also forces Steven to journey deep into the wood in search of her and for revenge on Christian. But once in the wood and dealing with the wood's mythago inhabitants, Steven realizes that he, his brother and his father have become part of the woods' mythos themselves. Does this mean mythagos can create mythagos themselves? Or are Christian and Steven simply made part of the mythos due to their involvement with it? Considering that the wood itself was continuing to grow up to the house and even in the house, it would almost seem like the wood was consuming them or forcing them to join the myth.

It is an interesting book for sure, and I'm definitely interested in reading the sequels to it.