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Posts Tagged ‘England’

Archer Action

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell; page count 451

I just breezed through this book, but then it was exactly what I wanted to read, exactly when I wanted to read it. I had just seen Olivier’s Henry V on DVD (talk about melodramatic!) and I wanted to read an action-centered historical fiction. So this title really hit the mark. (hehehe! I just had to indulge in some archer humor somewhere in this post.)

The story follows a young man, Nicolas Hook, as he goes from beloved bastard to outlaw and then archer. He ends up taking part in one of the most famous battles in Britain’s history.

Even though I really liked this book, I’m not going to pretend it is spectacular literature or without flaws. Cornwell for no discernible reason has a pair of saints talk to and warn Hook away from danger sporadically  throughout his adventures. I found this to be unnecessary and distracting. He writes the final battle sequence from several characters’ viewpoints, but he has up until that point only really followed Hook. It would have been better if the other characters were followed prior to Agincourt.

Generally, I did enjoy the book. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who wanted more action in historical fiction. Although, fair warning, some of the writing did get a bit bloody. I may even in future pick up another of Cornwell’s books.

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Her Royal Spyness

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a new-found obsession with Audio Books. While baking Christmas cookies this past Christmas I had the overwhelming desire to listen to Lauren Willig’s The Mischief of the Mistletoe. I knew I couldn’t read and bake, but I so desperately wanted to delve into that fun, lighthearted story. So, I found myself on Amazon.com signing up for Audible.com and becoming a member. Fast forward a few months later, and I get an email from Audible telling me about a member sale. I had two unused credits, and I randomly selected two books to purchase with those two credits. One was Her Royal Spyness, the first in the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. I can now officially say I’m obsessed.

The story takes place in England in the 1930s and follows Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, 34th in line for the crown. However, Lady Victoria Georgina Charlotte Eugenie (better known as Georgie), is flat broke, despite her royal connections. Her father gambled away their family’s money before killing himself, and her brother Binky’s stingy wife has made it very clear that Georgie is not welcome in the family home in Scotland, so off to London she goes. In order to survive she starts a cleaning business of sorts, but then she finds a drowned man in her bathtub. When the police accuse Binky of murder, Georgie must do what she can to clear his name.

Along the way several recurring characters are introduced, a wonderful blend of real historical figures and fictional characters. Besides the royal family and “that horrible Simpson woman,” there is Georgie’s mother, an actress before her marriage to the Duke, and now a world-class flirt and bed hopper; Belinda Warburton-Stoke, Georgie’s best friend from school and destined to follow in Georgie’s mother’s footsteps; Grandad, Georgie’s cockney grandfather from her mother’s side; and my favorite, The Honorable Darcy O’Mara Irish Rogue and Georgie’s confused love interest.

Due to my obsessive need to keep myself in the story (Book 5 in about 2 weeks), I have listened to the books and read the print version. While both have their strong points (while reading it is much harder for my mind to wander, which it has a tendency to do while listening, but I cannot read while cataloging or running), I have to mention Katherine Kellgren’s narration. I absolutely love her characterizations, specifically the Cockney and Irish accents of Grandad and Darcy respectively. It also makes me wish I had the crisp, clear, upper-class British accent. It sounds so refined!

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To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl & Carol MacD. Wallace; page count 416

Bristol. Tyntesfield Manor

Tyntesfield Manor in Bristol, UK

Really? Do you want more of a review than the title of this post? Yes? Alright then.

This book gained fame by being the inspiration for Cora, Countess of Grantham from the hit TV series Downton Abbey. I am only surprised it was not more popular before the show. This book is awesome!

The book tells the various stories of wealthy American heiresses who traveled across the Atlantic in order to find a husband with a British title. The first women to cross the pond did so because they were not accepted by the stuck up and slightly puritanical dowagers of New York society. Soon, however, the sport of catching a “peer” became fashionable.

Besides being both humorous and fact-filled, this book dishes the dirt on the scintillating scandalous details of the mid- to late-nineteenth century upper crust. Plus, it’s fully illustrated! I just love that this book is page after page of lovely photos.

I gave a copy as a gift to our very own Sapphire, and much to my joy and surprise received a copy myself! (Don’t tell Sapphire, but I considered keeping her copy for myself since I wanted to read it.) I do highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy Downton Abbey or you like reading about historical socialites. If you are a celebrity magazine fan and normally do not read “heavy” books, this would be your best dip in the rewarding world of non-fiction.

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Willig Audio Review

For me, 2012 was the year of running. I’ve flirted with running off and on for several years, but this is the first time I stuck to a consistent running schedule and logged more miles than ever before. I even ran two half marathons! Okay, one was technically in 2013 (Jan 1) but all my training happened in 2012. When I started running I listened to music, like everybody else. Slowly I learned that music does nothing for me. I can tune that out and think about what I’m doing and how much it hurts or how I want to go home and eat ice cream. So, I switched to audio books. I started with the Harry Potter audio books, and they were amazing. However, I found myself listening to them when not running–while cataloging, while in the bathtub, while cooking–and I soon went through all seven books. So, I started over. But, you can only listen to the same books so many times, and I began my search for new running audio books. I considered The Hunger Games but its high demand, and my need for immediate gratification, brought me to the library browsing the audio book shelves. Lo and behold I saw The Deception of the Emerald Ring one of my favorite Pink Carnation books. I immediately snapped it up, and began my quest for all Willig audio books.

I couldn’t find a good picture of the audio version, but here’s the print version!

Narrator Kate Reading is amazing! I love her vocal inflections and I love how each character has a distinctive voice. Although, do our American accents really sound that obnoxious? I always cringe a little when the chapters change from historical spy story with British characters to modern American grad student story. It’s jarring.

I found that my favorite books of Willig’s in print also translated to my favorite books in audio. Sometimes I get so caught up in a story that I forget to pay attention to the writing. I realized this the first time when my mom and I listened to a Dan Brown novel during a long drive. Well that didn’t last long… Dan Brown cannot write! As a listener you cannot skip words or skim various parts. You are forced to listen to poor dialogue or odd descriptions. While listening to Willig’s novels I felt there weren’t any of these situations that pulled me out of the story.

The plot is detailed and exciting enough to keep me running, but it’s not over the top. While I’ve never listened to The Hunger Games I have a feeling that I’d miss parts. It’s so fast paced (from what I remember of the book) and while running there are other things to think about–like not getting run over. Willig’s books have just enough action to keep me going, but not so much that I get super distracted and stop paying attention to the road, putting myself and others in danger. Well, that’s not true. When I first listened to Emerald Ring I was at the romantic bedroom scene and I must have gotten a little too involved, mentally, because I didn’t see the uneven sidewalk and fell flat on my face… That was embarrassing.

While the books weren’t so fast paced that I lost track of my surroundings (usually), they sometimes made me think. For example, I think I’ve finally figured out how The Temptation of the Night Jasmine relates to the rest of the series (aside from it being about Henrietta’s friend) and how the whole spy plot wraps up. The end of that book always confused me, partially because the Indian names are so different to me and therefore harder for to keep track, but also because it is a more complicated ending. It’s not x is spying for y who wants z. There are far more players, some who appeared in the previous book. While the complicated ending originally dropped the book in my ratings I now find intriguing and it has definitely risen in the ranks. It doesn’t hurt that Alex is one of my favorite heroes.

I will say that the Eloise parts continue to annoy me. In the print versions I read them because I want to know what happens, but when I re-read them I always skip those chapters. I do the same in the audio versions. It’s a bit more work, but the modern portions aren’t as exciting and I find that running while listening to those bits is a lot harder.

Overall though, I’d highly recommend the audio versions of Lauren Willig’s books to anyone who likes the print versions, or the genre. It’s great for running and general listening! Plus, I learned the British pronunciation of a few more words, which is always fun.

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