Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

FremantleQueensGambitWhy I Read It: I think it’s obvious by now that I enjoy reading books set in the Tudor time period, and this fit in nicely.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Tudor fans and those who enjoy women’s historical fiction.

Narrator: Georgina Sutton

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 14 hours 24 minutes

Katherine Parr is about to be twice widowed, tending her elderly husband in his final sickness. He is in great pain, and Katherine knows something of the herbs that ease his pain, and can ease his passing. However, she hesitates as she also holds not only her immortal soul in her care, but also her husband’s. Once he passes, Katherine is summoned to the English court by Lady Mary, King Henry VIII’s daughter. Katherine (Kit) happily attends Mary, and introduces her stepdaughter, Meg, who is not only recovering from her father’s recent death, but also from the violent religious uprisings of only a few months past. The English court is full of various perils, for both the wise and the young such as Kit, Meg, and their close confidant Dot (their personal maid and friend). As the King sets his eyes on Kit for his sixth wife, the ladies become closer.

This is a rich and thoroughly engaging book, alternating between Kit’s and Dot’s point of view, giving the readers both the royal and kitchen scene. The main characters walk onto the page fully formed, with back stories and goals of their own. I was easily drawn into the story. I will say that briefly, I wondered if this was Book 2 in a series because the main characters are dealing with the after effects of events that happened a few months previous to the opening of this book. Indeed, I even went so far as to check on various book sites, and finally checking the author’s site – and this is indeed Book 1. Still, I had that little niggling feeling that I was missing some part of the story.

That aside, I loved listening to the two points of view. Dot, as the maid, has greater run of the castles and grounds, but she also has to do all the packing and unpacking as the court rotates through the various royal residences. Kit has all the fancy clothes and jewels (which are quite weighty), but nearly all her motions, her life in fact, is dictated by King and court needs.

Spanning several years, the book encompasses various historical characters and tackle the numerous religious questions of the Reformation without being preachy. I had a true sense of the predicament Kit found herself in, having her personal views the opposite of Lady Mary, and periodically, opposite to hose of the mercurial King Henry.

As much as I enjoyed this novel, with it’s insights into Katherine Parr’s life, I must bring up my one criticism. Only the main female characters have any depth; all the male characters are one dimensional. Not only that, but all the male characters commit some wrong towards the lead ladies in some form. A few regret their trespasses and they are portrayed in a gentler light. Since the story lacked a single male with altruistic motives and characteristics throughout the novel, the story was a slightly unbalanced. True, the 1500s were not a time where gender equality was even thought of, so perhaps this was done on purpose to provide the backdrop if blatant and socially acceptable gender inequality.

Even with that criticism, I would not pass up another book by Elizabeth Fremantle. The writing and pacing were well done, keeping me engaged. It was obvious a sizable amount of research went into the book, and the details were definitely appreciated by this reader.

The Narration: Georgina Sutton had distinct voices and accents for the main characters, and a variety of male voices (those these sometimes slipped a little to the feminine). I enjoyed her sniffs and sneers for the various snotty expressions by the characters.

What I Liked: Rich historical backdrop; even knowing the historical facts, I was still fascinated to see how this author would play out the narrative; Dot became my favorite character; the ending was bitter sweet and a perfect fit for the story.

What I Disliked: I initially thought this was Book 2 because of the numerous references to events that occurred prior to the the beginning of Book 1; all the male characters are one dimensional and users of one sort or another.

What Others Think:

Flashlight Commentary

Let Them Read Books

The Tudor Book Blog

So Many Books So Little Time

Medieval Bookworm

Help the Poor Struggler by Martha Grimes

GrimesHelpThePoorStrugglerWhy I Read It: I liked Martha Grimes‘ autobiography she cowrote with her son concerning alcoholism (Double Double) and decided to try out her fiction.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Looking for a weekend English mystery that features fancy cars and has a little bite to it? This is worth your time.

Narrator: Steve West

Publisher: Simon&Schuster (2013)

Length: 6 hours 27 minutes

Series: Book 6 Richard Jury

Even though this is Book 6 in the series, it worked perfectly fine as a stand alone mystery.

Richard Jury of Scotland Yard is on the case, a case which entails catching whoever has murdered a handful of children near Dartmoor. The web of these murders pulls in a cold case file a generation old that has haunted constable Brian Macalvie for years. Peppered with fast sporty cars, a sizable inheritance, and a cozy pub, this mystery kept me engaged through out the tale.

Lady Jessica (Jessie) in her mechanic’s coveralls with her questionable dog (is that a dog?) Henry was my favorite character. She was precocious as only a rich 12 year old heiress could be. A ward of her young, good looking uncle, she is constantly attempting to drive off the prettiest tutor, governess, or servant.

The story is speckled with a variety of suspects, but tracing a motive becomes the difficult part. Indeed, I did not expect the story to turn out as it did. Richard Jury himself is an engaging character, not holding back from using pleasantries and perhaps a little more to obtain a lead in the case.

Martha Grimes has a twisted turn of phrase for telling a story that I found both humorous and inventive. Her descriptions of each character’s quirks made the ambiance of the story just as interesting as the plot. Hooray for Fisherman’s Friend cough drops!

The Narration: Steve West was a great voice for Richard Jury, providing just the right amount of thoughtful pauses. He also had a stuffed-up-nose voice for the poor sick side kick. His feminine voices were indeed feminine, but sometimes a little hard to distinguish from one another. However, the storyline was often very clear about who was talking, so I was not often confused.

What I Liked: The list of suspects; dragging in a cold case file made it extra interesting; interesting sporty cars; Jessie and Henry were my favorite characters.

What I Disliked: Jessie recovers a little too quickly from a nasty scare she receives at one point in the book.

RIP8Tis the season for the mysterious, the thrilling, the criminal and I’m celebrating by participating in Stainless Steel Dropping’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril. You can join in the fun too!

The Living Room by Bill Rolfe

Smudge is my most skittish cat, detesting most electronics.
Smudge is my most skittish cat, detesting most electronics.

Why I Read It: I liked the idea that the author was inspired by a dream, which would not let go of him.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the author (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Those who enjoy inspirational books about finding purpose and love in life will probably enjoy this book.

Publisher: LTD Publications (2012)

Length: 155 pages

Daniel Clay is a New York investment adviser, well liked by nearly everyone. He works out, is a good looker, has a golden career ahead of him. However, his personal life is a desert, lacking in close friends, family, and spouse. A mysterious unknown uncle leaves him his house in a will, this house being located in England. Daniel takes a much deserved break from work to fix up the old house and put it on the market. In the process of doing these home repairs, he manages to injure himself bad enough to need some minor medical attention from none other than the most lovely Claire. Some Instant Love ensues and pretty soon the two are setting up house.

Claire’s job is as a nurse for the terminally ill children, some of which she has nursed for years. In Daniel’s house, there is an upstairs room full of light with an excellent view. He gives permission to set it up for the children in their final days. Daniel understandably freaks out a bit after the first little girl passes away. He then starts praying for the next child, who miraculously recovers, even as Daniel becomes ill.

Let be up front and say that I have a deep-seeded prejudice towards faith healing, having suffered the consequences of a childhood of failed prayer healings that have left me with a debilitating disease. With that stated, I have definitely tried my best to set that aside and enjoy this book, and to write an honest review free of my personal prejudice. I leave it up to all of you to decide if I have done so.

This book is fairly short, at 155 pages, so the story moves along at a pretty fast clip. Most of the time, this works well for me though I did find it a bit convenient, if sweet, to have the two main characters instantly fall in love. I think the limited length of the story also led to pretty one dimensional characters (which isn’t always bad – such as in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere). Hence, the story is pretty predictable. With that said, there were still several small insights into the human condition that I found touching – such as the flute playing elderly nurse, the simple kindness of taking an ill kid out for a drive, ice cream, and a toy, and encouraging a young newspaper boy to attend college.

The ending was mostly satisfying. SPOILER ALERT While Daniel and Claire decide to live their lives together (bonus), there was this assumption that would happen in NY (negative) and not in England; Claire’s years of work in her community are just as valuable, if not more so, than Daniel’s in NY END SPOILER. If you are one to believe in miracles, then this book is very touching, capturing the necessity for small kindnesses both for the living and the soon to be dead.

What I Liked: The set up of the story drew me in; Daniel’s character captures how a person can be polite, even kind, yet have an empty life; Claire’s calling is a tough one and she carries it out with strength, poise, and kindness.

What I Disliked: The Instant Love between the two main characters; the dead-uncle-left-me-a-house really reminded me of a Peter Mayle book that was made into a movie (A Good Year) some years ago; Daniel’s charity seemed a little over the top sometimes (like the giving of a car, etc.).

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan C. Bradley

Why I Read It: Recommended to me by knitting circle.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: Mystery lovers, poison aficionados, and fans of precocious kids with English accents.

Narrator: Jayne Entwhistle

Publisher: Random House Audio (2009)

Length: 10 CDs

Series: Flavia de Luce Book 1

This was one of the most delightful mysteries I had read in some time. Set in 1950s England and told from the view point of the master slueth Flavia, an 11-year old girl, the reader is taken on bicycle rides, assists on chemistry experiments, and of course, solving a murder. Flavia is fascinated with chemistry in general and poisons in specific. Her knowledge of both drives this mystery and, without surprise, is key in solving the murder.Tormented by older siblings, ignored by most adults, motherless, and far too smart for her own good, Flavia steals the show. The mystery is centered on a small group of academics and philately (the study of stamps). And yes, there is pie. This book was fast-paced and over too soon. Luckily, there are more Alan C. Bradley mysteries waiting for me at the library.

The narrator Jayne Entwhistle did a marvelous job; I truly felt she was a kid again reading this book. I especially love how she made Flavia’s voice revel in the downhill bikerides and slip into seriousness over her chemistry or perk up at the thought of some mischievousness.

What I Liked: The poisons; the heroine is a well-grounded 11-year old girl; there’s stamp collecting; mystery kept me in suspense and guessing.

What I Didn’t like: Flavia’s choice in candies.

Note: This review was originally published on Darkcargo.com on 04/20/2011 and republished, and reformatted, here with permission of Lady Darkcargo.