I’m Moving!

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Well friends, I decided it was time to make the switch to my own domain, and last night I made it happen! Bibliography is now located at http://www.BibliographyBlog.com.  It looks and feels exactly the same, and is still powered by WordPress, though it is now hosted by me.  Because of this, none of my email subscribers will transfer.  If you would not be too terribly inconvenienced, I would really appreciate it if those already following me here would go the the “Library Card” section of http://www.BibliographyBlog.com and re-subscribe. Fear not! I will not be posting on both blogs.  You will only receive ONE email from me when I post.  And I will still be subscribed to all of you fine folks.

Thank you for your support! I look forward to my continued relationship with my followers and fellow-bloggers!

Courtney

12.18–The Lady of the Rivers

I am such a huge fan of Philippa Gregory. I just think she is the bee’s knees.  The Lady of the Rivers is the third book in The Cousins’ War series, which follows the War of the Roses. This novel is the prequel to The White Queen–the first of the series.

Jacquetta is a descendant of Melusina, a river goddess, and therefore possesses special gifts–namely the second sight.  An early experience with Joan of Arc and her untimely demise gives Jacquetta a life-long fear of using these gifts, though she is occasionally ordered by her sovereign to do so.  Her marriage to the Duke of Bedford and her early widowhood yield her great privilege throughout her life, but also put her in great danger as England’s political cauldron boils over into chaos.  Standing by her side through all of these troubles is her second husband Richard Woodville, who she married for love, and her innumerable children.

Philippa Gregory does extensive research on all of her novels and this one is no exception.  Jacquetta was a real woman whose life occurred right at the beginning of the War of the Roses. Gregory became fascinated by this relatively overlooked woman and expounded on her story.  As ever, I am astounded by Gregory and her capacity for creating beautiful stories out of minor characters from history.  Jacquetta is an easy heroine to love.  She does all she can to protect her husband and children during this dangerous period in English history.  She is a close friend and confidant of Margaret of Anjou, the wife of King Henry VI.  Henry comes to the throne as a boy and never quite becomes a man. He is always naive, and Margaret is no help in that vein.  Jacquetta and Richard attempt to herd them in the right direction, but the monarchs’ petty quarrels with the Duke of York evolve into all out war within their lifetime.  Jacquetta, thrust very close to the throne by circumstance and some family meddling is caught in a vise from which she cannot escape.  Her instinct for self-preservation and diplomacy make her one of the most admirable women in the court of Gregory’s creation.  She is gentle and loving to her husband and children, and sweet to a fault with the queen.  The fact that she’s descended from a goddess and possesses supernatural powers is just a bonus.

The love between Richard and Jacquetta had me burning with envy throughout the entire novel.  As with Gregory’s other books, The Lady of the Rivers spans a very long period of time–from Jacquetta’s childhood to her twilight years.  Richard loves Jacquetta from the moment he sees her as his lord the Duke’s new bride until his death decades later. Though they spend much of their life apart, their passion never fades and neither of them strays from the other.  Each time they are separated, Jacquetta is frantic for his safety, and they fall into each others’ arms like young lovers on his return, even after she has borne him 14 children (ouch!).  In a genre in which it seems like everyone sleeps with everyone (at least according to our favorite juicy historical fiction) it is really refreshing to read about a couple that is still happily devoted to one another.

Gregory’s novels can sometimes be a bit repetitive, especially in this time period.  She does a lot of jumping forward in time, and skims over events that she deems less important to her stories.  During this war, the power switches sides a lot, and everyone accuses everyone else of treason.  Though a lot of people cry foul on each other and it can seem rather trivial and petty, Gregory does a fine job of reminding the reader that this situation is constantly life-and-death for Jacquetta and her family.  It adds tension to the story and keeps the reader engaged despite the repetition.

This is by far one of my favorite Philippa Gregory novels.  Though I try not to read books in a series right next to each other, I may have to go pick up The Kingmaker’s Daughter, just because this novel left me craving more of her writing style.  Definitely read it!

Feature and Follow #2

It’s Feature and Follow time again! The weeks go by so fast. Last week snuck up on me so fast I didn’t even have a chance to post. For those that don’t know, Feature and Follow is hosted by the bloggers Alison Can Read and  Parajunkee.  Each week they feature two bloggers and pose a fun question for us to answer. There’s also the blog hop, which I cannot post on my blog due to WordPress limitations.

This week’s featured blogs are The Bookshelf Review and Compelled by Words. Those that wish to participate in Feature and Follow are required to follow both the hosts and the featured blogs.  Not a problem: it’s a great way to find great books and network!

Question of the Week: What would you do over if you were to start your blog again from scratch?

My Answer: Well, I started the blog for the sake of my friends, with no intention of attempting to get a large following. Now I think I would try networking a lot harder.  And also, I would make sure my idiot (ex)boyfriend didn’t mess up my account with Google AdSense.  Because of him I’m never allowed to use it again, and I’m pretty frustrated about it, even though it happened almost two years ago.  Other than that, I really like my blog. It accomplishes what I want it to, which is to provide an archive for my friends to flip through when they want a recommendation.

 

12.17–A Clash of Kings

This novel, in case you don’t know, is the second in the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.  By no means as interesting as the first, much of it feels rather like filler.  It takes a very long while for the events to get moving. For a novel that’s 969 pages long, reading through 400 pages in which mostly nothing happens is pretty difficult.  Still, the events of the latter half of the novel make pushing through the first part worth it, and I very much look forward to starting the next novel.

As ever, the story of the Seven Kingdoms is told from multiple third-person points of view, following a large number of different characters.  One of the most frustrating things about this series is the sheer number of characters (I believe I read somewhere that throughout the series of five books so far there are over 1,000 named characters).  Their names are unusual and some of them are very similar, making it extremely difficult to keep track of everyone.  At times I only followed the story based on some vague concept of a person’s character–this man is bad, this woman is benevolent, this man can’t be trusted, this one can be bought for gold–instead of attempting to memorize all the names. It helps to read the appendix at the back, and keep referring to it as the novel progresses.

I will say this for Martin: with his main players he takes a great deal of care, crafting them into multi-faceted, many-sided characters.  My favorite in this novel is Tyrion Lannister, a witty man whose lack of brawn has turned him into a clever schemer–the man who really controls the country, though from the shadows so that no one knows it. Arya, my favorite in the last book, lost most of her spunk for this one, though she gained it back at the end to reclaim her place in my heart. Sansa, whom I hated in the first novel, certainly earns the reader’s sympathy in this one, as her mad betrothed, Joffrey, abuses her horribly, both emotionally and physically.  Cersei Lannister and her son Joffrey are both evil to the core–Joffrey a spoiled, mad child who has been given a crown, and Cersei the mother who will do anything to protect her son and see him hold on to the Iron Throne.  Each of these characters, and the others, evoke specific emotions within the reader, and once the chapter ends and we don’t know how soon we’ll see them again, there is a little bit of disappointment.  I’ve considered skipping ahead to the next chapter belonging to a character I’m particularly interested in, but I know that by the time the novel gets around to that next chapter, so many things have changed that nothing will make sense.

The plot moves swiftly and the fortunes of characters change in a flash.  In this novel, as in its predecessor and presumably its sequels, nothing is certain–life or death, good or evil, victory or defeat.  Even when it looks as if a battle can have only one outcome, Martin surprises us with some new trickery.  With five kings vying for one throne, and two more self-styled monarchs eyeing the throne from a distance, there is no well-defined line in the sand, no clear hero for which to cheer.  In this, Martin creates realism far beyond what most authors will do.  These people could be walking around in an alternate universe, where fate does not always favor the noble or the good.  Though the world he created is very thorough, complete with topography, geography, history, religion, language, culture, and the previously spoken-of characters, it is this ability of his to not give us the happy ending we want that truly brings the story to life and makes it believable.

Though I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as the first, I still had difficulty putting it down, especially the nearer I drew to the end.  The simmering pot of the Seven Kingdoms explodes into a boil, and it gets to be a very exciting read.

Cover Design: What Entices You?

I was thinking today about the books that catch my eye and the books that don’t.  Do you ever think about the marketing of the books that you decide to read? And the one you don’t? Obviously the most important thing in a book is its content, but the care that a publisher takes with its book’s cover can be the thing that makes or breaks my decision to buy.  Here are a few examples of covers I love:

Beautiful colors, lots of ornate detail, fantastic theme. Love everything about this cover art.

Stylized in great colors.

Oprah’s Book Club seal is NOT part of the appeal of this cover

This cover captures the whimsy and novelty of the whole book.

Gorgeous cover both visually and texturally: it’s embossed and the dots are gold foil.

All art is done by the author himself. Cornish is a genius.

A few of the things that I hate on book covers are sloppily-done computer rendered images:

Ugh. So ugly.

Random body parts with the face usually cropped out:

…what is she wearing?

this:

I hate everything about this. The colors don’t work together, the random doorway to nowhere, and those hideous boots she’s wearing. Even the font is boring.

or this:

No they didn’t.

What catches your eye about book covers? Art? Quality of said art? A certain color/color scheme? Fonts? Texture?

12.16–The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I was extremely hesitant when starting this book. I had been meaning to read it for a while, as half a dozen friends and acquaintances recommended it. When my book club selected it as July’s book, I finally checked it out from the library and dove in.  At first I had difficulty picking it up. The beginning seems sluggish. The language is so lofty and the words so long that my eyes had trouble getting them to my brain. But once I really got rolling with it, I’d have to say that I absolutely loved it! It could possibly be one of my new favorite books.

The best word I can think of to describe it is intelligent.  The novel is written from the point of view of two very different but extremely intelligent women–one older and one very young. Madame Renée Michele is the concierge of an upscale apartment building in Paris.  She spends her days believing that the exorbitantly wealthy people who populate her building only regard her in one way–as a sloppy, uneducated servant. Mme Michele is happy to keep them in the dark about her true character. In reality, she is a well-read woman who loves Leo Tolstoy, philosophy, and the films of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. Paloma Josse is a twelve year old girl who has decided that she will commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday.  The world is entirely too mundane for her taste and is full of dunces who cannot live up to her standards. The reader gets Renée’s perspective from numbered chapters while Paloma’s comes from diary entries labeled “Profound Thoughts” and “The Journal of the Movement of the World.” When a new resident moves into the building, both of their lives and perspectives take major hits and are altered forever. Paloma begins to suspect that Renée is more than she seems and sets about investigating with her new neighbor.

Both of these woman are incredible characters, prone to rather outrageous fits of their odd indulgences.  Renée is a self-depricating woman who lives in constant fear that the secret of her intelligence may be discovered, while Paloma seeks always to find one reason to remain alive–a pursuit which constantly disappoints her. The comedy and absurdity of their positions is persistently cut with the rather serious internal monologues analyzing whatever small point they happen to be thinking of or expostulating.  I confess, sometimes my eyes had difficulty staying focused on the page. One “big word” followed another and at times the reading got thick and difficult. Still, most of the time I found myself nodding my head in agreement, raising my eyebrows with interest, or “hmmmmm”ing with some new insight. Though fictional women, they managed to educated me on a few things, and gave me fresh perspective of things I rarely think about. Also, Renée scrambling to hide her intelligence made me snort with laughter once or twice. She is, to quote a friend, hysterical.

For a long time it seems to be a book about relatively minor events in the lives of thoughtful people. Eventually, the plot picks up and crescendos to its fantastic conclusion.  By the novel’s midway point I was devouring it, never wanting to put it down.  Though it is slow to start, the novel is brilliant and delightful to read. Paloma and Renée are characters that are easy to love.  I feel that this novel has not received the attention that it deserves, though it may be too sluggish for the masses.  It is a book much better read for its philosophy and humor than for its highly eventful plot line. For those that appreciate a somewhat absurd and often morbid humor, as well as somewhat rambling thought processes (neither of which are tedious or unenjoyable in this novel, at least), please do yourself a favor and read this book.