Tag Archives: Philippa Gregory

The Monday Book: THE LADY OF THE RIVERS by Philippa Gregory

gregoryI used to think of Gregory’s books as a guilty pleasure, but then I watched (two episodes of) The Tudors on Showtime. God help us all.

If you joined the victims watching Showtime Tudors, you need to know a few things. First, Henry VIII wasn’t a 27-year-old blue-eyed boy for most of his life. He had two sisters, not one. He did not hang an entire county on false pretenses. Fourth–oh, let’s not even try. The only thing accurate about that medieval soap opera was that he had six wives.

But Gregory’s books are fairly amazing in teaching accurate history. She interprets rather than ignores facts. Gregory sets them down as the skeleton around which she builds her stories–“Jacquetta married Richard Woodville in Spring 1440ish”–and then she tries to figure out WHY a woman so powerful would marry a squire. (She comes up with a loving version of lust. Fair enough.)

Gregory’s other books are hit/miss – avoid the Wideacre series: run away, run away! And I didn’t read her Flapper novel. But when she sinks her teeth into the war of the cousins (War of the Roses) or the founding of the Tudor Dynasty by that crafty (and extremely lucky) Owen Tudor, when she writes about “powerless” women moving chess pieces around the courts of kings they may or may not love, she’s got a real way of telling a true story with golden embellishments on why they did what they did.

I have a professor friend here at the college who recommends her novels to those studying England between 1400 and 1600. She really understands how Margaret Beaufort ruled from the rear; she doesn’t think Henry VIII was the most fascinating story of the Tudor reign (because he wasn’t by a long shot – check out Jacquetta and her daughter and grand-daughter, which is what Rivers is about). And she doesn’t try to make sense to a modern ear of the things the courts were obsessed with. She does turn the old language into modern prose, but she still retains a whiff of the times in the words she chooses.

The fact that the books are filled with lust and violence doesn’t hurt, but she’s got that Alfred Hitchcock approach to beddings: “There is no fear in a bang, only the anticipation of it.” You can play around with “lust, sex, satisfaction” and make that sentence your own, if you want to.

She also has that lovely way, like Stephen King and other great writers we hate to admit are, of encapsulating a character in one swift sentence, such as: “When a man wants a mystery, it is generally better to leave him mystified. Nobody loves a clever woman.” Her good guys make mistakes, behave badly; her evil characters are not just black velvet background.

So I’ve stopped thinking of Gregory’s books as a guilty pleasure, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the story of how the Woodville family rose to such power in the Tudor era. Rivers‘ hero Jacquetta is wiser than many of those Gregory has chronicled, her family history and plans for its future subtler than other Rose War women. I loved The White Queen, too, although it had quite a bit more pure fiction in it when it came to assigning motivations and causes for events.

Yes, I know: I’m a plebian. But I’ve really enjoyed The Lady of the Waters and heartily recommend it to anyone interested in English History, or to those who like a good historic novel.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, writing

What type of Type is your Type?

The other day I walked through the bookstore carrying–of all things–a book, and Jack said, “That looks your sort of thing.”

“Eh?”  I responded, blinking.

“That’s your type of book. I saw it when it came in and figured you’d find it before long.”

Gentle reader, I have never before considered that I have a “type of book,” believing myself more the cereal box variety of bibliophile. Granted, I avoid horror, romance and paperbacks bedecked with sword-wielding bikini-clad blonds, but that doesn’t mean I have a “type.” Of type.

Does it?

In the warm light of Jack’s “Sometimes the person on the other side of the bed sees things you don’t” smile, I assessed my reading habits. Gosh darn it, he’s right. Here are five things guaranteed to make me like a book:

1) It features a road trip. I don’t care where they’re going or what they do when they get there; if  the protagonists are driving, flying, walking, or boating across a big space, I’m in. Queen of the Road, The Great Typo Hunt, A Walk Across America, A Walk in the Woods, even The Long Walk (an escape book from the Gulag years). Heck, one of my all-time favorite pieces of music is Brendan’s Voyage, in which Shawn Davey scored the adventures of two modern guys replicating a monk’s coracle voyage from Ireland to Newfoundland. If the main characters are moving, it’s good enough for me.

2) It’s a fictitious story of a child growing up without recognizing what’s going on around her. I love stories that involve children’s innocence protecting them. Trezza Azzopardi’s Remember Me. The Murderer’s Daughters. Girlchild (a bit less innocent, perhaps). But it has to be fiction; A Child Called It left me cold. Sure, a psychiatrist could help me understand why, but I’ll stick with enjoying the never-ending stream of fiction traffic clogging dysfunction junction.

3) It’s a true story of simple living told with humor. Sweaterwise: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. The $64 Tomato. Farewell, My Subaru.  How Many Hills to Hillsboro. Mud Season. Heart in the Right Place. American Shaolin (although that’s maybe not so simple; the guy moved to Asia and enrolled in a monastery). One can get tired of yuppies run amok among the greener grasses on the fence’s other side, total life changes, or even strange gimmicky publicity stunts akin to reality television for the memoir market. (How low can one go to get a book deal? Don’t answer that.) The “at home” memoirs still delight me.

4) Any book with that gilt foil paint stuff on its cover. The Rose of Sebastopol wasn’t a favorite, but I read it because of its gilt flower frame. The Reluctant Fundamentalist sported foil letters. I even enjoy The Royal Diaries series for girls. Put gold on the cover, and you had me at hello.

This makes me shallow, right? I accept that.

5) Historic fiction with strong female leads. Yes, Philippa Gregory has a lot to answer for; I don’t even like the way Robin Maxwell writes; but if it’s about an ordinary woman caught in extraordinary times (Tudor dynasty, Spanish Diaspora, Druidic and Christian worldviews clashing) color me there. Caveat: the books in this camp range from brain bubblegum to intensely well-researched dissertations-as-narrative; choose wisely. I did once throw Katie Hickman across the room in exasperation.

So now you know: left to my own devices, these are the books I gravitate toward. What’s your type of type?

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, writing

A Kitten’s Destiny

destiny's daughterSo yesterday my friend Destiny came careening into the shop about half an hour before closing. It was a desperate situation: her ten-year-old daughter had just declared she didn’t like reading any more.

Destiny bought her the first Harry Potter, the first Artemis Fowl, and a couple of “I like this cover, Mom” paperbacks.

Understanding the gravity of the situation, I suggested RL Stine. Not normally my first go-to, but needs must when the devil drives.

We loaded the child with books, and then Destiny looked around. “Where’s Jack?”

“Scotland,” I said. “Remember?” But she shook her head.

“My son Jack.” Her eyes took on the wild panic of a mother whose child has been quiet too long.

Just then a piercing scream of maniacal childish laughter shook the shop. Destiny relaxed.

destiny's sonWe found Jack “playing” with the foster kittens.  This involved a lot of strangulation, alternated with cuddles and coos. The kittens looked terrified. The instant Jack released them under his mother’s orders, one leaped into a laundry basket and peed itself, while the other cowered behind a chair, hissing.

Hey, he’s five.

The blond, bespectacled moppets frolicked to the front of the store after learning that “there’s another kitty in there” (staff cat Owen, a sturdy boy, strongly built) and I closed the door on the kittens to let them recover.

But of course it took wee Jack only seconds to realize he’d been had. “This is a big cat. Where’s the little cats?”

Smart kid. We explained that it was nap time for baby kittens. Jack burst into tears and declared that, unlike his sister who had gotten “a lot” of books, he hadn’t gotten any.

Destiny narrowed her eyes. “You said you didn’t want one. You just want to go back where the kittens are.”

Innocent and wide-eyed, the boy gulped assurances that he really, really needed a book.

“Here,” said Destiny, pointing to the adult historic fiction. “Pick one.” Needs must.

I held my breath as Jack’s tiny fingers hovered over The Other Boleyn Girl. But he moved on, taking a Judith Tarr with a pharaoh head on the cover.

Destiny later Facebooked me this message: “Mom, this book is making me crazy.” – Jack on the way home.

I really don’t know where Jack gets his sense of drama.

destiny and son

"Is that kid coming back?"

“Is that kid coming back?”

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