shoebox_dw: (sleeping beauty)
Audiobook squee: I finally convinced Shoemom to let me get those Classic Bob & Ray CDs! Featuring all the McCarthy parody skits and a cameo appearance by Ray's oldest son (aged about three)! Plus lots of other cool early stuff! Reason for yay!

...I'm not that obsessed, really I'm not. It's just that, with these guys, there's so much stuff you tend to find yourself constantly reading skit titles and going "Oooh, that looks like a must-have..."


Other audio goodness: My most recent purchase is Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Allison Weir. I thought it'd be fun to tackle a book I hadn't read yet, except inasmuch as I own most of Weir's non-fiction takes on Tudor history, and enjoy them quite a lot. Few people living can have a more intimate knowledge of Tudor minutiae than Weir; it'd be impossible to reach that point, I should think, and not start compulsively popping out potboilers.

There has anyway always been something distinctly novel-esque about her scholarship, and if it thus far seems that there's something rather too scholarly about her novel - something a little disconcerting about hearing Henry's attempts in bed with Catherine Parr narrated in the same tone used elsewhere to describe Elizabeth's palace fittings -  well, I may not be the best judge. I am very pleased with the precision she brings to it all, and the effortless way she sketches character because of it, but the true dramatic validity of the material has long since given way to familiarity.

In fact I sometimes think wistfully how nice it would be to approach sixteenth-century-themed fiction cold, as they say. Without knowing, not only how it all comes out, but all the wonderful rich twists and turns on the way.

Sigh. I bet all historians are science-fiction fans by default. And all engineers read Tolkien.
shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)
Question: Why are people who are manifestly dressed to get attention generally so upset when they get it? Specifically, people I pass on the street, wearing leopard-patterned hair or wildly mismatched clothes or tees with snarky sayings or whatever other non-conformist behaviour is the order of the day.

I'm not talking creepy stalkerish behaviour, here. (I should point out that my own dress and grooming makes that abundantly clear.) Just a friendly, open, interested second glance: thanx for giving me something new and different to look at, I appreciate the effort. And for this - aside from the odd and welcome impudent grin - I get confused looks at best and ferocious scowls at worst.

It's enough to make a person throw up her hands and bemoan the decline of Western Civilization...except that doesn't quite feel right, either.


Anyway. So posting those capsule book reviews the other day turned out to be a lot more fun than I'd anticipated; it's been awhile since I wallowed in any new and unique parts of my psyche around here, and it was a curiously refreshing experience. Besides, I'd like to think I have fairly good taste in the general way as well.

As it happens, I've got lots of grist for this particular mill: my very first experiment in online communication - aka inflicting my random opinions on a helpless public - happened on the Chapters/Indigo website. At the time I was working on the special orders/info desks at Toronto's landmark World's Biggest Bookstore, part of the same chain. I would literally browse through the latest releases in the morning, then run upstairs to the Net cafe to write a review at lunch (and sometimes just, ah, slightly into the afternoon shift as well - sorry, Randy and Mike, wherever you are!) In that respect at least, it was a wonderful life.

So...below is the first in a reposted series of short reader reviews I wrote circa least, the decently clever ones.
I've done some close editing/proofing and removed the star ratings, and then organised them by genre as best I could. This week, I thought we'd kick off with a topic that hasn't been covered around here in awhile: History/Biography.

Literary goodies under the cut... )
shoebox_dw: (pbs zebra reading)
The current audiobook is Jane and the Stillroom Maid, one of the series by Stephanie Barron and read by Kate Reading, and it comes highly recommended indeed.

I'm not ordinarily a huge fan of novelists that use real historical figures. Even if the author is skilled enough - which is very skilled indeed - to incorporate fact into fiction without coming off as annoyingly arch, their affection inevitably starts to come off as blatant hero-worship, what I believe is known these days as a Canon Sue. (As happens to Bruce Alexander's Sir John Fielding series after awhile, although the first three or four, before Jeremy becomes fairly convinced that his boss is God or the closest earthly equivalent, are still very readable.)

Barron's Jane Austen pastiches, though, have managed to hold off the pitfalls admirably thus far - given her subject, even extraordinarily. Credit is due to any author who can sketch out a star-crossed romance between Austen and an aristocratic secret agent without giving the reader cause to believe the lady herself would laugh it out of court.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (sleeping beauty)
So I finally got around to watching Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola's reimagining of the tragic Last Queen of France as 18th-century version of a 21st-century Paris, is the best way I can describe it. This would possibly be a good time to reiterate that the French Revolution has been a hobby of mine for about twenty years now, which as far as I can tell puts me way out of the target demographic.

See, the thing is, this lady was the, y'know, Queen and stuff. That's the reason people want to make a movie about her in the first place, 200-odd years later. Meaning you can't tell the story only from her POV, as though she were Jane Private Citizen, accountable only to herself; it doesn't work. Or perhaps it does...just not solely as a series of Uplifting Shopping Montages. Set to I Want Candy, yet. Accompanied by endless shots of Antoinette and her pastel posse biting into luscious - wait for it - cakes. I think I'd be truly miffed on Coppola's audience's behalf if I hadn't watched Clueless: The Series one too many times.

shoebox_dw: (sleeping beauty)
Short answer: In soap-opera terms, Henry VIII's kids were totally The Colbys to his Dynasty...only maybe not so much with the UFO abductions.

Edward VI was nine when dad handed him over the reigns - or, more accurately, handed him over to his uncle, Edward Seymour, the Protector. (actually, Henry had envisioned a co-regency of many nobles, but in true Aaron Spelling fashion, whoopsie, the will got lost in all the confusion surrounding the burial.)

Little Eddie was quite the fun kid. Fanatically Protestant, ie disapproving of anything that might be remotely construed as self-indulgent; the phrase most historians use is 'priggish'. One of those pale little child geniuses forever trying to win acceptance with the popular kids - or in this case, live up to his larger-than-life father. The story goes that he once called for a pet falcon and proceeded to tear the poor thing to pieces bare-handed, remarking that this was how he was treated now, but when he reached the throne...well, you get the picture.

Read more... )
shoebox_dw: (sleeping beauty)
So you thought I was kidding when I mentioned the French Revolution, didn't you? Hah.

Actually, I thought I'd start off with something a little less apocalyptic, not to say a neat tie-in with the new movie, The Other Boleyn Girl. Not entirely certain if I want to watch that one or not; for the same reasons why I haven't read the Philippa Gregory book it's based on. Tudor history was so determinedly florid as it was that any effort to fictionalise and sensationalise tends to come off as unnecessary at best, and wholly ridiculous at worst.

In real life, almost nothing is known about the the Boleyn sisters' relationship, for the simple reason that quite frankly nobody cared until Anne vaulted onto the English throne; they were women, after all, and commoners to boot. Mary, the eldest (although even their exact birthdates are unknown) does seem to have been a very pretty girl in a soft, Scarlett Johanssen-y way, all blonde curls and blue eyes. In no time she became basically the court hobbyhorse, racking up an impressive mileage even before King Henry - still in his tall athletic Golden Boy stage himself - decided to try her out.

Anne, on the other hand, was either much more demure or much more cunning, depending on who's telling the story. It's assumed from the modern perspective that she must have been at the least rather contemptuous of her sister, whose royal liason lasted all of about six months before she was married off to an obliging minor nobleman, but there's no contemporary evidence to show it. Mary simply retired to the country, while Sister Anne, her replacement in Henry's heart if not his bed, became Queen.

The legend goes that some years later, accused of sleeping with all the Boleyn family women in succession, Henry muttered 'Not with the mother - never with the mother."

At any rate, it all makes a nice preamble to a piece I wrote for the old forum some while ago, plus some later addenda...


...I listened to a knowledgeable schoolchild pronounce on a presumed portrait of Anna of Cleves: "That's her, the ugly one." To which her companion agreed: "That's right, she's dead ugly" - except that they were both actually looking at a picture of the Temptress, Anne Boleyn.

--Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII


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