Book Review of The Last Tudor

In the afterword to The Last Tudor Philippa Gregory says she may not revisit what haslast tudor been an incredibly successful series of novels about women during the War of the Roses and the Tudor Ascension. And while I have really enjoyed this series – its easy to see why. She is stretching a little here in this final installment.

There are actually three narrators in The Last Tudor – all of which have part of a story to share about Elizabeth’s coming to power. The first is Lady Jane Grey – who was crowned queen for all of nine days. She was then imprisoned in the tower by Queen Mary and later executed for treason. Lady Jane is an uninspiring narrator, and it is actually a pleasure to move on to the second narrator, her younger sister Katherine.

When Elizabeth comes to the throne it is still amongst talk of her unmarried status. And as time speeds by and she remains unmarried (clearly due to her love for Robert Dudley in this text) pressure mounts for her to name an heir. Unfortunately for Katherine, she is too likely a successor. Elizabeth, portrayed as tyrannical queen desperate to hold on to the throne at all costs, sees Katherine as a threat. When Katherine marries into another high-ranking York house for love and in secret, she makes herself a target. Elizabeth imprisons her, her husband and her children.

Although we follow Katherine’s tragic yet touching history for some years and long into her confinement, the youngest sister Mary takes her turn narrating. Mary is the most interesting of the three sisters – a pragmatist with a unique perspective. Pretty as a doll but likely what would have been referred to as a dwarf in those times, Mary is incredibly wary and astute about Elizabeth – who never let any of her ladies marry. Mary too weds in secret, but far below her. She too incurs Elizabeth’s wrath.

It is interesting to see each of the sisters through each other’s eyes, and their damning portrayal of Elizabeth, who is long considered to have ushered in a ‘golden age’ in British history. The last section is by far the best, but it’s clear this is wearing thin. A novel parallel to this, set from Elizabeth’s perspective, would be most welcome though.

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Book Review of Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House

golden houseIn a detour from his recent forages into fantasy and magical realism, Salman Rushdie presents us a with a clever realistic fiction in tune with modern politics.

The Golden House is the story of Nero Golden and his sons – a mysterious family who immigrate to New York escaping a shadowy past. Their great wealth, and the unusual characteristics of each of his three sons; Petya, Apu and D make them irresistibly interesting to their neighbour Rene, who aspires to make a film about their lives. Indeed he does, but in doing so he becomes far too embroiled in their dramas and the past that is about to catch up with them.

Behind all of this rather excellent storytelling is some very funny foreshadowing of Trump’s eventual – and surprising – presidential win. Much of this is entertaining enough on its own. Rene and a girlfriend create a series of short films portraying Trump as the Joker… and become increasingly alarmed is this joke seems to turn into a reality.

Its certainly not one of his better novels – but engaging and reasonably clever. Nothing unexpected here – nothing in his usual vein. This will likely disappoint some fans, but might buy him some new ones – especially with the current political commentary.

Review of My Dad Wrote a Porno Podcast

UnknownImagine if your ageing father wrote an erotic novel.  And not even a good erotic novel… what would you do?  Would you avoid family dinners?  Pretend it doesn’t exist?  Or – like Jamie Morton – would you get together regularly with your friends and read it aloud, laughing the whole way through?

Author Rocky Flintstone (definitely a pen-name) delves into the sexually-charged pots and pans industry, and his main character, Belinda Blumenthal, is a woman who isn’t afraid to use her sexuality to get ahead in this cut-throat world.  Or actually, she’s quite happy to use her sexuality anywhere, any place, at any time and literally WITH ANYONE.  Through scenarios sexy, saucy and sickening, Belinda is always on her game.

Rocky however, is a terrible writer and there is a lot of questioning to be done in regards to his knowledge of Biology – especially the female body.  Fortunately, Jamie, James and Alice are all on hand with their commentary.  And it’s brilliant.  Witty and no-holds barred, they spare no thought for Rocky’s feelings.

My Dad Wrote a Porno is the podcast sensation I’ve been waiting for all my life.  For weeks before I began, I kept hearing people raving about it.  I’ve ripped through the first three seasons (and Season 3 actually ended on a riveting cliffhanger – who would have thought!).  Looking forward to experiencing Season 4 as a weekly production!

Book Review of The Old Man and the Sea

old_man_and_the_seaThis novella by Ernest Hemingway has been on my list for a long time.  It’s the sort of story that you read with a lump in your throat… waiting for what seemed to me like an inevitable disaster to occur.  But Hemingway is clearly more hopeful that I am.  Seems like a concern!

Santiago is an aging fisherman who has not caught anything for over 80 days.  He is a simple man – who loves fishing and “the great DiMaggio” and is loved by a local boy who looks after him.  He appears to be man with whom the world is all but finished.

Out on the ocean, he encounters a mighty fish and refuses to give in.  He battles for days  to capture him, and then fights off the sharks to bring nothing but the carcass back to shore.  Nonetheless, it is a victory – a victory against the world that had given up on him and a victory that within ourselves that encourages us no longer to fight.  It is a reminder that even when it appears life may be over, as long as we hold on to what is strong inside of us, we do not have to accept this. A major achievement for such a slim read.

Book Review of Mischling

28664920The Holocaust must be one of the most written-about events in history – and so this makes it a risky bet for a novelist.  You need powerful storytelling or a real angle.

Affinity Konar definitely comes at it from a different angle, telling the story of a set of twins who catch the eye of infamous Dr Josef Mengele at Auschwitz.  Pearl and Stasha are those twins so intertwined that Stasha often answers to Pearl and resents anything that reinforces their separateness.  This unfortunately makes them fascinating to Mengele, who longed to explore this kind of connection, purposefully protecting one twin whilst damaging and deforming the other to watch it impact the pair.

Konar definitely exposes the world of Mengele’s ghastly twin experiments and uses some astonishing language to describe the strange beauties of the environment even in the most horrid places in the world.

“Night. It had forgotten it should not be so beautiful in Auschwitz.  There was no stopping it’s velvet sway..”

But beyond language and conception, there isn’t much original about the story Konar tells.  Some takes place in Auschwitz, but there are also long and meandering sections afterwards.  The title too is a strange misnomer… ‘Mischling’ is the German term for a person of mixed race.  Is it meant to suggest that each twin is merely the product of the mixing of both?  This seems limiting and redundant.

Although Pearl and Stasha make interesting characters and the nature of their “twin-ness” is heartwarming, I’d save my reading of the Holocaust for Eli Weisel’s Night or even Martin Amis’ Times Arrow instead.  These have real power.

Excited Book Review of The Choke

the-chokeSofie Laguna’s The Eye of the Sheep won the 2015 Miles Franklin – and is one of my favourite reads of recent years.  So when I was offered a review copy of her latest, The Choke, I could not say yes fast enough.

The Choke is destined to win awards too.

Laguna excels at writing complex child narrators, and placing them in dangerous worlds.  But thats where the similarities between these two books end.

Justine is a girl abandoned by both father and mother and living with her ailing grandfather in a remote place known as the choke – where the bush meets the river.  She’s not neglected, but certainly lives a simple lifestyle in a man’s world.  It’s a violent world too – and Laguna makes this apparent even in describing children’s play in the opening chapter.

School is no refuge either – at least, not until she befriends a young disabled not who is also an outsider.  But not even this can save her from the violence in her world.  Before she is 14 she has witnessed and experienced abuse.  And your heart will break.  I doubt anyone could read this story and not be moved by what Justine experiences – and perhaps more powerfully, how she turns something just awful into something potentially beautiful.  There were tears in my eyes as I closed the final pages.  This is not to be missed.

Book Review of Carve the Mark

carve the markVeronica Roth’s Divergent series was so incredibly popular, that publishing a new storyline, especially one markedly different, must elicit some angst – for the author and readers alike.  And while I haven’t read that many positive reviews of her latest offering Carve the Mark, I ended up really enjoying it.

Much less dystopian than Divergent,
is pure science fiction.  It concerns itself with two peoples who live on the same planet – the Shotet and the Thuvhe – but cannot live in harmony. The Thuvhe live quietly and peacefully while the Shotet pillage and scavenge, and violent existence best represented by their tradition of carving a mark on their own arms each time they take a life.

Naturally, a young man and a young woman from each culture are thrown together and fall in love.  But its a little more complicated than that.  This is a galaxy with two particularly interesting features. Firstly, oracles make the fates of important people public – and this causes political manipulation to attempt to challenge or protect fate.  The second, is the energy source known as the ‘current’ which flows around them all, and gifts each inhabitant with a particular ‘currentgift’. Cyra, our Juliet character, can make others feel pain, but the cost is that she lives in constant pain herself.  Akos, kidnapped from Thuvhe by Cyra’s brother as he was fated to serve them, is gifted with the ability to block the currentgifts of others – and thus relieve Cyra’s constant pain.  Eventually they come to mean something more to each other than forced companions and Cyra is forced to confront her brother – a violent dictator – and take a stand for the rights of others.

There’s more to the story than this, including the brother of Akos who becomes a willing oracle to the Shotet and an underground rebellion.  Overall, I thought this was a well-realised fictional world with interesting moral quandaries and the beginning of a tasty story.  Definitely worth a look.