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Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, November 28, 2011

Louis Who??

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIVBefore Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a goodreads giveaway that took several months to arrive so the review is much later than the would normally be the case. I loved this book on so many levels. I'll start with the setting. Having gone to France about 20 years ago, it was a joy to revisit several majestic places through Koen's eyes. My guide, a friend, who is head of a school in Sevres, started out by taking me to Fountainebleau, which as I remember was huge but in sad need of repair--wings were totally devoid of any furnishings, the windows were filthy and bare and in places broken. I don't know how much of the then on-going renovation has been completed since then but even in its horrendous state it was an impressive place. I remember there were quite a few peacocks and peahens strutting among the ruins and I thought how they must have looked when the gardens and buildings were in their glory and the humans strutted right along with them. Our next stop was Vaux-le-Vicompte---what a jewel! Words cannot express, or at least mine cannot, the incredible beauty of the place and the impact it has in every way on the visitor. Koen's description of the awe in which the guests beheld it when Nicholas Fourget opened it to them is exactly the reaction today's guests have upon seeing it. My friend told me then the story of Louis' finance minister, his increasing power culminating in this masterpiece, and the reaction of Louis to this perceived threat to his own power. The arrest of Fourget was inevitable and the takeover of Vaux by Louis not unexpected. Finally,she took me to Versailles and Vaux, that magnificent statement of one man's power, became a mere country estate in comparison! All of this was reiterated in Koen's beautiful prose throughout her narrative, which covered merely four months in the life of the newly crowned King of France, Louis XIV.

These four months, however, are spent primarily at Fountainebleau. Vaux was under construction at the time and Versailles was merely a hunting lodge out beyond the forests that have for the most part disappeared today. The intrigues of court, the struggles of a new monarch,who is only 22 years old,to establish himself in the eyes of his court and even in his own eyes are compelling. Throw into the mix, a brother, who is, to say the least scandalous and several women of varying personal strengths and weaknesses, with whom Louis also must deal and the plot, as they say, thickens.

A subplot, a legend never fully authenticated, involving a boy in an iron mask, possibly a royal prince, has been treated in many other books and movies. Here the characters involved are more thoroughly limned--from the musketeer who cares for him, to the monks in whose monastery he is initially housed, and the mother who refuses to visit him. The story is as sad here as at any time it has been told. Could Louis have had an idiot brother,possibly a bastard brother, who was secreted away for whatever reason? A threat to Louis' own legitimacy and therefore a threat to the throne and he who held it? Or perhaps, merely an embarrassment to the royal blood? Who knows. But as I read this I could not help but think of the present Queen Elizabeth's uncle who was kept hidden, unvisited for the most part by his mother, the Queen and his father, the King, primarily because he was epileptic. How much more embarrassing must idiocy have been to the French royal family?

Lastly, though a Francophile, I often got Louis XIV and Louis XVI mixed up. I cannot explain it--they were certainly light years apart, chronologically and politically to say nothing of the times in which they lived or the way in which they died. After this book, that is not likely to happen again!

All in all a delightful, interesting read with settings and characters thoroughly developed. If there is any criticism at all, and it is a small one, I had to check back to the front a few times to ascertain who a certain character was when the formal title, rather than the actual name, was used. This happened most ofter when there was more than one formal title involved for the same person--another practice that continues amongst the royals today. Just so confusing--let's just call them all Mack!

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Action, Less Introspection, Please!

Fragile: A NovelFragile: A Novel by Lisa Unger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, along with a copy of The Night Strangers, was sent to me by the marketing manager of Crown Publishing. I had won the Goodreads giveaway for Before Versailles and after almost two months I had not received it. It was a pleasant surprise and a very generous gesture, especially since the original giveaway book arrived shortly thereafter. Theoretically, then, it probably isn't necessary to review the book but feel it is appropriate.

I faithfully read page by page to Ch 19, page 190, almost halfway through the book before, out of sheer boredom and impatience, I flipped to the back of the book to find out how it ended. The first chapters introduced the reader to a mishmash of characters, mostly the classmates of the main character, the Police Chief, and his wife, a psychotherapist in a small town, The Hollows, not far from New York City. I couldn't decide if it was in the Hudson River Valley, New Jersey or Connecticut--it was sort of a indistinct any small town, but not really. I've lived in several very small places in NYS and in Vt and could not get a feel for this fictional place, there was no atmosphere.

The characters, except, perhaps the teens were very one dimensional as well. Even the former school principal with whom I should have been able to relate, having been in secondary education all my life, was colorless.

The missing teen girl, sexually assaulted, was presented in triplicate and felt too contrived and artificial. I could not really feel an urgency or empathy to any of the situations. There were some twists and turns but again they seemed too drawn out. I did go back and finish the book but wasn't moved by any of the neatly resolved issues.

In fact, I'm still not sure what purpose Charlie and Wanda served in the story at all. Perhaps, Charlie was Unger's alter ego giving voice to her purpose in writing the book.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Required: A Lapse of Logical Thinking

A Bitter Truth: A Bess Crawford MysteryA Bitter Truth: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At the outset it is necessary to say that I have not read the first two Bess Crawford Mysteries so Bess' background and her relationship to Simon, who seems to appear anytime Bess is in dire straits, is not familiar to me. As a result I found the relationship confusing. But, even it I understood that aspect of the story, I would be hard-pressed to believe the whole basis of the book. That a war-time nursing sister would take in an abused woman in the middle of the night in London was a stretch for me, when the woman was a total stranger. But I put that aside and said to myself -- it is Christmas time, so therefore cold and dark and deserted and Bess is, after all, in the humanitarian business--so maybe. BUT, she then forgoes her visit to her worried parents on a holiday leave to travel with this stranger to the home of the woman's abusive spouse? And the spouse and his mother and grandmother and sister and brother-in-law to say nothing of the town's rector and doctor greet this stranger with open arms and reveal all kinds of family secrets seemingly easily was really stretching my ability to accept.

We are speaking upper society here, with a son who has supposedly swatted his wife in the face! A scandal if ever there was one. Nevermind, that Bess seems to have some pedigree of her own--she is a total stranger. This would never happen. Needless to say, having found this all very difficult to accept the multiple murders and the mystery of who dunnit was really secondary. About the only part that rang true for me was Bess' experiences in France, her meeting the Australian and maybe the nuns and the orphans for whom they were caring.

Since Charles Todd was lauded prominently on the dust cover as a New York Times Bestselling Author I stuck it out but won't run out to buy another of this authors' works any time soon. It wasn't horrible but it wasn't gripping either and I found I don't much care what happens to the characters.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Second Time is NOT the Charm!

Deadly Defiance (A Stan Turner Mystery, #10)Deadly Defiance by William Manchee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The opening sentence of this book was almost enough to make me put it aside. " One of the most difficult events in a parent's life is when....." A noun cannot be an adverb!! Occurs when perhaps but is NOT when. I battled this sentence structure for 30 years teaching and correcting term papers--but I guess I just have to accept it along with run-on sentences since Manchee and my students refuse to listen. If Mr Manchee would put a period instead of a comma everytime he wanted to use the word " so " and then black out " so " and start a new sentence his writing would be so much better. Also, during conversation it is totally unnecessary to insert, he said, she replied, he laughed, she giggled. And where are the editors? On one page two characters are speaking and all at once a third character replies--a dead one at that! I re-read the page twice to make sure it wasn't me--but no, glaringly, a dead person is given the response.

So, the book is not great literature and the editing is a disaster. Yet, although, certainly NOT the next Grisham, Manchee's book keeps you involved. Three mysteries going at once and all of them neatly tied up by the end. Most of the characters are pretty flat though Jodie comes across with some potential. Stan is a disaster, lackluster though supposedly attractive to women. Or at least, to Paula, who hops into bed with just about anyone for just about any reason. Bart is just there for dinner and backrubs apparently. Poor Rebeckah is just ill.

It was an okay foray--" read " one other that was a giveaway on MP3 and was glad to have won this one. I'm not a good candidate to review recorded books and said so in my review. Nevertheless, I cannot give this hard copy any greater words of praise. This is Manchee's 10th book in the series so somebody out there likes him. I won't be returning for any more installments, however.

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