Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Early Summer Reading Review

I've done quite a bit of reading so far this summer---some books were really life-changing, some just sort of meh. Here's a look at a few that didn't quite make "full blog post" status.

A Flaw in the Blood by Stephanie Barron

From Amazon: "The acclaimed author of the bestselling Jane Austen mysteries brings an enthralling new suspense novel centered around Queen Victoria and a secret so dangerous, it could topple thrones. Irish barrister Patrick Fitzgerald has been summoned by the Queen. For on this chilly night, her beloved husband, Prince Albert, lies dying. With her future clouded by grief, Fitzgerald can’t help but notice the Queen is curiously preoccupied with the past. Yet why, and how he can help, is unclear. His bewilderment deepens when the royal coach is violently overturned, nearly killing him and his ward, Dr. Georgiana Armistead. Soon the pair find themselves hunted. Little do they know they each carry within their past hidden clues to a devastating royal secret…one they must untangle if they are to survive." 

The implications in this work of fiction angered and disgusted me. I'm so disappointed in this author whom I've previously enjoyed reading and whom I assumed had a love and respect for British history. It seems her purpose here was to defame the memory of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and she did so ruthlessly.

Don't get me wrong, everything I've ever heard or read about Queen Victoria does not cast her in a good light. She seemed to be a self-centered, controlling woman and didn't appear to be very sentimental or compassionate toward her children. However, an older English friend of mine says differently and, being how it's her actual history in question, I try to give her the benefit of the doubt.

****Spoilers ahead****

The idea that Victoria being an illegitimate child offers the best reason for her son's hemophilia is a 19th century rumor that has long been dispelled by those who have thought it through logically and scientifically. A quote from Wikipedia states:

"Although an individual's haemophilia can usually be traced in the ancestry, in about 30% of cases there is no family history of the disorder, and the condition is speculated to be the result of spontaneous mutation in an ancestor.[2] Victoria's appears to have been a spontaneous or de novo mutation and she is usually considered the source of the disease in modern cases of haemophilia among her descendants. Queen Victoria's father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was not a haemophiliac, and the probability of her mother having had a lover who suffered from haemophilia is minuscule given the low life expectancy of 19th-century haemophiliacs. Her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent, was not known to have a family history of the disease, although it is possible that she was a carrier but among her children only Victoria received the mutated copy. The rate of spontaneous mutation is known to increase with paternal age, and Victoria's father was 51 at her birth."

Furthermore, to suggest that Albert was suicidal is preposterous. There's nothing in history to legitimately suggest this, and the author has skewed history in an even more disgusting way by further "revealing" whom was actually (fictionally) to blame for his death. I just couldn't believe it when I read this one implicating line: "I had to put him down like a sick dog."

I'm all for a great historical mystery but to besmirch the names of respected people from history is low. How much greater it would have been to write a story line in which these characters shine brighter than history records. That would have been a story worth reading. 

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Book Description: "Wide Sargasso Sea, a masterpiece of modern fiction, was Jean Rhys’s return to the literary center stage. With Wide Sargasso Sea, her last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.”
I had a difficult time liking much of anything about this story. Madness, drunkenness, selfishness---there just wasn't a character I particularly liked. I thought the story would make me feel compassion for Jane Eyre's madwoman in the attic, but I've come away feeling strangely indifferent toward her.
The way this is written is beyond irritating with the narrator switching back and forth with no warning. I also felt there was a ton of unnecessary dialogue---especially between Rochester and Christophine near the end.

This was a 1001 Book though, so I was happy to be able to cross another off my list. After I got through it, I realized that I think I actually had started this about 10 years ago and abandoned it. Yay me for slogging through...

Clover: The Tragic Love Story of Clover and Henry Adams and Their Brilliant Life in America's Gilded Age by Otto Friedrich
When writing his autobiography in the late 1800s, Henry Adams, grandson of the former Presidents Adams, made no mention of his beloved wife of 13 years, Clover. Because the Adams' have gone down in history as having enjoyed an idyllic marriage before Clover was suddenly driven to suicide in 1885, author Otto Friedrich was determined to find out what went wrong.

Like many works of nonfiction that attempt to center on too narrow a topic, this book was filled to the brim with a lot of extra "stuff". One would think that a biography of a historical figure could surely fill up 350-odd pages, but there really isn't a lot of interesting information on record regarding Clover. The information presented in this book that pertains to her personally could have filled a magazine article. The information about her husband and others that directly affected the "tragic love story and their brilliant life" could have filled an essay. The subtitle for this book should really be something much more broad. Something like: "Clover: The tragic story of the Adams' and every person they could have had the slightest conversation with or even knowledge of during America's Gilded Age."

Since I've been on a 19th century reading rampage the last couple of years, I didn't mind so much, but there really isn't a whole lot in here about Clover, herself. The timeline switched around a lot---back and forth between different generations---so that was frustrating, especially since there were so many different Charles', Henrys, Abigails, and Adams', in general. The author also repeated information and even entire quotes, especially in the last 150 pages or so.

I didn't come away liking Henry very well. In their courting days, he seemed embarrassed that he was in love with Clover. After her death, he reminded me of someone I know well of the same age---that wandering, depressed, self-preserving person with whom every conversation is full of irritating, self-deprecating humor. The regretting personality of someone who has experienced great loss and is not entirely blameless.

Still, there were endearing moments. The Adams' seemed to have a true love and deep respect for one another. It was fun to read about their honeymoon discoveries in London: seeing "Whistler's Mother" at its debut and buying a "photographic apparatus".  I also like the stories of how they worked together toward common goals, like when Clover distracted the Spanish archivist so Henry could do his clandestine research.  I imagine her loss was more devastating than Henry could find words for---I suppose I shouldn't judge too harshly his lack of sentimentality.

Because her suicide was mentioned very early on, I kept looking for signs of mental illness in her character but finding none. At the beginning of her last year, even, I found it hard to believe this woman would take her own life so soon. I have a hard time believing it was only the despair of losing her father that drove her to suicide. Either there was more or the author made her out to be a much stronger and more level-headed woman than she really was.

What have you read this summer?


  1. You are a thoughtful reader. This spring I finished and loved, Elizabeth Gaskell's "Wives and Daughters." It was a pleasure to read about Molly's friendships as well as the humor and wit of her father. I'm reading Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" for the first time this summer. My son read it silently long ago in homeschool but I never had. It's funny and reveals much about human nature. A best selling novel was recommended to me, Rosamond Pilcher's "Shell Seekers." I got a ways into it but found there wasn't one likable character in it. They are self-centered. I was offended by with their morals, and so abandoned it for being a worthless. I story I read a good many years ago is Anne Bronte's "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall." It is a lesser-read story by Charlotte's sister. The morals acts of the protagonist and immoral acts of the antagonist are well defined and good triumphs over evil.

    1. Wives and Daughters is a story I'm very much looking forward to. My husband bought me a copy several years ago and it's still languishing on Mt. TBR back at home. (Well, Mt. TBR has been packed up and stored away for now, but you know...) Tom Sawyer is a story I've never really gotten into but need to because I think it's one of those 1001 Books I'm trying to read before Jesus returns. Ha! I've not read Shell Seekers, but "Tenant" was recommended to me by a good friend as we were meandering through the Bronte's parsonage last fall. She says Anne is very much underrated, though I read Agnes Grey a few years ago and didn't enjoy it at all. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is also on my Mt. TBR so I'll let you know what I thought of it once I've unpacked! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Karen!