07 November 2013

Thursday's Review: Little Island by Katharine Britton

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for a review. 

Publisher:  Berkeley, sold through Penguin USA, LLC
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
List Price:  $ 15.00 Print             
                $  7.99 - 9.99 Digital Copy
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Family Drama
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Joy Little's life is changing.  Her only child has just left for college, but instead of going with him on dorm move-in weekend, she is headed to her childhood home, Little Island, to attend her grandmother's memorial service.  Although she loved her grandmother, spending the weekend on the Island with her parents and her twin siblings, Roger and Tamar, is not something she is looking forward to.   Given their family history, family get-togethers for the Little family are tumultuous at best and Joy just does not know if she is up for the challenge.  

Although basically Contemporary Fiction, Little Island falls into a class of books that I call "family drama" books.  You know the type, books where we get a glimpse of a family that is struggling due to a past or present crisis.  For me, enjoyment of books of this type hinge two things; how well the author handles the family's various crises, and how the author builds the characters and their relationships.   I am happy to say, Katharine Britton did a great job of both in this book.  

The characters in this book spoke to me right off the bat.  The oldest sister, Joy, is going through empty nest syndrome, exhibiting feelings I am very familiar with since I have two sons in college.  As the oldest sibling, then as a mom, her whole life has been about taking care of people.  What is she supposed to do now?  On the flip side, her sister Tamar is the youngest, and the one they "almost lost".  As such, the other family members have danced around her all of her life.  Now she finds herself as a wife and the mother of twins with no idea how to put anyone else first.  Finally there is Roger, the one that was always in trouble, the cause of the families biggest crisis, a crisis that still defines them, and the one thing that has always defined his life.  I though that the author did a wonderful job of developing these and other characters in the book, giving them the right mix of traits to allow me to empathize with them at times, and want to smack them at others., but always hoping they were able to break past the roles that defined them.   Thus it was the characters in the book, especially the Little siblings, which allowed a predictable story line to become unpredictable.
Another thing that I liked about the book was the way the author told the family's story.  While the bulk of the story took place during the weekend of the memorial service, part of it flashed back to 20 years prior, the time surrounding the crisis that defined the family.  In addition,  different chapters focused on the thoughts and feelings of different family members, giving each of them a chance to "tell their side of the story" so to speak.  It was a method of telling the story that really worked for me.  

Almost exactly two years ago, I read Katharine Britton's first book, Her Sister's Shadow, which I also rated 4 stars.  As with that book, I enjoyed this book's interplay between the family members.  What set this book apart and elevated it to that next level, for me, were the characters.  I am glad to see that Katharine Britton has not lost her touch with story telling, and that her characters have even more personality than before.  I would highly recommend this book to those who like books centered around families and drama.  

05 November 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

My copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for a review 

Publisher: Ballantine Books, sold in the US by Random House
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
List Price: $15.00 Trade
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Alternate History
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

There were several things that drew me to Laura Andersen's book The Boleyn King.  First and foremost I love reading about historical figures, especially when it is about Royalty.   I cut my teeth on books written by Jean Plaidy, Norah Lofts, and the like and recently moved on to some of the greats like Sharon Kl Penman, C. W. Gortner and Elizabeth Chadwick.  Like many readers in this category, I have read numerous books about the Tudors, both fiction and non-fiction.  As a result, a book that poses the question..."What if Anne Boleyn had given birth to a son who lived, and who eventually grew up to be King" certainly caught my interest.  I think that most of us who have read extensively about the Tudor Dynasty have wondered just that same thing at one time or another.  

In the first book of her Boleyn King trilogy, Laura Andersen introduces us to William Tudor, son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, younger brother or Elizabeth, and the newly crowned King Henry IX of England.  As William's 18th birthday approaches, he is preparing to take over the running of the kingdom from his Uncle George Boleyn, who has been serving as Regent and head of William's government.  Add to this the usual political intrigue that always seems to surround the Tudor court, or most Royal courts for that matter, a mystery that needs solving, wars that need attending to, and a love triangle and you have all of the elements of a top notch story. 

In spite of it's obvious departure from the facts, I am happy to say that the overall representation of the people and events in  this story is true to the nature of the times.    She certainly did her homework, and her depiction of such historical figures such as Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Tudor, George Boleyn, and others such as the Percys and Robert Dudley, are spot on.  Her ability to stay true to their natures while including just the right amount of embellishment was fantastic.  In fact, she did such a good job with her portrayal of Elizabeth that she, rather than William, became my favorite character in the book.  

Another place where the author was perfectly on the mark was in the way she depicted the Tudor Court.  Here again we see her research manifest itself in the inclusion of political intrigues and court machinations that were so prevalent at the time.  Here again, she did a masterful job of blending the truth with a fiction in such a way that the end result came off as totally believable.  In fact,she did such a good job here that even my reading friends that are sticklers for truth in historical fiction ended up liking the book.   as for me, I was transported to the court of Henry IX, and did not want to leave. 

As I said above, this is the first book of a trilogy, the second of which is being released today . I, for one, am certainly excited as I did not want this book to end when it did.  It was one of those books where I just wanted a few more pages, a bit more time with the characters.  If you are a fan of historical fiction, royal courts, the Tudors, and especially Elizabeth I, I would strongly recommend reading this book.  It will be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.