14 November 2013

Thursday's Review: Margot by Jillian Cantor

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

Publisher: Riverview Trade
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
List Price:  Print - $16.00
                Digital Edition - $9.99 (Kindle US $7.99)
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Another in the list of books about WWII and its aftermath, Margot by Jillian Cantor puts forth the supposition, what if Anne Frank's older sister had survived the war?  The author herself says that she got the idea while reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the second time.  She began to wonder, what of the other sister, Margot?  Did she keep a diary, too?  What was she like?  Apparently, after doing some research, she found that not much information exists about Anne's less famous sister.  This opened the door for a fictional story about surviving the holocaust with Margot as the central character.

It is 1959. and the movie The Diary of Anne Frank has just hit the theaters in the US.  Margie Franklin is living a quiet life in Philadelphia and working for a law firm.    But Margie is really Margot Frank, the older sister of Anne, who was able to survive the holocaust.  She eventually makes her way to America where she changes her identity, re-inventing herself as a Gentile.  Once her father publishes Anne's Diary and it is made into a movie, her new life starts to unravel, bit by bit.  

Once I picked up Margot, I found it very hard to put down.  The story alternated between the story of Margie, the girl hiding in America, and Margot, the girl hiding in the annex in Amsterdam.  I was amazed at what a great job the author did presenting the two sides of the main character.  I was particularly impressed with the way she was able to craft a believable story of what Margot could have been like while still staying true to the words of Anne's diary.  On the other hand, Margie's life in America was all fiction, but incredibly well told and highly believable.  I could really put myself in the place of a person in her situation, her survivor's guilt, the elements of PTSD inherent in her situation, the ever prevalent fear that someone would discover the truth about her, and the constant inner struggle to not lose sight of who she was.  Through the author's words I was transported into Margie's mind in the best way.  

What really sold this book for me, though, was the fact that it was more than just a "what if" book about Margot Frank.  To me, it was really an exploration of the after effects of the holocaust on Jewish Americans. Some, like Margie, immigrated to America and re-invented themselves to create a distance between their new lives and their old ones.  Others, like Bryta, came to America looking for a better life, only to find themselves taken advantage of.  Then there were the American Jews, like Joshua, who were removed from the worst of the war and lived a relatively unscathed life, which brought on its own brand of survivor's guilt. Through the exploration of all of these characters, the author was able to craft a story that should not be missed.  

This was definitely a 5 star book for me and will be on my highly recommended list for quite a while.  I have yet to come across a book that deals with these issues in such a readable and believable fashion.  


13 November 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Children of Henry VII by John Guy

A copy of this book has been provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for a review. 

Publisher: Oxford Press
Publication Date:  April 25, 2013
List Price:  Print: $27.95
                Digital $24.99 (Kindle US Price is $13.99)
Genre: Non-fiction History
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

So much has been written to date about the Tudor Dynasty that you might wonder why an established historian like John Guy would spend the time to write about them.  Given the numerous volumes, both fictional and non-fiction, that have been devoted to Henry, his wives, and their offspring, the Tudors as a family are still a fascinating lot who draw readers to their story.  Even those of us who have read extensively about them over the years are always looking for some new fact or tidbit.  Some new twist to their story, which you must admit, is like a modern day soap opera.  And at the heart of all of the family drama is Henry VII, the man who would stop at nothing to keep his dynasty alive, who would use any means possible to change wives in his search for an heir to the throne, who had four living children, but no two from the same mother.  What lover of family drama wouldn't be drawn to this dynasty?  

When I was in my teens, I happened upon a book about one of Henry's six wives and that started a love affair with not only the Tudors, but the history of Royalty in general.  Their lives were so different from mine, I was fascinated by the pageantry, the political intrigues, and the family dynamics that were prevalent in their stories.  I learned early on to enjoy the fictional accounts of their lives, but to rely on the non-fiction accounts for perspective.  In that respect I am always looking for a good non-fiction book on Royalty to add to my collection, or to recommend to those looking for good books on the subject.

 John Guy's latest, The Children of Henry VIII, is a well written book covering the struggle of Henry VIII to procure an heir for the Tudor throne.  At just 258 pages it is a relatively quick read on the subject.  In addition, it presents the essential information in a way that is uncomplicated and easy to follow.  For those reasons, this would be an excellent book for anyone just beginning to read about the Tudors.  For those of us that are well versed in the subject, though, there is little new information.  I did, however, like the fact that this book contained a complete section on Henry Fitzroy, and did not just focus on the legitimate offspring.  I was also fascinated by the author's suggestion that Henry had a rare blood condition that may have been the root of his inability to father more than one living child by any one woman.  I had never heard this theory before and wish the author would have gone into a bit more depth on the subject.

In fact, my biggest disappointment with this book overall was the lack of depth in general.  At times it seemed to me that the author was just skimming the surface of the subject, while I was looking for more detailed information on the children and their lives.  In fact, I felt the beginning of the book was more about Henry himself than the children's early lives.  The good news is that the lack of depth coupled with John Guy's extremely readable writing style makes this an excellent  book on Henry and his children for someone who is just starting to explore the Tudors.

On the other hand, if you are like me and love all things Tudor, or never tire of reading about them, there is a bit of the new and different in this books that makes it worth the read.