Thursday, June 30, 2005

Books, books, books

I've been doing a lot of reading in the past month or so, and I thought I'd list some of what I've read. My reading lately has been a lot like surfing the net: you read one thing, which leads you to something related, which leads you to something else that's a little related, and on and on.

It all started with this time-travel trilogy by R. Garcia y Robertson about a woman from the 21st century traveling back to the 15th century, in the middle of the Wars of the Roses. The first book is Knight Errant which I picked up on a desperate dash through B&N looking for airplane reading material. I ultimately read all three books (and there are apparently more coming) but I was disappointed in the story, most of the characterizations, and the author's writing style. However, when I went to the British Royal Family website and discovered that the male protagonist/romantic lead of the book ends up becoming king, it made me very interested to see how Garcia y Robertson would resolve that in the books. So far he hasn't.

So although it was a disappointing experience, I ended up getting a little taste for things royal, and I picked up a book that's been sitting on my shelf for a year or so. It's The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir and I got it at the Lost Colony gift shop in Roanoke. I hadn't read any of Weir's history books before, and I was amazed at what a riveting read this was. It read like fiction...and it helped that I wasn't completely up-to-date on my knowledge of events. I knew Edward VI would die young, and I knew Elizabeth would ultimately triumph and become queen, but the details of how it all played out are something I've forgotten in the 16 or 17 years since European History 101 in college. The action takes place about 100 years after the Wars of the Roses in Garcia y Robertson's books, and it's a different ruling family by now, the Tudors instead of the Plantagenets, but it was interesting to get in on the story down the road.

I went to the library the other day and found Weir's The Wars of the Roses, so I'm looking forward to cracking into that one and getting thoroughly lost, LOL.

Next, I hopped to a different royal family...the Romanovs of Russia in a piece of historical fiction called The Romanov Prophecy, by Steve Berry. Again, not the best-written thing I've ever read, but fun. The premise involves an American who stumbles across evidence that some of the royal family survived the massacre in 1918, and who ends up chasing across the globe looking for the heir to the throne. Kind of like North by Northwest but with Russians. And lots of interesting historical tidbits, although much of it was stuff I knew already. And it led me to finding a book called Five Empresses about five women who ruled Russia in the eighteenth century, starting with Catherine the Great. Again, it's a hop through time, this time backwards, but it's still a piece of the puzzle. And with my local library, you have to take what you can find...let's just say it leaves a lot to be desired.

After this, I picked up Berry's first novel, The Amber Room, about Nazi war loot, but it was a lot less deftly plotted and characterized. Still, worth a quick read if the war and art interest you, as they do me.

Finally, I went and picked up a book I've been wanting to read for several weeks, and could not find at the library: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. I hear that this book is being hyped to death as a summer read, and I did find out about it through a well-placed feature story/review in USA Today, but I think it is worth the hype. The whole book is an homage to lovers of history, old books, and libraries. Oh, and vampires. The author overlaps three narrators, one in the 1930s, one in the 1950s, and one in the 1970s, as they each seek the story behind a book that has been bestowed upon them--a book with no words, just one woodcut picture at the center with a dragon holding a banner with the word "Drakulya." Some people have complained that the historical detail in the books is too dry, but I loved most of it--there was only one place where I felt bogged down. And the travel that takes place in the book--all over Eastern Europe, with descriptions of the towns, cities, and countrysides--I loved that as well.

Most of all, the book is about what a person will do for the people he or she loves, and the searching that each character does is really heart-wrenching. And I really appreciated the view of Eastern European history, which was not high on my list of topics to study in high school and college. Loved the book, loved it!

Next on my list is the aforementioned Wars of the Roses book, and then I think I might track down this one: Born to Rule, about the granddaughters of Queen Victoria. I'm still looking for some more good historical fiction, though, if anyone has any recommendations.