Fremantle finds an untold Tudor tale...

If you happened to catch author Liz Fremantle's debut effort last year (Queen's Gambit) then you likely already know why historical fiction fans were thrilled to welcome her fresh voice into the genre. Sharp, witty, and full of ironic observations, Fremantle proved she was most assuredly a far cut above the standard, ho-hum historical fiction fare usually bogging down the bookstore shelves today. 



So her when her follow up effort, SISTERS OF TREASON, recently arrived in stores, it generated buzz. Sisters of Treason returns to the Tudor era, a period one might legitimately question whether there was anything left worth writing about following the excruciating Tudor-mania that swept the genre over the past decade. Once again, Fremantle is full of delightful surprise. She alights upon the tragic Grey sisters.

Refresher: On July 10, 1553, following the death of England's young and sickly King Edward VI (the only son of Henry VIII), a teenaged Lady Jane Grey was unwittingly raised to the throne via the machinations of her father and father-in-law in an ill-advised power grab. It didn't work out too well. Henry VIII's eldest daughter Mary promptly marched into London, deposed her young cousin Jane, and later lopped off her head. Mary would become known to history as Bloody Mary for her tendency to burn those who didn't toe her Catholic line. End refresher.

So that was the end of poor Jane Grey and many historical fiction novels have been written this tragic figure who lost her head piously clutching her Protestant Bible to the very end. And yet.....did you know that our sweet Jane happened to have two younger sisters? And if you're analytic mind is fast at work, it's already figured out that if tragic Jane Grey had a legitimate claim to the throne of merry ol' England, so too did her younger sisters Katherine and Mary Grey. And this is the fascinating Tudor story that cunning Fremantle presents in Sisters of Treason. 

Welcome to a most un-glamorous royal court. Mary reigns with a paranoid suspicious eye trained directly on the two sisters Jane Grey left behind. Keeping her friends close but her enemies closer, the sisters are kept in the Queen's court where the smallest misstep or misinterpretation of a word meant treason. As the years of Mary's reign continued, her suspicions grew with her along with her failed marriage and lack of a royal heir ("...royal blood and a functioning womb is all most care about in a princess"). The Grey sister's relationship with Mary's successor, the legendary Queen Elizabeth I, fared little better.  

Fremantle chooses to tell the sister's tale using three viewpoints: Katherine, Mary, and a female court painter, Levina Teerlinc (an interesting choice given that historically, little is known about this fascinating woman other than she is known to have painted a surviving portrait of Katherine Grey) who acts as a surrogate mother to the girls at court. Paying strict homage to historical documents and making interpretations only where she is free to do so, Fremantle presents a vivid portrait of two sisters with Tudor blood running through their veins only to spend their entire life being horribly punished for it. 

Lavina Teerlinc's portrait of Katherine Grey

Ultimately, both Katherine and Mary lived short, unhappy lives, making this well-written story something of a tragedy. Fremantle admirably tries to discover moments of joy they might found in an otherwise bleak existence through no fault of their own, but the reality is that both girls only lived long enough to become women who never experienced a normal life: the events that populate or mark a normal woman's life were - for both of the Grey sisters - so marred with hatred from the reigning Queen that any experience of normal happiness would have proved impossible. In an era when noble birth was the only way a person might experience comfort or luxury, the Grey sisters, I suspect, might have happily traded places with the lowliest of servants in the castle. 

Well-written, well-researched historical fiction. Recommended for historical fiction aficionados.

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Title: Sisters of Treason
Author: Liz Fremantle
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: July 8, 2014
Pages: 448
Source: advance reading copy from publisher via Edelweiss

It's Coming!

Okay. Something new. I don't often talk about an upcoming book that I will be lining up at the bookstore to buy on release day. (Okay, not physically lining up because I don't actually have a real bookstore within 30 miles of my house. So I will be virtually lining up with a pre-order here...interwebz, I lurves you.)



On August 26, 2014, author John Scalzi  and Tor Books will release his newest novel, LOCK IN and for the next month I will be sitting here drumming my fingers impatiently. Now, I know a great many of you are probably wondering just who in the hell is John Scalzi and why have you never even heard of this book? Unless you are a science fiction aficionado, Scalzi may very well have never appeared on your bibliophilic-radar. So you're going to have to trust me on this: in the sci-fi world, he is a very big deal. His last novel, Redshirts, won last year's Hugo Award (although if we're going to be honest here, the competition last year was crap so...slow clap).

But LOCK IN may well end up being his genre cross-over novel and I'm going to tell you why I think you need to have your eyes on this one, even if this isn't your normal reading fare. Take a gander at the synopsis:

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.
But don't make the mistake of thinking this is your typical apocalyptic novel because Scalzi cannot be bothered with that drivel. Instead, Lock In is the story of how the American scientific community responds to those left "locked in" and the consequences and fall-out.

Of course, Scalzi being Scalzi, he wrote an engrossing short story revealing exactly how this virus, Hayden's Syndrome, got loose and destroyed so much of humanity. UNLOCKED: AN ORAL HISTORY OF HAYDEN'S SYNDROME is thirty-two pages told in the tradition of World War Z and once you read it, you'll be hooked on Scalzi's riveting premise. It's available for any ebook and for only $1.99, it's a steal. (Check it out on Barnes and Noble or Amazon or whatever your ebook thing is.)


And as all this wasn't enough, it was recently announced that the audiobook version of Lock In will actually be released in two versions. Oh yes. One will be read by Wil Wheaton (yes, I just said that) and the other read by Amber Benson. Why two versions? Because it's just completely awesome to have two different gender interpretations for this novel. Scalzi himself has all sorts of very cool things to say about it here. And if you think it's too difficult to decide which damn version to buy --- okay, admittedly I didn't because, well, Wil Wheaton --- Audible Studios is making it easy. If you pre-order they are throwing in both versions for the price of one. Um, yeah....I'm there.

So later on in September when you're seeing Lock In jumping up at you all over the place on blogs and reading lists and best-seller lists, don't forget you heard it here first. This one is going to make waves. Check it out.


 

Can we just saint J.K. Rowling and get it over with already?

In her second outing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, author J.K. Rowling is back with her erstwhile noir private dick Cormoran Strike and a whole new mystery in the recently released Silkworm. And dare I say it? Rowling is getting better and better with each installment.



Perhaps it's because this time she chose a victim no true bibliophile could possibly resist: an author. Yes, this time Rowling takes us into London's seedy publishing underworld where the chief occupational skill is backstabbing. When author Owen Quine disappears, no one thinks much of it other than his wife who decides to hire Cormoran Strike to drag his sorry ass home. No one else seems to much care that Quine has gone underground because what he's left behind is much more important: a manuscript. And not just any old manuscript. This particular novel is a good old fashioned character smear of just about anyone who is anyone in the London publishing world. And anyone who is anyone is pretty darned pissed off at Owen Quine.

So it shouldn't be much of a surprise when Strike finds his man --- murdered. And with as many suspects as there are characters in Quine's book it's fun romp to find who killed the old boy. There is little doubt that Rowling had a ball writing this novel. And who could blame her? All she had to do was take her vast experience in the publishing world and set it loose with a little imagination. What a hoot.

"But writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want lifelong friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels."

More important to the series, Rowling goes a long way in further developing the characters of both Comoran Strike and his assistant, Robin, who will clearly play a more important role as the series continues. Both characters are quite complex despite the noir-like genre Rowling has created here. Their backgrounds make them far more three-dimensional than your typical noir detectives and while hints of a future relationship are occasionally dropped, I wouldn't be surprised if this were a red herring given Robin's independence, intelligence, and general non-typical female role here. Similarly, Strike's own romantic history (see book one of the series) is so fraught with trauma, any relationship between he and his assistant would be far below his own standards (and Rowling's, for that matter). 

Learning more about Strike's past is also part of the allure of these books. Rowling doles out details sparingly, as they pertain to the situation at hand, deftly avoiding any information dump while tantalizing the reader. Sly references are her specialty, after all: 

"Hard to remember these days that there was a time when you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any sub-literate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani."

How many readers will recall Kakutani's glowing review of the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo's Calling that appeared in The New York Times back in 2013? I told you Rowling was clever. Dang.


DON'T TRY TO FIND ME


One of my favorite novels from 2013 was about a mother who uses social media to reconstruct the events that led to her teenage daughter's suicide (Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCraight). I loved the incorporation of today's technology and the huge role it plays in our lives - for good and for ill. Thus the premise of Holly Brown's (a practicing family therapist herself) new novel, DON'T TRY TO FIND ME was like a magnet for me:
When a fourteen-year-old runs away, her parents turn to social media to find her - launching a public campaign that will expose their darkest secrets and change their family forever - in this suspenseful and gripping debut...
Yeah. I was all over that. And was it worth it? I thought so. Because ultimately, Don't Try to Find Me is about so much more than a missing daughter. Told in a dual - mother and daughter - narrative, Brown digs deep into the psyche of parents and teens here. She doesn't offer easy answers or platitudes because in real life these don't exist. But she does offer insights. Insights into what we as parents often do and why we do it as well as insights into the teen angst. As frustrated as I felt with the characters at times throughout the novel, I wouldn't want Brown to change a single word....it was honest. 



Don't Try to Find Me also manages to slip in themes of social media and societal judgement -- the proverbial double-edged sword. She does a very competent job of weaving this seamlessly and in the end, although not tied up with a pretty bow, she does at least tie it up. It's up to you, the reader, to decide whether these "tools" are a good thing. And if the ends are worth the means. 

Thought-provoking. This is how I would describe every page of Brown's novel. And I am looking forward to seeing it garner some deserving attention this summer.


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Title:  Don't Try to Find Me
Author: Holly Brown
Publisher: William Morrow
Date: July 8, 2014
Pages: 368
Source:  Publisher