Sally Bedell Smith: Prince Charles

From the New York Times bestselling author of Elizabeth the Queen comes the first major biography of Prince Charles in more than twenty years–perfect for fans of The Crown.

Sally Bedell Smith returns once again to the British royal family to give us a new look at Prince Charles, the oldest heir to the throne in more than three hundred years. This vivid, eye-opening biography–the product of four years of research and hundreds of interviews with palace officials, former girlfriends, spiritual gurus, and more, some speaking on the record for the first time–is the first authoritative treatment of Charles’s life that sheds light on the death of Diana, his marriage to Camilla, and his preparations to take the throne one day.

Prince Charles brings to life the real man, with all of his ambitions, insecurities, and convictions. It begins with his lonely childhood, in which he struggled to live up to his father’s expectations and sought companionship from the Queen Mother and his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten. It follows him through difficult years at school, his early love affairs, his intellectual quests, his entrepreneurial pursuits, and his intense search for spiritual meaning. It tells of the tragedy of his marriage to Diana; his eventual reunion with his true love, Camilla; and his relationships with William, Kate, Harry, and his grandchildren.

Ranging from his glamorous palaces to his country homes, from his globe-trotting travels to his local initiatives, Smith shows how Prince Charles possesses a fiercely independent spirit and yet has spent more than six decades waiting for his destined role, living a life dictated by protocols he often struggles to obey. With keen insight and the discovery of unexpected new details, Smith lays bare the contradictions of a man who is more complicated, tragic, and compelling than we knew, until now.

The monarchy might be an outdated institution in a lot of ways–to Americans it all seems romantic, but I know it has become controversial in modern times. Still, I can’t help but remain interested in the traditions of it all, the pomp and circumstance, and of course…the castles.

I really only knew Prince Charles from the background–stoic and frowning behind the Queen, Diana, William, and Harry. And Camillia has always seemed the Other Woman; Diana, the hero. But, in Charles’ life, it was just the opposite.

Diana certainly wasn’t a villain–just a woman in desperate need of good mental health care–and I wonder if she would have lived today if things would be different. I hope so. She wouldn’t have been any  more compatible with Charles, but maybe the stigma would have been a little less, the awareness a little more–and they would have gotten her the help she needed.

Maybe.

Either way, this book certainly shows Charles in a light we don’t often see–in that there is actually a light shown on him. It just goes to show that even the shyest introverts usually have the brightest, most complex personalities. I always thought he was such a fuddy-duddy, but I’m quite interested to see what becomes of his reign…should the Queen ever die, god forbid. Part of me wonders if she might outlive her son, at this point.

Netgalley and Random House provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

Lindsey Lee Johnson: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

A captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school.

In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

I’ve had this book since September, sitting in my ARC queue. That’s a long time for me to have an ARC. So it’s been staring me in the face for awhile, but the publishing date was so far out, I had other priorities. I actually mistakenly scheduled 3 ARCs all for January 3rd…oops.

Hopefully, the other two only have the publishing date in common with The Most Dangerous Place on Earth.

I am assuming that the title refers to the nature of high school. Sometimes it can certainly seem like the most dangerous place on earth while you are there. However, the REAL most dangerous place on earth is simply the pages of this book.

Guys, this book is SO PROBLEMATIC that the only reason I finished it was so that I could warn you away from it. How problematic is it? Oh, just let me tell you (this is pretty gross, so skip if you’d prefer).

  1. The ONLY black person in the entire book is a sub-sub-sub character–Lance, the rehab counselor. He gets maybe two or three pages as in the background.
  2. Almost everyone is blonde. Not even kidding. I’m not even sure there are any redheads or brunettes in the whole book, because blondes are just THAT BEAUTIFUL. This is further solidified when the single (Dare I say token? It certainly seems that way.) POC MC, a Chinese boy is described as having “heavy lidded, almond eyes, sparse brows, and nose whose broadness made him a little less than beautiful.” Oh, and that scene gets worse because the description goes on to say “He was unremarkable. He had no diagnoses. No dyslexia or numerophobia or even ADHD, which at least would have earned him time-and-a-half on the SAT.” Yes, you read that correctly. HE WAS UPSET FOR NOT HAVING A LEARNING DISORDER TO GAIN CREDIT ON HIS SATs. 
  3. An English teacher apparently doesn’t like the students to use “they” pronouns because of vagueness, and so a student is trying to verify for his writing “How do you know whether to use ‘he’ or ‘she’?” The teacher’s response is: “Just look for the Adam’s apple.” Not only is this completely disgusting and harmful, it doesn’t even answer the question the student was asking. I almost put the book down here because I was so grossed out. But I made the decision to keep going so I could write up the full problematic review. I was afraid it would get worse. It did.
  4. At one point, we sing the latest OAR song while watching a father gaslight his son into fighting him–then faking injury and laughing when the boy is concerned.
  5. There’s an entire blog post devoted to slut shaming a passed out drunk girl–saying someone should rape her while she’s passed out, and that she deserves everything she gets.
  6. Lastly, there are too many weird adult/child sexual and/or romantic situations to count in this book. Some are explicit, some are just uncomfortable. 

I almost feel like the author tried to put as many problematic things in this book as possible to prove a point. Except the lack of diversity–I think that was just ignorance or obliviousness, or just something else entirely.

There are going to be a lot of people who like this book–in fact, there are already several positive reviews for it on Goodreads. The core story is interesting and the multi-POV structure would normally have been fun to read. Too bad it’s all just so gross.

Super problematic, guys. Put this on your shame list.

NetGalley and Random House provided this ARC for an unbiased review. Publish Date January 10.

Julia Baird: Victoria: The Queen

From International New York Times columnist Julia Baird comes a magnificent biography of Queen Victoria. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a stunning new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.

When Victoria was born, in 1819, the world was a very different place. Revolution would begin to threaten many of Europe’s monarchies in the coming decades. In Britain, a generation of royals had indulged their whims at the public’s expense, and republican sentiment was growing. The Industrial Revolution was transforming the landscape, and the British Empire was commanding ever larger tracts of the globe. Born into a world where woman were often powerless, during a century roiling with change, Victoria went on to rule the most powerful country on earth with a decisive hand.

Fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, Victoria was an ordinary woman thrust into an extraordinary role. As a girl, she defied her mother’s meddling and an adviser’s bullying, forging an iron will of her own. As a teenage queen, she eagerly grasped the crown and relished the freedom it brought her. At twenty years old, she fell passionately in love with Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, eventually giving birth to nine children. She loved sex and delighted in power. She was outspoken with her ministers, overstepping boundaries and asserting her opinions. After the death of her adored Albert, she began a controversial, intimate relationship with her servant John Brown. She survived eight assassination attempts over the course of her lifetime. And as science, technology, and democracy were dramatically reshaping the world, Victoria was a symbol of steadfastness and security—queen of a quarter of the world’s population at the height of the British Empire’s reach.

Drawing on sources that include revelations about Victoria’s relationship with John Brown, Julia Baird brings vividly to life the fascinating story of a woman who struggled with so many of the things we do today: balancing work and family, raising children, navigating marital strife, losing parents, combating anxiety and self-doubt, finding an identity, searching for meaning. This sweeping, page-turning biography gives us the real woman behind the myth: a bold, glamorous, unbreakable queen—a Victoria for our times, a Victoria who endured.

OOOOOH boy. This book, like Victoria’s reign, is long and never ending. Except when it does end, it happens suddenly, without warning, and you’re left with half a book left of notes and annexation.

It was interesting reading this so soon after watching The Crown. Obviously two different queens entirely, different time periods, different manners, different ideals. But the same challenges, prejudices, ageism, and misogyny. I could certainly see how the groundwork for Elizabeth’s reign was laid by Victoria’s. But that’s a different story altogether. Back to Victoria…

There’s so incredibly much to be learned here. I really knew nothing about Queen Victoria before starting this, except that there is a whole group of people and culture named after her. Who knew that her husband was the main influence of that movement–not actually Victoria herself? My reading journal is filled to the brim with the new random facts I gained by reading this.

But, that’s also my biggest criticism too. Sometimes this book doesn’t seem like much of a biography of Victoria at all. Often I wasn’t sure if she even respected the Queen, and I feel like that is kind of a necessary qualification for writing a biography about someone. It’s hard to figure the author’s motivations. Did she want to write about Victoria, but lose respect after getting into the research? Was she just super into the time period and decide the Queen would be the best base? I’m not sure. At times it almost felt more of Florence Nightingale’s commentary on Queen Victoria’s lack of feminism.

Speaking of which, let’s be clear. Queen Victoria was NOT a feminist. Which was wholly disappointing to discover–and why I wonder if the author misses the respect needed to write the biography she intended. Albert was that husband that very much dissed woman’s suffrage and even though his wife was THE QUEEN, still managed to convince her that he deserved more power over her. The work felt bitter because of it, especially when Nightingale stuck her nose in.

As an informative biography, I think it’s extremely well researched. I found the details fascinating, and as usual I loved reading about a monarch I didn’t previously know much (or anything) about. However, there definitely seems to be a bias here. I am unsure if it was intentional or if the history really was colored that way, but there’s just some weird tone that I haven’t felt in other similar biographies. Hm. I need to think on this one.

bookdragonbookdragonbookdragon

NetGalley and Random House provided this ARC for an unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

Graham Moore: The Last Days of Night

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

I just came out of #DiverseAThon, and while I did not read near as many books as I wanted to, I can wholeheartedly say that I am judging books by a very different ruler now. I had so many amazing discussions last week. Unfortunately, the very first book I had on my schedule this week was The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore.

Granted, Tesla does have obvious OCD and a Serbian accent–that is the only diversity in the book. And the rest of the characters spend their time mocking him. Not so enlightening for a book about electricity and lightbulbs.

I really wanted this book to be interesting. Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse. The three biggest brains of the age. You’d think a historical fiction novel about those guys would be thrilling, but no, it is the same historical fiction format I read every single time I request one of these. Fictional main character–used to highlight real people–has ALL the problems, and falls in love.

I understand why authors use a secondary character instead of actually writing about the real person. Sometimes it is hard to learn enough to really write a good meaty novel with intrigue and suspense. But it’s also just not the story I want. And without any diversity at all…no thanks.

Maybe I’m just tired and need to take a break from this genre for awhile. This book has a ton of great reviews, so I am in the minority on “did not finishes” here. I still want to learn about these great men, but maybe I’ll have to look up some nonfiction on them instead.

bookdragon

This ARC was provided by NetGalley and Random House for an unbiased review. It will be released September 20, 2016. This post does have affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

#TuesdayBookBlog: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old friend in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.

Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie–who is 600 miles away–because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die.

So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories–flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband.

Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband’s sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?

They say slow and steady wins the race, and this is one of those books that does it. A gentle old man sets out to mail a letter, and just keeps on going. I know a few men like this–once they get an idea in their head, they are going to accomplish it come hell or high water.

This book sort of reminded me of A Man Called Ove–it’s not a super exciting book by any means, but if you keep walking with Harold, there are a few morals to learn along the road. Everything comes at a walking pace–plot devices, emotions, etc. It’s a good book for a lazy weekend.

This probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If you need something fast and Michael Bay-esque, you’re going to hate this. But if you just need to slow down every once in awhile and match your steps with a well executed character–Harold Fry is your man.

bookdragonbookdragonbookdragon

BUY HERE:

This post contains affiliate links.

#FridayReads: Results May Vary

She never saw it coming. Without even a shiver of suspicion to warn her, Caroline Hammond discovers that her husband is having an affair with a man—a revelation that forces her to question their entire history together, from their early days as high school sweethearts through their ten years as a happily married couple. In her now upside-down world, Caroline begins envisioning her life without the relationship that has defined it: the loneliness of being an “I” instead of a “we”; the rekindled yet tenuous closeness with her younger sister; and the unexpected—and potentially disastrous—attraction she can’t get off her mind. Caroline always thought she knew her own love story, but as her husband’s other secrets emerge, she must decide whether that story’s ending will mean forgiving the man she’s loved for half her life, or facing her future without him.

ResultsMayVary_Ecard_6b

When I read Bethany Chase’s debut novel last year, I knew it was going to be a hit. It was funny, heartfelt, and full of sunshine–a combination that is impossible to resist. When Random House hit me up for a blog tour for her new book, Results May Vary…I wont lie…I might have screamed out loud. I was pretty dang excited.

ResultsMayVary_Ecard_1b

Whereas Chase’s first book was lighthearted and full of Texas beer and falling in love, Results May Vary dives into the heartbreak of divorce and the messy, devastating wake it leaves behind. As a divorcee myself, I found myself nodding along with every familiar conversation and therapeutic paint splatter.

ResultsMayVary_Ecard_5b

Amidst all of the wine drinking and commiserating, there are a few particular things I want to point out about this book before I give my rating:

  1. One of the main topics is bisexuality and the stigma it holds. It was the one thing I struggled with for much of the book, because the Caroline’s husband cheats on her with a man–and so bisexuality was really shown in a negative light throughout much of the story. So much so that I was going to take away a “book dragon” because of it. By the end, that changed, and I was left completely impressed. I don’t want to say too much because, spoilers, but I do want to tell you not to let that ruin the book for you. It is an issue the main character is working through, and not a stigma of the author.
  2. There is a multiracial relationship and it is lovely. Strike that…it’s goddamn freaking sexy.
  3. There are some really interesting conversations about grief after death vs grief after divorce. The way the author handles these is extremely accurate and beautiful. I just really loved the way she dealt with this whole situation.

ResultsMayVary_Ecard_2b

I could go on. But mostly I wanted you to know that this isn’t just a gorgeous, moving story, it is also a diverse one. They are going to have to keep moving the fence back, because Bethany Chase just hit another one out of the ballpark (which, by the way, GO REDS! AND THE PATRIOTS SUCK!).

bookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragon

I was sent an ARC by Random House as part of the Results May Vary Blog Tour. This post does include affiliate links.

BUY HERE:

ResultsMayVary_Ecard_6b

The Drowning Tree

August Penrose created the stained glass ‘Lady Window’ to adorn the chapel of the university he founded for the daughters of the women who worked in his factory, the Rose Glass Works. Depicting his wife, Eugenie, as the Lady of Shallot, it’s a mesmerizing portrait that has come to embody the spirit of the school itself. But now, eighty years after it was created, the ‘Lady Window’ is due for restoration. The task falls to former alumna Juno McKay. She’s restoring it with the help of her friend, Christine Webb, an art historian who is researching the window for her thesis. Christine seems to have discovered some new evidence that suggests that Clare, not her sister Eugenie, was the subject for the ‘Lady Window’. But before Christine can discuss her findings with Juno, she’s found dead in a boating accident that eerily echoes that fate of the Lady of Shallot. But did she drown or was it something more sinister? As Juno starts to make her own investigations into just how Christine died, she learns more about Augustus Penrose and his family. The ‘Lady Window’ was not the only thing the Penroses’ bequeathed to the world. Madness and deception also form part of their legacy.

I am in such a state of emotional shock from this book that I hardly know where to begin. Even the genre doesn’t do it full justice–gothic suspense thriller–no, no no! That is all wrong! It is so much more than that!

Carol Goodman’s plot takes place within the world of academia and art history, as Juno dives into her friend’s research of a local artist’s famous work. The story weaves in and out of myths and poetry, paintings and stained glass, real and still life, past and present. All combine to become a deeply beautiful, moving book that still is able to remain a mystery until the very end.

The setting is rooted not only at the academy, but also within the nearby mental hospital. A few of the characters have mental illnesses, and Goodman has shown this from all angles. Be prepared to see it from the days when it was still called an asylum. Be prepared for stigma and prejudices from institution workers around lobotomies and other such procedures. But there is also plenty of points of view from those who have the disorders, and it’s clear she did her research there. Trigger warning for suicide and drug overdose.

I really loved this book. I read it on a dark, rainy sick day and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book for that mood. It’s not a happy book, and I definitely have a hangover from it. I’m looking at what is supposed to be next and laughing, because there is no way I can move on to that right now. This was just too good. Add it to your buy list–I sure am!

bookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragonbookdragon

BUY HERE: