Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou (Wars of the Roses, #2)Margaret of Anjou by Conn Iggulden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still 4 stars, but I thought this was a tad better than the first book. The action was a little easier to follow, though it still jumps from character to character. Derry Brewer is here, though not as a prominent character. Great battle scenes, a feisty queen doing her best to protect her young son and her vulnerable (and mostly mentally absent) husband, Henry VI. The British title of this book, Trinity, seems more apt to me. Plot and action all revolve around Richard Plantagenet the Duke of York, his brother-in-law Richard Neville the Earl of Salisbury, and Neville’s son Richard the Earl of Warwick, who join forces against the supporters of the king – cousins Edmund Beaufort the Duke of Somerset, and Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland. The resulting family feud and the struggle for power results in a war that threatens to tear England apart. Time period covered is 1454 through the defeat of Richard of York in 1460.

Book description: It is 1454 and for over a year King Henry VI has remained all but exiled in Windsor Castle, struck down by his illness, his eyes vacant, his mind a blank. His fiercely loyal wife and Queen, Margaret of Anjou, safeguards her husband’s interests, hoping that her son Edward will one day come to know his father. With each month that Henry is all but absent as king, Richard, the Duke of York, Protector of the Realm, extends his influence throughout the kingdom. The Trinity—Richard and the earls of Salisbury and Warwick—are a formidable trio, and together they seek to break the support of those who would raise their colors and their armies in the name of Henry and his Queen. But when the king unexpectedly recovers his senses and returns to London to reclaim his throne, the balance of power is once again plunged into turmoil. The clash of the Houses of Lancaster and York may be the beginning of a war that can tear England apart . . .

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The Destiny Waltz

The Destiny WaltzThe Destiny Waltz by Gerda Charles

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have made it halfway through this book, and I just can’t go any farther. I’m giving it two stars, because there was enough there to keep me going for over 200 pages, but I’m just not getting any more out of it. It is exceedingly slow and introspective. The characters are, yes, self-conscious to a fault, anxious, defensive, and obviously don’t have a clue what happiness is. The convoluted dialogue is hard for me to imagine anyone actually participating in. I realize this was written in the late 1960s but it felt so much older. I don’t know what else was published in Britain in 1970, but seriously? this is the winner of the first Whitbread award?

KIRKUS REVIEW (Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1972):
Although this is basically a sentimental book (the title referring to the theme song of one of its two central characters — a former band leader — indicates that), it hasn’t the appeal of her Logical Girl (1967) and it is more consistent with her earlier work which offered a substantial sociology of Anglo-Jewry. Throughout the first half of this book, ostensibly dealing with the making of a documentary by four or five people, Gerda Charles examines the soul of the Jew always suffering from his Jewishness without even the “”protection of stupidity””; always worrying his way, self-consciously but ambitiously, out of his “”small”” world of the People of the Book at a time, 50 years before this, when in their crass ignorance they were not even “”People of the Word.”” This is the past inherited by the Jewish poet, minor, ingrown and consumptive, who will be the subject of the documentary; but it also imposes its allegiances on Michele, a writer and a teacher and a Rabbi’s daughter, and Jimmy Marchant, the band leader, who have never found personal happiness. Less susceptible to it is Georges Franck, director of the documentary — a charmer, a betrayer who finally will hurt everyone in connection with this project but still will enable Michele and Marchant to find some sort of compromise together for their half-lives. . . . The novel moves very slowly since the author is far more interested in permitting her characters to assess themselves and each other — it is sometimes talky but not preachy. At one point she questions whether life should take precedence over art — in this case it is life, and Gerda Charles, with her very level intelligence and practical realism, deals with it on just those terms.

Mercian Hymns

Mercian HymnsMercian Hymns by Geoffrey Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rather interesting. It starts out as a panegyric to Offa, King of Mercia in the 8th century, but within a few lines we have encompassed all of English history. The juxtaposition of past and present continues through all 30 poems, along with a blurring between Offa and Hill, himself, perhaps. A bit bewildering at first, the final impression is of Englishness, landscape, history, depression/decline, abuse of power, and the things that last for hundreds of years – (Offa’s dyke, his coinage, the language.) Written in imitation of Anglo-Saxon poetry, with hints of Beowulf, Milton, Boethius, and probably T.S. Eliot.

(This was my start at reading the Whitbread awards – a project I have since abandonned in favor of the Walter Scott historical fiction shortlist.)