Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mistress of the Court by Laura Purcell

Title: Mistress of the Court
Author: Laura Purcell

First line: Pain cracked across the back of Henrietta's skull, filling her vision with white light.

Review: Purcell's previous novel, Queen of Bedlam, made my top ten of 2014; it was a compelling, sympathetic look at a royal family not often featured in fiction, and it kindled in me a renewed interest (and sympathy) for royal women.

In this book, Purcell tells the story of Henrietta Howard, courtier in the Hanover court of George II and Caroline. Trapped in a violent marriage, Henrietta moves her abusive, gambling husband to Germany in hopes of bettering their lives. Her obvious plight touches Caroline, and the two develop an intimate friendship of sorts.

So loyal is Henrietta that when asked by Caroline, she becomes the King's mistress. And from there, Henrietta is plunged into even more emotional tumult. What privilege and comfort she got from that romance was countered by the loss of her friendship with Caroline as well as access to her only child.

I was gripped by this novel from the first page. Despite the scandalous plot, it's a deeply melancholy novel -- so much loss, so much sacrifice -- and I loved that Purcell focused on the darkly pragmatic nature of royal mistresses. The point of view switches between Henrietta and Caroline (occasionally in the same paragraph, which was confusing!), allowing the rich, complicated relationship between these two women to come into full view. I liked and felt for both of them, two women battling the unfair power wielded by the men in their lives.

The characters are all vibrant and unforgettable. In some ways, Henrietta could be seen as a passive puppet ("...she had given and given of herself until she was nothing but a limp rag rung through a mangle." p 290) and yet, Purcell articulates such tender affection for her, I felt the same way. George I, Caroline's father-in-law, is a manipulative, villainous man I loathed -- fun, since in her Author's Note, Purcell comments that she wrote him from the view of George II and Caroline and plans to feature him in a future novel -- one I will undoubtedly get because I cannot wait to see how she makes me care for him!

The world of the Hanover court is also portrayed with evocative detail, small dashes of description that linger in my mind -- the mushrooms growing from the walls in the dank rooms of one palace, the glittering splendor of another -- as well as other tidbits about life in this time. (For a behind-the-curtain look at writing historical fiction, I recommend Purcell's blog post about wrestling with the historical stuff that readers think aren't historical!)

Moms will appreciate this endorsement for what it means, but this book was so good, I read it in bed (under my pillow, to keep from waking the baby!).

With this read, Purcell can count me a devoted fangirl. She does historical fiction beautifully, taking people and places foreign and unfamiliar, and rendering them warm, real, and approachable.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / Royalty / UK / Mistress / Marriage / Motherhood / Domestic Violence)
Publisher/Publication Date: Myrmidon Books Ltd (8/4/2015)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

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I'm thrilled to offer a paperback copy of Mistress of the Court to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers; ends 10/9. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Weekend reads and not really reading...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words the last few weeks; I'm behind on responding, but am appreciative of your support and cheerleading (and reassurances I'm still a great blogger despite being behind on reviews!).

Am a bit gloomy on a brilliantly sunny Friday here in Boston --  I've got a vicious migraine (allergies, I suspect) -- but have a weekend alone with the baby as my wife is away taking a class.

Obviously, the best way to comfort myself over my inability/lack of time to read is by piling up my books and crafting an ambitious To Be Read pile.

Although I can't really stand to look at a screen, I'm starting Andrea Berthot's YA debut, The Heartless City, a novel that imagines the world following Dr. Jekyll's transformative discovery. Having read and enjoyed Hyde last year (another review long owed!), I'm eager for this one.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Weekend reads and falling seriously behind...

I'm sorry I've been so absent from this blog; as before, I wish I could claim crazy work success or non-stop reading, but mostly, I'm just tired. (Who isn't?!)

I've got about six reviews I need to write, including a few that are of top ten reads for this year, and I'm not sure why I'm so paralyzed about that. Perhaps because so much time has passed? Do you all have any tips for getting out of the review-writing funk?

I'm ambitiously juggling three current reads at the moment, but all three are so good I can't stop any of them to focus on one.

I'm more than half way through Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, which reads like a novel, it is so good; and about a third of the way through Little Woman in Blue, a novel about May Alcott (Amy from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women). Little Woman in Blue is responsible for a bout of out-loud laughter on my commute this morning. And I've just started Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend because I'm the last person on the planet to do so, and I suspect I'll be a huge fan.

What are you reading this weekend?