Friday, October 28, 2011

The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily

The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and SicilyThe Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Goldstone

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this biography by Nancy Goldstone! I had never heard of Queen Joanna, so obscure is she in history, but she was quite a remarkable woman. Living in the 1300's, Joanna was the granddaughter of Robert the Wise, King of Naples and was the first woman to govern a realm in her own name. Even though married four times, Joanna masterfully guarded her rule while dealing with complex political issues, constant war, economic "recessions," jealous and manipulative cousins, and even the black plague.

The book opens with Joanna standing trial in the papal courts for the murder of her first husband. Goldstone gives us insight into the character of the queen and this may be what hooked me. Joanna was a woman who never let the trials and challenges in her life bring her down. She always carried herself as a noble queen would and used her quick mind to argue with anyone who would oppose her or prevent her from carrying out the plans she made. She had a way with words and could almost always sway her audience to her side, and no matter what the circumstance, she always maintained a calm manner.

Throughout her life and reign, Joanna had to always look over her shoulder. Always fighting, it seemed. Cousins and others were constantly trying to steal her throne, ruthlessly plotting against her in hopes of usurping her. Husbands and their families, greedy monarchs of other nations, but Joanna managed to keep what was rightfully hers.

Quite devout in her beliefs, I was appalled at the papal courts interference in the matters of state. Joanna couldn't do anything without the approval and consent of the popes (which I found absolutely ridiculous!). In her shrewdness, Joanna managed to rule them without their realization by supporting them militarily and generously donating to their causes. She was a great leader to her subjects, honestly caring for them. She built hospitals and churches, encouraged education, and supported the arts. She did much to reduce crime and bring civility to her monarchy, and yet the church still excommunicated her towards the end of her life.

Joanna was murdered in the end, her body tossed like a rabid dog. She received no proper burial and to this day, her excommunication has never been lifted. I was so angry when I got to the end of this book. Goldstone's writing had a way of making me love Joanna as a dear friend and I was angered over the injustice of her death. After all she had done and been through, there was no burial, no ceremony, no acknowledgement of her life. I, of course, blame the Catholic Church.

Goldstone's detail to history throughout this book is impeccable; her writing style effortless. Not once did I feel like putting the book down to read something more interesting. Many notable characters can also be found within it's pages. Goldstone did a great job with her research and then relaying it to the readers. I highly recommend this book and can't wait to read another book by Goldstone!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer

The ConquerorThe Conqueror by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Conqueror is a novel depicting the life of William "The Conqueror," Duke of Normandy, from birth until his coronation as King of England in 1066. While I normally love historical fiction (unable to put a book down), this novel had a hard time keeping me interested. There were sections that did have me wanting to shut out the world and keep reading, but there were just as many boring storylines that had me looking at my bookshelf longingly.

Well-researched and portrayed for the time period, I have no complaints in that department. Heyer used great descriptive detail to portray the culture and history. The war-torn battlefields especially were very in-depth.

However, Heyer's writing style thoroughly annoyed me. As an editor, I wanted to go through the book and correct the punctuation with a big, red pen. Written in 1931, perhaps this is just a style of the times, or the style of some genre I've never read before, but I found the break in my reading flow quite distracting.

Another letdown for me was that the book was told from the viewpoint of Raoul, William's right-hand man. Not quite biography, not quite historical fiction, I was disappointed that the novel didn't let me inside William's head. Personally, if I can't be inside the historical character's head, then I'd rather read a biography of the person than fiction.

Lastly, William's relationship with Matilda was so talked up on the book cover and everywhere else, but in truth, it was just a small piece of the novel and seemed to be missing too much of the real storyline to make sense. In contrast, the relationship between Raoul and his friend, Edgar, had much more romance and love portrayed. I kept wondering when the two of them would become more than friends, but then Raoul fell in love with Edgar's sister, Elfrida, putting that pondering to rest.

In closing, it wasn't an altogether bad book. It just wasn't for me, and I'm doubtful I'll read anymore of Heyer's books.

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