Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England by Kate Hubbard

Title: Devices and Desires: Bess of Hardwick and the Building of Elizabethan England
Author: Kate Hubbard
Publication: Harper Collins, hardcover, 2019
Genre: Biography, English History

The review below is a cameo appearance (her second) by my mother, Stephanie Martin, as I knew she would enjoy the book.
When books are written about 16th-century women, the subject is usually royalty. Besides their glamor, they are the ones for whom we have the most information. Elizabeth Hardwick is a remarkable exception. Not only did she have a long, eventful and well-documented life, she also was responsible for several splendid buildings.

Bess was born about 1521, lived to be 87, and outlived four husbands, the last marriage making her the Countess of Shrewsbury. She inherited property, married money, but increased and managed her holdings with great skill and became a very wealthy woman in her own right. She was friendly with all the major players of her time, including Queen Elizabeth I, who chose the Shrewsburys to be the jailors of Mary Queen of Scots when she sought refuge in England.

Hardwick Hall (Derbyshire)
Devices and Desires is not the first biography of Bess, but it has particular appeal because it highlights Bess’s achievements as a builder. An amazing number of records have survived from Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, and other great houses for which she was responsible -- letters and contracts (called “bargains”) and account books. We learn from them how deeply involved Bess was with every decision and how closely she monitored each step. She bought land for its income, but also for its resources, so that if she needed, say, marble or timber, she already owned a source. She also micromanaged her large family, marrying two of her children to two of her stepchildren. Then there was her granddaughter Arbella Stuart, the focus of various political plots, whom Bess kept very close at home into her twenties.
The Green Velvet Bedroom at Hardwick Hall
Not all of Bess’s mansions have survived, but her masterpiece, Hardwick Hall, is still there, with its unusual floor plan, four great turrets and elegant mantels. By the time you finish this book, you will want to head for England on the next flight to visit it.
Bess of Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury (1521-1608)
Source: A copy of this book was provided by Harper Collins for review purposes.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier

Title: Hungry Hill
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1943, hardcover
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Ireland, 1820-1920
Plot: This is a multi-generational saga following the fortunes of an Irish mine-owning family, who are cursed by the peasants who once owned their land.  The book consists of five sections, each focused on a different generation as the feud continues.   

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Daughter's Tale by Armando Lucas Correa - and Giveaway

Title: The Daughter’s Tale
Author: Armando Lucas Correa
Publication: Atria, hardcover, May 2019 (translated from Spanish)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Berlin, 1939. Amanda Sternberg and her husband, Julius, dreamed of blissful summers spent by the lake at Wannsee and unlimited opportunities for their children. But that all falls apart when the family bookshop is destroyed and Julius is sent to a concentration camp. Now, desperate to flee Nazi Germany and preserve what’s left of her family, Amanda heads toward the south of France with her two young daughters—only to arrive with one. In Haute-Vienne, their freedom is short-lived, and soon she and her eldest daughter are forced into a labor camp, where Amanda must once again make an impossible sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker

Title: Pretty Face (London Celebrities series) 
Author: Lucy Parker
Publication: Carina Press, 2017, paperback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Plot: Lily Lamprey is a pretty blonde starring in a very popular English television show when director Luc Savage starts casting his new 16th century historical drama.  He makes fun of her as a “breathy Marilyn Monroe impersonator” but is persuaded to audition her for the part of Elizabeth I in a period drama.  They clash immediately but she gets the job.  Once hired, Lily needs to work hard to acquire the skills Luc requires and show the cast and critics that she was hired because she is more than a pretty face, not due to connections or because she’s having an affair with her sexy director.  Even if the temptation is irresistible!
You could get away with dating a co-star - if they were single and born in the same decade.  That was good promo for the show.  The bosses loved it.  Until the inevitable breakup, when fans went into meltdown on social media and the backlash hit.  Lily had seen it happen enough at CTV that she'd never wanted to go anywhere near another actor romantically. 
Nobody was high-fived for having a fling with management . . . it was all her lifelong deal-breakers in one man.
Audience: Fans of character-driven contemporary romance

My Impressions: This is the second book in an entertaining and fast-paced new series set in the celebrity world and on the London stage, always a fascinating venue.    Lily is not interested in a relationship while she tries to establish a serious career; she has a complicated family history: her father is a business magnate who had an out of wedlock relationship with her mother, and his mortified wife has always despised her.   Luc is just coming out of a long relationship with an actress who precipitously married someone else and just wants to focus on his new production.

Naturally, they can’t think about anyone but each other and the tension practically sizzles on the page – I love how the author manages to make their story sexy and funny at the same time.   Lily’s internal monologues are especially amusing because they ring true.  The minor characters are also well depicted.  I like Lily's roommate Trix and Luc's ex Margo is more complicated than predictable other woman cliches.   If there is a flaw, it is that humans probably can't sustain this degree of intensity nonstop (and I think Parker could have reduced the cursing).  And it is hard to believe that two mature adults - who acknowledge a romantic relationship would be unprofessional and potentially disastrous to at least one of their careers and who are committed to those careers -can’t withstand temptation for a few weeks, but the result is good storytelling.
New Zealand author Lucy Parker
Source: Library – but I ordered the next two books in the series to keep.  I suggest you begin with the first in the series, Act Like It, because characters from that book appear in this one.  Thanks to Stephanie Burgis for the recommendation.

Off the Blog: Thinking of F. Washington Jarvis, a dear family friend whose memorial service I just attended.