Dissertation Books

Dissertation Books – The Rival Queens, Nancy Goldstone Read 3/9/5

Affiliate Link: The Rival Queens: Catherine de’ Medici, her daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom
The teaching of history in Britain is very anglocentric. If it didn’t happen in Britain nobody appears to be bothered about it. So although I know copious amounts about Henry VIII and his 6 wives, I couldn’t tell you who any of the other European monarchs were at the time.

Turns out French Renaissance history is just as juicy and noteworthy as England’s. Catherine de’ Medici was the daughter of an Italian merchant who married the second son of the French king François I. This minor noble women ended up reigning over France for over 40 years, first as the Queen of Henri II then as Queen Consort to 3 of her sons. Even once they reached maturity she was still a key political player.

Her daughter Marguerite de Valois is the ‘Rival Queen’ of the title. Forced into a loveless political marriage the wedding day of which resulted in the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Margot as she was known, spent her life fighting the iron will of her ambitious mother. A devout Catholic she was a pawn in the Wars of Religion and a pariah in her husband’s Protestant kingdom of Navarre.

This book tells their story from Catherine’s wedding to Margot’s death and every moment is jam packed with scandal. At the time the French court was renowned for espionage and there is back stabbing and betrayal on an epic scale. Love, power and death play out in a melodrama so heightened you would think it fictional but this is actually the foundations of Western society as we know it.

It helps when writing a non-fiction book to have a really fascinating topic and Nancy Goldstone could hardly go wrong with her choice. Even so she tells the story in a way that makes me think of the next episode button on Netflix. Somehow she has made history into a page turner. I had to know what happened next. There is a section in the second half of the book about how Margot was perused across France by rival forces and it was as tense and suspense filled as any first person thriller.

Goldstone also presents a relatively balanced view of both women. History has not looked favourable on either and she does a really good job of saying “this is how it has been viewed for centuries, but the facts could also suggest this”. She is very aware of the fact that the portraits painted of both Catherine and Margot are how men saw them which was probably not how they really were. Also she draws heavily from Margot’s memoirs as a source but does a really good job of saying “she could be lying about this bit”. As a result it is a bit like unreliable narration. We as the reader are left to draw our own conclusions about both women. Personally, I think they were both out of their depths in a man’s world but did the best they could given their restricted education and position.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: historical fiction lovers who want to read non-fiction.

Other Books 2015

Behind the Character, Alvin Alvin of “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files | Guest Post with Kevin 11

You may remember a little while ago I reviewed a book called “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files by Kevin 11. “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files is the second book in the series which follows the crime fighters of the Brooklyn Police Department in the 23rd Precinct. I loved this new interesting take on the detective genre and the cinematic style of Kevin 11. I find it so inspiring the way that creators today take creative freedom not only of their work but also the publishing, distribution and marketing. “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files is published by indie book publishers Flowered Concrete and Kevin is doing a blog tour to offer a behind the scenes glimpse at this gritty world and a chance to get to know the characters a little better. I am thrilled to give you a glimpse of what Kevin has to say about Alvin Alvin (yep that’s his name).


Behind The Character:

For some reason, detective Alvin Alvin is still a mystery to me. For one, despite him being  a really good cop and highly fashionable in style and appearance, there seems to be more beneath the surface that has yet to be uncovered. Many folks are probably wondering what on earth possessed me to name him Alvin Alvin.

For one, I thought it would be really funny to give him the same first and last name. Another reason as to why I named him this way is because I wanted to slightly trick readers into thinking that I had made a typo with his name.

However, when reading both Tales of the 23RD Precinct and as well as frankly TWISTED, readers can see that that is certainly not the case. Going forward, it will be interesting to see where exactly I take him as a character. For one thing, he will definitely have big shoes to fill due to the fact that he will be taking over as Captain of the 23rd precinct. Hopefully by then, we will get a better chance to see not only how he works and interacts with others, but also, go a bit in-depth within his personal life.

I would like to say thanks to Kevin for including Bernie and Books in his tour. You can check out his blog here where you can also find all the other guest post from the tour. “Frankly Twisted”: The Lost Files is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble or via Flowered Concrete.

The Big Read

No. 71 – Perfume, Patrick Süskind

Affiliate Link: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Penguin Essentials)

This books full title is Perfume, The Story of a Murderer which is a very accurate description. However, the title in itself is also ambiguous. How is something so inconspicuous as perfume associated with the violence of murder?

The story straight away won me over because it is set in eighteenth century Paris. For me there is no better era to set a book; why pick anything else? Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born into the most stench filled place on earth, a Paris slum, but he has the most sublime gift, an absolute sense of smell. He can smell everything, things that to you and me have no odour whatsoever. Not only that, he can remember every smell and he catalogues each carefully away in his mind to create the most exquisite perfumes.

This book is so sensuously written. It is a credit to the translation that such atmosphere and feeling has survived from the original German. This book relies heavily on the description of the smells and it is expertly done so as to be completely understandable and also to conjure up the feelings that certain smells create. I am known amongst my friends to comment on how something smells like a certain period of time or memory of mine because that is the power that scent has. It can transport us through time and influence our actions.

Where does the murder come into it I hear you ask? Now that would be telling. But I will say this Grenouille is no ordinary perfumer. His extraordinary talents come at a cost to his personality and he is distinctly unlovable. The story of his life is simple and quite short. There is a really weird bit in the middle where Grenouille lives in a cave for seven years and barely sees daylight but apart from that it is his quest to create the perfect perfume.

In terms of the characters, you don’t really get emotionally involved with anyone. It is the kind of book you read as a passive observer. I am still unsure whether I like this style in general but I must admit it does work in this context. Grenouille is so detached it helps us to see his world view but also it means that the story moves along quite quickly because we don’t have to feel when someone dies.

Now it is time for a confession because I have absolutely no idea how you say Grenouille. I have been going for Gren- wee in my head but to be honest I have no clue. Please make suggestions in the comments I would be very grateful.

All in all, it was a really enjoyable read. It is a good book but I am really surprised that it is on this list. It isn’t particularly extraordinary in any way. I don’t feel the way I often do when finishing at BBC Top 100 book that is, thoughtful and as if my life has been enriched. It is a different kind of good from Midnight’s Children or I Capture the Castle but still really enjoyable.

Rating: 4/5

Would recommend to: give it a go for entertainment value.