Sunday, August 31, 2014


When I get into a book series, I like to look up the author's website, join their Facebook page, and read interviews with them.  I like exploring the characters in a way closer to how the author really sees them.  I enjoy back stories.  It's my understanding, from reading these interviews, that an author generally these characters living with them all the time, kicking around in their heads, taking charge of a scene without the author really controlling the actions and motivations of these make-believe people.  This fascinates me.  I've written many stories and pieces, but it's all been non-fiction or stories based on real people.  I've tried writing fiction, but I don't have all these characters dancing around in my head.  I enjoy other people's characters, but I don't have any of my own.  I have a lot of respect for a storyteller's ability to spin a tale and create a world.

So is it any surprise that, given Amazon money for my birthday, I jumped at the chance to grab up Four by Veronica Roth?

I've already reviewed the Divergent series.  I'm a fan.  No, it's not Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield or anything, but not everything has to be high literature.  Wal-Mart shelf fiction is  good too, especially when it's clean and allows you to ponder truths of life.  (Confession: David Copperfield is actually one of two books I "Cliff-noted" in my English 12 AP class.  It was assigned summer reading and I ran out of time.  But I spent so much time the night before the test reviewing the Cliffs Notes that I failed to review the books I HAD read and failed the test anyway.  Ah, lessons learned.)  Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant were fast paced, fun reads.  I enjoyed them all, although Allegiant kinda wandered around.  And the end was...well, let's just say I think she could have made all her points without doing what she did. 

But I digress.

Four is a collection of stories from the world of Divergent, but they are all told from the perspective of Tobias instead of Tris.  The first three stories happen before the events of Divergent while the fourth one overlaps with Tris's experience.  According to the introduction, the Divergent series was actually birthed in Roth's mind through the eyes of Tobias, not Tris.  Over time, Tobias didn't have quite the right tone she wanted, and eventually the right narrator of the story came along in the form of Tris.  However, Tobias's story was always very important to Roth and her development of the story she wanted to tell, so once the trilogy was complete, she went back and told pieces of the story from Tobias's voice. 

First, let me say this.  Read Divergent first.  The whole series. Four will be a much more meaningful experience if you already know what's going on.  I fear that future generations will look at the series and do what they did to the Narnia series and "put them in order."  Yeeech.  Sometimes things are written out of order for a reason.  (Someday I'm sure I will use my blog space for a published-order argument for the Narnia series.  Because doing the other way is STUPID.)  Four is meant to be read after you've finished the trilogy.

However, if you've read the trilogy and enjoyed it, you will absolutely love Four.

One of the draws of the Divergent world is the character development.  If you enjoy the series, you love Tris and Four.  (The same cannot be said for The Hunger Games.  I enjoyed that series for the action, but I spent a lot of time wanting to smack Katniss.)  Tris and Four are one of the best couples I've read.  They are like a younger version of Claire and Jaime for you fellow Outlander fans.  Seeing the events you've read and enjoyed through Tris's eyes turned around and seen through Four's is a lovely literary experience.  Suddenly the experience of reading Divergent becomes richer.  You become much closer to the story.  It feels like you are there in the midst of it all because you know more of the ins and outs.  You begin to see the story the way Veronica Roth see it - intricate and complicated.  One character only gives you a straightforward, 2-D perspective.  Adding another major character's point of view turns it into a 3-D experience.  It's well written, and Tobias's traits and motivations are well explored.  It was a highly satisfying experience.

I enjoy the world of Divergent.  If you enjoy it too, you need to read Four to round out your journey with the factions of dystopian Chicago.  It won't take you long - the book's pretty short - and you'll feel thoroughly satisfied once you've finished, like finishing the dessert of a good meal.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Stolen Crown

Sorry about the absence last week, folks - I had a kid in the hospital.  With PNEUMONIA.  Who the heck gets pneumonia in August?  My 8 year old, that's who.  So that's how we spent our last week of summer - sitting in a hospital room watching an IV drip drugs and fluid into my kiddo.  Not so much fun. 

But he is healing and I am back!


Did Richard III kill his nephews in order to seize the throne?
Why did the Duke of Buckingham rebel - unsuccessfully - against Richard?
Was Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville legitimate or bigamy?
Am I a total and complete history geek? 

(The answer to that last one is yes, and I am ok with that.)

If you are an average American, you have never once pondered the top three questions.  However, if you are an Anglophile who reads books about the Wars of the Roses for fun, like me, then they are questions you have seriously wondered about.  This period of English history is a particularly controversial one.  There was so much intrigue at the time that it is hard to determine what was fact and what was slander. 

This makes it a great era for historical fiction writers to take apart and examine. What really happened and why did people do what they did?  We know some things for certain, but the rest is up to which theory you believe.  What really happened before, during, and after the reign of Edward IV in the England of the 15th century?

The Stolen Crown  by Susan Higginbotham takes us back to this period and explores the events of the time through the eyes of two real-life characters - Katherine Woodville Stafford, Duchess of Buckingham, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.  Katherine was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, whose secret marriage to Edward IV rocked his government and was the source of yet another rebellion during a time when the crown bounced back and forth between two feuding branches of the same family.  Katherine was married off to Henry at the age of eight, and the two were raised in King Edward's household.  They eventually had four children together, and the Duke went on to be a key member of King Richard III's government after Edward's death.  However, in one of those moments of history that historians cannot agree about, the Duke suddenly turned on Richard and led a rebellion trying to put Henry Tudor on the throne.  The rebellion failed and the Duke was executed...and in an ironic twist of history, Henry Tudor went on to mount another sucessful rebellion and became King Henry VII. 

Did you follow all that?  Probably not.  I had to read, like, eight books on the Wars of the Roses before things started to make sense, and I still get confused.  It doesn't help that every male is named Richard, Henry or Edward, and every female is named Elizabeth, Anne, or Katherine.  It also doesn't help that, due to titles, everyone has about three different names.   

But I digress.

The Stolen Crown was interesting to me because Higginbotham took me to a perspective I'd never read before, that of the Staffords.  I didn't know much about them before reading this book.  The Duke of Buckingham is usually presented in novels about this period as a true bad guy - evil and scheming and such.  This story presented an entirely different perspective on who Henry Stafford might have been.  Since there is no way of knowing, it's fun to read novels that speculate, and this gave an entirely different viewpoint than that I have read before.

I also enjoyed the back-and-forth perspective between Katherine and Henry.  Higginbotham refers to the same event seen through both sets of eyes, and this makes for a fascinating read.  It keeps the story moving and gives the reader much to think about as they read.  It allows for different perspectives on history to be shared and different theories to be offered.

Along those lines, I will say that I do not agree with Ms. Higginbotham's stance that Richard III killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.  After doing my own research, I came to my own conclusion years ago that he was innocent of that crime.  This did not, however, keep me from enjoying this novel immensely.  I like reading perspectives that differ from my own.  It's good to challenge your own ideas, even if it's just theories on 15th century mysteries.  It's a good thing for your mind and character to take your own ideas out for a walk and see how they hold up to others.  It can solidify your own stance or help you see things in a new way. 

The Stolen Crown was a good, fun, quick read, a great little break from the non-fiction I have been tackling lately.  For anyone who is a fan of this genre - and really, even if you've never tried it - it's a good solid venture into the tumultuous Wars of the Roses and a fun, different perspective on the lives of the people of those times.