Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for September, 2008

Patience, Princess Catherine

Posted by nliakos on September 7, 2008

by Carolyn Meyer.  Young Royals series.  Gulliver Books, Harcourt, Inc. 2004.

Vicki enjoys historical fiction, and we have been reading books in the Royal Diaries and Young Royals series.  Both series focus on historical princesses and queens.  In this series, we have already read Doomed Queen Anne, about Anne Boleyn.  Patience, Princess Catherine is the story of Catherine of Aragon, who at the age of fifteen traveled from Spain to England in 1501 to marry Arthur, the elder son of King Henry VII.  Arthur, a sickly young man, dies soon after their wedding, and Catherine sets her hopes on Arthur’s younger brother Henry, who was to become Henry VIII.  She waits for seven long years of humiliating treatment by Henry VII.  The title is apt, as Catherine must show great patience and will to achieve her destiny of becoming Queen of England.

Each chapter begins with a short section about the young Henry, who was six years Catherine’s junior.  This section is followed by a first-person account in Catherine’s voice.  The reader sympathizes with her plight as she stubbornly refuses to give up her goal, despite her lack of power, influence and money to support her Spanish court.  This book ends on a fairly happy note. although the Historical Note at the end tells the sad story of Henry’s eventual rejection of Catherine, whom he divorces and banishes to increasingly remote and uncomfortable residences when he decides to marry Anne Boleyn in the hope that she will provide him with a son.  Catherine, however, never agreed to the annulment of her marriage and never gave up her title of Queen of England.

Doomed Queen Anne, by the same author, tells the parallel story of Anne Boleyn’s single-minded pursuit of Henry, her determination to hold out for marriage and her belief that she could, unlike Catherine, produce a male heir to the English throne.  Instead, she gave birth to the daughter who would become Queen Elizabeth I.  After she too suffered a miscarriage, Henry quickly got rid of her and proceeded to marry four more women before he died.  He only managed to do this by breaking with the Catholic Church and making himself head of the Church of England.

This is an interesting period of English history, and Carolyn Meyer’s novels make it accessible to  readers both young and old.  Vicki and I are looking forward to reading Mary, Bloody Mary to learn about the life of Catherine’s daughter Mary, who eventually became Queen of England and restored Catholicism to England for the period of her reign.

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Posted in Children's and Young Adult, Fiction | Leave a Comment »

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

Posted by nliakos on September 6, 2008

by Carlos Eire.  Free Press, 2003.

Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 Cuban children airlifted to the United States in 1962.  At the time, neither the parents nor the children had any inkling that their separation would last as long as it did, or that Fidel Castro would remain in power for as long as he did.  Carlos Eire went on to become a historian and an academic.  He married an American, had three children, and lives in Connecticut.  But the Elian Gonzalez affair in 2000, when Castro claimed that Elian should be returned to Cuba because all children should be with their parents, triggered the gush of memories that is this book.

Most of the book concerns Carlos’ memories from his ten years as a privileged younger son of a wealthy judge in pre-Castro Cuba; a few of them stem from his later years in America.  All are written in rich prose.  Eire has a flair for sharing the sensory details of his memories: the magical, colorful cloud of parrotfish in the sea, the taste of the Chinese man’s hotdogs, the sounds of religious items being smashed by the revolutionaries, the hot light of the Cuban sun….  He also develops the many characters in the book with affection and humor, such as his father, a fat man in baggy pants obsessed with collecting art and antiques whom Eire refers to as Louis XVI, since he apparently believed that he had been the French King in a former incarnation.

I was alternately appalled at some of the things that Carlos and his friends did, and that were done to them and others, and convulsed with laughter over their antics–sometimes simultaneously.  It was really hard for me to imagine a childhood like that.

I have always been rather more sympathetic to the Revolution than to the Cuban-American population in Miami and elsewhere which has lobbied incessantly against normalization of relations with Cuba, a tiny country which could not possibly harm the United States.  It seems that they do this out of pure spite, because it makes absolutely no sense.  Even as he describes his life of privilege and luxury in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, Eire remembers the poor dark-skinned boys who dived for money in the sea.  But I think that the poor, dark-skinned people of Cuba did not, for the most part, benefit much from the change in regime which enriched some and sent others into exile with two changes of clothes and one book.

I still think that the United States and Cuba should normalize their relations, but I have a lot more understanding of, and a bit more compassion for, the Cuban Americans who have thus far prevented it from happening.  And I am really glad that I read this treasure of a memoir.

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Nights of Rain and Stars

Posted by nliakos on September 4, 2008

by Maeve Binchy.  Read by Terry Donnelly. BBC Audiobooks America, 2004.

I’ve enjoyed everything I have read by Maeve Binchy.  She has a knack of creating characters that really appeal to me (along with some horrific ones), and she has done so again in Nights of Rain and Stars, which takes place not in Ireland but on the imaginary Greek island village of Agia Anna.  Four vacationers–two men and two women, from the U.S., England, Germany, and Ireland–become fast friends after witnessing a tragedy.  For a few short weeks, they become a part of the life of the village.  Vonnie, an Irishwoman who has lived in Agia Anna for thirty years, and Andreas, an old man who owns the taverna on the mountainside where the four first meet, mentor the four through some very difficult challenges.  While it’s a little too pat to be real, as with all of Binchy’s stories, I found myself eagerly suspending disbelief.  It isn’t my favorite Binchy–contenders for that spot are The Glass Lake, The Copper Beech, and Scarlet Featherit’s certainly an enjoyable read.

Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment »