The Monday Agenda 7/8/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

I’m back, busily bustling through bunches of books (and amusing myself with alliteration, it would seem).

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

This is really a two-week check-in, since I was away (on a lovely vacation, thanks for asking!) and skipped a week of blogging. Here’s what I’ve read since my last update:

Vacation books:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: Done! Loved it. My review is here.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: Done! My review is here.

A Small Death in the Great Glen by A. D. Scott: Done! My review is here.

Post-vacation reading:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Done! Beautiful book. My review is here.

Saga, volumes 1 and 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: Amazing new graphic novel series from the author of Y: The Last Man, one of my favorites. I loved the two volumes of Saga, and can’t wait to read more.

Fresh Catch:

Well, I was away, after all, so the fresh catch collection is on the smallish side:

Saga, Volume 2When You Were HereThe Girl You Left BehindOpenly Straight

Yes, I did read Saga, volume 2 already, the second it reached my hot little hands! The other books are from a giveaway (When You Were Here — thank you, Perpetual Page-Turner!) and two ARCs that were just approved. Looking forward to all of them!

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

I’ve just started Joyland by Stephen King, and I’m hooked!

Next up, one of my pending review copies, either Mist by Susan Krinard or The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold.

Mist (Mist, #1)The Book of Secrets: A Novel

Plus, I’d really love to get to more of the books on my summer TBR list!

My kiddo is safely home from an “awesome” time at summer camp, and ready to resume our nightly reading tradition. We’re continuing our Narnia quest, and will be starting The Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week. Four books down, three to go!

boy1So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Winner of countless awards, among them the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Wolf Hall is well-known and highly esteemed. So why did it take me so many years to finally read it?

It’s a daunting book to begin, that’s for sure. In my paperback edition, the two pages of the Table of Contents are followed by five pages of the Cast of Characters, and then by two more pages containing family trees (the Tudors and the Yorkist Claimants, to be exact). Did I need to memorize the ancestries? Was I supposed to already know the paths of descent from Richard Duke of York and Owen Tudor? In general, when I see a book that requires that much supporting information up front, I want to run for the hills. Or pick up something simpler, at the very least.

In this case, I’d already vowed to read Wolf Hall during a vacation, and after committing to it publicly (well, okay, here on my blog), I felt a certain amount of pressure to see it through.

So — worth it? Yes, and here’s why:

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, a man who rises from an obscure beginning as the son of a blacksmith to become one of the most powerful and influential advisers in the court of King Henry VIII. The entire book is told from Cromwell’s perspective; we see the people and players that he sees; we visit the inner chambers of the castle when he does. As Cromwell’s access increases, so does ours as readers. We only meet Henry when Cromwell does, and we see Anne Boleyn’s ascent at first from a distance, as bewildered by the king’s obsession with Anne as Cromwell is, then become more intimately involved as Cromwell becomes a key participant in the machinations needed to overthrow not just a marriage but an entire religious institution.

The Cromwell we come to know in Wolf Hall may or may not be entirely historically accurate. His rise to power is well-documented, but his early history and his inner life is not. Author Hilary Mantel gives Thomas Cromwell a depth and vibrancy that make him a sympathetic main character. We see him as a devoted family man, albeit as one who is often absent. Still, his devotion to his wife, his children, and his broad collection of wards and adoptees is shown to be his defining virtue. Likewise, he is committed to his patron, Cardinal Wolsey, and he forgets nothing — neither good nor bad — in his endless reckoning of favors owed and granted. Cromwell’s shrewdness and intelligence are clear. He is an intellectually gifted man who had a rough start in life, and so he is both gentleman and ruffian, a man who can out-think anyone he encounters, and at the same time a man to strike fear into the hearts of those who cross him.

Wolf Hall is a complicated book. This is not a bodice-ripper masquerading as history. The details can be overwhelming. There is an enormous number of players to keep straight, and it’s not enough to know who’s who; we readers also need to know the relations, the power dynamics, the titles, and the land holdings. This is not a love story. It’s about power, it’s about politics, it’s about playing a deadly game with the lives of the innocent and not-so-innocent at stake. Hilary Mantel piles detail upon detail, but never in a way that is incomprehensible — although, yes, it is a lot to keep track of.

Mantel’s prose is not straightforward. Sentences break off suddenly. A random example, from early on in the book:

They arrived on a Sunday, two vengeful grandees: the Duke of Norfolk a bright-eyed hawk, the Duke of Suffolk just as keen. They told the cardinal he was dismissed as Lord Chancellor, and demanded he hand over the Great Seal of England. He, Cromwell, touched the cardinal’s arm. A hurried conference. The cardinal turned back to them, gracious: it appears a written request from the king is necessary; have you one? Oh: careless of you. It requires a lot of face to keep so calm; but then the cardinal has face.

The pronouns throughout Wolf Hall are a bear to figure out. Mantel uses “he” throughout the book to refer to Cromwell, even when he is not the person most recently referenced. This drove me crazy at first. I’d have to stop and backtrack, realizing that the sentence I was reading was not about the person I thought it was about! Once I finally got that it’s all about Cromwell, all the time, the “he”s were a bit easier to decipher. But boy, did that throw me for a loop at the beginning.

Wolf Hall will not be for everyone. But I did enjoy it very much, although it was perhaps not the wisest choice for vacation reading. I typically choose books that require little commitment for my vacation reading — books I can easily swoop in and out of at a moment’s notice while doing other things. Wolf Hall is not one of these books. It requires concentration and thought, and while I definitely liked the challenge, it was a bit overwhelming at times.

The title itself is confusing, and only gains meaning toward the end of the book (unless you’re a total Tudor-era enthusiast and know the names of every estate in the realm). The challenge for an author writing about this era is in keeping a sense of suspense or surprise when the major events are so very well known. If you’ve read The Other Boleyn Girl or watched The Tudors, then you already know how the king’s efforts to divorce Katherine and marry Anne will work out. What keeps this book interesting is the writing itself, as well as the use of a lesser-known figure as its point-of-view character. Learning about Cromwell is fascinating; seeing the inner workings of the court through his eyes is enlightening, and keeps the familiar acts and players from seeming worn out or stale. Yes, I do know what happens — but it doesn’t matter. The portrayals of Cromwell, Henry, Anne, and the others are rich and nuanced, and kept me hooked.

Wolf Hall is the first book in a trilogy. Book 2, Bring Up The Bodies, is also a Man Booker Prize recipient. Book 3, The Mirror and The Light, is anticipated for publication in 2015, as far as I could tell. I plan to read Bring Up The Bodies later this summer, and as it covers the fall of Anne Boleyn, I fully expect to be engrossed.

I highly recommend Wolf Hall, although it definitely helps to have some knowledge of the Tudors ahead of time. And if you’ve watched Showtime’s version of The Tudors, I dare you to read this book and not picture Natalie Dormer every time Anne Boleyn is in a scene.

The Monday Agenda 6/24/2013

MondayAgendaNot a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

True fact: I’m away and not actively blogging this week. Oh, the power and beauty of scheduling! Just because I’m off to parts known and unknown, it doesn’t mean I can’t post a Monday Agenda for this week.

How did I do with last week’s agenda?

Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler: DNF. I read about 30 pages or so, but it just never really clicked for me.

Fathomless by Jackson Pearce: Done! My review is here. Warning: Contains rants and spoilers.

The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis: Done! My son and I have now read four Narnia books together, and plan to continue as soon as we’re back home. We loved The Horse and His Boy. We managed to squeeze in a quick Q&A With The Kiddo post on our Narnian adventures — you can see it here.

That’s it! It was a low-volume reading week, thanks to the typical pre-trip frenzy of packing, laundry, and last-minute dashes to the store for insect repellant and other such nonsense.

Fresh Catch:

Neil Gaiman! Plus, two paperbacks — bought cheap! — arrived from the UK this week. I’m so looking forward to reading all of these!

The Ocean at the End of the LaneRose Under FireThe 5th Wave (The Fifth Wave, #1)

Yes, I’ve already read (and loved!) The 5th Wave… and now I have my own copy!

What’s on my reading agenda for the coming week?

Instead of choosing my own vacation reading, I asked my blog visitors to do it for me! Based on my poll results, here’s what I’ll be reading in the next week and a half:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

A Small Death in the Great Glen by A. D. Scott

… and possibly Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, although I doubt I’ll fit all this into my not-as-long-as-I’d-like vacation.

Thank you to everyone who voted and offered an opinion (or two)! I’ll report back — when I get back!


So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.