Monday, July 15, 2019

#BookReview: Milady by Laura L. Sullivan

Genre
Historical Retelling

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DESCRIPTION: 
She was the greatest nemesis of d'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers--but Milady de Winter was so much more than just a villain in their swashbuckling adventures.

I've gone by many names though you know me as Milady de Winter: Villainess, seductress, a secondary player in The Three Musketeers story.

But we all know history was written by men, and they so often get things wrong.

So before you cast judgment, let me tell you of how a girl from the countryside became the most feared woman in all of Europe. A target for antipathy, a name whispered in fear or loathing.

I don't need you to like me. I just need to be free.

It's finally time I tell my own story. The truth isn't tidy or convenient, but it's certainly more interesting.

REVIEW: 
I wanted to love Laura L. Sullivan’s Milady, but despite its promising premise, the novel proved a poor fit for my tastes. I believe many will fall in love with this narrative, but the book struck an awkward chord with me, and I found it difficult to lose myself in its pages.

Milady de Winter is one of my favorite literary antagonists, and I feel her story is long overdue a standalone adaptation of its own. Sullivan’s apparent agreement earns her my applause and while I didn’t agree with all of her artistic decisions, I admit admiring her creative eye, command of language, and ability to place readers at the center of a scene.

Having said this, I feel the best retellings are those written by authors who harmonize their vision and voice with those who penned the original work. Dumas used The Three Musketeers to offer commentary on power and while I acknowledge Sullivan’s effort to present readers a feminist heroine, I feel her attempt heavy-handed and was not impressed with the emasculating effect it had on nearly every male of Milady’s acquaintance.

The bottom line here is that while I feel Milady has a lot going for it, I have to admit its content was not complex enough to capture and/or hold my interest or imagination. The novel has undeniable commercial appeal, but it lacks the gravitas and depth I’d hoped to find on picking it up.

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 23, 2019
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Thursday, July 11, 2019

#BookReview: Calamity by Libbie Hawker

Genre
Biographic Fiction

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DESCRIPTION:  
Her name is synonymous with the West. Her celebrity has spread to the East Coast and California, traveling down the new-laid railroads and along the telegraph wire.

But breathless tales of Calamity Jane bear little resemblance to the truth. As she senses death coming closer, the legendary hellcat longs to set the record straight—to reveal her life story at last, unclouded by legend, every sin and failing laid bare. Only then can she hope to rest in peace.

In a Deadwood saloon, she finds a writer willing to hear her out, and recount the truth to a public hungry for more tales of Calamity Jane…

So begins Libbie Hawker’s expansive biographical novel, an intimate portrait of one of the best-known yet least-understood women of the American frontier. The international bestselling author of The Ragged Edge of Night takes the reader on a heart-rending journey through a landscape lost to time, as seen through the eyes of one outcast woman. Calamity is a haunting meditation on hardship, unrequited love, and the stark, affecting beauty of the American West.

REVIEW: 
Libbie Hawker’s Calamity is an ambitious novel. A biographic fiction of Martha Jane Canary (aka Calamity Jane), the novel chronicles the life of the legendary frontierswoman, the history of the American frontier, and the folklore that came to immortalize both in public imagination past and present.

At five hundred and thirty-one pages, Calamity is not light literature, and while I admired a lot of the content, I’d have preferred a more condensed and streamlined presentation. The author’s passion for the subject matter is more than evident, and while I appreciate her dedication to comprehensively illustrating the course of Martha’s life, I have to admit the sheer amount of story made it difficult for me to remain fully engaged throughout my reading.

Readers should note the novel is relayed in the first-person past tense and includes intentional use of period-appropriate terms, colloquialisms, grammatic errors, and misspellings. None of this bothered me, but it’s the sort of stylistic choice that should be accepted and understood by prospective readers from the start and not retrospectively held over the author’s head after the fact.

Hawker tackles multiple themes and ideas through the life and adventures of Martha. Of these, I enjoyed Hawker’s take on the real West and its contrast to the commercialized sensationalism immortalized in the American imagination. The unrequited love story did not appeal to me in the same capacity, but I seem to be in the minority, so please take my commentary with a grain of salt.

Recommended to fans of biographical and/or western fiction.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 5, 2019
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