Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Book Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory.


Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd.
Paperback, 549 pages.
Release date: February 27th 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Series: The Cousins' War #5.
Reviews of Other Books in Series: The White Queen, The Red Queen.
Source: Purchased.

 The haunting story of the mother of the Tudors, Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII. Beautiful eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville - the White Queen - the young princess Elizabeth faces a conflict of loyalties between the red rose and the white. Forced into marriage with Henry VII, she must reconcile her slowly growing love for him with her loyalty to the House of York, and choose between her mother's rebellion and her husband's tyranny. Then she has to meet the Pretender, whose claim denies the House of Tudor itself.



 Think you have the mother-in-law from hell? Think again…

When Elizabeth of York marries King Henry VII, following the defeat of her uncle Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, she not only inherits the title of Queen, she also inherits Henry’s mother, the deeply religious yet unnervingly ruthless Margaret Beaufort, who will do just about anything to keep her only son on the throne. Right from the start, it is made clear to Elizabeth that her marriage is necessary evil, a political alliance forged in order to unite the houses York and Lancaster and bring to an end, once and for all, the bloody battles that have characterised The Cousins War.  Of course, in the Fifteenth Century, such an arranged marriage was not unusual. Rather, it was the norm. But for Elizabeth, marriage to Henry is difficult on a number of counts. First off, she saw her parents, King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, marry for love. Then, there is the fact that, as depicted here by Philippa Gregory, she is deeply in love with her uncle, Richard III, whom she had been expecting to marry when he returned victorious from the Battle of Bosworth. But, as we know from history, battles don’t always go to plan. Instead, as this book opens, Richard is dead, and Elizabeth is expected to marry the man who took -some might say stole- his crown.

Wow, what a time Elizabeth of York lived in. Unlike her grandmother Jacquetta of Luxembourg and her mother Elizabeth Woodville before her, Elizabeth of York is not to full of mischief, plotting and scheming. Rather, she keeps her head down and her mouth shut. And who can blame her? She lives in a court where her every word, her every move, is reported back to Margaret Beaufort, who is just biding her time until she can disgrace her daughter-in-law as a traitor. Though Henry has the crown, he can never rest easy in his rule. The people of England see the crown as ill-gotten, and Henry as a usurper. Many are still loyal to the house of York, and are just waiting for the day when a York heir rallies troops and rises against the king. To this end, Elizabeth lives in a court that is increasingly suspicious and untrustworthy of those around them. Henry is especially suspicious of Elizabeth’s mother, the wily Elizabeth Woodville, and is fearful that she may have an ace up her sleeve: a rightful York heir in the shape of her son, Richard, who went missing from the Tower of London, years before.

Henry deals with many of these supposed York heirs over the course of his rule, boys who come from far and wide to stake a claim on the throne. The most famous of these is Perkin Warbeck, who is depicted here as the rightful York heir, Richard of Shrewsbury.  In his good looks, his brilliant smile and his easy charm, Elizabeth recognises her brother at once, though she can never identify him. To do so would be to deny her own children, Arthur and Henry, the heirs to the Tudor crown.

I’m so glad I finally got around to reading The White Princess in anticipation of its TV adaptation. For some reason it always takes me an age to get around to reading historical fiction, but when I do, I mostly enjoy it. I guess some historical fiction can be a bit of a slog, but not this series.   Philippa Gregory writes with such verve that, thought I always devour her novels quite greedily, I am always still hungry for more. And that can only be a good thing. 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Three New TV Shows I Can't Wait to Watch!

So many TV shows, so little time!

I've tried to cut down on checking out new TV shows - I really have. Since September I've only checked out two new shows* - This is Us and The Crown - and thankfully both were hits. Even better, both have been renewed. I've been there before with those one season wonders (Vanished, Six Degrees, Flash Forward) and I'm determined not to get bitten again. For that reason, I'm a big fan of limited series. I watch it, it's done, I move on. There's no anxious wait for renewal, no unresolved plot line to ponder, and best of all, no predictable descent into mediocrity round about season four or five. Limited series and anthology series are, for me, all round winners.

Here are three upcoming series I can't wait to check out!





The first series of FEUD, Ryan Murphy's (American Horror Story, American Crime Story) latest anthology series, centers on the rivalry between screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on the set of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" This promises to be a whole lot of fun - and it's got a stellar cast: Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson are all attached. 

Feud premieres March 5th on FX.


*****





Based on the Philippa Gregory book of the same name, The White Princess tells the story of Elizabeth of York and her marriage to the Lancaster victor, Henry VII, following the death of Richard III. I really enjoyed The White Queen when it was shown a couple of years back, and the trailer for this one looks great too. I've also just started reading The White Princess in anticipation of this show. I can never watch the movie (or TV show in this case) without first having read the book!

The White Princess premieres April 16th on Starz.

Suggested accompaniments: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, The White Princess by Philippa Gregory.


*****





Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, a darkly comic book with unsettling undertones, provides the inspiration for this series, which has a total A-List cast. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley star in this tale of domestic disturbia with a wicked twist. I read the book that this is based on a few months back, and while I enjoyed it, I guessed all the twists along the way, so I'd love if this adaptation threw a few surprises into the mix!

Big Little Lies premieres February 19th on HBO.

Suggested accompaniments: Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.





* I also checked out Kiefer Sutherland's new show Designated Survivor, but two episode in that wasn't working out for me, so I dropped it.  Harsh, but with so many TV shows, that's just the way it has to be. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.




Product details:
Publisher:  HarperCollins 
Hardcover, 384 pages.

Release date: January 26th 2017.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.


Only two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.

It’s said that the only people who really know what goes on in a marriage are the couple themselves. But what if even they don’t know the truth?

David and Adele seem like the ideal pair. He’s a successful psychiatrist, she is his picture-perfect wife who adores him. But why is he so controlling? And why is she keeping things hidden?


Louise, David’s new secretary, is intrigued. But as Louise gets closer to each of them, instead of finding answers she uncovers more puzzling questions. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise could never have guessed how wrong things really are and just how far someone might go to hide it.


 They say that every marriage has its secrets and that’s certainly true of David and his beautiful wife Adele, a golden-couple living a truly charmed life.  Not only do David and Adele have an enviable lifestyle, they also have the perfect marriage, or so it seems to everyone around them. Scratch beneath the surface, though, and all is not so perfect. Louise knows this. Right from the start, Louise knows that her new boss is not entirely happy with his life - or his wife. How does she know this? Well, Louise may be David’s secretary, but before this, she was a woman he met on a night out – a woman he proceeded to kiss on that same night out.  Then there’s his drinking, which is a little out of control, to say the least. And that’s not all. Following a chance encounter, Louise and Adele become friends, and soon after this Louise starts to realise that David may not be the perfect guy after all.  Too bad then that she might just be falling in love with him.

Well, well, well…
                                                              
I have to say that it’s not too often I’m surprised by psychological thrillers these days. I read so many that I’ll often spot a plot twist long before it happens on the page. Not this one, though. Nope. Turns out the hashtag got it right.  I do love a good twist, especially when it’s one that’s as well-plotted and intricate as this one is. Behind Her Eyes is horrifically twisted, and even a touch macabre at times. It’s also brilliantly executed and addictive – one of those books you simply can’t put down, even if you have a whole lot of stuff you really need to be getting on with.  All readers are different, though, and it turns out that some readers hated the ending of Behind Her Eyes, calling it ‘far-fetched’ and even ‘ridiculous.’  It’s not at all. Or maybe it is if what you’re looking for is yet another run-of-the-mill read that follows the tried and tested rules of every other psychological thriller out there. This is no run-of-the-mill read, that’s for sure. It’s certainly not your average thriller. The storyline here might seem familiar, but let me tell you, Behind Her Eyes is like nothing you’ve ever read before.  In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough doesn’t just break all the rules, she makes up a whole new set of rules - and that makes for a truly immersive reading experience.

Apart from the dedicated #WTFthatending  hashtag that’s been doing the rounds on Twitter, I didn’t know all that much about Behind Her Eyes before going in and I think it works best that way.   That can be said of most psychological thrillers, I know, but it especially applies here.   I will say this: Behind Her Eyes requires you to keep an open mind. It also requires a little suspension of disbelief and a vivid imagination. Keep that in mind, and you won’t be disappointed.   It’s certainly the most fun – in a very dark and twisted way – that I’ve had reading a book in a long time.  A total winner. Read it now before someone spoils that WTF ending for you.


In short: Highly imaginative in a totally-twisted very off-the-wall sort of way, Behind Her Eyes is the must-read thriller of 2017.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Book Review: How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell.



Product details:  
Publisher: Ebury.
Hardcover, 374 pages.
Release date: February 2nd 2017.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 At the age of 15, Cat Marnell unknowingly set out to murder her life. After a privileged yet emotionally-starved childhood in Washington, she became hooked on ADHD medication provided by her psychiatrist father. This led to a dependence on Xanax and other prescription drugs at boarding school, and she experimented with cocaine, ecstasy… whatever came her way. By 26 she was a talented ‘doctor shopper’ who manipulated Upper East Side psychiatrists into giving her never-ending prescriptions; her life had become a twisted merry-go-round of parties and pills at night, and trying to hold down a high profile job at Condé Naste during the day.

With a complete lack of self-pity and an honesty that is almost painful, Cat describes the crazed euphoria, terrifying comedowns and the horrendous guilt she feels lying to those who try to help her. Writing in a voice that is utterly magnetic – prompting comparisons to Brett Easton Ellis and Charles Bukowski – she captures something essential both about her generation and our times. Profoundly divisive and controversial, How to Murder Your Life is a unforgettable, charged account of a young female addict, so close to throwing her entire life away.


On finishing Cat Marnell’s ‘How to Murder Your Life,’ another book I read way back, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘More, Now, Again’ sprang to mind. I mean, it’s maybe a little obvious to compare the two, but I thought I might: both are memoirs of addiction written by uber-dramatic, self-involved blondes who live ultra-privileged New York lives, after all. Thing is, save for the fact that I read More, Now, Again all in one go on a rainy Saturday afternoon, after which I attended an Evan Dando gig, followed by party where I hung out with a Swedish chef named Bjorn, I don’t really remember anything about that book. I mean, I read More, Now, Again much more than a decade ago.   I recall that Lizzie was addicted to Ritalin at that time, and I also seem to remember that her apartment had been invaded by cockroaches –or maybe she just hallucinated that – details are hazy.  As for Cat Marnell, mice are her problem, and her drug of choice is, well, it’s every drug you’ve ever heard of – along with a few you hoped were just urban myths.  I would wager a bet that there isn’t a drug out there that Marnell hasn’t tried. I mean, doing drugs by the crate-load is, if not Marnell’s claim to fame, then at least her favourite party piece.

So, this book is, as its title suggests, a lesson in how not to life a life. Or, if you are an actual addict, it might just be a great lesson in how to keep on living when all the odds are stacked against you* (Tip: having wealthy parents who can pay your $28,000 rehab bills helps a whole lot).  This is car crash literature; the kind of book that keeps you reading late into the night as you wonder just how low Marnell can go.  I say that not as a criticism, you know, even though I know that a lot of people will read this book and stand in judgement at how Cat Marnell has screwed herself over time and again (even with all that privilege, and all that money and all those second, third and fourth chances…YAWN).  Hey, listen, we all screw up. Some of us just happen to screw up a whole lot more than others.  If you’re not familiar with Marnell’s work, (Lucky, xojane, Vice) - then what are you doing here?  Just kidding! - then you may not know that Marnell is an honest-to-god wild child and the one-time enfant terrible of the US fashion-zine scene. Marnell has an insatiable appetite for self-destruction - and boy does she love to binge. If you read this book, you’ll discover details of Marnell’s prescription pill addiction, which was cultivated in boarding school, aged fifteen; fun and not so fun times spent partying with cokehead Calvin Klein models in New York; an enviable job at Lucky magazine under the tutelage of Jean Godfrey-June, whom Cat adores.   This book also details abortions (more than one) and an overdose. There is also sexual abuse, insomnia, a whole lot of bulimia, doctor shopping on the UES, multiple rehabs and many hallucinations along the way.  Oh, and mice. Lots of mice.  Nev Shulman, in his boxer shorts, makes a cameo appearance at one point as Cat’s unfortunate roommate.  If you think you have the roommate from hell, then you haven’t met Cat Marnell.

I haven’t read a whole heap of addiction memoirs or anything, so I’m not an expert, but it’s safe to say that by their very nature these books can be dark, squirm-in-your-seat, uncomfortable reads. Not this one, though. This book didn’t unsettle me. It didn’t make me feel queasy either, which, with this kind of thing, is practically mandatory. And I never really felt sorry for Marnell.  Maybe that’s because Marnell doesn’t really see her addiction as something to get down about, or maybe it’s because, in this book, she merely scratches the surface of who she is.  Marnell will name-drop all day long, she’ll let you borrow vintage dresses from her wardrobe, she’ll let you raid her medicine cabinet and hang out with Courtney Love for an afternoon too, but as for letting you eavesdrop on her innermost thoughts and feelings –forget about it.  Unlike Lizzie Wurtzel before her, that is simply not what Cat is about.   Marnell lives in a shallow world, and in this book, she presents herself as a shallow kinda girl.  As a result, this book might lack a little heart and –ahem- substance at times, but boy, is it one wild and gritty ride.


In short:  ‘More, Now, Again’ meets ‘Disco Bloodbath’ – with a killer wardrobe.





* It’s really not.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A New Podcast & Some Old Favourites Too!





Combining two of my favourite podcast themes (that would be Old Hollywood and True Crime) Hollywood & Crime is a new podcast from Wondery that aims to investigate one of Hollywood's most notorious unsolved crimes, the murder of Elizabeth Short, more widely known as The Black Dahlia. 

Now, you might think you know all about The Black Dahlia, but Hollywood & Crime promises to delve deeper into the mystery of one of the world's most famous unsolved murders.  Two episodes in, I'm definitely intrigued and eager to learn more.


If you're looking for a podcast that explores the deep, dark underbelly of glamourous Old Hollywood, then this is it. 





*****




Possibly my favourite podcast of 2016, Accused details the unsolved murder of college-graduate Elizabeth Andes. This is one of the best unsolved crime podcasts I've listened to -- and is definitely one that will appeal to amateur sleuths and Serial fans alike. 



*****



The Heavyweight podcast from Gimlet Media focuses on the turning points in people's lives when everything went wrong - and tries to make it right. It's an intriguing show, sometimes quirky, sometimes emotional, always compelling. 

If you liked Starlee Kine's excellent Mystery Show (sadly and bafflingly dropped by Gimlet) then I reckon you'll like this one too. 


*****





One of my all-time favourite podcasts, You Must Remember This sees host Karina Longworth spill a whole lot of secrets as she dishes the dirt on the downright scandalous lives of Hollywood's Golden Age stars.  If you love Old Hollywood, then you need to listen to this podcast in which the ever-knowledgeable Longworth covers topics ranging from The Hollywood blacklist to the Manson Family murders. A new series drops January 31st. I can't wait!


*****


So, what are your favourite podcasts? Let me know in comments!







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