Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Favorite Novels of 2010

Here are my top favorite reads of 2010 with a book cover and brief synopsis in no particular order:

Having fictionalized Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen (2009), royal chronicler Gregory now turns to Henry VIII's other indomitable grandmother. The opposite of her alluring Yorkist rival, plain Lancastrian heiress Margaret Beaufort grows up knowing women are useful only for bearing sons, but divine visions grant her an unwavering conviction about her future greatness. At age 12, she weds Lancastrian warrior Edmund Tudor and pours her ambition into his posthumous son, Henry. Constantly separated from her beloved child after her second marriage to a pacifist knight, her frustrations are palpably felt; she later brokers her own union with a crafty turncoat who may be the key to her hopes. While England seethes with discord during the turbulent Wars of the Roses, Margaret's transformation from powerless innocent to political mastermind progresses believably as rival heirs to England's throne are killed in battle, executed, or deliberately eliminated. With constant pronouncements about Margaret's God-given destiny, the approach isn't exactly subtle, but Gregory's vivid, confident storytelling makes this devout and ruthlessly determined woman a worthy heroine for her time.

Byatt's overstuffed latest wanders from Victorian 1895 through the end of WWI, alighting on subjects as diverse as puppetry, socialism, women's suffrage and the Boer War, and suffers from an unaccountably large cast. The narrative centers on two deeply troubled families of the British artistic intelligentsia: the Fludds and the Wellwoods. Olive Wellwood, the matriarch, is an author of children's books, and their darkness hints at hidden family miseries. The Fludds' secrets are never completely exposed, but the suicidal fits of the father, a celebrated potter, and the disengaged sadness of the mother and children add up to a chilling family history. Byatt's interest in these artists lies with the pain their work indirectly causes their loved ones and the darkness their creations conceal and reveal. The other strongest thread in the story is sex; though the characters' social consciences tend toward the progressive, each of the characters' liaisons are damaging, turning high-minded talk into sinister predation. The novel's moments of magic and humanity, malignant as they may be, are too often interrupted by information dumps that show off Byatt's extensive research. Buried somewhere in here is a fine novel.

What would you do if you caught your sister in bed with your husband? Chances are at the very least you'd nix your relationship with both of them and run as far away as you could get--especially if the story is going to be plastered all over the tabloids. This is exactly what Hollywood mogul Blythe Stowe does. She heads to England and the Cornish Coast. There she steeps herself in Daphne du Maurier's wonderful novels, finds love with an Englishman, and discovers family secrets that have been long concealed.

When bestselling author Carrie McClelland visits the windswept ruins of Slains Castle, she is enchanted by the stark and beautiful Scottish landscape. The area is strangely familiar to her but she puts aside her faint sense of unease to begin her new novel, using the castle as her setting, and one of her own ancestors, Sophia, as her heroine. Then Carrie realises her writing is taking on a life of its own and the lines between fact and fiction become increasingly blurred. As Sophia's memories draw Carrie more deeply into the intrigue of 1708, she discovers a captivating love story lost in time. After three hundred years, Sophia's Secret must be told.

When art student Claude Monet glimpses a fetching girl at the train station en route to Paris, it is, as they say, love at first sight. When he tracks Camille Doncieux down months later and convinces her to become his model, it is an embarrassment of riches. The two become lovers, but because starving artists have always been deemed poor husband material, Camille’s family mightily objects to the affair, just as Monet’s father vehemently opposes his son’s career. The couple finds solace in the company of Monet’s fellow aspiring painters: Renoir, Pissaro, and Bazille chief among them. While commercial and critical success elude him, Monet’s love for Camille eventually succumbs to the forces of physical and financial ruin. The connection between artist and muse potentially offers a rich trove for authors, and Cowell mines the tempestuous relationship of Monet and his romantic and artistic inspiration with a nimble and discerning command as she indelibly evokes the lush demimonde of nineteenth-century Paris.

One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel. They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others' lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her "Sweet Robin" what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes. His Last Letter tells the story of this great love... and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

The episodic story takes place during a single day each year for two decades in the lives of Dex and Em. Dexter, the louche public school boy, and Emma, the brainy Yorkshire lass, meet the day they graduate from university in 1988 and run circles around one another for the next 20 years. Dex becomes a TV presenter whose life of sex, booze, and drugs spins out of control, while Em dully slogs her way through awful jobs before becoming the author of young adult books. They each take other lovers and spouses, but they cannot really live without each other.

Ancient secrets buried deep in Glastonbury’s past.
And one woman’s quest to finally set them free.
Cambridge present day: Following the death of her mother, Abi Rutherford receives a mysterious bequest – a misshapen sphere of crystal known as the Serpent’s Stone which seems to hold echoes of concealed mysteries, long covered up by the church.
Western England 25AD: A stranger has come to the chilly Somerset wetlands, with a story of hope and reconciliation. But he is being followed by powerful forces, determined that he will not undermine Roman rule in Britain.
What connects these ancient events and Abi’s gift? And why do so many people seem desperate to hide the truth?
A strange shadow has fallen across the centuries, and a woman is in fear of her life. But is it danger that awaits her, or the final truth so long whispered across the echoes of time?

The largely unknown story of female Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532–1625) is beautifully imagined here in YA novelist Cullen's sparkling adult debut. In a page-turning tale that brings to life the undercurrent of political, romantic, and interfamily rivalries in the court of Spanish King Felipe II, the author shines a light on Sofonisba, who is brought under the tutelage of Michelangelo and later appointed as a lady-in-waiting for the king's 14-year-old wife, Elisabeth, to whom she becomes a close confidante. The author offers an intriguing vision of what life was like for women of different economic and political stations at that time, and she also takes care to not short-shrift the specifics of Sofonisba's art and methods. Cullen has found a winning subject in Sofonisba, whose broken heart as a young woman colors her perceptions and judgment about the queen and her imperious husband, as well as the young Elizabeth's attraction to the king's brother, and Elizabeth's odd relationship with the king's son from his first marriage. Ongoing references to the Spanish Inquisition and the life of the controversial Michelangelo add depth to this rich story.

Renaissance Juliet is an 18-year-old Florentine, the educated daughter of Capello Capelletti, a silk trader whose business foibles have led him to promise his daughter to his would-be partner, Jacopo Strozzi. At a party celebrating her best friend Lucrezia's betrothal, Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, who reveals that he snuck in hoping to smooth over an old feud. The two are immediately smitten with one another, and their secret courtship ensures. Shakespeare is a tough act to follow, and Maxwell falters with both her flowery writing style (This woman, this earthly angel—perhaps 'Goddess' suited her more) and her hyperbolic, black-and-white characters. Jacopo, for instance, is not only boring and physically grotesque, he's also the embodiment of evil. In contrast, Romeo is respectful and appreciative of women, great in the sack, and wise beyond his years. The story unfolds as the play does, but Maxwell's tweaks amount to a disappointing attempt to fix what isn't broken.

Thank you for stopping by. Please feel free to leave a comment or a question or just give your opinion on any of my favorite reads. Have you read any of them, enjoyed them or even hated any?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Haven't read the books but like your comments. Happy New Year. Gloria

Kimberly Eve said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Gloria. Happy New Year!!

Blodeuedd said...

Good choices..even if I have only read 2 ;) But I do wanna red some of those

Kimberly Eve said...

Thanks Blodeuedd, I'm already reading some great books. Good way to begin 2011!

Thank you and Farewell

This will be my last and final blog post. Due to my work schedule and private life, I sadly must bring this blog to a close. It is no...