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Ken
Compulsive Reader
Location: Truro, Cornwall, UK

Help!

Postby Ken » Mon August 9th, 2010, 6:24 pm

I have never written a review and so I need some help from you experienced book reviewers, particularly Misfit who wants me to be your guinea pig for the Katherine Ashe books on Montfort!

I have read Book 1 'The Early Years,' 1229 to 1243 and have started Book 2, 'The Viceroy,' which takes the reader up to 1253. The author is obviously a very, very, experienced student of the Montfort history (30 odd years or so!) and I hesitate to review her books with only a peripheral knowledge of Simon de Montfort from my own research of the events of the courts of Henry 111 and Edward 1.

My problem is that the books provide so much for me to comment on and /or contradict that I'm not quite sure where to start. I don't know the author, but from her website, she comes across as a genuine would-be biographer (and nice lady!), who has decided at some point to turn a potential biography into a fictional treatise, perhaps because she could not find all the answers she needed to retell Simon's story biographically and in a different manner to those of Bemont, Maddicott, etc. In her own words, "Montfort is offered under the aegis of fiction."

So, in comes a whollly different Simon to the man we know from other stories! Near-sighted, weak, insecure (at least for these two books), emotional (I think that there are already 5 scenes where he is found to be weeping), adulterer, (with Queen Eleanor of Provence with whom he supposedly fathers Edward 1 (her confession to Edmund Rich, the archbishop of Canterbury, subsequently related by the archbishop to Henry) becoming the reason he is banished from the 'churching' of the queen after the birth of Edward.

From my own (relatively brief) research, I can contest most of her statements. In particular the chronological events that show that when Queen Eleanor conceived of Edward, Simon was still in Italy and at the siege of Brescia. OK! the books are now offered as 'fiction', but the principal scenes now involve more and more about Simon and Queen Eleanor's liaisons than the momentous events overtaking Henry's rule.

The problem for me is, how does one 'review' such a book without denigrating, in any way the author? At what point did she decide to relate history in a different way to the accepted record? Do you accept it for a 'fictionalised' account of the life of one of England's most important figures, or do you criticise the whole precept? I have in mind SKP's view of Simon which was offered from the start as being part of an altogether greater story of England and Wales in the Thirteenth century and accepted by her readers as such. Everyone knows that her Simon was absolutely based on historical records, but his story (and his personality) was woven into the overall story of the struggle for supremacy in 13c England.

Her actual writing is uninspired and formulaic! There are passages which read quite well and then there are others which really are quite poor, almost like there are two authors writing at the same time! So! How to provide an unbiased review? How do you all do it?

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Mon August 9th, 2010, 6:36 pm

I would just start with a draft and put into it everything you're thinking and feeling. Then pare it back from there. Point out your reasons for not agreeing with the author's theories.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favorite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Postby Margaret » Mon August 9th, 2010, 11:25 pm

Don't be shy about criticizing a novel for its flaws. Realize that a very experienced reader may be more sensitive to flaws than a more casual reader, but you don't need to back off of your criticism just because you realize that some readers may think this book is just their cup of tea. One of the functions of reviewers is to persuade readers to look for quality in their reading material and to become more critical in their reading. Not all reviews take this approach, but many do, and it's a valid approach.

Especially with a novel that strikes you as badly flawed, you may want to make a special point of considering what does work well for you, and mention that in the review. There's always something, no matter how imperfect a novel may be.

You can say more in a longer review than a short one. My reviews at HistoricalNovels.info are extremely short, so I try to focus on the one or two most serious flaws in a novel along with its one or two most praiseworthy qualities. I try to illustrate both, if possible, with a quote from the novel. With a longer review, I might keep it to the three most serious flaws and/or the three most praiseworthy qualities.

It's also worthwhile, I think, to offer a relatively neutral assessment of the style and content of the novel. I'm often surprised to find that a novel I've reviewed critically attracts people who order copies from Amazon or Powell's via the website. This must be because readers can tell from my review that the content interests them and they are not as bothered by some qualities that seem like major flaws to me. For example, some readers might be intrigued by a Simon who breaks down in tears, and your review might make them want to read the novel!

If the author is as sincere in her goals and as nice as you say she seems, she may well appreciate an honest assessment of her novel (perhaps after drying her own tears). Authors who are destined to succeed do not get mad at reviewers who offer criticism, nor do they crumble and decide never to write again. They use the criticism to help them become better writers.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

User avatar
Ken
Compulsive Reader
Location: Truro, Cornwall, UK

Postby Ken » Tue August 10th, 2010, 10:22 am

"Margaret" wrote:Don't be shy about criticizing a novel for its flaws. Realize that a very experienced reader may be more sensitive to flaws than a more casual reader, but you don't need to back off of your criticism just because you realize that some readers may think this book is just their cup of tea. One of the functions of reviewers is to persuade readers to look for quality in their reading material and to become more critical in their reading. Not all reviews take this approach, but many do, and it's a valid approach.

Especially with a novel that strikes you as badly flawed, you may want to make a special point of considering what does work well for you, and mention that in the review. There's always something, no matter how imperfect a novel may be.

You can say more in a longer review than a short one. My reviews at HistoricalNovels.info are extremely short, so I try to focus on the one or two most serious flaws in a novel along with its one or two most praiseworthy qualities. I try to illustrate both, if possible, with a quote from the novel. With a longer review, I might keep it to the three most serious flaws and/or the three most praiseworthy qualities.

It's also worthwhile, I think, to offer a relatively neutral assessment of the style and content of the novel. I'm often surprised to find that a novel I've reviewed critically attracts people who order copies from Amazon or Powell's via the website. This must be because readers can tell from my review that the content interests them and they are not as bothered by some qualities that seem like major flaws to me. For example, some readers might be intrigued by a Simon who breaks down in tears, and your review might make them want to read the novel!

If the author is as sincere in her goals and as nice as you say she seems, she may well appreciate an honest assessment of her novel (perhaps after drying her own tears). Authors who are destined to succeed do not get mad at reviewers who offer criticism, nor do they crumble and decide never to write again. They use the criticism to help them become better writers.


Thanks Margaret (and Misfit). I have started a draft, but will only complete it when I've finished book 2. To review her work even at that point may be a little unfair because these are only two of the five volumes she plans to produce!

I may also contact her through her web page to pose a few questions on some of her more obvious deviations from the accepted history. Perhaps she can convince me!

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boswellbaxter
Bibliomaniac
Location: North Carolina
Contact:

Postby boswellbaxter » Tue August 10th, 2010, 12:17 pm

The author doesn't seem to be unduly troubled by modesty. (She's posting on the third person on this thread on Amazon, but in an earlier post under the same name, she identifies herself as the author.)

If you like Zoe Oldenbourg's books on the 12th and 13th centuries then you'll love the new Montfort HF series by Katherine Ashe. The first two volumes are just out. Ashe stays close to history and brings to life the world of King Henry III, Saint Louis and Simon de Montfort in a story that is basically true and makes most fictions pale by comparison.
Susan Higginbotham
Coming in October: The Woodvilles


http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/
http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Tue August 10th, 2010, 12:46 pm

"boswellbaxter" wrote:The author doesn't seem to be unduly troubled by modesty. (She's posting on the third person on this thread on Amazon, but in an earlier post under the same name, she identifies herself as the author.)


I never go to those boards anymore. It seems to be nothing but authors pumping their books or it goes terribly OT.

Margaret, excellent advice.
At home with a good book and the cat...

...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Ken
Compulsive Reader
Location: Truro, Cornwall, UK

Postby Ken » Tue August 10th, 2010, 2:38 pm

"boswellbaxter" wrote:The author doesn't seem to be unduly troubled by modesty. (She's posting on the third person on this thread on Amazon, but in an earlier post under the same name, she identifies herself as the author.)


Sorry Boswellbaxter, but how do I find that thread on amazon? I only get the usual 'reviews' including a rather nasty one by 'HistoryFreak'!!

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Location: California

Postby Michy » Tue August 10th, 2010, 2:44 pm

Ken -- I would just write an honest, well-expressed review of the book and try not to worry too much about offending the "nice" author. Given her lack of modesty, as pointed out by BB, she's probably not going to like anything below 4 stars, anyway, and may even "talk back" to you for any criticisms you pose of her work. Hopefully I'm wrong there and she won't, but just brace yourself. :o

Also, don't be afraid to point out shortcomings in the book just because the author is an expert in this period and you're not. You're responding as a reader, and chances are you know just as much (or more) about this time period than most of the other readers. If the author failed to make her narrative convincing and real for you, then you're probably not the only one who felt that way. That is a valid criticism, and you would be doing a favor to other potential readers of her work to point that out in your review.

I have a book by Georgette Heyer on my TBR that I believe is about this same Simon de Montfort, so I'll be looking forward to reading your review!
Last edited by Michy on Tue August 10th, 2010, 2:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
boswellbaxter
Bibliomaniac
Location: North Carolina
Contact:

Postby boswellbaxter » Tue August 10th, 2010, 2:48 pm

It's here (be sure to start with "Newest First" or you'll be there forever). Look for the posts by "Chretien" on 8/9 and 8/4 (one in the third person and one in the first person where the poster identifies herself as Ashe).

http://www.amazon.com/tag/historical%20fiction/forum/ref=cm_cd_pg_oldest?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx1GAYRAS8PX4CC&cdPage=1&cdSort=newest&cdThread=Tx2VGUFFC18TX3V&displayType=tagsDetail
Susan Higginbotham

Coming in October: The Woodvilles





http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/

http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/blog/

User avatar
Ken
Compulsive Reader
Location: Truro, Cornwall, UK

Simon de Montfort and his son

Postby Ken » Tue August 10th, 2010, 5:44 pm

If there are any experts in rights of royal inheritence out there, I wonder if you can help me.

Matthew Paris wrote the following in his chronicle for the year 1238: "....The eldest son of Simon de Montfort, by Eleanor his wife (sister to King Henry 111), was born at Kenilworth, to add to the strength and comfort of the kingdom; for it was feared that the queen might be barren ....."

Henry had been married for almost 3 years and there was no sign of a child, giving rise to fears that there would be no heir to the throne should that situation continue. Now Henry's brother Richard of Cornwall had a son, Henry of Almain, so why would a child of his sister Eleanor "give comfort to the kingdom", when a potential heir to the throne was already alive. Surely the son of the king's brother had precedence?

Can anyone help? :confused:


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