Genre: Social History

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia – Review

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia – ReviewJulian Fellowes's Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Series: Belgravia
Also in this series: The Summer Before the War, Julian Fellowes' Belgravia
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 15 hrs and 48 mins
Genres: Social History
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible
Evelynne's rating: four-stars

Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is a new book/audiobook/app series from the creator of Downton Abbey.  It is set in the Belgravia quarter of London in 1841 with a prequel set in Brussels in 1815.  The lives of two families, the rich, titled Bellasis family and the nouveau riche Trenchards are brought together at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball and the effects are felt down the years.  It is available in ebook format, as an audiobook and as an app.  I believe a hard copy of the entire story will be released on July 5th.  As an aside, isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

What I liked

The serialisation.  Fellowes made the decision to release his story in instalments, with one chapter each week in the style of Charles Dickens or Alexandre Dumas.  Usually the chapters would end on a cliffhanger to encourage you to come back the following week.  I thought it was a really interesting idea, even if I didn’t follow it in practice.  Although one chapter hit my Audible download queue as regularly as clockwork each Thursday, I actually ended up listening to it in a couple of marathon sessions.  As with most Audible pre-orders it hit my queue at 4am – not a time I’m likely to be sitting down to listen or read.  Perhaps if each instalment were released at 8pm on a Sunday evening I’d have been more inclined to set time aside for it.  I can’t comment on when the app downloads were released.  Still it was a good idea, although perhaps not one that fits in well with today’s Netflix binging.

The narration.  Belgravia is narrated by British treasure Juliet Stevenson who does an excellent job.  She provides very appropriate voices for the gentry, the professional classes and the servants.  

The app concept.  I liked the idea of the app which contained both the text and audio formats.  The fact that the app includes background information on the events of the episode in question and should also update the map and family trees as the story progresses is excellent.  However, in practice it was rather a failure from my perspective.  If you purchased the content anywhere other than on the app, you were locked out of the additional content.  I was rather irritated that I paid $1.99 for each Audible audio only episode and each episode on the app costs the same and gives the text, audio and background information.  A Google search indicated there was no way to link the Audible purchases to the app.  I actually ordered the final episode on both Audible and the app to see if that would update the family tree – nope.  I’m not certain if it was a marketing issue or a technical issue, but in any case that was poorly thought out.

The social history. I always loved Downton Abbey, seeing how the upper classes and their servants lived in times gone by and Belgravia is more of the same.  What was new to this was the rise of the merchant/professional classes, seen through the Trenchards and Charles Pope, which wasn’t really a focus of Downton.  Of course, I am no social historian, so I can’t comment on the accuracy, but it was fascinating.

The soapy plotline.  OK, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing.  As I mentioned, each episode generally ended on a revelation or twist and it was awesome.

What I didn’t like

Issues with the app.  See above

Bland characters.  Some, not all, of the characters were so two dimensional as to be uninteresting.  As it happens one of these is the character around whom the whole drama turns.  This character is so good and… nice it’s boring.  The antagonist of the piece is also very much a caricature.  I’m surprised he wasn’t described as twirling his moustaches.  Fortunately there were enough fully developed and interesting characters to mitigate this.

Belgravia is definitely worth checking out.  The first episode is available for free, so you have nothing to lose.  I recommend picking it up directly on the app though, I gave Belgravia four stars out of five.

four-stars

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016

Hello and welcome to another reading roundup.  I’ve clearly been on a bit of a social history kick lately – all of the books I’ve read and/or listened to in the last couple of weeks have had social change as a strong theme.  Let me tell you about them.

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
Also in this series: Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Length: 15 hrs and 47 mins
Genres: Social History
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson is a slice-of-life look at an English town in the summer of 1914, just before the First World War.  This conflict had a profound impact on British life, especially in terms of the class system and women’s role in society and so this particular period of time about which Simonson writes is a real turning point.  The author clearly has a strong knowledge of and interest in social history and it comes across very well in the book.

Add to this wonderful, engaging characters (I’m heavily invested in our protagonist Beatrice Nash and young Snout) and this is a great read.  I’m about two thirds of the way through the audiobook and enjoying it very much.  Fiona Hardingham is undertaking narration duties and does an excellent job of distinguishing all the characters.

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016Julian Fellowes' Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Series: Belgravia
Also in this series: Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Juliet Stevenson
Length: Approx 11 hours
Genres: Social History
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible

The second social historical audiobook I’m enjoying is Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia.  Fellowes is, of course, known for the wonderful Downton Abbey television series, which follows the Crawley family through a period of history that saw major social change in the UK.  How accurate it was is a different discussion.  Belgravia is set a few years earlier, on the eve of Waterloo, but again it follows a family through a period of social change.

The interesting thing about Belgravia is that is being published in a serial format.  There are eleven episodes, each one around one hour long, narrated by Juliet Stevenson.  The first four episodes have been published – of which I have listened to one – and the others are following weekly.  Each episode costs around $2.50 with a complete book to be published when the series is complete.  I enjoyed the first episode and intend to keep following it.

Reading roundup – April 29th 2016The Translation of Love by Lynne Katsukake
Format: eBook
Pages: 336 pages
Genres: Social History
Buy from AmazonKoboiTunesAudible

The final book I’d like to talk about is The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake.  This is a non-typical choice for me.  It tells the story of Aya, a young second generation Japanese Canadian who along with her father at the end of the Second World War after life in an interment camp is forced to choose between moving east of the Rockies or repatriation to Japan.  (Not a great period in Canada’s history).  She moves to Japan where her path intersects with that of Fumi, a young Japanese girl trying to find her sister and that of Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese American who serves in the office of General MacArthur translating the thousands of letters received by the General from Japanese citizens requesting his aid.

I’m about a third of the way through this and am enjoying it very much.  I am unfamiliar with much of Japanese culture, but Kutsukake is doing an excellent job of describing it through the eyes of Canadian born Aya who, raised in Vancouver, is more Canadian than Japanese in outlook.  I am also very much appreciating the characters and following their story.

Upcoming books in May

There are three books coming out in May about which I am very excited. 

First, we have The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan.  This is a new series set in his Percy Jackson Greek/Roman world, but this time there is a twist.  His protagonist is the god Apollo himself, who, stripped of his powers by Zeus, must live as a mortal – with Percy and friends’ help of course!  I love Rick Riordan’s writing style, humour and world building so this is a no brainer for me.  I have pre-ordered it in both Kindle and Audible formats.

The Hidden Oracle is released on May 3rd.  

Also on May 3rd we have the release of The Crown, the fifth and final book in Keira Cass’s Selection series.  The Selection has always been my guilty pleasure with its soapy mix of The Bachelor(ette) meets Cinderella meets dystopian YA fiction and again this was another no brainer, especially as the previous book left a real cliffhanger ending.  I pre-ordered The Crown in Kindle format.

The final book about which I am excited, also being released on May 3rd is A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas.  This is the second in the Court of Thorns and Roses series.  Although I prefer Maas’ Throne of Glass series, I did enjoy a Court of Thorns and Roses and expect to enjoy the sequel.  I have pre-ordered A Court of Mist and Fury in Kindle format.

That’s all I have today.  Enjoy your reading and perhaps I’ll meet some of you next month at the Book Expo of America!

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