1. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (Now a Major Motion Picture!)
I haven't seen the movie, but like most people, I heard of it when Kate Winslet began winning awards for it. It looked fairly short, so I decided to give it a try. The plot is basically this: a teenaged boy has an affair with an older woman. When he gets older, after it has ended, he sees her on trial for her role as a concentration camp guard.
This isn't what I would call an "uplifting" book. The narrator, the teenaged boy, is a sort of wishy-washy, I-want-what-I-can't-have-but-now-that-I-can-have-it-I-don't-want-it kind of guy that bothered me. I like strong characters, not in the sense that they are strong people, but in the sense that they are strongly written enough to get a sense of them as people, and these characters weren't "strong" in that way. For me, this book read like a "message" book, but I wasn't ever sure what the message was, and the story wasn't strong enough to really impress me.
Maybe I'll like the movie, I don't know. My rating: three stars (out of seven)
2. The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir (would make a great movie)
I'm a fan of Alison Weir; she has written non-fiction history for years, and her works always manage to be engaging and lively instead of dry and dusty. A few years ago she wrote Innocent Traitor, a fictionalized biography of Lady Jane Grey, which was amazing. Now, she has attempted what I firmly believe no historical fiction writer should: the life of Queen Elizabeth I.
Weir is no fool; she sticks to the early years. The book opens with Anne Boleyn's execution and Elizabeth's documented response to her change in title, and goes from there. Weir makes some assumptions about Elizabeth's personality and early life, but they are well-founded assumptions and, for me, they rang true. Weir deviates from her own historical assertions at one crucial point, and it was at that point that the book rang false to me, but it recovered afterwards.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, or a Tudor buff, give this one a try. I give it 18 stars out of 19.