Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Queen By Right

Anne Easter Smith has written three other novels that I think I have already blogged about.  Queen By Right was published this year and I only knew it was out because I saw it at Barnes & Noble.  This book was about Cecily Neville, who I was interested to read about as she appeared a little bit in previous books about Jacquetta, King Henry and Margaret of Anjou.  Cecily became betrothed at age 8 to Richard, the son of Richard, Earl of Cambridge.  His father could claim the throne from both sides of his family line- it gets a little messy and confusing so I won't go into too many details.  But should King Henry VI die, Richard was next in line for the succession. (his mother had a claim from Edward III's 2nd surviving son).  His father was killed for treason in a plot to put his wife's brother on the throne.  All throughout Richard's life, he would have to deal with the fact he was the son of a traitor.  People constantly checked to make sure that he knew his place, and was loyal to the king.

The king was young when his father and grandfather died, leaving his mother Catherine of Valois, to watch over him and his councillors.  He grew up to marry Margaret of Anjou, and became unfit to rule later in life.  His wife, the queen, became powerful and tried to take control for their son instead of finding peace.  The main characters, Cecily and Richard, were raised together in the same household, as Richard was a ward of her parents.  Through the years of childhood they became friends before marriage.  Their marriage was said to be a love match, and they had 13 children together.  Cecily became a duchess when she married Richard, and as such her position demanded much from her.  As a little girl she was often out riding and hunting with the other men, wearing breeches like a boy, and always spoke her mind.  Time tempered her tongue and she became known as Proud Cis.  Together in their marriage, they faced personal tragedies as a few of their children die at young ages; they were a part of huge events in history, and soon political intrigue.  Cecily was always aware her husband had a better claim to the throne than the current king through his mother, as the 2nd surviving son; whereas the king's claim was through the 3rd surviving son of Edward III.  Despite that, they were always loyal and served him well.  Through Richard's various positions he grew in power:  constable of England, Guardian of the Coast of Normandy, and then Regent of France. 

In these positions he was required to pay and host a great army and many employees- the King did not often pay him enough or pay back his debts.  The King and his wife seemed to only favor those closest to them, and Richard became angry at the treatment.  Before the King and queen produced an heir, which took many years, Richard tried time and time again to be named heir.  The royal couple favored Somerset, an odious man who take advantage and who many hated.  There was kind of a tug of war between Somerset and York- when the King was around Somerset was in favor and York was not, but when the King went into some kind of stupor, York was again in favor while Somerset was imprisoned.  Once the King and queen produced an heir, a boy, York desired to be named his Protector while the king was unwell.  The Queen demanded she be named regent until her husband was well again, and she constantly opposed York in all ways.  Cecily was there to support her husband, while trying to also be loyal to the king.  When it became more and more obvious the king was unfit and his wife not fit to rule, York again had support to march forward.  York was able to make a treaty with the King that during his lifetime he or his sons would not be molested, and upon the king's death, York and his sons would be next in line for the throne.  The King had put aside his own son in favor for York.

Queen Margaret was busy putting an army together, as she did not agree with this arrangement.  I have written about her in a previous post; she became known as the she-wolf.  Many even said her son was not the King's, but Somerset's.  In the Battle of Towton, Richard and one of his sons was killed.  The people had gone against the treaty the King and York had made, that it was treason to harm York or any of his sons, and so, when Margaret tried to re-enter England, the way was barred to her and her son.  The people turned their backs on her, and York's son Edward was crowned King.  Cecily became mother to the King of England, a widow, and was the monarch and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day.  I liked reading about her, another powerful woman in history.  It was said she was enemies with Jacquetta of Bedford, so it's interesting that later they were in laws when Cecily's son Edward marries her daughter Elizabeth Woodville.  If you find any of this confusing, it is always easier to somehow tie events and people together.  I have written other posts about King Edward, and then his brother Richard III who was said to have killed and imprisoned his own two nephews, and then the Tudor line begins with King Henry VII.  Many powerful women were intertwined in these stories during this time:  Jacquetta of Bedford (mother of Elizabeth Woodville who becomes Queen), Cecily Neville (mother of King Edward), and Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry Tudor).  As I try to tie in all the pieces it does flow more smoothly.  Anne Easter Smith's other books would be good to read in order following this one.

Cecily of York lived to be past 80, long enough to see her granddaughter, Edward's eldest child Elizabeth of York, marry Henry VII, the first Tudor king.  Then they had Henry VIII, and his daughter was Queen Elizabeth, and so on down to our own Queen Elizabeth today.  Cecily is the ancestor of them all.  Not many question that Cecily and Richard did in fact have a love match and were happy, which was a rare thing back then.  I recommend this book as a starting point if you want to learn about the Hundred Years War, the Wars of the Roses.  Then continue from there to read the rest of Anne Easter Smith's books.  I hope I helped clarify a little bit more who was who.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Queen's Soprano

I came across this book by happenstance when searching period books on the library website. Since it had Queen in the title, I figured why not try it out. Overall, I am not sure if I would recommend it but it was an interesting read. It follows Angelica Voglia (true story) and her family in the 1600's in Rome. During this time, the pope had forbidden that women could sing in public. If they wanted to, they had to enter a convent. He thought it was not proper as it stirred men to odd behaviors, or to do things they could not control. He blamed the woman, obviously (smirk). In parts of Rome there was one who defied the pope, Queen Christina. She ruled over parts of Rome, and openly encouraged women to enter her court and sing. Angelica often thought longingly of going to court to sing, because she was reduced to singing at home behind closed shutters.

Her mother was very ambitious for her, and worked tirelessly to marry her off to a wealthy nobleman. Soon her singing spreads through the city and many praise her talents, while others including the pope call her voice the devil's breath. She is invited to sing at Queen Christina's court, and is there praised even more. Soon many suitors line their door to court her, and her mother is beside herself with joy. Angelica has glimpsed a Frenchman out her window who works nearby, and has fallen in love with him by face. A maid that works for the family, Bianca, agrees to deliver notes to him. They begin a correspondence, and he often sits under her window to listen to her sing. Soon she can think of no one else but him, Theodon. Bianca brings her drawings and notes from him and she pines after him while being forced to entertain different suitors. Most are old, overweight and unsavory in different ways. Her mother only sees the dollar signs. While her mother is busy arranging her marriage to the Duke of Mantua, Angelica seeks to find a way out of her predicament.

Soon rumors spread that she is in love with a Frenchman, a poor artist, and her mother is very upset at her. Soon the whole town is discussing her and this Frenchman and her reputation seems to be ruined. Her mother, along with Father Zachary; a family friend, decide to send her to a convent for awhile until things settled down. While there she learned that Theodon had left, and she worried for him. She also discovered that Father Zachary was her real father; when her mother was in a convent they had had her, and then her mother met her father. Angelica now knew why Father Zachary always seemed so anxious to help promote her voice, and seemed to pay for everything as well. Now it all made sense. Her mother came to retrieve her and her sister from the convent, telling them he had passed away. Angelica quietly mourned him, because her other siblings did not seem to know.

As preparations continued for her wedding, she decided that in order to have a chance with Theodon she must find a way out. She decides to enter Queen Christina's court as a singer, and leaves her family behind. The Count takes his anger out on her family and cuts off her brother's ear and takes her dowry money. Her mother is furious and won't speak to her. While she lives at court and tries to get used to her new life, she often sends her family letters hoping they will visit her. As time passes at court, she becomes the queen's main soprano and confidante. The pope works tirelessly to change the Queen's ways, and reprimands her for her ways. Theodon returns from the battle in the French quarter, and comes to court her. He is much changed from months of illness and fatigue. She finds herself not as happy with him as she had hoped. Soon the pope's army is ready to attack the queen's, and many of her court flee to save themselves. While things come to a head, several events happen all in a short space of time.

Angelica's mother finally comes to visit her, but only to bring a cardinal there to seduce her and ruin her reputation. While recovering from the abuse, which she had been saved at the last moment, the Queen is also dying as the pope's army lies in wait. Theodon decides to marry someone else, impatient to keep waiting for Angelica. As her life seems to tear apart, she tries to decide what to do once again. A mother who had betrayed her, jealous of her life at court, and angry at her decisions. She can't talk to her family, Theodon has left her, and soon the Queen will be gone leaving the Queen's singers open for attack by the pope. Once again, she finds a way to escape at the last moment. Upon the Queen's death bed, she seems to make amends with the pope as he gives her last rites. She decides to send Angelica to a convent, deeming it best to keep her safe that way. The pope was convinced the attack on her was because her voice had driven men mad. Crazy.

Through friends at court, Angelica travels heavily veiled to Madrid. To escape the pope and his convent, she was no longer safe in Rome. Too many people knew of her disgrace, and her voice. She had to leave. Angelica served the duchess and her children at the Spanish ambassador's palace, and before leaving she tried to see her family one last time. Her mother recognized her but would not see her or apologize. Many said she had gone mad. The story ends there, and I was a little at a loss to find a happy ending to the story. Her life seemed so full of promise, to be taken advantage of by her own mother, and then having to flee the pope on the death of a true friend, the Queen. It is amazing to me how ignorant the pope was and how everything was blamed on women. I don't know how her story ends, of if it is happy. The author might have put an epilogue in there to make me feel better. Most of the story is true according to the author. I don't recommend just because it seemed to end abruptly for me. Maybe there will be another book to follow it. Overall, interesting read, but not quite provoking enough for me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Queen's Handmaiden

The Queen's Handmaiden by Jennifer Ashley was good, a story mostly familiar already to me. It is about Elizabeth and her governess Kat Ashley in the early years of Elizabeth's life when she was without a mother and had been declared a bastard. Kat basically raised her from a young age, through the years of being a ward of the queen Katherine Parr (Henry VIII's last wife) and her husband Thomas Seymour. She was with her through the scandal while Thomas Seymour tried to court her under his own wife's nose and Kat's, and was then sent elsewhere to live. She raised her through her brother Edward's short reign, and then her sister Mary's rise to the throne after a tumultuous and short reign by their cousin Jane Grey. Kat was there for her through everything, basically her mother.

Kat Ashley is a person I've read about, but this book introduces a niece of hers named Eloise Roussell. She was to live with Kat because her mother's new husband did not want children around. Kat raised both girls and taught Eloise how to be useful and sew. She was soon a very talented seamstress and made most of Elizabeth's clothes. Kat and Eloise were with her through her many tempers, moods, and the tumultuous years of Mary's reign. Kat was sent to the Tower for a time to be questioned for Elizabeth's behavior- Queen Mary believed her half sister Elizabeth to have been part of a plot of Wyatt to overthrow Mary from the throne. Many in England were not happy when Mary took the throne and turned things back to Catholicism and the pope. She was soon burning many people for heresy and for not attending Mass or saying the proper things. She constantly pestered Elizabeth to follow her faith, and when she did not, she sent her away or to the Tower.

Finally, after many years of being a bastard, or being suspected, Elizabeth is made Queen at last. Her half sister Mary passed away, leaving her the throne. Kat was there for it all, and Eloise too. Eloise during this time becomes her main seamstress and becomes successful and designs all her gowns. She marries a man also trusted by Elizabeth and they have children together. England is relieved at being Protestant again, and having a young and beautiful queen on the throne. Kat Ashley passes away, and many say Elizabeth took care of her with her own hands and shed many tears over her. She was the only mother she had ever known, and had always been there for her. I liked the book because it shows the many facets of Elizabeth, while showing the depth of love and devotion her governess Kat had towards her. I don't believe Eloise was a real historical character, but it was nice to tie her into the story as well to see every one's points of view. If you are interested in the Queen Elizabeth, two of the main people in her life were Kat Ashley and Robert Dudley. This book is a good read to learn more about both.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Lady of The Rivers

I have blogged before about Phillipa Gregory's books, she has written many excellent historical novels. The Other Boleyn Girl, The White Queen and The Red Queen. The last two books listed are tied into this book about Jacquetta. Somehow she is present among many major events in history, but not much else if any is recorded about her. Letters, journals, anything is really not to be found on her life. This goes to show that women were really not considered important politically at this time, and so no records were kept. Phillipa Gregory decided to write about her after writing about Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV; and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII.

I had to wait for this book on hold for some time at the library and was excited when it became available. I am as always intrigued by historical women, powerful and even forgotten. Jacquetta is supposed to be descended from Melusina, the river goddess, and is believed to have the second sight. Some women in her family, including her aunt, claim to have this gift. Her aunt passes along some of her wisdom and trinkets before passing away herself. Jacquetta can hear music playing, only to her ears, when someone in her family is about to pass away. She hears it before her aunt is reported to have passed away, and again later when a son of hers dies. She comes into contact with the great Joan of Arc, and believes her to also have the gift. They use tarot cards to often tell each other's fortunes or future, but soon the girl Joan is taken and burned. Jacquetta realizes just how powerful and dangerous the arts can be, and how men greatly fear the women that seem to possess them.

Jacquetta is married to the Duke of Bedford, but soon realizes he only wants her to help him with her art and wishes to use her with his alchemy. He greatly desires to know his future, as he is a protector of the child king Henry VI. Should the boy die, the Duke would be next in line. Instead of being a true marriage, Jacquetta remains a virgin and is used to see if she can divine the future or to figure out how to make gold. While married, she befriends Richard Woodville, the duke's squire. He is often at her side and helps teach her to ride a horse. When her husband passes away, Jacquetta is worried she will be married off to someone quickly. Over the next year, she becomes close to Richard and they marry in secret. Soon she is pregnant and they take their chances and tell the King. He demands a heavy fine from them for marrying without royal consent, and they live in the country for some time to pay the fine back.

Two children later, and they are sent back to court to serve, in favor again. Upon the passing of the Duke, his brother Richard of York and his wife are now next in line and haughty as ever. Soon the young king marries Margaret from Anjou and Jacquetta is a lady in waiting to her. Her primary job is to serve her, while her husband Richard serves the young King in various positions and campaigns. At the Lancaster court, they soon gain great favor and wealth and titles. Jacquetta continues to have a child almost every year, where they grow up in the country with their nurses and teachers. Jacquetta keeps her gift a secret, as she sees some close to her accused of witchcraft and either killed or imprisoned. She only makes or uses the herbs that are known to everyone.

After many years, the King slides into a mysterious sleep (probably known as a coma today) and does not awaken for 18 months. The Queen during this time gave birth to a son and was basically imprisoned with the sleeping King until he awoken. Over time, the King never comes back to himself and seems a child. The Queen Margaret soon takes power for herself and is the force behind the throne and King. Rumors are reported that the boy is not the King's son but from a lover of the Queen's. Many begin to mock the sleeping king as they call him, for he seems weak and not able to make decisions well. He often gives out pardons and is lenient when the Queen would rather be harsh. Soon Richard, the Duke of York, threatens to overturn the whole kingdom for his own. Enduring years of uprisings, malcontent and turmoil, Jacquetta stays by the Queen's side to serve her and only leaves to visit her children or to have another baby. Richard is often gone in Calais helping the King with their defenses there.

The story becomes quite exciting as cousin is fighting cousin and becomes known as the Wars of the Roses. Richard, Duke of York, is killed during the wars. Warwick soon supports Edward for the York side, and he is put on the throne in place of his father who was murdered. In the twist of fate, Jacquetta and her family turns their coats and support the new King and his protector Warwick. Queen Margaret had to flee with her son because the city was barred to them and would not allow them back in. Through her intriguing with Jasper Tudor and others, with an unruly army, she became feared and known as the she-wolf of Anjou. So the people were happy to put Edward on the throne. Jacquetta also realizes for the safety of her family, she can no longer support the Queen she had for so long.

Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, a widow from the wars with two young boys, soon catches the eye of the new King Edward and he makes her his wife. Many say the mother Jacquetta used her witchcraft to bring about this marriage. This is where the book ends, and you can read all about Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen, and then The Red Queen if you want to follow events in order. I liked reading about Jacquetta because it brings another piece into the puzzle for me. I like to tie events together and the women too. It is interesting to read her story, although based on events and imagined from there. She was a powerful woman from her time, a duchess, who married secretly for love and had many, many children. She always knew her eldest daughter would have a marvelous future, she just didn't know exactly how. I think Phillipa Gregory did an excellent job considering how little she had to go by, other than the fact that Jacquetta was listed on the records for being at certain places and events. She had to fill in the gaps from there; that is what I love about historical fiction. Highly recommend.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Becoming Marie Antoinette

I've already read a few books on Marie Antoinette, so I was hesitant about reading another. Juliet Grey did a great job of covering the first years of her life in Austria and then to France to marry the dauphin Louis. The author chose to focus on the shorter period of time, and I really liked it because it wasn't rushed. It allowed you to get to know Antoinette as she grew up in Vienna with all her siblings, followed her education, and then the long betrothal to the dauphin of France. Before she was deemed worthy to travel to France, several things had to be done quickly to make her ready. She had braces for a few months to straighten her teeth, a dance master to teach her to walk in the big clothes of France as well as to dance, and several tutors to teach her fluent French as well as about diplomacy and politics. Her education was quite lacking when compared to most nobility. The preparations were finally made, and after many years of waiting, she was finally sent to France.

Maria Antonia had to quickly learn at the court of Versailles how to handle herself. She was introduced to the teenage boy who was now her husband, and quickly realized he did not speak much unless it was something he was interested in. As she struggles to find herself in this new life, surrounded by attendants and maids all day long, she is not able to make everyone love her as her mother had charged her to do. The King Papa Roi as she called him, was enraptured with her and that served her well. While trying to follow the advice of her mother's letters to her, as well as her matron lady in waiting Noailles, and also the dauphin's three aunts- she finds herself constantly making faux pas and mistakes. This is a court of gossipers and already people seem displeased with her. To please her new husband, who doesn't like fripperies, she does not wear corsets and keeps her hair simple and unadorned as possible.

The book leads up to the death of the King, the dauphin's grandfather, and their quick ascension to becoming the King and Queen of France. I like that the book was condensed more, so we can see as Antoinette grows up and becomes herself. We can also see her relationship with the dauphin slowly progress to a deep friendship and respect. One of the things I found very interesting is that Marie Antoinette was strawberry blond and not blond as they have called her. She was very patient with the dauphin her husband, where many times I would have yelled at him if it were me. She was also very kind and generous in giving to the poor. She was not particularly studious or politically savvy, but we have to bear in mind her young age and how much was expected of a girl of just 14. I look forward to the next book as it follows the new King and Queen of France.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

To Die For

Sandra Byrd did an excellent job in writing to Die For. This book follows Anne Boleyn and her childhood friend Meg Wyatt in Hever. They are good friends and Meg's brother Thomas has a crush on Anne and writes poems for her. Anne is sent to the French court to serve Queen Claude with her sister Mary and she is gone many years. Meg is often at her home with her two brothers, abusive father and very sick mother. Whenever there is a courtly gathering Anne is sent home and Meg is excited to see her and catch up. Anne has become even more lovely and poised, sophisticated. Meg notices how men just watch her. Her sister Mary is to marry Will Carey; the King of England attends and Meg notices he dances often with the new bride. She wonders how long it will be before he makes her his mistress. As Meg and Anne visit, she discovers that Anne has been reading scriptures and seems to be interpreting them for herself. Meg herself isn't very religious and finds it kind of strange coming from her childhood friend.

Meg has a crush on Will Ogilvy, a nearby neighbor, but he tells her since he is the second son that he will be entering the priesthood. Meg is very disappointed as she had hoped they would marry one day. Anne is soon sent to serve in the English court as her sister Mary is the King's mistress and has had a child by him. Meg begs to go with and Anne's father writes a letter to hers and he allows her to go. Her marriage is being arranged to a Lord Blackston, an elderly rich childless man, but betrothals could take much time to come to pass. Anne's own betrothal had been years in the making and nothing had occured. Meg thought it was because the family was so busy at court and tied up in Mary's affair with the King. While at Court, Meg came to learn that Queen Katherine and King Henry were not on good terms and had not been for some time. The King was often flirting with this woman or that, and seemed larger than life. Soon the sweat breaks out and they disperse to various places to avoid it. Anne catches it and Meg helps nurse her. Mary's husband Will Carey died of it, and alone with her two children by the King but not acknowledged, she is no longer in favor. Anne doesn't seem to care as they don't seem very close.

Soon they return to Court, after Meg has been formally betrothed to Lord Blackston. His heir Simon attends the ceremony on his behalf as he is quite ill. He said she would be sent for when he was better. A married woman, but not really, Meg returns to court. She notices that the King is paying Anne attention and singling her out. Soon it becomes a full out courting that is obvious to all at court. Anne tells Meg that the King believes his marriage to be null and void in the eyes of God, because he had married his brother's widow. He quotes scriptures for her telling her that it is a sin and why they have had no male issue. The King seems to have found a match in Anne, and her wit matches his in Gospel discussions. Anne is for the reform and soon is lending her books to the King to read. Meg stands by Anne through the many years as the King courts her, never beds her, as he seeks to find a way to wed her. Meg is there when finally, after several years, they are able to marry. When the King finds that Anne is pregnant, they marry again more publicly so if the child is a boy his legitimacy would not be questioned.

Meg often attends the private and secret Lutheran meetings at court to spy for Anne. She meets up again with Will her childhood crush, and he is indeed a priest now. He gives her his banned English Tyndale bible, and Meg finds herself becoming immersed in them. Soon the long awaited for babe is arrived, but it is a girl. The King is quite beside himself, after all the work he did and turned over the country's religion to put aside his former wife. Anne tries to become well again and quickly, so they can soon have another child, a boy. Meg is sent for by her husband, only for him to tell her he is dying and will leave her a proper income. Even though they had never consummated the marriage he said he would provide for her. Meg returns to court as a dowager baroness, content that she is free while being able to provide for herself. As the years pass, Meg continues to serve Anne faithfully even during her two miscarriages. Both babies were boys.

Will comes to Court to warn Meg that he has heard that Thomas Cromwell along with others is working to find a way for the King to free himself from Anne. He warns her to watch the Queen and keep her safe. Anne is beside herself and still not fully recovered from her last miscarriage. During this time Queen Katherine had passed away, leaving her daughter Mary alone and forgotten in the household of the Princess Elizabeth, her half sister. Meg had noticed that Anne had changed with the years of being married to the King; she often railed at him when she should have just kept quiet, and had become more haughty with those serving her. Soon word spread that Anne was to be taken to the Tower because of witchcraft. Meg was not able to go with her, but soon more charges followed. She was accused of incest with her brother George and affairs with other men. Meg did all she could to help Anne, and eventually was able to be with her in the Tower. She had saved and put aside some of her prised treasures to one day give to her daughter Elizabeth. The King had annulled their marriage, making Elizabeth a bastard.

It seemed he was again on the prowl for a fertile wife. Meg stayed with Anne through her last month of life, encouraging her and praying with her. At her trial, she was composed and denied all charges. They were ridiculous as most the times and places they cited her having these affairs were at the wrong places or times; some she was still pregnant or recovering from childbirth. Meg thought they were ridiculous and would be put aside, but they weren't. The men Anne was accused with were all put to death. Her brother George was beheaded just a day or so before Anne. A French swordsman had been sent for, because the King knew Anne loved the French ways, and because it was told it would be swifter and not painful. Anne's closing speech was eloquent and sweet. She died a Queen that day, regal and composed. Meg and the other ladies in waiting had to take her body and head and bury it themselves. The King married Jane Seymour not long after Anne's death.

Meg left Court, disconsolate and very alone. She was in her late thirties now, unwed with no children and no dowry. Her mother and father had passed away, leaving her second brother in charge. As he was cruel to her she didn't expect much from him. Thomas came for her instead; he had been imprisoned in the Tower as well but was released. He took her to Will, who had been released from his vows. His eldest brother had died, leaving him heir. They married quickly despite her having no dowry, and without his father's approval. She still had Anne's favorite string of pearls with her and her locket ring to give to Elizabeth one day. Anne had said to Meg before her death, "But if you ever have occasion, do not be reluctant to commend me to His Grace and tell him that he hath ever been constant in his career of advancing me; from private gentlewoman he made me marquess, from marquess a queen, and now that he hath no higher degree of honor he gives my innocence the crown of martyrdom."

Anne still is a highly written about and talked about woman of history. She is often reviled because she was a big cause of the King's divorce to his first wife Queen Katherine- she also was a huge part of the reformed church in England. I liked this book because it showed a different side to her than I've read about in The Other Boleyn Girl or other books. This author showed through her friend Meg, that she followed the King because of his passionate belief that his first marriage was invalid. She so wanted to give the King a son, but was not able to. She is often loved as well as hated. I liked this book because I actually felt compassion for her. I did skip over the slow years of the King's workings to divorce Katherine to marry Anne. It is her abrupt downfall that is more compelling and sad. Meg and Anne were childhood friends, although I'm not sure how often she attended her at Court. I will always be fascinated by Anne and her life, as well as that of the King's. By the end of Henry's reign, there were English Bibles in every church in England. For those that have read about Anne Boleyn and her life- what do you think of her? I certainly believe she was ambitious for that is how she was raised, but I think she did believe in the King's cause and when they were finally married, she found it wasn't as desirable or happy as she thought it would be. The stakes were much higher, and she fell.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Favored Queen

The Favored Queen by Carolly Erickson was good, I finished it in just a few hours. This book is about King Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour. I found it interesting because I don't think I've read a book before that was just from her point of view. Of course it is historical fiction, but it showed a new side to her I found interesting. The way the author chose to portray her is pretty close to what I had pictured her. Some have said she was also ruthless and ambitious, but I side with the author's point of view. Jane was not particularly pretty, and she kept getting older and older with no match coming her way. She served at court to Queen Katherine, and was around to see her slow downfall to be replaced by ruthless Anne Boleyn.

Jane was sweet and kind, and kept her thoughts to herself. She did what was asked, and rebelled quietly in other ways. She also had an ambitious brother Ned who served at court in various capacities as well. Her father was lecherous and several times because of his liaisons, she was unable to marry into that particular family. Since she was so sweet and obedient, she was probably easily forgotten and so a marriage match was never made for her. As the years went by and she got older, she did take a lover at court. I can't imagine anyone staying innocent at court for too long, especially since she was almost 30 by then. The book showed her sympathy for Queen Katherine as she became the princess dowager, shunned from court and rudely and poorly housed, separate from her daughter Mary. She saw the supporters at court change from Katherine to Anne, and saw how fickle friends could be. She witnessed the downfall of Thomas Wolsey and the rise of Cromwell.

As Anne became Queen and produced a daughter and not the longed for male, her star was soon on the downfall as well. Jane lived through the sweating sickness and saw much change around her. King Henry became larger and more angry and prone to mood swings. They had to have been familiar with each other as she had served at court for many years by then. As Anne had two stillbirth children, one that was deformed, Jane knew that King was fishing for a new wife. Soon the attentions of the King were upon her, and she was nervous about her future. I imagine with her brother's ambitious prodding, along with her unmarried state and wanting children of her own, that she eventually became Queen. I don't believe she planned it, I think it just happened. The King was looking for a fertile lady with a good reputation, and probably someone as far from Anne as possible. Where Anne was dark, Jane was light; where Anne was quarrelsome Jane was meek and humble.

The King housed Jane away from court in a manor as Anne's trial and eventually her beheading took place. He wanted her away from it all, to keep the taint from their soon to be marriage. They were married just days later, and soon it was all about whether she was pregnant or not. Several months later she was finally pregnant, and the King was very pleased. Shortly after the long and arduous labor, Jane started to get weaker and weaker. Some say she was neglected and not well taken care of. Since she had produced the King a son, mayhap people soon forgot about her in their joy for an heir to the throne. She passed away alone it was said, without the King because he so feared sickness. While I have always viewed Jane as one of the sadder queens, because of her short life, some movies have portrayed her as the great love of Henry's life. I'm sure in his later years he venerated her because she had given him the one male heir. I believe Henry also had him buried next to her out of all his six wives. As he was a fickle and changeable man, I don't believe they truly had a happy and loving marriage. I think this book was interesting to see into Jane's world, albeit fictional in ways. I always love to get to know more people in the Tudor period from all angles.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Queen Hereafter

Susan Fraser King wrote Queen Hereafter and I thought it was pretty good. It was an easy read, but I did find myself not really enjoying the main character. The book follows Margaret and her family as they are shipwrecked on the Scottisch coast. Her brother Edgar has been outlawed from England, when he should be King. Forced to leave the convent that Margaret and her sister were staying in, they travel overseas to seek refuge with the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore. In return for helping the Saxons return Edgar to England and his throne, he asks for Margaret's hand in marriage. While living among the barbarous Scots, Margaret and her mother and sister try to feel at home. Many of their things were lost or left behind during the voyage.

They soon notice that the manners of the court is very different in Scotland, and their king is rough and fierce. As time passes, Margaret is wed to Malcolm and the people are hesitant to rejoice a Saxon being put on the throne. Amidst the turmoils of the Scotland people being divided, and England's king coming to invade, Margaret finds that she is quite content to be queen. She instantly sets about redoing the castle as well as the way of meals and courtly manners. Her presence seems to calm Malcolm and he becomes less wild and more courtly in his manners. Margaret had desired a life as a nun, but instead finds her vocation in being queen. She is very pious and prays at all hours of the day, fasts constantly and eats little, and works hard to put the castle to rights. The tale is a little like Beauty and the Beast, where the pretty woman tames the beast and makes him handsome.

They have two boys rather quickly, but Margaret's pace does not falter. A Celtic bard is brought to court, named Eva, and she is brought as a hostage as well as to play for the court. The Lady Macbeth still rules in the north and they do not answer to King Malcolm. He keeps her as hostage the lady's good behavior; while her talents are known far and wide she becomes popular with her beautiful music. Margaret forms a bond with her and they are often together. The court eventually travels to Dun Edin, so that the King can show off his Queen as well as see to his kingdom. While there, Margaret sets again about redoing the palace and helping the people. She constantly gives alms to the poor, as well as food, and soon has many starving children sent to be fed in the palace. She even sits down and feeds many of them herself, from her own china and gold silverware. Many balk at her closeness to the people, but she is happy doing all she can to help the poor and hungry.

Many start calling her Saint Margaret for her good works and charitable donations. While on travels, she gives away of her own clothing and shoes for the poor, and demands her ladies do the same. Whenever she can, she helps give all she can. The King acquiesces and seems happy to allow her to do what she wills. The people are happy with their rulers for their generosity and goodness. Margaret tries to go on a pilgrimage, but is once again pregnant and is forced to ride on a horse or go by ship part of the way. Many cannot afford the fee to pass across by ship, so she changes it so anyone can pass through free of charge. She also has a church built in her name, and donates generously to the many churches and convents nearby. Soon word reaches them that William has entered Scotland with hundreds of warriors.

They meet in Dunfermline to meet William and his troops, and Malcolm is ready to enter a peace treaty with him. The terms of the treaty demand a hostage, and in place of their firstborn son, William says he instead ask that Edgar leave and never return. He also demands that her mother leave Scotland, and her sister to enter a convent as planned. Margaret is sad at them leaving, since she will no longer have her family around her. As things settle down over the Saxon rebellions, Margaret goes with Eva on a riding trip before returning home. Eva had secretly been a spy for the Lady Macbeth, sending her letters of the goings on at court. Margaret finds out her duplicity when she sees her secretly meeting with the Lady Macbeth, and the king's guardsmen fire arrows on her guardsmen. Eva is imprisoned for treason, as she was a hostage and not supposed to communicate with her home. Margaret implores for the king to release her, and he eventually does. Eva decides to stay and play for the court, as she has enjoyed living there with Queen Margaret.

Although Eva is a fictional character, the Lady Macbeth is not. Queen Margaret was known as a saint for her many good deeds. She had over 8 children, all who survived adulthood which was very rare. She was also a complex woman, drives by an obsession to pray constantly and fast. She died in her mid-forties after the deaths of her husband Malcolm and their son Edward. Some say she died of a frail heart from habitual fasting and anorexia. The author based this story on Margaret's good deeds in her early life, as well as the mystery of Lady Macbeth and queen Gruadh. Tiny lights, it is claimed, still float around her tomb in Dunfermline, proving that she still watches over Scotland this day. Traces of their blood continue to this day in British royalty.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Queen's Gamble

Barbara Kyle is a great author, and this is the 4th in a series that can be read as stand alone books. The Queen's Gamble is during the second year of young Queen Elizabeth I's reign- troops have landed in Scotland and are preparing to invade England along with the French and Spain. She is being put to the test already, and many say she won't last long. Isabel Thornleigh, daughter of Honor who has been written about in the previous books, travels to England with her husband Carlos and their son Nicolas for a visit. Last Isabel had heard is that her mother was in prison and on trial for treason. She hoped with her gold that she could buy her mother's freedom. Upon arriving there, they are met and greeted by her brother Adam's wife, Frances Grenville. The Grenvilles had long been an enemy of the family, and it was because of them her mother had been tortured and was now in prison.

Isabel was surprised to see she had married her brother and was also heavily pregnant; as Frances rushed them to her parents' home she tried to tell her a little of what had been going on. Since the trip had taken a few months, a lot had happened in that time. Queen Mary had passed away, and upon Queen Elizabeth's coronation she had rewarded Isabel's mother Honor and released her from prison. Her mother was now a close friend and confidante of the new queen's, for her help she had given the Protestant cause. Isabel was overwhelmed and relieved to find her mother healthy, alive and also quite wealthy. Her father had also been knighted; the honors bestowed upon their family by this new Queen were quite impressive. During their visit, Isabel soon senses the tension in the city and discontent. She is attacked and barely saved on an outing, because someone sees her cross that she is wearing. She had spent the last 5 years in Trujillo living with her husband and son, and they had converted to the Catholic faith. Many in England were leery and violent towards those that were still Catholic. Queen Elizabeth had declared England to be a Protestant country, but of course there were always secret Catholics still practicing and worshipping in secret.

Isabel doesn't see her mother much as she is often at Court in attendance upon the Queen. They soon learn that an invasion is under way any day now, and soon Carlos is called by de Quadra, the Spanish king's envoy, to help serve the French in their military campaign against England. He feels forced to go, because their livelihood and income depend upon the goodwill of the French and Spanish. Carlos was Spanish and had grown up with no good bloodlines, and so had crawled and worked his way to where he was now- quite wealthy and respected in the New World. As he leaves, Isabel stays behind with her mother and tries talking her parents into leaving and going home with her. Matters quickly grow serious when Isabel is called upon to meet the Queen, and is asked about where her loyalties lie. She declares herself a true subject of England, and soon the queen is sending her on a mission to take gold to her troops in Scotland. The Queen keeps her son as insurance, basically a hostage until she returns.

Husband and wife are on two opposing sides, and Isabel travels for weeks to Scotland and delivers the gold. While there, she witnesses an attack and many are killed or wounded. England's small army is seriously depleted and in danger; Isabel decides to help by visiting her husband where he is stationed nearby, to spy on the enemy. Her mission is dangerous as she could be caught at any moment, and she could put her husband in danger as well. Carlos discovers what she is about and sends her away in extreme anger; as military advisor to the French he can't be seen to have an unloyal wife. Isabel leaves and ends up staying with the Grenvilles for a time, where her sister in law Frances is staying with her new baby. While there, she is privy to secret conversations and whisperings going about. The Grenvilles are plotting treason, to attack and kill Queen Elizabeth and put the Scots queen on the throne. Isabel again pretends interest and to be on their side, which is plausible because her husband is working for their side and she has been in Spain the last 5 years. When Christopher the brother discovers her snooping through his papers, he tries to kill her.

Isabel is barely saved in time by her husband who has come to make up with her- he had helped prisoners escape and so now had to flee himself. They travel back to London where they hope to warn the Queen about the plot to assassinate her. Carlos goes to talk to the French ambassador to explain his actions, and hoping to keep their home and incomes. Isabel goes ahead and waits to speak with the Queen; word had already reached them of the plot, and they arrest her on suspicion of treason. Because of her spying and pretending to be on the other side, she had actually incriminated herself accidentally. While her parents and husband strive to break her free from the Tower, she prepares herself to die. She is to hang the next day with several others; she is also pregnant. Her mother pleads with the Queen to grant her an audience, which she agrees to only because her mother's loyalty. Isabel pleads guilty so as to save her family, she did not want to risk their lives also.

Through some exciting events Isabel is pardoned and set free. Carlos and Isabel decide to stay in England as they had lost their home and incomes back in Spain because of Carlos's switch to the English side. They are granted manors and incomes in England from the Queen, as thanks for saving her life. While I have left out many details, it does seem the book is left open to another one in the series. Christopher Grenville, thought to be dead from the skirmish, may be still alive. I have read the other books in the series and it does help to understand the characters if you have read the others. I liked this book because it was exciting, dangerous and courageous. As always there are sexual scenes to avoid, but that is basically it. I am still fascinated by Queen Elizabeth and her many dimensions. Thought to not survive a second year of reign, she went on to reign for over 40 years and it was called The Golden Age. The Queen of Scotland passed away, leaving her young daughter Mary in her stead. Mary of Scots and Queen Elizabeth, cousins, were to have an 18 year long feud.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Queen's Daughter/ All the Queen's Players

I realize that I haven't blogged a couple books that I've read. Thanks to a recent post from an anonymous new friend, I feel more encouraged to keep writing my posts. Most of my life has actually been spent reading every genre but historical fiction; it's just been the last 2-3 years that I've almost exclusively read them. I apologize there is no variety, but this is what I love. The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry was pretty good, it was a quick and easy read. The book is about Joan, the youngest daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England. She has 4 older brothers that are quite older than her, but Richard dotes on her more than the others. Growing up at Court she is in between her parents, who are usually fighting and eventually her mother is banished and basically imprisoned. Her father keeps her with him for some time, basically as a hostage, and then sends her to her mother for a time.

King Henry, her father, is always in some fight or another with her brothers Henry and Richard. They are of age to gain some kingdoms and land, but still childish and young. They constantly wrestle and war with their own father to get what they want. Eleanor often comes to the aid of her children, which is why she was banished so she couldn't meddle anymore. Joan is married off at a young age to the king of Sicily, and she basically lives like a child for more years until the queen mother forces them to finally consummate the marriage. Her husband William was often sick, distant and much older than her so he treated her indifferently. Despite many years of marriage they had no children. He died of a long illness and she was taken captive immediately after his death by Tancred of Lecce who had usurped the throne. Her brother Richard finally comes to her aid almost a year later, and she sets sail with him to Catania and Saladin. Joan basically becomes her brother's right hand, and assists him in all things. He marries Berangeria, and Joan is often keeping her company as her brother is busy and not very interested in his wife.

Joan reunites with her mother, who is now quite old, and it has been many years. Joan has become wise in the politics of life and court, and aids her brother, even when she disagrees with him. During her time in Sicily, her brother Henry had passed away and then her father. Richard was now King with her brother John as heir, and her mother ordered her to be by his side. He seems different and is often commanding and cruel to Joan, and tries to marry her off a few times. In Richard's attempts to win Jerusalem, Joan disagrees with some things he does and is banished for a time. Joan comes into contact again with Count Raymond, a childhood friend and crush. He proposes marriage to her and they live happily enough together. Upon the birth of their second child, Joan dies in her thirties. Not much was written or remains from her life, other than the fact she had 2 husbands and died after the 2nd birth. I found the story interesting because Joan's powerful and well known parents, and the bloody feud between brothers and father. I'm sure Joan had to be an intriguing person considering especially who her mother was.

All The Queen's Players by Jane Feather follows Rosamund Walsingham, cousin to Cecil Walsingham the queen's secretary. Her mother had passed away after many years of illness, and she was the youngest child and left with just basically her brother Thomas. Her brother works for their cousin Cecil, and soon brings Rosamund to court to meet him and the queen. She becomes a junior lady of the Queen's, and soon discovers that court life can be quite dull. She makes some friends that try to ruin her reputation, but don't succeed. Will Creighton is who she falls in love with; she had met him once at a play and found him intriguing. Rosamund worked for Cecil and was told to draw everything she saw, and the Queen also desired her to draw things for her as well. She was quite gifted, but her skills weren't used for long. She is discovered missing when she was supposedly sick, and is banished from court. Queen Elizabeth likes her ladies to be circumspect and clean, and when they are found not to be, she sends them away in disgrace or even sometimes imprisonment.

Rosamund goes to stay with Cecil and his wife for a time, and then he decides to send her to serve Mary Queen of Scots, who had been imprisoned in various stages in England for nigh on 18 years. She had been stripped of her titles and even her royal chair and hangings, but still she proudly tried to persevere. Cecil commanded her to draw or write to him everything she saw or heard, and she was sent to her as a pretend Catholic. As Rosamund serves Mary, she grows to appreciate and admire her strength and courage. Although herself mostly Protestant, she admires the courage and faith that Mary has. Cecil works tirelessly to bring the Scots queen down, and eventually finds letters of plots to rescue her and put her on the England queen's throne. Cousins, Queen Elizabeth has a hard time actually accusing a fellow sovereign and woman to death. All those involved in the plot are put to death, and Rosamund is forced to watch. Eventually, the courts try Mary for treason and she is found guilty. She is beheaded with an axe, and Rosamund is there to witness the scene for Cecil.

After her service, Cecil allows her to be free and she goes home for a time. Will comes to visit her there to continue their assignation, but is suddenly killed in a sword duel when an old nemesis from court comes to fight him. Forced to mourn his death in secret, so no one would know who her lover had been, she is soon married off to Sir Roger Askew, a widower and rich man. They live quite happily and have children together. I admit, this wasn't my favorite book. I left out some details of the plays of the time, as that was in the book quite a bit. Rosamund's brother had a friend Kit Marlowe, who was a marvelous and brilliant playwright of the time. He met an early and unfortunate end, and the author sets the basis of the book during that time because she wonders what a brilliant mind like his could have done had he lived longer. I didn't care for Kit in the book, because the author made him homosexual and included far too many details in the book of it. It was far too explicit for my taste, and not necessary to the plot. I wouldn't recommend the book simply because of the sexual scenes in the book.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Heretic's Wife

I know, a pretty intense title huh? The Heretic's Wife was actually quite good, although full of what you could expect- burnings and religious strife. The book is set during the time of Henry VIII and his desire to divorce Queen Katherine to marry Anne Boleyn. During this treacherous time, an English Bible is being translated and distributed by William Tyndale. Many who work for the Protestant Reformation cause, end up imprisoned or worse. Many booksellers or printers are either put out of business or imprisoned or even killed. It follows Kate Gough, a book and print shop owner, who works with her brother. John ends up being arrested and imprisoned for some time, because he has sold banned or heretical works, but Kate manages to find him and pay for his safety.

During this tumultuous time, many working for the King such as Thomas More are very opposed to the Protestant cause, and is working very hard to stop them. Thomas More was a deeply religious man, a very conflicted and complicated one too. With his chancellor's seal, he uses every means possible to get his prisoners to recant or he has them burned. He is zealous in his efforts, and his greatest prize would be to capture William Tyndale. As you follow his story, it also follows the King and his courting of Anne Boleyn. During this book, you mainly follow Kate Gough. Upon her brother's release from prison, he is not the same and decides to leave for the country with his wife and child. Kate stays behind in England and tries to keep the print shop open, but fails. She decides to take up the work her brother left behind, and dresses as a boy to meet a shipment of smuggled English books. On her journeys, she meets a John Frith who has escaped prison and certain death. He works with William Tyndale, and despite his recent arrest, is still working for the Protestant cause.

While on her travels, she has to reveal she is a woman and while staying with a nice family, she tends for John Frith as he recovers from his sicknesses. While caring for him, they find they like each other and he proposes marriage to her. He is to meet a ship that will take him to Antwerp, and asks her to go along with him. He is basically a fugitive hiding from the law, which is very dangerous, but she agrees and goes with him. Their captain, Tom Lasser, is very kind and treats them well. He often takes smuggled goods and books for the Protestants, even at his own risk. Once in Antwerp, they set up house and John immediately sets to working with William Tyndale and The English Counting house. They meet many friends there of like mind, and spend a few peaceful years there. Kate starts and works with a women English bible group, praying and singing and worshipping together. She has a miscarriage, and starts to get bored with life because John is constantly busy.

Despite a few men out searching for them, they escape arrest and continue their secret and dangerous work. Kate finds out she is pregnant again, and shortly after John decides to leave for England to go preach and such. The King had thrown off the pope and cut off ties from the church to start his own, and so he could marry Anne Boleyn. She was known to be a secret Reformist, so John felt it was safe to enter England again. Thomas Wolsey had fallen from grace and died, and then Thomas More had taken his place. He ended up resigning when he could not agree to the King's new marriage to Anne Boleyn. No one could be arrested without the King's consent, so John felt fairly safe returning. Kate stays behind in Antwerp with William Tyndale, and gets excited as her baby gets bigger inside her. Soon news reaches her that John has been arrested in the Tower. He had written some doctrine down, along with his true name, and he was caught. Thomas Cromwell, the new King's man, was somewhat sympathetic and tried to help him. But again, John was too trusting, and wrote something down on paper that they could use against him. His main sticking point was that the sacrament did not really turn into Christ's blood and flesh.

Even when he was being brought to trial, he was given a chance at escape, but he decided to take the martyr's route. He was burned at Smithfield a few days later. Kate had traveled to England to try and save John, but she was too late. She lost her baby in the process, and stays in England in her old print shop. A lady friend of Captain Tom Lasser's also stays with her, and they befriend a local woman and her daughter. The friend gets very sick and is dying, so the 2 women take in her daughter Madeline and raise her as their own. A few months after John 's death, the Captain that had helped them before, comes to propose marriage to her. She accepts, and they all go to live on his ship which he has renamed Phoenix. I enjoyed the book, because there were several different stories going on at once. Religion has always been a heavily debated and controversial subject, it is so sad to me how many have died for their beliefs. There was some torture in the book and violence, so it's not for the faint of heart. It's hard to do a good review when there is so much going on; John was a good husband but his heart was with the Church first. His decision to be a martyr may seem selfish, but he felt it was right. Although Kate remarried rather quickly, she had already had a friendship/relationship with Tom Lasser so it wasn't quite a surprise.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Second Duchess

As you can see, I am writing another post because I just devoured this book in a little more than a day. I discovered this book while perusing the aisles at the library, and it popped out to me. Elizabeth Loupas wrote The Second Duchess, and right away I could tell it would be fascinating. In Europe the Duke of Ferrara is ready to take a new bride, so Alfonso d'Este is wed to Barbara of Austria. She is his second wife, and as soon as she lands in Ferrara she hears the whispers of how his first wife died. She is very nervous to be getting married at an older age, 26, and also to be going someplace new. It seems everyone around her is whispering juicy tidbits of gossip in her ears, and it makes her instantly curious to find out more. When she gets to know her new husband, she discovers him to be quite stern, serious and strict. When he sees his sisters whispering to her, he demands to know what they are speaking about.

Even though newly married, Alfonso instantly keeps his grip on his new wife. He has her painted with her hair long and flowing, which only unwed women do, and she discovers while being painted that there is a portrait hidden of the first duchess, Lucrezia. The duke her husband had already warned her not to listen to idle gossip or do anything untoward, but her curiosity gets the better of her and she finds the portrait and looks at it. Alfonso finds her, is very upset and beats her. The duchess is very upset at such treatment, especially after only being married a short amount of time. While recovering and staying away from him, she comes into contact with more courtiers that whisper things to her. The first duchess, Lucrezia, had died while imprisoned at Corpus Domini. Barbara, the duchess, takes just a few of her ladies to pay a visit under the pretense of prayer. While there, she meets the duke's aunt who is the abbess there. She pretends to be sick so she can question the infirmarian, the nun Corsica. She gives her a ruby ring in exchange for information.

Soon the Duke finds out about her questionings and starts to get upset again. While on a hunt, the duchess falls off her horse because her bridle had been cut clean through. Someone had tried to kill her. The duke puts her under house arrest while he tries to find out who would do this. He demands she tell him the truth of her doings before he'll let her go. He had also imprisoned her three Austrian ladies, so she was surrounded by women she did not know or trust. She opens up to him and tells him of her investigations. Instead of divorcing her or sending her away like she thought, he agrees to help her in the investigations, claiming his innocence. As they question more people, especially those at Corpus Domini, they find more clues. His first duchess had been a young girl of 14, lowly born and with no real maturity about her. They were not happy together, and did not spend much time together. Soon word spread of her many affairs, and so the duke imprisoned her in the abbey until further notice.

Soon he found out she was pregnant, and so he intended to keep her there to deliver her child in secret, and then to be sent away. While there, she passed away one night with no signs of having been unhealthy. The duke believed she had committed suicide, but the people thought he had killed her. In order to save face, he had spread the rumors that she had died of ill humors so that she could receive the last rites and be buried properly. Suicide would not have allowed such a burial, and would also have marred the duke's reputation. As Barbara works with her husband the duke to discover the truth, she is at war with herself as to whether she truly believes him innocent of the whole matter. He is prickly most the time and hard to get along with. In private moments, he is more tender but still fierce.

The ending comes quickly, full of excitement, intrigue and danger. I was not expecting the killer to be who it was, so it was exciting. I liked Barbara the duchess, because of her strength and wisdom in standing up to her husband, and striving to find out the truth. Surely their marriage could not have been healthy until the past was overcome. They come to get along better and ultimately have a happy marriage. Barbara and the duke are real historical characters; she comes from the Medici line, and he from the Borgias. She was rumored not to be pretty, but she did have long flowing red hair. The other very interesting part of the book, was that the author inserted some dialogue or thoughts rather, from the deceased first duchess Lucrezia. She is like a ghost in between life and death, sort of like purgatory. She offers her views on each chapter, and gives you tidbits here and there that help fill in the story. It always leaves you wanting more, as a good mystery should.

The book had many interesting and complex characters, and I found it very enjoyable. There were some sexual scenes, but easy enough to see coming and skip. I grew to like the duchess Barbara, but I never did like the duke Alfonso; he was too rough for me. The author took a poem from the 1800's by a Robert Browning titled My Last Duchess. The rumors of his first duchess were true, but in fact they think she died of tuberculosis. He did marry Barbara next and they lived happily together, surprisingly for a forced match. It is interesting how from the poem the author was able to weave a story together. I recommend the book because it is very interesting, a historical mystery that flows smoothly. For ghost lovers out there, it kind of left you with a creepy feeling when the first duchess spoke. A very creative and great way to keep the book flowing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Daughters of Rome

I just finished Daughters of Rome by Kate Furnivall and I enjoyed most of it. It is A.D. 69 and Nero is Dead-it is The Year of Four Emperors that will change everything. The book centers on the Cornelii cousins, all named Cornelia. The eldest, Cornelia, is the perfect Roman wife; obedient, loyal and domestic. Her sister Marcella known as Cornelia secunda, is more withdrawn and loves to write histories. They have two cousins Lollia; she marries multiple times and was raised by her grandfather, who was a slave and is now very wealthy. Then there is Diana, a cousin that lives with her father who sculpts busts; she is obsessed with horses rather than men.

Right away the book is interesting, because you have 4 very different and complex characters. Suddenly Piso, Cornelia's husband is named heir, but not before Galba is hacked to death and the mob turns on them. The four cousins flee to the temple of the Vestal Virgins, only to find it abandoned. Piso is killed in front of them, and luckily the 4 girls survive. Otho is now Emperor, and Marcella finds herself speaking with him quite a bit about politics. Cornelia is now a widow, where once she was to be the Empress and First Lady of Rome. She lives with her brother and his wife, and also her sister Marcella because her husband is always gone. They live together quite unhappily, as the Rome they know around them changes. Marcella takes a hand in trying to make history, and ends up sharing military secrets that may or may not have led to the death of Otho. Vitellius is next and once again things change, Lollia weds another man loyal to the new Emperor, and they scramble to keep up.

You get to closely follow the 4 girls and their various lives as the events unfold in the book. There are quite scandalous parts in the book that are sometimes hard to skip, so I wouldn't read the book if that bothers you. Cornelia eventually remarries a former Praetorian Guard, the one who actually had saved their lives when her husband Piso was killed. They marry and live happily and have children together. It is happy to see her life unfold, because she had had 8 happy years with Piso, childless, before it was all taken away. Marcella is a bit more complex, because she meddles in history and tries to change things. She ends up being in a position she never wanted; First Lady of Rome and Empress to a mad and abusive husband. She is now trapped, never to live the life she wanted again. Lollia is kind of entertaining, but also comes off as a ditzy bimbo. She marries 7 times for her grandfather, while keeping a slave as her lover. She has a daughter but doesn't always pay attention to her. Diana is related to the Huntress, because all she cares about are her horses and the races.

Vespasian comes to rule for about 10 years, and it is just what the people needed, some peace. Rome had always ruled as a Republic, so it was shocking when the Empire went up for grabs a few times to any usurper that had an army and a chance. Rome was never to be quite the same again after the Year of the Four Emperors. The book is exciting because of all the events, although it can be bloody. I try not to divulge too much when writing my reviews, but I'm sure that sometimes I give plots away. It is always different though to actually read the book. I like the author, but I would have left out most of the sexual scenes because they aren't necessary to the plot. Yes, we know it is happening, but we don't need to read about it. Not my favorite book of all time, but pretty good.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Revenger: A novel of Tudor Intrigue

I've been a little MIA lately as far as this blog goes, even though I'm still not sure if many people read it. I had a few books I was reading but stopped either halfway or 3/4 of the way through because it got boring. I'm not sure still if I'll finish them and blog about them. Not every book I read is a winner, or that interesting. I try to be honest in my book reviews, but being a historical novel fanatic such as myself makes it so I take greater interest in those kinds of books anyways. My sister suggested blogging about other books to get more of a variety, but I tend to stick to the historical genre. Sorry to disappoint; until something interesting comes along I'll stick to what I know and love.

Revenger was an interesting book, I found it at the library on one of those hot picks tables. I believe this book is a 2nd in a series, but I didn't know that when I picked it up. In this book you follow John Shakespeare, a chief intelligencer and schoolmaster, as he works for both Sir Robert Cecil and the Earl of Essex. He is working both sides, so of course there is danger fraught on both sides. He strives mostly to serve the Queen Elizabeth by keeping her throne and her person safe. At the same time, he tries to appear loyal to the Earl of Essex, who is the Queen's favorite. While dabbling in his works in both worlds, he comes to face some dangerous foes. His wife Catherine is Catholic and protects those who would be called heretics and could bring danger or death to the family in so doing. John is a Protestant, and so they often butt heads because of their differences in religion. John Shakespeare owns a school, and has a daughter Mary. He soon finds himself back in the life of intelligencer with murder, spies, poison and secrets as the order of the day.

With a plague devastating the country and Catholics facing extreme persecution, martyrdom and torture, John tries to keep his wife and daughter safe even though he is not often at home. He sends them away to her parents home to keep her safe while he pursues his work. There was a man named Roanoke, who had founded a colony in North America of women, men and children. All but 1 were killed either by the savage Indians on the land, or because of sickness from bad food or water. There are rumors that one, a Eleanor Dare had survived and was back in London. The Earl of Essex charged John with finding her. As he works to unravel that mystery, using the help of some of his trusted workers, he also becomes intangled in the Earl of Essex's plot to marry Arbella and become King after Queen Elizabeth has died. Arbella had Tudor blood in her as she was a great granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, who had had an affair with King Henry back in the day. As John works hastily to stop this marriage from happening, and keep his family safe, and discover the whereabouts of this Eleanor Dare, he finds himself almost killed himself a few times.

He works also to bring McGunn to justice, after finding out that in working for the Earl of Essex, he himself is a most brutal and viscious murderer. The book is exciting, full of plots and turns and danger. There are scences of torture and brutality which I just skipped over. A few brief references to sexual matters that can be skipped over as well. I won't revel the ending, but I enjoyed the book and will probably read the Martyr which came before this book.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I just read an unpublished book for a friend, Cassandra Mae Cook, called FATE. She is in the process of getting it read to be published, and she asked if I would read it for her. I will keep vague about the details so as not to give anything away that is important to the plot. If you would like to find out more, you can visit her blog at

In the city of Chyann, there rules a King and Queen that love each other very much. They have 2 beautiful daughters, Claire and Emmaline. Emma is more carefree and happy about life, and befriends a mute gardener named Rupert. He works on the palace grounds with his father and they enjoy spending time together. Soon she is to sequestered so she can earn her degree to learn about ruling a kingdom. Part of the purpose of being shut away, is so that she can concentrate and also be kept safe. She is not able to see Rupert during this time and years pass by.

An unfortunate accident befalls the kingdom, and soon Emmaline and Claire are left with the pieces and the will to the kingdom. The book gets exciting and has a lot of twists and turns that leave you excited to read more. The characters are like able and exciting; it is like a romantic fairytale but with a darker edge to it. I thought it read sort of like a Twilight/Tangled or Cinderella kind of story. The target audience is teenagers, but it sure will appeal to a wider audience. I liked the book because it kept you going, it smoothed flowly, and it had much to reveal as time went on. There are characters you will root for, and others you will wish away. It is exciting, thrilling and scenic. I am honored I got to read the book before it was published, and I wish Cassie much luck with her on it and her upcoming books as well. If I hear more about the status of the book FATE, I will post here in my blog so others can read it as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Borgia Betrayal

The Borgia Betrayal is the sequel to Poison. Although in a series the books don't have to be read in order and can be stand alone. I prefer to keep in order so as not to get confused, although I don't always do that. Once again we follow Francesca, Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander VI's poisoner. He has now been pope almost a year and has already had 3 major attempts on his life. Francesca is busy keeping him alive, and his children and mistress. She inspects all foods or drinks that come into the palace, as well as gifts because poisons can also be made on contact. In the first book, Francesca was after revenge for her father's death. Morozzi has been spotted and is once again somewhere in Rome. She uses the resources of her Jew friends to help find him, as well as some of her Lux friends. Lux is a secret group that meets together to learn and spread learning; which is against the Holy Mother Church's rules. They want their followers to be kept in the dark and not to question things.

As they try to find Morozzi, Francesca comes in contact with a leader in the underground tunnels that has many children as his followers, Alfonso the First. He is the king of smugglers, using children he were thief's or still are to help him. He agrees to try and help her find Morozzi, because he is probably using underground tunnels to make his way through the city unnoticed. During this time, Il Papa, Pope Borgia, is trying to work with their Spanish Majesties as well as trying to work with Naples and the Portuguese. Christopher Columbus had come back saying he had discovered a new world, and the Pope was busy deciding who got what. Many did not believe he had made it so far alive, but he brought back proof as well as a crew full of new diseases. Lucrezia, Francesca's friend and also Borgia's daughter, was betrothed to marry a Sforza. The Pope needed their support, they were a big part of the reason he even became Pope.

Times were busy as usual, and one night while returning to her apartments, Francesca heard her landlady being attacked. Portia was calling out in danger, and without any thought, Francesca went in there and killed the attacker with a knife she kept on her person. Part of her job was to dispatch those that were trying to kill the Pope; she did not like to admit it to anyone, but she liked the kill. Perhaps because she was a poisoner she had to think about death on a daily basis, but she didn't like the dark side that it brought to her. Many in the city who knew her feared her, and called her strega which means witch. For a woman to hold a position such as she, and to be known to kill, many feared her and wanted her dead. Francesca is a deeply complex character, because she wants to do what is right but is required to kill people sometimes. Usually they are bad people, but not always. She also desires a normal life being married with children, but then other times thrives on her wealth and independent and single status.

In the first book she had started an affair with Cesare, the Pope's eldest son. They still meet when possible, and he soon starts living with her when in Rome on duties. After the attempt on Portia's life, Francesca is more careful and believes she needs to find Morozzi soon. Word is soon arrived that Della Rovere, the Pope's rival, is preparing to enter France and start a war against him. Since Morozzi is around again, Francesca tells Rocco her glass maker friend to take his son Nando into hiding where he will be kept safe. An attempt had been made on is boy's life in the first book. While trying to keep him alive, as well as his family and herself, a murder happens in the streets. A girl is burned at a stake; she is one of Alfonso the First's girlfriends. Morozzi probably killed her to send a message to Francesca, that he could do anything anytime he wanted. Since the wedding is little than a month away, her time is running out once again.

The Pope wants her to find a way to kill della Rovere, his rival, while also trying to find Morozzi and killing him, not to mention her other duties. One day she sees Morozzi out in the open just smiling at her, then he disappears. They find out he is using a nearby church to get in and out of the tunnels. She sets up a trap for him, to flush him out and is waiting for him with her knife that also has poison on it. He comes with an ally, and Francesca is able to kill him but Morozzi gets away once again. The Pope is becoming frustrated with her, and demands she use help next time to kill him. She wants to kill him herself because he killed her father. Plus she worries that if he senses others nearby, she won't ever get the chance to kill him. Cesare and Juan, his brother, are fighting and they discover that Juan is possibly hiding Morozzi in his home. It has secret hidden rooms, and they try to find him.

Lux is not able to meet because of an attack on the group; for fear of discovery they keep in hiding because they know what they believe is heretical. Rocco is also part of the group, the glass maker. As the wedding approaches, Francesca visits Lucrezia often to help calm her nerves. She is taking a bath one day, and Francesca notices her box of soaps doesn't have her seal of approval on them. She decides to have a servant try one of them, and she ends up getting bad burns and marks all over her hands. They had been poisoned somehow, probably to mark Lucrezia with scars so people would say it was God who had deemed Borgia and his family cursed. There were people out there wishing to bring him down; they used obscene graffiti and rumors to spread lies that he was a terrible person. Although not entirely a Saint, he was not guilty of the things they said.

The guards are on great patrol around the city, because things in the city seem tense. Francesca devises a plan with her Jew friends, and soon it is under way. She takes a potion that makes her seem dead; cold, no heartbeat or breath. Although unsure it will work, she believes if Morozzi thinks she is dead, he will soon make his move and they can catch him. While the city, not all of it, mourns her death, Morozzi is on the move again. Alfonso and his gang burns down a church, believing the followers of Morozzi are in there. When Francesca comes to, those who believed her to be dead are very angry with her, but happy she is alive. Suddenly the clue comes into place for her as she studies the burnt down church, and she rushes to the church where the betrothal of Sforza and Lucrezia is taking place. She finds gunpowder up in the rafters, and moments away from burning and exploding the building. It would have killed the Borgia family and many nobles and churchmen also. Morozzi's hand was behind it, but once again nowhere to be found.

I like these books because they are compelling, fast moving and exciting. Francesca is a complex character and very interesting to unravel her layers. She believes herself to be dark and evil, but actually does a lot of good and risks her life several times in the process. She has many friends and contacts in her high position, and much wealth. I wonder if she'll eventually leave Borgia's service to settle down. You can tell Cesare loves her, the son of the Pope, but so does the glass maker Rocco. I'm sure there is another coming in the series and I'm excited to read it as well. There are some scenes of violence or torture, brief though, and some sexual scenes that you can just skip over easily enough.