Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jane Austen

If any of you are Jane Austen fans out there, I am totally with you! She is a wonderful author that writes beautifully. I first started to learn about her in my English Honors 11th grade class. At first I found her books hard to read, but I loved the language. It seems so delicate and polite, especially compared to our language today. I LOVED Pride & Prejudice, especially the movie. I once told a guy on a date that my favorite line was "you have bewitched me body and soul...." spoken by Mr. Darcy in the novel and movie. My date proceeded to then say it to me later that night...kinda creepy.

This book is fabulous, and I loved the mother even though she can be kind of annoying. She is always complaining about her nerves and such like that. Pretty funny. The sisters have interesting relationships, as I'm sure most sisters do. I so wish we had balls today like they did back then, it looks so fun to dress up like that. I also read the spoof Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. Rather strange and creepy at first, then rather like able. But of course I prefer the original to that bloody work of writing. I have read most of her books, not all I admit. My other favorite is Sense & Sensibility, probably due in large part to Kate Winslet in the movie. If you haven't read Jane Austen yet, do! The characters are highly like able, the prose and writing beautiful, and the times romantic. There is a movie called the Jane Austen Book Club, kind of fun to watch as well.

Monday, June 20, 2011

His Last Letter-Elizabeth I And The Earl Of Leicester

I finished this book by Jeane Westin and I loved it! His Last Letter: Elizabeth I And The Earl Of Leicester is a wonderful read, especially if you are interested in Queen Elizabeth and her reign. This book is based on just a short time, from 1585-88, but it covers many events in Queen Elizabeth's reign. I wrote about Jeane Westin in my previous post, and that covered a bit of Queen Elizabeth's character. What I liked about this book, is that it seemed more intimate and detailed, because it covered a short time, and mostly her love for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Many have probably heard of Robert Dudley, as his name is closely linked to Queen Elizabeth's. She never married or had children, remaining the Virgin Queen, but that does not mean she never loved.

Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth met at age 8, in the classroom with her half sister Mary, half brother Edward, and the Grey sisters. They seemed to have formed an instant friendship, that was to last a lifetime. Although the book is based on historical people and facts, the conversations are of course made up by the author to be as close to what really happened. That is what I find so intriguing about historical fiction; the characters and events and places are real, but the author has to fill in the gaps and lines. These talented authors bring the characters to life, as if we really knew them. And that is what brings me back again and again to reading these types of books. I want to KNOW these people, what they went through and what they were like.

Jeane Westin did an excellent job in this book, because I really felt like I knew Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley personally. Despite Robert's love, pleadings and marriage proposals, Elizabeth never married him or anyone else. Her fear of marriage was implanted from a young age, as her father King Henry VIII was not a very loving father, and he killed her mother Anne Boleyn. From an early age, Elizabeth knew that marriage and love were dangerous. Since many also died in childbirth, she also feared death from having children. Also, if she married, she would no longer be the King and Queen, she would be destined to rule behind whomever she married. Her people and councillors constantly put different princes or kings up for her proposal, for an alliance, but she constantly refused them.

Robert Dudley was always her love, her one and only. Many people, especially at Court, knew of their love for one another. Whether it went further than that we will never know. Theirs was a passionate and volatile relationship, because Elizabeth was constantly dangling him at her whim, and she was always Queen first with him, then a woman. They had many fights, especially when Robert had bastard children and then married Lettice Knollys, the Queen's cousin. Robert was unique and special, in that he could get away with a lot that most people would be sent to The Tower, or worse, for. Elizabeth would be angry, but would always bring him back to be by her side. He was her lieutenant-general, among other titles and wealth. He was most often at Court, and not much with his wife and 2 boys, one who died at an early age.

Queen Elizabeth had to forgive Robert his follies, because he needed a male heir. Since she would not marry him, he had to marry elsewhere, although his heart was always with her. It may sound quite complicated, and I'm sure it was. They both denied themselves their true love, for the good of England. Some say this is why Elizabeth was often harsh with her ladies when they found themselves pregnant, because she wanted to have a clean court to surround her, the Virgin queen. The author does put in some love scenes, so you can skip over those. I'm sure despite the fact they never married, that they had some kind of physical relationship. To be close friends/lovers and never do anything in private would seem quite impossible, so I do agree with the author on that.

Robert Dudley had also been married before to Amy Robspart, and she met an untimely death from a fall. Many blamed it on Robert, and because of that, Elizabeth knew the people would never accept him as their King. His first wife was said to be ailing from a lump in her breast as well as depression, and probably committed suicide. He later had 2 sons with Lettice, one of whom later became the favorite of the Queen on Robert's death. He did die, in his 50's, from a fever and complications that he had suffered from for some time. Elizabeth was not by his side, and was said to have received a letter from him. She shut herself up for 3-4 days without food, water or light. They finally had to break down the door to rescue her. She saved the letter he wrote to her, and it still survives today. Although not very personable, it still showed his love for his Queen, to his dying day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Virgin's Daughters

In the Court of Elizabeth I, The Virgin's Daughters is a compelling and good read. It is like two books in one, the first one is about Katherine Grey. She is the sister of Jane Grey, who was Queen for 9 days and then was beheaded on the orders of Queen Mary. Her mother was not a very loving woman, and her father was away at Court most the time. She was starved for affection, and was also a threat to Queen Elizabeth because she had royal blood. Many thought that Queen Elizabeth would name her her heir, but she would never admit to it. Katherine seems to detest the throne, and has no desire to be Queen. This probably stems from the fact that her poor sister was used ruthlessly by the family, and later killed for that ambition.

While serving at Court, she meets the Earl of Hertford and falls in love with him. He is a good friend to Robert Dudley, the Queen's favorite, and so they hope with his help to get the Queen's permission to marry. Obviously their love is risky, because Katherine could be next in line to the throne, and has royal blood. Plus for royals to marry without the consent of their sovereign, the Queen, is treason. They could be put into the Tower, or worse, beheaded for their love. Queen Elizabeth is known as the Virgin Queen, because she never marries or has children. Her children are her ladies in waiting, and her country her husband. Her ladies in waiting, like Katherine, are constantly being reprimanded by the Queen for their secret affairs or love. If any get pregnant, they are instantly banished from Court and disgraced. It is as if Queen Elizabeth denies any of her ladies love, because she denies it of herself.

Lady Katherine Grey secretly marries Ned in a hasty ceremony, then they bed together. They go back to court, while Ned is sent to serve at Calais to try and gain it back. While he is gone, she discovers she is pregnant. Somehow she is able to disguise it until the 8th month, when she is finally discovered by Robert Dudley. He goes to tell the Queen, thinking perhaps his words will soften the blow, but she immediately sends Katherine to the Tower, and orders Ned to be sent there as well from Calais. They end up imprisoned there for a year, where Katherine gives birth to 2 sons. Now they are even more dangerous, because she if fertile and has produced 2 sons that could rival the Queen's throne. Even though Katherine and Ned have no desires for the throne, no one cares.

The Queen banishes Katherine away into the country, and her husband and their 2 sons away to his manors. They are never to see each other again. Despite many years and pleadings and letters, they are denied their love and companionship. Lady Katherine dies of a lung disease years later, alone without her husband and sons. Now we go the second book, which is about Mistress Mary Rogers, a lady who had grown up and been taken care of by Lady Katherine Grey. She comes to Court with her grandfather, hoping to serve the Queen. She is now 20 years old and has always desired to serve her Queen. She perhaps learned a bit from Katherine Grey about the ways of the Queen, so she was more prepared. She knew to be obedient and to avoid men at all costs, and to meekly serve her Queen. The Queen was known to have many different tempers, especially since she was now in her 60's.

While at Court, Mary meets Sir John Harington, and is intrigued by him. She tries to avoid him, but eventually they fall in love and try to keep it secret. They cannot meet often, because Mary is busy with her duties. The Queen seems to observe their love, and warns them against it. Quite a few years pass as they try to keep their love a secret, with the Queen always watchful. Finally upon her death, they are free to marry and be together. The major difference between the two romances, is that Mary and Sir John were much more discreet, keeping their passions at bay for many years, somehow until they could be together and be safe. Historically most of the details of the time are true, although of course conversations and such are made up to fill in the gaps. I enjoyed this book because I've always been intrigued by Queen Elizabeth. It showed her many tempers, her determination to serve her country, and the love she always fostered for Robert Dudley, even after he passed away. Queen Elizabeth's reign was known as The Golden Age; she still remains the most popular Queen and most read about.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Tudor Secret

C.W. Gortner is another favorite author of mine, and this book The Tudor Secret is another one of his great books. He writes in the time following King Henry VIII's death, when his son Edward is King but is dying. It follows a 20-year old squire new to Court, as he tries to figure out his duties. He is to serve Robert Dudley, son of the Earl of Northumberland. Brendan Prescott, the squire, is soon to find out all the intrigues going on at court. He comes to serve Cecil, a powerful and well-known courtier who secretly wishes Elizabeth to be the next Queen. While serving two masters at once, Brendan often comes to find himself in danger.

He finds out through a series of events who his parents are, and where he comes from. He also comes to know the Princess Elizabeth and works to protect her as well. The Earl of Northumberland is in charge of the young King, because his former protector is now dead. He is secretly working to marry himself to the Princess Elizabeth, so he can be the next King. In case that plan doesn't work, he marries his youngest son Dudley to Jane Grey. Jane is the grand niece of Henry VIII, granddaughter of his younger sister Mary. The hope is through Jane's Tudor blood, that Dudley and Jane will be the next King and Queen of England. Many say that the Earl and his wife had the young King poisoned to hasten his death.

Shortly before dying, King Edward puts Jane Grey as his heir to the throne over his half sister Mary. Many believe he was coerced to do this by the Earl, but we may never know. When Mary hears that Jane was put before her, she gathers Catholic supporters and prepares to enter England and take her throne by force. Many who had supported the Earl and his son Dudley, were now in fear for their lives. Many in England did not want Mary to reign, because of her strict Catholic faith and the power in Rome. In this book, you follow the intrigues of the grasping and greedy Dudley family, and Brendan and the Princess Elizabeth. Although a work of fiction, most of the historical details are true. Dudley and Jane grey reigned for less than two weeks, before being imprisoned in the Tower and later beheaded.

I liked this book because it was a mystery, and fun and easy to follow. I have always loved The Tudor period, and the Princess Elizabeth, so this was a must read for me. If you enjoy this book, you will also like his other books The Last Queen (I wrote about that in an earlier post), and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. A brief sexual scene, and some scenes of danger and torture.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cleopatra's Daughter

I finished Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, and again I loved another of her books. It is her third book and very entertaining. The book takes us from Alexandria in 30 BC to Rome, the scenes and places breathtaking and also terrifying. Many if not everyone has heard of Kleopatra, spelled with a C in the book for modernization. She was married to Julius Ceasar and they had Ceasarion; then she was married to Marc Antony, the great love story. They had twins Alexander and Selene, then Ptolemy. The people did not recognize this marriage because Marc Antony was a roman general and consul, and left Rome for Alexandria. As usual, the books I read are so fascinating and rich with detail, that I devour them so quickly I usually forget a few details. Forgive anything I missed, and just read it for yourself!

We begin in Alexandria where the navy of Queen Cleopatra has turned, because of the great force of numbers Octavian has (Emperor of Rome). When asked what they should do, Cleopatra orders them to tell her husband Marc Antony that they are all dead so he won't return. Her hope is that by staying away, he will live. She immediately takes her three children and two ladies, and they enter the mausoleum that they had designed. They take as much treasure as possible inside, and lock themselves in. Soon there are guards at the entrance asking to speak with the Queen, and suddenly they hear Antony crying out. With alarm, Cleopatra realizes that he did come back, and when finding out they were 'dead', he stabbed himself with a sword. She is able to bring him up through the windows, to discover he is pretty much dead. She does not get long to mourn him, because the soldiers and guards have entered the mausoleum through the window.

She is told her son Ceasarion is dead, as well as his half brother Antyllus. They are led back into the palace, where she meets Octavian for the first time. He is short and non descript in appearance, and the brother to Ceasarion, the boy he killed and Julius Ceasar's son. Octavian says that he desires to take them to the tombs of Alexander the Great, then to the Gymnasium to talk to the people. Cleopatra decides to stay back, and bids her children to behave. What the children don't know is that Octavian has given her a choice-to stay back and commit suicide, or to later be murdered in secret. While Octavian takes them, they have no idea what is about to happen. While in the tombs of Alexander the Great, Octavian tries to pry off his ring and in so doing, crushes the nose of the corpse. His soldiers tell him it is a good sign, but the children are not so sure. While at the Gymnasium, the people seem to welcome Octavian without rebelling. Suddenly there are guards telling the children that their mother is dying.

They rush back into the palace where Cleopatra lays peacefully dead, along with Iras and Charmion her ladies. They find the snake bites, and call for a snake charmer to suck out the poison, but it is too late. They are suddenly without parents, and an uncertain future. Seven months later they set sail for Rome. While on the ship, their brother Ptolemy dies from a fever. Selene seems mature beyond her years, at not yet 12 years of age, and is soon known for her drawings. Octavian pays them little attention, and spends most his time writing. Upon landing, they meet Marcellus, the son of Octavia, Octavian's sister. They also get to know Juba and Agrippa, who serve Octavian faithfully. On the way to Rome, they pass different sights that they aren't used to. They see many slaves being whipped, and trying to break away. As they enter farther into the city, the architecture and city is nowhere near as beautiful as Alexandria. They pretend to be interested, but the city is quite different.

They live in Octavian's villa on the hills, and Alexander and Selene share a bedroom. They also meet Julia, who is betrothed to Marcellus and is the daughter of Octavian and his first wife. Livia is Octavian's wife, and very rigid and cruel. As life goes on, they go to school (the ludus) and eventually Selene begins training with Vitruvius, an architect. They visit the markets, plays and the games. Octavian chains them and features them in his parade after the victory of taking Alexandria. They are surprised when they are not killed, because they hadn't expected to live. They go to school with Marcellus and Julia, and also Tiberius, the son of Livia and her first husband. You will learn the characters better if you read the book. But these are the main ones you will need to know.

The interesting parts in the book is how different Rome is to Alexandria, and how cruel. There is a pillar called the foundling house, where unwanted babies are left. Some are fed by wet nurses that are paid, but most die or enter slave homes if they live. There are many trials that end unfairly and in many deaths, because the plebians are paid. Octavian becomes known as Augustus by the people, and lives to reign a very long time. About 1/3 of the population is slaves, and most aren't paid or treated well. Selene and Alexander always secretly desire to return to their home, but know they probably never will. After Marcellus and Julia get married, the twins know their time is coming soon. The coming of age is 15 where they celebrate entering adulthood. The average age was 30 during this time so they married young.

On their 15th birthday, Alexander is murdered and they don't know who did it, because Augustus (Octavian) was away at war. Selene mourns him by building him a mausoleum, and helping build in the city. Another thing to point out is how educated the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony were. They knew several languages before age 12, and Selene did very well in school above the others. Perhaps she lived not just because she was a woman and beautiful, but because she found a way to be useful to Octavian. The dynamics and characters and personalities in this book are interesting, because a lot if similar to our day today. They had heated baths, poetry that sounded quite modern, many were collectors of antiquities, they had theatres, used handshakes to greet each other, etc. Some of the greatest buildings still standing can be attributed to Agrippa and Augustus.

Well, Selene eventually married Juba and became the Queen of Mauretania. She found out through living with Augustus that Juba was secretly sympathetic to the slaves cause, as he himself was captured as a young age in Numidia. Theirs was a happy marriage and they had 2 to 3 children. She tried to rebuild their city to look like Alexandria. Their court became known as a center of learning. Augustus went on to reign 39 more years, and left his throne to Agrippa, the son of Livia his wife from her first marriage. Octavia, the sister of Octavian, was known for her charitable works and was kind to those who served her. Her children later produced the future emperor Claudius.

If you are interested in ancient Egypt or Rome, you will be glad to read this book. They don't really worship like in Nefertiti's time, but there is still much to learn. The cruelty of people always amazes me when I read books like this, and can't believe how people ever had a happy life. There are other books that focus more on Cleopatra's life, but she really did die of a snake. There is no swearing, some sexual parts that are brief (the author is tasteful about those), and some brutality.