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.