I thought since I read so many books and I know a few of y'all enjoy reading as well, I would put up a book review at the end of each month over one of the books I finished that particular month. I am going to put up two today since I finished one at the end of June that I really want to review as well! :)
Katherine, Anya Seton (read in June)
I really, really enjoyed this book. It is based on a true story of a love affair that changed history - that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (one of Edward III's many sons), the ancestors of most of the British royal family. This book tells of how John, (grandfather to the future Henry V) falls in love with the already married Katherine and how they overcome marriages, rebellions, war, and plague to finally be together.
Katherine, a naive 15 year old, right out of the convent at the beginning of the story, is married off to Hugh Swynford, one of Edward III's knights (by John who comes to regret doing this because he's fallen in love with her), and has to try to run her husband's very run down and almost poverty stricken manor at Kettlethorpe. After her husband dies of apparent wounds during the war in France, John and Katherine finally give in and become lovers. John won't marry her though because he is planning on marrying the heriess to the throne of Castile so he can eventually become its king. He does make her the governess to the children by his first marriage. Katherine stays with John for many years, however, bearing him many children (all given the last name Beaufort) and bearing all the negative critisism of their love. After loosing her daughter in the midst of the peasant's revolt, she feels she is being punished for her sins and tells John they must seperate. Several years later, John defies convention and marries his long time love, making her Duchess of Lancaster and making all of their children legitimate. Their son, John Beaufort, ended up being the great-grandfather of Henry VII. Joan Beaufort was Edward IV and Richard III's grandmother.
The characters in this book all seemed very REAL to me. There were none that were completely good or bad like you tend to get in a lot of stories. Katherine comes across as very human in her thoughts, opinions, and desires. Sometimes I just wanted to slap her for her stubbornness, other times I wanted to try to comfort her and let her know that things will be alright. John of Gaunt, while obviously very ambitious (and I wanted to slap him occasionally for being so ambitious that he'll ignore his true feelings) , still can make your heart go all a flutter.
Queen of Shadows, Edith Felber (read in July)
This was the third book I have read covering this particular period in English history. Some of you may be familiar with a bit of this period, thanks to the Mel Gibson film Braveheart, though that movie obviously took many liberties with history. The previous books I had read about this period all portrayed Queen Isabella as a spiteful woman, totally deserving of her eventually nickname "the She-Wolf." She is much more sympathetic in this novel and I didn't feel like I hated her at the end of the story.
Isabella, Princess of France, comes to England married to Edward II (son of the great Edward I, who beat William Wallace). She is in love with her golden haired husband at first, comparing him to King Arthur. He eventually kills that love because of his blatant flaunting of his preference for his male favorites (first Piers Gaveston, then Hugh Despenser). Isabella sees how the barons of England are fed up with how Edward rewards his favorites with land, titles, and money and how he seems to leave the governing of his kingdom to these favorites and fears that her son (the future Edward III) will not have a kingdom to inherit if things don't change. The king's current favorite, Hugh Despenser, is a greedy, powerhungry man who is making enemies all over England, poor and rich alike. It is during this time that she meets and falls in love with Roger Mortimer, a prisoner in the Tower, and helps him escape to France. After being reduced basically to a prisoner by Hugh Despenser (her servants, money, and children all taken away), she contrives to be sent to France to plead with her brother for peace between the two kingdoms. Once there, she begins making plans return to England and overthrow her husband, setting her son on the throne. After almost two years in France and then Burgandy, she, Mortimer, and her son Edward, sail back to England with an army supplied by Burgandy, where they are victorious without having to draw a sword. Isabella is able to extract revenge on the Despensers and Edward II gives up his throne to his son. At the end the author gives a bit of a different twist on what eventually happens with Edward III, Isabella, and Mortimer, making it seem as if Isabella realizes that Mortimer is becoming like the Despensers and helps her son escape from his clutches.
Since in the other books I have read that deal with Isabella make her seem like a real b***h, this was quite a change and made me see that maybe she wasn't quite as evil as history seems to make her. There are times when I feel like she is being a bit selfish or blind, but overall she does come across as much more likeable. Edward II, on the otherhand, really seems completely inept for the job of being king and is completely blind when it comes to his favorites, refusing to believe anything negative about them.