This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This Day in History...

March 31, 1855 - Charlotte Bronte, author of Jane Eyre, died during her first pregnancy, not long after her marriage.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This Day in History...

March 30, 1533 - Henry II named Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry thought his friend would be the perfect match for the position - and would listen to him. He couldn't have been more wrong.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge: H

Whew! Again, just barely getting mine in on time!!

Each fortnight the ladies at Historical Tapestry will post a new letter of the alphabet and you do a blog post about a work of historical fiction that has that letter:
  • as the first letter in the title
  • as the first letter of the author's first or last name
  • the first letter of a character's first or last name
  • the first letter of a place where an historical event took place
So here is my post for the fourth letter of this challenge: H

The Hollow Crown, Helen Hollick

A wife of two kings and the mother of two more...

Aged only thirteen, Emma of Normandy is married in a strategic alliance to King Aethelred of England. Indifferent and arrogant, Aethelred is loathed by his young wife, who soon realises his failings as a man and a ruler. Their first son, Edward, is conceived through an act of violence that is little more than rape.

England is invaded by the Viking King Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut. After a bitter struggle, and with fortune running against him, Aethelred loses both his kingdom and his life, leaving Emma, now dowager queen, to hold London. Cnut has already proven himself to be ruthless and powerful, a man of determination, fortitude - and passion. When he demands the surrender of London, or suffer the consequences, Emma stakes everything on the most dangerous and important gamble of her life...

This was the first of Helen Hollick's novels I ever read and at first it was a bit daunting. It is a very, very large book. However, the history it covers is extremely interesting and full of everything you would want in your historical fiction: love, hate, war, betrayal, intrigue, politics. I had never read anything that covered this eventful time in England's history and found the events that were covered extremely interesting. There are lots of characters that become incredibly tangled throughout the novel but Hollick makes it easy to follow each one and the many different events that eventually shaped England's future. Her detail in describing the time is amazing and really brings to life an era very distant and different from our own (and even from other, more medieval times). Even though writing about a much less documented time period, Hollick's story was very believable without any glaring moments of "That just doesn't seem to fit with the time." I was amazed at how Emma was able to survive her very inept first husband, the incredibly difficult times that encompassed the Viking invasion, and the events after her second husband's death. She was a very strong and determined lady. Her growth from a scared, naive thirteen year old in a new and strange land to a strong and very capable queen holding London against Viking invaders was wonderful to follow. The other main characters here all have very distinct personalities that will really cause you to either like them or hate them; there really isn't much in between with these strong personalities.

This is a big tome of a novel but I would recommend it to readers interested in the generations leading up to the Norman invasion of England. Hollick's novel will give you some very interesting food for thought.

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

Got some at Borders this past week (even though they weren't what I actually went to get!) and got a couple in the mail as well.

The Traitor's Wife, Susan Higginbotham

This was the first of Ms. Higginbotham's works that I read and I really enjoyed it. I finally decided to add it to my personal library. The Despenser story was quite interesting.

A Favorite of the Queen, Jean Plaidy

I couldn't find a picture of this cover; it is one of the re-issues that are coming out. This Plaidy novel focuses on Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I's favorite. As I always enjoy Plaidy's books, I am looking forward to this one.

Hester, Paula Reed

This one showed up unexpectedly in my mailbox...after I'd already checked it out of the library and finished it. Haha. was an interesting book and I don't mind having it on my shelf. :)

The Queen's Governess, Karen Harper

This is another one that showed up in my mailbox unexpectedly! Harper's newest novel recounts the life of Elizabeth's closest friend Kat Ashley.

This Day in History...

March 29, 1461 - Over 28,000 people were killed in the Battle of Towton (a major battle during the Wars of the Roses). The Lancastrians were crushed and the English throne was claimed by Edward IV.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sad Sad

Oh happy day!

I left the house, hubby and 2 year old son in tow, 40% off coupon in hand, and headed to the local Borders to finally pick up Elizabeth Chadwick's The Scarlet Lion. I was just waiting for a good coupon to show up (and this one was only good until tomorrow!)!

I bee-bop out of the truck, letting the hubby run over to Target while I run in and pick up my loot (and probably browse a bit!). Taking the 2 year old into bookstores never works out well for me anyway. I hurry over to the literature section and anxiously scour the shelves, looking for the C authors. There they are!! Oh goody! Wait a minute...there isn't one book by Elizabeth Chadwick on the shelf. No worries...they probably have them somewhere else since the book was just released at the beginning of the month. I ask the very nice gentleman (who has helped me many times in the past) where the Elizabeth Chadwick books are.

What?? Do my ears deceive me?? Can you say that again???

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we don't have that book in stock. In fact, we haven't even gotten our first shipment in yet. There should be three books here sometime next week."

Next week??

Only three??

I really didn't know what to say. The poor guy looked really sorry that the book wasn't there. So, I browsed and picked up a Susan Higginbotham book (which I've read but I wanted to own and read again) and a Jean Plaidy re-issue (which doesn't match the editions I have on my shelf but oh well). Its getting harder and harder to find books at bookstores that I don't already own! Haha!

So my happy day ended up a bleh day. I was really looking forward to getting my little paws on that book. At least I have two pretty new books to grace my shelf and add to Mt. TBR!!

Maybe next month...

This Day in History...

Couldn't find anything incredibly interesting today...

March 26, 1687 - Sophia Dorothea, daughter of George I, was born in Hanover, Germany.
She was the only daughter of George I and Sophia Dorothea of Celle.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review: London

London, Edward Rutherfurd
5 roses

After reading Rutherfurd's novel about Sarum (Salisbury) I couldn't wait to see what he did with the families in London. I was not disappointed. Starting at the banks of the Thames with the druids right before the Roman conquest of England and stopping on the banks of the Thames in 1997, Rutherfurd paints an absolutely amazing picture of London. He includes several different maps at the beginning which show London in different periods in its history and I found it fascinating to see how the city changed and expanded throughout the years. He also includes, thankfully, a very helpful family tree which really comes in handy when you're trying to keep up with all the families and their intertwining story lines throughout the novel. Of course there is going to be the usual embellishment that you're going to find in any fictional novel but it is mixed so well with history that nothing is going to see really out of place (or time).

The novel is about several families that live in London - the Duckets and Doggets (branches of the same family), the Bulls, the Silversleeves (who seem to come across as the "villains" throughout the different generations), the Barnikels (descended from Vikings), the Carpenters, the Flemings, the Merediths (who originally came to England with the first Tudor king), and the Pennys. Thankfully all seven of these families do not show up in each chapter (which are divided pretty much according to a major event in each historical period [Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Norman Conquest, etc]) so you will only have to keep up with around three to four of the families per time period. It is really fascinating to follow these families and their relationships with each other. It really shows us how families in these distant days would pass on their feuds and friendships down through the generations. We see our fictional families deal with such momentous events such as the coming of Julius Caesar, the Norman Conquest and the building of the Tower of London, the Black Death, the Tudor dynasty and the rise of the playhouses, the fire of London, the Industrial Revolution, and World War II. As in Sarum, Rutherfurd does have his fictional characters rubbing elbows with historical figures and sometimes, of course unknowingly, having an effect on history itself. It was easy to sympathize with many of the characters and equally as easy to despise others; they are given such wonderful and unique personalities. I loved seeing how each character and family changed and evolved based on the events surrounding them. It was equally amazing to see how some things didn't change in the families over time. The city itself is described in great detail and I found it very easy to picture what it looked like in its different periods of development. There is marvelous writing through out the novel describing every day life in London which really makes it come alive and really helps a modern reader get a better idea of what life was like for people in these harsh times. There is even some wonderful humor (I laughed out loud when little Osric got his "revenge" on Ralph Silversleeves). The middle chapters seemed to move along at a much faster pace but that is to be expected considering the very eventful periods it covers (the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors, the Civil War, etc). It amazed me how Rutherfurd was able to tie all the families and events together throughout 2000 years of history (see if you catch how he ties together a Roman coin forger and an archaeologist in the book's last chapter).

Now that I am much more familiar with many of the periods and events covered here I will probably go back and re-read it. This is a long novel (prepare yourself for some flipping back and forth between your reading and the maps and family tree at the front) and some parts will drag a bit but I do not think you'll be disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure through London's history and I would recommend it to anyone, especially those interested in London's very colorful history.

This Day in History...

March 25, 1133 - Henry II, future King of England, was born to the Empress Matilda and Geoffry of Anjou.

March 25, 1306 - Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scotland at Scone. Bruce later secured Scottish independence from England militarily, if not diplomatically, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Day in History...

March 24, 1603 - Queen Elizabeth I died after 44 years on the English throne (surpassing even her father's years on the throne). She is one of the longest ruling English monarchs. The Tudor dynesty ended with her as she never married or had children. The English and Scottish crowns were united when James VI of Scotland became James I of England.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This Day in History...

March 23, 1429 - Margaret of Anjou is born. She would eventually become the wife of Henry VI and work relentlessly to secure the crown for her son.

Monday, March 22, 2010

This Day in History...

Hmm...seemed appropriate that something that screwed America hundreds of years ago would be on THIS date...

March 22, 1765 - Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which introduced a tax to be levied directly on the American colonies. This tax required a government stamp on all purchased paper products to show that the purchaser had paid tax on it.

Book Review: The Reckoning

The Reckoning, Sharon Kay Penman
5 roses

This is the last novel in Penman's Welsh trilogy and I have to say, I did NOT want it to end (in part because I knew how it would end). I positively loved this series and was fascinated with the Welsh history. In this novel we get the final story of the struggle between Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (or Llewelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, Llewelyn Our Last Leader) and Edward I. Llewelyn is trying desperately to realize his dream of a strong and united Wales while Edward wants to see the entire island under his control. This is a novel that has something for almost any reader: love, romance, war, intrigue, politics, betrayals, power struggles, revenge, and even pirates.

As in her previous novels in the series (in fact, in ALL of her novels), this one is full of fantastic writing, breathtaking detail, and exceptional character development. She really makes the characters come to life; I feel like I could travel to Wales and actually run in to some of them! The plots in these stories are very complex and twisted (of course, the times she is writing about were awfully complex) but she does a fantastic job of making it easy for the reader to keep everything straight. In this novel there are three main story lines woven tightly together: Llewelyn and Ellen de Monfort's relationship, Llewelyn's constant struggle with his brother and the other Welsh lords, and his battle against England's King Edward I. Because they are so tightly connected a slight change in one story line will have a drastic affect on another. I was cheering for Llewelyn and Ellen the whole way; I thought it was touching how much he cared for her even before they were married. I hated the way Ellen's cousin, Edward I, held her as a hostage in an attempt to subdue Llewelyn, thus denying them precious time together. The fate of Ellen and their child almost had me in tears. My negative feelings about Edward I only continued and strengthened through this novel. I am certainly not implying that I think he was a bad king I just don't feel, after reading about him in this trilogy, that he was a good man. His determination to punish Ellen's one surviving brother Armary for something the other brothers did really pushed me the wrong way and his treatment of Llewelyn and Davydd's children at the end was horrible. Knowing what would happen to Wales made me hate him even more. During Llewelyn's constant struggles with his brother Davydd and the Welsh lords I just wanted to reach through time and smack some sense into them and tell them that Wales would be destroyed if they didn't unite with Llewelyn. The constant bickering and fighting between the Welsh really played right into Edward's hands. Penman's writing is amazing and I could feel the tension growing in these characters as the story progressed.

Despite knowing how history turns out and dreading reading about it, I couldn't stop turning the pages. I did manage to put it down before the climatic moment because I was sure I would cry and I was subbing in a high school language arts class at the time. Penman is such a superb storyteller and manages to combine impeccable historical research with fantastic fictional writing so easily. I think one sign of a phenomenal historical fiction author is their ability to pull their readers into their writing and make the history come alive, causing strong emotional attachment from the reader. Penman does this to perfection. I really was emotionally involved from page one. What I also enjoy are her Author's Notes at the end where she gives some "after the final curtain" information about the characters and even lets the reader know the places in the novel where she took some creative license and changed a few facts. Out of the three I would rank this one as my second favorite behind Here be Dragons and ahead of Falls the Shadow. Readers unfamiliar with this time might better recognize Edward I as the king in Braveheart. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone and especially those interested in Welsh history. This one will certainly tug at your heartstrings.

Mailbox Mondays

Mailbox Monday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week (checked out library books don’t count). Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!

I haven't been able to get to the store to get some of the books that I want that have been released recently, but I did receive this ARC in the mail last week.

Romancing Miss Bronte, Juliet Gael

This is a "biography" of sorts about Charlotte Bronte.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reagan said it before...

I do not usually put anything political on my blog here but I am quite angry at the moment and thought this quote from President Reagan was appropriate...

One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project, most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it. Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

This Day in History...

March 19, 1702 - Anne Stuart, sister of Mary, succeeded to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland on the death of William III of Orange. She was the last of the Stuart monarchs. After her death, distant relatives from Hanover took over the English throne.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This Day in History...

March 18, 978 - Edward, King of England was murdered at Corfe Castle. It is thought his stepmother Aelfryth, mother of Ethelred the Unready, ordered the murder because she was eager to see her son crowned. She shouldn't have been so eager...Ethelred was a horrible king.

March 18, 1496 - Princess Mary Tudor was born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. She would go on to be Queen of France (for about two months) and then marry her brother's close friend Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Her unfortunate granddaughter, Jane Grey, was the sad "Nine Days Queen."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

This Day in History...

March 17, 385 - St. Patrick was born. He is the Patron Saint of Ireland.

March 17, 1649 - Oliver Cromwell abolished the position of King of England and the House of Lords. He then declared England a Commonwealth. This lasted about a decade and the monarchy was restored when Charles II claimed his throne.

Book Review: Royal Affairs

Royal Affairs, Leslie Carroll
3.5 roses

This book is an interesting journey through all the wonderfully entertaining affairs of Britain's royalty. Starting with Henry II in the 12th century and ending with Prince Charles and his marital woes, she includes such jewels as Edward II and his extremely favorite favorites, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, Henry VIII and his escapades, Mary II's crush on a girl, and the extremely busy House of Hanover . Do not go into this thinking that it is going to be a serious nonfiction; this is a light and fun read with a distinct gossipy feel.

Being fairly well read in the history of the British monarchy (at least up to the Stuarts) I already was pretty familiar with many of the notorious affairs of these royals and was entertained by the fun feel of this book. Ms. Carroll digs a bit deeper into these relationships to give the reader a look at the how's and why's it happened (and it was very common for members of the royal family to have affairs). There are some humorous lines and references thrown in (like when she compares George I's two mistresses to the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella) that make this an enjoyable read. Besides the humor, you can tell that the author did quite a bit of research and had a good time in her writing. Something I found extremely interesting was the amount of money some of these mistresses/lovers received. Carroll even converts the amounts into modern day sums; it is truly amazing how well some of these folks profited! All that being said, I didn't give this one top marks because there are quite a few rumors thrown in to the mix (with no mention that they are rumors or theories) and several historical inaccuracies (though nothing too terrible). There were also some affairs that seemed to be missing: there is no mention of Richard I's questionable sexual preferences; King John's numerous affairs are passed over; Edward III and his mistress Alice Perrers are not found here, even though it is reported that she had great influence over him. While this doesn't detract from the overall work, it just seems odd to me that these relationships were not mentioned anywhere.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading more about the dirtier side of England's kings and queens, the things that most "serious" history books are not going to discuss in detail. If someone is a stickler for historical accuracies, I might caution them to pass on this one but if you're just looking for an entertaining and easy book, this one will certainly fit the bill. It really was a light, easy, and fun read and I even learned more about the monarchs that came after Elizabeth I. Prepare to be a bit amazed; in most cases the truth is so much more entertaining than anyone could possibly make up!

* Leslie Carroll also has a book out titled Notorious Royal Marriages which covers more than just Britain's monarchy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Would You Like to See on the Big Screen?

There have been several movies and TV shows over the years based on historical characters. Unfortunately, most of them cover basically the same people (the Tudors). Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching things on the Tudors (especially Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I) but there are many other intriguing personalities from history that I would love to see on the Big Screen.

Thus my idea for this post. Who would YOU pay money to see on the Big Screen? These are just my top picks though there are several more that I would pay money to see!

1. Richard III/The Sunne in Splendour - You knew he had to be #1 on my list! I would love to see Sharon Kay Penman's outstanding novel made into a movie and I would sit through a long one for this! It would just be nice to see a movie on Richard that is NOT based on Shakespeare's play, thus painting him as a horribly deformed and evil man.

2. Llewelyn the Great/The Welsh Trilogy - I fell in love with Llewelyn (and his grandson with the same name) while reading Sharon Kay Penman's trilogy. With all the action, love, betrayal, wars, etc, etc in these novels they would make the perfect movie! I would love to see the entire trilogy on screen but any of them would do for me at this point!

3. William Marshall - After reading Elizabeth Chadwick's novel on his life I would enjoy watching it in action. I think it would be interesting to see bits from his childhood (being the hostage of King Stephen) throughout his time trying to serve various Plantagenet kings.

4. Katherine Swynford/John of Gaunt - Anya Seton's novel about their love affair was delightful to read and (with all the "love" in it) would make a great movie. Considering how many kings and queens came from their union, I'd love to see them in action. And they were such great personalities in the novel!

5. The Heretic Queen - I loved Michelle Moran's book about Nefertari. I am not very familiar with Egyptian history so I can't say how accurate her portrayal was, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story and would love to see a movie about this Queen.

6. Edward II/Queen Isabella/The Despensers - Reading Susan Higginbotham's novel The Traitor's Wife sparked my interest in this period of English history. This crazy love triangle (and maybe a pentagon if you add in Piers Galveston and Roger Mortimer) is full of movie potential! Knowing Hollywood...they might just add in the hot poker...

So...who would YOU like to see immortalized even further on the Silver Screen??

This Day in History...

March 16, 1190 - The beginning of the Crusades marked the beginning of the massacre of Jews at Clifford's Tower, York. Some committed mass suicide rather than submit to baptism.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB at Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

A Treasury of Royal Scandals, Michael Farquhar

As her long and lusty reign neared its close, only two things seemed to frighten Catherine the Great - an empty bed and the ascension of her half-mad son Paul to the Russian throne.

But while Catherine reigned, her nasty, pug-faced son would have to stew in his own resentment.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This Day in History...

March 15, 44 BC - "The Ides of March" - Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on the floor of the Roman Senate.

March 15, 1672 - Charles II enacted the Declaration of Indulgence. This was a beginning step towards establishing freedom of religion in England.

Book Review: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
3.5 roses

I love reading Jane Austen's books and after seeing a version of this on Georgia Public Broadcasting a few weeks ago I had to read it. This is a fairly short novel when compared to some of Austen's other works but it is an enjoyable and quick read in which the heroine has to learn the difference between reality and Gothic fantasy.

This is the story of Catherine Morland, a very un-heroine-like heroine, though a delightfully charming one. During a trip to Bath with the Allens she makes several new friends including Isabella and John Thorpe and Henry and Eleanor Tilney. As with most Austen heroines, her first impressions and naivety soon give way to misunderstandings and deceit. Her faith in her "dear" friend Isabella is shattered when her eyes are finally opened to the type of person Isabella really is. At the same time, Isabella's brother has set the scene for a serious misunderstanding that will cause Catherine much anxiety and trouble down the road. When she is invited by the Tilneys to stay with them at their home Northanger Abbey Catherine is thrilled, sure that the abbey will be as wonderfully haunted and mysterious as those in the Gothic novels she loves to read. Once under the abbey's roof, Catherine's very vivid imagination begins to run away with her and leads her to some extreme embarrassment and an estrangement from Henry Tilney. However, as we expect with Austen, there is a happy, sweet, feel-good ending.

This was one of Austen's earliest novels and while probably not quite up to the same standards as say Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility this is still a delightful read. Like most of her novels, this one is full of social commentary and it is very easy to imagine Bath and its inhabitants through Catherine's eyes. Austen really does a good job of describing life during this time period (though in this novel some of that description seems a bit tongue-in-cheek). Her spoof on the Gothic novel (which was all the rage at this time) really is hysterical to read. I had to laugh as Catherine searched in vain to find some evidence of spookiness and cobwebs in the abbey, only to be highly disappointed when she realizes that is is quite normal and there is no one locked away in a hidden room. Catherine herself is almost a spoof on the "typical" novel heroine of the day - she is a very average girl who just happens to have a very active imagination. Catherine's "hero" isn't your typical hero either; you won't see Henry showering Catherine with flowery love poems, though you will see him constantly teasing her, but he is quite charming and I couldn't help falling for him!

I really enjoyed all the twists and turns throughout the novel and finished in only a couple of days. My only issue with it was the climatic scene between Catherine and Henry which really was quite anti-climatic. I really had hoped to see more concerning the fate of this couple (as they are really delightful and I loved their story) but it was only vaguely mentioned. Aside from that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read for any true Austen lover. I would also recommend it to those readers that may feel a bit intimidated by Austen's larger, more well-known novels and would like a shorter introduction to her writing. I only gave it a 3.5 because it was a tad slow to get into and, as I have already read other Austen novels, I couldn't help comparing it to them (and I positively love Sense).

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Day in History...

Haven't found anything too exciting the past few days...

March 12, 1609 - Bermuda became a British colony.

March 12, 1664 - New Jersey became a British colony when Charles II granted New Jersey to his brother James, the Duke of York.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Day in History...

March 11, 1818 - 21 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published Frankenstein. It is sometimes called the first science fiction novel.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Day in History...

March 10, 1629 - Charles I dissolved Parliament and it remained inactive for eleven years.

Book Review: Virgin, Prelude to the Throne

Virgin: Prelude to the Throne, Robin Maxwell
4 roses

This is the "second" book in Maxwell's "trilogy" about Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth (the first being The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and the last being The Queen's Bastard). I put those words in quotations because each book can stand on its own and one does not have to read the others that come before or after. Maxwell is a wonderful author and manages again to weave a very compelling story.

Virgin is the story of Elizabeth Tudor's teenage years while she is in the care of her stepmother Catherine Parr and her husband, the dashing Thomas Seymour. While the story is about a teenager none of the things that happen to the poor girl are things that should be happening to someone of that age. This story really shows the turmoil of her life at this period and her struggles with feelings that most teenage girls are going to have when they realize they have attracted the attention of a man. It really paints the whole relationship in an almost sinister light when viewed from Seymour's perspective. Their relationship is shown in a much more sensual way in this book compared to others I have read about the same period and it's easy to understand how Elizabeth's head was turned. I have never been a fan of Thomas Seymour and this one dropped him several more notches; he really comes across as a vile, sneaky, cold-hearted, ambitious man with his goal of snatching power from his older brother and achieving glory for himself. He even thinks he would be able to take the Crown himself! I truly felt sorry for Elizabeth when, in a pretty horrible situation, she finally realizes why Seymour showered so much attention on her. Maxwell does a very good job of showing Elizabeth as a girl who seems to want nothing more at this period of her life than to find someone to love and that loves her in return (and is that really surprising considering the way she was treated by her father?). After loosing her mother in the horrific way she did, struggling through the confusion she suffers in regards to her relationship with Seymour, and dealing with the constant threat of treason hanging over her head, it is no wonder that she acquired an aloof, almost cold appearance later in life but amazingly still was proud and every inch royalty. Even at the end, having barely escaped Seymour's snares with her life, there's the hint that things still will not be wonderful for the Princess once John Dudley is the power behind her brother's throne. I think this was a brilliant move on Maxwell's part; since the novel does not end with Elizabeth about to become queen she has given readers a hint that her life was still going to be full of danger for a while longer.

I would certainly recommend this to any lover of Tudor history and fans of Elizabeth. It is not a long book but it is wonderfully written, full of remarkable descriptions, and will tug at your emotions. Make sure to pick up Maxwell's other books that tell more of Elizabeth's story.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: Falls the Shadow

Falls the Shadow, Sharon Kay Penman
4 roses

This is the second book in Penman's Welsh trilogy and covers the life of Simon de Montfort, a man who really was ahead of his time when it comes to government, thus causing him to be completely at odds with most of the nobility of his age. He helped bring about the start of Parliament in England which was not looked on favorably by Henry III (what monarch would want to give up some of his power?). Penman's exceptional writing once again shines brightly.

Simon de Montfort was born a Frenchman and managed to "talk his way" into a relative's English earldom. He then ended up marrying the English king's sister, Nell, sowing the seeds of dislike in the monarch. Simon becomes completely fed up with Henry's inability to rule his kingdom and tries to create a more democratic government, trying to institute such things as Parliament, to help the monarch. He suffers through several periods of exile in France for his efforts, though going to help his monarch in times of military need which gets him back in England each time. Eventually, dispite Simon's good intentions, Henry sees him as a traitor which leads to a rebellion. This book is full of very volatile characters with very big personalities, all very well described and their growth and change throughout very well documented. I was really amazed at how completely inept Henry was as a king and wondered how he managed to keep his throne. I could fully sympathize with Simon in his annoyance with his monarch's complete lack of backbone, though I could see where he could have gone about things differently, thus not angering Henry quite as much (basically calling your king an inbecile is not going to sit well). Simon really is a very human "hero" in this novel - he is championing a very noble cause and is a good, decent, and honorable man but he is also has quite a few flaws. I really feel it is his flaws that really made me cheer for him; he was so REAL. Henry's son, the future Edward I, made himself highly dislikable in my eyes with his constant betrayals and going back on his word. With as often as he stabbed people in the back it is hard to see how any man would trust him once he became king. I can see why he was such a powerful king (people probably feared him) but I will never look on him in the same light again. Interspersed with Simon and Henry's story is the continuing Welsh story - this time focusing on Llewelyn Fawr's grandson, Llewelyn, and his struggles against his brothers Owain and Davydd as he fights to keep alive his grandfather's wonderful dream of a strong and united Wales. He has to deal with the same issues his grandfather did - Welsh lords that are greedy and don't want to see the ancient ways changed (even if they would really help) and relatives all too eager to betray him. His is not the main story here though it is interwoven with Simon's throughout.

I enjoyed this second book though not nearly as much as the first in the trilogy (but really, how can you NOT immensely enjoy reading about Llewelyn Fawr and Joanna?). I felt a bit bogged down in the middle with all the discussion about the Provisions and such. At times it was confusing to keep up with who was allied with which side and who betrayed whom (and there was quite a bit of this going on). However things really picked up towards the end as events snowballed to the climax. I felt that the descriptions and details of the various main players in this novel really set it apart from others - they are so wonderfully described that it feels as if I knew them personally. I can not wait to read the last book in the series, The Reckoning, which truly focuses on Llewelyn and his final struggles in Wales.

This Day in History...

March 9, 1566 - David Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots private secretary, was murdered by her husband Lord Darnley and his men, right before her in her private chambers.

Monday, March 8, 2010

This Day in History...

March 8, 1702 - Anne becomes Queen of England after William III died in a riding accident.

March 8, 1765 - The House of Lords passed the Stamp Act to tax the American colonies. This was one of the final straws that pushed the colonists into a revolution.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Wars of the Roses...on Facebook??

Have you ever wondered what Facebook would be like if some of our famous (or imfamous) personalities from history had profiles?? Well, wonder no longer! The wonderful Susan Higginbotham (author of the awesome novels The Traitor's Wife, Hugh and Bess, and The Stolen Crown) has found the news feeds of some of the famous folks from the Wars of the Roses! Amazing isn't it? Click the link below to head over to her blog and see where she has revealed their Facebook adventures!

The Wars of the Roses on Facebook!!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

This Day in History...

A couple of goodies today...

March 5, 1133 - Henry II, who was to become the first Plantagenet king of England, is born to the Empress Matilda and Geoffry of Anjou.

March 5, 1461 - Henry VI was deposed by Richard, Duke of York during the War of the Roses.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Way Behind!

I am incredibly behind on my book reviews but the past couple of weeks have been quite hectic around here. I've gotten behind on everything here - reviews, weekly memes, discussion posts, etc. I'm hoping to get my reviews ready to go for next week so I can start getting caught up on them all! To be honest, I was caught up in watching the Olympics and just READING!

Here are the reviews you have to look forward to:

Leslie Carroll's Royal Affairs
Robin Maxwell's Virgin: Prelude to the Throne
Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey
Sharon Kay Penman's Falls the Shadow

This Day in History...

March 4, 1681 - Charles II granted a Royal Charter to William Penn. This allowed Penn to establish a colony in North America (which he called Pennsylvania).

March 4, 1912 - Suffragettes (demanding votes for women) smashed every window they passed in Knightsbridge, protesting government inaction.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This Day in History...

March 3, 1847 - Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was born.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

This Day in History...

March 2, 1791 - English theologian and founder of Methodism John Wesleydied.

March 2, 1882 - Scotsman Roderick Maclean tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Queen Victoria.

Monday, March 1, 2010

This Day in History... not exactly a HISTORICAL tidbit but I don't care! :)

March 1, 1940 - English actress Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for her performance as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.

If You're Interested in Reading about Anne Boleyn...

I did a post like this several months back on Richard III and decided it was time for another one. This time I've picked another very interesting figure from British history - Anne Boleyn. I personally find her a very intriguing person to read about as there are such wide variations in how she is portrayed (was she an innocent caught up in the moment? was she an evil, scheming witch? was she just an ambitious and intelligent woman?)There are certainly a lot of books about this woman out there! Most of these will be historical fiction though I will list a some good non-fiction choices. Some of the books will paint Anne in a favorable lights and others will show her in less than admirable ways; some I will have really liked and others I may not have found to my liking. These are by no means the only books out there on Anne. There are thousands. I just chose to mention some of the ones that I feel are exceptional or have been recommended.

The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

I list this one first because it is probably the most widely read novel about Anne (though it is told through the eyes of her sister Mary). There are very mixed feelings on this book. My take on it? It is a great, fun, entertaining read and I think you'll like it - as long as you're not too worried about historical inaccuracies.

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, Robin Maxwell

I really enjoyed this version of Anne's story. The story is how Anne's daughter Elizabeth I is given her mother's diary after finally becoming Queen. I thought Anne's portrayal here was fairly realistic. This may be my favorite telling of her story.

Mademoiselle Boleyn, Robin Maxwell

This book is actually chronologically before and is the story of Anne's life while she is at the French court. It really shows how events there helped shape the woman she would become. I thought it was a very refreshing look at Anne as this is not a time in her life greatly focused on.

The Lady in the Tower, Jean Plaidy

Ms. Plaidy's take on Anne's story. Not quite as lively as some of the previously mentioned, more recently written versions, but still a lot of good information and a good read.

The Last Boleyn, Karen Harper

Basically the same story as Gregory's novel but much more focused on Anne's sister Mary (but of course you can't have a novel about Mary without Anne). This version is a bit more historically accurate than Gregory's.

Murder Most Royal, Jean Plaidy

Yes, another Plaidy book about Anne but this one is shared with Henry's other executed queen, Anne's cousin Katherine Howard.

The Concubine, Norah Lofts

A good account of Anne's story. She also has one about Katherine of Aragon.

A Lady Raised High, Lauren Gardner

A decent telling of Anne's story, though this is through the eyes of one of her ladys-in-waiting and there seems to be more of this lady's life than Anne's. A more sympathetic portrayal though.

The Queen Of Subtleties, Suzanne Dunn

This was not one of my favorite books on Anne. Her story was mixed with the story of a palace confectioner and it really seemed to focus more on the confectioner, which was confusing sometimes.

The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir

This has the same title as one of Plaidy's historical fiction books but Weir's is a nonfiction telling of Anne's life. She doesn't paint the best picture of the lady here I've been told.

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives

This is sometimes referred to as "the definitive biography" of Anne. This is one I have not been able to get my hands on but I am still trying as I'd like to see the author's research.

Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen, Joanna Denny

Another biography about Anne, though supposedly this one does not paint her as an evil witch.

Threads: The Reincarnation of Anne Boleyn, Nell Gavin

This is one that I haven't read yet but I really want to as it is the "story" of how Anne and Henry keep getting thrown together throughout time.

Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Obsession, Elizabeth Norton

A very recently published biography of Anne.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser

Obviously a book about all of Hal's wives is going to include a nice section on the fiesty Anne Boleyn.

Again, let me state that these are just a few of the books out there on Anne Boleyn and I have listed them to get you started in your reading (if you are so inclined). If you are not that familiar with the lady be aware that you will probably get very conflicting pictures of her throughout the many books available. It will be left to you to decide which is closer to the truth!