Category Archives: Alison Weir

A Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower by Alison Weir

by Alison Weir
Royal blood curses these women as their hopes and dreams are shattered

 A Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower by Alison Weir
Ballantine Books October 2, 2012
Hardcover 528 pages
Review copy provided from the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

England’s Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane’s younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small rooms in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch.

The setting: c.1553-1563; Lady Katherine Grey during the reigns of Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I
The other setting: c.1483-1486; Kate Plantagenet, during her father Richard III- later known as the usurper’s reign- and Henry VII

The quick review: The ‘same-old same-old’ given an updated look through the eyes of two different women; great stuff for those who adore fan fic of Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty, but could be a long drawn out bland blah blah blah to those who have read all about the R3 + Princes events over and over and over again.

The long review:
A Dangerous Inheritance features an interesting format with the narration, as it brings us the story of two women about seventy years apart. Katherine Grey will be somewhat familiar to Tudor fans as the younger sister of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey (the Nine Days Queen), and Kate Plantagenet brings us a ‘new’ look at the reign of Richard III and the nephews he is rumored to have killed in the tower. The events are the same as we know of history, aficionados may find themselves bored for the lack of ‘new’ material, but one can take comfort in the fictionalized account of these women who typically fade in the background of other novels of their respective eras. It was an interesting format with the switching back and forth of Kate and Katherine, and only a few times I had to readjust the time frame in my mind to get back on the same track. Even though the women are living in a different century, Weir presents their story as a simultaneous timeline so it was easy to get confused as to who was pining for who amongst the endless list of titles of the lords of the realm.

The themes of the women are the same: they each fall in love with a man that due to their royal blood could not be allowed to love freely but each of them handle their woes differently. Katherine Grey, a cousin to Elizabeth I, eventually finds herself in a treasonous love affair with Ned Seymour, and Kate Plantagenet is like a tumbleweed in the midst of the warring factions of the Wars of the Roses. What is most intriguing about Kate is I have barely heard mention of her at all in the other novels, so even though I could barely stomach the redundancy of the Richard III events I was still intrigued by what happens to Kate because that was one thing I had no prior knowledge of. During the story of these women, they each try to discover what happened to the Princes in the Tower; Kate being a staunch supporter of her father, and Katherine fearing their fate and her own will meet somewhere.

When Katherine Grey comes across possible places where Kate could have been decades before her, Katherine gets the heebie-jeebies and all distraught and full of sudden despair until she steps out of the draft kinda thing.. and that can get old after the second instance…but I think along with the Princes Mystery this was supposed to be the underlying theme that connected the two women. (It was perhaps the only silly part of the novel, which is lame because was this really supposed to be the main thing??) I think if Weir added a little more oomph and didn’t try to downplay the ghost thing maybe she could have filled it out more instead of making it seem like a half-hearted attempt at creativity and too fluffy for a Weir novel.

This attempt of ghostly reincarnations/visions/manifestations was thrown in to perhaps make this a different kind of Tudor/Wars of the Roses type of novel, and the fact that the two women’s stories are presented together also makes it different; but I still think you really have to be in the mood for this one since Weir likes to add many details that tend to bog down the actual novelization. Even though it focuses on the important events of their times, it also focuses on their loves and losses which humanizes these two women in a fantastic fashion. The title A Dangerous Inheritance implies these women who are born too close to the throne for comfort, and their travails were well fleshed out as such. I could truly empathize with these two young women, and I appreciated their stories very much.

But, there was indeed another ‘silly part’ was the amount of time Sir Edward Warner (jailer!) spent with Katherine as they picked each other’s brains regarding the lost princes. In prison in the tower, Katherine would not have had opportunity to do much of anything at all, so Edward Warner was used by the author to give her a bit of life behind those walls, but the extent – and content – of the discussions started to feel a bit over the top. And when Katherine is thinking ‘in her head’ about the princes, it sounds awfully like it would from a book the author would write herself (perhaps The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir?).

I am kind of on the fence about this one because it was well written and it does offer a lot of insight with it being over 500 pages, but as a novel goes I just wish I were a bit more entertained. I think maybe those readers who are just getting their feet wet with the two eras would enjoy this novel because Weir does a fabulous job of depicting the eras and the important events surrounding Katherine and Kate. She holds true to the typical portrayals of the rulers: Richard III is the crown grasping ogre, Henry VII is an ugly little miser, Lady Jane Grey is the proud victim, Mary I is the Spaniard loving burner of heretics, Elizabeth I is shrewd/powerful/paranoid. And I am beginning to hate Richard III just about as much as the author, so even though I love the many facets of the Wars of the Roses, after reading this one and Gregory’s The Kingmaker’s Daughter I am making a mental note to not read another Richard III book for at least a year.

I am also of the opinion that ‘famous’ authors who are viewed as historians have to be near perfect in order to please many readers (I am thinking of Philippa Gregory, of course). If this novel were not written by Alison Weir but someone a bit more obscure, perhaps it would be seen as a triumph. We always have such high expectations for the big name type authors. Again, this is why I am on the fence. I am so sorry this is such a long rambling review, I tend to do this when I can’t decide which way to go with it. =)



Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Alison Weir, Lady Jane Grey, Richard III

Mailbox Monday

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, the weekly meme created by Marcia from A girl and her books (formerly The Printed Page) where book lovers share the titles they received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the past week. Mailbox Monday is now  on tour, and this month’s host is Amused by Books. For review, I received the following three:

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir

I have been coveting this biography on Henry VIII’s famous mistress for quite awhile, and now that it is finally here, I am swamped with books to read. Of course.
From Ballantime Books, October 4, 2011:
 Mary Boleyn (c.1500-1543) was no less fascinating than her ill-fated queen consort sister Anne. In fact, her own claims to fame are numerous: She was not only an influential member of King Henry VIII’s court circle; she was one of his mistresses and perhaps the mother of two of his children. In addition, the apparently prolific Mary was rumored to have been also a mistress of the King’s rival, Francis I of France. Alison Weir’s Mary Boleyn substantially redeems her subject’s reputation by disputing her scandalous portrayal in Philippa Gregory’s novel The Other Boleyn Girl. Our most detailed view yet of a power behind the throne. (P.S. With titles like Elizabeth and The Lady in the Tower, Weir has carved out a niche as one of the foremost biographers of British royalty).

Alison Weir will also soon visit the USA for her book tour, visit her site for an updated list of dates.

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
I have heard great things about this author, but haven’t had the chance to read any of his work thus far. I have read that this new biography reads like a novel, and since I know nothing of Catherine the Great, I am intrigued!
From Random House, November 8, 2011:

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.

And now for some fiction, His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm:

The chilling story of Lucrezia de Medici, duchess to Alfonso d’Este, His Last Duchess paints a portrait of a lonely young girl and her marriage to an inscrutable duke. Lucrezia longs for love, Alfonso desperately needs an heir, and in a true story of lust and dark decadence, the dramatic fireworks the marriage kindles threaten to destroy the duke’s entire inheritance-and Lucrezia’s future. His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.

Originally published in 2010, Sourcebooks is reissuing for October 2011 publication.  I am intrigued to see how this one differs from Loupas’ The Second Duchess, which I really enjoyed.

Which of these titles has caught your eye? I am looking forward to all of these!


Filed under 2011 Releases, Alison Weir, Catherine The Great, Lucrezia Borgia, Mailbox Monday, Mary Boleyn, Meme, Tudor

>Released Today: The Captive Queen by Alison Weir

>Available now is the newest novel by Alison Weir. I reviewed this novel recently, and like all of the Weir books I’ve read, I really enjoyed this story but there were others who completely disliked the entirety of the novel. I felt that Weir gave an interesting interpretation of Eleanor of Aquitaine that I don’t think is too far off base as for Eleanor’s potential character, but of course no one really knows for sure what Eleanor was truly like. Which is why historical fiction is so alluring as it gives us a taste of what might have been.

Despite the first half of the new book being slightly off kilter, I would still recommend this novel to those readers who want to delve into more of Eleanor’s character. It will be easy to shoot the novel down though for the lack of usual writing prowess that was indicative of Weir, so be aware that you might not want to spend your top dollar on this one. Perhaps you can find it at your library.

Read my review here. Of course, in hindsight, perhaps it should not have been a four star rating from me, but it was good enough for me as I wrote the review. I try to write my reviews the moment I read the book, so that everything is fresh in my mind. I like to be entertained, and if I felt I was entertained and not disappointed that merits a good rating from me. I am not one that is overly critical of writing styles, I don’t like to nit-pick certain things or minor historical details as I am not a historian. I prefer a novel to help to place me in another time and place as it entertains me with the events of a historical time period. Weir did that with this one and this is why I gave it a four star rating. And who doesn’t love Eleanor of Aquitaine?!

Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
 The Burton Review Rating:Four stars!

Having proven herself a gifted and engaging novelist with her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I in The Lady Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey in Innocent Traitor, New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir now harks back to the twelfth century with a sensuous and tempestuous tale that brings vividly to life England’s most passionate—and destructive—royal couple: Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II.

Nearing her thirtieth birthday, Eleanor has spent the past dozen frustrating years as consort to the pious King Louis VII of France. For all its political advantages, the marriage has brought Eleanor only increasing unhappiness—and daughters instead of the hoped-for male heir. But when the young and dynamic Henry of Anjou arrives at the French court, Eleanor sees a way out of her discontent. For even as their eyes meet for the first time, the seductive Eleanor and the virile Henry know that theirs is a passion that could ignite the world.
Returning to her duchy of Aquitaine after the annulment of her marriage to Louis, Eleanor immediately sends for Henry, the future King of England, to come and marry her. The union of this royal couple will create a vast empire that stretches from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees, and marks the beginning of the celebrated Plantagenet dynasty.
But Henry and Eleanor’s marriage, charged with physical heat, begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries, and a devil’s brood of young Plantagenets—including Richard the Lionheart and the future King John. Early on, Eleanor must endure Henry’s formidable mother, the Empress Matilda, as well as his infidelities, while in later years, Henry’s friendship with Thomas Becket will lead to a deadly rivalry. Eventually, as the couple’s rebellious sons grow impatient for power, the scene is set for a vicious and tragic conflict that will engulf both Eleanor and Henry.
Vivid in detail, epic in scope, Captive Queen is an astounding and brilliantly wrought historical novel that encompasses the building of an empire and the monumental story of a royal marriage.


Filed under Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine

>Book Review: Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir


Another headless cover. Le Sigh. But, beautiful colors!

Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
Published July 13, 2010
Ballantine Books, 496 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Four stars!

Having proven herself a gifted and engaging novelist with her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I in The Lady Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey in Innocent Traitor, New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir now harks back to the twelfth century with a sensuous and tempestuous tale that brings vividly to life England’s most passionate—and destructive—royal couple: Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II.

Nearing her thirtieth birthday, Eleanor has spent the past dozen frustrating years as consort to the pious King Louis VII of France. For all its political advantages, the marriage has brought Eleanor only increasing unhappiness—and daughters instead of the hoped-for male heir. But when the young and dynamic Henry of Anjou arrives at the French court, Eleanor sees a way out of her discontent. For even as their eyes meet for the first time, the seductive Eleanor and the virile Henry know that theirs is a passion that could ignite the world.
Returning to her duchy of Aquitaine after the annulment of her marriage to Louis, Eleanor immediately sends for Henry, the future King of England, to come and marry her. The union of this royal couple will create a vast empire that stretches from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees, and marks the beginning of the celebrated Plantagenet dynasty.
But Henry and Eleanor’s marriage, charged with physical heat, begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries, and a devil’s brood of young Plantagenets—including Richard the Lionheart and the future King John. Early on, Eleanor must endure Henry’s formidable mother, the Empress Matilda, as well as his infidelities, while in later years, Henry’s friendship with Thomas Becket will lead to a deadly rivalry. Eventually, as the couple’s rebellious sons grow impatient for power, the scene is set for a vicious and tragic conflict that will engulf both Eleanor and Henry.
Vivid in detail, epic in scope, Captive Queen is an astounding and brilliantly wrought historical novel that encompasses the building of an empire and the monumental story of a royal marriage.

Eleanor, Eleanor, Eleanor. This is her year for novels. A rare treat is to have one penned by historian Alison Weir, so I relished the chance to read this novel on the famous Queen who had shrugged off the title of Queen of France in hopes of being Queen of England. Most importantly, Eleanor was proud of being Eleanor of Aquitaine. I had read several novels that have endeared me to the rebellious Eleanor, such as the spectacular Plantagenet trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman and Pamela Kaufman’s The Book of Eleanor. Most recently, I read The Queen’s Pawn by Christy English which focuses on a snippet of Eleanor’s life, which is barely touched on in Weir’s telling. I have yet to immerse myself in a non-fiction read of Eleanor, therefore I do not have a strict stance on some of the rumors that surround Eleanor such as her possible infidelity to her first husband King Louis. Right away, Weir sets the tone for this novel as it dives into Eleanor’s lustful ways, and therefore, less than faithful ones. This will be a huge turn off to Eleanor fans, but I chose to accept it for its fictional power only. And I am not entirely sure the excessive amount of sexual encounters and sexual thoughts really had to be included here; it is a significant drawback to the rest of the novel as it takes away from the already incredible story of Eleanor’s life which doesn’t merit the need to spice it up with as much sex as Weir does here. Thankfully, this occurs only for the first half of this novel on Eleanor, as eventually she does lose her sexual power over her husband as she is kept captive away from her family for many years. Eleanor was famous for being the Queen of the Courts of Love where Aquitaine was proud of its troubadours and courtly flirtations, and England took awhile to accept the ways of these troubadours.

Alison Weir’s new novel of Eleanor begins when Eleanor is unhappily married to the very pious but respectful Louis VII, after she has given him two daughters but no heir to the French throne. She works on his advisers to persuade Louis to denounce their marriage due to the ever present fortunate escape route of consanguinity, and Eleanor is gleefully free to sow her wild oats away from the French courts and their disapproving eyes. As mentioned, I was a bit shocked at the immediate sexual nature that was displayed, as the Angevin devils otherwise known as the future Henry II and his father Geoffrey V of Anjou appear at court and Eleanor is deep in lust for them. Immediately Eleanor plots her fate and is successful at ridding herself of King Louis and within months she marries the nineteen year old Henry Fitzempress. The prospect of the merging of the lands of Henry’s and Eleanor’s together is a great one, and propels Henry on a course to succeed King Stephen as the next King.

Eleanor and Henry’s marriage is the one major focus in the novel, as well as how the relationship develops and then flounders over the years. The power that Eleanor wants to maintain as a sovereign over Aquitaine is a thorn in Henry’s side, but in the beginning of the marriage, their confrontations were smoothed over with another romp in bed. Eleanor is shown as putting up with her husband to keep the peace as much as possible. Thus the title of the novel, Captive Queen, becomes understood as we watch Eleanor struggle to maintain her Queenly stature and to continue to be revered as the beautiful yet intelligent Queen that she was. She is also shown as a loving mother to their children, especially after she walks away from her daughters that she had with Louis previously. How this separation affected her in reality we will never know, but I cannot think of it being so simple as it is glazed over in many Eleanor books, simply because there is not much to tell. It is brought up a few more times as Weir demonstrates Eleanor’s motherly nature with her and Henry’s children well, and helps to endear us to Eleanor. All of the children are featured but not as prominent as other novels such as Penman’s books; this is truly focused on Eleanor and her personal travails.

The novel moves forward as the conflicts with the chancellor Thomas Becket appear, and Eleanor and Henry are beginning to not get past their marital problems and Henry’s infidelity with the “Fair Rosamund” who Henry really loved. Becket is portrayed as a man who was enamored of Henry, and probably a bit in love with him, and vice versa. Henry valued Becket’s camaraderie and knowledge, and may have seen him either as a father or a brotherly figure. Eleanor and Thomas each recognized a silent rivalry for Henry’s ear with each other and Weir demonstrates this threatening undercurrent several times.

The second half of the novel was much better in my opinion (probably because of the way that Eleanor was not given the opportunity to have sex that often), therefore it was focused on the turmoil within her family and how it affected Eleanor. The sons were causing trouble and strife as they fought for more power in the lands they inherited, but Henry II had troubles relinquishing much power to his boys due to their untrustworthiness. I had begun to dislike Henry and his controlling ways, but with the way that Weir wrote his story towards the end I was sympathetic by how Weir demonstrated how Henry was defeated during his last days. Richard the Lionheart was not featured as much but was more of an enigma to the reader; was he great, was he knightly, was he passionate?… it was hard to decipher with this telling. He seemed focused on destruction at one point in the novel which gave him a bit of a forbidding persona.

Overall, the novel is an intriguing look at the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine as she marries Henry II, but Penman is still the queen of that fictionalized story in my eyes. If Weir used a bit more grace and less bawdy tales from the start, she may have matched Penman’s novels Time and Chance, or Devil’s Brood. For those readers who have not yet read those Penman novels, this would be an interesting read if you can tolerate the multiple sexual references. And for those who have read the William Marshal novels by Elizabeth Chadwick, I think this novel would be a great tie in to those as well. The story was focused on Eleanor and how she may have felt during most of her life, as opposed to much of the politics of the time; and it was done in a plausible, understandable and intriguing way. I am happy to have read Weir’s entertaining story of Eleanor for myself, and perhaps you will too, as I believe the novel did Eleanor justice overall.


Filed under 2010 Releases, 2010 Review, Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, King John

>Mailbox Monday on Sunday

>Please don't steal my images!Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme that is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week. And I am adding what I purchased, swapped, etc.

As I said last week, I was gifted with gift cards to Half Price Books for Mother’s Day, and I still have more to go on the cards.

My purchases included:

Fanny Burney by Claire Harman (non-fiction)

Claire Harman’s full-scale biography of Fanny Burney, the first literary woman novelist and a true child of eighteenth-century England and the Enlightenment,is rich with insights and pleasures as it brings us into the extraordinary life (1752-1840) of the woman Virginia Woolf called the mother of English fiction. We are present at Mrs. Thrale’s dinner party when the twenty-six-year-old Fanny has the incomparable thrill of hearing Dr. Johnson himself admiringly acknowledge her authorship of Evelina, her first novel, anonymously published for fear of upsetting her adored father, and now the talk of the town. We see her growing up, daughter of the charming and gifted musician and teacher Dr. Charles Burney, who was the very embodiment of a new class: talented, energized, self-educated, self-made, self-conscious, socially ambitious and easily endearing himself to aristocratic patrons.
We see Fanny partly enjoying, partly rejecting the celebrity engendered by Evelina, and four years later by Cecilia (“If you will be an author and a wit,” says Mrs. Thrale, “you must take the consequences”). And we see her mingling with the most famous men and women of the time, not only Dr. Johnson but Joshua Reynolds, Sheridan, David Garrick, Mrs. Siddons, Horace Walpole and, later, Chateaubriand and Madame de StaÎl.
For five years, during the time of George III’s madness, Fanny Burney held a position in the Royal Household as Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte. For her father, Fanny’s going to court was like going to heaven, but for Fanny it was more an incarceration. Her journals, published posthumously in 1842, gave her some solace. She saw herself as an eavesdropper. Dr. Johnson wryly called her “a spy.” Her marriage at forty-one to a penniless Catholic exile, Alexandre d’Arblay, resulted in trans-Channel crossings that left her stranded for almost a decade in Napoleon’s France, and then, after a dramatic flight from Paris, trapped in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo.
Claire Harman’s biography of Fanny Burney is as lively as it is meticulously researched and authoritative. It gives us the woman, her world and the early-blooming artist whose acute grasp of social nuance, gift for satire, drama and skillful play among large casts of characters won her comparison with the best of Smollett, Richardson and Fielding, the admiration of Jane Austen and Lord Byron and a secure place in the pantheon of the English novel.

Who’s Who in Early Medieval England, so I have four of this series now, and looking for several more such as the Who’s Who in Early/Late Hanoverian England; This is part of an eight-volume series providing short biographies of men and women from Roman to Victorian times. Each entry places the subject in the context of their age and evokes what was distinctive and interesting about their personality and achievement. The biographies are arranged in a broadly chronological rather than alphabetical sequence so that the reader may easily browse from one contemporary to the next. The index, with its many cross-references, reveals further linkages between contemporaries. Each volume is a portrait of an age, presenting history in a biographical form which complements the conventional approach. This volume begins with William the Conqueror, illegitimate son of Robert “the Devil” and first of the Norman Kings of England; and continues through Hereward the Wake, the celebrated outlaw and symbol of anti-French sentiment; the martyr Thomas Becket; and Aaron of York, “the Croesus of thirteenth-century England,” brought down by an establishment hostile to Jews.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.. I couldn’t resist this book anymore, especially feeling the way I do about how no one can hold a candle to Penman’s Henry II era titles. Perhaps she can turn me officially Richardian? If anyone can, it would only be her.
A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III—a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history.

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III—vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower—from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling. Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning. This magnificent retelling of his life is filled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

Purchased at Amazon or other online sources:

I had read her most recent, Delilah, and totally fell in love with her writing. I kept hoping that this older title would show up in my queue at Paperbackswap, and I lost patience and bought it.
Following Queenmaker, “her majestic debut” (People magazine), India Edghill’s Wisdom’s Daughter is a vivid and assiduously researched rendition of the Biblical tale of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As the queen’s search for a true heir to her throne takes her to the court of the wisest man in the world, both she and the king learn how to value truth, love, and duty . . . and the king’s daughter learns to be a forceful woman in a man’s world.

A few more titles that I just couldn’t stand not having:

Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir (2009). I really enjoy reading Weir’s non-fiction reads, unlike some nay sayers, and I appreciate her insights and her passion for her work.
Historian Alison Weir brings to life the tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became a crucial figure in the British royal dynasties. Born in the mid-14th century, Katherine experienced the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and the Peasants’ Revolt, and crossed paths with many eminent figures, among them her brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer. At age ten, she was appointed to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III; at twelve, she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. Widowed at 21, Katherine, gifted with beauty and charms, later became John of Gaunt’s mistress. Throughout their illicit union, John and Katherine were devoted to each other. In middle age, after many twists of fortune, they wed, and her children by John, the Beauforts, would become direct forebears of the Royal Houses of York, Tudor, and Stuart, and of every British sovereign since 1461 (as well as four U.S. presidents).

In the Shadow of the Throne: The Lady Arbella Stuart by Ruth Norrington (Paperback, 2002)
I had really loved a few of the Arbella non-fiction books that I had read a few years ago and I have wanted this one also ever since.
Lady Arbella Stuart, once a favoured heir to the throne of Elizabeth I, has become a forgotten Princess. This book reveals startling evidence to explain her fall into obscurity and seeks to re-establish her once again as one of the brightest stars of the House of Stuart. Directly descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter Margaret Tudor, she was first cousin to James I, niece to Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley and daughter of Darnley’s younger brother Charles Stuart and Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of Bess of Hardwick. In the Shadow of the Throne will change our understanding of Arbella Stuart by utilizing new medical research into the hereditary disease of porphryia. This new evidence not only confirms the presence of the illness in George III and his descendants, but also makes clear that symptoms were present in his ancestors back to the Tudors. James I, his eldest son Prince Henry, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I’s youngest daughter Minette and Arbella herself are now believed to have been afflicted; a close study of their health from available records reveal significant physical suffering as well as bouts of mental derangement, even madness. James I, the dominating influence on the adult life of Arbella, treated her alternately with great kindness and severe cruelty which is now known to have coincided with his attacks of the illness. With the obvious exception of Mary, it can now be argued that all these members died from porphryia.

I won this new title:

Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane W. Roller
Few personalities from classical antiquity are more familiar yet more poorly grasped than Cleopatra (69-30 BC), queen of Egypt. The subject of a vast repertory of post-antique popular culture and also a significant figure in literature, art, and music, Cleopatra herself is surprisingly little known and generally misunderstood. Even in the years immediately after her death her memory was condemned by those who defeated her. The image of Cleopatra as an unfit ruler and wanton seductress who destroyed the careers of two of Rome’s greatest generals-an image first created by Octavian’s propaganda campaign-informs the later portrayals of her on stage and screen. Cleopatra was an accomplished diplomat, administrator, linguist (she was probably the first Ptolemy ruler to learn Egyptian), and author, who, until her very last years, skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing strength and hostility from Rome. The fact that the wealthy and pivotally placed kingdom of Egypt held out so long against Roman conquest is due primarily to the formidable skills of its last Ptolemaic Queen. Although she is the subject of a vast bibliography, she can be unfairly represented as a person whose physical needs determined her political decisions. Some of the most unbiased data from her own era, the repertory of art and coinage produced while she was alive, are too frequently ignored. In Cleopatra, Duane Roller has written the definitive biography of the queen, not as a figure in popular culture or even in the arts and literature of the last five hundred years, but as the last Greek queen of Egypt. In addition to providing an engaging narrative of the queen’s life, the author carefully contextualizes Cleopatra in the revolutionary events of the first century BCE. He highlights the important heritage of the Ptolemies, rulers in Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great three hundred years earlier, and the growing involvement of Rome in North Africa and the Middle East, culminating in Octavian’s annexation of Egypt in 30 BCE. Roller also considers Cleopatra’s various predecessor queens, who are often ignored but were fascinating personalities in their own right, and her descendants: although Cleopatra was seen as “the last of the Ptolemies” her daughter and grandson ruled in Africa for another 70 years and created a Ptolemaic government-in-exile at Mauretanian Caesarea. The result is the most complete and authoritative portrait of the life and times of this perennially fascinating figure.


Filed under Alison Weir, Arbella Stuart, Katherine Swynford

>Mailbox Monday Goodies Galore!

>Mailbox MondayMailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week. And I am adding what I purchased, swapped, etc.


A fellow HF Blogger Round Table member sent me the following, all out of the sheer delightful kindness of her heart because she is just beyond cool that way:
Avalon by Anya Seton (originally published 1965)
This saga of yearning and mystery travels across oceans and continents to Iceland, Greenland, and North America during the time in history when Anglo-Saxons battled Vikings and the Norsemen discovered America. The marked contrasts between powerful royalty, landless peasants, Viking warriors and noble knights are expertly brought to life in this gripping tale of the French prince named Rumon. Shipwrecked off the Cornish coast on his quest to find King Arthur’s legendary Avalon, Rumon meets a lonely girl named Merewyn and their lives soon become intertwined. Rumon brings Merewyn to England, but once there he is so dazzled by Queen Alrida’s beauty that it makes him a virtual prisoner to her will. In this riveting romance, Anya Seton once again proves her mastery of historical detail and ability to craft a compelling tale that includes real and colorful personalities such as St. Dunstan and Eric the Red.”

Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir (April 3, 2001)
Renowned in her time for being the most beautiful woman in Europe, the wife of two kings and mother of three, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the great heroines of the Middle Ages. At a time when women were regarded as little more than chattel, Eleanor managed to defy convention as she exercised power in the political sphere and crucial influence over her husbands and sons. In this beautifully written biography, Alison Weir paints a vibrant portrait of this truly exceptional woman, and provides new insights into her intimate world. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived a long life of many contrasts, of splendor and desolation, power and peril, and in this stunning narrative, Weir captures the woman— and the queen—in all her glory. With astonishing historic detail, mesmerizing pageantry, and irresistible accounts of royal scandal and intrigue, she recreates not only a remarkable personality but a magnificent past era.”
King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
With the same meticulous scholarship and narrative legerdemain she brought to her hugely popular Lymond Chronicles, our foremost historical novelist travels further into the past. In King Hereafter, Dorothy Dunnett’s stage is the wild, half-pagan country of eleventh-century Scotland. Her hero is an ungainly young earl with a lowering brow and a taste for intrigue. He calls himself Thorfinn but his Christian name is Macbeth.

Dunnett depicts Macbeth’s transformation from an angry boy who refuses to accept his meager share of the Orkney Islands to a suavely accomplished warrior who seizes an empire with the help of a wife as shrewd and valiant as himself. She creates characters who are at once wholly creatures of another time yet always recognizable–and she does so with such realism and immediacy that she once more elevates historical fiction into high art.”

From Paperbackwap, I was happy to get a beautiful hardcover of The Diamond by By Julie Baumgold, after reading a review by Arleigh at

“The Diamond is a brilliant, dazzling historical novel about a famous diamond — one of the biggest in the world — that passed from the hands of William Pitt’s grandfather to the French kings and Napoleon, linking many of the most famous personalities of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and serving as the centerpiece for a novel in every way as fascinating as Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover or Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Rich with historical detail, characters, and nonstop drama, the story centers on the famous Regent diamond — once the largest and most beautiful diamond in the world — which was discovered in India in the late seventeenth century and bought by the governor of the East India Company, a cunning nabob, trader, and ex-pirate named Thomas Pitt. His son brought it to London, where a Jewish diamond-cutter of genius took two years to fashion it into one of the world’s greatest gems. After hawking it around the courts of Europe, Pitt sold the diamond to Louis XIV’s profligate and deeply amoral nephew, the Duc d’Orlans. Raised to glory by this fortune, Pitt’s grandsons would rule England and devote their lives to fighting the very Bourbon kings who wore their diamond, the enduring symbol of the rivalry between France and England. The diamond was worn by Louis XIV, Louis XV, and by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. A beautiful blond whore placed it in her private parts to entice Czar Peter the Great on his visit to Paris. A band of thieves stole it during the bloodiest days of the Revolution. Found in an attic, it was pawned for horses for Napoleon’s first campaigns. Napoleon redeemed the diamond and, though his wife Josephine craved it, set it in the hilt of his sword, where it appeared in many of his portraits. After his fall, his young second wife, Marie-Louise, grabbed it when she fled France. The Rgent was hidden in innumerable secret places, used by Napoleon III and the ravishing Empress Eugenie to impress Queen Victoria, and finally ended up on display in the Louvre museum, where it remains today, then and now the first diamond of France. Julie Baumgold, herself the descendant of a family of diamond merchants, tells this extraordinary story through Count Las Cases (author of Le Mmorial de Sainte-Hlne), who writes it in his spare time while in exile with Napoleon I. The book is in Las Cases’s words, those of a clever, sophisticated nobleman at home in the old regime as well as in Napoleon’s court. As he tells his story, with Napoleon prodding, challenging, and correcting him all the while, they draw closer. The emperor has a kind of love/hate relationship with the diamond, which represents the wealth and fabulous elegance of the French courts as well as the power for good or evil that possessing it confers on its transient masters. He thinks of it as his good luck charm, but is it? For the diamond has its dark side — murder, melancholy, and downfall ever shadow its light. A glittering cast of characters parades through The Diamond: a mesmerizing Napoleon and the devoted Las Cases, stuck on Saint Helena with their memories; Louis XIV and his brother, the dissolute Monsieur; Madame, the German princess who married Monsieur; the Scottish financier John Law and Saint-Simon, who sold Pitt’s diamond to Madame’s depraved son; the depressed Louis XV; and Madame de Pompadour. Here too are the families, the Pitts in England and the Bonapartes in France; the men of Saint Helena; nobles and thieves; Indian diamond merchants and financiers — nearly everyone of interest and importance from the late seventeenth through the early nineteenth century. Written with enormous verve and ambition, The Diamond is a treat, a plum pudding of a novel filled with one delicious, funny, disgraceful episode after another. It is grand history and even grander fiction — a towering work of imagination, research, and narrative skill.”
And for review, from the fabulous Christine Trent, The Queen’s Dollmaker (Jan 1, 2010).. I know I am late to the tour party on this one.. so by the time my review posts you will all need to be reminded of it again so you can go out and buy it =) And I am extremely pleased to announce that we will have Christine Trent as one of our Round Table authors when her NEXT book comes out!! Gotta get in on the HF Bloggers Round Table list EARLY, folks!
On the brink of revolution, with a tide of hate turned against the decadent royal court, France is in turmoil – as is the life of one young woman forced to leave her beloved Paris. After a fire destroys her home and family, Claudette Laurent is struggling to survive in London. But one precious gift remains: her talent for creating exquisite dolls that Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France herself, cherishes. When the Queen requests a meeting, Claudette seizes the opportunity to promote her business, and to return home…Amid the violence and unrest, Claudette befriends the Queen, who bears no resemblance to the figurehead rapidly becoming the scapegoat of the Revolution. But when Claudette herself is lured into a web of deadly political intrigue, it becomes clear that friendship with France’s most despised woman has grim consequences. Now, overshadowed by the spectre of Madame Guillotine, the Queen’s dollmaker will face the ultimate test.”


Filed under Alison Weir, Anya Seton, Christine Trent, Mailbox Monday


>The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir:
Category: Biography & Autobiography
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
On Sale: January 5, 2010
Price: $28.00
Pre-Order Price Guarantee at Amazon ($18.48)
ISBN: 978-0-345-45321-1 (0-345-45321-2)
Review copy provided by Publisher, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

The Burton Review Rating:Four and a Half Stars!

Product Description:

“Nearly five hundred years after her violent death, Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII, remains one of the world’s most fascinating, controversial, and tragic heroines. Now acclaimed historian and bestselling author Alison Weir has drawn on myriad sources from the Tudor era to give us the first book that examines, in unprecedented depth, the gripping, dark, and chilling story of Anne Boleyn’s final days.
The tempestuous love affair between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn scandalized Christendom and altered forever the religious landscape of England. Anne’s ascent from private gentlewoman to queen was astonishing, but equally compelling was her shockingly swift downfall. Charged with high treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London in May 1536, Anne met her terrible end all the while protesting her innocence. There remains, however, much mystery surrounding the queen’s arrest and the events leading up to it: Were charges against her fabricated because she stood in the way of Henry VIII making a third marriage and siring an heir, or was she the victim of a more complex plot fueled by court politics and deadly rivalry?
The Lady in the Tower examines in engrossing detail the motives and intrigues of those who helped to seal the queen’s fate. Weir unravels the tragic tale of Anne’s fall, from her miscarriage of the son who would have saved her to the horrors of her incarceration and that final, dramatic scene on the scaffold. What emerges is an extraordinary portrayal of a woman of great courage whose enemies were bent on utterly destroying her, and who was tested to the extreme by the terrible plight in which she found herself.
Richly researched and utterly captivating, The Lady in the Tower presents the full array of evidence of Anne Boleyn’s guilt—or innocence. Only in Alison Weir’s capable hands can readers learn the truth about the fate of one of the most influential and important women in English history.”

Although perhaps anti-climatic with the multitude of biographies and Tudor histories, this newest work by historian Alison Weir provides Anne Boleyn enthusiasts with so many detailed accounts of the last four months of Anne’s life that there is little left wanting. It is extensive with the recounting of the events that led to Anne’s arrest, and Weir leaves no stone unturned in her endeavor to relay details from the myriad of sources. Weir uses many sources to quote from, examines, explains, and then succinctly affirms or refutes each fact, and leaves nothing left to our imaginations. I would see this book as a spider web that examines all the related threads formed from conjecture, from various opinions to recorded fact, and Weir weaves all this detail into a reliable work that skillfully observes all facets of the fall of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn herself has been a sort of enigma for some; there have been many unanswered questions due to the multiple contradicting storytellers of her day and later. Weir attempts to examine all angles and then gives her opinion and why she thinks the certain way about something.

In those tyrannical days of Henry VIII, advisers, friends and bishops would not make their opinions known on most topics until they knew “which way the wind blew”; they dared not risk Henry VIII’s displeasure. The same was true during the arresting process of the accused at this trial of Anne Boleyn. The book focuses on 1536, it encompasses the major events and common views that brought Anne and Henry to their current relationship, with the politics and religious views of the time being spelled out. It details the factions of the times, and who were Pro-Boleyn before Anne’s fall, and who were always anti-Boleyn and sought for the downfall of this upstart family.

Some interesting facts that Weir touched upon were that Anne felt that Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries had gone too far, and that Anne and Henry differed in their opinions about how far the reformation should go. Anne was not as zealous as Henry was, and did not condone the stripping of all of the funds that the Church had once relied on. I also found interesting that there were mentions of three ladies who were the ones to initially stir up the trouble with the accusations of adultery on Anne’s part. There were many more courtiers who were involved in the setting of the snare, moreso than I had once believed. I was also intrigued as to the Catholic traditions that Anne observed before her death.

The threat of regicide, and plotting to take Henry’s life, was actually the coup d’etat that sealed Anne’s fate. Once Cromwell had cast doubt on Anne’s character due to the infidelities he accused her of, and then the horrid accusation of incest, the figurative nail in Anne’s coffin was actually the idea that Anne had plotted with her lovers that she would marry one of them after Henry had died. This is what scared mad Henry the most, because perhaps he WAS bewitched when he fell in love with Anne and felt forced to break with the Roman Church.. perhaps she had sinister tendencies and wished to see Henry dead as well! And obviously, this was all too convenient for Henry to deny in the first place, as he had fallen in love with Jane Seymour months before the trial, and was eager for this way out.

With Anne gone, Henry was free to pursue marital bliss with Jane Seymour and beget the treasured son. I also found it interesting the way that Jane Seymour had conveniently made herself available when Henry tired of Anne, and makes me suspect the innocent Plain Jane characterization. It seems the affair was going on for quite awhile before Anne’s downfall. One cannot help but wonder what would have happened to Jane herself, if she had lived through the dangers of childbirth. Jane had already been chided by Henry to not be meddling in state affairs.. as Anne had also done..

How much of the infidelity accusations Henry truly believed, could not be known, but the fact that Thomas Cromwell had everything neatly tidied up to rid the court of Anne and some of his own meddlesome courtiers makes Cromwell seem like quite the evil person. Quite interesting is the fact that the poet Wyatt and another courtier were accused and arrested as well. Weir details out the methodical process of Cromwell and his friends to ensure the accused (the ones they wanted to be rid of) were found guilty, and each step made my blood boil as I learned how despicable Cromwell really was. I found morbid redemption in knowing that Cromwell would himself wind up with his boiled head on a pike in London at the bequest of Henry just a few years later. This is not to say that I formed this opinion via Weir’s words; she was actually not as judgemental towards Cromwell as I am. She states that he was merely trying to save his own neck, knowing that Henry wanted a way out of the failing marriage, and he is the one who orchestrated it “for the good of the realm” using as many puppets as he could possible find.

In my recent review of “Elizabeth’s Women” by Tracy Borman (which I also enjoyed), I mentioned how I was surprised at the mention of a son to George Boleyn, Anne’s brother. At The Maiden’s Court I mentioned this ‘fact’ as well and felt that it was not possible that George and Lady Jane Rochford had a son. Weir also mentions the son of George Boleyn here, also named George who later becomes the Dean of Lichfield in Elizabethan times, but explains that he is most likely an illegitimate son. I had researched online that this George was given the dean post in 1576, (40 years after the death of the elder George), offering perhaps that this George in question was offspring of a Boleyn relation, of which there were many. There were many more interesting tidbits in Weir’s work, especially pertaining the backgrounds of Smeaton, Norris, Rochford, and Brereton.

Another interesting fact was that Henry Percy, Anne’s very own former betrothed, had reported to Cromwell in April of 1536 that he didn’t like the fact that the ‘lowly’ musician Mark Smeaton was able to afford horses and costumes etc. He hinted to Cromwell that he must have received some sort of reward from the Queen, and even said that he saw Smeaton leaving the Queen’s apartment. Of course Cromwell’s eyes must have gleamed at this offering of information! Yet, had Percy done this out of jealousy? It seems that is the romantic view, where the probably most likely view is that Percy did not like the Queen very much at all, and Weir goes into this further.

I would hesitate to call this a biography of Anne Boleyn, as it is much more encompassing as to be a portrait of the tumultuous times that caused Anne’s disgrace. I enjoyed the surprising facts that I had not known before, and I think that anyone who is interested in the politics that brought Anne’s reign to an end should read this. I was also disheartened to learn that there are very few accurate likenesses of her due to the fact that her memory was effectively banished from England and destroyed pretty much immediately. But it made me happy to learn that for at least the last forty years, a group of trustees has ordered for a bunch of roses to be placed at her tomb on the anniversary of her death. (Online it states that this has been since the 1850’s).

This book is a treasure trove of encyclopedia-like facts regarding Anne and her contemporaries, but those who enjoy the drama of Anne’s demise may feel a bit over loaded with the many names, dates and facts, who said what and when. Yet, it is these minute details that Weir divulges which make this a wonderful read for the Tudor fanatic due to the unveiling of lesser-known ideas. Although in most passages it reads well and is not difficult to follow, there is so much information that it seems easier to digest in slow spurts. This is not a book to read at the doctor’s office or with toddlers demanding attention. Weir does not attempt to force her opinion on her readers, she lays it all out for us to digest and appreciate its worth; and then she simply states what she has come to believe to be the most logical explanation for the events in question. This is a vast work of intricacies of politics and factions and how they all came together to bring about the death of Henry VIII’s second wife.

Since this book is full of details… facts..(I need another word for details today), this is not Light Reading. Yes, despite my overall euphoria over this read, there were a couple of days there I could not get in ten pages at a time. It was loaded with itsy bitsy teeny facts that weren’t making their way into comprehension. (*True story- I momentarily closed my eyes and briefly fell asleep while on lunch, reading the book, and awoke with such a start that my freshly brewed cup of tea went flying through the air and made quite a clatter and a mess. That was within that couldn’t-get-in-ten-pages-period.) The multiple versions of each and every event started to grate on my nerves as well. We would sit through a page worth of a ‘chronicle’ and then Weir would smartly tell us.. haha.. the buffoon.. that could not be true (not exactly in those words, hence the adjective ‘smartly’). Obviously she was trying to prove the point how easily the facts got distorted, therefore people grew to believe wrong accounts and form misguided opinions; these same opinions that formed History. And every now and then I got perturbed at the redundancy of certain phrases, such as apocryphal. I had to look it up. Another word I had to look up was buggery. EWWWW. And I don’t like reading books that pose questions. “Just how honorable were Henry’s intentions?” etc. I would like to read the book, not have a back and forth conversation. But then I bucked up and read on, and the last chapters of the book had me riveted. I was then disappointed that I finished it. Vicious cycle of Reading a Good Book. And I wouldn’t mind having that conversation now.

My other gripe? Having merely the Advance Reading Copy, and not the final version. I am missing the photos and the all-important index. I would definitely love to have the final copy so that I could go back and forth with the index, which is a weird habit of mine when I just feel the need to absorb facts. But I did have the Select Bibliography, which is a book collector’s dream my husband’s nightmare!! And I would love to add this latest wealth of Weir knowledge to my special favorite Tudor bookcase, which is where its rightful place would be.

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Filed under Alison Weir, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Review, Tudor

>Mailbox Monday ~ Buried in FANTASTIC Books.. squeee!


Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week. And I am adding what I purchased, swapped, etc.

Monday started off with a bang .. one of those old US MAIL crates was on the front porch waiting for me when I got home from work, and it was of course full of books!! WOWZA

I have no problems having a huge TBR pile, its the Books to review now that stress me out. Thankfully, there are only a few of those.

From Paperbackswap, I received:
The Madonnas of LeningradThe Madonnas of Leningrad : A Novel :: Debra Dean
One of the most talked about books of the year . . . Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina’s grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories — the details of her grown children’s lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild — her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.
In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city’s inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught. Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum’s priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls — a symbol of the artworks’ eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe’s bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a “memory palace,” a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .
Seamlessly moving back and forth in time between the Soviet Union and contemporary America, The Madonnas of Leningrad is a searing portrait of war and remembrance, of the power of love, memory, and art to offer beauty, grace, and hope in the face of overwhelming despair. Gripping, touching, and heartbreaking, it marks the debut of Debra Dean, a bold new voice in American fiction

Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King by Charles Beauclerk
“Written by a direct descendant of the union between Nell Gwyn and King Charles II, Nell Gwyn tells the story of one of England’s great folk heroines, a woman who rose from an impoverished, abusive childhood to become King Charles II’s most cherished mistress, and the star of one of the great love stories of royal history. Born during a tumultuous period in England’s past, Nell Gwyn caught the eye of King Charles II, the newly restored, pleasure-seeking merry monarch of a nation in full hedonistic reaction to Puritan rule. Their seventeen-year love affair played out against the backdrop of the Great Fire of London, the Great Plague, court scandals, and the constant threat of political revolution. Despite his other lovers’ Machiavellian efforts to win the king’s favor and humiliate Nell, the self-proclaimed Protestant whore earned the devotion of her king and the love of her nation, becoming England’s first people’s princess. Magnificently recreating the heady and licentious, yet politically charged atmosphere of Restoration England, Nell Gwyn tells the true-life Cinderella story of a common orange salesgirl who became mistress to a king.”

From Sourcebooks to review “Arabella by Georgette Heyer
One Little White Lie . . .
Armed with beauty, virtue and a benevolent godmother, the impetuous but impoverished Arabella Tallant embarked on her first London season with her mother’s wish in mind: snare a rich husband. But when fate cast her in the path of arrogant, socially prominent Robert Beaumaris, who accused her of being another petty female after his wealth, the proud, headstrong ingenue made a most startling claim — she was an heiress! Suddenly Arabella found herself the talk of the ton and pursued by every amorous fortune hunter in London. But would her deceitful charade destroy her one chance for true love . . . ?”

And some of these from, before the horrific flood.. so devastatingly sad!

Reluctant Queens (Queens of England Series, The: 8th Volume) – by Jean Plaidy, I won from Royal-intrigue, thank you!
“In 1470, a reluctant Lady Anne Neville is betrothed by her father, the politically ambitious Earl of Warwick, to Edward, Prince of Wales. A gentle yet fiercely intelligent woman, Anne has already given her heart to the prince’s younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Unable to oppose her father’s will, she finds herself in line for the throne of England—an obligation that she does not want. Yet fate intervenes when Edward is killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Anne suddenly finds herself free to marry the man she loves—and who loves her in return. The ceremony is held at Westminster Abbey, and the duke and duchess make a happy home at Middleham Castle, where both spent much of their childhood. Their life is idyllic, until the reigning king dies and a whirlwind of dynastic maneuvering leads to his children being declared illegitimate. Richard inherits the throne as King Richard III, and Anne is crowned queen consort, a destiny she thought she had successfully avoided. Her husband’s reign lasts two years, two months, and two days—and in that short time Anne witnesses the true toll that wearing the crown takes on Richard, the last king from the House of York.”

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel AllendeAn Orphan raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by a Victorian spinster and her rigid brother, young, vivacious Eliza Sommers follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. She enters a rough-and-tumble world whose newly arrived inhabitants are driven mad by gold with the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chien-California opens the door to a new life of freedom and independence for the young Chilean. Her search for the elusive lover gradually turns into another kind of journey, and by the time she finally hears news of him, Eliza must decide who her true love really is.”

Harriet & Isabella (for review) by Patricia O’Brien
It is 1887, and Henry Ward Beecher lies dying. Reporters from around the world, eager for one last story about the most lurid scandal of their time, descend on Brooklyn Heights, their presence signaling the beginning of the voracious appetite for fallen celebrities we know so well today.
When Henry Ward Beecher was put on trial for adultery in 1875, the question of his guilt or innocence was ferociously debated. His trial not only split the country, it split apart his family, causing a particularly bitter rift between his sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist. Harriet remained loyal to Henry, while Isabella called publicly for him to admit his guilt. What had been a loving, close relationship between two sisters plummeted into bitter blame and hurt.
Harriet and Isabella each had a major role in the social revolutions unfolding around them, but what happened in their hearts when they were forced to face a question of justice much closer to home? Now they struggle: who best served Henry — the one who was steadfast or the one who demanded honesty?”

Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II byQueen of Shadows Edith Felber
In fourteenth-century England, beautiful Queen Isabella-humiliated by her weak, unfaithful husband-is emerging from the shadows to take her revenge. But her newly arrived, twenty-oneyear-old Welsh handmaiden, Gwenith de Percy, also seeks vengeance-against the English invaders who crushed her beloved Wales. Isabella’s once-golden marriage is now her penance. Due to his rumored relations with men, Parliament forced Edward to share his throne-a demeaning arrangement that torments Isabella.
With the help of her secret, noble lover, Roger Mortimer-an enemy of her husband, imprisoned in the Tower of London-the queen plots to take control. Thrilled by this turn of events, Gwenith realizes that a king cannot afford to be weak-especially when his formidable, discontented queen seeks his power as her due

From another win, at Jane Austen Today they had a fun soiree last week, and I won Lady Susan by Jane Austen. A short read at 80 pages, a collection of a letters detailing: “Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression.”

Then from Books Up For Grabs, I selected:

A Beautiful hardcover, Stealing AthenaStealing Athena by Karen Essex
Stealing Athena is the story of two women, separated by centuries but united by their association with some of the world’s greatest and most controversial works of art. Aspasia, a philosopher and courtesan to visionary politician Pericles during Athens’s Golden Age, defies societal restrictions to become fiercely influential in Athens’ power circle. Mary, the Countess of Elgin and a beautiful Scottish heiress, charms the fearsome men of the Ottoman Empire to make possible her husband’s costly acquisitions, all the while brazenly defying the social conventions of her time. Both women prevail yet pay a heavy price for their rebellion. A tale of romance, intrigue, greed, and glory, Stealing Athena interweaves the lives of two of history’s most beguiling heroines.”

The Heretic’s Daughter: A Novel by Kathleen Kent “Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. Like her mother, young Sarah Carrier is bright and willful, openly challenging the small, brutal world in which they live. Often at odds with one another, mother and daughter are forced to stand together against the escalating hysteria of the trials and the superstitious tyranny that led to the torture and imprisonment of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft. This is the story of Martha’s courageous defiance and ultimate death, as told by the daughter who survived.Kathleen Kent is a tenth generation descendent of Martha Carrier. She paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England, but also of one family’s deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.”

Whew. That was all on Monday.

The rest of the week I received some more absolutely awesome titles (plus roses two days in a row as a surprise from the hubby!):

For Review I received:
(lots of goodies here, hence the roses to divert attention.. I am triple-blessed)

Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman (SQUEEEEE!!) “In this original chronicling of the life of one of England’s greatest monarchs, historian Tracy Borman explores Elizabeth’s relationships with the key women in her life. Beginning with her mother and the governesses and stepmothers who cared for the young princess, including her beloved Kat Astley and the inspirational Katherine Parr, “Elizabeth’s Women” sheds new light on her formative years. Elizabeth’s turbulent relationships with her rivals are examined: from her sister, ‘Bloody’ Mary, to the sisters of Lady Jane Grey, and finally the most deadly of all her rivals, Mary, Queen of Scots who would give birth to the man Elizabeth would finally, inevitably have to recognize as heir to her throne.”

Secrets of the Tudor Court: Between Two Queens by Kate EmersonBetween Two QueensPretty, flirtatious, and ambitious. Nan Bassett hopes that an appointment at the court of King Henry VIII will bring her a grand marriage. But soon after she becomes a maid-of-honor to Queen Jane, the queen dies in childbirth. As the court is plunged into mourning, Nan sets her sights on the greatest match in the land . . . for the king has noticed her. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Henry has chosen to wed one of his queens’ maids of honor. And in newly Protestant England, where plots to restore the old religion abound, Nan may be the only one who can reassure a suspicious king of her family’s loyalty
But the favor of a king can be dangerous and chancy, not just for Nan, but for her family as well . . . and passionate Nan has a deep secret she must shield from the king and all others, for it could put her future—and her life—in grave jeopardy should anyone discover the truth.
Based on the life of the real Anne Bassett and her family, and drawing extensively from letters and diaries of the time, Between Two Queens is an enthralling picture of the dangers and delights of England’s most passionate era.”

The Lady in the Tower by Alison WeirThe Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir
“The imprisonment and execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was unprecedented in the annals of English history. It was sensational in its day, and has exerted endless fascination over the minds of historians, novelists, dramatists, poets, artists, and filmmakers ever since. Mystery surrounds the circumstances leading up to Anne’s arrest and imprisonment in May 1536. Was it Henry VIII who, estranged from Anne, instructed Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell to fabricate evidence to get rid of her so that he could marry Jane Seymour? Or did Cromwell, for reasons of his own, construct a case against Anne and her faction, and then present compelling evidence before the King? Following the coronation of her daughter Elizabeth I as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine. Over the centuries, she has inspired many artistic and cultural works and has remained ever-present in England’s, and the world’s, popular memory. Alison Weir draws on her unsurpassed expertise in the Tudor Period to chronicle the downfall and dramatic final days of this influential and fascinating woman.”

In a deal from Celticlady’s Ramblings:
The Virgin’s Daughters: In the Court of Elizabeth I by Jeane Westin “In a court filled with repressed sexual longing, scandal, and intrigue, Lady Katherine Grey is Elizabeth’s most faithful servant. When the young queen is smitten by the dashing Robert Dudley, Katherine must choose between duty and desire-as her secret passion for a handsome earl threatens to turn Elizabeth against her. Once the queen becomes a bitter and capricious monarch, another lady-in-waiting, Mistress Mary Rogers, offers the queen comfort. But even Mary cannot remain impervious to the court’s sexual tension-and as Elizabeth gives her doomed heart to the mercurial Earl of Essex, Mary is drawn to the queen’s rakish godson…”

Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn reissue 2008 by Margaret Campbell Barnes, original 1968; “The enigmatic Anne Boleyn comes to life in this charming, brilliant portrayal by acclaimed British novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes. The infamous love of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn undertook a rocky journey from innocent courtier to powerful Queen of England. A meticulous researcher, Margaret Campbell Barnes immerses readers in this intrigue and in the lush, glittery world of the Tudor Court. The beauty and charms of Anne Boleyn bewitched the most powerful man in the world, King Henry VIII, but her resourcefulness and cleverness were not enough to stop the malice of her enemies. Her swift rise to power quickly became her own undoing. The author brings to light Boleyn’s humanity and courage, giving an intimate look at a young woman struggling to find her own way in a world dominated by men and adversaries.”

And before the good mailbox finds I went on a mad retail therapy dash during lunch and I bought at the used bookstore:

Year of Wonders by Geraldine BrooksWhen an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna’s eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a “year of wonders.”
Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. Written with stunning emotional intelligence and introducing “an inspiring heroine” (The Wall Street Journal), Brooks blends love and learning, loss and renewal into a spellbinding and unforgettable read.”

The Captive by Victoria HoltVeteran novelist Holt (The India Fan) returns to a familiar scenario by depicting a hardy young 19th-century Englishwoman who is embroiled in murder and exotic adventures. When a ferocious storm off the African coast capsizes the vessel on which she is sailing, Rosetta Cranleigh is rescued by a deckhand who admits, after their lifeboat drifts to a remote island, that he is actually Simon Perrivale, a nobleman’s illegitimate child, forced to flee England after being wrongly accused of slaying one of his father’s other sons. Taken hostage by pirates, the pair escape after being sold to a Turkish pasha.”

Eve: A Novel of the First Woman by Elissa Elliott “It is the world’s oldest tale: the story of Eve, her husband, Adam, and the tragedy that would overcome her sons…. In this luminous debut novel, Elissa Elliott puts a powerful twist on biblical narrative, boldly reimagining Eve’s journey. At once intimate and universal, timely and timeless, this unique work of fiction blends biblical tradition with recorded history and dazzling storytelling. And as it does, Eve comes to life in a way religion and myth have never allowed—in a novel that explores the very essence of love, motherhood, faith, and humanity.

In their world they are alone…a family haunted by banishment, struggling for survival in a harsh new land. A woman who has borne and buried children, Eve sees danger shadowing those she loves, while her husband drifts further and further from the man he was in the Garden, blinded by his need to rebuild a life outside of Eden. One daughter, alluring, self-absorbed Naava, turns away from their beliefs. Another, crippled, ever-faithful Aya, harbors a fateful secret, while brothers Cain and Abel become adversaries, and Dara, the youngest, is chosen for a fate of her own.”

The Night Journal by Elizabeth CrookWith its family secrets and hallowed texts containing explosive truths, The Night Journal suggests A. S. Byatt’s Possession transplanted to the raw and beautiful landscape of the American Southwest. Meg Mabry has spent her life oppressed by her family’s legacy—a heritage beginning with the journals written by her great-grandmother in the 1890s and solidified by her grandmother Bassie, a famous historian who published them to great acclaim. Until now, Meg has stubbornly refused to read the journals. But when she concedes to accompany the elderly and vipertongued Bassie on a return trip to the fabled land of her childhood in New Mexico, Meg finally succumbs to the allure of her great-grandmother’s story—and soon everything she believed about her family is turned upside down.”

Shield of Three Lions: A Novel by Pamela KaufmanThe return of a classic, by bestselling author Pamela Kaufman. Richly rewarding, superbly written. . . . The richness of the characters, the historical details, and the story as a whole make this novel a memorable reading experience. Eleven-year-old Alix is the daughter of the baron of Wanthwaite, whose lands along the Scottish border are among the best in England. But when her family is killed and her lands seized, Alix is forced to flee from the only home she’s ever known. Her one hope of restoring her inheritance is to plead her case to King Richard the Lion Heart, who is far away in France, preparing to go on his Crusade. Alix resolves to follow him. She cuts her hair, dresses as a boy, and takes the road south to London. Disguised as a beautiful young boy, Alix is more than befriended by the handsome and mysterious King Richard, even becoming his favorite page. Their relationship sets tongues wagging and places Alix in considerable danger as the battle for Jerusalem unfolds.”

The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall by Daphne du MaurierAn engaging biography of lawyer, writer, and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon.
All rising to great place is by a winding stair,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon. It wasn’t until he was forty-five that Bacon’s feet found the first step on that staircase, when King James I made him Solicitor-General, from where he rose through the ranks to become Lord Chancellor. Many accounts of the life of Sir Francis Bacon have been written for scholars, but du Maurier’s aim was to paint a vivid portrait of this remarkable man for the common reader. In The Winding Stair, she illuminates the considerable achievements of this Renaissance man: as a writer, lawyer, philosopher, scientist, and politician.”

This post took me an hour and a half to create. And you are skimming it, aren’t you?! I’m WATCHING you!!


Filed under Alison Weir, Mailbox Monday, Meme, Tracy Borman

>Waiting on Wednesday – ‘The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn’ by Alison Weir

A note to regular WOW readers.. Last week’s post now has a cover picture, seems I was just a week early for the cover image to appear on Amazon, so now that has been added to last week’s post.

Sponsored by “Breaking the Spine“. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Hardcover) by Alison Weir
From Amazon USA:
This title will be released on December 29, 2009
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN-10: 0345453212

From Amazon UK:
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd (1 Oct 2009)

Product Description: “The imprisonment and execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, in May 1536 was unprecedented in the annals of English history. It was sensational in its day, and has exerted endless fascination over the minds of historians, novelists, dramatists, poets, artists and film-makers ever since. Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 2 May 1536, and tried and found guilty of high treason on 15 May. Her supposed crimes included adultery with five men, one her own brother, and plotting the King’s death. She was executed on 19 May 1536.
Mystery surrounds the circumstances leading up to her arrest. Was it Henry VIII who, estranged from Anne, instructed Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell to fabricate evidence to get rid of her so that he could marry Jane Seymour? Or did Cromwell, for reasons of his own, construct a case against Anne and her faction, and then present compelling evidence before the King? Following the coronation of her daughter Elizabeth I as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation. Over the centuries, Anne has inspired many artistic and cultural works and, as a result, has remained ever-present in England’s popular memory.
In her impressive new book, Alison Weir has woven a detailed and intricate portrait of the last days of one of the most influential and important figures in English history.”

While this is not just another biography of Anne herself, this focuses on the politics behind the trial of Anne, Anne’s last days in imprisonment, and thus the execution. At 384 pages on the US version, this has got to be quite an intricate look at the devices behind the event. Too bad it wasn’t released for the May 19th execution date, which would have been fitting. Anne was not the only one executed as a result of the adultery charges and this is a very tragic story which fascinates me still. I wonder what information will be shared about Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford.

I realize also that there are Historical fiction fans that -bluntly put – either love Weir or hate her. I haven’t leaned either way yet. Still on the fence, but maybe when I read more of her works I’ll get closer to forming my own conclusion.

An interesting tidbit is that Alison’s friend Tracy Borman (Elizabeth’s Women) will join her September 9, 2009 when they each release their new books at the Tower of London. They will give a tour and have canapes. Event info here.

I still have several of Alison Weir’s books to read that sit patiently on my shelf. I have read her “Wars of The Roses”, “The Princes in the Tower” and the fictional “Innocent Traitor” about Jane Grey, which I really enjoyed although it seemed to receive mixed reviews. Still need to read “The Life of Elizabeth I”, and the fictional “The Lady Elizabeth”, “Queen Isabella: Treachery and Adultery” and I would like to also purchase the one on Katherine Swynford, John of Gaunt’s mistress turned wife. Alison is working on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine fictional book now for 2010, and also has contracted for a sequel to “The Lady Elizabeth”.


Filed under Alison Weir, Anne Boleyn, Meme, Waiting on Wednesday

>Alison Weir

>A little meandering away from the ordinary review:
I was jumping around Tudor websites today and found a report on a recent Alison Weir event where she discussed Elizabeth I and Henry VIII at the Smithsonian. Alison is a British author of several non-fiction and fiction books. She is not always taken as credible historian and receives a lot of criticism for writing in her non-fiction books phrases such as “maybe” could have” “possibly” and words of that nature that can get aggravating.

However, I will read anything and everything I can get my hands on regarding the Tudors. For Alison Weir’s non-fiction I have read “The Wars of the Roses” and “The Princes in the Tower”. I have read her fictional “Innocent Traitor” and I will read them all again. I own her (non-fiction) “The Life of Elizabeth I”, and (fiction) “The Lady Elizabeth” and plan on reading them soon. Lots of books on my TBR shelf.

I looked on Alison’s website and it states for her upcoming book:
Alison’s next non-fiction book, “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn”, will be published in the UK on 1st October 2009, and in the USA in December. Alison has just signed contracts with her UK and US publishers for three new novels, one of which will be a sequel to “The Lady Elizabeth”

Fiction: Alison has begun work on her next novel, about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2010.


Look on Alison’s website for more Events she is attending and the full UK and US Book list.

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Filed under Alison Weir, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I