Category Archives: Elizabeth I

Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

Intrigues of Elizabethan court via the love story of Helena Von Snakenborg

Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd (book 3 in Ladies in Waiting)
Historical Romance/Tudor Fiction
Howard Books
Paperback 352 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4 stars

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between an unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust—a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.
Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

Helena Von Snakenborg may be recognized by Elizabeth I aficionados as one of her closest friends/courtiers/ladies in waiting. In Sandra Byrd’s third installment of the Ladies In Waiting series we are treated to the tried and true Elizabethan era shenanigans except now we get to learn a bit more about her favored lady, Elin from Sweden. I was intrigued in this title because my interest is in Christian historicals, and I wanted to see how the author blended an inspirational theme with Elizabeth’s court.
Elin learns the ways of the court quickly as she decides to choose potential love in England instead of returning to Sweden with her family. She is about nineteen years old and has eyes for William Parr, but Parr is still married, unfortunately. Luckily for Elin she is welcomed by Elizabeth and she anglicizes her name to Helena and is given every comfort. Her high nobility for being associated with William Parr raises her status and she never has to worry for income as long as she remains under the fickle Elizabeth’s favor. She manages well until she blunders in the name of love again.. all at a time when Elizabeth has forbidden her ladies to marry.
Major events and players are portrayed in this retelling of Elizabethan courts, from Lettice Knollys’ marriage to Robert, Earl of Leicester, Francis Drake to the Mary Queen of Scots debacle. The difference this time is in learning more about Helena and how she managed to stay one step ahead of some of the other ladies at the court. Refreshingly, this telling helps humanize Elizabeth a bit more as we witness the relationship between Elizabeth and Helena and how it grows over the years. Although the novel covers a span of forty years, it certainly reads fast and there is no lull in the writing as there was always something going on from treachery in the courts to treachery in Helena’s own house.
I would recommend Roses Have Thorns for those who would like to learn a bit more about Elizabethan life and more about Helena. There are biblical references but I would not wholeheartedly classify this as the inspirational sub-genre simply because the mission of  Inspirational Christian Fiction is supposed to glorify God through a biblical truth while exhibiting a strong theme in forgiveness/faith/redemption; perhaps with the characters debating whether their life is living towards God’s will. There is a discernible difference from this title and my other reviewed inspirational titles but the element of a “clean read” could certainly apply here, as most christian fiction readers do require that in their reads.

If you happen to steer yourself away from Byrd’s books because you fear a possible preachy biblical element, please do not, although she does use basic scripture as an added layer to Helena’s turmoils in a “the bible tells me so” type of way. There is also the religious turmoil that occurs for the realm, the typical Catholic versus Protestant issues that Elizabeth had to deal with during her reign, as she attempted to not peer into men’s souls regarding faith yet the factions were still evident during her reign, mostly because of the Catholic Mary of Scots. The practices of these faiths were a major source of contention in Elizabeth’s time, and it is evident during this story as well. 

The author takes great pains to display the amount of knowledge she has gathered for the era and there are many details about the historical events that occur during the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign. But the main crux is always Helena – her life and her loves, a rare glimpse of the fact that perhaps it wasn’t so bad being the highest titled lady in the land next to Elizabeth. A book that features family lineage charts as well as a reading guide, this is an exemplary novel on Helena Von Snakenborg and her own love life, a lesser known figure in Elizabeth’s court that I would recommend especially to those who are just learning their ways around Elizabeth’s court.
On my other blog at HF-Connection the author was kind enough to offer an intriguing guest post regarding Elizabeth and her women, which you can read here, and it ties in a bit with the author’s note as well.


Filed under #histnov, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Elizabeth I, Howard Books, Sandra Byrd, Tudor

In the Footsteps of Elizabeth I: Margaret George Does Dallas!!

Ok, well she DID do Dallas. I had the fabulous opportunity of meeting with Margaret George after her Arts  & Letters Live lecture that was held at the Dallas Museum in April for her Elizabeth I: A Novel tour. You can read my review of Elizabeth I here. I loved the book, and I was so thrilled that she was coming to Dallas. Margaret is very sweet in person, and her lecture spoke of her writing processes as well as her main character, Elizabeth. This couldn’t come at a better time for me personally, as I feel I have now read so much on Elizabeth from non-fiction to fiction that I have a firm grasp of her character.

Yet, as Margaret suggested, there is always something intangible about Elizabeth, something vague that a reader always struggles to capture. But can a writer capture that? I believe Margaret rounded out Elizabeth’s story very well for me, especially since the novel focused on the later years of her reign. Most of the reads I came across would focus on Elizabeth’s lusty father and all of his wives, and if it focused on Elizabeth there were always scenes regarding Thomas Seymour or Robert Dudley. This time around, we had Dudley’s step-son, the Earl of Essex as a leading character along with Lettice Knollys who is also a favorite Tudor of mine.

Margaret’s lecture was titled “In the Footsteps on Queen Elizabeth I: Adventures In Research”. She shared with us her experiences of becoming a writer, and her research tactics. She didn’t have scholarly training as a writer, but she had great fortune to live in foreign places as a child due to father’s career. Living in places like Israel, she felt very close to history as a child living next to places where historic events occurred. Her school in Jaffa, The Tabitha School, was run by strict Scottish missionaries, and was supposedly the place where St. Peter raised the little girl Tabitha who had died also known as Dorcas. She said she came from a bookish family, where her father had Ph.D. in 18th century literature and her mother taught high school English, and they all liked to read. She started writing as a hobby when she was young, from stories about horses to teenage stories as something that she did for her own pleasure. Only once she decided to write Henry VIII’s story is when she became focused on her writing. Margaret wanted to introduce a young Henry to readers, when at that time there was not a lot about the young Henry as opposed to the monstrous traits that some writers focus on. Although Margaret has given us the story of Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots and now Elizabeth, we won’t be seeing a book on Mary Tudor anytime soon from Margaret. She feels Mary’s life is just so full of depressing events and it would just be sad to delve into her story.

Margaret went on to discuss her research process of reading books for research, making notations (in pencil!) in the margins, and then writing separate index cards categorized by topic. She showed us an example of an index card for her research on Elizabeth’s progresses where Margaret made notes of what book referred to which progress in which year and what unique fact she learned that could be incorporated into her developing story. Elizabeth used these progresses as a bit of PR, and she liked to do them during the summer. It was very interesting to see how Margaret detailed out the pages numbers of which book to get herself organized to store facts such as how far a progress went and how long it was. Once upon a time, she used to write her huge books by hand! She also discussed the merits of first person versus third person point of views and how she used those in her books.

When Margaret is done with the actual researching of books and filling in index cards, she prefers to go to the actual places in her story. She visited the sites of Elizabeth just as she did for her previous books. At this point in the lecture, Margaret held up an Elizabeth tea cosy (audience laughed when Margaret was poking around under the tea cosy), showing how some of the royal figures in history get reduced to such a thing, but yet we still have no idea of who Elizabeth was. She really feels like the only way to get a glimpse of what’s inside her character’s heads is to be put in that setting of which they lived. Elizabeth left almost no private letters, and her poetry that is attributed to her cannot actually be authenticated.  We get nuances of Elizabeth through the contemporaries, but Elizabeth controlled her image as much as she could, as well as controlling what portraits were commissioned of her.

Margaret also discussed the outlook Elizabeth may have had on her beheaded mother, Anne Boleyn. She showed us a photo of the ring Elizabeth had commissioned which features both the portraits of Anne and Elizabeth. Even though she didn’t attempt to rehabilitate Anne’s reputation, she clearly had some bond or love of her mother simply for the fact that she wore that ring. And her father.. well, what do you do when your father beheads your mother? (More audience laughter). Elizabeth learned much from her father’s reign, and she learned early on regarding the dangers of being close to the throne. Margaret shows us a portrait of Elizabeth when she was about thirteen years old, and how it was abundant with books. Did she want to portray the fact that she was a harmless bookworm, with no ambitions of the throne for herself, especially being third in line to the throne? It certainly was a clue that she was someone to not be tossed off as a silly girl. Further portraits of Elizabeth were always heavy with symbols, many dealing with purity and virginity.

The Ermine Portrait, 1585

An intriguing fact of Elizabeth is the fact that she was the Virgin Queen. Margaret discusses how Elizabeth wouldn’t marry someone among her subjects (Dudley), which leads to rivalry and maybe riots. Yet, why didn’t she want to marry to merge with another foreign power? She knew that to do so, England would be put at risk after her death. She also didn’t want to share her status as Queen and give off any power to a consort which would breed discontent just as Philip of Spain did when he married Elizabeth’s sister, Mary I. At the time, sexual relations conferred a legal status of a relationship, thus compromising her royal sovereignty. Margaret goes further into the speculations of the marriage negotiations, and the psychological reasons behind Elizabeth’s refusal to marry. As popular story goes, King Henry IV of France reportedly said that Elizabeth’s maidenhead was one of the three great mysteries of his day. He did not say what the other two were!  The audience loved this little story!

Margaret talked about the major crises or her reign: Mary Queen of Scots, the Armada, and the Earl of Essex. Elizabeth was not a vicious ruler like that of her father. She didn’t want to execute Mary Queen of Scots or the Earl, but only did so when she had no other choice when they threatened Elizabeth’s crown. An interesting fact Margaret offered is that Essex was the last nobleman to actually challenge the crown thereafter. Elizabeth’s reign did not encompass many notable positive changes or events such as the Magna Carta, yet she goes down in history as a much loved monarch.

Elizabeth loved controlling her image such as her orchestration of the famous scene of addressing her troops wearing her virginal white dress as well as a breast plate. If anyone missed the speech she wrote, Elizabeth made sure it was copied and distributed throughout the land. Margaret shows us some portraits as well as her funeral effigy. The effigy was probably made from her death mask and the closest we would come to an accurate image of her, as she was not around to make sure it make her look young and vibrant.

After discussing Elizabeth, the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions of Margaret George. She told us that she is studying Nero for her next book, as she loves larger than life characters, and it takes about five years for her books to shape out. So we’ll have quite a wait, yet that gives me the chance to read the rest of Margaret George’s books. I think I will start with Mary Magdalene..

Margaret George signing, & me, being ecstatic.
Of course, after the lecture, I was able to get my books signed by Margaret George! I apologize for the yucky photos, iPhones are not the best cameras.. but here I am with Margaret George! She personalized and autographed the books, and she was such a pleasure to meet. She was extremely gracious, especially by scoring me those wonderful front row seats at the Dallas Museum. I was honored to be escorted by my mum who puts up with my bookish pursuits and gets to read my books sometimes before I do! Thank you to Margaret George for giving me memories to treasure for a lifetime!
Front row reserved seats for me! Squee!!


Filed under Elizabeth I, Margaret George, Publishing

Book Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George
Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670022533
Review copy provided by the publisher, with many thanks!!
The Burton Review Rating:Five Gorgeous Stars!

Margaret George is one of those iconic historical fiction authors that even if you have not read her books, you have heard of her. I have been collecting her books but have not been able to read them as they look so daunting in size. This year, fans are treated to another tome by Margaret George as she brings us a novel on Elizabeth I. This is not your ordinary Elizabeth I novel for two reasons: 1. It is written by Margaret George. 2. It begins in 1588, when Elizabeth is fifty-five and about to face the Spanish Armada.

I was ecstatic when I realized this was not another rehash of Elizabeth’s life from Thomas Seymour’s pats on her butt to her struggles during her sister’s Mary’s reign, though it does cover the rise and fall of the Earl of Essex in detail. I was then overly ecstatic when I realized that this novel also features Lettice Knollys, whom Elizabeth liked to call the she-wolf. My Enemy The Queen by Victoria Holt was one of my favorite Tudor reads and I loved Lettice as she tried to out-maneuver Elizabeth every chance she got. The rivalry was heightened when Lettice married Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester.

Elizabeth I: A Novel read very much like the Dickens’ favorite A Christmas Carol. We see through the aged Elizabeth’s eyes the ghosts of the past from her parents to her favorites who flit in and out of her consciousness; the present with the younger courtiers who no longer have anything of value to Elizabeth except their looks; the future of England because of course this Virgin Queen left no heir for England. The decisions of the past and the present and how they affect the future of England are also an underlying theme for Elizabeth as she struggles to maintain her hold on the country that she married for richer or for poorer. The Spanish Armada was always a threat, and even though she was able to defeat it in 1589, by the time Spain had rebuilt its forces to strike again, Elizabeth’s most trusted advisors and the strongest fighters and nobles had withered away.

Elizabeth hated most of all Lettice Knollys, who had secretly married Elizabeth’s perhaps one true love Robert Dudley. Lettice was like Elizabeth in many ways as far as stubbornness and force of will, but promiscuous Lettice lacked the self-control of the Virgin Queen. Lettice was also the mother of Elizabeth’s next favorite after Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex Robert Devereux. In and out of this story of Elizabeth we are treated to chapters devoted to Lettice, as she struggles in vain to regain all that she has lost since Robert Dudley’s death. Her one shining hope remains with her son the Earl of Essex, as he hopes for favors from Elizabeth I to help sustain his family. Robert Devereux is headstrong and unruly, and both Lettice and Elizabeth had difficulty with restraining Robert’s self-destruction, and this spiral of love and hate between the Queen and Essex became interwoven into the novel as a major theme.

There were many names and titles, and a few Roberts as Robert Cecil is also featured here. There were even surprising occurrences behind closed doors, including the famous Will Shakespeare. The cousins descended from the Boleyn family are a strong part as the old loyal favorites of Elizabeth who always stayed loyal. And yet there were always some who were tired of Elizabeth’s Protestant ways as more religious strife occurred with both Catholics and Puritans. The crisis in Ireland and the years of crop failure are another focus as Elizabethans struggled to maintain the Golden Age. The wax and wane of Elizabeth’s reign is well known to Tudor fans, but I have not read any novels that actually spotlight their entire work on the wane of Elizabeth’s life such as Margaret George’s does here. Names of courtiers are weaved in and out of the story like our own old friends, so that those readers familiar with the Tudor era will feel right at home without getting another monologue of the backstory of each person. It is only for that reason that newbies to the Elizabethan era may find themselves lost in the vague comings and goings of the important people of Elizabeth’s time, but as a lover of Tudor fiction I appreciated it as the minute details are lightly touched upon as a refresher.

The first person point of view of Elizabeth (and intermittently Lettice) seemed spot on.. the face on the outside to her subjects being different than the thoughts swirling in her head; slightly sarcastic and witty in her aging years even though she seemed a bit shocked that she was as old as she was. The magnificence of this tome is the way that George encompasses the era, without leaving out the other minor and major players of the court. This novel is by far the most human look at Elizabeth that I’ve ever read as the author brings Elizabeth to grips with her legacy that includes her executed mother and her tyrant father. I especially loved the secret garden scene at Hever Castle.

 This is a very detailed book and even though it is fiction I felt like I was being educated during the read. I loved this look at the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, and admired the amount of facts and the imagery that were blended throughout the story. This is the epitome of a well-researched book, and since it was enjoyed on so many levels it would be remiss if you did not include this latest Elizabeth I novel on your Tudor bookshelf. Elizabeth I: A Novel is an absolute must read for Elizabeth I fans, as this novel is a fitting tribute to the woman and Virgin Queen that seemed to outwit many of her enemies and always made sure she was above reproach. This one is certainly going on my Favorites of 2011 post.

Other pieces that I recommend that deal with the fall of Essex and his relationship with Elizabeth are Elizabeth & Essex: A Tragic History by Lytton Strachey and  The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, a 1939 movie featuring Bette Davis. Also, I have yet to read The Walsingham Woman, by Jan Westcott, about Frances Walsingham married to Phillip Sidney first then the Earl of Essex. Frances is mentioned a lot in George’s novel which is why I include Westcott’s here. And as mentioned before, there is Victoria Holt’s My Enemy the Queen which I loved. 

I was also beyond excited to be able to see Margaret George speak for the Arts & Letters Lectures held at the Dallas Museum as part of her book tour for Elizabeth I. Yoy can visit this link to see if she will be coming to a town near you!

Read all about my fabulous experience of meeting Margaret George in Dallas here.


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Best of 2011, Elizabeth I, Lettice, Margaret George, Robert Dudley, Spanish Armada, Tudor

>Book Review: The Tudor Secret (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles) by C.W. Gortner


The Tudor Secret (The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles) by C.W. Gortner
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (February 1, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0312658502
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!!
The Burton Review Rating:Five Glorious Stars!

Once upon a time there was a writer striving to become published so he did it his own way via the self-publication route. Out came The Secret Lion: Book One of The Spymaster Chronicles and although it caught my eye, it wasn’t readily available unless I wanted to pay a pretty penny. Several years later, this same author found huge success with his 2009 novel The Last Queen, and then again with The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. I loved these two novels as C.W. Gortner easily became my favorite male author to read. Imagine my joy when I heard that Gortner’s first spy novel had been picked up by St. Martin’s Griffin for a reissue after Gortner tweaked it up a bit. I was thrilled to receive a review copy of one of the first Tudor novels that had originally sparked my interest a few years ago. Gortner has another hit on his hands, as once again he takes the blogging community by storm with the story of a fictional character inserted directly into the intrigues of the dangerous Tudor courts.

This new novel takes on the name The Tudor Secret and follows a young squire Brendan Prescott who is a new arrival at a court that is about to become entwined once again in its perils of succession. King Edward VI is dying, and the Dudley family that raised Brendan the foundling is controlling all information in and out so that no one really knows what is going on with the young King. Princess Elizabeth has few friends, and one of those is Master Cecil. Brendan realizes quickly that his own survival depends on cooperating with Cecil and his cohort the deadly Walsingham.. all in a bid to save Elizabeth from peril at the hands of the scheming Dudley upstarts.

Most Tudor fans know the story of  how the monarchy changed hands from King Edward to Lady Jane and finally Queen Mary I. Gortner doesn’t bore us with the replaying of these same historical details and the struggle of the people during these times. Instead, he turns this well-known story into a spine-tingling mystery of many depths with romance, friendship and loyalty as underlying themes. I found the mystery angle to be well written and expertly interwoven into historic events, making this an unforgettable story for Tudor fiction fans. The Tudor Secret also shows a rare outsider’s look at Elizabeth and her sister Mary, as opposed to the many Tudor reads that typically focus on a noble or member of the royal family. I relished the tones of deviousness that Gortner put on some regular faces such as the Dudley men who I love to hate, Frances Brandon and Master Stokes. And I loved the rare favorable look at Cecil, who becomes Elizabeth’s biggest ally during her reign. Although some Tudor aficionados may take slight with the convenient plot twists that Gortner utilizes, I loved every scandalous moment. Any book that has me itching to get back to it is a win-win in the entertainment department, and this blends two genres that I love seamlessly together: historical fiction and mystery, set in one of my favorite eras to read about.

The Tudor Secret is full of suspense and fast-paced adventures which is an exciting departure from Gortner’s previous successful novels which focused on members of royal families, and I cannot wait for another Spymaster Chronicles novel! Those who are bored with the everyday Tudor-style novel should find a renewed interest in the genre with this new perception from a commoner new to the courts. C.W. Gortner is easily my favorite male author at this time for historical fiction, whether it is this historical mystery genre or otherwise. Congrats to C.W. for another excellent novel that I would love to recommend to any Tudor fiction fan, and it was well worth my wait. Five stars for its entertainment value, its mystery twists and the scandalous secrets!


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Bloody Mary, C.W. Gortner, Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Tudor

>Audio Book Review: The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory


The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory
ABRIDGED Audio CD, 0 pages
Published November 16th 2004 by Simon & Schuster Audio (first published 2004)
ISBN074353980X (ISBN13: 9780743539807)
Borrowed from a friend’s personal library, thank you!

The Burton Review Rating: I expect it would have been a 3 star read had I read it two years ago.

Longest synopsis ever:

“In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth’s ambitious leap to the throne will pull her husband back to the very center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be. Amy had hoped that the merciless ambitions of the Dudley family had died on Tower Green when Robert’s father was beheaded and his sons shamed; but the peal of bells she hears is his summons once more to power, intrigue, and a passionate love affair with the young queen. Can Amy’s steadfast faith in him, her constant love, and the home she wants to make for them in the heart of the English countryside compete with the allure of the new queen? Elizabeth’s excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country, riven by enmity, where treason is normal and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the irresistible, ambitious Robert Dudley. Robert revels in the opportunities of the new reign. The son of an aristocratic family brought up in palaces as the equal of his royal playmates, Robert knows he can reclaim his destiny at Elizabeth’s side. Elizabeth cannot resist his courtship, and as the young couple slowly falls in love, Robert starts to think the impossible: can he set aside his wife and marry the young queen? Philippa Gregory’s The Virgin’s Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Philippa Gregory uses documents and evidence from the Tudor era and, with almost magical insight into the desires of Robert Dudley and his lovers, paints a picture of a country on the brink of greatness, a young woman grasping at her power, a young man whose ambition is greater than his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them.”

My first audio book ever is The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have had the text version for several years but could not bring myself to pick up another story on Elizabeth that had a potential of being a let-down. Since I know the political upheaval that occurred during the transition of Queen Mary to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, I figured the test of my attention span to the audio version would be best served on this kind of average fiction.

The narrator was superb in this story. He enunciates well and with a British accent that was not too thick but just enough to make listening to his voice pleasurable. But I did find it difficult to concentrate on the audio, with my hands and eyes having nothing to do I had to force myself to concentrate on using my ears only. Which is difficult for this mind wanderer. I did enjoy hearing how some of favorite places were pronounced, as a sheltered American I have been butchering many British names and places in my mind. Oops.

As far as the actual story goes, there is not much to be said that is not expected. Amy Dudley, Robert Dudley, and Elizabeth are at the foremost of the story as their little weird love triangle evolved, with William Cecil looking on. The characterization of the “lovers” makes you shudder (fluttering eyelids, etc.), and the intensity of the love between Dudley and Elizabeth is bordering on absurd. Which is the reason I didn’t want to read the book before. But this is coming from someone who has read many, many Tudor themed books before, and perhaps for a newbie to the era who has not come to admire Elizabeth I as much as I do would not be so turned off from Gregory’s telling. It was Gregory, after all, who pulled me into the Tudor courts of intrigue and sexual exploits with her rendition of The Other Boleyn Girl in the first place. If I had read The Virgin’s Lover after Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance a few years ago, I may have had a much better chance of enjoying this one.

The supporting characters being Amy Robsart Dudley (who died from a questionable fall down the stairs) and William Cecil make the story less bawdy. Portraying Elizabeth as acting a lovesick teenager is not exactly the image I wish to explore of the monarch, but I am glad to finally cross this one off of my tbr list. Of Gregory’s novels, I disliked The Other Queen which featured Elizabeth I as well, so perhaps I should stay away from those stories that embellish and try to tarnish the virginal image that I admire of Elizabeth. I did enjoy Gregory’s last two novels in The Cousins’ war series, and The Queen’s Fool was very well done as well, so I am not one of those readers who despises the author.

The positive to this story was seeing how Robert Dudley was viewed, and disliked, in Elizabeth’s courts. Here he is portrayed as an upstart, or usurper, with eyes for the crown of England for himself. Whereas in previous reads, Dudley had intrigued me, here he disgusted me. He treats his wife Amy shabbily, and I could not help but pity the woman he ignored. If she left a diary, I would love to read it. After Amy is gone, Robert thinks his path should be clear to Elizabeth’s side as a King, but Cecil made sure that would not happen. I would have preferred a bit more insight or something more dramatic for the ending, as it all just seemed a bit unfinished overall and I wasn’t expecting the story to end where it did. Yet, viewing this as a simple story of Robert Dudley and his relationship with Elizabeth, it could be seen as a fair assessment of a specific political slice of a much larger picture during Elizabeth’s reign. The author also raised my curiosity regarding the mysterious death of Dudley’s wife and her theory bears credence. Those who revere Elizabeth should stay away from this weak portrayal of her, though. William Cecil, on the other hand, was the best part of the story. He was shrewd, calculating and a force to be reckoned with.


Filed under 16th Century, Elizabeth I, Phillippa Gregory, Robert Dudley

>Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman

>Awhile ago I had read and reviewed the non-fiction book by Tracy Borman, Elizabeth’s Women.
It is now available in the USA for purchase so I wanted to repost the link to my review for those that were interested in this new look at Elizabeth I.

This is not just another biography on Elizabeth, but a look at how the women in Elizabeth’s life helped shape her thought process. I was very intrigued by the mini-bio’s of the women that the author chose to represent, and I feel that this would be a welcome addition to any Elizabeth I library.

Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman
USA List Price: $28.00
Current Amazon Price: $18.48  USA
Release Date: September 28, 2010 USA

Product Description:
A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women—the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshipped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her.
In vivid detail, Borman presents Elizabeth’s bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations—which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love. Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII’s death. Mary Tudor—“Bloody Mary”—envied her younger sister’s popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether. And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death.

Elizabeth’s Women contains more than an indelible cast of characters. It is an unprecedented account of how the public posture of femininity figured into the English court, the meaning of costume and display, the power of fecundity and flirtation, and how Elizabeth herself—long viewed as the embodiment of feminism—shared popular views of female inferiority and scorned and schemed against her underlings’ marriages and pregnancies.
Brilliantly researched and elegantly written, Elizabeth’s Women is a unique take on history’s most captivating queen and the dazzling court that surrounded her.

My review of the UK Hardcover can be found here. The post also contains thoughts from Heather of The Maiden’s Court who was my buddy reader of the book.

Leave a comment

Filed under 16th Century, 2010 Releases, Elizabeth I, Tracy Borman

>Mailbox Monday

>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..

Here are a few goodies that I received this week:

My Antonia by Willa Sibert Cather

Willa Cather, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, considered My Antonia to be one of her best works, and critic H.L. Mencken claimed it was one of the best American novels ever written. Published in 1918, the novel compassionately and intimately traces the story of a Bohemian family as they settle on the Great Plains in Nebraska. This American classic is still lauded internationally by scholars and everyday readers.
The Son of York (In the Shadow of the Throne, Bk 4) by Margaret Abbey
Richard of Gloucester was the younger brother of a king, Edward IV, and the uncle of another king, Edward V. There were rumors that, ambitious for the crown, he had killed his nephew in cold blood. The murder could never be proven, but Richard was next in line for the throne. By the Grace of God and Edward’s untimely death, Gloucester became Richard III, King of England. These were cruel times — life could be short, and love and power had to be taken quickly.
Sir Francis Walsingham’s official title was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, but in fact this pious, tight-lipped Puritan was England’s first spymaster. A ruthless, fiercely loyal civil servant, Walsingham worked brilliantly behind the scenes to foil Elizabeth’s rival Mary Queen of Scots and outwit Catholic Spain and France, which had arrayed their forces behind her. Though he cut an incongruous figure in Elizabeth’s worldly court, Walsingham managed to win the trust of key players like William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester before launching his own secret campaign against the queen’s enemies. Covert operations were Walsingham’s genius; he pioneered techniques for exploiting double agents, spreading disinformation, and deciphering codes with the latest code-breaking science that remain staples of international espionage.

The Swan Maiden by Jules Watson

She was born with a blessing and a curse: that she would grow into a woman of extraordinary beauty — and bring ruin to the kingdom of Ulster and its ruler, the wily Conor. Ignoring the pleadings of his druid to expel the infant, King Conor secrets the girl child with a poor couple in his province, where no man can covet her. There, under the tutelage of a shamaness, Deirdre comes of age in nature and magic… And in the season of her awakening, the king is inexorably drawn to her impossible beauty.

But for Deirdre, her fate as a man’s possession is worse than death. And soon the green-eyed girl, at home in waterfall and woods, finds herself at the side of three rebellious young warriors. Among them is the handsome Naisi. His heart charged with bitterness toward the aging king, and growing in love for the defiant girl, Naisi will lead Deirdre far from Ulster — and into a war of wits, swords, and spirit that will take a lifetime to wage.


Filed under Elizabeth I, Mailbox Monday, Walsingham

>Book Review: His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and The Earl of Leicester by Jeane Westin


His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and The Earl of Leicester, A Novel by Jeane Westin
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade (August 3, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0451230126
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating::Three Stars

One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.

They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others’ lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her “Sweet Robin” what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.

His Last Letter tells the story of this great love… and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

Jeane Westin’s previous release of The Virgin’s Daughters: In The Court of Elizabeth I received much attention when it released last year. I have not gotten a chance to read that novel, though I did not want to miss this new release as it goes into the much discussed relationship of Elizabeth I and a favored courtier, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. An undisputed fact is that Robert Dudley and Elizabeth had spent time together in their early years, and they maintained this friendship till his death. What is at the crux of the debate is whether anything sexual occurred during the relationship. There have been many speculations as to the nature of their relationship, and even rumors that Dudley had fathered a secret child with her. I was very curious to see where Westin would take us in this fictional telling of this fascinating courtship of a supposed Virgin Queen and a supposed lover. (I am one of those of the belief that Elizabeth was indeed a virgin, who flirted, perhaps outrageously, to garner attention and admiration).

The beginning of the novel features a small author’s note that advises to follow along the timeline using the chapter guide. I quickly learned why this was pointed out when I discovered that the story goes back and forth between Elizabeth’s younger years, her middle years, but had started when Dudley had died. Elizabeth clutches the last letter she received from Dudley and the story takes off. The entirety of the novel is not a typical Elizabethan read, as this does not focus on the events that occurred around Elizabeth during her long reign. The author focuses primarily on Elizabeth and Dudley, tapping into their minds and thoughts as she attempts to recreate the relationship between the two.

Westin takes liberties with her story, and those die-hard Elizabeth I fans may take offense to that. The other downside to the novel is the hopscotch across the timeline, as I could never fully grasp where they were and what was going on unless I specifically worked out the chronology in my head using the date that is provided at the beginning of each chapter. And some chapters would end with either Elizabeth or Dudley reminiscing back to a specific event in order to lead into next chapter, which would of course be another time and place.

Westin keeps her novel focused on the objective of spotlighting the romance between Elizabaeth and Dudley, yet she also takes time to cultivate the story behind the effects of the threat of the Spanish Armada and a little on the Mary Queen of Scots ordeal. Since the rest of the actual historic events took place as a behind the scenes nuance during the novel, newbies to the Elizabethan era may not appreciate or grasp the flow of the novel as much. And since Westin does not go in to the details of these smaller events, it is sometimes forced into inane conversations like the lady’s maid Anne telling Elizabeth what to call Lord Burghley since he used to be Cecil but was now made Lord. That whole conversation, and others, were among those that really would have been better off not happening at all as it simply took away from the novel and seemed ridiculous in the narrative. I think those middle-ground Elizabethan fans who have not yet felt that they have had their fill of Elizabeth I novels would enjoy the story for the entirely different point of view that it offers.

Both Dudley and Elizabeth are portrayed as completely and totally head over heels in love with each other, forsaking all others, yet unable to tie the knot due to politics. Although Dudley was married at least twice and had multiple affairs, Elizabeth still adored him, albeit in a jealous manner as she banished Dudley’s second wife from court. Those Elizabethan fans who have read every other Elizabethan novel might want to skip this one though, due to the confusing nature of the alternating timeline and the singular focus on the love match between the two which may seem to scream of jealous tirades from Elizabeth and Dudley as a spineless jilted lover.

Jeane Westin has a love for all things Tudor, and she graced The Burton Review recently with this interview (giveaway as well). She states that her love for historical fiction stems from the fact that known history is full of gaps and questions. She loves being able to pen a novel in her favorite genres to help to re-imagine a different perspective and to perhaps fill in some of those gaps. Westin has done that here with the love story of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley by presenting these two in a way that is daring and provocative that demonstrates Westin’s love for the Elizabethan period.

The Tudor Mania Challenge which is here at The Burton Review ends this Saturday night. This will be my last entry into the linkfest of the reviews.I can’t wait to see who the winner is of the Challenge, who gets a book of their choice from The Book Depository!


Filed under 16th Century, 2010 Releases, 2010 Review, Elizabeth I, Jeane Westin, Robert Dudley

>Mailbox Monday

>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 thankfully I’ve only received two in the box, but they are to review. I have piles of books in boxes and no idea where anything is. We shall be seeing these two around the blogosphere for awhile yet with Q&A’s and reviews, and that will occur right here also! Stay tuned for giveaways of these:

His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester (2010) A novel by Jeane Westin
One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.
They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others’ lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her “Sweet Robin” what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.

His Last Letter tells the story of this great love… and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

THE SECRET ELEANOR by Cecelia Holland (August 3rd 2010)
Eleanor of Aquitaine seized hold of life in the 12th century in a way any modern woman would envy!

1151: As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor grew up knowing what it was to be regarded for herself and not for her husband’s title. Now, as wife to Louis VII and Queen of France, she has found herself unsatisfied with reflected glory-and feeling constantly under threat, even though she outranks every woman in Paris.
Then, standing beside her much older husband in the course of a court ceremony, Eleanor locks eyes with a man-hardly more than a boy, really- across the throne room, and knows that her world has changed irrevocably…
He is Henry D’Anjou, eldest son of the Duke of Anjou, and he is in line, somewhat tenuously, for the British throne. She meets him in secret. She has a gift for secrecy, for she is watched like a prisoner by spies even among her own women. She is determined that Louis must set her free. Employing deception and disguise, seduction and manipulation, Eleanor is determined to find her way to power-and make her mark on history.

I can’t forget to say that my dear husband bought these for my birthday, even though they didn’t come in the mail:
In exquisite condition a 1898 book called When Knighthood Was in Flower by Edwin Caskoden:
It is the reign of England’s Henry VIII. He is still married to his first of six wives, Catherine of Aragon . Yet, he has a problem with a certain young woman – his 16-year-old sister, Mary Tudor – whom he is determined to marry off. The lucky suitor (and the one who has the most to offer Henry) is the aging and feeble King Louis XII of France.

Beautiful, but temperamental, and definitely a woman who knows her own mind, the petulant teenager wishes to marry another, a common captain of the guard, Charles Brandon. While Henry and Mary may be brother and sister, he is still her King first and foremost! A battle of wills ensues in the House of Tudor, fueled by the Duke of Buckingham’s jealousy of Brandon. Henry finally puts his regal foot down and issues this command to her: “You will marry France and I will give you a wedding present – Charles Brandon’s head!” Not exactly the kind of wedding gift she had in mind. Desperate, but helpless to directly save Brandon’s head from the block, the King’s Jester vows to intervene somehow and stall the inevitable. Time is running out and Brandon’s neck lies exposed to the ax of the executioner…

And also an old edition of:
I Am Mary Tudor by Hilda Lewis
A first-person narrative novel about Henry VIII’s daughter, first in a trilogy.


Filed under 16th Century, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I

>Mailbox Monday

>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.

From Half Price Books:
 My Just Desire: The Life of Bess Raleigh, Wife to Sir Walter by Anna Beer (2003)
“Young, beautiful, and connected by blood to the most powerful families in England, Bess Throckmorton had as much influence over Queen Elizabeth I as any woman in the realm—but she risked everything to marry the most charismatic man of the day. The secret marriage between Bess and the Queen’s beloved Sir Walter Ralegh cost both of them their fortunes, their freedom, and very nearly their lives. Yet it was Bess, resilient, passionate, and politically shrewd, who would live to restore their name and reclaim her political influence. In this dazzling biography, Bess Ralegh finally emerges from her husband’s shadow to stand as a complex, commanding figure in her own right.

Writing with grace and drama, Anna Beer brings Bess to life as a woman, a wife and mother, an intimate friend of poets and courtiers, and a skilled political infighter in Europe’s most powerful and most dangerous court. The only daughter of an ambitious aristocratic family, Bess was thrust at a tender age into the very epicenter of royal power when her parents secured her the position of Elizabeth’s Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. Bess proved to be a natural player on this stage of extravagant myth making and covert sexual politics, until she fell in love with the Queen’s Captain of the Guard, the handsome, virile, meteorically rising Ralegh. But their secret marriage, swiftly followed by the birth of their son, would have grave consequences for both of them.

Brooking the Queen’s wrath and her husband’s refusal to acknowledge their marriage, Bess brilliantly stage-managed her social and political rehabilitation and emerged from prison as the leader of a brilliant, fast-living aristocratic set. She survived personal tragedy, the ruinous global voyages launched by her husband, and the vicious plots of high-placed enemies. Though Raleigh in the end fell afoul of court intrigue, Bess lived on into the reign of James I as a woman of hard-won wisdom and formidable power.
With compelling historical insight, Anna Beer recreates here the vibrant pageant of Elizabethan England—the brilliant wit and vicious betrayals, the new discoveries and old rivalries, the violence and fierce sexuality of life at court. Peopled by poets and princes, spanning the reigns of two monarchs, moving between the palaces of London and the manor house outside the capital, My Just Desire is the portrait of a remarkable woman who lived at the center of an extraordinary time.”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2007)
Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author’s tale of Gothic strangeness — featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1997)
In Alias Grace, bestselling author Margaret Atwood has written her most captivating, disturbing, and ultimately satisfying work since The Handmaid’s Tale. She takes us back in time and into the life of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the nineteenth century.

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? Is Grace a female fiend? A bloodthirsty femme fatale? Or is she the victim of circumstances?”

Lucrezia Borgia by John Faunce (2003)
“The woman whose legendary beauty—and wickedness—inspired Donazetti’s opera, Victor Hugo’s play, and countless films and paintings at last speaks for herself.

Lucrezia Borgia. The name has long been synonymous with murder, incest, and debauchery. Illegitimate daughter of Roderigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, her life was marked by one forced divorce, one murdered husband, and rumors of murders she committed herself—as well as whispered affairs with both her brother Cesare and her father. But was she all that history has accused her of being, or a woman used by powerful men to gain still more power? Here, Lucrezia tells her own story, full of crime and passion.
At the turn of the 16th century, the Vatican was as decadent and violent as any royal court, and Lucrezia was raised a princess. Twice married off for political gain by Alexander and Cesare, first to an older noble she grew to love, then to the dazzlingly handsome nephew of a king who she fell in love with almost instantly, Lucrezia would not have lasting happiness with either. This is the story of a woman trapped between her own desires and the iron hand of her ultra-powerful family. Her intelligence and inner steel, as conveyed by author John Faunce, mark her as one of history’s great survivors.”

 Wideacre by Philippa Gregory (1986/2003) This one has lots of different opinions on Amazon from the ‘worst book ever read’ to ‘Amazing’. We shall see. Gotta love those Amazon reviewers, eh?

“Beatrice Lacey, as strong-minded as she is beautiful, refuses to conform to the social customs of her time. Destined to lose her family name and beloved Wideacre estate once she is wed, Beatrice will use any means necessary to protect her ancestral heritage. Seduction, betrayal, even murder — Beatrice’s passion is without apology or conscience. “She is a Lacey of Wideacre,” her father warns, “and whatever she does, however she behaves, will always be fitting.” Yet even as Beatrice’s scheming seems about to yield her dream, she is haunted by the one living person who knows the extent of her plans…and her capacity for evil.
Sumptuously set in Georgian England, Wideacre is intensely gripping, rich in texture, and full of color and authenticity. It is a saga as irresistible in its singular magic as its heroine.”

The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain
The Silver Chalice recounts the story of Basil, a young silversmith, who is commissioned by the apostle Luke to fashion a holder for the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. The Silver Chalice was the best-selling fiction title of 1953 in the United States and was made into a film starring Paul Newman.

BrokenTepee shared with me also the latest MJ Rose novel in her Reincarnation series (thank you!!):

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose
Haunted by a twenty-year-old murder of a beautiful young painter, Lucian Glass keeps his demons at bay through his fascinating work as a special agent with the FBI’s Art Crime Team. Currently investigating a crazed art collector who has begun destroying prized masterworks, Glass is thrust into a bizarre hostage negotiation that takes him undercover at the Phoenix Foundation — dedicated to the science of past-life study — where, in order to maintain his cover, he agrees to submit to the treatment of a hypnotist.

Under hypnosis, Glass travels from ancient Greece to nineteenth-century Persia, while the case takes him from New York to Paris and the movie capital of the world. These journeys will change his very understanding of reality, lead him to question his own sanity and land him at the center of perhaps the most audacious art heist in history — the theft of a 1,500-year-old sculpture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

International bestselling author M. J. Rose’s The Hypnotist is her most mesmerizing novel yet. An adventure, a love story, a clash of cultures, a spiritual quest, it is above all a thrilling capstone to her unique Reincarnationist novels, The Reincarnationist and The Memorist.

And for review:

Adam & Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund
What Happened To Eden?

The New York Times bestselling author of Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, and Abundance returns with a daring and provocative novel that envisions a world where science and faith contend for the allegiance of a new Adam & Eve.

Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla R. Miller
A richly woven biography of the beloved patriot Betsy Ross, and an enthralling portrait of everyday life in Revolutionary War-era Philadelphia

Betsy Ross and the Making of America is the first comprehensively researched and elegantly written biography of one of America’s most captivating figures of the Revolutionary War. Drawing on new sources and bringing a fresh, keen eye to the fabled creation of “the first flag,” Marla R. Miller thoroughly reconstructs the life behind the legend. This authoritative work provides a close look at the famous seamstress while shedding new light on the lives of the artisan families who peopled the young nation and crafted its tools, ships, and homes.

Betsy Ross occupies a sacred place in the American consciousness, and Miller’s winning narrative finally does her justice. This history of the ordinary craftspeople of the Revolutionary War and their most famous representative will be the definitive volume for years to come.


Filed under Borgia, Elizabeth I, Georgian Era, Lucrezia Borgia, Mailbox Monday, Margaret Atwood, Phillippa Gregory, Walter Raleigh