Category Archives: Review

>Book Review: Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham

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Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
ISBN: 978-1402215278
Price: $14.99
Published July 2009 by Sourcebooks, originally published 2007
Review copy provided by the author/publisher
The Burton Review Rating:4 stars!


“Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?

Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham’s impeccable research will delight avid historical fiction readers, and her enchanting characters will surely capture every reader’s heart. Fans of her first novel, The Traitor’s Wife, will be thrilled to find that this story follows the next generation of the Despenser family.”

I had saved this review so that I could post it close to Valentine’s Day, as it is a perfect read to celebrate love. Hugh and Bess is the medieval story of two people who were not a love match at first sight. Young Bess Montagu expected to marry high due to her father’s (William Montacute, 1st Earl of Salisbury) high standing in the royal ranks. She never expected to have to marry a man whose very name of Despenser was known as traitorous, due to both Hugh’s father and grandfather having been executed at Queen Isabella’s orders in 1326. But Hugh was working hard to restore his family name, and he knew it would please the king and himself to marry someone so close to royal favor. Hugh at 32 was also much older than Bess was; she was 14 and had naturally been hoping for a match that would be with someone closer to her age (and rank). We learn about Hugh’s upbringing and the effects of being a traitor’s son, and we meet Bess at a very young age as she is growing up within an exalted family.

As Susan tells it, the marriage was rough for a year so, and then especially so when Bess found her trusted friend in bed with her husband. Emma had become Bess’s friend after she had been Hugh’s mistress for years before he had married, which is something Bess had not known. Somehow, they got past the infidelity and fell in love with each other. They soon had a happy marriage, although childless. Sadly, the ending is not quite a happy one, and as I finished the story I had to struggle to maintain my composure. The beginning of the story started off with more of the historical facts of the times, where there were uprisings between the factions for Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, versus those who were for the king. The history lessons abate as we get more into the marriage between Hugh and Bess. The history and the marriage are very interesting (perhaps in reality the marriage wasn’t all that interesting) and even in the author’s note we learn that the story still has so much more to tell.

I truly enjoyed this charming medieval love story, and however much is fictitious as far as the “love” part may be, it doesn’t detract from the amount of historical detail that Susan imparts. I would see this as an excellent introduction to the years circa 1335 in England. There is quite a bit of information on the Edward the II and the III and many historical figures were also mentioned. There are not a multitude of encyclopedic facts to weigh the main story down, so those who have no idea about those particular years in England need not fear of being lost in the details. I would have liked to see a genealogical chart, as I always enjoy those; both Hugh Despenser and Bess each had enough siblings that could have gotten confusing. I truly enjoyed the characterizations of the two main characters, and I always wonder how true to life my historical reads are. I would hate to be disappointed but there doesn’t seem to be alot of information available online as far as this particular Despenser. I am certainly intrigued enough to browse around for some other reads of the time period, such as Queen Isabella by Alison Weir which has been on my shelf for almost two years now.

Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham is a fast and fun historical piece of work that I recommend to anyone who enjoys their history with a lot of love, romance and entertainment. Even though a love story, it also had its share of stark reality, such as the poignant scenes owing to the Black Death. This was my first Susan Higginbotham novel, but it won’t be my last. Her wit and subtle humor shine through in this telling, and it helps to make this an easy read. Although this novel stands alone, Susan’s earlier novel The Traitor’s Wife, focuses on Hugh’s father. The Stolen Crown: A Novel of the Wars of the Roses will be published in March 2010. Although the writing style is still with the same easy wit, The Stolen Crown is steeped with much more historical detail and not as quick a read as this one. Visit Susan’s blog for more of her insights. And for Edward II facts I must mention Alianore’s blog, because she has some very in depth essays there which are quite fun to peruse.

I will be reviewing Susan’s The Stolen Crown on its release date March 1, and Susan is scheduled to be here March 9, 2010 with a guest blog, so be sure to check back to read about more Medieval History! (giveaway alert!!)

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Filed under 2010 Review, Despenser, Edward II, Edward III, Review, Susan Higginbotham

>Book Review: O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell & Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table!

>O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade (February 2, 2010)
Historical Fiction
ISBN-10: 0451229150
Review Copy provided by publisher/author
The Burton Review Rating:Five

Synopsis:
Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father’s business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inspired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage into the Medici dynasty, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that takes flight in the privacy of her bedchamber and on her garden balcony.

Her life and destiny are forever changed when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars.”

Oh.. my heart, my heart!! Sweet torment of love! This was a riveting story that had me on the edge of my seat, and still, it was a love story that we all think we know. I have learned that there are mixed feelings about this novel.. this is to be expected when this is a retelling of an age-old story, told many ways before… I agree that this story idea is not a new one, and perhaps Maxwell’s writing is not what others would think of as five star material, but I am going with my gut instinct on this read, and awarding it the coveted five stars because of the way I felt when I was through reading it. I was not as disappointed as other reviewers were; I had no high expectations for this one; I couldn’t put it down; I loved every word of it; I was emotionally drained after going through all of the tragic events; and I was still surprised and heartsick at the ending, which stayed with me in my heart for days after reading this novel. I am not a voracious romance reader, and this filled that void. So .. flog me.

Robin Maxwell has written successful novels focusing on Tudor England previously and has repeated her recent Signora Da Vinci setting and brought her readers into Italy; this time we are in Florence, even though traditional Romeo and Juliet fans would disagree on this location (LUCY!). Robin Maxwell rewrites Shakespeare’s beloved Romeo and Juliet tale with her fabulously eloquent prose, allowing the average non-Shakespearean-expert to sit back and relish this story as Shakespeare meant it to be enjoyed. Even though these are the same characters, with the same idea of forbidden love, Maxwell writes a cohesively understandable story of two families: Cappelleti and Monticecco (as opposed to Shakespeare’s Capulet and Montague) who each have two young members of the family who irrevocably fall in love with each other. Yes ~ it is the same story… rewritten in a modern sense, and those looking for some unknown insight into the original Shakespearean story may be disappointed.

Much like the original, there is a marriage celebration and masked dancing where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. They are immediately attracted to each other as the two star-crossed lovers share a love of words, especially Dante’s poetic verse, and they banter back and forth with the elegant quotes. Their love springs eternal, and we are swept up immediately in this ardent romance as we hope and pray that they will not have a tragic ending that we know Shakespeare has written. Their love for each other even inspires Juliet to write poetically of thoughts of her Romeo, which was something unusual for a woman in her day. She is hopelessly caught between a family responsibility to solidify her father’s silk business by marrying Jacopo Strozzi, her father’s soon-to-be-partner. Of course, Juliet wants nothing of Jacopo, he is an older man with no qualities of virtue and is quite unattractive. Juliet realizes he is dangerous as well, especially as Jacopo also sees through the charades of Romeo and Juliet and recognizes their young love, yet he is still eager to marry Juliet so that he will become partner in Juliet’s father’s silk business.

I propose that after a respectable period I will allow you to pay court to her. You may see her in private, share your…poetry”-he uttered the word with a distinct sneer. “You may lay your lovesick head upon her knee.” He smiled and shook his head condescendingly. “Publicly adore her. Meanwhile, she will live in my mother’s house, subservient and groveling. She will obey me and stay cloistered there except to go to confession. She will bear my children, as many as I can get on her. I will, of course, have my mistresses.”

That is what Juliet hears Jacopo Strozzi tell Romeo, and Juliet is petrified of the future that her father has bestowed on her, dooming her fate if she marries Jacopo Strozzi. Yet there is hope, because her father does seem reluctant to let go of his daughter right away. As a reader, I was hoping that the betrothal would not happen, and that the tragic fate of Romeo and Juliet would be averted. There is hope for about a day, until a family tragedy occurs, which makes things even worse than they were before, spinning one tragedy into a domino effect of disasters.

There are poignant scenes involving Juliet’s insecure thoughts, and touching balcony scenes, which are all written in a modern tone yet with the spirit of the original telling and the nuances of figs, gardens and olives wafting throughout. The imagery of the vegetation and the setting of Juliet’s family are rewarding to our senses along with the expressive prose throughout the story, as is indicative by this book’s gorgeous cover art. The characters are all well-developed and add their unique aura to the story.. and there are several, from brothers to friars to friends. Jacopo Strozzi and his mother are the perfect villains, Juliet’s parents are the perfect see-no-evil parents, and Romeo and Juliet’s character’s are seemingly written to expand upon Shakespeare’s sentiments.

I am not going to go further in my telling of this heart wrenching story of Romeo and Juliet, for this is such a fantastic read I am not going to give anything away. This was a predictable love story of course, yet with layers and layers of factors of social mores, religious beliefs and friendship. Robin Maxwell has turned the legend into something that everyone can relate to in such an elegant fashion that I believe that those with an open heart should add this to your to be read pile. Even the cover of this book has the allure of beauty with the abundant flowers and colors. The words inside the pretty cover touched my heart, my soul, left me with a lump in my throat, texted my husband its outcome..and now I am off to read some Dante.

Read some more reviews:
Lucy’s Book Review at Enchanted by Josephine
Amy’s Book Review at Passages to the Past

Please visit me on Saturday.. (one of the few posts I’ll ever do on a Saturday!) for a special post I am writing concerning some of my favorite Literary Lovers as part of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table event!

And visit the main website for the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table to see what other events are going on, such as creative posts, giveaways, and more reviews! There is also a great Q&A at the main site here with the author.

HINT:
CHECK BACK ESPECIALLY IF YOU WANT TO WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK JANUARY 30!!

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Filed under 2010 Releases, 2010 Review, HF Bloggers Round Table, Review, Robin Maxwell

>Spotlight on Tesla & Book Review: ‘The Invention of Everything Else’ by Samantha Hunt

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The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
Hardcover 2008, Paperback March 2009 Mariner Books
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 2, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0547085777
Review copy from the publisher
The Burton Review Rating:Four and a Half Big Stars!

This January 7, 2010 marks the 67th anniversary of Nikola Tesla’s death. Tesla (July 10, 1856 – January 7, 1943) is the focus of this novel by Samantha Hunt, and I wanted to post this review close to that date in celebration of the life of Nikola Tesla.

This is one of those books that had a product description online and on the back cover that gives too much away and still doesn’t do it justice, so I shortened it here:
“From the moment Louisa first catches sight of the strange man who occupies a forbidden room on the thirty-third floor, she is determined to befriend him. Unbeknownst to Louisa, he is Nikola Tesla—inventor of AC electricity and wireless communication—and he is living out his last days at the Hotel New Yorker. Winning his attention through a shared love of pigeons, she eventually uncovers the story of Tesla’s life as a Serbian immigrant and a visionary genius: as a boy he built engines powered by June bugs, as a man he dreamed of pulling electricity from the sky.”
(‘The Invention of Everything Else was short listed for the Orange Prize 2009)

Shunned by the now modern society that Nikola Tesla helped to bring to fruition, author Samantha Hunt brings us her imagined story of Nikola’s last days that he had lived out at the Hotel New Yorker. Through Nikola’s thoughts, the novel flashes back to Nikola’s childhood, his brother, and to the point that he immigrates to America in 1884. This is a story that encompasses many themes, from love, tragedy and loss, to the power of thought and unlimited creativity.

The novel opens up to Tesla at the age of 86, and we get a feel for how the story is going to play out. The author uses flashbacks and multiple viewpoints to embrace the reader fully into the world of 1943, where hotel chambermaid Louisa meets and befriends Tesla just at a time that her father and family friend have decided to embark on a time travel experiment. Louisa is a simple character, and could have been more developed, but perhaps the character of Nikola Tesla simply eclipsed hers in this telling. I certainly felt like I knew more about Tesla from this book, and I was enthralled with the vivid imagery of New York City as the characters lived in it, along with the scenes on Long Island where Tesla had one of his last greatest experiments which failed miserably due to lack of funds and Tesla’s fall from social graces.

Nikola TeslaNikola Tesla is a Serbian-born immigrant who came to the USA to test his inventions and work with Thomas Edison. Edison promptly fails him, cheating Tesla out of a promised $50,000 (worth much more in today’s terms) in exchange for Tesla making Edison’s laboratory more efficient. This was a sad sign of things to come for Tesla, where money issues seemed to plague Tesla forever after this incident. Although J.P. Morgan did back Tesla’s experiments for a time, once Morgan learned that the invention that Tesla wanted to accomplish was free wireless electricity for all, Morgan pulled his support. Morgan had achieved a sort of monopoly by that time by reaping the benefits of the electricity revenues and he had no intention of giving it away for free.

The novel does not focus on Edison or Morgan but they needed to be mentioned so that the readers understood the reason for Tesla’s unsuccessful ventures. Tesla was successful with Westinghouse when they harnessed electricity using the power of the Niagara Falls, but this is also not covered very much except to say that Tesla tore up the contract where at that time was worth $12,000,000 in royalties. But Tesla did it for the greater good, for the power of electricity to survive and to keep Morgan from owning the company that Westinghouse and Tesla co-partnered. There were quite a few things that Tesla created, from X-Rays to the Tesla coil and robotics. There were murmurings of Tesla’s insanity as he tried to harness the unknown from outer space, and thus he was immediately discredited as talking to Mars. The “Teslascope” was the invention in progress of Tesla’s that he wanted to be his greatest yet, but in the world’s eyes at the time of 1901 he was effectively becoming a quack. It was a secret experiment, and to this day is still a mystery to the modern man for what Tesla was trying to accomplish by communicating with Mars. The novel also touches on the Death Ray, also known as the peace beam, which Tesla seemingly wanted to use to end warfare, and that the F.B.I. were spying on him for this and other information. The USSR had paid Tesla $25,000 in 1939 after testing the first stage of the Death Ray.

As you can see from my ramblings, the author successfully intrigued me with Tesla’s life and his inventions, and she cleverly added the character of Louisa to dramatize and humanize Tesla outside of his professional endeavors. Tesla’s meandering thoughts were inspiring and insightful; Louisa’s life was an intriguing storyline herself where her father, Walter, has raised Louisa by himself thus creating a very strong father-daughter bond. Louisa meets Arthur Vaughn who amazingly does not bolt when he witnesses many of the crazy things that is happening around Louisa due to Tesla. Another endearing topic is that Louisa and Tesla both share a love for pigeons, and this shared trait is what helps Louisa and Tesla become more acquainted with one another. The novel includes telling quotes at the beginning of each chapter by J.P. Morgan, Tesla, Mark Twain and others. The story ends with a loss, but with a sense of rebirth and renewal and perhaps a greater understanding for the need for human companionship.

Once I started this novel, I seriously could not put it down and I read the last 3/4 of the book in one sitting. A minor drawback is that this is not a long book and it had room for much more. It does not drag at all within the plot, as we leaped from the present to past and back again, but this was done in such a cohesive way that it enthralled me. I enjoyed the mentions of other people such as J.P. Morgan, George Westinghouse, Mark Twain and the conspiratorial F.B.I. When it was the eccentric Tesla’s turn in the story there were times when he confused me; his thoughts were indeed very meandering and perhaps a bit tedious. I think it helped to show Tesla how he really may have been, and how he saw the inner mechanics of everything he came across. This book is an absolute must-read for those slightly interested in Tesla, who is the reason for the electricity currents we utilize today, and the added romance and intrigue make this a fabulous fictional account of a man who was misunderstood and mistreated. There is so much more to learn about and from Tesla, that this will not be my last book concerning him.

In later years, long after his death, the Hotel New Yorker commemorated Tesla by installing a plaque in his honor, although the Moonies who had temporarily owned the hotel had refused to put the plaque up for a number of years. The plaque was not installed at The Hotel New Yorker until it came under new ownership in 2001, although it was created in 1977 for America’s Bicentennial. From the Tesla Society, it writes that “Many famous people visited and lived in Hotel New Yorker, among them are Edward Hoover, Muhammad Ali, John Kennedy and others.” Tesla had spent the last ten years of his life at The Hotel New Yorker, and his room at #3327 is the focal point as far as setting with the Hotel is concerned in Hunt’s novel.

The mention of the old laboratory in Shoreham, Long Island, then the Wardenclyffe World Wireless Telecommunications Station to Tesla, intrigued me very much because I grew up on Long Island and never heard of the site and Tesla’s wireless ambition that enveloped him here. In fact, I don’t even recall learning anything at all about Tesla in my studies. Why was that? Why was Edison the one who was so celebrated because of a light bulb? And I just found this article from 12/18/2009 that a plaque on this old Tesla laboratory was stolen from its brick building and has been missing for two months now. What a tragedy it is that still, after we supposedly realize the contributions that Tesla had made, that he is still being mistreated in America. The Wardenclyffe site with a huge tower had to be sold by Tesla to pay his debts to the Waldorf hotel, and now stands empty and vandalized, and sadly, for sale. The owners will level it for the buyers if need be.

teslascience.org

It is amazing, and telling, that after years of progress and technological advances, that we still count on Tesla’s alternating current to this day for our electricity needs. And yet, the very things associated with Tesla, such as his old lab, and plaques, are still shunned to this day. I thank Samantha Hunt for writing this amazing book and opening my eyes to the life of Nikola Tesla which needs to be celebrated.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=theburrev-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=054708577X

Another book that I recently read which mentions Tesla is The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming. Although completely different stories in nature, the mechanical age is the common thread between these two novels and I recommend both of them for fans of Tesla. My review of The Kingdom of Ohio is completed, and can be found here.

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Filed under 2010 Review, New York, Nikola Tesla, Orange Prize Shortlist, Review

>Book Review: Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in The World by Abigail Reynolds

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Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in The World by Abigail Reynolds
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (January 1, 2010)
Fiction / Romance / Historical
ISBN-13: 978-1402229473
The Burton Review Rating:Almost 3.5

In this sexy Jane Austen sequel, Elizabeth Bennet accepts Mr. Darcy’s first marriage proposal, answering the “What if…?” question fans everywhere have pondered
“I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
Famous last words indeed! Elizabeth Bennet’s furious response to Mr. Darcy’s marriage proposal has resonated for generations of readers. But what if she had never said it? Would she have learned to recognize Mr. Darcy’s admirable qualities on her own? Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy follows Elizabeth and Darcy as they struggle to find their way through the maze of their prejudices after Elizabeth, against her better judgment, agrees to marry Darcy instead of refusing his proposal.
Two of the most beloved characters in English literature explore the meaning of true love in a tumultuous and passionate attempt to make a success of their marriage.
It’s another Darcy sequel! Or is it? I would say this is more of an Austen variation. This isn’t just what happens to Darcy and Eliza after they marry, this one changes the original story so that Eliza feels forced and rushed into marriage. She doesn’t love Darcy, she was actually put in an uncomfortable position when she was caught being kissed by Darcy. So, instead of setting things right, such as smacking him across the face, she demures and accepts his proposal of marriage. Haughty Darcy assumes this is what Eliza wanted all along, and is blind for quite awhile to Eliza’s sad state of heart and mind. “Tears of loneliness and fatigue slipped down her face.”

At first, I wanted to throw the book. Far! The first twenty or so pages irritated me greatly. It resonated with negativity and a hopeless situation, and the Eliza we are introduced to is not at all like we would like to imagine her. The same is true for the horrific Darcy, the guy-who-has-it-all-and-knows-it.. slap!! And he had the audacity to ask Eliza to refrain from seeing her family! “I would prefer to minimize our connections with them.”

GASP!

The story moves on with both Eliza and Darcy becoming slightly more human, thankfully, and the plot gets more dramatic and slightly romantic. If it hadn’t, well then, I can’t imagine I would’ve inhaled this book like I did. As luck would have it, the story picked up its pace with Darcy getting ill and Eliza waiting on him, therefore realizing, hey, I love my husband!! And of course Darcy wakes from his stupor and orders her out of his sight. (Darcy is not exactly loveable in this version.)

It goes on like this, back and forth for awhile, but I was beginning to enjoy the semantics. It reminded me that I have a darling and wonderful husband who doesn’t care a fig about Pemberley, and at this point, that would be a fantastic thing. Darcy was shocked and hurt that Eliza hadn’t loved him, and he felt the whole marriage was a lost cause. Of course he was only human when no one was looking. When Eliza tried to thank him for a gift, he didn’t want her thanks because he felt she said it only out of a sense of duty. Thinking of the actual terms of pride and prejudice, that is exactly what is going on here between these two wanna-be love birds. Thankfully, it gets a little deeper than that, and we even meet Mr. Wickham and Lydia again while on their illicit flight. We don’t meet Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, unfortunately, and there are just a few scenes with sister Jane and previous best friend Charlotte. We do, however, add depth to the story with Darcy’s little sister, and also with the commoners who live on Pemberley where there are a few adventures in that area.

All in all… with just 256 pages, this was a quick read, the writing style itself was easy to get lost in, and if Darcy and Elizabeth weren’t such stubborn people most of the time I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more. The first quarter of the book was a bit of an annoyance, as mentioned, due to the adverse characterizations of two beloved characters. And then, as with many romances, we went back and forth between the lack of communication and then great sex and then lack of communication..and back in bed again. Sex? Austen? What? Moving past that, I think this one could be recommended to those Darcy fanatics out there. Those that enjoy the classic story the way it was meant to be, may be a little affronted with the whole plot.

For those Jane Austen junkies out there, this book is a reissue of Reynold’s “Impulse & Initiative: What If Mr. Darcy Didn’t Take No for an Answer?” and “Last Man in the World” and “The Last Man in the World: A Pride & Prejudice Variation” so if you’ve read any of these before, this is the same story.

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Filed under Abigail Reynolds, Austen Sequels, Review

>Booking Through Thursday: HISTORY!!!!!

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Given the choice, which do you prefer? Real history? Or historical fiction? (Assume, for the purposes of this discussion that they are equally well-written and engaging.)


OH MY!! My favorite topic. History is my favorite genre to read about, both fiction and non-fiction alike!! I have read much more historical fiction over non-fiction, but it is simply because that is what has been available to me to review this year.

I have read and reviewed some wonderful non-fiction this year, such as Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman who Helped Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies, Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman and The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir. And given the choice.. at this point I would really like to read a lot more NON-FICTION! I love the Tudor and Stuart eras in England, and I would really like to branch out this year to include more of Europe and ultimately the United States.

I have some biographies on my shelf such as Harry S. Truman and Mary Todd Lincoln that I would like to read, and I would like to read more on Louisa May Alcott.

I have read a lot of historical fiction this year (see all my reviews listed here) and in 2010 there are some more promising historical fiction works being published. So, I predict I will still be reading a lot more historical fiction rather than non-fiction in 2010 because of the abundance of new releases.

Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it!!!

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Filed under Book Thursday, Meme, Review, Tudor, Why I Blog

>Book Review: The Secrets of The Tudor Court: Between Two Queens by Kate Emerson

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Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Pocket (January 5, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1416583271
Review copy provided by the author
The Burton Review Rating:Four Stars

Product Description:
THE SECRETS OF THE TUDOR COURT SERIES IS “RICH AND LUSHLY DETAILED, TEEMING WITH PASSION AND INTRIGUE,” SAID ROMANTIC TIMES. NOW TALENTED KATE EMERSON CONTINUES A SAGA AS DRAMATIC AND SEDUCTIVE AS THE COURT ITSELF.

Pretty, 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 plunges 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 King Henry has chosen to wed a maid 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 is guarding a secret, one that 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.

In Kate Emerson’s second installment in the Secrets of The Tudor Court series, Emerson brings to life the character she imagines as Nan Bassett. Called ‘Nan’ by her friends, there is not a lot known about Anne Bassett, this mistress of Henry VIII, except that he had courted her briefly. How far that went is unknown, but Henry seemed to be fond of her. The author takes this a bit further, and has Nan in the midst of Tudor court intrigues, as a maid of honor to Jane Seymour, albeit quite briefly due to Queen Jane’s death; and then as a maid of honor to Anne of Cleves, and eventually to Queen Mary Tudor.

But we are treated to more than just the coquettish ways of the courtiers: the author cleverly inserts facts of the times such as habits and foods, and the politics of the factions within the court as well. The writing style is adept at inserting these facts without turning it into a history lesson, and those readers who would truly like to learn more about the customs and traditions of Tudor England will appreciate the references the author relays. Along with the many details offered, there is a wide cast of characters within the novel, from Nan’s large family to the courtiers and the movers and shakers of the time. The author supplies a genealogical chart, and an informative Who’s Who section as well.

Since Nan spent time in Calais, then still an English possession, we are also privy to the unrest in Calais. Nan’s stepfather, to whom the author portrays as being close to Nan, was Lord Lisle, Deputy of Calais, otherwise known as Arthur Plantagenet. He was the illegitimate son of Edward IV, and Henry VIII’s uncle. Lord Lisle becomes implicated in a treasonous plot, along with some of the family members, while Nan needs to find ways to help her family without implicating herself in the process. Thomas Cromwell figures heavily here as well, as Cromwell dislikes Lord Lisle and believes he is incompetent in Calais. When Lord Lisle was arrested in 1540, the letters that were seized during this arrest were preserved, which in turn did historians a great service.

Nan’s mother is also featured, who was Honor Grenville, and in her second marriage to Lord Lisle had found herself in a higher standing than she had enjoyed with her previous husband; whom she had her children by. Emerson doesn’t go into great detail regarding the personal lives of the many siblings of Nan; they are seen more in the background and perhaps as a bit less than supporting characters. Their mentions are more along the lines of who and when they are going to marry.

Nan would like to have an advantageous marriage herself, and this is the characteristic that we are heavily introduced to in the beginning of Emerson’s novel, which did not endear me to her right away. But, as the novel progressed, Nan’s better side began to show through as if she had matured as we read on, and she was more careful than I expected her to be. Such as when the author takes liberties and invents an affair with one of her father’s men, Ned Corbett, and they have a child together. It was an intriguing storyline that could have ended badly as far as plot and predictability, but the storyline was played out well which was surprising. The author inserted this fictitious affair into the story, but it created an interesting plot and served the story well.

The novel weaves its way through the everyday court life, with comings and goings as we learn more about how life was during the period. There are not a lot of dramatics, but as a reader I came to also hope for Nan’s ultimate goal of securing a stable future for herself. She wisely conducted herself when she was with the king and did not flaunt whatever relationship she and others perceived her to have with him. When Catherine Howard comes into the picture, Nan doesn’t fight for a place as Henry’s mistress, as we would expect her to do, and I found this refreshing. It seems that Nan did ultimately but briefly achieve a sense of happiness, but her life also could be seen as one that was full of hardship and sacrifice.

I was intrigued by the way that Emerson portrayed Catherine Howard, which was more as shrewd young woman rather than the naive twit that we are used to. I enjoyed the name dropping the author deftly employed as I enjoy trying to place who was where, when and why; although those newer to the time period may find the multitude of names confusing and unwarranted. Emerson seems to take great care to provide her readers with a full sense of the Tudor times, with all of the main characters present.

The use of the title Between Two Queens made me think… as the book was not necessarily about two queens. But the fact that Nan was ‘stuck’ between two queens could be cause for discussion. Nan’s only source of income and status was as a maid of honor, and she was briefly one for Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Mary Tudor. Much of the focus is within the time period that Henry was looking for a wife, and Henry was without one when Jane had died after childbirth. There was a time when Christina of Milan was purpoted to be the Queen, but she would not have him. Anne of Cleves was next, and luckily survived the marital state. Catherine Howard, a fellow maid of honor with Nan, was selected as the next Queen. One wonders if Nan had a shrewd uncle, like Catherine had in the Duke of Norfolk, if Nan could have been advanced further. But Nan’s family had clung to the ‘old ways’ and the Catholic religion, although they tried to stay low during the Reformation and Henry’s reign. They did not succeed fully in that endeavor, as Nan’s mother and stepfather were implicated and held in the Botolph plot, thus further tainting Nan’s own reputation.

The author Kate Emerson mentions that she relied heavily on the six volume edition of The Lisle Letters compiled by Muriel St. Clare Byrne, which comprises of multiple family members’ letters and correspondence primarily between the years of 1533 -1540. Emerson astutely derives facts from these letters and reconstructs Nan Bassett’s life surrounding the facts within these letters. As a work of fiction, readers need to be aware that most of what is in this story regarding Nan is what the author imagines “could be true”, but I still enjoyed this story on a Mistress Anne Bassett, for whom will always be within a shroud of mystery, as with many historic figures of Tudor times are. Those who wish for drama akin to Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl may be disappointed, however. As a Tudor junkie myself, I enjoyed the education within the story and the writing style of Kate Emerson made this a pleasurable read for me. Instead of focusing on the life of royalty or kings and queens, this is an endearing work of fiction about a female struggling to maintain a safe existence within the many intrigues of the Tudor Courts.

For those wanting to know, Kate Emerson’s previous Secrets of The Tudor Court: Pleasure Palace is pertaining to a different family altogether. These two novels are stand alone, although I did enjoy the first one as well (see my review). Kate Emerson also created an inspired guest post during the first Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table Event, and you can read that here at The Burton Review. Kate Emerson is a pseudonym for Kathy Lynn Emerson, and she also writes mysteriesand non-fiction works. She has also created a very interesting website devoted to Tudor women.

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Filed under Bloody Mary, Henry VIII, Kate Emerson, Review, Tudor

>BOOK REVIEW: DEVIL’S CUB BY GEORGETTE HEYER

>Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer
Product ISBN: 9781402219535
Historical Romance
Reissued by Sourcebooks, originally issued in 1932
Publication Date: November 2009
Review Copy from the publisher
The Burton Review Rating:Four and a Half Fun & Witty Stars!
See my other Heyer reviews

Synopsis:
Devil’s Cub is one of Georgette Heyer’s most famous and memorable novels, featuring a dashing and wild young nobleman and the gently bred young lady in whom he finally meets his match…
Like father, like son…

Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal and fiery son of the notorious Duke of Avon, has established a rakish reputation that rivals his father’s, living a life of excess and indulgence. Banished to the Continent after wounding his opponent in a duel, Vidal schemes to abduct the silly aristocrat bent on seducing him into marriage and make her his mistress instead. In his rush, however, he seems to have taken the wrong woman…
A young lady of remarkable fortitude…

Determined to save her sister from ruin, virtuous Mary Challoner intercepts the Marquis’s advances and throws herself into his path, hoping Vidal will release her upon realizing his error. But as the two become irrevocably entangled, Mary’s reputation and future lie in the hands of a devilish rake, who finds her more fascinating every day…

Hooray for another fun-tabulous Georgette Heyer novel! This one is more Georgian than the typical Regency novels she wrote, but reads just as well. In Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, she brings to life the Lord Vidal, otherwise known as Dominic, who is yet another dashingly irresistible debonair gentleman that every blushing beauty would like to get her hands on. Some he happily obliges, but then he promptly walks away. This time, in typical Heyer tragical comedic fashion, Mary attempts to save her naive sister Sophia from Lord Vidal but in doing so, Mary threatens to ruin her own chances at a respectable future.

This is the second in the series of the Alastair trilogy (Heyer really liked these characters); the first book of the series, These Old Shades (1926), perhaps in fitting Heyer comedic fashion, arrived 26 hours too late at my doorstep, forcing me to read this series out of order. Once I had gotten thirty pages into Devil’s Cub, the arrival of These Old Shades wasn’t enough to deter me from this one. Let me stop right here and pronounce the fact that I am a Georgette Heyer fan (possibly upgradeable to junkie status). She is devilishly clever in her stories, and she makes me laugh (oh.. all right, except for once). I love the way she can take the same sense of a plot and make each of her books new and clever, illustrating how she expertly develops her characters. (I say this because the plot in The Convenient Marriage resembles this one somewhat.) Yet, Devil’s Cub was no exception to Heyer’s ability to breathe laughter and life into age old plots. For some reason in all the regency novels I’ve read, there is always the pressing need to find an eligible bachelor for the young girl who needs to get out of her mama’s house.

(an older cover version shown here) I couldn’t make up my mind, though, if I should loathe or love Vidal. Oddly enough, our heroine had the same conundrum. ‘Strait-laced’ Mary knew what type of man he was, but of course that glitter in his eye made Mary wonder if there were more to him than just charm and arrogance. But I was getting a little unnerved at the fact that every time a pistol was near Vidal it invariably would go off. Murderer! (Dueling was still the rage then). Or, was he and his pistol always in the wrong place at the wrong time? And it is just this occasion that sends Vidal packing to Paris, fleeing England, but unbeknownst to him, he is bringing along Mary and not the silly Sophia. And hoity-toity Vidal gets his comeuppance and is shot by none other than Mary herself!!!

The melodramatics continue when all of the main characters and their family members collide in Dijon, where Mary consented to marry a Mr. Comyn as opposed to Lord Vidal, and more misunderstandings occur when the mom and dad (who are featured in These Old Shades) get into the middle of it. (Funny little side note was that the parson in Dijon that they were counting on doing the marrying would not do it for them anyway).

There were quite a lot of supporting characters in this one and many cousins and uncles for which I getting ready to draw a genealogical chart if one more relation was mentioned. I was getting confused! But that didn’t detract from the hilarious adventures and the witty dialogue that is seemingly typical Heyer traits. I loved this one, and can’t wait for my next Heyer romp.

Not wanting to give the rest of the plot away, and there is indeed a lot more that could be said, I’ll simply say that was another win for Georgette Heyer.. she is my go-to-gal when I need a pick-me-up and I am so happy to report that this one did just that. The sequel to Devil’s Cub is An Infamous Army.

If you are lucky, maybe you can find These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and An Infamous Army in the 2006 omnibus shown here:

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Filed under Georgette Heyer, Georgian Era, Regency, Review

>BOOK REVIEW~ 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

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

>Book Review: Her Mother’s Daughter: A Novel of Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee

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Her Mother’s Daughter: A Novel of Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee
ISBN: 0-425-23008-2/978-0-425-23008-4
Publisher: Berkley, December 1, 2009
Paperback, Historical Fiction, 336 pages. Amazon page.
Review copy provided by publisher
The Burton Review Rating:Four Stars!

Synopsis:

A new novel of sixteenth-century royalty from the author of A Question of Guilt:

Her name was Mary Tudor. First of the Tudor queens, she has gone down in history as Bloody Mary. But does she deserve her vicious reputation?

She was the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and half-sister to Edward VI and Elizabeth I. Mary Tudor’s life began as the sweetly innocent, pampered princess of Wales – until the age of eleven when the father she adored cast aside the mother she worshipped and declared Mary a bastard. Only after years of exile did Mary finally rise to the throne alongside the man who, aside from her father, was her greatest love – and her greatest betrayer.

Told by Mary herself and the people around her, this grand-scale novel takes us back to the glittering court of sixteenth-century England, and tells the tragic story of a fascinating, largely misunderstood woman who withstood the treachery and passion around her only to become one of England’s most vilified queens.

Julianne Lee attempts to bring to modern day readers the sympathetic view of Mary Tudor, the misunderstood queen of the sixteenth century. Queen Mary did not have an easy life, and the author immediately sets off to show her readers the myriad of different situations that she was placed in due to the fact that she was the daughter of King Henry VIII. Most Tudor era fans know the story of this Mary Tudor, who was otherwise known as Bloody Mary due to her excessive execution of heretics. She was the only surviving issue of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII; at first treated as a princess should be until Henry divorced her mother. Yet, it is her younger half-sister, Elizabeth I, who gets the credit for being a strong female monarch in the sixteenth century.

The author shows how Mary may have felt when she was told by her mother that her father was divorcing her, which jeopardized Mary’s own status. She was stripped of her princess title, and simply became “Lady Mary.” We see how Mary was indeed her mother’s daughter, embracing the Catholic religion with zeal, as this was the only constant in her life. The story the author tells focuses on Mary’s life and the major events that occurred around her, although we very quickly advance in the author’s telling to Henry marrying Anne Boleyn, beheading her and taking Jane Seymour as a wife. Throughout this period we are privy to Mary’s personal thoughts as she despises Anne, yet yearns for her place at her father’s side. Henry is portrayed as unfeeling and callous towards his daughter Mary, but as doting on Elizabeth when she was a baby. Obviously for the sake of the story itself this works well in the author’s favor for attempting to achieve sympathy for Mary. How much of this is factual is for another book.

We blink, and Henry is dead and his only sickly son, Edward is on the throne at age 9. I don’t even recall the sixth wife being mentioned. With the bulk of the book being told in third person, we are privy to the council meetings and the thoughts that the council members had about Mary, being a Catholic twenty-four year old potential claimant to the throne, never mind the fact that she was a woman. Mary is shown as very insecure, very pious and of ill health. Whenever she was stressed, it put her in a dangerous state of illness. Mary had feared poison from the heretic Protestant factions, and was beginning to lose faith in her own father’s loyalty and regard for family ties. She always felt he would never execute her because of the fact that she was his daughter, but Henry was a ruthless man and did not like being refused his requests. This request in question (which spanned the first half of the book) that Henry demanded of her was going against the very grain of Mary’s Catholic faith, for Henry wanted Mary to recognize him as having authority over the church and the pope. Mary finally felt that she could no longer trust in her faith to keep her alive. It seems Mary’s only friend was her imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. He advised her in most things and she is shown as relying on him at critical times, just as he advised her to accept the Act of Supremacy, although with a helpful caveat. Upon doing so, Mary was finally allowed some peace, and was welcome at her father’s court after this long battle. She failed in the very things she lived for, such as having children and restoring England to the Catholic faith, and perhaps it was this failure that distressed her so much that caused her illnesses. But even through these failures, she unknowingly taught Elizabeth what to do or not do once Elizabeth ruled.

What makes this novel unique is the way it opened up, with a modern day setting; and then the rest of the story is being told in an almost flashback fashion as Mary periodically appears as she explains what happens next. The chapter would open up with an italicized paragraph of Mary speaking her mind, and that chapter would tie itself into that foreshadowing opening paragraph. Also unique, are the “extras” to the novel. There are commoners, from thieves to family men that have their chance to their story in this novel as well. Through their eyes we get a broad scope of what the political and religious turmoils that the people in England were subject to, and this also helped keep the novel intriguing.

As a Tudor junkie, I enjoyed it. As a historical fiction reader, I loved it. There is nothing that I can say in hindsight that I think the author should have done differently. The writing flowed simply and I was entertained by the clever outline of the novel with the diary style entries by Mary and the outlooks from the commoners. This was a unique approach towards a story that has been told many times before, but truly gives a realistic touch towards the humanity of Bloody Mary. The author successfully portrayed Mary in a more favorable light as we begin to understand the depth of Mary’s faith and the mechanisms behind it. As the story progresses, we are more empathetic towards Mary as we witness the accounts of the relationships that Mary had with her family and her controversial husband, Philip of Spain. For the many readers who like to focus on the Tudor era, this is a read that must be added to your library, both for its original storytelling and the unique approach with which the author utilizes to tell this compelling story of Mary Tudor. I enjoyed this new novel by Julianne Lee so much so that I will be looking for her previous historical fiction read A Question of Guilt: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Death of Henry Darnley (Oct 7, 2008) which focuses on another Queen Mary that I have not had a lot of sympathy for either. After reading Her Mother’s Daughter: A Novel of Mary Tudor by Julianne Lee, I am definitely much more sympathetic to the views of Bloody Mary and more understanding of why she seemed a bit over the top. I recommend this one to those interested in the Tudor era and for historical fiction fans in general.

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Filed under Arthur Tudor, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Julianne Lee, Review, Tudor

>Book Review: My Unfair Lady by Kathryne Kennedy

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My Unfair Lady by Kathryne Kennedy
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (December 1, 2009)
Historical Romance
ISBN-10: 1402229909
Review copy from the publisher
The Burton Review Rating:3 stars

Synopsis:
A wild west heiress, Summer Wine Lee knows that she’s not an acceptable bride for her fiance’s knickerbocker family. She grew up in an Arizona mining town, cares more for critters than people, carries a knife under her skirts, and, worst of all, she has a highly improper secret from her past. But she also has high hopes that a real English Duke can teach her how to be a lady…
Were it not for his father’s gambling debts, the Duke of Monchester would never have stooped to civilize Summer. But the more time he spends with her, and the more social scrapes he has to rescue her from, the more he finds it impossible to change her into a proper lady. How could he, when he’s falling in love with her just the way she is?”

Remember that story “My Fair Lady” with Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins? This is the same concept with a blend of both America and England and a larger dash of a southern accent.This novel features Summer Wine Lee… a name that makes you blink.. as it did to the snooty English people she met. Immediately we are transported with her to England to fetch herself some manners, as I had no idea that Americans just didn’t have any in those days. Summer’s rich father was too busy to teach her any apparently, so she goes gallivanting to England to become the Duke of Monchester’s protege of sorts. The book’s cover features the mini blurb: “Who says a proper lady can’t carry a knife?” and it is with this southern attitude that Summer Lee intrigued me as a reader. The Duke is utterly disgusted and yet thrilled by her odd ways, and I was laughing to myself during certain outrageous scenes that were chock full of mirth, knives, chihuahuas, monkeys, and fox pups. Yes, you’ll find the word ‘critters’ more often then you would prefer to, but it added to the charm of Summer and her odd female companion as well.

Summer had her heart set on some old coot in New York, who in reality could care less if she returned to the States or not, and that was the frustration factor for me as a reader. Wake up, Summer! If that snobby Monte doesn’t want you, throw him to the curb! Yet throughout the novel she continues to hold him up on a pedestal and repeats to herself “Monte Monte Monte” so that she remembers the purpose of her travels in England. She is deeply attracted to her instructor, the Duke, but refuses to admit to herself that he could possibly feel the same way. She is not the smartest apple in the basket, but still manages to figure out that there are murderers in their midst before the Duke admits to it himself. There was a small dose of a mystery with the attempts on their life that the two frequently encountered, but the author did not overly dramatize that fact which made the read a bit more satisfying. Instead it just felt like another day in Summer’s world and I enjoyed learning more and more about her as the story progressed. Byron, aka the Duke, was also a pleasurable character and I knew from the start that he would fall in love with her just for the fact that she wasn’t after him. Apparently the Duke was the toast of the town and was tired of being a sought after Duke. But he was a sensitive guy underneath it all, and somewhat close to perfect except for being a bit shorter than one would expect a handsome guy to be.

This is another romance issue from Sourcebooks Casablanca that I enjoyed although perhaps a bit predictable as romances normally are. It was a quick read that didn’t have many sluggish moments and although you knew eventually the two main protagonists would come around and see the light (i.e. fall in love and live happily ever after) I had a lot of fun watching the charades. At 384 pages, I felt it was just the right length so that it wasn’t drawn out and it wasn’t just another stunted effort. I enjoyed the many events that occured along the way, and there were many.. I don’t want to add spoilers but I must say there was more sexual content than was expected, so I feel I must warn you this should have a NC-17 rating. Although I am not used to that much ‘imagination’, I still enjoyed this one and you need to come back later this week (11/18/2009) to the blog to read the author Kathryne Kennedy’s guest post titled “Why I write historical romance…or, why I love it!” and be entered for a giveaway of this new book.

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Filed under Author Post, Kathryne Kennedy, Review, Romance