Category Archives: Tudor

Venus In Winter (A Novel of Bess of Hardwick) by Gillian Bagwell

Venus In Winter (A Novel of Bess of Hardwick) by Gillian Bagwell
Historical Fiction/Tudor
Penguin July 2013
Paperback 435 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Four and a Half Stars

My previous review of Gillian’s novel The Darling Strumpet

The author of The September Queen explores Tudor England with the tale of Bess of Hardwick—the formidable four-time widowed Tudor dynast who became one of the most powerful women in the history of England. 

On her twelfth birthday, Bess of Hardwick receives the news that she is to be a waiting gentlewoman in the household of Lady Zouche. Armed with nothing but her razor-sharp wit and fetching looks, Bess is terrified of leaving home. But as her family has neither the money nor the connections to find her a good husband, she must go to facilitate her rise in society. 

When Bess arrives at the glamorous court of King Henry VIII, she is thrust into a treacherous world of politics and intrigue, a world she must quickly learn to navigate. The gruesome fates of Henry’s wives convince Bess that marrying is a dangerous business. Even so, she finds the courage to wed not once, but four times. Bess outlives one husband, then another, securing her status as a woman of property. But it is when she is widowed a third time that she is left with a large fortune and even larger decisions—discovering that, for a woman of substance, the power and the possibilities are endless. 

Bess of Hardwick has always been my absolutely favorite Tudor figure, and close behind her is Lettice Knollys. I was overjoyed when I heard that there was a novel in the works about her, though I was nervous about how her character would come through after I was totally disappointed with Philippa Gregory’s portrayal of her shrewish Bess in The Other Queen.

Bagwell does a phenomenal job of portraying the qualities of Bess that made me fall in love with her: strong, sensitive, intelligent, loving, and an accounting whiz. Well, she may not have been that last one but from previous reads and knowing that she seemingly was a phoenix rising from the ashes as far as her real estate properties go, she was a skilled business woman. Her marriages helped her in that regard, but she worked hard to keep what she could, and Bagwell portrays this diligent aspect of Bess perfectly. Her story begins as a child amongst those proverbial ashes and she goes to the noble houses to better secure her place in the Tudor courts. We watch Bess grow up and marry all along that glittery evil backdrop of Henry VIII’s wives and then the reigns of Henry’s children. Supporting characters include fellow courtiers and her family members, and of course eventually Elizabeth I and the ever changing political backdrop of rising and falling factions.

While this Tudoresque story is familiar to most, Gillian Bagwell offers a plausible sense of the world of Bess of Hardwick. The novel flows well because it is so character driven and focused on Bess’s life which humanizes the woman behind the house of glass that she is known for. While I was pleasantly enjoying the story throughout, the final scene tugged at my heart and I really loved the way it ended. And I was probably relieved that I did not have to repeat the events of her marriage to George Talbot, since it seems to be that particular marriage that had gotten the most coverage in the books I’d read before. This time, we get to experience Bess’s coming of age and how she got to where she was, giving us a truly empathetic portrait that will make you love her as much as I do.

One of the threads woven through this story was the fact the Bess would pray to God during the hard times or when her loved ones were facing the fierce royal ire of Kings and Queens. As a Christian fiction reader, this was very well done and I appreciated the additional tone this added, but of course this is subject to preference. As I told the author, I had high hopes for this novel on my favorite Tudor heroine, Bess of Hardwick. Thank you for surpassing my expectations, Ms. Bagwell! I loved the novel and recommend it to others interested in Bess of Hardwick.


Other reads on Bess that I recommend are two non-fiction works where I read before my ‘professional’ reviewing days, here are links to my amateur thoughts on these three titles:
Arbella by Sarah Gristwood
Bess of Hardwick Empire Builder by Mary Lovell

Bess was also featured in Philippa Gregory’s novel of Mary Queen of Scots, The Other Queen, but I disliked that portrayal very much and would not recommend it.



Filed under 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Bess of Hardwick, Gillian Bagwell, Tudor

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

The Miracle at St. Bruno’s by Philippa Carr (aka Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt)

The Miracle at St. Bruno’s (Daughters of England #1) by Philippa Carr
Gothic Historical Romance of the 70’s
Book from my personal collection
Burton Book Review Rating::Enjoyed it, had minor quirks

Available on Kindle now!

“I was born in the September of 1523, nine months after the monks had discovered the child in the crib on that Christmas morning. My birth was, my father used to say, another miracle: He was not young at the time being forty years of age . . . My mother, whose great pleasure was tending her gardens, called me Damask, after the rose which Dr. Linacre, the King’s physician, had brought into England that year.”

Thus begins the story narrated by Damask Farland, daughter of a well-to-do lawyer whose considerable lands adjoin those of St. Bruno’s Abbey. It is a story of a life inextricably enmeshed with that of Bruno, the mysterious child found on the abbey altar that Christmas morning and raised by the monks to become a man at once handsome and saintly, but also brooding and ominous, tortured by the secret of his origin which looms ever more menacingly over the huge abbey he comes to dominate.

This is also the story of an engaging family, the Farlands. Of a father wise enough to understand “the happier our King is, the happier I as a true subject must be,” a wife twenty years his junior, and a daughter whose intelligence is constantly to war with the strange hold Bruno has upon her destiny. What happens to the Farlands against the background of what is happening to King Henry and his court during this robust period provides a novel in which suspense and the highlights of history are wonderfully balanced.

I was fortunate to be able to participate in the read along for this first book of the gothic series that prolific author Eleanor Hibbert/Jean Plaidy wrote under her pen-name of Philippa Carr. It is the story of a family in England struggling to stay out of trouble during the tyrannical reign of Henry VIII and eventually his daughter Queen Mary.

The main characters are three .. “we three as one”: Damask, the daughter of the household, Kate, her distant cousin, and Bruno, the miracle child that was brought up next door to Damask in the Abbey. Religious turmoil permeates the land, as persecution reaches its wicked tentacles out to the innocents, and Damask and Kate attempt to live their lives after tragedies occur.

Damask is introduced to us as a young girl, and by the end of the story we pretty much see what would be the end of her life as well. She was a narrator that could easily get on your nerves though, she is supposed to be so uber smart, yet it seems she doesn’t see the reality in front of her face and that got tedious after awhile. The other characters were all well done with bad guys and good guys; the plus was that in the background  we also had Henry VIII and his wives.  The writing had small lulls – as we knew that the proverbial shoe was going to drop and we kept waiting for it. Full of tension and the gothic style of melodramatics, this was a fun read that definitely has me intrigued enough to at least see what happens with the next generation in book two. I had been suspecting what was to be the “climatic moment” when it hit by page 357, but it was still awesome.

I haven’t read a series in a very long time that features a particular family through a long period of time, though the Morland series comes to mind (Cynthia Harrod Eagles). These two series have completely different tones, as I would not hesitate to recommend this first book of the Daughters of England to the Young Adult reader who is intrigued by the tumultuous reign of the Tudors and their effects on the families of England.

This novel was part of my 2013 To-Be-Read-Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader

Checking in for April here

The next novel I’m reading for the challenge will be another by the same author (different pen-name) The Bastard King by Plaidy. You are welcome to join the group and read along with us, starting May 1.

I read along with the Goodreads Plaidy group for The Miracle at St. Bruno’s and we had great discussions there about the book, but here are some of the status updates from the book as I was reading (you may have to be my friend there in order to see since I’m pasting):

Marie Burton is on page 291 of 376

A slightly tortuous journey at this point. Kill them all already.

— Apr 11, 2013 03:14pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie’s Previous Updates

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is finished

It is done. The Miracle persists.

— Apr 12, 2013 11:45am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 357 of 376


— Apr 12, 2013 11:13am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 355 of 376

Reading the last chapter… I wonder how I’ll fell about this title when it’s done.

— Apr 12, 2013 10:28am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 267 of 376

Enjoying this first Philippa Carr novel (pseudonym of Jean Plaidy).

— Apr 06, 2013 07:27pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 249 of 376

Lots of uh-oh moments!!

— Apr 06, 2013 07:01am

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 185 of 376

The story is full of twists and turns, I am enjoying its gothic feel.

— Apr 04, 2013 07:50pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 156 of 376


— Apr 02, 2013 01:56pm

The Miracle at St. Bruno's (Daughters of England, #1)

Marie Burton

Marie Burton is on page 123 of 376

This chapter is titled the shadow of the ax.. And the king is Henry VIII.. Makes me wanna scream “run girl, run !!!


Filed under #histnov, 16th Century, 2013 Reading Challenge, 2013 Review, Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr, Tudor

Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon & Schuster: June 11, 2013
Historical Fiction
Hardcover 464 pages
eGalley copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Burton Book Review Rating:3.5 stars= I enjoyed it despite its minor quirks

This brilliant historical fiction debut takes you into the heart of the Tudor court and the life and loves of the clever, charismatic Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. 

Widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, Katherine Parr finds she has fallen deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of another: the ailing, egotistical and dangerously powerful monarch Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions; two enforced annulments; one death in childbirth—Katherine is obliged to wed Henry Tudor and become his sixth queen.
Committed to religious reform, Katherine must draw upon all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her including her stepdaughter Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. But with the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position in the new regime, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

A must-read for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Queen’s Gambit brings to life the remarkable story of Katherine Parr as she battles with those intent on destroying her, but also with her own heart.

Readers who would rather go swim with alligators instead of reading yet another Tudor themed historical.. please don’t dive in yet…I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. It did start off with more of a bang for me, as I felt the characterizations of Katherine Parr and her step-daughter Margaret Neville were pretty awesome. I then loved the jutting around from person to person, getting a little bit from everyone from the dying Latymer to the physician Huicke, to the loyal servant of Dot. All these characters helped shape a well-rounded story (that we all think we know) yet the author has added some clever plot twists that had me sucked in from the beginning.

As fat old King Henry has his way and Katherine Parr is no longer Lady Latymer but instead Queen Katherine, we get a full sense of the religious turmoil that was taking hold of England at the time. Catholics could very well take offense at some of the remarks that were being made (I am Catholic) but I was able to forgive those slights. The tone of the book shifted a bit, as there was a focus more on the policies of England as opposed to the character driven start, and since I pretty much knew what was going to happen I felt my attention drifting.

The charm to the book was the witty prose with the details of the period that were enough to make the book not too fluffy but not too much to bore this Tudor fan out of her mind. I wouldn’t say this novel is of the epic dazzling quality that some reviewers have painted it as, since especially my interest was waning after I hit the 80% mark, but I will say that it is a piece of Tudor fan-fic that was well done and I recommend it to those who are still eager to read more of the period and the struggles concerning the sixth wife of Henry VIII.

Some of the quotes that I posted on Goodreads from my eGalley (technically not supposed to quote from the book, but I feel justified as I would like to offer a feel of the tone of the narrative in an attempt to help sell it):

By rights she should have been married long ago to some magnificent foreign prince, borne him a flock of princelings, and allied England to some great land, but she has been pushed from pillar to post, in favor, out of favor, legitimate, illegitimate. No one knows what to do with her, least of all her father.” – can you guess the poor Princess this refers to?

You can’t scratch an itch around here without everybody knowing about it one way or another, and Anne Stanhope’s bulbous eyes watch everybody constantly so she can feed her husband, Hertford, little snippers of information: who is allied to whom, or who has argued with whom, which ladies are sporting new jewels, and suchlike.” – Those bulbous eyes belonging to Edward Seymour’s wife

Elizabeth puts a spell on people, that is her way. She puts them under her magic, takes them if she wants them and gets rid of them when she is bored.” – of that princess who would be Queen.

Elizabeth Fremantle employs the use of dramatic license with several of the plot twists, and those unknown plot points were very intriguing in the beginning of this intriguing view on Katherine Parr (which started from her marriage to Lord Latymer to the King and then to Thomas Seymour). Towards the end, I was slightly disappointed that the author did take it as far as she did as far as the twists go, so those readers who do not appreciate copious amounts of re-imagining the events will not appreciate this title. It is evocative, and is a sort of a no-holds barred type of read when you consider the amount of fiction that the author inserts, and still I enjoyed it as a whole. I hate comparing things to Philippa Gregory since everyone else does it, but I can say that readers who enjoy Gregory’s works should find no fault with this impressive debut novel.

Edit to add this link to a very enjoyable piece from the author over at Waterstones.


Filed under #histnov, 16th Century, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Katherine Parr, Tudor

The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan
Kensington Books February 2013
Historical Fiction
 Review copy from the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 stars

 From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland.

Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…

Read my previous D.L. Bogdan reviews

There are two contemporary Tudor novelists that I really enjoy and who I would not be adverse to reading their fifth or sixth book set in the era. Otherwise, a Tudor book by any author would not cross my threshold as I have had my full of the whole Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn episodes. With D.L. Bogdan’s newest Tudoresque novel we are treated to a historical figure that always seems out of England/out of mind in my reads: Margaret Tudor, elder sister to Henry VIII and the favored Mary Tudor, Queen of France who later married Charles Brandon.

Margaret’s story may not be too different than other royal princesses as they are marketed to the best match for their country and off they go, never to return to their homeland again. Margaret was sent by her father Henry VII to go make peace with Scotland and marry their King. That is what she attempted to do, and her marriage was portrayed lovingly and I enjoyed reading their story. There was always a constant struggle for Margaret, was she a princess of England or was she a Queen of Scotland? Margaret herself came off as naive, petulant, somewhat wild in nature, and wholly unpredictable. Which made the reading that much more fun (except when sometimes I felt like I was reading about Mary Queen of Scots! SO similar in character!)!

When we got to the parts where Margaret lost so much, I really empathized with Margaret that I was able to forgive her arrogant ways and horrible marriage choices. Her losses were many, and she seemed to stack up more losses than her counterparts such as Catherine of Aragon or even Anne Boleyn. And yet, we always hear SO MUCH more about Catherine and Anne. Due to Bogdan’s captivating storytelling, I am more intrigued about Margaret Tudor, mother of King James V and eventual ancestress of the United Kingdom.

I recommend The Forgotten Queen for its quick pace, and for doing Margaret justice. Why she should always seem to be forgotten in novels and history is a mystery and a travesty for a woman who went through so much and ultimately gave so much to Scotland yet was not recognized for it. As I read through Bogdan’s telling of Margaret’s story, I felt her pain as she yearned for love and appreciation, and she finally achieved it with this reader.


Filed under #histnov, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, D.L. Bogdan, Scotland, Tudor

The King’s Damsel (Secrets of the Tudor Court #5) by Kate Emerson

The King's Damsel
Another fabulous Tudor novel to stay up late with!

The King’s Damsel (Secrets of the Tudor Court #5) by Kate Emerson
Simon and Schuster, August 2012
Paperback 384 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:AWESOME, and Highly Recommended

In 1533 and again in 1534, Henry the Eighth reportedly kept a mistress while he was married to Anne Boleyn. Now, that mistress comes to vivid life in Kate Emerson’s The King’s Damsel.
A real-life letter from Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, written on September 27, 1534, reported that the king had “renewed and increased the love he formerly bore to another very handsome young lady of the Court” and that the queen had tried “to dismiss the damsel from her service.” Other letters from Eustace reveal that the mystery woman was a “true friend” of the Princess (later Queen) Mary, Henry’s daughter by Catherine of Aragon. Though no one knows who “the king’s damsel” really was, here Kate Emerson presents her as young gentlewoman Thomasine Lodge, a lady-in-waiting to King Henry’s daughter, Princess Mary. Thomasine becomes the Princess’s confidante, especially as Henry’s marriage to Catherine dissolves and tensions run high. When the king procures a divorce in order to marry Anne Boleyn, who is suspicious and distrustful of Mary, Mary has Thomasine placed in Anne’s service to be her eyes and ears. And that’s when she gets the attention of the king…

Rich in historical detail and featuring a w
ealth of bonus material, The King’s Damsel is sure to keep readers coming back for more in the exciting series!

Read my reviews of the previous books in the Secrets of the Tudor Court series:
The Pleasure Palace (Book 1)
Between Two Queens (Book 2)
By Royal Decree (Book 3)
At The King’s Pleasure (Book 4)

I love love love love love Kate Emerson! That’s five loves for each of her books in the Secrets of the Tudor Court series that I’ve read. This fifth one is much like the others with lesser known Tudor characters, and these are all stand alone novels which makes it easy to pick this one up if you haven’t read the others.

The King’s Damsel alludes to the possible dalliance between King Henry and another mistress, but do not get discouraged if you think you’ve heard this story before. Since this time our main protagonist is the entirely fictional Thomasine Lodge the author is able to spin a new story for us that is set against the backdrop of the always scandalized Tudor courts. Thomasine is sent to King Henry’s daughter’s household, to be a maid of honor to the Princess Mary. We get to learn a lot of the details and the important figures of the period and the setting of Princess Mary’s household which has not really been delved into before. Princess Mary is aged nine when Thomasine enters her household, and Anne Boleyn is just becoming the apple of King Henry’s eye. Where we would normally think of the moniker Bloody Mary, we instead are privy to the younger mind of the Princess, and can feel sympathy for her as her world is torn apart when King Henry divorces her mother and chooses Anne Boleyn.

With all this going on, we also are treated to Thomasine’s story. She is an orphan and not at an age where she can legally inherit what will be hers, and Lionel Daggett is appointed her guardian over her vast estate. He is an ominous character who only seeks wealth and status, and he is in complete control of Thomasine’s inheritance. We eagerly await the time when Thomasine can kick out the odious man, but that proves difficult. Thomasine is an enjoyable character who was easily likable, and the characterizations of the main Tudor historical figures are portrayed well. Anne Boleyn was haughty, Princess Mary was naive but shrewd, King Henry was pretty much his usual mix of an enigma of King and Man, and Catherine of Aragon was an afterthought. The entourage of the maids of honor and the servants provided a believable network creating the Tudor environment that the reader can sink their teeth into. The side note of the almost-romance provides a bit of a fun dalliance, but is never taken seriously throughout the novel, and provides an all too tidy ending.

I noticed this time around with the supporting Tudor figures, the titles and names were not overly explained, so that newcomers to the Tudor era may find themselves a little confused as to who was who (not knowing their historical significance). Obviously not a problem for me since I’ve read quite a few Tudor books, but I wanted to give fair warning for possible confusion. Also, as expected in some Tudor novels, there were quite a few convenient moments where Thomasine was able to eavesdrop on private conversations, but since she was spying for both Anne and Princess Mary this was shrugged off. I am happy to say there were no spying through the actual keyhole moments, but there were cleverly placed window alcoves and curtains.

There are times when I hear of yet another Tudor novel coming out and I want to scream, but I always look forward to Kate Emerson’s work. With Kate Emerson’s writing, you know what you are going to get. Her Secrets of the Tudor Court series are always cleverly descriptive and her passion for the Tudor era is evident. She skillfully weaves her stories blending fiction and fact to bring us the intriguing slice of life scenes set against a favorite period, and the novels are always page-turners. The King’s Damsel is no different, and I highly recommend it to historical fiction fans and especially Tudor fiction fans.

Book six, Royal Inheritance, will be out in 2013:
The protagonist of Royal Inheritance is Audrey Malte, allegedly the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII. Audrey was raised as the “bastard daughter” of John Malte, the king’s tailor.


Filed under 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Bloody Mary, Kate Emerson, Tudor

The Sumerton Women by D.L. Bogdan

The Sumerton Women by D.L. Bogdan
Kensington, April 24, 2012
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Enjoyed very much!

Orphaned at age eight, Lady Cecily Burkhart becomes the ward of Harold Pierce, Earl of Sumerton. Lord Hal and his wife, Lady Grace, welcome sweet-natured Cecily as one of their own. With Brey, their young son, Cecily develops an easy friendship. But their daughter, Mirabella, is consumed by her religious vocation—and by her devotion to Father Alec Cahill, the family priest…

Set at a fictional estate of Sumerton, Bogdan reenters the Tudor courts in a different fashion with this new novel. Fresh new characters breeze through the tyranny of King Henry VIII’s reforms, but not everyone comes away unscathed. The root of this story is as the title suggests, with women who love the Earl of Sumerton. The Earl is a sweet man, with little faults, except for his inability to break through to his alcoholic wife, Lady Grace.

And herein lies the problem with the rest of the review. If I say much about his children, and his ward Lady Cecily, I would give away intriguingly spicy plot points which would otherwise ruin the story for the potential reader. I was warned ahead of time that the synopsis alone gave away a piece of the story, and I kept my promise to myself to not read the synopsis, and I have shortened the one above.

This is a story where the Church and one’s own faith collides with that of the Kings’ and their own family; this is a story where family ties are put to the test; this is a story that offers an intriguing slice of life set against a very tumultuous time in England. The political games are the backdrop, with the religious upheaval and the reforms more at the forefront, and they effect and inspire the Sumerton women differently. I loved the characters, their flaws, and their traits, and most especially enjoyed the family drama that was the focus as opposed to simply focusing on yet another Tudor figure. There are appearances by the King, and the Queens, and Cranmer, who are there to set the historical tone. There are births, deaths, and marriages.. where betrayal, trust and loyalty are all intertwined in a fast-paced saga that I would recommend to readers who appreciate the Tudor era. I enjoy Bogdan’s writing style and always look forward to her work, (all of her Tudor books have been a delight) but I was thrilled how Bogdan channeled some V.C. Andrews for The Sumerton Women!

Read my previous reviews of Bodgan’s Tudor novels
Read another review of The Sumerton Women at
The author’s blog can be found at


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, D.L. Bogdan, Tudor

Review: Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
Random House, January 31, 2012
Hardcover 432 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.

Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.

We know of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand through their legacy of Christopher Columbus and the Inquisition. Yet, they also brought forth the legacy of their predecessors, and two of them are daughters Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile. Juana of Castile is the tragic figure we recognize as the mad woman scorned and betrayed, and her sister Katherine of Aragon is the pious yet strong willed first wife of Henry VIII whom he famously cast aside for Anne Boleyn. The men created the events around their lives, and helped shape their legends. But exactly who these women were five hundred years ago is the subject of Julia Fox’s newest non-fiction work, Sister Queens.

When reading about historical figures in the biographical context, I am used to the terms would-be, could-be, may have.. but I did not find an abundance of those phrases here – a refreshing change of pace that is unlike Alison Weir’s writing. (Refreshingly absent is Weir’s over-used eye-rolling phrase “we’ll never know”). Leaving no stone unturned, Julia Fox seemingly examines and discusses all the details that she unearthed from her research from the Spanish Archives and the chronicles of the times, as apparently there are many letters and accounts which still survive. Katherine of Aragon’s plight of being a widow is discussed thoroughly as she awaits the approval of her marriage to the future Henry VIII, while Juana’s supposed madness is slowly wrapping its web around her reality as she finds herself in extreme isolation which began with her husband’s ways and continued with her own father and ultimately her own son, Charles the Holy Roman Emperor.

Getting to the heart of the characters of the two sisters is a complex feat, but is accomplished as realistically as possible through the author’s eyes. The leadership traits of their mother, Queen Isabella, are easily seen in both Juana and Katherine, and one wonders how far they would have gone if it were not for the chains of male prejudice holding them back. The author clearly wants this realization to come to light as she shows time and again how the men in their lives continued to wreak certain havoc with no regard for the thoughts of Katherine or Juana. And their father Ferdinand really seems like the type of man one would love to hate.

There is more evidence available for Katherine’s life, as she was not as secluded and pushed aside as much as Juana was. Juana’s husband began the rumors of her madness, and sadly enough her father King Ferdinand perpetuated these rumors which led to Juana’s imprisonment. When Juana was given a rare chance to come out of her seclusion for the sake of Castile, she dissembled and lost the opportunity. Thus, Juana’s story is one of rumor and innuendo, with no one on her side to plead her case, and when certain red flags were waved, they were ignored. Essentially shut up, Juana was easily forgotten. Bred to be a Queen, she had the foresight to be a great one, yet she chose to not display her mother’s traits to those who mattered. She was reduced to tantrums at times, which provided enough fodder for those who liked to denounce her abilities. Juana’s disappointing trait (downfall?) was her stalwart defense of her family. In contrast, Katherine was busy being the Queen of England, and epitomizing it in every sense of the phrase due to her extreme faith in the fact that Queen of England was what God had wanted for her. This faith, and the upbringing of Katherine, propelled Katherine into a woman to be reckoned with, someone who would even oppose her King of a husband in order to protect her soul and her constant belief in what was God’s will.

Readers interested in the details of Katherine and Juana could not be disappointed with this telling of facts. It is well researched, well written and brings forth the hearts and souls of the sisters where we once only felt shadows. The author explains the traits we know these woman had and helps to flesh them out using many details and events of their lives. To get to the pathos of these women, we are obliged to touch on the details from the politics of England, Spain, to France and the Netherlands and onwards even to Burgundy, and throw in the many pregnancies and the many advisers and everyone in between and there is a complete a picture of these two sisters and their family dynamics. Katherine’s great-nephew Philip marries Katherine’s daughter, Mary, in what should have been a triumphant final stamp of Spain on England, yet we know that it is this same Philip who unsuccessfully wages war on England. Sister Queens is an exhaustive and detailed work surrounding these sisters, as I look forward to the next Julia Fox work with more anticipation than I would one by Alison Weir.


Filed under 16th Century, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, Arthur Tudor, Catherine of Aragon, Juana of Castile, Julia Fox, Tudor

Review: At The King’s Pleasure (Secrets of the Tudor Court Book 4) by Kate Emerson


The cover that would match the rest of the series, but not the cover that they stayed with 😦

At The King’s Pleasure (Secrets of the Tudor Court Book 4) by Kate Emerson
Gallery Books, January 3, 2012
Paperback 384 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4 stars

Having read all of the author’s previous Secrets of the Tudor Court books, I had anticipated this installment since day one. I was disappointed with the publisher’s choice to change the publication date from August to January (and disappointed with the cover change), but good things come to those who wait. Emerson writes of the Tudor period with ease and eloquence, including many historical details but without over burdening the novel with facts. Although this Tudor series is focused during the popular reign of Henry VIII or his father, Emerson writes of the lesser known characters, and includes some fictional characters as well. This fourth installment, which can be read as a stand-alone, focuses on Lady Anne Stafford, daughter of Henry Stafford and Katherine Woodville, during the earlier days of Henry VIII’s reign. The story was less focused on the courts and the politics and read much more like Anne’s personal story which was a refreshing change of pace for a Tudor novel. Making it even more enjoyable was the clarity the author gives to these lesser known figures of the Tudor era, which always sparks off even more of an obsessive interest in the Tudor courts.

We are introduced to Anne as a young widow at her haughty brother Edward’s disposal. Her other brother is temporarily in the Tower, so it is Edward who always pulls the strings of the Stafford family. Soon enough Lady Anne marries George Hastings, an amiable and likable young man. He isn’t Will Compton, though, and Lady Anne has caught his eye as well as the young King Henry’s. When Edward sees Compton with Anne, Edward hastily sends Anne away to a nunnery (telling her husband to bring her there) and Anne vows revenge: “And if she ever had the opportunity to pay him back in kind and soil his reputation as he’d soiled hers, she would seize upon it without hesitation.”

Anne has a time of it to attempt to rebuild her reputation, as behind the scenes the Cardinal enjoys taunting her with his power over the king and the court. Above all, she wishes for her husband George to realize the truth of the matter, yet she lets things spiral out of control. She does get a bit of revenge on her meddlesome brother, although she didn’t expect it the way it played out. The character development of Lady Anne is well portrayed while Anne copes with the turmoils of her heart. The relationship with her brother Edward Stafford is much at the forefront, and his own realtionships with his mistress and wife play a part as well. Edward starts to believe he is destined to rule England someday, but it is because of a prophecy that he holds on to this dream. Those well-versed in history will know what becomes of Edward Stafford and his dreams..

I have always enjoyed Emerson’s style of writing for its quickness of plot while still inserting many historical details into the storyline. The secondary characters of the Tudor court are always made much more intriguing with Emerson’s pen, and I would recommend this novel of Anne Stafford to anyone interested in the Duke of Buckingham and his family. I was pleasantly surprised that the King himself wasn’t more featured here, as the story really did revolve around Lady Anne and her relationships. As with most Tudor fiction, the author felt obligated to insert facts and names/titles into conversations which seemed out of place at times, but was done in order to better acclimate the reader to the many courtiers involved during the storyline. Aside from a few of these awkward moments, I enjoyed yet another of Emerson’s Secrets of The Tudor Court novels. Emerson has also compiled a long list of notables of the Tudor times with her Who’s Who of Tudor Women database which can be found online or as a download from
Kate Emerson will visit HF-Connection on her release day of At The King’s Pleasure on 1/3/2012, be sure to check for that.. and if you want to peruse my recent posts and reviews of the author’s work, visit this link at the Burton Book Review.


Filed under 16th Century, 2011 Reviews, 2012 Releases, Bess Blount, Kate Emerson, Tudor

Mailbox Monday

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

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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