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The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence

Posted By Claire on December 22, 2014

Six wivesI thoroughly enjoyed Amy Licence’s books on Eizabeth of York and Cecily Neville, so I was interested in reading her take on Henry VIII, his wives and mistresses.

Although the title suggests that it focuses on the women’s stories and tells things from their point of view, I didn’t find it a ‘feminized’ account of Henry’s love life at all. It is an examination of Henry and the women he was linked to, and rather than simply looking at his relationships with them Licence also tells the women’s stories, their background and what happened to them after Henry had finished with them.

The book is set out chronologically, from the birth of Catherine of Aragon in December 1485 to 1547, Henry VIII’s death and the lives of those women who survived him. Licence dedicates a section of the book, with multiple chapters, to each wife and also to Henry VIII’s known and acknowledged mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn. She also examines the evidence for Henry having relationships with women like Anne Hastings, Etiennette de la Baume, Jane Popincourt, Elizabeth Carew, the mystery Imperial lady, the Shelton sisters, Mary Berkeley, Joanna Dingley and others, and also evidence for children rumoured to be fathered by the King. As Licence points out, we may only have hard evidence for Henry’s affairs with Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, but the fact that we only know about those relationships because Henry acknowledged Bessie’s son as his own and was forced to admit to sleeping with Mary when he needed to apply for a dispensation to marry Anne Boleyn, shows that Henry was a very private and discreet man. Just because we don’t have firm evidence for the other women Henry was rumoured to be involved with, it does not mean that Henry was a “prude” or that he did not have numerous affairs. Each alleged affair is examined by Licence and conclusions drawn.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII is an enlightening read and I enjoyed Amy Licence’s style of writing. Licence successfully combines good history with a readable style, making history accessible and interesting to a wide range of readers. She does not assume that her readers have a background in Tudor history but she also does not bog readers down with detail. Even those who have read all of the six wives books already out there will enjoy a new examination of these women and their relationships with Henry VIII.

There were, at times, things I didn’t agree with but then we all have our own opinions on Tudor events and the lives of these people. So much is open to interpretation and history would not be the interesting subject it is without different theories and the debate we all enjoy. It is always interesting to read others’ perspectives.

If you’re looking for a last minute present for that Tudor history lover or an interesting read to turn to when you need to have some “down time” this festive season, then do consider this book.

Book Details

For a king renowned for his love life, Henry VIII has traditionally been depicted as something of a prude, but the story may have been different for the women who shared his bed. How did they take the leap from courtier to lover, to wife? What was Henry really like as a lover?

Henry’s women were uniquely placed to experience the tension between his chivalric ideals and the lusts of the handsome, tall, athletic king; his first marriage, to Catherine of Aragon, was, on one level, a fairy-tale romance but his affairs with Anne Stafford, Elizabeth Carew and Jane Popincourt undermined it early on. Later, his more established mistresses, Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn, risked their good names by bearing him illegitimate children. Typical of his time, Henry did not feel that casual liaisons could threaten his marriage, until he met the one woman who held him at arm’s length. The arrival of Anne Boleyn changed everything. Her seductive eyes helped rewrite history. After their passionate marriage turned sour, the king rapidly remarried to Jane Seymour. Her death in childbirth left him alone, without wife or lover, for the first time in decades. In the quest for a new queen, he scoured the courts of Europe, obsessed with the beautiful Christina of Milan, whose rejection of him spurred him into the arms of Anne of Cleves and soon after the lively teenager Catherine Howard. Henry’s final years were spent with the elegant and accomplished widow Catherine Parr, who sacrificed personal pleasure for duty by marrying him while her heart was bestowed elsewhere.

What was it like for these women to share Henry’s bed, bear his children or sit on the English throne? He was a man of great appetites, ready to move heaven and earth for a woman he desired; their experiences need to be readdressed in a frank, modern take on the affairs of his heart. What was it really like to be Mrs Henry VIII?

Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Amberley (October 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445633671
ISBN-13: 978-1445633671
Available as a Kindle and Hardback from, and the other Amazon stores, and as a hardcover from your usual bookstore.

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Tudors: The Illustrated History – Do not buy if you own Rex’s The Tudors!

Posted By Claire on November 17, 2014

richard rexI was sent a review copy of this illustrated history of the Tudors by Richard Rex and experienced a weird sensation of déjà vu as I read Rex’s preface. It was only published on 5th November 2014 and Suzannah Lipscomb’s introduction was dated August 2014, but I was convinced that I’d read it before. I then checked my bookcase and found Rex’s 2009 hardback book “The Tudors”. The text of both books was identical, the only difference appears to be the addition of an introduction in this new book along with a family tree. What is very odd is that the original 2009 book had 143 illustrations and this one only appears to have 129, yet this is called “the illustrated history”, bizarre!

I’m not giving it a bad review as it is an excellent book – Rex gives very detailed biographies of each monarch and the illustrations are beautiful – I just wouldn’t want anybody to go to the expense involved in buying it only to find that they’ve already read it. If you haven’t got the first edition then do buy this one, it’s a great book and Rex is a reputable historian.

So, a great book but check your bookcase first!

Book Details

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (5 Nov 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445643715
ISBN-13: 978-1445643717

The Tudor Period is regarded by many as England’s golden age, and still casts a spell over the public imagination. Whether it is the glittering rule of Elizabeth, the ruthless power of her father Henry VIII, or the bloody and radical reign of Mary, the Tudors remain the most fascinating English dynasty. Richard Rex looks at how the public and private lives of the Tudors were inextricably linked, and how each Tudor monarch exuded charisma and danger in equal measure.

The visual culture of the period was equally spectacular, from Holbein’s brooding portraiture to the architectural magnificence of the chapels of St George at Windsor and King’s College. Alongside the authoritative and approachable story of the Tudor monarchs, beautifully reproduced, are the iconic – and the lesser known – images of Tudor England.

Available from, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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An Illustrated Introduction to the Tudors by Gareth Russell

Posted By Claire on November 17, 2014

Illustrated Introduction to the TudorsI’m so glad that Amberley Publishing has brought out this book in time for Christmas because it really is the perfect stocking filler for those people in your life who need indoctrinating with Tudor history – you know, the ones who are really important to you but whose eyes take on that glazed look when you try to share your passion for Tudor history.

It’s under a tenner, it’s got pictures (and lovely ones too), it’s accurate and it’s highly readable. Gareth Russell just has a way with words and manages to bring history alive in an entertaining way. The entertainment, however, is never at the cost of history. Gareth is an excellent historian and I know from having corresponded with him for some years with regards to his historical research that he is meticulous and that he digs deep, relying on primary sources rather than secondary ones. This is good history but told in a way that will appeal to people at all levels of historical knowledge, from newcomers to Tudor history to those who have expertise but would like a short snappy book to dip into and give them the nuts and bolts about the Tudors.

It is only 96 pages, but Gareth manages to convey an incredible amount of information about each Tudor monarch, and personalities like Henry VIII’s wives, in those few pages. Along with biographies of each monarch, there are portraits, photos of places and statues, highlighted boxes giving trivia and extra information, a helpful timeline, an overview of the Tudors (The Tudors in Five Minutes) and a list of books for further reading.

When you’re buying one for that friend, make sure you grab a copy for yourself as this will be a useful reference book for your bookcase. It really is a one-stop book for the vital info you need on the Tudor monarchs. Excellent!

(This review is based on an e-book copy of the book – I expect the illustrations look even better in the paperback version.)

Book Details

Blurb from Amazon:

The six monarchs of the Tudor dynasty are phenomenally well-known. Henry VII succeeded in ending the Wars of the Roses, Henry VIII formed the Church of England and famously married six times: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr. His three children, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, would all ascend to the throne, as would his great-niece Lady Jane Grey. Between them they ruled for an eventful 118 years. This easy-to-follow introduction to the Tudors follows the major events and personalities of the age.

Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 Oct 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445641216
ISBN-13: 978-1445641218
Available from, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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The Light in the Labyrinth: The Last Days of Anne Boleyn by Wendy J. Dunn

Posted By Claire on November 3, 2014

the-light-in-the-labyrinth-coverIf you’ve been reading my reviews for a while you’ll know that I’m often hesitant to review novels about Anne Boleyn because I have spent the last few years researching her and her family and, therefore, have quite strong views on how she is portrayed. It is difficult to read and enjoy a novel if the author’s ‘Anne’ is far removed from the Anne in my head, or if they have strayed too far from history, and I end up just putting the book down and moving on. Thankfully [deep sigh of relief], Wendy Dunn’s book was not only well researched but her Anne was real and I didn’t find her at all jarring.

Dunn’s book is a Young Adult novel which tells the story of Anne Boleyn’s downfall through the eyes of her teenage niece, Katherine Carey, or Kate as she is known in the book. The novel works on two levels – adult and young adult – and I never felt like I was reading a teen read. Although it is a historical novel with a 16th century heroine, its themes will resonate with a teen audience – identity, self-discovery, family issues/step-parents, love, betrayal and loss – and any lover of historical fiction will enjoy revisiting Anne’s fall from a different perspective.

Dunn was inspired by the famous 19th century painting “Anne Boleyn in the Tower” by Edouard Cibot. It depicts two women – one in the background weeping and the other in the foreground with her head on the other woman’s lap. This woman in the foreground is not weeping but her face shows grief and despair. Dunn was struck by the thought that it was Anne in the background and that the younger looking woman in the foreground was one of her attendants, and so the idea of her being Katherine Carey came to Dunn. Some historians believe that Katherine may have attended Anne in the Tower, so Dunn ran with the idea and I’m glad she did.

Kate is a wonderful character who matures at a fast rate through the novel. The novel opens in 1535 and Kate is struggling with family life. She has little respect for her mother, believing her to have re-married beneath her, and has built up this idyllic picture in her head of her dead father William Carey, an ideal that her step-father cannot hope to live up to. What Kate doesn’t realise at this point is that this picture and everything she believes is going to be completely shattered when she is sent to court to serve her aunt, Queen Anne Boleyn. There, she will find out who she really is, find new respect and love for her mother and step-father, realise the depth of their love for her, encounter romantic love for the first time, and see just how fickle love can be. The events of 1536 are moving however they are written, but seeing them through Kate’s innocent eyes lends extra power to the story. When we hear a story so many times we can become quite blasé about it, even we know it really happened, so a different perspective can help to remind us of the true horror.

I will be passing this novel on to my 14 year-old daughter and will be heartily recommending it to friends, family and anyone who loves a good historical novel. It is the perfect first historical fiction read for the teen in your life, but make sure you read it too!

Book Details

IN THE WINTER OF 1535, fourteen-year-old Kate Carey wants to escape her family home. She thinks her life will be so much better with Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and the aunt she idolises. Little does Kate know that by going to attend Anne Boleyn she will discover love and a secret that will shake the very foundations of her identity. An attendant to Anne Boleyn, Kate is also swept up in events that see her witness her aunt’s darkest days. By the time winter ends, Kate will be changed forever.

Paperback: 338 pages
Publisher: Metropolis Ink (September 7, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 098072192X
ISBN-13: 978-0980721928
Available as an ebook and paperback from, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love by Sandra Vasoli

Posted By Claire on October 17, 2014

Je-Anne-Boleyn-e1402662397140-201x300Let me lay my cards on the table, I’ve been corresponding with Sandi Vasoli for a number of years regarding her research on Anne Boleyn and Tudor history so I’ve come to know her and regard her as a friend. That being said, I wouldn’t review this book if I didn’t feel that I could be honest about it or if it was going to be some kind of conflict of interests.

From corresponding with Sandi, I know how much research lies behind this novel of Anne Boleyn. Sandi even visited the Vatican Archives so that she could see Henry’s letters to Anne Boleyn ‘in the flesh’ and what an experience that was for her! Rather than just reading the printed transcripts in books or online, she was able to examine and compare Henry’s letters to Anne, and to see the marked contrast between the letter Henry wrote when he learned that Anne had sweating sickness and the other letters. As Sandi explains in her article Henry VIII’s Love Letters to Anne Boleyn, that letter had ink drops and smudges and was written with a very unsteady hand. Just seeing that letter had given her some insight into Henry’s state of mind and the depth of his love for Anne, an insight which she has used in her novel.

This is not ‘yet another’ Anne Boleyn novel, it is a novel which seeks to give readers a picture of the real Anne Boleyn and her relationship with Henry VIII based on the primary sources. Anne is no caricature in this novel, she is fleshed out to be a real, believable person with very real flaws. She is passionate, she is impatient and she is brought to life, as is Henry. What really struck me when reading this novel, as it has never struck me before, was the unbearable triangle that Henry, Anne and Catherine of Aragon were living with. For years, Anne saw her biological click ticking away while the Great Matter was debated and the annulment argued for, while her beau spent important occasions with his wife and daughter. It’s little wonder that she flew off the handle at times. And poor Catherine too! The hurt, frustration, impatience, hate and love of all these characters are beautifully portrayed in this novel and you can understand what drove them to do the things they did.

I also appreciated Elizabeth Boleyn coming out of the shadows. We know that Elizabeth acted as a chaperone for her daughter and Henry while Anne was queen-in-waiting, and we get to see that mother-daughter relationship in this novel as Anne shares her feelings with her mother.

This novel seeks to be an accurate re-telling of history and I commend it for that. When, like me, you have spent many years researching Anne, you build up your own picture of her and it can be hard to take on board someone else’s view in a novel, but this one fit with what we know about Anne. The book ends in 1533, having taken the reader from Anne’s early life to her marriage to Henry, and I can’t wait to see how Sandi handles Anne’s fall in her next book. This novel was a pleasure to read – a must read for historical fiction lovers and those interested in Anne Boleyn.

Book Details

Over the next days, as I went about my business, the King was rarely far from my thoughts. Finally, admitting to myself that my mind was constantly preoccupied with images of him, I decided to spend some time alone in my chamber attempting to sift through my sentiments for the truth.

Gain unprecedented access to one of history’s most tumultuous love stories in Sandra Vasoli’s riveting debut novel, Je Anne Boleyn.

Sixteenth-century England witnessed a roiling tide of changes—most of which were fueled by the scandalous romance between King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

The first volume of this two-part series tells the story of what really happened from Anne’s own point of view. In sumptuous detail, Je Anne Boleyn recounts the moment the lovers first met, as well as the powerful and climactic consequences that ensued.

Scrupulously researched, this fictional memoir welcomes readers into the head and heart of one of history’s most misunderstood women. Learn how much Anne valued her female friendships, her desperate desire to bear children, and what lay behind her instinctive mistrust of Cardinal Wolsey.

Readers will gladly come to know Anne Boleyn like never before.

Series: Je Anne Boleyn
Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (April 30, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1495440966
ISBN-13: 978-1495440960
Available as a Kindle book and paperback from and Amazon UK.

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Wars of the Roses: Trinity by Conn Iggulden

Posted By Claire on October 6, 2014

TrinityTrinity is the second instalment in Conn Iggulden’s new Wars of the Roses series. Those of you who read my review of the first instalment Stormbirdclick here to read the review – will know that I couldn’t wait to read Trinity, I absolutely loved Stormbird and I had high hopes for Trinity, these hopes were not dashed.

I was pleased to encounter the familiar character of Derry Brewer, an entirely fictional character who acts as the King’s spymaster, or rather Queen Margaret’s as she has to cope with ruling the country on behalf of her mentally ill husband. However, Brewer doesn’t take quite as much of a leading role in this book, in Trinity the story is told through the the eyes of people like Margaret of Anjou, the Percy family, Richard, Duke of York, and the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. On the one side, Margaret is determined to do all she can to protect her sick husband and to defend her infant son’s claim to the throne, with the support of men like Percy, Egremont, Buckingham and Somerset, while on the other York, who has acted as Protector, feels that for England’s sake he must take action against the man he used to serve and form a “trinity” alliance with the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. That’s putting it far too simply, but that is the basic premise.

I haven’t read Iggulden’s other series, so I cannot comment on how this compares, but this is a rip-roaring read. I loved the intrigue, the exciting, and rather bloody, battle scenes, the shift of power and the creations of new alliances as new loyalties are made, but although many readers will probably say that Iggulden’s gift is in recreating battles, for me his true gift is characterization. If someone had asked me whose side I was on while I was reading this novel, I could not have made a choice. Iggulden made me empathise with both sides. I felt for Margaret of Anjou as she coped with a husband who did not respond to her or their child and while having to rally support for a king who’s incapable of ruling, but I also felt for those men who had to become traitors to the Crown to do what they felt was right. There were strong and likeable characters on both sides, and I wanted them all to win! There were no goodies and baddies in this time of turmoil, and although this is a novel it realy does give you insight into what drove these people to do what they did.

Trinity ends with the Battle of Wakefield and its aftermath and so sets the scene perfectly for the next instalment. I won’t spoil it by saying any more, so I’ll end up saying that you really must treat yourself to Stormbird and Trinity, they are fantastic novels and I you’ll be hooked.

Book Details

The brilliant retelling of the Wars of the Roses continues with Trinity, the second gripping novel in the new series from historical fiction master, Conn Iggulden.

1454: King Henry VI has remained all but exiled in Windsor Castle, struck down by his illness for over a year, his eyes vacant, his mind a blank.

His fiercely loyal wife and Queen, Margaret of Anjou, safeguards her husband’s interests, hoping that her son Edward will one day know the love of his father.

Richard Duke of York, Protector of the Realm, extends his influence throughout the kingdom with each month that Henry slumbers. The Earls of Salisbury and Warwick make up a formidable trinity with Richard, and together they seek to break the support of those who would raise their colours in the name of Henry and his Queen.

But when the King unexpectedly recovers his senses and returns to London to reclaim his throne, the balance of power is once again thrown into turmoil.

The clash of the Houses of Lancaster and York will surely mean a war to tear England apart . . .

Following on from Stormbird, Trinity is the second epic instalment in master storyteller Conn Iggulden’s new Wars of the Roses series. Fans of Game of Thrones and The Tudors will be gripped from the word go.

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Michael Joseph (25 Sep 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0718159853
ISBN-13: 978-0718159856
Available from Text, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Succession by Livi Michael

Posted By Claire on October 6, 2014

succession-by-livi-michael1I had never heard of Livi Michael until Penguin sent me a copy of her new historical novel, Succession, a historical novel telling the story of the Wars of the Roses through Margaret Anjou, wife of Henry VI, and Margaret Beaufort, the future matriarch of the House of Tudor. Michael is not a new author, she has four other successful adult novels under her belt and is an acclaimed children’s author, but this is her first historical novel so it was the first time I had come across her; it won’t be the last.

The novel is split into four parts covering 1444-50, 1450-55, 1455-58 and 1456-62, taking the reader from 1444, when the Earl of Suffolk stood proxy for Henry VI at his marriage to Margaret of Anjou and accompanied her to England, to the aftermath of the bloody Battle of Towton in 1461 and the accession of Edward IV. It is, of course, an exciting period of history and I loved looking at these events through the women’s eyes, especially as these women were in the thick of things and had such extraordinary stories. But this is not a ‘women’s book’, or a romanticised version of events, Michael manages to bring these troubled times and characters to life in a gripping story, while also being true to history. Interestingly, chapters tend to start and end with excerpts from primary sources so readers can see just how close Michael’s novel is to the real history. I thought at first that I might find these snippets annoying, as interruptions to the story, but I found myself eagerly looking out for them so that I could check what really happened. They really did add to the story and were proof of just how meticulous Michael had been in her research.

Although the Wars of the Roses is never going to be a boring topic to write about, it would be easy to give a dry re-telling of the history. However, by focusing on the two Margarets, Michael made the story “human” and I could not help but empathise with the characters and everything they went through. To enjoy a novel, I really need to connect with the characters in some way and Michael made this easy to do.

I was that impressed with Succession that I contacted Michael after I had read it and I was pleased to hear that she is working on a follow-up to it – hurrah! When I find a new author, it’s always good to hear that they’ve got books in the works.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good historical novel and who likes books to be as close as possible to the real events. It is a wonderful read.

The novel also contains a useful Lancaster and York family tree, information on the main characters and an explanation of the main chronicles covering the period.

Book Details


Behind the bloody battle scenes of the Wars of the Roses lie the sinewy political skills of a remarkable pair of women.

Margaret of Anjou, French, beautiful, unpopular; her marriage in 1444 to a young Henry VI causes national uproar. As English rule in France collapses, Henry goes insane, civil war erupts, and families are pitted against each other. With Henry VI incapacitated, Margaret Anjou is left to fight alone for her son’s position as rightful heir.

Meanwhile Margaret Beaufort, nobly born but far more distant from the throne, becomes a great heiress while only an infant. Her childhood is lived in echoing remote castles and she is lonely and vulnerable: everyone at Henry’s court competes to be her guardian and to engineer an advantageous alliance through marriage to her. By the age of thirteen, she has married twice and given birth to her only son – the future King of England. But then she is separated from him . . . and her fight really begins

Succession is the intense and powerful story of the women who gave birth to the Tudor dynasty.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin (26 Jun 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0241146240
ISBN-13: 978-0241146248
Available from, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings by Amy Licence

Posted By Claire on July 25, 2014

cecily nevilleCecily Neville is one of those women I’ve always wanted to know more about. All I knew was that Cecily was the mother of two kings of England (Edward IV and Richard III), she was married (happily too!) to a powerful man who was briefly Lord Protector of England (making her queen consort in all but name), she was the matriarch of the Yorkist line and claimed to be “queen by right”, it was claimed that her son Edward IV was fathered by an archer named Blaybourne and not the Duke of York, and she lived a long life, dying in Henry VII’s reign in her 80th year. She seemed like a woman I ought to know more about, yet there was no biography out there to read. Thankfully, historian Amy Licence took on the challenge of writing about her and has brought this usually shadowy figure to life.

Amy opens her book with the sentence “Writing a biography of Cecily Neville has been rather like striking a series of matches in the dark” and goes on to explain that “a large proportion of her life lies amid the darkness of lost records and burned letters […]”. She confesses that writing a biography of such a person “must impose a degree of conjecture over the bare scaffold of facts”, and there are “would have”s and “probably”s, but this conjecture always makes sense because it is based on what we know of Cecily and the times she lived in. It did not get on my nerves, as it has done in some biographies, because it is clear that Amy has done a huge amount of research in the primary sources, leaving no stone unturned, and has only resorted to conjecture when she really had to. Cecily is expertly fleshed out, as are the people who surrounded her.

Amy closes her introduction with the words “[…] perhaps Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, was the best queen England never had […]” and the Cecily the reader comes to know is definitely that woman. The Cecily of this biography is an incredibly strong woman who would have been the perfect consort to her husband if Henry VI had stayed mad. Proud and pious, and a woman who may have been prepared to allow a false rumour concerning the paternity of her eldest son to be used to help her younger son claim the throne – definitely a fascinating woman!

Anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses, strong historical women or the real story behind fiction like the White Queen series will enjoy this book. It is detailed but highly readable and I enjoyed dedicating a weekend to losing myself in Cecily’s story. I now can’t wait to get stuck in Amy’s Anne Neville biography.

Cecily Neville: Mother of Kings also includes genealogical tables (so useful for seeing how/where everyone fits in), chapter notes and bibliography.

Book Details

Known to be proud, regal and beautiful, Cecily Neville was born in the year of the great English victory at Agincourt and survived long enough to witness the arrival of the future Henry VIII, her great-grandson. Her life spanned most of the fifteenth century. Cecily s marriage to Richard, Duke of York, was successful, even happy, and she travelled with him wherever his career dictated, bearing his children in England, Ireland and France, including the future Edward IV and Richard III. What was the substance behind her claim to be queen by right ? Would she indeed have made a good queen during these turbulent times? One of a huge family herself, Cecily would see two of her sons become kings of England but the struggles that tore apart the Houses of Lancaster and York also turned brother against brother. Cecily s life cannot have been easy. Images of her dripping in jewels and holding her own alternative court might belie the terrible heartache of seeing her descendants destroy each other. In attempting to be the family peacemaker, she frequently had to make heart-wrenching choices, yet these did not destroy her. She battled on, outliving her husband, friends, rivals and most of her children, to become one of the era s great survivors.

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (3 April 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445621231
ISBN-13: 978-1445621234
Available from, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen and the Men Who Loved Her by Robert Stephen Parry

Posted By Claire on July 15, 2014

Elizabeth Robert ParryThis was the ideal book to take on my recent holiday – it was Tudor history but it was a book you could dip into and it was light-hearted, so not at all heavy or academic.

Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen and the Men Who Loved Her is described as “a series of biographical sketches from the Elizabethan court”, but it is so much more than that. It is a wonderful blend of fiction and non-fiction. It is hard to explain (you’ll just have to read it), but it is told from the viewpoint of a man who has been on a retreat many years before to an Elizabethan property. There, he was treated to a series of lectures and vignettes by a Dr Dejon. These lectures were on Elizabeth I and the men who were important during her life and reign: Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour, Robert Dudley, John Dee, the Duke of Alençon, Christopher Hatton, Walter Raleigh, William Cecil and Robert Devereux. A “biographical sketch” gives details of the man’s relationship with Elizabeth and then a fictional vignette brings the man to life in an encounter with the queen. This format worked really well and I really enjoyed the vignettes. Each man is also given a “Totally Frivolous Five-Star Tudor Rose Rating”, which injects some more fun into the book. There are also chapters on “the qualities of an Elizabethan courtier” and whether Elizabeth really was a virgin queen, along with a handy graphic/timeline to show how these men fitted into Elizabeth’s life and reign.

What I loved about the book was the air of mystery, combined with the light-hearted style. The lectures are “transcribed” as if they really happened (did they? I’m not sure!) along with Dr Dejon’s greetings and his warnings about ghosts and bumps in the night etc. It really is a history book with a difference and I loved it.

Do read my reviews of Robert Parry’s The Arrow Chest, Virgin and the Crab and Wildish too.

Book Details

The Elizabethan golden age was peopled by a court of flamboyant and devoted men – each one unique, ambitious and talented. At its centre was a woman, Elizabeth, the Tudor princess who succeeded to the throne of England in 1558 and who vowed to her Parliament to remain unwed and a Virgin Queen for the rest of her life. How did such a diverse group of red-blooded men view their ‘Gloriana?’ What were their aims and intentions? What were their dreams? And just how did Elizabeth manage to control and manipulate them? A unique blend of fact and fiction brings the Elizabethan court and its inhabitants to life in an evocative series of biographical sketches that will inform and entertain in equal measure.

Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2 Jun 2014)
ISBN-10: 1499355599
ISBN-13: 978-1499355598
Available as a paperback and Kindle book at and Amazon UK.

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Death of a Dyer by Eleanor Kuhns

Posted By Claire on July 10, 2014

Death of a dyerI described Eleanor Kuhns’ debut novel A Simple Murder as “one of the best mysteries I’ve read” and it won the Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award, so it was going to be a tough one to follow. However, I enjoyed Death of A Dyer just as much.

Like A Simple Murder, Death of A Dyer is set in the late 18th century, in the US, and has Revolutionary War veteran and travelling weaver Will Rees as its main character. Rees receives news of the death of his childhood best friend Nate Bowditch and is then asked by Nate’s widow to investigate his death to clear her son, the prime suspect. Rees hasn’t seen Nate for nearly 20 years and the more he digs into his life and death, the more he can’t believe how much his friend had changed. Everyone seems to have a secret and a motive for wanting Nate out of the way, from those he gambled with to his jealous wife who felt betrayed by Nate claiming a mixed race boy, the son of one of their slaves, as his. There seems to be danger at every turn, particularly when slave catchers turn up in town. Rees is also having to cope with his own personal problems, from his feelings for Lydia and his relationship with his son, to his “itchy feet” and urge to get back on the road and leave his troubles behind.

Death of A Dyer is a wonderful read. I love Rees’s character and I enjoyed being drawn into 18th century life in the US. It is a period of history I know very little about, so I can’t comment on the accuracy, but it appears that Kuhns has spent a significant amount of time studying the period, looking at the attitudes to slavery and “free” slaves, and also the history of dyeing. A brilliant combination of history, mystery, crime, drama and an exploration of personal relationships and human nature.

Book Details

Will Rees feels at home. It’s been a long time since he last felt this way—not since before his wife died years ago and he took to the road as a traveling weaver. Now, in 1796, Rees is back on his Maine farm, living with his teenaged son, David, and his housekeeper, Lydia—whose presence contributes more towards his happiness than he’s ready to admit. But his domestic bliss is shattered the morning a visitor brings news of an old friend’s murder.

Nate Bowditch and Rees hadn’t spoken in many long years, but as children they were closer than brothers, and Rees feels his loss acutely. Asked to look into the circumstances surrounding Nate’s death, Rees simply can’t refuse. At the Bowditch farmstead, Rees quickly discovers that everyone—from Nate’s frosty wife to his missing son to the shy serving girl—is hiding something. But are any of them actually capable of murder? Or does the answer lie elsewhere, behind stones no one even knew needed unturning?

Death of a Dyer once again proves Eleanor Kuhns’s remarkable ability to spin a captivating story of a fascinating era and capture the light and darker sides of human nature on the page.

Series: Will Rees Mysteries (Book 2)
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (March 4, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250042259
ISBN-13: 978-1250042255
Available from, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

Click here to read my review of Eleanor Kuhns’ first book A Simple Murder.

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