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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

Blurb:
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.com, 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

Blurb:
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 Amazon.com 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

Blurb:
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.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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

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Behold a Pale Horse and The Seventh Trumpet – Two Sister Fidelma Mysteries by Peter Tremayne

Posted By Claire on July 9, 2014

beholdI discovered the delights of Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma mysteries back in 2011 when I was sent The Dove of Death and The Chalice of Blood to review, and they are now books I choose to buy for myself and family and friends.

Behold a Pale Horse and The Seventh Trumpet are the 22nd and 23rd books in the Sister Fidelma series and they are as enjoyable as ever. Fear not if you haven’t read any of the others, each mystery is a stand-alone book, and you can pick up any title and enjoy it for what it is: an historical mystery. I’ve read them out of order and missed ones out and it did not affect my enjoyment of them at all.

The tagline of the books is “a mystery of ancient Ireland” and they are set in the 7th century AD. Sister Fidelma of Cashel is a dalaigh, or legal advocate, a royal princess and a religieuse, who proves to be skilled at unravelling mysteries and bringing perpetrators to justice, usually with the help of her sidekick Brother Eadulf. The mysteries are written by Peter Tremayne, real name Peter Beresford Ellis, who is a Celtic scholar and so creates Fidelma’s world perfectly in these novels. If you have enjoyed Ellis Peters’ Cadfael mysteries then you will love these. I’m completely hooked!

I don’t want to go into detail on the books and risk spoilers, so here’s just a brief rundown. Behold a Pale Horse is set in Italy and sees Sister Fidelma rushing from Rome to the monastery of Bobbio, in northern Italy, to see her former mentor Brother Ruadan before he dies. Unfortunately, what should have been a simple, but sad, visit turns into a dangerous adventure after her mentor warns her of the evil present in the monastery. The local warlords are threatening war, there is religious division and soon there are more murders – will Fidelma be able to put a stop to the bloodshed? Well, of course!

The Seventh Trumpet sees Fidelma’s brother the King calling on his sister to investigate the murder of an unknown nobleman whose stabbed body is abandoned by a stream. The only clue to his identity is an emblem but this doesn’t stop Fidelma and Eadulf from embarking on the mission. This is a thrilling tale of kidnap, intrigue and murder, with Tremayne at his best. I don’t know how on earth he can keep coming up with new storylines and plots, the twists and turns always work and are never too far-fetched. Perfect who-dunnits.
seventh trumpet

Book Details – The Seventh Trumpet

Blurb:
When a murdered corpse of an unknown young noble is discovered, Fidelma of Cashel is brought in to investigate, in Peter Tremayne’s The Seventh Trumpet

Ireland, AD 670. When the body of a murdered young noble is discovered not far from Cashel, the King calls upon his sister, Fidelma, and her companion Eadulf to investigate. Fidelma, in addition to being the sister of the king, is a dailaigh—an advocate of the Brehon Law Courts—and has a particular talent for resolving the thorniest of mysteries.

But this time, Fidelma and Eadulf have very little to work with—the only clue to the noble’s identity is an emblem originating from the nearby kingdom of Laign. Could the murder be somehow related to the wave of violence erupting in the western lands of the kingdom? The turmoil there is being stirred up by an unknown fanatical figure who claims to have been summoned by “the seventh angel” to remove the “impure of faith.” Fidelma and Eadulf, once again grappling with a tangled skein of murder and intrigue, must somehow learn what connects the dead noble, a murdered alcoholic priest, and an abbot who has turned his monastery into a military fortress. When it appears that things cannot get more complex, Fidelma herself is abducted, and Eadulf must rescue her before the mystery can be solved.

Series: Mystery of Ancient Ireland (Book 23)
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (June 24, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250048567
ISBN-13: 978-1250048561
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

Book Details – Behold a Pale Horse

Blurb:
A perplexing case of murder and conspiracy in the pagan wilds of Northern Italy

In 664 A.D., just after the events detailed in Shroud for the Archbishop, Fidelma of Cashel takes an unexpected detour on her trip home from Rome. While in the port at Genua (modern day Genoa), Fidelma—sister of one Ireland’s kings and an advocate in her country’s law courts—receives word that one of her old teachers, Brother Ruadan, is reaching the end of his days. Determined to see her old mentor one last time, Fidelma takes the treacherous journey to a remote abbey in the countryside—a place where the old pagan religion still has a hold and where even the Christians are often in bloody conflict with each other. But after she hears her dying teacher’s last words, Fidelma’s most dangerous adventure has just begun. With one murder after the next and a vicious war in the offing, it is up to Fidelma, alone and on her own, to unravel an extraordinary conspiracy before it is too late

Series: Mysteries of Ancient Ireland Featuring Sister Fidelma of Cashel (Book 22)
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (June 25, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 125002997X
ISBN-13: 978-1250029973
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Reading and Writing During the Dissolution: Monks, Friars and Nuns 1530-1558 by Mary C. Erler

Posted By Claire on July 8, 2014

reading-writing-during-dissolution-monks-friars-nuns-1530-mary-c-erler-hardcover-cover-artReading and Writing During the Dissolution: Monks, Friars and Nuns 1530-1558 is a tricky book to review because it is so specialised and is not, in any way, a mainstream book for Tudor history lovers.

Why?

Well, firstly because of its price – the RRP of the hardcover version is £55 ($90) and the Kindle edition is over $70 – this puts it well out of the price range of the usual Tudor enthusiast and it only has 203 pages including the index. Secondly, it is very academic in style. Rather than a flowing book, it is a collection of “biographical case studies of English religious men and women” and has a very “heavy” style. It would be perfect for anyone doing a project or thesis on the impact of the dissolution of the monasteries or the monastic communities because the studies are detailed and the appendices includes primary sources like letters, but I could not recommend it to anyone who just wants to read up about the monasteries and their dissolution. I found it hard-going and I read 16th century documents and chronicles on a daily basis. I feel awful criticising something which is meticulously researched and must have taken years to put together and write, but I review books for mainstream Tudor history lovers and I don’t feel that this one would appeal to many of them.

Book Details

Blurb:
In the years from 1534, when Henry VIII became head of the English church until the end of Mary Tudor’s reign in 1558, the forms of English religious life evolved quickly and in complex ways. At the heart of these changes stood the country’s professed religious men and women, whose institutional homes were closed between 1535 and 1540. Records of their reading and writing offer a remarkable view of these turbulent times. The responses to religious change of friars, anchorites, monks and nuns from London and the surrounding regions are shown through chronicles, devotional texts, and letters. What becomes apparent is the variety of positions that English religious men and women took up at the Reformation and the accommodations that they reached, both spiritual and practical. Of particular interest are the extraordinary letters of Margaret Vernon, head of four nunneries and personal friend of Thomas Cromwell.

Hardcover: 211 pages
Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st Edition edition (25 July 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1107039797
ISBN-13: 978-1107039797
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and your usual bookstore.

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Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Posted By Claire on July 7, 2014

Queen Elizabeth's DaughterI thoroughly enjoyed Anne Clinard Barnhill’s last Tudor novel, At the Mercy of the Queen, and so jumped at the chance of reviewing Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I. Don’t worry, the novel doesn’t claim that Elizabeth had a daughter, it’s actually about her ward Mary Shelton.

Mary Shelton was a real person. She was Elizabeth I’s second cousin and was orphaned in November 1558, the month Elizabeth became queen. She became a royal ward and rose to be Gentlewoman of the Queen’s Privy Chamber, before “betraying” her mistress by becoming involved with a Catholic gentleman. This novel fills in the blanks of her life and presents her as the daughter that Elizabeth never had, with the queen and Dudley lavishing affection on her. Elizabeth wants to arrange a suitable match for her ward, but Mary is torn between her duty to her queen (the woman who has brought her up) and the love of her life. Elizabeth I was not one to be crossed and Mary pays a heavy price for her defiance.

Anne Clinard Barnhill is a wonderful writer. I love her style and I appreciate the way that she takes little known characters like the Sheltons (a Shelton girl was also the protagonist of her first historical novel), a family she is actually descended from, and tells stories through their eyes. We see a more “human” side to Elizabeth I and understand the sacrifice she made by not marrying, and we can understand how she may have viewed girls like Mary as surrogate daughters. A well-known story with a different spin on it.

If you’re going away over the summer, make sure you pack a copy of this in your luggage or on your Kindle as it’s the ideal holiday read. My only criticism is that I didn’t like the incidental chapter in italics which were from Elizabeth’s viewpoint, I found those distracting but I loved the novel otherwise. Beautiful writing; vivid scenes; loveable characters, with a few nasty ones for good measure; romance; danger; intrigue… just the right ingredients for a great read.

Anne wrote a guest article for The Anne Boleyn Files about Mary Shelton – click here to read it now.

Book Details

From Anne Barnhill, the author of At the Mercy of the Queen, comes the gripping tale of Mary Shelton, Elizabeth I’s young cousin and ward, set against the glittering backdrop of the Elizabethan court

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.

Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (March 18, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312662122
ISBN-13: 978-0312662127
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn

Posted By Claire on July 6, 2014

May Bride UK coverThe tagline of The May Bride is “Marrying the King was Jane Seymour’s destiny and her revenge” which leads readers to believe that this novel will be about Jane Seymour’s marriage to Henry VIII – wrong! The novel is actually about Katherine Filiol’s marriage to Jane Seymour’s brother Edward and Jane’s friendship with Katherine.

The story is told in the first person, through Jane’s eyes and opens in the May that Edward brings home his 21 year-old bride Katherine, a woman who had a major impact on her 15 year-old sister-in-law. Suzannah Dunn describes how captivated and “won over” Jane is by Katherine, who brings light and life to the Seymour household. As Edward Seymour concentrates on his career away from home at court, Jane and Katherine become best friends and confidantes. However, trouble is brewing and Jane’s illusions are shattered when Edward makes shocking accusations against his wife and father, and puts his wife aside. His treatment of Katherine has a major effect on Jane and she is still reeling from events when she joins Catherine of Aragon’s household and sees Henry VIII put Catherine aside to marry Anne Boleyn. Of course, we all know Jane’s story and at the end she becomes the May Bride, marrying a man who has put aside two wives.

The first three quarters of the novel are brilliant. I couldn’t put the book down. I found Katherine as captivating a character as Jane did and I loved the dynamics of the relationships in the book and seeing all of the events through the younger Jane’s eyes, as she struggles to come to terms with everything. However, the last quarter of the book lost me. The pace suddenly quickens and we travel through time too fast in my opinion. We keep jumping and all of a sudden we go from Jane seeing Henry VIII put Catherine aside for Anne to Anne being executed and Jane being the one Henry VIII is marrying. The pace was perfect until that point and then it was as if Dunn got bored or was pressured to finish the book quickly. I would have preferred the book to have been split into two parts, with the story leaving us with Jane serving Anne and then for a second novel to explore her relationship with the new queen and then the blossoming of her relationship with the King. That’s just me though and I’d still recommend the novel as I found it gripping until the final part.

May Bride US cover

May Bride US cover

We don’t know for sure why Edward Seymour put Katherine aside, or what happened to her, and I did enjoy Suzannah Dunn’s take on the story.

Book Details

Blurb:
I didn’t stand a chance: looking back over thirteen years, that’s what I see. In the very first instant, I was won over, and of course I was: I was fifteen and had been nowhere and done nothing, whereas Katherine was twenty-one and yellow-silk-clad and just married to the golden boy…

Jane Seymour is a shy, dutiful fifteen-year-old when her eldest brother, Edward, brings his bride home to Wolf Hall. Katherine Filliol is the perfect match for Edward, as well as being a breath of fresh air for the Seymour family, and Jane is captivated by the older girl. Over the course of a long, hot country summer, the two become close friends and allies, while Edward is busy building alliances at court and advancing his career.

However, only two years later, the family is torn apart by a dreadful allegation made by Edward against his wife. The repercussions for all the Seymours are incalculable, not least for Katherine herself. When Jane is sent away, to serve Katharine of Aragon, she is forced to witness another wife being put aside, with terrible consequences. Changed forever by what happened to Katherine Filliol, Jane comes to understand that in a world where power is held entirely by men, there is a way in which she can still hold true to herself.

Hardcover: 320 pages (UK), 352 pages (US)
Publisher: Little, Brown (13 Mar 2014, UK), Pegasus (October 15, 2014 US)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1408704684 (UK), 1605986305 (US)
ISBN-13: 978-1408704684 (UK), 978-1605986302 (US)
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

Posted By Claire on July 5, 2014

Sisters of Treason UK cover

Sisters of Treason UK cover

I found Elizabeth Fremantle’s first book The Queen’s Gambit a riveting read so I was looking forward to diving into Sisters of Treason. I enjoyed Fremantle’s first novel but this one was even better and I found it hard to put down.

Sisters of Treason was inspired by Leanda de Lisle’s non-fiction book The Sisters Who Would be Queen, which challenged the perception that many people have of Lady Jane Grey as an innocent victim and pawn of manipulative and, at times, abusive parents. De Lisle also went on to examine the lives of Jane’s sisters, Katherine and Mary, and this book explores their lives in a fictional way, filling in the gaps and bringing these young women to life, fleshing them and their stories out for us. I loved the way that Frances Grey was depicted, as a mother devastated by her young daughter’s execution and wanting to protect her other daughters from a similar fate. Gone is the Frances Grey of legend, the cruel mother who forced Jane to take the crown, the bloodthirsty hunter who could not understand her daughter’s love of learning, and in her place is “maman”, a woman who loves and grieves. The reader empathises with Frances and I loved her character.

The story is told in the first person through several characters – artist Levina Teerlinc, Katherine Grey and Mary Grey – and this works really well for this novel. We see events through their eyes and the first person allows us to explore their feelings and to connect with each character. Although there is no evidence that Levina Teerlinc was a confidante to Frances Grey, who makes Levina promise that she will look after her daughters when she’s gone, the relationship is perfect for a novel. Frances is terrified that her daughters’ claims to the throne will lead to trouble for them, and even their deaths, and she wants to protect them. She can’t keep them away from court without upsetting the queen, so Levina acts as their guardian, perhaps guardian angel. My favourite character, though, was Mary. Little is known about Mary Grey, just that she had some kind of spinal deformity and that, like her sister Katherine, she got into trouble for marrying without the Queen’s permission. In Sisters of Treason, we see Mary grow up. At the start, the grief-stricken Mary is forced to spend her time sitting on the lap of the woman who had her sister executed, Mary I. The Queen treats her like a doll or pet, a plaything, and you cannot help but feel for this girl. Jane’s faith and sacrifice has a real impact on Mary and while Katherine’s character can be quite frivolous and shallow, Mary’s is deep and mature. I looked forward to her parts in the book.

Sisters of Treason US cover

Sisters of Treason US cover

This is only Elizabeth Fremantle’s second book, but she is definitely an historical novelist to follow. I will not hesitate to buy her next book. Both of her books have grabbed me from the outset and her characterization drew me in and gave me a real connection to her characters. Superb.

Book Details

Blurb:
Sisters of Treason is a powerful and moving story of passion and peril in Tudor England, perfect for fans of Hilary Mantel.

Mary Tudor clings fearfully to the English throne.

Seeing the threat posed by her cousin, Lady Jane Grey, the Queen orders her execution. But what of Lady Jane’s young sisters – Katherine and Mary? Cursed with royal blood, they must endure the perils of a Tudor court, closely observed by its paranoid Queen.

Entranced by the drama, intrigue and romance of court life, young Lady Katherine’s desire for love leads her to make ill-advised and dangerous liaisons. Burdened with a crooked back, her younger sister, Lady Mary – the ‘mouse’ – is seen as no threat and becomes privy to the Queen’s most intimate secrets. Yet Mary, who yearns to escape court dramas, knows her closeness to the Queen could be her undoing.

For the Queen is childless and in ill-health. If she should die, her fearsome sister Elizabeth will inherit the crown. Then Katherine and Mary will find court a maze of treachery and danger – where possessing royal blood is the gravest crime of all . .

Hardcover: 496 pages (UK), 448 pages (US)
Publisher: Michael Joseph in the UK (22 May 2014), Simon & Schuster in the US (July 8, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0718177088 (UK), 1476703094 (US)
ISBN-13: 978-0718177089 (UK), 978-1476703091 (US)
Available from Amazon US, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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Everyday Life in Medieval London from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors by Toni Mount

Posted By Claire on July 4, 2014

Everyday lifeIgnore the back cover blurb on Everyday Life in Medieval London from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors, which makes it sound like a book which examines history trivia questions like “How should you use an owl to cure gout?” etc., this is not that kind of book at all. Such questions are answered, but within a book which is a detailed history of the city of London from AD 400 to 1500.

History teacher Toni Mount knows her stuff and, more importantly, knows how to convey her knowledge in an interesting way, bringing history to life. Everyone should have a history teacher like her. I have a tendency to turn down corners of pages in books – sacrilege I know – so that I can go back to them later, either for research reasons or because there’s one of those golden nuggets that I want to share with my husband and kids. Well, by page 172 of this book, I had turned down 19 corners – so many interesting facts!

I thoroughly enjoyed Toni Mount’s book. Although the focus is on London, the reader gets to learn about medieval life in general – religion (from paganism to the acceptance of Christianity), financial aspects such as taxation, disease and health, shopping, food (brewing ale etc.), the religious calendar, sports, laws, fashion and clothing, books and printing… all sorts. Although I’ve read books on medieval life before – I love social history – they didn’t go into as much detail as this and Mount has done extensive research, referencing all the primary sources she used in her chapter notes. One of my favourite parts of the book is the section of “The Real Dick Whittington”. Dick Whittington is one of those characters from childhood fairytales and pantomimes, the boy who left country life to make his fortune in London, with its streets paved with gold. Mount tells us about the real Dick Whittington, Richard Whittington who left rural Gloucestershire and rose to become a wealthy mercer in London, with one of his best customers being Henry IV. Whittington became Lord Mayor of London and was a popular man who was known as just and a helper of the poor. He didn’t squander his wealth, he gave back to London and its citizens. I found it fascinating that the money he gave to the Bridge Wardens of Rochester in Kent is still paying for the upkeep of Rochester Bridge today, 600 years later – what a legacy and impact!

Everyday Life in Medieval London from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors by Toni Mount is the perfect book for anyone interested in the medieval era, and particularly its social history, and the detailed notes and bibliography mean that readers can check things for themselves or do further research. It would also be a fantastic book for teachers who want to bring the period to life for their students, and for historical novelists depicting this period in their books.

I can’t say enough good things about this book and I hope that Toni Mount will write more. Her skill is conveying a huge amount of detail in a readable way. It was never a chore to read this book, I loved it.

Book Details

Blurb:
Our capital city has always been a thriving and colourful place, full of diverse and determined individuals developing trade and finance, exchanging gossip and doing business. Abandoned by the Romans, rebuilt by the Saxons, occupied by the Vikings and reconstructed by the Normans, London would become the largest trade and financial centre, dominating the world in later centuries. London has always been a brilliant, vibrant and eclectic place Henry V was given a triumphal procession there after his return from Agincourt and the Lord Mayor s river pageant was an annual medieval spectacular. William the Conqueror built the Tower, Thomas Becket was born in Cheapside, Wat Tyler led the peasants in revolt across London Bridge and Chaucer s Canterbury Tales was the first book produced on Caxton s new printing press in Westminster. But beneath the colour and pageantry lay dirt, discomfort and disease, the daily grind for ordinary folk. Like us, they had family problems, work worries, health concerns and wondered about the weather.

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (6 Mar 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 144561541X
ISBN-13: 978-1445615417
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and your usual bookstore.

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Great Tales from British History: Was Queen Victoria Ever Amused? And 39 Other Intriguing Historical Questions Answered

Posted By Claire on July 3, 2014

Great Tales from British HistoryGreat Tales from British History: Was Queen Victoria Ever Amused? And 39 Other Intriguing Historical Questions Answered by Robert Gambles is an enjoyable, entertaining and educational book which examines the popular myths and legends of British history – all the stories we were told in history lessons as children, and that carry on being told to each generation.

Gambles takes stories like King Alfred and the burnt cakes, Dick Whittington and his cat, Lady Godiva, Robert Bruce and the spider, Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple, King Cnut and the tide etc. and then traces their origins to find out whether they are fictional, exaggerated truths, simple morality tales or real history. It is a nostalgic read for those of us who will recognise these stories from our childhood, and it is really interesting. I defy anyone to read this book without sharing the origins of the stories with family and friends, you just can’t help yourself. Each chapter tells a different story, so you don’t have to read it from cover to cover, you can dip into it over time. It is definitely one to have on the family bookcase.

Book Details

Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (11 Oct 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445613379
ISBN-13: 978-1445613376
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or your usual bookstore.

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