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Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

Posted By Claire on June 15, 2015

Watch the Lady USI loved Elizabeth Fremantle’s previous Tudor novels, Queen’s Gambit and Sisters of Treason, so was over the moon when a review copy of Watch the Lady landed on my doorstep, particularly as it was about a woman who isn’t usually a heroine of historical fiction: Penelope Devereux.

If you don’t know, Penelope Devereux was the daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and his wife Lettice. Lettice was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s sister, and was also the woman known as “the she-wolf” by Elizabeth I due to the fact that she went on to secretly marry Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley. Penelope was also the sister of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (who also became a favourite of Elizabeth I but then came to a sticky end), and she has gone down in history as a legendary beauty and for being the muse of poet Philip Sidney.

One of the signs of a good historical novel for me is that it piques my interest to find out more about the real person behind the fiction. After I read Watch the Lady I just couldn’t help myself from researching Penelope Devereux. I don’t want to spoil the story, if you don’t know about her, but she’s a fascinating lady in that she didn’t let an unhappy marriage get in the way of what she wanted out of life. Unusually for a woman of that time, while she was still married she took a lover and had a long-term love affair, including having children by her lover. She lived on her own terms and must have been an incredibly strong character.

Elizabeth Fremantle’s novel takes the reader through Penelope’s life, from 1581 when she is first sent to court to serve Elizabeth I, to the summer of 1603 after the death of Elizabeth I and the accession of James I. Fremantle explains in the “Author’s Note” that she has “adhered closely to historical fact” in telling Penelope’s story, and drew on primary sources where she could, but then explains where she has filled in the blanks or used “pure speculation”. For example, there is no way of knowing why Penelope’s husband did nothing about her love affair and so Fremantle imagines a reason for his acquiescence, something that works brilliantly in the story but which is pure fiction.

I often find narration using the present tense with third person point of view grating in fiction, but I actually only noticed it towards the end of this novel. The novel just seemed to flow and I think the present tense worked in giving a sense of immediacy, in transporting us to Penelope’s time and location. The third person POV also allowed us to see events from other characters’ perspectives and I particularly enjoyed scenes narrated from Robert Cecil’s perspective, especially when he became rattled by Penelope! I also loved the characterization of Robert Devereux, which gave the reader insight into why he did what he did in 1601 and what led him to the block. Fiction allows a writer to explore the possible “why”s behind someone’s actions and Fremantle’s depiction of Devereux seemed spot on.

Once again (I’ve been lucky recently!), reading this book put me in a quandary – I was desperate to finish it but I also didn’t want my journey with Penelope to end. I do hope that Elizabeth Fremantle is busy on her next book!

Book Details

Blurb:

From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.

Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.

Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.

UK cover

UK cover

Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.

US
Paperback: 560 pages (also available as a kindle book)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 9, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1476703124
ISBN-13: 978-1476703121
Available from Amazon.com or your usual bookstore.

UK
Hardcover: 496 pages (also available as a kindle book)
Publisher: Michael Joseph (18 Jun. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 071817710X
ISBN-13: 978-0718177102
Available from Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

Posted By Claire on June 7, 2015

tutor USI’ve been having a bit of a historical fiction fest recently and I have to say that there some magical novels coming out at the moment. You’d think that there was nothing new to write, but the Tudor period is still providing plenty of inspiration for novelists.

Andrea Chapin’s novel The Tutor is set in the 1590s and the protagonist is Katharine, a young widow who is living with her relatives, the De L’Isle family, at Lufanwal Hall in Lancashire. The novel opens with the discovery of the body of the family’s priest, Father Daulton. These are dangerous times for Catholics like the De L’Isles and their priest has had to pose as a schoolmaster. Harbouring a priest can cost people their lives. This opening may lead you to believe that the book is a murder mystery or thriller, but it’s actually not at all. The novel is more about Katharine and her relationship with the new tutor, a certain Will Shakespeare.

Katharine becomes Will’s muse and the person he trusts to give him feedback on his work. But, of course, their relationship grows. He is far from home, his wife and children, and Katharine is an attractive, intelligent woman who also has a literary gift. They understand each other and they are drawn to each other. Will is a fascinating character and I couldn’t help falling for him too! I loved Katharine’s character too. Being a widow, she has more control of her life and she lives it on her terms. She is strong but real. I won’t ruin the story by telling you what becomes of her and Will, but I loved the ending Chapin gave Katharine.

Now I’ve made it sound more like a romance, but it’s not that either and it would be doing it a real injustice to describe it as such. The blurb on the back of my advance review copy calls it “a vivid tale of desire and deception, loyalty and betrayal, and the seductive power of language” and that sums it up so well. It’s a riveting read and although Katharine is the main character, the reader comes to care about a number of characters who are battling their own demons and trying to survive in a troubled and dangerous time. There are so many threads/themes running through the story and I loved how they were woven together.

So, if you’re looking for a summer historical read to get lost in, then do grab a copy of this novel.

Book Details

UK cover

UK cover


Blurb:

The year is 1590, and Queen Elizabeth’s Spanish Armada victory has done nothing to quell her brutal persecution of the English Catholics. Katharine de L’Isle is living at Lufanwal Hall, the manor of her uncle, Sir Edward. Taught by her cherished uncle to read when a child, Katharine is now a thirty-one-year-old widow. She has resigned herself to a life of reading and keeping company with her cousins and their children. But all that changes when the family’s priest, who had been performing Catholic services in secret, is found murdered. Faced with threats of imprisonment and death, Sir Edward is forced to flee the country, leaving Katharine adrift in a household rife with turmoil.

At this time of unrest, a new schoolmaster arrives from Stratford, a man named William Shakespeare. Coarse, quick-witted, and brazenly flirtatious, Shakespeare swiftly disrupts what fragile peace there is left at Lufanwal. Katharine is at first appalled by the boldness of this new tutor, but when she learns he is a poet, and one of talent, things between them begin to shift, and soon Katharine finds herself drawn into Shakespeare’s verse, and his life, in ways that will change her forever.

Inventive and absorbing, The Tutor is a masterful work of historical fiction, casting Shakespeare in a light we’ve never seen.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books (February 5, 2015) in the US, Penguin (26 Mar. 2015) in the UK.
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1594632545, UK 024196816X
ISBN-13: 978-1594632549, UK 978-0241968161
Available from Amazon US, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen by J. Stephan Edwards

Posted By Claire on June 3, 2015

queen of a new inventionThere are twenty-nine surviving portraits which have, at one time or another, been said to depict the ill-fated “Nine Days Queen” Lady Jane Grey, but the authenticity of many of them is, at best, dubious. In his book A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen, Lady Jane Grey expert J. Stephan Edwards, examines the provenance of each portrait in an attempt to find the ‘real’ Lady Jane Grey.

I’d first like to mention what a beautiful book A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen is. It’s hardback, is full-colour and has that matte, cloth-like feel that you just want to stroke. Many of the portraits are given a full page so the reader can appreciate the beauty of them, even if they’re not of Lady Jane Grey, and there are various other smaller images, like miniatures. It is the perfect ‘coffee table’ book, it’s gorgeous, and guests to your home won’t be able to help themselves flicking through it.

But, it doesn’t just look good, the information in it is first rate, well-written and presented in a readable way. Each portrait has its own section with its name, the artist (if known), the date and provenance. Edwards then goes on to explain how the image links to Lady Jane Grey and then examines evidence, such as the jewellery the sitter is wearing compared to historical inventories, to come to a conclusion regarding whether the portrait really is Jane.

In the introduction, Edwards also considers Jane’s story and her afterlife, i.e. the popular mythology that has grown up around her.

A Queen of a New Invention: Portraits of Lady Jane Grey Dudley, England’s Nine Days Queen is obviously the result of many years of research, and meticulous research at that, and is a fascinating read. Although two portraits of Jane were documented as existing in the 16th century, and were owned by Bess of Hardwick and John Lumley, these portraits have disappeared and we’re left with twenty-nine surviving paintings which don’t appear to be Jane. It is frustrating and heart-breaking that Jane’s image is lost to history, although I was glad to read that one image, the Syon Portrait, “may well be the closest we shall ever come to an authentic likeness of the Nine Days Queen.”

The book is fully-referenced, with chapter endnotes and a bibliography. In the appendices, Edwards has included the Spinola Letter, which historians have, in the past, relied on as a physical description of Jane, and then a section on the lost portraits and Edwards’ search for them. Whether you’re an art history buff or a Tudor history buff, you’ll find this book a fascinating and very worthwhile read. Wonderful.

Book Details

Blurb:

Lady Jane Grey Dudley was proclaimed Queen of England on 10 July 1553 following the untimely death of Henry VIII’s only son and successor, King Edward VI. But sixteen-year- old Jane did not have the support of the majority of her would-be subjects. They rallied instead to Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary Tudor. Jane was deposed just nine days after her reign began, earning for her the sobriquet ‘The Nine Days Queen.’ She was imprisoned in the Tower for six months before finally being executed on 12 February 1554. Queen Jane remains the only English monarch of the past five centuries for whom no genuine portrait is known to have survived. Dozens of images have been put forward over those five centuries, but none has yet been conclusively authenticated. Neither has any comprehensive academic study of the iconography of Jane Grey Dudley ever been previously undertaken or published. Now, through almost a decade of research leading up to this volume, twenty-nine surviving portrait-images said to depict Jane have been carefully and systematically sought out, analyzed, and contextualized in an effort to determine whether any of them may be a reliable likeness. A handful of additional paintings all now lost are also discussed in detail. Finally, the single written account of Jane’s physical appearance, an account upon which historians have relied over the past century, is analyzed for its own authenticity.

Hardcover: 224 pages (also available as a paperback)
Publisher: Old John Publishing (February 12, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0986387304
ISBN-13: 978-0986387302
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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The Dragon of Handale by Cassandra Clark

Posted By Claire on May 4, 2015

Dragon of HandaleThank you to Penelope Wright for reviewing this historical novel for us. Over to Penny…

This is the 5th novel by Cassandra Clark but the first I have read. I thought, this is another medieval mystery, similar to others I have read, some by Priscilla Royal who has written many books about religious women investigating murder and mayhem in the 14th century medieval period. At first I thought here we go, same old, same old. However, I was pleasantly surprised, it isn’t same old at all.

I really enjoyed it and for me, if I haven’t guessed the plot and “who dunnit” half way through, having read a lot of murder mysteries (medieval to the present day), I think I am on to a winner and I was!

Hildegard, the heroine, has returned from a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and her Prioress suggests a visit to Handale Priory, in the very North of England, to help her decide if she should return to her Order or not.
Hildegard agrees, only to find that when she gets there, the Nuns, their Abbess and other members of the community surrounding the Priory have secrets to hide and a body! Hildegard is told that the young man was killed by the Dragon! Hildegard doesn’t believe in dragons but can she unravel the mystery surrounding his death?

Is there really a dragon? I am not going to tell you, you will have to read the book to find out! Good hunting!

Book Details

Blurb:
Hildegard, no longer a member of the Cistercian order of nuns, has returned to the priory after more than a year from her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Still unsure whether she will rejoin the Order, the Prioress suggests that a visit to Handale Priory might help provide some clarity. Used as a house of correction for sinning nuns, it lies in the north of the county in the middle of a vast wood and is run by the ambiguous Abbess Basilda and her close group of hard-faced acolytes.

While walking about the grounds, Hildegard discovers the corpse of a young man in the morgue. His body bears deep gashes from neck to groin. His wounds appear to be the ravages of claws, but larger than any animal Hildegard knows of. Is it possible that the young man was killed by a dragon, as Hildegard’s been told? Of course, Hildegard does not believe in dragons, and despite being warned against it, she goes for a walk in the woods. There she discovers a secret tower, locked and barred, with armed men on guard.

What is so valuable that it needs such protection? Has it anything to do with the mystery of the young man’s death? And why have assassins been pursuing the King’s courier across the savage moor land only to murder him at a lonely wayside tavern? Hildegard risks all dangers to seek out the truth.

Series: Abbess Hildegard of Meaux (Book 5)
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (March 17, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250058864
ISBN-13: 978-1250058867
Available at Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

Posted By Claire on April 27, 2015

the tapestryThe Tapestry is the final book in Nancy Bilyeau’s Joanna Stafford trilogy and it is a fitting end to a wonderful series.

I was lucky to discover the trilogy late on, which meant that I could read The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry one after the other instead of gnashing my teeth and pacing waiting for the next book to be released! Seriously, these books had me hooked and although The Tapestry had a satisfying end, tying up any loose ends and leaving the heroine with a suitably happy ending, I’m disappointed that Joanna’s journey is over.

Anyway, back to The Tapestry

After the excitement and dangers she encountered in The Chalice, Joanna has settled down once again in Dartford, hoping to earn a living weaving tapestries. However, her plans for a quiet life away from the intrigues of court are wrecked when she is called to court to meet the King. Henry VIII is impressed with the tapestry Joanna produced for Anne of Cleves as a wedding present for the King and wants her to work for him. Joanna cannot exactly refuse a king, so she sets off for Whitehall, where she immediately encounters danger.

The King is married to Anne of Cleves but unhappily, something that Joanna is partly responsible for, and he has set his sights on Joanna’s friend and relative Catherine Howard. Joanna feels its her duty to protect Catherine but her own life is in danger from an unknown assailant. Can she protect herself and Catherine? Who can she trust in a court full of people with hidden agendas?

(more…)

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The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters

Posted By Claire on April 16, 2015

The Jezebel EffectBefore I launch into my review, I feel that I need to say that I’ve got to know the author of this book, Kyra Cornelius Kramer, really well over the past few years and I liked her writing style so much that I asked her to be a regular contributor to Tudor Life magazine. There, full disclosure! Having said that, I’m honest with my reviews.

I took The Jezebel Effect: Why the Slut Shaming of Famous Queens Still Matters on holiday with me recently to read on the plane. As someone who spends my time writing about Tudor history, I was particularly interested in the sections on Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn and Catherine Howard and thought I might just speed read or skim over the sections on women who didn’t appeal to me in the same way. Well, my plan to speed read didn’t quite work out. Kyra’s accounts of these women, her explanation of historical propaganda that is still effecting how we perceive these women today, and her reference to modern cases of ‘slut-shaming’ and the damage it has done – even leading to young girls committing suicide – drew me in and before I knew it I was reading every word.

Kyra is an academic and an anthropologist, but although her writing is academic in that it is well-researched and referenced, it is far from dry. It could be a heavy subject and there are some heart-rending modern stories in the book, but Kyra’s little sarcastic asides inject some humour into the book and I loved that.

Her section on Anne Boleyn was excellent. I’m always thinking that Anne was ‘damned if she did and damned if she didn’t’ regarding her relationship with Henry VIII. I quite often receive comments on my blog and Facebook page calling Anne a whore and home wrecker, or, on the other hand, a woman who manipulated Henry by holding out on him. Kyra writes:

“On one hand, Anne Boleyn was a nasty vamp if she had sex with the men who wanted her. On the other hand, Anne Boleyn was a cold-hearted prick tease and manipulator if she didn’t have sex with the men she charmed. Simply by being desired, Anne is placed in a no-win situation. Men desired Anne Boleyn but could not have her and she has been punished for it ever since.”

“Exactly!”, I almost cried out on the plane.

Kyra goes on to talk about how even Anne’s failure to reply to Henry VIII’s love letters to her has been seen by some historians as a ploy to “increase his ardour” because Anne knew that Henry just couldn’t give her up. Face palm, head bang… Couldn’t Anne have just been trying to show Henry she wasn’t interested?
As I read this book I felt a solidarity with Kyra, I felt that we were both doing face-palms at the same time with how these women’s actions (or lack of action) have been interpreted.

Anne Boleyn is, of course, not the only woman to be looked at in this book. Kyra also examines the stories and treatment of Jezebel, Cleopatra, Mary Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Catherine the Great, along with examples of how women are still slut-shamed by society today. It is a provocative book. It makes you question what you were taught in history classes, it makes you think about how your children are being educated and the mixed messages that society gives them, it makes you want to get on your soap box!

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I found myself nodding as I read it, getting angry about the treatment of these women and girls, and reading parts out to my husband. It made me interact with it and it made impression on me, and that’s the sign of a very good book in my opinion.

Book Details

Have you heard that Catherine the Great died having sex with her horse? Or perhaps you prefer the story that Anne Boleyn had six fingers and slept with her brother? Or that Katheryn Howard slept with so many members of the Tudor court that they couldn’t keep track of them all? As juicy and titillating as the tales might be, they are all, patently untrue.

Modern PR firms may claim that no publicity is bad publicity, but that, too, is untrue. The fact that Cleopatra is better known for her seductions than her statecraft, and that Jezebel is remembered as a painted trollop rather than a faithful wife and religiously devout queen, isn’t a way for historians to keep these interesting women in the public eye, rather it’s a subversion of their power, a re-writing of history to belittle and shame these powerful figures, preventing them from becoming icons of feminine strength and capability.

Slut shaming has its roots in our earliest history, but it continues to flourish in our supposedly post-feminist, equal-rights world. It is used to punish women for transgressions against gender norms, threatening the security of their place in society and warning that they’d better be “good girls” and not rock the patriarchal boat, or they, too could end up with people believing they’ve slept with everything from farm animals to relatives.

This is The Jezebel Effect.

Paperback: 412 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 12, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1508666113
ISBN-13: 978-1508666110
Kindle ASIN: B00U2NXG6K
Kindle File size: 2886 KB
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and other book retailers.

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The Crown: A Novel by Nancy Bilyeau

Posted By Claire on March 13, 2015

the crownNancy Bilyeau’s The Crown is the first in a trilogy which has become known as the Joanna Stafford series. The books are set in Henry VIII’s reign and the protagonist is Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun who is also a member of the once favoured Stafford family. The trilogy consists of The Crown, The Chalice and the forthcoming The Tapestry, which comes out on 24 March.

I’ve actually had The Crown sitting on my kindle for well over a year but I kept forgetting about it. It wasn’t until I saw The Chalice on offer on Amazon that I started reading the first one. As soon as I started it I was kicking myself for leaving it for so long. I got completely wrapped up in it and moved straight on to The Chalice when I finished it. Leaving it for so long does have its benefits though, I won’t have long to wait for book 3 and can just move straight on to that.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, so I’m only going to give a brief rundown on the story. Joanna Stafford leaves her home, the Dartford Priory, without permission when she hears that her beloved cousin and childhood friend Margaret Bulmer is being burned at the stake for heresy. This outing to London was always going to be a nightmare for Joanna, but she didn’t know that it would lead to her being imprisoned in the Tower along with her father. To save her father from torture, and potential death, Joanna has to go back to her priory and locate an ancient relic that is said to have special powers. But this relic is not the only secret the priory is hiding and it’s not long before something truly terrible happens there. Can Joanna find the relic in time to save her father? Will the priory be dissolved by Cromwell? Will the crime be solved?

The Crown has all the right ingredients for me. Firstly, it has lovable characters. Joanna is a wonderful character and I know that I’m going to enjoy getting to know her better in the subsequent books. She didn’t grow up to be a nun, she served Katherine of Aragon at court for a short time before escaping court life and taking the veil. She is lovable in that she has an independent spirit and many flaws, but courage and a good heart. Other characters I loved included Brother Edmund and his sister, and the rather dashing (well, he sounds dashing!) Geoffrey Scoville. Secondly, it’s thrilling, as every good thriller should be! Some books take a few chapters to get into, but this one was action-packed from the start. It is extremely well-paced and makes you keep turning those pages!

The crown uk

UK cover

I also loved the different threads in the book – Joanna’s past coming back to haunt her, her relationships with those at the priory being tested by her behaviour and her secret, Joanna’s inner struggle with the secret she must keep and the work she must do for a man she does not like or trust, murder, faith, the history of the dissolution of the monasteries, corruption, mystery, ancient relics with magical powers… The only thing that did not sit well with me was the characterization of George Boleyn. I can’t spoil the storyline by saying what his involvement is in the story, but I didn’t like that bit. Obviously this is a novel, and a brilliant one at that, and Nancy Bilyeau does not make any claims about accuracy, so I’m not going to make too much of it. I just didn’t like it because of the work I’ve done on George and his family. That’s personal to me, though.

If you love historical fiction and enjoy a good mystery you really need to put this trilogy on your “to read” list. I’m not at all surprised that The Crown was shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger Award for historical fiction or that The Chalice was the winner of the Best Historical Mystery of 2013 at the Romantic Times Book Review Awards, such recognition is well-deserved.

Book Details

An astonishing debut in historical fiction, hailed as “part The Da Vinci Code, part The Other Boleyn Girl,” (Woman’s Day), The Crown follows one nun’s dangerous quest to find an ancient relic during Cromwell’s reign of terror.

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (September 4, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781451626865
ISBN-13: 978-1451626865
ASIN: 145162686X
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

Don’t forget that The Tapestry will be released on 24th March and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George

Posted By Claire on March 11, 2015

US cover

US cover

Thank you to Penelope Wright for reviewing Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles, which is a whopper of a book being 800+ pages! Over to Penny…

Phew! This novel about the life of Mary, Queen of Scots is similar in size to War and Peace. Although it takes some reading I did enjoy it.

I first learned about Mary during studies of the Tudors and Stuarts for my O’ level History exam. (It’s an age thing, you would now class it as GCSE) I learned that Mary was the villain of the piece and that Elizabeth I, although reluctantly, was forced to sign the death warrant. She was in fear for her country and her life because of the plotting that Mary was involved in with Catholics from abroad and at home. My Father, being a Scot, strongly disagreed. Margaret George starts the novel at the time of the execution in 1587 but then flashes back to Mary’s birth. Her father James V of Scotland died after the battle with the English at Solway Moss. It is said that James just faded away, he was devastated by the defeat although he wasn’t there, and died when Mary was just six days old after he was told he had a daughter not a son.

Margaret George appears to side with my father and treats Mary more as a victim in the machinations and turmoil in Scotland at that time. She is sent to France at a very young age in preparation for her marriage to the Dauphin. She leaves her mother Mary of Guise, a Catholic, as regent in a Scotland that is becoming a staunch Protestant country. The Guise family was a very strong force in France and George uses them as the influence which shaped the character of Mary, Queen of Scots during her young life. When Mary returns to Scotland after the death of both her French husband Francois II and mother, Mary of Guise, she enters a world dominated by Protestantism and John Knox, well known for his abhorrence of Catholics and women in authority. He wrote a pamphlet entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. This angered Elizabeth I and it is believed she never forgave him.

George follows the life of Mary through her marriages to Darnley and Bothwell, and in my view treats her as a woman of passion and not much common sense. Perhaps she was, she certainly couldn’t see that her people had little sympathy for her. She expected Elizabeth to welcome her with open arms but Elizabeth, being a very shrewd Queen, kept her, not only imprisoned but at arm’s length.

In some respects I have changed my view of Mary after reading this novel. I now think that as Mary allowed her heart to rule her head, she became embroiled in events that she couldn’t control, neither could she envisage the effects her involvement in them would have on Scotland and England, let alone on her own life.

UK cover

UK cover

George has obviously researched Mary in depth, although she does, in the Author’s Afterword, explain that she has had to build up a composite picture of Mary and has used some artistic licence in explaining Mary’s ‘involvement’ or knowledge of the murder of Darnley. One wonders why Darnley was murdered when it was said he was riddled with syphilis and dying anyway, but if he was indeed planning to murder Mary it is understandable that he needed to be ‘dealt with’.

If you enjoy historical novels with a serious amount of historical fact I can recommend this book, even though it is long. If you have the patience to go from start to finish it is well worth while.

Book details

Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles is the story of a woman born to rule a nation – and the glorious pageant of love and tragedy that followed in her wake. Mary’s beauty inspired poetry – yet her birthright engendered hideous treachery and terrible, bloody murder.

This novel is Margaret George’s magnificent recreation of the life of one of history’s greatest legends. A woman accused of murdering her husband to marry her lover. A woman who became Queen six days after her birth in 1542 – only to be beheaded forty years later on the orders of her cousin, Elizabeth I…

Paperback: 896 pages (870 pages US edition)
Publisher: UK – Pan; New Edit/Cover edition (10 May 2012)
US – St. Martin’s Griffin; 4th ed. edition (April 15, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: UK – 0330327909, US – 0312155859
ISBN-13: UK – 978-0330327909, US – 978-0312155858
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

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The Claimant: A Novel of the Wars of the Roses by Simon Anderson

Posted By Claire on February 18, 2015

The ClaimantThank you to Penelope Wright for this review of Simon Anderson’s book The Claimant: A Novel of the Wars of the Roses.

This novel by Simon Anderson is set between 1459 and ends in 1461 during the Wars of the Roses at the Battle of Towton. Two of the main characters, Henry VI and Richard of York – two strands of the Plantagenet dynasty – and the events surrounding them were instrumental in bringing the Tudors to Power in 1485 through Richard of York’s sons, Edward IV and Richard III. The central characters, the Wardlow Family and Edmund of Calais, as far as I can gather, are fictional but never the less, brought to life by Anderson through his obvious research of the period and his attention to detail of the lives of the gentry and estate workers at that time. He also uses his descriptive writing powers to bring the horrors of warfare in the 15th century into focus.

Roger Kynaston was the Constable of Denbigh Castle, although there is obviously poetic license used in the siege of Denbigh scenes because of the involvement of the fictional characters. Anderson introduces “gonners” here – I had no idea what they were but the description and the use of these weapons was a complete surprise and again shows how much research into warfare and weaponry has gone into this novel. I won’t spoil the enjoyment of the book, you will have to read it for yourself!

I have learnt a great deal about “The Wars of The Roses”, things that I was never interested in at school. As soon as wars and battles and dates were introduced it really did not grab my interest. The school history lessons were of little interest to me unless they included more about how the people lived on a daily basis. This novel brought the conflict to life as well as including the information about the battles and weaponry of the times.

As previously stated, the book ends at the Battle of Towton, when Edward of York defeated Henry VI. This, of course, was not the end of the Wars of The Roses, although Edward did bring peace during his reign. I would be happy to read a sequel to this book, perhaps following the Wardlow family and maybe incorporating the mystery of The Princes in the Tower.

Well-written, obviously well-researched and equally imaginative. If you, like me, are an avid historical novel reader, then in my opinion you can’t go wrong with The Claimant.

Book details

October, 1459.

The harvest is gathered and the country wears its autumn livery. Four years after the first battle of The Cousins’ Wars, later known as The Wars of the Roses, the simmering political tensions between the Royal Houses of Lancaster and York have once again boiled over into armed confrontation. Nobles must decide which faction to support in the bitter struggle for power. The stakes are high and those who choose unwisely have everything to lose.
Sir Geoffrey Wardlow follows the Duke of York while others rally to King Henry’s cause, but one in particular company under the Royal banner is not all it seems, its leader bent on extracting a terrible revenge that will shatter the lives of the Wardlow family. Edmund of Calais has a private score to settle and is prepared to risk everything to satisfy his thirst for revenge. Riding the mounting wave of political upheaval, he willingly throws himself time and again into the lethal mayhem of a medieval battle as he strives to achieve his aim. One man is out to stop him: his half-brother, Richard. Born of the same father but of very different minds the two young men find themselves on opposite sides during the violence that erupts as political tensions finally reach breaking point. Each has sworn to kill the other should they meet on the field of battle. As they play their cat-and-mouse game in the hope of forcing a decisive confrontation, their loved ones are drawn inexorably into the fray, forcing the protagonists to question the true cost of victory…

Paperback: 354 pages
Publisher: MadeGlobal Publishing (December 4, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8493746495
ISBN-13: 978-8493746490
Available as a Kindle book and paperback from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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The Traitor’s Mark by D.K. Wilson

Posted By Claire on February 13, 2015

traitors markIf you read my review of D.K. Wilson’s first book in this series of Tudor who-dunnits, The First Horseman, you’ll know that I ignored everything else in my “to read” pile and moved straight on to The Traitor’s Mark. I was that gripped by Wilson’s story.

Thankfully, the second instalment was just as gripping as the first. I do hate it when a series starts with a ‘bang’ and then the second just isn’t as good as the first, but The Traitor’s Mark was just as riveting as the first.

The Traitor’s Mark takes us forward in time by seven years to autumn 1543. The characters we came to know and love in 1536 have got on with their lives after the troubles of 1536, but little do they know that trouble is once more stirring. The protagonist Thomas Treviot, a London goldsmith, is trying to contact artist and jewellery designer Hans Holbein, about a promised jewellery commission, when his messenger and friend gets arrested for murdering Holbein’s apprentice and Holbein is nowhere to be found. Not only does Treviot need to help his friend get out of this mess, he needs to find Holbein to get the promised jewellery design. But before he can do much about tracking down the artist, a warrant arrives requiring him to visit Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury – what has Treviot got himself into?

Everything soon spirals out of control and Treviot just doesn’t know who to trust. Who’s Black Harry and who’s his puppet master? Are Treviot’s links to Cranmer going to bring him down as people in high places plot against the Archbishop? And just what has Holbein to do with any of this? Can Treviot find Holbein and keep those he loves safe?

Once again, eminent historian Derek Wilson has taken a real-life mystery – the mysterious death of Holbein in 1543 – and turned it into a compelling and intriguing thriller. The political intrigue of Henry VIII’s court at this time is brought beautifully to life through Treviot’s eyes and Wilson has the gift of conjuring up vivid pictures of both places and people in the reader’s mind with just a few words.

(more…)

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