This will likely be my last post for 2008 since our internet service is being disconnected tomorrow in preparation for the big move on Monday. So, I thought I would finish out the year with my favorite books of this year (in no particular order):
The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran
The Edge of Light by Joan Wolf
Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons
Within the Hollow Crown by Margaret Campbell Barnes
The Ivy Crown by Mary Luke
Gildenford by Valerie Anand
His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph Ellis (non-fiction)
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie (non-fiction)
I had hoped to read 75 books this year but with all of the craziness of moving (4 times!), I only managed 61. Maybe I'll hit 75 next year. I'm looking forward to all of the new historical fiction books coming out in 2009. I hope all of you have a Happy New Year!
Well, here it is 3 days before Christmas (actually more like 2.5) and we have no Christmas tree (sold it to my daughter's boyfriend for his new house), no decorations (ditto - or else they are boxed up to go to storage), bought few Christmas presents (hubby got laid off in September so we are cutting back) and our place is an absolute disaster as we pack up our lives in Indiana to make the final move to Denver. Our plan is to leave in one week and hope for good weather as we (well, acutally my husband) drives a 26 foot moving truck about 1000 miles in 2 days. I will be crying most of the way I'm sure since we've decided to let our daughter stay here with a relative so she can continue her college education here. I knew one day I would have to let her go, but I honestly thought I had a few more years since she just turned 17 last month. It's too soon. I keep telling myself that when she was 18 she could have gone off to college somewhere. True. But that would be different. She would leaving us- I wouldn't be leaving her. I feel like I am abandoning my child and I must be the worst mother in the world. I'm not sure how I'm going to get through this - probably with a lot of kleenex and maybe some pharmacueticals!
Anyway, I heard this fun little Christmas song on the Today show this morning. So, from guys from my alma matter (Indiana University) here's a song for the season for my wonderful readers (you will need to scroll down and click on the stop/pause button on the other Christmas music I have playing so they don't interfere with each other - sorry!). Enjoy!
I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season filled with peace, love and family.
Katherine is the youngest daughter of King Charles VI of France and in her teens she is aware of the affliction that has overcome her father and put power into the hands of her mother Isabeau, a harping shrew who is mean-spirited to her children and cares only for her own ambition and pleasure. The children live in less than royal splendor and Katherine is often cold and hungry. She dreams of escaping her life by marrying a king and she sets her sights on Henry V of England. Her mother and sister mock her for her choice, convinced it will never happen.
But Katherine is persistent and due to a series of family tragedies, even Isabeau is forced to see the value of an alliance with England. Katherine is in love with her prince charming (even before she meets him) and she is bitterly disappointed to discover that he doesn’t really return her feelings. Henry is cold, distant and cares only for his wars which causes Katherine to hardened her own heart against him. But she is convinced that if she can give him an heir he will care for and respect her. It’s hard to get pregnant when your husband is gone much of the time, but eventually it happens and even though Henry is pleased, it doesn’t seem to bring Katherine the happiness she expected.
Katherine is even more disappointed when she is left out of the care and control of her son following Henry’s unexpected death. Her closest friends (The Queen Dowager Joanne – Henry’s stepmother – and Jacqueline of Hainault – the “wife” of Henry’s brother Humphrey) urge her to find happiness where she can. Her relationship with Owen Tudor evolves into one of love and passion but as events in France threaten young Harry’s hold on the crown, Katherine becomes more like her mother (bitter and cruel) causing Owen to sometimes question his feelings for her. But he stands by her until her death in 1437.
I found the first half or so of the book hard to read sometimes. Although told in third person, the style seemed very stream-of-consciousness, especially when revealing the thoughts of Katherine and Isabeau. After a while, it was annoying and tiring to read. In addition, some of the dialogue didn’t feel natural. Both of these became less common as the story progressed and I found it easier to read. Lewis did include a lot of historical detail, especially concerning the political situation in France, references to Joan of Arc and forshadowing of the problems to come with Henry VI.
I really enjoyed Anne Easter Smith’s debut novel about Richard III (A Rose for the Crown) and was glad to hear there would be other books. Daughter of York is her second book and focuses on the life of Richard’s sister Margaret (Duchess of Burgundy). Margaret is one of those historical individuals that it seems no one knows very much about but who was rather important and influential during her life. The story covers Margaret’s life from a teenager through 1480 (3 years before Edward IV’s death).
In her Author’s Note, Smith admits that there is much about Margaret that is not known and so she had a considerable amount of flexibility in telling her story. With one notable exception (which I’ll get to in a minute), I think for the most part that she stuck to the major known facts of Margaret’s life and gives the reader the story of the glittering and wealthy Burgundian court. Descriptions of clothing, food and various households provide wonderful visual fillers to the sometimes weak storyline.
Now for that exception (I don’t think this would be considered a spoiler since it’s part of the published summary). An integral part of the story is Margaret’s initial infatuation and later romantic love for Anthony Woodville (that’s right, the brother of her sister-in-law Elizabeth Woodville). Smith candidly admits that there is really no basis in fact or history that such a relationship existed. OK, I can deal with that. There are worse historical fiction crimes than giving a beautiful, powerful woman with an often absent, indifferent husband some love in her life. But I was a little bothered by the seemingly flimsy reason she used as a basis – that they both loved books. Huh? If she was going to invent a love story for Margaret, I almost think I would have preferred that she make someone up.
However, historical accuracies aside, I thought the love story itself was pretty well done. Margaret and Anthony are both sensitive, compassionate people who know that the bond that they feel towards each other is special but who also know that for many reasons, they probably shouldn’t act upon it. And for years they don’t. Margaret goes on with her life and her duty to her family, proving herself to be politically astute and earning the respect of her husband’s councilors and the people of Burgundy.
I was rather disappointed with the ending although it was explained in the Author’s Note. Smith points out that the period of time following the story’s end was not one of happiness for Margaret – her brother dies, another brother becomes king and is later defeated in battle, Anthony Woodville is executed (which she would have had to work into the story) and her family basically out of power and prestige – and she wanted to end the story on a happy note. One of the things I like about reading historical fiction is that not everyone (in fact, almost no one) gets a happy ending or a perfect life, (making them more like the rest of us), and so in this case we don’t get the ugly end to Margaret’s life. But that’s OK. Once in a while it’s nice to imagine that someone gets “happily ever after”.
In addition to the Author's Note, there are discussion questions as well as a list of questions/answers from Smith regarding the book and her research. A list of characters, a family tree and a glossary are nice additions. I'm planning on reading Smith's next book which will be out in 2009 - The King's Grace (about an illegitmate daughter of Edward IV and Perkin Warbeck).
"When looking at a map of Amsterdam, you might think the city is too large to explore on foot. This isn't true. It's possible to see almost every important sight in the Old City on a 4-hour walk. Public transporation begins at around 6 am and the regular service ends at midnight."
Tag, you're all it (sorry, I'm in the middle of a serious coughing fit - I really think I'm going to hack up a lung)!
1263 in Scotland is not a very safe place to be. Despite an uneasy peace with its neighbors (England, Ireland and Norway), a new threat a brewing from the ambitions and greed of a ruthless Norseman. In this environment, young Margaret MacDonald is preparing to marry Lachlan Ross, (a handsome cousin to King Alexander) which her family hopes will bring them added security and prosperity. But when Ross betrays her, and the Norseman brutally destroys her community and her family, Margaret wonders what will become of her and her sister Nell.
Every historical romance needs a hero, and one is provided to Margaret – Gannon MacMagnus, a half Irish -half Norse warrior who has a hard time being accepted by the Scots he has come to help as a result of some family relationships and alliances. He and Margaret are instantly drawn to each other, but he respects the fact that her family (and now her older brother) decided that her betrothal would stand despite Ross’ betrayal and Margaret no longer wanting to marry him. A spirited Margaret even figures out a way to honor her brother's wishes while getting what she wants at the same time.
On a Highland Shore is not a bodice ripping romance novel – I would probably consider it more of a historical book with a strong romantic element (and pretty light on the sex) although Margaret and Gannon actually spend most of their time apart. The brutality of the Norse raids on Scotland and their aftermath on the families is a large part of the storyline as is the political environment of the country. I know virtually nothing about Scottish history or culture, so I found it very interesting. Margaret is rather stereotypical of the usual heroine and I thought some of the story was a little predictable, but overall, thought it was entertaining and well written. Givens includes an Author's note which sets out which of the characters were real and the real events that formed some of the basic storyline.