The Rebel Princess by Judith Koll Healey. Sequel to The Canturbury Papers, set in 13th century France with the main character King Philippe's sister, Princess Alais. US release June 30, 2009; also available in the UK.
The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley. Young Adult set in the court of Elizabeth I. US release June 30, 2009. Also available from Amazon UK. And I absolutely love the cover!
Richard III: The Maligned King by Annette Carson. Non-fiction UK paperback release July 1, 2009. Listed on Amazon US but currently not available.
Eleanor, The Secret Queen by John Ashdown Hill. Non-fiction about Eleanor Talbot (whose pre-contract with Edward IV helped Richard III take the throne). US release July 1, 2009. This book was released earlier this year in the UK.
King John: England's Evil King? by Ralph Turner. Non-fiction. US release July 1, 2009. This book was released earlier this year in the UK.
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran. UK release July 2, 2009. This will be released in the US in September 2009. I've already ordered it from The Book Depository.
The second in Maurice Druon’s Accursed Kings series, The Strangled Queen picks up the story of France’s Louis X and his wife Marguerite of Burgundy from the first volume, The Iron King where her affair with a young courtier was discovered. As a result, Marguerite and her equally guilty sister-in-law Blanche have been imprisoned in Chateau Gaillard (built by Richard I) under harsh conditions and strict orders. But despite the title, Marguerite is a secondary character while the plot really focuses on the intrigue, betrayal and grandstanding going on at the French Court of the early 14th century.
Humiliated by his wife, Louis seeks her agreement for a divorce on the grounds of non-consummation and a statement from Marguerite that their daughter Jeanne is not the daughter of the king. In return, she will be allowed to retire to a nunnery. Marguerite refuses to sign away her daughter’s inheritance but that doesn’t stop from Louis from seeking out another bride, figuring eventually he’ll find a way to get rid of Marguerite.
In the meantime, the rather weak and ineffective king (known as Louis the Hutin – the stubborn) finds himself in the middle of a power struggle involving the nobles, his brothers and his uncles, most notably Charles of Valois.
The title of the book leaves little to the imagination as to what happens to poor Marguerite. Louis is then free to marry Clemence of Hungary which involves some plotting involving the selection of a new pope. Both the king and his uncle get what they want out of the deal in the end.
Druon is a powerful writer who creates well-written dialogue and convincing drama. I think he has one serious flaw though – the tendency to yank the reader out of the story with information on future events or commentary on history’s view of the events he has just covered. At one point he describes the condition of the common man in such a way that I could hear the narrator’s voice on The Ten Commandments (as he explains the sorry conditions the Hebrew slaves were forced to work in) in my head. Although somewhat relevant to the storyline, that voice in my head made it feel more than a little melodramatic! Here is the scene from the movie with that voice: (I tried to imebed it but couldn't get it to work for some reason) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrbSx3oiBHk
At the beginning of one of the later chapters, in order to give the reader an idea of what the middle ages were like, the towns and the life of the people are compared to that which exists in (current in 1955) several northern African and Middle Eastern countries. He also makes reference to the line of Valois kings that would follow Louis. I found these digressions rather jarring.
Although the writing style is a little different (I don’t know how much translating the book from French might have impacted that), I enjoyed reading about a period of time that I know very little about. English translations of the series can be hard to come by and are expensive. I’ve lucked out with a few of them for reasonable prices on ebay and my library has one that I’ve not been able to find elsewhere.
I accidently left my flash drive at work last night which contains the collection of my book covers that I use to make the mosaics, so this week's mosaic is a day late.
Mary of Guise is most well-known for being the mother of Mary Queen of Scots. Born in 1515 she married James V of Scotland in 1538 (it was the second marriage for both). After her daughter was sent to the French court, Mary was regent for 5years. She died in 1560.
The Other Tudors: Henry VIII's Mistresses and Bastards by Philippa Jones. I posted the cover for this the other day on my Book Cover Blog and I do not find it attractive at all. I think the title for this non-fiction book is self-explanatory. UK release date is June 26, 2009. Amazon US gives the same date, but currently says to sign up to be notified when it is available.
If there is one problem with reading authors like Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick it is that it can be hard to read other authors take on the characters and events covered in their books. Although Penman's Falls the Shadow is my least favorite of her Welsh Trilogy (but it is still pretty darn good!), it was likely that Juliet Dymoke's The Royal Griffin (1978)) was going to suffer by comparison. It did, but not so much that I didn't enjoy it.
Dymoke's Plantagenet series tells the story of the Plantagenet kings through the eyes of those who "served them, loved them or betrayed them". The Royal Griffin is set during the reign of Henry III and focuses on the relationship between his sister, Eleanor, and Simon de Montfort. Much shorter than Penman's version, it covers the same basic storyline but not with as much detail and not as battle heavy.
Married at a young age to William Marshall (who is much older and the son of the more famous William), Eleanor comes to love her husband and appreciates his kindness. But his unexpected death leaves Eleanor grief-stricken and, influenced by an older widow, she hastily agrees to a vow of chastity and service to God. The handsome Simon soon gives her cause to reconsider her decision.
Meanwhile, Eleanor's brother, Henry III, is having a tough time with his barons and when he is approached by Eleanor and Simon who want to get married, the king gleefully conspires with the lovebirds to pull off a secret wedding, despite Simon's less than noble lineage and Eleanor's vow to God. Henry figures that will show his barons who is boss and he waves off Eleanor's vow of chastity as non-binding under the circumstances. Henry's happiness for the couple is short-lived however as what might have been a small misunderstanding is blown out of proportion. Henry turns on Eleanor and Simon and the couple are forced to briefly leave court until Henry's affections swing the other way.
But Henry is also under the influence of not only his Lusignan half-siblings but also of his wife's foreign relatives. If there is anything the English nobles hate, it is the king showing obvious favoritism especially when its directed to foreigners. The unhappy barons and the impoverished peasants soon find a champion for a change - Simon. Eleanor's loyalty is with her husband, especially after Henry publicly alludes to there being a reason for their hasty marriage.
Henry is at his unstable, incompetent best - a man too easily influenced by others, with grand visions for creating monuments to God (Westminster Abbey) but with no ability to rule. Although it's easy to see why a number of the nobles rebelled against Henry, what isn't so clear is why they were so eager to follow Simon. Dymoke's de Montfort is a little flat and there's no real sense of what drives him to act as he does. It's one thing to sympathize with the plight of the common man and want to see things improve; it's quite another to lead a rebellion against your king to try and make it happen.
At less than 300 pages, The Royal Griffin covers 40 years and the events that led to the ideals of a parliamentary democracy. As such, there are times when several years are skipped over or only briefly explained. It also lacks some of the wonderful medieval detail that are the hallmark of Penman and Chadwick. Although the story concentrates on the romance (G-rated) between Eleanor and Simon, there is enough history to keep it out of the purely romance category.
I usually try not to give too much away when sharing my thoughts on a particular book, but in this case, I will have to make an exception. So, if you have not read Signora da Vinci and you don’t want to know some of the things that happen, you might not want to read any further as there are spoilers below.
I have always been amazed by the sheer genius of Leonardo da Vinci but will admit to not knowing that much about him. Apparently almost nothing is known about his mother, except that her name was Caterina. Having no known historical facts to work with (or to worry about), Robin Maxwell spins an intriguing story set during the early Italian Renaissance as Caternia recounts her life and that of her son. Along the way some of the most famous names of the period are drawn into their story including the prince of Florence, Lorenzo de Medici, also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent.
When Leonardo is taken by his father a few days after his birth, Caterina manages to find a way to continue to be near her son during his early years. But when his father begrudgingly obtains a place for Leonardo with a famous painter in Florence, Caterina embarks on a life of deceit for the next 25 years – life as a man. The disguise is necessary because Caterina has been well educated by her father, an apothecary who also secretly dabbles in alchemy (which is punishable by death). Caterina is well-schooled in both and the former provides her with a cover and a trade in Florence. And since the story is a first person account from Caterina, it also provides her a more visible place in her son’s life and a way into the intellectual society of Florence.
And that’s what caused me to have mixed feelings about the book. The story of Cato (a disguised Caterina as Leonardo’s “uncle”) making his way into the circle and later confidence of some of the rising stars of Florence, including Lorenzo de Medici, I found entertaining and interesting. I think the story could have been told this way without involving the cross-dressing Caterina, although some might argue that the story would then lose its emotional focus of Caterina’s love for her son – so great that she was willing to risk her life in order to be near him.
It’s not that I didn’t like Caterina’s story. On the contrary, I did. The young girl in love who finds herself pregnant and unmarried; the young man from a good family who refuses to stand up for her; the raw emotion resulting from Leonardo being taken from her and her love and pride in her obviously gifted son as he grows into a man. But combining the “two” stories – Caterina the mother and Cato the apothecary into the same person just didn’t quite work for me. But when Lorenzo admits to falling in love with “Cato” (which disturbs him) and Caterina in response revealing her naked body to him (since of course she is in love with him as well) I had to do more than a little bit of eye rolling!
So now we have the highly educated peasant’s daughter carrying on with the leading politician of the day, and having in depth philosophical discussions with the intellectual elite. As it that wasn’t enough, as the preachings of Savonarola grip the city forcing people to give up their “lavish and immoral” lifestyle, Caterina becomes involved in a plot to discredit him. A plot involving the new Pope, Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) and “creating” the Shroud of Turin! I found that storyline interesting, especially the scientific aspects of how it was done (I won't get into debating whether it could have happened or not). But Caterina’s involvement in it that just didn’t feel fight.
Overall, Signora da Vinci is an enjoyable story but it is really not so much a story about Leonardo da Vinci’s mother as it is about Leonardo himself, the city of Florence and the early days of the Renaissance. The city of Florence comes to life and the contrast between the artistic/intellectual center and the grim, lifeless place it becomes under Savonarola is striking. But I found Caterina as a man a distraction and wish Maxwell had chosen a different point of view and/or a different mechanism by which to tell it.
The Howard family, having already tasted the kind of power to be gained (through Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn) were quick to identify one of their own that just might work. But in order to pull it off a serious lie would need to be told and young Catherine Howard would have to learn to live it - her life and the fortune of her family depended on it.
Told in first person, The King’s Rose is Catherine’s story from the time her family decides to use her as bait for a crown until her execution for treason. Although I’m typically not a fan of first person narratives, I thought this one worked really well. After all, knowing the fate that befell her cousin Anne due to trumped-up charges of adultery, what on earth could have possessed Catherine Howard to have actually committed adultery? And who better to try and answer that question then Catherine herself.
Unlike some characterizations that portray Catherine as an empty headed teenager, Libby gives her enough common sense to know the game that has to be played and enough smarts to know that she is being used. But Catherine has always done as she’s been told and her inability to make her own decisions would be disasterous. When she is told to forget her past life –and her past loves- she plays the young, virginal bride Henry is expecting. But it is all a lie and Catherine often thinks about the girl her family has "created", slowly losing herself in the illusion. Sadly she realizes that she has sacrificed what she wanted in order for her family to get what they wanted.
But even well constructed and believable lies can unravel and before long those who know about her past show up at court demanding positions. Heeding the advice of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Catherine sees that she has little choice and hopes that she can secure their loyalty and secrecy by giving them what they want. The situation begins to create some level of paranoia in Catherine that she will be found out and that Henry will discover that he was lied to. And then, as she remembers her cousin Anne, she ponders, “what will happen to me?”
To further complicate matters is Catherine’s inability to get pregnant. With the king’s health failing and the opportunity to get pregnant becoming more infrequent, those that Catherine has trusted the most come up with a daring plan to save the family’s chance at keeping power – and a potential heir to one day rule as king. Although Catherine justifies it to herself largely on the basis that she always does what she’s been told, in her heart she knows there’s more to it than that.
There are those at court who are not happy with the Catholic Howards being so close to the king and it doesn’t take long for them to discover the information that they need in order to bring Catherine and her family down. Once all of her secrets are out, she is abandoned by her family to her fate. Catherine’s main concerns are for Thomas and for the king as she realizes she has broken his heart and she feels guilty for what she has done. In her confinement, she imagines being visited by her cousin Anne and they talk about their relative sins with Anne laughing that history will remember her, but not Catherine.
During our recent trip to London, we visited Hampton Court Palace where Henry found out the truth about his rose and walked the passage way to the chapel Catherine supposedly ran down in an effort to talk to Henry and explain what had happened. It is reportedly haunted by her ghost, but we didn’t see her! At the time of our visit there was an exhibit regarding Henry’s wives and one of the items on display was the infamous letter Catherine wrote to Thomas Culpepper. Seeing items like that reminded me that these were real people, and that makes the story of Catherine Howard all the more tragic.
Even though The King’s Rose is labeled a young adult book, I enjoyed it very much and I especially liked the portrayal of Catherine as more than a stupid young girl. Don't get me wrong, she's no rocket scientist in this book. But Libby gives her more credit than most fictional accounts I have read and as she plays her part in her family's charade and distracts herself with pretty dresses and jewels, I felt very sorry for her. At one point the Duchess gives her a hug and Catherine reveals that of all the things the Duchess has ever given her (most of which she never asked for) this is the one thing she wanted the most - and she realizes it will probably never happen again. How sad. Catherine was definitely in a situation way over her head for which she had been woefully unprepared and she did the best that she could – which is all anyone can do.
Rating: Very Good
The Warwick Heiress (copyright 1970) is a quick read (large print edition is 236 pages) set during the early years of the reign of Edward IV and is a story of loyalty, friendship, honor and love. It is told from the viewpoint of Piers, an orphaned young man who finds himself in the service of Richard, Duke of Gloucester after being of some help to one of Anne Neville’s ladies (Alicia).
From the book’s title and the blurb on the back, I expected the story to be about Anne and perhaps her early life and upbringing. It isn’t and in fact, she makes only a few token appearances. Instead, the focus is on the main events in the battle between Lancaster and York for the throne, and Piers is often in the thick of things, often a little too conveniently.
Piers is a likeable enough character who wants to do the right thing, even though he’s not always sure what that is and sometimes it means going against the Duke’s orders. Since Piers’ disobedience usually results in good things for Richard and/or Edward, he is quickly forgiven and given increasingly greater responsibilities. Unfortunately, Abbey creates in Richard not only the uneven shoulders, but also a twisted leg that causes him to “limp” into practically every scene. The reference to the alleged disability became a little annoying.
I’m not sure how likely it really was that a poor orphan could go from a stable boy to one of the Duke’s most trusted squires, but it makes for a nice little story and provides the focus for the last section as Piers fights for what he really wants.
This is a very high level look at the 1460's two prominent families fight it out for the country’s ultimate prize. As such, it is a good introduction to the era for anyone unfamiliar with it and with no sex, it would be a great book for a pre-or early teen who has an interest in the period.
Since I'm reading Robin Maxwell's Signora da Vinci, I had hoped to do a mosaic of Leonardo da Vinci. However since I couldn't find a portrait of him that I thought would make a good mosaic, I decided to do one of the other individuals in the book - Lorenzo de Medici also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. Born in 1449 he was a diplomat, a politician and a patron of the arts. He lived during the height of the Italian Renaissance and died in 1492. This portrait is by Girolamo Macchietti.
Sandwiched between the iconic George Washington (as the first president of the United States) and the revered Thomas Jefferson (the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence) is John Adams. History has not been especially kind to this country’s second president, relegating him to a place of little importance. David McCullough attempts to rectify this in his sweeping 2001 biography of the man who played a larger part in the American Revolution and its aftermath then he is generally given credit for.
Adams was born into a simple merchant family in Massachusetts and became a lawyer. He first gained notoriety as the lawyer who defended the soldiers from the “Boston Massacre”. A well-read, intelligent man who believed in the ideals of fairness, justice and liberty, he quickly found himself in the middle of the revolutionary movement and on the path to a lifetime of public service.
From Independence Hall to the courts of France, Holland and England, John Adams never compromised who he was or what he believed in. As he faithfully served his country his personal life (sometimes) and his public reputation (often) paid the price and took the brunt of criticism and ridicule. Always by his side (through countless letters if not physically present) was his wife Abigail. It is their letters that make up a considerable amount of the book. This is both a good thing and a bad one.
Through their letters to each other (as well as correspondence with family members and friends) I got a sense of who they were as people and an appreciation for the sacrifices they made for a cause they believed in. But at times, the number of excerpts strung together was a chore to read and the point being made could have been done so with less.
The same could be said for the middle of the book, devoted to the years when Adams (and at one point Abigail) lived in Europe as an ambassador for the Continental Congress and later, the United States of America. Even though they were important years, as Adams works to establish credibility and credit for the fledgling country and at times interesting in bringing to light the European forces that were at work during this time and how they impacted the success of the colonies, the level of detail was often excrutiating.
The book covers the friendship between both John and Abigail Adams with Thomas Jefferson - and how it sadly unravled over the years. I still find it fascinating that both of these men who were so critical in the founding of the United States died on the same day, July 4th, 1826 - 50 years to the day of the Declaration of Independence. McCullough also covers Adams work on the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts which he indicates is the oldest functioning written constituion in the world.
At almost 700 pages (plus an additional 100+ pages of endnotes and bibliography) this is no light read – it took me 2 weeks to finish it. But it gave me a greater appreciation for the sacrifices of those whose vision and dedication formed the basis for a revolution. But the real work came after fighting the British was over - when the fighting amongst themselves began and the great compromises that form our basis of government (notably Adams ideas of "checks and balances") were developed.
A true bibliophile: "But above all, except the wife and children, I want to see my books." From Adams journal during the early years of his law practice when he was on the court circuit.
The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart. Non-fiction. US release date June 1, 2009
The Kingmaker's Sisters by David Baldwin. No description is available. UK release date June 1, 2009. This will be released in the US in August.
A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin. Fiction about the Princes in the Tower told from the point of view of Elizabeth Woodville, Anthony Woodville, and a fictional modern historian. US release (paperback) June 2, 2009.
Jean Plaidy reissues -UK (only) release date June 4, 2009:
Madonna of the Seven Hills and - Lucrezia Borgia
The Scarlet Cloak - Philip II and the Spanish Inquisition
The Defender of the Faith - Religion in Tudor England
Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley. Story of Iron Age warrior queen set 2,000 years ago. I've read mixed reviews on this author's other works, but this one might be interesting. UK release June 4, 2009. This will be released in the US next month.
Sorry it has been a little quiet around here - we've been moving (again!) and are pretty much settled in. I have a couple of reviews waiting to be posted, which I'll be doing later this week. In the meantime, here's what the mailman delivered in May:
From Paperback Swap:
Child of the Phoenix by Barbara Erskine. I have never read any of her books but have heard some of them are pretty good.
The Warrior's Princess by Barbara Erskine.
The Love Knot by Vanessa Alexander. Fiction about one of the daughter's of Edward I, Joan of Acre, and her marriage-for-love to Ralph de Monthermer.
Within the Fetterlock by Brian Wainwright. Fiction about Henry IV.
Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes by Bertram Fields. Nonfiction.
From the Book Depository:
Blood Royal by Vanora Bennett. Fiction about Katherine Valois, wife of Henry V.
Henry VIII: Man and Monarch. This book contains pictures and descriptions of all of the items that are a part of the wonderful Henry VIII exhibit at the British Library in London. We went to see the exhibit during our recent trip to England and I just had to have the book. I ordered the hardcover and it is just gorgeous!
From the publisher:
Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliot. A retelling of the Tristan and Isolde legend. I've heard good things about this one.
The Sun in Splendour by Juliet Dymoke. Part of her series on the Plantagenets covering Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses.