Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I'm stuck in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport for the next three hours, so what better to do than review a book that I absolutely loved reading!
It's pretty hard to go wrong with a novel by Alison Weir. She's a pro when it comes to anything Tudor related, not to mention her writing style is outstanding. Her descriptions allow the reader to imagine themselves right in the middle of what is going on in the story. I became completely lost (in a good way) in this novel.
Innocent Traitor was actually one of the first novels dealing with historical fiction that I had read, outside of Philippa Gregory or historical romance novels. I had no idea who Lady Jane Grey was, but I thought the book sounded good, so I ordered it. It's a book that will definitely stay in my permanent library.
Jane Grey was a young and very intelligent girl, who was related to the King of England, who at the time was Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII. There were plots to wed Edward VI to Lady Jane Grey, but Edward VI died at a young age, and Jane's ambitious family as well as Edward VI's Protestant advisors decided to push her forward onto the throne anyway (because she was somewhat in line for the crown.) The plan was to keep Mary I (Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon) off the throne. Edward had been Protestant, and on his death bed his will was changed naming Jane his successor to the throne, rather than his Catholic sister Mary I. Edward VI and his advisors strove to keep Mary I off the throne in order to keep the current religion intact.
Jane had no ambitions herself to the throne, but as a young girl she was at the mercy of her parents as well as other adults in power. Jane was forced to marry Guildford Dudley, and then forced to take the Crown of England, even though she believed that Mary I was the rightful heir to the crown, and that it was completely wrong for herself to be named Queen of England.
As I've said, I really didn't know anything about Lady Jane Grey, so I found myself rooting for her throughout the story. That said, the ending of the novel really got to me. I knew that King Henry VIII's daughter Mary became Queen, but I didn't realize under what circumstances, or the sad story of Jane until I finished the novel.
Although this novel tore at my heart strings, and bummed me out, it was still an amazing book. Jane may have only been Queen for nine days, but her story is one that will endure forever. Even though she was such a small part of history, the circumstances of her rise and fall are sad, but yet completely interesting. Anyone who is a lover of Tudor literature should definitely pick this book up.
Jane seems to be forgotten in the novel's that focus on the Tudor's, and I think it's awesome that Alison Weir chose to research and write about her life and death. There are hundreds of books about the other Tudor monarchs and also King Henry VIII's wives, but how many are there on Lady Jane Grey?
The decision that Mary I made in the end regarding Jane's life is heart wrenching (I actually teared up), and was one of the many events during Mary's reign which gave her the nickname "Bloody Mary." However, Jane alive would have continued to be used as a figurehead for people who opposed Mary I, in order to get people to rise up against Mary I's rule.
I find that I often have trouble getting into Alison Weir's novels that are strictly historical. I enjoy learning about important people in history, especially the Tudors, but I can't seem to get engrossed in her historical novels. However, her historical fiction novels are some of the best I've read, and her writing style and knowledge of the events of the time are the best out there!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Queen's Pawn by Christy English

I absolutely loved this book. Christy English effortlessly tells the story of Alais, Princess of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was such an enjoyable read, because the story was told from both sides. Not only are both Alais' and Eleanor's sides told, but the book is also written in first person, so the reader is able to get inside the character's heads in a way that one never could if the novel had been written in third person. Also, the way Christy English is able to bring the reader into the story, they are really able to understand Eleanor's feelings towards Alais. The reader is able to understand Eleanor's love for Alais, how it was much like the love one would have for a daughter, and how things changed when Alais became involved with Eleanor's husband King Henry II. This obviously created jealousy, not only because Eleanor and the King had once been deeply in love, but also because Alais was meant to be married to Eleanor and King Henry II's son, Richard.
Everything that I have read about Eleanor has pointed to the great love, ambitions, and protectiveness she had for her sons, so for her son's future wife to become her husband's (the King's) mistress was not only hurtful to Eleanor, but also to Richard. Eleanor may have been able to deal with the betrayal if she were the only one effected, but Richard was also betrayed, and so the betrayal went even deeper for Eleanor.
This was the first book that I had read about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I consider myself lucky to have read Christy English's novel about Eleanor or Aquitaine prior to any other book based on Eleanor's life. I have read novel's about Eleanor since Christy's, and none have made me feel as connected to her as this one.  After reading this book I searched all over the place for more novel's about Eleanor, and I also did some research on her life, and her son's lives. I've always loved reading novel's revolving around Anne Boleyn, but now I'm reading everything I can get my hands on about Eleanor!
I also really enjoyed learning about Alais, who was a Princess of France. I have to admit I was much more interested in Eleanor, but it was intriguing to learn about a person in history who I had only come across maybe one time prior to reading The Queen's Pawn, and the mention of her was no more than a sentence or two. I adore history, so anytime I learn something new I am excited. This novel not only introduced me to Alais as an important woman in history, but also gave me insight into her side of the story during the scandal between her and King Henry II.
I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or adores Eleanor of Aquitaine. I came across this book by chance when a website I belong to suggested it to me, and I couldn't have been happier with it. It only took me two days to read because it was impossible to put down!
I cannot wait to read To Be Queen by Christy English! Once I find an author I love, I tend to read everything I can get my hands on by them, and it will be no different with Christy's novels!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Super Duper News--Non-book related (well, kind of)!

I know I only have a few followers, but I had to share my awesome news! I live in NW Pennsylvania, and I have my Masters in Middle and Secondary English Education, so I'm certified to teach English 7-12. The town I'm from is in a recession, like most of the United States, so I've had trouble even getting interviews for a teaching position, let along a job! My sister lives in Phoenix, so I decided to put my resume out there and see what happened. I ended up being contacted by the principal of a K-8 school in Buckeye, AZ. Finally I was able to get time to come out there, and so here I sit in my sister's living room in Phoenix. I had an interview at the school this morning, and within 3 hours of leaving the school they called and offered me the job!! I am terrified of moving, but so excited to be teaching what I love, Language Arts. I am going in tomorrow to see my letter of intent, and I'm probably going to take it to my sister to look over, because she's a paralegal. The principal and the two other people who interviewed me loved me, and thought I'd be an amazing fit for their school. The town is beautiful, and well, the weather kicks ass here as compared to PA! I'm 99% sure I'm going to take the job! Finally, benefits and a salary, yay!
A friend of mine, who I graduated high school with, lives in Phoenix as well, so I'll know a couple of people out here. She's picking me up tonight to take me to dinner to celebrate!
I will be writing a couple of reviews coming up soon, hopefully tomorrow. I suppose that since I'm on vacation I should catch up on some of the books I've been wanting to write about! I'll be doing reviews on The Queen's Pawn by Christy English, Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, and Hugh and Bess by Susan Higgin Botham in the next couple of days!
I look forward to sitting down, and writing about those three books, because I absolutely adored all three of them!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Goodreads.com = Amazing

I have no clue how I didn't know about the site Good Reads before starting this blog! It's great, and it would have been so useful over the years had I known about it! I was always googling "historical fiction" trying to find new authors that I might be interested in reading. I'm the type of person who finds a book I love, and then I'll read every book that author has written. That would be why I've read all of Philippa Gregory, Robin Maxwell, Bertrice Smalls, Susan Higginbotham, and C.W. Gortner's books! Good Reads makes it so easy to find books that I like reading.
It's funny that I spent the past 15 or so years thinking that I was strange for loving historical fiction so much, and then I decide to check out blogspot (because I decided that I needed to start keeping track of the books I read), and I discovered that there are so many people out there who love historical fiction as much as I do, probably even more! My friends and family could never understand why I would want to read about Kings and Queens and other historical figures, hell, half my friends don't even know who King Henry VIII was or whether the Civil War or Revolutionary War happened first! I have always been fascinated by  history. I wanted to major in history when I went to college, but I knew it would be pretty much impossible to get a job. I ended up graduating with my B.A. in English Literature, so yeah, there were no jobs for that either (which is why I went back for my M.A. in Education!) I would love to teach history, but only if it was what I wanted to teach! I would despise teaching politics, but that's a part of being a Social Studies teacher now. Plus, the History teaching field is even more flooded than English, so it would be even harder to find a job.
Anyways, I'm rambling again. I am just extremely excited to find a couple of sites where I can finally share my love of reading historical fiction (and just reading in general). I love being able to read other's blogs, and I love Good Reads, because it allows me to see what other people, who have similar interests as me, are reading as well.
The only problem now is that I have about 15 books or more, sitting at home waiting for me to read them, and I want to read them all at once! I'm reading two books at the same time right now! I'm re-reading "A Clash of Kings" by George R.R. Martin, because the HBO show based on his series, "A Game of Thrones" begins in April, and I want to refresh myself with the books. I'm also reading Jean Plaidy's "A Murder Most Royal." I like it, but it's a little slow. It might seem a little slow because I've read around ten other books about Anne Boleyn, so everything in the book I've read or heard about Anne before. I guess I just thought it was going to be a lot more interesting than it is. I'm sure I'll finish it, but I wish I could put it down and start a new one! If I did that I'd end up forgetting everything I had read up to my stopping point, and have to start over again, so I just need to finish it. I think I'll read "A Clash of Kings" first though!

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham

This is definitely one of my top ten historical fiction picks. I had never read a book that really gave you the dirty, DETAILED details of what was going on with Edward II of England. Yeah, I read Braveheart, and it hinted at the debauchery that was going on with Edward II and Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser, and there have been other books that mentioned that he was a homosexual, but this book really went into it! I think that's why I liked it so much. It didn't beat around the bush, or hint at certain activities, it went straight to the nitty gritty! Susan goes into detail on the homosexual relations between Edward II and Piers, and she also goes into detail about Edward II's relationship with Eleanor Despenser (Hugh's wife) as well as his relationship with her husband Hugh! There was somewhat of a crazy love triangle going on at one point in the novel! Edward II definitely gets around in this book!
The novel starts out with Hugh and Eleanor getting married, and having a bunch of babies. Edward II is portrayed in the novel as historians portrayed him in life, which was as a weak King who gave too much to his favorites, and made poor decisions for his country. The people hated him as  King, and in return they also hated his favorites; and the fact that he bestowed so many gifts upon him. Susan tried to make Hugh seem like he was a decent guy, but it was a pretty impossible task, because Hugh Despenser was pretty much a villain while alive. His only redeeming quality in the novel is that he is shown as a good father and loving husband, well besides the fact that he was sleeping with the King behind his wife's back!
The book was pretty action packed, and it was hard to put down with the drama as well as the sexual misdeeds going on! After Edward II's affair with Piers ended (because Piers was exiled a couple of times and eventually ended up dead) Hugh and Edward started up their little affair. Of course none of this is proven, but it is believed that there was a sexual relationship going on between the King and Hugh, and historians seem to generally agree. In Susan's version, Hugh's wife Eleanor was unaware of what was really going on for the majority of the relationship, but who knows if she knew more than was let on in reality.
Towards the end of the book things come to a head. Isabel and Mortimer gather troops and rise up against the King to depose him. The people hate him, so they side with Isabel and her lover Mortimer (Isabel is Edward II's Queen, obviously not faithful), and the Queen and the people decide that they want to put his son Edward III on the throne and get rid of Ed the Second.
Hugh and Edward II make a desperate attempt to escape the country but end up getting captured and imprisoned. Hugh ends up dying a traitor's death with his guts being pulled out and all that nice stuff, and Edward abdicates the thrown in favor of his son Edward III in order to please the people. Edward II ends up dying mysteriously while under the care of some of Mortimer's men. Susan suggests that he was murdered by having a red hot fire poker shoved up through his ass into his innards (graphic, yes), but I don't think that anything about that was written down in a history book!
Overall, the book was great. I knew very little about Edward II before I read this novel. After reading "The Traitor's Wife" I felt like I had learned a great deal about that time period. Not only was I learning, but I was also being drawn in to all the crazy drama that was going on during that time, and in the character's lives. Since I wasn't very familiar with the time period of Edward II, there were some names of places and people that I had to look up, but other than that it was a good read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was the first book I had read by Susan Higginbotham, and I am hooked! I've ordered and read all of her available books, and i like them all. She's an awesome author, who obviously knows her stuff, and has a style of writing that keeps the reader interested, and also gives lots of detail without getting tedious. I'd definitely recommend this one!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Much like Gregory's book "The Red Queen," I liked it but didn't love it. I enjoyed learning more about Elizabeth Woodville, because it seems the majority of books mention her, but don't really get into much detail about her life. She's pretty much known as the mother of the "princes in the tower," and the mother of the future Queen of England, Elizabeth, who marries Henry VII and unites the Yorks and Plantagenets. She was also known to be absolutely beautiful, and her beauty caused Edward IV to fall in love with her almost at first sight, and marry her soon after, even though she wasn't royalty, and she was a widow who already had two children and was several years older than Edward IV.
I like that Gregory gave an in depth understanding of Elizabeth Woodville, because like I said, I didn't really know that much about her from other books she has been mentioned in. "The White Queen" was well written of course, and I think it was overall historically correct, but there were a couple of things that annoyed me. The first thing that was a little over the top for me, was the frequent references to Melusina. I guess she descended in some way from Melusina, who was some type of water goddess? Anyways, this brought kind of a fantasy element to the book, and it made it seem as though Elizabeth Woodville dabbled in witchcraft. I'm not exactly sure whether she did or didn't, but I'm thinking that people, especially women who were in the public eye, probably tried to stay away from witchcraft and the worshipping of a pagan goddess. I could be wrong on this one, but it was just a little annoying that she was casting spells and crazy stuff in this book! Another thing that bothered me, was the light in which Richard III was shown in. He is portrayed as an evil man who is overly ambitious and a murderer. I understand that there has been much debate on whether or not he killed the princes in the tower, but he really had no reason to do so, the boys had been declared bastards, so killing them wouldn't do anything to benefit him. However, I realize that there is still a huge debate over who would have had the best motive to kill the princes, and it is something that will never be figured out, so while I might be biased in the direction of it NOT being Richard III, there are many others who believe that it WAS him.
She comes across as kind of unlikable in this book, and sometimes it's hard for me to get into a book when I don't really like the main character. That wasn't really the case with this book though, because it was interesting to see who Elizabeth Woodville might have really been, and what she might have really been like. She's a fascinating woman, who obviously was ambitious and charismatic to have won Edward IV's heart, and to have kept it up until his death. Also, the fact that the royalty of England descended partly from her for over a hundred years to come is pretty fascinating.
This wasn't a book that I couldn't put down, but I did want to keep reading it, and to keep learning more about who Philippa Gregory believed she was as a person. I read "The White Queen" and "The Red Queen" back to back, and of the two books, I'd have to say I enjoyed "The Red Queen" more. I feel like Margaret Beaufort's life was more fascinating, and that she was a more cunning woman, who could match wits with any man of her time. I haven't done much research on either of the women these two books are written about, so I don't know how historically correct they are, but from Gregory's other books it seems like she does like to keep things more on the side of historical correctness than not. And although this book wasn't completely riveting, it did pique my interest about Elizabeth Woodville's life, and I have been looking into more books about her.

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

I really enjoyed this book by Philippa Gregory. I might be a little biased, because I pretty much love anything that Philippa puts out, but I thought it was pretty cool to get a new perspective on Margaret Beaufort. All of the other books that I have read that she played a major part in, or that she was mentioned in, portrayed her as an evil woman who more than likely had a hand in the two little princes murders (the princes int he tower). I had always thought of her as heartless, and unloving. This book portrays her as the opposite of what I had learned/read of her previously.
In "The Red Queen" she is shown to have pretty much lived for love of her son, and ambition for him to take the throne of England as the future King Henry VII. As the reader, you are given a glimpse into the pain and loss that she went through as the mother of the future King of England. Her son, Henry, was separated from her for most of his childhood and raised by her late husband's brother, Jasper Tudor. She gave birth to Henry when she was only 14 years old, and her husband died before he was even born. As I read the book I stopped viewing her as an over reaching, overly ambitious woman, and began to view her as a loving, devoted mother, who only wanted what was best for her son, and would do anything to make sure her son reached his goals.
Maybe she did have a hand in the death of the princes in the tower, maybe she was over reaching and overly ambitious when it came to getting her son on the throne of England, but I don't think she did it for herself, I believe that everything she did, good or bad, was for love of her son.
I would definitely recommend this book if you are interested in the Tudors. Obviously, this book gives a reader insight on how the Tudors came to be. It was a little slow at times, and if you know nothing about the Tudors or about the time period this book takes place in, then you're probably going to be a little bored and a little loss. I loved the book, but while I really enjoyed the book, because of the new perspective it gave me on Margaret Beaufort, it wasn't my favorite Philippa Gregory book. I'm glad that I read it however, and even though it wasn't a book that I couldn't put down, it did keep me interested for the most part. As always Philippa Gregory's writing style is amazing, and her descriptions make it possible for the reader to really imagine the castles, people, and gowns within the book. I wouldn't read it again, but I did learn a lot from it!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Captive Queen by Alison Weir

I really enjoyed reading this novel by Alison Weir. Weir's novels are usually non fiction, but when she does right a fictional novel they are good!

This was the first book I've read about Eleanor of Aquitaine's life and family. Reading about her life has definitely piqued my interest regarding her life, and I've been looking for other books about her. I have to say that her life fascinates me as much, if not more, than Anne Boleyn's, and I've been an avid reader of Anne for years!

Anways! This book details her life from her marriage and eventual divorce to King Louis VII of France, to her scandalous marriage and eventual estrangement to King Henry II of England. It was extremely interesting to read about what a strong woman she was, especially during a time period when the opinion of women was neither listened to nor respected. She caused a huge scandal by divorcing King Louis VII and going on to marry King Henry II shortly after. She was the most powerful woman in Europe during this time, and was very well-known, for good and for bad. Reading about the love affair she initially had with King Henry II and the birth of her children, as well as her great love for her children, and then the great betrayal she felt when King Henry II fell in love with "Fair Rosamund", was enough to make it impossible to put this book down. Not only did this book tell a great story about a powerful woman, but it was written in such a smoothly flowing way, that as a reader you became completely engrossed in the novel. It had enough of a love story, drama, and betrayal to forget that you were reading a novel that was based of historical facts. I knew very little about Eleanor of Aquitaine to begin with, so this novel was even more interesting to me, because I didn't know what was going to happen next! However, by the end of the novel I had a pretty solid understanding of who she was, her life, marriage, children, and also how things ended up for her. Reading about her also helped me to become interested in the lives of her children, especially Richard the Lionheart. Weir's writing style is fantastic, and her descriptions and dialogue are effortless. I try to read every every book that Weir puts out, because I know that I'll love it!

I must say that I enjoyed Gortner's novel on Queen Juana, "The Last Queen" a little more than this novel, but I think that is because he portrayed Queen Juana in a light that I had never seen before, so it made it that much more interesting. However, reading this novel definitely interested me in Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I will be keeping my eyes open for more books that have to do with her fascinating life!

Monday, February 7, 2011

My little library

When I get a little extra time I'm going to need to go through my historical fiction collection and write it down in here. Unfortunately, the books that I did not like were sold back on half.com. I keep the books I do enjoy for my future library, whenever that may happen! I figure that someday I'll own a nice house, and one room will be completely dedicated to books that I love (or like)! Right now my collection is mostly historical fiction, because obviously that's my passion, but I also have quite a few classics due to the fact that I'm an English Teacher, and well, I have to teach certain books!
I really wish that I had kept track of what I've read over the past few years. I know that I read over one hundred books per year, and usually it's a mixture of historical fiction and classics, but sometimes I'll throw in the random romance novel or Oprah's book club pick...lol. I also have a few books that are pretty much biography's of famous people or historical people that I admire or am interested in.
The oddest in my collection would probably be the romance novels. I used to huge into historical romance, and that's what actually got me interested in historical fiction! I started reading Bertrice Smalls, and she incorporated historical facts in with her steamy sex scenes. However, after awhile, steamy sex scenes get boring, so I ran into a Philippa Gregory novel ( I do believe it was "The Other Boleyn Girl"), and I loved it so I read all of Gregory's books. When I was done with her books I realized that I wanted to read more books that were similar to hers, so then I found Robin Maxwell, Jean Plaidy, Alison Weir, Carolly Erickson, etc.
Another random would be the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R.R. Martin. I wrote about his first book "A Game of Thrones" in here. I never thought I would enjoy anything that was fantasy based, but his books are so well written that you can actually believe the things in the novel have actually happened hundreds of years ago! It almost seemed like I was reading historical fiction, but with a crazy twist! I'm actually re-reading his second book right now. The books are massive, like 800 pages, but they are so well written and exciting that it's hard to put it down, so you fly through the books. It's definitely nice to have his books on hand lately since I've been subbing a lot in the high school, and having a good read makes the day go by sooo much faster!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wideacre by Philippa Gregory

Ok, so Wideacre is kind of a series that Philippa Gregory did, and it's amazing! You probably should be open to reading about some seriously twisted stuff in order to like the series though! It's made up of three books; Wideacre, The Favored Child, and Meridon. I do believe it takes place during the 1700's in England. Gregory has a knack of being incredibly descriptive without the reader even being aware of it. Her descriptions flow so smoothly, and fit so well into the story that as a reader you aren't trying to skip through the descriptions and get to the good stuff. She does it effortlessly, and it's evident in all of her books. I've read every one of her books, and although I may not love all of them, I do think they are all well written!
Anyways.....Wideacre deals with a brother and sister, and the sister, Beatrice Lacey's, obsession with the land, and her dismay over the fact that because she's a girl she can never own the land in her own right, even though she feels as though she is the rightful owner b/c of her love and understanding of the land and it's people. In order to get what she believes is rightfully hers she schemes and lies and ends up destroying herself and everything around her trying to get what she wants, the land. Philippa gives the reader such a good view of Beatrice's mind, and why she's doing the things she does, that it's hard to see her as evil, even though she obviously does become evil by the end. It shows how Beatrice's obsession with Wideacre essentially pushes her to insanity. I just love Philippa Gregory's writing style. At the end you're not rooting for Beatrice, but you understand her.

There definitely are some pretty hot sex scenes in this book, which Philippa has in many of her books. It's a little twisted b/c there is incest in this series, so it is a little shocking at first. I've actually read this series twice, and I rarely read books twice unless I absolutely love them. It was just the right mix of history and drama to make it impossible for me to put the book down!