Historical Fiction

Readerly Rambles: 23 March 2015

readerly rambles

What I Read: I finished Susan Higginbotham’s historical fiction novel Her Highness the Traitor at lunch. The novel is herhighnarrated by Frances Grey – mother of Jane Grey the nine-day queen – and Jane Dudley — wife of the Duke of Northumberland. The novel traces the Duke of Northumberland’s rise to power and his installation of his daughter-in-law, Jane, as queen of England, many executions, and Mary Tudor’s claiming of the throne of England. There have been many fiction and non-fiction accounts of the Tudor’s history, but I liked that this book was narrated by the two mothers. The women had very little power and instead had to rely on letter writing, flirtation, flattery, giving gifts and being a good hostess to enact any change or to advocate for their loved ones. I will say that the first half of the book felt a little muddled; the chapters switch back and forth from Frances Grey and Jane Dudley. Their “voices” are so similar and found that I often had to look back and refresh my memory on which narration I was reading. After a hundred or so pages I was familiar enough with the household and characters to determine the speakers. By the end of the novel, both women are fully realized and beautifully constructed characters and their sorrow and loss are felt. Although not my favorite Higginbotham novel, this is a good one and I recommend it to Tudor history lovers.

~~~ Stats ~~~

Started: 16 March 2015

Finished: 23 March 2015

Pages: 319


Owned/Borrowed/Library: Borrowed from interlibrary loan

Stars: 3.5 out of 5 stars


What I’m reading: I’ve already dipped into a new memoir called It was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell. I think I will either really like it or really hate it. It is a memoir about a woman coming to peace with her body and food after weight loss. I placed a request for it through interlibrary loan because I thought it was about a woman who lost weight and was still unhappy and realized it was her unhealthy relationship with food that was the problem. The back cover blurb is from the host of The Biggest Loser and I *hate* that show with every ounce of my tubby self. They perpetuate eating disorders, but that is a post for another day. I’ll let you know what I think next week.


What’s up Next: More Galsworthy and a Virago novel. The next Forsyte book is To Let and my Virago read for this month will be Mr. Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Let’s see if I can get both knocked out before the end of the month.

List Love: Ten Historical Novels I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read

list love
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a good one! Actually this is a list of Ten Standalone Historical Novels I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read. Talking about historical series is a whole other post.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (a murder mystery set in a 14th century Italian monastery)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (about the1832 uprising in France)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Great Depression)

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (1666 Plague)

The Black Arrow by Robert Lewis Stevenson (Wars of the Roses)

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland (a re-imagining of the Canterbury Tales)

The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George (yay Egypt!)

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson (10th century Vikings)

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (French Revolutions)
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears (1663 England)

I need to get on it! So many great books to read aghhhhhh!!!!

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

Here I am at the computer, reaching through brain fog to way way waaaayyyy back in the past to discuss one of the best books I’ve read this year:  Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour.  Actually, I finished the book 2 weeks ago, approximately 4 hours before my water broke and Atticus was on his way.  Even though this books wasn’t truly read eons ago — I feel like it is an ancient relic of my past reading life.  In other words, this isn’t going to be the most stellar review.  In fact, you can skip my inane babbling about how much I adored this book and just go read it.  Right. Now.  Go.  I’ll wait here.

For those of you who would like the challenge of reading a sleep deprived review written hastily before little man calls for his midnight snack, proceed with caution.

I’ve mentioned before that The War of the Roses is my latest historical obsession.  Earlier this year I read Susan Higginbotham’s terrific novel, The Stolen Crown, which concerns Elizabeth Woodville’s sister, Katherine, and her marriage to the Duke of Buckingham.  In this novel, Richard III is portrayed as evil, greedy, and murderous — essentially as history remembers him.  I’ve been wanting to read a mammoth Penman novel for some time, and I was ecstatic to hear about The Sunne in Splendour, a pro-Richard III historical novel.

To relate the plot would be daunting and if you are interested in this sort of novel you’re probably already familiar with the basics of Richard III’s life.  Penman is a true historian, the historical events make sense and the life of these medieval characters truly come to life.  One of my favorite aspects of The Sunne in Splendour was her attention to detail: I learned about weaponry, marriage customs, daily household activities, medicine, property laws, etc… within the pages of this novel.  I felt truly immersed in Richard III’s world.

The book is large (nearly 1,000 pages) and it took me several months to complete the book, but on the whole it felt like a quick read.  I was so engrossed that reading for several hours seemed to slip by quickly.  I would “wake up” from reading and felt as if I needed to readjust myself to modern life.

So quickly, now, get thee to a bookstore or library and grab this book.  I’m certain to be asking for more Penman for Christmas.

Alright, hasty review done and baby ready for some food!

September’s Reads

I’m trying to catch up on my book reviews in anticipation of Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon.  This is a surprisingly easy feat as I only read three books in September.  Granted, Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir was a sprawling 720 page non-fiction work, but, nonetheless, it still a puny number of reads.

I’ve already discussed the Weir book, so I’ll review my other two reads: The Anatomy of Deception by Lawrence Goldstone and The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Incidentally, both books count toward my RIP challenge!

Painting by Thomas Eakins, 1889. Cover art for The Anatomy of Deception

The Anatomy of Deception is a forensic thriller set in the medical community of 1889 Philadelphia.  The plot concerns the death of a young socialite and the subsequent death of a shady medical student.  Medical student and doctor Ephraim Carroll finds himself in the midst of a murder investigation, questioning his mentor, finding and losing love, and contemplating a huge career move to a new medical university, Johns Hopkins.

The story itself was gripping, I did find myself eagerly turning the pages and the medical details (especially of the autopsies) fascinated me.  My problem with the novel is that it felt a bit lazy in regards to the characters.  None of the characters truly came to life and they seemed to be stock figures:  “The Austere Victorian Medical Student”, “The Female Bohemian Artist”, “The Shady Fellow at the Docks”, and “The You-Know-I’m-The-Culprit Person.”  In fact, I guessed who was going to be the “bad guy”, but not because the character was fleshed out, it merely seemed like the only reason this person existed was to be thrown into the last quarter of the book and be pinned with the crime.    This book could have been so much better if it had been written by a more skilled author.

The second, slim book I read was The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels as a child and have recently decided to revisit them all.  I have to say that this is not my most favorite Holmes tale.  The story involves Holmes and Watson, a damsel in distress, a treasure, cryptic notes, and — of course — murder.  What particularly bothers me is the racism in the book.  Of course this is reflective of the time in which Doyle wrote but I think it a cop-out to *****spoiler alert ***** blame everything on the black guy.  There is another villain but he isn’t as “bad” as the restless, simple, violent, dark native.  (eye roll)

When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, I think the short stories are far better.  While Holmes’ character is fascinating, the other characters are lackluster.  Doyle’s skill is with plot, mystery, and deduction and these elements truly shine in the shorter tales.  With the novellas, I find the plot a bit watered down to make room for the characters.

I have a huge pile of books for October and I’m hoping to read at least seven on the pile, hopefully the Readathon will give me a leg up on my October reading!

Remembering August and Looking to September

Yesterday Hope stayed home from school because of a sore throat, sinus headache and some sniffles.  By two in the afternoon she was feeling much better and I began feeling crappy.  My throat hurts and I’ve been blowing my nose in Starbucks for the past hour (I’m sure the other customers are more than thrilled).

While I was feeling ill yesterday, I flipped through my journal and found something interesting.  On January 31st I listed accomplishments and memories from the month and then made another list of things I was looking forward to in September.  Seasonal allergies aside, there are many exciting things happening in September and August was a good month for me so I thought I’d revive the list.

Remembering August:

Sam's DIY Dali moustache...

Looking to September:

  • another baby shower
  • Hope’s soccer season begins
  • Carl’s R.I.P reading challenge (more on that later)
  • finishing the baby blanket
  • Autumn baking (pumpkin and apple everything)
  • leaves changing and cooler breezes
  • breaking out my Docs
  • getting internet at the house (hopefully next week)
  • baking bread with friends
  • completing the nursery
  • adoption finalized
  • library book sale
  • new embroidery projects
  • pumpkin spice lattes
  • black fingernail polish
  • childbirth class
  • crafting thank you cards
  • paying off my credit cards
  • Sam’s 29th birthday

I’m ready, September!

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

As a child I was homeschooled for a very long time — second grade until my junior year of high school — there were positive and negative aspects to being homeschooled, but one of the most positive elements was the concept of a Unit Study.  My mother had the flexibility to indulge me my nerdish wants.  Essentially, in our family, a Unit Study meant that I would spend a month (or sometimes more) studying a subject or time period to death.  During my “Native American” phase we built a teepee in the backyard — it was huge — and I embroidered symbols on burlap.  The “Explorers” phase began my girlhood crush on Sir Francis Drake and I was often distracted during Math because I was plotting Magellan’s path on the map above my desk.   My biggest ever phase was the “Queens and Kings of England” phase; I read constantly, designed my own heraldic arms, and beheaded my little sister on more than one occasion (pretend beheadings, of course).  Today’s teens agonize over Team Jacob and Team Edward; I was conflicted between choosing Team Queen Elizabeth and Team Mary Queen of Scots.

All this to say, that I still think in Unit Studies.  Last year — and yes it is still lingering — I was obsessed with everything Victorian.  However, most of this year I’ve been obsessed with British History (again).  Specifically, I find myself OBSESSED with the War of the Roses.  It all started when I read The White Queen last winter.  Now, having completed Susan Higginbotham’s The Stolen Crown.  I find waking up dreaming about the House of Lancaster and the House of York and the fight for the crown.  Yes, I am dallying between Team Lancaster and Team York.  I can’t decided if Richard III was evil or has been maligned by history.  Folks, I’m crazy over War of the Roses.

The Stolen Crown is truly what sealed the deal.  In this novel, Higginbotham follows Kate Woodville – younger sister of Elizabeth Woodville, wife to Edward IV – and her husband Henry (Harry) Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.  The historical research put into this novel is impeccable; anytime there is a lengthy list of characters, an in depth author’s note describing liberties and truths in the text, and a bibliography, I feel like I’m in good hands.

The particular genius of this novel is the title:  The Stolen Crown.  This can mean so many things.  If Elizabeth Woodville WAS NOT lawfully wed to Edward IV and Edward was indeed a bastard, then they stole the crown.  If every thing was legit, then Richard stole the crown.  And then there is all the in between attempted stealing (for example, George Duke of Clarence) and the beforehand stealing (all those prior wars and grievances) and the afterwards stealing Henry VII.  Of course, I’m using the word “steal” here in a facetious manner, I haven’t really figured out who REALLY deserved the throne and I doubt I will ever have an impenetrable argument for either side.

For those interested in The War of the Roses, The Stolen Crown is a wonderful place to begin.  I’ve plans to continue my obession, I’ve recently purchased Susan Kay Penman’s tome The Sunne in Splendour which is a pro-Richard III historical novel and I plan on reading Alison Weir’s non-fiction work The Wars of the Roses*.

To illustrate how fanatical I am, I’m actually thinking of a War of the Roses themed chest piece tattoo.  Yup, that’s obsession.**

* I’m currently reading Weir’s Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, but that is for another post.

** My friend Traci’s husband, also suggested I get a Katharine Howard tramp stamp tattoo.  LMFAO!