9

A New Favourite: Three Sisters, Three Queens

A few years ago, I got really excited because one of Philippa Gregory’s new books was billed as her first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl.

As you may recall, I loved The Other Bolyen Girl – it was my Philippa Gregory gateway drug. But The Kingmaker’s Daughter, although technically about the Neville sisters, was mostly about men making decisions around women.

In short, I didn’t like it.

I’ve tempered my expectations when it comes to Gregory of late. Most of the time, I take her books out from the library.

But, I think she might be hot again. Because The King’s Curse, The Taming of the Queen and now, Three Sisters, Three Queens were all amazing.

I didn’t post about The Taming of the Queen when I read it but know that Gregory’s depiction of Henry VIII’s clever final wife is excellent. Henry VIII as a stinking, cranky, brute of a man is vividly brought to life as poor Katherine Parr is forced into marriage with him and just wants to survive. I loved it – although finishing the book was bittersweet as you leave Katherine momentarily happy but if you are a student of history, you know she’s headed for a sad ending all the same.

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Three Sisters, Three Queens is mainly about Margaret Tudor, but Gregory weaves Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor (the Dowager Queen of France, not Mary I) into the story as well. This is incredibly effective for a couple of reasons: Katherine’s story has already been told and Mary’s wasn’t that interesting and this allows Gregory to play with the sister dynamics that are so fascinating given their statures and the times they lived in.

I had no idea about Margaret Tudor but now I love her. She was married off to the King of Scotland, James IV when she was barley 14. She was sent to live in Scotland, among a completely foreign court, forced to accept her husband’s many illegitimate children. When her husband was killed (on the orders of her sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon who was acting as regent for Henry VIII), she became regent for their son, James V.

But then she went and married this guy, Archibald (Earl of Angus) and the rest of the Scots were like “right, you forfeited the regency by marrying him so we’re in charge now.” She spent the next 10 years fighting for her right to be regent, fleeing anytime it looked like she was in danger. Her marriage, to a younger man who she had married for love, complicated her ambition as his family was knownto be in the employ of the English, working for personal gain, against Scotland.

Throughout the novel, Margaret and her sisters write each other letters, admonishing each other over matters of state, faith and family, the loss of children, troubles in their marriages, the changing borders. Their sisterhood is complicated by their status as queens, as each fights for her kingdom, her children and her happiness.

When I posted about this book on instagram, I said that it elevated the historical fiction genre. I stand by that. Gregory has written a fast-paced interesting book about women that history pits against each other. Viewed through Gregory’s lens, you see that these women were as much a product of their times as the men they were married to.

PS This one was recently released in paperback!

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18

A Historical Fiction Win: The King’s Curse

Uncharacteristically I’ve been away from the blog for a while! I got really sick, which luckily only happens once every couple of years but when it does happen it is usually pretty terrible. I didn’t even have the energy for reading, so you know it was bad. It did give me a chance to take down two seasons of The Mindy Project though so it wasn’t all bad. That said, here’s a return to our regular programming.

Many years ago I read The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. And then I read The Queen’s Fool and the Wideacre books (I’ve said it before and I will say it again, those books are messed up) and anything else she had written and when any new book came out, I bought and read that too. Somewhere around The White Queen my interest started waning. By the time we got to The Kingmaker’s Daughter I thought that I was done with Gregory for good. I still read The White Princess though. And at a library sale where The King’s Curse was available for $2, I still bought it.

But you guys? The King’s Curse was SO GOOD.

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Margaret Pole is one of the last York heirs. She is the daughter of George, the Duke of Clarence, the one who was executed in a cask of wine. So her father is dead, her brother was in the tower for years, his only crime being the fact that he was a York when the Tudors took the throne. Then her brother is executed as well and Margaret is married off to a knight, to hide the fact that she is in fact a York heiress. Margaret is friends with her cousin, Elizabeth of York, the new Queen. It is Queen Elizabeth who confides in Margaret that she is afraid that there may be a curse on her own family -that she and her mother cursed whoever had murdered her brothers in the tower, that all their sons should die and the line end with girls. Margaret’s husband is the steward of Prince Arthur, the Prince of Wales and it’s their job to look after him and his young wife, Princess Katherine of Aragon. When Prince Arthur dies soon after he is wed, Katherine makes Margaret promise to keep it a secret that they ever consummated their marriage. This is also when Margaret begins to be dogged by the whispers of the curse.

So begins Margaret’s life at the new Tudor court. Always aware that she is a York, heiress to the the real royal family of England and how dangerous that is with suspicious Henry VII on the throne. When her husband dies, leaving her with 4 young sons and a daughter to look after, Margaret desperately sends her two eldest sons to the household of a York cousin, one son to live with a religious order and keeps her daughter and youngest son with her to live in a nunnery.

However, when Henry VII dies and his son, that laughing golden boy Henry VIII becomes king, live changes again for Margaret. This time she and her sons must carefully navigate the ups and downs of life under a king who no one says no to, who is so desperate for God’s favour in the form of a son to carry on the destiny, that he will do just about anything.

Here’s the difference from The Kingmaker’s Daughter and The White Princess: the reigns of Henry VII and VIII are fairly peaceful. That is there are no huge wars that men need to fight on battlefields, leaving their wives and daughters at home. The battles in The King’s Curse are fought with gossip and intrigue and that is very much a woman’s game. With her husband dead and a place at court, Margaret Pole becomes the head of her family, her sons looking to her for what they should do next. She is a woman to be reckoned with and even Henry VIII knows it.

I loved this book. I loved reading about a woman who knows herself and wants to bring honour to her once great family again. I loved that she was the one that her sons looked to for approval and answers, that she ran her own houses and fortunes, that she was the one who arranged marriages and appointments for her children.

Margaret Pole was a real person who suffered cruelly at the hands of Henry VIII in the end. I loved reading her story and am hopeful that this book marks a return to the kinds of historical fiction I can’t get enough of from the incomparable Philippa Gregory.

22

Book Hoarding: Tales from the Front Line

For months I tried really hard to curb my book buying. And for the most part, I was successful. I borrowed from friends, and went to the library more often but I didn’t buy too many new books.

And then we came back from our trip and I lost my damn mind.

In the span of two short days, I managed to get three book trips in. One was a library sale (a stack of books for $3.50!) but the others were not. Want to know what all I got? Don’t tell my husband.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. Money well spent. I loved it.

The House of Dolls by David Hewson. I posted about how much I wanted to get this book. And then I basically went out and got it. It was pretty alright. I really liked the fact that it takes place in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a good setting for crime fiction! The whole thing was suffused with a real sense of “Dutch-ness” that I appreciated.

Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy. I love Maeve Binchy and I like to always have some on hand for a) a rainy day or b) when I need to reset my book mojo. So when I saw it at the library sale I got it only to realize when I got home that I had already bought a copy of it. So…anyone want a copy of Scarlet Feather?

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James. I loved her other books, especially The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. It was $5 at the bookstore, my friend and I both bought a copy.

The Legacy of Grazia dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park. I don’t think I ever posted about the first book, The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, but I really loved it. It had been a while since I’d read really great historical fiction and that first book kind of restored my faith in the genre. The second book is mercifully shorter but after the surprising ending of the first book, I’m all kinds of curious about the second book. Did I mention the author is an octogenarian?

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope. I’m not sure why but I’ve been in the mood to read Trollope recently. I keep hearing about him and I’ve only ever read The Way We Live Now but it was great. This story about a woman who wants to become a countess and marries a wealthy Lord and six months later he claims that the marriage never occurred, he has a living wife, she was only ever his mistress and the child she carries illegitimate – it sounds Victorian awesome.

Elizabeth & Leicester by Sarah Gristwood because I take every opportunity to expand my Royals library and I haven’t read about the Tudors recently.

The Astronaut’s Wives Club by Lily Koppel. I’d been interested when this first came out but when I heard it was going to be a TV show, it shot back up in the priority line.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. I can’t get enough of Liane Moriarty. It started when Big Little Lies was a book club book and then I finally read The Husband’s Secret – my friend had been after me to read it for months. What Alice Forgot will be my next fix. Hopefully Moriarty is working on something else…

Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery. I’m still working my way through the series and this is the next book and I didn’t have it.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. The Woman in White is part of my TBR Pile Challenge so obviously I needed The Moonstone for when I love The Woman in White.

Servant’s Hall by Margaret Powell. This is the follow-up to Below Stairs about what life was like for servants in the great Victorian houses.

The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory. I can’t seem to quit her, even after she keeps disappointing me. Maybe this one is a return to her greatness?

Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris. Even though I’ve read biographies on Audrey Hepburn before I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much Hepburn.

You know how sometimes you know something is bad but you don’t know something’s bad until it’s staring you in the face? I’m in so much trouble…

24

Book rut or bad luck?

I went away for an extended weekend and was so excited to bring a bag full of books with me to read. Days and days worth of uninterrupted reading time? Please. This is the stuff book nerd dreams are made of. I tend to put more thought into what books I’m bringing on any trip than what I will be wearing. Sometimes it’s a plane trip and that kind of reading is going to be vastly different from a car trip. Lake side reading is going to be different from foreign locale reading you know?

Anyway, it’s been quiet around here because I left town and access to internet.

I also feel a little bit like I squandered my reading time with poor book material. It’s not that any of the books I brought were bad but none of them particularly grabbed me and most of the time I was hoping to finish the book I was reading so that I could start something else. This is no way to spend uninterrupted reading time!

When we went away I was in the middle of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth. I was promised that this tale of a young seamstress who falls in love with a rich guy and then gets pregnant by him before she is abandoned was the perfect Victorian novel. And in many ways it was: examination of the class system and the role of women? Check. Characters obsessed with the idea of doing and being good? Check. Idealized portraits of hard lives? Total check. But Ruth lacked any of the spunk or “vigour” that I’ve come to expect from my Victorian heroines and all we’re left with is a crappy life where a woman is punished for something that she definitely didn’t make happen all by herself.

I thought that Philippa Gregory’s The White Princess would probably make excellent holiday reading, it falling firmly in my categorization of “guilty pleasures.”  But it, like its predecessor The Kingmaker’s Daughter, frustrated me with its tale of things happening around a woman. Elizabeth of York is struggling to find her family’s footing in a world with a Tudor on the throne. When Henry VII makes good on his pledge to marry her and unite the warring families, she must figure out where her loyalties lie. But Henry VII is horrible to her, forcing himself on her before they are wed to ensure that she isn’t barren and never trusting that she isn’t trying to screw him and put her family back on the throne. The entire time they are dogged by the ghost of her brother who was supposed to die in the tower. Gregory definitely thinks that it was Henry VII (or his mother) who made the Princes in the Tower disappear. Once again we’re treated to a history lesson of all the battles and men that made history while the women, even Queens, sat at home sewing and popping out babies.

As our holiday was winding down I started reading Sarah Bradford’s Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy. I had read Bradford’s biography of King George VI and really enjoyed it. I’m still trying to make my way through Lucrezia Borgia and it seems like a case for a Do Not Finish. I have a hard time putting a book aside so this should tell you how much I’m not enjoying it. I think part of the issue is that it’s probably really hard to put together a complete picture of a Renaissance woman; the information available can’t be super complete. But I’m getting really tired of letter fragments and all the things that all the men around her did. If I wanted to read a biography of the Borgia men, I would have picked up a biography of the Borgia men.

The one book that I did manage to enjoy was the Agatha Christie book I brought along, Cat Among the Pigeons. But then when does Mrs. Christie ever disappoint? (Never. The answer is never.)

What do you think? Book rut or bad luck?

21

I exercised zero control at the library!

I’m getting married in just under three months. Let’s just take a moment and think about how insane that is.

Sh*t’s getting real. And expensive. I may or may not have fallen off the book buying ban wagon. I have been exercising zero self control but it’s time to get my butt back to regular library trips.

So I went to the library and it was awesome. Every time I go back to the library after a lengthy absence I’m blown away all over again that all of these wonderful books are available to me for free. There is nothing better than free books.

I wandered around and started grabbing books left and right. Finally, a place where I don’t need to exercise any self control! I never get any of the Speed Reads. I don’t like the pressure. But good lord, if I was ok with that, there are so many books on those shelves that I want. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

This is the point in the blog post where I tell you about the books that I got at the library!

Every time I go, I always get an Agatha Christie. It’s probably official library policy somewhere: when one visits, one must take home one Agatha Christie mystery. This time was no different and I got Cat Among the Pigeons. I’d never heard of this one but the cover was purple and that was enough of a reason for me.

While I was in the Mystery section anyway, I poked my head around the Rs and wouldn’t you know it? Ian Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible was there. Multiple copies! Mine.

Last year I realized that I loved Elizabeth Gaskell. But I thought I had already read all of her work (Cranford, Mary Barton, Wives and Daughter, North and South) but I was wrong! There was still Ruth to love! That too was added to my pile.

When I finished The Kingmaker’s Daughter, I found myself intrigued by The White Princess, despite my best intentions. I didn’t love The Kingmaker’s Daughter but the end was so…unfinished. I knew I’d eventually have to read the follow up. I haven’t come across it at very frequently – it was one book that I knew I wasn’t going to buy. But it was waiting for me at the library this time.

I keep hearing amazing things about The Storied Life of AJ Fikry. I’ve come across it in bookstores and I haven’t bought it. I ended up finding it tucked in among piles of books just returned and decided that it was the perfect time to actually read it. I can’t wait to get to this one.

I’m watching The Borgias with Jeremy Irons on Netflix right now and loving it. There’s a lot of really cool history happening but it’s an era that I’m not familiar with. I don’t know very much about different popes or the kings, dukes and leaders of Italy as it was; Italian history in general actually. The show has made me want to know more and when I found a biography of Lucretzia Borgia (one of my favourite characters on the show) I needed to have it. I suspect that this will be one of those times I’m sad that I didn’t buy the book.

Finally, I grabbed a biography of Queen Anne. I know about as much about the Stuart monarchs as I do about Italian history and I’m looking forward to remedying that.

What do you think of my library haul? Have you read any of them?

7

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

I love historical fiction. A good bodice ripper? Nothing wrong with that.

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For a long time, Philippa Gregory was my go-to for great historical fiction with a hint of the scandalous (seriously, have you read the Wideacre books? You’d be so embarrassed if someone read that over your shoulder). The Other Boleyn Girl was fantastic (aside from that whole wideacremovie debacle), I loved The Queen’s Fool, devoured the Wideacre trilogy (I have problems), and at this point have basically read everything she’s ever written.

This sort of blind devotion can be problematic. It means that I have several of her more recent works that I didn’t enjoy but had to buy because it was new Philippa Gregory and I was jonesing for a Tudor hit. The Red Queen, The White Queen, The Lady of the Rivers – these more recent titles have not been hitting that sweet spot.

OK fine, a lot of these have to do with the Cousins’ War (more commonly known as the War of the Roses) and focus on the Yorks so that might explain the lack of Tudors. But actually the Yorks are arguably more interesting than the Tudors. The Tudors have been done to death but the Yorks! The Yorks still have some life in them.

When The Kingmaker’s Daughter came out, I thought that this would be different. I don’t know anything about Isabel and Anne Neville. I had a vague recollection that they married Edward IV’s brothers but that’s as far as my Neville girls’ knowledge went. This would be the perfect antidote to my Philippa Gregory fatigue – she can do anything and I won’t already know where this is headed.

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The Kingmaker’s Daughter is billed as Gregory’s first “sister story” since The Other Boleyn Girl and it is definitely about sisters and all the drama that goes with that. Except drama that could end in becoming a Queen, or being the lady-in-waiting. Isabel and Anne Neville are the daughters of the man they call the Kingmaker, instrumental in putting the new Edward IV on the throne (while the old king, Henry V was imprisoned in The Tower). Daughters of a man like this know that their destinies are in his hands and he will do with them whatever he thinks will benefit him the most.

So there were a number of wars, many many changes in fortune, beheadings, probable poisoning, imprisonment and even a genuine love match and still, this book did not do it for me. The whole time it felt like things were happening to Anne (who is really the main character in the whole thing) and she goes along with it because she’s a woman and that’s what happens. Even all the wars and the history that is happening – she tells you that it’s happened but she’s never a part of it. It’s always after the fact.

I read the epilogue where Gregory says that she wanted to write a story about a woman that made her own decisions, that was a player in this crazy game for power and I was thinking where is that story? This was not that story!

I felt kind of ripped off to be honest. Where was the sex? The frenzied, forbidden, in dark corners sex? That used to be a hallmark of a great Philippa Gregory novel – where did it go?

She did leave me intrigued enough with Elizabeth of York to be kind of curious about her next book The White Princess. But overall I was glad that this time I got her book from the library.

PS There is the matter of The White Queen having been turned into a TV show. This I can get behind!

0

Coming Soon

Even though it’s likely to be a while before I can rationalize buying a new book (the library has become my new best friend), I still like to know what’s coming out so that I can add things to my list. I’m obsessive about my list (confession: I have a book journal). This morning I saw that one of my favourite authors, Marian Keyes, has a new book coming out. Which made me curious about who else is about to release a new title.

So I did a little research. We’re heading into the Fall so you know some good ones are going to be released shortly. Here is a (by no means complete) list of some of the books I will be looking out for (and lusting after):

First up: Marian Keyes’ The Mystery of Mercy Close. Those of you that have read any of the books featuring the Walsh sisters will be thrilled to hear that this newest book features Helen Walsh. Helen! The baby! The one that’s always up to no good finally gets her own book! If you want to reacquaint yourself with any of the other Walsh sisters, check out (in no particular order): Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, Angels, or Anybody Out There. In the meantime, Keyes is releasing an e-book: Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family. The Mystery of Mercy Close is set to be released by Penguin Canada on October 30 2012.

Ken Follett is set to release his second book in the Century Trilogy in September 2012. For us Canadians, the date is September 18th. Mark it down. Winter of the World will pick up the stories of the five interrelated families – in Russia, America, Germany, Wales and Britain – that we encountered in Fall of Giants. Ken Follett is a master story teller of epic tales and I cannot wait for Winter of the World to come out. Incidentally, if you were a fan of The Pillars of the Earth miniseries, the sequel series, World Without End will start airing on Showtime September 4th.

Nearly three years ago, Gretchen Rubin showed us small practical ways that we could increase our personal happiness. She’s at it again, this time tackling bigger issues when it comes to the relationships with those closest to you. Happier At Home still focuses on small practical ways to increase happiness, but in terms of bigger issues like raising happy children, maintaining a loving relationship with one’s spouse and how one can prevent a smart phone from taking over. I loved The Happiness Project and I’m looking forward to September 4th when Happier At Home will be available in stores.

Obviously I’m still anxiously awaiting the release of JK Rowing’s adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. In case you’d forgotten, it’s due to be released on September 29th.

Finally, in case you’re jonesing for a new title to run out and get right now, Philippa Gregory has released The Kingmaker’s Daughter, her first sister novel since The Other Boleyn Girl. Although I have been underwhelmed by some of her more recent releases (The Red Queen, Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen all come to mind), when I see her name, I can’t help myself. The ‘Kingmaker,’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick was always such a shady character and whenever sisters and marriage and thrones are involved, well, Gregory tends to be at her best.

What new book are you most looking forward to?