Book Review: The Tudor Crown by Joanne Hickson

A compelling novel of the Tudors from the best-selling author of The Agincourt Bride.

The thrilling story of the first Tudor king, Henry VII and his fight for England’s crown.

Henry Tudor’s rise to the throne of England is one of the most eventful and thrilling episodes from England’s royal history. Joanna Hickson weaves a compelling tale of Henry’s grueling bid for kingship; encompassing exile, betrayal and intrigue, Henry faced obstacles at every turn. With her superb storytelling abilities, the author gets at the man behind the crown and delivers a dramatic and fascinating historical narrative.

Direct from the Publishers HarperCollins.

I’ve read few books on the Henry VII, as his predecessors (Richard II, Henry V) and his successors (Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth) seem to get more focus and are perhaps more “glamorous”?  It is, however, Henry VII that comes back from exile in France to battle Richard II at Bosworth where – SPOILERS! – Richard is killed (and later found buried under a carpark).

The majority of the books alternates between Margaret Beaufort (Henry’s mother) and Henry himself. Being Lancastrian, and the mother of someone with a claim on the English Crown, Margaret’s status at court is tenuous at best, and little improved by her third marriage and her sworn allegiance to Richard.

Much of the book details the precarious early times as Henry escapes across the English Channel and lands in northern France. At the time France was not a united country and much of the north coast was either aligned more to England than to France, or decided that they were making their way as their own Dukedom. Henry remains as a “guest” of his French Cousin, though everyone is aware that he is being kept essentially as a bargaining tool and possible ransom. However, he is allowed to learn to ride, hunt and fight, which serves him well later in life.

We read about the attempts to sacrifice him back to the English, the long wait to have him rescued, and the gathering of troops for his return to England and face his uncle at Bosworth.

Meanwhile we also see how life is for his mother under a king who doesnt trust her, whilst she falls in and out of favour with the Queen.  Henry was her only offspring from her first husband – she was around 14 if memory serves me right – and her second marriage was without offspring. The third marriage, which we see early in the book, is a political match made by someone else. It is a fine balancing act since her husband ends up close to the king, but whose sons are already kept under ransom in the King’s houses.

The story ends with the Battle of Bosworth, where Henry is now seen as a grown man and effective leader and fighter.

So: this was a decently written and presented story that tells of a time that we should know more about (and which might pick up after the discovery of Richard’s body several years ago)

 

About this author

Joanna Hickson became fascinated with history when she studied Shakespeare’s history plays at school. However, having taken a degree in Politics and English she took up a career in broadcast journalism with the BBC, presenting and producing news, current affairs and arts programmes on both television and radio. Now she writes full time and has a contract with Harper Collins for three historical novels. The Agincourt Bride is the first. She lives in Scotland in a 200 year old farmhouse and is married with a large extended family and a wayward Irish terrier.
Joanna likes people to join her on Twitter (@joannahickson) or Facebook (Joanna Hickson) and says if you can’t find her she’ll be in the fifteenth century!

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Book Review: Confessions of a Courtesan by Elizabeth Charles

Based on the true story of Elizabeth Armistead, one of the most notorious and successful courtesans of 18th century England.

From the harsh streets of London, Lizzie Cane rose to become the celebrated mistress of earls, dukes, and even a prince! Then at the height of her career, she risked everything she had struggled to gain by breaking the courtesan’s cardinal rule…Never fall in love.

Another, average freebie from Amazon, and less unsettling than the last one in its premise.  This is a fictionalised version of the real courtesan Elizabeth Armistead (born Crane), who crawls out of the gutter to become a whore, then a courtesan, and then the wife of the politician Charles Fox.

Details of the working life in a brothel is relatively detailed, but the sex details soon disappear and are largely ignored. The list of her conquests is long and a tad confusing when you are trying to remember who is who. The size of the circles she ends up in is fairly small, so the same people end up going around with the same “fallen women” and it’s not long before everyone is pretty much sleeping with everyone else’s exes. The one that upsets Armistead the most is Perditia Robinson, who inspires extreme jealously in Armistead, especially when she is out with a current or previous patron.

The book starts and ends with the warning that a courtesan must “never fall in love” as if there is some foreshadowing of some great calamity/ies for Armistead if she doesn’t heed the warnings. Far from it it seems. As she gets older she realises that she has fallen in love with her friend Charles Fox, and they finally settle down and get married (albeit in secret). The biggest “disaster” this seems to entail for Armistead is that she has to settle down (with someone with dubious levels of debts) and not actually sleep around.  Much of the book also references America trying for independence, and the general politics going on in Britain at the time.

This is clearly made for the American market, with little consideration for the market outside of this, as I can tell from one of my bugbears in these kinds of books. Despite stating the author had done “large amount of research” all characters referred to the season of “autumn” as “fall”. It was repeated multiple times in this book. It is a purely American word and not used in England to describe the season. (In other recent Romance novels I’ve come across Regency English people announcing that somewhere was “only a block away” (it’s not a measure of distance the Brits use).

So in summary: Not the worst (creepiest) Romance I’ve read recently, an annoying Americanism that kept interrupting the flow of the story, and a romp through a turbulent time in British history.

 

Book Review: Pompeii by Robert Harris

All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world’s largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta’s sixty-mile main line—somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius—decent, practical, and incorruptible—promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work—both natural and man-made—threatening to destroy him.

This was the first non-ebook of the year, and had been on my reading wishlist for a while, so it was good to finally get my hands on a copy. I’ve always had “a thing” for volcanoes and I visited Pompeii a few years ago, so it seemed natural to want to read this.  I’ve read several of Harris’ books before (e.g. Fatherland) and quite like his style.

The story starts 4 days before the eruption of Vesuvius, where Attilius has recently arrived in Misenum to look after the aqueduct. He finds that the previous engineer (Exomnius) disappeared several weeks before and no one is admitting to knowing, or caring, what happened to him. The first sign that something is wrong with the water is the death of a pool full of fish – expensive and mainly decorative, the loss of face is made worse by the fact that it is the feast of Vulcan, where tradition states that live fish are sacrificed onto hot coals. It is whilst the slave responsible for looking after the fish is being fed alive to the pool of eels that Attilius interrupts the “show” and determines that the fish died through poisoning – the water from the aqueduct has been tainted with sulphur.

From then it’s a race to find out where the problem with the aqueduct is (Attilius makes an educated guess that it’s somewhere around Pompeii and Vesuvius) and fix it before the water in the Bay of Naples dries up. Therefore he manages to get to Pompeii and persuades Pliny to grant him permission to investigate further.  In doing so, Attilius comes up against the worst of society: the ex-slave who has become one of the richest men in the area due to corruption and brutality (he’s also the father of Attilius’ love interest); the weak and feeble local council members who are too scared to make a decision, or stand up to the man they despise the most; the work-gang leader who resents Attilius’ presence. He also comes upon Pliny, who is still well known (in some circles) for his extensive volumes of works, including a real time description of the eruption.   Attilius also gets to find out what happened to Exomnius and what he knew, both as an Engineer and a Sicilian (where they had paid attention to when Etna erupted).

Some parts of the book are stronger than others……..Attilius’s belief in Roman Engineering, understanding that a failure in the water supply would undermine most of the confidence in the Empire; Pliny (a known narrator of Vesuvius’s explosion) and his logical and factual belief in reporting what *is*;  the understanding of some as to the effect of a lack of water would have on the “mob” etc. There are things that are a little less strong – the love interest (which was too short and shallow); the local council members were lightly sketched, and it was difficult to see how they had got to the position whereby they could be dominated so completely by an ex-slave.

On the whole, a reasonable thriller, set against a known historical fact, that had a couple of things that could have been tightened up a little, but I’m glad to have read it.

 

 

Book Review: The Heritage by DJ Presson

Nick and his sister Anne know well the cruel justice of King Charles I and the dangers of speaking out against the Crown. Burning with righteous passion for the cause of political and religious freedoms, hotheaded Nick fights against royalist forces with Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army while his talented sister, Anne, works with their father to print illegal pamphlets in a tiny shed hidden on Lord Owen’s land. The fruits of their rebellion are realized when they are witnesses to the historic trial and execution of the bloodthirsty monarch, but their hopeful outlook for peace in the Commonwealth and Anne’s wedding day is shattered by the tragic death of their five-year-old sister. The arrest of Lord Owen’s wicked son Rupert for the crime begins a chain of events that entwine their lives, leading to a night of violence that irrevocably seals their fates, and they must embark on a dangerous voyage across the sea to a new beginning in the English colony of Virginia. With brilliant descriptions and lyrical prose, novelist D J Presson conjures the vibrant world of 17th century England in her stunning new novel of love and heartbreak set against the drama of political rebellion.

From the Publishers via Netgalley.

It starts with Anne’s family print a broadsheet on their illegal press, and then Anne goes to 17th Century London, to deliver the papers to their customers for distribution. The first few chapters of the book therefore are used to demonstrate the fervent anti-Monarchy sentiment (focused on Charles I) swirling around the city immediately before Charles’ trial.   Interesting technique, with an appearance of John Milton the poet in an early chapter, but which could have got very heavy handed had it gone on much longer.

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Book Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

The Last Hours by Minette Walters

For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning. 

When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church cites God as the cause, and religious fear grips the people as they come to believe that the plague is a punishment for wickedness.

But Lady Anne of Develish has her own ideas. Educated by nuns, Anne is a rarity among women, being both literate and knowledgeable. With her brutal husband absent from Develish when news of this pestilence reaches her, she takes the decision to look for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. Well-versed in the importance of isolating the sick from the well, she withdraws her people inside the moat that surrounds her manor house and refuses entry even to her husband.

She makes an enemy of her daughter and her husband’s steward by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by continued confinement and ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat? 

From Atlantic Books via Netgalley.

It’s 1348 and news comes through Dorset that there is a sickness that has started in the small port of Melcombe and is spreading like wildfire. Since people become sick and turn black with seeping blood as they die, the sickness is nicknamed “The Black Death”.

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Book Review: Texas Christmas by Holly Castillo

Gabriella Torres loves returning home to San Antonio for the holidays–the decorations, the magic and her large family. As icing on the cake, she will serve as midwife for one of her cousins. Her Christmas visit also provides a temporary distraction from a looming obligation.

Luke Davenport has traveled across the world to accept the role as town doctor in San Antonio. But when he arrives to domestic chaos, the sheriff offers his hospitality and Luke can’t turn down the offer. While he’s embraced by all, Luke tries to keep his distance. His past remains a threat and the alluring Gabby Torres makes him dream of a brighter but impossible future.

When Gabby learns that Luke has never truly experienced Christmas, she sets out on a mission…to make this Christmas the best that Luke could ever have. As they spend intimate moments together, Luke begins to lose his heart to the woman who is showing him what life as part of a family could be like. When the ghosts of their pasts rise up to haunt them, will Christmas magic and love be strong enough to guarantee the happiness they’ve always dreamed of?

From Tule Publishing via Netgalley.

I didn’t know that this was number 4 in the series, but I thought it stood on it’s own pretty well. The secondary characters are pretty well rounded, and there’s no unnecessary exposition as to why they behave a particular way – invariably they just do what they need to do.

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Book Review: Saving Grace by Sandy James

Grace Riley is on the run—from her past and from her fears. The victim of a violent rape at the hands of a rich politician’s son, she must “disappear” to escape his constant attempts to recapture her. Moving from cattle drive to cattle drive as a cook, she avoids her tormentor for nearly twenty years. When she discovers that the brother she gave up for adoption after their mother died in childbirth was orphaned at an early age, she is frantic to verify that he’s safe. She tracks him to a cattle ranch in Montana.

Widower Adam Morgan owns the Twin Springs ranch, but finds himself falling into a life of loneliness. Although he enjoys spending time with his grown daughter and the two men he rescued when they were living on the streets, he longs to meet a woman he can love. Living in the Montana territory where men greatly outnumber women makes finding a new wife difficult. Weary of working cattle, he is ready to make some changes in his life.

Grace falls ill on her journey, but she manages to make it to the Twin Springs ranch where her brother is supposed to be living. Adam takes her in, concerned for her health and the reason she’s searching for one of his adopted sons. Their chemistry is immediate and intense, but can Grace heal from her past of pain and fear? When her secrets are finally revealed, can Adam forgive her deceptions and learn to love again?

From Netgalley in exchange for a review.

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