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: The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis

First of a new series of crime novels set in Ancient Rome and featuring Flavia Albia, the adopted daughter of much-loved Marcus Didius Falco.

Based on real historical events: mysterious poisonings, in which victims died, often unaware they had been attacked. Albia is now 28 and an established female investigator. Her personal history and her British birth enable her to view Roman society and its traditions as a bemused outsider and also as a woman struggling for independence in a man’s world.

The first novel takes place on the plebeian Aventine Hill, with its mix of monumental temples, muddy back lanes and horrible snack bars. We meet Albia’s personal circle – some familiar, some new. We glimpse old haunts and hear of old friends, but the focus is on Albia herself, a tough, witty, winning personality who fearlessly tackles inhumanity and injustice, braving any risks and winning the friendship of unexpected allies.

Davis grew up in Birmingham, and has had a long association with the Birmingham and Midland Institute in the City Centre. She signs copies of her books, so that the BMI can sell copies in the shop, and here is where I picked up this copy.  The Falco series finished  with the Nemesis book, this is the first in the Albia series, where she is Falco’s adopted daughter.

 

This is a new take on an already established world, allowing the author to see historical Rome from the outside.  It is set during the rule of Domitian, a tyrant, whose gangs of thugs and enforcers roam the street at night, threatening and bulling people, and putting the populace on edge.

It starts with Albia investigating the death of a child who had been run over in the street, to protect the owner of the cart that ran him over. However it spirals out into a much wider investigation when people start dying hours after being seen out in the open, seemingly well and fine. There are no clues as to why they die – they are young and old, male and female, and from different social structures. Without a health service, Doctors or a regulated medical service it takes Albia to realise that the situation is bigger than anyone else realised (that there is a serial killer in town).

Running along side this investigation is the Roman holiday Cerealia (for the Goddess of Grain). Having been adopted, which culminates in stray foxes and fox like dogs being rounded up, tied together by the tails and sent out with blazing torches. Not knowing her actual date of birth, it is a date chosen to mark Albia’s birthday, a reason for including the detail in the book. The annual parade of women through the streets provides a nightmare scenario for Albia and her vigiles friends as they try to protect an unknown victim from an unknown killer.  (Additional information on the holiday can be found here).

Falco is not seen or heard in this book, although Albia’s parents are mentioned regularly, Albia visits and stays over, and even babysits her younger brother on occasion (a task she doesn’t relish as he’s a snooty 11 year old boy).  We get to see several levels of society, from the young fishermen shucking oysters on the quays, through educated freed slaves, the Vigiles – some of whom are ex gladiators who have been smart enough not to get killed (but little brighter), and up through wealthy matriarchs and Senate men.

Some people say they knew the killer long before Albia did, and that’s perhaps Albia was blinded by her feelings and not wanting to accept that she had been fooled and how close she was to events (and being killed herself). It’s been a long time since I read Nemesis, and even then it was one of the few Falco books that I had read. Therefore I cant remember if this style is typical of Davis or not. Some people simply dont like change…..This wasn’t my fastest read for a book of this size but it was enjoyable none the less

About this author

Lindsey Davis, historical novelist, was born in Birmingham, England in 1949. Having taken a degree in English literature at Oxford University (Lady Margaret Hall), she became a civil servant. She left the civil service after 13 years, and when a romantic novel she had written was runner up for the 1985 Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize, she decided to become a writer, writing at first romantic serials for the UK women’s magazine Woman’s Realm.

Her interest in history and archaeology led to her writing a historical novel about Vespasian and his lover Antonia Caenis (The Course of Honour), for which she couldn’t find a publisher. She tried again, and her first novel featuring the Roman “detective”, Marcus Didius Falco, The Silver Pigs, set in the same time period and published in 1989, was the start of her runaway success as a writer of historical whodunnits. A further nineteen Falco novels and Falco: The Official Companion have followed, as well as The Course of Honour, which was finally published in 1998. Rebels and Traitors, set in the period of the English Civil War, was published in September 2009. Davis has won many literary awards, and was honorary president of the Classical Association from 1997 to 1998.

Book Review: One Summer in Italy by Sue Moorcroft

When Sofia Bianchi’s father Aldo dies, it makes her stop and look at things afresh. Having been his carer for so many years, she knows it’s time for her to live her own life – and to fulfil some promises she made to Aldo in his final days.

So there’s nothing for it but to escape to Italy’s Umbrian mountains where, tucked away in a sleepy Italian village, lie plenty of family secrets waiting to be discovered. There, Sofia also finds Amy who is desperately trying to find her way in life after discovering her dad isn’t her biological father.

Sofia sets about helping Amy through this difficult time, but it’s the handsome Levi who proves to be the biggest distraction for Sofia, as her new life starts to take off…

From the publishers via Netgalley, this is my first Moorcroft book. It’s a  slightly different take on the “romance in a sunny foreign land” trope, and thank god!

Sofia, a woman in her late 30s nurses her sick father, as she has done since she was a teen. The early chapters of the book have her discussing what happens after her father dies, and she makes various promises, including to be happy, and to travel to her father’s home town in Italy to place flowers on her grandparents graves – they had died in a car crash several years before, and Aldo hadn’t seen them for years.

Once Aldo dies she goes to Italy and gets a waitressing job at a local place. Her father’s brother lives nearby, but she doesn’t have an address, so she seeks help from one of the local church goers. Before anything come to fruition however, she has to step in when the owner’s son (Davide) picks on a naive young German waitress called Amy. Levi, a guest also steps in to support Amy and Sofia, resulting in the owner backing down from sacking her.

Levi and Sofia get on, even though there is the rule that staff are not allowed relationships with customers. Sofia feels protective, even motherly, towards Amy, even when she suspects that Levi has a vested interest in the much younger woman. That, plus the “no fraternising” rule means that she backs away from anything deeper. However, the two meet away from the bar, where a conversation along lines of “you’re old enough to be her father” results in admission that Levi is her father, but she doesn’t know. Puts both Levi and Sofia in difficult position.

It turns out that Amy has run away from home because she overheard an argument, and found out that the man she’s always called “dad” is not actually her biological father. She feels her mother lied to every one around her and refuses to see anyone else’s standpoint.   She was infact the result of a one night stand between her mother and Levi when he was  17 and she was on a hen weekend.

The first half of the book covers both Sofia trying to get to know her extended family, whilst trying to help Levi navigate the minefield of watching his daughter whilst not letting on who he is.

In the background Levi’s friend and business partner has met up with a woman called Octavia, a tech genius who is far too intense and seems to want to know far more than appropriate with regards to Levi, and is willing to use Wes to get it. Naturally Wes cant see that he’s being used and is in lust – until Octavia dumps him.

The second part of the story is when all characters return to the UK, with Amy having found out who Levi was and wants to confront his behaviour.

I felt the secondary characters could have been used better – the hotel owner was mercurial and temperamental, apparently purely as a plot device – I wasnt convinced at the “Sofia is the niece of the competition” excuse. The tertiary characters, you have to wonder about  – could the secondary characters been expanded, and used as mechanisms to move story along? I felt Octavia (for all her obsessive checking of Wes and Levi) disappeared a little too easily for a literal stalker.

So, a nice distraction, and perhaps I’m overthinking a fine summer Italian romance.

About this author

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author and has held the coveted #1 spot in the Amazon Kindle chart. She’s also a bestseller in Germany. She writes women’s contemporary fiction with sometimes unexpected themes.
Sue has won the Best Romantic Read Award, been nominated for a RoNA and is a Katie Fforde Bursary winner. She also writes short stories, serials, articles, columns, courses and writing ‘how to’.
An army child, Sue was born in Germany then lived in Cyprus, Malta and the UK. She’s worked in a bank, as a bookkeeper (probably a mistake), as a copytaker for Motor Cycle News and for a typesetter, but is pleased to have wriggled out of all ‘proper jobs’.

Book Review: Slaine, The Horned God by Pat Mills, Simon Bisley

Pat Mills had been writing Slaine for a while for the English comic 2000AD, and had had a mix of people drawing his character, usually in B&W. Simon Bisley comes along in the late 80s, and changes the game, not only for artists, but publishers and readers.

Some of the drawings in earlier strips were crude and not very attractive (Mike McMahon’s, left, is an example of a style I dont care for much). However, Bisley’s paintings (and they are painted rather than coloured line drawings) are superb, so that even as an 18 year old, I appreciated their beauty.

In 2017, 2000AD released multiple “ultimate collections”. Slaine was released as #1, since even they recognised the significance in what they had produced.

Anyway this review is of the 200AD ultimate collection of Slaine the horned God released in 2017.

Part of what attracted me to Slaine in the first was the heavy use of Irish Mythology, De Danaan and Tir Na Nog in particular. This is a Mills Script option. What also attracted me was Bisley’s colour and image rendering, which moved from McMahon’s B&W line images to Bisley’s Colour paintings.

The 2017 collection has the entire collection of Mills/Bisley. Written many years later by the Royal Parasite (the dwarf Ukko, under the guidance of Nest) this tells the story of Slaine,  having been kicked out of his clan as a teenager (after an affair with the King’s wife Niamh), trying to unite the multiple armies of Irish men  under the one true goddess, whilst giving up his need to be the dominant, misogynistic man.  All this to defeat their enemies The Lord Weird Slough Feg and the Fomorians.

He has to unite the other tribes together, in order to get access to their magical gifts from the goddess, such as the neverending Cauldron of plenty, who can feed the hungry, and restore the dead to some form of life. In doing so, he becomes The High King (the king above all Kings), which generates hostility within the tribes, and becoming a new incarnation of the Horned God Carnun. The large battle at the end, which includes Slaine’s trademark “battle warp” (and the catchphrase “Slaine killed hundreds of his enemies, he didn’t think it too many”).

By the end, a capricious goddess Danu – who had warned Slaine of her changing nature – has made sure that Tir Na nOg is flooded to the point of disappearance, and the tribes have been scattered to other parts of the island. Peace reigns – until the next story!

It’s only with the “The Book of Scars” – the new story for the 30th anniversary (with images from artists such as Glen Fabrey and Clint Langley have images (e.g. the below)) come close to what was done for Horned God, and I think it is a much under appreciated

 

Book Review: Lord of Temptation by Erica Ridley

When Lord Hawkridge inherits a penniless marquessate, he must abandon his courtship of the lowborn girl he loves. Years later, she rises from commoner to textiles heiress. Hawk has never banished her from his heart. Here’s their chance to share his home! But how can he convince a woman whose trust he destroyed that he desires her far more than her money?

Faith Digby’s chaotic world is too full to bother with men. She controls half a boarding school, one life-endangering secret, and two recently gentrified parents. There’s no time for the old flame roaring back into her life. Not when admitting she still loves him would imperil everything and everyone she holds dear… 

Companion Book to Lord of Night by the same author where we see things from Hawksbridge’s point of view. Despite being the legitimate son who not only inherited his title, a level of respectability, he also his father’s debts and a grudge against his illegitimate half brother. Whilst it’s the fourth in the series, it can be read as a standalone – there are the occasional nod to events in other books, but you would only pick that up if you’d read the other book.

 

In trying to become friends with Spaulding, Hawkridge accepts a dinner invitation at the school, only to find that one of the women running the school is no other than Faith Digby, a woman he was in love with years before. They were unofficially engaged to, but he broke up with – via letter – when he realised just how bad a state his father had left him and his mother and that neither of them were right for each other.

He is still in love with Faith, and thinks it would be relatively easy for her to accept his apology, and he can start to court her again. Little does he know how much pain he’s inflicted on her – having gotten her pregnant before they split, he doesn’t know that his daughter has been living with Faith as her ward. When he finds out, the child becomes a pawn between the two of them as Hawksbridge doesn’t want the taint of being born out of wedlock. It is a reminder that until the 20th century, children were seen pretty much as property and were more often awarded to the father than to the mother.

Meanwhile, Faith’s family have gone up in the world, and despite being “in trade” (the very thing that made Faith not good enough to marry previously), the family are still in trade but are also very wealthy. Faith’s parents adore Christina, but are becoming frustrated with Faith and her dedication to not getting married and insisting that her dowry is given to the school. They finally agree that the dowry will be given to the school, as and when she gets married.

In the end Hawksbridge and Faith marry, more out of convenience than anything, and Hawksbridge begins to realise that there’s a whole side of life that he’s been missing out on – the generosity of his half brother and Faith’s family in particular. He sets out to be quite rigid with Christina, doing things all his own way, but soon learns that he needs to compromise with both Christina and Faith in order to get what he wants…..such as allowing Chris to visit Faith’s parents on a daily basis, rather than cutting all contact immediately. In doing this, he learns not only how to be a father, but gets to know his in-laws better in the process.

Despite his rather waspish mother’s disdain for Faith (both as a person, and because of her lower rank in society), she soon comes round to liking the woman, and having Christina (the daughter) in the house.

Both of the main characters are stubborn, strong willed, have kept secrets from each other, and have to learn to compromise in order to make things work. That means that they are not completely likeable at all times during the book – Hawk for his arrogance, and Faith for having kept Christina a secret from Hawk for so long (though it’s not like he gave her the chance to tell him).

The secondary characters of Faith’s parents and Hawk’s mother are lightly drawn, which is fine. All other characters are written about elsewhere, so dont need to be detailed too deeply here.

All in all, a decent addition to this series and genre, much better than some of the others that I’ve read recently (and have wanted to throw across the room!). Looking forward to the next one!

Book Review: Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

A dramatic new departure for international bestselling author Bernard Cornwell, FOOLS AND MORTALS takes us into the heart of the Elizabethan era, long one of his favourite periods of British history.

Fools and Mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother, William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal: you walk the London streets, stand in the palaces and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

From Netgalley as an ebook, this is from the author of the Sharpe series of books, which I haven’t read (but have been known to watch the adaptations when they come on the TV, if that counts for anything).

 

So this is a departure from his normal work, in him writing about the playhouses starting up in the time of Queen Elizabeth 1 and William Shakespeare. It is told from the standpoint of Richard, William’s younger brother. Richard is already a member of the playhouse, and whilst playing the parts of women, he is getting a little too old to do so, and is desperate to get “men’s parts”. It is precarious work – they don’t get paid to rehearse, only to actually perform in a play, of which new ones are few and far between.

Those that can read and write can earn a little more money, by copying out actor’s lines or being the “bookman”, prompting the performers during rehearsals.

With new Playhouses and groups being set up almost weekly and demand for entertainment ongoing, competition for new material is constant, with some groups resorting to stealing other group’s works if they dont have a writer to create their own work.

We get to find out what living in this kind of London is like – trying to find somewhere to stay if you miss curfew; literally living hand to mouth because you haven’t been paid that week; your work and home being raided on a regular basis by the heavy handed state gangs looking for priests and seditious materials – it has long been believed that the Shakespeare family are heretical Catholics, and people are desperate to find some kind of proof. The story is framed by the completion and staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the wedding of the Lord Chamberlain’s daughter. The competition for parts, the learning of lines, what happens when things get “confiscated” by competing playhouses. There is intrigue, fighting, plotting and ever changing politics that most groundlings are unaware of.

Meanwhile, told in flashback is how Richard came to be in London – Being rather older, William has already left the family home and gone to London by the time Richard is old enough to get an apprenticeship, something that does not work out well. Richard escapes and goes looking for his brother who places Richard with Sir Godfrey Cullen. It is here that Richard learns most of his life lessons, including how to act, put on a performance and sword fight and most importantly – how to steal. Whether the William of the book or the actual William knew that being in Sir Godfrey’s “care” means that he was one of many who got prostituted out as part of St Benet’s Choir, we don’t know.  Richard’s skills in thieving, as well as the other stuff he’s learnt since coming to London, helps both himself and the group (as well as his relationship with William) when things go missing.

Because of Cornwell’s previous books, I suspect people would be a let down if there wasn’t a little sword play and fighting throughout the book, and there are several scenes included, which I hope makes some fans happy.

This is not my usual era of history – I tend to read Tudor or Regency – so this was an interesting change in tone. The difference between the rich and the poor; actors living hand to mouth, whilst performing to the groundlings and the Queen; the need to please the crowd whose tastes could be simple (bit of dancing, some fighting, some singing, some rude jokes); all combined with th pressure of finding or writing new work.

So this is not quite a Ripping Yarn, but a detailed story of a fraught time in English history, that is well worth reading and rather entertaining.

 

Book Review: One Night with a Duke by Sandra Masters

Reclusive, cold as ice, the politically powerful Raven, Duke of Ravensmere, denies love after the tragic deaths of his duchess and baby. He is bound by his vow never to allow love to enter his heart again. Samantha Winston permits him to seek refuge in her carriage in a time of need, and what started as a kiss in the name of safety, becomes something more pleasurable and not so safe after all. In spite of every caution, his interest escalates into unexpected desire.

Samantha, a young widow with a secret, irreverent and high-spirited, has constructed impenetrable walls against all men. When she and Raven meet again, strong wills clash. Political intrigues and a dreaded nemesis place his life at risk, and Samantha finds herself in a dire predicament. All the while, passion soars.

Can Samantha’s barriers fall with more kisses? Can Raven be released from his deathbed vow?

I have to say this was a DNF I’m afraid. It started well and I had high hopes, only to be get half way through and give up.

I really must stop asking for Regency romances, especially ones written by Americans or for the American market. I generally find there’s one or more errors that are glaring enough to stop me in my tracks and therefore spoil my enjoyment.

There were several in this book, one of which could be semi deliberate, one of which is just an out and out error. The first (possibly deliberate) point is Raven asking for investors to stump up £50,000 as an initial deposit in a new company. The reason I say semi-deliberate, is I think the author is trying to indicate this is a fairly large sum, but not impossible for investors to come up with. However, inflation doesnt seem to have been taken into account here. With the introduction of gaslight, I’m going to guess that this book is set in the 1860s. Calculations result in £50,000 being approximately £4,700,000 in today’s money. You know anyone else with £5million ready cash lying around? (especially when, later in the book, Raven alludes to the fact that he could have brought a house for £1,000). Bearing in mind, a few decades later in reality, the British aristocracy were marrying rich American women in order to bring some much needed cash to keep their houses up and running, then £50,000 was just so….wrong.

The second error that stopped me in my tracks is, whilst on a picnic, dessert includes “chocolate grenache layered cakes” . Now, maybe she did mean Grenache. However, it’s a type of wine and I’m not sure that it would be combined with chocolate to layer a cake. She might have meant Ganache, which *is* used in baking, and cakes in particular. Whether or not these cakes would have been served at this time, I don’t know, but again, it stopped me in my tracks to the point I had to look it up to check I wasn’t going mad.

Another thing that spoilt my enjoyment was the dialogue. The following is an example of Samantha talking to Raven the first time they have been formally introduced to each other, this time at a ball

“I’m impressed with you” she said. “when you spoke of your late wife, you struck an emotional chord with me. Grief overtook your face. You could not know, but my heart cried for you to know such love and such sorrow. I will never forgive myself for my behaviour when I know I’m better than that.” Samantha fingered her fan. “I would not bring such sad memories to life again when I can see hw painful it is to you. I, oo, have struggled with sadness. So I share your misery but for different reasons.”

If this is the way the other books have been written then I’m glad I havent read any of the others. I only got to 50% and then I had to give up

About this author

From a humble beginning in Newark, NJ, a short stay at a convent in Morristown, NJ, to the board rooms of NYC, and a fantastic career for a broadcasting company in Carlsbad, California, to the rural foothills of the Sierras of Yosemite National Park, Sandra Masters has always traveled with pen and notebook. It’s been the journey of ten thousand miles with a few steps left to go. She left her corporate world behind and never looked back.


She hopes you’ll like her voice and passion for writing. She’s never created a Duke she didn’t fall in love with. ONCE UPON A DUKE by Sandra Masters, New Release by The Wild Rose Press.