Book Reviews

Here you will find book reviews of any book that I have read having to do with British history, and particularly the history of British royalty. These will include both fiction and non-fiction titles. 

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The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

Publication Date: 2006

Publisher: Touchstone

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of pages: 528

Rating (1-5): 4.5

This book is a sequel to The Other Boleyn Girl, which focused on the person of Mary Boleyn, sister to the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. Three historical figures narrate their stories in this fabulous novel; Jane Rochford (wife of Anne's brother George), Anne of Cleves (King Henry's hapless fourth wife), and Katharine Howard, the teen-aged fifth wife of King Henry VIII. They alternate recounting the events that followed the execution of Anne Boleyn. The narrators are wonderfully realistic, and the story is as captivating as the one that precedes it. Gregory, once again, brings the period to life with her superb story-telling, and remains faithful to historical fact, as far as I could tell. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, and look forward to reading more of Gregory's fine historical novels. If you love the Henry VIII period, do not miss this one!






The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes by Elizabeth Longford

Publication Date: 1992 (original hardcover, 1984)

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

Genre: History

# of pages: 576

Rating (1-5): 5

Beginning with the first century A.D. and continuing up to Queen Elizabeth II, this anthology of anecdotes covers every monarch who ever reigned in England. Hundreds of fascinating tidbits of information, observances recorded contemporaneously, legends and facts abound in this comprehensive look at the British monarchy and its cast of royal characters. Longford takes each ruler in turn and includes biographical info, along with a number of anecdotes, told in a very readable and engaging fashion. It is a book you will love to pick up and read a few pages every now and then, whenever you need your royalty "fix". Informative and entertaining, I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the history of England and her rulers. My copy has very well-worn pages, and a prominent place on my bookshelf.





The Wise Woman: A Novel by Philippa Gregory
 
Publication Date: 2008

Publisher: Touchstone

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of pages: 528

Rating (1-5): 3

This book is set during the reign of King Henry VIII, and the beginning of the book takes place at a convent that is burned, following Henry's proclaiming himself head of the Church of England, when convents and monasteries were plundered for their treasures and confiscated for their lands. Apart from this historical event, and a few references throughout the book to Henry's court and his wives, there is not much in the way of history here. The story follows a woman who has been trained in the art of herbal healing, and is called upon to serve the Lord of the local castle. The book mixes magic and fantasy in with a tale of an ambitious and, at times, ruthless young woman with unusual gifts. But it wasn't satisfying to me, due to its lack of historical reference, and, frankly, I thought it was a little weird.





Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Publication Date: 2010

Most Recent Publisher: Picador

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of Pages: 604

Rating (1-5): 4

I enjoyed this novel, for the most part, because it was about my favorite topic, it was told from a unique angle, and the creative dialogue helped the historical characters come to life. It is about King Henry VIII's "great matter"... his quest to disentangle himself from Queen Katherine and make Anne Boleyn his Queen. It begins during the tenure of Cardinal Woolsey, who fails miserably to forward his master's interests. His protegée, Thomas Cromwell, steps into his role in many ways after the Cardinal's death. The story is told from the point of view of Cromwell. What I liked was the dialogue, which served to illuminate the inner workings of the court and the complex relationships between the courtiers, the King and the King's ministers. What I didn't like was that it was, at times, hard to tell who was speaking and the topic or setting seemed to take unexpected leaps and leave me a bit confused. (I did listen to this on audio book) The other curious thing was that it was not about Wolf Hall at all. Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymour family and the King marries Jane Seymour after the execution of Anne. But this story barely mentions Jane at all, and none of the story takes place at Wolf Hall, apart from the very end when Henry heads there on progress, which is believed to be the trip where he first falls for Jane. So I don't know why it was entitled Wolf Hall... be that as it may, this book is worthwhile, especially if you're a fan of Henry VIII and his court. You will leave it with a better understanding of who was who and how they interacted within this most famous court.




Elizabeth I: The Novel by Margaret George

Publication Date: 2011

Most Recent Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Historical Fiction/Biography

# of Pages: 688

Rating (1-5) - 4.5

I expected to be thrilled with this historical novel by the author of my very favorite book on King Henry VIII, and I was not disappointed. I was set back at first, since the story begins in the latter years of Elizabeth's reign when she is in her late 50's, and I had expected a life-long biography. However, it soon became apparent that this fast-paced and eventful period proved to define Elizabeth's character perhaps more than any other time frame in her life. Juxtaposed with narration by her cousin and pseudo-rival, Lettice Knollys, Elizabeth narrates her story herself. The attention to historical detail that George displayed in her King Henry novel was evident here as well, and I learned more about Elizabeth's reign, courtiers, contemporaries and times than I have with any other read on the subject. You will leave this book with a good idea of the enigmatic, strong and principled woman that Elizabeth I was, and I certainly admire her all the more for having read it. 










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Publication Date: 1998 (orignal hardcover, 1986)

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of pages: 960

Rating (1-5): 5

This has got to be my favorite book about Henry VIII that I have thus far read. It is told in the voice of Henry himself, as though he were writing his memoirs. The chapters are interspersed with the perspective of Will Somers, who was Henry's fool for many years, and observed, first-hand, much of the intimate details of Henry's tumultuous life. Will Somers actually did leave writings behind regarding his illustrious master, and George draws from these for this material. George's portrayal of King Henry is the most accessible and seemingly accurate of all that I have read. She allows the reader to feel many things for him, including empathy, fondness, understanding and admiration... but also horror, revulsion, and disdain. Like the man himself, George's characterization of Henry is complex and fascinating, and she brings the reader right into the debauchery and intrigue of the English court. Simply a marvelous read.




The Constant Princess  by Philippa Gregory

Publication Date: 2005

Publisher: Touchstone

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of pages: 393

Rating (1-5): 4

This is the story of Katharine,  Queen of England under Henry VIII. She was his first wife, and was eventually divorced when Henry decided to marry Anne Boleyn. However, this story takes place prior to the Anne Boleyn saga, beginning with Katharine's early childhood in Spain. Her parents were the remarkable King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Christopher Columbus fame, who not only succeeded in exploring the New World, but managed to drive the moors from Spain and reclaim it for Christendom. The book describes her life in the moorish culture of the Alhambra palace, and eventually her travel to England to pursue her destiny as Queen of England. Gregory creates her own answers to the questions surrounding the brief marriage of Katharine to Arthur, elder brother to Henry, and the question of what did, or did not, happen between them on their wedding night and the months of marriage that followed. I enjoyed Gregory's perspective on the life of Katherine, and only wish they had chosen a narrator with a Spanish accent to read the part of Katharine, who never became fully fluent in English.



 

The Pillars of the Earth  by Ken Follett

Publication Date: 1989

Most Recent Publisher: Signet

Genre: Historical Fiction

# of Pages: 973

Rating (1-5): 5

This awesome piece of historical fiction is exactly what I live to read! It takes place in 12th century England and involves the inhabitants of the small town of Kingsbridge. The main protagonists are a monk, a builder and his family, and the daughter and son of a deposed Earl. There are wonderful villains as well! The story centers around the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, and how the lives of the villagers converge around this great event. The book is rich with historical references to the current events of the period and is accurately researched, and so authentic - right down to the articles that people have in their homes, their clothes, food, etc. I simply loved this book and was thrilled that there is a sequel to it! If you're into medieval European history, pick up this gem! You won't be disappointed.



World Without End by Ken Follett

Publication Date: 2007

Most recent publisher: Signet

Genre: Historical Fiction

#of Pages: 1056

Rating (1-5): 5

This sequel to Follett's masterful "The Pillars of the Earth" is just as delicious as the first book. It is interesting in that the story follows a similar pattern... that is, there are parallel characters to the first novel and a plot that has some of the same characteristics as in the first book. But, this book takes place 200 years later, in 14th century England. It continues the saga of Kingsbridge and its cathedral, tracing the lives of those who live in its shadow, the descendants of the characters in "Pillars". Each character is as real and dynamic as in book #1, and the story is engaging, realistic and leaves the reader hungry for more. Again, the attention to historical detail in this novel is amazing - it truly transports the reader back 600 years in time. You do not have to read the first book to appreciate this one, but it makes it more fun if you do. In any case, READ IT!




Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery (Matthew Shardlake Mysteries) #1 by C. J. Sansom

Publication Date: 2003

Most Recent Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

# of Pages: 481

Rating (1-5) - 4.5

So glad that this historical mystery is first in a series of six! Set in my favorite era, the reign of King Henry VIII, this intriguing mystery was well researched and historically accurate. Matthew Shardlake, the main character in the series, is sent by the King's man Thomas Cromwell to solve a murder that has taken place in a monastery at a time when all monasteries in England's days were numbered due to Henry's plan to dissolve them as part of cutting ties to the papacy. Shardlake is a likable character and the story unfolds in a way that does not make the ending obvious, which was fun. Sansom weaves a gripping story in around the historical realities of the day in a seamless fashion, making this one of the most entertaining books I've read in a while. Recommended!