Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

GregoryThreeSistersThreeQueensNarrator: Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 21 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 8 The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is listed as Book 8 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.

Henry VIII, King of England, had two sisters – Margaret (his elder) and Mary (his younger). These two ladies, along with Henry’s first wife (Katherine of Aragon), will form a unique sisterhood of queens, sometimes rivals, sometimes allies. This book is told solely from Margaret’s point of view, starting in her childhood and carrying through her three marriages.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in books about the Tudors. There are tons of them out there, both fiction and non-fiction. However, few of them have more than the bare bones concerning Margaret. So I was tinkled pink when Philippa Gregory came out with this book. Margaret wasn’t considered the great beauty her younger sister was. She didn’t wield as much power as Katherine. She wasn’t Henry’s favorite sibling. However, she still played an important role in Scotland, and hence in Scottish-English relations.

We learn early on that Margaret is betrothed to James, King of Scotland, who is nearly twice her age. So she has to wait until she is 14 to go to Scotland. As a teen, Margaret’s concerns are rather narrow and self-serving. From Margaret’s point of view, there’s competition between the three ladies (Mary, Margaret, and Katherine) for attention and their beauty factors into that. While Katherine received a large, beautiful wedding to Arthur (Henry’s older brother), Margaret gets a small, perfunctory wedding at age 12 with a stand-in for James. This is just one example of how Margaret measures her worth (or lack of it) to the English court.

Margaret’s character starts off as a mixture of naive, self-absorbed, and driven. Indeed, sometimes I felt her selfish attitude was going to do her in! But Gregory is such a good writer that you can see there is something more there, waiting to blossom, in this character. Once Margaret goes off to Scotland, she has to deal with hardships she never faced as a treasured English princess. The Scots had big, bushy beards! James, King of Scotland, has bastard babies! The Scottish Lords actually have to rule and work, including James! Indeed, it was a bit of a culture shock for her. She holds to her English superiority, but as the years pass, and she faces some true hardships herself, her attitudes shifts a bit, and a kernel of wisdom is formed.

Now I didn’t always agree with Margaret’s decisions or her reasons but I also have the historical knowledge. She didn’t have that, obviously, but she also lacked reliable communication and news from the rest of Europe. In this light, most of her decisions make sense. By the end of the book, I felt Margaret was someone I would have enjoyed being friends with. She had grown from that self-absorbed child we met in the first few chapters.

Throughout the book, Margaret, Mary, and Katherine write each other frequently, so you can’t help but compare the three of them. All three married more than once, each married for love at some point, and all three lost babies to illness. Also, each suffered ‘poverty’ at some point. Now, poverty to a royal is a little different than poverty for the masses. Indeed, they still have servants, even if they can’t pay them. They still have some fine clothing, even if they have to patch the sleeves. Still, it was interesting to see how each dealt with it differently.

Margaret does have a few awe-inspiring moments in the book. There are times where she faces down Scottish lords, a besieging army, or a very difficult run for the border while several months pregnant. These are the moments when I liked her best, when she was under the most pressure. She shone in these moments, and that made it easier for me to excuse her petty side.

The author includes a note at the end about how much of her book is factual versus fiction. I was surprised to learn that there is little historical information on Margaret beyond the bare bones of her life. The note did explain a bit about how Margaret’s decisions seemed to show her changing direction often. In my opinion, Gregory did a great job showing us how those swift changes in loyalty could make sense at the time. Indeed, I quite enjoyed this novel, including the self-absorbed aspects of the main character. Margaret was raised to think highly of herself and the story wouldn’t ring true without that attitude.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

The Narration: Bianca Amato did an excellent job with this book. I really liked her various accents (English, Scottish, Spanish, French). She also did a great job with the variety of emotions the characters went through. Her male voices were believable. 

What I Liked: The subject matter – Margaret; she grows from a selfish child to a woman with a bit of wisdom; the comparison between the three sister queens; the Scottish culture and how ‘shocking’ it is to the English princess; Margaret’s best moments; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a fascinating take of an often over-looked historical figure.

What Others Think:

Medievalist.Net

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Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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Novel Pastimes

A Time Travel Tagging

I was recently tagged by Lynn over at Books & Travelling with Lynn. The subject is all about books and time traveling, in one way or another. I really enjoy these tag posts as they often give me something to talk about without having to use a lot of brainpower. Here are the Q&A.

SummersOwlDanceWhat is your favorite historical setting for a book?

It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve read plenty of stories set in ancient Greece (Mary Renault), Roman murder mysteries & ‘celebrities’ (John Maddox Roberts, Conn Iggulden), and the 1800s of the American West (David Lee Summers, Cherie Priest). Also, the Tudor era attracts me. In fact, I’m currently wrapped up in Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory.

AsimovStarsLikeDustWhat writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Isaac Asimov is near the top of my list. His books feature prominently in my childhood/teen years. I read his Lucky Starr series but also many of his adult novels. For kicks, I’d love to meet Homer and put to rest the age-old argument on whether Homer was male or female or collection of authors. I wouldn’t mind meeting Pearl S. Buck. Her novel, The Good Earth, was required reading in both the 5th and 9th grades (I moved and changed school districts, so that’s why I got hit twice with this classic) and I loved it both times. She had a very interesting life and it wouldn’t just be her books I’d pester her with questions about, but also her travel and years living in China.

LynchTheLiesOfLockeLamoraWhat book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

There’s so much good stuff out today! Apart from a few classics, most of the ‘safe’ or required reading I had access to as a kid was boring and often felt fake or like it was missing a big element of life – you know, all the gooey, messy bits that make all the good parts that much better. Luckily, I had full access to any SFF novel in the house and there were plenty of those. So to supplement my childhood bookshelf, I would give myself Andy Weir’s The Martian, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

Chupacabra
Chupacabra

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

I would speed ahead to my future self and hand her a copy of Robert E. Howard’s stories. His writing is some of the best I have enjoyed and yet several of his stories, Conan or otherwise, have certain sexist and racist elements that really repel me. This book would remind me that humans, including myself, are flawed and that things change over the years, such as views on a woman’s proper role in high fantasy adventure. Yet despite these shortcomings, a person can still love a story, or a person, or a country, etc.

ChaneyTheAmberProjectWhat is your favorite futuristic setting from a book?

I always enjoy closed systems and several feature in SF stories. These are domed cities (Logan’s Run by Nolan & Johnson), underground villages (The Amber Project series by JN Chaney), underwater towns (Lucky Starr & the Oceans of Venus by Isaac Asimov), very large space stations (The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey), etc.. There’s the wonder of discovering these places, seeing how they are supposedly working and will go on working forever, and then watching it all come apart in some horrible way that means death for most of the people in the story. Yeah, welcome to my little demented side.

 

Grahame-SmithAustenPrideAndPrejudiceAndZombiesWhat is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

For fun, I wouldn’t mind visiting Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I really like the idea of making polite ball jokes, decapitating zombies, working out in the dojo, and politely trading British insults over tea. Honestly, I think that is the only way I would survive the Victorian era.

RobertsTheKingsGambitSpoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Back when I was eyeball reading printed books (I do mostly audiobooks now) I had a ritual. I would start a book and at that moment that I knew I was hooked, that I had fallen in love with the story, I would turn to the last page and read the last sentence. Most of the time this didn’t spoil anything, but every once in a while there would be a final line that gave away an important death or such.

PriestMaplecroftIf you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

Actually, I do have a Time Turner. My husband bought it for me at the start of September while he was at an SCA event. It was right after we learned that I was quite sick but a few weeks before we learned just how sick. So, lots of bitter sweet emotions tied up with that piece of jewelry.

Anyhoo, if I had a working one, I would go everywhere and do everything. I would start with planning things that Bill and I have wanted to do together (like celebrating Beltane in a pre-Christian era) and then add in things that I have always wanted to do but which my be a big snooze fest for Bill (such as Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage).

JonasAnubisNightsFavorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

Currently, I’m enjoying the Jonathan Shade series by Gary Jonas. Time travel really becomes an element in this urban fantasy series in the second trilogy with Ancient Egypt featuring prominently. I also adore Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I finally read a Stephen King novel, 11-22-63. The characters were great even as the underlying premise was only so-so for me. The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones was a fun, crazy creature feature.

ButcherColdDaysWhat book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, for sure. I’ve read the early books several times each and I get a laugh out of them each time. Also I would like to experience Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey all over again for the first time. That book showed me how prudish some of my ideas were when I first read it. I wonder what it would show me now? Perhaps the same thing, if indeed this book has had as big an impact on who I am as I think.

Tagging Other People

So in general with these fun tagging posts, I never want anyone to feel obligated to play along. As usual, if any of you want to play along, I definitely encourage you. You can answer any of the questions in the comments or you can throw up your own blog post and then let em know about it so I can come read it. Here are some people who I think would like this particular time travel subject:

David Lee Summers

Under My Apple Tree

Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat

On Starships & Dragonwings

Fools' Gold by Philippa Gregory

Tanuki wouldn't hold still for a pic, so I got his back legs instead.
Tanuki wouldn’t hold still for a pic, so I got his back legs instead.

Why I Read It: This series, Changeling and Stormbringers, has been fun so far, so had to check out Book 3.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re looking for a light historical fiction on Venice, money forgery, & religion, check this book out.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 9 hours 47 minutes

Series: Book 3 Order of Darkness

Author’s Page

Book 3 picks up where Book 2 left us. Our little crew of Frieze, Isolde, Luca, Brother Peter, and Ishraq have orders to go to Venice, pretend to be a wealthy merchant family, and seek out forged coins and the forgerers themselves. They end up in Venice during Carnival, the one time a year that well-to-do ladies are allowed to go out of the home. This is 1400s Italy, so plenty of rules to help a person stay proper and respectful, especially for young ladies. Early on, they learn about gambling, gondolas, and how convenient a well planned costume can be.

So if you have been following this series, then you know that Frieze was absent most of Book 2, which was one of the few things I didn’t like about it. No worries on that count with this book; Frieze gets to goof around and be at the center stage plenty in this book. His blunt country charm is well received by this reader. The odd love tangle from the last book sorts itself out, somewhat anyway, in this book and such silliness doesn’t get as much screen time (which is fine by me). Over all, I felt this book was better than Book 2, and perhaps better than Book 1.

In carrying out their mission, Luca and crew come upon a pair of alchemists. Lots of mystery surrounds these two and what they are up to. Indeed, Frieze and Ishraq get the chance to snoop through their house, and some of the things they discover are hair raising! Venice is a trade city, and one of the major things they trade is currency, such as Italian currencies for the English gold noble. During this tale, they are in great demand and play an important role in the end of this book. I liked that we got a bit of history on a specific coin, and on coin forgery.

Luca has also had a break through in locating his parents. In Book 2, he was directed to someone who could perhaps find out if his parents were still living as slaves somewhere in the Ottoman empire. If so, there was the chance to buy their freedom. This little side plot is a bit of a tear-jerker.

I feel the characters grew in this book, even Brother Peter who is always so by-the-book straight. Isolde has a moment when she must defend her good character, which has the consequence of tearing another down. Luca has the drama with finding more info on his parents. Ishraq has to face the confining culture of Venice which requires young ladies to basically stay at home unless at church or escorted to another lady’s house for a visit. Frieze….well, he had to stable his best buddy Rufino the horse outside Venice for the duration of the book, which was very hard on the lad.

My one criticism is that for much of the book, when any two or more ladies were talking together, it was about a man (usually Luca). Sometimes, this was fighting over the man. It was silly. Women do talk about more than men when they get together, and considering the new culture for our main ladies (that of Venice) and the mysteries of the alchemists, there was plenty for them to talk about.

Narration: Nicola Barber was an excellent choice for this book, as she was for the previous book. She does Isolde’s voice perfectly, with the right notch of a high-born lady, plus the wonder of youth. Ishraq almost always has a questioning tone, as fits her nature. Brother Peter is so very stern. Luca and Frieze are done quite well, and with distinct voices.

What I Liked: The Venician setting; learning a little about coin forgery as I read; the alchemists’ lair was interesting and spooky; Brother Peter bent a bit to help his young charges and I found it to be one of the most hilarious and yet moving scenes in the book.

What I Disliked: The ladies pretty much only talk about men when it is just them, which didn’t seem realistic considering their surroundings and mission.

What Others Think:

The Sweet Review

Book Referees

My Book Loves of 2013

GaimanStardustHere is a post in which I gush about my favorite books of 2013. Out of the roughly 133 books I read this year, these are the ones that really stand out on reflection for one reason or another. Feel free to scroll until you see something interesting.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

A reread, and a read along. I love this book and the movie. Fantasy, a quest, coming of age. Loads of fun and happy ending.

MathesonIAmLegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson

New-to-me author. Vampire/zombie book, but starts off 1970s California, a simple virus. Loved the science, the survivalism, the societal twist at the end.

Squatch with Turning Point
Squatch with Turning Point

Turning Point by Robert P. Snow

Murder mystery set in northern NM. Lots of fun, recognize lots of the places in the book.

CooperGhostHawkGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper

New-to-me author. A historical fiction about the early settling of America told through a Native American’s eyes. Done really well, fully engaging.

HaldemanForeverPeaceThe Forever War & Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

New-to-me author. Great military SF. Awesome characters.

BearUndertowUndertow by Elizabeth Bear

Amphibious alien natives used as a workforce. Plus assassins. You can’t go wrong with that combination.

FremantleQueensGambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

New-to-me author. Tudor historical fiction told from Katherine Parr’s point of view.

WatersPayingPiperPaying Piper by Ilana Waters

A children’s book, beautiful illustrations, excellent story.

Pico consented to pose with my book.
Pico consented to pose with my book.

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish

This was a reread for me, and a read along. Still a damn good book even the 2nd time through, and dissecting it. High fantasy, swords & sorcery.

Smudge Cat as a book stand!
Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov

Book 2 int he series. Thieves, elves (black pointy teeth!), dwarves, gnomes, a quest.

FahyFragmentFragment by Warren Fahy

New-to-me author. A fun, modern-day beastie flick. The biologist in me loved this book.

Pico resting before dinner.
Pico resting before dinner.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

New-to-me author. Epic fantasy that is different, heavy on the economics, various humanoid races.

SakurazakaAllYouNeedIsKillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

New-to-me author. A short, excellent military SF with a twist.

HassonEmoticonGenerationCoverThe Emoticon Generation by Guy Hasson

New-to-me author. A fun collection of Hasson’s short stories. Some humorous, some creepy. All interesting.

ReichsBonesOfLostBones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

New-to-me author. A later book in the series following the forensic anthropologist. Addictive.

CollingsBillyMessengerOfPowersBilly: Messenger of Powers by Michaelbrent Collings

New-to-me author. A kid’s book, but a good one. Adventure, magic, a quest. Lots of fun.

HearneHuntedHunted by Kevin Hearne

I love the whole Iron Druid series. I think I am all caught upon this series. Luke Daniels does an incredible job of narrating the books.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.
Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely

New-to-me author. A graphic novel, modern-day, a nod to Don Quixote.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.
Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

The Hero and the Crown & Sunshine by Robin McKinley

While Sunshine was a reread, The Hero and the Crown was my first read through. Both are excellent. Female leads, magic, companion war horse, and Death by Bitter Chocolate.

LynchRepublicOfThievesThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The 3rd book in the Gentlemen Bastard series does not disappoint. Read this as part of a read along. Great series.

GabaldonOutlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

A reread, but it had been nearly 2 decades. Excellent historical fiction with sex. Yep. Not just silly, light kissing.

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)
Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

New-to-me author. This was an excellent audiobook. Kid’s book. Adventure, masks, goblins, theater.

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonSky Pirates Over London by Micheal Coorlim

New-to-me author. These are fun, short stories set in a steampunk England. I’ve read 4 of the books so far and enjoyed this one the most.

ShowalterAwakenMeDarklyAwaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter

New-to-me author. This is one of my naughty book secrets. Simple plots, fun characters, erotica element. Aliens, assassins.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.
Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky)

All four were read this year as part of a read along, rereads for me. I love these books. They are my favorite Terry Pratchett novels, having a more serious bent than other Discworld books I have read.

BowmanTornFromTroyTorn from Troy by Patrick Bowman

New-to-me author. Another kid’s book and a great one for exploring Ancient Greece.

CoreyLeviathanWakesLeviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

New-to-me author. Well, I had read Daniel Abraham before this book, but Abraham writes this series with Ty Franck under the James SA Corey pen-name. Epic science fiction has never been better.

SchoonZennScarlettZenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

New-to-me author. My inner biologist geeked out the entire time reading this YA SF.

HillTheHatchingThe Hatching by Liesel K. Hill

I know it’s a short story, but it was one of the best I read all year. Dragons. I won’t spoil it for you. Go read it.

Pico & Chupa
Pico & Chupa

Makers by Corey Doctorow

New-to-me author. Quirky, insightful, and fun. It follows these two tinkers for a few decades. Cutting-edge SF.

BensonBlackStilettoThe Black Stiletto books by Raymond Benson (The Black Stiletto, Black & White, Stars & Stripes)

New-to-me author. Addictive. 1950s superheroine, New York. Need I say more?

LornHopeForWickedHope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn

New-to-me author. I also read his Life After Dane, but I like the Larry Laughlin character quite a bit. Horror. Illegal substance level addictive.

BracewellShadowOnCrownShadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

New-to-me author. 1001 AD Normandy, royal families. Excellent, excellent historical fiction.

Heldig will steal anyone's body heat...if they'll hold still for it.
Heldig will steal anyone’s body heat…if they’ll hold still for it.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn

New-to-me author. This nonfiction was incredibly fun. The odd, slightly embarrassing things I learned from it to sprinkle party conversations with…..

MimsHidingGladysHiding Gladys by Lee Mims

New-to-me author. A cozy murder mystery that I didn’t want to put down.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.
Tofu being used as a bookstand.

The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster

More SF modifications for my inner biologist to geek out about. Excellent mystery, excellent SF, excellent characters.

Heldig & Tofu
Heldig & Tofu

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Book 6 in the Wheel of Time series, and part of the massive read along of the series. Incredible ending to this particular book. Robert Jordan gets better with each book.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.
Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson & crew

A very fun historical fiction set in the time of Genghis Khan. Luke Daniels was amazing as the narrator.

ScalziRedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

Haha! A fun Star Trek parody. Wil Wheaton as the narrator was perfect!

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.
Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr

Another awesome historical fiction. Sorcerers, hunters, midgets, a pox, and a crazed ruler who needs to be taken down.

This is Heldig's 'nice kitty' face.
This is Heldig’s ‘nice kitty’ face.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

New-to-me author. This is Book 1 in the trilogy, and my favorite of the series. Steampunk, Austria, airships, a woman in disguise and in service to the crown.

I didn't catch Pico in a good mood.
I didn’t catch Pico in a good mood.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Only Jeannette Walls can pull on my emotions as she does. Modern-day tale of two sisters trying to find some stability.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.
Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

New-to-me author. WWII female pilots and spies. One of the best WWII books I have ever read.

IgguldenBloodOfGodsThe Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden

The 4th book in Emperor series tells what happens after Julius Caesar fell. Excellent series.

BernheimerPrimeSuspectsJim Bernheimer books (Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Prime Suspects, Horror, Humor, and Heroes)

New-to-me author. Uh, yeah. You might of noticed that I listened to 3 of Bernheimer’s books in ~2 weeks. Yeah, addictive. Mostly SF. Go, read, enjoy.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.
I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

I really should read beyond Book 2. Both Books 1 & 2 were excellent. Historical fantasy, or just straight up epic fantasy.

SilvermanGardensOfAmpheiaGardens of Ampheia by Joshua Silverman

A novella set in his Legends of Amun Ra series. Think Ancient Greece set on an alien world. Magic, armor, SF.

MunteanuOuterDiverseOuter Diverse by Nina Munteanu

New-to-me author. SF detective story. Lots of fun.

Stout wouldn't hold still for a pic!
Stout wouldn’t hold still for a pic!

The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock

New-to-me author. Magic, steampunky, England, detective. Intrigued?

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand...again.
Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand…again.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction, Elizabeth of York, the War of the Roses. Very good, easy to get into.

WillisBlackoutBlackout by Connie Willis

New-to-me author. Excellent time travel, WWII SF-Historical Fiction. Great characters, great plot.

AcevedoNymphosRockyFlatsThe Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo

Vampire detective, nuclear weapons mill, and nymphos. Intrigued?

PoznanskyTwistedTwisted by Uvi Poznansky

A collection of her short fictions. Offers a darker twist to such things as the story of Job, working with clay, and elderly cats.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand...again.
Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand…again.

Why I Read It: Philippa Gregory makes history approachable and interesting and this time period is a bit of a blur for me.

Where I Got It: A review copy via the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re just getting your feet wet on the War of the Roses or the Tudors, this is a fun introduction.

Narrator: Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon&Schuster (2013)

Length: 15 CDs

Series: Book 5 The Cousins’ War

Please note that while this book is Book 5 in the series, it worked very well as a stand alone.

Princess Elizabeth of York is the oldest of the marriageable daughters of the defeated House of York of England. Henry of the House of Tudor (known to history as King Henry the VII) hopes to allay further rebel rousings and uprisings by marrying Elizabeth. A tumultuous marriage is the basis for the rest of the book, coupled with the machinations of both Lady Mothers, the constant, consuming fear Henry carries concerning the unending ghost of a male York heir, with the result of a very engaging book.

The entire narrative is told through the voice of Princess Elizabeth. As one of the main characters affected by the actions and choices of the King and his very controlling mother, I clearly felt her frustrations. I especially wanted to give the King’s Lady Mother a good thump when she made laws concerning the pregnancy confinement. Yep, it’s a darkened room with just a handful of ladies, your sewing, and perhaps a pack of cards. This book spans decades, following each of Elizabeth’s births, her coronation, and, through her eyes, each of Henry’s battles. So, one of the aspects I found particularly interesting were how her feelings for her husband and the father of her children changed over time, and what events preceded those changes. At the beginning of the book, she is still in love with the slain King Richard III, which makes marrying and bedding his killer and the invader of England extra hard.

Both Lady Mothers played big roles in this book, working in their own ways to attempt to direct fate. Tension was built as these two squared off behind the scenes, one with the allusion to witchcraft and another through prayer, and both using practical things like political ties. While secondary characters, they each had strong influences on the King, usually more than his wife.

For much of the book, Elizabeth has little control over her fate and generally does nothing to try to gain control. I found this interesting (and, indeed, sometimes a bit annoying that she does nothing) because her character was like a leaf floating on water, going where wind and current directed. Except for a few instances where she beseeches Henry for one thing or another, she never encourages gossip or develops a spy network of her own.

All in all, I found myself looking forward to more quality time in the truck so I could hear what happens to Elizabeth and her family next. The mystery of the young York brothers is well played throughout the plot, giving a satisfying and plausible answer to this age-old mystery. This book has encouraged me to seek out the rest in the series. I fretted over Maggie’s brother, Teddy, who was locked in the tower. I wanted to plot with Elizabeth’s mum. A few times I even wanted to slap the king for treating folks like simple chess game pieces.

Narration: The narrator Bianca Amato was the perfect voice for Elizabeth, gave believable UK accents, and had a variety of male voices. There were only a few times that I was mildly confused as to whether Elizabeth or her close cousin Maggie was talking, but the text was written so clearly that I quickly figured out who was who.

What I Liked: The ups and downs of a marriage conceived in conquest were well described; the mystery of the York brothers was well played; Elizabeth’s mother gives the story a sense of magic and of secrets left untold; the ending, while bitter sweet, was very satisfying.

What I Disliked: For most of the book, Elizabeth is merely an onlooker and takes no active part.

What Others Think:

Ageless Pages Reviews

The History Lady

Reading the Past

The Broke and the Bookish

Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory

Tan-tan trying to nap as I bother him for a pic.
Tan-tan trying to nap as I bother him for a pic.

Why I Read It: Book 1, Changeling, was fun.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: If you’re looking for a light historical fiction with a strong bend towards witchcraft & religion, check this book out.

Narrator: Nicola Barber

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 7 CDs

Series: Book 2 Order of Darkness

Stormbringers picks up right where Changeling left off. Philippa Gregory gives us more about Ishraq and we learn some of Luca’s past troubles. As the four traveled on to their next mystery to investigate, they come across a crusade of children lead by a 15 year old shepherd named Johann. The towns people readily believe Johann and his divine guidance to lead the children to Jerusalem before the End of Days comes. Luca takes more convincing, but soon comes to believe that the lad knows things about his past that he could only know through some divine power. Johann prophesies that the waters will part and he and the child crusade will be able to walk to the Holy Land. Miraculously, it appears that his prophesy comes true….but then things turn unexpectedly.

This book picked up a bit slower for me. Philippa Gregory spent perhaps a third of the book with Johann and there was plenty of religious talk in that space that didn’t particularly appeal to me. But once Johann’s prophesy comes true, things really pick up. The twist midway through the book brings three of our heroes into danger and leaves one lost, potentially forever. Towards the end we get yet another twist that could lead Luca to find his long lost parents and tests Ishraq’s loyalty to her mistress Isolde. Once again, Freize was my favorite character and had some of the best lines, being of a more practical nature.

I have to say that growing odd love quadrangle leaves poor Brother Peter out in the cold and the reader rolling their eyes. At first, some of the aspects were cute, even sweet or compassionate, but then jealousies strain the plot and leave at least one of the characters looking like a spoiled 12 year old instead of young adults who have been facing the world on their own two feet for a few months, if not a few years. Mostly, I tried to ignore that. Again, Ishraq is a fascinating character, but so many proficiencies are attributed to her it makes her character a bit unbelievable: she’s a scientist, a doctor, trained in hand to hand combat, multi-lingual, etc. She’s a 17 year old servant. Can’t she be extraordinary at that and still be believable?

Even with those distractions, I found the children’s crusade fascinating. The reader is also left to conclude on their own about Johann and his supposed divinity. When Johann’s prophesy comes trues, the reader can easily conclude it was a natural phenomenon. I don’t want to give away what this was exactly, but I personally have been fascinated with this particular phenomenon for a few years now. It is done really, really well in this story. Of course, this natural phenomenon then leads to accusations of witchcraft and Luca, the papal inquisitor, has to hold an official inquiry. I have to say that I felt the inquiry was wrapped up too easily and lacked drama. But then Philippa Gregory makes up for that with the last quarter of the book as the townfolk and Luca have to confront a slave galley. I won’t say more, but the last bit of the book was filled with delicious tension and mystery.

Narration: Nicola Barber was an excellent choice for this book. She performed Isolde exactly how I imagined her in my head. She gave Freize a playful, mocking voice, and Luca an inquisitive and sometimes haughty voice. Her range for age and gender brought this book to life. Additionally, there was an afterword from the author on what was factual and what was fiction about her book – such afterwards I always find of interest.

What I Liked: The setting (1400s Italy); interesting child crusade; natural phenomenon – very well done; the last quarter was excellent; the ending is set up perfectly for the next book.

What I Disliked: Odd love quadrangle; slow start with lots of focus on Johann but little depth; the inquiry was over too quickly & lacked drama; too many abilities assigned to Ishraq to make for a believable character.

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Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Waffles snuggling with the library book.
Waffles snuggling with the library book.

Why I Read It: It’s been a while since I read Philippa Gregory & I was excited to explore her new series.

Where I Got It: The library.

Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy a fast-paced 15th century adventure perpetrated by young folks, you should check this book out.

Publisher: Simon Pulse (2012)

Length: 256 pages

Series: Book 1 Order of Darkness

Set in 1400s Italy, this historical fiction romp focuses on four young people. Luca Viero is a brilliant young man who questions everything, which gets him in trouble with his religious order of which he is a novitiate. Soon, he finds himself working for the Order of the Dragon tasked to seek out the strange, the wicked, and the holy, to investigate it, and send reports to his lord who passes the reports on to the pope. On this adventure is his childhood friend Freize, a more earthly young man with a sense of humor, and Brother Peter, acting as clerk, who tries his best to keep the two young men out of trouble. Isolde was left without an inheritance upon her father’s deathbed, her brother forcing her into a nunnery to act as Abbess. Her faithful friend and childhood servant Ishraq, of Arabic heritage, follows her into the nunnery. There, strange visions, stigmata, and hints of witchcraft afflict the women. Luca is sent to investigate.

This was a very fast paced story. Once Philippa Gregory had the scenery set, she turned her characters loose to entertain the reader. Even though this novel is not particularly in depth with historical facts, I still found myself looking forward to the story every night. I had an instant, if not close, connection to the characters. We could easily see Luca’s anticipation as he sets off into the world to uncover evil or bring to the light holy occurrences. I could easily imagine Isolde’s frustration given her two choices upon her father’s death: marriage to a much older man or entering a nunnery. The side characters were entertaining and added depth to tale. I have to say that Freize was my favorite character, often having the best lines. I also had the overall impression that he was a bit more mature than the other three, given his role in life of actually working for a living. Ishraq was by turns fascinating and occasionally unbelievable. She comes from a different culture and yet has lived all her life in this Italian culture as a servant. The few unbelievable parts were when someone in the story had to be the keeper of some vast knowledge – like medicine – so the 17 year-old Ishraq was the trained doctor. But I was able to easily overlook these few smidgens where I had difficulty suspending my disbelief because I was enjoying the larger story arc.

While the over all plot was a little predictable, I enjoyed the little twists to how Luca figured out what was going on, and then averted disaster. Of course, there is the growing interest between Luca and Isolde for a side romance to add to the overall  tension of the tale. Can’t say the same for Freize and Ishraq, but their interactions are even more amusing.

What I Liked: the setting; the characters were each distinct and accessible to the reader; the mystery, while classic, was still fun to watch unfold.

What I Disliked: Ishraq has skills and knowledge well beyond her years, experiences, and setting.

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