New Read: The Red Queen

After loving The White Queen about Elizabeth Woodville last year, I was very eager to continue reading Philippa Gregory’s popular Cousins’ War series. In which, Gregory retells the bloody rivalry between the Houses of York and Lancaster, what we now call the War of the Roses, through the eyes of the indomitable women caught up in it all; and in this book, The Red Queen, Gregory switches sides to Margaret Beaufort, the Queen Mother of Henry VII.

As a Lancastrian and the heir to the Beaufort fortune, Margaret becomes the prized child-bride of Edmund Tudor, the half-brother of Henry VI. But after becoming a young widow and mother, Margaret goes on to endure, with unwavering faith and determination, two more love-less marriages, the dramatic downfall of her house and the rise of her enemies: the Yorks. Whilst feigning friendship, firstly for the golden Edward IV and then his usurper brother Richard III, she secretly plots to restore her only son, Henry Tudor, and thus the Lancastrian line to their rightful place on the throne of England.

I love that Gregory has chosen to tell this series from the perspective of the women: the secret, often silenced but no less important players in these wars of men. And boy was Margaret a big player in this game of politics, war and rivalry, with her wily, secret machinations, plotting and changing alliances. However, while I found this all absolutely fascinating to read about, I found Margaret to be a thoroughly unlikeable character! So unlikeable that she made me feel sympathy for the deeply proud and ambitious Elizabeth Woodville, who seemed to genuinely hold out the hand of friendship to her.

Of course I started with much sympathy for the strikingly pious little girl, who, as a disappointing female heir, is packed off to marry a stranger twice her age. Only for her to be widowed and pregnant a year later at just thirteen years old! It is only Margaret’s strong faith in God and the belief she has been specially chosen by Him that sees her through all this. While I would usually find such piety admirable, Margaret’s faith is portrayed as the hypocritical, ‘holier than thou’ sort, which sees her care nothing for who is hurt or killed to see herself raised to the position she believes she deserves.

Which again cleverly gives Gregory an opportunity to explore the mystery of ‘the princes in the Tower’? In this book, Gregory fully airs her well-educated conjectures that Margaret and her self-serving third husband, Lord Stanley, had the opportunity, the motive and perhaps the most to gain from this despicable deed. So there is definitely more dark than light in this portrayal of Margaret, but at the same time I had some begrudging admiration for her. Simply because a weaker, gentler woman wouldn’t have survived to see her son to adulthood, let alone placed a crown upon his head, so hat’s off again to Gregory for another strong, completely believable character.

Overall, I thought The Red Queen was another brilliantly written and researched piece of historical fiction, which, while it lacked the romance and magic I loved from The White Queen, it did grip me from beginning to end!  I look forward to reading the next book in the series: The Lady of the Rivers, about Jacquetta Luxembourg, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Philippa Gregory?


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten…Frequently Used Words in My Historical Fiction Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

Frequently Used Words In [Insert Genre/Age Group] Titles

There are several genres I could have chosen for this topic, however I immediately thought of historical fiction! So here are ten frequently used words in the titles of the historical fiction I have on my shelves:

  1. Queen – I have read The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, The Shadow Queen, The Forbidden Queen and The Queen’s Choice by Anne O’Brien and Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir. While I have just finished The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory, and I have The Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle, Queen of Love by Christopher Nicole, and Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession and Six Tudor Queens: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir on my shelf to read. (10)
  2. Tudor – I have recently read First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson and Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen by Alison Weir. While I am looking forward to reading The Tudor Princess by Darcey Bonnette, and Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession and Six Tudor Queens: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir. (5)
  3. King – I have read The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien. While I still have The King’s Concubine by Anne O’Brien, The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnet and Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir on my shelf to read. (4)
  4. Kingmaker – I have read Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims and Kingmaker: Broken Faith by Toby Clements. While I have copies of The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory and Kingmaker: Divided Souls by Toby Clements to read. (4)
  5. Lady – Some years ago now I read The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn. While I am looking forward to reading The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory and Lady on the Coin by Margaret Campbell Barnes. (3)
  6. White – I have read The White Queen by Philippa Gregory and Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson. While I have The White Princess by Philippa Gregory on my shelf to read. (3)
  7. Shadow – Some time ago now I read The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien and Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver. (2)
  8. Red – I just finished reading The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory and a few years ago now I read Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson. (2)
  9. Sister – I have previously read The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien and Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle. (2)
  10. Rose – Some years ago now I read Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson, while I have a copy of Anne, The Rose of Hever by Maureen Peters on my Kindle to read. (2)

Can you think of other historical fiction with these words in their title? Can you think of any other words frequently used in historical fiction titles? Also, please leave a link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

Cookbooks: April 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, the start of the month was still pretty chilly and we had Easter to celebrate, so with that in mind I gave these new recipes a go:

Fisherman’s Pie With Leeky Mash
The Hairy Dieters (2) Eat For Life by Si King & Dave Myers
Family Favourites – Page 55

After enjoying King & Myers’ Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin and Creamy Haddock and Broccoli, I thought I would try this more traditional fish pie made of thick white fish, smoked haddock and prawns in a creamy sauce, which is topped with leek-filled mash. This may have taken a lot longer to cook than the previous recipes, but well worth it if you have a bit more time on your hands! Great recipe.

Roasted Root Vegetables
Everyday: Granny’s Favourites
Granny’s Festive Favourites – Page 114

As I invited family and friends round for a celebratory roast dinner on Easter Sunday, I thought this might be a nice, new accompaniment for my traditional leg of lamb. Once all the cutting was done, this mixture of carrots, parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potatoes was easily cooked on one big tray, with mixed herbs and a little oil. This made a sweet and delicious side which was eagerly gobbled up by all, including the fussy eaters! Great recipe.

Sweet Potato and Bean Chilli
and Mexican Rice

The Co-operative Magazine

With the remaining sweet potatoes from the recipe above, I thought it was an excellent chance to give these recipes, cut out of an old Co-op magazine ages ago, a try. This healthy and vibrant chilli, made with sweet potatoes, peppers, and red kidney and cannellini beans, was super easy to make and was delicious served with the Mexican rice. Which was simply basmati rice simmered in vegetable stock with spring onions and tomatoes. I think from now on I will make this rice with all my chillies! Great recipes.

Gammon with Parsley Sauce
The Hairy Dieters (1) by Si King & Dave Myers
Grills & Roasts – Page 65

King and Myers have managed to make a low-fat version of this all-time classic dish by switching out the butter and flour in the sauce for cornflour. Gammon, boiled potatoes and green beans I have cooked before, but this was my first time making homemade parsley sauce. This method was so easy to follow and if it’s healthy to boot, I will make my own parsley sauce like this from now on! Great recipe.

That’s five great, new recipes tried over the last month. I also remade The Hairy Dieter’s comforting Creamy Chicken and Tarragon Pots (Book 3) and, with the remaining root vegetables from my Easter Sunday roast, I made a big batch of Golden Vegetable Soup (Book 1).

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

What cookbooks are you reading? Have you tried any new recipes?

New Read: Hazard of Shadows

Finally, I got round to reading Hazard of Shadows by Mike Phillips, the second book in Phillip’s Chronicles of the Goblin King series, after I read the first book, The World Below a couple of years ago now! (While this is the second book I think you could read this as a stand-alone book, as there is plenty of throwback information from the first book).

This book returns us to a world where enchanted creatures of legend still exist, hidden away from an age of camera phones and government labs in a secret, rubbish-tip metropolis, in caves and tunnels below the human streets. After over-throwing the nasty Baron Finkbeiner, Lady Elizabeth’s champion, Mitch Hardy is the new leader of The World Below, where he hopes to introduce law, order and democracy. However unbeknownst to them all, the ancient faerie, Lord Stokelas and his minions seek to revenge the death of the Baron and recover the mysterious Blade of Caro. Soon Mitch and his friends will be fighting for their lives and freedom against a pack of hellish monsters.

I really enjoyed catching up with Mitch, Elizabeth and the cheeky goblin crew, who are still up to their funny tricks. Most of the story is still told from Mitch’s perspective, but also intermittently from the point-of-view of a new character, Simon Beene, who is a dangerous faerie recently escaped from Lady Elizabeth’s splinter world prison for him. While Beene is not a very pleasant fellow, it is interesting to read about his creepy antics. On top of that we also have a fun, colourful cast of other characters, including: trolls, ogres, minotaurs, weres, vampires and of course a few oblivious humans!

Again, like The World Below, I thought this was written in a fun, edgy style with some good magical elements and creatures; and while there were still some small typos issues they were far less frequent than before. However something new I noticed – and not in a good way – was how the author felt the need to describe the size of every female characters’ breasts! Which I could understand coming from sleazy Simon Beene, but it seemed to bleed over to every male character, including good guy Mitch! Fortunately I was invested enough in the story and characters to read on.

Overall, I thought Hazard of Shadows was another fun and light adventure in a magical world below our feet, but if the odd, new breast obsession continues I am unsure whether I would read the rest of the series. Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Have you enjoyed other urban fantasy books?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten… Books I Look Forward to Re-Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

Freebie (create your own topic)

As one of my goals this year is to continue to make time for re-reading old favourites, I thought I would encourage myself by sharing with you the ten books I am most looking forward to re-reading soon:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – My favourite of all of Austen’s wonderful novels, that follows the trials and tribulations of the Dashwood sisters. I look forward to seeing if it retains its top spot after a second read.
  2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The first book in Collins’ popular dystopian, young adult trilogy, which I haven’t read since they were adapted into the highly successful film franchise with an all-star cast.
  3. The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley – My first and favourite novel I read by Kearsley. I look forward to returning to the beautiful Trelowarth on the Cornish coast and seeing if I fall in love with it all over again.
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – Over the last year or so, I have been enjoying a comforting re-read of Rowling’s magical Harry Potter series, via the audiobooks read by the brilliant Stephen Fry.
  5. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – I am hoping a re-read of this, the hopelessly romantic and tragic tale of Gabriel and Bathsheba, will spur me on to read more of Hardy’s novels.
  6. Sabriel by Garth Nix – After re-reading this and Lirael, the first and second books in Nix’s Old Kingdom series, I hope I will finally be able to get round to finishing the series with Abhorsen.
  7. Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard – My first and favourite novel I read by Gillard. I look forward to re-reading this powerful tale, as well as reading two new-to-me books I have by this wonderful author.
  8. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott – It has been many years since I read Scott’s classic novel. So long ago I remember little about it, except for a vague feeling that I enjoyed it. High time for a re-read don’t you think?!
  9. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens – Since reading this I read many of Dickens’ classic novels, and now it feels like the right time to go back and remind myself of this old favourite.
  10. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton – At first, I thought this would be a new read in my continued journey through Beaton’s hilarious Agatha Raisin series, but on closer inspection I recognised the premise; so re-read it is!

Have you read any of these? What books would you like to re-read? Also, please leave a link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

New Read: This Side of Paradise

Some years ago now I won a beautiful set of Alma Classics’ reprints of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s four novels. Since then I have slowly worked my way through them. Starting with, undoubtedly the most famous, The Great Gatsby, followed by Tender is the Night and The Beautiful and Damned. Having struggled with the generally unlikeable characters, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the final book in my set: This Side of Paradise.

Fitzgerald’s debut novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920 and was an instant critical and commercial success. It charts the life of Amory Blaine, an ambitious young man loosely based on the author himself, who grows up in a well-heeled Midwest home, boards at St Regis’ and then goes on to study at Princeton, where he starts frequenting the circles of high society as an aspiring writer. However as Amory experiences failure and frustrations in his college work, love life and his career, his youthful enthusiasm gradually descends into disillusionment, cynicism and a life of idle dissolution.

Unfortunately my fears were proved to be correct: Amory Blaine is not a particularly likeable character… From the start he is an odd, lonely and aloof child, due a lot to his unusual relationship with his mother, who he is always refers to as Beatrice. When a kindly professor at St Regis’ tries to advise him on making friends he scornfully refuses his help, because he sees himself as above his peers. Then in Princeton his egotistical traits just flourish! However during this time he does make friends with the outgoing Kerry Holiday; Kerry’s hardworking brother Burne, and the diligent writer Tom D’Invilliers.

Sadly many of his friendships dwindle and disappear, as Amory can’t seem to make decisive decisions and refuses to believe he may need to change or adapt. This is much the same reason for his doomed love affairs too. First with the vacuous Isabelle; then the virtuous Clara; next the spoilt Rosalind and finally, the rebellious, maybe a little unhinged, Eleanor. Although I must admit I found it all quite gripping – particularly by the genuine love that Amory shared with Rosalind and the terrible choice that she had to make for both their sakes.

Of course there is reason for our unlikeable Amory, his heartache and his feckless, high living: Fitzgerald was writing a critical account of the era he was living in. While to us looking back the Jazz Age is a time of glamour, glitz and hedonism, Fitzgerald digs deeper under the thin, superficial veneer to the darker side beneath. Here are the themes of disillusionment, addiction and depression that would go on to feature in all his major works. All of which is brought to life in some beautiful prose, but for me to love it I just needed a little ray of hope. Instead I reached the end to find no real hope or resolution for poor Amory!

In conclusion, I thought This Side of Paradise was a beautifully written, sometimes gripping, satirical portrait of the golden Jazz Age. While I don’t think Fitzgerald’s work is really for me, I am glad I persevered because these are important works of literature and social commentary. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or any of Fitzgerald’s other novels? Fan or not?

This is book 1/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

New Read: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen

Back in March, I finally got round to reading Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, the first book in an ambitious six-book series from bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir, in which each novel will chronicle the lives of each of Henry VIII’s six wives.

In this captivating opening volume, Weir takes us back to 1501 to start the tumultuous tale of Katherine of Aragon: Henry VIII’s first, devoted wife. Who was sent to England, at the tender-age of sixteen, by her powerful parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, as a prized-bride for Henry VII’s son and heir, Arthur. But tragically five months later Arthur is dead and Katherine is left a young widow and stranger in a foreign land. Although Henry VII quickly betroths her to his younger son, Henry, she must wait eight agonising years for him to come-of-age, during which time she is a virtual prisoner at the mercy of an ambitious, fickle and penny-pinching king.

So I rejoiced with her when, on the death of Henry VII in 1509, her patience is rewarded as the young, handsome, celebrated Prince Henry takes the throne and comes to claim her as his wife. Saving her from deprivation and raising her to the exulted position of Queen of England. The affection between them is genuine and they are happy for a good fifteen years, but multiple heart-breaking miscarriages, still births and infant deaths takes a huge toll on their marriage. Then Henry falls in love with the bewitching Anne Boleyn and to have her he is prepared to rend asunder his marriage, the church and even his country.

I have always felt sorry for Katherine, but reading this I also felt some awe too. Till the bitter end she loves her husband and refuses to step aside or to renounce their marriage or daughter as illegitimate. Instead she bravely holds to that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated and so she is Henry’s only true wife and queen. Enraged Henry banishes Katherine and devastatingly parts her bit-by-bit from all she loves. I was on the verge of tears, when she finally passed, quietly and peacefully, knowing she had done all she could for her conscience. And it is a telling testament to her character that her servants and the English people loved and never forsook her.

In bringing this emotional-rollercoaster of a story alive, Weir has kept closely to historical records, but of course has had to take some dramatic licence to flesh out minor characters and fill in any gaps. As always though Weir’s research and imagination meld seamlessly to create a completely believable tale. And through the eyes of Katherine we are given a very personal and intimate perspective on the lost Tudor world of splendour, power, brutality and courtly love, which Weir has evoked perfectly through all the sights, textures, sounds and smells of the age.

Overall, I thought Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen was a powerful tale of a courageous woman, that completely immersed me into tumultuous Tudor England. Now I can’t wait to read volume two: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession, especially as Anne, not surprisingly, wasn’t painted favourable in this first volume. Great read.

Have you read this? Or any of Alison Weir’s other novels?