Book Review: Queens of the Conquest

QueensSchemers and dreamers; sinners and saints – the five queens depicted in this new biography by prolific writer, Alison Weir, could lay claim to each of those descriptors and many more.  In this ambitious work, Weir probes the lives of the women who helped lay the foundations of England as we know it.  In doing so, she brings to life the intrigues that shaped their world.

I’ve always preferred Weir’s narrative non-fiction over her novels and Queens of the Conquest proved true to form.  She makes heavy subject matter interesting and engaging.  True, it is difficult to keep the Matilda’s straight (there are three queens, plus the several daughters named for them), but that’s to be expected in the era covered and it detracts in no way from the story-line.

In an effort to include all existing information on the queens, Weir often posits conflicting information regarding the details of their lives – number of children, personalities, events, etc.  There is also quite a bit of conjecture – Queen so-and-so could have, possibly, perhaps.  While I would normally reject so much unprovable content, it is to be expected in a work covering such early years.  This time period was nearly a century ago, it’s not surprising that so little can be said with absolute certainty.  This is the time period I know least about, so I can’t comment at all upon the accuracy, but this work seems to have much more comprehensive reference notes than I’ve seen from Weir in the past.  Hopefully, this is a new trend.

Queens of the Conquest is a worthy read and I look forward to future installments coming in this series.

All Aboard the If-Only Train

JRMI hopped onto Yahoo today…It’s not my usual search engine, but sometimes I like to use it to get a glance at the news before I go digging into whatever I’m looking for…and I was disheartened to see the familiar face of one of my favorite actors in another story about failed sobriety.  I won’t post the pictures because it is completely and utterly disrespectful that they were ever taken in the first place, but I will tell you that when I saw them, my heart broke.  The man who I always think of as the strident and charismatic Henry Tudor, suave and tortured Elvis Presley,  and devious yet gentlemanly Dracula appeared utterly lost and alone, totally consumed by his demons.

Seeing Jonathan Rhys Meyers in that state was like a gut-punch.  You see, I’ve kind of been feeling sorry for myself.  In the spirit of being frank, I have anxiety, and let me tell you, it’s been a bear lately.  There’s nothing in particular that sets it off, it’s just a general feeling I struggle with.  A feeling of never being good enough.  Of never realizing my goals. Of always being less-than.  It’s a feeling that I think many of us struggle with, truthfully, and when you get that feeling, I call it being on the If-Only Train.

If-Only I looked as gorgeous as Giselle/Jennifer Aniston/J-Lo. If-Only I wrote as well as JK Rowling/Stephen King/George R. R. Martin.  If only I were as rich as Bill Gates/Warren Buffett/Jeff Bezos.  If-Only I was thin, gorgeous, articulate, brilliant, popular…my life would be perfect.  I’d never be anxious again.  Everything would just fall into place for me, right? No.  It wouldn’t.  And seeing Rhys Meyers mired in his own misery only proves that to me.  On paper, he’s got it all:  the looks, talent in spades, more than enough money to get by…but here he is, soaked in liquid courage, aimlessly wandering an airport.  Because underneath all of that glamour, he’s human.  Even the seemingly perfect among us feel the acute sting of pain.

There is nothing in this world that can make your life better than you can.  No diet, no prize, no accolade.  Nothing.  It’s a conscientious decision you have to make.  Knowing this doesn’t make the struggle any easier right now, but maybe one day it will.  If I could offer any advice it would be this: know that everyone has their trip on the If-Only train – some of us just go on vacation a little more often than others.

Book Review: Margaret Tudor Queen of Scots

QoSOf all the Tudor children, Margaret is the I am the least familiar with. Always relegated to the shadows of her domineering brother and beautiful, but tragic sister, this feisty lightening bolt of a woman never seems to be given much thought in books about the period. In this little gem of a biography, she is finally given her due. Combining careful research with an engaging narrative style, Sarah-Beth Watkins takes the reader on a journey through the hardships and triumphs of this elusive Tudor woman.

Watkins’ thoughtful prose lends gravity to the heartbreak so prevalent in Margaret’s life. I hadn’t realized how much tragedy had befallen the queen until now. Never one to take these events lying down, Margaret’s strength endures, as evidenced by the selected excerpts of primary sources woven throughout the book. These excerpts are perfectly chosen to move the narrative forward without bogging the reader down.

The only thing that would make Margaret Tudor: Queen of Scots better is if it were longer. I so thoroughly enjoyed my time in 16th century Scotland, that I wasn’t ready for it to end. Highly recommend!

Death of a Princess

MeganEven though it will be twenty years ago tomorrow, I remember it almost as if it happened just yesterday.  It was the summer before my 16th birthday.  I had spent most of those hot, sultry days palling around with Nicole, my best friend, laying around the house…swimming in the pool…hanging out at church…or just generally goofing off before school started.  On the morning of September 1, 1997, I set off just like any other day, to Nicole’s house.  She only lived a few blocks away, so it was a short walk, and she wasn’t quite ready when I arrived so I waited in the living room for her.  The picture on the front of the newspaper sitting on the coffee table caught my eye…Since we didn’t have cable to watch the news, that was the moment I learned that Princess Diana had died.

I’m not entirely sure why it hit me so hard that day.  At that age, I knew next to nothing about the royals – I hadn’t even fallen in love with history yet – but seeing her face staring up at me caused a lump to form in my throat.  Unexpected waves of nausea crashed through my stomach and the deep sense of foreboding stayed with me through the next two weeks…until the day my life changed forever.

September 17, 1997 started out terribly.  At some point between the day I read the news to that morning, Nicole and I had gotten in a tiff.  I don’t even remember what it was about, but it had to do with my cousin, Aimee.  She was a few years older than I was and always seemed to be annoyed by me.  I guess I can’t blame her.  My mom and step-dad had just gone through a difficult time and we had to spend some time living with my step-grandmother.  Aimee and her mom were living there too and because there were so many of us and so little house, we had to share a room.  I was probably always underfoot and in her business because I looked up to her and wanted to belong with her cool group of friends.  I’m sure I was a real pain.  I would have been sick of me too.  We had moved out by the end of August, but the resentment still lingered.  Nicole happened to be dating an older boy who was friends with my cousin.  They all hung out together and I ended up being on the outs.  That morning, we spent our first period class together sniping at each other and behaving like cruel teenage girls.

I spent my lunch hiding out and avoiding everyone so I almost missed the call over the intercom for me to come to the office.  What now? I thought.  Everyone looked so somber when I walked into the counseling center.  It felt as though someone had died.  It turns out…someone had…or was about to.  Mr. B jumped up as soon as I walked in.  I had volunteered in the office the year before so they knew me well.  That’s probably why they had such a hard time with what they had to do.  When the words came tumbling out, it took me a moment to realize what he had just said.  My mom and sisters had been in a terrible accident and things didn’t look good.  I knew what happened in terrible accidents…I had just read about one claiming the life of a princess…but I pushed those thoughts away.  Surely it was just a few broken bones, right?

There were broken bones, but there were too many to be repaired…too serious to be fixed.  When I finally got to the hospital, they walked me back to the operating table to say goodbye.  I remember holding my sister’s hand and begging her to live.  Megan was only seven years old and had her whole life ahead of her.  Always kind to a fault, my mother once asked her why she was so nice to the kids that bullied her.  “Because they just need more love, Mom,” was her reply.  What a woman she would have been.

I could sit here and go into great detail about how this tragedy happened.  I could rage against who I thought was at fault or how if so-and-so had made different choices and this-or-that happened things would have been different…but what good would that do?  It wouldn’t bring my sister back and it wouldn’t make me feel better.  In fact, it would utterly besmirch her memory because, if I know anything about Megan, that would make her mad.  She’d never want to be associated with anger or judgment.  She’d only want me to show kindness, forgiveness, and love.

As we spend this week being inundated with documentaries and stories about Diana’s death, with the media and all the “experts” speculating on her cause of death and shaming those who they believe to be responsible, I urge you to tune it out.  This self-serving agenda does nothing to help the two wonderful young men she left behind.  In that same vein, let’s not put her on a pedestal, because that has the potential to cause equal damage.  Diana wonderful, but she made mistakes and had flaws too.  When we push those aside, she loses her humanity.  The fact that she inspired a deep adoration in spite of those flaws makes it all the more sweeter.

Losing Megan at the tender age of seven was hard, but it’s equally heartbreaking to lose the potential of who she might have become.  She will never know that sweet victory of eclipsing her mistakes or overcoming her own heartbreaks.  It’s completely far-fetched and incredibly sappy, but I’d like to think that Princess Diana was nearby when Megan went to Heaven.  Perhaps she said, “You sweet young girl, you’re far too young!  There are far too many lessons for you to learn!  Let’s have some tea and a chat – I’ve got so much to share with you.”

What’s New?

So, I’m not terribly good at this blogging thing…For a writer, who happens to talk a lot, I don’t usually feel like I have much to say!  I’m going to try to get better at that.  I’ve started something new recently – I’m going to be adding my book reviews on here.  I’m a voracious reader so I’ve always got something I’m in the middle of, and often times I end up writing a review…I thought, perhaps, I’d share them with you!

In other exciting news, I’ve begun the research stage of my third novel.  This one will pick up on the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution and follow through the reign of her successor, Jane Seymour.  In this way, I will be able to tell the parts of the story I couldn’t in The Raven’s Widow.  This novel will be told from two perspectives, that of the queen and of the keeper of her jewels, Margery Horseman.  Mistress Horseman had a bit part in my last novel, so I hope you are interested in learning more about her.

Well, that’s all for now!  Stay tuned for more to come!

Book Review: Queen of Martyrs

QofMMary Tudor is one of those historical figures who confounds me.  While I don’t believe she deserves the title of Bloody Mary, I thoroughly abhor her religious policies and the many burnings carried out in her name.  I also admit to being slightly biased due to the fact that I’m…well…Lutheran.  So yeah, I probably would have found myself on the stake!  However, I fully believe that Mary was not born the person she eventually became. The fault for her zealotry lies squarely at the feet of her father, and the man certainly left a wake of destruction in his path.  These conflicted feelings led me to pick up the latest in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series.  I wanted to see Mary as a person, rather than a list of deeds in a history book.  I was not disappointed.

Wilcoxon’s book opens with Mary at prayer, a fitting start.  Throughout the novel, she continues to linger on these very specific traditions and ceremonies.  So often, these are left out or glossed over in historical fiction, but here they are a character unto themselves.  I was particularly moved by a scene set during Mary’s Maundy Thursday giving.  It was almost as if I could see the entire thing play out in my mind. One of the things I loved most was seeing the relationships between Mary and the women in her life.  The sisterly bond she shares with Kateryn Parr and Margaret Pole is at turns heartwarming and heartbreaking; Her ladies, Fran and Susan offer another dimension, Mary as a kind, yet naïve employer.  Elizabeth I is the least likeable of the cast, and while I don’t necessarily see her in the same way, this is Mary’s story and it’s probably exactly how she saw her younger sister.

For me, the last third of the book, detailing Mary’s marriage to Phillip and her relationship to Cardinal Reginald Pole is where Wilcoxson really shines.  The intimate moments are told in such achingly tender detail, you can’t help but see the humanity inside Mary.  I was stunned by the author’s take on Mary and Reginald’s relationship, but I think she’s really hit on something there.  I won’t reveal more because *spoilers.*  I’m always drawn to novels that focus on women who didn’t have happy endings, because not everyone gets those.  Life is real and it’s raw, and full of pain.  Wilcoxson never shies away from that; nor does she gloss over Mary’s flaws.  She is judgmental and obstinate, but also compassionate and capable of great love – a true and complex human.

The Black Legend of Lady Jane Rochford

Today I am over at Queen Anne Boleyn talking about the sources traditionally used to paint Jane Boleyn as a vile, grasping villain.  It’s time we reconsider what those sources say about a woman who was just as much a victim as Anne and George Boleyn.

To read more, follow the link below: