January Reading Part 1

I’ve been reading the books in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series this month. First I reread The White Queen, then I read the Red Queen, Lady of the Rivers and the non-fiction Women of the Cousins’ War.

The White Queen - This book is about Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner, widow, from a Lancastrian family, who married Edward of York and became the Queen of England & a key player in the Wars of the Roses. It weaves in the tale of Melusina, who was supposedly an ancestor of Elizabeth’s mother. She gives her female descendants a certain power. They hear the water singing when a member of their house dies. They can cast spells. The book covers the time from Elizabeth meeting Edward through just before the final battle between Richard III & Henry VII and all the ups and downs of Fortune that came her way. First she was Queen & marrying her siblings into the nobility. Then she was basically a prisoner in sanctuary when Henry VI returned to the throne. Then she was Queen again. Then she was widowed & ran back to the tower in fear of the boy king’s protector, her sons were taken from her there & her marriage declared invalid, her children illegitimate. Her sons disappeared, her daughter pursued by both Richard III and Henry Tudor. Secret negotiations, various plots, politics, battles, romance. This book has it all
The Red Queen: A Novel – This book focuses on Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor – eventually Henry VII. She is married off at 12 to Edmund Tudor, gives birth at 13 to Henry, is widowed, separated from her son & then married off again. She is pious, but above all she is ambitious. She knows through her Henry has a claim to the throne & thinks it entirely possible that he will sit on it, given time. Her every action is directed at furthering her son’s ambition, even marrying Lord Stanley and being friendly & loyal to the usurping house of York if that is what it takes. Margaret is cold & unyielding, with the annoying righteousness of those who think they are special to God. God wants her son on the throne. She never doubts this. It’s hard to like Margaret, despite her very real struggles & frailties. But it is a good book.
The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins’ War) – The story of Elizabeth Woodville’s mother Jacquetta. It features a lot about Melusina and the power she gave her female descendants. Not so much as to devolve into fantasy, but just basic hedge witchery. She is first married off to the royal Duke of Bedford, uncle of Henry VI and regent of France. He gives her access to greater knowledge of the world, a huge library, and teaches her alchemy. Her friend in this new life is the squire Richard Woodville. When Bedford dies the two begin and affair & eventually marry in secret. They return to England where they are eventually forgiven and become part of the court, Jacquetta welcoming the new queen Margaret of Anjou & becoming one of her closest friends, in between giving birth to some 13 children. Jacquetta is loyal to house of Lancaster until the very end, despite Margaret’s vicious behavior & the future she can dimly see for her daughter Elizabeth. I really liked Jacquetta. I think it is the best of the three
The Women of the Cousins’ War – This one is non fiction. It is a collection of 3 essays about the Duchess Jacquetta, Queen Elizabeth Woodville & Lady Margaret Beaufort. Gregory writes about Jacquetta using original source material. You’d think there would be more about her, considering her real historic roles in several key events & her place at both the Lancaster & York royal courts, but there isn’t much,so there is speculation mixed in with fact David Baldwin writes about Elizabeth Woodville. His style is more scholarly & loaded with fact & little speculation. Michael Jones writes about Margaret Beaufort, going back to the beginning of her family as the illegitimate children of John of Gaunt, who’s legitimate son became Henry IV, giving background to her part in the Lancastrian family. He does a great job filling in details about the life of ‘the King’s Mother’. It was a decent read.

While back in the past I also read To Die For

To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn – The story of Meg Wyatt, friend of Anne Boleyn. Meg travels with Anne to Henry VIIIs court & becomes involved with court intrigue & new the religion. She is down on the old religion because the man she loves is sent away to become a priest and she is promised instead to a man decades older than herself. Meg becomes involved with the New Learning & slowly finds her place in faith. The friendship between the women is strong & survives Anne’s growing arrogance. The story of Anne is well known, there can be no happy ending for her, but can there be one for Meg? This story is based on the known facts of Meg’s life is and very well told

I came forward in time, to WWII, with a book from the Library Thing’s Early Reviewer’s selection

Dancing with Colonels: A Young Woman’s Adventures in Wartime Turkey  – This is non fiction. It is a collection of letters by Marjorie Havreberg written to her family as she travelled for work. She was in DC, working for Senator Norbeck from Jan to May 1936. Then she was a secretary for the War Department in Ankara Turkey from 1944 to 1946. She wrote mostly about her social life, with bits & pieces of her job, with very little mention of the war or politics. She went out dancing often, and to supper parties, eating quite well despite the rationing in force at home.
The letters are all from her, there are no answering ones from her family & I think the book suffers a bit for it. I’m sort of left wondering what was the point of the book? It’s a nice collection of letters, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. There is no conflict, no tension. I enjoyed reading it but was left wondering about the other people.

Then I came up to ‘present day’ and read a cozy mystery on offer for free for the kindle

Dead as a Scone (The Royal Tunbridge Wells Mystery Series #1) – A modern day setting – the Royal Tunbridge Wells Tea Museum. Our sleuths are Nigel Owen, acting director & Felicity Adams, chief curator. The mystery – who killed Dame Elizabeth Hawker during a board meeting? Nigel & Felicity do not get along as the book opens. Nobody, including Nigel, believe Flick when she claims Dame Elizabeth was murdered, but as the story progresses Nigel comes around. The characters were hard to like at first but they grow on you & I don’t quite understand the police’s hostility toward Flick’s theory. It seems to exist only as a plot device & I find that sort of thing annoying. Overall though I liked the book enough to buy the next in the series – the Final Crumpet. It was $2.99 when I bought it. So far I wouldn’t pay more than that for these books but they are decent reads overall.
It’s billed as Christian fiction, but apart from Nigel asking Flick out on a date to church at the end of the book I wasn’t getting any Christian fiction vibe to it. I didn’t feel the Lord played any part & as far as I can remember, was never actually mentioned, nor was anyone’s faith.

I have also done some re-reading. I read Wanna Get Lucky & Lucky Stiff  by Deborah Coonts again, being in the mood for some fun but without the Stephanie Plum slapstick stuff. There is a new book in the series – So Damn Lucky – coming out Feb 28th and a short – Lucky in Love – on Jan 17th, which is what set me off rereading the other two. I like to reread series before a new one comes out if feasible. There is a new Daisy Dalrymple book coming out on Jan 17th – Gone West. This this will be the 20th book in that series though & I am just not up for rereading all 19 of the previous ones. Probably I will just hit the most recent 2-3. 

I have abandoned two books so far this month.

I gave up on Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh about 60 pages in. None of the characters interested me that much. I didn’t care about the miraculously cured child or the possible romance at the inn and I didn’t much like the woman who was supposed to be murdered, though since I did skip to the end as I usually do, she didn’t end up being murdered despite what the book synopsis said. I briefly considered whether this surprising development was enough to read the book after all.

But it wasn’t.

I surrendered Rules of Gentility by Jane Mullany more than 2/3rd of the way in due to her invoking Plot Device #3 – creating dramatic action by not having characters ASK one another a simple question & thus avoid said dramatic actions, even though they spoke to one another easily for every other part of the book.  I HATE Plot Device #3, unless there are extenuating circumstances creating this failure to communicate. Being physically kept apart, by persons known to have hostile motives, in an era before text messaging, is an acceptable circumstance. Not asking the man you love if he has decided to marry another woman for no other reason than ‘you know it must be so & don’t want to bother him’ is just bullshit in my opinion. Ask. If you really love him that much open your mouth and ASK. Do not subject me to 50 more pages of you whinging on in your not at all Silent Martyrdom to True Love while I wait for the equally incapable of speaking hero to finally figure out or more likely have pointed out to him that you might have misunderstood something you overheard part of and at last rush off to clear up the misunderstanding.

And for the love of god DO NOT include the dark & rainy pursuit of a carriage in clearing up the matter.

Any fondness I may have for otherwise intelligent characters, any liking for the plot, any favorable impression whatsoever I may have is utterly ruined by the inclusion of Plot Device #3. And I will not read it any more. I think after 40 some literate years I have read my fill of Plot Device #3 and I refuse to read it again.

I’m waiting for The Sisters Brothers to be available at the library. I am next in line for it. It’s going to be my book for the genre challenge this month. I need a Western & I’ve heard good reviews about this one.

Read any good books lately?

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5 comments to January Reading Part 1

  • I’m going to add some of these books to my Goodreads. I recently watched the whole The Tudors series and was very intrigued by the British monarchies. Thanks for reviewing them!

  • What a nice summary. Did you like any of the Gregory books best? And do you have to read them in a particular order?
    Rinda

  • I keep meaning to try Philippa Gregory. Her books do sound good but there are so many other lovely shiny books out there. Sigh.

    I loathe Plot Device #3 too. It’s one of those things that makes me want to shake the characters involved.

  • Brooke Williams

    You have a great blog! I’m reading the Bufflehead Sisters right now and really like it.

    I have a blog as well, but I’m only able to update it when big events occur so I can remember them later in my daughter’s life. ☺

    I am a freelance writer and I was wondering if you’d be interested in a writing opportunity I have for moms.

    Email me for details: djforjesus@hotmail.com

  • You know it’s funny – from the Stacey that I’ve gotten to “know”, I just don’t associate you with period romances, yet every time I see them on the free Kindle lists, I immediately think of you now LOL