Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #82: The Lady of the Rivers (The Cousins’ War #3) by Philippa Gregory

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While this is the third book published in Gregory’s “Cousin’s War” series, it is the first chronologically, and I really wished I’d read them in chronological order rather than as they were published. The Lady of the Rivers focuses on Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, whose daughter is the main character in The White Queen. As a result, I already knew how Jacquetta’s story would end, and therefore wasn’t as intrigued by the telling of her life. Obviously, these are historical characters, so a quick Wikipedia search would have revealed all the details anyway. But I think I would have been more interested in Jacquetta as a young woman if I didn’t already know her as an old lady from The White Queen.

She’s also not a very interesting character, in my opinion. She’s married off to the Duke of Bedford as a young woman due to his interest in her so-called magical powers. Gregory has incorporated magic into her “historical fiction” before, but here she just mentions it as a power Jacquetta might possess, but never really lets her use it.

After the duke dies, Jacquetta remarries for love. She spends the rest of the book, which covers the timespan at the beginning of the War of the Roses, simply following around the Queen (Margaret of Anjou) and having a baby about every 18 months. Seriously. Her husband goes to war, she goes to court, he returns, she gets pregnant, she returns home, has the baby and it all repeats again. I think there’s 14 kids total, and Gregory mentions every.single.one. But we don’t get to know any (other than a small bit about Elizabeth, who is the focus of The White Queen, so again, I already knew her story).

It’s just really repetitive and very dull in parts. The fun thing about Gregory’s novels is the gossip and backstabbing of the royals, and this book just lacks that. If you’re going to read the series, either start here as a bit of background, or skip it entirely.

loulamac’s #CBRV review #38: The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

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Historical novels don’t half get my bosom heaving. I love them. Forever Amber, Gone with the Wind, Jean Plaidy, awesome. But having said that, my relationship with La Gregory is a complicated one. She churns out scandal-filled dramas with a historical context (check), she presents famous figures in a gossipy way as if she knew them (check), and in the England of the War of the Roses and the Tudors she’s got stuck right in to two of my favourite periods. But still her books leave me exasperated. Part of it is that she is hamburger to Hilary Mantel’s steak, but more than that there’s something smug and wannabe about them (as there is in her personal appearances on TV), and The Boleyn Inheritance is no different.

Set in the aftermath of Jane Seymour’s death, the book tells the story of Henry VIII’s fourth and fifth marriages. The narrators are Anne of Cleves (wife #4), Katherine Howard (#5) and Jane Boleyn, dead Anne’s sister in law. Gregory does a great job of giving these women very different voices and preoccupations. Anne is so anxious to escape her stifling existence in the house of her cruel brother that she is happy to be married to a king who already has a reputation for casting off wives. Jane, exiled since the fall of her sister-in-law and husband, is desperate to get back to the intrigues of court life. And then there’s Katherine, who wants nothing more than posh frocks and hot boys to flirt with. Which is of course her downfall.

Gregory does a masterful job of creating the sense of dread that pervades Henry’s court. No one can be trusted as they jostle for position and change allegiances overnight, putting themselves and their families forward for favour while trying to cover their arses should things go wrong. And at the head of it all is a vain, capricious and perhaps insane King. The scenes where he attempts to bed his wives, and the descriptions of the stink of his suppurating leg that Katherine gamely overlooks are brilliant.

All three women are sympathetic in different ways. It is refreshingly different to meet an Anne of Cleves who is clever and attractive. Stupid and annoying Katherine is nothing more than a pawn in the games of powerful men, and her realisation at the very last that she is to be executed is tragic. Even Jane, for all her self-deception and deviousness, is so forlorn and alone that you end up feeling for her as she plays her part in sending a second queen to her death.

But having said all of that, I couldn’t get past the smugness. The writing is lazy in places (‘gallows’ is not a word that can be interchanged with ‘scaffold’) and at times I felt like I was reading the output of the novel-writing robot that the novelist keeps in her cellar. There were also a couple of historical inaccuracies, which I find inexcusable in a writer of her supposed learnedness. ‘The most happy’ was Anne Boleyn’s motto, not Jane Seymour’s and when Anne Boleyn was beheaded by the French swordsman she was kneeling up, not down with her head on the axe block! It might sound pedantic, but they bothered me.

So, if you want a disposable beach-read that’s a bit tense in places, then pick up any of Gregory’s novels. If you want something that will change your life, be in your thoughts as you read it and stay with you long after you’ve finished then I have a copy of Wolf Hall you can borrow.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #52: The Red Queen (The Cousins’ War #2) by Philippa Gregory

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“Yes, Your Grace,” I correct her. “I am My Lady, the King’s Mother, now, and you shall curtsy to me, as low as to a queen of royal blood. This was my destiny: to put my son on the throne of England, and those who laughed at my visions and doubted my vocation will call me My Lady, the King’s Mother, and I shall sign myself Margaret Regina: Margaret R.”

The Red Queen is the second in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series that focuses on the English Wars of the Roses. The first book, The White Queen, is written from the perspective of the York queen Elizabeth, whose husband Edward took the throne from King Henry. This book focuses on Margaret Beaufort, whose only life goals were to serve God, and one day, be mother to the king so she can sign her name “Margaret Regina”.

While the nature of this book is the same as the first — it covers the Wars of the Roses, Edward’s taking then losing then regaining of the throne, the lost princes, etc. — the main character is a wildly different woman. Elizabeth was likable, completely in love with her husband and concerned with the future of her family. She was also accused of witchcraft, and seducing Edward with magic. On the other hand, Margaret was pious and devout, having seen visions likening her to Joan of Arc since she was a child. However, due to her bloodlines, she could not become a nun, like she desired. Instead, her mother married her off at the age of twelve to an older man, and instructed her to produce a son and heir as soon as possible.

Margaret believed this to be god’s will, so from the moment of her son’s birth, she constantly conspired to get him on the throne. At one point, she fully admits that had her son not been next in line for the crown (under the Tudors), that she probably would have little interest in him as a person. In fact, he spends the majority of his life separated from her, since his inheritance made him a target in England. She runs his life and later his campaign from afar, thinking only of her own ascent to the throne.

Still, while not a very pleasant person, Margaret makes for an interesting read. Again, these books are full of gossip and schemes and doublecrossing. Thomas Stanley, Margaret’s third husband, constantly changes his loyalties. Sometimes he sides with the Yorks, and sometimes the Lancasters, depending on who’s winning. He’s an excellent companion and foil to Margaret, since he thinks only of his own ambition as well — which occasionally lines up with hers and god’s — and calls her out on it. “I don’t think your God has ever advised you otherwise. You hear only what you want. He only ever commands your preferences.”

One of the most chilling aspects of this novel is the story of the lost princes in the Tower — also told by their mother in The White Queen. This time, Gregory describes them from the perspective of the woman who may have ordered their murder. Margaret thinks of these two young boys as simply heartbeats between the throne and her son. The story is pretty compelling, even if some of Margaret’s thoughts and actions inspire the desire to smack her.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #51: The White Queen (The Cousins’ War #1) by Philippa Gregory

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“If there is love enough, then nothing — not nature, not even death itself — can come between two who love each other.”

Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen is the first in a series that takes place before the Tudor court books. It focuses on the life of Elizabeth Woodville, a 26 year old widow who catches the eye of Edward of York, who is attempting to dethrone Henry and take the crown for himself. Edward and Elizabeth marry in secret while he is still fighting for the crown, and she stays beside him throughout his tumultuous reign.

Edward’s bid for the crown occurs during the War of the Roses (the Yorks vs. the Lancasters). As usual, Gregory does a good job of laying out the history of the event while adding in personal details to make it more interesting. There is one facet of this book that Gregory changes rather dramatically from what is generally accepted from the truth: Elizabeth is the mother of the “princes in the tower” — two boys who were held hostage in the Tower of London and never returned — and Gregory adds her own twist to the story. However, as she points out in her introduction, these events occurred hundreds of years ago, and who really knows what happened?

If you like Gregory’s other books, you’ll mostly likely enjoy this one. Elizabeth is an interesting figure, strong and levelheaded but also totally in love with her king. The women in her family believe strongly that they descend from a water goddess named Melusina (wow did I want to type Melisandre there — wrong book, wrong element). There’s a lot of references to mystical events and spells, which was kind of a departure from your average historical fiction, but since she was accused of witchcraft, it makes sense for the novel and adds a little wonder to the story.

Badkittyuno’s #CBR5 Review #50: The Other Queen (Tudor Court #6) by Philippa Gregory

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“Wealth means nothing at all if you do not know, to the last penny, what your fortune is. You might as well be poor if you do not know what you have.”

     If you haven’t ever read any of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels, you really should. They’re a lot of fun: she does a good job of taking actual historical events and mixing in some extra scandal and intrigue to make them more interesting (although with the Tudor court, a lot of what *actually* happened is pretty damn crazy). Gregory makes no effort to hide the fact that she occasionally makes shit up, but overall her books are well researched and as a history nerd, I really enjoy them. If you do choose read the series, do so in chronological order–makes it easier to keep track of who’s who (start with The Constant Princess–Katharine of Aragon).

      Other Queen focuses on the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots in the household of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess. Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of these three characters. The chapters are overall very short, so you switch perspectives a lot and really get inside these characters’ heads (unlike in Game of Thrones, for instance, where you may go 200 pages without returning to the same character twice).

     Queen Mary has been sent to stay with the Shrewsburys while Queen Elizabeth decides whether or not to return her to England. Initially, the Shrewsburys are thrilled at the honor of hosting a queen; eventually, the cost (both financial and emotional) of doing so while Mary carries out constant attempts to make war and/or escape begins to wear on them both. Lots of secret letters and clandestine meetings take place, and everyone is ripe for betrayal.

     What I really loved about this book was the character of Shrewsbury’s wife, Bess of Hardwick. Had she been born later, or as a man, she would have made one hell of a CEO. Bess is tough and levelheaded and focused on one thing: her family’s future. Married to an earl who falls head over heels for the imprisoned queen, Bess is the only one capable of staying the course. She was really an interesting, fleshed out character.

Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #32 – The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Lots of driving over the past week or so. Tampa to West Palm to Miami to Tampa to Orlando to Miami to West Palm to Tampa. Lots of time on my ass. Lots of time to listen to a very long story. That’s pretty much how I pick my books on CD – driving time. Since I was going to be in the car for a crap-ton of time, I knew I could go long. The last time I had lots of driving to do, I tried Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Who knew that the audiobook could be even more boring than the actual book?! So this time I decided to go pulp fiction. Well, pulp historical fiction.

We all know Philippa Gregory from such books as The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, and other Tudor bodice rippers. The books we all hate to say we read (or listen to) and enjoy; total guilty pleasures. This book is no different. It’s about Mary, Queen of Scots (the “other” to Elizabeth I) during the time she was captive (guest?) in England after the whole Scotland debacle (Darnley murdered, Mary kidnapped and probably raped by Lord Bothwell, also maybe married to him and carrying twins). So Elizabeth puts Mary with one of her most loyal Lords, George, Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick. Bess is an interesting historical figure that I had never heard of until listening to this book – I will definitely be looking into her more.

Anyway, there’s a lot here. Mary is semi-guest, semi-captive, sorta-queen, and is either staying with or jailed by the Shrewsburys. The story is told from the points of view of Mary, George, and Bess; which makes things very interesting, because Gregory has done the research to be able to talk about the exact same incident from three very different points of view, and she makes it sound plausible. Mary is vain, and fully believes that she is magic, untouchable, and ordained by her (catholic) god to rule. Bess is the daughter of a farmer who knows the value of a dollar (pound) and the value of land. Shrewsbury is of the old guard, landed gentry, his family has served the monarch (no matter who it is) for generations. Honor is all for Shrewsbury; safety is all for Bess (financial safety, that is); power and ruling is all for Mary.

There were a lot of passages at which I rolled my eyes, and most of those belonged to Mary. I would hope that a woman who could have ruled three countries (France, Scotland and England) wouldn’t have been such a determined flirt who used men and depended on them for the source of her power. Bess was more my style, an actual self-made woman who was considerably more clever than most of the people around her. According to the story (and from what I’ve gleaned from wikipedia), the “honor” of being responsible for Queen Mary bankrupted the Shrewsburys.

The people reading the story on the audiobook were all excellent actors, they really brought the characters to life. I’m not sure how I would feel about this in actual book form, but the audiobook kept me entertained and awake for my very long drives.