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Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

My epiphany of 2015

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Jan 24, 2011

Elizabeth I & Henry VIII Documentaries on National Geographic Channel

On Tuesday, January 25, 2011 there will be two shows that I am definitely recording and wanted to make sure fellow Tudor fans knew about these shows:

Airing on National Geographic Channel :
Secrets of the Virgin Queen, 8 pm CST

They called her the Virgin Queen England's first Queen Elizabeth, a revered ruler in her own lifetime. Yet behind her fame lie many dark secrets, and an unsolved mystery Why didn't the queen marry and provide an heir to the throne? For centuries, rumors have swirled of claims of illegitimacy, adultery and even that the queen may not have been a woman. Now NGC reveals the startling stories and secrets behind England's Virgin Queen.

Inside the Body of Henry VIII, 9 pm CST

Take a journey inside the body of England's most notorious monarch: Henry VIII. A team of medical experts, biographers, and historians investigate what caused the great physical and mental changes in the king. Was it from diseases such as syphilis, diabetes or malaria? Or could his favorite sport, jousting, have sparked his medical problems? Experts study Henry's childhood trauma and delve deeper into his lifestyle and adult injuries to better understand this powerful king's body.
I hope you get to watch them! The Elizabeth episode is from 2011, and the Henry episode was first aired last year. If you miss these airings, keep your eyes on the TV Schedule to search for upcoming airings.

Jan 9, 2011

Book Review: The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell


The Darling Strumpet:  A Novel of Nell Gwynn, Who Captured the Heart of England and King Charles II by Gillian Bagwell
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade; Original edition (January 4, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0425238592
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Four Shining Stars!

The Darling Strumpet is a vivid and richly detailed historical novel that puts the reader smack in the tumultuous world of seventeenth century London. Based on the life of Nell Gwynn, who rose from the streets to become one of London's most beloved actresses and the life-long mistress of the King, the book opens on May 29, 1660, when the exiled King Charles II rides into London on his thirtieth birthday to reclaim his throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell. Among the celebratory crowds is ten-year-old runaway Nell Gwynn, determined to create a better life for herself and to become someone to be reckoned with....
As someone who prefers her history to be set in the earlier time of England, I have only heard of Nell Gwynn and have merely collected books on her. Bagwell's novel is actually my first real taste of the years in England after the Wars of the Roses and the reign of the Tudors. Set in 1660, six decades after Elizabeth I's successful reign, Bagwell's debut novel focuses on a famous mistress to the king of England. The setting is England during the Restoration, the period where Charles returns to England's throne after years of exile during Cromwell's leadership during the Protectorate.

Bagwell begins the novel with Nell as just a girl struggling to find food for her family, and ends the novel at the end of Nell's intriguing life. We learn how Nell began her work in the theater, and we are also introduced the men she meets along the way. It wasn't until halfway through the novel that King Charles II becomes more predominantly featured, as the first half of the novel focuses on the playhouses and Nell's relationships with the actors. Nell was one of the first successful actresses on the scene, and she took the trade by storm with her witty dialogues and apparent good looks. She used these looks to her advantage, and continued to be a whore, which Bagwell described in great detail. The Restoration of Charles II was littered with his many bastards, along with Nell's children, and was a period of well-known hedonism, which became mighty apparent as Nell bedded every gentleman she came to meet. It was at this point I wondered if I should keep reading, as I enjoy the historical aspects of my historical fiction much more than the adventures in bed.

After the romantic scenes started to take more of a  backseat to the more intelligent telling of the story, I again began to feel more comfortable in the novel. I started to respect Nell a little more, and I particularly enjoyed the historical characters that were included, such as Nell's rivals for Charles II's affection, and I became besotted with Nell's immediate family. Bagwell also included the political upheavals at the time, as Charles II had quite a problem with Parliament and their demands. Most importantly, I was enthralled by Nell's and Charles' relationship, as it was portrayed as one that was full of love and admiration for each other. And finally, the wind down of the novel really stole my heart, as Nell grappled with losses that came one after the other, and the last few chapters were extremely dramatic. If there weren't so many graphic sexual encounters in the novel I am sure this read would have been a five star read for me, as the ending of it was quite a soulful departure. As it is, I know I have to take those eye-rolling encounters into consideration within this review, as it was true that I became pretty annoyed as they went on and on and on. Yet, those who enjoy historical romance and a bit of bawdy love would find the best of history and sex here.

For those historical fiction readers who would not mind skimming over the romps in the hay, I would love to recommend this novel of Nell Gwynn's life. It provides an entertaining look at the newly opened playhouses, the plague, the great fire, and the King's royal ensemble. Although being a whore is not a respectable trade, Gillian Bagwell's sympathetic portrayal of Mistress Nell eventually tugged at my heart and made me weep for her. After this fabulous debut piece of work I cannot wait to see what else Gillian Bagwell has for us historical fiction fans.

Visit Gillian's website for more links and information on her subjects and historical articles.

Jan 3, 2011

Book Review: The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou by Susan Higginbotham
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (January 1, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1402242816
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:A Fantastic Reading Experience!
It would be called the Wars of the Roses, but it all began with one woman's fury...
Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England, cannot give up on her husband-even when he goes insane. And as mother to the House of Lancaster's last hope, she cannot give up on her son-even when all England turns against him. This gripping tale of a queen is at its heart a tender tale of love: passionate, for her husband, and motherly, for her only son.

The Wars of the Roses has been my favorite period to read about during the last two years. Following that would be the Tudor era, but the battles between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists are always full of passion and from so many points of view that I have not been bored yet after reading many books on the era. I will not recount the events of the novel as there are many characters and titles to decipher that is hard to keep up with. Using a few key players, such as the fatherly Suffolk, the must've-been-handsome Henry Beaufort or the seemingly murderous Yorkist factions, Higginbotham retraces Margaret's story with a passion and talent as Higginbotham gives Margaret's name a new found respect. Wars of the Roses fans know what is to happen by the end of Margaret's story, but will they be sympathetic of Margaret of Anjou or to the Yorkists that stole the crown from her husband?

I will say that I haven't had a desire to read for a day straight in months, yet I am honored that Higginbotham broke me from that sad fact with her story of Margaret of Anjou and the fruitless fight to put her son Edward on the throne of England. Once I had a chance to get 70 pages into the story, I could not put it down; I was so entertained by Higginbotham's telling of Margaret's story which is why I endowed the five star rating. Even knowing what historical tragedies would play out in the story, I was hooked and enamored with Margaret. In previous reads, Margaret is normally referred to as merely the Frenchwoman, the whore, the witch.. and finally we have a much more pleasant view of this consort of the saintly Henry VI. Their son Edward of Lancaster had always been in the background of my previous reads, as he had never gotten the chance to make his mark on England. Yet, the way Higginbotham tells it, readers of her newest Wars of the Roses novel will never forget Edward of Lancaster and the throne that should not have been stolen from him; and one cannot but wonder if only he had been successful in the Lancastrian cause...

If you had not chosen a side before, either Lancaster or York, be prepared to become Lancastrian. I had never felt Yorkist in nature, and this novel solidifies my Lancastrian leanings for me once again. Margaret of Anjou will undoubtedly gain much earned respect through this telling, as she was loyal to the country that she married and the man who was England's rightful king. She held fast in her resolve even when others would have given up, and I am not ashamed to admit that Higginbotham's novel of Margaret and her fight for the Lancastrian cause brought me to tears. Perhaps the story sheds too much of a positive light on Margaret, but to give the novel further credit, it is told with multiple points of view which helps round out and personify the events for the reader and for once, a multiple narration did not grate at my nerves as it is known to do.

Susan Higginbotham's writing has an easy conversational feel to it, while deftly imparting detailed historically significant events throughout which makes Higginbotham a favorite historical fiction author of mine. The three novels of hers that I have read have all been read quickly by me, just short of devouring them. I appreciate the fact that although she takes some liberties with the historical accounts, she stays well within the realms of accuracy, and when she strays she explains both herself and history in the author's note. I have nothing to say to criticize this novel, and am pleased to recommend this novel to any history fan interested in some of the struggles during the Wars of the Roses and how the Tudors came to their eventual throne. Readers will become immersed in the quest for the rightful owner of the crown of England, as history's mysteries also seep through to help add to the titillation of the reader.

See my previous reviews and guest post from the author here at this link.