Monday, January 31, 2022

Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman

Publication Date: February 4, 2003
Length: 544 pages

This is my fourth novel to read by Sharon Kay Penman. It is a sequel and begins after The Anarchy period in 1100's England. I admit going in I was already partial to anything about Eleanor of Aquitaine so this was going to have to be really awful for me not to enjoy it. I love Penman's style and her stellar research. She is known for being rock solid with historical facts and I am comforted by that when I read her books. It is not enjoyable for me to read a long epic historical fiction novel only to find out most of it was embellished or distorted for the purpose of the writer's narrative license. 

The story begins with the newly married Eleanor and Henry and how they are navigating his reign as King of England. Penman does a good job of setting up the story through the eyes of several main characters, one of which is fictional. His name is Ranulf and my impression is that throughout the story and the previous book he is there to give us a glimpse into the lives of the Welsh people. He is descended from a Welsh mother and is a bastard of King Henry the first. He is also married to Rhiannon (also fictional) who is Welsh. I do confess that I wish she'd stuck to real characters as I think Ranulf and Rhiannon have way too much of a part in the two books I've read so far in this series. Eleanor and Henry have enough drama between the two of them that I think we'd have been better served by reading more of their lives than adding a character that doesn't even exist. But over time I grew to enjoy Ranulf more and even found myself wondering what will become of him in the next book, Devil's Brood.

Much of this book is centered on Henry's rift with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. I found this to be the most compelling part of the book. I know some might find the material a bit confusing and dry but it is a complex subject and requires concentration. I felt well rewarded by the end of the book in that I finally understood what caused such a power struggle between the two former friends. Penman does a good job of setting it up in chunks interspersed with lighter moments between Eleanor and her ladies, Henry and his relatives, and Ranulf and Rhiannon's lives so that it isn't too much to process at once. I found myself really beginning to see both sides of the conflict and to know why there is no real hero in the end here.  Henry and Thomas both come across as incredibly stubborn and entitled and you just know it isn't going to end well.

Eleanor gives birth many times throughout the book and at the end we see the birth of her last son, John. Without giving too much away we also see the cracks beginning to form in her and Henry's romantic relationship as Eleanor ages and Henry grows restless with being her husband. Clearly, the time they spend apart is a huge factor as to why their marriage continues to flounder.

In addition to Henry, Thomas, and Eleanor's lives we get a glimpse of some of the Welsh leaders of the day which I found really interesting. I know next to nothing about this part of history so I was happy to learn something new. 

I really enjoyed this book but feel it was sort of a bridge to the next one. The following book will delve more into the children of Eleanor and Henry and their final marital break. It is the middle book of what was originally a three part series so this makes sense and from what I've seen it is the shortest book in the series. I'm looking forward to continuing and will write a review of the next book when I complete that read. 

Monday, January 3, 2022

Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon


Publication Date: November 23, 2021
Length: 928 pages

Hello book lovers! This is my first blog and first review of a book so bear with me as I navigate my way through this new adventure. I have signed up to be a part of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022 and have chosen the Level Ancient History which requires me to read 25 historical fiction books this year and post a review about each book somewhere online. I have chosen to start a blog because I'd like to have my reviews all in one place so that I can easily look back on them throughout the challenge. Thank you to Marg at The Intrepid Reader and Helen at She Reads Novels for creating and promoting the challenge. 


My first book to review is Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon. Full disclaimer...this book is 928 pages and I read it from November 23rd to January 2nd so technically I finished it in 2022 but started it in 2021. It is so long that I'm going to just pat myself on the back and count it as my first book.

I started the Outlander series in 2003. It took me several years to become hooked and to really appreciate the detailed, intricate way in which Gabaldon writes. I stopped reading the series several times because I didn't really understand that it is a masterpiece you have to savor and read with purpose. Once I was hooked though, that was it. I have read all the "big books" twice and the Lord John Grey and all spin off books once. I'd love to read them again someday.


Bees was wonderful and, as usual, Gabaldon never disappoints. It filled in all the gaps about both major and minor characters and maintained the suspense, drama, and historical feel we've all come to expect as Outlander fans. It is important to understand that this book is going to be a hard sell for those who have not read any of the other books. I'd be so confused and to her credit she does a marvelous job of trying to explain any needed back story but it is nearly impossible to do so adequately. This series is now nearly 9,000 pages long and it is hard to pick up in the middle of Book 9 and not be bewildered about what is happening. When you throw in time travel, the Revolutionary War, and a huge cast of characters it is a lot to process even for those of us who've read all the books. 

What stood out most to me was the relationship between Jamie and Claire evolving from passionate and turbulent to familiar and settled. It really feels like they are an "old married couple" now but of course wild events are always happening around and to them so there is still the drama and excitement we've come to expect. What is missing is the frequency and urgency of their romantic encounters and I personally like this change. After all they are now in their sixties and it is just not realistic to think after 30 years together (and sometimes not!) they are going to behave like they did when they first met. I think the author does a good job of keeping their romance alive without treating them like twenty somethings in the constant throes of romantic interludes. 

Their children and grandchildren have most of the prominent roles and events in this book. I felt like Jamie and Claire were more in the background and that their daughter Brianna, nephew Ian, and Jamie's son William carried the narrative more. Those looking for the feel of books 1-6 will be disappointed in this but I liked it and again think it is more realistic and natural to evolve stories that contain younger characters who can live on in future books.

If you are looking for a book that heavily centers around historical facts and events and are using it to learn about said events this book is not the best for that. Yes, there is definitely time period and history and she is always meticulous in presenting them accurately. However, the book is ultimately about the characters and how the events are affecting them. If you are looking for learning about the war or specific leaders this is not the book to do that with. You will not be disappointed though in how she manages to convey the atmosphere and feel of the time period and will feel transported to the 1700's. The book settings jump around from Charleston to New York to Savannah and you will meet some major historical figures from Benjamin Cleveland to Frances Marion. I love how at the end of the book the author has a section where she explains about the real people presented in the book. 


Bees was excellent and I'd recommend it to any Outlander fan. If you have not read the books in order I'd highly encourage you to start with the original book 1 and go from there chronologically. You will better appreciate the depth of this story and will be amazed by the way the events all come together in book 9. I am sad to know that book 10 will be the end of the series.  Jamie will likely die and although we know it has to end sometime it is going to be hard to say goodbye to these characters I've spent nearly 20 years getting to know. If you start at the beginning and stick with it you will be not be disappointed. Happy reading all!