Sunday, December 11, 2022

Classics Club Spin #32


Since I haven't officially been added to the Classics Club site yet, but still  wanted to play along anyway, I've decided to read number 6 from my initial list of 50 classic books on my Classics Club page. That was the spin number for this month’s challenge. And for me that book is......The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

I am very excited this is the book for me to read by January 29, 2023 because it's one I've told myself I needed to read about a million times. It's been sitting in my Kindle for years and I just never seem to get around to tackling it. I will be back to review it when I finish and will link it to my Classics Club list. 

Amazon Book Description

 Lily Bart is a well-bred but destitute woman from high society in New York City at the turn of the century. Wharton paints a picture of a lovely woman who, although being nurtured and trained to marry well both socially and economically, is approaching her 29th year, a time when her youthful blush is fading and her matrimonial choices are becoming increasingly limited. Lily's two-year social decline from wealth to a terribly lonely existence on the outskirts of society is chronicled in The House of Mirth. Wharton uses Lily as an attack on "a reckless, grasping, and morally dishonest upper class."

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones


Publication Date: April 18, 2013
Length:  560 pages
My Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

If you have looked at any of my reviews on my blog you know I'm absolutely obsessed with this topic. I'd read part of Jones' book Wars of the Roses (still need to finish it!) and decided to start at the beginning and go back and read this one first. I also heard an interview with him on the Podcast "History Extra" and found him to be very knowledgeable about his work. His way of explaining things was interesting and so I wanted to dive into his written work of course. Also, I wanted to understand more about the earlier monarchs who shaped the landscape prior to the Wars of the Roses.

The book is divided into sections covering the reign of each King from Henry I to Richard II. The years span approximately from 1120 to 14oo as these cover the sinking of The White Ship through the deposing of Richard II by Henry IV. Within each section are chapters that have helpful titles to narrow the focus down if you are wanting to read about a specific area of the King's reign. Each ruler is given pretty equal time and nothing is left out including temperament, family dynamics, relations with the Barons and Nobles of the day, economical concerns, major battles, and challenges. Jones gives a fair analysis of his subjects, shining a light on their foibles as well as pointing out when they are maligned by unfair critics. Even King John is treated as worthy of seeing things from his point of view and no one is above scrutiny or praise. From The Anarchy to Bolingbroke's conquest, we see a solid timeline of events and how each led to the next. 

The book covers so much information in an easy to read way it is astounding to behold. I can't imagine the time and research that went into this book as it is packed full of all the things I already knew plus many stories I didn't. It was fascinating to read about John especially for me because Jones surmises at the end of his reign what exactly his brother Richard or his father Henry could have done differently in some of the unfortunate circumstances he was put in. There is a wealth of information about Edward I and II which I find hard to come by in most books. Overall it was a good snapshot of each era with enough detail to satisfy those who know very little or already know a lot about each one.

There wasn't a whole lot I didn't like except that it could get a bit dry sometimes. I found myself skimming some of the chapters that got bogged down in economics or the intricacies of warfare. I'd have preferred more personal stories but there were enough included that it was still interesting. Some rulers such as Henry II are bound to be more filled with domestic drama and colorful characters. I wanted to be educated on all aspects of the period so it definitely delivered in that regard but I've come to realize I just don't need to know every last detail about the Magna Carta to understand its significance.

Yes. Whether you are a lover of this area of history or brand new to it, you will enjoy this book and if you want to zero in on certain people or events it is easy to read the parts you want and separate them from the ones you don't. Everyone who loves history will get something out of this book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Top Ten Neglected Historical Fiction Topics




As I was once again looking for a historical fiction book about the Highland clearances, this top ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) topic came to me: subjects that are neglected in the historical fiction genre. We know history is written by the victors, right? And it occurs to me that there are some topics that the historical fiction market is so saturated with (the Tudors, WW II) because those are the topics that naturally lend themselves to easy research and readily available primary sources. It's a shame because there are many books yet to be written on subjects that are more obscure but oh. so. interesting. Here are my top ten time periods that I wish I could find more good fiction to read from. And yes, I can hear all the authors out there shouting..."well why don't you write one!" It's not easy, to be sure.

Let me know if you have any books to suggest on these topics or if you know of some neglected historical fiction ideas just waiting to be written about.  I'd love to know what I'm missing!

1. Scottish Highlands- Yes there is Outlander and tons of Scottish romances. There are plenty of books and novels devoted to Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora MacDonald. But I have found it almost impossible to find a novel that focuses on the people of the Highlands. I'd love to know more about their personal stories....the clans and their experiences from the 17th and 18th centuries. A story about how it felt to go from the height of the clan culture, through the Act of Union, General Wade's road construction, and the subsequent Jacobite risings. And not just a book that is billed a romance or war book. Rather something in the vein of Gone With the Wind for the Scots would be amazing!

2. West Indies Plantation Years- Most of the books I've found on this topic are either mysteries or experiences of the slaves and their revolts. And while I love those books and think they are worthy of reading, I'd love a book that shows the life of both slave and master with a storyline. Also, showing what life was like and how things were run. The setting of Jamaica is a particular favorite of mine and while I fully understand you can't separate the story from the brutality of the life there, I'd like a well researched novel about all aspects of the system. Too often the story is a simplistic one that doesn't give a lot of inside knowledge into the daily workings and social systems of both the owners and their slaves. 

3. The Crusades: From the Middle Eastern perspective-   I absolutely loved Sharon Penman's The Land Beyond the Sea. I thought it was original and detailed and tackled a rarely covered subject. I learned so much about the major players of the reign of Baldwin IV and the fall of Jerusalem. But when I finished the book I found myself fascinated with Saladin....the leader of the Muslims who brought about the fall of the Kingdom. It would be really great to read a fiction story told from his perspective and giving more insight into the world of the Crusades from the Muslim side. I had so many unanswered questions about their story. 

4. Cawnpore Massacre and British India-  Anne Perry wrote an amazing Christmas novel on this topic. It is called A Christmas Garland and it centers on the Cawnpore Massacre and a soldier caught up in the drama. For years I've tried to find something similar that delves into the lives of the soldiers and the Indian people who were involved. This topic, along with British India is in short supply in the historical fiction world and usually centers around a mystery or is too modern in voice for my taste. Authenticity on this period is hard to come by.

5. Cornwall and Wales- I'd love to read more about both of these places and their history. Poldark is great but is an anomaly concerning Cornwall. Wales is so neglected I struggle to find anything to reference except Sharon Penman's Welsh princes trilogy and Cadfael Chronicles. These countries are so amazing and rich in history they are just begging to be included.

6. Stories from WWI (other than Britain, Russia, and Germany)-    I fully understand that any novel focusing on WWI has to include the big three. But I'm always fascinated with Austria- Hungary, Romania, France, and Italy. What were their stories? Marie of Romania is one I'd love to read more about. And although France may not have been an aristocracy anymore, I know there are amazing personal stories that would make fantastic material for a novel. 

7. The Three Edwards- You can find a bazillion historical novels about Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth Tudor. But try finding a good one about any of the Edwards of the Middle Ages. It's tough! Until reading straight history books about them I had no idea how incredible their accomplishments and personal dramas were. And of course, Edward II is a hot mess so you'd think there would be a glut of stories about his reign and downfall...but there just isn't.

8. Pirates of the Caribbean- This one is baffling to me. The actual, true story of these pirates is so amazing that you'd think someone would want to research and write a book about them from a factual account. Not the swashbuckling romances or kiddie books like Treasure Island, but a real account of what it was like to live in that world. I'd love to see a solid fiction story that takes this fascinating time period and transports me there. Sort of Outlander, Pirate style.

9. East Germany during the Cold War- To be fair, I admit I haven't looked super hard for historical fiction on this topic but I do think there is an awful lot of literature about Nazi Germany and the Russian Revolution,  but not so much about what lives were like once the Iron Curtain descended upon the German people. After the fall of the Berlin Wall there was more access to their stories and it would be nice to hear more about what it was like during that period. 

10. The Oregon Trail- This is one of my favorite history topics and I'd love to see more historical fiction about it. Not romances or westerns but actual stories of life on the trail. Too often an author uses it as a small backdrop but doesn't really immerse you in the life of the people. John Jakes' The Seekers and Gwen Bristow's Jubilee Trail  do a decent job of what I would call authentic historical detail but the books aren't completely centered around the actual Oregon Trail life.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Reluctant Queen: The Story of Anne of York by Jean Plaidy


Publication Date:  1990
Length:  299 pages
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


This is book 6 in Plaidy's Queens of England series and one of the few books I've found that covers Anne of York exclusively. She is often a storyline in books about Richard III, Edward IV, or the various famous women that surrounded her such as Elizabeth Woodville.  I was eager to read something that focused on her alone. Plaidy is simplistic in style but rock solid in research and I know when I read her books I will learn a lot in an easy to read fashion. She is one of my favorite authors for "getting to the point"  about her subject. 


The story, written in first person, begins with a prologue in which Anne is dying and reminiscing about her life and marriage. It is also the night of an eclipse which gives it a supernatural element and sets up the idea that Anne is part of a larger, heavenly plan. She thinks about her husband Richard, his brother King Edward, and the enemies surrounding them all as Richard struggles to maintain his tenuous hold on the crown. It is clear that Anne is no fan of Edward and blames his "profligacy, his self-indulgence" for his downfall, noting that none of his faults mattered to the public because he looked and acted the part of a glorious King. Anne realizes she will die soon and is worried about leaving Richard alone, although suspects there is a budding affair between him and his niece Elizabeth of York.

The story then switches to her remembrance of her life beginning chronologically with her birth to Richard Neville, the Kingmaker and Anne Beauchamp, an heiress whose lands and fortune brought her father the title, Earl of Warwick. She mentions her love for their childhood home, Middleham Castle and how happy she and her sister Isabel were there, although notes that she saw little of her father due to his political obligations. When she is five she remembers her ten year old sister explaining the events occurring around them which will change their lives and the course of history: the cause of the War of the Roses and the "silly old Henry and his horrible Queen Margaret." Anne is still too young to understand it all but has a sense of foreboding of things to come. When Edward of York thwarts her father's plans to marry him off  to a French lady by marrying Elizabeth Woodville instead, Anne's life is turned upside down.

Isabel is soon married to George, Duke of Clarence, giving birth to a stillborn son and finds her marriage is not as happy as she had hoped it would be. To Anne's trepidation she too is married off to the Lancastrian heir, Edward and has to reckon with Queen Margaret whom she soon discovers is not as frightening as she originally thought. She does not have much time to settle into her new life before her father is killed at the Battle of Barnet along with her new husband, Prince Edward. When Anne is sent back to England she finds herself a pawn in the politics of the new Yorkist court and due to the machinations of her brother-in-law George, is abducted and placed into a cook's shop, forced into labor and attempted brainwashing that she is just a common scullery maid. She is eventually tracked down and rescued by Richard, with whom she had struck up a renewed friendship and he proposes marriage to her. Anne is overjoyed and agrees to become his wife. 

As Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, Anne and Richard experience joy and happiness away from the royal court. Sadly, this carefree life will not last long as they are pulled back into the ongoing strife. Anne loses more of those most dear to her and must eventually accept that she will take on the role of the "reluctant" Queen. The joy of motherhood tempers her melancholia but even that will have its challenges and tragedy. Throughout the reign of her husband, Anne tries to hold out hope that they will one day return to their happy life in the north at Middleham Castle. 


I already knew the basics about the Wars of the Roses and Anne and Richard's story. I loved that Plaidy included new details I hadn't seen focused on as much in other stories. Anne's abduction and rescue from the cook shop, her dying during an eclipse, and her relationship with Queen Margaret are often overlooked because the narrative is geared toward the men of the story or the battles and politics. I really felt like I was living inside Anne's head and seeing her view of things, giving the reader a fresh perspective. Curious and researching the back stories from this book I discovered that historians are divided on the story of Anne's abduction and how it all unfolded but Plaidy obviously went with the best version of her research from the time. It doesn't bother me to know she might have taken some liberties due to holes in the story. It happens in historical novels. This was a great overview of Anne's life, her marriage to Richard, and her dismay at dying, leaving him to reign alone. If one didn't know anything about the Wars of the Roses, you would come away schooled in the basics and able to move on to more complex, detailed stories of the saga.


Most of Plaidy's stories would probably fall into the category of YA if I'm being honest. They aren't terribly deep and her style of writing is sometimes a bit choppy. Being used to longer, incredibly detailed stories like Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, I could easily dismiss her work as childish. But I rarely feel this way when I'm done with one of her books and this one was no different. If you are looking for deep and flowery prose you won't find it here but that's okay sometimes. 


Absolutely, yes.....this is a solid historical novel, well researched, and told in a straightforward way. All of her Queens of England books are wonderful and cover engaging women who lived through extraordinary times. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy Reads


It's time for another Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's topic is "Cozy Reads." I don't find myself reading lots of cozy books unless they are mysteries and some of these might seem a little severe to some to qualify but I guess cozy is dependent sometimes upon the reader's taste. I like to get lost in series books with ongoing storylines and feel I'm getting to know the characters well. Hopefully some of these are cozy reads you'll want to try.

1. Christmas Mysteries Series by Anne Perry

These books are great to read any time of year, not just at Christmas. You get a good mystery with engaging characters set in a charming location. It is not unusual for her to include some history along with it so you come away feeling a little more educated. Perry is always superb with authentic dialogue and atmosphere too. She ends every book with a feeling of resolution and a celebration of Christmas Day. I've read all but 3 of the 17 volumes and love them all. 

2. Eleanor Swift Mysteries Series by Verity Bright

This is a wonderful series that is light hearted and easy to read with characters that have an ongoing storyline from book to book. There is a fun mystery to solve set in a quaint English village and a butler similar to Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey. The heroine of every book is Eleanor Swift, a sharp, witty heiress who tries to make everyone around her feel special. I've read the first 3 and am excited to read Book 4 over Christmas break. 

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Who doesn't love this book? Okay, maybe my husband but he doesn't count! The witty conversations, charming atmosphere and love story of Elizabeth and her Mr. Darcy always make for a cozy read. I've only read it once but want to do a re-read someday. It had to kind of grow on me because at first it felt a bit boring. Once I was hooked though it became one of my favorite cozy stories. 

4. Tales From the Highlands Series by Martha Keyes

I've read the first in this series and it was very unique. Set in Scotland in the 1700's right after the Jacobite rebellion these are simple to read yet have a bit of an Outlander vibe to them. Very clean and wholesome but with adult storylines these make a good bridge for a teen girl not yet ready for full adult literature. I don't find many books set during this time period that aren't bodice rippers and Keyes does a superb job with descriptions of the setting, clans, and castle life without resorting to constant romantic interludes. I'm looking forward to Book 2. 

5. Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow

I just love Bristow books and really need to do a re-read of this one. It is the story of character Garnet Cameron's journey from New York to California during the 1840's Gold Rush and American West settlement period. Although marketed as books for teens I think any adult will love the history and setting of them. I learned a lot about this time period and the romance and danger with a happy ending give it a cozy vibe. There are trials and tribulations along the way to be sure but you come away feeling satisfied and content.

6.Murder She Baked Mysteries by Joanne Fluke

I've read the first 3 in this series and once you've read one you kind of get the idea but somehow I keep coming back for another when I'm in the mood for a cozy story and baked goods! Hannah Swensen and her bakery are the epitome of a cozy read and combined with her penchant for finding dead bodies, juggling romance between the town dentist and the town police detective, and fabulous recipes at the end of chapters you can't go wrong if you just want to chill with a story and glass of wine. You'll want to keep the recipes and try them out too.

7. Miss Marple Series by Agatha Christie

I've surprisingly only read one Miss Marple book, A Caribbean Mystery but found it to be the perfect cozy read. She is a sharp lady who is underestimated by those around her sometimes and I enjoyed her character much more than the arrogant Poirot. The setting of the Caribbean made it extra cozy for sure but I suspect her other books feel the same way. 

8. Savannah by Eugenia Price

I've yet to finish this book but started it years ago as a teen. The setting of Savannah along with the story of orphan Mark, his mentor's wife Eliza, and beautiful Caroline Cameron is one to get lost in. Price is great at creating the feel of 1800's Savannah, Georgia and giving some history along the way. It is book one of a series so there is an ongoing storyline to look forward to and I think qualifies as a cozy way to spend your time.

9. Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

This is the first novel in the series and takes place in early turn-of-the-century Manhattan. It is similar to Anne Perry mysteries and if you are into the storyline of midwives and childbirth you will be sure to love it. Sarah Brandt delivers babies and tries to help the forgotten of the city who need her help. They might not sound cozy but I think they are the perfect read for a rainy day mystery.

10. An Untamed Land by Lauraine Snelling

I was excited to find this series because it centers around my husband's native North Dakota. It is the story of a family who leaves Norway to find a home in New York City, only to find themselves journeying on to the town of Grand Forks. Lots of history and atmosphere is to be found here and is a great cozy read about the prairie life and all the sacrifice that went with it. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Royal Stuarts by Allan Massie

Publication Date: December 20, 2011

Length:  384 pages

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


I find very few books about Scottish Kings and Queens and even fewer that focus exclusively on the Stuarts. I've had this book in my Kindle for awhile and it is one I want to share because of the subject matter. Outlander made me obsessed with all things Stuart so this one was a must read.


Drawing on superb research, Massie covers the origins of the Stuart family running all the way from the 13oo's to the Jacobites of the 1700's. He starts with the background leading up to the first real Stuart King, Robert II from 1370-1390. Massie has a lot of ground to cover and divides the book into 17 chapters each title one of the Stuart monarchs. Each one is given a nickname describing his assessment of their reign and the reader can quickly navigate between them to get a general overview of the major points of their rule. He starts in Brittany in the 1100's as not much is known about them before this time period. Moving on to Robert II we get more information covering the 300 plus years of rule in Scotland by the Stuart family. 

If one is looking for detailed policy decisions or history of the common Scottish man or woman you won't find it here, nevertheless it does present an intriguing look into the lives of the kings, queens, and nobility, how they interacted with England and it continues the story of the Stuarts after the rule of Queen Anne, allowing for the always colorful story of the displaced Jacobite Kings and their waning influence. 


I really enjoy books like this that give a quick overview of subject matter divided into easy to read chapters with a "just the facts" approach. The chronological timeline allows for understanding by someone who doesn't have an in depth grasp of Scottish history while giving adequate coverage of each monarch. Massie includes personal stories enough to keep you wanting to know more. Examples include that Robert III was a chronic invalid and became lame after he was kicked by a horse, a little dog  hidden in the folds of Mary Queen of Scots' dress as she was executed, and detailing James II's nervousness and anxiety as he was forced to flee into exile. 


There isn't much to speak of negatively with this book. I'd have loved for the biographies to have been a bit longer and I'm sure he skimmed over many major historical happenings in order to cover such a huge time period, but overall I think this book did as it probably intended: giving a snapshot of each royal Stuart. If you are needing more you'll want to find an individual biography of that particular person.

RECOMMEND? OR NOT?:  Yes, absolutely! It is one you can pick up and read anytime, or skim through to find the subject you are most interested in. I recommend reading it all the way from page 1 to the end though, as it is written in order to grasp the full account of each ruler as he or she relates to the one before and the one after. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I'm Thankful NOT To Be- Classics Edition



Today I'm participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl book blog. I've wanted to do this for awhile but hadn't found the time. I love the idea of posting top ten lists each week and while I may not get to all of them, it's still fun to try! This week in honor of Thanksgiving the topic is Thankful Freebie. Here is my top ten list of characters I'm thankful not to be. I loved this idea and have to give credit to Cindy at The Speedy Reader blog for this creative idea. 

1. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca 
by Daphne Du Maurier

The creepy, clingy, obsessed head housekeeper of Manderly was not a happy lady. I was glad she didn't win in the end. 

2. Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

I always felt sorry for poor Melanie. She's too sweet and compliant....she gets taken advantage of left and right and then dies in the end. I can't help it...I always preferred to be Scarlet!

3. Oliver in Oliver Twist
by Charles Dickens

This one almost needs no explanation. How can you not feel compassion and pity for this poor kid? It's a hard story to get through for sure. Happy ending...but tough getting there.

4. Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck

He has the weight of the world and his family on his shoulders. Tom means well but can't seem to ever get it right or catch a break. It's a tough life for him.

5. Marley in A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens

As a child I felt so sorry for poor Marley. I'm glad he tries to pass on the knowledge of what NOT to do in life but I always felt bad he's stuck in the underworld. 

6. Napolean in Animal Farm
by George Orwell

There's something pathetic about a character who can't see how oppressive he's become. You can't help but feel sorry for those who abuse others because they have become so evil. 

7. Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

This one is meant to be funny. I just love the Father in this book and how long suffering he is with his wife. But would I want to be him in that house of chattering women? Nope :) 

8. Daisy in The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This character just comes across as an empty headed fool who uses those around her and won't take responsibility for her actions. I wouldn't want to be Daisy as she grows older and looks back on her life. 

9. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment
by Feodor Dostoevsky

Watching the character try to justify his horrible crimes is frustrating. It is humbling to see him come to terms with what he has done. 

10. Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I always felt a little sorry for poor Gilbert.....always chasing dramatic Anne. Sometimes I wanted to tell him to go find someone more sensible and worthy of his adoration.