Monday, May 20, 2024

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman (The Plantagenets Book One)


Publication Date:

February 6, 1996

750 pages

This is my second read for this wonderful book. I felt like the first time I read it so quickly and was much less informed about the period so when I recently finished the fourth book in the series, Lionheart, about Richard I, I decided to go back and read this one again. I hadn't reviewed it either and wanted to do that before tackling the last book, A King's Ransom. I'm so glad I did because it really helped me solidify the timeline of the Anarchy period in my mind. Also, these books are so dense you can't possibly remember everything so it always feels new.

The story begins with the sinking of the White Ship and culminates in the ascension of King Henry II of England. Covering a span of roughly thirty years of turmoil and chaos Penman manages to make it look easy to get all the important facts in along with the emotions and feelings of the time. When Henry I loses his only son and heir in the shipwreck he is distraught and calls daughter Matilda home from the only home she has really known, Germany, as the former wife of the Holy Roman Emperor, who has died. Although Henry hopes that Matilda will take his place someday, the barons are not convinced and many side with Stephen of Blois, Matilda's cousin and the only other in line that can take on the role of King.

As far as the history is concerned, the book follows a solid timeline: Stephen becomes king, Matilda fights to regain her stolen crown, towns caught in the middle are destroyed, lives uprooted, and anarchy reigns. All the major battles, Lincoln, the Rout of Winchester, Oxford Castle, culminating in the Siege and Treaty of Wallingford solidifying Henry's triumph are amazingly told.  While Penman is exceptionally detailed and skillful in recounting all of this, it isn't the heart of the novel. I will leave the summary with this: the Anarchy was a time of horrible unrest where innocent lives were sacrificed again and again as two heirs are caught in their struggle to prove they are the rightful heirs to the throne. 

My Thoughts:

When historical fiction is done well you finish the book feeling as if you have lived through the time. You feel as if you know the characters inside and out as real people. This is how I always feel reading Penman's books. Having read others set in this time period I say there is no contest as to which author gets it right. Matilda's personality has suffered throughout history as being one of stubborn, haughty, and arrogant, only thinking of the title denied her. In this book she is still those things but with a much more human air. Her relationship with her brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester shows how much she relied on him and his judgement, both as a battlefield commander and as a trusted advisor. Her loyalty to her fellow nobleman, Brien fitz Count is touchingly portrayed and although a romantic involvement is hinted at, Penman never fully accepts the premise that it went any further than deep conversations and intense trust. 

One of my favorite parts of the novel is Matilda's escape from Oxford Castle in winter. I could feel the cold, the exhaustion, and desperation of the group as they attempt to evade Stephen's men who are completely unaware that such a feat is even in the realm of possibility. Penman recounts the harrowing night minute by minute and you feel as if you are with them.

Stephen is portrayed as the man caught between being too nice and too harsh. His inconsistency is shown throughout the story in a way that made me feel sorry for him while also being incredibly exasperated too. His interaction with his wife, also Matilda, and their son Eustace is realistic and heartbreaking as they come to the realization that Eustace is not the man they hoped he'd be. He is cruel and narcissistic and disappoints them. While Henry, Matilda's son is the perfect choice to succeed Stephen, this puts Stephen in yet another dilemma from which he is hard pressed to make difficult choices. Time and again his weakness for pleasing others comes to the surface but then he overreacts when he senses people are doubting him. I found myself identifying with this very human side in a way I didn't in other books about the period. It gave me great insight into how hard it must have been to rule effectively in a time when weakness is not tolerated and Kings must stay true to their threats or risk being undermined at every turn. 

Penman included a few fictional characters who show up in subsequent books. Ranulf, his wife Rhiannon and her family are distant relatives in Wales and Ranulf is Matilda's brother, one of Henry I's many illegitimate sons. While I enjoyed their story as a way to learn more about the Welsh, they were not a huge excitement factor for me. Ranulf's story seemed to serve as the romantic part that I guess she felt needed addding. He appears in many of the following books though so his storyline is not one to skip. 

I am currently finishing the last book in the Plantagenet story written by Penman. These are books that are sure to be classics. I do not doubt that I will read them again one day. If you start with this one you will not want to wait to buy the next in the series. I found myself peeking back into book two, Time and Chance, and having to force myself not to go down that rabbit hole! You will be hooked and find you are spoiled for her writing as you tackle other stories. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Passionate Tudor: A Novel of Queen Mary I by Alison Weir


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Passionate Tudor by Alison Weir. It is her latest fictional take on another famous queen. She always has wonderful research and excellent narrative for these historical fiction books so this one is sure to be good. I know so much about Queen Mary I already so it's not on the top of my TBR pile yet. But I wanted to share it because others might be interested. 

Hope you have found something you can't wait for this week!

May 28, 2024

Historical Fiction

Description courtesy of Amazon

The New York Times bestselling author of the Six Tudor Queens series explores the dramatic and poignant life of King Henry VIII’s daughter—infamously known as Bloody Mary—who ruled England for five violent years.

Born from young King Henry’s first marriage, his elder daughter, Princess Mary, is raised to be queen once it becomes clear that her mother, Katherine of Aragon, will bear no more children. However, Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn has a devastating influence on the young princess’s future when, determined to sire a male heir, he marries Anne, has his marriage to Katherine declared unlawful, brands Mary illegitimate, and banishes them both from the royal court. But when Anne too fails to produce a son, she is beheaded and Mary is allowed to return to court as the default heir. At age twenty, she waits in vain for her own marriage and children, but who will marry her, bastard that she is?

Yet Mary eventually triumphs and becomes queen, after first deposing a seventeen-year-old usurper, Lady Jane Grey, and ordering her beheading. Any hopes that Mary, as the first female queen regent of England, will show religious toleration are dashed when she embarks on a ruthless campaign to force Catholicism on the English by burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake. But while her brutality will forever earn her the name Bloody Mary, at heart she is an insecure and vulnerable woman, her character forged by the unhappiness of her early years.

In Alison Weir’s masterful novel, the drama of Mary I’s life and five-year reign—from her abusive childhood,marriage,andmysterious pregnancies to the cruelty that marks her legacy—comes to vivid life.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Stacking the Shelves #28

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Reading Reality. It's a place to showcase any books I have purchased, borrowed, or been lucky enough to have been given an advance copy of. Hope you find something that looks interesting to you or that makes you remember a favorite book you need to finish. Enjoy your reading this week :) 

This is the first full length biography about Edward III's queen. The author is one who has extensive knowledge of the time period and has written several books about the major players and events of the middle ages. I feel Philippa of Hainault is overlooked in both historical and historical ficition books and had a remarkable life. I wish I could find more on her. This one is hard to come by in the U.S. so it had to be purchased.

This is book one of the Lady Caroline mysteries. I love cozies but have become a bit pickier about which ones I'll read. Bassett did a great job with the one set in Egypt. She actually created the atmosphere and had some history and authentic details throughout the book. So I'm willing to give her series a chance. I confess I may be listening to this one on audiobook if I am pressed for time but I went ahead and purchased this for my Kindle. A steal at $2.99. 

I confess I have only read one Chadwick book so far. I know, I know, in the historical fiction medieval world that is unheard of. But I just have been so engrossed in Penman novels the last few years, I haven't tackled these yet. This one is about a unique subject, Joanna of Swanscombe, whom I know nothing about and it was on sale for $0.99. I hope to get to it this year. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Schoolmaster by Jessica Tvordi


For this week's Can't Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings, I'm featuring The Schoolmaster by Jessica Tvordi. It tells the story of a young King James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots and his tutor. It follows James as he grows into a man and the loves of his life.  A unique take on the subject to be sure. 

Hope you have found something you can't wait for this week!

June 1, 2024

Historical Fiction

Description courtesy of Net Galley

Scotland, 1570. Catholic followers of the exiled Mary, Queen of Scots wage war against those of her four-year-old son, King James VI. Enter Master Peter Young, a Geneva-educated merchant’s son. Eager to make his way in the world, Peter is appointed to serve as the king’s tutor alongside the formidable George Buchanan. Their objective? To shape Scotland’s young monarch into a perfect, Protestant ruler—a difficult task in a world filled with religious violence, power-hungry lords, and the petty squabbles of both boys and men.

Over the years, Peter sees success with his pupils, proves an invaluable friend to the king’s caretaker, the Countess of Mar, and her troubled son, Johnny Erskine, and gains status at court. But when the king’s French-raised cousin Esmé Stewart, Seigneur d’Aubigny, arrives in Scotland, Peter and his friends must discover whether this seductive stranger is an agent of Catholic Rome or another greedy relation hoping for preferment.

The Schoolmaster is a coming-of-age story, as King James rejects lessons of the schoolroom for love, and Peter navigates treacherous political waters to ensure the nation's security. Through Peter's eyes, readers are transported to a pivotal moment in Scottish history: the arrival of the first of King James’s many controversial lover-favorites. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I DNF'd a Book


Reasons I DNF'd (Did Not Finish) a Book

Well it has been awhile since I have posted for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. I don't know why but these posts seem to take a lot of work and thinking for me. I love doing them but they are time consuming. Today I'm just going to make a list and join in! No book covers or titles, because I wouldn't want to actually name these books and discourage the authors. So here is my list as to why I didn't finish certain books. (You can decide if they are "petty" reasons as the original challenge is titled :) 

1. The terrible dialogue- I just can't with some of these modern books and inserting modern discussion into historical novels. Makes me want to toss the book across the room.

2. Too long- Don't get me wrong, I love an epic as much as anyone but some books just don't need to be 1,000 pages. You could cut it in half and still get the gist of the story.

3. The plot twists in a way I find unbelievable- Sometimes I'm halfway through a book and it just becomes too far fetched. I just can't buy into it anymore and want to stop reading.

4. I've figured out whodunnit quickly- When reading a mystery if I really think it's too easy I will skip to the end or just stop reading. This is terrible I know but I'm being honest, I do this!

5. Annoying Main Characters- I have to have some buy in with the main character. If I don't like them and I'm supposed to (meaning they aren't the villain) I don't always want to continue with the story.

6. Written in present tense language- This seems to be the new trend and I do not enjoy it! Give me the old fashioned narrator style.

7. A better book caught my eye- I do try to finish books I like before straying off to start a new one. But sometimes I come across a book I just have to begin reading today! And I ditch the other book and forget to get back to it. This is a bad habit to get into where you have all these half finished good books.

8. Politics enters the story- When I'm reading a good historical fiction book or mystery the last thing I want is someone preaching at me about modern day standards. So if I get the sense that is happening I'm apt to DNF that book quickly. It better have a realistic sense of the time or I'm out.

9. The story just moves too slowly- The book starts out strong and I'm really hooked. But halfway through I start realizing there is nothing new happening and the author is just rehashing and dragging out the ending. I confess this is when I start skimming, which I hate to do but sometimes you just have to.

10. Part of a series that isn't evolving- I absolutely love books that are part of a series. I know I'll never be able to read all of them but I love knowing the same characters are there if I want to meet them again. So I have to choose wisely and if a series is getting stale with the same plot lines told over again, I ditch it. And start another series.