Friday, September 12, 2008

A Trio of Book Reviews

A busy weekend lies ahead, and I'm still working on a long blog post about Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville's mother, so I'll leave you for the week with several reviews I did for the August Historical Novels Review. Two of the reviews, you'll see, were for nonfiction. I enjoyed all three of these books, but I heartily recommend the Mary Tudor biography.

Sister’s Choice
Judith Pella, Bethany House, 2008, $13.99 pb, 350pp, 9780764201349

It’s 1882, and Maggie Newcomb, just turned eighteen, is determined to win handsome Colby Stoddard for her husband—if, that is, she can keep him from being snared by beautiful Tamara Brennan, who’s visiting Maggie’s small Oregon town following a broken engagement. When Evan Parker, newly graduated from Harvard Law School, returns to his family in Maintown, Maggie sees the perfect opportunity. Not only can the awkward young lawyer defend Maggie’s friend Tommy against murder charges, he can join forces with Maggie to keep Colby and Tamara apart.

The second book in Pella’s Patchwork Circle series, which revolves around the members of a quilting circle and their daughters, Sister’s Choice is a charming and often gently humorous novel, with engaging characters, especially its heroine, who’s refreshingly blundering and down-to-earth. It also features that rarity in romantic novels—a bespectacled hero. I look forward to spending more time with these characters.

***

Lancaster Against York: The Wars of the Roses and the Foundation of Modern Britain
Trevor Royle, Palgrave, 2008, $29.95/C$32.95, hb, 368pp, 9781403966728

Lancaster Against York has a somewhat misleading subtitle: this is a study of the Wars of the Roses, certainly, but not an assessment of their influence on modern Britain. Subtitle aside, this is a well written and engrossing history of this turbulent time by an author without an axe to grind on behalf of either side.

There are a few irritating errors here—Richard III did not imprison the young Earl of Warwick in the Tower, for instance. Occasionally, too, Royle seems unaware of recent research, such as the discovery of a dispensation for the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester and Anne Neville. There are no annotations, which I found frustrating when I wanted to check a source, but there’s a useful bibliography and a helpful section listing the key players of the time.

On the positive side, Royle packs a great deal of information from a wide range of sources into a relatively short space, and his assessments are fair and balanced. For those wanting an introduction to the Wars of the Roses, as well as for those wanting to refresh their general knowledge, this will be a useful book.

***

The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”
Linda Porter, St. Martin’s, 2008, $27.95, hb, 464pp, 9780312368371

If any historical figure is due for a reassessment, it’s surely Mary Tudor, characterized alternatively as a bloodthirsty fanatic and as a pathetic hag. In this lucid and intelligently written biography, Porter does an admirable job of showing us the woman behind the myth.

Porter gives us a full picture of Mary, reminding us that the queen who is often regarded as dour and sickly enjoyed fine clothes, gambling, and hunting. Her religious persecutions are not glossed over, but are placed in the context of their time and in that of Mary’s more positive actions regarding religion. Especially interesting is Porter’s examination of Mary’s fraught and highly ambivalent relationship with her younger sister.

It is not the “Bloody” Mary of popular history, or the lonely wife familiar from historical fiction, who emerges here, but the courageous woman who fought through many obstacles to get to the throne, then to stay there. Porter is to be commended for bringing this complex and much-maligned woman to life.

9 comments:

Carla said...

The book about Mary Tudor looks particularly interesting. I shall look out for it.

Lady D. said...

It's always good to see a popularly maligned historical person given a fair trial - the Mary Tudor book looks fascinating. I've always wondered why there isn't more written about her.

As for Lancaster and York affecting modern Britain - I have the proof!!! Over here there is a brand of tea called 'Yorkshire Tea' and it has been on our shelves for many years now. However, not to be defeated the House of Lancaster seems to have brought out 'Lancashire Tea' - complete with the red rose on the box. I did notice though that the Yorkshire Tea is still on the shelf above it - do you think that could be seen as a political statement? ;-)

Carrie K said...

The book about Mary Tudor was quite interesting.

I'm looking forward to reading more about Jaquetta Woodville.

Anonymous said...

Off topic - but YOU, madame, owe me for a couple of night's sleep! I finished The Traitor's Wife several days ago, and am now rereading it.

Thank you so much for another book to add to my stack of those I enjoy reading over & over!

- andante

stevent said...

I'm curious. How are you able to review books for the Historical Novel Reviews. Is that something they came to you about and asked you to do? Or did you contact them?

I think I would like the Lancaster Against York book, glaring historical errors aside.

Thanks for the reviews.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! (Sorry about the sleep, Andante, but thanks for the compliment.)

Steven T, in order to review novels for the Historical Novels Review, a publication of the Historical Novel Society, you need to be a member of the Society. Memberships run by the calendar year, so you can join now and get the November issue and back 2008 issues, or join for 2009 and get issues beginning in February. It's a great resource for those interested in historical fiction.

http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/

The Society periodically puts out calls for reviewers (which was how I got into it). Sarah over at Reading the Past (see the sidebar) is in charge of this.

stevent said...

Thanks for the info, Susan. Much appreciated.

Liz said...

The Pella books look like they would be a fun read, without straining my brain with too much actual history! (Sorry, I'm feeling overwhelming with keeping up with all the election news; in fact, I think I may tune out for a while. I'm getting burned out.)

I go in phases on historical fiction. Sometimes I read a bunch in a row, other times I veer off into thrillers or mysteries or just general fiction. I was doing some surfing the other day and came across the website for this book, Bedlam South, which I hope to read next month when it's released. It's got a lot of psychological elements to it (makes sense, with war such a part of the plot) and one cool thin is that a portion of the proceeds from this book will benefit a group that operates a shelter for abused children. It's called the DeSoto Sunrise Home for Girls. I like that a lot.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Glad to be of help, Steve!

Thanks for stopping by, Liz! Sounds like an interesting book!