Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Dumbest Question a Computer Has Asked Me Today

Doing a keyword search on a university library catalog for "Elizabeth Woodville," I received less than a handful of results and this helpful inquiry:

Did you mean elizabeth woodpile?

Obviously a Ricardian programmer at work here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Highlights

From Booking Through Thursday:

It’s an old question, but a good one . . . What were your favorite books this year?

List as many as you like … fiction, non-fiction, mystery, romance, science-fiction, business, travel, cookbooks … whatever the category. But, really, we’re all dying to know. What books were the highlight of your reading year in 2007?

This has been a peculiar reading year for me. My reading time has been cut down a lot, partly because of my writing, partly because I no longer have a period of enforced leisure while I sit in my van and wait for my daughter to come out of school. (She's on a different schedule now.) So while I can make a list, the field I had to choose from wasn't as broad as I wish it would have been. Still . . .

Favorite historical novel read in 2007: The King's Touch by Jude Morgan. Vivid characterizations, sharp, unfussy, but lovely writing style.

Favorite historical novel read in 2007 that was actually published in 2007: Nefertiti by Michelle Moran. Lively characterizations and a sympathetic heroine. Another favorite: Mozart's Sister by Rita Charbonnier.

Favorite reissued historical novel: The King's Pleasure by Norah Lofts.

Favorite Jean Plaidy novel read in 2007: The Queen's Favorites.

Favorite nonfiction: The Yorkists by Anne Crawford. Also enjoyed Ian Mortimer's The Fears of Henry IV, Nancy Goldstone's Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe, and Andrew Ferguson's Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America.

Favorite Ricardian Novel: Richard Plantagenet by Brenda Clarke. He's the good guy, of course, but at least he's not as insufferably perfect and the other characters as villainous as they might have been, and the writing is exceptionally good.

Favorite adult historical novel I read only because it was a review book and found myself enjoying very much: Courting Trouble by Deanne Gist.

Favorite young adult historical novel I read only because it was a review book and found myself enjoying: Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden.

Favorite Jane Austen spinoff: More Letters From Pemberley by Jane Dawkins.

Favorite tacky cover: The King's Mistress by Jean Plaidy. (See it here.)

So there you have it! I'm hoping in 2008 that I'll have a longer list from which to choose--but there's still some great stuff here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blog Advent Calendar

Well, it's my turn on the Blog Advent Calendar! Here are the other participants. (Blogger's being mean about pasting in links, so you can find a list with links here.)

9 December - Raidergirl (An Adventure in Reading)/ Chris (Stuff as Dreams are Made on)
10 December - Dewey (The Hidden Side of a Leaf)
11 December -Suey (It's All About Books)
12 December - Chris (Book-a-rama)
13 December - Jill (The Well-Read Child)/Stephanie (The Written Word)
14 December - Robin (A Fondness for Reading)
15 December - Alyssa (By The Book)
16 December - Rachel (A Fair Substitute for Heaven)
17 December - Literary Feline (Musings of a Bookish Kitty)/ Stephanie (Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic)
18 December - Dev (Good Reads)
19 December - Callista (S.M.S. Book Reviews)
20 December - Tiny Little Librarian (Tiny Little Librarian)
21 December - Carla (Carla Nayland Historical Fiction)/ Susan (Reading, Raving, and Ranting by a Historical Fiction Writer)
22 December - Carolyn Jean (The Trillionth Page)
23 December - Booklogged (A Reader's Journal)
24 December - Kailana (The Written World) / Carl V. (Stainless Steel Droppings)

First, here's Boswell in my daughter's Victoria's Secret Santa hat (photo shoot courtesy of my daughter):

Second, thanks to Joan Szechtman, who posted the link over at the Richard III Society discussion group, here's some caroling Roombas.

Third, our feature presentation: The Duke of Debenhams: A Christmas Eve Playlet (see below). Henry, Duke of Buckingham, is said to haunt Debenhams department store in Salisbury, built on the site of his execution . . .

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy New Year! I hope it will be a good one for all of you.

The Duke of Debenhams: A Christmas Eve Playlet

(It is closing time on Christmas Eve at Debenhams department store in Salisbury. As the last customer leaves the Mens department, the staff mills around, tidying up, counting the day’s receipts, chatting idly, and so forth. The employees leave in several groups, until at last, two employees shut off the lights in the department and head toward the exit.)

Employee 1: Well, see you on Boxing Day! Merry Christmas!

Employee 2: Merry Christmas! (Turns to look at the men’s department, now empty of workers.) And Merry Christmas, Duke Harry!

(Sounds of locking doors and disappearing footsteps are heard in the distance. Finally, all falls silent. A ghostly shape, dressed in 15th-century clothing, comes into view, turns on a light, and looks around him.)

Buckingham: At last. Left in peace for another Christmas. (Walks around the department and fingers the merchandise on the racks.) So shall it be sporty casual or a suit? Well. It’s a festive occasion. A suit might be too stuffy. But definitely not jeans. Trousers and-- Here we go! A cashmere jumper. Perfect. Now for some fragrance. (A floorboard creaks.) What? Who comes here? Security? Oh, what a nuisance. I’ll move something through the air and scare them off.

Richard III: It’s not security.

Buckingham: That voice! I recognize it.

Richard III: So. You do recognize your rightful king after all this time.

Buckingham: Richard?

Richard III: “Your grace” to you.

Buckingham: Well--all right. Your grace. What brings you here?

Richard III: My spirit grows restless at times. Just as yours does, it seems. (Looks around him.) Ready to wear? Not quite your style, I would have thought.

Buckingham: Obviously you haven’t seen the designer items here. Very upmarket.

Richard III: (Frowning at a polyester blend.) If you say so. And so this is where your spirit wanders?

Buckingham: Since 1483 when you executed me on this site. Oh, it’s changed over the years, of course. But it’s been a department store here for many years, and I couldn’t be happier. Very comfortable surroundings. (Grins maliciously.) And your gravesite is now covered by a car park, I understand.

Richard III: Thanks to faithless creatures like yourself.

Buckingham: Richard, it would be lovely to spend the evening reminiscing about old times with you, but the truth is, I’m expecting a friend tonight. A very special friend.

Richard III: One of your slimy Woodville in-laws?

Buckingham: Oh, no, they wouldn’t be caught dead with me now. (Laughs eerily.) Get it?

Richard III: I see you haven’t lost that irritating habit of laughing at your own jokes.

Buckingham: Well, at least I can make one.

Richard III: So who is it, then?

Buckingham: A lady friend. Other than that, I’m not saying. Oh, well, I’ll tell you this much. She’s French.

Richard III: Margaret of Anjou! I knew you were always a Lancastrian deep down. Why, that viper! How dare you--

Buckingham: It is not Margaret of Anjou, for God’s sake. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Speaking of knickers, there’s some lovely bra-and-knicker sets over in Lingerie. They were just flying off the shelves today.

Richard III: So, not Margaret of Anjou. But who?

Buckingham: (Coyly) I’m not telling!

Richard III: Maybe she’d like to spend an evening with a king. Have you ever thought of that?

Buckingham: No. This lady has had quite enough of kings. (Aside) And so have I. (To Richard) Now, your grace. I’m sure you must be lonely. But you do have the Richard III Society to console yourself with, you know. There’s no Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham Society, after all.

Richard III: I know. But sometimes that just isn’t enough. (Fiddles nervously with neckties hanging on a rack.) Harry, there’s something I’ve always wanted to know. What did you mean to tell me before I executed you? I’ve always wondered.

Buckingham: (Sulkily) Well, you could have let me speak with you then and found out, couldn’t you? But no. You had to get up on your high horse, didn’t you?

Richard III: Can’t you tell me now?

Buckingham: Well, I just don’t know. It’s hard to think back that far--

Richard III: Please, Harry? For old times’ sake? If you do, I’ll leave you and your lady friend alone. And I’ll never come back. I promise.

Buckingham: Oh, very well. What I wanted to say was--

Richard III: Yes? Yes?

Buckingham: What I meant to say was—

Richard III: Oh, do not prolong my agony!

Buckingham: That I was truly, truly sorry, and that I thought you were going to make a great king, and that I wished you an early Merry Christmas. That’s all.

Richard III: Truly?

Buckingham: Truly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must go to Home and get some champagne and flutes.

Richard III: Thank you, Harry! I feel much better now. Merry Christmas!

Buckingham: Merry Christmas, your grace. Good night! (Aside, as Richard exits) First he and his stupid Society try to pin the murder of the Princes on me and dear aunt Maggie, then he tries to ruin my perfect evening.

(Buckingham exits. When he returns, he has changed into a cashmere jumper and trousers and is carrying champagne and two flutes. Then a rustling sound comes from offstage. Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II, enters. She does not look a day over twenty-five.)

Buckingham: Isabella, dearest! You came! All the way from Castle Rising!

Isabella: Why, of course, Harry! (Runs and embraces him, then looks around.) Oh, my. This certainly is much nicer than that dreary old castle.

Buckingham: Didn’t I tell you so, your grace, when my spirit was abroad in Norfolk the other day? Yes, this is the life. So to speak.

Isabella: Oh, Harry. Such a card you are. (Looks around some more.) Look at all these clothes. Harry. Tell me. Is there a Womens department?

Buckingham: Why, of course. You could find yourself something more comfortable to slip into in Lingerie. And there’s a Home department, with--er--bedding. But I’ll show you that later, your grace. Why don’t we just have some champagne now?

Isabella: Harry, not with all of those clothes to look at! You just wait here. I’ll be back soon. (Hurries away. The stage grows dark for a few minutes, and then Isabella returns. She has been to Luggage as well as to Womens. Her suitcases are bulging and her hands are flashing with rings from Jewellery.) Harry, I’ve never had such a wonderful Christmas Eve in my life, not even since dear Mortimer and I were an item! Thank you so much for bringing me here!

Buckingham: You don’t mean you’re leaving now?

Isabella: Why, dear, I must go home and try on all of these clothes and jewels! But we’ll get together soon. Toodles, dearie!

Buckingham: Toodles. (Sits down dejectedly.) Someone warned me that she was a she-wolf. Well, another Christmas Eve by myself. It’s going to be a long one. (Gulps some champagne.)

Gaveston: Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.

Buckingham: Piers Gaveston? From Scarborough Castle?

Gaveston: The one and the same. (Picks up champagne.) Nice champers you’ve got here. May I join you?

Buckingham: Well--of course. (Moves away a little bit.)

Gaveston: Oh, don’t be shy.

Buckingham: It’s just that my tastes don’t run in that direction, you know.

Gaveston: Oh, I know. I understand the fair Isabella spurned you. Consider yourself lucky. After what she had them do to poor dear Ned--

Buckingham: (Shuddering) You know, I think you’re right. It is good that she left. Good for Debenhams too. Why, the workers in Womens couldn’t stock the shelves fast enough for her. Me, I’m much more restrained. That’s why I get along here so well. (Confidingly) I really like it here, you know.

Gaveston: Indeed? (Buckingham nods, a bit too enthusiastically.) Harry, I’m beginning to think you don’t have a very good head for champagne.

Buckingham: Well, no. (Giggles.) Of course, that could be because I lost my head. And so did you. (Thoughtfully) You know, we have a lot in common, it seems.

Gaveston: We certainly do. Harry, why don’t you put down the champers and change into one of those robes I see? It’d be much more comfortable now that it’s so late. (Buckingham nods.) And I’ll slip into something more relaxing too.

(The stage goes dim for a few minutes. When the lights go on again, Gaveston and Buckingham enter from opposite sides, both wearing robes. Gaveston is carrying a small wrapped package.)

Buckingham: For me? Oh, you shouldn’t have. (The clock strikes midnight.) It’s Christmas Day! Can I open it?

Gaveston: Why, of course.

Buckingham: Slippers!

Gaveston: Brown, just like your beautiful eyes.

Buckingham: Why--thank you. That’s the loveliest thing anyone ever said to me, and that includes Richard III when he said he was going to give me the Bohun lands. (Steps closer, as does Gaveston.) Merry Christmas, Piers.

Gaveston: Merry Christmas, Harry.

(The curtain falls as they embrace passionately)


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Three More Search Terms

Couldn't resist adding these before January starts up and they no longer appear on my monthly report:

queen isabella is nice

OK, if you say so.

is it alright to call yourself dead since you are going to be

Can we get an ethicist over here, please?

for god s sake will you stop coughing??

Nothing like tea and sympathy, huh?

Anyway, tomorrow's my day for the Blog Advent Tour, so stay tuned! I've got a very cute picture of Bozzer and a playlet about the Duke of Buckingham in store.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Review Round-Up

As I'm completing some reviews for the February Historical Novels Review (my, time flies), here are some from the November issue. (I was a busy girl!)

Rivals for the Crown
Kathleen Givens, Pocket Books, 2007, $14.00/C$16.99, pb, 432pp, 9781416509929

In 1290 London, childhood friends Isabel de Burke and Rachel of Anjou are abruptly parted when Edward I expels the Jews from England. As Rachel and her family make their way to Scotland, where they start life anew as innkeepers, Isabel becomes a lady-in-waiting to Queen Eleanor of Castile. When tension between England and Scotland mounts, Isabel and Rachel find themselves caught in the middle—and attracted to two handsome Highlanders, cousins Rory MacGannon and Kieran MacDonald.

Givens' romantic historical is plotted deftly, with likeable main characters, plenty of intrigue and narrow escapes, and truly dastardly English villains in the Braveheart tradition, including the always reliably nasty Edward I (offstage) and his lecherous sidekick, Bishop Walter Langton. The book was marred for me, though, by the distinctly modern attitudes sometimes displayed by the sympathetic characters: for instance, in an age not noted for its religious tolerance, the only people opposed to the romance between Rachel and Kieran are Rachel's father and Rachel's Jewish fiancé (who as a butcher doesn't stand a chance against a handsome Highlander). Readers who can suspend their disbelief more readily, however, will likely enjoy this book.

The Queen's Handmaiden
Jennifer Ashley, Berkeley, 2007, $14.00/C$17.50, pb, 320pp, 9780425217320

Unwanted by her new stepfather, Eloise Rousell ends up in the care of her relation Kat Ashley, governess to Elizabeth Tudor. Growing up alongside her royal mistress, Eloise discovers that she has talents not only for dressmaking, but for intrigue—skills that Eloise will use to Elizabeth's advantage as the future queen is threatened from all sides.

Spanning the period from Edward VI's reign to the early years of Elizabeth's reign, from scandal with Thomas Seymour to scandal with Robert Dudley, this is a diverting tale, narrated by the resourceful, loyal Eloise in an engaging, lively fashion. A love story involving Eloise, though not so prominent as to intrude upon the main story, adds a nice touch.

Perhaps because so many events were packed into a relatively short space, however, I found that this novel was somewhat lacking in depth and focus—it was difficult to get a sense as to some of the characters' personalities and motivations. That being said, I found the characters here to be refreshingly true to their time, not the modern beings in fancy dress that have marred some Tudor fiction, and the novel to be well researched. I look forward to future forays into historical fiction by Ashley.

The King's Pleasure
Norah Lofts, Torc, 2006, £6.99, pb, 334pp, 0752439464

Originally published in 1969, this reissued novel by one of the grande dames of twentieth-century historical fiction tells the familiar story of Katharine of Aragon, spanning her childhood in Spain to her death as the cast-off wife of Henry VIII. Katharine's tale is told by a third-person narrator not only from Katherine's own perspective, but from those of other players in the drama of Henry's reign.

This is a novel that has held up remarkably well over time. Though it's slow moving on occasion, its leisurely pace allows us to savor the impressive gallery of characters. Lofts gives us information about the backgrounds of even the minor ones, so that they become much more than mere props supporting the lead protagonists, but interesting people in their own right. Henry, always a challenge for historical novelists, is not a cardboard villain but a complex man of many qualities. Katharine is admirable but maddeningly stubborn, taking the hard path where the easier one might have been better for all concerned. The interactions between all of these people feel absolutely authentic and natural, as in the scene toward the end of the novel where two of Katharine's attendants bicker as Katharine lies dying in the next room. And although the novel ends with Katharine's death, Lofts occasionally provides us glimpses into the future, adding to the book's richness.

This is a classic of the genre that should appeal both to those revisiting old favorites and to those just discovering the masters of the past.

Letters from Pemberley: The First Year
Jane Dawkins, Sourcebooks, 2007, $13.95/C$17.95/UK£7.99, pb, 213pp, 9781402209062

Having married Fitzwilliam Darcy and settled on his estate of Pemberley, a slightly homesick Elizabeth Bennet begins writing letters to her older sister, the newlywed Jane. With new acquaintances, Mr. Darcy's plans to remodel Pemberley (a task he takes on with much more sensitivity than Mr. Rushworth), and Georgiana's baffling onset of low spirits, Elizabeth finds herself with a great deal to write about.

Dawkins deliberately incorporates language, renamed characters, and situations from Austen's life and novels into Elizabeth's letters, providing some fun in recognition for sharp-eyed Janeites. Contemporary details, such as the fashions Elizabeth wears and the books she reads, are also worked in nicely. Otherwise, Letters is rather short in substance, Elizabeth settling into her roles as wife and mistress of Pemberley almost a little too easily. I found myself wishing at times that Mrs. Bennet would pay an extended visit just to stir up some trouble. All in all, though, Letters makes for a charming, quick read, especially for Jane Austen fans who need something to tide them over while waiting to re-read the originals.

Courting Trouble
Deeanne Gist, Bethany House, 2007, $13.99, pb, 332pp, 9780764202254

Outgoing, good-natured, and fond of elaborate hats and bicycle riding, Essie Spreckelmeyer is well-liked in her hometown but seriously short on suitors, an unwelcome state of affairs for a 30-year-old woman in 1890's Corsicana, Texas. In her usual forthright manner, the unconventional Essie decides to remedy the situation by picking a likely husband. Having assessed each candidate's good and bad points in writing, all that is left is to get her prospective spouse to agree to the arrangement.

Featuring a bust enhancer that doubles as a mouse catcher, a runaway snake, and Essie's adventures on the new "wheeled feet" her friend the peddler brings to town, Courting Trouble is delightfully humorous at times. There's a dark side to this novel too, however, as we see when a moment of recklessness threatens disaster for Essie and when Essie is on the verge of entering into a relationship that would stifle her individuality. Gist expertly blends these disparate elements and creates likeable yet flawed characters, resulting in a novel that's both highly entertaining and thought-provoking. I'm looking forward to seeing the sequel.

Louisiana's Song
Kerry Madden, Viking, 2007, $16.99/C$21.00, hb, 278pp, 9780670061532

In the spring of 1963, twelve-year-old Livy Two and her nine siblings eagerly await their father's return to the home they share in North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains. But the Tom Weems who comes home from the hospital, where he has been recovering from a head injury received in a car accident, is not the man he used to be. He doesn't know that JFK is President, and although he hears music in his head, he can't remember that he himself is a musician—a gift he has passed down to Livy Two.

With Tom prone to wandering off, money getting tight, and Grandma Horace talking about moving the family off their beloved mountain to a nearby factory town, the Weems family is in need of all the help it can get. Livy tries to do her part, persuading her artistic but shy sister Louise (the "Louisiana" of the title) to draw portraits in nearby Waynesboro and barraging a Nashville music company with her songs.

The second book in a series of three, Louisiana's Song is narrated by Livy, an endearing, indomitable heroine, whose narrative voice is conversational and folksy without ever sounding contrived or artificial. The novel teems with wonderful, vivid characters, from the Weems family members to the bookmobile lady to Mathew the Mennonite. Even the family dog, Uncle Hazard, has a personality all of his own. Don't let the somewhat hackneyed title scare you off—Louisiana's Song is an original. Lively, funny, and moving, it's a novel that adults as well as young readers should enjoy.

The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President
Julie M. Fenster, Palgrave, 2007, $24.95/C$31.00, hb, 256pp, 9781403976352

In 1856, Springfield, Illinois is abuzz. One of its citizens, a prosperous blacksmith named George Anderson, has been murdered—and the suspects are Anderson’s wife and his young nephew, believed to have been carrying on a love affair in Anderson’s own house. Eventually, another citizen of Springfield will become involved in the Anderson murder case—a prominent lawyer and rising politician named Abraham Lincoln.

The Case of Abraham Lincoln has two main strands, the murder case in Springfield and Lincoln’s career as a lawyer and a politician. The strands intersect only peripherally until near the end of the book, when Lincoln joins the Anderson defense and plays a crucial, though undramatic, role in achieving an acquittal for the suspects.

Despite the subtitle, readers expecting a juicy tale of murder and adultery will be disappointed. Fenster’s main interest is in the procedural aspects of the case and in the lawyers on both sides, not in the suspects, who took their secrets, if they had any, to the grave. Those wanting to know more about Lincoln as a lawyer and about his role in 1850’s American party politics, however, will find this a welcome addition to their shelves.

Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Philip McFarland, Grove, 2007, $26.00/C$32.50, hb, 320 pp, 9780802118455

As every American schoolchild knows, or ought to know, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the great anti-slavery novel. Few, including myself, know much more about her. Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe undertakes to fill this gap.

McFarland looks not only at Stowe, but at her "loves" of the title—chiefly her family members, including Stowe's brother, the famed preacher Henry Ward Beecher, whose notorious adultery trial is given particular attention here. We also meet Stowe's good friend Lady Byron, whose posthumous reputation Stowe championed, resulting in controversy both in the United States and in England. Uncle Tom's Cabin and the sensation it caused are examined in depth, but Stowe's lesser known writings (one of which, Dred, garnered fulsome praise from George Eliot) are given their fair share of attention, as are her successful reading tours. In addition, McFarland examines Stowe's views on such diverse issues as spiritualism and women's rights, introducing us to people such as stockbroker, free-love advocate, and presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull (whom Stowe described succinctly as "this witch").

As a portrait not only of a fascinating woman but of a vibrant period in American history, Loves of Harriet Beecher Stowe is an illuminating read.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Search Terms, We've Got Search Terms!

From the hopper today:

i am locking for a sweet girl to be my wife

I do hope he meant "looking."

edward 1 was he an english justinian or a ruthless opressor?

That's what I like, an easy question.

tudor fiction

You mean people write novels about the Tudors? Next you'll be telling me that people write romances set in Regency England!

was henry james s writing influenced more by family members than others?

Just knowing that someone used this question to reach my website makes me feel ever so much smarter.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Yippee! Live on Amazon!

For all of you Amazon denizens out there, I'm pleased to say that Hugh and Bess: A Love Story can finally be ordered in paperback there! Look to the sidebar for a link to both the paperback and the newfangled Kindle versions.

A Happy 17th Birthday to my son today!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Monday Night Odds and Ends, and Books for Compliments

Tabitha over at iUniverse Book Reviews has posted a review with yours truly, complete with photograph. (Tabitha is having sort of a Edward II theme these days; Brandy Purdy's The Confession of Piers Gaveston is also reviewed on the blog.) If you're not one of the lucky denizens of Apex, North Carolina, this will be one of your few opportunities to see me in my spectacles, so stop on by! First two people who stop by my own blog and say, "Susan, you look adorable in your spectacles," will win a copy of The Traitor's Wife or Hugh and Bess--your choice--with a big red bow tied around it and a chicken scratch otherwise known as my autograph. Perfect for the holidays!

Speaking of which, a couple of people have wondered when Hugh and Bess will be live on Amazon. So have I! It may be a few more weeks, but I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, it can be ordered from Lulu (they deliver quickly) or from Amazon in a Kindle version if you've bought one of those newfangled devices. By the way, has anyone ordered one?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Night at the Theater with Edward II

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I got to see a performance of Marlowe's Edward II at Washington, D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company. I'm not a theater critic and can't act my way out of a paper bag myself, so instead of a review per se, here are just a few thoughts on the Edward II production.

First (she said smugly), since I attended the play alone and therefore splurged on my ticket, I had a great seat--second row center, close enough to see the actors very well but just far enough away to avoid being spat on. The woman behind me told her companion that she had the best seat, but I think mine was better. So there.

The play was staged in 1920's dress. I rather like modern-dress productions of old plays if they're done well, and this one was. Isabella and Gaveston's wife, Margaret de Clare, looked very nice in their flapper outfits. Most of the men were dressed in military attire, except for Edward II and Gaveston. The 1920's setting also meant that guns were used on occasion: the unfortunate Spencer (Hugh le Despenser the younger) and Baldock were shot to death, although Gaveston and Mortimer were beheaded. The only jarring note was when the talk turned to religion; it was odd to have English people dressed in 1920's garb speak of the Pope's authority.

The play opened at Edward I's funeral, with the little Edward III and Isabella silently offering their condolences to Edward II. This was a nice touch, since the play closes at Edward II's funeral.

In the play, one of the barons' biggest complaints about Edward II is his fondness for masques and the like, and Gaveston's return was accordingly staged as a production number featuring men in skimpy outfits and in women's clothing, with Gaveston finally borne in wearing wings. (Spencer, as I recall, was in a yellow spangly number. If you're at Tewkesbury Abbey and hear rolling sounds coming from the real Hugh's tomb, that's probably why.)

I rather liked the actress who played Margaret de Clare, portrayed here as a squealing ingenue who assumes a priceless facial expression when rather late in the game, she finally realizes that there's something odd going on between Uncle Ned and her husband. It was also a good touch to have Margaret attending her uncle's funeral in the final scene.

I enjoyed the actor who played the Earl of Kent. I thought he did a good job of conveying Kent's hopelessly torn loyalties.

When Gaveston comes home from his second exile, there's a big sign reading, "Welcome Home Gaveston" onstage. I don't know why, but that gave me the giggles. I liked that sign.

Edward III is played by two actors; a young boy and a young man. Shortly before his crowning (and probably about the time of the boy actor's bedtime), Edward III's growing maturity is depicted by substituting the older actor for the younger one onstage. I thought that was clever on the part of the director, and also helped in showing the passage of time, which Marlowe compresses considerably.

Finally, Gaveston, having been executed, reappears several times in angel's wings to offer comfort to Edward, most importantly in the red-hot poker scene (where the wings also obscure the poker business). This could have been silly in the wrong hands, but it was quite moving, especially when Gaveston bears his friend's body offstage.

In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this play, which doesn't get produced in the US that often outside of the largest cities. It's playing through January 6, so if you're in the DC area (or can get there), check it out!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Katherine Woodville: Cradle-Robber?

OK, OK, I admit it, having been on a research binge lately, I've been slacking off in the blog department. So I'm posting this both here and on the Unromantic Richard III blog.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on a novel about Katherine Woodville, wife of Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham who was Richard III’s ally and then his enemy. I do most of my research in the library, but I do a fair amount of Googling also to see if any leads turn up online.

In doing so, I was perturbed to find this Wikipedia entry about the Duke of Buckingham, in which it’s confidently stated that the young duke was forced to marry Katherine when he was 12 and she was 24, thereby causing Buckingham to resent the entire Woodville clan. Wikipedia, fortunately, can be corrected, but several Ricardian sites and publications, like this one (scroll down to the sentence past the reference to note 25), repeat the same story. It brings to mind a rather unpleasant picture of Katherine, no doubt with the grinning approval of Nasty Elizabeth, sending her little husband to bed without his supper if he refused to let her have her way with him.

Fortunately for Katherine (and the Duke), the story, at least as far as Katherine’s age goes, is, like so many other anti-Woodville stories, utter nonsense. Katherine’s marriage to Buckingham was indeed arranged when Buckingham was a royal ward, and Buckingham, like any other royal ward, didn’t have a say in the matter. But Katherine, far from being in her 20’s at the time, was younger than her husband when the couple married, sometime between September 1464, when Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s secret marriage was disclosed, and May 1465, when Henry Stafford and Katherine attended the queen’s coronation, where they are named as the Duke and the younger Duchess of Buckingham. (The elder Duchess, Henry Stafford’s grandmother, was also present at the coronation.)

Katherine’s age is given in a 1492 post-mortem inquisition of her brother, Richard, where she is described as “aged 34 or more.” This puts Katherine’s birthdate at around 1458, making her a child of around seven at the time of her marriage. Henry Stafford, born on September 4, 1455, would have been only nine at the time of the coronation. (Brad Verity, who kindly brought the IPM and other Woodville genealogical information to my attention, has posted about this and other Woodville genealogical matters here.)

Of course, IPMs are not infallible. Katherine’s youth at her marriage, however, is attested by two other primary sources. First, a detailed account of Elizabeth Woodville’s coronation exists, in which the major participants and the roles they played are listed. As mentioned earlier, both the Duke of Buckingham and his Duchess were present, and both are mentioned as being carried upon squires’ shoulders. No other duke or duchess was given similar treatment, so it’s safe to assume (in the absence of evidence that either or both parties sprained their ankles immediately before the coronation) that the Buckinghams were carried because they were children, presumably so they could see and be seen and/or so they wouldn’t tire out during the lengthy ceremony, dressed as they were in heavy ceremonial robes. (No mention is made of how the squires fared; one hopes for their sakes that the duke and duchess weren’t hefty youngsters.)

Katherine also appears in her sister Elizabeth’s household records for 1466-67, where payments were given to three people for attending upon her. Similar payments were made for the Duke of Buckingham and his younger brother, Humphrey, who were in Elizabeth’s care at the time. It seems apparent that Katherine, like her young husband and brother-in-law, was being brought up in her sister’s household.

So while it’s possible that Henry may have come to resent his marriage because he was his wife’s social superior (though it’s far more likely that his resentment arose because he was never given an active role to play in Edward IV’s reign), it’s certainly not the case that his wife was an older woman scheming with her sister the queen to exploit her wealthy little husband. She was a mere child, with no more control over her marriage than her young husband had over his.

Katherine’s second and third marriages, however, did involve large age gaps; perhaps it is the third marriage that has led to the misinformation about her first. Katherine's second husband was none other than Jasper Tudor, uncle to Henry VII; the match was made by November 7, 1485. Tudor was 55, over twice the age of the 27-year-old Katherine. The benefit to both parties seems to have been purely material: Katherine got the jointure and dower she had been denied in Richard III’s reign due to Buckingham’s treason and execution; Jasper got a wealthy, landed bride.

Jasper died on December 21, 1495. Just over eight weeks later, Katherine remarried without a license, thereby following the grand tradition of runaway matches made by her mother and her sister Elizabeth. Her third husband, Richard Wingfield, was twelve years younger than Katherine; he was the eleventh son out of twelve and presumably had very limited material assets, so it was likely his personal charms that appealed to the newly widowed Katherine. A mere squire at the time, Richard may have been a member of Katherine’s household. (After coming into his inheritance, Katherine’s eldest son by Buckingham, Edward Stafford, eventually ended up having to pay the fine for his mother’s unsanctioned third marriage, much to his disgust.)

Katherine and Richard’s short-lived marriage—Katherine died in 1497—-probably paved the way to Richard’s eventual success in Henry VIII’s court. Wingfield remarried and had children by his second wife, but did not forget Katherine, directing in his will that prayers be said for her soul. Dying on an embassy to Toledo in 1525, he was undoubtedly fortunate to miss the later downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, to whom he attributed his own success at court.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Writing in Books

From Booking Through Thursday:

Today’s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl:
I’m still relatively new to this meme so I’m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I was going to write that I never write in a book when I remembered that when I was in law school, I did indeed highlight and occasionally jot notes in the margins of my textbooks. But that's the only time I've ever written in a book. I like my books clean, crisp, and unmarked, thank you very much.

The law school books I wrote in, of course, were my own property. People who write in library books or in school textbooks that get handed down year after year should suffer the full rigors of a medieval traitor's death. And that fate may well be too good for them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Book Sale Musings

I'm back from helping set up the tables for our county library system's annual book sale (over 500,000 books were on sale last year, and I'd be surprised if the amount was not the same this year), and I'm knackered, as my transatlantic friends would say. Flinging around 50-pound boxes full of old copies of The Thorn Birds is hard work, let me tell you!

As I said last year, I do this not only because I'm civic-minded, but because of the Big Perk for volunteers: cheap books and the pick of the litter. I came home with 20 books today, and no doubt I'll find something to carry home tomorrow.

Because today was a school holiday, I took my son with me, which allowed me to say things aloud like, "Wonderful, another copy of The Da Vinci Code," and "Where are all of the Jean Plaidys?" without being thought too flamingly eccentric. Anyway, in no particular logical order, here are a few thoughts I saved for this blog:

I saw at least one ex-library copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on almost every table for which I unboxed books. All looked in excellent, unread condition, which either means that we in Wake County, North Carolina have no taste for literary historical fiction or just that the library thought we loved literary historical fiction so much that they ordered 30 copies too many.

When lining up books on adjacent tables and having to find a book that won't slip through the crack between tables, nothing works better than a James Michener or a Colleen Mccullough novel.

Had I wanted to, I could have come home with a nearly complete set of the works of Bernard Cornwell. I really should try one, since there are so many of his books.

Last year, I saw dozens of nonfiction books on Princess Diana. This year I saw only about five.

In the biography section, I found a Henry V biography nestled qutie cozily next to one of Richard III. Sadly, nothing appeared on Henry VI or Henry VII. Henry VIII and his wives, however, were more than adequately represented and accounted for a generous part of my own purchases.

In the sorting room at the library, there needs to be a sign stating, "The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George is not nonfiction."

Toward the end of my day, I did duty over at the dreaded "Unsorted" tables, where everything that was donated or discarded too late is lumped together (children's board books and Karl Marx shared the table I unpacked). I found Caroline Weber's What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution over there and took it in the history section, thinking there it might find a happier home there than amid the Silhouette romance novels it was resting near. Then I remembered that I had paid the full cover price for the hardback and kicked myself.

If you donate a 2004 guide to picking a college to the library in 2007, the library sale volunteers are not going to be leaping over tables and pushing each other aside to claim it for their own. Trust me on this one.

Children's books are unwieldy, slippery, nonuniform in size, and quite difficult to arrange neatly in rows on tables. The already curmudgeonly should avoid the juvenile section.

My new books will probably have to go on the shelves in the garage. If I did not have so many books in the garage, I could quite possibly be like my neighbors and keep my car in there. But do I really want to do this?


Friday, November 09, 2007

Pets in Historical Fiction

Taking Boswell to the vet today (itching, poor doggie) made me think of some comments that appeared here about Sharon Penman's novel When Christ and His Saints Slept. Penman, as anyone who's read her books knows, is fond of giving her heroes dogs. The fictional Ranulf in Saints and its sequel, Time and Chance, has a faithful canine companion. So, of course, does Richard in The Sunne in Splendour, a guarantee in itself that he's a good guy. (Indeed, it's clear that Buckingham is a villain; not only does he kill the princes in the Tower, he kills the younger one's dog as well.)

I've been trying to think of some other historical novels in which pets play a big part. I just finished The Captive Queen of Scots, where Mary's poor little Skye terrier has his famous scene of hiding under the headless Mary's skirts, but other than that one scene, he doesn't appear much in the novel. Dickens's historical novel Barnaby Rudge features a raven, Grip, who plays a major role. (Indeed, I found him vastly preferable to most of the human characters, this not being my favorite Dickens novel.) In Michelle Moran's recent Nefertiti, the heroine Mutny's cat was a leading, and quite memorable, character. Barbara Hambly's The Emancipator's Wife has some endearing scenes with Lincoln and his cats. I'm sure there are others that I just can't think of at the moment.

When authors do give their heroes and heroines cherished pets, it's a device that humanizes them wonderfully. Writing this post made me think of a lovely passage from Charlotte Brontë's Shirley, where the friends Caroline and Shirley broach the delicate subject of Caroline's romantic interest in a young man:

'If they are true oracles, it is good never to fall in love.'

'Very good, if you can avoid it.'

'I choose to doubt their truth.'

'I am afraid that proves you are already caught.'

'Not I: but if I were, do you know what soothsayers I would consult?'

'Let me hear.'

'Neither man nor woman, elderly nor young : - the little Irish beggar that comes barefoot to my door; the mouse that steals out of the cranny in the wainscot; the bird that in frost and snow pecks at my window for a crumb; the dog that licks my hand and sits beside my knee.'

'Did you ever see any one who was kind to such things?'

'Did you ever see any one whom such things seemed instinctively to follow, like, rely on?'

'We have a black cat and an old dog at the Rectory. I know somebody to whose knee that black cat loves to climb; against whose shoulder and cheek it likes to purr. The old dog always comes out of his kennel and wags his tail, and whines affectionately when somebody passes.'

'And what does that somebody do?'

'He quietly strokes the cat, and lets her sit while he conveniently can, and when he must disturb her by rising, he puts her softly down, and never flings her from him roughly; he always whistles to the dog and gives him a caress.'

'Does he? It is not Robert?'

'But it is Robert.'

(Online version by the University of Adelaide here)

Now, wouldn't you like Robert, even if you hadn't met him earlier in this novel?

Is there a novel--historical or otherwise--that's been improved for you by the protagonist's pet?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Well, is she?

In checking my website's keyword listings, I came across this query:

queen isabella is she a molly

I am almost certain that she is not. But input from blog readers will be gladly welcomed.

On an entirely unrelated note, my hands are no longer shaking and trembling, because after a lengthy withdrawal, I have access to the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography once more! Having logged on Friday, I made up for lost time by printing out as many biographies as possible. I feel much better now, thank you. (Even if you're not a subscriber, you can still visit the site to see the biography of the day.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ghostly Goings-On in the Court of Edward II

In the spirit of the season, I thought that I should note that Richard Felix, who evidently hosts a British TV show called "Most Haunted," spent the night of September 21, 2007 (the 680th anniversary of Edward II's death, as faithful readers of this blog know) in Edward II's cell at Berkeley Castle. Disappointedly, according to this account, Felix said that his night was uneventful. Maybe if Felix had done some midnight roof thatching, Edward II might have joined him?

Other spirits associated with Edward II's reign are reportedly less quiet. Piers Gaveston, Edward II's first favorite, is reported to haunt Scarborough Castle, where his headless spirit reputedly tries to shove visitors off the battlements. (This may simply be revenge for Braveheart.)

Not to be outdone, of course, is Queen Isabella, whose ghost is said to haunt Castle Rising. Some say Isabella shrieks and yells, others that her ghost assumes the form of a wolf. As a Google search will indicate, almost every other site claims that Isabella was shut up by Edward III in Castle Rising for life (which she wasn't) and/or that she went mad (which she didn't). It may be that with all of this shrieking, poor Isabella is simply trying to set the record straight once and for all.

Isabella, in fact, is quite the ghostly go-getter. Not only does she hang out at Castle Rising, she also can be found in London, at the site of her burial place at Greyfriars, where she clutches Edward II's heart. One site claims that a hapless watchman quit his job after hearing her ghost quarreling with that of Alice Hungerford, who was executed in 1523 for killing her husband. Sadly, the site doesn't indicate the subject of the ladies' quarrel. ("No, I hated my husband more!" "Did not!")

Less famously, perhaps, Roger Mortimer's ghost is supposed to haunt Nottingham Castle. Reasonably enough, he lurks in the underground passage William de Montacute and his band used to enter the castle and seize him.

One would think that the Despensers would be good for some hauntings also, but their survivors must have commissioned enough prayers to keep their souls happy and quiet. (Though I confess that when I was at Tewkesbury several years ago, standing near Hugh the younger's grave, some church volunteers dragging heavy objects around put something down with a loud noise. I jumped a good two inches.) The closest I found was this rather peculiar legend about Isobel Chandos, supposedly a lover of Hugh le Despenser who inadvertently led him to be hung at Hereford Castle. Perhaps a ghost that pushes deeds in front of people and tries to get them to sign land over to them just isn't all that interesting?

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's Here!

It's here! My sample copy of Hugh and Bess: A Love Story came in the mail on Saturday, and it's now available to order here, either as a trade paperback or as an electronic download. It hasn't gone live on Amazon or Barnes and Noble yet, but I'm hoping it will be within a couple of weeks.

It's going to be strange writing a book that doesn't have a Hugh le Despenser in it! My next book is very much in the beginning stages, but it's set in the Wars of the Roses and will likely be narrated by Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham, sister to Queen Elizabeth Woodville and wife to the Duke of Buckingham, the man who helped bring Richard III to power and then lost his head when he joined a rebellion against him. It promises to be fun--especially as it won't have a saintly Richard III. (And Richard III's queen was a direct descendant of Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor de Clare through their second son, Edward, so I won't be totally Despenser-less.)

For you folks who voted in the poll that I should do a book set during the Barons' Wars, don't despair, I may get to that one eventually! But if you voted for the chick lit option, you might have a long, long wait.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I'm So Damn Lucky . . .

I've won the UK Lottery twice today without even having taken the trouble to enter it! And I'm going to be even richer, too, after a nice Nigerian gentleman gives me half of his fortune in exchange for letting him use my bank account.

Really, guys. It's time to come up with some more original scams.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Read With Abandon?

From Booking Through Thursday:

Today’s suggestion is from Cereal Box Reader

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

Usually when I abandon a book, it's either because the writing style is off-putting or because the characters aren't appealing to me. More often it's the latter. I've abandoned several first-person books simply because the narrators were overly enamored of themselves (as they indeed might have been in real life). Another book I abandoned because the main characters were straight out of a formula romance novel--I could have encountered them just about anywhere and anytime. Another novel got put back on the shelf because the heroine was such a Mary Sue--each time she walked into the room, every man fell instantly in love with her; she always handled every situation perfectly and was showered with compliments from the other characters after doing so, and so forth. And, of course, she was stunningly beautiful. I wanted to kick her and the author.

When I was younger, I used to finish every book I read, no matter how little I was enjoying it. These days, I would never finish, say, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (I know it's considered Great Art, but the main character struck me then, and strikes me now, as a upper-class twit who would have been immeasurably better for having to work for a living. And a boring upper-class twit at that). Ah, the freedom of being able to put down a book you're hating!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Keyword Fun

In a spirit of I-really-ought-to-be-blogging, I've just checked an always reliable source of inspiration, the site that lists keywords that people use to reach my website. These two were right next to each other on the list:

hugh despenser and castrated
john tiptoft impaled

Someone needs to settle down with some tea and Jane Austen for a change, I think.

historical romance granddaughter marriage

Not sure that I like the sound of that.


There's something almost Zen-like about that one.

sex night out pontefract

What about having a sex night in? Just a thought.

richard iii rivers sex

Slash fiction between Richard III and Anthony Woodville? Well, that would explain how Anthony came so readily to meet Richard at Stony Stratford, wouldn't it? So here goes:

Richard's letter rested in Anthony's trembling hands. Gloucester asked him to meet him near Stony Stratford so that their entrance with the young new king into London might be more magnificent. But was there a hidden meaning? Could Richard be seeking to revive what had happened between them that one night so long ago, that night of forbidden love that set Anthony's senses on fire, just remembering it?

He fingered the hairshirt that he wore beneath his shirt of fine linen. He'd worn it ever since that wild night, in an attempt to forget the desires Gloucester had stirred in him. For a while, he thought he had succeeded. But now, as he held the letter and read in it all of his secret, suppressed longings, he realized that all had been in vain.

Anthony stared at Richard's signature and its motto beneath: Loyaulte me lie. Even it held promise, he thought as he sank into a blissful daydream.

"Soon, my sweet Gloucester," he whispered, "it is I who shall lie with you."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bennett Cerf, Eat Your Heart Out

Hugh and Bess now has a shiny new ISBN number: 978-0-6151-7187-6. All I'm waiting on now is finding someone who can help me with the cover art, and it'll be done. Hugh and Bess even has its own imprint, Onslow Press. Here's a picture of the founder in relaxation mode:

Has having a press named for him gone to Onslow's head? I'd say not yet, but this may be because Onslow is already quite fond of himself and needs very little additional encouragement.

Anyway, I rather like this ISBN number. The "6151" has an agreeable symmetry about it, and "7187" has a nice ring also, don't you think?

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

An Infamous Army: A Novel of Love, War, Wellington and Waterloo by Georgette Heyer.

Sourcebooks, 2007 (originally published in 1937)

This was my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I'm happy to report that it won't be my last.

An Infamous Army opens in a drawing room in Brussels, in the midst of a conversation between a group of people who know each other very well--some, I understand from reading other reviews of this book, who feature in other Heyer novels. It takes a while to sort out all of them and their relationships to each other, and the effort may be too much for some readers. But perseverance is well rewarded.

The love story here is between Lady Barbara Childe, a young widow with a penchant for shocking high society, and Colonel Charles Audley, who is instantly attracted to her and loses no time in asking her to marry him. They're both vividly realized, and Heyer does an especially good job in making us like Barbara, who could have been irritating in the wrong hands. The supporting cast, including both historical and fictitious figures, is equally memorable.

Heyer has often been mentioned as the author one goes to when one runs out of Jane Austen novels to read. There are indeed some deft turns of prose here, such as this one by Barbara after she becomes the subject of a public snub: "By tomorrow I shall be credited with a sin I haven't committed, which touches my pride, you know. I always give the scandalmongers food for their gossip." Heyer also manages one of the most moving, yet not maudlin, death scenes I have ever read.

Readers expecting a formula Regency romance novel won't find one here; Heyer takes the reader both to drawing rooms and to battlefields, and the cost of the latter is vividly depicted. This is a love story with a punch.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why I Am Cranky Today

1) The temperature here today is going to be 94 degrees. This is October. It should be at least twenty degrees cooler. I am still wearing summer clothes, and I hate summer clothes. Especially since I've been wearing them since bloody April.

2) Troy had one Trojan horse. My computer (not the one on which I'm writing this blog) appears to have about a dozen, none of which any anti-virus programs have succeeding in deleting or blocking.

3) I am going to have to find someone to fix my computer. The last time this occurred, the offending file was deleted. Unfortunately, so were all of my other files.

3) The local bridges are not adorned with the heads of the (insert your own description here; this is a family-friendly blog) who created the Trojan horses that have infected my PC.

Ah, for a little medieval punishment for hackers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Review: Why We Read What We Read

Why We Read What We Read: Exploring Contemporary Bestsellers and What They Say About Our Books and Ourselves, by John Heath and Lisa Adams. Sourcebooks, 2007.

First, I have a confession: Of the books discussed in Why We Read What We Read, I'm fairly sure that I haven't read nary a one. Not even Harry Potter (though I did peek at the ending of the last one).

Why We Read What We Read looks at a number of categories of bestsellers in the United States: adventure novels, political nonfiction, romance novels, relationship guides, religious books, and literary fiction. Though the authors write in a breezy style when summarizing the books in question, the conclusion they reach is a disturbing one: Americans avoid complex, challenging books in favor of escapist literature or books that fit their preconceived notions about politics, religion, or other contemporary issues. Even best-selling literary fiction, the authors note disapprovingly, tends to end on a hopeful instead of a tragic note.

I came away from this book with very mixed feelings. It's entertaining, and thanks to its summaries of books like the "Left Behind" series and The Celestine Prophecy, I'll never have to read them. It's when the authors turn away from the books themselves and start to draw conclusions about their readers that the book for me began to feel superficial in its insights—ironically, just like the type of books the authors decry here. It would have been useful, for instance, to know what sort of books were bestsellers, say, fifty years ago, to see if American reading tastes have really gone that far downhill or whether readers, at least in the age of mass literacy, have always preferred to look on the lighter side. (As Dickens's Mr. Sleary said in another context, "People must be amused.") Similarly, a comparison of American bestsellers with those in other English-speaking countries might have yielded some insights. And is it fair to draw broad conclusions about American reading habits based on bestsellers without taking into account the many books that never make the bestseller lists, but sell well and steadily enough over time to remain in print long after the bestseller of the day has been pulped? Somehow, I kept thinking that there was a bigger picture out here, one that the authors simply weren't heeding in their rush to judgment.

In addition, some of the authors' conclusions about what motivates readers struck me as questionable. It's probably safe to say that people read diet and exercise books because they want to lose weight. It's probably also safe to say that liberals aren't rushing out to buy books written by conservatives or vice versa. But is it equally safe to say, as the authors do here, that women read romance novels because they're not getting the fulfillment they need from their relationships? Or to suggest that reading romance novels is preventing women from getting out of these unhappy relationships? I read very few romance novels myself, but even so, I found these conclusions to be both facile and patronizing, the more so because the authors never talk to any romance readers or to readers of any of the other genres discussed here. (To be fair, the authors do make use of a study of romance readers by Janice A. Radway called Reading the Romance, but that book, written from a feminist perspective and based on talks with 42 women from the same city, was originally published in 1984 and reissued in 1991; it thus can hardly be called the latest word on the subject.) Here and in the other sections dealing with fiction, I found myself wishing the authors had spoken to live readers instead of going on their own assumptions about their motivations for reading what they do.

All in all, this was an interesting and often lively book, but one that because of its shortcomings failed to convince me of its thesis.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A New Edward II Forum, and a Word From Stripes

First, for all of you Edward II and fourteenth-century fans out there, check out this great new forum by Alianore, for discussions of Edward II and fourteenth-century history!

Second, following Sarah's post on LOL Cats, I put Stripes to work, in a manner of speaking, of course.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Coming Soon! (With Even a Reappearance by Queen Isabella)

One of the reasons I've been somewhat quiet in blogdom lately is that I've been completing my second novel, Hugh and Bess, which follows the marriage of Hugh, the eldest son of Eleanor from The Traitor's Wife, to Elizabeth de Montacute, daughter of the Earl of Salisbury. I'm in the proofreading stage now, and if everything goes well and I figure out the formatting, it should be available online, probably through Lulu, within a few weeks. (That's a rough version of the cover you see.) It's quite different from The Traitor's Wife, being much shorter (the sigh of relief you hear is coming from my mother) and more of a love story than anything else. In the meantime, here's an excerpt featuring a familiar face. It takes place in early 1344, following a ladies-only banquet at Windsor Castle at which Elizabeth and her sister-in-law Joan of Kent enjoyed the king's wine a bit too much:

The ornate entrance to Queen Isabella's apartments was so different from the simple one to hers and Hugh's that no sober person could have mistaken the two. A page showed her in, and Bess sank to a curtsey, though every bone she had resisted. She spoke the words that she had been rehearsing since Hugh had given her the news. "Your grace, I beg your pardon for my inexcusable and disgraceful behavior last night. I assure you it shall never happen again."

"Inexcusable and disgraceful? Ridiculous will do, Lady Despenser." The queen waved her to a stool. "Sit there. You brought some needlework with you, I see? Show it to me."

"It is for our portable altar, your grace."

"Very pretty. You work very nicely. Don't look so frightened, child. I didn't call you here to upbraid you. So you are wondering, no doubt, what did I call you here for?"

"My head aches so badly, your grace, I could hardly figure it out if I tried."

Isabella laughed. "Well, it's no mystery, Lady Despenser. You are the eldest daughter of my son's favorite earl and wife to one of the wealthiest men in England. It would be remiss of me not to take some notice of you." She settled back with her own work. "I gather you haven't been to court much."

"No, your grace. I have mostly stayed on my father's lands and now my husband's."

"And you have visited your husband's aunt, Lady Elizabeth de Burgh. She is an old friend of mine. She has spoken very highly of you."

"There were no opportunities for me to make a fool out of myself when I visited her. I suppose that is why."

Isabella chuckled. "She said you were a clever girl. So was I, at your age. I noticed you and your pretty sister-in-law looking at me quite intently last night."

Bess blushed. "We did not mean to be rude. It is just that your grace is so handsome, and the king's mother, and so seldom seen, and—"

"A wicked woman, I am sure you have been told. I suppose if I were a young lady again I would stare at me too." She paused. "Don't fear, Lady Despenser. I won't force you to turn confessor. I have a perfectly good one of my own."

Relieved and disappointed at the same time, Bess concentrated on her needlework. To break the silence, she said, "If it is not being impertinent, is it strange being back at court after all this time?"

"Why should a girl who embraces her king in front of a hall of people worry about being impertinent? I miss very little, you see."

"Your grace—"

"Oh, I blame my son entirely. He shouldn't have filled the hall with ladies, half of them who have never been outside their little shires before, brought out his best wines, and not expected half of them to make fools of themselves. My husband had the right idea. He discouraged women from being at court, unless they were among my ladies and damsels."

She spoke of her husband as if she were an ordinary widow, Bess noted with fascination.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What Is It About Katherine Swynford?

Like most lovers of historical fiction, I've read Anya Seton's novel Katherine, about John of Gaunt's mistress, and enjoyed it thoroughly, though in retrospect, I'm inclined to think it romanticized its hero and heroine quite a bit.

The historical Katherine is an enormously popular figure in some circles, and I confess I'm at a bit of loss to understand why. If the chroniclers can be believed, she and John conducted their adulterous relationship in a blatant manner calculated to humiliate Constance of Castile, John's wife. John supposedly ended the relationship with Katherine after the Peasants' Revolt, or at least put it on a more discreet footing, but after his quest for the throne of Castile ended, he took Katherine back into his household and took little interest in Constance, who lived her remaining years separately from John. The best thing that can be said of John's conduct was that when Constance conveniently died in 1394, he gave her a lavish funeral and upon his own death provided for a chantry for her. As the beneficiary, financial and otherwise, of John's blatant neglect of his wife, Katherine surely must be regarded as complicit in the matter.

In 1396, as readers of Katherine know, Gaunt married Katherine, who as his new duchess and the mother of his newly legitimated children conducted herself with credit. It would have hardly been to her advantage to conduct herself in any other fashion, however. She does seem to have been on good terms with the children of John's first wife, Blanche, but it was not, of course, their mother who had been publicly slighted by John and Katherine.

All in all, then, I can't see much in the historical Katherine to love or even to admire. Perhaps it's the idealized picture painted by Anya Seton that appeals to so many people? Or perhaps I'm just a hopeless unromantic? Anyway, I'm eager to see what Alison Weir will make of Katherine in her soon-to-be-released biography of her.

On an entirely different note, I was thrilled to see that the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., is performing Marlowe's Edward II this season! It's the first time, as far as I know, that the play has been produced within driving distance of me, so I've bought my ticket and am eagerly waiting for the end of November to hurry up and get here. Ed rules!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Edward II at Berkeley Castle

I couldn't let poor Edward II's death anniversary (September 21, 1327) pass without comment (especially with Alianore on blog holiday), but I'm too lazy today to write a special post for the occasion. So here's how I handle it in The Traitor's Wife:

“According to Lord Mortimer’s lieutenant, William of Shalford, men in Wales, South Wales and North Wales alike, are plotting to release the old king,” said Sir Thomas Gurney, who along with William Ogle had hurriedly arrived at Berkeley Castle on the evening of September 20. “They are led by Rhys ap Gruffydd. Shalford says that if this plot succeeds it could be the undoing of Mortimer.” He looked toward the direction of the guardhouse and smiled. “Lords Berkeley and Maltravers, you are to acquaint yourself with the contents of this letter and find a suitable remedy to avoid the peril. Well. It’s pretty damned obvious what they have in mind.” Gurney passed the letter to Berkeley and Maltravers, who read it silently.

Maltravers laughed when he finished reading, but Berkeley said, “I’ll have nothing to do with this, nothing.”

“Nothing! The man’s been living in your castle since April, except when you let him escape,” said Gurney.

“I did not let him escape,” snapped Berkeley. “I underestimated the determination of his friends, that is all. Be that as it may, I’ll still have nothing to do with this.” He turned and left the room.

“Well?” said Maltravers. “How?”

“Mortimer says it will have to leave no mark, as people will be expecting to view the body.”

“So chopping his head off is out of the question,” said Ogle cheerfully. “Well, there’s poison.”

“We’d have to find someone to make it up for us,” objected Gurney.


“Strong as he is? He’d have to be knocked cold, and that would leave a bruise.
Bruises around his neck, too.”


“I suppose that’s the only real choice,” admitted Gurney. He shivered and looked at the fire, which was dying. “Can’t Berkeley’s servants make a decent fire?” He took a poker and began prodding the logs with it. He poked too hard, and he had to pull it out of a log with some difficulty. Then he began laughing.

“Are you daft, man?”

“No,” said Gurney, laughing all the harder. “I’ve an idea. A most fitting idea.”


Edward, comfortable and warm on the feather bed Berkeley had so kindly brought him several days before, raised up on his elbow and stared as he heard his cell door being unlocked. He watched as Maltravers, the Gurney fellow who had just arrived at Berkeley, and a number of men he did not know filed in, smiling most peculiarly at him and not bothering to invent any excuse for their being there in the middle of the night. So he had been right; he would soon be free, free with Piers and Hugh and Hugh’s dear old father. His favorite sister, Joan. Adam and Lucy. His mother, his stepmother, his father… His mouth almost crinkled into a smile. No, his father probably wouldn’t be pleased to see him, under the circumstances.

In the torchlight he could now see that the men were carrying some rather
incongruous items. A drinking horn? A table? A cooking spit, glowing red hot? He frowned. Were they going to feed him first? But before he could make any inquiries, he was seized and pushed over on his belly and felt the table, legs in the air, being pressed against his back as someone ripped off his drawers. Then the drinking horn was shoved into his body, then the spit through the horn, and Edward’s screams were echoing through Berkeley Castle. Just as Thomas de Berkeley, lying in his chamber weeping, thought he could not bear to hear them any longer, they died.


Eleanor’s screams that same night of September 21, 1327, woke not only her family, but the guards dozing outside the Beauchamp Tower. Their sleepy fumblings at the door, combined with the howling of Lizzie and John and the barking of the dog, only caused her to scream the harder. It was not until Tom, in the kindliest manner possible, resorted to slapping her briskly across the face that she calmed enough to sit in a chair and sip the wine Gladys carefully gave her.

“Another nightmare about Hugh, my lady?”

“No.” Eleanor took a shuddering breath and stared at Gladys in bewilderment.

“My uncle.”

Monday, September 17, 2007

Get Out the Popcorn

I'm coming up for air after a jag of book reviewing for the Historical Novels Review, so this will be a short post. Over the weekend, however, I did get a chuckle out of this video by iBookwatch entitled "Wife Themed Books." (No, not those type of books--books that contain the word "wife" in the title.) I saw a number of familiar books in the video!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Two Reviews

One of the nice things about doing book reviews is that they allow me to read books that are outside my usual zone. Here are some reviews that I did for the August 2007 issue of the Historical Novels Review:

In the Company of Secrets
Judith Miller, Bethany House, 2007, $13.99 pb, 384pp, 0764202766

After kitchen maid Olivia Mott, employed by the Earl and Countess of Lanshire, is sexually menaced by the famed Chef Mallard, she suddenly finds herself bound for Pullman, Illinois, in the company of Lady Charlotte, her employers' spoiled daughter. Charlotte has her own urgent reasons for wanting to travel to America, where she supplies Olivia with a forged recommendation that allows Olivia to find work as an assistant chef at the grand Pullman Hotel—and that threatens to ensnare Olivia in a web of lies.

Olivia, the competing suitors she soon finds, and her other new acquaintances are well drawn, convincingly flawed characters. I did, however, find it jarring that fresh from her lowly position at Lanshire Hall, Olivia is every bit as well spoken as Lady Charlotte. Moreover, she would surely not use words like "missive" and "plethora" in ordinary conversation.

This aside, Miller paints an interesting picture of an 1890's "company town" where spies abound and few secrets are safe. This book is the first of a planned series set in Pullman; I'm looking forward to seeing how Olivia and her fellow characters develop.

Jacob's Run
Bob Zeller and John Beshears, Whittler's Bench Press, 2007, $24.95 pb, 371pp, 097852652X

In 1860 in the coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, newspaper reporter Coleman Blue makes an insistent new acquaintance: Ira Spears, an investigator for an insurance company that issues slave life insurance policies. Spears suspects fraud—and he wants a highly reluctant Blue to help him uncover the truth. What results will awaken Blue to the evil of slavery and take his life in an entirely new direction—if he lives to tell about it.

Jacob's Run is narrated by Blue, whose wry, very distinct voice, capable of handling both high comedy and high tragedy by turns, makes this novel an immense pleasure to read. His Wilmington is populated by a host of memorable characters: the depraved Tarleton family; the freedman—and slave owner—Solomon Politte and his college-educated daughter; and Blue himself, plucked from an orphanage to be raised by the proprietor of the Wilmington Standard. Secrets and unsuspected connections between characters abound. The authors vividly depict Wilmington, a city I've spent time in; reading this novel made me want to go back to look around some more.

The authors, whose joint effort has produced a cohesive narrative voice, provide a short but illuminating historical afterword. Sadly enough, the slave insurance policies that are key to the plot are not a figment of the authors' imagination; the back cover has a reproduction of a real one.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

House Hunting, Plantagenet Style

Overseas readers may not be aware of this, but American subdivision developers would be lost without England. That's because so many subdivisions have English-inspired names (my town has one called Buckingham, for example) and corresponding house models. Today's newspaper, for instance, has a full-page ad featuring house models called Exeter, Essex, Victoria, and Windsor, and there's even a model called Chaucer, though with a "French Country Styled Exterior" that seems incongruous for the father of English literature. (The Chaucer doesn't come cheap; it's $674,900, which means that most people who would get a kick out of buying a house called the Chaucer couldn't afford it.)

So what if there were a development named "Plantagenet Estates"? Here's a few prospective models:

The King Edward II:

Do you like to leave your work at the office? If so, your house hunting is over! This homebody's delight features a home theater, a workshop, and an oversized recreation/exercise room. We've left the landscaping to you!

The Gaveston:

Fit for a royal favorite, this luxurious model features extra-large walk-in closets and a built-in jewelry chest! And you'll always be sure you're looking your best thanks to our oversized mirrors.

The Despenser:

This beauty comes only on our largest lots and features a unique floor plan that allows for easy future expansion! Perfect if you're thinking of adding some extra acreage down the line.

The Mortimer:

Are there two very special people in your life? Is discretion a must? Designed for the busy man of action, this handsome house sports dual staircases, dual kitchens, and dual owner's suites.

The Isabella:

This elegant home, using top-of-the-line material and assembled by the finest craftsmen, is truly fit for a queen. Why settle for less when you can afford the best? YOU DESERVE IT!

The King Edward III:

This deluxe model, offered to only a handful of customers, features an underground parking area with an interior entrance so that your important guests can come and go away from the eyes of prying neighbors. Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Goldilocks

From Booking Through Thursday:

Okay, so the other day, a friend was commenting on my monthly reading list and asked when I found the time to read. In the ensuing discussion, she described herself as a “goldilocks” when it comes to reading–she needs to have everything juuuuuust right to be able to focus. This caught my attention because, first, I thought that was a charming way of describing the condition, but, two, while we’ve talked about our reading habits, this is an interesting wrinkle. I’d never really thought about it that way.

So, this is my question to you–are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?

Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?

Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

Great question! I can and do read almost everywhere, though I find it difficult to do so when there's a live conversation going on next to me (e.g., in a waiting room). When you have children, you have to seize your reading opportunities while you can!

All in Moderation

I've turned moderation on for the time being, because yesterday some lunatic left a very long, rambling, racist comment on the blog, and I'm concerned that he might show up again. But don't worry, I still love to get comments of the non-racist-lunatic variety!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ten Rules for Writing Ricardian Historical Fiction

As it's been quiet in my part of the blogsphere, I'm double posting this one on my Richard III blog.

Some time ago (I never was accused of being au courant), rules for writing various sorts of historical fiction were circulated in blogdom. Astonishingly, as far as I know, no one provided any for the aspiring Ricardian novelist. So here's my attempt to fill this gaping void:

1. Anne Beauchamp, Richard's mother-in-law, must be tearfully grateful when Richard III takes her to live with him and Anne, and must not under any circumstances allude to the fact that Richard and Clarence together have stripped her of all of her lands. The means by which Richard acquired the lands of George Neville and the Countess of Oxford should also be disregarded; if the matter of land must be mentioned at all, the reader should be allowed to assume that it came to Richard via the Land Fairy.

2. Anne Neville must be frail, in order to make Richard's love for her all the more noble and to get maximum pathos from her stay at the cookshop. The emotional power of a Ricardian novel can be measured roughly by the number of times Anne faints.

3. Anything bad that happens in England during the Wars of the Roses is the fault of either (a) Margaret of Anjou, (b) anyone named Woodville, (c) Margaret Beaufort, (d) the Stanleys, (e) Buckingham (except when he's allied with Richard III), or (f) Henry Tudor. Special points go to any Ricardian novelist who can make the Woodvilles responsible for global warming.

4. Anything good that happens in England during the Wars of the Roses is due to Richard, Duke of York, Edward IV (except when it's something Richard doesn't like), or Richard III.

5. Anne and Richard must have been childhood sweethearts whose lifelong wish to marry is thwarted by Warwick. The phrase "sold into marriage" should be used at least once when Anne marries Edward of Lancaster. Under no circumstances should Anne and Edward have even slightly positive feelings for each other.

6. Richard III's extramarital liaisons are the product of either his merry bachelor high jinks, a passionate premarital love affair with a woman of lower rank, or (preferably) his desperate need to find comfort in the absence of his childhood sweetheart Anne. Anyone else's extramarital liaisons are the product of lechery and depravity. Yes, that means you, William Hastings.

7. In the afterword, the conscientious Ricardian novelist will take a swipe at all accounts unfavorable to Richard, dismissing them as Tudor propaganda. The very same accounts, however, must be followed slavishly when they are unfavorable to Richard's enemies.

8. William Collingbourne's hanging, drawing, and quartering on Richard III's orders must not be depicted, as it would be a violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which Richard would have followed to the letter if only it'd been written at the time.

9. Richard must not kill the Princes. Nor can he make a loaded remark such as, "Will no one rid me of those pesky Princes?" or "Sure would be a lot more to go around if we didn't have those two extra mouths in the Tower to feed." (But c'mon—you knew that rule.)

10. When in doubt, blame Elizabeth Woodville.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Senior Citizen and the Sea

As part of my day job, I'm often called upon to recast gender-specific language into gender-neutral language. (Hey, it's not my idea.) This got me to thinking this Labor Day weekend, which I plan to spend throwing words like "he" or "she" around with mad abandon, what if book titles for historical fiction had to be converted accordingly?

The Traitor's Spouse by you-know-who

The Monarch's Pleasure by Norah Lofts

Youngster With a Pearl Earring
by Tracy Chevalier

The Borgia Newlywed by Jeanne Kalogridis

The Other Boleyn Kid by Philippa Gregory

The Constant Offspring of a Ruler by Philippa Gregory

In the Company of the Member of the Demi-Monde by Sarah Dunant

The Bronze Horseperson by Paullina Simons

The Perfect Royal Main Squeeze by Diane Haeger

But if you want to see some strange titles that library patrons come up with, head over to Sarah's blog!