Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Search Terms, Favorites, and Happy New Year!

This will probably be my last post for 2009, so I wanted to start off with some search terms:

queen isabella s what happened with piracy

She gave it up after deciding that the eyepatch was just too unbecoming, darling.

cases of siblings mistakenly marrying

Practice moderation on New Year's Eve, folks, or this could be you.

1885 will changed edward iv

And I thought I procrastinated.

is duchess richard the third male or female

Wasn't giving the man a hunchback bad enough?

what was elizabeth woodville like as a child

Quite cute. Now at last is the time to unveil a newly discovered portrait of her:

why did the blonde leave sanctuary

Normally, this blogger tries to stay well within the bounds of political correctness, but this clearly calls for a blonde joke, and your blogger is, after all, a lifelong brunette. So here goes:

Q: Why did the blonde leave sanctuary?

A: Because she finally realized it wasn't a health spa.

And, in the interest of not alienating blondes who read this blog:

Q: Why did the brunette leave sanctuary?

A: Even as the only woman in a place full of men, she still couldn't get any of them to look at her.

OK, moving on.

I didn't get much reading done in 2009, but I did have a few books I particularly enjoyed, including Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon, The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan, A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin, King's Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes, Drood by Dan Simmons, and Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold. For nonfiction, I particularly enjoyed The Sisters Who Would Be Queen by Leandra de Lisle, which was a refreshing reminder that one can reevaluate historical figures without indulging in wild speculation, engaging in sloppy research, or smearing other historical figures' reputations. I also enjoyed very much Christopher Wilkins' The Last Knight Errant about Edward Woodville, a well written look at a neglected and often slandered historical figure.

For 2010 I'll be continuing to work on my novel about Margaret of Anjou, and I'm be looking forward to the appearance of The Stolen Crown on March 1! Once the holidays are past, we'll get back to more substantive blog posts, including posts about some of the men who fought and in many cases died for Margaret of Anjou. But don't worry, we'll continue to have fun here too!

Happy New Year to all of you!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan

Some time ago, I read The King's Touch by Jude Morgan (about James, Duke of Monmouth) and loved it, so I'm surprised it took me so long to read Morgan's latest novel, The Taste of Sorrow.

The Taste of Sorrow tells a familiar story, that of the Bronte sisters' childhood, rise to fame, and premature deaths, but Morgan manages to make this oft-told story seem fresh. He doesn't do this by telling his story through an unusual perspective or by adding sensational elements; rather, he accomplishes his task through exquisite writing, a dry wit, and rich characterizations. Though all of the Bronte siblings emerge with distinct personalities, I especially liked the character of Anne, who's given the honor of uttering one of the funniest lines of the book following a particularly spectacular spree by the sisters' wastrel brother, Branwell. Morgan also does a fine job with Patrick Bronte and with the Hegers.

I would have liked it if the novel had devoted a little more time to Charlotte's life after the deaths of her siblings, instead of a single chapter, but that's not so much a criticism as just a wish that this book could have gone on a little longer. As one who enjoys author's notes, I wish Morgan had added one, or at least indicated which sources he found most useful, though it's clear that he's researched the lives of the Brontes and their circle thoroughly.

Familiarity with the Brontes' novels will add to one's enjoyment of Morgan's novel, but it's not a prerequisite, so don't let a lack of such familiarity keep you from reading The Taste of Sorrow. It's one of the best historical novels I've read, this year or any other year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Sweater

Here's a seasonal sweater for your delectation:

Alas, I tried to make Richard III a Christmas sweater at another site, but the e-mail function there doesn't appear to be working, so I shall have to leave the dressing of the king to more technologically skilled minds than mine. Trust me, darlings. He looked marvelous.

EDIT: OK, I finally found an e-mail address it liked. So here are sweaters for Richard III and Elizabeth Woodville (who wanted equal time). Isn't everyone entitled to a cozy Christmas?

Merry Christmas, all!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Last Christmas at Grafton: 1463

As promised, here's my entry for the 2009 Virtual Advent Tour. Naturally, it features my favorite family, the Woodvilles.

(December 1463, at the Woodville family manor at Grafton. The walls of the manor are full of holes, which have been haphazardly stuffed with old Lancastrian banners. There is a profusion of chickens inside the manor’s great hall. Standing in the great hall and dressed in various degrees of raggedness are the twelve Woodville children.)

Richard Woodville senior: Children, where’s your mother?
Anthony: At the river communing with Melusine.
Richard senior: (nodding indulgently) Your mother and her Melusine. But again? That’s the third time this week.
Lionel: Yes. She says that she and Melusine are onto something really big and that we shouldn’t disturb her.
Katherine: Pa, it’s really cold in here.
Richard senior: Oh, girl, stop whinging and bring a couple of more chickens inside. They warm the place up.
(Jacquetta enters. She is wearing a gown decorated with pentagrams and is closely trailed by thirteen black cats, who momentarily abandon their duties to take an intense interest in the chickens.)
Jacquetta: (excitedly) My dear ones, such great news! You will not believe what Melusine, the water goddess who is the ancestor of my family, has told me!
Anthony: Mother, is it really necessary that you tell us who Melusine is every time you mention her name?
John: Yes, Mother, she’s almost like a member of the family. A member of the family of whom we’re getting a little tired.
Anthony: Sort of like Queen Isabella got tired of Edward II.
Jacquetta: (forbodingly) You two will have cause to regret someday that you spoke ill of Melusine, the water goddess who is the ancestor of my family. Mark my prophecy. But never mind that for now. Melusine has spoken, and she has said that Elizabeth will be queen of England!
Katherine: Oh, yes, Mother, and I’m going to be Duchess of Buckingham. Tell us another, please.
Anthony: And I’m going to have an earldom.
Lionel: And I’m going to be Bishop of Salisbury.
John: And I’m going to marry a duchess forty years my senior. (Thinks.) You know, that doesn’t sound half bad, in a way.
Mary: Oh, John, you’re so kinky.
Richard senior: And I’m going to be a Knight of the Garter.
Katherine: Pa, you already are a Knight of the Garter.
Richard senior: Oh, that’s right. (Looks down at the garter below his knee, then around with irritation) Then why do I have to live with all of these chickens? And why is everyone calling me "Pa"?
Jacquetta: Would you shut up and listen?
Richard senior: “Father” or even “Papa” would be much more appropriate.
Jacquetta: I tell you people, Melusine has spoken, and she never lies!
Edward: What about that time she said Henry VI would once again sit upon the throne?
Richard junior: They’re right, Mother. Melusine is—how can I put this nicely—unreliable.
Jacquetta: Melusine is always right in the end. Sometimes she works in ways we mere mortals cannot understand. You just need to give her time.
Richard senior: Of course, dear. Now, shall we have our Christmas dinner that the women have worked so hard to prepare?
Anthony: Yes, let’s do. Mother, shall the girls set an extra place for Melusine?
Jacquetta: Laugh if you dare, but next year we’ll be celebrating Christmas with the king. Mark the words of the water goddess, my ancestor Melusine. Come along, Elizabeth, and help me bring in the Christmas dinner. (Walks stage right with Elizabeth.)
Elizabeth: Mother.
Jacquetta: Yes, my dear?
Elizabeth: Did—er—Melusine say that the king was good-looking?
Jacquetta: Oh, yes, indeed.
Elizabeth: And good in bed?
Jacquetta. Oh, yes, yes, yes indeed.
Elizabeth: Hmm. Well, Merry Christmas, Mother. And Merry Christmas, Melusine.
Jacquetta: And Merry Christmas to you, my dear. Men. What do they know?


And if you're in the mood for more 15th-century Christmas cheer, here's a piece I did several years ago about Christmas with everyone's favorite English king, Richard III.

I can't tell you how many great people I've met over the past few years through this blog. I may not be be posting much next week, and I know some of you will be traveling and going offline, so here's holiday greetings to you, and may everyone who reads this have a great 2010! It seems like only yesterday that we were fussing over the year 2000, doesn't it?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kate Gets a Makeover!

As I've probably mentioned here once or twice, The Stolen Crown is due for publication on March 1 of next year. It now has a brand-new cover, so if you've got an advance review copy with the old cover, hang on to it as a rarity!

Here's Kate's new look. The detail, in case you're wondering, is from Lady North in a Blue and White Dress by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

By the way, I'm doing the Virtual Advent Blog Tour this year, so check out my entry on December 19. And no, I haven't the slightest idea of what it will be, but I hope to figure it out soon!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Squidoo Lens and Some Nonfiction Reading

For a long time now, I've maintained a Squidoo Lens on Reading Historical Fiction, where I list sites and blogs devoted to historical fiction (reading it, not writing it). I updated it tonight, but I suspect I've left some deserving blogs and sites out, so if you know of any that should be listed, please let me know! Do note that I haven't included individual author websites on it, because that would make it unwieldy (and would be a lot more work than I need at present), and I haven't included author blogs (including my own) except when the author primarily reviews other people's books on it or interviews other authors.

Thanks to Margaret of Anjou, I haven't had much time for reading lately, but I did want to mention that Dear Hubby bought me The Last Knight Errant: Sir Edward Woodville and the Age of Chivalry by Christopher Wilkins for my birthday last month. I've been dipping into it whenever I can and have enjoyed it thoroughly. It's especially interesting with regard to Edward's post-1485 career, which Wilkins appears to have been thoroughly researched.

Also sitting in my pile of nonfiction to thumb through at leisure is John Sadler's The Red Rose and the White: The Wars of the Roses 1453-1487. Sadler, a battlefield tour guide, seems to know his subject very well, and his narrative is a lively one. Ricardians probably won't care for some of Sadler's conclusions, but Sadler is fair-minded and acknowledges that there is room for doubt as to whether Richard murdered his nephews.

Finally, I'm looking forward to David Santiuste's Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, coming out early next year. Between that and the new Edward II biography, it should be an expensive new year.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Economic Stimuli We Could Use

I saw in the news today that President Obama is proposing an expansion of his stimulus plan, which includes a program called "Cash for Caulkers" for homeowners who weatherize their residence. (This follows upon the "Cash for Clunkers" program from a while back.)

I think these are excellent programs, but they ignore an important segment of the public: book lovers. So without further ado, here are some stimulus programs that I'm sure readers of all political stripes can agree upon:

"Bucks for Books." To shore up the ailing publishing industry and encourage literacy, an incentive that gives tax breaks to those who spend more than $1,000 per year on books. The more books you buy, the bigger the tax break.

"Cash for Kindles." Encourages the growth of the e-publishing industry by putting a Kindle into the hands of everyone who hasn't succumbed to its lure yet. (For those who prefer Barnes and Noble's e-reader, there could be an alternative program called "Nickels for Nooks.")

"Breaks for Bookshelves." Makes the costs of new bookshelves tax deductible, thereby getting new bookshelves into the hands of all Americans who are still living with those cinder-block contraptions from their college days or who are having to double-book their existing shelves.

"Pennies for Plantagenets." An exciting new program that offers up to $3,000 in matching royalties to any writer who publishes a book-length work of fiction about a dynasty other than the Tudors.

I'll be home all day tomorrow if the White House wants to give me a call. And I won't even expect an invitation to the next social gathering--no, no. I'm doing this solely as a public service to my country.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Richard III the Sickly Child?

Of all the myths that modern writers have created about Richard III, one of the most pervasive is that he was a frail, sickly child who was lucky to have reached adolescence. It pops up in a number of older biographies of Richard, most memorably in that of Paul Murray Kendall, who writes poignantly and purply, "The sickly child who had become a thin, undersized lad drove himself to grow strong, to wield weapons skillfully. . . . His vitality was forced inward to feed his will."

But what evidence does Kendall base his statement on? Upon one stray line of verse: "So precarious was his health that a versifier, rhyming the family of [Richard, Duke of York], could only report, 'Richard liveth yet.'"

The verse, however, doesn't bear this interpretation, as was pointed out way back in a June 1992 Ricardian article by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs entitled, "'Richard Liveth Yet': An Old Myth." As they explain, the comment appears in the context of a 1456 listing of the descendants of Joan of Acre and Gilbert de Clare, known as the Clare Roll. It is a statement of genealogical fact, not a comment on Richard's health. The Clare Roll, in the form of a dialogue between a friar and a secular visitor, ends with a listing of the various children of Richard, Duke of York, some of whom are described as having died:

"Sir, aftir the tyme of longe bareynesse,
God first sent Anne, which signifyeth grace,
In token that at her hertis hevynesse
He as for bareynesse would fro hem chace.
Harry, Edward, and Edmonde, eche is his place
Succcedid; and after tweyn doughters cam
Elizabeth and Margarete, and aftir William.

"John aftir William nexte borne was,
Whiche bothe he passid to Goddis grace:
George was next, and after Thomas
Borne was, which sone aftir did pace
By the pathe of dethe into the heavenly place.
Richard liveth yet; but the last of alle
Was Ursula, to him God list calle."

As Sutton and Visser-Fuchs point out, earlier in the verse, Richard, Duke of York himself is spoken of as "Richard which yet liveth," not as a comment on his health but simply to contrast him with his dead ancestors. The similar comment with regard to the future Richard III should be taken in the same spirit, as distinguishing him from his siblings who have died.

Later, the friar informs his visitor,

"To the duke of Excestre Anne married is
In her tender youth: But my lord Henry
God chosen hath to enherite heven blis,
And lefte Edward to succede temporally,
Now Erle of Marche; and Edmonde of Rutland sothly
Counte bothe fortunabil. To right high mariage
The othir foure stonde yit in their pupilage.

So Richard, along with his siblings Elizabeth, George, and Margaret, is not lying in bed fighting for his next breath, but is merely "yit in [his] pupilage."

Despite this debunking by Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, the assertion that Richard was a sickly child continues to pop up, especially on the Internet and in historical fiction, probably due in part to the enduring popularity of Kendall's biography. Given the romantic appeal to Richard's admirers of the idea of the frail but determined young boy battling his way to adulthood against all odds and the rather Victorian notion that ill health somehow denotes nobility of spirit, the myth is likely to be around for a long time.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

In Which I Follow the New FTC Guidelines, and Then Some

As you bloggers in the United States probably know, the Federal Trade Commission has issued a rule entitled, "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising," 16 CFR Part 255. In a nutshell, bloggers who receive items free for review are expected to disclose this fact.

I have a couple of books I've received for free from the publisher that I'll be reviewing in due course, and I'll comply with the new rule. In the meantime, though, I'll do the FTC one better and disclose some of my chief biases that play into my own reviews of historical fiction. So here goes.

1) I have never enjoyed a novel when a character is described as being "fey." Or when a character has "the Sight."

2) I went to Wales several years ago and did not see a single soul there who appeared to have mystical powers. I therefore fail to appreciate novels where a trip over the Welsh border somehow endows everyone present with mystical powers.

3) Most dialect makes my head hurt. I hate it when my head hurts.

4) Gracing a lead character with physical beauty does not relieve an author of the duty to endow him or her with something resembling a personality.

5) Once it has been established that the heroine and hero have a full and rewarding sexual relationship, it is not necessary to graphically remind me of this fact every thirty pages.

6) I can live with it when an English character in 1470 sits down to a meal of turkey and potatoes. When said character is eating this meal in 1470 despite being known to have died in 1460, however, I get very cranky. When said character proceeds to father a child after his meal in 1470 despite having died in 1460, I get even crankier, and only the presence of small animals in the vicinity will prevent the book from going airborne.

7) The idea of a high-born medieval heroine protesting endlessly that she wants to marry for love and not to enter into an arranged marriage was probably an original one at some point. It has long since ceased to be so.

8) I think that not liking a historical figure is not a valid ground for turning him into a murderer, a rapist, or a child molester without any supporting evidence.

9) I appreciate the fact that authors who feel compelled to write ten-page childbirth scenes are faithfully depicting the dangers of childbirth before modern medicine. That still doesn't mean that said scenes couldn't be cut down to five pages. Or two pages. Or two paragraphs.

10) I will find it very hard not to like a novel where the writer gets Katherine Woodville's approximate age right. Ditto for a novel that correctly states that Edward I, and not Edward II, arranged the marriage of Eleanor de Clare to Hugh le Despenser the younger. Just don't muck things up by giving any of them the Sight, please.