Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper

I have been reading a lot of books by Karen Harper recently and I have to admit to thoroughly enjoying each and every one. What a gifted author she is! "The Last Boleyn" was originally titled "Passion's Reign" and I am not at all sure that I would have chosen to read it with that title. I have that ingrained aversion to lusty title's that shelving Harlequin novels in a book store left me with !

"The Last Boleyn" is the tale of Mary Tudor - five years a mistress to Henry VIII before Anne; faithful wife and mother after Henry. Although I had perhaps heard this before I had not registered the fact that the family name had, in fact, been 'Bullen' prior to Anne's Franophile-ization of her family name to the more readily familiar 'Boleyn'. Mary Bullen inherited her mother's more delicate blonde coloring - heritage of her lofty Howard lineage. I have always been of the impression that 'father' Boleyn was a power hungry, ladder climbing syncophant in the court of Henry VIII....a man who would pander his female children to his best advantage. Nothing I have read over the years has really change that opinion - even taking the vagaries of that time period into account.

Mary was sent to the French court at an early age - as lady-in-waiting to Henry's sister Mary during her short lived marriage to the aging French King. Upon the King's death Mary remains at the French Court attendant upon Mary and beguiled by the new French King Francois I. Anne Boleyn joins Mary at the French court for a time until Mary returns to England as a teenager - and becomes an integral part of the Court of Henry VIII. The book chronicles Mary's marriage to the cold, calculating William Carey - a husband who accepts the King's advances towards Mary as a way to accrue fame and fortune for himself. During her marriage to William Carey Mary has son  and, although she always claimed that he was William Carey's son - there has always been speculation that her son was, in fact, the progeny of Henry VIII .Mary is, ultimately, drawn to the jaded courtier William Stafford - a man whom she will ultimately marry in secret after the death of William Carey.
The odd thing about Mary Boleyn's story is that she was always derided by her family for not asking Henry for more - for not expecting more from him as his mistress. Anne was the rapacious sister . Oddly enough though it is Mary, and not Anne, who ultimately lives to a goodly age and retires from Courtlife with both her head and her happiness intact - thank largely, I am led to believe thanks to the love of Will Staford.
In contrast, this novel with that of Phillipa Gregory's book "The Other Boleyn Girl" - which is also narrated from Mary's point of view. I enjoyed both of these book tremendously, but I think that in some ways I prefer Karen Harper's work. I think that Ms. Harper follows the history very closely and she also managed to  keep me turning the pages of this book late into the night. Best bet - read both books because I think that the story of Mary Boleyn is truly a very good one !

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"The Borgia Bride" by Jeanne Kalogridis

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I had had this book on my shelf for a bit and decided it was time to read it. I'm glad I did. This novel follows the life of a Bride to the powerful Borgia family. Ms. Kalogridis' summary of the book states:

"...THE BORGIA BRIDE is a sumptuous historical novel of passion, betrayal, scheming and incest, set in the Vatican during the 15th century, one of the most exciting, violent and also sensual times of European history. The plot and characters are based on actual historical personages and events..."

I agree that this book is, to my mind, unique. I have not read many books that focus on the political turmoil of the 15th century in Italy. Oddly enough I have always thought that it was Lucrezia Borgia who had the reputation for using the family recipe for poison. Read this book for another theory!  I sailed through the first part of this book - reading late into the night. Mid story slowed a bit for me - but the pace picked up again for a rousing final quarter of the book. The characters in The Borgia Bride are well crafted and carried through a plot that is well thought out expertly crafted with many unusual twists and turns. 

This book makes me want to read all of Ms. Kalodridis' titles. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would have gone for 5 stars - except for the lag midway through. I don;t think that you would regret reading this fine novel - it's appeal would, obviously, be for anyone who enjoys historical fiction - especially for 15th century Italy - but it would also please any lover of well crafted, fast paced fiction!

Ms. Kalogridis has an excellent website too - have a look : http://jeannekalogridis.com/

Saturday, February 6, 2010

"The First Princess Of Wales" by Karen Harper

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I must surely be on a Karen Harper binge! After reading "The Queen's Governess" by Karen Harper last week I decided to read another or her titles, "The First Princess of Wales". I was not disappointed. Although this paperback, published n 2006, sports a hefty 624 pages I have finished it in several days of "bedtime" reading. I have never been a fan of romance novels but it appears that I must be becoming one! I remember when I managed bookstores that I would cast derisive looks at the Harlequin Romance series when they arrived to be shelved. Now here I am reading a book whose title was once "Sweet Passion's Pain"! arghhhh!

This book tells the story, albeit, highly fictionalized, story of Joan of Kent (29 September 1328 – 
7 August 1385)- beloved of Edward, the 'black prince' of Wales15 June 1330 – 8 June 1376). Set during the tumultuous period when threat of war with France was always on the immediate horizon, the tale includes all of the "biggies": love, betrayal, seduction, intrigue, family feuds and war.

I have read reviews of this book that say that it is "over-written"& "historically flawed". I can agree with both of the assessments to a degree. The book is written in a very easy to read style - there are no
pedantic interpretations of history here - and I have read as real historical fiction. In that light I found this book to be an easy, delightful read - and yes, a romance at that. I do think that it offers a true flavor of the period although the hero and heroine are depicted rather as the quintessential lover's -as if Ms. Harper distilled the essence of what a romantic hero and heroine might be.

Was this book worthy of any rewards? No. Was it worthy of a few idle hours of escape? Definitely! If your are looking for a truly historical account of Joan of Kent and her love Prince Edward, look to another venue - but for escapism and distraction I think this is a fine, most enjoyable journey of a read! Ms. Harper even postulates an interesting and amusing historical reason for the term "knights of the garter"!

Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Queen's Governess" by Karen Harper

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I had anxiously awaited the publication date for this book and was so pleased when it arrived at my door!  I love Amazon's pre-order capability - but I do still spend quite a bit of my at my local Indie bookstore - since I would not ever want to lose them!

This book is told through the voice of Elizabeth Tudor's governess, companion and friend, Kat (Katherine) Champernowne Ashley (Astley). The book recounts the story of Kat's life and spans the years 1516-1560; a tour through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor. We follow Kat's story, beginning with Kat as a poor young girl living in the wilds of Devon with a step-mother she hates.  We follow Kat as she is first noticed for her with and intelligence by Lord Cromwell - himself and up and coming 'player' in the Tudor Court- and we follow her journey as she rises withing the ranks of the Court.

Some people may have heard about the locker ring that Elizabeth I wore until her death in 1603. It had been thought to have been simply a ring until it was removed from her hand and was found to contain portraits or Elizabthe as a toddler and her mother, Anne Boleyn. Common history has it that Elizabeth herself commissioned this ring to be made - but the book take's up another potential story for the ring. What if it had been designed for Anne Boleyn herself?

This book fleshes out the story behind Kat, a woman who was pivotal in Tudor history but about whom we know very little. Subplots of intrigue, tragedy, love and redemption are all superbly interwoven in the pages of this delightful book. Karen Harper's research was so well done that this is a thoroughly believable read that I could not put down. I had to give it 5 starts because I could not stop reading it, the history is so well researched and the characters were so real! 

Karen Harper is also the author of "The First Princess of Wales", "The Last Boleyn" and, "Mistress Shakespeare" among many others. For lots more information go to her website!