Monday, May 30, 2011

"She Wolves: The Queens Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth" by Helen Castor

* * * * *

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1St Edition edition (February 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061430763
I had eagerly awaited the release of this book and waited until I could take my time and read it slowly- taking notes if I wished. I wasn't disappointed!  The book begins with a genealogy of the Tudor Succession and as Edward VI is dying. The book is an utterly fascinating, eminently readable, treatise about the tradition of female rulers prior to the time of Elizabeth I.

Included are:

Matilda: Lady of England 1102-1167
Eleanor: An Incomparable Woman  1124-1204 (long lived indeed!)
Isabella: Iron Lady  1295-1358
Margaret: A Great and Strong Laboured Woman   1430-1482

and, as the books returns to the time of the Tudors and the death of Edward VI, in "New Beginnings"
Mary and her disastrous marriage with Philip of Spain. The book ends as Elizabeth I is handed the reins of of government and becomes both the King and Queen of her kingdom.

Each section is preceded by a both a genealogy as well as a map of the Kingdom as it existed at that point in history. Very helpful while you are reading about the constantly changing boundaries of the various countries. The genealogies really made me realize how small the pool of available spouses for royal marriages really was at the time. Papal dispensations for consanguinity matters must have been a steady source of revenue for the Church! Ms. Castor has an uncanny ability to write non-fiction that reads as enjoyably as fiction. I was sorry when the book ended - wanting more of this truly riveting history. The struggle of female rulers really was the the beginning of the fight for women's rights and the fact that these amazing, talented, strong women managed to rule as they did is a wonder. I wonder how many modern women would have the tenacity and determination to breach the boundaries of proper 'etiquette' as these female rulers did. It boggles my mind at how strong and focused they must have been. No doubt they would be the sort of successful women who would, to this day, be called She Wolves, baracuddas, or another word that begins with the letter b----. 

I wished that the book had more illustrations - but then I always wish that. I always want more images to pair with the words in a book. The included 8 pages of color images are well done - but more would have been better (of course!) This book will, I think, hold wide appeal to history buffs - especially those who are Anglophiles as I am, as well as for people who study women's rights and societal issues.

I will be on the pre-order list as soon as I hear about Helen Castor's next book !

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Big Little Felt Universe" by Jeanette Lim

 * * * * *

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Lark Crafts (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1600596759
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
This book is such fun! With this book you can, indeed, create your own felt universe populated with all manner of funny felted treasures!
As with all books from Lark the projects are extremely well illustrated and the written instructions are very clear.  The book is broken down into sections. Cake, Camping, Plants, Holidays, Veggies, Office, Tools ... and more. All available to make your virtual felted world seem like the real thing. This book is unique, fanciful , creative and just plain fun. The details are quite spectacular and I can't imagine anyone not having fun just looking at this book - making the projects is the icing on the cake - and there's a recipe for icing in the book!
This book will, of course, appeal to felters but I think that it will also appeal to a wide range of crafters, and sewers. If I was a  Mom I would have a great time making these little treasure for my children... providing them with their very own camp fire without the burn or scissors with the potential for cuts! This book is well done and thoroughly enjoyable !

This book was provided to me by the publisher for the sole purpose of an honest review. No other remuneration was received.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Elizabeth I" by Margaret George

* * * * *
  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022533
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 2.2 inches 
One might think that reading through 688 pages is daunting but I tend to prefer longer novels - they allow me to really  reside in the book and get to know the characters. One of my favorite female heroines is Elizabeth the First and one of my favorite historical novelists is Margaret George so I figured this would be a perfect combination - and I right!

The novel is co-narrated by Elizabeth herself and begins in 1588 as she enters late middle age . Co-narrator is her cousin, Lettice Knollys - the woman who had the audacity to actually marry the queen's main squeeze - Robert Dudley, The Earl of Leicester. Covering the last 25 years of Elizabeth's illustrious reign this book puts a very human face on the great Queen - complete with her need to keep notes to jog her memory, hot flashes that are troublesome, the sadness of the loss of more and more long time friends and trusted advisers. 

The characters are rounded out, well developed and made very human - among the stand-outs are William Shakespeare, Francis Drake, Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, William and Robert Cecil and the indomitable Earl of Essex - Robert Deveraux, the step-son of Robert Dudley and the son of Lettice Knollys- who Elizabeth had taken under her wing and upon whom she had lavished many rewards and titles.

The book follows  Elizabeth  commitment - she is wedded to her country and it's people rather to any man of her choosing - and Lettice who lives a passion filled life of loves and losses. Lettice was banished from the Court upon her marriage to Robert Dudley and the book follows the querulous nature of their relationship and the gradual thawing of the Queen's displeasure as the pair meet on common ground - the garden of Hever castle - former home of their forbears - Anne and Mary Boleyn. 

Also featured in the book is Elizabeth's life long friend and confident Catherine Knollys, wife of Sir Francis Knollys and daughter of Mary Boleyn (Lettice Knollys was Mary's grand daughter). Catherine, in the book, is considered the family peace maker. We feel the threat of the Spanish Armada and the Irish threat of the great O'Neill, Lord of Tyrone. All of the political fears and skirmishes of the time are brought to light  almost like having a ear on history - like being a fly on the walls of Whitehall and Richmond Palaces. Riveting stuff!

This book is meticulously well researched and it paints a vivid image of what it must have been to be Elizabeth, The Virgin Queen. Historical details bring the period to life and the characters are almost 'touchable'.  I loved this book and will, I think, choose to also listen the audible version. I found that Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" really came thoroughly to life when I listened it...and think listening to this book might really highlight my delight with the book even more.

If anything - I would have liked this novel to go on longer. I savored the last pages of this book and was saddened when I finished the last page.  It's a book I will, no doubt, re-read.