Monday, September 28, 2009

The Tudor Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Elizabeth of York, the only living descendant of Edward IV, has the most valuable possession in all of England -- a legitimate claim to the crown.

Two princes battle to win Britain's most rightful heiress for a bride and her kingdom for his own. On one side is her uncle Richard, the last Plantagenet King, whom she fears is the murderer of her two brothers, the would-be kings. On the other side is Henry Tudor, the exiled knight. Can he save her from a horrifying marriage to a cut-throat soldier?

Thrust into the intrigue and drama of the War of the Roses, Elizabeth has a country within her grasp - if she can find the strength to unite a kingdom torn apart by a thirst for power.

The times between King Edward III of England and Henry VII, the first Tudor King, were full of intrigue, bloody battles and civil war. The Lancastrians and the Yorkists, descendants of the prolific Edward III both had a legitimate claim to the crown and they were tearing the country apart by warring against each other. This has always been one of my favorite times in English history to study and just enjoy. When I realized the Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes was available, I had to read it.

In the The Tudor Rose, Margaret Campbell Barnes begins by introducing a young Elizabeth of York in 1483, right as the French King Louis XI breaks the betrothal contracts between his son, Charles The Dauphin and Elizabeth. The book covers Elizabeth's life up until the birth of her last child. Throughout The Tudor Rose, Campbell Barnes weaves history and fiction seamlessly. There were a couple of instances where creative license was taken, but for the most part she uses known history accurately and beautifully. I love the way she develops and explores the characters in this book. She specifically explores the duality in their personalities and lets the reader be the judge.

When we first meet young Elizabeth, the French King's rejection feels more like a personal affront than a matter of state. Elizabeth quickly realizes that as the daughter of a King, she is not just a woman -- she is more a chess piece in the game of political alliances. This single act of rejection serves to make her aware of the ambitious and cruel acts of men -- a theme explored by Campbell Barnes throughout the book. A few months later, her father is dead and this lesson will serve Bess well.

Fearful of Richard of Gloucester, the King's younger brother and his closest relative by blood, Bess' mother, the calculating Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, calls on her powerful Woodville relatives and attempts to take control of the new King, young Edward. When Richard thwarts her, she quickly moves the rest of her children into sanctuary. During their time in sanctuary, a seventeen-year old Bess is seen as the one who consoles her mother and takes responsibility for her siblings. Although young, Bess is quite sharp and recognizes her mother erred against Richard, however she soon loses faith in Richard's promise to be the young King's protector. Not long after, when he imprisons her two brothers Edward and Richard, and ceases the crown for himself all hope seems to disappear, as Richard of Gloucester becomes King Richard III.

At this point, Campbell Barnes tells us the account of the two princes in the Tower. Did Richard have the princes murdered? Bess agonizes as certainty and doubt plague her throughout her life. In the midst of loss and grief Bess' mother approaches her with the idea of a betrothal to the Lancastrian, Henry of Richmond. Horrified at first Bess refuses, but with confirmation of her brothers' murder and the realization that she is now the legitimate heir to Edward IV, she hastily agrees to marry Henry.

After a failed plot by Henry's supporters to cease the crown, Elizabeth is finally set free from sanctuary and returns to court with a public promise from Richard that she and her sisters will not be harmed. Soon after, Richard's son dies and Queen Anne of Neville goes into decline. During this time, we not only see Richard's duality, but Elizabeth's true understanding of it. After the Queen's death, Richard shocks Elizabeth by proposing a marriage between them in an attempt to secure the crown. This incestuous proposal gives Bess the impetus to seek help from powerful Lord Stanley and the second plot against Richard III is set into motion and succeeds.

In The Tudor Rose, Richard III's character just took over the pages. The way Campbell Barnes weaved history with fiction when it comes to this particular character was fascinating. Elizabeth's reactions to him were portrayed as those of a confused and troubled young woman who admired his accomplishments and talents while recognizing his faults. The battle where Richard loses his life to the Lancastrians is one of the most touching and fascinating narrations in this book. I couldn't stop reading and was just as arrested, horrified and admiring of him, as was Elizabeth herself.

Although Elizabeth looked forward to giving herself to her husband and hoped for a good marriage, she was to be disappointed. King Henry VII is portrayed as a cautious man whose cruelty is cold and who lacked passion. Bess describes Henry as a man who could "neither love nor hate." For a warm, giving woman like Bess who came from the passionate Plantagenets, this was a tough road. Campbell Barnes also explores the duality in Henry's character through Bess' doubts about his actions. Impostors, one of which claimed to be Bess' adored brother, Richard of York, plagued Henry's reign. He was a man who cared much for hoarding money and things and who left the crown well stocked for his successor, Bess' favorite son, King Henry VIII.

Elizabeth of York, first born to King Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville took the motto a "Humble and Reverent Queen." She was a giving, warm woman who gave much of herself to her family and the people around her, yet kept little for herself. She's portrayed as someone who was loved dearly by those around her, but who craved the passion denied her by her husband, King Henry VII. She suffered dearly throughout her life and never stopped grieving for her young murdered brothers, especially for the youngest Richard, Duke of York. However, a Plantagenet through and through, strong and focused she forged ahead and gave birth to the Tudor dynasty. The only English Queen to have been the wife, daughter, sister, niece, and mother to English Kings, she gave herself to her family and her people.

First released in 1953, The Tudor Rose is a classic. If you love historical fiction like I do, this is a book I know you'll enjoy. Grade A

This book will be re-released October 1, 2009.
Review based on ARC copy from Sourcebooks.

Books by Margaret Campbell Barnes you might enjoy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Highland Rebel by Judith James

Highland Rebel begins with the introduction of Jamie Sinclair. He and the kings men are fresh from a small battle against a Scottish clan that they were the victors of. Right away a bit of Jamie's character is laid out for us: He's not a loyalist and will shift his allegiance and religion depending on what better serves him at any given time. His current mission for the king, he took not out of any particular loyalty, but because the king promised him an heiress for a wife, which would grant him the means to live the leisurely life of nobility that he craves.

Jamie simply wants to complete his mission, return to England and get his reward, but the surprise introduction of a spitting mad Highland heiress named Catherine Drummond puts an unforeseen kink in his plans. First mistaken for a young man, Catherine was taken prisoner after the skirmish. The men soon find out that the would be boy is actually a woman. Jamie knows what will happen to her now that she's been caught and on a whim arranges a hasty marriage between he Cat, who is none too pleased with the arrangement and fights Jamie tooth and nail.

When the first sounds of rescue come in, Cat escapes her prison and reconnects with her family. Jamie sets off to find his missing bride and get their marriage annulled so that he will still be able to marry the bride the king has chosen for him, but is taken captive by Catherine's clansmen in the process. This heads into a story of ups and downs, twists and turns, and angst. Oh, the angst!

Cat often referred to as "Hell Cat" by Jamie is a headstrong woman who would have been her father's successor had she been born a boy. She's good in battle and fights alongside her clansmen, she's smart and capable of handling whatever is thrown at her--all good makings of a clan leader. But as it is, Cat has to constantly prove to those around her that she is capable of being the leader her father once was.

Jamie would best be described as a rouge. Most of the decisions he makes are self serving. He's also troubled as a result of a bleak upbringing. Jamie's only goal in life is to rise from mediocrity into something more, by any means necessary.

Something that stands out about Highland Rebel is that it reads not like many modern historical romances. I'd describe Ms. James writing style as vintage -- and I mean that in the most complementary of ways. The story has a rich, historical feel, the characters are well drawn, their emotions are palpable. The action travels across the European landscape in a sweeping, epic way, bringing with it triumphs and loss.

Jamie and Cat make an interesting pair. Their interactions range from quiet and amicable to tense and resentful, but something that always prevails is their mutual respect for each other. Jamie sees Cat as an equal in a time when women were no such thing. This is shown best in the scenes where Jamie teaches Cat how to disguise herself as a man so that she could venture out with him into places where no women would ever be allowed. At the same time, they are two very different people and because of that are quite incapable of reading each other. This, of course, leads to misunderstandings abound--my only complaint-- but to balance that out there are also lots of meaningful moments between the two.

As a whole, Highland Rebel was a highly enjoyable read and reread. Yes, I read it twice! Grade A.

Visit Judith James here. Read an excerpt for Highland Rebel here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James

A Duke of Her Own is the last installment in Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses historical romance series. This is the story that we have all been waiting for -- we finally find out what happens to Leopold Dautry, The Duke of Villiers. He is one of the most interesting characters of this series and one I fell in love with from the first. 

In Desperate Duchesses, Villiers was portrayed as the most arrogant of arrogant Dukes with a dismissive and cynical outlook for the ton I reluctantly admired. He was a man of contradictions who seemed to care much for his outward appearance; a true rake who didn't think twice about having illegitimate children with his mistresses, and an egotistical chess player who thought he was the best and didn't have a problem saying so. Our Villiers didn't have the best of profiles, but he seemed to have the sex appeal and fire to attract the Georgian ladies like months to a flame. Yet, he disdained those around him. The more he was admired, the more cynical he became. How could I not be intrigued?

As the series progresses, our not-so-pretty and not-so-nice hero is jilted by two different fiancés and once more loses a woman he truly admires to his friend, the Duke of Beaumont. He thinks love is for fools and it's not something he wants in his life. By this point I thought Leopold deserved some love, weather he wanted it or not.

Our story in A Duke of Her Own begins right after Villiers makes the decision to raise his six illegitimate children (yes, six!) under the Ducal roof. In order to achieve this, he needs a wife quickly -- one willing to take on his illegitimate children and strong enough to face down the ton. Only a Duke's daughter will do for him and only two of them are eligible.

Eleanor, the Duke of Montague's daughter, is both beautiful and intelligent. She is also a woman whose heart was broken at a young age and who thinks she's still in love with her old beau, a man who is now married. She once said she would only marry a Duke and now one is available -- her family is putting on the pressure. 

After a first meeting full of sharp, witty dialogue, and some great sexual tension, Villiers decides that Eleanor will do. Especially since he's under the impression she is his only hope. Leopold wants to make her his fiancĂ© immediately, but she declines and lets him know that there is one other woman who qualifies. Eleanor convinces Leopold, he needs to meet this woman before making a final decision about the betrothal.

Lisette, daughter to the Duke of Gilner, resides in the country and she never comes to town. It is rumored that she's mad. A house party is quickly planned and all our characters retire to the Duke of Gilner's residence. Lisette is a beautiful woman who seems to have a disregard for the manners and restrictions of the ton. She works closely with an orphanage, loves children and seems to possess a vivid imagination. Villiers is immediately taken with her. 

There is also an ongoing storyline that pertains to Villiers' illegitimate children. He has been searching through orphanages for two of them who are missing. Lisette's charity work with the local orphanage makes this a convenient trip for our hero. The children play an important part in this story, with Tobias, his eldest son, as a somewhat key player. Tobias and Eleanor's sister turned out to be my favorite secondary characters. 

Once they are all gathered in the country, the story gets interesting. Sparks fly between Leopold and Eleanor... the passion between them was sizzling and I enjoyed every one of their scenes. Eleanor is sexy and smart but the 'blind love' she had for her old flame got old after a while. These two are a pair of flawed characters whose wit and passion outweigh their insight and judgment.

Lisette on the other hand is strange and brings out the protective instincts in Villiers -- I sincerely wanted her to go away. Villiers must make up his mind as to which woman he thinks will be the best mother for his six children -- and for a man with such poor judgment when it comes to women, this is no easy task.

I had fun with this book. Villiers was not the keenest of men when it came to understanding women or children, and he knew it. He admitted it to all and sundry and still went ahead and made one mistake after another. As his young son Tobias told him, he was "such as ass!"  I still liked him even though I thought his future Duchess forgave him too quickly. She should have made him beg for at least a year! 

The edginess I found in Villiers' character at the beginning of the series was mostly gone by the end of the series. He was really a pale reflection of the man we first met in Desperate Duchesses. Ms. James developed his character throughout this long series and we saw him grow and change slowly. I found myself liking him at the end but not quite loving his character as much as I did in the beginning. I missed that edge. 

All in all this was a good Georgian romp, with a full set of great characters and quite a few enjoyable moments for me. A nice ending to a long series, I give this one a B. 

Complete series:
A Duke of Her Own

Visit the author here. Read an excerpt here

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To the readers of this blog,

So this summer really did me in. It was non stop action and I was pulled in many different directions, none of which was toward reading.

I talked with Hilcia about this already, but now I wanted to put it out there to my readers. As of right now, I'm considering going on a hiatus. I don't have the time to read and update the blog the way I would like. I originally brought on Hilcia to help me out with this problem and she did a great job. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to help her out and fell off with my reading and reviews, for which I feel stressed and horrible about.

Over the last month I have been able to finish up the books that I had prior commitments to, and the reviews for those will be going up all this month. I also have a few reviews for Book Binge that I will be passing on to Holly.

I know that you all enjoy Hilcia and her reviews. If you don't already know, you can find her at her own lovely blog, Impressions...

As for the future of Musings of a Bibliophile, at this point, I'm just not sure.