The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl (The Tudor Court, #2)The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time Period: 1521-1536
Setting: The various courts of Henry VIII, Hever Castle, Rochford
Main Characters: Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Henry VIII

Opening lines: “I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold. I had been at this court for more than a year and attended hundreds of festivities; but never before one like this.”

3 stars for me. Not so much because of her treatment of history – it isn’t as bad as the fabrications of the TV series “The Tudors” – and there is admittedly not a lot known about Mary Boleyn, including when she was born and whether either of her first two children were actually Henry’s or not. And who can fault an author for incorporating all of the more sensational claims of witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, etc.? It makes a whopping good tale! BUT, I find her characters too starkly black and white. Mary the good, innocent sister. Anne the scheming and vicious shrew. The Boleyn family ambitious at all costs. She practically beats you over the head with what you are supposed to think and how you are supposed to feel about these characters. Her style becomes too repetitive telling you the same things over and over again. But she portrays a court where all of these things certainly could have happened. You certainly get a feel for how long Anne had to keep Henry interested before they were finally married, and how exhausting it must have been. And I liked the story of the romance between Mary and William Stafford. She did marry against her family’s wishes and there is extant a very passionate letter by her defending her choice. This novel ends with Anne’s execution, but Mary went on to live quite happily and inherited all of the Boleyn holdings after her parents died, so she and William ended up quite wealthy landowners.

Book Description: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane, and soon she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. With her own destiny suddenly unknown, Mary realizes that she must defy her family and take fate into her own hands.

Comments on the films:
The 2008 version starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana:
2 stars. Where do I even start? Fans of the book will be sorely disappointed. The time frame has been shortened considerable. Mary’s first husband just disappears with no mention of his death. There is no romance between Mary and William Stafford. Just a note at the end of the movie that they got married and lived happily. Mary has a son but no daughter, and there is nothing of her and her children which was one of the good parts of the book. It is all about Anne Boleyn, and with the time frame so shortened, it all comes off as ridiculous and unbelievable. Eric Bana is suitably regal as Henry VIII, but dark-haired and much too young here. The sets and costumes are gorgeous.

The 2003 version starring Natascha McElhone, Jodhi May, and Jared Harris:
3 stars despite the low budget sets and costumes. This is a little more intimate in format, and I kind of liked the confessional asides by the two sisters. I thought Jared Harris was too small to be Henry VIII and had none of the authority and hints of the tyrant he would become that Eric Bana portrayed. But all in all, it follows the book a little more closely and does not leave out key events like the death of William Carey. I still would have liked the romance between Mary and William Stafford developed a bit more.

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The Boleyn Reckoning

The Boleyn Reckoning (The Boleyn Trilogy, #3)The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Andersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very satisfying conclusion to this well-done alternate history trilogy. I look forward to seeing where Laura Andersen will go next. These books do NOT stand alone. Thank goodness for the advance reading copy (the book will be published in July) so I didn’t have to wait for the conclusion! While Minuette was clearly the focus of the first book, bordering on a sort of Tudor Mary Sue, here she is almost in danger of fading into the background, relegated to pregnant married wife status, albeit the current obsession of the King of England. Neither she nor Dominic lead the action, although they are still central to the plot, as events unravel following their secret marriage in book two. No, this book is much more about William and his descent into a vengeful tyrant. (It is by far the darkest of the three books.) It is also about Elizabeth and her continuing machinations behind the scenes to try and repair the damage that William is doing. She is loyal to her brother, but she is more loyal to her country. Heads will roll before all is said and done. It probably isn’t a spoiler to say that we know Mary Tudor and William will have to die, leaving Elizabeth on the throne in the end. That lends a certain inevitability to some of the action. We know that William can’t be saved, and we might wish for some kind of intervention to change the ending, but I do think it is all quite believable. I was a teensy bit disappointed that Elizabeth did not assert herself more, but it probably is true to character that she would have worked more behind the scenes. Some of the other minor characters had important parts to play, and without giving anything away, I was pleased with their part in the story.

Book description: The Tudor royal family has barely survived a disastrous winter. Now English ships and soldiers prepare for the threat of invasion. But William Tudor—known as Henry IX—has his own personal battles to attend to. He still burns for Minuette, his longtime friend, but she has married William’s trusted advisor, Dominic, in secret—an act of betrayal that puts both their lives in danger. Princess Elizabeth, concerned over her brother’s erratic, vengeful behavior, imperils her own life by assembling a shadow court in an effort to protect England. With war on the horizon, Elizabeth must decide where her duty lies: with her brother or her country. Her choice could forever change the course of history.

The Boleyn Deceit

The Boleyn Deceit (The Boleyn Trilogy, #2)The Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am continuing to enjoy this series very much. As I think I said in my review of The Boleyn King, I wasn’t sure I would like the alternate history angle, but it is very well done. The political background is familiar, but the characters are new, so you don’t know from history what is going to happen. The Boleyn King was almost a coming of age story – William comes into his majority, but is still very much dependent on his circle of childhood friends, Minuette, Dominic, and his sister Elizabeth. The Boleyn Deceit takes on a somewhat darker character as William learns to exercise his power and is subject to the not-unfamiliar-to-us Tudor-style sense of entitlement and arrogance. Minuette has grown up and is no longer torn in her flirtations between William and Dominic. She loves Dominic, but William’s love for her and determination to make her his wife puts her in a very precarious and dangerous position. The court intrigues around Mary and the Protestant/Catholic tension continues. William is negotiating marriage agreements with the French (to appease the Catholics) which he has no intentions of carrying out. Likewise, he is setting up negotiations with the Spanish King Philip for the hand of Elizabeth. Like the first novel, not much is resolved here, so the story is to be continued in The Boleyn Reckoning.

Book Description: The regency period is over and William Tudor, now King Henry IX, sits alone on the throne. But England must still contend with those who doubt his legitimacy, both in faraway lands and within his own family. To diffuse tensions and appease the Catholics, William is betrothed to a young princess from France, but still he has eyes for only his childhood friend Minuette, and court tongues are wagging. Even more scandalous—and dangerous, if discovered—is that Minuette’s heart and soul belong to Dominic, William’s best friend and trusted advisor. Minuette must walk a delicate balance between her two suitors, unable to confide in anyone, not even her friend Elizabeth, William’s sister, who must contend with her own cleaved heart. In this irresistible tale, the secrets that everyone keeps are enough to change the course of an empire.

The Sixth Wife

The Sixth Wife (Tudor Saga, #7)The Sixth Wife by Jean Plaidy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I have read Jean Plaidy for several decades. I devoured her books in my teens and had forgotten how good she is. Her historical research was top-notch, and she worked all those facts seamlessly into her narrative. While it may lack somewhat in psychological depth, for sheer emotional drama she conveys all the horror of being the wife of a psychopathic tyrant.

Book Description: Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, was both foolish and unfaithful, and she paid for it with her life. Henry vowed that his sixth wife would be different, and she was. Katherine Parr was twice widowed and thirty-one years old. A thoughtful, well-read lady, she was known at court for her unblemished reputation and her kind heart. She had hoped to marry for love and had set her heart on Thomas Seymour, the dashing brother of Henry’s third queen. But the aging king—more in need of a nurse than a wife—was drawn to her, and Katherine could not refuse his proposal of marriage.

Queen Katherine was able to soothe the King’s notorious temper, and his three children grew fond of her, the only mother they had ever really known. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a volatile tyrant, books were Katherine’s consolation. But among her intellectual pursuits was an interest in Lutheranism—a religion that the king saw as a threat to his supremacy as head of the new Church of England. Courtiers envious of the Queen’s influence over Henry sought to destroy her by linking her with the “radical” religious reformers. Henry raged that Katherine had betrayed him, and had a warrant drawn up for her arrest and imprisonment. At court it was whispered that the king would soon execute yet another wife. Henry’s sixth wife would have to rely on her wits to survive where two other women had perished. . . .

The Boleyn King

The Boleyn King (The Boleyn Trilogy, #1)The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Setting: England, Hampton Court,
Time: 1553-1554

Main characters: Anne Boleyn, her daughter Elizabeth, her son Henry IX (known as William), Dominic Courtenay (son of a traitor, mother “a Boleyn”, ward of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford), Genevieve Wyatt (known as Minuette)

First paragraph, Chapter One: “I am seventeen today and have decided that, although I shall never be a scholar like Elizabeth, I can at least keep a diary. My history is quickly told – daughter of a French mother and an English gentleman, no siblings, and no parents since I was eight….”

Favorite line: “Whistling softly, William stepped into the privy chamber and surveyed the pieces of what looked to have been a matched set of pottery vases scattered around the fireplace. His mother stopped in midpace, skirts swirling around her, and he said, ‘Whose head shall I have off this time, Mother?’ ”

I enjoyed this alternate view of history. The son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn is about to come into his majority. England is divided over the succession, with the dispossessed Mary the center of Catholic conspiracies. At the heart of this novel is a document that purports to testify that William was NOT the son of Henry VIII. A woman is murdered and Minuette, Dominic, Elizabeth, and William attempt to solve the mystery, and become swept up in the court intrigue. William is not immune to the temptations of privilege and power. Dominic is determined to prove himself different from his traitorous father. Elizabeth, as the sister of a king, is a political pawn to be given in marriage wherever it will be to the best advantage. And Minuette writes in her diary and agonizes over whether she loves William or Dominic. Without giving any spoilers, let’s just say that there are plenty of loose threads still at the end of the book, to be continued in the next installment, The Boleyn Deceit.

Description: The Boleyn King is the first book in an enthralling trilogy that dares to imagine: What if Anne Boleyn had actually given Henry VIII a son who grew up to be king?

Just seventeen years old, Henry IX, known as William, is a king bound by the restraints of the regency yet anxious to prove himself. With the French threatening battle and the Catholics sowing the seeds of rebellion at home, William trusts only three people: his older sister Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by William’s mother, Anne Boleyn. Against a tide of secrets, betrayal, and murder, William finds himself fighting for the very soul of his kingdom. Then, when he and Dominic both fall in love with Minuette, romantic obsession looms over a new generation of Tudors. One among them will pay the price for a king’s desire, as a shocking twist of fate changes England’s fortunes forever.

About the author: Laura Andersen has one husband, four children, and a college degree in English that she puts to non-profitable use by reading everything she can lay her hands on. Books, shoes, and travel are her fiscal downfalls, which she justifies because all three ‘take you places.’ She loves the ocean (but not sand), forests (but not camping), good food (but not cooking), and shopping (there is no downside.) Historical fiction offers her all the pleasure of visiting the past without the inconvenience of no electricity or indoor plumbing. After more than thirty years spent west of the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Massachusetts with her family.

 

The Forgotten Queen

The Forgotten QueenThe Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Setting: England, Scotland
Time: 1498-c1538

Main characters: Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII); James IV, King of Scotland; James V, King of Scotland; Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus; Henry Stewart, Lord Methven.

First paragraph, Chapter One: There was no one high enough to intervene on behalf of my immortal soul, my grandmother had cried. I was a shameful creature, she went on, a wilted petal on the Tudor rose. It was time I was made to examine my wicked ways and repent. Grandmother was through with humble chaplains and confessors. I was a Princess of the Blood; the fate of kingdoms may rest in my finding salvation. Thus I was removed to my godfather, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, where I must come up with an impressive confession. I was certain it wouldn’t take much; I had a wealth of sins to choose from.

Favorite line: Angus, his brother, and his cousin were little more than a glorified group of thugs to me, and I made sure to meet him in a beautiful dove gray velvet gown trimmed with ermine. Despite being married, I allowed my most stunning feature, my coppery hair, to flow free down my back, and it whipped about me in the wind. I was a Celtic goddess of old and I laughed at the comparison. Angus was nothing now. (p. 264)

The feisty, red-haired Margaret is sent away to Scotland at the age of 13 to marry the 30-year-old James IV of Scotland. This is a very readable and historically accurate account of Margaret Tudor’s life – her many pregnancies, the loss of most of her children, her need to be loved and protected and subsequent disastrous choices in men following the death of Jamie, her friendship with the exotic “black Ellen” – told against the background of the political machinations for control of Scotland’s young James V. Having been raised to be a Queen, Margaret expects to be always pampered and loved, and does not reconcile well with her circumstances. D.L. Bogdan has done a good job portraying a flawed, but still likeable woman. This book has a bit of the feel of Jean Plaidy in style, I thought. Although not a romance, it has an emotional style typical of romances, with language like “throbbing,” “cooing,” “sobbing,” etc. And the author has Margaret quickly adopting the Scots dialect, using “canna” and “dinna” in her speech. No explicit sex scenes, so this would be fine for young adults.

Description: From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland. Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…

About the author: D.L Bogdan is a history major, aiming for a master’s so that she might lecture one day. She is also a musician with classical voice training who has been playing keyboards and singing in bands since she was 18. She also enjoys reading, traveling, summer activities, spending time with family and friends, and researching her next novel! She makes her home in central Wisconsin.

Her Highness’ First Murder

Her Highness' First MurderHer Highness’ First Murder by Peg Herring

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery : Book One.
Setting: Hampstead Castle, London
Time: 1546

Main characters: Elizabeth Tudor (daughter of Henry VIII, future Elizabeth I, Queen of England) – age 13; Simon Malden, son of the court physician at Hampstead Castle, age 14; Hugh Bellows, captain of the Welsh Guard.

First paragraph, Chapter One: Simon heard the cries as they climbed the steep hill to the castle. Screams vibrated with pain and panic, fluctuating between wordless shrieks and “No, don’t!” repeated several times. His father, striding ahead with his soft bag over one shoulder, seemed unaware, but Simon cringed. Despite daily encounters with people in pain, the physician’s son could not become inured to it.

Favorite line: On the way home Elizabeth ignored Bess’ comments on women who waved goodbye by use of a dog’s paw. (p. 115)

This isn’t marketed as young adult, but with two teen-aged protagonists it certainly could be. The language is simple and direct, somewhat like a cozy mystery. Although the murders are gruesome and a couple of the victims are prostitutes, there is no gratuitous violence or sex. The author has clearly done a lot of historical research and I like the way she works details into the plot about clothing, food, descriptions of places, etc. in such a way that it is easy to visualize being there. She has a subtle sense of humor that I enjoyed very much (see favorite line above). Elizabeth is mature beyond her 13 years, and the author lets us know of the queen she will become through her introspection. As a mystery, I was kept guessing. We follow the clues along with Elizabeth and Simon, and we know what they know when they know it. No sudden twist of plot or resolution that comes out of nowhere. I really look forward to reading more of this series.

Description: When headless corpses begin appearing on the streets of London, Elizabeth Tudor is as shocked as everyone else. When one of her own ladies is murdered, Elizabeth joins with new friend Simon Maldon to find the killer. Henry VIII, also shocked by the murders assigns one of his Welsh guardsmen, Hugh, to investigate, since the women are dressed as nuns and might signal new religious troubles. Suspects include a madman, a courtier, a reformer, a well-known criminal, and others, even Elizabeth’s castellan. Simon, discovering that he is good at the art of disguise, plays various parts as he works at narrowing the list. Elizabeth’s part in the investigation is kept secret from the king, who would certainly not approve. But it cannot be kept secret from the killer, and in the end, he turns his attention to them. Simon, Elizabeth, and Hugh face a murderer who is beyond caring how many die, as long as he gets what he wants.

About the author: Peg Herring is a writer of plays, mysteries, and romance who once taught high school language arts and history. In her spare time she travels with her husband of many decades, gardens, directs choral groups, and works to keep her hundred-year-old home from crumbling away.