Book Review – Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife – historical biography

Here’s the blurb;

Anne of Cleves left her homeland in 1539 to marry the king of England. She was never brought up to be a queen yet out of many possible choices, she was the bride Henry VIII chose as his fourth wife. Yet from their first meeting the king decided he liked her not and sought an immediate divorce. After just six months their marriage was annulled, leaving Anne one of the wealthiest women in England. This is the story of Anne’s marriage to Henry, how the daughter of Cleves survived him and her life afterwards.

Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife is a well-researched, if short, biography of Henry VIII’s fourth wife.

It is clearly very well researched, but it seems that there is little source material to be found, and it is hard to discover who Anne truly was, and just what she thought of the bizarre situation she found herself in. There are some very lengthy quotations from the correspondence of the period, and while these add to the story, the insistence on keeping the original spelling can make it a bit of a challenge to read pages of letters.

Much of the book is taken up with Anne’s short marriage to Henry VIII and I thought the biography was at its strongest when discussing what happened to Anne after the annulment of her marriage, much of which I didn’t know.

Overall, an interesting, short, and enjoyable read. Recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley for my EArc.

Anne of Cleves is available now.

Book Review – The Autumn Throne – Elizabeth Chadwick – Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s powerful story is brought to a triumphant and beautiful close by much-loved author Elizabeth Chadwick in the trilogy that began with The Summer Queen and continued in The Winter Crown

England, 1176

Imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, refuses to let her powerful husband bully her into submission, even as he forces her away from her children and her birthright.

Freed only by Henry’s death, Eleanor becomes dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry stirred up among his sons has intensified to a dangerous rivalry.

Eleanor will need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crosses the Alps in winter to bring Richard his bride, and travels medieval Europe to ransom her beloved son. But even her indomitable spirit will be tested to its limits as she attempts to keep the peace between her warring sons, and find a place in the centres of power for her daughters.

Firstly, apologies, I am very late to review this one – I was put off by the length of it – but it’s been well worth the time.

The Autumn Throne by Elizabeth Chadwick is a delightful book.

Charting the final thirty years of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life, it is not exactly a fast-paced novel, but I don’t think it’s ever meant to be. For all that Eleanor was imprisoned for nearly fifteen years of those thirty, there is still a great deal that befell her, and of course, with her unruly husband and difficult sons, Eleanor really doesn’t have a moments peace to herself.

I very much enjoyed the arrival of many of Eleanor’s grandchildren throughout the novel, as well as the reappearance on multiple occasions of William the Marshall – definitely Elizabeth Chadwick’s greatest character to date.

I don’t think that I’ve read the first two parts of the trilogy, but I’ve read about Eleanor before – both in fiction and non-fiction, and I didn’t feel as though I missed out on anything, and for all that I knew the ending of the novel would be her death, that didn’t diminish the enjoyment of reading about her sometimes chaotic and busy life.

While Henry II is not reviled throughout the novel, he never appears as a particularly pleasant man, neither do her sons, especially John. Yet, the author does a fine job of portraying all of Eleanor’s sons, and her husband, as men that Eleanor can’t help but love, both as their mother, and as their wife, even when they anger her. But it also shows how helpless she was. She might have been a great queen, but she was really just a pawn that her husband and sons used when it suited them.

A finely nuanced book.

Thanks to Netgalley for my EArc.

 

Book Review – Murder on a Midsummer Night – Miss Fisher Book 17 – thoroughly enjoyable

Here’s the blurb;

“The year is 1929, and Melbourne is in the grip of an exhausting heatwave. But for elegant and irrepressible private investigator Phryne Fisher, the temperature is the least of her worries. She finds herself simultaneously investigating the apparent suicide of a man on St Kilda beach, and trying to find a lost child.”

Murder on a Midsummer Night is, I believe, one of the stories that hasn’t been made into a tv show. It’s quite nice to find one that hasn’t! As such, I got to appreciate the delight that is a Miss Fisher murder mystery without already knowing ‘who dun it’.

I am a self-confessed fan of these books, and probably also the time period, as I also love a good Poirot! Not that the two could be any more different if they tried. As such, I always expect to enjoy them, and enjoy this story I did very much. It is one of the more cleverly put together of the novels, with all the main characters making an appearance at some point, and not one, but two good mysteries to solve.

Thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks to Netgalley for my copy.

It’s available now, from here;

Book Review – The Turn of Midnight – Minette Walters (Black Death Book 2)

Here’s the blurb;

As the year 1349 approaches, the Black Death continues its devastating course across England. In Dorseteshire, the quarantined people of Develish question whether they are the only survivors.

Guided by their beloved young mistress, Lady Anne, they wait, knowing that when their dwindling stores are finally gone they will have no choice but to leave. But where will they find safety in the desolate wasteland outside?

One man has the courage to find out.

Thaddeus Thurkell, a free-thinking, educated serf, strikes out in search of supplies and news. A compelling leader, he and his companions quickly throw off the shackles of serfdom and set their minds to ensuring Develish’s future – and freedom for its people.

But what use is freedom that cannot be gained lawfully? When Lady Anne and Thaddeus conceive an audacious plan to secure her people’s independence, neither foresees the life-threatening struggle over power, money and religion that follows…

The sequel to The Last Hours continues the story of the people of Develish, Lady Anne and Thurkell in particular, although the younger and older generation aren’t missed.

With the Black Death seemingly on the wane, Thurkell and the five young men who accompany him, are able to move around Dorsetshire with more ease. The bleak aftermath of the plague is never far from them, and the depictions of a deserted landscape are haunting.

The suggestions of social mobility, explored throughout The Last Hours, and by the serfs of Develish, who have long worked in secrecy to buy themselves out of serfdom, are cast into stark relief when Thurkell comes into contact with different demesnes, where the Norman Lords have ruled through the threat of the Church and the whip. Perhaps more than anything, it is this which truly reveals the hierarchical society of the time and the fear with which serfs were ruled. The ideas, conveyed against the more common sense approach of those from Develish, that even when starving the men and women of different demesnes are too fearful to eat food that is freely available for fear of the wrath of their Lord’s stewards, no doubt dead, even though they’ve tried to outrun the plague, is shocking. Time and again, I felt rage for these fictional characters, who, I hope, are a representation of what the time period was truly like when so many were oppressed.

It is a delight of the novel, that it manages to convey the coming social changes with a skill that never becomes tedious.

The novel, does, unfortunately, fail to maintain the tension of the first book in the series, and the end scenes only truly work because the reader is so desperate for Lady Anne and Thurkell to succeed in their attempts.

That said, this is a deeply satisfying novel, and it was a delight to read.

The Turn of Midnight is now available;