Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) by Alison Weir

Noted historian Alison Weir returns to her fiction series based on Henry VIII’s wives in Book 2–Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. (Book 1 in the series, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, was previously reviewed here.)

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession front cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: Obviously, this is a very light summary of a pretty big story! The novel starts with eleven-year-old Anne Boleyn preparing to go to the court at Burgundy where she will serve the Regent Margaret. Under Margaret’s tutelage, Anne learns that the world doesn’t only have to be ruled by men; women can be intelligent and hold power, too. Eventually, Anne travels to the court of France, serving the former English Princess Mary who is now Queen of France. After the king’s death, Anne’s sister Mary is violated by the new French king and leaves court. Anne believes she herself will never love any man.

In England, Anne falls in love with Henry Percy, but their betrothal is nixed by Cardinal Wolsey. Mary is once again assaulted, this time by the English king. She reluctantly becomes his mistress and bears him a child. Anne hates King Henry for his treatment of her sister, but then he becomes smitten with Anne. He pursues her despite Anne’s exasperated protests that she will never love him, especially since he is already married. Henry decides this means Anne will love him if he divorces his Queen, Katherine of Aragon. She hasn’t been able to bear him a living son anyway, so it makes sense to have the marriage annulled.

Anne realizes this gives her a real opportunity to be queen, and she grabs it, despite her newfound love for one of Henry’s men, Henry Norris. But the years drag by without the divorce taking place. Anne amuses herself by causing the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey at her family’s request. Finally, Henry breaks from the Catholic Church in order to marry Anne. But when she, too, fails to bear a prince, her days are numbered.

MY TWO CENTS: First thing: this is a work of historical FICTION. If you want facts, you’ll have to read some biographies. I can recommend three by Alison Weir: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, and Mary Boleyn, the Mistress of Kings.

So what sets this novel apart from everything else you’ve already read about Anne Boleyn? First, I loved the setup of young Anne in the court of Burgundy. This gives some insight into Anne’s forward thinking ideas about women in power. Second, the idea that her sister Mary was raped, twice, is a different take on “the great whore.” It also feeds into Anne’s ideas that men cannot be trusted, and especially Henry.

What really sets this apart, though, is Anne’s love for Henry Norris! Historians will recognize the name as one of the king’s men who was executed with Anne, but history mostly calls his “love” of her courtly love…i.e., the kind of playful flirting that was common at this time, with no real meaning behind it. Weir recasts theirs as a great unfulfilled love, first because Norris is already betrothed and then married when Anne meets him, and then later because when given the opportunity, Anne deliberately chooses her pursuit of the crown over her love of Norris. It’s clear in this version that ambition leads to Anne’s ultimate downfall.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a version of this story where Anne was plainly dismissive of Henry’s suit of her due to her disgust for him. This Anne never sees Henry as attractive, even when he is a young man. Later, after his violation of her sister, she has a loathing of him that he simply does not take seriously, no matter how much she tries to convince him that she’s not interested. It’s not until she realizes she could be queen that she begins to encourage him. This is a very interesting, different take on the Anne history paints as deliberately leading Henry on so that he would divorce Katherine.

Another twist is with Anne’s brother George. He was executed with Anne on a charge of incest, but this version gives an alternate view on the speech he gave before his execution, stating some degree of guilt.

Finally, do keep in mind that, like the first book, this novel is set entirely from Anne’s point of view. History buffs will probably fill in the gaps of what’s going on behind the scenes, but there are things the reader isn’t privy to because Anne isn’t.

COVER NOTES: I love this cover! The color is beautiful, but also a bit melancholy. Unlike Katherine’s cover, you don’t see Anne’s face full-on, which adds to her aura of mystery. (History says Anne was more captivating than physically beautiful, but it would be difficult to capture that on a cover.) I also love that the style matches the Katherine cover. Series books should all match! Always! Please, PLEASE don’t switch design midway through the series. I hate that. I want a matching set, please.

BOTTOM LINE: A good read, and offers a few twists on this well-known story. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, which will cover one of Henry’s most overlooked queens, and yet the only one to give him a legitimate living son.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 16, 2017, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: According to the introductory video on Weir’s Six Tudor Queens website, the next novel will explore how “there’s some more to Jane Seymour than meets the eye.” Expect Weir’s fictional Jane to be a defender of Catholicism and Princess Mary. Check out this video and more at www.sixtudorqueens.co.uk.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

Murder in a Cornish Alehouse (Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries #3) by Kathy Lynn Emmerson

The third book in this Elizabethan-era mystery series fills in some history for our main character, Rosamond Jaffrey. (Books 1 and 2 in the series, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe and Murder in the Merchant’s Hall, were previously reviewed here and here.)

Murder in a Cornish Alehouse front cover (Severn House)

THE PLOT: Rosamund and her husband Rob are finally enjoying some happy marital time when Rosamund gets word that her stepfather has died. Although she had never reconciled with her mother or stepfather after eloping with Rob, Rosamund sets off for Cornwall to pay her respects. Her mother, who is both wacky and wildly unpleasant, claims that her husband was actually murdered, not just killed in a horseback-riding accident.

Rosamund doesn’t believe it at first, but a few of Walsingham’s agents are flitting around, and pirates are mentioned. Then a second murder takes place, and Rosamund is on the case. Is piracy the problem, or are pirates actually working for the Crown? Is there a Catholic uprising in the works? And why do Rosamund and Rob keep getting pulled back into Walsingham’s spy network despite a desperate desire to get out?

MY TWO CENTS: I have to admit, I don’t think I’d recommend this book as a stand-alone read. Although the mystery part is only covered in this book, you just get a lot more out of it if you’ve read the other books. You probably get even more if you’ve read the “Face Down” mysteries featuring Rosamund’s stepmother, but I still haven’t gotten around to those. (I DID, however, find the short story in which Rosamund and Rob eloped. It’s called “Any Means Short of Murder” and can be found free on Kathy Lynn Emerson’s website, or this handy link here.) 

I was a little confused by all the characters, which makes it difficult to try to figure out who the murderer is. I don’t know why I had a hard time in this book; I haven’t had difficulty following the other two mysteries. But every time I picked it back up, I had to think, “Now wait, WHO is this guy again?” I also felt that the ending was rushed. Suddenly, it was just over with very little wrap-up. Maybe it will lead directly into Book 4?

Although I enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two books. I tend to think this is more of a “middle story” and a stepping stone to the next adventure. I wonder if we’ll see some of these characters in expanded roles later (I don’t want to elaborate, because…murder mystery.)

COVER NOTES: This cover is totally different from the headless woman covers of the first two books. I usually hate it when series covers go a completely different direction midstream, but I really like the Cornish alehouse! Maybe the headless woman covers tended to make readers think these books were more romantic historical fiction, so this is an attempt to break that perception.

BOTTOM LINE: A must-read if you’re following the series as Rosamund and Rob are continuing to develop. But I wouldn’t recommend reading it before the other two in the series, or as a stand-alone. Start with Book 1, Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill (Tales from Ivy Hill #1) by Julie Klassen

I’m so glad that author Julie Klassen mentions the series Cranford in her author’s note, because that’s exactly the feel I was getting out of her new novel. The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, set in a quaint little English village, is the first in a series!

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill front cover

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill front cover (Bethany House)

THE PLOT: Jane Bell is a young widow who inherited the Bell Inn after her husband’s death a year ago. Between mourning John’s accident and her pre-marriage existence as a gentlewoman, Jane hasn’t really given the Bell the attention it deserves, and now she’s in trouble.

The bank informs her that her husband had taken a 15,000-pound loan for improvements to the inn, and nothing has been repaid. Jane had never heard of the loan, has no idea where the money went, and now has three months to convince the bank that the inn, which has been losing business, can become profitable again.

Jane’s mother-in-law, Thora, isn’t sure that Jane is up to the task. As the previous owner of the inn, Thora is not exactly open to change, and she has serious doubts about Jane’s usefulness. Jane’s sly brother-in-law, Patrick, has returned to the inn and offers to take it off her hands; the bank will be more tolerant with a man at the helm. But is Patrick really trying to help? Or does he have his own agenda?

With an attractive new competitor down the road, Jane is going to need help from many village residents, both old friends and new, to keep the inn. Her friends and family will also make discoveries about themselves.

MY TWO CENTS: I realized as I was writing the plot summary that, for brevity’s sake, I was focusing mostly on Jane. This is truly an ensemble cast. Thora gets almost as much time and attention as Jane, and her character is very developed. It would have been easy to make her the crabby, disapproving mother-in-law, but there’s much more to Thora than that. Also, it’s lovely to see a book where a woman in her 50s can change, grow, AND have multiple suitors!

Jane’s friends are also introduced: Mercy, who runs a school with her aunt, and Rachel, who fell out with Jane over a man. The man in question, Sir Timothy, has never married and may still be a suitor for Rachel or Jane. In the meantime, he’s a good friend to both women. Walter Talbot used to work at the inn, but left after his brother died to take care of the family farm. Gabriel Locke, the farrier, does everything he can to help Jane, yet seems to have a mysterious connection to her late husband. Colin McFarland has taken a job at the inn to help his family, despite bad blood between his father and Thora.

Minor characters, including inn employees and various other townspeople, may have smaller roles but don’t seem less developed. Just a few lines of dialogue or a few descriptors paints a picture of these secondary characters and you feel like you know them. Ms. Klassen really makes the little village come to life, and you enjoy the time you’re spending there. I’m excited to see the roles they’ll continue to play as the series goes on.

COVER NOTES: This cover is a little different from Ms. Klassen’s usual covers, but it’s completely appropriate and beautiful. More than the individual, you get a little piece of the village itself. Very nice.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved this book and the setup of the cast of characters. Enjoyed it immensely, will re-read, and will look forward eagerly to the rest of the series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available December 6, 2016, in paperback, hardcover, and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The Ladies of Ivy Cottage. If you want a spoiler-free description, check out the author’s series page at talesfromivyhill.com. The description is under the Books tab.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Oooh, new historical fiction! This one about Queen Victoria! You already know I’m pretty much going to eat this up. Especially when I previously enjoyed other books by this author.

Victoria front cover (St. Martin's Press)

Victoria front cover (St. Martin’s Press)

THE PLOT: The story covers a relatively short period in Victoria’s life: from right before her ascension to the throne up to her engagement to Prince Albert. Most of the plot centers around Victoria’s fascination with her much older Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne; but there are also the twists and turns of people trying to manipulate the sheltered teenage queen.

There’s her mother’s companion, John Conroy, who was sorry that Victoria didn’t become queen before her 18th birthday and therefore require a regency. (Which, of course would have been run by her mother and him…so, mostly him.) Her paternal uncle, the Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover, is annoyed that England didn’t have laws preventing a female from inheriting the throne, which would have made him King of England. Her maternal uncle, the King of Belgium, is adamant that Victoria should marry his nephew Albert so she is “guided” by the Coburgs.

Everyone agrees that she must marry quickly so there’s a steadying male influence on the giddy young girl. The one thing they all agree on is that the husband cannot be Lord Melbourne, no matter how much Victoria might wish it.

MY TWO CENTS: I didn’t realize that Daisy Goodwin had written the Masterpiece drama coming to PBS, starring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell. This book is kind of the novelization of that. I was already looking forward to it, so reading this just helped build more excitement.

This book is a pretty quick read. It’s broken into four parts, and the chapters within each part are fairly short. It’s easy to pick up and put down, although I mostly just wanted to keep reading once I was in it.

I felt very connected to the character of Victoria. She seemed very authentic to me, both as an 18-year-old girl, and a very sheltered individual who is suddenly queen. Her mother and Conroy certainly didn’t do her any favors by keeping her so isolated. How could she learn to relate to people when she wasn’t allowed? How could she learn to be a good queen in a vacuum? And some of her early major missteps reflect that.

I really enjoyed this book…right up until Albert’s entrance, which was about 75% of the way through. The rest of the book focused on the not-quite-a-romance between Victoria and her Lord M. People keep trying to push Albert at her (in his absence), and she wants nothing to do with that path. She didn’t like Albert the last time she saw him, and the more people push, the less she’s interested.

Then, right after Lord M breaks it to her that he could never be her husband, Albert arrives. Victoria goes from “I want nothing to do with him” to “maybe I want to impress him” to “Okay, I’ll marry him” in way too short a time. Unfortunately, the rush to engagement does make her seem fickle or giddy. I guess I would have preferred for Albert to show up sooner in the narrative so they could work out all their awkwardness more slowly. Or maybe the end of the book just needed to be longer. I felt that the coverage of the Victoria/Lord M story was appropriate and built nicely throughout the book, while the Albert-focused chapters were rushed. Victoria and Albert’s story was supposedly a great love story, but you don’t get that feeling here. You feel that she settled, and so did he. (Maybe it won’t seem that way in the miniseries? I hope not.)

COVER NOTES: The cover is reminiscent of Goodwin’s book The American Heiress. Simple but elegant. I wonder if that is Jenna Coleman as Victoria, and the rooms are from sets used in the production.

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable, quick, easy read. A little too rushed at the end for my taste. Looking forward to checking out the Masterpiece Presentation on PBS!

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 22, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

The Autumn Throne (Eleanor of Aquitaine #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick

This is the final book in Elizabeth Chadwick’s historical fiction trilogy on the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It follows book 1, The Summer Queen, and book 2, The Winter Crown (previously reviewed here).

The Autumn Throne Front Cover (Sourcebooks Landmark)

The Autumn Throne Front Cover (Sourcebooks Landmark)

THE PLOT: Exploring the final 30 years of Alienor’s life, Book 3 starts with her imprisonment at Sarum after her sons’ failed rebellion against their father, King Henry II. Occasionally, Henry will pull Alienor out into the world…usually if he wants something from her. For a while, he tries to convince her to grant him an annulment and become a nun so he can marry again. Of course, there’s no way Alienor is going to be bullied into giving up her titles.

In the meantime, Henry continues to play mind games with his sons: Harry, the Young King; Richard; Geoffrey; and John, who watches his father’s slimy ways with women and politics and learns to emulate them.

Death robs Alieanor of too many of her children, including Harry and Geoffrey. When Henry himself dies, Alienor is finally free…and her favorite son, Richard, becomes king. A new phase of Alienor’s life opens as she becomes regent while Richard is first on crusade, then imprisoned. Surviving son John is a thorn in everyone’s side, but Alienor now also has some beloved grandchildren as her companions.

MY TWO CENTS: I loved this whole series. This book might have been a bit of a challenge for the author, as Eleanor spends the first chunk imprisoned and stripped of power. But Chadwick deftly uses this part of history to show what Eleanor might have done to occupy her time, and anyway, it’s all the more satisfying when Eleanor outlives her tyrant of a husband. In addition, we get some perspective into John’s thoughts and machinations, starting from when he’s pre-adolescent. 

It also could have become a bit depressing, as there are so many deaths and the reader knows Eleanor’s own death ends the book, but it never seems to be a “feel bad” downer book. I think most readers of historical fiction already know the basic historical facts, and the book’s job is to make that history come alive for the reader. Every Elizabeth Chadwick book I’ve read so far has accomplished that for me.

Now that this series has ended, I wonder what Chadwick has planned next. I almost hope it’s a book about John. She’s already set him up as a slippery little weasel, so that should work nicely into a book focused on him.

COVER NOTES: I’m so glad the US publisher stayed with the original cover design of The Summer Queen for the whole series…I like these better than the more generic artistic title-focused covers that the UK publisher switched to. The color palette ties nicely into the title.

BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to a wonderful trilogy on Eleanor’s eventful life. These three books provided a beautifully detailed exploration of the period.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available October 4, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Forest of Wolves (Uprising #2) by Chelsea Luna

This is the second book following the clash of Catholics and Protestants in 16th-century Prague. The first book, Lions in the Garden, was previously reviewed here.

A Forest of Wolves Front Cover

A Forest of Wolves Front Cover (Lyrical Press)

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Mila Novakova is on the run from her father, Vaclav, Chancellor of Bohemia, and her maybe-kinda husband, Radek, Duke of Prucha. Since the marriage was forced and hasn’t been consummated, Mila’s true love, Marc Sykora, insists that the marriage hasn’t actually taken place. The Inquisition is getting into full swing, and Marc is the leader of the Protestant rebellion.

In the meantime, Mila isn’t exactly fitting into life with the peasants. Marc’s uncle has a hatred of Catholic nobles, and Marc’s childhood friend wants Mila out of the way so she can have Marc for herself. And when Marc is away recruiting for the cause, his brother Henrik is Mila’s best friend and support…but does he really want more?

Mila finds confirmation of a truth about her past, but she’s not sure how to use this information for good. No matter what she chooses, her own life is in danger and the people she loves face torture and death.

MY TWO CENTS: I was eager to continue this series; it’s a period I’m familiar with, but not the location. I’m really not as well-educated on the Holy Roman Empire as I should be. This series can definitely interest a reader into researching an unfamiliar period of history.

Mila is an engaging heroine, and as a reader, I want to see her succeed. I’m interested in the story. I know there are anachronisms, but they don’t bother me much when it streamlines the material for younger readers. And it’s definitely an engrossing story. You root for the good guys and hiss at the bad guys.

What a really don’t want to see is another love triangle. In the first book, there was a bit of a triangle with Radek and Marc, but in this book, since you already know that Radek is a villain, the triangle starts to form with Marc and his brother. Henrik’s interest in Mila doesn’t have to go beyond friendship, so I hope it stops right where it is, right now.

I read this book under the impression that it was the end of the series, but as I got very close to the end with unresolved plot threads, I realized it wasn’t meant to be the last book of the series. I do seriously hope the story continues. Should you read it without reading Lions in the Garden first? Eh…really, no. You should start there. While most of the backstory is explained, you don’t really get the level of emotional weight you should by starting with this one.

COVER NOTES: The first book showed Mila’s face, while this one only shows her from behind…in an absolutely stunning gown that would have been more appropriate for the first book than this one. When I flipped through my e-books, though, I saw that this cover was similar in concept to several other YAs on my Kindle…girl shown from behind in gorgeous ball gown. The colors in this are quite striking, and I’m sure it will appeal to the target audience.

BOTTOM LINE: Uses interesting characters to explore a period of history that is unfamiliar to me, and makes me want to know more. I hope the story continues, and especially that the villains get what’s coming to them.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 13, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: While the author has stated on social media that she’s working on book 3, she can’t confirm when it will be published.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Virgin’s War (Tudor Legacy #6) by Laura Andersen

It would seem that the “Tudor Legacy” series wraps up in this final book of the second trilogy. How much more is history skewed in this alternate realty?

****SPOILER WARNING:**** This review will include spoilers for the first trilogy books, The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here); and the first and second books of this trilogy, The Virgin’s Daughter (reviewed here) and The Virgin’s Spy (reviewed here).

The Virgin's War Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

The Virgin’s War Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

THE PLOT: Princess of Wales Anne Isabella, also known as Anabel, moves front and center in this book. She’s created her own court in the north of England, including her best friend Philippa Courtenay and Pippa’s twin, Anabel’s true love Christopher (known as Kit). The twins’ older brother, Stephen, has been disinherited and banished after his actions in book 2.

The separate court is a ploy to make Anabel’s father, Philip of Spain, think that Anabel has become estranged from her mother, Queen Elizabeth. By pretending to be sympathetic to the Northern Catholics, Anabel lulls Philip into believing that an invasion could land successfully and be joined and assisted by Anabel’s court.

In the meantime, Anabel is being courted by the Protestant Scottish King James, whose mother Mary, Queen of Scots, who is also married to Philip, is keen to lead the Catholic invasion force. (Whew! Got all that?)

MY TWO CENTS: Although Anabel is the star of this book, all the Courtenays play fairly large roles. (Even Lucie and Julien return for a storyline of their own.) The twins’ stories both revolve around their relationship with Anabel. Pippa, her dearest friend, is a seer whose fate has been hinted at in earlier books. Kit, who loves Anabel, knows that he can never marry her. Anabel will be queen of England, and she’s destined to marry King James. Anabel loves Kit, too, but like her mother, she knows her duty. She has no intention of putting her love before her country. Even Elizabeth, though, isn’t truly sure that her daughter won’t take Philip’s bait in order to marry the man of her choice.

Stephen Courtenay is wiser and more sympathetic in this book, as he meets up again with Maisie Sinclair. Pippa has always been one of my favorite characters, and she certainly has her moment to play a pivotal role in the plot. Dominick and Minuette are still Elizabeth’s beloved, trusted friends, and they stand with her as their children stand with Anabel in the North.

I have just loved these books. For one, the fictional characters are all believable and mesh well with the “characters” that really existed: Queen Elizabeth, Walsingham, Philip of Spain, Lord Burghley, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Second, Andersen is a master of following the ripples of change across the historical events.

BOTTOM LINE: A very satisfying ending. I could definitely keep reading Andersen’s skewed reality. Maybe she can tackle a different era now? Whatever is next for this author, I’ll be checking it out.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The Virgin’s War will be available on July 12, 2016 in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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