A Strange Scottish Shore (Emmaline Truelove #2) by Juliana Gray

This review is going to contain spoilers for the first book in the series, A Most Extraordinary Pursuit, previously reviewed here. If you haven’t read it and intend to, unspoiled, then stop reading right now because this review will VERY quickly reveal the big secret of that book (and the series). Really, if you’re at all interested in reading it you probably already know the twist, but just in case…

All good? Ready to jump in? Are you sure? Okay, here we go.

A Strange Scottish Shore front cover (Berkley/Penguin Group)

THE PLOT: Emmaline Truelove and her employer, Max, the new Duke of Olympia, are traveling to Scotland as the Duke courts a young lady. Of course, they are also investigating the strange chest that was found containing a “selkie suit,” which feeds into her family’s legend. Because more than just a Duke and his former secretary, Max and Emmaline comprise the Haywood Institute for the Study of Time.

After the adventure on the island of Skyros, it’s apparent that Max has some sort of ability to cause time travel, but it’s unclear (at least to the younger Max) how these powers work. He doesn’t understand them and has very little control. But when Emmaline’s kind-of love-interest Lord Silverton disappears, she realizes she’ll take any risk to get him back—even having Max send her whenever Silverton is.

MY TWO CENTS: These books really don’t give you a lot to describe if you want to avoid spoilers! But here’s the big one: This is a time-travel book. Everything that goes on in this book (and the first one) is based on Max’s time-travel powers.

Now people might be asking how this series compares to Outlander, and here’s what I can tell you: I really don’t know. I’ve never read nor watched Outlander. I know that it involves time travel, which is why I bring it up. I know it’s a very popular romance. I wouldn’t say this series is primarily about romance, so that’s one difference. There are also different eras represented, and from what I can tell, the Outlander characters only travel between the 1940s and 1700s? I know I’m not being a whole lot of help here. If you’re all out of Outlander and want something similar, I’m not sure if this will meet your craving.

I love the framing device in the form of a book written by an older Max who presumably has control of his powers and understands what has gone on in the stories being unveiled in the novel. The story is told in a way that doesn’t quite give away what was going on, but gives you enough of a hint so say, “So WHEN was this selkie lady from, really? And WHEN did she end up?”

Also, although I say this is not primarily a romance (at least not in the way the romance genre is typically formulated), the relationship between Emmaline and Silverton moves forward despite some hemming and hawing in the beginning and her continued reservations that SOMETHING will go wrong and separate them.

Emmaline still talks to ghosts, specifically the ghosts of Queen Victoria and Emmaline’s own stepfather. I’m assuming at some point we’ll learn why Queen Victoria has an interest in Emmaline, but not yet. I suspect it has something to do with biological father.

As far as the pacing goes, I felt that the beginning chapters were slow; it took me a little while to get into it. But once the story was in full swing, it was very difficult to put down. You can’t imagine how this is really going to resolve in any way that is good for the characters. And does it, really? I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

COVER NOTES: Love that the cover matches the style of the first book and the e-prequel. I also love that it doesn’t reveal the majority of the book’s setting.

BOTTOM LINE: I’m loving this series and can’t wait to see what happens next. Although this entry seemed a little slow right out of the gate, it really moved the series along.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  No announcement that I know of, but hopefully the next entry in the series will be available in Fall 2018 (although sooner would be good!)

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

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The Last Tudor (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #14) by Philippa Gregory

I loooooove Philippa Gregory novels! Let’s just get this out of the way: they’re not 100% historically accurate (because they’re historical FICTION, people; big difference between that and nonfiction) but they always suck you in and make you feel like you’re in the middle of the action. This one is called The Last Tudor, I think for two reasons: Gregory has finally run through every Tudor who ever existed. She therefore claims this will be her last Tudor novel. One of the working titles of this novel, announced years ago, was The Grey Girls, and that title would have been accurately descriptive.

The Last Tudor front cover (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: The book is presented in three parts, following each of the Grey sisters— granddaughters of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, who was Queen of France and then scandalously secretly married to Henry’s friend Charles Brandon.

First, we get the story of Jane Grey, the most famous of the sisters, who ruled as queen for nine days after Edward VI’s death. Jane was the legitimate Protestant heir after Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth had been deemed illegitimate. Poor Jane is the victim of her family’s machinations as well as those of other members of the nobility. Jane is married off to Guildford Dudley in an effort to bind the two families together.  Jane wants only to continue her religious studies and be left alone, but she’s forced to become queen, and then abandoned to a terrible fate once the country rises up for Catholic Mary Tudor.

The second and longest part of the book follows Jane’s middle sister, Katherine, who has none of Jane’s serious nature. While she’s eager to be named Mary Tudor’s heir to the throne over Elizabeth, all she really wants is love. Mary ends up naming Elizabeth next in line anyway. Mary dies, making Elizabeth queen, and perhaps Katherine is now the volatile Elizabeth’s heir. But vain, jealous Elizabeth doesn’t want any courtiers paying more attention to the next-in-line than they do to her. She also craves all male attention, not allowing her ladies-in-waiting to marry because it would mean a man chose someone over her. In her never-ending manipulative game-playing, Elizabeth refuses to make Katherine her heir. She’s focused on romancing Robert Dudley but refusing to marry and bear her own children, which would diminish Katherine’s claim to the throne. Katherine finally decides to marry her true love in secret and worry about punishment later. But circumstances conspire against her, and she ends up paying a steep price for defying Elizabeth.

The last part focuses on Mary Grey, the youngest of the sisters and a person of small stature (she was referred to as a dwarf in Elizabethan times). No one pays much attention to Mary; everyone assumes she won’t marry and provide a possible Tudor heir to the throne. Gambling on her unimportance, Mary secretly marries her true love as well. Unfortunately, her love story is no happier than her sister Katherine’s.

MY TWO CENTS: Strangely enough, I have never been as much of a fan of Elizabethan fiction as I am of stories of Henry VIII’s court. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because so much of the action relies on Elizabeth’s mercurial temperament. You might admire Elizabeth’s ability to keep everyone dancing on the edge of a knife—never actually making decisions; always keeping people guessing or changing her mind. That ability may have helped make her a great queen, but it does make for tiresome reading after a bit. Her paranoia, her jealousy of any man’s admiration of any other woman over her, is in complete opposition to her extreme intelligence and cunning. (Or was the paranoia just a manifestation of the cunning?)

To an extent, that colored my reading experience of this novel, but that is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. There is always a danger when reading historical fiction that you’re not going to stay engaged when you know what’s coming. That’s especially true when you know the outcome isn’t going to be a happy one. But that did not happen with this book. I couldn’t put it down, even though I knew it wasn’t going anywhere satisfying to the characters.

I have to admit, I found Jane as written a tiresome character. There was absolutely no fun to her at all, just extreme religious piety and a cold disregard for her sisters. So frankly, I was glad to get her story out of the way immediately, even though her shadow lingers over her sisters for the rest of the story. Somehow, I still managed to care what happened to her, and did feel bad when she realized, at the last minute, that she really didn’t want to die. In those last moments, she was finally more like a teenage girl than a robot.

I enjoyed Katherine’s story much more, inasmuch as anyone can enjoy the story of someone who lives most of her adult life locked away from her husband and children and then dies at age 27. Although Jane’s perspective of Katherine was of a silly girl, Katherine seems much more accessible to the reader. Yes, she can be silly, but she also shows many more human emotions than Jane. She loves her pets. She falls deeply in love and risks everything for it. In her naivete, she just honestly didn’t think Elizabeth would punish her for very long, much less forever. Katherine has absolutely no allies or parental figures after her mother dies, so you sympathize when she doesn’t even know for sure if she’s pregnant because no one has told her how to tell. A great part of the book is Katherine not giving up hope that Elizabeth will release her from captivity. Feeling that hope from Katherine’s point of view carries the reader along, even when her hopes are dashed time after time. It’s when Katherine finally realizes that she will never, ever be free that the story switches to Mary’s perspective.

I like Mary, the most practical of the Greys, except for one thing: having witnessed what happened to her sister, mostly because of Elizabeth’s jealousy, did she honestly think she would get away with a secret marriage herself? Did she really believe she wasn’t risking her freedom? But maybe that was the point. Maybe having lost her father and one sister to the executioner, and another sister to prison, she was willing to risk everything for even a short period of love.

This book overlaps somewhat with some of Gregory’s other novels: The Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover and The Other Queen. There was quite a bit about Robert Dudley and Mary Queen of Scots in this book.

AUDIO NOTE: If you enjoy audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to Gregory’s Plantagenet and Tudor novels in audio format. Bianca Amato has been the reader on many of Gregory’s books, and I enjoy her performances greatly. I’ve had this on pre-order on Audible for months and will enjoy listening to it even after reading it.

COVER NOTES: This cover is pretty bland; just some golden Tudor roses over a silhouette of the Tower of London. Probably better than trying to show all three protagonists. Plus, the typical historical fiction “headless” woman has already been done on Alison Weir’s novel of Katherine Grey, A Dangerous Inheritance.

BOTTOM LINE: Not my favorite Gregory book, but still a very good read. If you’re a fan of Gregory’s, you’ll gobble this up. If you’re not already a fan, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available in hardcover, eformats, and audio on August 8, 2017.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR: I think we’re finally, FINALLY, getting the fourth and final book in the “Order of Darkness” series! Just this week, the title Dark Tracks has shown up on Amazon, with a release date of March 6, 2018. I don’t know what Gregory has planned after that now that she’s finished writing about the Tudors, but I’ll be watching to find out.

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

 

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.

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