Becky’s Two Hundred and Fourth Book Review: “The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The Red Queen” by Philippa Gregory is historical fiction set during the time of the Cousin’s War where the Yorks and Lancasters battled each other for the right to the crown. The Cousins War paved the way for the Tudors. “The Red Queen” follows Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII of England and it is the second book in the Cousin’s War series. What I really enjoy about historical fiction is, since I do not have a strong grasp of history, everything is still a surprise! Not to mention, I really enjoy Philippa Gregory’s writing. I think she mixes fact with fiction well and her writing often inspires me to spend time reading up on the history she writes about.

From a young age, Margaret Beaufort has her duties and loyalties engrained into her mind. When she is being married off her mother lectures her: “…you must know that you could never choose your own life. You are a girl: girls have no choice. You could never even choose your own husband: you are of the royal family. A husband would always have been chosen for you. It is forbidden for one of royal blood to marry their own choice. You know this too. And finally, you are of the House of Lancaster. You cannot choose your allegiance. You have to serve your house, your family, and your husband.” (The Red Queen, pg 24).

Despite knowing her fate from a young age, Margaret still wallows in the unfairness of it all. “A parcel – taken from one place to another, handed from one owner to another, unwrapped and bundled up at will – is all that I am. A vessel, for the bearing of sons, for one nobleman or another: it hardly matters who. Nobody sees me for what I am: a young woman of great family with royal connections, a young woman of exceptional piety who deserves – surely to God! – some recognition.” (The Red Queen, pg 53). I liked this passage. I think it exhibits well the kind of person that Margaret Beaufort is. She struggles with the duties that she was born into, and allows herself to wallow a bit. But she always points out that she has ‘exceptional piety’ and therefore knows the Will of God. Her relationship with religion was fascinating in my mind. The way that she was portrayed made it seem like praying was something she did to have the appearance of piety, where in reality, it was all an act. She tried so hard to prove that she had a special connection to God and she used this to prove how things must go her way because God Wills it. Multiple times while reading this book I felt my eyebrow raise up at some of her reactions to different events, and the way that she wove the world around her into a fictional truth, and that she knew what was best because of the special relationship she held with God.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, I really enjoyed reading “The Red Queen”. I think that Margaret Beaufort is a remarkable character and it was a lot of fun trying to guess what she was going to do next. I think that Philippa Gregory’s writing is easy to get into and she makes history, (which I always thought was boring), absolutely mesmerizing! This is the second book in the series, so I would recommend you start with “The White Queen”. The way that she tells her stories makes it helpful, but not completely necessary, to start at the beginning. I am already planning out which of her novels I will read next. I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author to try out if you’ve never read historical fiction before.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-First Book Review: “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel

“Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to “Wolf Hall”. It continues to follow the story of Henry VIII. The story is still narrated by Thomas Cromwell and picks up shortly after “Wolf Hall” left off. Thomas Cromwell is still serving Henry VIII who, at this point in time, is married to Anne Boleyn having successfully severed ties with Katherine of Aragon.  It seems appropriate that I am writing about “Bring Up the Bodies” when yesterday marked the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death. In “Wolf Hall” we read about Anne Boleyn making her way to the top to become Henry VIII’s wife. In “Bring Up the Bodies” Hilary Mantel focuses on Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, so it does seem fitting.

One quote that stood out to me in “Bring Up the Bodies” has Cromwell talking about jousting and the different kinds of men that do it, how you can judge the kind of man based on if they swerve or close their eyes. Although he is focused on jousting it does represent well in my opinion the court of Henry VIII. Reading this book, living vicariously through the characters, which are based off of real individuals, it makes you realize just how dangerous life was at court during Henry VIII’s reign. You had to be aware of what was happening at all times. The second that you swerve, that you take your eye off of the target, that’s when you get hit. You never see it coming. “Some men don’t swerve, but instead they close their eyes at the moment of impact. These men are of two kinds: the ones who know they do it and can’t help it, and the ones who don’t know they do it. Get your boys to watch you when you practice. Be neither of these kinds of men.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 165). You could never really stop dancing during Henry VIII’s reign. You never knew when he might change his mind.

Part of what makes this book so exciting and easy to devour is that knowledge that the bones of the story, that actually happened. These characters are based off of real people – people that existed during Henry VIII’s reign. Some lived to tell their tales, but most didn’t. There was so much change during that time that it was near impossible to keep up with it. With each new queen, new fashions came to play and anyone who wasn’t following her style was instantly suspect. People saw what Anne Boleyn did – a commoner rose up to become Queen of England. She burned brightly in that court, but that which burns brightest usually does so for a shorter period of time. “…No one need contrive at her ruin. No one is guilty of it. She ruined herself. You cannot do what Anne Boleyn did, and live to be old.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 309). It’s a very good point. Henry VIII is a name that everyone knows but Anne Boleyn is arguably just as well known. She made history and she changed history, England was not the same after encountering Anne Boleyn.

Another quote that I really enjoyed in “Bring Up the Bodies” would be, “This is a business that tries the most experienced. He remembers that day in the forge when a hot iron had seared his skin. There was no choice of resisting the pain. His mouth dropped open and a scream flew out and hit the wall. His father ran to him and said ‘Cross your hands,’ and helped him to water and to salve, but afterwards Walter said to him, ‘It’s happened to us all. It’s how you learn. You learn to do things the way your father taught you, and not by some foolish method you hit upon yourself half an hour ago.’” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 278) I liked this quote because it made me reflect on Henry VIII and all the changes that he made to England once he was king. There have been many theories as to why Henry VIII did all that he did – he must have set some sort of record in regards to how many people he had killed during his reign. He ended up having six wives (we all know the rhyme: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survive) and you have to wonder how much of what he did was thought through. Was Henry VIII mad? Was he just an impulsive child? Or was he some combination of the two?

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that “Bring Up the Bodies” was just as well written if not more so than “Wolf Hall”. This series is addictive and I cannot wait for the next book to come out. In the meantime, I’m planning on getting my hands on more of Hilary Mantel’s works. She is quite talented and I’m interested in what else she had produced. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Fourth Book Review: “The Little Lady Agency” by Hester Browne

This book was quite a fun surprise. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for awhile and since it was an unknown author, I didn’t rush to pick it up. Clearly, my mistake. What should have tipped me off was the fact that Sophie Kinsella was one of the authors commending the book on the back cover. Either way, I picked up “The Little Lady Agency” because I was looking for a light read after having pretty much overdosed on Stephen King. While “The Little Lady Agency” was definitely a chic-lit novel, it was a very well put together one with a main character that you couldn’t help but cheer for.

The premise of “The Little Lady Agency” is a girl, Melissa Romney-Jones, finds herself out of a job for the umpteenth time in a very short while. The Americans bought the company that she worked at (the book is set in England) and since she was the newest employee, she was expendable. Melissa needs to find a new source of income and fast and when she is out with her two best friends, Nelson and Gabi she bumps into an old acquaintance. This starts a series of events that leads to Melissa opening her own company called “The Little Lady Agency”. Her goal: help the men of the world without a clue. She does it all, from basic makeovers to posing as a girlfriend for gay guys not quite ready to come out of the closet. She even pretends to be one guy’s wife when his one night stand won’t back off. Now that was fun to read about. For all of these ‘male makeovers’ that she is making, she goes by the name ‘Honey’ and wears a blonde wig.

Most of her clients only need her services for a short while but there is one guy who hires her to pose as his girlfriend. New to England and recently divorced, he doesn’t want to have to deal with friends and acquaintances trying to set him up on blind dates – enter Honey.

Soon the lines begin to blur between Melissa and Honey. Melissa starts to take on some of Honey’s traits and even a blonde wig cannot keep the two separate. Melissa is finding the strength and confidence that came with the blonde wig are seeping into her life. She is becoming less of a pushover and embracing the fact that she is a smart, beautiful woman. It was fun to read about how Melissa pretended to be confident so she could be ‘Honey’ and found she benefited from embellishing Honey’s character. 

I found Melissa to be quite a fun character to read about. I felt a very similar affection for her as I felt for Becky Bloomwood the first time I read the Shopoholic series by Sophie Kinsella. There are a lot of differences in each girls’ world though. For one, Becky has a very supportive, loving family with a lot of quirks. Melissa on the other hand has a terrible family for the most part. Especially her father, I did not like him at all. Whenever I read things like this where the parents are awful I’m reminded of just how lucky I am to come from the background that I do. That being said, “The Little Lady Agency” has plenty of quirks and even though her family was a nightmare to read about, they made for some very funny situations.

Would I recommend this book? YES! I am so pleased that I found another chic-lit author who is able to paint her character’s world so well. I have high hopes for Hester Browne. She has written several other novels including two sequels to “The Little Lady Agency” which I am planning on devouring as soon as I can find the time. This book was a really fun read and just might appeal to a male audience as well although it is definitely aimed towards the women of the world. If you’re looking for a light, fun read – pick up “The Little Lady Agency”.   

Becky’s Ninetieth Book Review: “The Other Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The Other Queen” by Philippa Gregory follows the story of Mary Queen of Scots. There are several different characters who tell the story, Mary the Queen, and a husband and wife who are put in charge of caring for the queen, Bess and George. This is all taking place in Protestant England under Elizabeth’s rule. This is a time of paranoia, where everyone is capable of being charged with treason. Elizabeth’s most trusted adviser, Cecil, has convinced her that everyone is plotting against her. Her paranoia causes her to make hasty arrests, look the other way as Cecil tortures people in order to get confessions out of them, and overall make living in England a frightening experience. Enter Queen Mary. She is the cousin to Elizabeth and a queen several times over. She was born heir to the throne in Scotland and England and was married to a French prince who became king and in turn, she became queen. Her husband dies and so she leaves France to return home to Scotland where she is put in charge until she is run out of town. She flees to England in hopes that her cousin will help her to regain her throne. Instead, Elizabeth keeps Mary under house arrest.

Throughout the book, Mary is convinced that as a queen three times over that any moment a rebellion will rise to set her free. When she is the one narrating the story, the reader can expect to see all the hardships that she has endured during her life and the lengths that she will go to to escape her prison.

Bess and George tell their stories in a different perspective. Bess is a woman who came from nothing and built herself up through marriage. She married several times, each time climbing further and further up the social ladder. Her latest marriage to George left her a countess. Her opportunities are all largely based on the fact that when the Catholic church was overthrown for the Protestant church, abbeys, monasteries, churches, and anything to do with the church were raided. Her husbands took advantage of this. George on the other hand, comes from nobility and so when he and Bess are charged with keeping the queen in their home, George cannot comprehend why Bess is so upset that Queen Elizabeth isn’t paying them to house Queen Mary. He is so used to money never being a problem that he can’t grasp why Bess is always talking about it.

While all the main events really did take place, I am no history buff so I really didn’t know what was going to happen. This made reading the book much more interesting, I think, than if I had known what was going to happen. Philippa Gregory practically holds the patent for writing historical fiction surrounding the throne in England. She does take liberties, but you can pretty much guarantee that her novels contain the bones of what really happened. I am a big fan of her writing styles and I think most people would enjoy “The Other Queen”. I would recommend it, I especially think it would appeal to a female crowd.