#110 ~ The Other Queen

October 19, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 8 Comments
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The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

I had been awaiting the publication of The Other Queen since I finished reading The Virgin’s Lover in October of 2007.  As time progressed and got closer to its September 16th release, my anticipation kept growing.  Finding out that I would be seeing Philippa Gregory in person just a couple of short weeks added to my excitement.  When I finally held the book in my hands, it was a happy day indeed.  Although this novel did not displace The Other Boleyn Girl as my favorite of Gregory’s Tudor series, I enjoyed the time I spent with Mary, Queen of Scots, Lord Shrewsberry, and, most especially, Lady Bess of Hardwick.

When writing about Mary, Queen of Scots, Gregory chose to explore her first several years in British captivity.  In what at first seemed like a royal privilege bestowed upon them by Queen Elizabeth, the Lord Shrewsberry and his new wife, Lady Bess, were asked to house the Scots Queen the short time that she would be safeguarded in Great Britain.  What they found quite early on, however, was that holding court for the Queen of Scots was expensive and would quickly rely on them living beyond their means.  What they didn’t realize right away was all that this honor would cost them.

Lady Bess, the first in her kind in the way she accumulated wealth and managed the properties left to her by her husbands, was dreaming of the wealth and favor that would come with performing such a task.  She married her way up to the nobility and was proud of the way she orchestrated her life and was now able to make a place for her children.  She learned how to keep books and it had become her passion.  She took pride in knowing to the penny how much she was worth and what she had spent.  As I got to know her, it became apparent that when things were happening beyond her control that she had her own inner mantra about who she now is and how efficient she is as a landlord.  She is quite the Protestant, but when she’s under stress, all she needs are prayer beads to make this mantra into her own personal rosary.

For all their differences, Mary, Queen of Scots is much like Lady Bess.  She, too, handles stress by telling herself over and over who she is and what her station means.  When she is confident in what she is doing and the plans that are underway on the outside to free her and return her to her throne, her thoughts are fluid and she has a hard time containing her enthusiasm.  There is no need to remind herself that she is a queen of the royal blood.  She is prospering in that role.  When she is not, or when she feels defeated, her thoughts of freedom and who she is become excessive and obsessive.  It is then that she thinks of Bothwell.  When things become dark enough, she admits to what he did.  In her fear she reveals how vulnerable she is, which makes her no different from any other woman.

Philippa Gregory made a bold choice in choosing to tell Mary, Queen of Scots’ story of early imprisonment.  Despite the lack of physical action, it paid off for me.  I understood Mary and Bess both in their perceived triumphs and actual defeats.  I felt their impatience, resentment, and the immense weight of their boredom.  Whether it was intentional or not, Baron Burghley and Queen Elizabeth proved that all torture has to be physical to be effective.  If I were to change one thing about this novel, I might have chosen a different third voice.  Lord Shrewsberry’s last chapter didn’t work well for me.  I would have chosen someone from outside the house.  Thomas Howard or Queen Elizabeth would have added a third distinct layer to the story.

The Other Queen is a novel of internal drama.  As Mary, Queen of Scots is prisoner from start to finish, and her jailers could not be rid of her.  There was a constant battle between the Shrewberry’s and their other queen.  When Lady Bess is up, Mary is down.  When Mary is up, Lady Bess is down.  Lord Shrewsberry was beaten and battered by the storm erupting between the two women.  Still, this novel was not as compelling as The Other Boleyn Girl or The Boleyn Inheritance, but it kept my interest and my interest grew with the characters.  I look forward to reading more about Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick.

Now that my reading of Gregory’s Tudor series is complete, I would rank them in the following order:

1) The Other Boleyn Girl
2) The Boleyn Inheritance
3) The Queen’s Fool
4) The Other Queen
5) The Constant Princess
6) The Virgin’s Lover

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To buy this novel, click here.

Book Lust

May 1, 2008 at 12:13 pm | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Philippa Gregory, Reading, What's Up | 12 Comments
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When Tracy left a comment that she had a copy of The Lady Elizabeth, the latest novel written by Alison Weir, book lust set in to my reader’s heart fast and furious. Were I the Incredible Hulk, I would have ripped through my clothes and turned green within minutes of reading Tracy’s comment (which wouldn’t really be so bad – green is my favorite color). I read Innocent Traitor last May while I was vacationing at the beach and absolutely loved it. So, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and how wonderful I am hoping it will be. Thankfully, a merciful 15% coupon arrived in my email from Barnes & Noble and I immediately put it to good use. My very own copy of The Lady Elizabeth will be arriving today. Although I’m about a third of the way through Mistaken Identity, I don’t think I’m going to be able to wait. I’m afraid thoughts of any other book are going to be lost the second I see that package on my door step.

Cover to The Lady Elizabeth

One of the main reason’s I’m curious about this book is to see how I feel about Elizabeth I as a result. Although I love Philippa Gregory, The Virgin’s Lover was not my favorite book in her Tudor series. I also had really been looking forward to Elizabeth: The Golden Age and was sadly disappointed by how boring it was. So much so that I was never able to muster up the motivation to write my review of the movie afterwards. Yet, I’ve enjoyed novels where Elizabeth is not the main character. I’m wondering if this is because I didn’t find Elizabeth that interesting or was it the treatment she received in the book and movie? I’m hoping it’s the later. How can Elizabeth not be an intriguing character?

An Interview with Robin Gerber

March 22, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading | 8 Comments
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On March 12, I had the opportunity to speak with Robin Gerber about her new novel, Eleanor vs. Ike. She was on her way to a fund raiser for Hillary Clinton in Hyde Park that evening, but she graciously took the time to speak with me. After having read the book, it was wonderful to have had the opportunity to talk with her about the thoughts and questions that it raised. I hope that you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did:

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Literate Housewife: First of all, I really enjoyed your book and am so happy that I had the opportunity to read it.

Robin Gerber: Oh, great! I’m so glad!

LH: What was it like to have published your first novel?

RG: It’s been really exciting and really fun. Harper has been fantastic, very supportive. You put it out there and you have no idea if people are going to love it the way that you do. I really love the book and I still cry when I read it. I’m getting really nice emails and feedback from people who just love it. Who seem to have the same feeling that I do, that it’s a really good story, it’s exciting and they couldn’t wait to finish it to find out who won. Writing’s just a lonely thing to do. You have an idea of what you hope to accomplish but obviously you can’t know if other people are going to read it the same way.

LH: How did writing Eleanor vs. Ike compare to writing Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way?

RG: It really was a completely different thing when you’re writing non-fiction. Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way is an advice book based upon stories from her life. So it was part writing biography, which, of course, you’re interpreting facts and then figuring out how do those facts tie in to leadership and theories about leadership and that’s something I know all about. So it was almost more of an academic exercise I guess – and not a terribly creative one. Now, having said that, I think that it is a terrific book. People really like it and it did what I hoped it would do, but in terms of how fun it was for me, it was a million times more fun to be creative. And I think that is the difference. When you got to get to writing a novel and saying, “Okay, let’s see… So if Ike’s team has this letter that they can use against her, what could her team have against him? How do I work this?

If people are in to politics, there’s a lot of fun things in the book. I’m a political junkie, so I have Eleanor saying, “We’re in it to win it,” which is of course what Hillary has said during her current campaign. At one point I have Eisenhower making a sexist comment about when people people hear Eleanor’s voice it will remind them of their worst moments with their wives. This is actually quoted verbatim from what Pat Buchanan, the conservative commentator, has said about Hillary. So, there’s a lot of very, very subtle little things like that in the novel. What I call “political junkie” stuff is just fun for me.

One interviewer accused me of hammering home the connection between Hillary and Eleanor by have Hillary meet Eleanor. But that’s not why I did it. I did it because it struck me that it could have happened and it was a fun scene to write.

LH: Well really, that scene was interesting to me because I didn’t know that much about Hillary prior to Bill’s first presidential campaign, so I had no idea that her family came from a mixed political background.

RG: Yeah, that’s all true. She grew up in Chicago. Her father was a Republican and Hillary was a Goldwater girl when she was a teenager. But, her mother was a closet Democrat.

LH: Was there anything about Eleanor that surprised while you were writing or did she in some way take on a life of her own in the novel?

RG: You know, I think it helped me to really understand why she didn’t run for President. I have wondered what she actually said about running for President when there were people actually pushing her in that direction. Writing this novel made me realize that there was really nothing she said that rang very true. And in the end I decided that she had a great deal of insecurity about putting herself on that public stage. In a way she might have been right if she saw what is happening with Hillary today, more than half a century later. Imagine what would have happened in 1952.

LH: Actually that brings up a question I was going to ask: You opened Eleanor vs. Ike with her remembering her husband’s affair and how painful that was to her. What was it about her that made her that allowed her to make the choice to take that energy and focus it on service instead of taking it out on herself? Why do you think she chose to move forward?

RG: That’s a good question. A lot of people would have crawled into a hole. Many terrible disappointments happened to Eleanor as a child. Her mother died early in her childhood and her father was an alcoholic. You know, I think there are some people who are born with a kind of resiliency. She seemed to have that. She was a lot like her uncle, Teddy Roosevelt. And, I think that she was deeply compassionate because of what happened to her in her young life. She came from a very service-oriented family. Her Uncle Teddy’s example made an impact on her. So I think she understood that service had a kind of salvation to it that was worth exploring for her. Still, she didn’t really seek it out. It kind of came to her. Her husband’s adviser came to her and said, “We could really use your help with women voters now that they have the right to vote.” She had never really done much on the political stage, but she kind of liked being on the campaign trail with FDR during his run for Vice President. So, it is true that Louis Howe encouraged her like I wrote in the book. He gave her a chance and encouraged her. She was enlisted by her peers.

LH: It’s amazing what can happen when just one person shows their faith in you.

RG: The woman who came knocking on her door from the League was a wealthy Republican socialite who was very committed to women’s right to vote. So, you never can tell where the angel’s going to come from.

LH: You mentioned Teddy Roosevelt being Eleanor’s uncle. Was he her biological uncle?

RG: Yes, he was. He was her father’s older brother. She was a Roosevelt, so when she married she became Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt. She was Franklin’s 5th cousin. The Roosevelt family came to what is now Manhattan from the Netherlands in the 1600s and eventually moved to the Hyde Park area.

LH: I’m going to have to read more about them because I am Dutch myself and my ancestors settled in Michigan. Obviously the Dutch have more of an influence in our country than just in Southwest Michigan.

RG: Roosevelt in Dutch means rose “something” and FDR didn’t deny that there was a Jewish background in the Netherlands in the 1600s. Of course, the Dutch settled Manhattan but there are a lot more in Michigan, that’s true.

LH: Speaking of Michigan, I was pleasantly surprised to see my home state so well represented in your novel. You have the two housewives from Traverse City who go to the convention in Chicago and then the Pentagon administrator who was from Escanaba. She played an important role inadvertently. Were these references added because of your connection to Michigan or Eleanor’s?

RG: I’m from Skokie, IL. I forgot that I made the soldier married to the woman at the Pentagon from Michigan. I’m not sure where I got that.

LH: Eleanor must have been to Escanaba at one point because that character mentions that she met Eleanor there. Anyway, the Michigan connection, especially at the convention really drew me in to the story.

RG: I wanted the novel to have the sound of reality. I thought it would be important to tell about part of the convention story from the point of view of the delegates. That’s why I created them.

LH: Margaret Thatcher was serving England as Prime Minister when I was young. I’m lucky in the respect of having the example of a strong female leader. Still, there are many other examples of female political leaders, both good and bad, throughout history. Why do you think that America has been so hesitant to have females hold high political office?

RG: Well, I think it really has to do with the two party system. That makes it very hard here, whereas under a parliamentary system it’s easier for a woman to break in. The parties have weakened over the last 20 years so before that, it would be hard for any candidate who didn’t have the support of the party to win an election. There has been change since then, but we’re still not seeing a great increase in women running for office.

LH: The Korean War was the most important issue during the election of 1952. People who were speaking out against Eleanor didn’t believe a woman could lead in a time of war. Although her ultimate goal was to find a peaceful solution to that conflict, do you think she should have challenged the notion that a woman can’t lead in a time of war? There are some great women who did just that, such as Joan of Arc, Katherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth I.

RG: I agree. That would have been a good point to make. I think that because she was running against a general that it would have been hard to argue. But I think it would have been a good point to make. In the novel, my resolution to this situation was that she would invite him to be her Secretary of Defense.

LH: I really did appreciate the opportunity to read your book. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and I think my readers are going to be excited to have the opportunity to receive a copy for themselves.

RG: You had good questions. I think you’ll find that the challenge is editing it on to the page. It’s fun for readers to hear directly from an author like that.

#43 ~ The Virgin’s Lover

November 5, 2007 at 5:06 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory

Your Attention, Please!

Until Gregory’s novel about Mary, Queen of Scots (entitled The Other Queen) is published next year, I can now officially say that I have read every book in her Tudor series! YES!!!! I read my first in March and, as of October 24, I read the last. If reading 52 books in one year won’t be impressive enough, including this entire series into this year is something of which I am proud. Her books aren’t skinny, you know! ;)

On to the Review:

The Virgin’s Lover tells the story of the first two years of Elizabeth I‘s reign as Queen of England. It was during those years that she had a scandalous love affair Robert Dudley, a man previously held in the Tower for treason. A man who narrowly escaped the execution faced by his father and younger brother as a result of the Dudley family’s attempt to install Lady Jane Grey on the throne permanently (they were successful for nine days…). Even after all of this time, the scene of John Dudley‘s death in Innocent Traitor sends chills up and down my spine. I got those chills quite often while reading this book. I knew that Robert Dudley wasn’t going to end up on the Tudor chopping block, but he sure worked as hard as he could at it.

During much of this book, Elizabeth could not make a single decision on her own. I found this a little disconcerting. Sure, everyone has to grown into their roles in life. Despite what Katherine of Arragon might have been lead to believe, you’re not born a monarch. You are very much tried in fire. Still, Elizabeth was never a shrinking violet. She lived much of her life in danger. I found her inability to do much more than worry without Dudley or Sir William Cecil. This Elizabeth came off as pathetic to me. This Elizabeth certainly wasn’t the Elizabeth I remember from the first movie starring Kate Blanchett. Of course, I’m showing my historical ignorance by comparing one fictionalized Elizabeth to the other. Alas, this is all that Literate Housewife has in her arsenal at this point.

I did enjoy the portion of the book dedicated to Amy Robsart, Dudley’s first wife. She is portrayed as an entirely different woman in this book than she was in The Queen’s Fool. I noticed that from the beginning, but I enjoyed her character. I cannot feel sorry for Dudley’s fate after what he put this woman through.

Of all of Gregory’s books about the Tudor dynasty, this is my least favorite after The Constant Princess. I don’t like Elizabeth as a weak minded woman who can’t be anywhere or do anything without a man. I also found it hard to believe that Dudley, going with the assumption that he was innocent of his wife’s demise, didn’t smell a rat from the very beginning. I know that he loved Elizabeth, but to not for a single moment think she could be responsible for bringing about his latest shame was a little much for me.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

October 5, 2007 at 3:40 am | Posted in Books, Film, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 5 Comments
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I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to the upcoming release of Elizabeth: The Golden Age! Not only do I love Cate Blanchett, I can’t get enough of those Tudors!

The trailer was definitely pieced together with me in mind. The visuals are gorgeous and it just hints at the juicy plot to assisinate Elizabeth and bring Mary Queen of Scots to the throne. No one survives a good fight with the Tudors with their head and who doesn’t love a glorious state execution?

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“Well, At least I didn’t have to sleep with Henry first…”

Rotten Tomatoes can have whatever fancy-schmancy rating system they want, but nothing will keep me away from seeing this film. I’ve much to read and learn about Elizabeth I and her life as queen. There’s nothing like a having a larger than life picture in your head when you get started.

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