#98 ~ The Last Queen

September 4, 2008 at 12:00 am | Posted in Books | 17 Comments
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The Last Queen: A Novel by C.W. Gortner

I am pleased to publish this review as one of the stops on C.W. Gortner’s Virtual Book Tour!

The Last Queen tells the story of middle child of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Juana. She watched her parents take back the country of Spain from the Moors and return it to a united country. She also was witness to the Spanish Inquisition meant to unify the country under the Roman Catholic Church. She was never meant to rule, but as a series of deaths befell the children and grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, Juana was left to take over as Queen of Castille upon the death of her mother. The one thing that Juana had in common with her mother, being married to a man whose wealth and title were dwarfed by her own, proved to be a battle of a lifetime for Juana.

I enjoyed the picture Gortner painted of the young Juana, loving to explore the world and willing to push the limits of propriety to do so. Despite her independence and drive, her somewhat sheltered existence made it possible for her to fall under the charms of her husband, Phillip the Handsome. He is painted as a good hearted man who gave in to his advisers who fed his lust for power. As Juana stood in his way, her heart got trampled over and over again. When her mother dies, Juana fights for what’s best for her homeland, desperately hoping that there are those who will fight with her.

It was no surprise when I read C.W. Gortner’s bio and learned that he is of Spanish decent. It could be sensed in his writing and the way that he wrote about Spain and his characters. When Juana wrote of her love of her country, she was speaking through the author. He treated the faults and mistakes of the leaders who shaped the future of Spain with respect and sympathy. They may have been sovereign leaders, but they were human. It is a blessing to have your history told to the ages by someone as who speaks with honesty driven by love.

There is only one aspect of this novel that tripped me up at times – the use of Spanish when the story was written in English. The terms of endearment did not bother me, but to read a sentence in Spanish and then have it translated into English again by the narrator brought me out of the story. I was able to catch the meaning of those Spanish sentences with me weak Spanish and the context of the paragraph. Even without any exposure to Spanish, I don’t believe the translation back into English was necessary.

On its own, this novel was intriguing, but after having read so much about Juana’s youngest sister, Catherine of Aragon, and Tudor England, I found this story absolutely fascinating. It was unfortunate how the lives of Isabella and Ferdinand’s children played out. With the possible exception of Marie, they all met tragic and heartbreaking fates: their eldest children died young, Juana lived out much of her adulthood in isolation to keep her from the thrown, and Catherine wasted her youth patiently awaiting her destiny to be the Queen of England only to spend her last years valiantly and perhaps stubbornly claiming to have never lost that crown. Whether it was simply bad luck or bad karma from the Inquisition, this family had a cosmic thumb pressed down upon them. Juana dealt with the storms of her life with grace, dignity and strength. Her life might have been tragic, but when told by someone as passionate about his subject and as skilled an author as Gortner, reading about her life was one of my most pleasing reading experiences this year.

If that’s not enough to entice you to read this novel, here’s more from the author:

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To buy this novel, click here.

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.

#52 ~ The Autobiography of Henry VIII

December 20, 2007 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Sexual Identity | 8 Comments
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The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George

As 2007 was the year that I fell in love with the Tudors, what better way to close it than by reading this book by Margaret George? It was a great choice. From the beginning where Will Somers and Catherine Carey Knollys exchange letters regarding the “manuscript” of Henry’s memoirs through the very end where Will writes about Henry’s funeral it is a pleasure to read.

Having read all of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series and the Carolly Erickson‘s The Last Wife of Henry VIII first in no way diminished this book. George’s descriptions of the executions of Anne Boleyn and her male companions gave me an almost physical response despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen. I had a hard time getting to sleep the night I read those accounts. I found myself willing Catherine Howard to get a clue/brain and change her behavior. Alas, she did not.

It was interesting to see how different authors portrayed the different historical characters. For example, Mary Boleyn is portrayed completely different here than she is in The Other Boleyn Girl. She is simply a royal whore in this book while she is a woman forced to become a token in her family’s plot in Gregory’s novel. It may simply be naive on my part, but I hope that she really was a woman of some virtue. Someone had to have been. I also enjoyed the characterization of both Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Charles Brandon.

In the other books, Henry came off as plain crazy and perhaps even a touch evil. In George’s book I liked that Henry felt more human. We can all delude ourselves when we want reality to fit into a specific box. It’s just that Henry had executioners available to take care of the messier realities. I really enjoyed this version of the love affair between Henry and Katherine of Aragon. How might history have changed had their son lived? Where would the Tudors be today? Although this book was over 900 pages long, it was a quick and enjoyable read. It was a wonderful way to complete my reading goal for the year.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#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.

#21 ~ The Constant Princess

May 5, 2007 at 11:27 am | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion | 7 Comments
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The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

After reading both of her Boleyn books, I was very excited to read this book about Katherine of Aragon, even though it was out of chronological order so to speak. She was such a wonderful character seen through the eyes of Mary Boleyn. This book was good and provided some interesting insights on King Henry as a boy and young man. Still, I liked Katherine of Aragon much better from another person’s point of view. Her continuous references to herself as chosen and favored by God drove me nuts. It was very much in her character to believe that all that she wanted for her life were due to her. She was raised that way and that did appear to be the royal mindset of the day. It was very annoying to read. I would have loved to smack her silly.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book. It was well written and hard to put down. The scenes following the birth of Katherine and Henry’s son were beautiful. Of the three books I’ve read thus far, I could re-read those scenes over many times. Still, reading books about self-righteous people in the first person drive me to madness. King Henry had to start his downhill slide somewhere, right? How appropriate.

#11 ~ The Other Boleyn Girl

March 12, 2007 at 1:44 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 16 Comments
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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

When I picked up this book to begin reading, I thought I would never finish it. 650+ pages? I have been keeping pace with my book a week goal. I was certain that this would take much longer to read. I was completely wrong. I finished it in less than three days. I couldn’t bear to put it down. It was an interesting and fast paced book. It was not at all what I had expected.

This book tells the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne‘s younger sister and the first of the Boleyn girls to become Henry the VIII‘s lover. Mary’s family, caring only for the advancement of the family and nothing for what Mary wants, pushes her to Henry’s bed. She eventually bares him a daughter and a son. Unfortunately for the Howard family, Mary was much more interested in her children than in the royal court. Her depression after they took her son Henry from her put an end to her affair with the king. While she was “unclean,” Anne stepped in and caught the Henry’s interest. From there, she connives to rid him of his first wife, Katherine, so that he can marry her. Only after her own marriage to the king does Anne understand the bed she had made for herself. Despite being treated harshly by Anne, Mary remains by her side until she marries a commoner. Mary’s marriage to William Stafford makes Anne even more spiteful because her sister has the happiness she can never have. The rest is history. Anne bore a daughter named Elizabeth, but she never carried another child to term. The last pregnancy resulted in a still birth to a child full of birth defects. That was all the ammunition that Henry needed to rid himself of Anne forever.

Knowing what ultimately happened to Anne did not in any way affect the enjoyment of this book. If anything, it enhanced it. Mary struggled with what her family wanted and finally found happiness. Anne did everything she could to obtain a powerful position for herself foremost and the reader knows all along that she will regret where her ambition brought her in the end.

I cannot wait to read another of Ms. Gregory’s books. I immediately ordered 6 more from half.com. I will be waiting anxiously for my packages to arrive.

Links to my reviews of other Philippa Gregory Novels

The Constant Princess

The Boleyn Inheritance

The Queen’s Fool

The Virgin’s Lover

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