The King’s Mistress

The King's Mistress

The King’s Mistress

By Emma Campion

Crown

ISBN: 9780307589255

4 stars

I have a big soft spot for historical fiction, especially stories set in medieval England. I can never get enough of the court intrigue, back stabbing royal courtiers, and the excesses of the kings and queens. I have a particular fondness for stories that are told from the point of view of an outsider, someone that manages to get pulled into the royal orbit and has to adjust to a life they don’t want to live and were never prepared for. In this case, Alice Perrers is that outsider. Campion takes a little known mistress to a king and elevates her story, with a lot of embellishments for the fiction lovers of course, to one that is really fascinating.

Alice Salisbury is a young girl when she meets, and falls in love with, her future husband, Janyn Perrers. It is an arranged marriage but Alice and Janyn do find much love together, and Alice, young and naive as she is, thinks herself blessed and content happy to live out her days married to a wealthy merchant. Unfortunately for Alice, Janyn’s family harbors a secret that will tear the small, happy family apart and cause a lot heartache that will not end even when the secret that was kept from Alice is revealed.

Janyn’s family has connections to the Dowager Queen Isabella, mother of Edward III, and a woman full of secrets, lies, and the ability to ruin lives. For Alice, this relationship which entranced her and then quickly scared her, becomes a shackle. When her much loved husband disappears, Alice finds a price has been put on her head and she soon becomes a pawn of the royal household. A daughter and wife of a merchant, she is lost at court unable to decipher small gestures that mean so much and not able, and sometimes unwilling, to make and keep friends. She does, however, manage to foster a relationship with Queen Philippa, the wife of Edward III, which becomes her grounding force in the hectic court.

Alice’s relationship with the Queen keeps her safe but she is unprepared for the role for which she is being groomed — she is to become the mistress of Edward III. Alice doesn’t go willingly to the King’s bed and finds her attraction and love for the King scare her. She eventually gives in fully and becomes lost in her all consuming love for Edward. The relationship, which she had hoped would stay quiet, puts her in even more danger than she ever imagined. She decides that while she may not have control of her own life, she will use her position to make a stable and safe life for her children, and in the process, becomes a rich landowner, a position that many people at court do not care for. After the death of the King, Alice finds no reprieve but only more fight ahead of her and, all pretenses of naivety gone, she starts once more to claim her life.

It is obvious that Campion knows her subject and time period extraordinarily well. The details she sprinkles throughout the story are rich and draw you into the world that Alice inhabits. The court scandals, murderous plots, love affairs, and extravagant parties move the story along making you wonder how one person could find so much love and pain in the same life. While The King’s Mistress is fiction, the real life Alice Perrers would probably have been entertained by the story Campion weaves.

This is a heavy read though. While Campion has obviously done her research, there were times when the details felt too overwhelming and slowed the story down a bit. The excesses of the royal family and descriptions of cloth and clothing sometimes brought the story to a halt. Fortunately, the story has more than enough going for it to overcome the details and Alice makes a fine character to follow. For lovers of historical fiction, this has a bit of everything to enjoy.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

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The Summer We Read Gatsby

The Summer We Read Gatsby

The Summer We Read Gatsby

By Danielle Ganek

Viking Adult

ISBN: 978-0670021789

5 Stars

When their Aunt Lydia dies, half-sisters Pecksland Moriarty and Stella Blue Cassandra Olivia Moriarty, become the executors of her will. She has asked something rather simple of the two — spend one last summer at her ramshackle cottage in the Hamptons, aptly named Fool’s House, before selling it and, while there, find a thing of utmost value.

Pecksland, Peck for short, and Cassie, although Peck prefers to call her Stella, are exact opposites. Peck, an actress, is all drama with an outfit and shoes for every occasion. She is always concerned with a “situation” which can range from a true problem to her sister’s lack of fashion sense. Cassie is a journalist and translator living in Switzerland and cares little for fashion much to the horror of her sister. She’s a recent divorcee deeply mourning her aunt’s death and has little in common with the sister she doesn’t always believe she’s related to.

Aunt Lydia was a devotee of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and she’s instilled that same love in her nieces. The book, and all their aunt loved about it, is the source of Peck and Cassie’s greatest memories of their aunt and the cottage. Aunt Lydia also liked to think of herself as a patron of the arts and always had an artist living at Fool’s House to give it that artsy vibe. The current resident is an unusual character that neither sister can figure out but, since he was there at the request of their aunt, they’re willing to live with him and his antics until they can decide what to do with the place.

Spending their days sorting through papers and looking for a thing of utmost value bring Peck and Cassie a closeness they never thought possible. They decide to carry out their aunt’s wishes and host the official Fool’s Party to open the summer. The party, which is a success, leaves the sisters with a problem — a painting which hung over the fireplace for as long as they both remember goes missing and they begin to speculate that it might actually be the thing of great value. The two gather a strange and wonderful cast of characters to help them find the painting and in the process, find a family, find love, and find they really are sisters with a lot in common.

I remember reading The Great Gatsby and falling in love with the setting and the characters and wondering if people like these characters actually existed in the world. They do, just not in the world I live in. But that didn’t stop me from me from being fascinated anyway. I felt much the same about this book. Ganek brings together some truly wonderful characters that make you want to rush off to live at Fool’s House. Peck is full of fun and brings a new outlook to life that Cassie never let herself imagine. The sisters inhabit a strange little world and in an odd way it brings the two together.

It’s a chick-lit sort of book with some fabulous characters, the beach, and a little romance. Witty and sarcastic at times, Ganek makes it easy for you to fall for her characters. You don’t have to be on the beach to enjoy this book but I think it’s certainly an excellent summer book. Ganek will make you smile and want to break out the beach chair.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a shortened version of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.

The Tale of Halcyon Crane

The Tale of Halcyon Crane

The Tale of Halcyon Crane

By Wendy Webb

Holt Paperbacks

ISBN:978-0805091403

4.5 stars

One morning, Hallie James finds her life forever changed by a simple letter. The letter states that she has been left everything by her mother — a woman Hallie thought was already dead.

She decides to confront her father, the man who raised her and a person she has great respect for but is suffering from dementia and now barely remembers her on good days. She knows she can’t ask anyone else and needs to know the truth — did her mother really die in the fire like her father told her? When Hallie tells him about the letter his response is simple and startling, “Madyln wrote to you?” Hallie had always thought her mother’s name was Annie.

When Hallie’s father passes away and she is left to not only deal with the death of the father who loved and raised her but the death of a mother she didn’t know and can’t remember. On a whim she calls the attorney, packs a bag, and travels to the island her mother called home.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s categorized as horror, which I was surprised by. I don’t read much horror and, while this one had a supernatural, creepy factor to it, wasn’t terrifying in the way I think of horror.

It moves fast and the whole time you’re wondering where it will lead. Hallie’s family stories told to her by an ancient housekeeper who seems otherworldly weave a good mystery. Webb doesn’t let too much slip and the twist at the end is a nice reward for the reader. On the downside, the story seemed to rush to the end for me but it may have simply been my reluctance to see it end. I do think it could have benefited from a few extra pages just to add more details though. Several things end up taking place way too fast without much explanation as to why. But it didn’t take anything a way from the story. The ghosts, supernatural events, and an old Victorian house full of secrets keep the story moving.

This is Webb’s first novel and I can’t wait to see what her next offering holds.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a summary of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Daughters of the Witchiing Hill

Daughters of the Witching Hill

By Mary Sharratt

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

ISBN: 978-0547069678

3.5 stars

Bess Southers lives in Pendle Forest with her small family. A cunning woman she’s called by some, by others a witch. A fine line in 16th Century England. She wanders the forest helping to heal animals and people alike, careful not to run afoul of the authorities or tout her powers.

Bess’s best friend from childhood, Anne, comes seeking her help to protect her daughter from their cruel landlord. Bess, who has only ever used her powers for good, balks at the idea of stirring up evil even if it may lead to good. She knows the path she walks can easily blur but in spite of herself, she agrees to help Anne and instructs her in her spiritual ways. Anne eventually turns to evil, embracing her dark powers and the two once close friends find their friendship broken.

As Bess grows older and begins to feel her powers ebb, she longs to teach her granddaughter Alizon and pass down her knowledge. Alizon does not want to learn, knowing full well what people think of her family. It causes her and her grandmother great pain and suffering yet she holds firm to her decision. Unfortunately, Jamie, Bess’s grandson, also seems to have inherited some of her abilities. A slow child who has grown into a wayward soul, he doesn’t seem to understand the distinction of good and evil and what his abilities are. While Alizon struggles to help control him, she finds out more haunting information about what he may have done, scaring not only herself but also her family. When the witch hunt begins, Bess and her family are arrested knowing full well what can and, probably will happen, to them all.

Daughters of the Witching Hill is based on a true account of a witch hunt and trial in Lancaster, England in the early 1600s. Seven women and two men were accused and hanged as witches. The fictionalized version here plays the frenzy and paranoia cards well especially when the hunt gets underway. Accusations fly and neighbors turns against life long friends and family causing everyone to wonder if their closest friends are courting evil. You begin to wonder about the people involved and how they are able to believe something so preposterous.

This is first and foremost a story about strong women. Bess stands up to almost everyone and whether it’s because of her powers or confidence, you don’t know. However, throughout the story, she felt like a stranger to me, but an admirable one. She has an incredible love for her family and she’ll do whatever she can to protect them. Alizon on the other hand, was very open and likable, struggling to be strong for her family and hold her own when others want her to be something she cannot fathom.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a summary of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.

The Creation of Eve

The Creation of Eve

The Creation of Eve

Lynn Cullen

G. P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN: 978-0399156106

4.5 stars

In Rome 1559, Sofonisba Anguissola is training to be a painter. Under the tutelage of Michelangelo, she begins to stretch her talent to heights unheard of for a woman at the time. Her father places a lot of faith in her abilities and provides her with the best teachers, but her status as a woman means she cannot study, sketch, or paint the naked body. This leaves her with little understanding of the human form itself and she is told it adds an inhibited quality to her work that she struggles to overcome.

During her time in Rome, she meets and falls in love with another student of Michelangelo’s, Tiberio Calcagni. Their brief affair causes her shame and she leaves the city hoping that what happened between her and Tiberio will not be found out by her father who worked so hard to make sure she would have the chance to learn her craft.

Unaware of what will happen between her and Tiberio as there is no forthcoming proposal of marriage, she takes a position as a lady in waiting to Elisabeth of Valois, the young bride of Felipe II, the King of Spain. She is to teach the young Queen how to draw and paint. Unfortunately, her sad love life, or lack there of, weighs heavily on her. The love trials of the young Queen breaks Sofi’s heart while all this time she wonders silently about Tiberio.

Sofi’s heart suffers while she is at court and the growing attraction she sees between the Queen and the King’s brother, Don Juan, brings her even more heartbreak. Her choices are limited and she struggles with her heart, who she is, and what she must do for the Queen.

Very little action takes place in this novel but the affairs of the heart take center stage and the entire time you’re aware that the story is being told by an artist. The descriptions, colors, and experiences are filtered through an eye that is always looking for shape, texture, and depth.

Told through diary entries, each chapter begins with a painting hint or fact. I loved that the story was told through Sofi’s point of view as it allowed you to get close to the characters. Sofi’s descriptions of the court, the Queen’s dresses, the other ladies in waiting, and the palaces are wonderful and it’s as if you’re watching and hearing the conversations first hand.

Oddly enough this is a book about a painter but very little painting takes place. Somehow that’s a good thing as you come to know the artist behind the easel instead and it’s a good story. For anyone who loves historical fiction, this is a great read. You finish the last page wanting to know more about everyone in the story.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a summary of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.

The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet

The Girl with Glass Feet

By Ali Shaw

Henry Holt & Company

ISBN: 978-0805091144

3.5 stars

Ida Maclaird went to St. Hauda’s Land looking for answers to a strange affliction — her feet are turning to glass. While exploring the island, she meets Midas Crook. He’s introverted, skittish, and mostly avoids people preferring to see the world through the lens of his camera. For Midas, it’s easier to photograph life than experience it.

Ida, outgoing and friendly to Midas’s lonely and shy state, stops by the flower shop where he works and asks him to coffee. She confesses that she is looking for a man named Henry Fuwa. Midas knows him but because of his own emotional and personal history with Henry, tells her nothing. Midas wants to help, but can’t bring himself to say the words or to actually do anything. It is Ida who pushes the relationship forward and once again invites Midas to spend time with her. When Ida invites Midas to the cottage she is staying at, he gets a look at her feet which entrance him enough to photograph them while Ida sleeps. Ida is hurt by his actions but somehow still wants him around for which Midas is grateful, although he’s unable to express it.

Midas becomes so captivated with Ida and her feet that he goes to see Henry Fuwa without telling her. Henry tells him what he doesn’t want to hear — there is no cure and the glass will eventually overtake her whole body. Midas doesn’t tell Ida about this visit or what he has learned but is determined to help her. Somehow Ida finds herself falling in love with Midas but she can’t help but wonder if it’s the affliction or Midas that is actually causing the feelings she’s having. While she is hoping for a cure, she can see the glass spreading and is all too aware of the fact that she hasn’t much time left.

Over the course of Ida looking for a cure, you’re introduced to a strange cast of island residents all disturbed and suffering some ailment of their own. It’s a sad story with death hanging over every page. It’s almost as if every one of the island residents is grieving in their own way, sadly looking for answers and emotions long passed or forgotten. They all seem to crave some light and happiness on a damp, foggy island. While the story is full of failures, romantic and otherwise, Ida and Midas do find each other and while the romance is far from romantic, it forces both Ida and Midas to focus on the present and enjoy what’s in front of them.

This a debut novel by Shaw and it’s a good show. While I thought some parts were slightly confusing and a few extra words of explanation could have helped in places, it’s a story I couldn’t put down in the end. While I don’t think each story needs a happy ending, I was slightly surprised and pleased by how this one turned out.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above is a summary of my review, which can be read in full here. The book was provided to me by the publisher for The Book Reporter review.