Review – The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

By Robert Hutchinson

William Morrow

ISBN: 9780060837334

2.75 stars

Oh the Tudors. What a bunch you are — paranoid, mean-spirited, mean, gluttonous, and in the case of Henry, horny. This book only deals with his last years so a lot of the horny court play had run its course already and what was left was a sick, dying man sadly looking for companionship in his last days.

For a man so concerned with his public image and legacy, specifically an heir, he’s remembered much differently than I’m sure he ever thought possible even in his wildest dreams. In his later years, Henry was incredibly obese and most likely spent every minute of his last days in pain. His ulcerated legs constantly oozed. His diet of meat, meat, and more meat caused digestion issues, and he still worried about maintaining appearances. He’s an interesting figure and it’s obvious why so many people want to write books about him and the Tudor court. Honestly though, a book about Henry’s PR machine is something I’d probably read though.

It’s his final wife, Katherine Parr, who brings his family back together though. Welcoming Mary and Elizabeth into the fold and Henry, at this point, adds them to his succession line. His heir, Edward, dies at the young age of 16, Mary turns out to not be the best at ruling, but Elizabeth, well, she turns out to be Henry’s true legacy. Interesting how that works sometimes isn’t it?

This book is broken into chunks meaning each chapter is about a certain aspect of his life — his sickness, his will, his last queen, and his death. While it’s interesting to see these aspects broken down this way, the timeline gets muddles and I found it slightly hard to follow in terms of what year it was and what was important.

I’ve read a lot about the Tudors, both fact and fiction, and some of this felt too familiar to be as interesting as I wanted it to be. I’m glad I picked it up and I’m sure it’ll add a new perspective to my next Tudor historical fiction read. I realize that while I am sort of tired (sort of bored would be a better way to put it) of the Tudors, I know I’ll probably pick up another book about them and I’m not sure why. Perhaps that will be many days down the road though.

Review – Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde

Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde

By Anna Elliot


ISBN: 9781439164556

3 stars

Trystan and Isolde is a part of Arthurian legend I’m not very familiar with. I’ve read a few stories over the years, short stories mostly or the characters have shown up as minor characters in other books, but I never really got into the longer stories. I’m not sure why that is but I thought I’d give these characters another chance.

Isolde is attempting to grieve for her husband Constantine, Arthur’s heir, after his untimely death but she finds it hard going. The realm is again in turmoil and lords and petty kings are once more vying for the throne. With little power and very few choices open to her, she makes the decision to marry a cruel man who takes the throne. With the knowledge that her new husband maybe selling out the realm to the invading Saxons, she takes steps to find the information to bring him down and also save herself from being convicted as a witch.

In most stories, Isolde is a healer, and she’s that once more in this book and it’s her need to help people, especially ones who are bleeding, that brings her in contact with Trystan. This is when the story diverged from one I’m familiar with but I was all right with that for the most part. When you read many Arthurian based stories, a change of pace is always welcome. But even with that change, I had trouble getting into the story. Isolde and Trystan are very hard, battered people with stories to tell but neither seems inclined to share their stories or heal mentally. I wasn’t looking for a warm and fuzzy cry fest but it also felt as though they were hiding stuff from each other which they sort of are but I won’t get into that.

This is the first book in a trilogy which is fine but the story ends so abruptly that I thought I had missed pages. Ending in the beginning of action makes sense when there’s to be a sequel but it felt wrong — too abrupt, too soon.

Honestly though, I still might take a look at the sequels because I do want to know how this version of the tale ends. The dialogue was somewhat stumbling for me though. A lot of …she paused. Then: “… I’m hoping this writing tick passes with the following books. Overall, it was an interesting take on the tale that many know so well.

Review – The Pale Horseman

The Pale Horseman

By Bernard Cornwell

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 9780060787127

4 stars

The Pale Horseman is book two in the King Alfred novels following The Last Kingdom.

This is my third Cornwell series and my tenth book of his overall which means nothing if you know anything about Cornwell as an author. He’s an extremely prolific writer and I’ve barely touch his long list of titles. It makes me happy knowing I still have all that reading ahead of me.

Uhtred, the Saxon raised as a Dane, is once more a pain in King Alfred’s side. Knowing Uhtred would go back to the Dane’s given the chance, he attempts to keep a leash on him but roping him in with religion and responsibility does nothing for Uhtred’s mood. Bored with a farmer’s life, he goes out raiding and meets up with a Dane named Svein who has ambition, ships, and men to back up his wild claims. Svein impresses Uhtred but he still isn’t ready to run back to the Danes, even if that’s where his heart is. Uhtred doesn’t like King Alfred but when the Danes attack, Uhtred finds himself by King Alfred’s side arguing with him over leadership and war skills. Though he never expected it, he is now doing everything he can to keep Alfred on the throne.

As a main character, Uhtred is wonderfully hateful and I mean that in a good way. He’s selfish, impulsive, violent, and a warrior through and through. He’s what I picture a Saxon raised among war faring Danes to be like. He hates his king but stands by him even going so far as to give him his oath; whether he likes to admit it or not. Loyalty means much to Uhtred but he struggles with it. He owes it to Alfred as his king but would sneak away to the Danes if he could and the thought crosses his mind more than once. When the opportunity comes up, he doesn’t go, surprising even himself but when the fight comes he avoids his friends not wanting to face them.

I know very little of Alfred’s actual history other than his being very smart and pious. This story is told by Uhtred so his portrayal is less than flattering. Being a pagan also shapes many of Uhtred’s views — his wife whom he once ran home from a battle to be with is now someone he can’t stand to be around. Her religion is a main a sticking point between the two. He finds a new woman, a pagan priestess, to replace her and while you know he enjoys her company, you also wonder if he does it just to show he’s still pagan and not willing to bend the knee to both Alfred and his religion.

Cornwell is as graphic as ever in the thick of the battle scenes — bones, flesh, and teeth crushing loudly and violently. It’s a rough time, around 870 A.D. or there about, so at least he is true to the period; something I always appreciate about his writing even if I don’t always revel in it.

It’s taken me a number of months to return to this series, not for lack of want, but because of other books that have come into my life. In fact, two additional books have been published in this series since I began reading Cornwell’s books. I don’t plan to let that much time pass between now and the next book.

Review – My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel

By Daphne Du Maurier

Sourcebooks Landmark

ISBN: 9781402217098

4 stars

The House on the Strand and Rebecca were truly wonderful books full of atmosphere with dark characters and deep emotional triggers that had me holding my breath till the end of the book. I wasn’t disappointed by My Cousin Rachel but I didn’t feel the same emotional response as I did with the others. Yet I was still happy to see the somewhat ambiguous ending. Hmmm… No worries. I’m not telling. Honestly, I think Du Maurier is the only author that can do that and leave me feeling OK with it. Wonder why that is?

Ambrose Ashley and his heir, Philip, are two men leading bachelor lives on their estate in Cornwall, England. When Ambrose’s health begins to fail, he goes off to Italy for the weather and health benefits and finds a wife in Rachel, a recent widower and countess. When Ambrose sends Philip a strange letter saying his wife may be poisoning him, Philip goes to Italy to help Ambrose but doesn’t arrive in time. Sullenly, Philip returns home to find out Ambrose’s widow will soon be landing in England. Philip has no love, and only a slight respect, for this woman but he welcomes her reluctantly. Somehow, this mysterious woman finds a way into his life.

Philip is so naïve that Rachel’s actions seem perfectly normal to him but all the time you’re wondering why he doesn’t stay true to his original assessment of Rachel. You want him to go on mistrusting her and when he doesn’t, it’s infuriating and there’s nothing to do but stand back and watch the wreck happen. And you know it’s going to happen.

Rachel begins wrapping Philip around her finger. He becomes more possessive and somewhat deranged. Very much like Ambrose which has you wondering who and what Rachel is. He keeps finding letters from Ambrose accusing his wife of poisoning him and warning Philip of her abuse of money. But Philip heeds none of them. He ignores all the signs Ambrose sends him from the grave.

This was a very satisfying read but it didn’t have the same intrigue, buildup, or emotional pull. The notes and Philip’s feelings just aren’t the same here but they do add an otherworldly element, persistent but ignored though they are. If I had read this one before Rebecca, I may have felt differently about it. I keep trying to stop myself from making comparisons but I can’t. That happens with me when I start reading an author’s backlist. I have Frenchman’s Creek on my list and know my library has a copy and I’ll try to keep an open mind while reading that one.

All in all, a good read and I’m glad I’m working my way through Du Maurier’s books. It’s a fun little challenge.

Review – The Anatomy of Ghosts

The Anatomy of Ghosts

By Andrew Taylor


ISBN: 9781401302870

2.5 stars

1786; Cambridge, England; ghosts; a mystery — How could I go wrong? Well, I won’t go and say it was wrong but I will say this one wasn’t my cup of tea. I finished and I’m glad I did but didn’t feel satisfied. There’s nothing specific I can point to but it didn’t come together for me. Wrong book, wrong time?

John Holdworth, a recent widower grieving not only his much loved wife, but his son who was also lost tragically, is called upon by Lady Oldershaw to reestablish her son’s reputation. Frank Oldershaw, a student at Jerusalem College in Cambridge, has been a patient at a mental hospital ever since he saw the ghost of a woman supposedly haunting the college grounds. As John has written a book stating ghosts are mere delusions, Lady Oldershaw believes he’s the best person to investigate her family’s little problem and convince her son that what he saw wasn’t real. What John Holdworth finds at Jerusalem College is much more complicated that he imagined.

John isn’t, for me, a likable character. While his wife is grieving their son, and talking to charlatans in the hopes of hearing her son from the other side, he’s writing a book about how ghosts don’t exist. When she finally succumbs to her grief, his life crumples and he moves along wondering what will happen to him but he’s so drained he can’t even bring himself to feel. Then it happens, he loses everything and ends up working a case of a ghost. Irony there for ya isn’t it?

The whole time I was reading I kept wondering why this guy was doing the investigation. Yes, he was discreet. Yes, he needed a job. Yes, he wrote a book about ghosts. But none of it worked for me. I kept thinking it didn’t make sense. And the mystery; I barely noticed it. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention but I didn’t really care what happened to a group of young, rich men who thought they owned and ran the world and had the privilege of treating everyone around them badly because their money declared they could. Although to not be entirely negative, there were a few interesting plot twists but again I couldn’t bring myself to care much.

I read some good reviews of this several months ago so take what I said cautiously. This was a book that didn’t work for me but that doesn’t mean anything other than I didn’t get into it. In the front of the book I read, there was a list of books by the author and some sound promising. I’m going to try one more book and see how I feel about Andrew Taylor’s writing after the second chance. Sometimes a few bad characters make the difference between loving a book and merely liking it.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

Today’s teaser comes from The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell.

“I turned to see an old man standing in the door. White hair showed beneath the bandage that swathed his head, and he was so thin and so weak that he had to lean on the door frame for support.” (page 247)

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

Today’s teaser comes from The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor.

“No, no, Master. A virtuous mind allied to a cultivated understanding must ever—” (pg. 62)

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

I’m starting The Last Days of Henry VIII: Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant by Robert Hutchinson.

“Henry VIII – ‘by the grace of God, King of England, France and Lord of Ireland, Defender of the Faith and the Church of England … on earth the Supreme Head’ – finally departed his long, troubled life, friendless and lonely, at around two o’clock in the morning on Friday 28 January 1547.  The golden glory of his spry, gallant youth had years ago faded away and the radiant European prince of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 had decayed into a bloated, hideously obese, black-humoured old man, rarely seen in public during his last month.”  (pg. 13 of 273)