The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

252499I started this book on my flight to London with the thought that I would spend Monday afternoon reading about Tudor England in the gardens at Hampton Court Palace. Well, the weather didn’t agree with that plan, but I still enjoyed the book!

Hannah Green is a “holy fool,” first begged to King Edward’s court and then shuffled between Lady Mary (turned Queen Mary) and Lady/Princess Elizabeth. Hannah is a Jew hiding in England with her father following the death of her mother, burned at the stake in Spain for being Jewish. She’s betrothed to another Jew hiding in England, but isn’t sure about the institution of marriage. Growing up in the Royal Court does nothing to help her doubts. She’s compelling as our guide through Mary’s ascension to the throne following the death of her little brother and her subsequent troubled rule of England. Hannah is enamored with her protector, Robert Dudley, and they circle around each other through most of the book, even as he falls for Princess Elizabeth. Even knowing the history of the period, there were a lot of twists I didn’t see coming (I clearly don’t have the Sight), which kept me engrossed through all 500 pages.

While at Hampton Court Palace, I saw this painting, which depicts King Henry VIII with his son, Edward and his other children, Mary and Elizabeth. But interestingly enough, Holy Fool, Will Somer and Mary’s Fool, Jane, also appear at the edges of the painting. Though Hannah is fictional, it was really interesting to see Mary’s Fool was so important to Court that she appears in a “family” portrait.


The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig

15768463I usually grab the next Pink Carnation book as soon as it comes out, but since I knew this one was about Miss Gwen, I wasn’t as enthused. So far, Miss Gwen has been a snarly, sharp-tongued old lady who likes to hit people with her parasol while making sure that The Pink Carnation does what she needs to do. Watching her fall in love with whatever old man Ms. Willig would dream up just didn’t sound like a good time. But I saw that Katia has enjoyed it and I figured I’d try it out.

Turns out Miss Gwen is only an old lady by Napoleonic terms being all of 45. She has a tragic back story that makes clear why she acts the way she does and most of the surliness is just a part she plays while with Jane and the youngsters. It was nice to see that Gwen doesn’t give up her chirpiness with Colonel Reid and they have a nice repartee, reminiscent of those 40s and 50s screen couples. And because of their advanced ages, we actually get some bedroom scenes in the way that we don’t usually because it’s 1804. Much more satisfying than longing glances and fleeting touches on the arm.

There was some development in the Pink Carnation organization as well, and it really set the stage for the next book, which I’m now eagerly awaiting. It was nice to see some of the couples from the previous books coming together at the end of this one, though I do still have a hard time keeping everyone straight.

The modern-day plot with Colin and Eloise was charming, though I could have done without it as well. They used to be my favorite thing about these books, but their relationship moves so slowly that it’s hard to go back to 2004 every time. They took a nice step forward here, but with Eloise heading back to the States in the next book (likely), I’m curious how that relationship will shake out.

The Pleasure Palace by Kate Emerson

5508080I’m still on my British reading binge, but decided to delve back into history a bit and get my Tudor fiction on. I know I’ve got tonnes of Philippa Gregory to get done, but I’m hoping to bring at least one of those with me read in the gardens at Hampton Court Palace, so I’m holding off.

Unfortunately, this book feels like a poor man’s Philippa Gregory. Our heroine, Jane Popyncort, is a real person who left France and ended up in the court of Henry VII/Henry VIII, as the historical author’s note at the back makes clear. However, she doesn’t feel real as you read about her. I wasn’t drawn into her drama as she grew up in the Tudor court, first as a “child of honor” and then as a lady-in-waiting to Lady Mary and then Queen Catherine. There’s clearly mystery surrounding she and her mother’s departure from France, but the payoff is pretty well telegraphed all the way through, so it’s not satisfying when Jane finally gets the whole story.

The book spends a lot of time telling instead of showing as well as skipping large periods of time without need. It was hard to remember how old she was or what was actually going on historically because our first person narrator only gave us the date randomly. I’ll try another one of Ms. Emerson’s books because I really love the Tudor period and it was a fairly quick read. But now, I’m even more anxious to get started on the next Tudor Court novel by Ms. Gregory!

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

9999107I picked this book up at library’s book sale a couple months ago and promptly forgot about it. I noticed it on my bookshelf and thought I’d read it while I wait for the Sophie Kinsella book to come through inter-library loan.

Being a obsessive fan of Downton Abbey, it was very easy for me to understand the world of American heiresses and the poor peers who need to use their cash on their estates. Set in 1890, Cora Cash is not Cora Levinson and Ivo is most definitely not Robert Crawley, but the world they inhabit is very much the same. Cora Cash starts out as such a naive, spoiled girl that it’s hard to root for her. However, having been an American in the UK not too long ago, I can definitely relate to her frustration at her ignorance of ingrained social protocols and mores in her peer group. And I wasn’t even close to rubbing elbows with anyone with a title, much less the Prince of Wales.

The big “twist” at the climax was pretty obvious from about 100 pages into the book, so it was less than satisfying to see that I was correct. I surprised to see some of the actions taken after that event, but then it all wraps up in a pretty bow way too quickly. Cora doesn’t really have many choices, so it’s not entirely surprising that she chooses what she does, but at the same time, one pretty speech does not ameliorate all of that deception in my 21st century opinion. There’s no such thing as happily ever after, even/especially when you marry into the British aristocracy, but there’s hope and that’s worth something.

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

15701533Lauren Willig is one of my very favorite authors and this book is exactly why. It’s similar to the Pink Carnation series as there is a modern plot to go along with the historical plot and the modern folks are related to the historical folks. But the historical folks are set in the 1910s and 1920s instead of the days of Napoleon. No spies here either, just women trying to deal with the circumstances of their lives as best they can.

Being so obsessed with Downton Abbey, it was quite easy for me to fall into a world of the daughters of an Earl, preparing to do the Season and all the expectations that come along with that. But even without that, I would have naturally fallen for Addie and Bea because the characters are so well-drawn. Willig paints things so vividly with her words that it almost seemed like the script for a movie instead of just a novel. There were definitely plot twists in this part that I had not expected and though I wasn’t entirely on board for how things wrap up, that’s the thing about history. Unless you lived it, you’ll never know exactly what happened out there.

Clementine was also delightful and I was immediately drawn to her story as well. Her love interest is rather predictable (especially if you’ve seen Clueless as many times as I have!), but still realistic and well-done. She wasn’t the typical chick-lit heroine and she dealt with very real issues with depth instead of glossing over them. The ending wrapped up a bit too quickly for me, but I understand the need for resolution.

I’m always sad when I finish a Lauren Willig book because I just want to read another one. But this was a fantastic read and I couldn’t put it down, so there was no way to stretch it out over a period of days. Grab it if you can; it’ll be worth your while indeed!