Wednesday, October 31, 2018

State of the ARC #9

State of the ARC is a monthly feature hosted by Avalinah's Books. I am so glad I stumbled upon it, because it is really helping me with my 2018 Reading Goals (also find a related Top Ten Tuesday HERE). Links go to Goodreads, unless I have finished the review, in which case it goes to that. All ARCs are from NetGalley or Edelweiss, unless otherwise noted.

Pending = None

Not Started = None

Started = Two
Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, 9-17-18 (received two days after publication, author request/digital from publisher)

The Invisible Emperor, 10-9-18 (hard copy from publisher)

DNF = None

Finished/Review to Come = Three

Death in Paris, 10-9-18 (digital from publisher)

I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends, 10-23-18

Holiday SOS, 11-8-18 (digital from publisher)

Review or Feedback Sent = Four
George Washington's Washington, 4-1-18 (received in May from my NetGalley Wish List)

Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife, 10-26-18

The First Congress, 2-9-16 (Received one month after publication)

American Gothic, 10-4-16

Happy Reading!

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth


Rating: 4 Stars

I read this one a while ago. A good long while. In fact, if Mr. Lewis recalls just how often I posted about it before and during my reading, he may wonder what the heck happened to take me so long to finish my review. The reason is, because this is one I really had to think about for a while. Not because I didn't know how I felt about it (I really liked it, obviously), but I did not know how to properly convey the fact that I really liked a book that I pretty much disagree with. So, here goes!

I think it is important that people understand it is entirely possible to enjoy a book while disagreeing with it. This is not the first book I have read by Matthew Lewis and it will not be the last. He is a fantastic historian, makes more than ample use of contemporary sources, and uses them to their fullest value. I admire his commitment to various positions on historical events, and the work he puts into showcasing those events and his interpretations. I was, however, bothered by the lack of footnotes. I feel like with a case such as this, even though it is easily one of the most identifiable cold case mysteries in the history of, well, history, those footnotes and resources become doubly important. That they were lacking in this text seemed unusual to me, and there were many times throughout that something was not attributed to a contemporary source, and it bothered me.

I will be very clear now that I am in no way a Ricardian, and I find some of the lot frightfully thick-headed. There's rehabilitation of character, and then there is going overboard and making the person into a saint when they were not. Richard was very much a product of his age, and in the likely event that he ordered the murder of his nephews, while we abhor the thought today, rival claimants were eliminated time and time again by kings who had a tenuous (and sometimes not so tenuous because, seriously Henry VIII, you killed A LOT of people you didn't need to) hold on their throne. This does not make Richard any more of a monster than King John, who may have actually murdered his nephew, Arthur, in a violent rage with his own hands. Though, to be fair, John was a really shitty king and a really shitty person for multiple reasons besides the fact that he was a nephew killer. The difference there of course is that Arthur was actively leading troops against John in a fight for the crown (Arthur's father was John's older brother Geoffrey, who had died in 1186. Many thought Arthur had a better claim, but Eleanor of Aquitaine most certainly did not and she backed John, helping him secure the throne). Edward and Richard were young boys, 12 and 10. It is a little harder to stomach the murder of two boys who must have felt very scared and very lonely, given the fact that they hardly knew one another at all by the time they were locked away in the Tower together.

Lewis does not solve the mystery of what happened to the princes. He also does not claim to do so and that is not his ultimate goal. What he does instead is present some alternative theories, some of which definitely merit a second look. Some of the theories are not new, particularly those covering the so-called pretenders, Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. (Truth be told, if we are betting that one survived, I would put my money on Perkin Warbeck having been the real Richard, Duke of York. You can't look at his portrait, and one of Edward IV, and tell me there is no resemblance. On the other hand, perhaps that was the intention of the artist who sketched Warbeck, and the likeness is not actually true to reality. That is what makes this one of the all-time great mysteries. There are so many threads hanging loose and when you pull one, you never know where you might end up next.) I appreciate the fact that Lewis has no illusions about the possibility of solving the mystery. it simply can not be done at this point, unless the bones discovered in the 1600s during Tower repairs were ever permitted to be tested. Until that happens (which I fear it won't in my lifetime), there is simply no way to know.

I personally have been of the mind for many years that Richard ordered the murders to secure his throne. Rumors were going around for months that Richard had had the boys murdered. He could have swiftly put an end to all of it by producing the boys and proving they were still alive. He chose not to, and I believe it is because he couldn't. I also think that Henry Tudor knew of the murders after he won the crown at Bosworth and he thus knew he could re-legitimize Elizabeth and her sisters without fear of the boys then coming back to claim the throne. That did not stop the pretenders of course, but there was not much Henry could do about them except deal with them as they came.

The reason I want to make my own position clear on the matter is because that, though this is a book that explores alternatives to the princes being murdered, its purpose is not to do so in order to rehabilitate Richard. If you are the most die-hard believer that Richard was terrible and murdered with reckless abandon, this is not a book you should avoid. Sometimes the 'what-ifs' are as intriguing as the truth and I have always enjoyed the game, especially in regards to some of my fave periods and people in history. Lewis will be the first one to point out that Richard just as easily could have killed them as not, but some of the other theories are just as tantalizing in their own right.

There are many theories put forth here and while some might seem wholly far-fetched (Holbein's More family portrait dissection was a bit much for me), Lewis points out that when dealing with a mystery of this magnitude, with little evidence to go on, we must look at what he describes as the 'black hole effect'. He explains this by saying that black holes can not be seen, but we know where they are based on how things near them react. So, even though the boys were never seen from the Tower windows after 1483, we must look at the actions and words, or lack of action and words, of those who were closest to the action and most impacted by whether the boys lived or died (aside from the boys themselves of course). There are certainly instances we can look at, which Lewis does, that make one pause and wonder. I do not want to share those here, because they will make you pause, and it is something I want to leave for you to discover yourself.

I do find it intriguing the theories of both boys not only surviving Henry VII's reign, but living on into Henry VIII's and beyond. What makes this all the more fantastic is the possibility that the Tudors kings and queens KNEW this, knew the boys were alive, had grown into young men who had new names and identities created for them. They grew up, got married, and had children. I do not buy into the idea that Edward V became the grandfather to Guildford Dudley (as Edward Guildford), thus engineering a potential Yorkist heir's return to the throne through the marriage of Guildford to Jane Grey. Still, I'd encourage anyone interested in the various theories to give this one a read and make up their minds for themselves. Lewis certainly won't attempt to do that for anyone, which I found rather refreshing. It is not simply a rehashing of the usual suspects and why it wasn't Richard, it was Buckingham, or Margaret Beaufort (seriously, can we give this one a rest already. she DID NOT HAVE THE BOYS KILLED! That much I am certain of). After all, since there is no definitive proof the boys died (as some believe), why is it so wrong to look for evidence that they lived?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

NetGalley ARC: Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 4 Stars

This Anne has always been my favorite queen, second only to Catherine of Aragon. Anne has always held my interest because she managed to do what none before her had: survived a marriage to Henry VIII. Not only that, but only she and the last Catherine survived Henry, period (albeit Anne last nearly a decade longer than Catherine).

This is not a terribly long book for being a biography, but it does not really need to be. Sometimes I find in the non fiction that I read that too little is known about the subject to warrant a full length biography, so tons of additional material is added that deals with the time and place, political situations, and world events going on in the period. While this text did touch on all of those things, it did not overwhelm that actual subject and Anne was allowed to shine, inasmuch that we got to learn concisely but sufficiently about a queen who always seems to be the least remembered. I always find that a bit odd, because Jane died so soon into her reign. But she will forever be well-known, as she was the one who gave Henry his heart's desire, a surviving male child, then had the decency to die before he grew tired of her. Callous perhaps, but so was Henry. I don't know that he ever truly loved any of them, so much as he was infatuated or obsessed - or in Catherine's case, it was an example of young puppy love that grew into a solid partnership. Need for an heir or not, how could anyone, no matter the time period they lived in, ever treat someone they loved the way Henry treated Catherine? As all this is a tangent that I had no idea I was going to go off on, let's now return to the actual book I am supposed to be reviewing.

Given that I have a soft spot in my heart for Anne, I was excited to see a biography dedicated solely to her, as the only other one I can recall coming across off the top of my head is a bio by Elizabeth Norton that is still on my TBR. I fear this might be because Anne is viewed by many Tudorphiles a tad bit...boring. Perhaps this is because she did not make waves, she agreed to the annulment to save her head (though it is doubtful that she was ever truly in danger of that), and lived out a peaceful existence in her adopted country. Compared to the women before and after her, it does make her look rather boring and it is easy to see why many gloss over Anne, keep up with the horrible insult of the 'Flanders Mare' (let's stop now already, okay), and in general provide no favorable information whatsoever.

An equal factor at play is the fact that, given Anne's lack of causing trouble, there is simply not nearly as much information recorded about her than literally any of the others. While I know a fair share about Anne, much of the known information of her upbringing was new information to me. In previous biographies I have read of the six, Anne often gets the least amount of attention, and I feel like a lot of Tudor enthusiasts might be in the same boat. The information relating to her religion was of interest to me as well, I guess I have never realized she was Catholic, or at least given it much thought. This should have been obvious to me though, given that she had a good relationship with Mary, who was nearly her age; they were only about a year apart. I wish we could know more about this friendship but again, when you're not as interesting as the others, very few details of your life get recorded for posterity.

Watkins provides all there is to know about Anne's childhood, and how she came to be the unlucky young woman who belonged to a family willing to potentially sacrifice their kin in order to cement an alliance that could be beneficial - but useless if the marriage failed. Luckily for all, and Anne in particular, despite the failure of the marriage, through no fault of her own, becoming 'The King's Sister' was a far more lucrative position and Anne became the wealthiest woman in England once the annulment was complete. Not too shabby for a girl from Cleves.

...and yet she was not just 'a girl from Cleves'. Remarkably, what many do not know about her is that Anne had an impressive pedigree, coming from a royal family connected with other royal houses, such as being related to kings of both England and France. Anne, however, was not meant to be a queen. A duchess, yes, as there was at one time a planned engagement to the Duke of Lorraine. hat fell through however, and Anne was once again on the market. Poor thing, it came at a terrible time, just as Henry was searching for his next victim wife.

The greatest tribute I feel can be paid to Anne, and something I think the author does quite well, is to rehabilitate the image of a woman who has been sorely maligned for centuries. The unfortunate side effect of Henry's declaration that he "like her not!" was that for the following 500+ years, we were left only with this idea that Anne of Cleves was an unattractive, stupid, frumpy, smelly young woman who happened into a marriage with one of the most powerful men on earth. Watkins uses contemporary sources to show that this is not actually the case, and she does so with great care. Surely one had to have been intelligent in order to outwit Henry, which is exactly what Anne did. Though she may not have wanted a divorce (and perhaps hoped they would marry again once the Howard girl was out of the way), Anne knew better than to fight it. Otherwise, a banishment or beheading would have no doubt been in her future. Instead, Anne accepted it and made money off the deal. It is easy to see how people could believe that Anne was less than desirable. After all, Henry did not want her. Yet I think we can all probably agree for his real reasons to not want to stay in the marriage: Anne had embarrassed him. Ever imagining himself as a young and handsome king, Henry chose to meet Anne in disguise, fully believing she would recognize him even so as her true love. Instead, Anne was alarmed at the intrusion in her rooms, and offended by the ruse, not knowing that it had been Henry to burst in. Henry had to save face and even though it took six months, there was no way the marriage could have been successful once his pride was deeply wounded. Perhaps that was the exact moment that he realized he was no longer much of a catch - though one would have thought that the pungent aroma of his oozing leg wound would have been his first clue. Alas, Anne would not be so lucky, and the failure of the marriage was placed firmly on her shoulders.

Watkins used as many contemporary sources as are probably available, considering how little is actually recorded of Anne's life. Not only were these documents relied on and used well throughout, in the Appendix we are able to read Anne's Will, as well as the document pertaining to the financial arrangements related to the marriage. I always enjoy getting to see the original sources and was glad they were included.

While this book may not provide any new breakthroughs or discoveries of lost documents related to the life and death of Anne of Cleves, it is a sound and well-researched biography. I feel Watkins used as much of the material as she had available and was able to paint as clear a portrait as possible of a woman who did the best in the circumstances she found herself in, and survived.

NetGalley ARC: George Washington's Washington


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

I was super excited to be approved for this one, because it had been on my NetGalley Wish List for ages, and I have never gotten a 'Wish Granted' before. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it nearly as much as I was expecting/hoping to. I don't know what my deal has been lately with the Revolutionary War and its aftermath, but I have struggled with a lot of books on this and related subjects for a few months. It has always been a period that has interested me, but maybe I have just read too many in too short amount of time. Back to Medieval England I go.

I don't want to say that the book was boring, because that is not the right word. There are PLENTY of shenanigans to keep one's head spinning, but perhaps that is exactly what I was frustrated about. Frustrating is a far better word, and much more accurate. I was not frustrated by the author and his writing, but the content itself and all these guys who could not get their acts together. There was this grand plan for a beautiful and functional capital city to properly represent our fledgling country...and all the garbage one would expect when it came to implementing such a grand vision as the one that Washington had for the city that would be named for him. There were several stumbling blocks, the main one being the new government itself, which will come as no surprise to any American who is constantly asking themselves wtf is going on in our country today. During Washington's administration, then followed up by Adams', they had little money to work with to even get the plans implemented, nor did it seem that anyone was actually sure of just how much authority the administrations had to do literally anything. It was almost comical at times, until one remembers that this actually happened and is not just some made up stories about a bunch of guys who fought for the freedom from the tyrannical rule of George III, only to find they did not know what to do with the freedom when they actually had it. Harnessing the energy of the revolution was a tricky thing to do, especially when the competing parties that Washington warned everyone about started, well, competing. Jefferson and his posse managed to withhold funds that would have gone toward supporting any project that was not related to the government itself. It would take another decade to pass before the politicians really began working together in order to make our capital one that our young nation deserved.

Recommended for those who enjoy US history and politics, and biographies of cities.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Cozy Fall Evening at Home...

I very rarely share pictures of my daughter on my public social media, but tonight's activity was just too cute to pass up. After supper Eleanor wanted us to 'do art together' - which to her meant she coloring a picture of Merida and me writing. Normally I write at my desk, with my lovely Post-Its and index cards and a vast array of highlighters within reach. Tonight though I was happy to sit at the table with my little love and write - about the extraordinary woman she is named after, no less.

Sarah & Eleanor

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Colour of Time: A New History of the World, 1850-1960


Rating: 5 Stars

Beautiful. Absolutely fucking gorgeous.

This might be the shortest review I have ever composed for a book when the words in said book are written by Dan Jones. (EDIT: The review is so short because the book speaks for itself and there is really not much I can say to add to that.) His text is succinct, never more than a few paragraphs per photo, aside from the introduction to each new section which goes for two pages and we're also provided a timeline for that period. No words are wasted and he provides great context in few words. Well-done as usual and I expect nothing less from such a thorough historian.

The photos are amazing. Amaral's work is phenomenal. History has always been pretty 'alive' for me, because I love it and it is basically all I ever want to read about. But a book like this might do wonders for someone less inclined to pick up a history text. Photos you've seen a million times in black and white, major world-changing, beautiful, devastating, heartbreaking events captured on film, are now in living color. For the briefest of moments you can imagine yourself in that place, in that time.

Fantastic work on both accounts, highly recommended.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

New Layout

So it has been a minute since I changed things up and I must say for myself that I am really into the new color scheme, though it is far less bookish than before - as in it is completely not bookish.


Well, I really love purple. It's my fave.

What do you think of the new view? Is there something that doesn't work for you - color, font, font size, etc? Let me know!

Happy Reading