Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Husband List

Set in 1894 in Caroline Maxwell, heiress, is struggling to maintain her independence and the right to marry the man she chooses and not a member of the British aristocracy chosen by her mother. When her mother discovers that Lord Bremerton is visiting America looking for a wife she places him at the top of the husband list that she has compiled of suitors for her daughter. Caroline is not impressed and instead decides that she would prefer to marry a friend of her brother, Jack Culthane. When Caroline refuses to accept Lord Bremerton's marriage proposal without having seen his family estate, Caroline and her family sail to England, accompanied by Jack who is following leads to discover more about Bremerton's past. This enjoyable historical romance was co-written by Janet Evanovich and Dorian Kelly who previously wrote, Love in a Nutshell. I have enjoyed reading both of these books and look forward to reading their next collaboration.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Queens: the Provence sisters who ruled Europe

Nancy Goldstone recounts the story of the four daughters of  Beatrice of Savoy and Raymond V Berenger, Count of Provence - Marguerite who married Louis IX of France, Eleanor who married Henry III of England, Sanchia who married Henry III's brother, Richard of Cornwall who later became King of the Romans and Beatrice who married Louis IX's brother, Charles Count of Anjou who later became King of Sicily.

The stories of the lives of the four women are told in chapters interwoven throughout the book and combined tell the story of a large section of Europe between the years 1221 and 1296. Much of the story involves the politics / territorial disputes between England and France, the politics within the counties and territories that made up England and France as well as politics / territorial disputes with bordering countries. Religion was also a main player with the the role of the Pope prominent in determining many of the policies adopted by the various countries.

This was the age of the Crusades where leaders were encouraged to take up the cross, raise money by any means, recruit soldiers and spend several years fighting for and often dying for the holy cause. In 1247 Marguerite and Beatrice accompanied their husbands and Louis' army on a Crusade which led to the capture of Louis and many of his men by the Egyptians, resulting in a hugh ransom to be raised for their release. The army was decimated from fighting and from disease and most of those who survived returned to France in 1250, however Marguerite and Louis did not return until 1254.

In England Eleanor and Henry III had problems with the barons resulting in a civil war in 1263 and it took several years before the monarchy and its succession were once again secure.

The desire of younger brothers of the kings of England and France is shown in the stories of Sanchia and Beatrice and the determination of their husbands to extend their territories and power, particularly in becoming kings of foreign realms where they were not generally welcomed.

The book provides useful insight not just into the lives of the four women and their role in supporting their husbands and family but also into the power struggles of Europe in the thirteenth century.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blaze of glory

A SteamPunk afternoon was held at Nunawading Library in December and the guest speaker was Michael Pryor, author of the Laws of Magic series. The opening sentences of Blaze of glory read - 'Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead. It made things harder than they needed to be.'  Aubrey has advanced magical skills which he needs when he and his friends, George and Caroline, attempt to uncover the source of the dark magical power threatening the kingdom of Albion. Aubrey's father is campaigning to regain the position of Prime Minister of the kingdom as it faces the threat of war with a neighboring kingdom. Throughout the book there are parallels with early twentieth England with technology, suffragettes, threat of war plus lots of magic. Other titles in the series are Heart of gold, Word of honour, Time of trial, Moment of truth and Hour of need.  Visit the author's website for more detailed information about Blaze of glory.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Pillars of the Earth

Medieval Europe saw the building of many of the cathedrals that continue as religious and architectural wonders in the twenty-first century.  In the novel, The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett describes the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbury in Twelfth Century England. The background for the story is the time of the Anarchy - 1135-1153 - when Matilda (in this account, Maud) and her cousin, Stephen, each maintain their right to the throne after the death of Matilda's father, Henry I. This results in a number of small battles throughout the country with the leadership of the country alternating between the two protagonists, as well as a major siege at Lincoln. Consequently this was a time of unrest throughout the country. Local leaders swapped allegiances as it suited them, the struggle between the church leaders and the ruling class continued to have a major impact on the governance of the country and the villagers and farm workers suffered as there was a focus on battle and shoring up a power base rather than managing crops and the welfare of local people.

The book is a work of fiction however it does portray a vivid account of what life may have been like living in Medieval England. Among the description about the building of cathedral is intertwined the dramas faced by those working on the project. The Pillars of the Earth is the saga of a families who attempt to survive during these turbulent times as well as the story of a prior who strives, against all odds, to ensure that the cathedral will be built. At 1088 pages this is a long novel but one well reading.