Tag Archives: England
“The Last White Rose – a Novel of Elizabeth of York” by Alison Weir
Historical fiction is my guilty pleasure, and I’ve read extensively about the Wars of Roses and the Protestant Reformation in England. Elizabeth of York married Henry VII of the House of Lancaster, establishing the Tudor line through their son Henry VIII. Why read this when I know the outcome? Guess I’m just a sucker for royalty, castles, etc.
One controversy about Elizabeth of York is whether she was a reigning Queen (hence her husband’s equal) or a Queen consort. By blood, it can be argued that her claim to the throne was a strong as her husband’s, and that she should be considered Queen Elizabeth I. Royal sons and daughters weren’t considered equally in matters of succession.
Reading this book is a reminder that dirty tricks, political betrayal and “alternative facts” are nothing new in public life. The consequences were unpredictable – some turncoats were pardoned, others were tortured to death. Some disappeared. And the innocent suffered. The so called “Princes in the Tower” disappeared in 1483, aged 9 and 12 years old. Their deaths remain a mystery to historians. Much about this historical period is uncertain.
Girls and women were pawns, married (sometimes as infants) and sometimes divorced for reasons of political expediency. England was trying to establish itself as an international power, not merely a northern fringe country.
The relationship of church to government was complex. A church might offer “sanctuary” under various circumstances, to criminals or potential targets of political kidnapping. Royalty were presumed to rule by the grace of God. God was assumed to determine the outcome of battle.
In the absence of science, superstition ruled in medicine and in agriculture.
Want something entertaining to read on vacation? This is it. Somewhat long winded. Not as good as Philippa Gregory, but enjoyable.
“Tell Me An Ending” by Jo Harkin
I found this book in “New Arrivals – Fiction”. A very lucky pick!
Lots of sci-fi writers try this premise: a new technology emerges and causes trouble. In this case, it is a procedure to erase memories. Originally, it’s touted as a way to help PTSD sufferers. But things go wrong…
Three quarters of the way through the book, I had no idea how it would END, or who were the bad guys… The plotting was almost overly intricate, but instead of being turned off, I finished the book and considered turning right back to the first page for a slower, more thoughtful read.
Psychology and memory are so interesting! What is the role of narrative in private life? (This book doesn’t address communal memory.) How do we protect ourselves and our loved ones from life’s most painful blows? From accidents and errors?
Harkin throws in interesting references – to Shakespeare (Lear, Othello), Haydn and StarTrek, for example.
Speaking of narrative… I’m looking for books that just tells a story, without jumping all over the place. Too much “structure”. Guess I may have to default to Jane Austin. I liked To Kill a Mockingbird and Cold Mountain for their plain narration.
The genre associated with this book is “literary sci-fi”.
“The Bodies in the Library” and “Murder is a Must” by Marty Wingate, First Edition Library Mysteries #1 and #2
This new mystery series by Marty Wingate is great fun! I’ve already read two of them. I regret that my Library hasn’t got her other mystery series. Time to turn to Kindle.
So what is the fictional First Edition Library? A very wealthy widow in the coastal English city of Bath specializes in collecting first editions from the “Golden Age” of mystery writing, mostly by women. Authors like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Protagonist Hayley Burke becomes curator of this fabulous collection. She even gets to LIVE in the Library!
Aside with the usual problem with mysteries (real life rarely produces interesting crimes or clever murderers), what do we learn? That British women drink a tremendous amount of tea, and almost as much wine. They talk to cats and to portraits.
Now I want to go back and read piles of classic mysteries.
“Glamour Girls” by Marty Wingate
Marty Wingate is mostly a (cozy) mystery series writer, and my local library is regrettably deficient in her works. Glamour Girls is a standalone World War II historical fiction/romance. Wingate was inspired by the autobiography of Mary Wilkins Ellis (1917-2018), whose exciting life story has fortunately been preserved in several formats. See photo above.
Glamour Girls is part of a recent spate of works pertaining to the role of women in World War II. I read Code Girls in 2017.
We (the baby boomers) have been subjected to so much discussion of the “greatest generation”, our parents who fought World War II. It is disingenuous to think either the US or Great Britain (setting for Glamour Girls) was completely “united” during that war. Wingate includes anecdotes that show the cracks in the armor. For example, an air raid warden is caught looting.
This book is strong on both plot and atmosphere, and the protagonist is both believable and appealing. The plot reflects the shocking uncertainty of life during wartime.
Wingate follows (perhaps unknowingly!) the habit of Patrick O’Brian (of Aubrey-Maturin fame) in taking her “action” sequences (crashes, near misses…) from historical records. She says she filled in her heroine’s personal life (romance, family drama) from her own imagination. It works.
This book is a good read.
“The Blood Card – A Magic Man Mystery” by Elly Griffiths
I read Elly Griffiths’ other mystery series (about forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway) in it’s entirety, but had dropped the Magic Man series because I didn’t like the first book that much.
I picked up The Blood Card (aka Brighton Mysteries Book 3) by mistake, but totally enjoyed it.
It takes place in 1952, during the days leading up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Griffiths makes much of the emerging role of TV in this event. Post war England was embroiled in controversy. Should a woman ascend to the throne? Who needed monarchy, anyway? Why were the rich SO rich, while the commoners who had fought and won World War II struggled with rationing? Who was a communist? WHAT was an anarchist? And how was the entertainment world going to cope with “home entertainment”, aka television?
Having constructed a pleasingly eccentric cast of characters (including a gypsy fortune teller) and drawn them all to a big, old London theatre, Griffiths lets us know that the threat of an anarchist bombing is serious and immediate. Ultimately, the bomb itself is on stage in front of the audience.
At this point, I had absolutely NO IDEA how the plot would be resolved and the book would end! Who was the bad guy? I was engaged and delighted. Reading The Blood Card was so much fun!
Rather than stay up and rush through it (very tempting), I went to bed and saved the end for the following day. It was highly satisfying.
“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro
This is a quiet, ruminative book set in England in 1956. Mr. Stevens is a butler. He has devoted himself to professionalism in providing service to an aristocratic household. He is aging and EVERYTHING is changing around him, forcing him to reexamine his work and his relationships.
England in 1956 resembled America in 2021 – recently traumatized and socio-politically divided. Why has so much changed so quickly? What is the essence of Englishness? Of American identity? What are the flaws of the system, and how may they be addressed? Issues of gender and social class abound in The Remains of the Day.
The plot covers only a few days, recorded as diary entries by the protagonist on a brief journey. It’s hard to comprehend the limitations Stevens lived with, despite his steady employment and relative financial security. There’s a romantic plot line, but it is so understated it barely exists.
In addition to analyzing his professional and personal life, Mr. Stevens tries to come to terms with a troubling aspect of England’s history, namely the complex interactions between Nazi Germany and some British aristocrats. American is presently trying to come to terms with its racist past.
The Remains of the Day has so much “atmosphere” that you could read it as a comedy of manners if that is your choice. But there’s much more going on.
“Lady Clementine – a novel” by Marie Benedict
Aside from my usual reservations about fictionalizing a life that is well documented, this was a great read. Perhaps the author wanted to make up for the fact that Mrs. Churchill left no diaries, journal or autobiography accessible to my brief search. (I did find a compilation of personal letters published in 1999.)
The marriage of Clementine and Winston Churchill marriage spanned 57 years, from 1908 to 1965, times of sweeping change, especially for women. I wonder if Lady Clementine deserves as much credit as Benedict gives her for the British decision to extensively utilize the strengths and talents of British women during World War II.
This book contains many interesting details about British politics and the impacts of social class.
“The Crossing Places”, “The House at Sea’s End” and “A Room Full of Bones” by Elly Griffiths
These books are #1, #3 and #4 in Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novels, a mystery series set in Norfolk, England. Now I can read the rest of these books in order. The Library already has my requests.
Ruth Galloway is an interesting protagonist. A hard working, unmarried university professor, she has fallen for a married police detective. Their relationship unfolds as they work together on various criminal cases.
I just finished the fourth book in this series. Loved it! Griffiths finds ways to move into and out of different world views, including, for example Indigenous Australians and modern-day Druids. In contemporary England, she likes academics (mostly) and has reservations about the rich and/or titled.
I think these books would make wonderful movies or TV series.
“The Zig Zag Girl” a Magic Men Mystery by Elly Griffiths
I don’t like the cover of this book, a jaunty yellow with a cheerful, stylized “showgirl” whose costume includes a top hat. Way too upbeat for a novel that begins with the discovery of a woman’s dismembered body.
I love the cast of characters Griffiths has generated. But I kind of wish they could be handed over to Stephen King for storytelling purposes.
This series is a little dark for me (right now), but I’ll probably come back to it in the future.