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Lamentation (The Shardlake Series)
Lamentation (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Shardlake does it again!!, 5 Dec 2014
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In this typically well crafted and well written book, Matthew Shardlake is once again drawn reluctantly into the orbit of the royal court, as a cry for help comes to him from Queen Catherine Parr, whose uncle is trying to locate a stolen document which could see yet another of Henry the Eighth's wives fall to accusations of treason. The document is a book written by the Queen, her Lamentations, describing her religious leanings and feelings, and which, in the wrong hands, could be used to destroy her relationship with the King and engineer her downfall.

Shardlake, still half in love with the former Lady Parr, takes on the case and finds himself in some very dark places as seemingly unrelated murders start to form a pattern of linkages to the more extreme of the religious reformers. The ghastly punishment meted out to those who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy is horribly evidenced by the burning at the stake of the reformer Anne Askew and her associates; an awful event which Shardlake is forced to attend to represent his guild.

Alongside this hunt for the Queen's missing manuscript, the ordinary work of Shardlake's law practice must continue, and so there is another unusual case to be resolved involving siblings who are fighting over their mother's estate and who clearly loathe one another. Nor is all well at home, as domestic tensions flare in relation to a newly appointed steward with secrets to hide.

Shardlake's long time associate, Barak, and his new apprentice, along with old friends, colleagues and sparring partners are pulled into the frame as both investigations proceed to uncover a satisfyingly complex tale of cover up, betrayal, religious fervour and personal threats. Nemesis, in the form of the odious Sir Richard Rich, who personally tortured poor Anne Askew, is ever present, and Shardlake's personal relationships are under strain as never before.

This page turning tale does not disappoint and fans of Shardlake, as well as new readers, will not be left lamenting.


Katherine Howard: A New History
Katherine Howard: A New History
by Claire Ridgway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Extremely interesting interpretation of Katherine Howard's life, 5 Dec 2014
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This is not, perhaps, the best written book but it certainly opens up an entirely different perspective on the 5th of Henry the Eighth's 6 wives - the one who is always cast as the over-sexed airhead, so dim that she had no idea that she was dancing right on the edge in being unfaithful to the King.

Much depends on the age of this mysterious young woman/girl. In this interpretation of her short life, it certainly appears that she was more sinned against than sinning. If her early sexual experiences were indeed, and the theory is highly plausible, forced upon her by men who should have known better, it does indicate that she was not well cared for by her step-grandmother, and certainly not expected to rise to the dizzying heights of Queen consort. Manox and Dereham (who seems to have regarded her as his common law wife) were less than honourable in their treatment of her, but her post-marital relationship with Culpeper, whether fully consummated or not, would seem to have been a folly of her own making as she agreed to meet him in private.

That aside, this book seeks to delve behind the accepted interpretation of Henry as a man driven by lust into marriage after marriage, but rather as a frustrated dynast whose marriage(s) were largely the result of his and the country's desperate need of an heir and a spare to ensure the continuation of his line. Around these women, whose wombs were at the service of their country, spins a complex mix of politics (sexual and otherwise) and those politics were the playground of powerful men with families whose continued source of influence and revenue was their closeness and usefulness to the King. For the Howards, placing a likely girl in his path, her youth and apparent fertility glowing like a beacon, was a logical step. Unfortunately problems of fertility and male impotence were laid firmly at the door of the female partner, although we now understand that given his numerous medical problems,the ageing Henry was probably on a hiding to nothing by the time poor little Katherine took her vows to love, honour and obey.

Perhaps Culpeper was her true love, or maybe she hoped to have a kind and attractive man in her life for a change: unfortunately for her though, it seems that he was just as much of a manipulative predator as Manox and Dereham. Notwithstanding, she certainly tried her best to fulfil the role of Queen consort, even if she failed to give birth to a prince. There is always the tantalising idea that given the need to protect and promote her family, she was actually persuaded that a pregnancy, any pregnancy, was in everyone's best interests. We will never know,but the speculation around whether she was abused as a very young girl rather than a willing partner in a bit of hanky panky, not realising that she would ever be a Queen, is valid but inevitably coloured by our modern interpretation of childhood, disregarding the very early maturity of children at that time - fourteen being considered a perfectly acceptable age for a girl to be married.

However, this author has certainly taken a fresh and thoughtful look at this rather unhappy little life. It all ended badly in another bloody round of executions. Wife number 6 must have been utterly terrified!


BETAVIVO CRISPY OAT HEART CEREAL
BETAVIVO CRISPY OAT HEART CEREAL
Offered by Healthcare4all Ltd
Price: £16.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So far, a positive feeling about this supplement, 20 Nov 2014
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Although it is quite expensive as the pack only contains 15 servings, I am so far in favour. I am adding it to porridge along with berries and although I don't know what effect it is having on cholesterol, it certainly evens out the blood sugar thing over the course of the day. Will have to keep taking it for a while I think to assess real results, but overall I'm feeling that this is a good thing to do.


Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant
Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant
by Tracy Borman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.50

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding biography - and so much more!, 19 Nov 2014
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This book is not a quick read, it demands the reader's full attention to the myriad detail not just of Cromwell's life, but of contemporary life in England and indeed Europe, during the reign of Henry the Eighth. The absolutely forensic nature of Borman's research and her meticulous analysis of events places right her at the top of the tree in terms of Tudor history. For devotees of the period, this is essential reading.

Historically, Cromwell has had a bad press, and fiction (with the notable exception of Hilary Mantel) has cast him as the perennial villain of the piece. But look further, search deeper, and we find that this ambitious and acquisitive man, who has risen from a very modest background to a place in the court of an extremely powerful king, is not just driving events for his own benefit, but is an astute mover and shaker upon whose shoulders a great weight has been placed - a weight he initially sought, but which became progressively less easy to bear.

Henry's desires govern all: his inner circle and his capable Master Secretary MUST make things happen for him. So, the divorce from Catherine of Aragon, the elevation and ultimate destruction of Anne Boleyn, the cataclysmic break from Rome etc etc, all have to be managed, funded, communicated and most importantly, achieved to the King's satisfaction. The capable Cromwell becomes a key player in all of this and one who can see better than anyone that men raised up by Henry could just as quickly fall - Wolsey and Thomas More being two of the best known victims.

Aside from the King's Great Matter and its ultimately tragic outcomes for both Catherine and Anne, Cromwell has a vivid personal life: creator of one of finest houses in Tudor London, a widower with one remaining, precious son, he is a fond father and kindly patron to disadvantaged and deserving people within his family and acquaintance. He attracts lifelong personal friendships and great loyalty, and Borman has succeeded brilliantly in giving us a more balanced picture of the man rather than just reiterating the myth.

Following the death of Henry's 3rd wife, Jane Seymour, Cromwell's sourcing of a Protestant bride from Cleves - another Anne to whom Henry is utterly unattracted - plays a huge part in the case against him which is presented to the King. At the end, kneeling before the same block on Tower Green, that has claimed so many other lives, he lays down his head and his extraordinary life. Not long afterwards, Henry is livid as he realises he has lost the best and most effective royal business manager he ever had.

One is left admiring Cromwell, despite his obvious failings and occasional cruelties, realising that force majeure in the form of an aging and tyrannical monarch was the ultimate driver. It is also clearly demonstrated that the court was not a safe or comfortable environment as the aging monster lashed out at all and sundry using 'treason' as a punishment for failure. In the end, neither man nor woman, nor God himself, could prove Henry with the nursery full of sons he so desired.

I recommend this book very highly.


Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc
by Helen Castor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joan of Arc and her world clearly explained, 5 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Joan of Arc (Hardcover)
I have read a number of books about Joan of Arc, both fact and fiction. This one is very scholarly, very well researched and very illuminating. This author has not sensationalised the story, which is in itself almost stranger than fiction, but has sought to put the events, the people, their physical, military and religious environment into context.

By taking us back a few years from the emergence of the Maid, Castor has painted a vivid picture of the factional, and bloodthirsty, state of politics in France at that time, with its king tipping into periods of madness and English/Burgundian armies bent on taking the Valois throne for Henry the Fifth and his heirs. She cleverly sets the scene for the emergence of a charismatic female figurehead to reinvigorate the exhausted French troops and lift the less than charismatic Dauphin to his God blessed destiny. She does rather gloss over the fact that Joan must have had a patron or patrons behind her - access to the Dauphin would have been controlled quite carefully. Yolande of Aragon, his mother-in-law, for one had a clear vested interest.

The narrative sets the scene, introduces The Maid, follows her career, her downfall, death and eventual posthumous rehabilitation with the overturning of the verdict that led to her martyrdom. The words quoted are the actual voices of the late medieval period - real people who witnessed real events - very powerful!

This is good well written history which takes the reader very much into the contemporary mindset and makes these long ago events accessible to the modern world. I recommend this as first class history, rather than a biography which it really is not. I should also mention that the illustrations, particularly the portraits, are superb.


Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy)
Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy)
by Ken Follett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff but just didn't catch fire for me, 23 Oct 2014
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I so longed to love this trilogy as Ken Follett's medieval works were so spectacularly brilliant. Maybe he set the bar too high and everything else seems like a game of catch up. This final book in his 20th Century trilogy is chock full of characters, but none of them quite catch the imagination the way the medieval people did.

It is an extensive look, in fiction, at the major events of the 60's and onwards. The entire panoply of events is in there: Krushchev, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Martin Luther King, the Berlin Wall, the Stasi, even a nascent Beatles type group in Hamburg. Kennedy's affairs, brother Bobby's sleight of hand; the Russian elite masquerading as committed communists, Vietnam and LBJ, the end of the Cold War and on into the post-Millenium world. Every single box is ticked and the narrative does, in all fairness, keep up a good pace. The problem for me is that it is all a bit scattergun as there is so much ground to cover and so many family threads from previous books whose loose ends have to be tied up, that it can't really work as a standalone. I haven't not enjoyed it, but it has taken me patience and commitment to get through it all.

It is a huge piece of work and Follett's understanding of the great and small events of the period is impressive to say the least. What is missing - wow, if I could only put my finger on that!

If this trilogy is your first experience of Follett's work, then you will undoubtedly view it more kindly, but for me the comparisons with past glories overshadow this opus.


The Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy)
The Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy)
by Elizabeth Chadwick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely first class, 21 Oct 2014
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This is the second volume of Elizabeth Chadwick's trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England by way of her marriage to the volatile and demanding Henry the Second and who brings to her marriage vast tracts of France, much of which she rules in her own right. A unique and powerful woman, this part of her story takes us through the long years of childbearing as she gives Henry his brood of princely boys and marriageable girls. For much of the time, she is effectively a single parent, given Henry's restless nature and frequent military campaigns.

This is also the period in which Henry's esteemed and loyal Chancellor, is given the vacant see of Canterbury and finds that his role as Archbishop brings him into direct conflict with the King's wishes and expectations. Eleanor must watch as this previously close and deeply bonded relationship tears itself apart. Meanwhile her brood of sons begins to reach maturity and they increasingly find themselves at odds with their father whose reluctance to delegate power and authority pushes his warrior sons dangerously close to rebellion. This forces Eleanor to take sides, thus putting herself worryingly in opposition to her husband, and perhaps also taking some revenge for the numerous, very young, mistresses that she has had to tolerate over the years.

The characters are, as always, sharply drawn and totally believable and the complex weave of relationships, both familial and otherwise, is presented in a highly understandable way. The writing is crisp and accessible and I would highly recommend this book. I am eagerly anticipating the final part of the story.


Wars of the Roses: Trinity (Wars of the Roses 2)
Wars of the Roses: Trinity (Wars of the Roses 2)
by Conn Iggulden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely superb - read and enjoy., 2 Oct 2014
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As another reviewer has said, this feels like a more mature and considered book than the first in the series, Stormbird. I like Trinity enormously. The scale and scope of the Wars of the Roses, is a huge challenge to a fiction writer and Conn Iggulden has nailed it as far as I am concerned. To humanise, fictionalise and indeed empathise with these long dead people given their apparently insane and unquenchable thirst for power is no mean feat.

At the heart of the matter is the weak, mentally unstable King Henry VI, who is sadly not the man his powerful father Henry V was in any respect. He has long periods of catatonia and in the power vacuum created during these months, vicious feuding and struggles for control of the country and the infant Prince of Wales take place. When Henry emerges from one his long fits, he is amazed to find that he has an heir, is determined to wrest royal power back from the Lord Protector and equally determined to reinstate loyal men who have been imprisoned against his wishes. His unpopular French wife, Margaret of Anjou, has to try to stay one step ahead, to protect both her husband and her baby son, in a society which sees women, even royal women, as not suited to power. In this she is assisted by a master spy, an interesting character called Derry Brewer and his presence is an excellent device for moving events forward.

Yorkist fights Lancastrian and the sands shift endlessly as the great lords, Percy, Neville, Warwick etc struggle for power and control of the King and the country, and, as a bonus, settle old scores. Iggulden has brought it all brilliantly to life, and his battle scenes are superbly written: I had never fully realised the brutal challenge of fighting in full armour and how the body must have ached when the adrenalin faded and the wounds and bruises kicked in.

We are taken up to the decisive point where the three "Suns of York" emerge triumphant, the world begins anew with Edward Earl of March, and the power games begin again. The next book will be worth waiting for!

It's superb stuff from a writer quite simply at the top of his game. Highly recommended.


Cicely's Lord Lincoln (Cicely Plantagenet)
Cicely's Lord Lincoln (Cicely Plantagenet)
by Sandra Heath Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Saucy Cicely strikes again!, 18 Sep 2014
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Well pretty Cicely, here we go again! In this third book of the series we have the teenaged Cicely, Lady Welles, still cutting an amorous swathe through the ranks of powerful men. No longer simply submitting to an affair with Henry Tudor, but actually enjoying his powerful attentions and coming to see the troubled soul beneath who relies on Cicely for true love and understanding as well as satisfying bouts between the sheets. This being Cicely, the complications do not end there as Jack de la Pole, Lord Lincoln, a player in the Lambert Simnel plot hoves back into view and captures her heart, soul and luscious body as well. The ghostly presence of first lover, Uncle Richard III, still appears to comfort and console - bless!

As her shaky marriage to the ever forgiving Sir Jon Welles also gets back on track, you can see that this is one busy little lady who bed hops across the country with barely time to change her clothes or brush her love tangled hair. So many men, Cis, so little time: so many needy guys longing for her support and love, not to mention her useful sideline in thwarting the witch who threatens her secret son and good Sir Jon.

It's all another fantastical romp through an historical landscape which resembles La La land rather than England struggling in the aftermath of the Wars of the Roses. Yet oddly, in the closing chapters the author gives a hint that she has the potential to write much better fiction than this.

If you read the other two, then you will not wish to miss this latest episode in which Cicely continues to fall in lust and love at the drop of a gauntlet. Tally ho!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2014 3:07 PM BST


The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors
The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors
by Dan Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.50

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional historical journey in Dan Jones' company, 17 Sep 2014
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I have taken delivery of 4 new books lately, and somehow this one magically jumped to the top of the pile. How glad I am that it did. Dan Jones has proved once again that with the right blend of considerable scholarship and first class pacy writing, history can be made totally accessible, enjoyable and as good to read as fiction. This is a great skill.

By taking the start point of his examination of the decline and fall of the Plantagenets and the rise of the Tudors as 1420 when Henry V, victor of Agincourt, married the French princess Catherine Valois, daughter of their mad king Charles VI, the author has placed the ensuing decades of turmoil in their proper context. The 5th Henry was an exemplary medieval king, skilled in managing both peace and war, but his too early death (from illness, rather than on the battlefield) was the catalyst for a century or more of strife. Henry and Catherine's infant son, Henry VI, came to the English throne on his fathers death, and whilst initially problems arose from his long minority, the most serious were saved for his actual reign: disastrously, the mental illness possibly inherited from his French grandfather manifested itself and increasingly paralysed government at a time when royal authority underpinned all. There were power vacuums aplenty, but it is also clear that many of the nobility laboured to maintain the status quo by supporting their feeble monarch.

The full cast of players is here: Henry V1 and Margaret of Anjou, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, Richard III and Anne Neville, Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, Margaret Beaufort and Margaret de la Pole, all intertwined with the numerous powerful families and their affinities whose fortunes ebb and flow in the maelstrom of royal succession and favour.

The author takes us through those long years of politics, wars, executions, coronations, marriages, heroics and treacheries which eventually brought about the accession by conquest of Henry Tudor, the death of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, and the formation of a new dynasty, albeit one which had to keep looking over its shoulder for incipient Plantagenet rebellions, taking whatever steps necessary to crush those which took place. These threats did not end with the joining of the white rose and the red rose in the Tudor emblem, but persisted right into the reign of Henry VIII.

For anyone interested in understanding the sheer scale and impact of what we now call the Wars of the Roses, this is THE book to read: the timelines and key players are set out vividly and with clarity and you will not read a better analysis of the complexities.

In factual terms, I would only quibble with his assumption that Richard III definitely killed his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, as I think the jury remains out on that one and he was not the only person with something to gain from their demise.

There are few illustrations, but the ones chosen are absolutely lovely. I enjoyed the whole book at a gallop and will re-read more slowly. Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 15, 2014 3:18 PM BST


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