Review of “The Secrets of Saffron Hall” by Clare Marchant

Marchant, Clare. The Secrets of Saffron Hall. London: Avon Books UK, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0008406288 | $15.93 USD | 400 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Two women. Five centuries apart.
One life-changing secret about to be unearthed…

1538
New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

 2019

When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

An enchanting historical novel about love and hope in dangerous times, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley and Kathryn Hughes.

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I was drawn to the premise of The Secrets of Saffron Hall, due to my love of all things Tudor. And in that regard, my expectations were satisfied. The Tudor portion of the book is engaging and feels true to the period, with its great rewards for those in favor, but the lingering fear of the fates of those who fall out of it.

I was engrossed in Eleanor’s day-to-day life as she runs the home and grows saffron while her husband is away, and while the Saffron element did sometimes feel a bit repetitive, I more or less enjoyed her perspective of the tense times, especially given the events going on in the background: the religious persecutions, executions, and Henry’s shifting interest between wives (mourning Jane Seymour, the reluctant marriage to Anne of Cleves and annulment, and his ill-fated marriage to Catherine Howard). 

I found Amber’s chapters less interesting, aside from the supplemental information about the book. There were some good elements there for her, like dealing with grief following a stillbirth, but I still found it harder to become invested in her storyline as much as I did Eleanor’s.

This is still a fairly good book, and one I would recommend to fans of dual timeline historical novels. 

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Review of “Lord of Deception” (Trysts & Treachery #1) by Elizabeth Keysian

Keysian, Elizabeth. Lord of Deception. La Verne, CA: Dragonblade Publishing, 2020. 

ASIN: B0898N89X2 | $0.99 USD | 212 pages | Historical Romance 

Blurb

He thinks she’s a traitor to her queen. She thinks he’s just a gardener.

Dive into this new Tudor Historical Romance series Trysts and Treachery by the award winning Elizabeth Keysian. Read for Free in Kindle Unlimited!

Despised by the cousin with whom she’s forced to live, the lonely but determined Alys craves escape. The most dangerous thing she could do is fall in love. Especially when the man who tempts her is Kit Ludlow, an exiled nobleman in disguise. Becoming involved in his secret mission proves more perilous than Alys could possibly have imagined.

Kit has been banished from Queen Elizabeth’s court, and the last thing he wants is to entangle Alys in his web of treachery and deception. It would also be folly to fall in love with her when he can’t be sure where her loyalties lie.

After helping Kit foil a plot against the queen, Alys’ life is at risk from her cousin’s nefarious schemes. Estranged from Kit, she’s forced to make a desperate decision.

Should she protect her family, or follow the demands of her heart?

Review 

4.5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tudor romances are an under appreciated subset of historical romance, so I snapped this one up upon reading the blurb. It promised the passion and intrigue I love about the Tudor period, and the fact that it involved Walsingam’s spy ring also piqued my interest.

And it delivers on its premise. Kit is a wonderful hero, and I rooted for him as he tried to figure out what was going on at Selwood Manor, and went from suspecting the innocent Alys to working to protect her from the corruption going on around them. 

Poor Alys! While the setup for her arc feels a little cliche, Cinderella-esque at times, I still rooted for her through it all. And I like that their love was really tested as well, a trait I love about the handful of Tudor romances I’ve read.

Keysian also injects a real sense of place and time into the prose and dialogue, without leaving the modern reader feeling lost. She achieves that perfect balance that can sometimes be hard to master for historical authors, especially as for stories set as far back as this one is.

I enjoyed this one immensely, and I can’t wait to read the others that have been announced as they come out. I recommend this to historical romance lovers who love the Tudors. 

Author Bio

Elizabeth first started writing fiction when she was eight, encouraged to do so by her Head Teacher father, who needed something to keep her quiet during school holidays. Her favorite topics were mermaids, ghosts, Norman knights and quests, and she illustrated and decorated her own books. She emerged from the world of her imagination to read History at the University of London, after which she spent many years working as an archaeologist and artifact illustrator. She then became a primary school teacher, after which she moved to museum education work, and display and collections management.

Elizabeth has been involved in Medieval, Tudor, and English Civil War re-enactment and has enjoyed sword-play and traditional archery, excelling in neither. She lived for seven years on a Knights Templar estate in Essex where she pursued her interest in historical textiles, cookery and medicine. She loves anything to do with the past, and still looks down holes in the ground to see if there’s anything archaeological in them. There generally isn’t.

he has written sixteen historical romances and a novella since moving to the West of England in 1997, the landscape and history of which have inspired the “Wayward in Wessex” and “Wanton in Wessex” series, published by Entangled Publishing.

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Review of “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen” by Alison Weir

Weir, Alison. Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen. New York: Ballantine, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1101966600 | $28.99 USD | 480 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

 Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir tells the tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, a nineteen-year-old beauty with a hidden past, in this fifth novel in the sweeping Six Tudor Queens series.

In the spring of 1540, Henry VIII, desperate to be rid of his queen, Anna of Kleve, first sets eyes on the enchanting Katheryn Howard. Although the king is now an ailing forty-nine-year-old measuring fifty-four inches around his waist, his amorous gaze lights upon the pretty teenager. Seated near him intentionally by her ambitious Catholic family, Katheryn readily succumbs to the courtship.

Henry is besotted with his bride. He tells the world she is a rose without a thorn, and extols her beauty and her virtue. Katherine delights in the pleasures of being queen and the power she has to do good to others. She comes to love the ailing, obese king and tolerate his nightly attentions. If she can bear him a son, her triumph will be complete. But Katheryn has a past of which Henry knows nothing, and which comes back increasingly to haunt her–even as she courts danger yet again. 

In the series

#1 Katharine of Aragon: The True Queen

#2 Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession

#3 Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

#4 Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

Review

4.5 stars

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

Each of the Six Wives has stereotypes about them, and over the course of the series, Weir seems to demonstrate, despite her reputation for accuracy, that she’s not immune to bias. So while this book was yet another chance for her to take shots at the Boleyns on passing, otherwise, Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen is a compassionate portrayal of the wife often considered to be a dumb or oversexed, to put it mildly, showing she is at most naive and underprepared for the cutthroat political scheming going on around her. 

I love how the falls of others, from her cousin Anne Boleyn  to the Countess of Salisbury are portrayed through Kathryn’s eyes to foreshadow her own fate, and while, with hindsight, we can say that she might have saved herself if she’d told the truth earlier (and Weir does state this is the case), I can still understand why she didn’t, given her background and what she had been instructed to do by those she thought knew better. 

I also enjoyed seeing her dynamic with King Henry, as while the romantic love is not returned  on her side, it was yet another example of how changeable he could be when he felt betrayed by someone. 

This is a truly epic book about the rise and fall of a largely misunderstood Tudor Queen. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction, especially if you love the Tudors. 

Author Bio

Alison Weir is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens, and of historical fiction. Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her formal training in history at teacher training college. She currently lives in Surrey, England, with her two children.

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Review of "Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait" (Six Tudor Queens #4) by Alison Weir

Weir, Alison. Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1101966570 | 498 pages | Historical Fiction

3.5 stars

Alison Weir is a superstar in the world of Tudor history, known mostly for her nonfiction, but I’ve noticed her fiction tends to get more mixed reviews, and that is definitely the case with Anna of Kleve as well, as she straddles the line between the historical accuracy she’s known for and the sensationalism that made her peers like Philippa Gregory famous. But I was intrigued by this Six Wives fiction series, and while I didn’t like that she showed her infamous bias in the one for Anne Boleyn and didn’t have much interest in the Jane Seymour one, she did a good, if tried-and-true portrayal of Catherine of Aragon, and was curious which direction she would take Anne of Cleves.

And the portrayal is, by her own admission, controversial. I found myself taken aback at first by the revelation of the “secret” Anna, as she’s called here, carries. However, given that she’s primarily known for being divorced by the King and escaping with her life and good fortune, but the situation would likely have tainted her and made her unattractive to most diplomatic marriage partners, I found it kind of nice to imagine the possibility that she did have a bit of happiness.

However, I found the book a bit tedious in places, particularly once she is divorced and time begins to skip ahead. I feel like things could have cut off there and we wouldn’t have missed much, especially if we’re continuing the story through the next two wives anyway. I did like seeing bits of her perspective following Henry’s death, with the regime changes in Edward and Mary’s reign, and was shocked to learn that her being under suspicion in the wake of Wyatt’s rebellion due to her connection to Elizabeth was based in fact. But that whole latter part mostly felt disjointed, and I could have done with less of it.

This an entertaining, if a bit unnecessarily long, book. I recommend it to anyone who loves Tudor historical fiction and doesn’t mind a bit of poetic license in the plot.

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Review of “The Great Matter Monologues” by Thomas Crockett

Crockett, Thomas. The Great Matter Monologues. Winchester/Washington: Top Hat Books, 2020.

eARC |$18.95 USD (Print) | 978-1789042504 | 344 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

I recieved an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

While I knew nothing about The Great Matter Monologues or Thomas Crockett prior to picking it up, its focus on one of the most infamous events of the Tudor period piqued my interest, and the fact that Crockett employed a theatrical monologue style to capture the perspectives of Henry, Katherine, and Anne equally intrigued me.

And ultimately, for what he was trying to do, I feel like the book succeeds. Given the style, I feel that this is one book where I would have liked to have an audio supplement, and wonder if Crockett or the publisher plans to do one as an audio drama with multiple narrators, given that Crockett has a theatre background, according to his bio.

As for the prose itself, it’s engaging, and Crockett captures the voices of the three central figures well, from Katherine’s bravery in the face of adversity, to Henry’s desperation as he feels he (or his marriages) has been cursed and continues on his quest to secure the succession, and the evolution of Henry’s relationship with Anne. It’s nothing new to those who’ve read the story before, and there are some choices made where the historical records are unclear that I disagree with, but it’s nonetheless pretty solid.

The one flaw as a written piece is the way dialogue with other characters, particularly, when hearkening back to past conversations, is handled, since quotations are not used. This is likely a convention of the monologue style, and once again something that could be remedied by hearing it instead of reading it.

This is an enjoyable read, with a more stylistic take on the Great Matter than I had previously seen. I would recommend it to history buffs, especially those who also have an interest in theatre.

Review of Murder at Hatfield House” (Elizabethan Mysteries #1) by Amanda Carmack

Carmack, Amanda. Murder at Hatfield House. New York: Obsidian, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451415110 | 281 pages | Historical Mystery

4 stars

My interest was piqued by the Elizabethan Mysteries a while back, and while I didn’t pick them up at the time, I have recently been on a Tudor kick, and have been looking for more novels set in the period, and remembered these existed. And despite some of my mixed experiences starting and then abandoning historical mystery series of late, I find I’m intrigued by this one. Carmack openly professes her enthusiasm for the period, and even if she did not, it shows from the opening pages. She sets the dark, gritty tone of the tail-end of Mary I’s reign, demonstrating how the conspiracy-ridden time period makes the perfect backdrop for a mystery.

Kate is a great heroine to carry this story, and hopefully, to carry the rest of them forward a things go along the historical timeline. I admire her bravery in these troubled times, especially to help others. I enjoyed seeing the relationship she has with Elizabeth develop, in spite of the dangerous position Elizabeth was in at this point.

The mystery at the center of the plot was intriguing, especially given the ramifications of the plot as it began to unfold. The story begins with a prologue depicting Lady Jane Grey’s execution, and while that initially works in setting the tone for both Mary’s reign and the book itself, it also plays a role in the motivations of the killer, and it was well foreshadowed.

There are a few implausibilities here and there in terms of plot elements, but it’s a fairly solid mystery that thoroughly captures the time period and both creates compelling fictional characters and presents believable versions of historical figures, from major players in the plot to more minor characters. I recommend this if you love the Tudors and/or historical mysteries.

Review of “Jane the Quene” (The Seymour Saga #1) by Janet Wertman

Wertman, Janet. Jane the Quene. [Place of publication not identified: Janet Wertman, 2016. 

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0997133813 | 272 pages | Historical Fiction

4.5 stars

I recently picked up the Jane the Quene to further indulge my inner Tudor fangirl/nerd, which is something I don’t do often enough, especially given how much is out there about them in both historical fiction and non-fiction. I also liked that it was one of the few books I’ve seen that focused on Jane Seymour as a central character, with the promise of delving more into her family in the decades following in the next couple books, a prospect that intrigues me, given how often they are relegated to the roles of supporting players.

While a lot of the elements are things we’ve seen before, it’s not really a fault of Wertman herself, given that she is working with the same sources as many other authors of Tudor fiction. I do like that, in addition to providing intrigue from the perspective of someone like Cromwell, who had major influence at the time, it also showed more of how Jane and her family comported themselves once Henry’s attention became obvious, and later when he married her. While I did get the sense of the Seymour brothers being scheming through my knowledge of the way things played out during Henry and Jane’s son, Edward’s, brief reign,

However, the best part is Jane’s more well-rounded character. I liked that Wertman’s narrative provided some element of a schemer to Jane too. Far too often, given that we don’t get Jane’s perspective, she is painted in a study of contrasts to Henry’s other wives, such as being the docile replacement to Anne Boleyn, or being the only one to bear him a living son, whereas the other wives, if they’re not vilified, at least have more nuance in how they’re remembered, at least from my perspective. So I very much appreciated the development of her character into someone who wasn’t this perfect martyr, thus making her easy to sympathize with.

I would recommend this to other Tudor enthusiasts, especially those like myself who are looking for more books about Jane Seymour.

Review of “The Locksmith’s Daughter” by Karen Brooks

Brooks, Karen. The Locksmith’s Daughter. 2016. New York: William Morrow, 2018. 

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-006286572 | 565 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

I picked up The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks on a whim, because the premise sounded intriguing, especially with its Tudor/Elizabethan setting, something I don’t see a lot of, apart from the occasional book about one of the monarchs or their consorts. And for the most part, it was a pretty solid read. My one complaint is that it is a little slow in places, and Brooks is a little heavy handed with the use of language, but on the whole, it contributed to an accurate reading experience that immersed me in the period.

I love the layers of Mallory’s story, especially the more I learned about the traumas and abuse she dealt with as a result of making one rash choice. Even though the environment was much more biased against women than today’s world is, I was moved by the way her reactions to what she suffered and felt that part of her character was incredibly well written. And in general, I love the other ways in which she proved her strength and intelligence as a lock-pick and a spy.

I was sure I wouldn’t like Nathaniel as a love interest at first, but his development over the course of the book changed my mind. He goes from being a bit nasty and boorish to Mallory to being one of the few people she can trust when Sir Francis comes to see her as a threat.

I would recommend this to people who are fans of richly researched historical novels.

Review of “My Lady Jane” (The Lady Janies #1) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Hand, Cynthia, et. al. My Lady Jane. New York: HarperTeen, 2016.
Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN013: 978-0062391742 | 491 pages | Historical Fiction/Fantasy

5 stars

My Lady Jane is one of those crazy mish-mash books that I did not expect to work…but somehow it just does, with the authors somehow managing to believably twist history to provide a victory for those who were wronged, while still seeing that the most important elements remain (relatively) intact.

The three lead characters are all wonderful, and I loved going on this journey with them as they defeat evil and find themselves and their purpose in the process. Jane’s character is well-read and sympathetic, and it’s nice to get a take on her that’s much more fleshed out, but still feels reminiscent of what I know of her from her mentions in the Tudor works I had read before. And I love the twist on Gifford to make him a more sympathetic romantic hero, along with his own hurdles to overcome.

By far biggest surprise for me was Edward. He’s always been presented largely as a young boy-king controlled by the opinions of his advisers, and only beginning to come into his own, with his death ending any potential he may have had to grow as a ruler. And I like that there is some of that here, but I like how he is given the chance to evolve and see that he really was only made heir to the throne due to an accident of birth, not because he was the truly capable monarch some of his forebears were.

I would recommend this to anyone who also love historical fiction, but is open to new and unexpectedly funny takes on the darker and sometimes little discussed figures and events of history.