Book Review: “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen

60293344._SY475_The year is 1522, and London is in a jovial mood. King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon are to play host to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as he visits England. As one of King Henry VIII’s most loyal advisors, Cardinal Wolsey had the great honor of hosting a grand masque featuring King Arthur and the Black Knight for the distinguished company. Unfortunately, as preparations for the luxurious masque are in full swing, Wolsey’s historian is horrifically murdered. The only one who can solve the case is Anthony Blanke, the son of John Blanke, the trumpeter before the masque is ruined, and Henry VIII discovers the truth. The story of this case is told in Steven Veerapen’s latest novel, “Of Blood Descended.”

I want to thank Steven Veerapen for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I am always in the mood for a good Tudor mystery, and when I heard that the main character was the son of John Blanke, I was intrigued to see how Veerapen would portray his story.

Veerapen begins this novel by introducing Pietro Gonzaga, Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, and his family as Gonzaga is on the cusp of revolutionary discovery. We then cut to Anthony Blanke returning to London after his father, John Blanke’s death. He is reluctant to go back to court and all of its intrigues, but it is necessary as Cardinal Wolsey himself summoned him. Wolsey is hosting a grand masque in honor of King Henry VIII and the Imperial Emperor Charles V; the theme is King Arthur and the Black Knight, and he has decided to cast Anthony as the titular Black Knight.

Progress with the masque goes smoothly until someone discovers Signor Gonzaga’s body after being brutally slain. Gonzaga’s murder sets the stage for a whirlwind chase to find the murderer, but the monster leaves a trail of blood behind him, and no one is safe. The action, intrigue, and mysteries will keep you guessing until the final pages to figure out who the mastermind was behind it all.

I loved the mystery behind the murder and how Veerapen was able to weave the Arthurian legends and prophecies with the story of the Tudors. I enjoyed the cameos from Thomas Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, but my favorite cameo was Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil, who does not appear that often in Tudor historical fiction. I thought Anthony was such a fascinating protagonist as he gave a different perspective on the diversity of London life. Even though characters like Anthony Blanke, Sister Jane, Mark Byfield, and Harry Gainsford are entirely fictional characters, they feel like they would fit exceptionally well in the Tudor world.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn that Veerapen included in this novel. I hope to see more stories with Anthony, Jane, Mark, and Harry. If you enjoy Tudor murder mysteries, you will be enthralled with “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen.

Book Review: “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle

18950719To be married to a king may seem like a dream, but reality can be cruel. Take the wives of Henry VIII. After saying ” I do,” each wife had to deal with complex challenges after saying “I do.” We all know the poem; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but does that define these queens? After the death of her second husband, Katherine Parr must choose between Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, the man who has captured her heart. She must navigate love, court intrigues, and the treacherous religious landscape of England in the 1540s to survive. Katherine’s life as Queen of England and how close she came to a disastrous fall from grace are explored in Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel, “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr.”

I have heard about this particular novel for years, and I have wanted to read it for a long time. Katherine Parr is my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but sadly there are not many novels about her. When it was announced that this novel would be turned into a new movie called “Firebrand,” I knew now was the perfect time to read this book.

“Queen’s Gambit” begins with Katherine Parr at the deathbed of her second husband, Lord Latymer. Their relationship was full of love, but it was also stained with tragedy as Katherine was left alone to fend off the Pilgrimage of Grace, which scarred both Katherine and her stepdaughter Meg for years to come. With the death of Lord Latymer, Katherine returns to court with Meg and her beloved maid Dot, where she falls hard to the debonair Thomas Seymour. Their love can never be as another man has his eyes on the desirable widow, and no one ever disobeys King Henry VIII. Katherine Parr marries the king and becomes his sixth wife, a queen of England.

As queen, Katherine’s life might seem like a dream, but dealing with an ailing husband and trying to promote her religious views without losing her head is a balancing act. I thoroughly enjoyed how Fremantle portrayed Katherine and her time as queen and eventually the wife of Thomas Seymour. Her relationships with Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour, Anne Askew, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward are complicated but well fleshed out. I also enjoyed the additional characters that Fremantle included in Katherine’s tale, especially the loyal to a fault Dot and Huicke, the king’s physician whose friendship would become invaluable to Katherine.

This was my first time reading a book by Elizabeth Fremantle, and I cannot wait to read another story. Fremantle does a superb job of telling Katherine’s story in an engaging and thoughtful manner. It was so interesting that I did not want this novel to end.

Katherine Parr was not just the final wife who survived King Henry VIII’s last years. She was a wife, a loving stepmother, a widow, a woman in love, a caring friend, a writer, and a reformer. Her life was full of risks, tragedies, and love. If you love Tudor historical fiction novels, you will adore “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle.

Book Review: “The Pale Horseman (The Saxon Stories Book #2) by Bernard Cornwell

68528._SY475_England is in danger of falling to its Danish invaders. The kingdoms of East Anglia, Northumbria, and Mercia have already fallen; all that stands in the way of complete Danish domination is Wessex and its king Alfred. Yet this king is more of a saint than a warrior, so Alfred desperately needs a man who knows how to fight. A man like Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a skilled warrior even though he doesn’t always see eye to eye with Alfred on matters of faith. When Alfred and his family become fugitives, he must rely on Uhtred to help restore him and his family to ensure Wessex does not fall. This is the premise of book two of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell, “The Pale Horseman.”

Cornwell begins this book where we left off in “The Last Kingdom” after the battle of Cynuit and the death of Ubba by Uhtred. Uhtred believes that he will be treated as a hero by Alfred and will receive rewards, but he is wrong. Instead of going straight to Alfred after the battle, Uhtred dallies to rescue his Christian wife Mildrith and his son Uhtred, which allows his rival Odda the Younger to take credit for Ubba’s death. Furious at his king, Alfred shows how naive he is, forcing Alfred to humiliate Uhtred in front of the entire royal court by penance; Uhtred decides to take his men and his friend Leofric on some raids in the northern part of England.

Uhtred falls for the beguiling beauty and shadow queen Iseult during this raiding expedition, even though he still has a wife and child at home. Torn between his sworn loyalty to the Saxons through Alfred and the love for the Danes that raised him as a boy and taught him to fight, Uhtred must find his path and follow his destiny wherever it may lead. Unfortunately, destiny’s path for Uhtred and Alfred led to the near-collapse of Wessex when the Danes invaded, forcing Alfred and his family to seek refuge in the most unlikely of locations, in the middle of a swamp. It is here when everything seems so dark, and all hope is lost when Alfred and Uhtred choose to bury the hatchet for the time being and fight for an idea of a united England.

Cornwell expanded the world of Uhtred and Alfred to give us a glimpse of the conflicts that shaped England in the 9th century. With the growing conflicts, Cornwell grows his colorful cast of characters. We are introduced to Aethelwold, the slimy nephew of Alfred who desires the crown., the warrior nun Hild who is willing to fight for what she believes, and the vicious Viking leader Steapa. With new conflicts come new elements of grief, loss, rage, and renewing hope in our characters as they struggle to survive in such a turbulent time.

If you want to embark on another adventure with Uhtred of Bebbanburg after reading “The Last Kingdom,” I recommend reading “The Pale Horseman” by Bernard Cornwell. I enjoyed “The Pale Horseman” just as I did when I read “The Last Kingdom.” Cornwell’s writing style is so engaging that sometimes it didn’t feel like I was reading but watching these stories play out on the page.

Book Review: “The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell

68527England in the 9th century was a land full of dangers and was deeply divided in the form of four main kingdoms; Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia, and Wessex. One by one, the kingdoms began to fall to the Danes until there was only Wessex that stood in the way of complete conquest. There was a young man who became a king who stood in the way of the invaders. His name was King Alfred the Great, but he was not alone in his quest to unite all of England. His right-hand man was a Northumbrian nobleman who lost his birthright, was raised by the Danes, and had to choose a side in this conflict. His name was Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and his story begins in the first novel of The Saxon Stories series by Bernard Cornwell, “The Last Kingdom.”

This is not my first adventure into the world of The Last Kingdom. Like so many others, I have enjoyed the Netflix series based on this book series. Once I finished the television series, I wanted to read the books to see what other adventures Uhtred had during his lifetime.

Uhtred is our narrator throughout this journey in 9th century England, albeit a bit older. He began his tale in 866 when he was Osbert, the second son of Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg, and the day the Danes attacked his home. When his older brother Uhtred is slain, Osbert takes up the name of Uhtred and is baptized by the priest Beocca. After a fierce battle, Uhtred’s father is killed, and he is adopted by Ragnar, the leader of the same Danes who have taken everything from him. Uhtred is at first treated as a mere enslaved person, but Ragnar and his family begin to treat Uhtred as one of their own as if he was a Dane. During the time with Ragnar, he is introduced to Ragnar the Younger and Brida.

To see how the Danes raised Uhtred and how he learned to fight in the shield wall was spectacular, and it shows why even though he was born in Northumbria, he believes he is a Dane. Uhtred’s relationship with Ragnar and his family is broken when one of Ragnar’s enemies kills Ragnar and his family, except for Ragnar the Younger, and Thyra. Uhtred and Brida flee and are reunited with Beocca, who introduces Uhtred to the young man who will become King Alfred and one of his military men, Leofric. All Uhtred wants to do is recover Bebbanburg, but destiny changes one’s direction in life.

This is the first book that I have read by Bernard Cornwell, and it was brilliant. The way he could craft a remarkable beginning to Uhtred’s epic tale is astounding. The interactions between Uhtred and those who come to shape him into the legendary man are enjoyable and eye-opening. Cornwell was able to weave the differences in the Danish and Saxon cultures to create a diverse world, one that is vibrant as it is deadly.

The battle sequences set this novel and this series apart from other historical fiction series that I have read. From minor skirmishes to savage shield walls and bloody sea battles, Cornwell was able to create some of the most realistic battle sequences I have ever read.

“The Last Kingdom” by Bernard Cornwell is a triumph. An absolute joy to read and one that I cannot recommend enough for anyone who wants a fantastic historical fiction adventure into 9th century England. I look forward to many more adventures with Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Book Review: “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York” by Alison Weir

58735042During medieval wars, one’s fate is often determined by the spin of the Wheel of Fortune, even for those who did not fight a single battle. One could be living a life of luxury, stability reigning supreme, and is destined to marry a foreign king or prince, but when the wheel begins to spin, all seems lost, and the things that once were as good as guaranteed fall by the wayside. This description could fit any number of stories from the past. Still, the one highlighted in this particular novel is the story of the eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and the first Tudor queen. In the first book of her latest book series, “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York,” Alison Weir shows how one woman was able to ride the highs and lows of life to secure her family’s legacy and transform English history forever.

I want to thank Penguin Random House- Ballantine Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this novel. I am always thrilled when a new Alison Weir book is announced, whether fiction or nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the Six Tudor Queens series, so when I heard that there would be a new book series with the story of Elizabeth of York being the first novel, I knew I wanted to read it. Of course, I had read her biography of Elizabeth of York, so I wanted to see how her research would translate into a historical fiction novel.

Elizabeth of York was born and raised to be a queen. As the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, it was her destiny to be married to a king or a prince to strengthen England through a foreign alliance. However, her life took a drastic turn when her father tragically died. Her brothers disappeared when they were in the Tower of London awaiting the coronation of Edward V, which never occurred. Richard III, Elizabeth’s uncle, became king, which forced Elizabeth Woodville to seek sanctuary with her daughters. A daring plan was crafted to unite the houses of York and Lancaster through marriage; Elizabeth of York was to marry a young man in exile, Henry Tudor.

The marriage created the Tudor dynasty, but that does not mean Elizabeth and Henry’s married life was full of sunshine and roses. The road to securing their dynasty was full of heartache and plenty of pretenders. The love between Elizabeth and Henry and Elizabeth’s love for her family allowed the dynasty to survive the turbulent times.

I loved the relationship that Weir was able to craft between Elizabeth, Henry, and her family. However, there were elements of the story that I disagreed with; they were minor, like her portrayal of Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard III and the idea that Arthur had been very ill since his birth. These elements did not take away from the joy I had reading this novel.

Overall, I found the first novel of the Tudor Roses series engaging and a delight to read. Alison Weir has brought the tragic yet triumphant story of the first Tudor queen to life through excellent prose and captivating details. If you are a fan of Alison Weir and her historical fiction novels, or just a fan of Tudor novels in general, you will find “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York” an enchanting escape into the past.

Book Review: “The Finder of Lost Things” by Kathy Lynn Emerson

55583378._SY475_Blanche Wainfleet, a merchant’s wife living in England in 1590, has a reputation for finding items that others have deemed lost. Blanche has a gift for finding mementos important to others, from lost handkerchiefs to pets. However, there is one thing that she is searching for that will prove her greatest challenge yet, finding the truth about her sister’s murder. Blanche’s sister Alison fell in love with a Catholic man and converted to the Catholic faith when there was a war between Catholicism and Protestantism. To uncover the truth, Blanche must infiltrate the Otley family who took Alison in during her final days, but will she discover the truth and come out of the ordeal alive? This is the premise of Kathy Lynn Emerson’s latest novel, “The Finder of Lost Things.”

I want to thank Kathy Lynn Emerson for sending me a copy of this novel. I am always looking for new authors to follow in Tudor historical fiction, so when I heard about this novel, I decided to give it a chance.

We first meet Blanche Wainfleet as she is imprisoned at Colchester Castle for reading an illegal book about Catholicism. She is thrown into the same cell as Lady Otley and other devout Catholics arrested for illegally hearing mass. This is all part of an elaborate ruse to infiltrate the Otley family and gain their favor to unearth the truth about Alison. When a royal pardon is passed for all women prisoners, Blanche convinces Lady Otley to allow her to take Alison’s spot in her household. Blanche realizes that her prison cell is safer than living with this family in the Otley household.

I like how Emerson captured the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism during this time. She shows how Catholic priests and those dedicated to Catholicism were in fear for their lives for practicing their faith. To see how she described priest holes was also very good.

I did have a few issues with this title. There were points where I was not sure if I was reading a Tudor novel or something from the late 16th-early 17th century; I wish she would have added more Tudor elements that would have been familiar to readers. Another aspect that I was not comfortable reading was the element of exorcisms with this story. I know that there were incidents where exorcisms happened during the medieval and Tudor times, but Emerson’s description bothered me quite a bit.

Overall, I thought this was a decent novel. I liked the characters, especially the brave and determined Blanche and Kit, her loving husband. I wanted to see more interactions between those two, but maybe she will include this couple in a future novel. If you want a murder mystery novel that shows the Catholic underground during the late reign of Elizabeth I, I would recommend” The Finder of Lost Things” by Kathy Lynn Emerson.

Book Review: “Lady, In Waiting” by Karen Heenan

59962472._SY475_Elizabeth Tudor is now the Queen of England and is learning quickly how her relationships with others would affect all of Europe, especially when it comes to her marriage. Marriage is difficult, as Margery Preston soon discovers. Margery is a lady in waiting to the fickle Queen Elizabeth and must navigate the intricacies of court life while learning to be a wife to Robin Lewis, a man she barely knows. She is treated like a child rather than a woman by those around her. Can Margery convince others that she is a strong woman and find love and happiness in the quagmire of court life? Margery’s story is told in the third installment of The Tudor Court series by Karen Heenan, “Lady, In Waiting.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this novel. I have enjoyed the Tudor Court series so far, and I wanted to see how she would continue her Tudor saga. I enjoyed how Heenan had developed the character of Robin Lewis in “A Wider World,” so I wanted to see what kind of woman Robin married.

“Lady, In Waiting” picks up where “A Wider World” left off. Margery and her Grand-mere enter the estate of Winterset, which used to belong to her family, but now belongs to her husband, Robin Lewis. Although they are married, Margery knows very little about her husband and his life. He tends to be surrounded by his books and friends, including a former monk named Anselm. While Margery tries to adjust to this new lifestyle, Robin drops a considerable surprise; Margery will be a lady-in-waiting for Queen Elizabeth I. An enormous honor, to be sure, but to be one of Elizabeth’s ladies meant loyalty and, above all, the ability to keep secrets, even from your significant other. Margery must keep some secrets with more significant implications than mild court gossip.

I loved this book’s central relationship between Margery and Robin. It is a gradual friendship turned romantic love that fans of historical romance swoon. There is so much heartache and sorrow in their relationship, but there are moments of happiness in all of the chaos. Margery’s relationship with her Grand-mere is just as complicated, but the familial bonds are strong between these two women. I also enjoyed Margery’s interactions with famous figures during this time. Her loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, her rather complex relationship with Katherine Grey, and her unexpected friendship with Mary, Queen of Scots.

I found this a delightful read that continues with Heenan’s idea of having characters that would traditionally have been seen as side characters in other historical fiction novels as the heroes of their own stories. Margery Lewis is an excellent leading lady for this third novel in the Tudor Court series. A story full of love, heartache, and intrigue that fans of historical fiction will adore. You will love “Lady, In Waiting” if you have enjoyed Heenan’s previous Tudor Court books.

Book Review: “A Woman of Noble Wit” by Rosemary Griggs

A Woman of Noble Wit Tour BannerFor a woman from the past to leave a mark in history books, she had to have lived an extraordinary life. Some have notorious reputations, or they were considered women of immaculate character. In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, there was one who was “a woman of noble wit.” She was the daughter of an ancient gentry family who had connections with the court of Henry VIII. Her large family would navigate political turmoil and religious reformations to survive. The name of this wife and mother was Katherine Raleigh, and her tale is told in Rosemary Griggs’ debut novel, “A Woman of Noble Wit.”

I would like to thank The Coffee Pot Book Club and Rosemary Griggs for sending me a copy of this novel and allowing me to be part of this book tour. I did not know much about Katherine Raleigh before this novel, except that she was the mother of Sir Walter Raleigh, so I was looking forward to reading her story.

Katherine was a daughter of the Champernowne family who had a fiery passion for reading. As a girl, she was terrified of marrying an older man, but her family decided to marry Katherine to Otho Gilbert, a young man with a passion for firearms and adventures. As Katherine settles into her new life at Greenway Court, England experiences the reign of King Henry VIII through religious reforms, many marriages, and numerous executions. Although Katherine was not at court, she would receive gossip about court and her sister Kat, who we know today as Kat Ashley, the governess of Princess Elizabeth Tudor.

Katherine is a dutiful and loving wife to Otho, but her heart skips a beat when she meets the charming privateer Walter Raleigh Senior one day. I found Walter a much better match for Katherine than Otho, who seemed rather vain and jealous of his wife’s reputation. Katherine is free to be her educated self with Walter. They navigate the reigns of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I while raising their family. We see how Katherine was known as “a woman of noble wit” through heartache, fear, and love.

As a debut novel, I found it a delightfully engaging read. Griggs has brought Katherine Raleigh from the shadows of her famous son’s fame and shined a light on her story. If I did have a complaint about this novel, it would be that I felt the ending was a bit rushed. Overall, I think it was an enchanting debut novel that illuminated the life of a fascinating woman who lived during the Tudor dynasty. I am excited to see what Rosemary Griggs will write about next. If you want a novel about a relatively hidden Tudor woman, I would highly suggest you read “A Woman of Noble Wit” by Rosemary Griggs.

59476111._SY475_A Woman of Noble Wit

By Rosemary Griggs

Few women of her time lived to see their name in print. But Katherine was no ordinary woman. She was Sir Walter Raleighs mother. This is her story.

Set against the turbulent background of a Devon rocked by the religious and social changes that shaped Tudor England; a Devon of privateers and pirates; a Devon riven by rebellions and plots, A Woman of Noble Wit tells how Katherine became the woman who would inspire her famous sons to follow their dreams. It is Tudor history seen though a womans eyes.

As the daughter of a gentry family with close connections to the glittering court of King Henry VIII, Katherines duty is clear. She must put aside her dreams and accept the husband chosen for her. Still a girl, she starts a new life at Greenway Court, overlooking the River Dart, relieved that her husband is not the ageing monster of her nightmares. She settles into the life of a dutiful wife and mother until a chance shipboard encounter with a handsome privateer, turns her world upside down.…..

Years later a courageous act will set Katherines name in print and her youngest son will fly high.

Trigger Warnings: Rape.

Buy Links:

Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/47O1WE

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Noble-Wit-Rosemary-Griggs-ebook/dp/B09FLVZKSK

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Noble-Wit-Rosemary-Griggs-ebook/dp/B09FLVZKSK

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Woman-Noble-Wit-Rosemary-Griggs-ebook/dp/B09FLVZKSK

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Woman-Noble-Wit-Rosemary-Griggs-ebook/dp/B09FLVZKSK

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-woman-of-noble-wit-rosemary-griggs/1140139238

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/a-woman-of-noble-wit/rosemary-griggs/9781800464599

iBooks: https://books.apple.com/gb/book/a-woman-of-noble-wit/id1584793135

WHSmith: https://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/a-woman-of-noble-wit/rosemary-griggs/paperback/9781800464599.html

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/a-woman-of-noble-wit,rosemary-griggs-9781800464599

Rosemary GriggsAuthor Bio:

Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. She is now a speaker on Devon’s sixteenth century history and costume. She leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall, has made regular costumed appearances at National Trust houses and helps local museums bring history to life.

Social Media Links:

Website: https://rosemarygriggs.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RAGriggsauthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ladykatherinesfarthingale

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/griggs6176

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Rosemary-Griggs/e/B09GY6ZSYF

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21850977.Rosemary_Griggs

Book Review: “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell

43890641._SY475_The Black Death has ravished England and Europe for centuries. Although the plague in the 16th century was not as devastating as in previous centuries, it still was a horrific disease that killed thousands. For example, in Warwickshire, England, a family understood how unforgiving death could be and how it can tear down even the strongest of familial bonds. The family of the playwright William Shakespeare must navigate the sudden loss of their beloved son while they keep their family together. “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell is the story of the death of one child and how his death affected so many people.

When it comes to this book, it was one of those titles that I had heard so many good things about it, but I waited for a while until I bought it for myself. I wanted to understand why it was such a beloved novel.

It should be noted that O’Farrell does write in the present tense, which is somewhat unusual for a historical fiction novel. Since I do not read many books written in the present tense, it took me a few pages to feel comfortable with the narrative. We witness Hamnet rushing all over town to find his family as his twin sister Edith lays sick in bed, fearing that she is ill with the plague. We then switch to a different scene where we see the mother named Agnes, who is deemed eccentric and unusual, fall in love with a penniless Latin tutor who is the son of a glover. These two storylines seem separate, but when you realize how they connect, it shows how strong the love between Agnes and her husband was and how she fiercely loved her children.

In the end, it was not Judith who died but Hamnet. His death shifts the entire tone of this book, and we see the whole family grieve in different ways. Grief is painful for everyone, but Agnes’s grief is debilitating. Often, O’Farrell would have a scene in this novel or a line to make me want to cry. Hamnet’s death and the aftermath have been one of the most emotional rollercoasters I have read all year.

This novel was spectacular in the way it was written. Although the present tense did throw me for a loop at first, the story and its emotional weight were nothing short of impressive. It may have been about the Shakespeare family during the late Tudor dynasty, but it can translate to any family dealing with a pandemic, past or present. It is a novel that transcends time that anyone who loves historical fiction will devour. If you want an elegantly written book with a poignant storyline, “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell should be on your to-be-read pile.

Book Review: “Rizzio” by Denise Mina

57147033 (1)David Rizzio was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favorites at court and the private secretary to the queen. Being a royal favorite would not have been seen as a grave offense in any other country during this time, yet this is Scotland in the 16th century. Scotland was filled with deadly feuds between lords fighting for control of the crown, which would lead to numerous prominent men being murdered, including Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, David Rizzio was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was several months pregnant. The tale of the grotesque crime and those who witnessed the events of that night are told in Denis Mina’s latest gripping novella, “Rizzio.”

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this novella. When I read the description of this book and how dynamic the cover design was, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I was intrigued to see how Denise Mina would write the tale of Rizzio for a modern audience.

We begin with a tennis match between David Rizzio and Lord Darnley, Mary’s angsty and angry husband. Darnley wants to be King of Scotland and is tired of Rizzio getting in the way of his plans and that his wife favors this Italian nobody. He wants Rizzio to die, but not by his hands. Darnley has enlisted a ragtag group of nobles to help kill Rizzio and make way for Darnley to become the King.

However, things don’t go as smoothly as Darnley plans. Mary hosts a dinner party for a small group of friends at Holyrood Palace before she goes into confinement to give birth to her son and heir, James VI. A delightful party is disrupted by Darnley, Lord Ruthven, and their men, including one Henry Yair, who have come to kill Rizzio. Mary tries in vain to protect her Italian favorite, but she cannot save her friend in the end.

The tension and the drama that Mina was able to create in such a short amount of time were masterfully done. She was able to show how complex Scottish politics and the battle between Catholicism and reform so that readers who are not familiar with this time could understand the friction between the factions. Even though I knew the history behind this event, how Mina described it sent shivers down my spine. The one issue that I had with this novella was the ending, and it felt a bit flat and rushed to me. I wish she would have tied in the death of Mary and Darnley a bit better into the murder of Rizzio.

I think for a historical fiction novella, Mina does an excellent job of grabbing the reader’s attention and transporting them to that horrible night. This story may be short, but the emotional impact and details will stay with readers even after reading it. If you love reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Stuart Scotland during the 16th century, you will find “Rizzio” by Denise Mina thrilling.