Book Review: “Heartstone” by C.J. Sansom

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The year is 1545 and King Henry VIII has declared war on the French. However, things do not go well when Henry VIII’s invasion of France is an epic failure and the French decide to retaliate by sending a mighty fleet to invade England. Catherine Parr is on a mission of her own and enlists the help of Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak to investigate the wardship of Hugh Curtey, who is under the protection of Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Of course, Shardlake never makes anything easy for himself and he takes another case of Ellen Fettiplace, a woman he met while at Bedlam. With the prospect of a French invasion looming over their head, can Shardlake and Barak solve both cases before the French and the English can start fighting? This is the scenario of C.J. Sansom’s fifth Shardlake mystery, “Heartstone”.

Unlike the fourth book, I did not know what the title of this book was referring to so I was going into this one blind, which I love. All I knew was that it involved Shardlake and Barak, so I had to jump in. I don’t usually fangirl over historical fiction characters, but Sansom has made me love the escapades of Shardlake and Barak.

We dive into this particular novel with a rather happy, yet stressful time for Barak and his wife Tamasin. They are expecting their second child any day now, which after the events of “Revelation” you are rooting for them. Of course, being Barak, he causes a bit of trouble with a military officer and finds himself in a bind. Luckily, it is at this time that Matthew gets a case from his new patron, Catherine Parr, and he desperately needs Barak’s help. The case involves a ward named Hugh Curtey and his estates possibly being mismanaged by his protector Sir Nicholas Hobbey. Matthew takes this case and decides that while he is in the area, he will explore the mysterious back story of a woman who he befriended while working at Bedlam a few years ago, Ellen Fettiplace.

These two cases seem like they could not be more different, however, they push Shardlake and Barak on a collision course with Shardlake’s arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich. I did not like Richard Rich in the previous novels, but the way Sansom portrayed him in this one made my skin crawl and now I loath him. His actions and the actions of others involved in both cases lead to Shardlake and Barak becoming mixed in the middle of the battle between the French and the English. The way that Sansom times the cases to coincide with the sinking of The Mary Rose is nothing short of brilliant.

If I did have a concern about this novel, I would say that the pacing in the middle was a bit slower than what I was anticipating. That is not to say that it distracted me, but it kept me guessing what Sansom had in store for Shardlake and Barak. I have become attached to these characters and every time they are put in mortal danger, I hope that they do not die.
Sansom can blend the two cases with military movements and the French invasion to heighten the danger and intrigue. Just when I think Sansom cannot do anything to love his bold and daring characters, he writes this novel. I am excited to see what kind of dangerous mission Shardlake and Barak will take on next, but I know that it means that I will have to say goodbye to these characters sooner, and I am not ready to be done with the Shardlake mysteries and these wonderful characters just yet. If you are like me and are addicted to the Shardlake mysteries, you need to read, “Heartstone” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom

28280675._SY475_The year 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII was a turbulent time. Henry’s new wife, Anne of Cleves, is not exactly the person who he imagined and his eye is starting to wander to a new woman, Katherine Howard. The reformers are starting to lose favor with the king as they and Catholics alike are being executed for treason. This is the London that Matthew Shardlake, our favorite hunchback lawyer turned detective, calls home. He thinks that he has retired from his detective work and serving Thomas Cromwell, but he is sadly mistaken. His next adventure has twice the number of cases and just as much danger that makes his trip to the monastery in “Dissolution” look easy. In the second book of the Shardlake series, “Dark Fire”, C.J. Sansom turns up the heat, the action, and the danger.

We join Matthew Shardlake during a busy season in his life as a lawyer. He is working on maintaining his legal practice, and his next case is a doozy. A young girl named Elizabeth is accused of murdering her cousin and it is up to Shardlake to defend her, even when everyone believes she is guilty of the crime. Just as he is adjusting to this new case, he gets a call from his favorite person who he thought he was done dealing with for a while, Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell has a new case for Shardlake, to recover the lost formula for the mysterious Greek Fire, also known as Dark Fire. Cromwell knew that Shardlake would need some help with this new case, so he sends a new partner, the daring and resourceful Jack Barak. The only clue they have is someone from the Court of Augmentations found the formula in a dissolved monastery’s library, but when the person who had it and his alchemist brother are found brutally murdered, things get extremely complicated. Two separate cases that share the same deadline and the same amount of danger if Shardlake and Barak should fail to solve them. Can they solve both cases in time?

When I read the description of this book, my first impression was that C.J. Sansom was trying to cover too much in a book. I thought that there was no way that Shardlake could solve both cases in the time frame that he was given and that Sansom would focus on one case over the other. I was proven wrong as this book was beautifully balanced between the two cases while keeping the reader’s attention throughout the entire book.

Sansom made the Tudor London world come to life in this brilliant sequel. I thought the way he showed the struggle for power between those who had it and those who wanted it was masterfully done. He included some of my favorite characters from “Dissolution” in this book, which made me extremely excited and I believe that Shardlake’s new partner Barak was a stroke of genius. Their interactions were some of my favorites in this entire book and I cannot wait to see how he develops Shardlake and Barak’s partnership throughout the rest of the series.

I enjoyed this book immensely. It kept me guessing with both cases until the bitter end. There were so many twists and turns, revelations, and intrigue. There were some places where I think the pacing was a bit slower than the first book, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of this remarkable sequel. I did not want it to end because it would mean that I would have to leave this dynamic world with intriguing characters, until the next book. It was a sheer joy to dive back into Shardlake’s Tudor world and I honestly cannot wait to jump back into another Shardlake mystery. The first book made me fall in love with Shardlake, but this one made me fall in love with his Tudor world and the people around him. If you have read “Dissolution”, “Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom is a must-read.

Book Review: “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom

28093757._SY475_The Tudor dynasty marked tons of changes in society and religious norms. In 1537, the changes are in full force. Anne Boleyn was executed a year earlier and Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour recently passed away after giving birth to Edward VI. Religious reformers are clashing with the Catholic Church after Henry VIII has declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Henry VIII’s reign marked the changing point in societal and religious norms, none more so than the dissolution of the monasteries. As monasteries and monks alike adjust to the new ways of life, the monastery at Scarnsea buzzes with activity and murder. Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, sends an unlikely man to investigate the situation; the hunchback reformer lawyer, Matthew Shardlake. This is the world that C.J. Sansom has chosen to create in the first book of his Tudor mystery series, aptly named, “Dissolution”.

I will be honest. It has been a very long time since I have read a murder mystery book. I know the general format because my mom is a huge Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote fan, but I have never really been that interested in reading this genre myself. A lot of people have recommended that I should read the Shardlake series, but no one has spoiled the series, which I am thankful for as it made reading this book extremely enjoyable.

We are introduced to our protagonist, Matthew Shardlake, as he receives a new mission from his boss, Thomas Cromwell. The commissioner that Cromwell has sent to investigate the monastery of St. Donatus at the seaside town of Scarnsea, Robin Singleton, has been found murdered. It is up to Matthew and his assistant, Mark Poer, to find out the truth to why he was murdered and which one of the monks killed him. However, things are much darker and sinister at this monastery than Matthew could ever imagine and it will test everything he believes in.

I did not know what to expect before I started reading this book, but I am so glad I decided to read it. It is simply a masterpiece of intrigue and drama. It has been a while since I have been blown away by such a vivid and dark portrayal of the Tudor world that is away from the glamorous and glittering court life that we all expect from Tudor novels. The characters are raw and real; they are not cookie-cutter characters. They show that the struggle between reform and sticking with the Catholic Church was never straight forward. The details in this book are exquisite as they are compelling. Just when you think you know who did it, Sansom throws another twist that will leave you guessing until the bitter end.

I did not want this book to end because I became so attached to the characters, which is largely due to the way Sansom wrote this first novel of the Shardlake series. It’s different from any other Tudor novel that I have ever read and I want to read the rest of the series now. I understand why people wanted me to read this book and this series. I loved reading this book. If you want a thrilling Tudor mystery to read, I highly recommend you read, “Dissolution” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “The Beaufort Bride: Book One of The Beaufort Chronicle” by Judith Arnopp

49151069._SY475_A weak king caught in the middle of court drama, each side fighting for the control of the crown and the right to have their opinions heard. England is on the brink of civil war with a young heiress struggling to find where she belongs and to survive. The young heiress is Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor (the future of Henry VII) and a survivor of the Wars of the Roses. Her story has been told in many different ways, but the story of her early years has rarely been told, until now. Judith Arnopp has decided to tell Margaret’s story from her perspective in her novel, “The Beaufort Bride: Book One of The Beaufort Chronicle”.

Margaret is one of my favorite people from the Wars of the Roses to study. I have read a few biographies about Margaret Beaufort and a few historical fiction novels that feature her as a minor character. However, I have never read a historical fiction series about her before, so this one caught my eye. This was the first book that I have read written by Judith Arnopp and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arnopp begins her novel with Margaret finding out that her father committed suicide and that she is a wealthy heiress at a young age. She is living with her mother and her step-siblings. It is interesting to see the family interactions because Margaret’s step-siblings are rarely mentioned. To make sure Margaret is taken care of, her mother puts her on the marriage market at a very young age, which was not that unusual during this time. Margaret’s first husband was John de la Pole, a debatable issue that many historians view as merely an engagement and not a marriage, but it was quickly annulled when John’s father was declared a traitor and was massacred on a ship trying to escape England. I enjoyed seeing Margaret and John interacting with one another. They act more like friends than husband and wife, which makes you wonder what it might if they stayed married.

The bulk of this novel revolves around Margaret’s relationship with her second husband, Edmund Tudor, the step-brother of King Henry VI and a man who was twice her age. It is a relationship that we don’t know much about, but Arnopp shows how gradual and loving it might have been. Although Margaret was not thrilled with the arrangement at first, she did being to develop feelings for her new husband. It was during this time that Margaret finds her inner strength and she becomes pregnant with her only child, a son. Life, unfortunately, takes a turn for the worse for Margaret when Edmund tragically dies and she must face an excruciating labor experience to bring Henry into the world two months later. Margaret’s trauma during Henry’s birth means that she could never have any more children, making Henry the most precious person in her life.

I loved this novel. I honestly could not stop reading it. Arnopp makes Margaret’s early life so believable and heartbreaking. I love Margaret even more after reading this novel and I cannot wait to read the rest of this series. If you want a marvelous novel about Margaret Beaufort’s early life, I highly recommend you read, “The Beaufort Bride: Book One of The Beaufort Chronicle” by Judith Arnopp.

Book Review: “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir

44034429._SY475_A foreign princess who travels to England to marry the king to establish a strong political alliance. To those who study history, this is a story that has been told numerous times, but what makes this particular story unique is the people involved. The bridegroom was the recently-widowed Henry VIII, the shadow of his former self and notorious throughout Europe for having his second wife Anne Boleyn executed. His new bride to be is the German princess Anna of Kleve. To say that they did not see eye to eye would be an understatement as the marriage did not last long. Her story is often swept under the rug. Anna is often viewed as the “lucky” wife of Henry VIII, but was she? What was Anna’s story and what was her marriage with Henry really like? Alison Weir has taken up the challenge to give her readers a taste of what Anna’s life might have been like in this novel, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets”.

As many of you know, I am a big fan of Alison Weir and I have enjoyed the “Six Tudor Queens” series thus far, so I knew that I wanted to read this one. Anna of Cleves is one of my favorite wives of Henry VIII, yet I have never read a historical fiction novel on her, so I found this concept of this book intriguing.

Weir begins her book with Anna’s life in her native Germany and her relationship with her family. To see her interacting with her parents and her siblings was delightful and so relatable. We even saw them arguing about Catholicism versus Protestantism, which was the hot topic of the time. Anna is informed that she was to marry King Henry VIII of England, who has been married three previous times. Weir takes the time to show Anna’s journey from Germany to England and how she transitioned into her new life in a new country. Her relationship with Henry is more of a close friendship than that of a husband and wife, which is very loving, caring, and believable. I enjoyed her relationships with Henry’s other wives, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr since there is no animosity between them. Anna’s relationships with Henry’s children are very nurturing, especially towards Mary Tudor, who is more of a best friend relationship rather than a step-mother, step-daughter relationship.

Weir’s focus in this book is truly the relationships of those closest to Anna, but there are a few, in particular, that stands out; Anna’s relationships with her lover and their son. I will say that before I read this book, I knew about this storyline and I was upset about it. However, when I started to read this book, I enjoyed it. Of course, I know it is a fictional storyline, but I have always felt bad for Anna that she never married again after she divorced Henry. She was still in the prime of her life which makes you question if she ever loved anyone. As a work of fiction, I found this storyline compelling, even if it is not for everyone. It added a different element to Anna’s story.

Overall, I found this novel enjoyable and very well written. I truly felt sympathy for Anna with every trial she faced. Since this is a historical fiction novel, some of it should not be taken as factual, but what Weir does extremely well is she created a relatable and loving heroine in Anna. If you want an engaging Tudor historical fiction novel to read, I would recommend you read, “Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets” by Alison Weir.

New Book: “Mistress Whiddon- The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh” by Joanne McShane

9781913425050Young Nora Basset has no memory of her father, John, as he died when she was very young. Her first years are spent at Umberleigh in Devon with her family. When she is three years old, she meets her grandmother, Honora Lisle, who has returned from imprisonment in Calais and has been tragically widowed. Nora and her grandmother form a close bond, as the child unwittingly assists the older woman to come to terms with her loss. The following year, Nora’s mother, Frances Plantagenet, remarries. Her new husband is Thomas Monk of Potheridge and the family leaves Umberleigh to begin their new life.

Nora spends a mostly happy childhood at Potheridge until she is called away at the age of eighteen to become a companion for her grandmother who has once again been visited by sadness. The bond between the two women becomes stronger than ever.

When she is twenty-seven Nora meets William Whiddon, the love of her life. They marry and the next years are blissful ones for the two soulmates.v When tragedy strikes, Nora must find a way to move forward in her life. The story is set against the backdrop of life in Elizabethan England and the continuing saga of the Basset family.

About the AuthorIMG_4652

Joanne spent her childhood on a sheep and cattle farm in Tasmania, Australia. After marrying and raising a family in Tasmania she moved to Wales in 2003 and still lives there, close to the Herefordshire border. Always a keen historian, she became fascinated by her own family history and by the lives of her ancestors – some of whom she discovered to be very colorful indeed. This led her to begin writing.

“Mistress Whiddon- The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh” is Joanne McShane’s second book and is the sequel to her first novel, “Honora and Arthur – The Last Plantagenets”.

If you are interested in purchasing “Mistress Whiddon- The Memoirs of Nora Basset of Umberleigh”, you can follow this link: https://www.youcaxton.co.uk/mistress-whiddon/

 

Book Review: “The Most Happy” by Holly-Eloise Walters

71957495_567591223787906_5646049859975774208_nThe story of Anne Boleyn is one of love, triumph, and tragedy. Her tale has been told in many different ways in the several centuries since her execution by many different people. Except by Anne Boleyn herself. We never truly understood what it might have felt like when she went to court for the first time, what it must have felt like to have fallen in love with King Henry VIII. How she might have felt when she had her daughter and experienced her numerous miscarriages. The devastation she must have felt when she found out about Henry’s abusive side, his mistresses, and her ultimate demise. That is until now.  In Holly-Eloise Walters’ debut novel, “The Most Happy”, Anne Boleyn tells her personal story, giving the readers a better understanding of the legend.

I would like to thank Holly- Eloise Walters for sending me a copy of her book to read and review. It can be nerve-wracking when you give someone your debut book to read and I am glad I got a chance to read it.

Normally with historical novels, we are introduced to the protagonist by being in their childhood home. That is not the direction that Walters takes as we are introduced to Anne Boleyn as she is in her lowest point, in the Tower waiting to be executed. She is alone, wishing that she could be saved, but knowing that she was going to die. Anne is firm in her love for Henry, even after all they have been through, but her one desire is to see her daughter Elizabeth “Lizzie” in this novel, again. It is in her darkest hour that she chooses to reflect on her life, which is the bulk of this book. 

What Walters does extremely well is focused on the relationships that were central in Anne’s life. Obviously, the biggest relationship was the relationship between Anne and her husband King Henry VIII. To say that their relationship was complicated would be an understatement. They started off falling madly in love with one another, not caring who they hurt as long as they were together, but then it dissolved into a rather abusive relationship. Walters also touches on the relationships between Anne and her family. While I agree with how Anne’s relationships with her siblings George and Mary, I do not necessarily agree with how Walters portrays Anne’s relationship with her parents, but that is just a personal comment. This portrayal of Anne’s life is very raw and real, focusing on emotions and relationships.

The one real concern that I had when I was reading this particular novel was the lack of details about the locations and physical descriptions of the people, which can be a difficult thing to do. It was a tad difficult to visualize the people and the locations, but I believe that as Walters grows as an author, she will get better with her descriptions. 

Overall, I think this was a very good debut novel. Walters obviously cares about telling Anne’s story through her eyes. It is a bit raw and rough around the edges, but where it shines is the portrayal of the relationships between Anne and those who were around her and were important in her life. You really feel sympathy for Anne Boleyn and heartache for her through Walters’ easy to follow writing style. This may be Walters’ first novel, but I do see potential in her writing. If you would like a new novel about Anne Boleyn from her perspective, I would recommend you read, “The Most Happy” by Holly-Eloise Walters.

Book Review: “Katherine – Tudor Duchess” by Tony Riches

Katherine - Tudor DuchessWhen one thinks about women reformers during the time of the Tudors, certain women like Catherine Parr and Anne Aske come to mind. However, there was one who really should get more attention and her name is Katherine Willoughby. She was the last wife of Charles Brandon. Her mother was Maria de Salinas, a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon and a devout Catholic. Katherine knew all six of Henry VIII’s wives on a personal level and knew all of his children. She has often been seen as an afterthought; someone you associate with other people, but never a stand out herself. That is until now. Katherine Willoughby finally gets her time to shine in Tony Riches’ latest historical fiction novel and his conclusion to his Tudor trilogy, “Katherine-Tudor Duchess”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of this charming novel. This is the third novel that I have read by Tony Riches and I enjoyed it immensely.

We are introduced to Katherine Willoughby as a young woman who is about to embark on a journey to her new home with Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor as their ward after her father passes away. At the same time, Henry VIII is wanting to remove his first wife Catherine of Aragon for his second wife Anne Boleyn. Since Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas was very loyal to Catherine of Aragon as one of her ladies in waiting, it is interesting to see Katherine’s view of the situation. Katherine is quite comfortable in Brandon’s household, but when Mary Tudor tragically dies, Katherine’s life is turned upside down when Charles Brandon decides to marry her and she becomes the new Duchess of Suffolk.

As the new Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine had a front-row seat to the dramas of King Henry VIII’s court and his numerous marriages. Along the way, Katherine falls in love with Charles and they become parents to two strapping and intelligent boys. Katherine and Charles are granted the great honor of welcoming Henry’s 4th wife Anna of Cleves to England and they also experienced the short reigns of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. It was not until Charles Brandon’s death and the rise of Catherine Parr as queen that Katherine Willoughby sees her true potential, as a woman who wants to promote religious reforms. 

Katherine experienced hardships and the tragic deaths of her two sons mere hours apart due to the sweating sickness. She did marry again after Charles’ death to a man that she did love, like Catherine Parr, and was able to have more children, a son, and a daughter. During the reigns of King Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey, Katherine and her family were able to practice their Protestant faith in peace. Things took a turn for the worse when Mary was crowned queen and Katherine had to take drastic measures to protect her family while standing up for what she believed was right.

Tony Riches has written another fabulous novel of a vivacious woman who fought to spread Protestantism in England. Through twists and turns, Katherine Willoughby was able to protect her family and survive during such a tumultuous time. Her story gives great insight into what it meant to be someone close to the Tudors. This is a binge-worthy book. If you are a fan of Tony Riches’ novels and want a wonderful book about Katherine Willoughby, I highly suggest you read Tony Riches’ latest novel, “Katherine- Tudor Duchess”. 

 

New Book: Katherine – Tudor Duchess by Tony Riches

New from Tony Riches, Author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy

Available in eBook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US

(Audiobook edition coming in 2020)

 

Katherine - Tudor Duchess.jpgAttractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward.

When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them all when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn. 


Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon and becomes the Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. After the short reign of young Catherine Howard, and the death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England.
 

When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, and become his friends, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger – from which there seems no escape.

 
Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

 

Tony Riches AuthorAuthor Bio
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess and Brandon – Tudor Knight. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches