Summary: Clementine Churchill was the wife of statesman, Winston Churchill. Growing up in a lower class of the aristocracy she was not sure where her life would go until she met Winston. With the marriage brought advancement but also many challenges. Alongside him during two world wars she helped strengthen his political career as well as using her status to help the English people.
My Thoughts: When I was younger I read a lot about World War II but I never remember reading anything or even knowing about Clementine Churchill. And I knew as soon as I saw that Marie Benedict was writing a book about her that I needed to read it. Benedict does a great job of finding women in history that have been forgotten or overshadowed by their male counterparts and bringing them back to the spotlight of the general public.
I loved seeing how much Clementine did for Winston. He may never have reached the heights of Prime Minister without her help and support. And much like the Queen Mother during the Second World War, she helped the people of London during the Blitz and visited the people most affected by the bombings. She sounds like a very strong woman who cared about her family and the English people but has been forgotten. Glad that now she can be known by more through this story.
FYI: Read Marie Benedict’s other works to learn more about women like Clementine and their accomplisments.
First line: When Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon was born in the summer of 1900, Queen Victoria was the British monarch.
Summary: Known to many as the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon used her wit and charm to survive the both world wars, the loss of her husband and the years of change during her daughter’s long reign. Rather than the standard biography this is told through 101 little stories, memories and anecdotes from the decades of her long life.
My Thoughts: I found this book very enjoyable and different from any other biography I have read. It was written in such a unique way that I found myself saying just one more section, one more section…
So much is written about Elizabeth II but not as much about her formidable mother. She lived through tough times and was pushed into the role of queen by the abdication of her brother-in-law, Edward VIII. But even with this huge change in her life she took it on with dignity and strength. Even Hitler considered her to be the most dangerous woman in Europe. She kept her husband and her country steadfast during the long years of the Second World War.
However, after the war and the death of her husband she continued her years of service to the crown and her daughter, the Queen. My favorite parts were hearing about her personality. She smiled, teased and enjoyed a smart joke with the people around her regardless of their status. It seems that until the very end she took care of those around her and kept on smiling through all the tough times.
Summary: Elizabeth of York is the oldest child of King Edward IV of England. She has grown up during a time of battles between the houses of Lancaster and York. Her life has been spent in palaces but also in sanctuary. However, after the death of her father she is thrown into an even more treacherous world. Her uncle Richard takes the crown from her younger brother who should be King Edward V. With her brothers’ disappearance and her uncle as king she must live in limbo as the heir to the throne or a pawn that can be used. But has her savior come in the form of the Lancastrian claimant, Henry Tudor? Can she unite the two houses and bring peace to England?
My Thoughts: Elizabeth of York is an interesting woman. She lived through so much and made history but lived for such a short time. She was only 37 when she died. I had the privilege of visiting her grave this spring while at Westminster Abbey. It is a beautiful tomb next to her husband, Henry VII.
Weir does a wonderful job bringing the life and politics of the Wars of the Roses to life. The tension can be felt during the Elizabeth’s time in sanctuary or living through the years of her uncle Richard’s reign. Having to navigate the different factions, choose a side and make sure to stay alive throughout the regime changes must have been hard on everyone at the time.
I did learn a bit more about the lives of Elizabeth’s sisters during this story. They were used to make alliances with English nobles and suffered many losses in their lives. I would love to see more done about their lesser known stories.
The part I found most interesting was Elizabeth and her relationship with her son Arthur. I don’t know if there is any evidence behind Weir’s storyline but it makes me wonder. It is a struggle she has to deal with until her death. Did she love him enough? And why did she feel different towards him than she did to her other children?
Even though I did enjoy this book I found that it was a little long. Some parts seemed to drag on in the middle. I felt like it was a slower version of Philippa Gregory’s novel, The White Princess.
FYI: This is the beginning of a trilogy by Alison Weir. The next book will follow Elizabeth’s son, Henry VIII.
First line: It was June of 1935 that I came home from my ranch in South America for a stay of about six months.
Summary: Alice Asher is found murdered in Andover with a copy of the ABC Railway Guide near her body. Next comes Betty Bernard in Bexhill. As the murders progress the famed detective, Hercule Poirot, is being taunted by the killer. Why can’t Poirot figure out who is killing these people even when he has fair warning? How many letters in the alphabet before Poirot finds his killer?
My Thoughts: I’ve been on an Agatha Christie kick lately. I was hoping to read them in order but I decided that when taking a trip with my mom to Kansas City we should listen to one of Christie’s best known stories during the drive. We both have really enjoyed the other Poirot stories and this one was no different.
As the story went along Christie kept giving us peeks into the murderer’s whereabouts. Or did she? She is the master of crime novels because as a reader you never know what is real or what is a distraction from the truth. It is masterfully done. I never once considered who the killer was until it was revealed at the end.
Plus the writing is fun. I love when Poirot talks about “the little grey cells”. If you have not picked up an Agatha Christie novel then I would highly recommend you did. Especially her Hercule Poirot series. They are always entertaining. And then watch the movies based on the novels, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Beautifully done!
FYI: Perfect reads for anyone who likes a good story and one that has stood the tests of time.
First line: By the time Edwin Rist stepped off the train onto the platform at Tring, forty miles north of London, it was already quite late.
Summary: In 2009, a young American student broke into the Tring Museum and stole hundreds of bird skins and feathers. The museum was known for housing thousands of specimens gathered by scientists in the nineteenth century. Why did he decide to steal birds? Well, he was a part of an exclusive group of artists, he was a fly-tier. For nearly two years the young man had gotten away with the crime.
While fly-fishing in New Mexico, Kirk Johnson heard about this wild heist. He became intrigued by the case and how the culprit was caught and prosecuted. Kirk had to know the answers. He began asking questions of other fly-tiers. He tried to interview witnesses, friends and even the thief. As he got answers he kept coming back to one question. What happened to the missing skins?
My Thoughts: Dawn and her book club, The Bemused Bibliophiles, read this book several years ago. She recommended it to me and even encouraged me to buy it for my father as a Christmas gift, which I did. He loved it and passed it along to my uncle who is a fly-tier and an avid fly fisher.
Finally this year I decided it was time to pick this up myself. I found it absolutely fascinating. I finished the book in 2 days. I had no idea the level of passion that fly-tiers had for the different feathers that are used in tying. People pay loads of money for feathers but many do not even use the flies for fishing. It just blew me away learning all this!
I liked that the book took me through the history of how the birds came to the museum, about the man who discovered them and why these species have become so rare. It is terribly sad to learn how humans have hunted these birds to extinction in the name of fashion and art. I did have to do a lot of Googling to see what these birds looked like. I would highly recommend doing this while reading Johnson’s book. The different species are stunning. I would have loved to see these birds in real life.
Even for someone who hates fishing (aka me) I found this book to be interesting. It is a very quick read with lots of information and shocking facts.
FYI: Perfect for that fisherman in your family or anyone who loves a good true crime.
First line: When Samuel Johnson published his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, more than two hundred years after Holbein’s death, he understood a biographer to be ‘A writer of lives; a relator not of the history of nations, but of the actions of particular persons.’
Summary: Hans Holbein was the court painter to Henry VIII of England. But even though he achieved stardom at the English court he started as the son of painter in Augsburg, Germany. He learned his trade from his father and worked his way up the social ladder with introductions for well-known clients until he reached the height of his career. Using his talent, he brought the world the best known portraits of the Tudor court including the king himself, his courtiers and several of his wives.
My Thoughts: I have loved Holbein’s work ever since I became interested in the Tudor period. His art is beyond his time. He brings life to his subjects making them almost appear in 3D. Many of his works survive and there are probably some still to be discovered. The few that I have seen are outstanding in their detail.
I really enjoyed this look into Holbein’s life. Before reading this I basically knew his name and his works. I learned a lot about the time period in which he lived, his rise through friendships with Erasmus and Thomas More, and the lives of painters in the sixteenth century. I always assumed that someone who worked for the court was well off but many painters struggled to make enough for their families. There are many rules surrounding the painters’ world including inclusions in guilds and requirements of marriage. I found this to be a great insight into another world inside the one I already knew from my years of reading Tudor history.
Moyle’s biography can be fairly dense with information but I found it easy to read. She follows a linear storytelling while she explains the culture and religious tensions of the time and how they affected the young painter.
The book includes color prints of some of his father’s works (Hans Holbein the Elder), early religious works (Hans Holbein the younger), and his portraits from the royal courts.
First line: In 1558, when John Knox, the radical Scottish religious reformer, published his misogynist tract, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, he called attention to what was strangely true in the middle of the sixteenth century in Europe: a remarkable number of women had ascended to supreme governmental power.
Summary: During the sixteenth century four women ruled over some of the most powerful countries in the world; Mary I and Elizabeth I in England, Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine de Medici in France. In this book the author looks how they interacted and changed the countries they ruled over.
My Thoughts: I love the history of the sixteenth century. I have read much on Elizabeth I but a lot less on the other three women. It was interesting to hear how they communicated, worked together and supported each other. Even though the ends of the two Marys was tragic they made their marks on history. I really want to know more about Catherine de Medici. She is someone who seems to be misrepresented in many historical fiction and movies.
FYI: Good introduction to each woman and how they came to be in their positions.
Summary: 2017: Tallulah Murray, a nineteen year old mother, goes out with her boyfriend to the neighborhood pub for dinner. The next morning her mother, Kim, finds that neither one of them have come home. Kim knows that Tallulah would never abandon her baby son. As she talks with Tallulah’s friends she find out that they were last seen at a party at Dark Place, a manor house outside the small village.
2018: Sophie Beck has just moved into a little cottage on the grounds of a private boarding school. Her partner is the new head teacher while Sophie is a mystery novelist. As Sophie explores her new home she finds a sign in their garden with the words, “DIG HERE”, written on it. As she digs she uncovers a missing link in the mystery of the disappearance of Tallulah Murray.
My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book from the beginning until the end. Normally the time jumps can be confusing but since each time had a different narrator that made it easier to follow. The end was excellent. I was on the edge of my seat, trying to finish it as fast as I could. And of course, that’s when my dog decided he needed to go outside!
I liked the characters of Tallulah and her mother Kim. Sophie felt like more of a filler character to help solve the mystery. She was the like her characters in her book which the comparison is drawn in the books as well. Her part felt more cozy. But I think Jewell did a great job of bringing Kim’s pain and Tallulah’s struggles out. They were relatable and I could sympathize with them as their lives changed through the story. After Jewell’s last book I was hoping that this one would be much more entertaining. Thank goodness it was!
FYI: Audio book was read by Joanne Froggat (Anna Bates from Downton Abbey).
Summary: No surprise given the title, this is a love story. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s a story about love. The book follows the lives of three women, Aoife, Rosaleen, and Kate. Their stories span decades and take us from Ireland to England, back and forth in time and place. We see how their lives are linked and how the choices they make have consequences inherited by the next generation. Pages are devoted to showing the daily, tender scenes of mother-daughter bonds. But we also see how these women make seemingly small decisions to keep the peace with their husbands and lose their daughters as a result, suffering in silence. Or in another case, how women unwittingly lose their daughters, pushed by impossible situations and lacking options. Although it can be a tearful read, there is enough redemption in the final pages that you don’t feel you or the characters suffered in vain.
My thoughts: I’ve read a lot of reviews that describe this book as quiet and tender, which it is. Although a lot happens, it is not dramatic. Freud does such a good job of writing it the way real life feels—how we don’t know we’re making a decision that will change the course of our lives and the lives of the ones we love; we’re just doing what seems best in the moment. I like books that feel true to life such as this one, and I was also attracted to it because of its setting in Ireland. There’s just something about that place. My mother was raised in a large, Irish-Catholic family and experienced something similar to one of the women in this book. It isn’t something we speak about, so it was a way for me to try and understand what led her to make the choices she did and imagine how she felt.
First line: Katharine was five when death cast its black shadow over her life.
Summary: Katharine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII of England, grew up as a simple country gentry but she made several advantageous marriages. However, each husband died early leaving her a widow and childless. Then when she meets the handsome brother to the late queen, Jane Seymour, she believes she has found the love of her life.
But fate has different plans. Katharine catches the eye of the King of England. With the hopes of swaying the king towards the new faith, Katharine accepts his proposal. With her marriage comes the enmity of the Catholic faction at court. Bishop Gardiner and his men are determined to bring down Henry’s new queen.
My Thoughts: I liked this book. I liked how we got a look into Katharine’s early life. Many of the books about her center around her time as queen and afterwards but very little on her first two marriages. I enjoyed learning a little more about her time before the throne and how she became a strong proponent of the new religion, Protestantism.
Katharine is one of my least favorite queens. Her story is not very exciting and centers around religion a lot. She did much for the reformists in the court and even became the first woman to publish a book under her own name in English. It is quite an achievement. Alison Weir did a great job giving all the queens in her series a new life and bringing more of their stories to readers. I will be anticipating her next collection of books.
FYI: This is book six in the Six Tudor Queens series.