Category Archives: Recommended Read

Book Review – ‘Cavalier Queen’ by Fiona Mountain

Cavalier Queen by Fiona MountainMy Recommended Read for November is ‘Cavalier Queen’. It is the first book I have read by Fiona Mountain – but it won’t be the last!

The English Civil War is a fascinating period of history, but the focus is usually on King Charles, or Oliver Cromwell, or Parliament. This book has a different perspective, focusing on Queen Henrietta Maria, her arranged marriage to the king, and her support for him during the war. I previously had only a superficial knowledge of Henrietta Maria’s life and loves, but this book has brought her to life for me. She was a multi-faceted woman, strong and supportive, deeply religious, loving and caring.

Through her story of the queen’s life Ms. Mountain gives a good description of the reasons for the war, and Henrietta’s constant struggle to raise money and arms for the king. The raising of the Queen’s Army in the north, and its journey south to meet up with the king, is fascinating. The description of Charles’ Headquarters in Oxford is also very interesting, as is the link to France with its own political turmoil at the time.

‘Cavalier Queen’ is an incredibly well-researched novel. The care for historical detail is superb with cameos of the queen’s life, (for example meeting the daughter of Shakespeare) bringing the whole period to life. One of the key players in the queen’s household was Henry Jermyn, someone whom I knew little about but who is a key character in English history, and who also played a key role in moulding Henrietta Maria into the person she was to become. I found learning about his life just as fascinating as the life of Henrietta Maria herself. (Please remember here, though, that the book is historical fiction. Although there is plenty of primary evidence for the role that Jermyn played politically at the court of King Charles, we cannot know the details of his personal relationship with the queen.).

Ms. Mountain is a skilled writer. Her characters are sympathetically drawn and believable, her dialogue realistic. The descriptions of palaces are vivid, and one feels the discomfort of those who suffered through some terrible sea crossings. ‘Cavalier Queen’ is enjoyable on so many levels – history, romance, love and duty. This is a book you can immerse yourself in; and one which, I believe, you will find difficult to put down.

Fiona Mountain’s website

Cavalier Queen can be found on Amazon

You can find more of my Book Reviews here

 

Book Review – ‘Angels At War’ by Freda Lightfoot

Angels At War ‘Angels At War’ tells the story of the Angel sisters in the turbulent years of 1910 to 1918. I had anticipated that this book would be a light read yet, although the writing is not overly heavy or verbose, this is not a simple historical romance of girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl finds boy again. Those elements are a part of this novel, but it goes on to be much, much more.

The Angels are sisters (their story begins in ‘House Of Angels’ although ‘Angles at War’ can be read as a stand-alone novel). The characters are well drawn and have depth; all with their good points and their bad, their strengths and weaknesses. The plot is intriguing and moves at a good pace, encouraging you to turn the page and keep reading.

What I was not expecting from this novel was such a masterly handling of the social and political history of the time, which Ms Lightfoot tells through the narrative without the reader ever feeling that they are being lectured to. The description of a turn of the century department store is intriguing, and its modernisation during the novel fascinating. Reading what happened to the suffragettes during their fight for emancipation is enlightening and humbling – the marches and arrests, the prisons and force-feeding are cleverly woven into the story. The description of the work of the VAD’s in hospitals, both in England and on the front line in France, is gripping.

This book seems to have everything, from the excitement of war to everyday domestic life, from male domination to female emancipation, from jealousy to love. Livia is a strong central character whose choices in life are often not the right ones, leading to unhappiness for herself and others. But her choices are always made for the right reasons, in an effort to help those she loves and, as such, she is an endearing character. I think many readers will recognise a lot of themselves in Livia, or one of her sisters.

This book, for me, was a pleasant surprise, which is something I always like. If you are interested in the past but don’t like a heavy history book – or a novel that reads like one – you will find ‘Angels At War’ informative and enlightening, yet entertaining and easy to read. I will certainly be buying more books by Ms Lightfoot.

Freda Lightfoot’s website

‘Angels at War’ can be found on Amazon

For other books I have enjoyed please visit my ‘Book Review’ page

Book Review – ‘To Defy A King’ by Elizabeth Chadwick

To Defy A King

This year we are celebrating 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta. Why did the barons come together to write the charter, and force King John to sign it? Why did the king renege on his promises? 1215 was a turbulent time in English history and in her novel, ‘To Defy A King’, Elizabeth Chadwick brings this period to life. Set in England from 1204 to 1218 the story immerses us in England’s conflicts with France, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Roman Church. Following the characters we are able to see how these conflicts influenced the actions of both the barons and King John.

 

The novel begins with Mahelt, daughter of William Marshal (Earl of Pembroke), becoming betrothed to Hugh Bigod (future Earl of Norfolk). The marriages of children of important families in medieval England were arranged for political expediency, not for love. However, Mahelt and Hugh grow to love each other as they struggle to cope with an endlessly changing array of family and political alliances. The Marshal and Bigod families find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict surrounding King John, with Hugh’s family helping to formulate the Magna Carta in the hope of limiting John’s power whilst the Marshals stay faithful to their oath to the King, no matter how much they disagree with him. When John breaks his promises there is turmoil and conflict in England, including a French invasion. Throughout it all Mahelt and Hugh have to tread a knife-edge to protect their family and lands. Only with the death of the King is Mahelt able to re-unite her birth family and marriage family, and look to the future with hope.

As always, the historical research conducted by Elizabeth Chadwick in writing this novel has been immense. We know from history that these people existed. We know where they were at certain times and what their political persuasions were, who they fought for, who they loved. What Ms. Chadwick has done, with great skill, is to bring these people to life. One can only speculate on personal relationships so long ago (although there are hints in some of the historical documents Chadwick has used for her research), but it is this rich development of character which brings the novel to life. If you have no knowledge of medieval history when you pick up the book, by the end of it you will have some understanding of what it would have been like to live in King John’s kingdom – food, clothing, living conditions, family duty, loyalty, political and religious beliefs – for this is a book which immerses you in all aspects of medieval life.

Elizabeth Chadwick has a flair for descriptive writing with pace and believable dialogue. Couple this with well-rounded characters, an historically accurate story and a remarkable depth of research, and you have a book which will keep you hooked from start to finish. If you enjoy historical fiction Elizabeth Chadwick will become one of your favourite authors – if she is not already!

(Elizabeth Chadwick has written a number of novels set in this era featuring the Marshal and Bigod families. You can find the chronological order here on Ms Chadwick’s website. I decided to recommend ‘To Defy A King’ because of its link to the Magna Carta although it is not the first in the series)

‘To Defy A King’ can be found on Amazon.