Sunday, April 25, 2010

Innocent Traitor A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir

"Innocent Traitor," the first novel by popular historian Alison Weir, tells the story of England's "Nine Days Queen" Lady Jane Grey.

The novel does a wonderful job of making history and its players come alive. The pageantry and intrigue of Tudor England are all there in vibrant display.

A pretty and precocious little girl, gifted with brilliant scholarly intellect, Lady Jane is the niece of Henry VIII, and the product of ambitious and abusive parents who expect nothing short of perfection from her and brutally punish even the most minor mistakes, real or imagined.

At sixteen, in a plot to prevent the obsessively devout Mary Tudor or the strong-willed Elizabeth from inheriting the throne after the death of their brother, Edward VI, Jane's ambitious parents join forces with the ruthless and even more ambitious Duke of Northumberland and hatch a plan to put Jane on the throne as the homegrown Protestant queen, for Jane, though just a young girl, is a pig-headed Protestant, as stubborn and obstinate about her religion being the only right one as Mary Tudor is about Catholicism being the one "true" faith. Since many of the nobles have profited by the dissolution of the monasteries and converted to Protestantism for reasons of faith or profit, few relish a return to the Catholic fold.

To tighten his control and ensure his position as the power behind the throne, Northumberland schemes to marry Jane to his bad apple, spoiled rotten son Guildford Dudley. But poor Jane finds no happiness in marriage to this cruel, whining mama's boy. The consummation of her marriage would more aptly be called rape. Afterwards she suffers from a bevy of stress-related illnesses, which lead her to believe that she is being poisoned.

When Northumberland's Protestant coup falls apart and the loyal people of England rally around Mary as the rightful queen, Jane is abandoned and left to face the music alone, an "Innocent Traitor" accused of usurping a crown she never wanted, and to pay the ultimate penalty for her treason.

Though I enjoyed Ms. Weir's second novel, "The Lady Elizabeth," much more, "Innocent Traitor" is also an interesting and compelling read. The only real fault I found with it was Ms. Weir's decision to tell the story in alternating first person, dolling the story out to half a dozen or so narrators. This is just my personal opinion, but I thought this gave the novel a "too many cooks in the kitchen" feel; I think it would have worked much better if the story had either been written in third person as "The Lady Elizabeth" was or restricted to one or two narrators at most.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Virgin Prelude To The Throne by Robin Maxwell

"Virgin" by Robin Maxwell takes readers back to the adolescence of Elizabeth I, to the bud that later blossomed into England's greatest monarch. It is a story of angst and confusion as the teenage princess grapples with the eternal thorn in the side of womankind--not to let the heart control the mind. Unable to help or restrain herself, she falls under the spell of the charismatic and ambitious Thomas Seymour, a man of much charm, wit, but very little commonsense, who is busy as a hive full of bees recklessly plotting to oust his brother as Lord Protector of the Realm and become the true power behind the throne, either as puppetmaster to the boy-king, Edward VI, or husband of a future queen. And Ms. Maxwell does a fine job of showing the callousness behind Seymour's charming facade and the fool lurking behind the blind ambition that drives him ever onwards onto folly.

"Virgin" is an insightful and enjoyable read that paints a vivid and realistic portrait of a young woman falling in love against her better judgment, and the war between passion and reason raging within her mind. It is the softer, weaker Elizabeth before she became the strong and determined mistress of her own fate and found a love that surpassed the yearnings of her own body and heart--England.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

London Times Bestseller The Tudor Wife a.k.a. The Boleyn Wife

I have just been informed by my UK publisher Harper/Avon that the British Edition of The Boleyn Wife, published in the UK as The Tudor Wife, has sold over 10,000 copies since its publication on April 1, 2010 and made the London Times bestseller list, at #19 on Sunday.

Please note The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy is published in the USA as The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Daughters of The Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

"Daughters of The Witching Hill" is a spellbinding tale of history and witchery. With this fact-based novel of the Pendle Witches, set in 17th century Lancashire, Mary Sharratt acts as a literary necromancer to give the dead a voice. She truly breathes life into her characters. The women who people this true tale of witchcraft, superstition, suspicion, and hysteria, are so vivid and vibrant, I could see them in my mind’s eye, hear their voices, and feel their wants, needs, fears, dreams, hopes, and pains.

The story begins with an elderly cunning or wise woman, Bess Southerns, known locally as “Old Demdike” who lives hand to mouth on the edge of poverty with her squint-eyed daughter, Liza, until she discovers her powers as a healer, and becomes eagerly sought after to bless and cure the sick, both human and animal. But a blessing can sometimes also be a curse, and with Bess’ gift to heal comes the suspicion that she puts her powers to use for darker purposes—revenge and curses.

But Bess is determined never to dabble in the dark arts--in fact many of her blessings derive from old Catholic prayers now outlawed by the fervent Protestants and Puritans and have nothing to do with Satan or pagan goddess worship at all--but when her best friend’s daughter is imperiled by the unwanted advances of one of the local gentry, Bess breaks her resolution, for love of her friend. But Anne will go beyond protecting her daughter and take everything Bess teaches her about blessings and spellcraft and set herself up as a rival cunning woman, one who is not above dabbling in the dark arts if it brings the coins in. And as Anne, already known as a local eccentric and object of disdain, becomes feared as a witch, and Bess’ own son-in-law believes she has cursed him, the final nail is driven into the coffin of their friendship.

Years later, when the community is suffering hard times, Bess, old, blind, and her powers failing, and her family find that the tide has turned against them, and those who once looked upon them with favor and sought their help, now regard them with suspicion and hostility. After a peddler suffers a debilitating stroke after exchanging harsh words with Bess’ beautiful granddaughter, Alizon, a zealous magistrate, eager to curry favor with King James by becoming the area’s premiere witchfinder, begins making arrests, and the stage is set for tragedy, a mockery of justice, and a trial every bit as tragic as America’s own Salem Witch Trials in which innocent lives will be lost.

Historical fiction fans, as well as those interested in the history and practice of witchcraft, and the witch-hunts that have stained our history with blood, are sure to find "Daughters of The Witching Hill" a fascinating and enthralling read. Though almost everyone has heard of the Salem Witch Trials, American readers may not be familiar with England’s Pendle Witch Hunt of 1612, so I urge those with an interest in such things, or just a love of well-written historical fiction, to give this book a try. It is a story I believe that needs to be told; when the dead are remembered a part of them lives again, and this is a story that should never be forgotten.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

British Reviews of The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy

From the Lancashire Evening Post:
The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy
Review by Pam Norfolk

The charismatic court of Henry VIII is no place for a social misfit like plain Jane Parker...
But the marriage stakes are high in Tudor times and being the sole heiress to a vast fortune opens unexpected doors.

Awkward and shy, Lady Jane sets her sights on George Boleyn, one of the king's most handsome and glamorous courtiers, little knowing that his notorious sister, Anne, will become her nemesis.

Purdy's peep behind the scenes of the raunchy Tudors combines intimate and intricate historical detail with all the passion, power and perils of this intriguing family.

Through the eyes of the vitriolic but doomed Jane Parker, better known in the history books as Lady Rochford, we witness the royal love affairs, scandals – and executions – which came to define Henry's tumultuous reign.

Jane's time at court as a lady-in-waiting encompasses five of Henry's six wives; it is a period of extreme volatility when the king will stop at nothing to produce a male heir.

Overjoyed that her father has agreed to her marriage to George, Jane's joy is short-lived when she visits the Boleyn home at Hever Castle in Kent and meets his sister Anne...

Like Jane, with her beak-like nose and angular body, Anne is no classical beauty – her skin is too sallow and her eyes too prominent – but she has a voice like velvet, a sparkling wit, a body as slender as a reed and men fall at her feet.

Unfortunately, that includes George whose honeyed tones for his 'special' sister spark a bitter jealousy and resentment in Jane that can only lead to revenge, madness and death.

At court, Anne's charms attract suitors like moths to a flame and when the king himself is inexorably drawn into her circle of light and fire, the die is cast.

Becoming Henry's queen makes Anne the most powerful woman in England but it also makes her vulnerable because unless she can give him an heir, her attractions will soon fade.

So when Anne fails to produce a son and Henry starts to tire of his mercurial wife, the stage is set for Jane to commit the ultimate act of betrayal...

Purdy's tale is up-close and personal ... from court fashion to court passion – with a capital P – it's all here!
A new slant on the scintillating sagas of those terrible Tudors.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)

History Book of the Month...

A lustful king. A thirst for power. The terrible price of revenge! When we meet the shy, plain Lady Jane Parker, she feels out of place in Henry VIII's court, which is filled with glamour and intrigue. Then she meets the handsome George Boleyn and becomes overjoyed when her father arranges a match! until she meets Anne. George Boleyn is completely devoted to his sister Anne; and as Anne's circle of admirers grows, so does Jane's resentment. Becoming Henry's queen makes Anne the most powerful woman in England; but it also makes her vulnerable, as the King is desperate for an heir. When he begins to tire of his mercurial wife, the stage is set for the ultimate betrayal! Encompassing the reigns of four of Henry's wives, from the doomed Anne to the reckless Katherine Howard, The Boleyn Wife is an unforgettable story of ambition, lust, and jealousy.

Stunningly good historical drama, set in the court of Henry VIII and centred on the life of Lady Jane Parker, wife to George Boleyn, Anne's brother - all the intrigues, mischiefs and mysteries of the Tudor court are laid bare in this thrilling, very well-written account of how Anne, George and Henry controlled and infleunced the lives of so many people during this most turbulent time in Britain's history. Emily Purdy covers ground already covered by such brilliant historical writers as Philippa Gregory, but from a slightly different perspective, and the language is different; possibly because Ms Purdy is an American, I'm not sure. It already has the authority of Gregory and it's a fantastic debut novel, a terrific read. I hope there's more to come, and soon!

Please note The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy is published in the USA as The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tabby's Easter Dilemma--Which Should I Wear? Pink or Green?

Letter From An Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig

Since I first read it many years ago I have never forgotten this haunting little novella. As improbable or absurd as some may find the plot, it has always had a special place in my heart.

The story begins in early 20th century Vienna when an unnamed famous novelist returns home. He finds a letter waiting for him, addressed "To you who never really knew me," and beginning with the words "My child died yesterday." And in its pages, hastily written by a woman who has just lost her son to influenza and is running a race with Death herself, he discovers a love he never even knew he had.

It all began many years ago, when the unknown woman was a little girl living in the same apartment house as the famous author. She fell in love with him then even though he never noticed her, and even after her family moved away he still filled her dreams. Rather than outgrowing what should have been just a schoolgirl crush, she carried a torch for him until she was old enough to return to the city on her own and pursue her obsession and make her dream come true.

Back in Vienna, this beautiful young woman of eighteen puts herself in her oblivious beloved's path. The famous author is something of a Don Juan, his life littered with conquests and brief liaisons, none of which appear to make much impact upon him. He takes this beautiful young girl to bed, goes away on a trip, and never thinks of her again. Never knowing that she has conceived his child.

In a time when there was much shame and stigma attached to being an unwed mother, the unknown woman, already fallen from grace in society's eyes, becomes a courtesan in order to give her son the best of everything. She is loved and adored by the rich men who keep her, some even offer her marriage, there is even an elderly count who would have made her his countess and given her a life of comfort, luxury, and respectability, but she refuses every one and stays stubbornly true to her obsessive and unreasonable love for a man who doesn't even know she exists.

Years pass and they meet again in a smart Viennese cafe where she is spending an evening with her current protector and some friends. Never recognizing her, with not even the slightest recollection of their brief affair, the famous author beckons and flashes his come hither smile. She leaves the party, walks right out, with not even a thought to spare for the kind man who loves and supports her, and goes back to his apartment to spend the night with him.

The next morning she is mortified when he stuffs money into her purse, taking her for a common prostitute. Even when she drops hints, he still fails to remember her. And on the verge of tears she rushes out. As she is leaving she almost bumps into his valet, and in that one instant the light of recognition flares bright in that old man's eyes, he recognizes her as the little girl who used to haunt the hallways like a ghost, loitering outside his master's apartment.

And the story ends with the famous author losing even as he has just discovered the one great love of his life, the mother of the son he never knew he had and has also lost, and realizing that, try as he might, he can't even remember her face or recall the voice that chastises him from beyond the grave: "Everyone indulged me, everyone was good to me--only you, you alone, forgot me. Only you, you alone never recognized me,' but nonetheless still declaring her love for him.

It's an amazing, thought-provoking little book, that makes one really ponder the mysteries and complexities of love and the nature of obsession and why, sometimes, people caught in the grip of it can never let go. And while the practical part of me may think the unknown woman was a fool who held on because, for whatever reason, she couldn't let go, and thus let opportunities pass her by, my heart understands and can't quite condemn her; we are who we are, we love who we love, and sometimes it is our misfortune not to be loved by those we love in return.

Note: It was made into a film in the 1940s starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan that is as true to the original novel as the censorship of the time would allow.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom

This bittersweet little book poses the question: What would you do if you were granted one more day with a loved one who had passed on?

As a child, Charley "Chick" Benetto was forced by his father to make a choice--to be either a "Daddy's boy" or a "Mama's Boy," it had to be one or the other, not both. Charley chose his father, ignoring and taking for granted the bottomless well of love his mother had for him and sometimes even aping his father's callousness and hurting her with words or indifference.

Charley worshipped his father like a hero and made baseball his life's ambition just to please him, until the day his father simply disappeared without an explanation or a goodbye.Charley's mother, the pretty Posey Benetto, was left in an unenviable position, a divorcee in the 1950s, a time when this was still considered somewhat scandalous and unsavory, regarded with suspicion by other women and as fair game by certain men, excluded from the world of parties and backyard barbecues she had been a part of as a respectable wife and mother. She was also forced to deal with a hurt and resentful, angry little boy who didn't understand why his father had abandoned him.

Years later, Charley has hit rock bottom, he is an alcoholic whose big-time baseball career and marriage have fizzled, he has lost his money through a fraudulent investment scheme, and been fired from his salesman's job. So he decides to kill himself. On his way back to his old home, where it all began, he is in a car accident. He awakens in his childhood home and finds his mother, who has been dead for eight years,waiting to welcome him, to spend that one more day with him, and with gentle, loving guidance help him put the fractured pieces of his life back together. And Charley finally learns the truth about why his father left him and that it ultimately wasn't that he made the wrong choice when he was forced to choose between his parents, but he should never have been made to choose at all.

This sentimental story of love and redemption is like a ghost that will haunt the reader long after the last page has been turned.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

This is a little book with big ambitions, a warm, wise, sentimental, bittersweet, magical feat of storytelling to give comfort and hope to those in need, or anyone who just enjoys a good story.

Eighty-three-year-old Eddie is a scarred and grizzled war veteran, a lonely widower, who has lost everyone he has ever loved, and lives every dull, dreary, humdrum day mired in regret, working as a maintenance man in charge of keeping the rides in good repair at a seaside amusement park called Ruby Pier.

When one of the rides malfunctions, Eddie dies trying to save the life of a child. The next thing he knows he is in Heaven, but it is not the Heaven of fluffy clouds, harps, and angels. One by one, Eddie meets five people who, either directly or indirectly, played an important role in his life, and via these encounters understands and makes peace with the life he led on earth.

This is a nice, warm, comforting chicken noodle soup on a cold or rainy day sort of book. It is not treacly-sweet, religious, or preachy,otherwise I would not have enjoyed it and declared it "a keeper" that has earned a permanent spot, alongside Mr. Albom's other novel, "For One More Day," on my overloaded bookshelf.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy Now Available in the UK

The British version of my novel The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy is now available in the UK, in bookstores and online, as The Tudor Wife under my British pen name Emily Purdy.

From the back cover:

A lustful king. A thirst for power. The terrible price of revenge! When we meet the shy, plain Lady Jane Parker, she feels out of place in Henry VIII's court, which is filled with glamour and intrigue. Then she meets the handsome George Boleyn and becomes overjoyed when her father arranges a match! until she meets Anne. George Boleyn is completely devoted to his sister Anne; and as Anne's circle of admirers grows, so does Jane's resentment. Becoming Henry's queen makes Anne the most powerful woman in England; but it also makes her vulnerable, as the King is desperate for an heir. When he begins to tire of his mercurial wife, the stage is set for the ultimate betrayal! Encompassing the reigns of four of Henry's wives, from the doomed Anne to the reckless Katherine Howard, The Tudor Wife is an unforgettable story of ambition, lust, and jealousy.