Friday, April 29, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Royal Books Edition

Somehow I managed to completely avoid Royal wedding fever. I certainly wasn't waking up at 3am Alaska Time to watch the wedding. I highly value my 8-9 hours of sleep; I'm not sure I'd wake up at that time for my own wedding. I checked the news long enough to see a gallery of photos and the dress. Then a second time I peeked in to see the hats. (It's all about the hats.)

However I love history books, particularly those with monarcy. So here are five books as my five things that royally rock. They're a mixture of fiction and non-fiction because that is how I roll.

  1. Innocent Traitor: a novel of lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir
    (Historical Fiction) I love Alison Weir's books. She's a very esteemed British historian and one of the most popularly known. Her non-fiction works are great; I particularly recommend her biography, Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life and her work The Princes in the Tower about the fate of the two lost (murdered?) princes during the time of Richard the IIIrd. In the last few years, she has also branched into writing historical fiction. The results can be a bit stilted at time, but are overall wonderful. This book, which follows the life of Lady Jane Grey who was queen for 9 days and then convicted of treason by her sister Queen Elizabeth I is marvelous. The story is marvelously told from the other side, not the one usually told (that of Queen Elizabeth). My favorite part of any historical fiction is the author's historical notes at the end and in this part Weir excells. Because of her background as a historian, she practically falls over herself to apologize for any liberties she took with the history. All told a great story about a reluctant and ultimately doomed queen.

  2. Courtesans: Money, Sex, and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman
    (Non-fiction) This book isn't about royalty per se. However, many of these women slept with royalty (or were rumoured to have done so). They were never admitted to court, but instead lived in their own world: the demimonde. Besides their prowess in the bodouir, they were also charming, well-read, at the height of fashion, linguists, experts at banter, and a thousand other gifts. At their peak, they were expensive and men paid dearly to even be seen in public with them. Proper society women shunned them outwardly, but could not cease to gossip about them or copy their taste in clothing and fashion. This book follows the lives of five of the most famous and most influential courtesans of the 19th century, the heyday of the courtesan and balances that fine line between history and gossip that manages to be fun, fascinating, and educational.

  3. We Two: Victoria and Albert Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill
    (Non-fiction) It is impossible to measure the effect these two had in shaping history, morals, and society globally for years. They were of course shaped and lived their lives in reactions to the people who raised them. If they were known for their high moral standards, it is a reflection of the debauched rulers who preceded them and their own eccentric upbringing. This book focuses on them individually first, what shaped who they were when they got married, and then later them as a couple. Victoria was very much a traditionalist who would have been submissive to her husband, but British law would never allow him crowned as king or given actual political power, a fact that would frustrate them both. However Victoria did relish her role as Queen and even in that one place where she superseeded her husband. Their marriage (as told through diaries, letters, more) was a partnership and a continual rivalry. The author even delves into their bedroom (given Victoria's many pregnancies) and homelife with some fascinating insights. Before you go on a rant about "those uptight, stick in the mud Victorians" try this book on for size. You'll be surprised. I couldn't put it down.

  4. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
    (Historical Fiction) Remember how much I like author's historical notes on fiction books? Gregory could do a better job of them. Other than that I love her books. She did a marvelous job with the Tudors and her Boleyn series. Now she backs up a few generations to the War of the Roses with this new series. (First The White Queen and then The Red Queen.) Here we have Elizabeth Woodville who marries in secret a Plantagenet King fighting for his throne. As their house rises to power, she fights for him at every turn. And eventually she would become the mother of the two famously doomed princes in the tower. I loved reading this one and have The Red Queen queued up on my Nook.

  5. Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd
    (Historical Fiction) I love large sweeping historical epics and Rutherfurd does it wonderfully. These two volumes (the sequel is Rebels of Ireland follows a handful of families through the major events of Irish history. The story starts with the last of the Celtic/Druidic prince-priests just as St. Patrick is Christianizing the island. It continues through rebellions, invasions, and more as those formally royal families make their way thorugh history. Obviously not every year and every generation is followed. Quite often there are several hundred year gaps as all the major parts of Irish history are covered. Wonderful stories and well worth the hundreds of pages.

Cleopatra: A life by Stacy Schiff
(Non-Fiction; Biography) I'm adding this one off the five thing list because it is my current friday reads. I've just started it, only 75 pages in, so I can't really judge it overall, but so far I'm really pleased. It's a more balanced look at the life of Cleopatra instead of just saying, "ooh seductress" or "powerful women misjudged by generations of male history". Somewhere between those two views lies the truth of this most powerful and famouns of royal women and I'm enjoying watching Pulitzer Prize winner Schiff sort it out.


sara said...

British royal historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre. In light of that, may I also HIGHLY recommend:

The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon K. Penman (this is a completely different perspective on the Princes in the Tower, whom I am now convinced were NOT murdered by their uncle)

While Christ and His Saints were Sleeping by Sharon K Penman...and the books that follow

The Forever Queen
I Am the Chosen King - both by Helen Hollick

Here Be Dragons by Sharon K Penman (she is one of my favorite authors, can you tell?)

Also, just finished Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, which I also highly recommend!

I tried reading Innocent Traitor, but I have actually read so much about Lady Jane Grey that I was kinda burnt out on her. I do enjoy Alison Weir, though. Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my favorites, as is Henry VIII and His Six Wives.

I used to read Phillipa Gregory, but she took too many historical liberties for my taste and I stopped. Nothing against her, though, just not my favorite.

I also tried Princes of Ireland and couldn't get into it. Maybe the timing was bad.

I am now excited to check out the biographies of Victoria/Albert and Cleopatra, so thanks for the tips!!

Born Librarian said...

Sara, I love this genre to. Chosing only five was extremely hard.

I love Michelle Moran. If you like her, you'll also like Jeanne Kalogridis. She writes in the same era as the tudors (or a bit before), but in Italy and France.