That bonesetter woman by Frances Quinn

Endurance, Durie, Proudfoot dreams of a career as a bonesetter – a kind of 18th century chiropractor – and hopes to be apprenticed by her father to succeed him. But a female bonesetter is not what people are used to. Still, she and her brother are allowed to join their father so he can choose who’s got the knack. But then Durie’s sister Lucinda gets pregnant and the sisters go to their aunt Ellen in London so Luncinda can give up the child to The Foundling Hospital. Drurie sees her dream go up in smoke.

What a fantastic book! Quinn has such a fine storytelling style and is tremendously good at creating believable characters that you really empathise with. Durie is a sturdily built woman and bold in her speech, which makes her constantly feel out of place. But she is strong and therefore very suitable to become a bonesetter.

Her sister Lucinda is her total opposite and tries to get a good position through the men in her life. And then there is Aunt Ellen, who has built a career on her own through her cake shop, without any help from men. As you can tell, there’s a strong feminist theme in this book. The men in Durie’s life (with one exception) make things very difficult for her, especially the other doctors. Purely out of jealousy.

You would think that a female chiropractor has sprung from the author’s imagination. But Durie’s story is loosely based on the life of Sally Mapp, a female bonesetter who earned her living in London during the 18th century.

There are so many different plot lines in this book: rurie bonesetter’s dream, Lucinda’s career as a stage actress, Ellen’s cake shop, Durie’s visits to the menagerie of the Tower and The Foundling Hospital where Lucinda’s baby ends up. 18th century London really comes alive.

I now urgently need to read Quinn’s first book ‘The smallest men’ and look forward to whatever she will write next.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

This is book 7/20 for ‘20 books of summer‘.

Have you read anything bij Frances Quinn?

The heretic wind by Judith Arnopp

Mary Tudor sees how her father gradually casts aside her mother Catherine of Aragon because she cannot give him a son. His eye falls on Anne Boleyn and Mary herself is later forced to take care of her daughter Elizabeth. Nevertheless, she will become Queen of England and during the last week of her life she tells her story to a young maid.

This was my first book by Judith Arnopp and also the very first time that Mary Tudor is at the centre of a book I read. Much more is written about Elizabeth. Arnopp writes in first person tense and only from the perspective of Mary, both the young version and the queen who tells her story a few days before her death. So the narrative style wasn’t quite my thing and especially the added value of the older perspective completely escaped me. It kept the pace out of the story for me at times.

Mary Tudor has undoubtedly had a miserable life. She’s portrayed here as a proud princess with great loyalty to her mother, Spain and the Catholic Church. With a weak immunity and a stubborn character. She loves her sister Elizabeth and brother Edward, but cannot always reconcile this with her ambitions to make England Catholic again. In itself, this is a good characterisation, but I had problems with just about every other character.

To begin with, her whole life from childhood to death is told in about 300 pages. Stepmother after stepmother is briefly reviewed and nothing is portrayed with any depth. Some things are omitted, others are said in just one sentence.

From page two onwards, Anne Boleyn is already portrayed as an adulterous witch. And I understand that Mary may not have liked her, but she was a child at the time and this lifelong hatred of Anne seems a bit harsh. Jane Seymour is a saint. Anne of Cleves is hardly worth mentioning. Catherine Parr is a nice one according to Mary, but too weak because she is in love with Thomas Seymour.

Elizabeth is a vain master manipulator. Edward is an innocent child who has nothing to say during his reign. Jane Grey is Dudley’s puppet queen. Philip II of Spain an uninterested man who’s barely worth two pages. The book is simply full of ‘last century clichés’. There is no nuance at all. As a result, I did not find Mary a sympathetic main character. Even though Arnopp wants to focus very hard on all the dramas in her life. And I certainly feel sorry for her. But this is life at the Tudor court from a caricature and I found that a pity.

I don’t know if I’ll read another book by Arnopp. Mainly because of the narrative style and the characters. But it was certainly not a bad book. It’s a good introduction to Mary’s life. But also not more than that.

This is book 5/20 for ‘20 books of summer‘.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Arnopp? Do you know other books that feature Mary Tudor’s reign?

Heresy by S.J. Parris

As a teenager Giordano Bruno has to leave his Italian convent because he reads forbidden books and believes that the earth revolves around the sun. He eventually ends up at the English court of the protestant queen Elizabeth I. One day he is sent by spymaster Francis Walsingham to Oxford University in search for hidden Catholics who might be plotting an attack on the queen. Bruno himself is secretly looking for a certain forbidden book that might be hidden in the Oxford library. But then the university is rocked by some horrific murders. And Bruno finds himself charged with the murder investigation.

Heresy is the first book in a historical mystery series around the character of Giordano Bruno. We meet Bruno when he has to leave his monastery because he was reading Erasmus on the toilet. The Inquisition is looking for him and after years of wandering around he ends up in England. There he meets his old friend Philip Sidney, a cousin of Robert Dudley and friend of Francis Walsingham. Although still a Catholic, Bruno receives much praise as a philosopher and is thus sent to Oxford to debate the universe.

Secretly, Sidney and Bruno are also looking for hidden Catholics and Bruno himself hopes to discover a particular book in the library. On his first evening, he meets Rector Underhill and his lovely daughter Sophia, but when one of the doctors is mauled by a wild dog during the night, the university turns out to be hiding a lot of secrets.

In many ways, this book is reminiscent of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom. Like Shardlake, Bruno is a man between two religions and he ends up in a closed community to solve a series of murders, just like Matthew in the first Shardlake book ‘Dissolution’. But the comparison stops there, because Parris has her own style. Maybe all a bit less sublime than Sansom, but she knows how to build a good story. I like that the book takes its time to set to story and when you finally end up in the middle of the action, the book is finished in no time.

Heresy contains many different characters who are all neither good nor bad. You are constantly put on the wrong track and have no idea who is and who isn’t a secret Catholic. Only the story of Sophia is too cliché for my taste. Certainly not a perfect book, but a good start to this series set in the later Tudor era under Elizabeth I.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this series yet?

The lost apothecary by Sarah Penner

Caroline travels on her own to London where she was supposed to celebrate her 10th wedding anniversary with her cheating husband James. She unexpectedly ends up mudlarking in the Thames and finds an old vial, used to contain a medicine, with a picture of a bear on it. She sets out to investigate this further and discovers an 18th century apothecary who mixed poisons to help other women.

The Lost Apothecary is a historical novel with two timelines set in London, one in the 21st century and one in the 18th century. We meet Nella, an apothecary who is asked by 12-year-old Eliza to prepare a poison for her master. Nella has a backstory of loss and revenge and now helps other women free themselves of toxic men. Two centuries later, Caroline wanders alone through the streets of London after discovering her husband’s betrayal. Her love for history and research awakens when she finds an old vial and starts looking for it story.

This book immediately reminded me of Nicola Cornick’s books. The two perspectives are lightly worked out and only partly connected and there’s a small magical backstory. An entertaining read, but not exactly one that will stay with me for long. Perfect for a long summer evening.

Towards the end, the story becomes a little implausible. And yet that did not bother me. Penner writes well, knowing that this is her debut novel. And I was drawn into the lives of Nella, Eliza and Charlotte. Of course, I slightly preferred the historical perspective, also because there was more tension in the story. Nella and Eliza must fight to keep their apothecary with all of its poisons secret.

I definitely enjoyed the book. If you’re expecting a little more depth, than you better skip this one. I’m curious to see what Sarah Penner will write next.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

What’s your favourite book set in London?

Divided Souls by Toby Clemens

In this third book, we meet Thomas and Catherine five years after the events of the second novel. They live in peace and harmony at Marton Hall with their son Rufus and friends Jack and John Stump. But the peace will not hold for long. The Duke of Warwick turns against Edward IV and is looking for the secret of which Thomas and Catherine have proof. And he sends none other than Edmund Riven, their arch-enemy, on a quest to find it.

1469 is a strange year in the Wars of the Roses. The mysterious figure Robin of Redesdale fights against the king and it is said he has the support of the earl of Warwick. There are a number of battles in which some key figures, such as the earl of Pembroke, are eliminated. Warwick and the king quarrel, but do not meet. And at the end of the year the realm is strangely enough at peace again.

That must have been hard to understand for the common man, who is again dragged into a conflict that is not his. It’s the strength of this series. No focus on the big earls, kings and queens, but on the commoners who are trying to survive in troubled times.

And my God, Thomas and Catherine get themselves once again in trouble. A few of the same tropes are brought out and the book is, of course, somewhat predictable. But I liked it better than the second part. The events lead to a thrilling conclusion inside a tower of Middleham castle.

Divided souls‘ is a nice read and gives a different perspective on history. This is not the best series I will ever read, but I am looking forward to the fourth part to find out how it ends with Thomas, Catherine, Rufus and all those Johns.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read this series? What book are you currently reading?

The Tudor crown by Joanna Hickson

After the battle of Tewkesbury, Jasper and his cousin Henry Tudor have to flee England. While King Edward IV of the House of York sits firmly on his throne, they wash up on the coast of Brittany, where they plot their return for 14 years. Meanwhile, Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort must look for a third husband and therefore becomes lady-in-waiting to Edward’s stunning queen Elizabeth. However, she will continue to fight for her son’s return as a duke, or who knows, even as king.

I really loved Hickson’s previous book ‘First of The Tudors‘ where she tells the story of Jasper Tudor. The Tudor crown starts after the events at Tewkesbury where the previous novel ended. This time the story is told from the point of view of Henry Tudor himself and his mother Margaret Beaufort. So the book is very pro Lancaster and anti York.

I never read about Henry’s exile before and this is yet another new perspective on the Wars of the Roses. I may not have found Henry to be Hickson’s best fleshed out main character so far, but I did find it fascinating to read about the intrigues at the courts of Brittany and France. It’s just a pity that Jasper and Jane, whom I loved dearly in the previous book, quickly fade into the background.

Margaret is portrayed as very human and even sympathetic. Her chapters tell a piece of history I know well. Yet I was surprised by Hickson’s portrayal of both Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York. We know that Margaret has been plotting with Woodville against Richard III for a long time, but in this book the queen has a lot of trust in Margaret, and I don’t quite imagine it that way. Margaret also seems to build up a good relationship with Elizabeth of York, whereas a few years later she will make her future daughter-in-law’s life difficult. So I found it a bit confusing that especially Richard III came forward as the bad one and both Elizabeths were looking so kindly at the only remaining Lancaster players at court.

I thought the ending with the Battle of Bosworth was well done. The focus is not on the battle itself but heavily focuses on the run-up to it. It was very nice to get to know Joan Vaux, the main character in Hickson’s next two books. That really is a gift: all her books flow seamlessly into each other and she manages to choose a new perspective that fits into the story every time. As a faithful reader, it gets an extra dimension that way, because you still encounter ‘old’ beloved characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Joanna Hickson? What’s your favourite novel about the Tudor family?

The rebel daughter by Miranda Mallins

Bridget and her family move to a country estate in Ely after her father, Oliver Cromwell, receives an inheritance from a deceased uncle. Not much later, Cromwell starts to fight against the Papist king and everything he stands for. Both her father and her older brothers leave for a civil war against fellow countryman. However, Bridget also wants to contribute to the ’cause’ and realizes that a domestic life is not for her. That’s why she accepts the marriage proposal of Henry Ireton, one of her father’s right hand men.

I actually know bizarrely little about the Civil War. But a name like Oliver Cromwell obviously rings a bell. So I enjoyed reading about his family, from the perspective of his eldest daughter Bridget, or Biddie as they call her. Bridget comes from a numerous family and Mallins uses pet names for all the children, which was a little annoying at times.

Bridget is a pleasant main character. She’s a rational person who puts herself in function of her family and later her husband and the war. This sets her apart form her slightly younger sister Betty, who also comes to the forefront in this novel. Betty is fiery, vain and somewhat materialistic. The total opposite of Bridget but at the same time there’s a strong bond between the sisters that I enjoyed reading about.

In the second half of the book there’s a hard focus on all the intrigues within the wars. Not always easy to be totally on board with, especially because of the many characters who also constantly switch sides or opinions.

Bridget’s relationship with Henry is not one of great love, but one of mutual respect, so you certainly sympathise with them. Mallins also wrote a book about the youngest Cromwell sister (‘The Puritan princess’) which I now definitely want to read.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read any good books set during the Civil War?

The people’s princess by Flora Harding

Lady Diana has just got engaged to Charles and moves to Buckingham Palace to prepare for their wedding. But Diana is lonely in the big palace. She comes across a portrait of an earlier princess of Wales, Charlotte. When she gets her hands on her secret diary, she soon discovers Charlotte’s life and passions might be more familiar to Diana than she thought.

I was very hesitant to read this book because Diana is hard to call history and we all have memories of her. But Harding created such a beautiful image of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (I read it when both were still alive) in ‘Before the crown‘ that I decided to give ‘The people’s princess‘ a start.

Diana feels very human in this story. It takes place in the weeks before her famous wedding in St Paul’s Cathedral. You feel her struggling with the distant Charles, the unreadable queen, the press and her eating disorder. One day, she gets hold of the diary of another princess of Wales, beloved by the people. And so we read the story of Charlotte in the 19th century.

Charlotte was the only child of George IV and thus heir to the throne. Her parents were unhappily married and lived apart. Charlotte was trapped in golden cage yearning for passion with only her loyal staff for company. Her only chance at freedom was to get married but she didn’t agree with the proposed match of her parents. Yearning for love and freedom, Charlotte tells her story in her diary.

The fact that the author chose to tell Charlotte’s story via a diary didn’t feel credible in my opinion. Many scenes weren’t written in diary form, so it felt a bit artificial done to weave Diana’s chapters with Charlotte’s. But ignoring the diary part, the story of Charlotte herself is interesting and well portrayed. The parallels between the two princesses are nicely highlighted in this novel.

But it doesn’t cut deep enough and sometimes felt inauthentic. Harding does write smoothly but the book unfortunately did not get under my skin. Of her two novels, I preferred ‘Before the crown’.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Are you familiar with Charlotte’s story?

The last protector by Andrew Taylor

Clerk James Marwood is entrusted with observing the illegal duel between the Dukes of Buckingham and Shrewsbury and to report to Joseph Williamson, Under Secretary of State to Lord Arlington. Buckingham still hates Marwood, whom he calls ‘Marworm’, and James only narrowly escapes his henchmen. Meanwhile, Cat, who still feels trapped in her marriage to the architect Hakesby, is approached in the streets by an old childhood friend, Elizabeth Cromwell. Her father Richard, the former protector who was in exile, is back in London and asks her help in stealing an old family secret from the palace of Whitehall.

This fourth book in the series is a bit of an outlier. There’s no murder to solve and therefore it reads less like a mystery. The great fire of London is also not the biggest historical background anymore, as the book already opens in 1668, two years after the disaster. We follow the adventures of Cat and Marwood, who both become entangled in the machinations of the duke of Buckingham and thus encounter each other again. The various plot lines come together again nicely at the end.

I actually liked the fact that the focus of this story is more on the intrigues at the Court of lords like Buckingham, lord Arlington, Richard Cromwell and even the king himself. It was a different approach and it keeps the series refreshing.

Marwood also really grows as a person, now that he has risen through the ranks at Court and is taken more seriously. Meanwhile, Cat struggles in her marriage to Hakesby who has a sudden surge of sympathy for the Cromwells. Something she cannot afford as the daughter of a regicide. I’m glad Cat and James are given an equal amount of ‘screentime’ in this novel, as in the last few books Cat was less present and I had some trouble sympathizing with her. She felt more mature in ‘The last protector‘.

I’m already looking forward to part five, ‘The royal secret’.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read this series? Do you recommend a similar one?

The flame bearer by Bernard Cornwell

The relative peace between Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria makes that Uhtred sets his hopes on reconquering his family castle of Bebbanburg. But the cunning King Constantin of Scotland forces him south, where lord Aethelhelm tries to persuade Uhtred’s son-in-law Sigtryggr to a fight.

This is the 10th book in the series and we are nearing the end (only three more to go after this one). Uhtred finally begins his lifelong quest to conquer Bebbanburg since Aethelflaed and Sigtryggr have signed a peace treaty that also king Edward of Wessex is willing to respect.

The previous book in the series ‘Warriors of the storm‘ killed off some of Uhtred’s bitter enemies. So ‘The flame bearer‘ introduces us to a few new characters and foes. Such as Lord Aethelhelm, who we already knew from the previous books but now takes a stand against Uhtred to support his grandson Aethelweard’s claim against that of Aethelstan. There’s also the Scottish king Constantin of whom we’ll see more in the next books I hope. And then there’s the mad and cunning bishop Ieremias. He was a Dane before he started to believe in Christian miracles and now wants to take hold of the holy island of Lindisfarne to build a church for -the nailed- God. A character only Cornwell can come up with.

This is one of the best books in the series because it’s full of intrigue and cunning tactics. And the book ends of course with a phenomenal battle scene on the walls of Bebbanburg (better known as Bamburgh Castle). This means that there’s less time for character development, but you can’t have everything. And ‘The flame bearer’ certainly has enough allure and offers pure entertainment. Up to the next one.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read these books or seen the television series?