Thursday, June 28, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: Desperation Reads

From Booking Through Thursday:

Today’s question is suggested by Carrie.

What’s the most desperate thing you’ve read because it was the only available reading material?

If it was longer than a cereal box or an advertisement, did it turn out to be worth your while?

I've been known to skim through telephone books in hotel rooms if I was hard up for reading. (The lawyer ads in the Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia telephone books are particularly entertaining.) Usually, though, my desperate times come when I'm in a doctor's or dentist's waiting room and forgot to bring a book to read. Then I read all of the women's magazines ("Ten Ways to Reduce Cellulite") or catch up with celebrity doings via People magazine.

I'd love to be able to say that on one of these hard-up occasions I picked up a novel I wouldn't have read otherwise and found it to be engrossing, but I can't think of a single instance when this has happened.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Tragic Day at Pontefract

On June 25, 1483, three men were executed at Pontefract Castle. They were Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, the new king's maternal uncle; Richard Grey, the king's half-brother; and Thomas Vaughan, the king's chamberlain, who had served him since infancy. They were beheaded on orders of the king's sworn protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would shortly be crowned himself instead.

The events that led to the executions began on April 9, 1483, with the death of Edward IV. Edward V was but twelve years of age at the time of his father's death. The chronicler Mancini indicates that Edward IV had named his brother Richard in his will as the young king's protector, but the Crowland chronicler does not indicate any such arrangement, and Edward IV's will is not extant to confirm or deny it. What emerges when Mancini and Crowland's accounts are read together is that Edward IV's councilors did not want the family of the queen, Elizabeth Woodville, to dominate the new king's government, but that some were also reluctant to see Gloucester in sole control. The councilors did agree on a coronation date of May 4, and Crowland reports that Elizabeth Woodville advised her brother Rivers, who would be taking Edward IV to London, to appease the opposition on the council by having no more than two thousand men escort the new king into London.

Both Edward V himself and Richard were far away from London when Edward IV died. Edward V was with his household at Ludlow, under the supervision of Rivers. Richard was at Middleham in the north, where his power base lay. Both men began heading toward London, as did the Duke of Buckingham. Though Buckingham was a wealthy man, he had never played a prominent part in the government of Edward IV, and he seems to have seized upon the death of Edward IV as an opportunity to extend his influence.

According to Mancini, Gloucester, Buckingham, and Rivers had agreed to meet somewhere along the way so that the king's entry to the city might be more magnificent. On April 29, Gloucester and Buckingham each arrived at Northampton, while Rivers, along with the king and his escort, went further south to Stony Stratford. Crowland adds the detail that the king was awaiting Richard at Stony Stratford with a small household, having dispersed most of his attendants even closer to the city so that there would be more space for his uncle when he arrived.

Leaving the king behind at Stony Stratford, Rivers, and perhaps Richard Grey, backtracked to Northampton and met Gloucester and Buckingham there. By all accounts, the men passed a convivial evening, and Rivers stayed the night. He could not have suspected that it was the last night he would spend as a free man. But that was the case: the next morning, either upon waking (Mancini) or on the way back to the king at Stony Stratford (Crowland), Rivers was taken prisoner by Gloucester and Buckingham.

Richard Grey was also taken prisoner on April 30, either at the same time as Rivers or later in Stony Stratford, where Gloucester and Buckingham rode to meet the king. There, Edward V's chamberlain, Thomas Vaughan, was also seized. The shocked king was informed by Gloucester and Buckingham that his attendants were conspiring against him and that Gloucester was the man best suited to serve as protector. According to Mancini, Edward V made a spirited speech in defense of his men, but realized that he had no choice but to agree to Gloucester's plans for him. The royal attendants who had not been arrested were ordered to disperse. Leaderless without Rivers, they obeyed.

Gloucester, Buckingham, and the king proceeded to London, reaching it the day of the planned coronation, which never took place. In response to reports that he had seized the king with the intent of gaining his crown, Gloucester had sent letters to the council and to the mayor of London stating that he had rescued the king from his enemies. Gloucester also put four cartloads of weapons in front of the king's procession, claiming that they had been stored outside the capital by the queen's family to use against Gloucester himself. Mancini reported that many knew this charge to be false, as the weapons had been stored when war was being waged against Scotland.

Was there a conspiracy to ambush Gloucester? The evidence was insufficient to convince the council, which accepted Gloucester as protector but balked at his demand that Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan be executed immediately. The council pointed out that not only was there "no certain case" with regard to the alleged ambush, any ambush would not have been treason at the time because Gloucester held no public office then.

Richard III's apologists, however, have proven easier to convince than the council. Paul Murray Kendall, although he acknowledges in a footnote that there is no proof that Rivers had bound himself to meet Richard at Northampton, nonetheless finds much of sinister import in Rivers' pressing on to Stony Stratford. He suggests that Rivers was determined to rush Edward V on to London so that he could be crowned and Richard's power extinguished. Kendall also speculates that Richard Grey, who had been in London for the council deliberations but who had left the city to meet the king, was entrusted with a message from the queen urging Rivers to bring the king to London in all due haste. Grey, however, was a member of Edward V's household and could have had any number of reasons for his trip northward to meet the king. Perhaps he was simply fond of the king, his younger half-brother, and wanted to join him in his entry into London.

Rivers' actions at Northampton, as a number of historians have pointed out, are hardly consistent with Kendall's thesis or with any other ill intent toward Gloucester. Had Rivers truly intended to hasten to London and crown the king before Richard could get to him and assume his office as protector, why on earth did he travel to Northampton to greet Richard and Buckingham, then spend the night? Evidence of an ambush is also seriously lacking (even Kendall seems to have been hard pressed to find any). Certainly the king's men at Stony Stratford, assuming that they were there in force and not dispersed among far-flung lodgings, do not appear to have been prepared for a fight, given the apparent meekness with which they obeyed Gloucester's orders to disband. The armor displayed by Gloucester, if it indeed belonged to the Woodvilles, may have been nothing more than the normal equipage of the men who were to have come to London with the king.

Plot or no plot, before Gloucester proceeded on to London with his new charge the king, he sent his prisoners Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan north, Rivers to Sheriff Hutton, Grey to Middleham, and Vaughan to Pontefract. Richard Haute, Edward V's comptroller, seems to have been arrested and imprisoned as well, though he was apparently pardoned.

What happened next is well known. Plans, in good faith or otherwise, were made for Edward V's coronation, and Edward V was lodged in the Tower, soon to be joined by his younger brother. On June 13, 1483, William Hastings, Edward IV's chamberlain and closest friend, was executed without trial. Soon thereafter, it was put about first that Edward IV was a bastard, then (more successfully) that he had been pre-contracted to an Eleanor Butler before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and that the children of that marriage were therefore bastards. With Edward V's impending deposition and the council terrorized into docility by the execution of Hastings and the arrests of others, there was nothing standing in the way of the executions of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan. The future Richard III therefore ordered their deaths.

Of the three prisoners, Anthony Woodville is the best known. In 1473, he had been appointed as governor to the three-year-old Edward V. Though he was highly cultivated, pious, and known for his chivalric interests, he possessed worldly qualities as well and does not seem to have been overly scrupulous, a trait that he of course shared with many of his contemporaries.

Considerably less is known about the other two men. Richard Grey, Elizabeth Woodville's younger son by her first husband, was probably in his twenties at the time of his death. He was knighted in 1475, alongside his older brother and his royal half-brothers, and came of age around 1476. In 1478 he cut a fine figure at a tournament held to celebrate the marriage of four-year-old Richard, Duke of York, to six-year-old Anne Mowbray. Little is known of his personality, though this has not stopped Richard's apologists from assuming that he deserved his fate because of his family background or that he was incompetent to fill his duties. Michael Hicks describes him as being "the most visible Wydeville in Wales in the mid-1470s" due to his service on local commissions of the peace. Never married, he was granted the lordship of Kidwelly and in early 1483 had been a beneficiary of a questionable arrangement, sanctioned by an Act of Parliament, under which he would receive 500 marks per year out of the Holland inheritance.

Thomas Vaughan, in his fifties at his death, had been a royal servant since the 1440's and loyal to the Yorkist cause for well over two decades. Having held a number of responsible positions during his career in royal service, he had been Edward V's chamberlain since July 1471, when his charge was still a baby. A soldier who had fought in numerous battles, he carried the little Edward in his arms on state occasions and was knighted at the same time as his charge in 1475. Having spent most of the past decade with the young prince at Ludlow, far from the politics of court, of those who died at Pontefract, he had probably least suspected that he would end his days at the stroke of an axe.

In the days before their executions, Rivers and Grey were moved to join Vaughan at Pontefract, where the Earl of Northumberland and Sir Richard Ratcliff presided over their executions, witnessed by troops making their way toward London at Gloucester's command in case trouble arose over Gloucester's claim to the throne. Neither Crowland nor Mancini indicates that the three men received any sort of trial; though a comment by Rous that Northumberland served as their "judge" suggests it. Rivers, however, had made his will on June 23, while still at Sheriff Hutton. This, and more especially the ballad he wrote ("Such is my dance / Willing to die") indicates that he knew that if he did receive a trial, it would be purely for show.

Some sources report Vaughan on his way to the block as speaking of a prophecy that "G" would destroy Edward IV's children, but it is highly unlikely that any of the men would have been allowed to hold forth in this fashion with an audience present. Probably the prisoners were silent as they were led to the block or confined their words to prayer.

The beheaded bodies were supposedly stripped and thrown into a common grave at Pontefract. This report may not be altogether true, though, as Vaughan ultimately came to rest in Westminster Abbey. It is possible, of course, that his body was retrieved after Richard III's own fall. The inscription on his tomb read, "To love and wait upon," a motto that describes Vaughan's service far more aptly than Richard's "Loyaulte me lie." By executing with little or no cause the men to whom his brother Edward IV had entrusted the care of his son, Richard had proven his loyalty to his brother and to his brother's heir to be a very transient thing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Grab-Bag of Reviews

As the May issue of the Historical Novels Review is in subscribers' hands now, I'm posting some of my reviews from it. (Readers of this blog will probably like The Four Queens in particular.)

A Treasury of Regret
Susanne Alleyn, Thomas Dunne Books, 2007, $24.95/C$31.00, hb, 288pp, 9780312343712

When investigator Aristide Ravel enters the office of his local police commissariat, he's met by Laurence Dupont, a young woman determined to clear the name of a family servant. Jeannette Moineau has been arrested on charges of feeding her bourgeois employers poisoned food—fatally, in the case of the family patriarch, the miserly moneylender Martin Dupont. Ravel's ensuing investigation, conducted in the tense, economically troubled atmosphere of 1797 Paris, turns up no shortage of suspects—and a surprising link between Ravel and Laurence.

A Treasury of Regret combines the best in history and mystery. Rather than treating revolutionary Paris simply as window-dressing, Alleyn makes good use of the historical setting, both in creating her plot and in creating her characters, several of whom have lost loved ones to the guillotine. The mystery itself is artfully plotted and compelling; I was in due suspense as to whodunit.

This is Alleyn's second mystery featuring Ravel, though it's not necessary to have read the previous book, Game of Patience, to enjoy A Treasury of Regret.


Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers
Barbara Hambly, Bantam Books, 2007, $25.00/C$30.00, hb, 431pp, 9780553804287

Patriot Hearts tells the stories of four women: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings, and Dolley Madison. It opens in 1814, with Dolley Madison getting ready to escape from an about-to-be-burned President's House and cuts back and forth in time and between the four central characters, who are linked to each other in a number of ways.

Hambly's characterizations are vivid, and she writes exceptionally well, with a wry sense of humor that made me chuckle aloud at times. She's obviously done her research, and she handles the delicate issue of slavery deftly and sensitively.

Nonetheless, I found this book to be somewhat frustrating, for several reasons. The constant leaping back and forth between characters and times, while certainly an authorial tour de force, made it difficult for me to maintain my focus and to keep my interest. Also problematic is the swarm of minor characters. Sometimes, as with Sally Hemings' family, they play a useful role, both in the plot and thematically, but in other cases, they served only to bog the reader down in minutia. Martha Washington in particular was lost to me, at least in the early chapters, amid an ever-shifting panorama of friends and relations, many of whom make only one appearance, and only as part of the landscape. Finally, Hambly's stylistic choice to make all four women central characters, while it did have the advantage of showing their interconnections and their shared struggles, ultimately prevented her from developing each of their individual stories as much as I would have liked.

Despite these reservations, Hambly vividly brings these four very different women to life. For illuminating a side of the presidency that often gets neglected by textbooks—the domestic—she is to be commended.


The Wednesday Wars
Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion Books, 2007, $16, hb, 272pp, 0618724834

As the only Presbyterian in his seventh-grade class in Long Island in 1967-68, Holling Hoodhood has to spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while his Jewish classmates go to Hebrew school and his Catholic classmates to catechism. Mrs. Baker, whose husband is fighting in Vietnam, has Holling pass his Wednesday afternoons reading Shakespeare. It's an assignment that will lead to the unfortunate Holling meeting Mickey Mantle while dressed in yellow tights, but that also leads to Holling gaining insight about life and love—and about Holling himself.

Narrated by Holling, this is a fast-paced book with appealing characters, particularly Holling himself. (I did find it unlikely, however, that a seventh-grader named "Holling Hoodhood" didn't spend more time fending off bullies.) Though the tone is primarily humorous, Schmidt skillfully blends in the more serious aspects of the story, such as the effect of the war on several characters and the upheavals within Holling's own family. The end result is a funny, touching novel of one boy's journey toward adulthood. Ages 10-14.


The Lincolns in the White House: Four Years That Shattered a Family
Jerrold M. Packard, St. Martin's Griffin, 2006, $14.95 /C$19.95, pb, 290pp, 0312313039

Like most American schools at the time, mine spent a lot of time on the Civil War, but concentrated on causation and battles rather than personalities. In The Lincolns in the White House, Jerrold Packard takes a different approach. While politics, battles, and key administration figures are not neglected, Packard's main focus is on the Lincolns as a family.

Packard deals with varied subjects like Lincoln's relationships with his sons, Mary Lincoln's out-of-control spending and growing eccentricity, the nature of the relationship between Lincoln and Joshua Speed, and Mary Lincoln's post–White House life. Drama, however, does not get sacrificed in the process: Packard's account of the last days of Lincoln's life, foregone as its conclusion is, nonetheless had me on the edge of my seat.

The author paints vivid pictures of nineteenth-century Washington, D.C. (hot and humid in summer, cold in winter, and unhealthy all year round), of the shabby White House, and of the Soldiers' Home where the Lincolns found a welcome summer retreat. There are also tidbits here that I found fascinating; one, for instance, being that the Department of the Treasury employed female clerks.

Though I suspect that nothing in this book will be new to Lincoln scholars, for a general reader, The Lincolns in the White House tells a compelling story.


Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe
Nancy Goldstone, Viking, 2007, $24.95 /C$31.00, hb, 334pp, 9780670038435

Four Queens is the fascinating story of four thirteenth-century sisters, all destined to become royal: Marguerite, Queen of France; Eleanor, Queen of England; Sanchia, Queen of the Romans; and Beatrice, Queen of Sicily.

Goldstone depicts these four very different women, the men they married, the society they lived in, and the many other players on the European and Middle Eastern stage in a lively, readable, and highly accessible style. As someone who was familiar with some of the events of the time, but not at all with others, I found this to be an excellent introduction to them. (For those wishing to delve further into the period, Goldstone provides a helpful bibliographic note.)

Four Queens is also impressive for what it doesn't do. Though we never lose sight of the limitations gender imposed upon these women's lives, Goldstone doesn't belabor the point, as a lesser writer might have done, for instance, in the case of Sanchia, the sister who was the least successful at influencing events. Her treatment of her subjects, female and male alike, is sympathetic yet clear-eyed, a characteristic especially apparent in her summing up of the careers of Louis IX of France and Henry III of England.

This was one work of nonfiction I would have been happy to have lingered over longer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Belated Happy Birthday to the Black Prince

On June 15, 1330, Queen Philippa gave birth to Edward III's first child: his son Edward, known later as the Black Prince, probably because of the color of the armor he favored.

Edward's birth at Woodstock came at a tense time at the court of Edward III. The seventeen-year-old king was then under the control of his mother, the dowager queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March. Just three months before, Edward III's paternal uncle Edmund, Earl of Kent, had been beheaded for treason either (depending upon your viewpoint) after being duped by Isabella and Mortimer into believing that Edward II was still alive or having discovered that Edward II was still alive. Either way, the unfortunate Edmund's plot to free his brother had led to his execution at Winchester in March 1330. Although the Earl of Kent had been the only person to pay the ultimate penalty for treason, a number of his co-conspirators had been imprisoned. Others had been set free while awaiting trial, and still others had fled abroad. Nonetheless, a number of people had continued to plot against the Mortimer and Isabella regime, and the dowager queen and the Earl of March were undoubtedly relieved at the momentary distraction that the birth of a heir to the throne provided.

The birth was celebrated with all due fanfare. The lucky Thomas Prior, who brought the news to Edward III, received a grant of forty marks a year for his hardly strenuous efforts of walking from one part of Woodstock to another. (Edward II himself had granted eighty pounds a year to the couple who carried the news of Edward III's birth.)

The young prince was baptized by the Bishop of Lincoln and was supplied with a golden cradle, painted with images of the four evangelists and richly lined. The new mother herself was not neglected. Although Philippa had married Edward III in January 1328, her coronation had been delayed, most likely because Isabella had no desire to be supplanted by her son's young bride. With Philippa pregnant, however, it was unseemly that she remain uncrowned, and she had at last been given a coronation with all due pomp in February 1330. Her churching--a ritual marking a mother's purification that took place about a month or so after childbirth--was equally grand. Philippa, known later in life for her free spending, had no intentions of going to her churching underdressed. The pièce de résistance was Philippa's "squirrel suit," a five-piece outfit that was decorated with golden squirrels and trimmed with ermine and miniver. (One hopes that the July day was a cool one.) Caroline Shenton, who describes this and other fur-trimmed garments made for the young mother, notes that about 2,000 pounds was spent on the churching.

Beginning at the age of sixteen at the Battle of Crécy, Edward would have an illustrious military career. The first of his achievements, though, came when he was yet a babe in arms, for it was likely his birth that finally doomed the reign of Isabella and Mortimer. With the birth of a son, Edward III's need to free himself of the dominance of his mother and Roger Mortimer became more intense than ever. He was no longer a young boy to be bossed by his elders, but the father of an heir to the throne. Not only his future, but his young son's future, depended on what Edward III would do next, and during the course of a night in October 1330, two dozen faithful comrades of the king, acting under his direction, barged into Nottingham Castle through an underground passage and seized the Earl of March, bringing his rule to a swift and inglorious end. Little Edward, sleeping somewhere in his fine cradle that night, had gained a father of whom he could be proud.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

First, be sure to vote for your favorite King Edward dad (Edward I, II, or III) in the new poll on the sidebar.

Second, by popular demand (well, at least by my daughter's demand), I'm posting this Father's Day poem I wrote in the 1960's, complete with misspellings:

Let it be known,
Though out the land.
Bring the band,
Make all dads
feel grand!

Ting! Ling!
Ting! Ling!
Ting ling!
Make father fell like a king!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Traitor's Wife Giveaway: Finis

And our last lucky winner was . . . Cory! Send me your name and street address at, Cory, and The Traitor's Wife will be soon be on your doorstep.

Pez, sadly, does not appear in the novel, though lots of guys named Hugh are in it. You can read more about Pez here.

Thanks to all who stopped by!

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Traitor's Wife Giveaway: Day 5 and Final

And yesterday's lucky winner was . . . Highland Lassie! (From MySpace).

I got a lot of good suggestions for potential Isabellas, and while I fend off telephone calls from their agents, here's our last giveaway question. (We're talking EASY here.)

Which Despenser does not appear in The Traitor's Wife?

1. Hugh
2. Hugh
3. Hugh
4. Pez

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Traitor's Wife Giveaway: Day 4

And our lucky winner is . . . Stephanie!

Edward II was criticized by chroniclers for his enjoyment of rowing, ditch digging, and thatching, but never seems to have taken up an interest in tapestry. (He also enjoyed swimming.) Alianore, an Edward II fangirl like me who often drops by here, has a nice post here on his hobbies, including the abovementioned ones.

And now for today's quiz.

Any day now, some producer in Hollywood is going to say, "Gosh darn it, that Traitor's Wife would make a great movie!" When that happy day comes, which actress should play Queen Isabella (who's a blonde in the novel)?

1. Scarlett Johansson
2. Paris Hilton
3. Reese Witherspoon
4. Cameron Diaz
5. Sarah Michelle Gellar
6. Someone I missed because I don't see enough movies.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Traitor's Wife Giveaway: Day 3

Today's lucky winner is . . . Susan A! Most of you, by the way, answered #5. (I knew that degree in English literature would come in handy one day.)

Before I get to today's quiz, here's a quick note to click on over to the History Buff blog, where Michelle Moran has been kind enough to interview me. Michelle herself is a historical novelist whose book Nefertiti will soon be available. (Anyone who says, "Gee, you don't look a day over 30 in that picture on the blog," will get their entry entered twice in the upcoming quiz.)

And now to Quiz #3:

What unkingly activity did Edward II not engage in?

1. Thatching.
2. Tapestry making.
3. Rowing.
4. Digging.

Just two more days after this, so join in! (Deadline for today's quiz is June 14 at noon, EST. And by the way, this is National Parentheses Day, in case you don't know.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Traitor's Wife Giveaway: Day 2

And the lucky winner from yesterday is . . . Chris MacDonald! Send me your snail mail address, Chris, and I'll shoot a copy off to you.

I'm pleased to say, by the way, that everyone identified Edward II as being Edward III's father. (A nice outcome for Father's Day week.)

Here's the Day 2 quiz, which you may find more complicated. Again, enter by leaving a comment on the blog or by e-mailing me at Anyone's eligible, including previous entrants (except for the winner)! Contest closes on June 13 at noon EST.

In the 2005 edition of The Traitor's Wife, Susan misidentified the Earl of Northampton as William de Clinton. (William de Clinton was Earl of Huntingdon; the Earl of Northampton was William de Bohun.) Why did Susan do this?

1. Susan is a Democrat who couldn't resist putting a guy named "William de Clinton" into her book.

2. Susan is a Republican, but Hilary Clinton made her do it.

3. One of the cats walked over Susan's keyboard.

4. Susan was hitting the Old Peculier hard at the time.

5. This was not an error, but a clever postmodernistic device wherein Susan sought to demonstrate the inherent unreliability of all written narratives. So there.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Traitor's Wife Giveaway: Day 1

Well, Paris Hilton is back in jail, the temperature has gone down 10 degrees, and the UPS man has just delivered four boxes of shiny new copies of The Traitor's Wife, so all is well in Carolina.

As I said earlier, now that the copies are in, I'm going to be giving a few away. Rules: answer the daily question. (Since school's over in my part of the world, you don't even have to answer it correctly.) Just record your answer in the comments or send an e-mail to Boswell, with a little help from my daughter, will choose a lucky winner at random each day. The winner will then be asked to send me his or her snail mail address privately. That's it. You don't even have to be in North America to win. All you have to do is to be a discerning enough reader of historical fiction to want your very own (signed) copy of The Traitor's Wife. How cool is that?

Our first couple of quizzes will test your knowledge of fourteenth-century England. So without further ado, here's Quiz No. 1:

Who was Edward III's father?

1. William Wallace
2. Some other hunky Scotsman
3. Edward II
4. Roger Mortimer

Happy quizzing, and good luck! This quiz closes at noon tomorrow, my time.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Booking Through Thursday, A Day Late

I'm (a) sweltering in 90-degree-plus heat; (b) waiting with feet tapping for my copies of the new edition of The Traitor's Wife to come in; (c) sulking over the fact that neither I nor my pretty new books will be able to make it to the Historical Novel Society's North American conference in Albany this weekend; and (d) actually caring whether Paris Hilton will be put back into jail. As none of the above, especially the last, is particularly constructive or healthy, I thought I'd join this meme, albeit belatedly:

Booking Through Thursday

Almost everyone can name at least one author that you would love just ONE more book from. Either because they’re dead, not being published any more, not writing more, not producing new work for whatever reason . . . or they’ve aged and aren’t writing to their old standards any more . . . For whatever reason, there just hasn’t been anything new (or worth reading) of theirs and isn’t likely to be.

If you could have just ONE more book from an author you love . . . a book that would be as good any of their best (while we’re dreaming) . . . something that would round out a series, or finish their last work, or just be something NEW . . . Who would the author be, and why? Jane Austen? Shakespeare? Laurie Colwin? Kurt Vonnegut?

Well, to start with dead folk, I'd love to see how Dickens would have finished The Mystery of Edwin Drood and how Elizabeth Gaskell would have written the last chapter of Wives and Daughters (it's obvious that a happy ending was in store, but not exactly how it would have come about). I'd love another Jane Austen, please. And wouldn't it be nice if Shakespeare could write about Edward I and Edward II?

Living folk are harder, as someone will always surprise you and come out with something just when you'd never expected to hear from them again. There are several historical novelists I'd love to see more things from, but as I'm not sure whether they're dead or just no longer writing or being published, I won't make a gaffe by mentioning their names.

One thing I do know: I'm eager to see Sharon Penman's sequel to Time and Chance.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The King's Touch by Jude Morgan

This is going to be a short review, because I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and the pithy things I might have said are no longer fresh in my mind.

The King's Touch is told in the first person by Jemmy (James, Duke of Monmouth), the best-known bastard son of Charles II. It covers his life from his childhood with his beautiful, unstable mother to his decision to lead his rebellion against James II. Though Jemmy's military adventures play a part in this novel, this is by no means an action-packed tale. Nor is it concerned chiefly with the politics of the age, though they of course play an important background role. Rather, the focus is on Jemmy's relationships, most especially with his enigmatic father

Having been reading some other bloggers' thoughts about reviewing, it's struck me that my favorable reviews tend to be similar to each other: I praise the author's characterizations and writing style. That's no accident, because character to me is what the essence of novel writing is about; if I can't connect with the people in a novel on some level, the novel doesn't work for me. So having said that, you'll not be surprised to hear that I enjoyed The King's Touch chiefly for its characters. They're vivid and memorable, particularly Charles II and Jemmy himself.

Morgan's writing style is also a treat: elegant yet unfussy, and full of little gems like this comment about Jemmy's grandmother, Queen Henrietta Maria, who's just been told by Charles that he wants Jemmy raised as a Protestant:
My grandmother sat down tragically. (I cannot give a clear idea of tragical sitting-down, but my grandmother could manage it.)

The dialogue here sparkles, and is appropriate to the characters, some of the best lines being too bawdy to quote on this blog. Here's a random sample from Jemmy's cousin Mary, who's not looking forward to her wedding day:
"Then I am very well. But I am not, of course. It is not true, by the by, that I wept two days together after Father told me I was to marry Prince William. It was only a day and a half."

This was a great read. Pick it up.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The New, Improved Traitor's Wife

This is a new edition of my novel, with even a shiny new ISBN number, 1-58348-475-2. I've made some minor stylistic changes and corrected some typographical errors that have been nagging at me for two years, but otherwise it's the same book, just prettier. (For those who are curious about the matter, this edition is being produced through iUniverse's Star program, offered to books that have met certain quality and sales criteria.)

Once I get my author copies in and give them the Higginbotham Seal of Approval, I'll be giving a few away on this blog, so keep checking back! In the meantime, you can order the new edition here. Soon, of course, it will be available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers as well and can be ordered through your friendly book-and-mortar bookstore.