Book Review – ‘The Queen’s Spy’ by Clare Marchant


Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of this for review.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to see the spying in the Elizabethan court from a fictional point of view, having read a lot of nonfiction about it recently for my own book. It’s quite a complex subject and period of time but Clare Marchant deals with it in a sympathetic and concise manner, keeping the story moving along.

The Babington Plot was a pivotal moment in the history of Elizabethan and Tudor England, because it led directly to the execution of an anointed monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, although the book doesn’t cover the execution itself. We see the background to the plot through the eyes of a deaf and mute apothecary’s assistant, Tom Lutton, who is pulled into the dark world of Francis Walsingham and back-street spying and conspiracy.

In the end he pays a high price for his involvement, but this is contrasted with the parallel story of one of Lutton’s descendants in 2021, Mathilde and Rachel. I’m never entirely sure about a book written both in the present and in the past, having had bad experiences with parallel narratives before. However, this was startlingly clear, and the two parts worked really well together.

Mathilde, Rachel, Fleur, and Oliver, all added something to the narrative of the past, even though they are characters based in the present. The way they explored the triptych and the history behind it added more depth to Tom’s story in his chapters, and the ending tied everything together really nicely, making it feel like a completed whole.

An excellent fictional exploration of a complex period in English history, with characters that make you want to read on and find out how their stories end. I was completely gripped.

Book Review – ‘Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife’ by Alison Weir


I have thoroughly enjoyed this whole series from Alison Weir and what a way to end! Although the previous two for me were the weakest (‘Anna of Kleve’ and ‘Katheryn Howard’). This one brought the series back up to the levels of the first three books in the series. Katherine Parr is often just remembered as the sixth wife and the one who survived, but this offers a new insight into her life and the people who she affected and who affected her most.

Katherine Parr has always fascinated me – she was the only one of Henry’s wives to have married twice before her marriage to the King (Katherine of Aragon was married once before) and then once after as well! She is a really intriguing woman who suffered so much through her life and died tragically as well, though at least it was a natural death rather than a beheading!

The book was full of detail and well-paced. I had thought that maybe Weir would rush through Katherine’s first two marriages, but she didn’t, and I think that was actually my favourite part of the book – the bit that I know least about, and certainly is least written about Katherine. The focus tends to be on her royal marriage and her fourth marriage to Thomas Seymour and the controversy with Elizabeth, but it was these early marriages which really shaped her, so it was super interesting to read about those in a fictionalised way.

The ideas of betrayal and religion run throughout as Katherine struggles not to betray her own religious beliefs, or her feelings about Thomas Seymour, to those around her. This was a tumultuous period in English history where religion was very much an open question and Weir handles it sensitively with the views of the time not marred too much by the sensibilities of the present.

This was an excellent book to finish the series off on and this is certainly a series I will come back to again and re-read.

Book Review – ‘Essex: Tudor Rebel’ by Tony Riches


Thank you to Tony Riches for giving me a copy of this book to review.

I really enjoy Tony Riches’ writing. He has a way of bringing the world of the Tudor court to life that makes these historical figures who lived over 400 years ago seem very real in the present. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is an intriguing character with plenty of history. All I really knew about him was the end of his life – the rebellion that resulted in his execution, from my own research. This book opened my eyes to some of the events of his earlier life.

I’ve been researching Elizabethan rebellions, so it was interesting to find out more about this figure who was central to a rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. The story follows him from his childhood, and the death of his father, to his death by execution. It explores scandal, romance, and treason. We really get to see the changeable attitude of the Queen and how fortunes could change on just one roll of the die.

It features a wide range of real historical characters along Essex, like Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Cecil, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney. These characters come together to create a richly detailed storyline with plenty going on which keeps the story moving. I was really intrigued by the supporting character of Lettice Knollys, Essex’s mother, who herself was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. Her relationships with her children and partners were particularly interesting.

What is particularly interesting for me in this story is to see the development of Essex from a boy who loses his father at a young age and has to step suddenly and unexpectedly into his shoes, to the Queen’s favourite at court, to an attainted rebel who ends on the scaffold. The story is full of ups and downs and makes you want to keep reading.

If you don’t know much about key characters in Tudor history, then I would really recommend reading books by Tony Riches because he introduces them without too much fuss, but with enough detail to bring them to life, and makes you want to find out more about them. I can’t wait to fill in the gaps and read the ones I haven’t read yet.

Book Review – ‘Execution’ by S.J. Parris


I really enjoyed this book. I am currently working on my first non-fiction book about Elizabethan Rebellions, so this was a really interesting fictional account of the Babington plot which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots the following year. This is the fifth in a series of books revolving around Giordano Bruno.

Giordano Bruno as a character was intriguing and keeps being so throughout each book in the series. He is complex, with different strands like his religious history, academic studies, and his spy and undercover work. Bruno was a real person who was in England spying for Francis Walsingham, although the exact nature of his assignments doesn’t seem to be known, and it look as though he left England in 1585 so couldn’t have been involved in the Babington plot in 1586.

A bit of historical license is OK, and Bruno is such an interesting character that I can imagine he would have been involved in the Babington conspiracy if given the opportunity. The conspiracy was the interesting bit for me and the relationships between those involved in the conspiracy – Babington, Titch, Ballard, and Savage. In historical sources we don’t see these relationships so that was what drew my attention.

Those who know the history will know how it ends and the basics of the progression of the plot, but Parris manages to hold you on the edge of your seat anyway, weaving the real history through with fictional sub-plots which blend in seamlessly to the rest of the story. The reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I found the beginning quite slow and hard going. It didn’t seem necessary to spin it out for so long.

I’ve always enjoyed reading this series because of the interactions between the characters and their involvement in various conspiracies. Whether there will be further books in the series, I don’t know, but there are several unresolved issues, so I really hope so!

Book Review – ‘The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives’ by Tim Darcy Ellis


Thank you to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book.

This is a very interesting book about a person who is only really known about by Tudor historians as the tutor of Princess Mary (later Mary I). But this book is more wide-ranging, looking at the plight of Jews across Europe through Vives’s eyes in the early 16th century.

It is written in a series of diary entries across several years. There are poems interspersed throughout, though I don’t know the origin of these, whether they are contemporary or not. There is an interesting historical note at the end which offers some background on Vives and the plight of the Jews at this time.

There are some minor errors in the dating of the diary entries – for example, one entry is 1523 and the following entry is 1522, possibly an editorial issue. But this doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere of the book. It is well-written and engaging, and the characters come across as real. You can tell that there is quite a lot of research that has gone into the story to make it as real as possible.

Vives is a hugely conflicted character as he tries to balance his humanism and learning with his desire to make himself and his family and those whom he loves safe. He has an interesting relationship with Sir Thomas More and his family, and we can track how this changes through the novel as Vives’s priorities change. The relationships between different characters are obviously well thought-out and researched and the fictional characters are seamlessly integrated with the real characters. The character list at the beginning is really helpful to distinguish real from fictional and for those less acquainted with the history of the period to keep the characters in line.

This is a really fascinating read for those interested in the plight of the Jews, or how Vives managed to get himself involved in the lives of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon and the English royal court.

This is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Book Review – ‘Princess of Thorns’ by Saga Hillbom


Thank you to the author for giving me a copy of this to review.

I really enjoyed this quite unique take on the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII. Told from the point of view of Cecily of York, daughter of Edward IV and sister to Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) it gives a different view almost from the outside in. It also offers a fictional account of a woman at the centre of the warring factions, essentially Yorkist but forced to marry a staunch Lancastrian.

This novel has certainly made me more interested in the other York sisters and following their lives a bit more closely. I know a bit about Elizabeth of York having studied the Tudors and been introduced to her through Henry VII, but the others seem to have led interesting lives as well, so I want to read more around them.

The writing is concise and the descriptions clear, making you believe that you can see the pieces of jewellery described or be in the places that the characters are in, picturing those same characters clearly in your head though, for me at least, influenced in part by historical TV dramas like ‘The White Queen’ (eye roll). The book is quite fast-paced, but sentimental in places, and the balance between the two is exceptional.

The sibling rivalry between Cecily and her eldest sister, Elizabeth, was brilliantly done, and echoes squabbling siblings across the ages, only this was a more high-stakes environment. The jealousy of what could be perceived as the less successful or powerful sibling (Cecily) juxtaposed against the more powerful and influential queen (Elizabeth) exacerbates what I’m sure siblings today will recognise. That gives a touch of the familiar into this otherwise unrecognisable world compared to today.

If there are any lovers of historical fiction based in the Wars of the Roses or early Tudor period I would thoroughly recommend this book as it offers something unique, being written from the point of view of a woman often overlooked in history, but who at the same time was at the centre of events and who suffered many personal tragedies in her life. Saga Hillbom tells her story with sensitivity and demonstrates just how perilous life and ambition could be.

This review is also published on my sister blog BookBloggerish | For Everything Bookish (wordpress.com).

Saga Hillbom has also written a guest post for this blog on the marriage of Richard III and Anne Neville, which can be found here.

Book Review – ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris


This book is beautiful. Stunning. Haunting. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get round to reading it. I think in a way it’s the idea of reading about Auschwitz. The name itself has a kind of sickening fascination. The subject matter will be distressing for some and I think you probably have to be in the right frame of mind to really enjoy this book but find that frame of mind and you’ll be blown away.

Based on a true story, ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ follows the story of Lale and Gita and how their lives intertwine during those fateful years during the Second World War that Auschwitz became infamous for the extermination of the Jews. Lale tattooes the numbers onto the arms of those who live and work in the camp, and his own personal struggles with this job, and how he uses it to try and make the lives of those around him easier is inspiring. There are so many facets to the characters that come out and it’s beautiful.

Morris weaves a tale of hope and help in the midst of such horrifying events, and the juxtaposition of the two is incredibly powerful in the way that it’s told. Reading this with the hindsight of history in some ways makes it harder because we know how many people died as a result of camps like Auschwitz, but you can see the love and hope in these characters. A love story and hope for the future in the midst of so much death really does provide optimism and hope in the present.

“To save one is to save the world”.

This line sums up the promise in this book. It echoes throughout the story and is taken to heart. If you help or save just one person then your existence is worth it. I can’t even express how much this book moved me. If you haven’t read it, go out and read it now. If you haven’t already seen it, I have published my review of the sequel, ‘Cilka’s Journey’, already.

I don’t think it’s possible to explain this book – you just have to go and read it!

This has also been published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Book Review – ‘Cilka’s Journey’ by Heather Morris


Not a Tudor book review, but an excellent historical fiction novel. My review of ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ is to follow.

Another excellent book from Heather Morris. This is a sequel to ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ but also stands apart from it. It follows the story of Cilka Klein, who was introduced in ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ but here we see what happened to her once she left the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It’s a haunting story, but, like Tattooist, filled with hope and love.

I think I enjoyed Tattooist ever-so-slightly more, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Although this is based on a true story, I think the veracity of it didn’t quite ring through in the same way as Tattooist, possibly because Morris couldn’t actually interview Cilka as she did with Lale. That’s not to detract from Morris’s writing, but I just didn’t get the same sense of voice as I did with Tattooist.

Nevertheless it was really well-written, and I couldn’t put it down once I started. I listened to the audiobook while I was working, and it really made the day go by quickly. There were several sections where I had to stop working for a minute and just listen, and other sections where I had to press pause and take a moment.

It might seem strange to read something so dark, dealing with such difficult topics in a time of pandemic (writing this in the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in the UK), but it also gave hope and a light at the end of the tunnel feeling, that if Cilka could get through everything she went through, we can endure a lockdown, and cope with the uncertainty and change and come out of the other side.

I hope Morris keeps researching and writing because I would love to read more from her – she has a way of writing that brings true stories to life in a fictional guise. It is beautiful but also achingly haunting.

Also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Book Review – ‘Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen’ by Samantha Wilcoxson


I’ve really enjoyed this view on Elizabeth of York. There are a lot of historical fiction books about Henry VIII and his wives, but fewer about Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, so this was really interesting for me. I’ve read ‘The White Princess’ by Philippa Gregory, but I thought that this was much better, and more enjoyable.

It was really well-written, and it paid attention to the historical record, while filling in any gaps in the established knowledge with plausible explanations. For example, the fate of the Princes in the Tower is interweaved through the story, going through Richard III’s reign, and the rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Wilcoxson at the end does reveal through the story what she believes happened to them (without spoiling it!).

Elizabeth as a character is interesting, trying to juxtapose her Plantagenet beginnings with her Tudor marriage. The comparison of Prince Arthur as a Tudor prince and Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) as a Plantagenet prince is fascinating, and not something that I’ve really thought about before, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Elizabeth’s relationship with Henry is also quite interesting as she is portrayed as not wanting to marry him, but gradually falls in love with him, although they have ups and downs, as in any marriage.

Other books seem to portray Elizabeth as a kind of victim, and at the mercy of her husband and mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, but in this book she is seen as a true Queen who influenced events and made her own decisions. Henry VII was also a fascinating character, as he is often seen in history as a miser, but this didn’t really seem to happen until after Elizabeth’s death, so it’s interesting to see him with Elizabeth and the possibilities of their relationship.

I am looking forward to reading the other books in this series about Margaret Pole and Mary I, and how they might be portrayed, as they have also not been written about very much, so it’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, although I need to get through my unread books first!

Also published on my sister blog https://bookbloggerish.wordpress.com/

Book Review – ‘The Murder of Edward VI’ by David Snow


Thank you to GenZ Publishing for a chance to read and review this book.

I’m not sure what I expected from this book. From the title I think I was expecting an exploration of Edward VI’s reign, but what it actually explores is the supposed grudge of Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and how she murdered her half-brother, Edward VI to take the throne. There were some rumours of this at the time, especially from Protestant commentators, who resented Mary I returning England to the Roman Catholic Church.

The way that the story was written was quite engaging in places, and I did enjoy Richard Barton’s sojourn in Italy at the beginning of the book. However, there were several grammatical and spelling errors scattered throughout, which slightly ruined my enjoyment of it. Jumping backwards and forwards in memories was quite well-handled, and it was clear which sections were past and present. This isn’t always handled well in novels in my experience, so I was pleased that it was in this instance.

There were a couple of major fact issues I had with the novel. The main one is that Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1527, but he didn’t become Archbishop until 1532. The timeline is a bit messed up, frankly, and I think this ruined my overall enjoyment of the novel. Perhaps these historic fact issues were such a big deal for me because, in the Preface, the author says that positions taken, religious orientation and ideas expressed are accurate as per the historical record, but from my research this isn’t necessarily true. There were also a couple of factual errors when Snow outlined the history in the Preface (see the list, if interested, at the bottom of this review).

I don’t expect historical fiction to be entirely historically accurate. I really enjoy reading Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, and no one accepts that novel is historically accurate. I think what annoyed me particularly about this novel is that the author had written in the Preface that he had based it on the historical sources, but there are several glaring factual errors.

Perhaps because of my background I can’t see past the historical inaccuracies. Someone with less knowledge might find the book more engaging and readable than I did for this reason.


I know not everyone will be interested, but for those who are, here are some of the issues I had with the historical record in this novel:

  • The main issue I had is that, in the novel, Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1527, but in reality he didn’t become Archbishop until 1532. This is a really key issue as 1527 marks really the beginning of the Reformation ideas in England, while 1532 is where England breaks with Rome. This means that Cranmer is working with Thomas Wolsey, which never happened; I’m not aware that the two ever met.
  • The idea of a church without a Pope also seems to have come from Wolsey in this novel, but he was a staunch Roman Catholic, and I can’t imagine he would ever have suggested this.
  • Snow also has the Sack of Rome two years before, which would put it in 1525, but this actually happened in 1527. The Battle of Pavia where Charles V captured the French king was in 1525 but the Imperial Sack of Rome was in 1527 when the divorce was just being put into action.
  • The main issue in the Preface was that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was regent to Edward VI. This latter is completely untrue – Edward VI only had two regents and they were Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Northumberland was formerly Earl of Warwick so possibly this is where the confusion comes from.
  • Snow also writes that Edward VI was born in 1538, when he was actually born a year earlier, in 1537.
  • In the Preface, Snow says that Anne Boleyn was accused of witchcraft. This is a common misconception, but she was never actually indicted for witchcraft. This stems from a comment by Henry VIII, reported by Chapuys, that he had been “bewitched”.