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 – ‘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 – ‘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 Boy King’ by Janet Wertman


Thanks to Janet Wertman for giving me a copy of this book to review.

The idea of this series intrigued me from the beginning. This is the third book in the series, but they can all be read as standalone books as well – this is the first one I’ve read but I will certainly be going back to read ‘Jane the Quene’ and ‘The Path to Somerset’.

Edward VI is often overlooked with many more biographies and historical novels being written about Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, and even Mary I gets a fair amount of attention. Mainly what I know about Edward VI is more about his Device for the Succession and the dispute over Jane Grey’s succession to the throne, so this was very interesting for me, even as a fictional account.

I really enjoyed reading about Edward VI’s uncertainty and trying to find his way through the political maelstrom that ended up execution two of his uncles, Thomas Seymour and Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and his second Protector, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. The rivalry between Somerset and Northumberland was incredibly engaging to read, dramatic and nuanced. I think it was this that really made the story so engrossing.

I liked how the story was split into different days, almost like a diary, which I know that Edward VI did write. It helped the story to move along, and the dual narration from Edward VI and Mary I worked well, to give an adult insight alongside the childish but maturing insights of Edward VI. Even the supporting characters were very interesting, just to get glimpses of the likes of Frances Brandon, Jane Grey, Robert Dudley and Princess Elizabeth was fascinating from Edward VI’s point of view.

This book is really highly recommended. The best fictional portrayal of the reign of Edward VI I’ve read so far. I had a hard time putting it down and I can’t wait to read the first two books in the series!

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”.

Book Review – ‘Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen’ by Alison Weir


This was a very interesting take on the life of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, particularly her early life. Alison Weir’s writing always engages me; more so when she writes novels than her non-fiction works actually. It was quite mesmerising to read and once I got engaged in it, I did find it very difficult to put down.

Katherine’s relationship with her sister, Lady Baynton, was especially poignant for me. It was amazing to see a different side to Katherine, even a fictional take, and there isn’t very much written about her relations with her family. It was lovely to see that possible family dynamic and imagine what her life might have been like in those early years as her life seemed to crumble around her. I think in many biographies of Katherine her family is kind of pushed to the side – focuses very much on the Duke of Norfolk and the dowager duchess.

The relationships Katherine had with Manox, Dereham and Culpeper were portrayed in very contrasting ways, so it was interesting to see how they were juxtaposed against each other. They all in a way seem to be portrayed almost as child abuse, particularly those with Manox and Dereham, as older men took advantage of a vulnerable child. Katherine was portrayed as being quite naïve in the way she thought about things, even while at court.

It is a fascinating and intriguing account, well-written with tiny details, great description, and one of the best fictional accounts of Katherine Howard’s life that I’ve read. The entire series is a great arc of the wives of Henry VIII throughout his life, and it’s interesting to see Henry through their eyes.

I would thoroughly recommend this series, because it’s very well-written and offers a slightly different perspective to other works, both fictional and non-fiction, particularly on the lesser-known queens I’ve found like Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Review also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

Book Review – ‘Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets’ by Alison Weir


I think I’ve put off reading this book because I read some reviews when it first came out that said that Alison Weir had portrayed Anne of Cleves as having a pregnancy before she married Henry VIII. I don’t believe that and there isn’t really anything in the historical record to back it up.

However, I was really interested to read Weir’s take on Katherine Howard, ‘Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen’, so I really wanted to read the Anne of Cleves book to get the background. I was actually pleasantly surprised when it came down to it and I got really involved in the story. I actually preferred Weir’s take on Anne of Cleves to that of Katherine Howard, now I’ve read both books.

I’ve always loved Weir’s style of writing when it comes to her fiction books – she seems to have a better writing style for fiction than non-fiction. Weir really engages the reader in the story she’s telling, and makes you believe that you’re really there with vivid descriptions and great characterisation.

Once I started reading I found it quite hard to put down actually, maybe that’s because there was so much that wasn’t a part of the historical record and it made reading it that much more exciting and unexpected. The historical record is described in an additional chapter at the end, and where the novel deviates from what has been recorded.

I’d really recommend this series of books to anyone with an interest in the Tudors, or who loves historical fiction. It’s really well-written, with excellent description and full of tiny details.

This review is also published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel


‘The Mirror and the Light’ has to be one of the most anticipated books of 2020. It’s been 8 years since the previous book in the trilogy, ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, was published.

The trilogy as a whole focuses on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey – Thomas Cromwell. For those who don’t know the background, Cromwell was at the heart of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution, and Henry VIII’s 6-month marriage to Anne of Cleves. There is debate in the historical community over this involvement in these events, but Mantel puts him at the forefront.

It’s taken me around 2 months to read this – not because of any real problem with the book, but because of this COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve seen quite a few people saying that they’ve been struggling to read during lockdown, and I’ve fallen into that hole. Nevertheless, I have finished it finally and I’m really glad I finally got to see Cromwell’s end written in Mantel’s hand.

“Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.”

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel

I loved the way that the last few chapters were written in particular. For anyone who knows how Cromwell’s life ends (I feel like most people reading this blog probably will, but I still won’t drop any spoilers!), it felt like a different way of ending than those we’ve seen before, either in books or on TV or film. It was a sympathetic way of seeing it, as Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell has been throughout the series. Whether her view is right or wrong her grasp of the historical context is demonstrated by the tiny details that are included, looking not just at the events established but what is hinted at in letters left behind.

One thing I will say, though, is that this is actually my least favourite of the trilogy; ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ was my favourite. In some ways this felt too long, like it dragged on – I didn’t feel like it had the same pace as the others. The section between Jane’s death in 1537 and the marriage to Anne in 1540 felt a little forced in places, as Mantel tried to fit in everything that happened and could have a bearing on Cromwell’s fall.

Nevertheless, a worthy ending to a series about a man that has often been maligned by history, rightly or wrongly; I’ll leave it to you to make up your own minds.

If you want to read more about the fall of Thomas Cromwell, see my earlier blog post https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/the-fall-of-thomas-cromwell-1540/

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

Book Review – ‘Kindred Spirits: York’ by Jennifer C. Wilson


In the ancient city of York, something sinister is stirring… What do a highwayman, an infamous traitor, and two hardened soldiers have in common? Centuries of friendship, a duty to the town, and a sense of mischief – until they realise that someone is trying to bring chaos to their home. Joining forces with local Vikings, the four friends keep an eye on the situation, but then, disaster strikes. Can peace be restored both inside and out of the city walls? [Description from Amazon UK]

This one was definitely darker than the previous books in the series, but I thought it was really good. It was quite nice to see a different side to Wilson’s writing, though I still insist that ‘Kindred Spirits: Tower of London’ was my favourite! Not your typical ghost story or historical fiction, but really interesting to read in the way that it was written and the conception of the story as well.

The previous books in the series never really tackled how a new ghost is accepted into the ghostly community and how that is dealt with, so that was interesting, as was the method of her death (without giving too much away!). I also liked the idea that ghosts could still be harmed and fade out of existence, I hope that’s dealt with further in other books in the series. I think this one marked a turning point in Wilson’s writing, combining the historical fact and legends with living fictional characters, which has never really happened in any of her previous novels.

I loved the camaraderie between Richard Duke of York, Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes – characters that I wouldn’t have put together but provided a lot of the drama as well as comedy in this story. They all come from different periods and wouldn’t have known each other in life, so to see the way they banded together in death was totally intriguing, and I think that’s what draws me back to this series in general – it is so unexpected but it manages to work!

You can tell that Wilson has spent time in the locations that she bases her novels in, as well as speaking to those who live there, because there are little snippets of detail that most people wouldn’t know or wouldn’t see. She weaves historical fact into the myths and legends, so you know that there has been a lot of research before pen even got close to paper. Maybe that’s why the ghost side of the story seems logical; because you know the locations are real you can imagine the rest.

This series is so good, and I would recommend it to anyone. The interactions between characters that you wouldn’t normally see in the same book alone make it worth reading, whether you are interested in history or ghost stories or not! More please, Jennifer!

Book Review – ‘Mary: Tudor Princess’ by Tony Riches


Would you dare to defy King Henry VIII? Mary Tudor watches her elder brother become King of England and wonders what the future holds for her. Henry plans to use her marriage to build a powerful alliance against his enemies…. Will she risk his anger by marrying for love? Will Mary’s loyalty to Henry be tested by the ambitious Boleyn family? Based on actual events of courage, passion and adventure in the turbulent and dangerous world of the Tudor court. [Description from Amazon UK]

Brandon Trilogy #1

Thank you to Tony Riches for the chance to read this novel.

This has been on my to-read for quite a while now, so I was thrilled when Tony Riches got in touch and offered me a copy for review. It’s taken me a while to get around to actually writing the review because I’ve been so busy, but finally here it is. To summarise: I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the next in the series.

Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, has always fascinated me, as she went from a political marriage to Louis XII of France to a love match with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. It was interesting to see the two marriages explored and contrasted with each other. Riches portrays Mary’s marriage to Louis XII as one of respect and affection, whereas other depictions (notably in TV show, ‘The Tudors’) show Mary’s first marriage as an unhappy one. I like to think that she at least found some affection in her marriage, and I liked Riches portrayal of the marriage as such.

Riches’ style of writing is easy to read, but really seems to get to the heart of the period at the same time. He incorporates sights, sounds and smells with the characters that bring the Tudor court to life. The relationships between the different characters were different to how I had imagined them, but that heightened my enjoyment of the book because it wasn’t what I was expecting but I thoroughly liked a different point of view nevertheless.

Mary’s relationship with Brandon’s children from his earlier marriage I didn’t expect, and I want to know more, so if anyone can recommend a book about Charles Brandon and his children I would love to know about it.

Charles Brandon has also been a source of fascination to me as he seems to be the one constant in Henry VIII’s life, and he managed to survive the reign where so many others didn’t, so I am greatly looking forward to reading the second book in the series – ‘Brandon: Tudor Knight’. I will definitely be giving it a go, and the third in the series, ‘Katherine: Tudor Duchess’, about Brandon’s final wife, Katherine Willoughby. Reviews to follow in due course. This book was an eye-opener on a person who interests me, but I didn’t know all that much about, well worth a read for any Tudorstorians out there.