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 – ‘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.