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CarpeLibrum

Carpe Librum

Reviews and bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.

If I am lost, you will find me in medieval England.

You can also find me - and my books - on my blog.

Historical Novel Society

Currently reading

Hanging Mary: A Novel
Susan Higginbotham
The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears
Mark Batterson
House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown
Nathen Amin

The Beaufort Bride by Judith Arnopp

The Beaufort Bride: The Life of Margaret Beaufort - Judith Arnopp

*Historic facts not treated as spoilers.*

Margaret Beaufort is known for being the formidable mother of Henry Tudor, but what was she before war and hardship turned her into the cold, angular woman we picture when we think of her? Arnopp does an excellent job of answering that question with this story covering Margaret's earliest years. Though the story ends when Margaret is only thirteen, she has already become a widowed mother with an unknown future lurking before of her.

Young Margaret is a girl we can each sympathize with, whether we understand her feelings of never being as beautiful as her sister or knowing she is not truly loved by her mother. When she is married off at a painfully early age, I cringed at what I knew was coming for her. 

Yet, the author also creates an Edmund Tudor we can understand. How can we admire a man who claimed his marriage privileges with his twelve year old wife? Well, just read it. You, too, might surprise yourself by shedding a tear when Edmund meets his tragic end.

Part of the secret is the skillful way Arnopp slowly builds a relationship between Margaret and Edmund. This is so sensitively and realistically done that theirs becomes an unlikely love story. However, the seeds for Margaret's future sternness are also planted. No one goes through what she did without starting to form a crusty shell, and her devotion to her only child is well established.

I look forward to reading the rest of this series and was happy to find it available through Kindle Unlimited.

Jefferson Lies by David Barton

The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You've Always Believed about Thomas Jefferson - David Barton, Glenn Beck

This book was challenging to listen to, and I can't imagine it is any easier on the eyes in its physical format. Although there are some great points made about how modern writers often misinterpret history, the writing style in general was repetitive to the point of being condescending. Even worse, some of the faults Barton (rightly) accuses other authors of, he is just as guilty of himself.

 

People who do not study history think that it is boring and simple. They are not aware of the heated debates that take place over motives and personalities. Thinking history is nothing more than a list of dates, they discount it as insignificant. If this book does nothing else, it disproves this thought regarding history.

 

Was Jefferson an atheist, racist, rapist, *add in the negative term you have heard applied to Jefferson here* - or was he a forward thinking, brilliant Christian man unfortunately limited by the world in which he lived? The answer, of course, would fully satisfy nobody at either extreme because Jefferson, like most everyone else, was a complex man not able to be fully defined by simplistic labels.

 

Barton gets a few things completely right. Modern writers do transpose their own worldviews onto historical figures and try to force them to fit into it. They do look at one written line or one spoken comment and draw drastic conclusions from them. They do try to use historical figures as props to hold up their modern ideas despite the fact that we have no idea how they would truly react to our current situation.

 

Unfortunately, Barton also gets a few things wrong. He tries to paint such an overwhelmingly positive portrait of Jefferson that he dismisses evidence contrary to his ideas just as much as those he speaks against. He states repeatedly that Jefferson was unable to free his slaves through his will due to Virginia law, which is easily disproved in about 30 seconds online. Yes, a law similar to what he describes existed, but it was not as restrictive as he makes it out to be. It was a painful exercise to listen to the author attempt to clear Jefferson's name as a 'racist' while admitting that he owned slaves his entire life.

 

This is the problem with trying to force our modern views upon historical figures. In truth, Jefferson really was forward thinking in his attitudes toward blacks, but he still lived during a time of legalized slavery. He did free some of his slaves, and he did hire free black men for various positions and held them in high esteem....but he also owned slaves. This is a way of thinking that we can't reconcile in our modern mind without trying harder to understand the 18/19th century way of thinking. Anyone calling Jefferson a racist or trying to exonerate him is not really trying to understand who he really was because it's just not that simple.

 

I did appreciate the section of this book explaining more detail about the so-called 'Jefferson Bible' and clarifying Jefferson's attitude toward faith & the church. The fact that freedom of religion has evolved into freedom from religion in the US leads to many misunderstandings of Jefferson's feelings and objectives in this arena.

 

This book unfortunately is not a good source on Jefferson due to the half-truths & exaggerations that are made. Some previous knowledge is required to be aware of where the author is taking liberties with the subject matter.

Surviving the Birth of a Dynasty

What is one to do under the reign of an unexpected king?

 

Source: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/09/surviving-birth-of-dynasty.html

Historic Places: Berlin

It would take far longer than the single day I had or one blog post to cover the history of Berlin, but here are my impressions.

 

Source: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/09/historic-places-berlin.html

First Women by Kate Andersen Brower

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies - Kate Andersen Brower

This was an impulsive audiobook listen & probably not something I would normally choose. It had some interesting bits but skipped back and forth in time enough to be annoying. While I felt more sympathy for some presidents and their wives after reading this, my opinion of others actually decreased.

Beginning with Jackie Kennedy - I mean it's impossible to say anything negative about Jackie - this book looks at the 'elite sorority' of first ladies. I was shocked by Lady Bird Johnson's unfailing loyalty and devotion regardless of what her husband did, surprisingly impressed by Pat Nixon, and felt a sympathetic connection with Betty Ford. Rosalynn Carter left less of an impression on me than the women she was surrounded by.

And then we got to the ladies that I actually remember being in the White House. Every time Michelle Obama is mentioned, the writer reminds us that she hates being there. Instead of creating any sympathy for her, I felt like this just made her seem whiny. The reader is also encouraged to think of the Clintons and Obamas as 'working class'. Ummmm...sure. All my friends make $275k/yr - Michelle's salary before entering the White House. I just can't connect with either of these ladies.

Anyway, it was an interesting listen that made me wonder, not for the first time, why anyone would want to be a politician - or one of their wives.

I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott

I, Eliza Hamilton - Susan Holloway Scott

With Hamilton: An American Musical taking the US by storm, I knew it wouldn't take long for someone to capitalize on the idea of a novel about Eliza. I also knew I would be first in line to get it. Eliza in the musical is sweet, loyal, devoted and the perfect person to balance the ambitious, fiery Hamilton. I loved the idea of focusing on her point-of-view and learning more about her story beyond Alexander.

Historical facts not treated as spoilers.

I heard the soundtrack of the musical playing in my mind the entire time I was reading this, and was thoroughly disappointed when they ended at the same time. After looking forward to reading about Eliza's life after Hamilton - she outlived him by 50 years - I discovered that this author has decided that only the Alexander years were interesting. In fact, the entire story reads that way. Eliza is almost obsessed with her husband and has no interests or passions of her own besides bearing his children. Some of this is appropriate. Eliza was a woman of her time and was devoted to her husband, but that's why it would have been nice to learn more about her life after his death.

When Alexander meets the Schuyler sisters, it is a bit different than the vision of Angelica, Peggy, & Eliza sneaking into downtown NYC to find an 'urchin who can give you ideals.' In fact, anyone who knows their history primarily from the musical will be disappointed to discover that Angelica did not decide to introduce Alexander to Eliza after her epiphany of 'three fundamental truths.' She was Angelica Church long before she met Hamilton, though she did famously flirt with him and seemingly most men she came into contact with. (This and a few other themes are repeated incessantly. Angelica flirts. Alexander works too hard & is so much smarter than anyone else. Eliza is soooo in love....and always pregnant.)

This novel adheres more strictly to historical truths than the musical, which is probably its greatest strength. Hamilton comes across largely the same. 'I prob’ly shouldn’t brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish. The problem is I got a lot of brains but no polish. I gotta holler just to be heard. With every word, I drop knowledge!' Eliza almost manages to remain a supporting character in her own story. And maybe there's a reason she is not usually brought to the forefront. Her story is bland. Her never-ending pledges of undying love and telling the reader how handsome and brilliant her husband is just doesn't captivate. I found myself waiting for the big moments that I knew were coming so that the novel would get an injection of drama.

Except that didn't happen. When Eliza reads the Reynolds Pamphlet, she takes less time to get over it than it takes Phillipa Soo to sing 'Burn,' and Philip's death did not create anywhere near the emotional impact that I expected. This Eliza can accept anything as long as Alexander still pledges his love to her. 

And then it's over. Of course, I had guessed this based on the remaining pages shrinking to a point that there was no way another 50 years was going to be covered, but I held out irrational hope until the bitter end. More of Eliza's post-Alexander life is revealed in 'Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.'

Admittedly, I do not typically read romance novels, and this seems to be getting great ratings from readers who look more specifically for this genre. In my opinion, there was a bit too much gloss and not enough emotion to get a reader truly involved. Still, it is a quick read for 400ish pages and has some good historical nuggets included.

I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.

Cor Rotto by Adrienne Dillard

Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey - Adrienne Dillard

This book appealed to me because the author seemed to have the same philosophy toward writing historical fiction as my own. Catherine Carey is a relatively minor character in Tudor era drama though she is closely related to larger players, just how closely is a subject for debate. The story is a intimately told personal story of love, family, and loyalty that focuses on Catherine and her children rather than the historical events of the day. Since she was born during the reign of Henry VIII, survived Edward VI and Mary I, and served Elizabeth I, Catherine has an interesting story to tell.

 

That being said, she is above all else a wife and mother. Catherine avoids most of the drama of the Tudor court, the major exception to this rule being when she and her husband find refuge with Protestants on the Continent during the reign of Queen Mary. This gives an interesting glimpse into the decisions that each family had to make during the religious unrest of the 16th century.

 

Catherine is submissive to her husband and loyal to Queen Elizabeth (no matter how horridly the virgin queen behaves), which causes her story to largely be the story of others and events that are beyond he control. Sometimes, this causes more telling than showing, but the reader is at the mercy of Catherine's limited point-of-view. The most emotive moments are when she births, cares for, and inevitably loses several of her fourteen children. While she yearns to simply raise her children, the demanding Queen Elizabeth frequently keeps Catherine away from her beloved family so that she can fulfill important duties such as caring for the royal pet monkey. Suffice it to say that Catherine had far more patience for the situations she was placed in than I would!

 

We are given glimpses of Catherine's daughter Lettice, who promises to have a more dramatic story. I wonder if the author will be carrying on with her.

 

I was pleased to find this book available through Kindle Unlimited.

Killers of the King by Charles Spencer

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I - Charles Spencer

This book does a fairly good job of doing what it sets out to do: describing the fates of the 'men who dared to execute Charles I'. If that wasn't exactly what I was expecting, despite the fact that it states it right there on the cover, the deficiency is clearly mine. I picked up this book to expand my study of British history beyond the Tudor era, but this was probably not the best introduction to the English Civil War.

 

Instead of looking at Charles I and why the people decided to rise up and kill him, this book details the punishments that were meted out or avoided at great cost when Charles II came to the throne. Since I knew little or nothing about the people involved, it was difficult for me to remain interested in their stories. I really needed more background and broader knowledge in order to appreciate these individual stories.

 

I was impressed by the demonstrations of deep faith on the part of the men who were methodically hunted down and executed employing the most violent methods. They had dared to kill a king and were still certain that God was on their side. The hunters are more difficult to sympathize with as they spend years and valuable resources tracking down men, even once they are silenced and aged, so that they can be brought to 'justice'.

 

I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.

What would Elizabeth of York have thought of Henry's Great Matter?

I get asked this question from time to time, so I thought I would respond to it today on my blog.

 

Source: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/09/elizabeth-of-york-on-henrys-great-matter.html

Interview and Giveaway

The MMS Book Club has interviewed me & has a giveaway going on for one of my books. Check it out!

Source: http://blog.mymilitarysavings.com/author-interview-with-samantha-wilcoxson

Bosworth and the Brandons

We will hear a lot today about Richard III and Henry VII at Bosworth, and rightly so, but I chose to take a look at the Brandons, who were also deeply impacted by the events of August 22nd.

 

Source: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/08/bosworth-and-brandons.html

The Merchant's Tale by Ann Swinfen

The Merchant's Tale (Oxford Medieval Mysteries Book 4) - Ann Swinfen
I look forward to each addition to Swinfen's Oxford mysteries series, and this installment did not disappoint. Occurring just weeks after The Huntsman's Tale , the story of lovable Nicholas Elyot carries on seamlessly. Now we find ourselves returned to Oxford in time for the St Frideswide's Fair, where some people have nefarious deeds in mind.

Nicholas is emboldened enough to begin pressing his suit with the lovely Emma and I felt the squeeze of my heart just as I would if two people I personally knew were finally discovering that they were perfect for one another. Mild mannered Nicholas proved that he can be a charming romantic at times, such as when convincing Emma that he would walk her home. 'There is no need, Nicholas. I shall be quite safe with the others.' 'You will be even safer with me.' Be still my heart.

I am also enjoying the development of other characters and relationships. For example, it is fun watching Nicholas' daughter Alysoun become a young woman. 'Alysoun looked pleased and slightly smug, finding herself part of Margaret's armed forces against the incompetent world of men.'

If it takes Nicholas and his comrades ridiculously long to determine just who could be the target of a mysterious murderer using the fair as his cover, this can be forgiven because the reader is treated to more exquisite views of daily life in 14th century Oxford. The challenges of gathering fruit and preparing food, the excitement and dangers of the fair, the struggles of a business owner falling under the rules of the Church, and much more make this novel a joy to read for the way it truly transports the reader back in time.

This is a series that is put at the top of my TBR as soon as a new book is released. I wonder when book 5 will be arriving, because I don't believe for a moment that Nicholas is 'once again a humble Oxford bookseller and glad to be done with high drama.' I have a feeling that mysterious events will find you again, dear Nicholas.
 

 

Scatterwood by Piers Alexander

Scatterwood - Piers Alexander
I chose this book because it seemed interesting enough to force me out of my normal areas of reading. The late 17th century setting was compelling, taking the reader from the streets of London to the plantations and mountains of Jamaica. The author clearly has a passion for the history that is the basis for this novel, and I enjoyed the authenticity of the story.

Unlike many novels that romanticize their setting, Scatterwood delves deep into the horrors of the slave trade, indentured servitude, and early sugar plantation work. Some scenes made me cringe and hope that no person had truly had to suffer such indignities (knowing full well that they did). From devilish overseers to swarms of biting insects, the trials of our protagonist, a man blackmailed into indentured servitude with an impossible mission to accomplish, are brought to life.

I do feel that I would have had a bit of an easier time following the action and keeping track of the cast of characters had I first read The Bitter Trade, which introduces them. Everyone is brought onto the scene in this book as though the reader should already know them, and the action happens so quickly that I sometimes found myself a bit lost. However, for those looking for a fast-paced adventure that reveals some dark aspects of history, this book is a great choice.

3.5 stars. I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.
 
 

 

BL Library

I was under the impression that BL pulled it's library from Amazon, but I frequently can't find new books or they show up with no cover. I either have to add books or wait a few weeks after I've read them to mark them read here, but that seems needlessly tedious. I'm sure this information is somewhere if one of you would be kind enough to direct me. 

Plantagenet Embers Kindle Box Set

Remember helping me with this cover? Well, it's finally here! This project, which I thought would be simple since it involved books I had already written, turned out to be almost too much for my level of tech savvy. Still, it is here in time to be taken to the beach this summer! Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen!

 

Source: http://myBook.to/PlantagenetEmbers

The Legacy of Luther by Nichols, Sproul, etc.

The Legacy of Luther - Stephen J. Nichols, R.C. Sproul

With this year being the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, everyone should be reading something about Martin Luther, and this particular book is a good choice for either beginner or dyed-in-the-wool Lutheran. Everything from Luther's life, his teaching, his interactions with other reformers, and the legacy he left behind is addressed here.

 

This book is divided into three sections that are each addressed through a series of essays written by an impressive team of theologians. While it is interesting to read the writing of various scholars and appreciate the way their essays support one another, it also inevitably creates some repetitiveness. My favorite section was the first: Luther's Life, which is a brief biography of Luther including how his beliefs were formed and evolved throughout his life.

 

The writers do not attempt to turn Luther into something he was not, and his faults are part of who he was. God used this temperamental and at times judgmental man. 'Because of the magnitude of the disorders, God gave this age a violent physician.' Luther was not passive and conciliatory, but he was who was needed to put the Reformation in motion.

 

The second section of the book covers Luther's Thought. This is a highly spiritual discussion of the tenets of faith that may be less familiar to those who are approaching this as a scholarly rather than a devotional work. Scripture Alone does not sound like a controversial stance to take now, but Luther shook the world with it. Each chapter covers the main issues that were written about by Luther and how they impacted the 16th century.

 

Finally, Luther's Legacy, the third section of the book, looks at the various roles Luther filled and what his impact was long after his death. It is here where we learn that Luther not only translated the Bible into German, but he helped form the German language into its modern form when he did so. He not only wrote hymns that involved his congregation in spiritual music, he was inspiration for future musicians such as Bach.

 

To this day, Wittenberg and the entire country of Germany celebrate Luther for the sacrificial work he performed that continues to have an important effect on us all centuries later. If you have ever wondered what all the fuss is about, this book is a good place to start.

 

I received this book through NetGalley. Opinions are my own.