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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

The Enterprise of England (The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez) (Volume 2)
Ann Swinfen
Challenger Deep
Brendan Shusterman, Neal Shusterman
The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America
Richard John Neuhaus
A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Carla Barnhill, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Wallis
The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears
Mark Batterson
Happy Reformation Day!!
Happy Reformation Day!!

1517 by Peter Marshall

1517: Martin Luther and the Invention of the Reformation - Peter Marshall

This book is not really about Martin Luther or even exclusively about the year 1517. It is more of a detailed study of the posting of the 95 Theses - whether or not it really happened and how the action (whether historical or legend) has been viewed and inspired others throughout the five centuries since.

 

While this was an interesting study, I couldn't help but wonder throughout my reading of it how much it really mattered. I will admit that, as one who has studied the era and even visited Wittenberg, I am not entirely convinced that Luther did boldly nail the 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church on October 31, 1517. However, the spark of the Reformation was lit and Martin Luther's journey began on that day, even if he did just mail the discussion points to his archbishop rather than immediately publicize them.

 

The author includes a detailed study on how the beginning of the Reformation has been memorialized and celebrated through the ages. This is partially evidence to disprove the Theses posting, but it is an interesting look at how different people in different ages and circumstances viewed Luther's work. Different generations placed more significance on the Diet of Worms or the burning of the Papal Bull or simply Luther's birth or death anniversary. How did we come to focus on the Theses posting as the most significant event giving life to the Reformation? The author is not sure and seems disappointed in the choice.

 

I can relate. I have stood before the doors that are now bronze and embossed with the words of the 95 Theses, and was thrilled to be there. But wasn't Luther's 'On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church' more important? Wasn't the Diet of Worms when he truly stood up for reform? Maybe, but before those more compelling events, Luther had to go through the experiences that the 95 Theses brought about. Maybe the burning of his notice of excommunication is more defiant and bold, but it would not have happened without the 95 Theses.

 

Maybe the passing years have injected October 31, 1517 with more of the drama of the events that followed it because we like the movie-worthy moment of the mild and obedient monk angrily hammering his objections to the door of the very church he is protesting. Maybe the Theses really weren't posted until Luther had been ignored by the proper chain of command. Maybe he had a student glue them up, as would have been more proper than the professor of theology taking nails to the church door. Maybe people didn't gather in excitement the moment the notice went up. However, in retrospect, people of Luther's time and many more since have recognized October 31, 1517 as the day when Martin Luther began something that changed the world.

 

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

Henry Tudor's Claim to England's Throne

Was it as shaky as we think it was?

 

Source: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/10/henry-tudors-claim-to-englands-throne.html

The Last Lancastrian: A Story of Margaret Beaufort

SURPRISE! You can read my novella featuring Margaret Beaufort RIGHT NOW! No pre-ordering, no waiting. Get a peek of Margaret's life before she became known as the formidable king's mother.

 

Source: http://myBook.to/LastLancastrian

Edith Cavell: Faith Before the Firing Squad by Catherine Butcher

Edith Cavell: Faith Before the Firing Squad - Catherine Butcher

This biography is concise and inspiring. It features a woman who would not have expected to have her life story interest others, but that is part of what makes Edith Cavell so compelling. She is the sort of woman we all hope we would be if circumstances challenged us the way they did her.

 

Edith's faith was a significant element of her life and story, and it is included appropriately in this book. From the day she was born until the day she died, the love of God and promise of heaven guided Edith's actions. She did not wish for recognition, only to help others. "When Reverend Gahan said, 'We shall always remember you as a heroine and a martyr,' she replied, 'Don't think of me like that, think of me only as a nurse who tried to do her duty.'"

 

The author demonstrates how Edith became the kind of woman who would selflessly assist others, even when she knew she was endangering herself. This vicar's daughter, governess, and nurse grew up with the desire to serve a vital part of her character. Not that she is portrayed as unbelievably perfect. Mistakes and faults of character are also explored to give readers a comprehensive picture of who the real Edith Cavell was.

 

She was an intelligent woman with a servant's heart who willingly gave up her lives for others. Even when Edith knew she was being spied upon by Germans, she continued to help those trying to escape. When she knew the next person she helped might be preparing to betray her, she wouldn't take the chance of turning away someone who truly needed her. Once she was convicted of her 'crimes' she worried only about those she was leaving behind.

 

The recent 100th anniversary of Edith's execution has stirred up renewed interest in her, and she is a woman worthy of remembering. Her strength and courage in the face of deceit and violence is an inspiration to us all.

 

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

 

The Gods Divided by Richard Sotnick

The Gods Divided - Richard Sotnick

This is the story of Ben and Olive, a couple mismatched in faith but united in love as war breaks out across Europe. There was potential for it to be the haunting story that it promises to be, but it never quite gets to that point.

 

There is no question that the author did his research. The facts of the couple's story are clearly presented, but that is the novel's most significant problem. It reads like a list of facts, a retelling of events lacking the emotions that must have been a part of them. The reader is told that Olive spent three miserable months looking for a job, but we are not there with her enduring it. We are told that she worked herself to the point that she had to be hospitalized, but we never experience her weariness or despair. Even the romance comes across much more like a torrid affair than an enduring love story.

 

The title of this book led me to believe that there would be themes of faith involved, but Ben asks early on 'what relevance is religion in today's world?' While Ben is Jewish and Olive is Catholic, their faiths do not seem to impact their worldview beyond putting up barriers to their marriage. Neither really practices their faith, but it is repeated multiple times that if it weren't for their differing faiths (and the fact that Olive is already married) that they would get married.

 

Dialog is stilted and repetitive as the author seems to be trying to tell everything just as it happened - including the chain of communication that means the reader hears everything multiple times as different people talk about it. A storyteller's skill would relate the sharing of information without restating it for every character that becomes involved.

 

In the end, a true story that should be an emotive tale was bland. I never felt any connection to Olive or any suspense involving her search for Ben (which, again, we are just told she is doing, the reader is never involved). This novel could be reworked to be so much more than it is, drawing the reader into Olive's trials and heartbreaks, but as it is written we are never fully invited in.

 

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

The Heroines of Plantagenet Embers

I am a guest blogger today at Tudors Dynasty with a post about what drew me to the leading ladies in my novels.

 

Source: http://www.tudorsdynasty.com/heroines-plantagenet-embers-guest-post

Historic Places: Wittenberg

This might be my favorite one yet!

 

Source: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/2017/10/historic-places-wittenberg.html

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.