Top Ten Tuesday: Royal-list

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

Today’s topic was

June 28: Books On My Summer 2022 To-Read List

But that’s sort of what I did last week. So I decided to go with this idea I stole from Orangutan Librarian. My attitude toward real life royalty in general is a “who needs it?” But I do enjoy a good palace soap opera on occasion!

American Royals by Kristin McGee – I can’t leave this one off the list! If George Washington had been made America’s first king instead of the first president, life in the US would probably look very different in some ways, and remarkably similar in others. At least that’s the case for the latest generation of the American royal family. I read the first two in the series and really enjoyed them. The third is out now but I haven’t read it yet.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – I’d heard a lot about this one, but I didn’t love it as much as some people seemed to. I did like it, it was very enjoyable and sweet! But as I was reading, the practical problems that a romance between the son of the president and the British prince would have, kept intruding. I kept thinking “how come they both have such terrible security that they can sneak around so easily?” just as one example. Eventually that interfered with my enjoyment. I think I could have bought it, if it stayed in the realm of fantasy, but when it tried to bring in reality (to some extent at least), it didn’t work as well.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool Will Somers by Margaret George – OK Henry is a pretty tough guy to make sympathetic! This author comes surprisingly close at times. But that’s not to say it excuses any of his actions. It presents a compelling case for how he may have seen them though. I recommend the authors other work too in this area. She’s tackled other monarchs including Helen of Troy, Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I and Cleopatra.

The Plantagent and Tutor series by Philippa Gregory – Because I can’t stick to just one! These overlap quite a bit. They start with the story of Jacquetta Woodville, mother of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. It continues though several generations of a twisted family tree, that holds the fate of a nation in it’s branches…

Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie- This is one of my favorite Camelot stories. I found myself sympathizing with all of the characters, even when they were at odds. I thought that Guinevere and Arthur actually came off as likeable here, and therefore worthy of the loyalty they inspired! As a disclaimer though, I will say it’s been about fifteen years since I read it, so who knows how accurate my memory is?

Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen – Yes, the main character is only a cousin to the actual royals, but she hangs around with them enough for me to count this. Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (Georgie) is 34th in line for the English throne in 1932. That means she’s far enough away from the action to be flat broke, but the queen often calls on her for favors. And these favors tend to accumulate a bit of a body count…

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman – When Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales marries King John (of England) daughter, Joanna as an attempt to make peace, no one expects it to be a great romance. But love grows in unexpected places, and Joanna finds herself caught between her husband and her father. This had some bits that I remember reading and thinking “yeah, right!” only to find out in the author’s note that these were actual historical fact. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction! Penman is another author who has covered a lot of royals. This book launches her Welsh Princes trilogy, but her Plantagenet novels are also worth a look (well, based on the two I’ve read so far…)

Katherine by Anya Seton – Katherine Sywnford wasn’t a royal, but her children were. When John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (son of Edward III, uncle of Richard II, father of Henry IV, grandfather of Henry V), falls for the already married Katherine in the 14th century, their scandalous romance lasts for decades and produces several children who are the direct ancestors of the last 700+ years worth of royals.

Queen Margot by Alexandra Dumas – When I was about seventeen or eighteen I went through brief obsession with this book, the film adaptation, and the characters in general, as a result of “discovering” them while doing a school project. In 1572, French Catholics and Protestant Huguenots had been in a decade long struggle for the country. Charles IX is technically king, but his mother, Catherine de Medici, is the one who pulls the strings. She arranges a marriage between her daughter, Margot, and the Huguenot king of Navarre, Henri de Bourbon. But when Protestants gather in Paris to celebrate the wedding, Catherine has something else planned for them. Meanwhile, poor Margot has been married against her will, and starts a torrid affair with a Protestant solider. Things get bloody.

Top Ten Tuesday: Star Crossed Lovers

For that Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 8: Love Freebie (come up with your own topic having to do with love)

Teenage Fran was obsessed with forbidden love. Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Abelard and Heloise, Lancelot and Guinevere… These were my people! Here are some retellings of their stories that I’ve read over the years. Some are more recent, but some are things I read a long time ago, so I don’t know how they’d hold up:

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong– This was a recent read. It was billed as a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but I’d call it more “Romeo and Juliet inspired” with a number of references throughout. It’s set amidst organized crime wars, and the presence of a monster in 1920’s Shanghai. Actually in looking back on it, thing that jumps to mind is just how apt the title is: it’s a violent book.

O Juliet by Robin Maxwell – Juliet is an 18 year old Florentine. She’s the daughter of Capello Capelletti, a businessman who has promised her in marriage to his (horrible) partner, Jacopo Strozzi. At an engagement party for her BFF  Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, who came to the party hoping to smooth over the long standing feud between their two families. What I remember most about this is that Juliet is an aspiring poet, and we read some of her work. The problem is that this Juliet is writing about the same things that Shakespeare wrote in the original, and as a poet, Shakespeare is a tough act to follow!

Juliet by Anne Fortier – Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safe deposit box in Siena, Italy. She’s thrust into a dangerous treasure hunt that involves her ancestor Giulietta. Giulietta’s love for a young man named Romeo inspired Shakespeare’s work. As she looks into the real life enmity the families of Romeo and Giulietta, she realizes that there is still “a plague on both your houses…”

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – Hey, if Pride and Prejudice can add zombies, so can Romeo and Juliet! R is a zombie. He and his friend M spend most of their time shuffling around and eating brains. But when R eats a brain, he gets a bit of that person’s memory. So when he eats the brain of zombie-killer Perry, he sees Perry’s memories of his beloved Julie. For some inexplicable reason, R doesn’t want to eat Julie. He cares for her… Here instead of feuding families we have zombies vs. humans. The Romeo and Juliet parallels sort of come and go here, but it’s not meant to be a “serious” retelling by any means. There’s a whole series, but I only read the first one. Not great, but fun.

Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie – I don’t know how well this book would hold up to a reread, but there was a time when younger me could hardly put it down. It’s Guinevere’s story (with plenty of love triangle drama with Arthur and Lancelot, which is what technically earned it a place on this list) but one thing that stands out in memory is the multi-faceted portrayal of Mordred, who is often vilified.

Prince of Dreams: A Tale of Tristan and Essylte by Nancy McKenzie – This is set about a generation after the events of Queen of Camelot. There’s actually a book, called Grail Prince, that bridges this one and that. But regardless, the alliances of Arthur’s time are fracturing. Tristan supports his uncle, Markion’s claim to throne of the High King. But when Markion sends Tristan as an agent to fetch his new bride, Essylte, they fall madly and passionately in love, risking everything they have, everything and everyone around them.

Castle D’Or – This retelling of the Tristan and Islode story is set in modern (well modern circa early 20th century…) times by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (Q). It was finished many years later, by his daughter, Daphne DuMaurier. It’s set in Cornwall, and involves an innkeeper’s wife and a Breton onion seller. I read this one a long time ago, and don’t remember much of it.

The White Raven by Diana L. Paxon – This tells the love story of  Drustan and Esseilte (Tristan and Isolde) from the point of view of  Drustan and Esseilte’s handmaiden, Brangien (otherwise known in legend and Branwen). Brangien is Esseilte/Isolde’s cousin who takes her place on Isolde’s wedding night to King Marc’h. Of course Brangien falls in love with Marc’h, thus adding another limb to the love triangle.

Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard by Marion MeadeHeloise and Peter Abelard were real life lovers, who get their story dramatized in this historical novel. But if you want more of their story, you can read their real love letters.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That I Got Lost In

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 24: Thanksgiving/I’m Thankful for… Freebie

For this list I decided to look at the kind of books I’m thankful for. This year I definitely sought out the experience of losing myself in a book for a while. I was thankful when books allowed me to do that. So I decided to list books that I was able to fall into, and forget about reality for a while. They’re not all books that I read this year (nor are they all great literature, by any stretch of the imagination!) but they’re books that gave me the sort of experience that I was grateful for this year. Hope that makes sense!

  1. Harry Potter series- In spite of my ongoing issues with the author, I will always have love in my heart for these books. They created a world that I cared about, and let me live in it with the characters for seven books. When it was done, I felt like I’d grown up with these characters. Oh, and I say that I can put an entire series in one spot on this list! My list my rules!

2. Outlander series- This isn’t perfect either (I think issue with a few themes) but it did create another world that I could live in. Reality disappears when I read about the reality of these characters even if they’re doing something relatively mundane (with the right characters, a chapter on laundry can be fun!) but knowing these guys, excitement and adventure is usually just around the corner.

3. The Dollinganger series by VC Andrews- Full disclosure: I got lost in this series when I was about 12. What was shocking and page turningly compelling then, probably wouldn’t hold up now. But I do remember spending an entire bus ride on a school field trip engrossed in Petals On The Wind (I had just finished Flowers in the Attic and I needed to know what came next!)

4. The Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray- I came for the Victorian era feminism. I stayed- glued to the page- the find out about the worlds in which Gemma found herself. I was invested in these characters, intrigued by the mythological systems that Gemma encounters, and eager to see what a young Victorian girl with little agency in her own life, could do with supernatural realms of power. I read the first two back to back, but The Sweet Far Thing hadn’t come out and that point, so I had to wait to finish.

5. Intensity by Dean Koontz- I can’t remember what first made me pick this book up. I think someone might have recommended it. But I remember starting it on a Friday and not putting it down for the rest of the weekend.

6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- I picked this up with relatively low expectations (the only Morton book that I had read prior was The House at Riverton, which I thought was just OK) but I was pleasantly surprised. The story spoke to a lot of my literary tastes (multiple timelines, fairy tales, historical fiction) and just cast a spell on me. I’m glad I gave Morton another chance because now she’s an automatic read for me.

7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I started getting into this late one night, and couldn’t put it down until the next morning. It was a literal all nighter. I distinctly remember coming upon a plot revelation at around 1am and wishing I could talk to someone about it!

8. Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie- In this case, I don’t know why I found this book so compelling. It retold a story that I find interesting but not usually riveting. But this book was glued to my face for some reason. I read it at work during my lunch break. I also enjoyed the second and third in the author’s Camelot trilogy, Grail Prince and Prince of Dreams, but not quite as much as this one.

9. The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons- This is another one that I suspect would not hold up well to a reread, but teenage Fran was unable to put the book down (or stop crying when it was over!) I ordered the rest of the trilogy and read it ASAP.

10. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel- I read this my freshman year of high school and was briefly interested in studying human evolution because of it. The subject still interests me, but not as something to study. Unfortunately the quality of the books in the series diminished with each one (second was good, third was OK, fourth and fifth were not good. I didn’t even bother with #6)

11. The Pact by Jodi Picoult- For some reason everyone in my high school was reading this book, so I picked it up. In retrospect, I think some of the themes wouldn’t hold up well, but at the time, I recall it being a page turner. Though I see it’s subtitled “A Love Story” and I don’t recall it being that at all…

I think sometimes the experience of not being able to put a book down depends on the right book finding you at the right time. In these cases, these books found me in the right mood/frame of mind to read them compulsively. Some hold up better than others, and some I’d rather remember well, than revisit. Regardless, I am very thankful when I’m able to disappear into a book world, like I did with these.