Sunday, December 27, 2015

BOOK REVIEW - The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien

Pages: 560
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Date: November 2014

Book Blurb

One betrayal is all it takes to change history

1382. Daughter of John of Gaunt, sister to the future King Henry IV, Elizabeth of Lancaster has learned the shrewd tricks of the court from England’s most powerful men.

In a time of political turmoil, allegiance to family is everything. A Plantagenet princess should never defy her father’s wishes. Yet headstrong Elizabeth refuses to bow to the fate of a strategic marriage. Rejecting her duty, Elizabeth weds the charming and ruthlessly ambitious Sir John Holland: Duke of Exeter, half-brother to King Richard II and the one man she has always wanted.
But defiance can come at a price.

1399. Elizabeth’s brother Henry has seized the throne. Her husband, confidant to the usurped Richard, masterminds a secret plot against the new King. Trapped in a dangerous web, Elizabeth must make a choice.

Defy the King and betray her family. Or condemn her husband and send him to his death.

Sister. Wife. Traitor.

She holds the fate of England in her hands.

My Review 

Anne O’Brien is by far one of my favorite historical fiction authors, and I am reminded of why this is after reading “The King’s Sister”. I can honestly say that I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster while reading this novel. I laughed, cried, felt angry, shocked, and sad as I completely lost myself in this book due to Anne O’Brien’s superb writing skills. Prior to reading “The King’s Sister” I knew very little about Elizabeth of Lancaster. She has always been a minor character who I “met” in passing as I read novels about King Henry IV or her famous father the Duke of Lancaster. However, after reading this book, I honestly felt as though I knew her. Ms. O’Brien really has a way of bringing her characters to life for readers. I’ve read several of her novels, and I’ve loved every one. The way that the author describes the everyday lives of her characters makes them seem so real. Obviously Elizabeth of Lancaster truly was a real person hundreds of years ago, but there was very little that was known about her. As with many important women from history, their importance was overshadowed by whatever the men at that time were doing. However, the way that the author portrays Elizabeth of Lancaster feels right, and it is easy to picture her just as described. Since I knew so little about her life, I was shocked when certain events happened, and I actually got teared up towards the end. To be able to really connect with a character, to me, is a priority when I read a novel. I want to love, and sometimes even hate, the character. I want to feel like I KNOW the character by the time I finish the novel. Nothing is more disappointing than reading a novel and being unable to understand the main character or to have any type of strong emotions for the character.

“The King’s Sister” had my interest right from the beginning, and when I closed the book at the end, I wanted it to keep going. I have nothing but positive feelings and glowing praise for this novel, and it is a solid FIVE out of FIVE stars for me!

Praise for Anne O’Brien

‘The gripping tale of Elizabeth of Lancaster, sibling of Henry IV. Packed with love, loss and intrigue’ - Sunday Express S Magazine

‘Her writing is highly evocative of the time period… O’Brien has produced an epic tale’    - Historical Novel Society

‘Anne O’Brien’s novels give a voice to the “silent” women of history’ - Yorkshire Post

‘This book is flawlessly written and well researched, and will appeal to her fans and those who like Philippa Gregory’s novels’ – Birmingham Post

‘A brilliantly researched and well-told story; you won’t be able to put this book down’ - Candis

About Anne O'Brien

Anne was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University, a PGCE at Leeds University and a Masters degree in education at Hull University, she lived in the East Riding as a teacher of history. Always a prolific reader, she enjoyed historical fiction and was encouraged to try her hand at writing. Success in short story competitions spurred her on.

Leaving teaching – but not her love of history – she wrote her first historical romance, a Regency, which was published in 2005. To date nine historical romances and a novella, ranging from medieval, through the Civil War and Restoration and back to Regency, have been published internationally.

Anne now lives with her husband in an eighteenth century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, a wild, beautiful place on the borders between England and Wales, renowned for its black and white timbered houses, ruined castles and priories and magnificent churches. Steeped in history, famous people and bloody deeds as well as ghosts and folk lore, it has given her inspiration for her writing. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history.
Sometimes she escapes from writing. She enjoys her garden, a large, rambling area where she grows vegetables and soft fruit as well as keeping control over herbaceous flower borders, a wild garden, a small orchard and a formal pond. With an interest in herbs and their uses, Anne has a herb patch constructed on the pattern of a Tudor knot garden and enjoys cooking with the proceeds. Gardening is a perfect time for her to mull over what she’s been writing, as she wages war on the weeds.

Learn more about Anne and her fantastic novels on her website:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

BLOG TOUR - GUEST POST by Sophie Perinot, author of Medicis Daughter: Dangerous Seductions

I am excited to have Sophie Perinot, author of Medicis Daughter (click here for my review of this novel), share a post about Queen Catherine de Médicis l'escadron volant (flying squadron). So interesting!

Dangerous Seductions: The Cautionary Tale of the Baronne de Limeuil

At the conclusion of the first French War of Religion, Queen Catherine de Médicis made a calculated decision—the most important place to promote and maintain the tenuous peace was within the French Court itself.  Borrowing a page from her father-in-law, King Francis I, Catherine set out to amuse the heads of the great noble houses, hoping that if they were sufficiently distracted by pleasure and good living they would have no further interest in leading armies. As part of her plan Catherine, who up to this point had a pretty unremarkable household, assembled a collection of exquisite women from the best houses in France. These eighty to one-hundred beauties came to be called Her Majesty’s l'escadron volant (flying squadron). Its members dressed to dazzle and made witty conversation. Exactly what they did beyond that provides an excellent illustration of the difference between standards of conduct set at the French Court and behaviors that were, in reality, tolerated and even ordered.

Pierre de Brantôme (worldly abbot and recorder of royal doings) described the members of the Queen’s l’escadron volant as “very polite maidens,” and insisted they were highly virtuous, providing only the most innocent diversions to the gentlemen of the court.  It should be noted, however, that Brantôme was an enormous fan of Queen Catherine, and she returned the admiration (showing him profitable favor), presumably because he was a man who knew how to chronicle the court in a way that reflected well on the Valois.  So Brantôme’s description of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting must be taken with a grain of salt.  The truth is probably closer to a cutting remark made by Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, that, at the Valois Court, it is “not the men who invite the women, but the women who invite the men.” It is fairly clear from the historical record that Catherine wished her young dames d’honneur  to appear as models of decorum in settings where decorum was required, but to act in more lascivious ways—using seduction to both spy upon and control powerful gentlemen—where that was profitable to her.

This dichotomy was one of the unspoken rules that the youthful Princess Marguerite, main character in Médicis Daughter, had to decode when she joined her Mother’s household.  As a Royal princess whose virginity was coin of the realm, Margot also quickly learned that no double-standard would be tolerated in her case. Brining dishonor to the family was a dangerous act with frightful consequences.  This was true even for those ladies whose duty to the queen encompassed being the mistress of one great man or another.  Such women walked a tightrope between reward and ruin and the penalties for slipping and embarrassing Queen Catherine could be very severe.

A case in point—and one which Princess Marguerite would have witnessed firsthand—is the sad story of Isabelle de la Tour, Baronne de Limeuil.  The Baronne was a thirty-year-old dame d’honneur when Margot joined the court in 1564. At that point Isabelle had already been mistress to: Claude d’Aumale (brother of the influential Francis, Duc de Guise) and Florimond Robertet, Seigneur d’Alluye (a young secretary of state who was entirely a creation of the Guises). Both of these “placements” had served Catherine de Médicis’ need for eyes and ears within the powerful Guise entourage.  But when the old Duc de Guise was assassinated in 1563, the balance of power at the court changed. Ratification of the Peace of Amboise with the Protestant rebels just a month later shifted the balance further still. Scores of Protestant nobles returned to court to take up positions they had vacated to wage war against their king. The House of Bourbon was the most powerful and highly ranked of the returning families because it included the Princes of the Blood—men legitimately descended in dynastic line from France’s hereditary monarchs. Catherine needed a spy among the Bourbons, so that she might hear any whispers of new disloyalties to young Charles IX.  So the Baronne de Limeuil was set upon their leader—Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, Huguenot chief, and negotiator of the treaty of Amboise.
So far so good.

Isabelle was where Catherine de Médicis wanted her to be and, while all at the court may have known of the lovely Baronne’s amour, blind eyes could be turned as needed or desired. Unfortunately, the Baronne allowed herself to fall in love with Condé. And then she did something even more unacceptable: she got pregnant. In fact, when Margot arrived at court for the Grand Royal Progress (see my blog post on this journey), Isabelle was already concealing her pregnancy.  What de Condé said about the situation is lost to history. But it is quite clear that Isabelle believed she would be taken care of by her lover.

Extraordinarily, Isabelle managed to keep her condition a secret until the fateful moment when—in June 1564, while the Royal Progress was stopped at Lyon[1]—she went into labor. Delivered of a boy, the baby was put in a basket with a note and quickly dispatched to the Prince de Condé (who was momentarily not with the royal travel party). The Baronne was much more roughly treated. Catherine was furious that Isabelle had allowed herself to become pregnant—never mind that it was in direct pursuit of her duties. Such a pregnancy reflected poorly on the morals of the Queen’s household, and on the King’s Court. Isabelle was summarily dismissed from royal service and banished to a convent where she was confined by Catherine’s orders. The Baronne experienced a moment of hope in her captivity when, just a month after her son’s birth, the Prince de Condé’s wife died. Isabelle believed she would be the next Princesse de Condé. But, the Prince did not rescue his former amante. Instead he married a girl from a prominent Protestant family, Francoise d’Orleans (who was only 16). The betrayal of Isabelle de la Tour, Baronne de Limeuil—by her Queen and by her beloved—was now complete.

Eventually, Catherine de Médicis released the Baronne from imprisonment. The price for that freedom? Well, in 1567 Isabelle was married off to one of her Catherine’s wealthy Italian financiers, Sardini Scipio. Thus she was freed only to be turned once again into a “reward” bestowed by her queen upon a powerful man. One imagines Isabelle felt no great affection for Catherine de Médicis at this point. It is certain that she was forever bitter at and furious with the Prince de Condé. When Condé was killed (March 1569), after surrendering at the Battle of Jarnac, the historical record tells us that Isabelle celebrated. Who can blame her?

The dramatic story of Isabelle de la Tour was a subplot in my first draft of Médicis Daughter. Alas, considerations of length and storytelling required me to remove it. But in the near future I will be sharing excerpts at my blog, so keep an eye out.

[1] Some sources suggest the birth was in May and at Dijon, but that is not my assessment.

BLOG TOUR - REVIEW: Medicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite De Valois by Sophie Perinot

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Winter, 1564. Beautiful young Princess Margot is summoned to the court of France, where nothing is what it seems and a wrong word can lead to ruin. Known across Europe as Madame la Serpente, Margot s intimidating mother, Queen Catherine de Médicis, is a powerful force in a country devastated by religious war. Among the crafty nobility of the royal court, Margot learns the intriguing and unspoken rules she must live by to please her poisonous family.Eager to be an obedient daughter, Margot accepts her role as a marriage pawn, even as she is charmed by the powerful, charismatic Duc de Guise. Though Margot's heart belongs to Guise, her hand will be offered to Henri of Navarre, aHuguenot leader and a notorious heretic looking to seal a tenuous truce. But the promised peace is a mirage: her mother's schemes are endless, and her brothers plot vengeance in the streets of Paris. When Margot's wedding devolves into the bloodshed of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, she will be forced to choose between her family and her soul. Médicis Daughter is historical fiction at its finest, weaving a unique coming-of-age story and a forbidden love with one of the most dramatic and violent events in French history.


My Review

I was seriously due for a great read after dealing with the past couple months of craziness in my life, and a great read is exactly what author Sophie Perinot provided! “Medicis Daugher: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois” was the perfect escape into the past, and I was able to quickly lose myself in this novel for long periods of time. Marguerite de Valois, called Princess Margot, is one of the daughters of Queen Catherine de Medici, who history has portrayed as a witch, poisoner, murderer, manipulator, and more. Margot fights to find her own way to happiness, in a world where her every move is controlled and manipulated by either her mother or her brother. The author, Sophie Perinot, did an excellent job bringing these intriguing historical figures to life for her readers. I like that she did not paint Catherine de Medici as either an evil sorceress or an innocent bystander, but stayed somewhere in the middle. Many books I have read about Catherine either portray her as at fault for everything that went wrong during her husband and son’s reigns, or as completely innocent, but Ms. Perinot takes the ‘middle road’ with her character in this novel. I also enjoyed reading more about the lives of Catherine’s children. I have read several novels about Catherine in the past, but the focus has always been on her life, not her children’s lives. It was interesting to see her sons shown as more than sickly, weak men. Also, in previous novels, Princess Margot was almost an afterthought, so I really enjoyed reading about her life. I was able to connect with her character while reading, and she definitely came to life for me in this novel. There is some romance in this novel, but it is far from your typical romance. Margot has her fair share of ups and downs, and as with most women during this era, there seem to be more “downs” than there are “ups” in her life. However, she is able to make it work, as she is a strong woman, who knew how to play it safe in a court where saying or doing the wrong thing could get you killed.

This time period in France, the late 1500’s, is completely fascinating. The author describes the people, places, and events of this time period with great accuracy, but does so in a way that keeps the story flowing smoothly, and without boring the reader. This is the second novel I have read by Ms. Perinot, as she also wrote “The Sister Queens” (another wonderful historical fiction novel!) I will continue to ready and review any of her future novels, as she is a historical fiction author who has made it onto my list of favorites! “Medicis Daughter” gets a solid FIVE out of FIVE stars from me!

Also, be sure to check out additional information about this fabulous novel by reading Sophie Perinot's Guest Post DANGEROUS SEDUCTIONS at Historical Fiction Obsession! 

Advance Praise

This is Renaissance France meets Game of Thrones: dark, sumptuous historical fiction that coils religious strife, court intrigue, passionate love, family hatred, and betrayed innocence like a nest of poisonous snakes. Beautiful Princess Margot acts as our guide to the heart of her violent family, as she blossoms from naive court pawn to woman of conscience and renown.A highly recommended coming-of-age tale where the princess learns to slay her own dragons! --Kate Quinn, Bestselling author of LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY

"The riveting story of a 16th century French princess caught in the throes of royal intrigue and religious war. From the arms of the charismatic Duke of Guiseto the blood-soaked streets of Paris, Princess Marguerite runs a dangerous gauntlet, taking the reader with her. An absolutely gripping read!" --Michelle Moran, bestselling author of THE REBEL QUEEN 

"Rising above the chorus of historical drama is Perinot's epic tale of the fascinating, lascivious, ruthless House of Valois, as told through the eyes of the complicated and intelligent Princess Marguerite. Burdened by her unscrupulous family and desperate for meaningful relationships, Margot is forced to navigate her own path in sixteenth century France. Amid wars of nation and heart, Médicis Daughter brilliantly demonstrates how one unique woman beats staggering odds to find the strength and power that is her birthright." --Erika Robuck, bestselling author of HEMINGWAY'S GIRL

About the Author

SP SmallSOPHIE PERINOT is the author of The Sister Queens and one of six contributing authors of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii. A former attorney, Perinot is now a full-time writer. She lives in Great Falls, Virginia with her three children, three cats, one dog and one husband.An active member of the Historical Novel Society, Sophie has attended all of thegroup s North American Conferences and served as a panelist multiple times. Findher among the literary twitterati as @Lit_gal or on Facebook.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, November 16
Review at The Mad Reviewer
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, November 17
Review at Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, November 18
Review at The Maiden's Court
Thursday, November 19
Review at The Eclectic Reader
Friday, November 20
Review at The True Book Addict
Monday, November 23
Review at Broken Teepee
Guest Post at ALiterary Vacation
Tuesday, November 24
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Wednesday, November 25
Review at A Literary Vacation
Friday, November 27
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Monday, November 30
Review at
Tuesday, December 1
Review at To Read, Or Notto Read
Wednesday, December 2
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, December 3
Review at The Book Binder's Daughter
Friday, December 4
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, December 7
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, December 8
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, December 9
Review at Curling Up By the Fire
Thursday, December 10
Review at The Readers Hollow
Friday, December 11
Review at Reading Lark
Monday, December 14
Review at A Book Geek
Tuesday, December 15
Review at The Lit Bitch
Wednesday, December 16
Review at CelticLady's Reviews
Friday, December 18
Review & Interview at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Monday, December 21
Review at Bookish
Tuesday, December 22
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, December 23
Review & Guest Post at Historical Fiction Obsession
Monday, December 28
Review at Unshelfish
Tuesday, December 29
Interview at Unshelfish
Thursday, December 31
Review at The Reading Queen

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