Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir

Queens of ConquestAnyone who has read my blog for a while will know that I have a thing for books on royalty – well British / English royalty.  I can’t help myself – especially when it comes to Queens.

I find the women who ruled (or almost ruled) my country to be endlessly fascinating, especially those who looked to assert power at a time when females were seen as a lesser class of citizen and the weaker sex – property of their fathers then their husbands.

One of a woman’s main jobs was to marry well – marriages agreed by her parents and those of her future spouse.  Marrying up was the key, or marrying for gain – money, land, or power.  And so it was for the Queens of the Conquest, each of whom found themselves supporting their husbands in their quest for power (bar Empress Maud, who aimed to be a Queen in her own right).Read More »

Stacking the Shelves: 23rd September, 2017

STSsmallOnce again, but for the first time in  month, I’m joining in with Tynga at Tynga’s Reviews and Marlene of Reading Reality for Stacking Shelves, where you share the real and virtual books you have added to your shelves in the last week.

Last week, I broke my self imposed Netgalley ban and fell off the wagon in quite spectacular style…mainly because I wished for a few books I wasn’t sure I would get and then there were a few read now’s that caught my eye…you get the picture (and I’m sure you’ve been there).  I also bought a few books too, adding to the virtual shelf – which would probably fall over if it wasn’t, well, virtual!  So, without much more rambling, here are the books I picked up this week…Read More »

Wedlock by Wendy Moore


When Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, was abducted in Oxford Street in broad daylight in 1786, the whole country was riveted to news of the pursuit.

The only daughter of a wealthy coal magnate, Mary Eleanor had led a charmed youth. Precocious and intelligent, she enjoyed a level of education usually reserved for the sons of the aristocracy. Mary was only eleven when her beloved father died, making her the richest heiress in Britain, and she was soon beset by eager suitors. Her marriage, at eighteen, to the beautiful but aloof Earl of Strathmore, was one of the society weddings of the year. With the death of the earl some eight years later, Mary re-entered society with relish and her salons became magnets for leading Enlightenment thinkers – as well as a host of new suitors keen to court her fortune.

Mary soon fell under the spell of a handsome Irish soldier, Andrew Robinson Stoney, but scandalous rumours were quick to spread. Swearing to defend her honor, Mary’s gallant hero was mortally wounded in a duel – his dying wish that he might marry Mary. Within hours of the ceremony, he seemed to be in the grip of a miraculous recovery …

Wedlock tells the story of one eighteenth-century woman’s experience of a brutal marriage, and her fight to regain her liberty and justice. Subjected to appalling violence, deception, kidnap and betrayal, the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes is a remarkable tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

I read a lot of books where vulnerable young women fall in love with men that seem too good to be true, only to find themselves trapped in loveless marriages with husbands who have ulterior motives and mean them harm. It’s up to the woman to find an inner strength and fight her way back to freedom. Often after reading these books, I make comments that basically say I find it hard to believe that the men could appear so perfect and the women so gullible (and, yes, I know I keep reading them but I also still enjoy them)

“Convinced of her new husband’s imminent demise, the countess felt no need to reveal to him two quite devasting secrets. and for her part, Mary Eleanor was about to discover some surpring facts about “Captain” Stoney”.

Now I’ve read Wedlock I may never say that again because it’s exactly what happened with Mary Eleanor Bowes, the richest heiress in Georgian England. If anything, her story is more unbelievable, something she even admitted in the story she wrote of her own life, saying that what happened to her was “so uncommon as to stagger the belief of Posterity“.

This is a fascinating story of a woman who seems like she could of achieved great things, despite her sex,  because – unlike most Georgian woman – she had a good education, speaking several languages and being an excellent botanist. Unfortunately, the first man she married set out a stop to her ambition and the second nearly killed her. Her relationship with the second, Andrew Stoney, is the focus of this book and her efforts to escape him.

I am not sure how to describe Stoney. Sly, sneaky, manipulative, vicious and plain old evil all spring to mind but not seem to fully describe just how awful he was and how much he plotted and connived to marry Mary and get his hands on her fortune. It started before Mary had even met him, when her first husband died, and he set out to London determined to get her to fall in love with him.

Unfortunately, she had another suitor, one she had already agreed to marry – considered legally binding in Georgian England. Undeterred, Stoney plotted with a newspaper to publish letters that alternately besmirched and defended Mary’s reputation before fighting a fake duel in her honour. After his fake duel he lay on his fake deathbed and asked Mary to grant his dying wish and marry him. Thinking he had days to live, she agreed…only to find him miraculously recovered the next day.

Like I said, if it wasn’t true you wouldn’t believe it. But it is and, because of the court documents and newspaper accounts of the day which detailed every element of their relationship from first meeting (because Georgian papers loved celebrity gossip as much as our red tops do today) through to Mary’s brave attempts to leave and divorce Stoney. And she was brave. This was a period when men owned their wives for all intents and purposes, with all their wives money becoming theirs when they married and with their being allowed to “discipline” their wives as long as it was reasonable and confine them “for their own good”.

All this made for a fascinating book about a fascinating woman. It was well written and I learnt so much about the period and the rights of women (plus some random facts like the term Stoney broke comes from Andrew Stoney, who never had any money but his wives). I also have amazing respect for women like Mary Eleanor for standing up for themselves and to society. What Mary Eleanor did “represented another step in the slow march towards the outlying of domestic abuse, wrongful confinement…and rights to retain property”. Without them I wouldn’t have the freedoms I have today and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful to Wendy Moore for writing this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Loved it’s!




Source: Library
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publication Date: 10th March, 2009
Pages: 502
Format: paperback

Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith

HARRYS LAST STAND-B-HB.inddWhen I read this book a few weeks ago I hadn’t originally planned on reviewing it, although I’d enjoyed reading it. Then, over the weekend, with Ian Duncan Smith talking about trying to build a fairer Britain all over the news, the book kept coming back to me and I changed my mind because the messages it is trying to get across are ones I think we should be listening to.

Published in 2014, the book is a series of essays which reflect Harry’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in the Great Depression and the pride he felt in the country after the war when we created the welfare state so no one would have to suffer the indignities and inequalities he did as a child. And they show his anger and despair at the dismantling of this welfare state by the then coalition government.

It is a highly emotive but also sobering read. Harry’s sheer frustration at what he sees happening is apparent, as is how little he feels he can do about it – hence the essays. A lot cover the same ground and they follow the same format; snapshots from his childhood followed by a comparison with today’s society.  There are facts and figures woven through which, though few years out of date, are startling and saddening.

There are memories of his life as a young man, newly returned from the war, and as a young husband – a time when he was able to prosper but also lived knowing there was a safety net if things went wrong. It is a safety net he and many others hadn’t experienced as children. It is a safety net that I, as a child of the seventies, grew up expecting to be there for me – though I have been lucky enough to never need it – and my family.

Now, if I’m honest, I don’t think this would be the case. When I see people queuing at food banks on the news or here about the indignities people with disabilities go through to receive support for the necessities for living a decent life, I feel sick…and think it doesn’t take much for any of us to end up there, just one job loss or accident. It’s depressing and frightening – yet it feels like a lot of us have our heads in the sand and think it could never happen to us.

It’s why I decided to write this review after all because it made me think and wonder if I can do anything (I’m not sure what) and also slightly embarrassed I haven’t done much so far but turn out to vote.  Maybe it will do the same for a few others and we can end up with the society Harry dreamt about as a young man.


April Round-Up

Another month gone – hard to believe we are a quarter of the way through the year.  I know I said it last month (and the month before) but 2015 is flying by.  I am hoping that it starts to slow down so I can enjoy the glorious spring we are having.  Some days, I feel like I don’t even notice how nice it’s been until the sun goes down.  To make sure I get outside more during the week, I have made myself a May resolution to get my garden sorted – worse case, I’ll at least end up sitting out with a book and glass of wine.

Book wise, I managed to find quite a bit of time to read in April and not as much as I’d like to review them (again!).  For the most part, I really liked the majority of books I read and I don’t know if I could chose a favourite because they are all so different.  It’s probably a toss us between Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro.  A close third was Dead Wake by Erik Larson.


Not so successful for me were Frog Music by Emma Donoghue and Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, neither of which I really got away with.  Sometimes, I find I like a book more after the fact and a week or so later, want to go back and redo my review to make it more positive.  I haven’t felt like that about either of these yet unfortunately and I couldn’t really recommend them.


A book that has stood the test of time for me was The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, which I first read almost 30 years ago (showing my age!).  I remember it as a powerful, more than a bit disturbing book, and it was just that when I re-read it.  Definitely worth checking out.


All in all, then, a very good month for me reading wise – especially when you add in the final book in my Play On! challenge, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, which I really enjoyed too.

If you follow any of the links above, you’ll get to the reviews themselves and hopefully find something that you fancy reading.  You might also notice that, halfway through the month, I decided to stop giving books ratings out of five.  You can read why here but in a nutshell it was because it didn’t feel right for me.  Saying if I liked, loved or really didn’t care for a book felt much better and it’s what I’ve decided to go with.  So far, so good – though I’m still agonising over Goodreads reviews but you can’t have everything right?

And that’s it for April.  Let’s see what May holds. How was your month?


Dead Wake by Erik Larson


This is what I knew about the Lusitania before I read Dead Wake:

1. It was sunk by a German submarine on 7th May, 1915

2. There were no survivors

3. The sinking led to America joining World War I

Rather, this is what I thought I knew because it turns out that, other than the date, I didn’t know anything at all.  There were survivors (although not many – 764 out of nearly 2,000 passengers and crew) and America didn’t join the war for another two years.  I am always amazed by how little I know about what I think I know!

After reading Dead Wake, I obviously know a lot more – more than I ever thought I would about the world of luxury ocean liners definitely – and I do feel just a little bit wiser as a result.  The facts and figures, though, were the least important or interesting part of the book for me.  It was the people, whose stories I got to hear thanks to detailed records, diaries, journal and letters that have been preserved (including the log of the U-boat captain responsible for sinking the Lusitania).

By using these, Erik Larson does a brilliant job of turning a 100 year old tragedy into something that feels very real.  I felt connected to the people he described and was genuinely affected when I realised that some of the people I was reading about, who I thought were telling their stories after the fact, hadn’t made it and their words had come from their letters, diaries and the memories of others.

The records showed a level of naivety (or innocence?) that amazed me.  The passengers just didn’t think they were at risk, despite a German warning published in newspapers that the Lusitania was fair game, and Cunard was convinced the ship was too fast and too big to sink.  In this age of heightened security it is hard to imagine but I have to remember this is a different time, one where the rules of war were changing but no one quite understood how much.

Erik Larson does a good job of setting the scene for the world as it was and creating a sense of place and time.  My only complaint here would be that, given the US didn’t enter the war in 1915, he spent a little too much time on Woodrow Wilson’s personal life.  For me, these are the only bit that dragged and I found my eyes skimming these sections.

Otherwise though, I found the book absorbing.  It was well written with enough detail to fill in the many gaps in my knowledge without feeling dry.  The personal aspect I mentioned earlier really helped with this but so did the language, which wasn’t overly technical.  There was also a nice mix of pace, with short chapters here and there – maybe a letter or a telegraph – to break things up.

The only other thing I would have liked is some pictures but his was an e-book and a review copy so I am not sure if you’d get those in the paper version.  It would have helped me (and stopped me reverting to google).  This though is minor and wouldn’t stop me recommending it – liked it a lot!


Note: this is a review copy but all thoughts, feelings, and comments are my own.

The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

Title: The Woman Who Would Be King
Author: Kara Cooney
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography, History
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 3 out of 5


When Hatshepsut’s husband, King Thutmose II died early in his reign, they had not produced a male heir to continue the dynasty. Thutmose did, however, have a son by a lesser wife and at the age of two, it was this little boy who came to the throne as Thutmose III. Too young to reign in his own right, Hatshepsut, as wife of the previous King and daughter of the one before that (Thutmose I) became Regent, ruling in his name.

In ancient Egypt, a wife or mother of a young king acting as Regent until he reached a suitable age to rule wasn’t unknown or that unusual. What made Hatshepsut different though was that, rather than relinquishing power when Thutmose III came of age, she gradually built up her own power and position, eventually being crowned co-king.  Not only that, she ruled successfully and peacefully for 22 years, unheard of for a woman ruler not only in Egypt but anywhere else in the world at the time.

Read More »

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

Title: Love and Louis XIV
Author: Antonia Fraser
Genre: History, Biography
Format: Audio Book (narrated by Julia Franklin)
Release Date:2007 (paperback) 2012 (audio book)
Duration: 14:19:48
Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Louis XIV, who called himself the Sun King, was born late in his mother’s life – she was 36 which, for the period, meant she was almost elderly. The first, and therefore most treasured son, his birth was seen as a miracle and from the day he was born his mother – Anne of Austria – doted on him. At the age of five his father, the King of France died, leaving him a “child-king”, with his mother acting as regent. For the next eight years, until he reached the age of majority and could rule in his own right, Anne of Austria raised her son and ruled France in his name. A pious woman, with a strict morale code, she defended his future right to be King and taught him that one day he would rule France as an absolute monarch and the world would be shaped to his desires.

This relationship with his mother was probably the most important relationship in his life and framed how he ruled France and his future relationships women – both his wife, Marie-Therese of Spain, and his mistresses, of which there were many including three significant ones, two of whom he had children with. It is these relationships Antonio Fraser focuses on in her book, which is sub-titled: The Women in the Life of the Sun King.Read More »

What I’m Reading This Week

This last week, despite being really busy work and life wise, was a good one for me for both reading and blogging. I managed to make it through all the books I had on the go and catch up on some reviews I’ve been wanting to write.  I’m just over three months into my blog now and feel I’ve settled into a routine that works for me and am starting to develop my writing style. One thing I haven’t quite figured out though is how to plan which books I’ll read when – I have a running list but never seem to pick the one at the top…another always seems to be more appealing.

Whilst this isn’t anywhere near the end of the world, as I have just renewed one particular book from the library for the third time, I thought that writing a regular post on what I want to read next might help give me focus.  As I’m actually starting the week with no books on the go because I finished J by Howard Jacobson  last night, this seemed like a good day to start. And, as it’s Monday, I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey, who has a weekly post I’ve enjoyed following – It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

So, after a much longer pre-amble than I intended, here are the books on my beside table (or kindle) this week:

The Book: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

The Wake

The Blurb: Everyone knows the date of the Battle of Hastings. Far fewer people know what happened next…Set in the three years after the Norman invasion,The Wake tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world. Written in what the author describes as ‘a shadow tongue’ – a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable for the modern reader – The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster’s world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past.

The Reason: Because I’ve heard so much about it. I downloaded a sample because I was worried about the language but, having read a few reviews saying it needed to be read aloud and finding this works, I’ve decided I don’t need to be worried and am actually looking forward to reading something which feels completely different.Read More »

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir

Title: Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: History, Biography
Format: Audiobook (length 13 hours, 11 minutes)
Published: 2011 (audiobook released Sept 2012)
Source: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5


Of all the periods in English history, the time of the Tudors is the one that fascinates me most. The people, the politics, the intrigue. Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read about Henry VIII, his wives and his children. Other than in passing in these books, I’ve never read anything about Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne, mistress of Henry VIII and, quite possibly, mother of at least one of his illegitimate children. Coming across this biography in my local library, written by one of my favourite authors, seemed like a good opportunity to fix that. This was also a bit of an experiment for me as it was an audiobook, not something I normally choose but – with lots of long drives ahead of me in my new job – I thought it may be a good way to fill in the hours on the road.

The format itself had plus and minuses for me. On the plus side, I enjoyed listening in the car (whereas normally I would just be aimlessly flicking between stations most times) and it made being stuck in traffic much more tolerable. The narration was really clear and had a good pace so I was able to maintain my focus (which I’d been worried about as I do tend to wander when I listen to plays on Radio 4). However, as this was a biography with lots of dates, names and places, there were times when I wished I could go back to more easily to remind myself or check something. By the end, I had learnt to not worry about it too much and just go with the flow but it did take a while.

The book was really interesting, especially because I knew so little about Mary so as a subject it felt new and fresh. It dispelled a lot of myths about Mary and helped me form a much fuller picture of her and her place in history in my mind. It turns out, pretty much everything I thought I knew about Mary wasn’t true and I feel much more sympathetic towards her. My ending up with a more realistic picture of Mary would probably make Alison Weir happy one of her stated intentions was to help readers separate fact from fiction (including The Other Boleyn Girl books and films and The Tudors TV show, which were very popular whilst she was researching and writing this book).

One of the reasons that there are so many myths is that so little is actually known and, over the years, Mary has been subject to some very bad PR, being painted as a woman of “easy virtue” and not too bright. Alison Weir does a good job of building on what little is known to develop a pretty solid picture of Mary; as she does, she explains what she feels is credible evidence and why, and why she has made the assumptions she has. These include reaching the conclusion that not only did Mary have an affair with Henry, she did give birth to his daughter. Rather than being dim-witted or of loose morals, the Mary Weir describes is one who had very little control over her life until her later years, when she took the incredibly brave step for the time of marrying for love, saying “I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen christened”.

The main problem is this lack of solid facts about Mary, so Weir has to make a lot of assumptions, either from the little information that is available or from the lives of others, including her husband, her father, her sister or Henry’s other mistresses. It means as a reader you really are still not much clearer on the real Mary, unless you chose to see her as Alison Weir does (it’s what I chose to do). In a way, this makes Mary even more intriguing and it’s a pity there won’t likely be the opportunity to ever learn more.

Definitely a good read for history buffs or those, like me, who find the Tudor period fascinating. Is that you?

Emma x