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Misfit has commented on (34) products.

Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace by Kate Emerson
Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace

Misfit, March 23, 2009

(3.5) Emerson's first book in what I believe is going to be a series set during the Tudor period is based upon Jane Popyncourt, a member of the Tudor Court and of whom very little is known, giving the author more leeway to craft her tale. When the French King dies mysteriously Jane's mother flees to England with her daughter and seeks shelter with her twin brother at Henry VII's court. Jane is taken to Eltham to be raised with the royal children and after the mysterious death of her mother she is made a ward of Henry VII and raised in the royal household with Henry and his two sisters Margaret and Mary.

As an adult Jane serves the Princess Mary, although her life takes a bit of a turn when a highly born French prisoner of war takes an interest in her - an interest that Henry VIII encourages hoping for a state secret or two. As Jane begins to hope for happiness with the one man who loves her, her search for the answers to her mother's death and the reason for the mad flight from France spins Jane into a perilous situation with life-threatening consequences.

I greatly appreciated the time and effort the author put into her research - she especially did a great job with the details of life in the Tudor Court, the clothes, the food, the tournaments, Henry and his mistresses, etc. and the author was able to do that without making me feel like I was being clubbed over the head with the minute details. I liked the fact that the author gives you the family trees of the English and French Nobility of the period, along with a who's who in the back of the book. Jane was an enjoyable, albeit a bit too spunky and independent heroine, but in the end the big mystery fell just a tad bit flat for me. Why anyone would consider the big mystery such a threat that they would want bump people off just stretched the believability factor. A very easy breezy read - light and entertaining but one that's not likely to stick with you long after its finished. 3.5/5 stars.
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Signora Da Vinci by Robin Maxwell
Signora Da Vinci

Misfit, February 12, 2009

Maxwell's fanciful tale begins as Caterina, daughter of the local apothecary (and secret alchemist), is seduced by well born, up and coming notary Piero da Vinci. Piero promises marriage, but backs down when his family forbids it, although they do remove Caterina's son Leonardo to raise in their household. Strong willed Caterina finds a way to be with her son anyway and when he leaves for Florence to learn his craft, Caterina disguises herself as a man and masquerades as Leonardo's uncle Cato. Cato/Caterina soon finds herself best friends and intellectual acquaintance (!!) with Lorenzo Medici. As Leonardo's genius and talent continues to grow so does the power of evil priest Girolamo Savonarola and Caterina, Leonardo and Lorenzo find themselves in the midst of a plot to expose the priest for the hypocrite that he is.

All well and good, but there are some definite flaws. How low born Caterina could have been so highly educated by her father that she was able to pass among the intellectual elite of Florence is quite a stretch. Swapping letters with the Pope!!?? How was "he" able to join Lorenzo and his male associates in the common baths without taking "his" clothes off? Let alone wherever they traveled and whoever's home they stayed in she slept with him? How'd they explain that? Oops, they didn't, nor did the author. Frankly, Caterina was just too much over the top in intelligence, perfection, goodness and 21C superwoman to be quite believable.

This is very much a "what if" novel and should be read as such and not historical fact. As to how accurately the author portrays the lives of the rest of the historical characters in this book? I haven't a clue, but I did enjoy Lorenzo's character (he was quite a hunk), as well as the young up and coming Leonardo and his never ending search for knowledge. Sorry, but despite the hype I'm giving this one three stars.
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(1 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)

Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
Devil's Brood

Misfit, October 12, 2008

Outstanding! Well worth the wait! Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine thought they had it all - the greatest empire since Charlemagne, healthy children including the heir and several to spare - so how did it all go so wrong? The Devil's Brood takes up the story where Time and Chance left off with the murder of Thomas Becket, as Henry returns from his self imposed exile to Ireland. Henry's three eldest sons are chafing at the bit to have lands and power of their own and egged on by Louis of France they join with their mother Eleanor in rebellion against their father. In time Henry quells the rebellion and forgives his sons, but he cannot forgive his wife and queen and he imprisons her. Even though Henry forgave his sons, they are still not happy with his generosity and it eventually leads to more power struggles and back-biting amongst the brothers, particularly young Hal, who suffers the ultimate punishment for his reckless deeds.

This was a fascinating story of a brilliant, powerful king whose blind love and trust in his sons lead him to making mistakes in judgment that eventually lead to his downfall. I also loved seeing a different side of the haughty, queenly Eleanor we saw in Time and Chance, as unlike her sons she does come to recognize the wrongness (well sometimes) of her actions and the cataclysmic effects those actions had on her family. Some readers may find the first part of this book a bit slow paced as Penman does spend time setting up the back history of Henry, Eleanor and the Becket murder, but hang in there as about half way through when the boys start turning on each other the pages literally started flying. Penman's dialogue was exceptional, although I couldn't decide who got the best lines, Henry or Richard - they just smoked off the page!

One of Penman's great strengths is to take the most complex political situations and put them into a story that not only entertains the reader but educates at the same time. Five stars and it appears from the author's notes and a recent blog interview that this will not be a trilogy, she will continue the story of Eleanor, Richard and John in one more book. Hurray!

For those of you coming away from this book wanting to know about William Marshal, I highly recommend Elizabeth Chadwick's The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. They are hard to find in the US, but readily available in the UK and Canada.
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(4 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)

The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon by Alexandre Dumas
The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon

Misfit, November 27, 2007

A Dumas novel no one new existed! What a find this must have been, to discover an unknown work of Dumas hidden away in the Library of Paris. As the novel opens, it is the dawn of the 19th century and Napoleon rules as First Consul, not yet having being having been crowned Emperor, and the Royalist forces are still battling to restore the crown. Our hero, Hector, the Count Sainte-Hermine has seen his father and two older brothers nobly die for the Royalist cause. During a brief truce, Hector hopes to set all battles aside and declares for his true love, Claire de Sourdis. However, just before the marriage contract is signed, Hector is called back to the Royalist forces and is eventually imprisoned (and forgotten) for three years. When he is remembered and released, Hector is stripped of his title and must serve in either army or navy as a mere enlisted man, an insult for one of his class.

Hector signs on as a Corsair instead of the regular Navy and the adventure begins. Bereft of his lost love and his family fallen before him, Hector's only wish is to live life to the fullest and if he must, to die as nobly as his father and brothers did. Problem is, no matter how hard he tries, he never succeeds. Thus begins battles at sea, a fight to the death at sea with a shark, hunting tigers and crocodiles and a close call with a python, as Hector carries off every situation with dignity, charm and élan. If this book hadn’t been unknown until two years ago, I’d swear that Hector was the model for our present day super heroes. Swooning female? Out come the smelling salts and more from his bat-belt! It was so over the top and campy at times, but jolly good fun.

No, I'm not giving away the whole story -- actually the first half of the book has very little to do with Hector and very much to do with Napoleon at the start of his reign -- those who read the book jacket and expect it all to be about Hector and his heroics will be sorely disappointed. There is much politics, intrigue and battles about Europe. About half way through Hector comes back into the story and things cooked along for most of the rest of the book until the last 100 pages or so and then dragged down again. I'm not huge on battle scenes, so those were slow for me also, particularly the intricate details of the battle of Trafalgar. I confess to skipping a few pages there.

Readers should be advised that this recently discovered novel was never finished, and we'll never know where he planned to take the story in the end. There are many chapters of what appear to be needless characters, history and scenes, but not knowing how Dumas planned to complete the story, how are we to judge? I recall reading The Count of Monte Cristo and so many chapters that went off into another direction until the end where he pulled all the threads together in the end, and perhaps that is what Dumas planned with The Last Cavalier as well. We'll never know.

All in all, entertaining but far from my favorite Dumas and not one I'll plan to read again and again. Note, if you are new to Dumas this book should not be your first Dumas novel. But, for Dumas fans (and I'm one) this was an interesting read and I also learned much more about Napoleon than I ever picked up from the history books. Four stars.
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(1 of 19 readers found this comment helpful)

Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick
Scarlet Lion

Misfit, October 12, 2007

Historical fiction just doesn't get any better than this. A wonderful tale of one of the most honorable men to grace this earth, William Marshal and his true partner in all things, his wife Isabelle.

The first novel, The Greatest Knight, covered more of William Marshal's early life as a knight and courtier. This novel covers his life with Isabel and the dangers and terrors of living in the court of the King John, and then as regent for the young Henry III. I have to admit shedding more than a few tears at the last chapter, the end of Williams life.

I have read all of this author's works that I can get my hands on and I am amazed at how consistly she is improving (not that the earlier works were poorly written at all). Always an excellent story, a great history lesson and it's amazing how she effortlessly brings you into the sights, smells, sounds and life of another century. As someone else said, "The next best thing to time travel".
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(2 of 14 readers found this comment helpful)

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