Friday, December 29, 2006

My Favorite Plaidy Reads of 2006

I read quite a few Plaidy novels this year (hence this blog). Here, in no particular order, are the ones I enjoyed most:

Murder Most Royal (Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard)

The Queen's Confession (Marie Antoinette, written as Victoria Holt)

Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill (Maria Fitzherbert)

Indiscretions of the Queen (Queen Caroline)

Regent's Daughter (Princess Charlotte)

Myself My Enemy (Henrietta Maria)

The Pleasures of Love (Catherine of Braganza)

(I suppose one day I should really try reading a book that's not about a royal woman . . .)

Anyway, I've started reading The Haunted Sisters (about James II's daughters Mary and Anne), and am so far finding it very entertaining, especially in its depiction of Sarah Churchill, who's both thoroughly disagreeable and rather fun to read about. I'll be saying more about it in 2007.

In the meantime, I'll leave you for 2006 with this cover from a 1983 edition of Plaidy's novel about Edward I and his family, Hammer of the Scots. Here we see the king taking a well-deserved break from his military preoccupations to nibble his wife's ear.

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Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Pleasures of Love (No, It's Not That Kind of Blog)

I finished reading Plaidy's The Pleasures of Love, about Catherine of Braganza, wife to Charles II, yesterday. I'd say it was one of the better Plaidys I've read.

Catherine, of course, was obligated to tolerate Charles II's many mistresses and, worse yet, watch as they bore her husband child after child while she suffered miscarriages. Nonetheless, the couple were fond of each other and grew closer in adversity. As a Catholic in a Protestant country, Catherine was a perennial outsider and an easy target for the disaffected, especially when it became apparent that she was unlikely to produce an heir to the throne.

It's a tribute to Plaidy's skill that both Charles and Catherine come off as sympathetic characters, as it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of making Charles a lecherous jerk or Catherine a colorless dishcloth. Instead, Charles's charm is readily apparent here, and though Catherine (the narrator) lacks his wit and magnetic personality, and is more an observer of events than a participant in them, she still is an attractive character, making the best of her circumstances and seldom yielding to self-pity. The relationship between the royal couple, complicated as it is by the other women in Charles's life, is a visibly affectionate one.

It's interesting to compare this book with Doris Leslie's The Sceptre and the Rose, also about Catherine. Leslie's book covers most of the same events that Plaidy does but uses a third-person omniscient narrator; she's also quite sympathetic to both Catherine and Charles. She has a jauntier writing style than Plaidy and spends more time in sketching character (her Barbara Villiers is a memorably nasty specimen), but Plaidy's narrative is a little easier to follow, especially for someone (like me) not all that familiar with the history of the period. Both, though, are well worth reading.

Neither book spends much time on the period after Charles II's death, although Plaidy does devote a few pages to Catherine's precarious position in the reign of William and Mary and to her return to Portugal, where she served as her brother's regent for a while. It's a pity that there's not more on the latter episode, for it seems to have been a time where Catherine was able to demonstrate the strength and intelligence that were overshadowed during her stay in England.

An enjoyable book about a queen exhibiting grace under pressure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Parr-fectly Confusing

As you probably know, Jean Plaidy wrote a historical novel about Katherine Parr called The Sixth Wife. It's recently been reissued, both in the US and the UK. The UK cover is quite pretty.

Now comes another historical novel about Katherine Parr, this one by Suzannah Dunn (author of The Queen of Subtleties). The title? You guessed it: The Sixth Wife. To make matters worse, the UK covers are somewhat similar--although the Plaidy cover has a "headless woman" cover and the Dunn cover has a woman with her face turned away from the reader, they're each wearing ivory-colored dresses, and both have a script typeface.

Of course, it's quite common to see novels sharing the same title (Plaidy, Sharon Penman, and Juliet Dymoke all have novels called The Sun in Splendor, with variations in spelling), but one thinks that with the Plaidy book having been reissued, Dunn's publishers might have come up with a different title.

Plaidy novel-in-progress report: I'm reading The Pleasures of Love, about Catherine of Braganza, and am enjoying it very much. (By the way, if you do a search on Amazon USA for "The Pleasures of Love," be sure to put "Plaidy" in the search bar too, or be prepared to pull up all sorts of non-Plaidy items, and make sure that your boss isn't looking over your shoulder.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Still Here!

I haven't posted lately, between reading novels for review, work deadlines, and Christmas, but I do plan to be better once things start to quiet down.

My latest novel wasn't a Plaidy, but Bridge of Sighs by Jane Lane. I've liked Jane Lane's other novels, but I found this one, about James II's wife Mary Beatrice, to be lackluster. I started thinking, "Jean Plaidy could have done better than this." I don't know if Plaidy wrote a novel about Mary Beatrice, but she did write one about James II's daughters, Mary and Anne, called The Haunted Sisters, which I hope will soon be in my hands.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Myself My Enemy

I got on an English Civil War kick a little while ago, and when I started to look around for some novels to read, one of the first I came across was Myself My Enemy, Jean Plaidy's 1983 novel about Henrietta Maria, wife to Charles I.

Myself My Enemy is written in the first person, and traces Henrietta Maria's growth from a headstrong young girl to a more reflective older woman, one with many regrets.

This isn't the best novel about the English Civil War I've ever read. Plaidy's prose isn't particularly memorable, and she always tends to tell more than to show. Nonetheless, Plaidy has a gift for getting inside her characters' heads and making the reader care for them, and I thought she did that well with Henrietta. Fiercely loyal to her husband, deeply committed to her Catholic faith, suffering myriad tragedies, and just as often doing the wrong thing as the right one, Henrietta is an interesting heroine, and Plaidy succeeds in making her an appealing one despite her manifest flaws, of which Henrietta is all too aware despite her best efforts to rationalize her actions to herself. Her wavering between self-knowledge and self-justification is depicted particularly well in the scene where Henrietta mourns her son Henry, whom she had alienated before his untimely death by attempting to convert to Catholicism.

Plaidy depicts Charles I sympathetically, without idealizing him, and the relationship between him and Henrietta is moving. Charles II, blithely ignoring his mother's advice, and not without good reason, is also well drawn.

Judging from the reading I've done since about Henrietta Maria, Plaidy seems to have researched Henrietta's life thoroughly and stuck to historical fact, a refreshing contrast to some more recent novels I've read about other historical figures.

All in all, an interesting introduction to a beleaguered queen, and one that got me scouring the library to learn more about Henrietta.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Plaidy on Literature Map

I pulled up something called Literature Map today, which answered the question, What else do readers of Jean Plaidy read? Supposedly, the closer the name appears on the map to Plaidy's, the more likely a reader who likes Plaidy is to like the other author's books. I say "supposedly," because when I tried it, I got a different result each time--on one occasion, a writer named Elizabeth Ogilvie was smack next to Plaidy, while on another, Ogilvie's name was at a much greater distance.

Still, it's fun to play with (watching the names jounce around is sort of like watching fish swim) and running the query (it works with other authors too, of course) pulled up some names I didn't recognize and will have to look up one of these days.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Fun Cover to Get Us Started

If you've seen my other blog, you know that I frequently review historical fiction on it. Because I prefer to read about English history, I quite often read Jean Plaidy novels. Even though many are out of print, they're easy to find and usually quite cheap.

I've reviewed some of the Plaidy novels on my other blog, but face it, Plaidy was so prolific, if I tried to review them all there, it'd soon turn into a Jean Plaidy blog, which would be a bit of a bore for readers who aren't all that interested in her books. Hence the present blog, where I can post as much as I please about Plaidy without guilt.

Jean Plaidy, of course, was the pseudonym for the author Eleanor Hibbert, who also wrote novels as Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr (among others). My focus here will be on the Jean Plaidy books, but I may venture into the Holts as well, depending on what grabs my interest.

So now to get started.

As you may know, a lot of Jean Plaidy's novels are being reissued, with classy new covers. Some of them are quite lovely, but I have a soft spot for some of the older ones, like this one from The Vow on the Heron, a 1980 novel about Edward III.
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This cover is from a 1984 paperback edition, and one of the things that has baffled my existence is wondering who the Farrah Fawcett-like blonde on the cover is. Queen Philippa would seem to be the most likely candidate, but the woman isn't crowned, and in any case, Queen Philippa by most accounts wasn't the hot number that this blonde is. Alice Perrers? Maybe, but if so, Edward III's way too young, as he took up with Alice late in life. Joan of Kent? The Countess of Salisbury? Possibly, but what on earth are they doing on a ship, anyway?

The mind boggles.

If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.