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.