The Heretic’s Wife by Brenda Rickman Vantrease

The Heretic’s Wife the story of Kate Gough, the fictional wife of John Frith, who was a refugee during the reign of Henry VIII. Kate is a well-educated, Lutheran-sympathizing woman in Tudor London who meets John Frith, a man accused of being a heretic for translating the Bible into English so that any man may read the word of God. The couple lives most of their lives in Antwerp, where English law, mainly Thomas More, cannot touch them. The story mostly follows Kate’s everyday life, but we occasionally get the insight of Thomas More, the King’s Chancellor who seems obsessed with burning heretics; and Anne Boleyn, the woman Henry VII breaks with Rome for in order to set aside is very Catholic Spanish Queen Katherine. We get a look at how each character is dealing with the religious crisis of the day.

I thought the writing was good. I’m glad Vantrease decided to not only stay with Kate. It gave us a little variety on the thinking of the people of the times. Kate and Anne, for instance are sympathetic to the Lutheran cause. They believe William Tyndale, the man working to translate the Bible into English and distribute it to as many Englishmen as possible, is an inspiration. Why not let every man interpret the Bible for his own? While Thomas More is perhaps the man most strongly against such thought. He believes the Lord is supreme power and that the church has the only right to determine what His words mean. He is hell-bent on burning everyone who says otherwise. I also like that Vantrease decided to write Kate as an educated woman. Most women of the era were illiterate and that would have made for a very boring story.

Kate though was not as revolutionary as I would have liked. Yes she was educated, and yes she kind of dropped everything to help with the cause, but she was still reigned in by need/want for children. I would have thought a woman like Kate would not want the burden of children during such a dangerous time. Which leads me to the other thing I dislike about the book and every other historical fiction book set in this time period. The miscarriage. There is ALWAYS a miscarriage in these books. I’ve read a lot that take place anywhere between the War of the Roses and Elizabethan England and each one has a woman losing a child they so desperately wanted. It just feels cliche at this point.

Overall I enjoyed the book because it’s hard for me to hate a book that is written about the Tudor reign. My favorite era in world history is hard for me to criticize too much.

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Citizens of London by Lynne Olson

First and foremost, this is not a biography like I thought it was going to be. This is a history book about World War II. Which was kind of a surprise since the description of the book makes it out to be more biographical about the three most important American men in London at the time of the war. Now, this did not make me like the book any less. I thought it would honestly, but it was so well-written that I didn’t really care in the end that the book was more about Roosevelt and Churchill than the American liaisons in London.

From the description of the book, it was supposed to be about Averell Harriman, John Gilbert Winant, and Edward Murrow, the three most influential Americans in London at the time of World War II. Winant was the American envoy to the United Kingdom and every Londoner’s favorite person. He was all about the people at the height of the war sometimes avoiding other officials in favor of speaking to soldiers. Harriman was the U.S. representative sent to London in order to oversee the distribution of Lend-Lease funds for England. He managed to get more attention that Winant by befriending Churchill and getting in on many private meetings. Murrow, the most famous voice from World War II, was the U.S. CBS news correspondent who brought the sounds and descriptions of the war into American and British homes.

The first half of the book read like I thought it would. We got backgrounds on all three men and their experience in London during the Blitz. We learned how each man was received by the London population and how their experiences helped them influence President Roosevelt into entering the war to aid England. The second half of the book read more like a history book. We were mostly told about military men and military strategy. We did get to meet more influential Americans such as Dwight Eisenhower and Tommy Hitchcock and we were told about their experiences in the war as well. Near the end, however, the book kept alluding to the three main men and how they adjusted to the end of the war. I just thought that it was kind of a weird mix reading about Roosevelt and Churchill’s own strategies while also learning about the personal lives of these men after the fighting ended.

Overall the book was extremely well-written. Olson was able to capture the passion of the London citizens as well as the passion of the American men that they welcomed into their lives during their darkest period in modern history. IMG_1084

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

I think it’s safe to say that Julian Fellowes has become one of my favorite authors. Not only because he writes about my favorite subject: British nobility; but because he writes about them so well and in a way that I have not read from other authors. I read his book Snobs and thought that it was a good read. Very detailed and telling about the gentry families of England. Past Imperfect is very different. He still writes about the high families and their posh lifestyle, but this book gets psychological about the nobility.

The story follows the narrator on a quest for a former enemy to find his illegitimate child by a woman from their youth. Of course, the narrator is reluctant at first to relive the Debutante Season of 1968, but when he learns that Damian Baxter is a dying man, he gives in to his whims to track down the child. Our narrator must travel back in time and he takes us readers on quite a journey.

The description on the back of the book tells me all of this and I expected a well-told life history of debutante balls, fancy dinners, and teenage shenanigans. I got what I was expecting, but with a little twist in which the narrator also describes the current lives of the women he revisits which are less than happy ones. We visit a woman with a husband who cannot be trusted with money; a woman with a bully banker for a husband; one who’s been the love of the narrator’s life for forty years; a Californian, plastic-surguried woman who has had more than her fair share of husbands; and a husband of one of the women who died a tragic death. Our narrator goes on an emotional roller coaster trying to find the child in question to satisfy a dying man’s request.

I already knew I would like the book because Fellowes writes really well. Every manor house we visit is described in perfect detail. Every instance of well-born routine is perfectly executed. His writing is part of the reason I want to be a part of that world so badly. I appreciated, though, that he wrote about less-than-perfect situations. It opened my eyes to a world I want to be a part of so badly, and made me realize that it’s not all fancy parties and exquisite balls. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that these people don’t have their own problems, but I rarely get to read about them.

I hope Julian Fellowes keeps writing. There are still other books of his I need to get my hands on. Other noble families that need their stories told. Even if they are fictional.

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