Finding an Old Friend

The title may be misleading. This is very metaphorical. Having been an English ed major, general book worm, and readaholic, an old friend to me is usually a good book. Though I’ve graduated I’ve been subbing everywhere and anywhere I can. Monday, I had the joy of being a librarian for the day. Sitting in a very nice middle school library, I got the itch to walk around and stretch my legs.

As I made my promenade through the shelves and around the room, I came across a dear friend. A friend that helped lead me to where I am today. A friend that I hadn’t seen in a number of years; that brought back all of the memories of the first time I saw it, all of the feelings of wonder and questions that I had.


It’s part of the Royal Diaries series, the same people who do the Dear America books. Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor. I was fortunate enough to grow up 2 blocks away from the library. I read through the entire Princess Diaries series and the Dear America books. I’ve also read all of the Magic Treehouse books. Though I love them dearly, none of them compared to this. Something about this book struck a chord. Sitting on the front porch of our little house, in the sunshine of summer, I was infatuated.

Fast forward 16 years and now I’m teaching. I’ve taught freshmen about Queen Elizabeth I twice during pre-reading for Shakespeare. I’m preparing to take the history praxis. I am encouraging students to read, hoping that one of them will find “the book.” The one that turns their life upside down. The book that years after they have me, they’ll see on a shelf, or their own child will bring home, and they’ll remember. I hope they will think “I remember you, hello my dear, old, friend.”

Dying Art

Once upon a time women were taught beautiful arts. At bridal showers, the bride received a “Bless This House,” cross stitch/embroidery, or something along those lines to hang in their new house from a grandmother or an aunt. When babies came, quilts and afghans were made for the little one to snuggle up with as a gifts from older generations. Schools are cutting art and music programs and parents are enraged. So why are these same people not enraged that they were not taught these other precious gifts?

My aunts taught my mother how to crochet, and she in turn taught me. They started the tradition of making baby blankets when ever a little one is on the way. It is something that my mother and I have both continued to do for our friends over the years. It’s not huge, or fancy, but something most mothers and children treasure over the years. When I’m cold, I just make ear warmers and scarves. FullSizeRenderI’ve been blessed to grow up surrounded by women who were fortunate to know these arts, whether out of necessity or choice. I have grown up in a house full of pieces lovingly cross stitched and surrounded by crocheted afghans and heirloom quilts from aunts, my great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother, mother, and myself. Throughout the year quilts and larger blankets grace our quilt hanger….the majority of which were made by these women. IMG_5939I recently set up one of my sewing machines. I learned how to sew on my great-grandmothers Singer. I am nowhere near the seamstress as the other ladies in my life, but I’m working on it! I needed a skirt for a costume. Working at JoAnn Fabrics, I bought myself some supplies and made my Minnie Mouse skirt, for a fraction of the price a skirt like this would cost in stores. It took me 30 minutes.
IMG_5936I was struggling with a bridal gift. I remembered that I had some embroidery floss from making friendship bracelets in high school. Again, working at JoAnn’s, I bought myself some hoops, fabric, needles, and more floss. I’ve now completed 3 pieces in the last month. IMG_5810 IMG_5938 FullSizeRender-1I am not posting this to brag about my craft savvy. It’s a question and something for us all to think about- when did we get so busy that our mother’s and grandmothers and great grandmothers couldn’t teach us these gifts? For hundreds of years women spent their days using their hands, passed down from generation to generation. Many times, it was out of necessity. Wool was spun, clothes and blankets were made. Embroidery was for more than decorative tapestries, but to decorate what would have otherwise been a very plain dress or cloak. My pieces are a far cray from Renaissance pieces like this one.


Elizabethan Polychrome Nightcap c.1600.

How did our lives get so busy that basic skills like sewing a button or fixing a hole in a garment have been lost to the past? Why is there such little interest in these hobbies in the younger generations? When did these arts get lost? When did they begin to die?

As of right now, I have 3 weddings and a baby this year, not ME, but other people. Since handmade gifts like these don’t show up at showers too often, I have made it my mission to be that person. Everyone deserves to have something that can’t be bought, something made just for them, something that will last, something that is literally stitched with love. I am not saying our mothers, our aunts, or our grandmothers have done a disservice, but quite the opposite. I think we have let them down by not looking to them to teach us these arts that they so painstakingly learned. I for one am taking the stand. I want my children, my friends and my family, to grow up in houses full of love, full of stories, and full of art- just like mine.


GI Brides- Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

They’re exciting. They’re new. They’re attractive. They are different. They’re smooth. They’re exotic. They are American GI’s passing through England in the midst of World War II.

GI Brides follows the stories of four English women, Sylvia Bradley, Rae Brewer, Margaret Boyle and Gwendolyn Rowe, the parts they played in the war effort, their romances and moves across the pond to American with their new GI grooms. The best part- all four women did exist. These are true stories, complete with a mid-book insert containing picture of the women, their families and their hunky GI men. The book probably falls into the category of historical fiction. But it’s one of those, historical, realistic, biographical, romantic fiction books. It could be smooshed into a few different places.

I will say, brides coming from the UK to America after World War II was something that I had never thought about. It’s something that the history textbooks don’t even mention briefly- I checked my old high school textbook to make sure I hadn’t just missed that day or something. There were actually meetings at the YMCA and mini support groups of European women! The best part- they STILL have meetings for those that are still alive! It’s just another element to the war that had a relative impact on society but is quietly passed over throughout history and education.

Margaret Boyle was actually great-grandmother of author Nuala Calvi! How cool is that!? Sadly, Margaret had passed away before she saw the completion of the book.

This book was kind of a drag. I mean, thankfully the women all end up finding happiness, but it was hard getting through some of them. I feel like following 4 different women was a bit much, especially in the beginning when they were all dating multiple men and you had to keep track of everyone. I felt like I needed a chart to keep them all straight. They rotated through the four women. I think the book would have been much easier to read,  and much easier to follow and connect with the characters had they just written four separate sections for each one.

It was a cute little book, I read the majority of it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It was romantic without being anywhere near trashy. It was a nice little read before the hustle and bustle of being in school and back to work in the next week!

GI Brides

Queen Of Someday-Sherry D Ficklin

I can add this to my list of historical fictions. I have a serious problem. And this book is good. It is a great disservice to be such a history nerd. I feel like sometimes it ruins reading historical fiction works. I know too much about the realities of the lives of these people to get too attached to their fictitious representations.

There are a number of things I really liked about this book and a few that I didn’t. Obviously I loved the fact that it’s historical. Catherine the Great is somebody whom I have only more recently taken an interest in. However, being the great ruler that she was, this is not the first time she has come across my radar. Ficklin used great, graphic wording to describe the world of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. There is the perfect swirl of romance, danger, fun, passion, fire and ambition. So much is known about the Great Empress, but it is her youth, and beginnings in the strange courts of Russia that Ficklin has chosen to zero in on.

Other than the ebook version being a bit wonky with its layout and just not very good, the flow of the book itself was great. It kept pace. At no point did I feel the need to put the book down or take a break. I didn’t necessarily find myself tearing through it to find out what would happen next either. It was a leisurely read that was perfect for lounging on our porch swing this evening.

Over all, I wish the characters had shown a bit more dimension and dynamic growth. It is obvious that this is a first book in a series and I get that. The scene and the foundation must be laid for all involved. I could tell that Ficklin really wanted to show a change and growth in Sophie (Catherine), but I felt that it fell just a bit short of her goal. Granted, most of the characters aren’t supposed to have much dimension, that IS the point. As the rest of them stay stagnant, it is Catherine who is to rise to the occasion. I found myself unable to quite connect to Sophie/Catherine in my usual immersive way. I am hoping in the next book, her transformation from naive, young woman will more fully blossom to her full potential.

I am certainly looking forward to Sherry Ficklin’s next installment in Catherine’s story. I would recommend this to my students being that is it “clean” as far as sexual and lexicon content are concerned. It was an entertaining read and enjoyable as far as summer reads go.


Innocent Traitor- Alison Weir

This is a continuation of my obsession. I don’t joke when I say I literally have a shelf of Tudor literature. This is only a portion of it.

Photo on 7-12-14 at 12.12 PM

History seems to always remember everybody and yet they always miss pivotal people. When reciting the English Monarchy most people recite it as such “King Henry VIII, Edward, Mary Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I, James.” But they’re missing someone. I know. There was no one else listed in your high school history book. Your history professor in college totally breezed over the Tudors. No where, at no time, was another monarch EVER mentioned. Oh, but there was. Her name? Lady Jane Grey.

Lady Jane Grey is  the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, King Henry VIII’s sister. After the death of King Henry VIII, the throne went to his sickly son, Edward. He was the only son of KHVIII and Jane Seymour, the only woman he claims to have ever loved. Edward was a staunch Anglican and fully believed in the church his father had created away from the Pope and Catholicism of the rest of Christendom. As Edward’s health continued to decline, there was a rush and panic as to the order of succession. Edward was not married and had produced no heirs. As it stood, Mary Tudor, his older half-sister, daughter of  Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, was in line next. Mary, as her mother, was a zealot Catholic and had plans to purge the country of its wrong doers. A plan emerged.

In a panic, Lady Jane was married to the son of Edwards Chief Minister, Guilford Dudley. You should recognize the name Dudley, as Robert Dudley is known as one of Queen Elizabeth I’s best friends through childhood as well as adulthood. It has been speculated that they were even lovers. ANYWHO.

As Edward lay dying, he was convinced to name his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor for fear of what his sister would do to the Anglican Church after he passed. Lady Jane Grey was queen on England from July 10 1553- July 19 1553. At that time, Mary Tudor, Edward’s sister, was able to rally her supporters and took over the government. Lady Jane Grey was imprisoned.

Alison Weir is one of my favorite Tudor historians, as I own a number of her books. The Innocent Traitor follows the story of the young and pretty Lady Jane Grey. Jane was the victim of circumstance. Though to an extent she did not quarrel what was expected of her, she was young and pushed into this role by her father, father-in-law and the world she lived in. This book follows the plans, the wedding, the imprisonment and ultimate beheading of Lady Jane Grey.

Jane was a beautiful, intelligent, and quiet young lady. She loved her cousin Edward dearly. She loved learning and the growth of her mind. She had reservations and fears of being thrust upon the throne of England. Weir does a spectacular job documenting the journey this brave young woman took in the format of a diary from the point of view of those involved. Jane Grey, Frances Brandon, Queen Katherine Parr (Henry’s last wife), Mary Tudor, and of course the Dudley men all have their moments throughout the book.

It is so easy to get swept into this world. It is so easy to be shocked that history has somehow forgotten to mention this story in its text books. You can not help but feel helpless and cheer for the young woman as she is thrust into the world of men, royalty and schemes. There is an empathy built around the characters that leaves you in tears as you finish the last pages. I think what takes my breath away and makes this story so much harder to read is knowing that….it happened. This innocent young woman was beheaded because of the pride of men. Though this is a work of historical fiction, there is a great deal of truth to much of what has been written. As she stay in the tower during her imprisonment in February 1554, Lady Jane Grey writes, “If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least and my imprudence, were worthy of excuse. God and posterity will show me more favor.” It is a shame that much of history has forgotten to show her the favor she so awkwardly earned as she flailed for the block in her final moments.

After being found guilty of high treason, among other charges, she was led to the block as so many others had in the previous years before during her Uncle’s reign. Along with her, Guiliford her husband, as well as his father John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, two of the other Dudley sons, and her father were all beheaded.

This is an enveloping, easy read. The only thing that I wish had been included is a family line of the Dudley’s, just to make it easier to keep track of all of them. They had quite the brood! The family line of the Tudor’s is extraordinarily helpful when trudging through not only this book, but many other Tudor books I’ve read throughout the years. ALWAYS have one handy if the book doesn’t provide one. There are way too many people, Catherines, Katherines, Anne’s, Mary’s….you get the picture. I would definitely recommend this to one of my high school students. Since it is more of an easy read I would suggest this to a 9th or 19th grader unless they were at a lower reading level or I knew they enjoyed historical fiction. Weir’s bright, descriptive and fast paced writing makes this book delectable and devour-able!


The Lady of the Rivers-Philippa Gregory

My heart is so heavy. I have this thing. I totally get attached to characters. For a time, I become them. I am transported to their time and space. I wear their clothes, I feel their fears, triumphs, defeats and victories. Nobody creates a world more vivid than Philippa Gregory. This is the 3rd book in “The Cousin’s War” series based on the women of The War of the Roses that ravaged England’s lands for decades. The first two are “The White Queen,” and “The Red Queen.” The colors are representative of the York and Lancastrian lines, each with their own claim to the crown.

With The Lady of the Rivers, Gregory takes a bit of a step backwards timeline wise with the series. The main character of the book, Jacquetta, is actually first met in “The White Queen” as Elizabeth Woodville’s mother. This book begins with Jacquetta as a child living in the torn, war scarred country of France where she meets and becomes friendly with Joan of Arc. After Joan’s death, still a teenager, she is wed to the great English Lord John of Lancaster, a man in his mid 40s. Shockingly, Lord John does not want her as a wife in every sense of the word, to bear him heirs and run his household- no. Jacquetta has a gift- the gift of sight, of knowledge, and she is used by him in his quest for the elixir of life and Philosophers Stone.

Carried by Fortunes Wheel, Jacquetta finds herself widowed, remarried and in the thick of the crumbling English monarchy of King Henry VI and his French wife Margaret of Anjou.

It is her life that Gregory has plunged me once again. There is this terrible thing that happens when reading books based on history. YOU KNOW HOW IT ENDS! But at the same time, while reading, you are so engulfed in it all you forget, for the briefest of moments who prevails. The struggle is real.


Though historical fiction, Philippa Gregory is very much so a historian that bases the lives of her subjects on her research. THIS is something that no Hunger Games or fictional novel can do. So many books try to create new worlds, new realities- but the ultimate reality is the lives and history of these women. I think that is what makes this series so impactful. Though Gregory gave these women voices, emotions and feelings that have been long lost in the shuffle of times and records in their male dominated world- this was their realty. War was the reality they lived everyday. Leaving their homes, watching their husbands and sons walk away to fight for something they didn’t know or understand. They struggled with decisions like who would be the safest to marry their sons and daughters too. They lived in a world of constant uncertainty. She gives the women who changed the course of history voices. She gives them their place and honor when they received none in life. Though these women lived in a world of wars and men, they ruled them all.

I began The Lady of the Rivers yesterday. I finished it about 20 minutes ago. Yes, I stayed up until 3am, but with 100 pages left I had to turn out the light. It’s a little over 400 pages and grabs your attention from the first page. As I said, this is technically the third book in the series but chronologically, it is the first. I did not have to wish for a next book to tell me what becomes of the family of Jacquetta because I already read it. The next two books are The King Maker’s Daughter and The White Princess. These are both waiting for me to read this afternoon. There is a third book just released this year that is after the end of The War of the Roses and dips into the reigns of both King Henry VII and King Henry VIII, The King’s Curse.

The great thing about these books is that they can all be read individually, or collectively. Each book is from a different perspective, and in most cases from either the point of view of a Lancastrian or York. I’m not quite sure how somebody could read ONE of these books and NOT want to read the rest of the books to find out what happens to everybody and how they all get there. I am an anomaly in that I am a freak about English history and know how it all works out in the end. But there are many that will read these books, unprepared to be launched into the twisted, unbelievable world of The Cousin’s War.


For more Philippa Gregory books check out her website.

The White Queen was turned into a tv series on STARZ

Gregory provides family trees and maps of both England and France with battles and lines drawn, however I find it useful to print out copies of them to refer to while reading. I also just bought an encyclopedia of The Plantagenet’s which has been tremendous in helping me keep them all straight. Because people are usually referred too by both their titles as well as their real names, it can get confusing and overwhelming to keep it all straight.