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Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham by Tony Riches

Eleanor

Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester was unknown to me until I began to read this book, but she features in Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, and was a significant historical character.

Written in the first person as a secret coded diary we soon learn that Eleanor is imprisoned in Beaumaris Castle on the island of Anglesey, her fourth prison over nearly 10 years.  Although I sympathised with her plight I was interested in how she would explain her circumstances.

After the death of her mother at a young age and estrangement from her father after his remarriage, Eleanor considered herself lucky to become a lady-in-waiting to Jacqueline Countess of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland.  Escaping civil wars at home Jacqueline was a guest at court, trying to terminate her marriage to her unpleasant husband, Charles, Duke of Brabant on the grounds that he was her first cousin.  Eleanor found the lively, attractive Countess good company, although she had to adjust to her condescending manner.

Eleanor became Jacqueline’s close friend so as a reader it is difficult to sympathise with Eleanor when she betrays that friendship.  Jacqueline was staying at Baynard’s Castle, near St Paul’s wharf on the River Thames at the invitation of Humphrey Plantagenet, the Duke of Gloucester.  When he joined the two women, both their lives changed for ever.

This story of Eleanor’s early life is gradually revealed by Eleanor as she also describes her everyday life as a captive at Beaumaris.  Looking back, she has some regrets, but her ambition and love for Humphrey, probably dictated her actions.  Her complex character is not whitewashed, we see her “warts and all,” and maybe begin to understand her better.  Imprisoned for witchcraft and treason against King Henry VI, she is lucky to be alive, even though she has been banished from those she loves.

A necessary part of the plot is description of battle scenes including Agincourt.  These would not be my first choice of reading but Tony Riches brings the horror to life in a convincing clear account which enriches our image of the Duke of Gloucester.

As a very readable story of the complex politics of medieval life, this is an excellent read.  I particularly enjoyed the way in which the reader enters the mind of a strong, determined and humane woman, gaining understanding of her motives and actions.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I recommend anyone interested to read Tony’s account of his research for this book http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/in-search-of-eleanor-cobham-at.html

Honour and Obey by Carol Hedges

Honour

Do you want to find yourself walking the streets of Victorian London on a night of “relentless rain” seeing people hurrying back to their semi-detached villas and tiny hovels, a place where evil and kindness stand side by side?   Then this is the book for you.

“Honour and Obey” is packed with richly drawn characters with fascinating names.  Who could not wish to make the acquaintance of Lobelia and Hyacinth Clout, as they make their way to the church hall of Rev. Ezra Bittersplit, where they will listen to a talk about the Overseas Missionary Society for the Conversion of African Heathens, given by Eustacia Mullygrub?

Throughout the book, Detective Inspector Leo Stride and his assistant Detective Sergeant Jack Cully are in pursuit of a dastardly killer who seeks out innocent young women as his prey.  So often they miss the murderer by seconds without realising it and they are hampered by the lurid exaggeration of the crimes in the popular press.

Parallel to the investigation, three young women seek happiness.  Hyacinth, after a life of drudgery with her mother now seeks independence from her demanding sister Lobelia, while Portia Mullygrub also wishes to leave the family home where she works tirelessly as her mother’s secretary, in order to begin married life with her fiancé.  Meanwhile, penniless Emily Benet just wants to survive in a cruel world.

This witty novel is a delicious feast of Victorian delights; the gruesome murders, foundlings and workhouse families, do-gooders and honest hard working individuals.  The streets, houses, shops and hospital dissection room are all described in vivid detail and the complex plot interwoven seamlessly.  I can highly recommend “Honour and Obey” as a Christmas treat, but you will find it very hard to put down!

The Calling of the Raven by Jenny Lloyd

Raven

“The Calling of the Raven,” is the sequel to Jenny Lloyd’s powerful, emotive novel, “Leap the Wild Water.” We join the heroine, Megan, early in her marriage to Eli Jenkins, the man she had long loved, but she is burdened by a secret that is bound to sour their relationship. For Megan had given birth to a daughter by another man and this child, aptly named Fortune, has returned to the village.

But Eli is not just saddened by the news, he is filled with rage and is determined to make Megan suffer for her actions. His own weakness leads him to exercise control and cruelty upon his possession, his wife Megan. She begins to doubt her own sanity as her brother Morgan and her best friend Beulah turn against her, while Eli openly cavorts with dairy maid, Branwen.

Although there is tragedy and fear in the storyline there is also hope and spirit in Megan’s goodness and determination. Her daughter Fortune is a spark of promise with her loving, lively nature. Megan and her brother Morgan are supported by the love and understanding of their good friend Dafydd and they let their own humanity guides their lives.

This is a book about the intense struggle for freedom and equality made by so many women in the 19th century and still existing today. Megan and Bronwen speak for those who were abused or trapped in loveless marriages but other women in the story, embittered by experience, support the men in their use of possession and condemnation.

Despite the serious nature of this dramatic tale, reading it is effortless. You are carried along by the natural voice of Megan and, at times, other characters, so that you are truly involved in their lives. I cannot recommend this book too highly.

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