Checked Out: THE PLANTAGENETS {The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England} by Dan Jones

Publisher: Viking Adult
Released: April 18, 2013
Source: Borrowed from the library

The first Plantagenet king inherited a blood-soaked kingdom from the Normans and transformed it into an empire stretched at its peak from Scotland to Jerusalem. In this epic history, Dan Jones vividly resurrects this fierce and seductive royal dynasty and its mythic world.

We meet the captivating Eleanor of Aquitaine, twice queen and the most famous woman in Christendom; her son, Richard the Lionheart, who fought Saladin in the Third Crusade; and King John, a tyrant who was forced to sign Magna Carta, which formed the basis of our own Bill of Rights.

This is the era of chivalry, of Robin Hood and the Knights Templar, the Black Death, the founding of Parliament, the Black Prince, and the Hundred Year’s War. It will appeal as much to readers of Tudor history as to fans of Game of Thrones.

I grabbed this book from the library because I wanted a crash course in Plantagenet history. The Plantagenets ruled England for over 300 years, beginning with Henry II in 1154, and this book covers most of that time. Henry II’s mother was Empress Matilda, the granddaughter of William the Conqueror. I thought it was interesting that the family name came from Henry II’s father Geoffrey, who liked to wear the yellow Planta Genista blossoms in his hair, leading to the nickname Geoffrey Plantagenet.

This book was well-researched and went into great detail on the major players of the Plantagenet dynasty. Some parts I skimmed over, while others sections I spent a lot of time on. I enjoyed Empress Matilda’s story of how she battled her cousin Stephen of Blois for control of England. While she was never officially crowned queen, she succeeded in getting her son on the throne as the first Plantagenet king. Eleanor of Aquitaine was another fascinating woman who made a huge impact on Europe during her long life. And I can’t forget the Edward II/Isabella of France/Piers Gaveston/Hugh Despenser drama! It was drama to rival the Tudors.

This book paints a vivid portrait of English royals between the Norman invasion and the Tudor takeover. (Though, it did not go as far as Richard III; he needs his own book!) Recommended for anyone interested in an easy to read history of this time period.

Audiobook Review: THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN by Susan Bordo

Format: Audio; 12 hrs, 4 mins
Narrator: Barbara Rosenblat
Publisher: Audible Studios
Released: March 25, 2014
Source: Review copy from Audible
Rating: ★★★½

Part biography, part cultural history, The Creation of Anne Boleyn is a fascinating reconstruction of Anne’s life and an illuminating look at her afterlife in the popular imagination. Why is Anne so compelling? Why has she inspired such extreme reactions? What did she really look like? Was she the flaxen-haired martyr of Romantic paintings or the raven-haired seductress of twenty-first-century portrayals? (Answer: Neither.) And perhaps the most provocative questions concern Anne’s death more than her life. How could Henry order the execution of a once beloved wife? Drawing on scholarship and critical analysis, Bordo probes the complexities of one of history’s most infamous relationships.

Bordo also shows how generations of polemicists, biographers, novelists, and filmmakers imagined and re-imagined Anne: Whore, martyr, cautionary tale, proto “mean girl,” feminist icon, and everything in between. In this lively audiobook, Bordo steps off the well-trodden paths of Tudoriana to expertly tease out the human being behind the competing mythologies.

After Anne Boleyn was executed in 1556, King Henry VIII tried to erase her from history by destroying her portraits, letters, and any other traces of her existance. Because of this, the real Anne Boleyn remains a mystery. Was she a wicked harlot or a Protestant martyr? A conniving husband-stealing shrew or feminist champion? In THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN, author Susan Bordo sets out to “save” Anne the human being from the various myths created over the centuries.

The first half of the book was my favorite. It’s an in depth look at Anne’s relationship with Henry, and how certain people from her own time viewed her and her marriage with the king. It was interesting to hear the author’s opinions of Catherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, and how they differed from Anne. Ms. Bordo also looks at the theories about Henry’s health that may have caused his fickle nature when it came to disposing of his wives.

I didn’t care for the second half of the book quite as much. It explored how different versions of Anne Boleyn have been created over the last 500 years to fit the standards of the time. The chapters dragged at times, and ideas were repeated. I did like that the author showed how Anne is portrayed in film and literature today, including her thoughts on The Tudors television show. One negative for me was her obvious dislike of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (both the book and movie). It’s fine if she doesn’t like Gregory’s portrayal of Anne, but hearing about it over and over got tiresome after a while. (I have not read or seen The Other Boleyn Girl, but now I want to!)

This book was narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, and she gave a brilliant performance. She added just the right amount of enthusiasm, humor, and sarcasm in her voice at the appropriate passages. I would give the narration alone 5 stars!

THE CREATION OF ANNE BOLEYN was expertly researched, and I enjoyed how it was so much more than a typical biography. The information presented was certainly thought-provoking, and I walked away from this book with a new view of England’s most notorious queen.

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by in exchange for an honest review.