THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS by Philippa Gregory (Audiobook)

Three Sisters, Three Queens (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, #8)
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

If you enjoy audiobooks, I would highly recommend listening to THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS, because Bianca Amato’s narration is outstanding. This book has a big cast of characters with different voices and accents, and Ms. Amato handled it beautifully. Very entertaining and well done!

So, the title refers to sisters Margaret and Mary Tudor, and their sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon. The book focuses mainly on Margaret, from her girlhood days in the Tudor court, to her years as Queen of Scotland, though Mary and Katherine are always there on the sidelines to annoy, betray, and support, like sisters can do.

I enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s portrayal of Margaret, though she wasn’t easy to like at first. Her character makes quite a transformation from a spoiled princess obsessing over the best gowns and titles to a struggling Regent holding the crown for her only son. She was a fascinating woman whose life was almost as turbulent as that of her granddaughter, Mary, Queen of Scots.

It was interesting to read about Margaret’s life (though, yes, a fictional account) and her rivalry and friendship (frenemies?) with pious Katherine and beautiful Mary. I love Ms. Gregory’s storytelling, didn’t want this one to end. THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS is book #8 in The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, though it can easily be read standalone.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel {Audiobooks}

zWolfHallBringUpTheBodiesSeries: Thomas Cromwell, #1 & #2
Publisher: Henry Hold & Company
Released: October 2009 & May 2012
Source: Borrowed from the library


In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power.

whEngland in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.


The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn.

butbThough he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?


After hearing so much buzz for so long about this series, I decided to dive in and listen to the audiobooks. Overall, I thought the books were very good and lived up to the hype. I enjoyed that they were tales of the Tudors told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, someone who usually doesn’t have the spotlight.

I found Hillary Mantel’s Cromwell a compelling character. He was an ambitious self-made man, the abused son of a blacksmith who rose to become Henry VIII’s Principal Secretary and chief adviser (among other titles).  In spite of his ruthless, power-hungry nature, he had a charming, witty, vulnerable side that appealed to me.

The first book, WOLF HALL, covers Cromwell’s rise to power and his involvement in Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine. The second, BRING UP THE BODIES, is all about the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the hand that Cromwell played. Anything to stay in the king’s good graces!

This series brings the political intrigue of the Tudor court and all of the major players to life. There were some slow-paced and dry parts to the books, but for the most part, I was hooked. BRING UP THE BODIES was my favorite of the two, mainly because Anne Boleyn’s story is so fascinating to me.

The audio performances were by Simon Slater (WOLF HALL) and Simon Vance (BRING UP THE BODIES). I thought that listening to their narrations really added to my enjoyment of the books. Their accents and voices for the different characters were fantastic. I particularly loved Slater’s voice for Cardinal Wolsey — exactly how I’d think he’d sound.

So, yes, there will be one more in the series that concludes Cromwell’s story, called THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT (according to Goodreads). Life is good when the king loves you, but when he doesn’t…eek.

Audiobook Review: SISTERS OF TREASON by Elizabeth Fremantle

Format: Audio; 15 hrs, 29 mins
Narrators: Teresa Gallagher, Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Released: July 8, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★½

From the author of Queen’s Gambit, a gripping historical novel about two sisters who tread as dangerously close to the crown as their tragic sister, Lady Jane Grey, executed after just nine days on the throne.

Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal execution of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, Lady Jane Grey, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Freemantle brings these young women to life in a spellbinding Tudor tale of love and politics.

Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous life at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness – and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.

It’s good to be queen, but what happens when you’re in the precarious position of being next in line, and a threat to her crown? SISTERS OF TREASON tells the fateful story of the Grey sisters, Catherine and Mary, younger cousins of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. After the execution of their older sister, Lady Jane Grey, and their father, the two girls were eyed suspiciously, having come from a family of traitors. With their cursed Tudor blood, life at court was fraught with peril, especially under Elizabeth’s rule.

The story is told from the point of view of Lady Catherine, Lady Mary, and Levina Teerlinc, the royal portrait painter. Levina was a loyal friend of the girls’ mother, and she promised to watch over them while at court. Catherine was a sweet and frivolous girl whose love-struck heart got her into deep trouble with Elizabeth. My favorite character was Mary, the youngest Grey sister. Mary was small with a crooked spine, but what she lacked in physical stature, she more than made up for in intelligence, cleverness, and kindness.

SISTERS OF TREASON on audio was a joy to listen to. It was narrated by Teresa Gallagher, Georgina Sutton, and Rachel Bavidge, and they all gave brilliant performances.

Elizabeth Fremantle is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical fiction authors. I loved her debut novel, QUEEN’S GAMBIT, and SISTERS OF TREASON is just as wonderful. She has an enjoyable writing style, and her words are gorgeous and descriptive. One of the characters described words she was saying as being “like a fat toad plopping out on the planks.” I just loved that!

SISTERS OF TREASON is a compelling blend of fact and fiction about two of the lesser know Tudors who deserve to have their stories told. I also enjoyed learning about the Flemish artist, Levina Teerlinc, and what her life was like as a female painter supporting her family during the Renaissance.  This was a very enjoyable book, and I’m on pins and needles waiting on Ms. Fremantle’s third book in her Tudor trilogy.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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.

Book Review: QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER by Anne Clinard Barnhill #QueenElizabethsDaughterTour

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Released: March 18, 2014
Format: Paperback; 320 pages
Source: I received a review copy for participating in the author’s book tour.

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.

Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.


QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER is a captivating novel of forbidden love, religious conflict, and political intrigue in the lavish court of Elizabeth I. The story is about Mary Shelton, cousin to the queen on the Boleyn side of the family. Mary became Elizabeth’s ward as a young child after the death of her parents. The queen thought of her as the child she’d never have, and Mary quickly became Elizabeth’s favorite, which was both a blessing and a curse.

I enjoyed seeing the different faces of Elizabeth in this book. She was the powerful and respected ruler of her people, but the author also gave us her human side. She was a woman desperately in love with a man she could never wed. She could be vulnerable, selfish, jealous, and cruel. Elizabeth was also motherly toward Mary, wanting only the best for her, and that included the man she married. Mary’s love for a minor knight named John Skydemore causes a rift between herself and the queen. He’s a widower with five children, but what troubles the queen most of all is that he’s Catholic. Elizabeth expressly forbids them to marry, so what will happen when they defy the queen? Mary was a strong character, and I admired her courage to speak her mind and stand up to Elizabeth.

QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER was a quick and enjoyable read. It was fun to return to the danger and drama of the Tudor era, plus it was a fresh change of pace to see a maternal side to the great Queen Elizabeth I.

Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the book tour company in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

Anne Clinard Barnhill has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants. Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Besides writing, Barnhill also enjoys teaching, conducting writing workshops, and facilitating seminars to enhance creativity. She loves spending time with her three grown sons and their families. For fun, she and her husband of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.

For more information, please visit Anne Clinard Barnhill’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.