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review 2020-07-31 21:27
The Favourite by Ophelia Field
Sarah Churchill Duchess of Marlborough: The Queen's Favourite - Ophelia Field This is an interesting biography of a woman I can’t help viewing as the Hillary Clinton of turn-of-the-18th century England: Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was a prominent, divisive, highly political woman closely connected to her country’s leader, but not naturally suited to her supporting role. Opinionated, partisan, determined, self-righteous and stubborn, even today Sarah Churchill remains a colorful figure often portrayed in a highly negative light. Churchill is best known for having a very close relationship with Queen Anne, up until their dramatic falling-out largely due to political issues: the queen leaned conservative while Churchill was a committed Whig, and after decades of friendship Churchill seems to have assumed too much in terms of her influence once Anne ascended the throne. During the course of their friendship, Anne sent Sarah a lot of letters that today come across as highly romantic in tone and vocabulary, leading many to assume that the two were lovers. Author Ophelia Field looks at both sides of that question, but without spending too much time on speculation, preferring to focus on known facts. It’s pretty hard to figure out centuries later whether people were sexually involved, but we do know that many of the female courtiers at that time wrote each other letters like this, perhaps in part due to overheated epistolary conventions and in part because friendships were prioritized more at the time than they are now. It’s also worth noting that certain words simply had different connotations at the time (people declared their “passion” for their parents and children as well as their friends). On the other hand, while Anne dutifully got pregnant with her husband an astonishing 17 times (none of which resulted in a child surviving to adulthood), she did not have quasi-romantic relationships with male courtiers in the way other queens of England did, and Sarah evidently saw something untoward in Anne’s letters, as after falling out of favor she used them to blackmail the queen. This book though is a rather exhaustive chronicle of Sarah Churchill’s life, of which the Queen Anne episodes were only a part. There’s a lot about her relationship with her husband and his military victories, a lot about political maneuvering, and a lot about various satires and attacks against the Churchills in the press at the time. I also appreciated the final chapter dealing with the various portrayals of Churchill since her death. I don’t disagree with the reviewers who say the book goes on a little long, in perhaps too much detail, with the letters, politics and press attacks. It’s interesting stuff, but it may not need to be quite so granular and as a result the book takes a little while to get through. In my view Field does an admirable job of remaining balanced: Churchill was clearly a difficult person in a lot of ways, prone to strong opinions and long-running arguments (though perhaps not quite as contentious as some of her detractors portrayed her). She doesn’t seem to have been an attentive mother and was controlling toward her grandchildren, using the fortune she amassed through clever investments to keep them in line. At the same time, her willingness to step out of the standard role of a woman of her time is admirable, and she was clearly tough, committed, charismatic and intelligent. She wrote a lot, and was very concerned with how posterity would view her, so we get many excerpts in her own words. Overall, this is an interesting and at times dramatic biography of a strong personality, though at times it does drown a little in detail, while there were a few areas (such as Churchill’s children) that I would have liked to see fleshed out more. This book is a good choice for those interested in the topic.
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review 2020-02-13 18:04
The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
The Duchess Deal - Tessa Dare
I read a lot of horror but I'm also a fan of an amusing romance. I realize the two do not go together and many people can't wrap their heads around this but I do not care. Romances help me clear my head when I can't seem to focus on anything else and The Duchess Deal was the perfect book for me at this particular moment in time. It is getting all the stars because it amused me and made me happy and it also made me laugh a few times and most of us probably need to do a little more of that.

Ash is horribly disfigured from a war injury and was dumped by his feckless fiancee who couldn't handle his scars (and they do sound terrible - this isn't a little scratch on the face, this poor man is maimed and missing some chunks of himself but none of the important ones, haha) and one day decides he needs an heir, like right now. When a seamstress shows up at his door demanding he pay her in full for the ugly ass wedding dress she created for his former fiancee, he decides she'd be alright to marry and he proposes on the spot. How weird is this? She knows it's strange but, well, it's a decent deal for her and she's no dummy. Her only demand is that he allow her a cat - even though she doesn't even have one yet, lol.

Hey, call me crazy (you wouldn't be the first), but this setup was so ridiculous that I couldn't help but keep reading to see where else it would go. Sometimes you just need some ridiculousness in your life. If this is you, this is your book!

But even I can't live on ridiculousness alone. I need characters who have chemistry and joy and humor and lust and love and all of those good things and these two had it from their first insane exchange. They are SO funny together and I wasn't expecting that. Usually beauty and the beast type books feature a rough and grumbly hero with a super bad attitude. And this dude has one but he also tolerates the teasing and the silliest of pet names and he isn't a jerk. Soon enough he learns to love it. It is all so very lovely.

I want all books to be this charming even the cannibalistic serial killer ones! Just kidding. Sort of.

"Being imperfect is better than being distant."


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review 2019-11-21 20:33
Katherine Tudor Duchess
Katherine Tudor Duchess - Tony Riches
Katherine Willoughby  is the daughter of Maria de Salinas, one of Queen Catherine of Aragon's ladies-in-waiting.  Katherine's father dies when she is young and Katherine is taken in as a ward of Sir Charles Brandon, brother-in-law to King Henry VIII.   Katherine grows up alongside his children and believes that she will one day marry Charles' son, Henry.  However, after the death of Charles' wife, Charles decides to marry Katherine herself and Katherine is made the Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen.  Through Katherine's position, she manages to get to know all of King Henry VIII wives, some more than others.  Although Katherine's life was not easy, she was lucky enough to survive and live a full life. 
I am an avid reader of anything concerning Tudor history and have read and enjoyed Tony Riches' books before, so I was more than happy to read Katherine Tudor Duchess and dig into the life of Katherine Willoughby.  The writing is quick paced and immersive.  Through Katherine's eyes, most of King Henry VIII reign is experienced through her point of view.  I was amazed by Katherine's life and the series of events that shaped it.  Katherine seemed to take everything in stride and managed to grow and develop in a world that was not very friendly towards woman.  I was intrigued by her different relationships with each of Henry VIII wives as well as Henry himself and was even more amazed that Katherine survived Henry's reign, but was threatened by his daughter, Mary.  It was interesting to see Katherine find her place in religion and how she may have even helped to shape England's religion at times.  Overall, an amazing story about of one of the surprising Tudor women, Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk. 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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review 2019-10-19 19:54
The Duchess of Malfi - John Webster
The Duchess of Malfi - John Webster

Having just brushed up my Shakespeare I was more-than-usually susceptible to a mention in another book: Sleeping Murder. Since the original publication date is more than 400 years ago, it is quite easy to find a free copy. Total instant gratification!


The saucy Duchess just popped again, as an epigraph in Silent in the Sanctuary, a book with quite a bit of Shakespeare as well.


Curiosity is satisfied, but I did not love it.


After pondering some more: it's all very one dimensional. At the very beginning we are introduced to all the bad guys. We are told and shown that they are bad guys. Bad guys put out a hit on their sister, her second husband, and their four children. For the money. And then the hitman decides to go after the bad guys for revenge. Lots of murder, sure, but no jokes, no reversals, no mystery, only one character ever changes course and no very satisfying motivation is ever given. Without good special effects, which you don't get in a script, there isn't anything else of interest. You'd have to really love going to the theater, or be a superfan of some actor, to be anything more than horribly disappointed after sitting though it. All that murder and yet, boring. The only interesting thing here is that this script didn't disappear.

personal copy

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review 2019-10-15 23:46
The Duchess of Malfi
The Duchess of Malfi: Fifth Edition - John Webster,Brian Gibbons

BOSOLA. Break, heart!

Which pretty much sums up my reaction to this play. That and the recurring question of "Why have I not read or seen this before now?". 


As much as I am sure that I will never truly love Jacobean revenge tragedies, and as much as I am sure that I will always be grossed out by Titus Andronicus, I loved The Duchess of Malfi. It may have helped that unlike Titus A., The Duchess has a clear message...but also, there was "method to the madness" (which Will S. may not have mastered yet when he wrote Titus. He did master it later on, of course. ).  

In The Duchess of Malfi we have complexity and human frailty and grand character scenes and greed and treachery and mischief and repentance.


Oh, and as an added bonus, I found a radio production of the play starring Roger Allam as Bosola and Fiona Shaw as the Duchess. (I may have actually squeed when I found this.)


Yup, it's gory and horrible ... and absolutely brilliant. 

Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust,
Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.

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