Confessions of a Historical Fiction Addict

A Reader's Respite has a confession to make:

We've never been a huge fan of author Philippa Gregory. While we acknowledge that she is indisputably responsible for the recent resurgence of this fantastic genre, her books have fell flat for us.

The Other Boleyn Girl? We thought it was mediocre at best. The Constant Princess? Meh. The Wideacre Series? Oh good god, the incest in those was enough to turn anyone's stomach. The King's Fool? Didn't make it past page 50. The Virgin's Lover? Ditto.

So with all the hoopla regarding Gregory's latest effort entitled The White Queen (not to mention the copy that landed on our doorstep), we thought we'd better plow through her release from last year, The Other Queen.



Remember all the fuss and muss about that novel? The anticipation of Gregory's tale of Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots whom Elizabeth I bumped off, was palatable amongst fans everywhere. Historical fiction fanatics couldn't wait to get their hands on this novel. Amazon pre-orders were made, advance copies were devoured and then....

...it fell flat. Even Gregory's die-hard fans didn't seem to like this book. Mary was a boring subject, they claimed. The book, it was said, plodded along and raised no interest or passion on the part of the reader.

Even so, A Reader's Respite valiantly took the plunge and finally read the novel. And we loved it.

Go figure.

Before you throw up your hands, wondering why oh why we have to be so contrary all of the time, give us a chance to tell you why.


Mary was considered a stunning beauty in her time.

Simply put, we loved Mary Stuart's "voice" in this novel. The Scottish queen has confounded historians and novelists alike for many years. For those of you unaware of Mary's basic bio, allow us to give you a brief sketch (if you're familiar with the details, feel free to skip this part):

Mary was the only surviving child of Scottish King James V and Mary of Guise. When James met his maker just days after young Mary's birth, she became the Queen of Scotland at the wise old age of 6 days old. When she was sixteen, this young queen married the dauphin of France and when the old king bit the dust the very next year, Mary became Queen of France, as well.

Her young husband, the new French King, died within the year and Mary returned to Scotland to assume her throne there. She impetuously married Lord Darnley and it's here that things begin to get interesting. She and Darnley didn't exactly get along well and within two years, Darnley found himself blown to kingdom come when the house he was staying in blew up.

Who killed Darnley? Well, now, that's the sixty-four million dollar question, now isn't it? Most believed it was the Earl of Bothwell. Mary turned the kingdom on it's ear when she ran away with (or was abducted?) Bothwell and married him.

Anyhoo, she was run out of her own kingdom and when she escaped to England, her cousin Elizabeth I took this opportunity to imprison Mary where she remained until Elizabeth finally had her head lopped off for treason.

Pretty soap-operatic stuff, eh?


So how does Gregory's take of all this stack up? We thought fabulously. Although The Other Queen focuses on Mary's time in captivity in England, Gregory doesn't cop-out by ignoring Mary's scandal-ridden past. Mary's completely plausible "voice" provides both retrospection and explaination of her sometimes frustrating choices.

So in a nutshell, A Reader's Respite never thought we'd be saying this, but: Kudos, Philippa Gregory. Nice job.





Did you miss reading this one, too? Never fear, A Reader's Respite is giving you another chance to read it. Just leave a comment here and then check back on September 5th to see if you were randomly chosen. International peeps are always welcome to enter!

47 comments:

  1. Wow! I wasn't expecting that revelation when I read the beginning of your post, especially given I don't think I've read a single review praising this book so much before. I too am a bit meh on Philippa Gregory and so gave this one a pass even though I'm now reading The White Queen.

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  2. I am glad to know I am not the only one on the outside looking in. Please do not put my name in the pool, I can get it from the library if I ever want to read this one :o

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  3. Please include me in your giveaway.
    Thanks
    Debbie
    debdesk9(at)verizon.net

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  4. Yeah, it was all rolling downhill there for awhile. I figured Ms. Gregory was going to get a good bashing. I appreciate the Mary 101 as I have virtually no knowledge of the lady. So what I want to know is this...who the hell said she was BORING????? She sounds like the original Black Widow to me!

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  5. Hmm- I am not a Philippa Gregory fan, either. I think she focuses a bit too much on the va-va-voom part of her stories. And I hold her entirely responsible for the current trend of cut-off heads on bookcovers that apparently are historical fiction's calling card.

    Not sure if I'll pick this one up, but I'm glad that you were willing to give it a shot and were happily surprised!

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  6. Mary has always been one of my favorite parts of the Elizabeth era - I've just always found her fascinating. I might give this one a shot!

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  7. Don't enter me, I was one of the ones that thought this one was a bit on the boring side. Not bad, but not my favorite. And I thought the Wideacre books were icky, too.

    Just finished The White Queen though and I really enjoyed it. :)

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  8. I'm glad you enjoyed this one Michele. I haven't read anything by Gregory yet, so I would love a chance to win this one to see what I think of it myself!
    joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com

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  9. I'm not a strong Gregory fan, but find it interesting that you liked this one when so many reviews were negative. Therefore, I'd like to give this one a try. Please enter my name in the giveaway. Thanks.

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  10. Gregory is very hit and miss for me, and this one is was a very big miss! To me it was like she couldn't decide which story she was writing about, (Bess or Mary), and whilst Mary's life was very interesting, why Gregory chose to write about those years of imprisonment I will never know. And the big gap at the end? Huh?

    I stopped buying Gregory's books a few years ago, and I don't see myself starting to buy them again any time soon.

    PS, don't enter me for the prize.

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  11. Thanks for the giveaway. I've read a couple of her books and enjoyed them.

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  12. I'm not a big historial fiction fan but I always enjoy your reviews ... and your contrariness.

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  13. I read this one and was one of the people that it fell flat for, mostly because I didn't think that it lived up to the quality that I found so becoming in The Other Boleyn Girl. I'm reading one on Catherine De'Medici right now that is absolutely fascinating though.

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  14. I've wanted to read this one especially because it's about Mary of Scotland...believe it or not- I didn't particularly like Margaret George's book...go figure! So, I'll probably enjoy this one as much as you did:) So please enter me!

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  15. I've been avoiding Philippa Gregory although I love Tudor history. I thought she might spoil it for me. But I'll take the plunge and read this one based on your say-so.

    I did see The Other Bolyen Girl and thought it rated very high in the "ick factor."

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  16. I would like to enter. Thanks for the giveaway.

    jen4777[at]hotmail.com

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  17. Well, I'm glad to know that I was not alone regarding "The Other Boleyn Girl." If we're in agreement on that, maybe I'd like this one.

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  18. I love it when I expect the worst for a book or else feel I will be somewhat disappointed only to love it.

    Valorie
    morbidromantic@gmail.com

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  19. I'm surprised that people would say Mary is a boring subject, she's fascinating! Of course, Gregory chose a relatively boring part of her life and, in my opinion, didn't help it out much. If you were fascinated by Mary, I'd recommend trying Plaidy's books on her life, "The Captive Queen of Scots" and "Royal Road to Fotheringay." Each has a slightly different focus, although (if I remember correctly) they overlap somewhat. IMO they are much better than Gregory's shot at Mary. Plus, Plaidy doesn't have Gregory's seeming vendetta against Elizabeth I that always drives me crazy.

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  20. The Other Queen was my first Phillipa Greggory earlier this year for book club. I quite liked the way it portrayed the jealousy between the two queens and how Greggory gave us a look into each of their minds/perspectives. So then I decided to go for more Phillipa Greggory and tried a couple of others and really disliked them. I couldn't even finish one of them. So I agree with your post completely.

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  21. Please include me in this giveaway.
    Thank you!

    Amanda
    fitz12383(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  22. Count me in, please!
    carlos_durao AT hotmail DOT com

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  23. Count me in please...thanks.

    karen k
    kmkuka(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  24. I was very interested in reading your review for this one. I thus far have thought all Gregory's books were complete rubbish (I thought The Other Boleyn Girl was particularly wretched), historical accuracy being only of minor importance.

    Having read your review however I may have to rethink swearing off her books forever! Please enter me in your contest!

    Cheers,
    julie.sherritt[at]gmail.com

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  25. I've always been interested in Mary Queen of Scots -- lots of theories surrounding her. I've a few books about Mary (fiction and nonfiction) and would love to read another one.

    BFish (dot) Reads (at) gmail.

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  26. I have to admit, I tried Phillipa Gregory's Queen's Fool & read about as much as you - 50 pages. (I disliked it so much that I forgot I had even tried it.) Obviously, you and I have similar tastes. So if you say this one is good, I'm interested in giving it a try

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  27. please count me in...

    karen k
    kmkuka(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  28. I have not read a single Gregory yet. But like you I have read many people say that they dnt like Gregory.
    Plaidy is much more loved (i think from what i read)

    any-hoo! thank u for this one! we will try this one for sure!

    thank u for the giveaway girlie!

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  29. *drool

    I love Philippa Gregory's book covers, they are all so beautiful.

    I am also a Historical Fiction Addict. Please count me in.

    cindyc725 at gmail dot com

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  30. Cool. I've been reading positive reviews of The White Queen, and I would love to read this book too.

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  31. I have never read Philippa Gregory, but with that review, I would love to try her out - it sounds fascinating.

    crystalfulcher(at)ec.rr.com

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  32. I haven't read Philippa Gregory yet. I want to, honestly I do! I'd definitely like to be entered!

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  33. I've enjoyed the Philipps Gregory that I've read. I've always been fascinated by Mary Stuart and would love to win this!

    Thanks so much for the entry!

    gaby317nyc AT gmail DOT com

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  34. Please include me in the giveaway, and thank you!
    Elizabeth

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  35. Please enter me

    kaylacunningham@ymail.com

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  36. Id like to be entered

    kaylacunningham@ymail.com

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  37. Thanks for this great giveaway. I was fascinated with your review and comments. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

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  38. Well, count me in!
    :)

    educhico AT gmail DOT com

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  39. I'll take my chances!
    :)
    o_rei_de_havana[@]hotmail[.]com

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  40. dr.strangelove.vs.citizen.kane
    @
    gmail.com

    I am already dreaming of winning this!
    :)

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  41. I will try any book.
    And if it is not so good I will offer it to a friend, hoping he will like it even mer.
    So, thank you!

    catarina[dot]magoito[at]gmail[dot]com

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  42. 39.5susy AT gmail DOT com
    I don't have much luck, but this would be the perfect opportunity to change that!
    :)

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  43. Well, what a great chance!
    Thank you for this!

    goncalo.mil{@}gmail.com

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  44. Free books is a dream for all us readers!
    :)

    joanapatriciadias[at]gmail[dot]com

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  45. tanitalves AT sapo DOT pt

    Well, this seems like a great book.
    Thanks for the chance!

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  46. I can honestly say that I have never read any of her books. I do have one on my list, The Other Boleyn Girl but I am scared to read it because of the hype.

    Please count me in.

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  47. I went on Phillipa Gregory overload and read all of the Tudor series up to this book in a very short period of time. I needed a break to read other things, but still have had my eyes on The White Queen. Thanks for your review. I will put it in my stack of TBR books. I'm new to the blogging book world and am enjoying your blog! I will visit again soon!

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Fire away!