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Topic: May Mini Challenge

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Subject: May Mini Challenge
Date Posted: 4/5/2009 2:41 PM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2007
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If no one else has already volunteered to host May's Mini Challenge, I would like to do it.   Here are the details:

In honor of Mother's Day, read a book about a historical woman who was a mother (either fiction or non-fiction).  A bonus entry if the focus of the book is on her relationship with her child(ren).  After you finish reading the book, report back here about it and for the bonus entry, give some details about how the book focused on the mother-child relationship.  A winner will be drawn at random for all the entries. 

Added 5/16/09 - At least two winners will be able to choose a prize from the following:

1.  a credit

2.  Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace by Kate Emerson

3.  The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins

4.  The Hand of Isis by Jo Graham (this one is an ARC)

5.  Signora da Vinci by Robin Maxwell

6.  A Tudor Rose Bookmark (cross-stitched by yours truly - I picked it up at the Tower of London gift shop).

 



Last Edited on: 5/16/09 12:01 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 4/5/2009 3:24 PM ET
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Thanks, Daphne!

Date Posted: 4/5/2009 5:22 PM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
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Yay! Looking forward to it ...

Kelly

 

Date Posted: 4/11/2009 11:31 AM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2007
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I have updated the first entry in the thread with the details of the challenge.

Date Posted: 4/11/2009 9:44 PM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
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Daphne - Thanks for stepping up for this.  Okay, my thinking cap is on, and I've looked at my bookshelf.  First in May, I'm going to read As Meat Loves Salt with Michelle, then I'll read the book for this challenge.  Two that I'm contemplating are - Signora Davinci (HF book about Leonardo Davinci's mother, Caterina, which may get me the bonus entry as I'm assuming this book focuses on her relationship with her famous son) and The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette, which probably doesn't focus on her relationship with her children - I understand she had four of them - but is a book I've been wanting to read for awhile and this will give me an excuse to do that.



Last Edited on: 4/12/09 11:27 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/12/2009 1:14 PM ET
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I'm thinking of The Emancipator's Wife, about Mary Todd Lincoln. I think part of the story focuses on her son having her tried for insanity. I will have to look over my shelves and see what else I have that might fit.

Date Posted: 4/13/2009 3:55 PM ET
Member Since: 7/21/2008
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I took a look at my shelf, and think I will read The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther.  I may be stretching it a bit with HF, because I believe it may be set in modern times with a woman flashing back to her childhood.  But, it's about a woman who grew up in Iran during the US-backed coup in the early 50's.  She ends up being sent away, but then later in life relives her time in Iran and ends up going back.  Her daughter follows up, and things from the mother's past have terrible consequences for her.  From a book review, "Yasmin Crowther paints a magnificent portrait of betrayal and retribution set against a backdrop of Iran’s tumultuous history, dramatic landscapes, and cultural beauty".

Date Posted: 5/9/2009 6:05 PM ET
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Bumping this up since we are well into May!  I am still working on determining the prizes (will have at least 2 winners), so make sure you post here after you finish your book.

Also, OT.  I have started a blog to share our pictures from our trip to London last week.  There's not much there yet, but there will be in the coming days.  Here is the link:

http://uk-mindthegap.blogspot.com/

Date Posted: 5/13/2009 4:01 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I wasn't coming up with any ideas for this month but I think I finally found a good book for the challenge: Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Date Posted: 5/13/2009 4:07 PM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
Posts: 1,755
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I hope to get to my book for this challenge before the month is over, but I can't make any promises. I'm about 3/4 done w/As Meat Loves Salt and then I should start Drood, which I have from the library.  That thing is HUGE though, so depending on when I finish ASML, I may return Drood unread, read my book for this challenge and request Drood from the library later. Aacckk!  So many reading decisions to be made!! LOL!

Date Posted: 5/13/2009 8:23 PM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
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The more I read Devil's Brood, by Sharon Kay Penman, the more convinced I am that this will serve as this month's mini-challenge.

Kelly

 

Date Posted: 5/16/2009 12:02 PM ET
Member Since: 4/25/2007
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I have updated the first entry with the list of prizes the winners can choose from (there will be at least two and depending on the number of participants, possibly three).

Date Posted: 5/16/2009 10:23 PM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
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Cool, Daphne!  I'm *this close* to being done with As Meat Loves Salt, and then I'll start my book for this challenge, Signora Davinci.

Date Posted: 5/19/2009 10:01 AM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
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Finished As Meat Loves Salt Saturday and started Signora da Vinci (my book for this challenge) on Sunday.  I'm about 155 pages in and am really enjoying it.  This one moves at a much brisker pace than As Meat Loves Salt.  This book definitely focuses on Caterina's relationship with her famous son, Leonardo, so I'll get the bonus entry. Woo hoo! 

Subject: Challenge Complete!
Date Posted: 5/23/2009 9:43 PM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
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I finished Signora da Vinci last night.  What a really, really good book! I enjoyed it very much.

The main character was Caterina, mother of Leonardo da Vinci.  The author states in her notes that very little is known about Caterina other than her name, that she was from a poor family and somehow became pregnant by a rich man.  The rich man's family ended up taking Leonardo from her, but his father had almost nothing to do with him his entire life.  Apparently there are notes in some of Leonardo's journal referring to a "Caterina," and it mentions he paid for her funeral, but historians aren't really even sure if the Caterina mentioned is his mother. 

Anyway, due to the lack of information about Caterina, the author (Robin Maxwell) had a lot of room to let her imagination run free.  She does an excellent job of it.  I loved the story she invented about Caterina and her deep and profound love of her son.  In the book, Caterina sacrificed much time and time again just to be near her son and stay an important part of his life.  Fortunately for her she suceeded, and Leonardo had a deep respect and love for his mother.  The sense I got from the book was the the two of them were friends not merely mother and son.  They had a wonderful relationship which continued throughout their lives.  The book also provides a sense of what it was like to live in Florence under Lorenzo de Medici (Il Magnifico, who also is a major character in the book) during Italy's Renaissance.  What a wonderful time and place to live. 

This is a wonderful book, and I reommend it very much!  (Just one note - I believe the author took some heat from some reviewers for bordering on the "yeah, like that could happen" with this book, so if that bothers you, you might want to stay away.  I happened to love that aspect of it, but it may not be for everyone.)

This was a fun challenge!  Thanks for hosting, Daphne!



Last Edited on: 5/23/09 9:45 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 5/24/2009 10:54 AM ET
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I'm going to read Signora da Vinci in a few weeks - glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Date Posted: 5/24/2009 3:54 PM ET
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Last week I finished The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell which I think qualifies for this challenge.  The book focuses on Elizabeth when she has just come to the throne and one day an old crone (who turns out to be one of the ladies in waiting to Anne Boleyn) gives Elizabeth a secret diary that was written by her mother and details her rise to power and tragic end.  Up until this time Elizabeth had idolized her father whom she finds out while reading the diary is one selfish, mean, vain man who would do anything to get his way and she finds out while reading the diary that her mother wasn't really the adultering, evil witch/whore she was painted to be.  In reading the diary Elizabeth establishes a connection to her long dead mother.

I really enjoyed the book and moved on to her book the Queen's Bastard which is her 2nd Elizabeth book (which is about Elizabeth and Leicester's bastard son Arthur Dudley).  I am now reading Signora Da Vinci which I am enjoying so far so I guess I have read a lot of "mother-oriented" books this month :)

Date Posted: 5/24/2009 11:21 PM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
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Finished Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman a few days ago. This book is the 3rd in SKP's trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine (the first two are When Christ and His Saints Slept and Time and Chance). The problem with writing about famous historical people is keeping it fresh, telling an old story in a new way and staying as true to historical fact & research as possible. Sharon Kay Penman does this in spades! Despite both my Mother & Daughter telling me different, I was dreading this book because I was afraid it would depress me, but Penman's deft touch put me in the story, watching events unfold as they happened and actually being sympathetic (admittedly to varying degrees) with each member of this dysfunctional royal family.

And dysfunctional they were! In fact, I think they probably define the word! Henry Fitz Empress - to become Henry II - was truly a leader larger than life. And, he married a woman out of legend (to paraphrase a line from the movie The Lion in Winter.) Together they ruled a large part of the known Christian world at that time and had a passel of sons (perhaps too many!). As Sharon Kay Penman notes several times throughout the book, treating their sons while in the role of king or queen was quite different from their roles as father and mother; and SKP shows clearly the difficult conflict both parents faced as their nestlings started stretching their princely wings.

There are several themes running through this book, but in the interest of our May Mini-challenge, I am going to focus on the Mother aspect. Eleanor of Aquitaine was 1st of all Duchess of Aquitaine, 2nd mother to Richard (the Lionheart), 3rd mother to her other children, 4th wife to Henry II and 5th, queen of England and their other domains. Her roles as Duchess & mother to Richard are closely intertwined and exchangeable in order. Because of her great love for and the responsibility she felt to Aquitaine, she was fierce in her determination that it go to her (emphasis on HER) heir, Richard.

The first time her sons joined forces and rebelled against their father, it was with the full knowledge, support and cooperation of their mother. It is my belief that without their mother behind them, the rebellion would not have gotten off the ground. And, if she had actually stood behind her man, even the very thought of rebellion would not have coalesced  ... and, wonder what our history books would have said then! One must remember how powerful and intimidating Henry II was. The ONLY one who was unafraid of him and would stand against him was Eleanor. It was her strength that gave her sons the courage to rebel against their King and their father.

And, Eleanor paid the price. She was taken prisoner and lived in confinement for the remainder of Henry's life. With the passage of time, she regained much of her "standard of living," but Henry (rightly, I think) could never trust her not to lead their sons into rebellion again.

Thus was Eleanor. She was faced with a hideous dilemma - her husband, her marriage, her power, or her sons - most notably, her son Richard. She believed that Henry would never honor his promises to invest their sons with their inheritances and that the only way she could secure their futures was by rebelling against and overthrowing their father. She sacrificed her own freedom, she sacrificed her marriage, and, most tragically of all, she sacrificed two of her sons, and possibly three, depending on one's viewpoint.

There were other rebellions and other wars between the sons and between the sons and their father ... individually and cooperatively there were alliances that shifted as the sands shift during high tide; but, Eleanor, as Henry's captive safe in some obscure English castle, was not a part of them. Most of the time, she heard the news second hand, after the fact and when she was completely powerless to do anything about it, except grieve and regret the decisions she had made.

It was during another rebellion that her eldest son (Hal, the Young King) became horribly ill and died - estranged from his father and separated from his Imother.

A few years later, another son chose alliance with the French King against his father and was fatally injured at a tournament and died - estranged from his father and separated from his mother.

Through 16 years of imprisonment by her husband, Eleanor never had a chance (nor an inclination, actually) to get to know her youngest son and thus, John becomes the last casualty in this bitter fight that began when a wife chose her sons over her husband.

One has to play the "what if" game when reading this book. What if Eleanor had ever once said, "don't make me choose between you and your father!" What if Eleanor had ever once said, "you know that you owe your very being, let alone your allegiance, to your father." Even if she had just said, "Be patient, the old man won't live forever!" what might have been different?

Such a tragic story from such glorious beginnings. Because I like things wrapped up in nice, neat packages, I believe that if she had shown support for her husband and her King and encouraged and fostered a better relationship between her sons and their father, things could have been far different. Henry had more than his share of issues ... as King, he didn't want to turn loose of one iota of power, understandably frustrating his heirs. As King, he found it hard to trust any but his very closest of friends. He was cynical, highly intelligent, all-powerful and in full control - perfect for a King, but not so much as a father. As a father, he wanted to be close to his sons, he wanted their trust and their faith ... trust and faith they could not give him because of all the things that made him a great King. I think Eleanor - as Queen, wife & mother - could have done a better job to bridge the gap between the King/father and their sons.

But, as the saying goes, "I haven't walked in her shoes, so who am I to judge?"

Kelly

P.S. As an aside: this is a wonderful trilogy. If you haven't read them yet, please consider adding them to your list!

 



Last Edited on: 5/25/09 7:37 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/25/2009 5:06 PM ET
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I just finished Time and Chance a couple of weeks ago and I agree with you Kelly.  I don't believe the sons would ever have contemplated rebellion without the backing and urging of Eleanor.  She seemed to be the driving force or driving away force for much of what went on.  Ms. Penman does a wonderful job with this family and and the added complication of Henry's friendship with Thomas Beckett in this novel.  I have Devil's Brood on my wishlist!

Date Posted: 5/25/2009 7:30 PM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
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Ahh, Cheryl ... wasn't that conflict between Henry II & Thomas Beckett unbelievably tragic? And with the clarity of hindsight, the consequences of this power struggle between two men who had been such close friends made the tragedy even greater. It's another of those "wonder if" questions. Henry II (both as a man and as a ruler) was so affected by Beckett's murder; wonder if he would have stayed stronger & kept better hold of his family & his realm if Beckett had never been murdered?

Where are you on the wishlist for Devil's Brood? It's a keeper for us (all SKP books are!) and, using us as an example, I'm wondering if there's any movement at all on the PBS wishlist for this book?

Kelly

 

Date Posted: 5/26/2009 1:18 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
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I read Lady MacBeth by Susan Fraser King for this mini-challenge. It was an interesting book and the ways that the Historical record and Shakespeare's play differ was by far the most fascinating part for me.

Date Posted: 5/27/2009 11:20 AM ET
Member Since: 3/23/2008
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I'm not too far up on the waitlist for Devil's Brood, in fact I may just buy this one as I would keep it anyway.  The relationship between Henry and Beckett was one of the best things about the T&C.  It really does make you wonder "what if". So much of later English history came out of that stand over the church and the clergy between those two men.

 

Date Posted: 5/27/2009 6:31 PM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2008
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I read The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson for this challenge.  I decided to read about her since much of her motherhood was spent taking care of her step-children, and since I grew up with a step-father who was more of a dad to me than my real father ever was, I know that the child/stepparent one can be just as close as the traditional child/parent relationship, so I wanted to make sure it was represented in this challenge! :-)

I don't know much about life of Catherine Parr, but I always thought it was neat that she not only outlived wife-hungry Henry VIII, but that she was married a total of 4 times before she died at age 36 after finally giving birth to her own child (I don't think I'm giving too much away since it's a known fact).  In this book, Catherine discusses many times how she one day wants to become a mother.  Her first husband dies before their child is born, and she ends up miscarrying, something which left her feeling very empty for quite a while (I couldn’t find evidence of this, so perhaps it was made-up for part of the plot of the book, especially since she mentions in the story that she didn’t tell anyway about this except her mother, brother, and the doctor because it was her private pain).

Then with husband #2 she has two step-children to look after.  In this book, Catherine spends a lot of time and energy helping her step-daughter Margaret.  She notices that Margaret needs a mother-figure and does what she can to give Margaret what she needs.  She also makes sure that Margaret receives a proper education, since her father didn't really see a need for his daughter to be formally taught.  Later on in the book, Margaret becomes a close friend and confidant for Catherine.  Her relationship with her step-son wasn’t as good.  He ends up leading a revolt in the area and holds Catherine and Margaret hostage…ooops.

Her third husband was Henry VIII and his relationship with his own children was quite strained to say the least.  Of his legitimate children, one he sees as too weak to rule after him (Edward), one goes against his religion (Mary), and the other is the daughter of the wife he refers to as  "The Witch" (Elizabeth).  There is mention in this book about how Mary and Elizabeth were each banished by their father at one point or another!  Catherine sees that this family needs to heal somehow, and she manages to break down the walls between Henry and his children.  Historically speaking, she's usually given credit to getting Mary and Elizabeth back into the line of succession.  Unfortunately for Catherine, one of her step-daughters will be involved with her fourth husband (while Catherine is married to him)! 

I liked this book.  It sheds some light on Henry’s last wife, who had a pretty interesting life herself if most of the major events in this book are true (again, I’m not too knowledgeable about Catherine’s life, but a few major things were “out of wack”- Her first husband was more than likely in his 50s or 60s according to some sources I consulted, but in this book he’s a teenager like her!  Also, her sister-in-law in this book seems to be more of an amalgam of her sister-in-law and a religious preacher that the real Catherine was acquainted with).  Historical fallacies aside, this was an interesting read! J

Date Posted: 5/27/2009 7:49 PM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
Posts: 2,390
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I read The Rose in Spring  by Eleanor Fairburn, about Cecily Neville who married Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York.  Most assuredly an important mother -- of Edward IV and Richard III.  This book is an old one, copyright 1971, and mostly covers the years before the real Wars of the Roses began.    When I pulled this book off the shelf for this May challenge, I was hoping for a novel about the later years of her life, but found lots of interesting little tidbits that I didn't know before.  That Neville family had far-reaching connections.

Linda

Date Posted: 5/28/2009 8:27 PM ET
Member Since: 8/12/2005
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I am almost done reading The Princess of Celle, the first in the Georgian saga by Jean Plaidy. I think I'll use it for the challenge as there is a strong mother-daughter relationship in the book.

I'll post my thoughts this weekend.

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