Online Reading Challenge – January

Welcome to the first month of the 2018 Online Reading Challenge, Travel Through Time. In January we are traveling to Tudor and Renaissance times.

“Tudor” as a time period is defined from 1485-1603 when the Tudors (Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) ruled Britain. As always with the Online Reading Challenge, I’m interpreting this pretty loosely; if you’ve had your fill of Henry the Eighth and his many wives, try looking further afield and read about something set during the Renaissance (which runs approximately from 1300-1700) and encompasses Europe as a whole. That’s a lot of time and a lot happens – the flowering of the arts and sciences, the lives of many great personalities, great social and religious upheaval (thanks, Henry), the age of exploration. For boring, practical reasons, our focus is largely on Europe simply because those are the books we tend to have. But by all means, if you are interested in Asian history (the Ming Dynasty and the Ottoman Empire, for example) or any other region, please feel free to read that (and tell us about what you find!)

There is no shortage of books set during the Tudor era – apparently the fascination with British royalty is a long one! Philippa Gregory is one of the more prominent – and prolific – authors writing about the Tudors. Her books tend to focus on the emotions that impacted decisions and life choices and they are told from a woman’s point-of-view. For many if not most of these women, there is very little know about them other than who their parents were, who they married and what children they bore. Gregory puts herself into their shoes and imagines their everyday lives and difficult decisions they were forced to make in a world that had little use for women. My favorite of Gregory’s titles (that I’ve read) is The Other Boleyn Girl which is narrated by Mary Boleyn who was Henry’s mistress before her sister Anne became his wife. The politics and rules of court, the bad behavior of Anne, her failure to produce a male heir all seen through the eyes of someone just outside the inner circle makes for a fascinating, intimate read.

If you are more interested in the machinations of politics, reach for Hilary Mantel’s award-winning Wolf Hall which focuses on Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister and a strong advocate of the English reformation. Having just celebrated Martin Luther’s 500th anniversary of his “95 Theses”, there are plenty of books about him and the beginning of the great shift in how religion was viewed and practiced by millions.

The Renaissance produced many famous people whose artistic and scientific advances continue to inspire and influence us today – Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Raphael, Galileo, Michelangelo, and Copernicus among others. Biographies and histories about any of these people and their works would be fascinating reading.

I’m going to be reading My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, an alternate history of Lady Jane Grey, one of Elizabeth’s rivals to the throne. It comes highly recommended to my by our Young Adult librarian – I’m looking forward to getting started!

Be sure to stop by one of the Davenport libraries and check out our displays – we’ll have lots of books (and movies!) set during this era for you to browse. You’ll also want to pick up a 2018 Online Reading Challenge bookmark which doubles as a book log to keep track of the books that you read for the challenge. And be sure to let us know what you’re going to be reading in January!

 

The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny

Book of Madness and cures

For Dr. Gabriella Mondini, there is no other option besides following in her father’s footsteps into a life of medicine in Regina O’Melveny’s debut, The Book of Madness and Cures.  She is passionate about healing the citizens of Venice. For a woman residing in this part of the word in the late 16th Century this proves to be a challenging feat.  In the male dominated Italian medical society, Gabriella gains credibility with her father’s colleagues by assisting him with research on “The Book of Diseases.”

A few years prior, Gabriella’s father, the elder Dr. Mondini, disappeared unexpectedly with only an occasional letter as to his whereabouts.  In addition to the sporadic correspondence, his writings are cryptic and give little clue to Gabriella and her mother of his condition, which has a tendency to gravitate toward madness.  With the prospect of continuing her medical career in jeopardy without her father’s guidance, Gabriella, her maid and a few additional servants embark on a journey to solve the mystery of what happened to her father.  The journey takes them across Europe to France, Germany, England, Spain and south to the tip of Morocco, all the while encountering danger while traveling and encountering locals who met her father and are able to provide clues to the group of travelers.

While in Morocco, Gabriella finds out the shocking truth about her father, his nearly completed book on diseases and her own future.  O’Melveny’s debut provides a rich look at late 16th century day to day life, the logistics of cross continent travels and the lives of women during this time.

Notorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll

For a fun and scandalous look into the history of royal matches, pick up Leslie Carroll’s Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny and Desire.  Carroll covers a long history of royal marriages beginning with Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Middle Ages and ending with the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.   A few of the gems in Notorious Royal Marriages include:

*King Henry VIII’s six marriages in which he had two wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, beheaded;

*Emperor Franz Joseph and his cousin bride Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria whose marriage started out with promise but became cold and impersonal after the tragic death of two of their children and her eating disorder;

*Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia whose love story ended when they and their five children were killed during the Russian Revolution;

*British ruler King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s marriage in which the ruling monarch gave up the British crown to marry the twice divorced American.

Each couple has their own chapter so it is easy to for you to skip around the book easily, too.  You may think you know many of these stories, but Carroll adds new information that makes it difficult to put the book down!