RECENT REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS

  • Being British
    Chris Parish
    This is a sane, witty and shrewd picture of British identity—neither cynical nor paranoid, which is quite an achievement. Chris Parish sketches very skilfully the history and habits that make up this many-layered identity and gives us some essential tools for working out what we can properly celebrate, what we should properly regret and what we might reasonably hope for—what a mature sense of national self-esteem might look like.
    ~ Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, theologian, Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge

  • Tudor Brandons, The
    Sarah-Beth Watkins
    Watkins, author of Lady Katherine Knollys, The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII, provides a short, readable biography of Charles and Mary in The Tudor Brandons. At the centre of the couple’s story is their elopement in 1515. Mary was the widow of King Louis XII of France and she married Charles Brandon to avoid being compelled to make another dynastic marriage. There would not be another instance of an English princess marrying a subject until Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise married John Campbell, Lord Lorne in 1871. Watkins provides a thoughtful analysis of the circumstances surrounding the controversial royal wedding including reasons why Henry VIII was inclined to forgive the match and the implicit challenge to his authority.

    The Tudor Brandons also includes Brandon’s family history (he descended from a long line of opportunists who were often on the wrong side of the law) and Mary’s continued role in Anglo-French relations including her presence at the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit between Henry VIII and Francis I. Mary also exerted a cultural influence at court, shaping trends in fashion and country house gardens in addition to popularizing picnic suppers for the elite. Charles and Mary’s granddaughter Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, became a significant figure in later Tudor history and the family remains a part of popular culture today ~ Carolyn Harris, www.theroyalhistorian.com

  • Tudor Brandons, The
    Sarah-Beth Watkins

    Synopsis: "The Tudor Brandons: Mary And Charles - Henry VIII's Nearest & Dearest" by Sarah-Beth Watkins is an inherently fascinating study of the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. Charles rose from being Henry's childhood friend to becoming the Duke of Suffolk; a consummate courtier and diplomat. Mary was always royalty. At first married to the King of France, Mary quickly wed Charles after Louis XII's death in 1515, against her brother's wishes. Their actions could have been construed as treason yet Henry chose to spare their lives. They returned to court and despite their on-going disagreements throughout the years, especially over the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the Tudor Brandons remained Henry's most loyal subjects and perhaps more importantly, his beloved family.

    Critique: Impressively detailed research combined with a remarkable storytelling talent on the part of author Sarah-Beth Watkins, "The Tudor Brandons: Mary And Charles - Henry Viii'S Nearest & Dearest" is a consistently compelling and exceptionally informative read from beginning to end. While unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library British History collections in general, and Henry VIII supplemental studies reading lists in particular, it should be noted for the personal lists of students and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Tudor Brandons" is also available in a Kindle edition ($6.15).

    ~ Bethany's Bookshelf, Midwest Book Reviews

  • Tudor Brandons, The
    Sarah-Beth Watkins
    After her success with ‘Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII’, she’s followed it up with ‘The Tudor Brandons’ – a fascinating story of the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. The author’s deep love of history shines bright as she researches the turbulent times but with a deft touch she manages to encourage the reader’s imagination to follow her into the colourful and dangerous world of the Tudors. A highly readable history in a storyteller's style ~ Suzanne Ruthven, author of the Hugo Braithwaite series of crime novels.

  • Being British
    Chris Parish
    This book was fresh and there were things I had never pondered about, until I read it.

    I especially enjoyed Parish's words on British pessimism from the best selling books with awfully negative titles and then with broken gym equipment branded with signs stating their dysfunctional state. Why do we not resolve our issues? Complaining doesn't solve anything. I'm sure it's an English proverb which dictates "there is no use crying over spilled milk". As Parish writes: "...a common characteristic of British culture is to complain while having no intention of doing anything about it."

    He later asks: "...why do we British tend to have this pessimistic glass-half-empty attitude to our country and to life?" And, I feel that yet it may be because of the fall of our Great Empire but it's socially ingrained in us. If we are remotely hallier than our peers, something 'big' must have happened. All of us, British individuals, share this same thought: why so pessimist? Is it just because these pessimistic attitudes are prevalent in the tv soaps we watch for entertainment? Eastenders, anyone?

    Chris Parish recognises that: "Books about the English or the British tend to give lists of peculiar habits and characteristics of ours which are supposed to be definitive of our nationality, but inevitably they are superficial and also tend to be rather silly stereotypes: we are tea drinking, warm-beer swigging, cricket loving, Marmite scoffing, fish & chip enthusiasts; reserved folk who are very polite and at the same time repressed and feeling permanent embarrassment for the mere fact that we exist; saying sorry for having our own foot trodden on by someone else." And, I'm pleased to remark that this book is nothing of the sort. ~ Saarah N , Goodreads + Amazon via NetGalley

  • Tudor Brandons, The
    Sarah-Beth Watkins
    The Tudor Brandons is a fascinating look into the life and times of Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII and Charles Brandon his life long friend and companion, who married Mary Tudor in 1515. Mary had agreed to marry Louis, King France in 1514 on the condition that her brother Henry would allow her to marry according to her own choice if the older King died. Her marriage to the king lasted 82 days. After his death, perhaps in an attempt to ensure her safety and return to England, before becoming a pawn of the new French King, Mary persuaded Charles Brandon to marry her, even though Henry had not given them consent to marry. Although, many were not pleased with this decision, the marriage doesn't seem to have damaged the couple, politically, or socially in the long term.

    The book charts both the rise of Charles and the complex life of Mary as both a political pawn, and as a woman who tried to do her duty by her brother the king. She was also a woman who tried hard to have some control over her circumstances and build a life of her own choosing. I particularly like that this book paints a well balanced picture of both figures. It examines their ups and downs, financial struggles, family hardships and the role they played within Henry's court, as well as their actions and interactions with leading figures of the time. It was also interesting to read about their descendants and the roles they played after the death of Mary and Charles.

    This work seems to show that Charles, while not always fair to the women in his life, was a man who managed to climb the social ladder,acquiring the title of Duke of Suffolk, along the way. Throughout his life he remained favored by the King, which surely was no small feat. It also shows just how precarious the situation of women could be. Having a fortune or a title didn't necessarily mean they would escape a bad marriage or other issues of the time such as illness, death of children or debt. Even Mary and Charles, with their elevated positions seemed to be plagued by financial troubles during their lifetimes.

    Overall the book provides an intriguing glimpse into a part of history that so many find remarkable. Anyone interested in the Tudors and Henry VIII's court will no doubt find this a terrific book.
    ~ Susan Miller

  • Tudor Brandons, The
    Sarah-Beth Watkins
    Anyone who has watched controversial Showtime Television Series ‘The Tudors’ will be well aware of name Charles Brandon, a brooding lothario who snagged the sister of a King. And King Henry VIII at that. We are introduced to the couple as they get together, marry without the king’s consent, suffer banishment from court, grow apart and eventually their respective deaths. But that is fiction. What Sarah-Beth Watkins succeds in accomplishing in her new book The Tudor Brandons is replace the fiction with fact, exploring the real life story of the Suffolks, bringing them to life with far greater accuracy than the television series.

    Although things have changed in recent years, the Tudor book industry is still dominated by the larger than life figure of Henry VIII and his six wives, and so any book focusing on the lives of those in his circle rather than the king himself is always welcome in my house. The book opens with a poem from the Suffolk Garland, a novel way of opening the story and setting the context for the book. We are instantaneously made aware that this is the story of the Brandons, and not their king or various sisters-in-law.

    Before Watkins delves into their relationship however, she covers the ancestry of Charles Brandon with commendable detail, particularly as he was not descended from the great nobles of the realm and therefore information is not easily accessible. Most books which mention Brandon generally only make passing references to his lowly birth and occasionally a mention of his father who fought at Bosworth for Henry Tudor. It is here that Watkins truly distinguishes her work, covering the Brandon family story from 1443 to Bosworth. Their beginnings are not as lowly as it sometimes suggested, for it is recounted that Brandon’s grandfather William was a merchant closely aligned with the Dukes of Norfolk, perhaps ironic considering Charles Brandon’s later dealings with a duke of Norfolk in the 1520s and 30s. I enjoyed learning nuggets of trivia such as Brandon’s grandfather’s indictment for assault, theft and threatening behaviour, although he did fight for the Yorkists at the Battles of Towton and Tewkesbury. By 1483 William Brandon had transferred his loyalties to Tudor and was recorded as hiding from Richard III in Colchester, with his son, and Charles’ father, on the run. It seems that criminal behaviour run in the family, for Brandon’s father, also called William, was arrested for rape in 1478 and only just escaped hanging. It would have been an ignominious early ending to a family that would become renowned half a century later.

    The rest of the Brandon story is covered, with Watkins exploring the French marriage of Princess Mary, her widowhood and her return to court with Brandon. We learn about their involvement in the rise of Anne Boleyn and what became of Brandon after his wife’s early death. It is the early years however that make this book worth its while, although the fact that Watkins doesn’t get bogged down on the minutiae of King Henry VIII’s reign, well covered elsewhere, is particularly helpful. This is, after all, the story of the Brandons and the author never strays far from her subject. Sizable extracts from surviving letters provide the reader with the sources to make their own deductions, always a bonus in historical non-fiction in my eyes.

    All in all, Watkins book is a worthwhile addition to any Tudor library, its light and readable without shirking on detail and provides a brilliant introduction to the lives of the Suffolks during those momentous earlier years of Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign. ~ Nathan Amin, The Henry Tudor Society

  • Tudor Brandons, The
    Sarah-Beth Watkins
    When I was first asked to review this book, I have to admit that the question “what more can there possibly be to know about Charles Brandon for anyone who has read a fair bit about Henry VIII and his relationship to this man.

    A fair bit, it turns out.

    Not least was I ignorant about Charles Brandon´s illustrious grandfather and father, I had no idea, for example that Henry Tudor´s standard bearer at the Battle of Bosworth, the man killed by Richard III himself, was in fact Charles Brandon´s father. But he was.

    Truth be told, I would have liked to read more about the two older Brandon´s, but with any luck there will in time be books about them as well.

    Another thing that I didn´t know that in spite of chivalric values, Charles Brandon was a bit of an…. a-hole.

    But short re-cap. Charles Brandon basically grew up with Henry VIII, raising to fame but not as much fortune as he most likely would have wanted after the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509. Mary was Henry´s younger sister, for a short while queen of France through her marriage to the more than 30 year older and sickly king Louis XII. Lucky for her, probably, the marriage didn´t last long and her loving brother sent his best friend and trusted companion Charles Brandon to escort her back from France, which he did, but not before he and Mary was married.

    There was a problem here, you didn´t just marry the king´s sister and French queen dowager on a whim, and you most certainly didn´t do it without the king´s consent.

    The happy couple was however forgiven, and the book The Tudor Brandons for the most part deals with the years Mary and Charles spent together, through ups and downs and fallings out with the most royal of brothers/brothers-in-law.

    Sarah-Beth Watkins give a good and well researched account of the couple´s life through births and deaths of their children, through triumphant moments like their participation in the Field of Cloth of Gold and troublesome times such as the brewing war with France only a few years after the grand display itself.

    It also makes perfectly clear, in the event someone thought so, that Charles Brandon had a much more important part to play than just being a side-kick to the king, and how he on a number of occasions got firmly on the nerves of Cardinal Wolsey by putting his nose in diplomatic affairs where it didn´t belong, as well as his role in the sentencing of both Thomas More and Anne Boleyn

    It also gives insight to the dealings with belated papal dispensations, annulments and legitimacy of the Brandon children at the very some time Henry was working his way through his great matter, at which point Mary herself didn´t have many years left to live and we get to follow Charles through his fourth and last marriage after Mary.

    For the reader who has taken a particular interest in the reign of Henry VIII, much of the book will be familiar, but now from the angle of people close to him, with their joys and grievances. It´s a book very much worth reading, and I highly recommend it. ~ Camilla Johansson, Under the Tudor Rosen

  • James Fenimore Cooper: A Life
    Nick Louras
    This is a fascinating look at America's first novelist. A man who brought us the western genre as well as the genre of sea sagas. He is probably best know for his series The Leatherstocking Tales which included some of his most famous works that have become enduring classics, The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie, The Pathfinders and The Deerslayer. Cooper was a prolific writer often drawing on the early years he spent in the vast frontier of what would become upstate New York during his childhood. His sea tales seem to draw on his times as a merchant sailor and during a stint in the U.S. Navy.

    While he had success with some of his works he was not always appreciated. He often courted controversy both at home and abroad, where his family spent seven years during the mid 1800's. Cooper appears to have been an extremely prickly man, if not with his family then certainly with his critics. In some ways he appears to have been his own worst enemy as he found it extremely hard to let bygones be bygones. He was nevertheless, an important American figure and this work is a thorough examination not only of his life but the history of the time and the role he played in it. The book is good at capturing the vast changes that occurred during his lifetime. Despite the changes around him he seemed continually drawn to an early America landscape, one where the frontier hadn't quite given way to civilization.

    The author does a good job portraying Cooper as a complex man of his time. It's well written, thoroughly covering Cooper's fictional works, political writings and views in a lively way that will be appreciated by both scholars and layman alike. And while it doesn't necessarily distract from the work itself, it would have been nice to have an author profile at either the beginning or end of the book.
    ~ S C Miller, www.susannesbooklist.blogspot.com

  • James Fenimore Cooper: A Life
    Nick Louras
    Richard Kaye
    Reviewer

    James Fenimore Cooper is known to most Americans as the author of "The Last of the Mohicans." That novel of the American frontier is a literature class staple. But there is more to the man and his work than many realize. Not only did Cooper write about the tumultuous early days of the country, he lived through them. Born in 1789, when George Washington was president, Cooper was one of the nation's original celebrities. He grew up in the wilderness of upstate New York, was kicked out of Yale University for setting off a dynamite explosion on campus, dined with presidents and princes, became a prolific novelist, largely on a dare from his wife, and ended his days a controversial figure locked in a war of words with the American press.

    Cooper's life (and the historical epoch with which it coincided) is well handled in this new biography. Nick Louras is a first-rate historian and writer. He weaves together the close-up details of a human life with the sweeping drama of history and politics, drawing intelligent, provocative and often unexpected conclusions. This book is recommended to readers with an interest in American history.

    Small Press Bookwatch: April 2016
    James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
    Midwest Book Review
    278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575
    ~ Richard Kaye, Midwest Book

  • In Just Three Years
    Canon David Jennings
    In Just Three Years is a delightful and comprehensive account of the formative years of the Book of Common Prayer and how those three years have continued to influence Anglican liturgy to the present day. I highly commend this vivid and fascinating book. The reader is in for a treat!

    ~ Ven Helene Steed, Archdeacon of Clogher

  • Being British
    Chris Parish
    Thought provoking, humbling, inspiring—a veritable tour de force. Concerned that our postcolonial guilt has left no metanarrative or clear sense of who we are, Parish steps lightly, yet studiously, through our shared story. He encourages us to be in touch with the creative thread of this country, to know the past, warts and all, so that we might rediscover our connection, continuity and rootedness and remain a major player in the postmodern world. I am left with strengthened pride in being British. ~ Prof Julia Hausermann MBE, founder and President, Rights and Humanity

  • Being British
    Chris Parish
    Chris Parish provides a welcome reasoned statement for moderation and integration in approaching major issues and Britain’s place in the world. Parish calls for taking a long-term approach to these issues, one that incorporates a more positive view of Britain’s past while integrating that history into British identity and Britain’s approach to current problems. ~ Dr George L Bernstein, Professor of History, Tulane University Author of The Myth of Decline: The Rise of Britain since 1945

  • In Just Three Years
    Canon David Jennings
    As the Church in Europe celebrates 500 years of Reformation, the Church of England is still working out what it means to be 'semper reformanda', embracing both continuity and change. This is a fascinating take on a key bit of Anglican history by an experienced parish liturgical practitioner - a sort of liturgical 'whodunit', whose consequences are still being worked out in the Church today. ~ The Archdeacon of Worcester

  • In Just Three Years
    Canon David Jennings
    I have known David for over 30 years, and throughout his love and passion for liturgy has been evident. He understands liturgy as a missional tool which speaks to people in various ways and at significant spiritual levels, not least in the Eucharist as it focuses on the presence of Christ. Being sensitive to contemporary liturgy and worship, David understands how this has been influenced by the Prayer Book and why it is important to understand its lasting impact and relevance in the Church’s prevailing culture and direction. As a theological student, I learnt much about liturgy from David and I am confident this book will make a valuable contribution to the reader’s understanding and experience of the Prayer Book, which is a rich inheritance. ~ The Bishop of Doncaster

  • Life & Times of the Real Robyn Hoode, The
    Mark Olly
    With no proven, undisputed historical evidence being available as to just who Robin Hood actually was, the “man or myth” conundrum has continued to be a mystery that has fascinated generation after generation and turned the English folklore hero into an iconic global legend. Consequently, there are numerous speculative and plausible theories about his existence, lineage, birthplace and burial site etc. to keep academics and enthusiasts occupied for years to come or until there is an extremely unlikely “Richard III moment” when someone discovers a DNA linked skeleton!
    In the meantime, historians and individuals fastidiously comb through centuries of manuscripts and medieval records to try to piece together the intriguing puzzle that is further complicated by a blurring of the historic fact and the development and fusing of the tales into traditional folklore legend. In fact, it is often said that Robin Hood has become a million times richer as an icon of popular culture than as a genuine historical figure!
    Whatever your views and opinions, Mark Olly’s “The Life and Times of the Real Robyn Hoode” is an excellent place to start.
    Using literary archaeology, the author has logically brought together the historical background authenticated by existing material and records and produced a credible timeline into which the various aspects, characters and locations associated with the legend can be feasibly connected. His decision to place all the original source texts relating to the life of the real Robyn Hoode in BOLD TYPE so it can be read as a complete separate narrative if desired and to show all the source manuscripts and quotes in Italics, also helps the reader to differentiate between the origins of the material.
    Mark has deliberately avoided getting “side-tracked” by the explosion of contemporary popular culture associated with the legend and perhaps the book’s greatest achievement lies in the style of writing and presentation. Although it is packed with interesting, relevant information, this is not a “stuffy” reference source and in its easy- to-read 202 pages Mark Olly has compactly set out the background for any interested readers to “investigate” the complexity of the Robin Hood legend for themselves.
    Over the years, I have read and reviewed many Robin Hood related books, both fact and fiction and in my opinion this is one of the best recent reference works on the subject.
    ~ Bob White, Chairman , World Wide Robin Hood Society.

  • Being British
    Chris Parish
    Chris Parish has written a comprehensive, provocative and deeply thoughtful exploration of what it means to be British today. He skilfully integrates a wide range of perspectives and approaches to provide a much needed and refreshing synthesis of the positive potential of British identity, understanding and belonging. He is fearless in his honesty and in addressing all the arenas which he believes are vital to a rearticulation of the 'British Journey' and a powerfully constructive and important role for Britain into the future. As a British citizen I felt inspired, challenged and expanded by the book, but most of all, a powerful pride, delight and enhanced positivity about being British. A must read for anyone interested in the nature of Britishness and a much needed contribution to this field. ~ Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, previously Chief Executive of three organisations in the UK Further Education sector, currently organisational consultant

  • Being British
    Chris Parish
    Enjoyed its breadth and ambition—and optimism ~ David Goodhart, founder of Prospect magazine, former Director of Demos think tank, author of The British Dream

  • Life & Times of the Real Robyn Hoode, The
    Mark Olly
    Most of us have grown up with the film versions of Robin Hood, from the Disney classic to the Hollywood giants, not to mention the television series that ran for years. According to Mark Olly in ‘The Life and Times of the Real Robyn Hoode’ these portrayals are a long way from the historically accurate portrait of England’s greatest hero. The author’s research leads us back to the early 12th C century – to exactly the period in which the majority of the old tales place his life. To emphasise which is original source material relating directly to the life of the real Robyn Hoode in bold type, so it can be read as a complete separate narrative. The author also uses a historical time-line to help us find our way through the intricate story and advances some interesting information that never appears in the popular narratives about Robin Hood – one being the fact that Robin Hood is around 60-years of age at the time of his ‘famous’ exploits and lives to a grand-old age. Mark Olly also purses the tales and legends long after Robin Hood’s death to demonstrate how they were embellished by bard and story-teller. A first-class scholarly project and highly enjoyable.

    Suzanne Ruthven – author and freelance writer.
    ~ Suzanne Ruthven, Compass Books

  • Schoolboy's Wartime Letters, A
    Geoffrey Iley
    I found it truly extraordinary to be allowed this insight into how it was to be a boy then and live through those years...... I found your letters hugely enlightening. Thank you.
    ~ Michael Morpurgo, Author of War Horse

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