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If you’re going to write a book about Beefeaters in the tower of London, it doesn’t hurt to be named Stuart.  For the uninitiated, Stuart is the illustrious (infamous?) last name of James I of England (son of Mary Queen of Scots).  And even though the author is likely no relation (she makes absolutely no such claims) it lends a certainly legitimacy to her story.

Which is funny because I really did believe everything she wrote in this book, though the rational side of my brain kept reminding me, as the title drives home (der, it’s “a novel”).  Her snippets of Tower “history” were just kooky enough to be true.  The scientist in me is eager to go read a history of the tower to check, but the reader in me wants to let sleeping ravens lie.

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Arthur

King Arthur may well be the ur-fantasy story.   The ur-hero story even.  This story has been told countless times, in many forms including, quite notably, Monty Python’s version (you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you!), one of my personal favorites.  There is even much academic debate about whether a real Arthur or Merlin existed. While that is mildly interesting, and I have been known to read a treatise or two about what might have happened, I’d much rather read pages and pages (and pages and pages) of stories about what could have happened.

The Arthurian legends were certainly my first foray into “fantasy” and it’s the one story I never tire of, no matter what the medium.  I daresay I’ve read them “all” – The Mists of Avalon, the Sword in the Stone, The Once and Future King, even Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.  I have a grand copy of Le Morte d’Arthur, almost too beautiful to read (or at least that’s my current excuse for not reading it). 

I love this story (or should I say stories) so much that I took an entire class in college about King Arthur (me, a science major!), in which we read the older texts based on the oral legends (where Gawain was the hero, not some pretty French dude).  They aren’t as flowery as the Lancelot versions with their courtly love, chivalry and the round table, but it is those gritty older texts that, in my humble opinion, have spawned the best modern Arthurian works.  As my high school English teacher always told us “Arthur was a peer of Beowulf.”  Which means, though he likely carried a sword, his armor was made of leather instead of metal, and he probably didn’t joust.

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katherineKatherine by Anya Seton is one of those books that is right up my alley. I first read it when I was in high school, before my Anglophilia went rampant. It was however, right at the perfect time when the romance part of this novel was best appreciated by my melodramatic teenage heart.  It is the novelization of Katherine Swynford who, with her lover and eventual husband, John of Gaunt, are responsible for the majority of England’s (and Europe’s) royal families.

I hadn’t thought of this book in years, until I was in a store a few weeks back spending a gift certificate for my birthday.  When I have “free” book money I tend to buy impulsively and wildly, getting things I wouldn’t spend my own money on.  Katherine was sitting on a table and I wondered how it would read for an adult mind, so I snatched it up.  Interestingly, I also picked up the new Alison Weir book, Mistress of the Monarchy, barely glancing at the title (I LOVE Ms. Weir!).  I brought them both, in a stack with two other titles, to the register, I brought them both home, I put them both on the shelf. 

It was only weeks later, when I finally picked up Katherine to read, I looked at what was underneath it and saw the subtitle of MistressThe Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.

No one , certainly not the cashier, or anyone looking at my bookshelf, will believe it was unintentional, but it truly was.  It’s funny how your mind keeps working even when you aren’t paying attention.

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