A few of my all-time favorite books …..

I’ve been told that my passion for reading began at an early age.  Evidently, as soon as I was old enough to walk, I’d carry all of my Little Golden Books to my mother and insist that she read the entire stack to me every single day, sometimes several times a day.  From there, I moved up through The Nancy Drew and Dana Girls Mysteries which kept me captivated through elementary school and eventually I moved on to adult mysteries, histories, biographies, general fiction and my favorite, historical fiction.  My first real job was working after high school re-shelving books in our town’s library.  I thought it was the most wonderful job in the world because it gave me the opportunity to read the synopsis on the back of each book as I re-shelved it.  Besides, I was making $0.91 at a time when babysitting paid $0.50 an hour!  The following is a by no means complete list of some of my favorite books.  Reviewing it, I see that almost all of my favorites are set in England and most are histories, biographies or historical fiction.  I do read other stuff, but those books just didn’t make it onto this list.  Oh yes, anyone who knows me will wonder at my omission from these pages of any references to, or photos of, my beloved Hampton Court Palace, even though it figures prominently as a location in many of the books listed below.  This omission is due to the fact that I am planning an entire section on this site devoted exclusively to HCP at a later date.
84 Charing Cross Road is an epistolary book written by Helene Hanff.. 84 is based on the correspondence over many years between Ms. Hanff, a New Yorker, and Marks & Co., a London antiquarian bookshop, from whom she ordered her beloved used and rare books, all the while dreaming of someday visiting London herself.   There was a film based on the book starring Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft and Dame Judi Dench.  The sequel to the book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury, was also enjoyable, but in my opinion not quite as good as 84.  On trips to London I've often walked past 84 Charing Cross Road, which as far as I can tell is now a pizza parlor :-( . I usually HATE films made from books I’ve loved, but the film adaptation of this particular book was an exception.   If you've never seen the movie or read this book, check one or both out.  I promise you will not be disappointed.
Green Darkness by Anya Seton.  When I finished my first reading of this book sometime around 1976, I immediately went from the last page straight back to the first page and read it all over again.  I've probably immersed myself in this book seven or eight times over the years and I enjoy it just as much every single time.  Reincarnation, karma, ghosts, a setting in England,,,, what more could I ask? This is a wonderfully written book of fiction, but the past life memory portions are set in historical context during the short reign of  Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI.  On my next trip to the UK I plan to visit some of the locations used in this book, including Cowdrey House, Ightham Mote, and The Spread Eagle Inn in Midhurst. On a past trip, my family and I visited Southwark Cathedral, which was originally known as St. Mary Ovary, one of the story’s locations.   It is situated very close to the reconstructed “Shakespeare’s Globe” on the South bank of the Thames in London.
Katherine – another of Anya Seton’s wonderful books.  This woman could write a story that sucks you in and holds you captive until the very last page!  Katherine is the story of John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III and his mistress (and later wife), Katherine Swynford.   The Tudor Dynasty descended from one of their illegitimate children (Katherine and John's children were later made legitimate, so long as they relinquished any claim to the throne).   Henry VII, the first Tudor king, was the son of Margaret Beaufort, John and Katherine’s Great-Granddaughter.   Included here is a photo of her tomb in Westminster Abbey.  On various trips to England I've visited some of the places connected with Katherine, including her tomb in Lincoln Cathedral and the romantic and atmospheric ruins of Kenilworth Castle, where she lived for a time with John of Gaunt.  Also included here are some photos of Kenilworth Castle, including one of my daughter, Holly, running from a "felt presence" when she was 11 years old.  For some reason she was determined to run and I was equally determined to hold her back!   Here also is a photo of Katherine's Tomb in Lincoln Cathedral, which I actually missed seeing on my first visit to Lincoln.  Consequently, I made a special point of returning to Lincoln the following year.  There had been a long stretch since my last reading of this book and on the first trip I had not focused on the fact that I was in “Katherine” country. There is definitely something to be said for reading a guidebook while still present at the location in question!  Katherine has just been re-published in the U.S. after having been out of print for many years.  It is truly a timeless and wonderful read.  I own two copies, one dog-eared, falling-apart copy that I periodically loan to friends, and another copy  (purchased in Lincoln on Steep Hill, where Katherine most surely walked) so I will always have one on hand for when I want to re-read it again myself. 
Timeline by Michael Crichton - Entertaining book about time travel - something I've always dreamed of doing!  I'm not usually a big fan of science fiction, but when it's teamed with the theme of time travel...---  what can I say?!  I’m one of probably two or three people who saw the film made from this book and I actually liked it, although I thought the book was much better.  Set in the Dordogne region of France
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – a very engrossing and rich novelization based on a handful of historical facts and a great deal of romantic conjecture surrounding the life of Anne Boleyn's sister, Mary.  Very little is known about Mary, but she was reputedly a mistress of Henry VIII prior to his liaison and subsequent marriage to Anne.  Parts of the story take place at Hever Castle, the Boleyn family home in Kent.  Hever is less than an hour by train from London and a beautiful place to spend a day.  The castle is a tiny jewel of a place - more a fortified manor house than a true castle.  Henry courted Ann here.  After Ann’s execution, Henry gave Hever to Anne of Cleves, a subsequent wife whom Henry divorced and later referred to as his “dear sister.”  I think Henry was a man who could convince himself of anything as long as it allowed him to have his way.   Here is a photo from one of our visits to Hever.   The first time we came here, our taxi had to stop at a signposted “duck crossing” and we actually did have to wait for Momma duck and her little ones to cross the road before we could continue our journey.  Your first sight of this tiny fairytale castle as you walk down the long, winding path from the medieval gatehouse will, I promise you, literally take your breath away.  It certainly did mine.
The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters.  Pure fluff, but I loved it because I've been to lots of the locations in the story, including Glastonbury Abbey and Wells Cathedral and because of the plot's Arthurian and Archaeology themes - two of my favorite reading subjects.  Elizabeth Peters also writes very good suspense novels as Barbara Michaels.  Here is a photo of Wells Cathedral and one of my daughter, Holly, at the supposed original burial site of Arthur and Guinevere on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.  The grave was discovered and opened by the Abbey monks in 1278, and in the presence of Edward I (a/k/a Hammer of the Scots) and his Queen, Eleanor of Castile, the remains were then reburied in front of the high alter in the Abbey.   The abbey was destroyed in the Reformation and those bones have since been lost.  Speaking of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, why has no one written a great big sweeping novelization of their love story?  She is the Queen of the beautiful Eleanor Crosses, erected by Edward I at every place her coffin rested on its journey to Westminster Abbey for burial.  Eleanor died suddenly and unexpectedly while on a journey to the North of England to join Edward on one of his progresses.  It's said he was absolutely devastated by her death and that in his grief he left instructions for candles to burn around her tomb in the Abbey for all eternity.  Those candles were kept burning on his orders for more than 200 years.  How romantic is that??? Here is a photo of Eleanor’s tomb effigy.   I thought I’d taken one of my own, but evidently not.  I had to copy this one from the internet.   (note:  no candles).  Edward I must have been a pretty cool guy.  He also left instructions that after his death his corpse was to be disinterred, mounted on a horse and ridden into battle anytime England decided to attack the Scots.  There is some evidence this was actually done!  I would like to have met this man!!   I believe Eleanor was the first queen of England to be gifted with Leeds Castle by her king.  It has ever since been known as the “Lady Castle” as English kings have traditionally gifted it to their queens. We visited in 1990 on one of our early UK trips.  
Knight in Shining Armour by Jude Deveraux.  I think this was the first “time travel” book I ever read.  I couldn't stop crying at the end.  Dougless, a modern day woman visiting England, who is having issues in her love life (engaged to a total jerk) inadvertently resurrects a medieval knight, Nicholas, when her tears of despair fall on his tomb.  First Nicholas comes into her world and is totally flummoxed by modern life and all its accouterments.  At one point in the story, Dougless ends up in Nicholas’ era and is equally out of place (although she manages to take with her a few 20th century items to be used at proper moments).  The story has a real surprise ending which made me happy and sad at the same time.  Very bittersweet.  I’ve always thought this would make an absolutely wonderful film.  I don't know why it's never been made.  Too soppy?  Rights too expensive to option??  
The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey edited by Anthony Harvey and Richard Mortimer.  This is more a glossy, glorified catalogue than anything else.  I purchased it several years ago in the tiny museum located in the Westminster Abbey cloisters.  I was amazed and delighted to learn about these effigies.  Back in medieval times, royalty were not always laid to rest immediately after death.  There were lots of processions and things to get through first.  The bodies had to be paraded through the streets so all the common folk could gawk.   For obvious reasons, the bodies didn't hold up too well throughout this stuff, so effigies were made to put on top of the coffins so all these peasants and commoners could see what their monarchs had looked like.  Sometimes these effigies were made by taking am actual wax impression of the face after death.  Sometimes they were carved out of wood.  In any event, the Abbey Museum has several you can look at up close and personal - Mary (the Bloody one), Henry V (or perhaps Ann of Bohemia, there is some disagreement here).  I have to say, if it is Ann of Bohemia, she was one ugly woman!   In some cases, it seems that looking at the effigy is tantamount to staring into the face of the person it represents.  Edward III is there.  His effigy is one of the ones made from a wax impression of the face after death.  Edward had had a stroke and you can even see where his lip is pulled down on one side and where the wax stuck to his eyebrow during the process of taking the impression.   Eerie – think of it - you are actually looking at the face of Edward III! Frozen in time since 1377!!!  Does anyone get as excited about this sort of stuff as I do?  Henry VII is there as well.  I visit these effigies almost every time I am in London - they will never cease to fascinate me.
London, Sarum and The Forest – three wonderful books by Edward Rutherfurd.  My personal favorite of the three is London.  Each book chronicles generation after generation of a handful of families living in these particular areas (London, Sarum, which is the original ancient site of Salisbury and its first cathedral, and The New Forest).  The books follow the members of these families down through the ages generation by generation and tie each family in with historical events in various time periods. You simply cannot put these books down once you start them.  The building of Stonehenge figures prominently in Sarum, so after reading it, I simply had to go there and see it for myself.  Here I am among the stones.  Note the “audio guide” in my hand, which I picked up at the ticket office and never once put to my ear.  Somehow it just seemed totally incongruous in that particular place and besides, I didn’t feel I needed it.  Being at Stonehenge is an almost mystical experience.    My husband referred to Stonehenge as “a pile of stones” when I told him I wanted to go there.  He agreed after our visit that it was a very impressive pile of stones!  We also visited ancient Sarum, which is a ruin, but some of the views from the old castle mound are worth the climb.
Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.  This book was written in the 1950s and tells the story of a Scotland Yard Inspector, laid up in hospital, who uses the enforced downtime to investigate the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower during the time of the War of the Roses, based on the evidence at the time.  Were they really murdered by their Uncle, Richard III to secure his throne?  Or was Henry VII responsible?  After reading this book, I have to go with Henry.  Richard III spent much of his time in York, one of my favorite English cities.  It is, in spots, a perfectly preserved medieval jewel of a place which can seem frozen in time depending on where you are.  The Shambles is a tiny street that once housed butcher shops.  Squint a little and you’ll imagine you’ve stepped back in time.  Walking the city wall, which is pretty much, can be downright magical, especially if you do it early in the morning when it is misty and you are up there alone.  Here are a couple of pictures of York.
 The Lovely Bones by Alice Seybold.  A young teenage girl is brutally murdered, and her spirit looks down on her family and friends, watching them deal with their grief and come to terms with losing her.  This book really affected me.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks and weeks.  Beautifully written from a unique perspective.
The Quest for Becket’s Bones by John Butler.  Are the remains of Thomas ‘a Becket still in Canterbury Cathedral or were they scattered during the reformation?   According to one legend, they were fired from a cannon! You will wonder after reading this book.  Here is a photo of Canterbury Cathedral, one of England’s loveliest.

The Autobiography of Henry VIII, With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George.  My good friend, Bobbi Davis, introduced me to this book.  Told as if Henry VIII had written it himself.  I think I read it in two or three non-stop, very long reading sessions.  This book really brought Tudor England to life for me.  I passed it on to my daughter, who read it while she was still in the sixth grade, a time when most of her peers were still reading comic books.  She shares my love of historical fiction today, and I think this book may have had a great deal to do with that.


This is getting long, so here are some more of my favorite titles, without all the commentary:


The Mary Stewart Arthur/Merlin quartet comprised of The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Wicked Day and The Last Enchantment.


The Mists of Avalon by Marian Zimmer Bradley.


Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles


Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles by Margaret George


The Book of Eleanor, a novel of Eleanor of Aquitane, by Pamela Kaufman.  (One comment: here:  If I could walk for a day in any one historical person’s shoes, it would be Eleanor of Aquitane.  This was a woman FAR ahead of her time.  I think Katherine Hepburn truly must have had her down pat in “Lion in Winter”. ) More on “Lion” when I do my piece on favorite films.


Robin Maxwell’s trilogy:  The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn, The Queen’s Bastard and Virgin: Prelude to a Throne.


Lady of Hay and House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine.