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I never cease to be amazed by how Philippa Gregory can turn out book after page-turning book, all based on well-known stories.  Talk about your ultimate spoilers!  And yet knowing the ending only enhances Gregory’s Tudor Court and Cousins’ War novels.

the king's curse

The latest book in the series is no exception.  Based on the real-life story of Lady Margaret Pole, The King’s Curse is really a bridge between the Cousins’ War series and the Tudor Court.  While Margaret didn’t always have the front row seat that some of the other players already written had, her life is unique in its longevity.  Daughter of the ill-fated York brother George, Duke of Clarence and his wife Isabel Neville, Margaret’s life saw the height of the York reign, the tragedy of the Princes in the Tower, the fall of the Plantagenet dynasty, the rise of the Tudors, and especially the white-knuckle ride of Henry VIII’s rule.

I love how Gregory can take a story even she herself has told often and make it fresh and exciting.  It shows her true talent as a writer.  Margaret’s story is woven with a strong theme of survival at all costs and constantly pits the natural pride she has in her lineage with the necessity to fly under the radar of an increasingly paranoid king.  She never forgets her name, just as she never forgets her brother who lost his life for the sole reason of bearing that name.  It’s a tension Gregory keeps alive through the entire novel.

Unknown_woman,_formerly_known_as_Margaret_Pole,_Countess_of_Salisbury_from_NPG_retouched

Once again Philippa Gregory has penned a fantastic, gripping book that brings history to life.  I can’t wait to see which fascinating historical woman she tackles next.

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This is one of my all-time favourite books.  I’ve read it three times – no, actually four times now.  With the Starz series due out this spring/summer, I wanted to have the story fresh in my mind.

If you haven’t read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander yet (It’s been out for 20 years, now), here’s what you’re missing.

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Claire Randall, fresh from World War II as a field nurse, is celebrating the war’s end on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank.  But in a strange turn of events, she finds herself transported back in time to the year 1743, where she is promptly accosted by her husband’s ancestor, the truly villainous Black Jack Randall, and rescued/kidnapped by a band of unruly clansmen.  They take her back to Castle Leoch, the seat of Clan MacKenzie, preventing her from returning to her own time.  There she gets to know her captors, brothers Colum and Dougall MacKenzie, their charming nephew Jamie, and a host of other characters while she sets up a modest medical practice.

Faced with the problem of what to do with this “Sassenach” or Outlander, Dougall forces Claire and Jamie to marry to save her from falling into Captain Randall’s hands, whereupon they fall in love.

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It all sounds – dare I say it – outlandish when you put it that way.

But Outlander is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Romance, history, action, medical drama, mystery, fantasy all blended together in a magical combination.

The characters are all wonderfully multi-dimensional.  Claire is a fascinating heroine: strong, feisty, smart, and sympathetic.  Told in first person, the book is her story.  Jamie is a perfect foil to Claire, and a very normal, albeit larger-than-life, male.  Their relationship, from its inception, is refreshingly realistic.  They fight, they make up, they laugh and cry.  And so does the reader.

Gabaldon’s chief strength is in her willingness to dive deep into the treasure trove of human feelings.  Even after four reads, she still has the power to pull me along with her characters into all their experiences.  As she herself said at a recent fan event: “This is how you actually show character: by putting people through a really hard time.  And I have no qualms about doing that.”  Outlander is proof.

Because of that, she doesn’t shy away from anything.  So be it 18th century warfare or the aspects of a marriage, there’s a lot in this book that might make it unpalatable for sensitive readers.

Other than that, it’s well worth a read and it just might end up on your favourite books list, too.

Here’s a trailer for the show, too, to give you a better idea.  🙂