Monday, November 8, 2010

Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock

Book description:
Though often overshadowed by her long-reigning sister, Elizabeth I, Mary lived a life full of defiance, despair, and triumph. Born the daughter of the notorious King Henry VIII and the Spanish Katherine of Aragon, young Mary was a princess in every sense of the word—schooled in regal customs, educated by the best scholars, coveted by European royalty, and betrothed before she had reached the age of three. Yet in a decade’s time, in the wake of King Henry’s break with the pope, she was declared a bastard, disinherited, and demoted from “princess” to “lady.” Ever her deeply devout mother’s daughter, Mary refused to accept her new status or to recognize Henry’s new wife, Anne Boleyn, as queen. The fallout with her father and his counselors nearly destroyed the teenage Mary, who faced imprisonment and even death.

It would be an outright battle for Mary to work herself back into the king’s favor, claim her rightful place in the Tudor line, and ultimately become queen of England, but her coronation would not end her struggles. She flouted the opposition and married Philip of Spain, sought to restore Catholicism to the nation, and fiercely punished the resistance. But beneath her brave and regal exterior was a dependent woman prone to anxiety, whose private traumas of phantom pregnancies, debilitating illnesses, and unrequited love played out in the public glare of the fickle court.


My interest in Tudor history began early- I was booted off a tour of the Tower of London at age 13 for the running commentary I was sharing with my mother! Elizabeth has always been my focus, so I was very excited to see this book on Mary because she is so often treated as only a springboard to Gloriana. Unfortunately, this book just missed the mark for me.

Despite the wealth of information and historical references, this book never made Mary a person to me. The manuscript seemed disjointed, and at times contraditory in its assessment of possible motivations. Quite frankly, the portions about Katharine of Aragon were the most human; her daughter Mary still came off as a cardboard figure throughout the rest of the book.

I appreciated the effort to reveal more about this fascinating woman's story, but was left feeling as disconnected as ever from Mary Tudor. This book is a decent history, but reading it was not a particularly enjoyable experience.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boozehound by Jason Wilson

Book description:
While some may wonder, “Does the world really need another flavored vodka?” no one answers this question quite so memorably as spirits writer and raconteur Jason Wilson does in Boozehound. (By the way, the short answer is no.) A unique blend of travelogue, spirits history, and recipe collection, Boozehound explores the origins of what we drink and the often surprising reasons behind our choices.

In lieu of odorless, colorless, tasteless spirits, Wilson champions Old World liquors with hard-to-define flavors—a bitter and complex Italian amari, or the ancient, aromatic herbs of Chartreuse, as well as distinctive New World offerings like lively Peruvian pisco. With an eye for adventure, Wilson seeks out visceral experiences at the source of production—visiting fields of spiky agave in Jalisco, entering the heavily and reverently-guarded J├Ągermeister herb room in Wolfenb├╝ttel, and journeying to the French Alps to determine if mustachioed men in berets really handpick blossoms to make elderflower liqueur.

In addition, Boozehound offers more than fifty drink recipes, from three riffs on the Manhattan to cocktail-geek favorites like the Aviation and the Last Word. These recipes are presented alongside a host of opinionated essays that cherish the rare, uncover the obscure, dethrone the overrated, and unravel the mysteries of taste, trends, and terroir. Through his far-flung, intrepid traveling and tasting, Wilson shows us that perhaps nothing else as entwined with the history of human culture is quite as much fun as booze.


This book would make an excellent gift for anyone who enjoys stepping outside of the box when it comes to imbibing. It is a wonderful introduction into a large variety of alternative beverages from the obscure and hard to find to the easily available but often under-rated. The drink recipes that follow each chapter help whet the appetite, and made me want to rush out to my local store to start picking up ingredients. Best of all, the narrative voice was friendly and approachable- I felt more like the author was sharing a love than teaching a lesson. 5 stars!