Book Review: The White Queen

Rating: *** of 5 

Right before we ran off on our Christmas adventures, I did a last-minute run to our tiny library to find something to read. I was in a hurry and Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen caught my eye. 

I’ll be honest, I stayed far, far away from her books because of The Other Boleyn Girl. The movie came out while I was still in university and was a pedantic history snob that couldn’t read or watch historical fiction without a lot of fact checking, eye-rolling, and general snark. Thankfully, I don’t have to be a pedantic history snob all of the time anymore. I just do it when it’s fun for me, like when I watched Braveheart for the first time a couple of months ago.

Anyway, back to the book. Something about The White Queen said “read me,” so I picked her up and took her on vacation.

The book, set in the late 1400s, tells the story of the Plantagenets, the War of the Roses, and the rise (and fall) of King Edward IV through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, a widow who would become Edward IV’s queen. 

Elizabeth Woodville was beautiful and ambitious. She was said to be a descendant of Melusina, a female water spirit who entered into an ill-fated marriage on land. Elizabeth, therefore, inherited a special connection to rivers and waters along with “sight” and other magical powers. 

When her first husband, Sir John Grey, died fighting for King Henry VI and the House of York, she waits with her two Grey sons in the forest for the new king, Edward IV of the House of Lancaster, to ride through so she can make her case for dowry land. Using her wiles (and a little witchcraft) she wins Edward’s favor. Not long after, they marry secretly in the middle of the night and Elizabeth becomes the Queen of England. She and Edward contend with almost constant family drama and battles for the throne. Nearly everyone is power-hungry and underhanded. 

Oh, and you know the famous Princes in the Tower? The ones that were locked up in the Tower of London who died from mysterious causes? Those are Elizabeth and Edward IV's boys. And Richard III? The one who was said to be the evil hunchbacked killer of the Princes in the Tower? Yeah, well that’s their uncle and Edward IV’s brother who took the crown for himself after Edward’s death.  

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on in this book, which made it a quick and engaging read. I will be clear, though. I didn’t love it. I found most of the characters unlikeable, especially Elizabeth. I found her vindictiveness became annoying, partly because it seemed like any powerful move she made came from a spell. I know this is fiction and I’m fine with some of the supernatural. I just think when you reduce a historical woman to actual witch, you undermine a better story of how she maneuvered in a world of relative power as queen—compared to other English women—and relative powerlessness—compared to the high-ranking men of her life. 

Somehow, despite all of this, I was very tempted to go straight to the library and get the next book in the series, The Red Queen, which follows Elizabeth and Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth and Henry Tudor, to the throne.

Book Review: How to be Parisian Wherever You Are

via  Amazon

via Amazon

I remember in high school on of my friends from class told me, “You look like you belong in Europe.”  I don’t remember what we were talking about or why she thought that. I had big dreams of moving to Europe at the time, so I took it as a compliment.

I still daydream about living in Europe. Sometimes I want that effortless French girl style and a Tuscan fixer-upper farmhouse even though I know it’s all overly idealized and stereotyped.

So when I spotted How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits while milling around a bookstore, I knew I had to read it but I was wary. The book is written by four Parisienne friends: Anne Berest - a writer, Audrey Diwan - a scriptwriter and magazine editor, Caroline de Maigret- a model, Chanel ambassador, and music label founder, and Sophie Mas - a film producer.  (video link for email subscribers)

They cover a lot of ground--from style to favourite breakfast spots--using photos, vignettes, quotes, recipes, and more. They start with a list of aphorisms like: “If you only own one sweater, make sure it’s cashmere.” Ok, I can get on board with that. S, who was sneakily reading over my shoulder, tapped one further down: “Take a deep breath and keep it simple.” He then gave me a look that said, “Yeah, you could learn some things from this.” Hmph! 

As it turns out, he was right. The book is funny, irreverent, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It's not for everyone, but if you like this video, you'll probably like the book. 

It’s also full of good-hearted advice on living well. I chose a few favourites to share.

On Natural Beauty

Parisiennes will have you believe that they are born with perfect skin and delightfully messy hair. That from the cradle onward they exude a scent worthy of Chanel No5. That these “natural” attributes are a heritage that cannot be explained.

They are all lying.

Au naturel is the fruit of hard labor; meticulously passed down from generation to generation.

On How to Spend a Parisian Weekend

Eat croissants and buttered toast for breakfast—beause it’s Saturday morning and you burned enough calories last night, damn it.

Agree to (at least a little) exercise but only in “beautiful” surroundings: a run in a picturesque public park or a swim in a historically listed pool.

Go to the market on a Sunday morning with your wicker basket. Prepare a delicious lunch with vegetables, fresh bread and salted butter.


On Taking Time

Take the time to listen and to get to know yourself. Take the time to change, to grow, to rest. Take the time to say yes, take the time to say no. Take the time to be quiet. Take the time to look after your body, to eat well. Take the time to ask yourself who you are and what you want. [. . .]

Take the time to take time because nobody else will do it for you.

I enjoyed this book in small doses. I found it best to flip through until something caught my eye. It’s not a book that needs to be (or should be, in my opinion) read from cover to cover. It's the kind of book I would keep on my shelf and pull down to rediscover from time to time. 

What I really liked is that the Parisienne in this book is not perfect. She’s has her faults and bad habits. Her lifestyle isn’t really as effortless as we want to think (or have been led to think, perhaps). She is, however, confident. Living life well, fully, and freely is important to her. I don’t think that attitude is singularly Parisian, but I think they do a damn good job of it and How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are is a fun way to tap into it. 

Holiday Gift Guide

Instead of the usual Friday 10 today is a Friday 15 full of gifts ideas. In the spirit of the site, there are simple luxuries and fancy splurges alike for food lovers, readers, and travellers. 

What I did not add, however, is one of my favourite gifts: an experience. This can be something as simple as a lunch with a loved one, a pass to their favourite place (a park? a museum?), or a weekend getaway. Sometimes making memories is far better than collecting things. 

  1. My Paris Kitchen Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz ($25.71 CAD hardcover) | A collection of beautiful recipes, stories, and photos from David Lebovitz's Paris. 
  2. Blood Orange Oolong by Sloane Teas ($17.00 CAD for 100g of loose tea) | Flavourful, fancy and festive tea packed in a tin that's pretty enough to display. I love their Heavenly Cream, too! 
  3. Twelve Assorted Macaron Happy Holidays Travel Box from Nadège Patisserie ($27.50 CAD) | Indulgent flavours perfect for celebrating the holidays: candy cane, whisky chocolate, champagne, chocolate, salted caramel, blackberry chocolate, cherry chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, cotton candy, cappucino, and matcha green tea. 
  4. Cashmere Blend Reading Socks from Indigo ($39.50 CAD) | Warm and cozy socks to make winter reading that much more indulgent. Would pair perfectly with a great book or a tea and mug. 
  5. Personalized Passport Holder by Tagsmith ($60 USD) | I love the natural leather color and the subtle initial stamping. If monogramming isn't your thing, they have a plain one as well. Also available in Bridle and Dark Brown.
  6. Terrain Mug glazed in Alabaster by Sam Nichols Pottery ($32.00 USD) | A classic hand thrown mug thats perfect for coffee or tea any time of day and any time of year.
  7. RazorPlus from myCharge ($49.99 USD) |  A thin, lightweight portable smartphone charger with USB port. Great for travel since it can give you up to 13 hours of talk time.
  8. National Park Blanket (shown in Rocky Mountain) from Pendleton ($199 - $239 USD) | Heirloom quality, beautiful historical patterns, and perfect for the outdoorsy among us. 
  9. iPad Mini Leather and Wool Case by cinnamon cocoon ($45.00 USD) | A blend of function and beauty. I bought one of these for my dad last year. Not only did he love it, but my mom loved it so much that she bought herself a laptop case. Lovely sellers and quick shipping (although it took awhile to make it halfway around the world) when I dealt with them. 
  10. Monarch Desk Calendar by Rifle Paper Co.  ($16.00 USD) | I used the 2014 Cities version this year and fell in love with it. I snapped up the 2015 Monarch version up as quickly as I could. The illustrations are so lovely and whimsical that it always brightens my day.
  11. GorillaPod Hybrid from Joby ($38.00 CAD) | A small go anywhere, wrap around anything flexible tripod. Grab the GripTight Mount (18.00 CAD) to use with iPhone and Android smartphones, too. 
  12. Kobo Aura H2O from Kobo ($179.99 CAD) | The first waterproof* and dustproof eReader. No need to "seal" your reader in two big ziplock bags at the beach or during a bath. (Everyone does that right?) *Up to 30 min in 1M of water with the port closed (Who is even reading underwater at all, let alone for 30 minutes?)
  13. Kenyatta Shaving Case from WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie ($295) | A definite splurge. But it’s so elegant—I would be happy to own one!—and it has a removable interior lining that makes clean-up easy. 
  14. Emile Henry Artisan Ruffled Pie Dish by Emile Henry ($49.95) | Perfect for the baker in your life. Not only is it hand-glazed, but each piece is cast, inspected and signed by hand. Plus, it's the prettiest pie plate I’ve ever seen.
  15. Fujifilm X-TI from Fujifilm ($1598.95 USD) | A major upgrade from the typical point-and-shoot. This mirrorless camera has the image quality but not the bulk of a DSLR. The most expensive gift, by far, but it's fantastic for amateur photographers and travellers who are serious about taking their photos to a new level. Want other recommendations in different price ranges? Check out the Wirecutter’s reviews of digital cameras

As always, have a happy weekend!