What’s Ashley Reading?: Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

The only surviving piece of Dusseldorf’s City Palace, the birthplace of Anna of Kleve.

On my most recent trip to Germany I had the privilege to visit Dusseldorf and Schloss Burg, the home of Anna of Kleve. Before I visited my brother in law told me about this castle. I knew I had to see it for myself. It was a long hike through the woods and up the hill to this fortress but it was worth every step. It overlooks the town of Solingen, a picturesque town in Western Germany. Even though very little is mentioned about Anna at the castle it is where she spent much of her childhood leading up to her marriage to King Henry VIII.

Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait by Alison Weir

First line: Anna peered through the window of the gatehouse, watching the chariot trundling through below, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the new silk gown she was wearing, and conscious of her parents’ expectations of her.

Summary: Anna of Kleve is the daughter of a German duke. She is raised to be the wife of a powerful man. When Henry VIII is unexpectedly widowed, he is in search of a fourth wife. His ministers look to Anna for this honor. As Anna embarks on the journey to England she worries about what her life will be like as the Queen of England. After her initial encounter with her future husband her worries mount. Does he like her? He does not appear to. However, as the first months of her marriage progress her worries begin to vanish. Then she receives news that the king has grave doubts about their union. What does this mean for Anna? Will he send her to her death like one of her predecessors?

Anna’s father and brother’s portraits from the entrance hall at Schloss Burg.
The entrance to Schloss Burg, the home of the Dukes of Kleve.

My Thoughts: Anna is probably one of the least talked about of Henry’s wives. I have read numerous books about the other five but she seems to be largely forgotten. This is rather sad because she was probably the luckiest of the six wives.

I really enjoyed learning more about her life before, during and after her marriage. She led such a sheltered life before coming to England. I cannot imagine the shock of life in Henry’s court compared to Kleve. And the fact that her husband is an obese man who had killed a previous wife. How terrifying! Her reign as queen was a very short lived one. However, she seemed to have made quite an impression on the people of England. I was very frustrated reading about the struggles she had to deal with after the death of the king. She was an important lady and was treated very badly by the men who ran the government of the new king, Edward VI.

A stunning view from the tower of Schloss Burg.

Weir took a lot of liberties with the history by adding in a romance that has no basis in fact. Even though it deviates from the record it was fun to read and imagine that Anna had some love in her life.

This is not a book that can be read quickly. There is tons of information, characters and time to cover. I spent several weeks slowly working my way through the narrative but I found it fascinating. Weir does a great job bringing life to the wives. I am highly anticipating her books on Katheryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

FYI: This is book four in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Warrior of the Wild

Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

First line: An ax swings for my head.

Summary: Rasmira has been training for years to be a warrior and gain her father’s approval. On the day of her trial she is sabotaged and sentenced to banishment in the wild until she completes a task set by the council. No one ever returns from the wild. However, Rasmira is determined to finish her mission and take revenge on the people who caused her downfall. But how do you kill a god?

My Thoughts: Tricia Levenseller can write a really fun novel! There is no big world building or complicated story lines. It is straight to the point and loads of fun to read. I immediately was hooked on Rasmira’s story. I liked how tough she was. I truly felt sorry for her when she is sent into the wild. Everything that she thought she knew was destroyed. I enjoyed her interactions and friendship with Iric and Soren. They are destined to be friends but it takes a lot for Rasmira to accept them due to past prejudices.

This book really reminded me of The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. There was a lot of action and it was a quick read.

FYI: Check out Levenseller’s debut duology, The Daughter of the Pirate King.

Random Reading Thoughts: The Challenges of Reading a Series

Hi blog readers! I’ll be writing a monthly blog post, which will be posted the first week of the month. As the title suggests, each post will be some random thoughts I have about reading. Hopefully, they’ll be thoughts that our readers will find interesting as well.

Poison Study, Book 1 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

Today, my thoughts have been swirling about book series. I love reading a good series, but sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the works or something else comes up that makes me long for more standalone books. For instance, an author has several books out in a series, hasn’t completed it, but stops writing to pursue other writing adventures (I’m looking at you Jim Butcher and Chris Grabenstein!). Or, a series gets marketed and advertised and sold as a trilogy (yay! only three books!) and then turns into a series of way more books, but now I have to wait a whole year for each book in the series.

Or, along the same lines, you start a series with the first book, and now you have to wait a whole year for each new book. I find myself wondering why I didn’t just wait until the series was finished before I started reading. I’m so impatient to start the next book!

Magic Study, Book 2 in the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder

And that leads me back to what started me thinking about series in the first place. One of my book clubs read a fantastic book last month, the first in a series. I gobbled down the first three books in the series and immediately grabbed book four. Opened it, and realized that some really important stuff had happened that I had no record of! Lo and behold, the author interrupted the series and wrote a related trilogy based on one of the characters, and those three books have all the good stuff I missed. So, I’ll be reading those three books in anticipation of getting back to the original series.

I can’t decide if I’m annoyed with the author for doing that, or looking forward to getting more of the story from a different character’s perspective and seeing more of this fabulous world she’s built. What about you? How do you manage series? Do you wait until they’re finished or do you devour each book as they come out? Drop us a comment below and share what your favorite series is, as well as how you prefer to read them.

Fire Study, book 3 in the Soulfinder series by
Maria V. Snyder

PS: The series that has every bit of my attention right now is the Soulfinder series by Maria V. Snyder, and the trilogy that tucks in the middle is her Glass series.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer MacAllister

First line: Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.

Summary: Charlotte Smith is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco business man. She is engaged to a respectable man. Her manners and comportment are perfect. However, her sister Phoebe has fits of depression or energy. Her parents do not know what to do with her. Their only hope is to send her to a respected asylum for women called Goldengrove. Charlotte loves her sister and is determined to get her out of the asylum. She devises a plan to be admitted to the asylum in order to find and rescue her sister. When Charlotte arrives at Goldengrove she realizes that her plan may not be as easy as she originally thought.

My Thoughts: The story took a little while to gather momentum. The first several chapters were devoted to giving a little backstory but once Charlotte enters the asylum everything picks up. Quoting one of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads, “…the chick in this book is cray cray!!” Why do you think that walking an insane asylum is going to be easy. She figures that she can just waltz out with her sister once she finds her. Even though her main goal is to find her sister, she learns a lot about the struggles that women have to face out in the world. She was raised very sheltered and wealthy where these hardships are not shared. I loved seeing her growth.

Most of the story is told through Charlotte’s thoughts rather than interactions and conversation. This style makes the reading a little slower but as a reader you can tell that the author did a lot of research in order to fill out her novel. Everything down to the specific treatments to the activity at docks in San Francisco.

The other women at the asylum though were hands down my favorite part. Each of them had a story to tell even though we get it in bits and pieces. Hearing how easily a wife, daughter or sister can be discarded is so sad. If you wanted to do or be anything other than what was expected you were clearly “insane”. It makes me want to scream at the injustice that they faced. And the women that were truly disturbed did not get the help they needed. Be ready for a look into a cruel world but it will also give you the feels for how much Charlotte and Phoebe truly care for each other. I hope that I would do something this crazy for my sister if the time ever came around.

FYI: Greer MacAllister’s first book, The Magician’s Lie, is phenomenal! Read it. Please!

From Reader to Writer: World Building Resources

Both readers and writers can agree that one of the best parts of stepping into an imaginative story is the immersive world building. From Tolkien’s Middle Earth to Rowling’s Wizarding World, the intricacies of creating an entire world are addictive. For genres like fantasy and science fiction that rely on otherworldly elements, it’s a writer’s ability to engage the five senses which hooks us into a story even more than writing plot or characters.

But when it comes to world building, the pressures of playing god can sometimes get really overwhelming. How do you keep it all straight? How do you determine the origins of your world, the climate, the geography, not to mention the cultures, races, plants, and animals that make your world not only believable, but habitable? How do you even know what questions to ask or what information is most important in your story?

As I’m working through my own writing, I’ve found that world building can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s immensely enjoyable to get lost in a world so different from my own, but world building is also an excellent excuse to create and create without really writing anything. I want to be careful not to risk getting “world builder’s disease,” an affliction that plagued even Tolkien where a writer creates every tiny, little detail of a world, inevitably running themselves into the ground and burning out.

To keep my thoughts organized, I’ve discovered this incredible resource. WorldAnvil is a free website that lets a writer, artist, or role-playing gamemaster organize an entire world in an encyclopedia format. The website has an article for various types of entries, and the articles prompt a range of questions that guide you through construction. WorldAnvil also has paid subscription options that offer access to more resources and functions in the website, but you can use the website without having to pay a thing.

I also found WorldAnvil’s YouTube channel and this video on tips for worldbuilding helpful. Beyond WorldAnvil, there are some great videos featuring advice from both seasoned writers and RPG game developers. This video on fantasy map construction is awesome!

Another amazing resource is best-selling author Brandon Sanderson’s lectures on writing. Many of his classes are available on YouTube including this one on worldbuilding.

When writing a story or even developing a world for a role-playing game, there are many elements and decisions to make. It’s intense and rewarding. Use this phase of your creative journey as an outlet to be eccentric and try things. When the real plotting begins, you’ll be so immersed in your story that much of the work will already be done.