Born this day, November 6th

Juana of Castile “Juana the Mad”, Queen of Spain

Born November 6th 1479 in Toledo, Spain, Juana was the third daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, she was never expected become heiress to either throne of Aragon or Castile, but upon the deaths of her parents, she inherited both. At the age of 16 in 1496, Juana was betrothed to Philip, Duke of Burgundy, son of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Juana and Philip were formally married October 20th 1496 and their marriage was a fruitful one producing 6 children: 2 emperors and 4 queens. Their life together was an unhappy one, blamed mostly on his infidelity and her political insecurity. Philip constantly tried to usurp her birthright to the thrones of Aragon and Castile, which led to her mental instability and eventual insanity. Upon the death of her mother in 1504, Juana became Queen of Castile.  Juana died April 12th 1555 in Tordesillas, Spain at the age of 75.

For a great read on Juana, Queen of Castile, pick up C.W Gortner’s The Last Queen.

Born amid her parents' ruthless struggle to unify and strengthen their kingdom, Juana, at the age of sixteen, is sent to wed Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire. Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her dashing young husband, and at first she is content with her children and her married life. But when tragedy strikes and she becomes heir to the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it costs her everything.


Memoirs of a Geisha ~ Arthur Golden

I absolutely love this book and I am still surprised every time I read it that it was written by a man. I think that I have now read this book 10 times and it is still one of my favourite books that I can read again and again. The novel narrated by Nitta Sayuri, in a flashback format, as she tells of her life as one of the most celebrated geisha in Japan.  In Memoirs of a Geisha we enter a completely different world where appearances are everything; a girl’s virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder; where women are trained to charm and memorize the most powerful men in Japan using only their wits, musical talents and dance; and where love is only a fantasy. 

Sayuri’s life begins as Chiyo, a girl born in the poor fishing village of Yoroido, where, at nine years old, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a well-known geisha house in far away Kyoto. Separated from her family, Sayuri must learn how to survive on her own in the world. Although she is initially sold to become a maid in the okiya, her unusual blue-grey eyes intrigue the mistress of the okiya and Chiyo begins her training of becoming a geisha. The Nitta okiya is home to one of the most popular and most malicious geisha in all of Gion, Hatsumomo who is jealous of Chiyo’s unconventional beauty and who is determined to make Chiyo’s life as miserable as she possibly can. It is through the unusual eyes of Chiyo that we see the geisha district of Gion from the spectacular teahouses and theatres to the narrow back alleys and elaborate temples. We witness her transformation from Chiyo, the small girl who smells of fish from Yoroido to Sayuri, the apprentice geisha who is learning the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate hair and makeup; pouring sake to reveal just a glimpse of the sensual inner wrist; competing with jealous and malicious rivals for men’s patronage and the money that goes with it, to the mature geisha that she becomes after the outbreak of World War II.


Again, I still cannot believe that this story came from the brain of an American male. Golden’s ability to seamlessly write as a young Japanese women is amazing and surprising. This is a novel filled with brilliant characters, beautiful backdrops and a hopeless love story. The images that the eloquent writing produces are vivid and mesmerizing; the emotions are real and lifelike. It is almost like you are transported into the streets of Gion in the 1930’s and 1940’s whenever you open the book. It is a brilliant novel with flawless authenticity and beautiful lyricism as the true confessions of one of the most celebrated geisha from Japan. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to laugh, cry and thoroughly enjoy a book. 

The Secret Life of Josephine ~ Carolly Erickson

I almost exclusively read historical fiction novels set in a variety of countries and time periods, however I have never read a story based on the life of Napoleon or his first wife Josephine, until this novel. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about Josephine before this novel, and I have to say that I honestly wasn’t too interested in reading about Napoleon . . . but this novel has changed my mind completely. I have yet again fallen in love with another character of Erickson’s. I love her portrayal of Josephine as a saucy, promiscuous, pain in the butt character that I couldn’t sympathize with but still, I found myself intrigued with her.

The story begins with 15-year old Josephine (who was then known as Rose or Yeyette) on the island of Martinique where she falls in love for the first time with the handsome naval officer Scipion de Roure and soon after we are introduced to a stranger who captivates Josephine’s heart. Yeyette is then forced to leave her beloved Martinique and go to France where she would be married to her cousin Alexandre Beauharnais, with whom she would have two children, Eugene and Hortense. Unhappy in their union, Alexandre and Yeyette separate and eventually divorce. The French revolution is in full swing and both Alexandre and Yeyette are taken prisoners and wait to be executed. While in prison Yeyette spends her days with many men in hopes of becoming pregnant to avoid being executed, including her ex-husband. Alexandre is eventually be headed by Madame la Guillotine while Yeyette escapes with her life. After her time in prison, Yeyette continues her promiscuous lifestyle, excited to still be alive and living her life the way she wants. During this time she meets a young general, general Bonaparte who falls hopelessly in love with her. Even though her heart belongs to another man, the stranger from Martinique, she reluctantly agrees to marry him, which leads to her being crowned Empress of France. Their marriage is an unhappy one, neither party remain faithful and eventually ends in divorce.


There are a lot of embellishments in this story with a lot of emphasis on the “fiction” in historical fiction; however it had all of the standard elements of a suspenseful, passionate and exciting novel. Arranged marriages, mistresses and lovers, politics, intrigue, war ... all elements of a great historical novel. There were some issues with Josephine however; at times I found her to be extremely annoying and whiny, especially after she found out that Napoleon had taken a mistress when she had had a lover for years. I also don’t understand why she would care so much considering that she never really loved him. I also found her encounter with the “stranger” on Martinique very hard to believe. There were definitely some parts of the novel that I questioned why they were included and what their point really was. I have to say that the historical aspects were very well researched and very well written.

I found this book in the bargain bin at my local bookstore for 2$. I contemplated it for a while and finally decided that it might be an interesting read and for 2$ I really couldn’t go wrong. I am so happy that it turned out to be a worthwhile read that has opened me up to a new time period and a new set of characters.