March 20, 2010

the white queen by philippa gregory

Title:  The White Queen: A Novel (Cousins' War)
Author:  Philippa Gregory
Pages:  432 (hardcover)
Release date:  August 18, 2009 (hardcover)/April 6, 2010 (paperback)
Publisher:  Touchstone Books (Simon & Schuster)
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

A big fan of Philippa Gregory's books, I was very much looking forward to cracking the spine on the first in her Plantagenet series, chronicling the life of the ancestors of the Tudor monarchs and their rise to power.

The story begins in the midst of the War of the Roses (excerpt from Philippa Gregory's official website):

The first in a stunning new series, The Cousins’ War, is set amid the tumult and intrigue of the Wars of the Roses. Internationally bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings this extraordinary family drama to vivid life through its women – beginning with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.
Elizabeth Woodville, of the House of Lancaster, is widowed when her husband is killed in battle. Aided and abetted by the raw ambition and witchcraft skills of her mother Jacquetta, Elizabeth seduces and marries, in secret, reigning king Edward IV, of the family of the white rose, the House of York. As long as there are other claimants to Edward’s throne, the profound rivalries between the two families will never be laid to rest. Violent conflict, shocking betrayal and murder dominate Elizabeth’s life as Queen of England, passionate wife of Edward and devoted mother of their children.
A love match between Elizabeth and Edward, a rare thing in royal family trees, brings a touch of romance to the novel.  One of Gregory's great strengths lies in her ability to bring historical characters to life as she weaves fact and fiction.  However, as much of the novel takes place on the battlefield Gregory doesn't give us as much of Elizabeth Woodville's first person perspective as I would have liked but it's still quite an enjoyable read.

Having enjoyed Gregory's books about this period in English history, it was a special thrill to revisit the Tower of London on my most recent visit to that great city.  Walking through the same gates through which these historical figures were led and roaming the halls, history came to life in this humble tower, the site of incredible bloodshed and grief over the centuries and a critical background player in Gregory's novels. 

The White Queen will be released in paperback on April 6 and, while it's not my favourite of Gregory's books, it's a wonderful read that any lover of historical fiction will not want to miss.

March 13, 2010

london's fabulous food halls

One of my absolute favourite things to do in London is to visit its spectacular markets and food purveyors.

I've already mentioned Borough Market and Smithfields but I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the food halls at Harrods and (heavenly) Fortnum & Mason.

From the freshest produce, artfully displayed... a veritable forest of mushrooms of every type aand description.

And, for the ardent carnivore, carcasses aplenty.

And all of that is just a fraction of what is available - I haven't even touched on the rows of cases of cheeses, deli meats, pies, sandwiches...

... the finest teas...

... and coffees...

...stunning confectionary...

... and some cute chicks!

March 9, 2010

coffee battle brewing

Premium and McDonald's do not normally go hand and hand and yet today I found myself holding a cup of McDonald's premium roast coffee and loving liking it.

My coworkers finally convinced me to get off my high (Starbucks) horse and try the free coffee McDonalds has been flogging for the last couple of weeks in its coffee war with Tim Hortons.   "100% Arabica"  they cried as they yanked me out of the Starbucks line.  

I have to admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised at the quality of the coffee - better than your average doughnut joint brew and it stands up nicely to a Timmy's.  

But what really won me over was the design of the cup and lid.  The cup is sturdy and well insulated but light but oh, that lid!  The spout actually opens and closes securely and the lid fits tightly on the cup to avoid spillage.  What a concept!

Will I go back to Mickey D's for a coffee after the promotion is over?  Probably, when I'm in the vicinity, if only for the cup.  

The free coffee promotion is on until March 14 in Canada.  Enjoy it while you can.

March 8, 2010

happy international women's day

Women of the World
Women of the world by angela7dreams via Flickr