by A.N. Wilson
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30)
“Familiar stories make for gripping reading” in A.N. Wilson’s history of an age, said James Shapiro in The New York Times. Though he flubs various historical details, Wilson “brings a novelist’s touch” to the oft-told tale of Queen Elizabeth I’s half-century reign, from her Tower of London imprisonment by Mary I to her decision to execute her assassination-plotting first cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Stories of other notables, including Sir Francis Drake, prove equally riveting.
by Paul Thomas Murphy
Elizabeth had nothing on Queen Victoria when it came to surviving assassination attempts, said Barbara Spindel in CSMonitor.com. As this “delightful” new book highlights, Victoria’s 64-year reign was nearly cut short by no fewer than eight attempts on her life. Historian Paul Thomas Murphy “vividly and entertainingly” re-creates each failed slaying, bringing to life such plotters as the mentally unbalanced Edward Oxford and the 4-foot-tall hunchback John Bean.
The Queen’s Lover
by Francine du Plessix Gray
For sheer drama, no tale of the monarchy “remains more magnetic than the downfall of Marie Antoinette,” said Kai Maristed in the Los Angeles Times. Francine du Plessix Gray has created a fictional memoir by Antoinette’s real-life lover, the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen, to provide a fresh take on the French queen toppled by revolution. Things start slowly, but once the Bastille is stormed, “the novel won’t leave your hand.” A reader knows the tale “but absolutely must have it again.”
by Lesley-Ann Jones
Stories of rock ’n’ roll excess spill from the pages of this biography of Queen front man Freddie Mercury, said David Kirby in The Washington Post. Lesley-Ann Jones, who enjoyed “unrivaled access” to the band during its heyday, collects “every fact of Mercury’s over-the-top life,” even some he fought to keep secret. There are, of course, tales of orgiastic parties. But Jones also provides the backstory on her protagonist, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar and teased throughout boyhood about his buckteeth.