Carolyn B.

I belong to no organized party.  I am a Democrat. -- Will Rogers


I cannot live without good books --  Thomas Jefferson.


A man who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. -- Mark Twain


When I get a little money I buy books, and if any is left I buy food.  -- Desiderius Erasmus


In general, a review should include: The name of the author and the book title and the main theme. Relevant details about who the author is and where he/she stands in the genre or field of inquiry; the context of the book and/or your review, and the thesis of the book. Most important is if you would recommend the book to a reader.

Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History

 Richard Shenkman

Review by Carolyn Leonard, Jan 2019

ISBN 0-688-06580-5 ©1988

William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York


Rick Shenkman is the editor and founder of the History News Network, the website that features articles by historians commenting on current events. He can regularly be seen on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. He is a New York Times best-selling author of seven history books.

This book opens like many other history books, with Christopher Columbus. However, Shenkman seeks to disprove all the things this man found, starting with the belief that Columbus discovered the Earth was round. It was Aristotle who discovered the concept centuries earlier. Shenkman reminds his audience all the ideas and concepts we were taught as children and claims those beliefs simply do not make sense. I didn't completely agree with all he said, but do appreciate Shenkman's efforts to encourage thought. The book nudges a reader to delve deeper into the subject matter and not to take every thing we are told at face value. Maybe it is true, maybe not.

For instance, he says that Lincoln was very superstitious. He looked into a mirror and saw two images of himself and believe that meant he would win his second term but would not live to complete it.  Lincoln did actually keep important letters and documents inside his hat and he did grow his beard at the suggestion of an eleventh-year-old girl who said she thought a beard would look good on him. He did like to crack jokes too, but he did not like to be called “Abe.”

Would I recommend the book to a historian? no, but I would recommend it as a “bathroom” book.  



Six Questions to Ask When Writing a Book Review:

(from Phyllis Anne Duncan) 


1.  Do technical aspects (punctuation, grammar, style) need attention? 

2.  Are the characters believable and three-dimensional?

3.  Is there a protagonist who wants/needs something? 

4.  Is there an antagonist who’s trying to keep him/her from that goal? 

5.  Does the tension build to a conflict, and is that conflict resolved? 

6.  Last, but not least, would you recommend the book to a friend?

Title:  Mistress of the Monarchy

Subtitle: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

Author: Alison Weir

Nonfiction, copyright 2010

ISBN: 978-0-345-45324-2

Publisher: Ballantine Books trade paperbacks, New York


Katherine, daughter of the knight Paon (Pan, Payne, baptized Gilles) de Roet, granddaughter of Jean and granddaughter of Huon de Roet, a prominent family in Hainault (now Belgium), is worthy of the many books about her.  She was first the mistress and later the wife of the famous and honored John of Gaunt (Ghent), 3rd son of King Edward and Queen Philippa.  From Katherine is descended every English monarch since 1461, and no fewer than five American presidents.  


As an infant, Katherine, born probably 1350, was placed in the household of Queen Philippa of Hainault, wife to Edward III of England around 1352, when her father left to protect the Countess Margaret’s sons on a pilgrimage to St Martin’s. Apparently her mother was deceased. Paon is believed to have had two older children, Elizabeth and Walter and one younger, Philippa. Elizabeth is believed to have spent her whole life in the convent, William later married King Edward’s cousin, Matilda of Lancaster, William later served as knight to Queen Philippi’s eldest son, known as the Black Prince, and Philippa married poet Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Father of English literature. 


In that world, Katherine would have lodged at Windsor Castle, Westminster Palace and a number of other luxurious residences of the King.They dined in style on rich cuisine, drank to excess, and dressed in extravagant fashionable and colorful clothing. Women dared not show an ankle but necklines were very low often leaving the shoulders and breasts half bared. The population of about 3 million lived in an economy based on farming, wool, and overseas trade, in tight communities, in villages or on manors, in crude wattle-and-daub cottages. The contents of a knightly household might comprise a canopied or “tester” bed, covers, blankets, linens, coverlets, mattresses, painted cloths, rugs, napkins, towels, washbasins candelabra of bronze, marble and silver gilt, bronze poets and pans, twelve silver spoons, spits, poles, iron pots, vessels of silver gilt and lead for beer, silver-gilt salt cellars, three iron braziers, trestles and boards for tables. Furniture probably included cupboards, buffets, and stools.


Katherine grew up in this male dominated, militaristic society. Girls like Katherine knew they must wait to be addressed, keep their eyes downcast, and their hands folded. Females were non-persons without a husband but catching one was not so easy for penniless women in that time of arranged marriages. Courtly love had little to do with the hardheaded medieval approach to marriage, which then was essentially a business contract giving full control of a wife to her husband. But Edward was devoted to Queen Philippa and they enjoyed a long and happy marriage. 


in the year preceding Katherine’s birth, the Black Death, a particularly virulent form of bubonic plague, killed almost 3/4ths of the population of Europe, leaving the world a very different place.


Females were bound n marriage as quickly as possible.The husband chosen for Katherine at age 12 was Sir Hugh Swynford, lord of the manors of Coleby and Kettlethorpe in Lincolnshire. In the meantime, John of Gaunt had married the Duchess Blanche and they had several children.  Both Katherine Swynford and the Duchess Blanche were pregnant when their husbands rode off to war in 1366. Both their spouses, Blanche and Hugh, died in subsequent years, leaving John of Gaunt and Katherine alone. Their affair had certainly begun by the spring of 1372. John  was required to make an alliance for the good of the country so he married Constance of Castile as his second wife, but was already committed to his “unspeakable concubine” Katherine. For the next nine years Katherine remained John’s mistress and bore 4 or 5 of his children, and after the death of Constance, John made all special arrangements and married Katherine, even though she was not of the royal blood line.


I probably would not have read this book if not for the book study led by Elizabeth Prosser. It does drag in places and reading the fiction version (below) is much easier.  So I would recommend it only to true fans of the history of  english queens.









Book Review (Sunday 16 Sept 2018)

“Katherine”  by Anya Seton        


A Novel Published by  Mariner Books, 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, of Boston & New York

Fiction, Copyright 1954, renewed 1982

ISBN 978-0-544-22288-5 (pbj)

593 pages

(Review by Carolyn Leonard)




This wonderful book has been a best-seller for ages, based on the life of Katherine (Roet) Swynford, mistress and later wife of King John of Gaunt (Ghent), Duke of Lancaster and the son of King Edward III.  This classic novel tells the most romantic love story in British history – the true tale of Katherine and John, the ancestors of much of the British Royal family.  It is set in the vibrant 14th century England,    ......... ................... (click HERE to read the full review )

Thursday,Sept 1, 2018

The Newest Museum in the Nation’s Capital

here are at least 75 active museums in Washington DC. Some are more well-known than others, like the Smithsonian.  We have visited several of them in the past, and this year we toured the newest one. A member of the Green family from OKC, Danielle Smith, recently led our group in seeing the Museum of the Bible.  If you go, don’t miss the “fly over DC” virtual reality ride. That is, jump in for the six minute virtual reality experience if you are NOT susceptible to motion sickness. The point of this dazzling, multi-sensory tour, “flying” from the Lincoln Memorial to the Library of Congress …

Saturday, August 1, 2018

Melisende, the Crusader Queen” 

Melisende (1105–1161) was Queen of Jerusalem from AD 1131 to 1153, and she served as regent for her thirteen-yearold son from then until her death. Her coronation was held in the Church of the Sepulchre. Melisande’s father, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, was a crusader knight, and her mother, the Armenian princess Morphia of Melitene. Baldwin arranged a marriage …..


(Review by Carolyn Leonard) (NOTE: This is an excerpt from TO ISRAEL, WITH LOVE, second edition, now available from and your local bookstore. See more here: