Saturday, April 21, 2007

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Earthly Joys
A Touchstone Book, by Simon & Schuster
Copyrighted 1998
516 pages - all right! A chunkster!!!!

Earthly Joys is the story of John Tradescant the elder, who was the gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House, and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. It takes place during the early 17th century in England, from the years 1603-1638. And, what an eventful time that was! Among the events described are the Gunpowder Plot and a failed attempt to aid Huguenots at La Rochelle.

John Tradescant was not merely a gardener, he was an expert naturalist who worked first for a man who was a royal spy and confidante and then another who was the favorite of two kings. The book describes events from the perspective of Tradescant. As such, it goes into his travels, his personal life, the planning of gardens at several large estates and his relationships with those who employed him. He was sent to Europe, The Levant (on the Mediterranean Sea), Algiers and Russia to collect bulbs, trees and other plants and bring them back to the two gardens, collected rare objects, and is described as having been privy to inside information on political events as confidante to both of his masters (that is where I'm guessing that Gregory may have played a little with Tradescant's status).

As you can see from the links, I dashed over to Wikipedia to read up on the characters, places and events described in the book. I'm unfortunately history stupid as my education in history was jumpy, at best. King James was, as far as I knew, the guy who had the Bible rewritten and King Charles I the man who was ousted by Oliver Cromwell during the first English Civil War and then beheaded. And, I only knew about Charles' beheading because of an English couple I chatted with while visiting the village of Farnham, where Charles spent the night and left behind a beaded cap as thanks (also the place I met a ghost, but we won't go into that).

The book doesn't actually cover what little I knew of Charles' troubles and King James' changes to the Bible are barely even mentioned. So, the historical background of Earthly Joys was almost entirely new to me. When I picked it up and read the cover, I was a little hesitant. A book about a gardener? How interesting could that be? But, it was a group read and I've wanted to read something, anything by Gregory for quite some time. Amazingly, I was quickly sucked in.

I can't compare the book to any other title by Philippa Gregory, since it's the first of her titles that I've read. But, I will say that there were times the events were fascinating and the pages flew and other times that the book dragged. In general, I disliked John Tradescant. He was described as devoted to his masters to the point of placing them second to royals, who were considered on a level just beneath God. Often, Tradescant would rhapsodize about his love for Buckingham and his physical beauty, which was hard to comprehend because Buckingham - at least as described in this book - was a narcissist and a con man, only out for himself and willing to act as a se*ual plaything for two kings. There is even a point at which Tradescant's love carries him away, the result being a graphic se* scene that I wish I'd started skimming just a bit sooner. Regular readers of my blog know that graphic se* is not my thing. I prefer that an author tippy-toe around such things without describing in detail.

Apart from that bizarre turn, I enjoyed the book enough that I never considered setting it aside. The history was particularly enjoyable; I love a book that teaches me something. And, Tradescant did become a less objectionable character toward the end of the book. Someday, I would really love to visit Hatfield House and see the gardens, which are still in place. Have a look at this knockout photo of the knot garden.

3.5/5 - above average, sometimes slow, and there wasn't a single passage that I marked for purposes of quoting.

At 516 pages, Earthly Joys has just become my third chunkster and counts toward the Chunkster Challenge. Wahoo! I was starting to feel a little pitiful, being the host of a challenge and only halfway to my goal. Just one more chunkster by June 30 and I'll be finished.

I've always liked the way Literary Feline Wendy and Book Nook Les add pertinent details about the publisher, length and genre at the top of their reviews, so with this review I've decided to begin adding those details whenever possible.

And speaking of the Chunkster Challenge, I've tried to visit some of the participants and found that a few of the links are now dead. So, I'll be writing a check-in post, next week and I'll see if I can find something to give away to one of the people who check in. Another drawing! Won't that be fun?

While digging for books for the Non-Fiction Five, I discovered that I have the sequel to Earthly Joys, which describes the life of John Tradescant the younger: Virgin Earth. I'm probably not going to get to that one right away, but I do plan to read it and was excited to find that I already owned a copy. Yes, I have quite a few books.

I finished The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, last night. This is another book that I'm reviewing for Estella's Revenge, so I'll post a link to the review on or about May 1. The book is a May release by Turtle Point Press, an anthology of short stories about love in various forms and a mere 154 pages long. It's probably very telling to note that The Secret Lives of People in Love has more post-it notes sticking out of its pages than any other book I've read, so far this year, and I read the book very, very slowly to absorb each sentence.

Look what's growing in my garden (yum!):Hubby and I worked on the herb garden, today. We now have tomatoes, basil, strawberries, sage, French lavender, Spanish lavender, lavender cotton (seriously, I am a nut for lavender) and yarrow growing in the herb garden and planters. About to be added: rosemary and chives.

Off to read. Happy Weekend!


  1. But Buckingham was royalty! Practically divine.

    Phillipa Gregory does fairly well by historic events and she's pretty accessible. I've read her "Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Queen's Fool" and they were both pretty good.

    I'm pretty sure I've read a couple of books that qualify for the Chunkster Challenge, but they're not the ones I want to use! 'course.

  2. Carrie,

    Yes, and he was beautiful with the fairest of skin, the brownest eyes and dark curling hair, like an angel. snort After looking at some other portraits of people in that time period, he does look pretty by comparison, but . . . you know. snort

    I'm really quite anxious to read more by Gregory, after this one. But, that'll have to wait for a bit. There's too much else on the agenda. "Accessible" is a good word. I found the book was a smooth read.

    It's okay if you substitute different chunksters (although I know what you mean - there are several I've wanted to get to for ages). I wrote up a big old list of chunksters and I haven't stuck to my list at all. But, I'm known for that. LOL

  3. Ooh...Strawberries! I've never tried to grow those, but they're one of my favorites. Your herb garden sounds great.

    I've been wanting to try out Phillipa Gregory for awhile. I always assumed her books would be too girly for my liking, but I heard an interview with her on NPR and her books sounded pretty interesting to me. One of these days I'll try out The Other Boleyn Girl. I've heard lots of good things about that one.

    Great review! Very thorough!

  4. This is one that's been on my list forever and a day! Maybe I'll get to it for next year's chunkster challenge. You will be doing it again, won't you. It's been just what I've needed to get to some of those fatties lingering on my shelves.

    Anyway, I'm glad you liked it. Can't believe you have strawberries already. That knot garden is something else - absolutely beautiful.

  5. I am still chunking along--in fact if you check in, I alluded to the chunkster challenge just yesterday!

    I have never read Philippa Gregory either but i have one of her books from the library just staring at me on my dresser. I can't remember which one, but not this one.

  6. I haven't read this book either. And my British History is sketchy at best. I read The Other Boleyn Girl and really loved it. Actually, it was the book that started me reading historical fiction.

    I'm with Carrie though. I've read a few books that qualify as Chunksters....just not the ones I said I would!! I am reading Sunne in Splendour by Sharon K. Penman right now. It's huge, but o'so good!

    (And for the record, strawberries are my very favorite fruit...yummy!

  7. Yay! Glad The Secret Lives of People in Love went over well! I can't wait to read your review. I may try to secure a copy and review it for PopMatters.

    And that strawberry looked delectable! Yum!


  8. Chris,

    You should try growing strawberries. They're pretty easy. Snails and birds love them; you do have to fight them off a little, but they're fun just to watch because they grow like weeds.

    I'll bet you'd enjoy Philippa Gregory's writing. You seem to like a broad variety. It's worth a try. I need to get to The Other Boleyn Girl, too. Everyone raves about that one. I got lucky and found a copy in our library sale for a quarter! Wahoo!


    Hmm, not sure if I'll do the Chunkster Challenge, again. Maybe. I'm glad it's helping you get to some of your fatties. I've discovered that it hasn't helped me get to the ones that intimidate me the most, but at least I've slotted in a few fat ones. :)

    Isn't that knot garden gorgeous? I'd like to hop a plane, right now, and head to Hatfield House to walk around the gardens! As to the strawberries . . . we're pretty far South, so things do bloom early. But, we've had them for about 7 years, I'd say, so they're well established and produce earlier than you might expect.

    Think Pink Dana,

    It's been a couple weeks since I checked the participant links; I just hadn't gotten around to posting about it, but I'll go look at your post, thanks!!

    My Philippa Gregory books have been staring at me for quite a while. I was excited to finally get around to reading one. Give in to the book that's staring you down!!


    I've just developed a taste for historical fiction in the last couple of years. Cool that Gregory got you started reading it! I liked the fact that the historical skeleton of the book was completely accurate, since my own knowledge is severely limited. I want to know I'm actually learning at least the bare bones of what really happened, you know?

    I'll watch for your review on the Penman book. I've got exactly one Penman, which I hope I'll get to some time soon!

    I love strawberries, too. :)


    I think you need to acquire a copy of Secret Lives, definitely. His writing is distinctive and doesn't alter much from one story to another, but even at the end I was reading verrrry slowly because there are so many sentences that are just . . . gems.

    Oh, say, I'd better go pick that strawberry before the birdies do!

  9. Thank you for the warnings about the se*. I write book reviews for a conservative website and am always on the lookout for family friendly books -- now I know that this one won't be appropriate for the site. You've made my job that much easier. :)

  10. Congrats on finishing another Chunkster. I've read 3, but this month wound up quitting on #4, so I'm a little behind. I'll catch-up next month, though. I had hoped to read one every month for a full year, but that's just too time consuming, especially now that I'm not reading nearly as much as I was a few months ago.

    I love that knot garden. Reminds me a bit of the gardens I saw at Hampton Court Palace, south of London. Oh, those English gardens are so very lovely. I suspect they have gardeners out there just to scare the rabbits away. I love the idea of an herb garden. Our lower level is half lawn and half perennial beds. The lawn has lots of bare spots thanks to the rabbits and squirrels digging away at it. I'm ready to kill the grass of and make it all one huge perennial garden with paths, but now I'm thinking an herb garden might be perfect. It gets full sun. Wonder if rabbits like herbs, though?

    Thanks for the mention of my blog (I like that new name " Book Nook Les"). I should add more things to my reviews (page count, copyright info, etc.).

  11. Ah, I think her best is The Queen's Fool (I skipped Other Boleyn Girl; I had recently read a few books on Henry VIII, and I couldn't take another book with that jerk). I read the Virgin's Lover, and it wasn't nearly as good. I do want to read The Constant Princess,and I guess I'll have to put this one on my list, too. :)

    I just planted strawberries on Friday. No berries this year, but I can't wait for next.

  12. Tristi,

    You're very welcome. It's quite a stomach-turning scene - definitely not a book you'd want to recommend for family reading. :)


    I know exactly what you mean. When I read chunksters I feel like, "I'm falling behind! I'm falling behind!" Which is silly because I still seem to read plenty, but the chunksters do take longer to read, of course.

    Formal English gardens are among my favorites. Herbs do like lots of sun but I don't know whether rabbits munch on them. We have squirrels, but if we've got rabbits I sure haven't seen any. I heard an owl, two nights ago. What a totally cool sound!!!

  13. Melissa,

    I can see how you'd get a little weary of the same old annoying monarch. :) It seems like I've heard several people comment that The Virgin's Lover is their least favorite. And, yep, I just happen to have that one on my shelf. I'll probably give it a whirl, one day, and just stop if I hate it. I'm getting too old to waste time on books I don't enjoy (unless they're really short).

    Strawberries do take time to produce. We have wild strawberries all over the place, too. I didn't realize we had so many till I was walking around the yard, today. The birds should enjoy them!

  14. I saw your comment about the Chunkster Challenge and tried to link mine, and, it's not very helpful. I did an update at my blogger site and it should be more useful. I was participant # 80 on the list, and now I should be
    Hope this helps.
    Would you believe, after all the comments on this post, that one of my chunksters was The Other Boleyn Girl?

  15. Oh, real garden-grown strawberries are so magical and intense compared to the store strawberries!

    I've read a couple of Gregory's books, but while I enjoyed them, she's not a favorite. I'd read something of hers again if the topic was intriguing enough.

  16. Dewey,

    I think I like strawberries as much for the fun of watching them grow as I do the eating part. :)

    At this point, Gregory wouldn't jump up onto my favorites list, but I did enjoy the book. I thought it was interesting that there didn't seem to be anything worth quoting. Usually, the authors that end up favorites are very quotable.

  17. I am so jealous of your garden. When we left Arkansas I left behind a garden I had put lots of work into. I just haven't had the heart to begin again.

  18. Kevin,

    The same thing happened to us when we left Oklahoma. I kept thinking, "We'll be moving soon," when we got into this house, "so there's no need to grow anything but a planter or two of flowers." I don't know how long I kept deluding myself that it wasn't worth the effort because we were going to move. You put so much effort into it and it's hard leaving all that work behind! But, when I gave up and started to dig and plant, I really began to enjoy my home, more. Where are you? If you were in Arkansas, you were in a pretty similar climate to ours.


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