Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reign of Madness by Lynn Cullen

Title: Reign of Madness
Author: Lynn Cullen

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 15th century / Royals / Spain / Netherlands)
Publisher/Publication Date: Putnam Adult (8/4/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: LOVED!
Did I finish?: Yes -- and in my reluctance to stop reading, I missed my stop on the subway, twice!
One-sentence summary: The life of 15th-century royal, Juana of Castile, daughter of formidable Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain, and her tumultuous marriage.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about it, until I study it, and then I like it a little more.  The narrow diamond shape creates this sort of closed-in feeling that replicates the feeling of Juana's eventual imprisonment.  The figure reminds me of the woman from the cover of Cullen's first novel, The Creation of Eve.

I'm reminded of...: Melanie Benjamin, Sandra Gulland, Anya Seton

First line: A birdcage might be gilded, but it is still a cage.

Did... I enjoy this novel despite knowing next to nothing about Juana of Castile?: YES. Cullen's story is detailed but not overwhelming, and her characters so vivid, I was sucked in.  Literally -- missed my stop when reading on my commute!

Would... I love to have author Lynn Cullen 'come' to a book club discussion of this book?: YES!  You can email her via her website to have her Skype with your book club!  How cool is that?!

Did... I love the Author's Note almost as much as the novel?: YES. In addition to outlining what was fact and what was conjecture on her part, there's a lovely respect and admiration in Cullen's writing that made me smile at her last few paragraphs.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow, as you can -- this is probably in my top five historical novels I've read this year.

Why did I get this book?: The title -- it promises so much! -- and really, I can't turn down a historical.

Review: I loved this book. It ranks in the top five historical novels I've read this year. From the first page, I was totally enamored of Juana, our heroine, and sucked in to her world.  I'm sort of mentally flailing my arms in my enthusiasm, so I apologize if this review is less substance and more squee.

Juana's parents are the Isabel and Ferdinand of Columbus/New World fame. A bright child, Juana is married off to a handsome, playful, vivacious Duke whose opulent, decadent world is the opposite of the stolid, stifled court she grew up.  Born in an era of immense change -- Cristóbal Colón has returned from the Indies -- and political upheaval -- her mother dominates her parents' royal reign -- she and her sisters are traded for the most power and best alliance.  In this, Juana knows her place -- but she's also mystified and confused by the shifting way everyone behaves in court and around her.  Crossing that uncomfortable place from child to adolescent, Juana learns what loyalty and fidelity is when her beloved father and much desired husband prove themselves far from devoted.

In this, I was reminded a bit of Sandra Worth's Pale Rose of England and even Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been, as this novel articulates the awful imprisonment that comes from power -- or the perception of power -- and women's place in society.  Cullen imagines what happened to Juana in the years leading up to her imprisonment when she was labeled as a madwoman, and the story she envisions is heartbreaking.  And yet, there is some hope come the end: Juana is never broken and at the last page, I wanted to squeeze the novel to me, as if I were hugging Juana.  It was that good.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of Reign of Madness to one lucky reader! To enter, leave a comment with your email. Closes 8/19, US/CA readers only.


  1. This sounds awesome! You know it's a good book when you miss your stop on the subway!

    Please throw my name in the hat.
    diaryofaneccentric at hotmail dot com

  2. Wow, another rave review of this book, I have got to get my hands on a copy. Please enter me in the giveaway! Thanks to you for the great review, Audra!


  3. DID I LOVE THIS REVIEW? Yes! I am thrilled that the story spoke so clearly to you. I actually got teary-eyed when you said you wanted to squeeze the book to you when you finished it, as if to hug Juana. Consider this a hug to you!

    AM I SORRY YOU MISSED YOUR STOP? Yes! Although there are few things more delicious than getting so caught up in a book that the world goes away for a time.

    Thank you for your beautiful review! I will post it on my new website as soon as I figure out how to do it! xxoo Lynn

  4. First of all, the cover is gorgeous. Drop dead gorgeous. Juana's story is so heartbreaking, such a story of male domination. I;d love to win a copy of this book!

  5. oooh! me me! Loved your review, I hadnt heard of this, but consider me in!

  6. GREAT review!!! I read another book about Juana a couple years ago and can't wait to dive into this one. Thanks so much for being on the tour- I'm a huge fan of your reviewing style!

  7. Anna, Amy, Allison, & Jessie: I seriously didn't want to stop reading this one. Rarely would I consider a royal someone I could be besties with, but I loved Juana.

    Lynn: !!!!!!!!!! You totally made my morning. Thank you for stopping by -- it was absolutely worth missing my stop because it gave me more time to read! ;)

  8. Wow, I want to read this! Thanks for the great review, now I want to read it even more :). Please enter me in the giveaway!

  9. I'll double that Wow! I already wanted to read this book, but your revieew makes it a must-read! Thanks for the chance to win a copy, too!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  10. I think this one sounds awesome! Please count me in. Thank you!

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  11. Oh, I am so glad that you liked this one, as I will be reading it for the tour as well, and this is the first review I have seen. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and when it's done well, it can be mind blowingly addictive, as you said yourself. I loved this review and am so glad that you enjoyed it. Makes me look forward to it much, much more! Thanks!

  12. I have not yet read anything about Juana but this one sounds very squee-worthy :)

    Would love a chance to win this one

    bippityboppitybook AT ymail DOT com

  13. What an enthusiastic review. Now I have to read this. =)
    tiredwkids at live dot com

  14. You must stop reading such awesome sounding books :D Yes I do believe I want this one too

  15. @Blodeuedd: I know! This I might insist you bump up on your TBR (whenever you can get your hands on it, of course) -- it was SO good!

  16. Glad to hear you liked it! I've had my eyes on this one since I first read about it. Can't wait to get my greedy little hands on it!

  17. You've convinced me to read this one, and I'd love to win a copy!

  18. I am so glad you liked this one. I am putting it on my TBR!

  19. I love historical fiction about lesser known eras/people, so this is right up my alley. It's also nice to know that it's a great novel; I hate it when books sound so promising and end up being duds.

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  20. If this is in your top 5 historical reads this year, then I know I want to read it! Thanks for a really great review, and an awesome giveaway:)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  21. This book sounds amazing! I love reading stories about history of countries that I'm not familiar with.
    I've read about some of Portugal and Spain but never came across this one! Thanks for the giveaway!


  22. Thanks for a fabulous giveaway.

  23. I love historical fiction and would love to read this!

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  24. Please count me in. I'd love to read this.


  25. I loved your review.Thanks for the chance to a copy of Reign of Madness.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  26. Have you read any other books about Juana of Castile?! I would recommend you check out C.W. Gortner's take on her in The Last Queen. I really enjoyed that version.

    I'd be interested in check out this one. thanks for the giveaway.

    savvyverseandwit AT gmail

  27. Wonderful review, now I must read it!! Thank you for this giveaway.


  28. Thanks for this review. I liked but didn't love The Creation of Eve (but it could have totally been my over-inflated expectations). I have been waiting to see what others thought of this one- Juana has always interested me.

    Please enter me for the giveaway.


  29. Woo hoo for some good historical fiction. If it makes you miss subway stops, I'm definitely checking it out.

    Jessica M.
    jmartinez0415 [at] gmail [dot] com

  30. Great review! You already know I loved this book as well! I had to laugh when you said you missed your bus stop cause I forgot I had to feed the dog, it was so good. Lol.

  31. I have always enjoyed historical fiction but the time period in this book, the 1500s is particularly appealing to me.


  32. I put this book on my TBR pile, because I am on a historical novel kick, and especially because it is novel for me being a book about a Spanish princess!

    melorabrock {at} gmail {dot} com

  33. I am dying to read this!

  34. Please enter me in the draw!

    My email address is darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com.

    Thanks for the giveaway!