Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve – Queen of Secrets, Six Tudor Queens 4, Alison Weir
Genre: Historical Fiction
I’ve only read the previous novel, from this series, and adored that. Alison did what I thought was impossible and made me feel sorry for Henry, a man I’d previously though of as simply arrogant and selfish. Sadly in this book we’re back to the man I really don’t like. He’s older, in ill health and yet still sees himself as he was in his prime, and ensures everything revolves around him and what he wants. People, places, church, state, all have to bow to the whims of Henry.
I know little of Anna, except that famous Flanders Mare quote, something Alison says actually appears to have no basis in fact, yet has endured through school teachings.
I really felt for Anna, typical of the time, women had little say in their future, and those with Royal blood were subject to the whims and needs of their families and country. Whether the line Alison has spun for her was true or not ,its very believable, and its easy to see how it could have happened.
I empathised so much with Anna, wanted to do right by her family, by her country, a lady in her prime married off to an ill tempered King,. He’s far older, overweight, poor hygiene, and yet who saw himself as almost Godlike, beyond any reproach, and who expected her to be thankful he’d chosen her. Even doing that he really did her a disservice, with all his exacting demands of which sister to choose.
It meant leaving her family and country for a man who’s already divorced one wife and had another beheaded before being widowed from wife number three. She must have feared, been terrified of getting on his wrong side and yet she accepts her fate, and does her best in every way to please him. She is a genuine Lady, treated her people well, was kind and loving to Henry’s three children, and would have made such a wonderful Queen.
Yet within a short time his wandering eye had lead to him seeking ways of getting rid of her. She’s stuck, accept what he wants, and live, but possibly be killed by her brother if she returns, or stand up to him knowing from past wives experiences he will get his way, whether by divorce anyway and shaming her if she objects, or possibly finding ways of getting rid of her the same way as he did Anne Boleyn.
Its a story that moved me, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Jane Seymour’s story. I found it dragged in parts, and the huge cast of characters, most of which were unknown to me, became very confusing. Though I loved Anna, and admired the careful path she trod, trying to do right by Kleves and her family, even what was right for England, she had no real hope of success, and that’s clear almost from their first meeting. Its so sad, she just wanted a husband she loved and family of her own, yet was prevented from that very thing by her place in society. Henry, he was horrible here, and the man I felt empathy for in Jane’s story has degenerated into a bitter, surly and lascivious old man.
Much of this story is pure speculation, maybe because she is such a hidden figure in history, barely getting a mention in most places, but it does feel very possible. Sadly apart from that one big thing the rest of the story didn’t really resonate with me, and I felt the story was lost in the morass of characters.
Stars:Three, a well written story which I’m sure many will love, but for me it was a bit of a slog, and not one I’d re-read.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
A Summer to Remember, Sue Moorcroft
Genre: general fiction (Adult), women’s fiction
Ah no….usual moan 😦 Why, why do we have women’s fiction as a category? Why assume men won’t/don’t read romance – they do, they write it and read it.
With that off my chest, on to the book. I loved it, fabulous read full of incredible characters, I do like some that I can dislike, realistic scenes, I live in North Norfolk and it was easy to picture things playing out as they did. What I enjoy best in a story, a book with not just one main plot but some genuine and heartfelt subplots, and here they worked so well and kept me engrossed.
I loved Clancy, and understood why she was so devastated at what happened. What a blow, to lose your fiance, home and job all in one, and I’d have been just as…difficult isn’t really the right word, but her actions that tied up others, yes, I’d have done that – I feel they were incredibly unfair to her.
Aaron, I kind of understand why he’s the way he is, her cousin Alice caused such disaster by her actions to his brother, and the family are afraid for Lee and his mental stability. It took him a long time to recover, and they are very protective of him. Clancy isn’t Alice though, she’s had to pay for her ex’s mistakes, its not fair to punish her for Alice’s too.
Anyway, the story plays out well, plenty of events and action, lots of emotion, people who aren’t as they seem, family issues and jealousies, and a real touch of teen drama with Harry and Rory, and a very topical point there that was so well done. I like to read books to escape but I want them to be real, to reflect genuine issues and this one is perfect, and delivers my always needed HEA.
Stars: Five, another great read from Sue, and one to keep for re-reading. Perfect holiday read or one for when you want to escape into another world for a while.
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Little Darlings, Melanie Golding.
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
A fabulous read, but if like me you’re easily spooked please don’t read at night! Its not scary per se, but scary for the possibilities. Chillingly unsettling in its supernatural potential rather than chillingly terrifying.
When we first start, I wasn’t enamored of Patrick, he says the right things but I didn’t feel he really believed them. I felt he was selfish, and the further into the novel we got the more I disliked him. That’s just a personal view, I’m not saying he was bad, irresponsible, or had anything to do at what had happened, but I just did not like him. Hearing events via Lauren made me feel sympathetic to her, and of course fully believe in what she is saying. Is she really seeing that though, it it really happening as she describes or is it some form of post natal depression or something similar?
All the way through the novel we get events through Lauren’s eyes and then via other folk, showing maybe what she is seeing is the truth, or maybe she is imagining seeing things, and I veered from one thought to another, wondering just which one is right. Were the twins singing at just five weeks or was it her imagination? Its so cleverly done that as a reader I just didn’t know.
Then there’s Jess, the police officer, the history of events in the area, Natalie, so many possible explanations and the easiest one for Patrick, the hospital and the police is that she’s imagining it brought on by stress, tiredness and possible health/child birth complications.
I tend to want definite answers and in this novel there isn’t one. How could there be though when no-one really knows what did happen? Its a very ambiguous ending, just as I was believing one thing once more the temptation of another version being correct raises its head. Its not the ending I like, but it is the perfect ending to this story.
Stars: Five, an amazing, brilliant debut novel, perfectly written, full of suspense and suggestions, leading reader one way then pulling them back the other. I really had no idea by the end which version of events was true. Chillingly suspenseful, and a thoroughly absorbing read.
ARC via Netgalley and Publishers
The Heart of a King, (The Loves of King Solomon 1-4), Jill Eileen Smith
Well, confession time. I didn’t notice the Christian genre category. I’m not one for reading books in that genre usually but adore historical ones, especially ones set so far back in time. Its fascinating to see how much – and how little – people have changed. Although its termed Christian, its more from the Biblical connection I think, the author isn’t throwing God and Faith as the answer to all life’s issues, but of course being a key biblical figure the story of Solomon and his wives can’t be told without elements of Christianity and Faith. For me, the balance worked perfectly and I enjoyed the story.
Like most folk I mainly thing of Solomon in connection with wisdom, its one of those facts of life, the two are synonymous. I knew little of him as a character and I enjoyed seeing that he was fallible, even though he wanted to be devout.
The taking of so many wives, the way he struggles with first his desire for another woman, and then the need to not upset neighbouring kings by offending them if he refused to take their gift of a daughter for a wife, set against the fact that God specifically prohibits it. It proves he’s genuine to me, we all struggle to find reasons, justifications of we want to do something we know inside is wrong.
It made him feel very real, even though I didn’t like what he was doing. Its that marrying of wive from current perspective, one at a time, preferably just one in life, against the times back then when the more wives a king had the more power he was said to have. He wanted to be a good king, wanted peace but also wanted to stay true to God so he creates justification for his actions, even though he knows its wrong. I didn’t like that aspect of him, how he would just put aside how Namaah, and later his other wives, felt just because he was attracted so someone new. Later in the book it isn’t even chance that draws his eye, he specifically sets out to find women he’s attracted to. I lost respect for him over that.
I hadn’t realised he has so many women either, over 700 wives and 300 consorts!!That’s a lots of excuses….I really felt for Namaah, she knew from the outset he probably would have more wives because of tradition, and yet having converted to his faith she knows God says only one wife. Looking at it from the point of now he seems to me to have been wise in everything but his personal life. Would things have been so bad if he stuck to God’s tenets? Surely God would have given him assistance for peace.
I wasn’t sure how he could justify Egypt and the horses to himself, he doesn’t stop at that first visit and gifts of them, but goes on to buy many more horses, yet he’s so devoted to God who has specified against this very definitely.
As usual there’s the harshness of God back then, who punishes Solomon’s father and mother for their adultery by letting their first child die. Hard on them but what about the poor baby, he’d done nothing? I find that kind of “mercy” hard to take, but the Old Testament is full of such stories. When he kills all the first born sons in Egypt, for example. That doesn’t feel like a Godly thing to do, all those sons from babies to adults, who had done nothing, killed, just like that. I guess that’s still what affects my beliefs now, how can a merciful god allow such terrible atrocities to happen every day? And that’s why I avoid christian books. In this instance I’m glad I missed the genre, because its a story I really enjoyed.
Stars: four, I really enjoyed the story but there was such a lot to pack in that sometimes the necessary gaps in time felt like I’d missed too much.
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Swallowtail Summer, Erica James
Genre: general fiction (adult)
I’ve read a few of Erica’s novels in the past, and those all had a romance slant, so even though this wasn’t billed as romance I somehow was expecting one. My bad, its not romance. It is however, and accurate, sharp look at us as people, how we turn a blind eye to what we don’t want to acknowledge, and how differently people react when the truth is forced in front of them.
I liked the strength of the characters, the way they felt real. I can’t say I really liked any of them as people though, and I wasn’t really invested in the outcome of events. Its not a book that really worked for me, very well written, but the actual story just didn’t resonate with me. Possibly because I was waiting for a romance to develop somewhere….totally my fault. I do read stories other than romance, but my mindset wasn’t in the right place. Maybe at a different time I’d enjoy it, but right now I didn’t. I found it a very sad story, almost depressing in how people could be let down so bsdly by those close to them.
Stars: Two, just not one for me, but I’ll happily read others from Erica.
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Missing Pieces, Susan Clayton-Goldner,
Well, I know I enjoy Susan’s writing style, this book is a wide departure from her usual suspense genre though, so would I still love it? Quick answer, yes!
Its told in three timespans, the present, Lillianna’s childhood and her father Cal’s childhood. At first I hated Cal, almost as much as Lillianna does. Like her I thought why should she go back to him now he is suffering, how could her brother Greg still be close to him after their terrible childhood?
Her husband says though, that this could be her last chance, that from experience he thinks she will regret not taking it and she goes.
We meet Greg and his wife Sarah, Cal of course, and his siblings, and gradually he tells Lillianna the story of his own childhood.
Its heartbreaking, I was moved to tears by what happened to Greg and Emma (Lillianna) and also by the tragic story behind Cal’s early years. I suspect its a scene that was familiar back then, when it was normal to turn a blind eye to what happened behind closed doors. That does happen, even now in some families, not just those struggling for work but from all ends of the spectrum. The “walked into a door/had a fall/tripped on stairs” excuses people use to hide the truth. Sometimes it’s because of fear, but so often its rooted in love for the abuser.
I did find it hard to accept that their mother loved them but yet didn’t stop what was happening. Love for Cal – should it over-ride her responsibility to the kids, make them complicit in covering what happened? Its a tough one, Cal and Cassandra shared a real soul melding connection, and yet when things went wrong in life the effects hit all the family. After Cal’s upbringing you’d think he’d be more aware of the dangers and yet he repeats the cycle, something research shows is incredibly common, abusers were very often abused themselves.
Its a hard review to write without giving away what happened, but its a book that’s riveting to read, incredibly emotional and one I found hard to put down.
There’s no happy ending, as in my usual reading choices, no real winners, but there is a satisfying sense of closure, of a past finally dealt with, of letting go of anger, that only harms the person feeling that emotion.
Its easy to hold on to bitterness and resentment, but in honesty that damages us personally more than anyone else, and Susan shows us its possible to get past that, to remember old hurts but with fresh eyes, and be a better person for it.
I like to think as a parent I did the best I could but looking back I can see there were things I could have done differently, I guess that’s common to most of us. We only get one shot at life, and we do what feels right at the time. Whether that is the right way only time can tell.
Stars: Five, an emotional, at times tearful, read. Made me look into what makes us tick as humans, how our past and present affect our behaviour, shape us as people, and one I’m sure I’ll reread.
Arc via author
The Girl He Used to Know, Tracey Garvis Graves
Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews
Genre: Romance, women’s fiction.
Usual moan, women’s fiction – just why? Why assume men won’t want to read something? Isn’t that as sexist as assuming women’s wont/can’t do something, enjoy something?
I adored this story, refreshing, unique and satisfying on the romance front, its a simple plot but has so much contained within it. My only criticism ( well my only two crits!) were I wasn’t convinced by the break-up, I know it was a pretty dark time for both, and Annika’s unique perspective made it harder, but it didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t think they’d end just like that. Then the actual ending felt a bit rushed, hurried, especially given the intensity of the preceding few pages, taking in 9/11 and really making the reader feel events on a personal level. I’d have liked a bit more detail, maybe an epilogue a few months/years later. As it was I got to end and was tapping Kindle, convinced there was still more to read.
I loved Annika, felt for her as I have the same, though on a much smaller scale, issue with social occasions and people. I don’t always “read” conversations, spend time wondering just what to say and practicing different lines in my head….Poor girl has it so much more though, for me its just a nuisance, for her its coloured her whole life. As we read further we begin to see just how much, just how hard it was for her mum to balance protecting her child against teaching her independence in a cruel world. We only get one shot as parents and for kids like Annika most parents just have to do what they think best.
I loved her roommate who became a life long friend. She helped Annika so much, at college and years after, but what folk often miss is seen here, she also gained from knowing Annika, made her understand others better, gave her a different way of seeing the world. Life for someone with disabilities isn’t all depending on others, we have a lot to give too and Tracey shows that so well here. It comes over too when she finally meets Jonathon, he needs to be different with Annika, to work at it if he wants a relationship with her, and he can see how vulnerable in ways she is and yet how her openness and way of saying exactly what she means is refreshing, there’s no game playing, no deception in dealing with people like Annika. Some can’t take it, others value it for the gem it is.
Jonathon is wonderful, patient when getting to know Annika and loves her uniqueness. I found it hard, knowing how close they were, how in love, that he would let their relationship end but he did, it did. Then when they meet ten years later, despite all that’s happened t o both of them in between they still have that same attraction. Jonathon has been married and divorced though, he’s not sure he wants to open to Annika again, nit sure he can deal with getting his heart broken again if it goes wrong. Annika has done so much though, really worked at her issues in the intervening years, and sees a therapist. I loved those insights, when the therapist is helping her decide what to do, helping her analyse what action, what worked, what didn’t. That was a great insight into how she’s coped with life, and also just how hard and tiring it was for her. Everyday issues become major hurdles and when one’s brain is full on constantly it is very exhausting.
Its a fabulous story, some gentle but very real romance, some valuable insights into life as a person who thinks differently to most others, and some realistic events over 9/11. I could imagine that playing out exactly as Tracey has written it.
I don’t know if she knows anyone with Annika’s issues or if its from research but from someone who shares a few traits though on a much lesser scale I can say its incredibly well written and made Annika and her problems feel so believable.
I wasn’t sure about requesting this, I’m so glad I did , its a wonderful story.
Stars: Five, a perfect read, very different than just the usual reunion romance. I just wish there was more of an ending.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction.
A very disquieting novel. Written so well its easy to forget this is fiction, because sadly stories like it were real life for too many people – still are in certain parts of the world.
Its starts with the trial, and then reverts to Frannie’s early life, how it differed from the other slaves once she reached a certain age. It left her in a kind of no-mans land, neither accepted by the slaves because of her differences, and of course never accepted by whites, her skin colour, heritage and position in life precluded that.
What it didn’t preclude though was them using her, and poor Fannie has a pretty horrific life, culminating in the murder trial.
She’s adamant she didn’t do it, but the time is a blank to her, and the “evidence” is very strongly against her. When you read the story you’ll understand why she says she simply could not have killed her mistress.
Its a mixture of Frannie’s story, and the way people of any colour were regarded in those times, the way the ruling classes regarded anyone below them, whatever colour they were, as disposable, lesser, of having no feelings and they way they were used is shocking and yet horribly true.
There were things she had to do, no choice if she wanted to stay alive, that had me feeling really sick. Its easy from our safe world to say we’d never take part in such atrocities but if we were living her life, well, its a lot harder to decide. Those parts I skimmed over, just taking in the bare bones as I’m horribly squeamish and get nightmares, but always conscious that for many this WAS real life. Man ( men and women) really is one of the cruelest animals, there seems no end to the depravity they can conduct, and back then they had free rein citing their activities as “science” and therefore important.
Stars:Four, a perfectly written story, fascinating in parts but was just that bit too much for me to give a five to. One I’m glad I read, albeit skimming the more uncomfortable parts, but not for my re-readers files.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers
The Dream Daughter, Diane Chamberlain
Genre: General fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction,
Ah no, not another “women’s fiction” classification – why assume men won’t read this?
Anyway, that aside, what a fabulous read. Enthralling, making me wonder “what if” ? Make me think about the temptation to change things in situations like this. Really though, the act itself must have repercussions and certainly Hunter is knowingly breaking the Golden rule when he helps Caroline, but then, how could he not help?
I loved the way little things were included so that the puzzle of Hunter not talking to anyone in the hospital and then seeing Caroline and getting her to help me – thus setting in motion the whole chain of events – ties up later in the novel where we find out just why Hunter talked to her while refusing help from anyone else.
The whole novel is so full of emotion, and light spots I didn’t expect, but was so glad to find. Then there’s the angst over Vietnam in 1970 to how its almost a passing historical note later. Its full of “what if” questions, what should one do if one has the knowledge, is the risk worth the benefit, how far would you go for your child’s life? It gave me lots to think about.
I enjoyed the way it was formatted too, seeing both sides of the story concurrently. I’m old enough to recall the seventies as a teen and though I’m UK not US so much felt the same, life was so much simpler then even if it did mean that technology wasn’t there to save babies like Caroline’s. My grand-kids find it incredible we had no mobiles ( well apart from the ones hanging above cots!), no computers, games consoles, only three or four TV channels….it really is a different world now. I remember thinking my grandfather must see cars and aeroplanes as strange, growing up without them. Now I’m in the other side of progress.
I understood a bit why Patti ( Caroline’s sister and Hunter’s wife)was kept in the dark about the plans, but would have felt as she did, betrayed, devastated. Seeing how the decision affected their marriage and later, her relationship with Caroline was hard, I felt so much for both sides.
I’ve tried not to give too much away but it really is an incredible read, very believable and wraps up perfectly.
Stars: Five, a perfect read, full of terrific characters, real tough sacrifices and questions about how far we will go for loved ones.
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Faithful Traitor, Samantha J Wilcoxson
Genre: Historical Fiction
I love this kind of historical fiction, with roots based in what happened, in events of the time, but taken so that the author fills in missing details. Its speculative, its fiction but well researched and very plausible. I loved the first book, featuring Elizabeth of York, mother to Henry VIII, and this book sees Henry as King, and Margaret Pole as lady in waiting and friend to Catherine, his Queen.
I know little of Margaret other than her Plantagenet connection, and its that faint thread of blood that gives her position in society as cousin to the King, yet also makes life for her and her family so dangerous.
I really felt for her, she had a tumultuous childhood, losing her father and other family suddenly due to twisting alliances, and the tenuous hold the Tudors think they have on the throne.
Its always like that in history, Kings rule by fear, ridding themselves of possible threats by harsh means. It difficult to understand from a modern viewpoint, but harsh though it was I can see that there was little else they could do sometimes. Kind of reminds me of lions, when the males win over an opponent and takeover the herd, first action is to kill all male cubs, so that only their blood flows through the herd. There’s no politics there, just instinctive action, but the parallels to royal history is there, where ascendants promptly dispose of threats however they can. Even the females weren’t exempt.
Margaret wants little more than to live her live in peace, to have her family and ensure their lives successful, but the Plantagenet blood keeps her always in the royal eye and under a threat of suspicion. Of course as Henry ages, discards Catherine and creates his new church fortunes and lives fall on his whims, and Margaret needs to tread a fine line. Play it safe on the earthly life and embrace Henry’s new church, or keep her faith with God, her religion, the one she has known all her life and risk her and her families life? What must she do? She tries so hard to keep her faith and yet keep her family safe too.
It makes me think, what would I do? I’m just glad I didn’t live in those times… Throw in Henry’s lack of a male heir and you can see just how dangerous life was for Margaret and those like her.
I really enjoyed this story, bringing history to live in a readable way through fiction. I really felt there with the families, could mentally see what was happening, and the little things, clothing, buildings, plants even, really brought the period to life. Its those tiny touches that work for me, make the story feel real, I want to feel as if I’m there, a silent onlooker back in time, alongside the characters.
Stars: Five, liked the reminder of how Margaret is connected t the last book, I’d forgotten but when events were mentioned it all came back and it really embraced the sense of continuity in history between the two books. I’m keen to read book three now.
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