Category Archives: Fiction

Driftless by David Rhodes

driftlessTitle:  Driftless
Author:  David Rhodes
Genre:  Fiction

The only reason that I stumbled across Driftless was because that this was a featured title on Barnes & Noble’s “Free eBook Fridays” a few weeks back.  I love me some free books and have been desperately missing the free classics that I used to download for my Kindle; it appears as though B&N does not go below $1.99 for the classics.  Anyway.  I jumped at the opportunity to check this title out when I discovered that there was a free eBook that WASN’T a Romance.

I was in the middle of forcing my way through Madame Bovary, which was slow going for me, so there was about a week between the download and the beginning of reading.  I scoped out some of the reviews that were floating around and prepared myself to be a changed woman.  By reading any number of responses to this novel, one would be silly not to prepare themselves to stare God in the face before jumping into Rhodes’ pages.

Needless to say, I was a little excited to get going with it.  I was even revving myself up to perhaps “meet” a new favorite author.

Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t as blown away as I wanted to be.  I’m not going to write that this is a bad read, by any means, but I found myself skimming a lot.  I don’t really like to skim.  I read a little on the slow side, but I enjoy savoring passages and losing myself in the characters’ conversations, the landscape, my own thoughts…  I struggled in doing so for the majority of this book.

Some positives (for me) – each chapter is told through the POV of a different character.  All 400-something pages focus on the same core set of characters, but you get to hop around from chapter to chapter, story to story.  I feel as though this was the main factor that kept me from calling it quits.  Each of the characters is interesting and unique and I honestly can’t say that there was a single one of them that I disliked.

The other positive (again, for me) is that the spiritual exploration seemed to be a melding of Christianity and Buddhism.  I am a fan of not keeping religion or spirituality completely black and white.  Mixing principles, teachings, and philosophies wins big points in my book.

The biggest negative, however, again – for me, was the ending.  No spoilers here, but it felt incomplete.  It felt as though it ended in the middle of a conversation and there still should have been 20 pages or so to wrap everything up.

 

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Filed under 2013, American Author, Fiction

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

The_Secret_Diary_of_Anne_Boleyn_15th_Anniversary-smTitle:  The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn
Author:  Robin Maxwell
Historical Fiction

I am starting 2013 off right – two books featuring Anne Boleyn in one month.  I came to read The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by walking around Barnes & Noble aimlessly, consulting my GoodReads iPhone app for various titles about Anne Boleyn.  I chose this particular book out of the lineup, however, because I have a weakness for stories told through the medium of diary entries or letters.  I had a book by Jean Plaidy on order from the library that I knew would be coming in soon, so I wanted a book that I could consume in a rather short period of time.

The story is set during the early days in the reign of Elizabeth I.  Recently made queen, she is still learning the ropes in what it means to actually be Queen of England.  An old woman visits her with a precious gift – Anne Boleyn’s secret diary.  Elizabeth learns that this woman was with Anne in the Tower leading up to her execution and came to love the then-Queen very much.  By giving this diary to Elizabeth, this woman was fulfilling her last promise made to Anne Boleyn.

The majority of the novel is then told through Anne Boleyn’s diary entries.  For Elizabeth, this is the first time that she is truly getting to know her mother and she is warming to her memory while cooling to that of her father.  From the information in this diary, Elizabeth becomes equipped to “grow up” and to start making some real decisions for her own rule.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  My main gripe was that the presence of Anne’s supposed sixth finger.  I feel rather protective of Anne Boleyn and do not believe that she had the sixth finger, so to see its rumor woven into this story was somewhat disappointing.  However, I reminded myself that this is a work of fiction.  I sucked it up and read on.

I also enjoyed reading a story about Elizabeth, as well, as I have yet to read any focusing on her life and reign.  It delights me to know that while Anne was only queen for 1,000 days and her end was wrought with scandal, lies, and betrayal, her daughter reigned over England for more than 40 years.

Here is a synopsis from Maxwell’s official site (linked to above):

One was queen for a thousand days;  one for over forty years.  Both were passionate, headstrong women, loved and hated by Henry VIII.  Yet until the discovery of the secret diary, Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Elizabeth I, had never really met.

Anne was the second of Henry’s six wives, doomed to be beloved, betrayed and beheaded. When Henry fell madly in love with her upon her return from an education at the lascivious  French court, he was already a married man. While his passion for Anne was great enough to rock the foundation of England and of all Christendom, in the end he forsook her for another love, schemed against her, and ultimately had her sentenced to death.  But unbeknownst to the king,  Anne had kept a  diary.

At the beginning of Elizabeth ‘s reign, it is pressed into her hands.  In reading it, the young queen discovers a great deal about her much-maligned mother:  Anne’s fierce determination, her hard-won knowledge about being a woman in a world ruled by despotic men, and her deep-seated love for the infant daughter taken from her shortly after her birth.

In journal’s pages, Elizabeth finds an echo of her own dramatic life as a passionate young woman at the center of England ‘s powerful male establishment, and with the knowledge gained from them, makes a resolution that will change the course of history.

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Filed under 2013, Anne Boleyn, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Robin Maxwell, Tudors, Women Writers

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

0806_gone_425Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Mystery/Suspense

My final read of 2012 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – is definitely a book to be added to my ever-growing list of “favorites”.  This book was a gift and, while I have seen the title show up in reading lists, bestseller lists, and all over GoodReads, I never took a moment to read the synopsis and decide for myself whether or not I should check it out.  I am incredibly thankful that someone gifted it to me, however, because this is a book that I just could not put down.

Before I read the Millennium trilogy, I never would have considered myself a Mystery/Suspense kind of girl.  My main memories of the Mystery genre from my bookstore days were ridiculous, never-ending series where cats solved crimes or titles that I considered more in the realm of  really terrible “Chick Lit” than a book of substance.  However, thanks to Stieg Larsson, I’ve thrown my old prejudice opinions out the window and am finding some novels that I really, truly love.

Gone Girl is the story of a missing woman (Amy, the wife) and the #1 suspect (Nick, her husband – of course).  Each chapter is told in either the POV of Amy or Nick, laying out both sides of the story/experience for the reader.  The characters are complicated inasmuch as it’s difficult to really love or hate either of them 100%.

Through the entries in Amy’s diary, the reader takes a short journey through the beginnings of her relationship with Nick – the meeting, the inside jokes, the early years of their marriage, but when both of them lose their careers in journalism and then move out of New York City, it appears that their marriage gets rockier and rockier.

From reading other reviews (very carefully avoiding any spoilers), I knew that there were going to be a lot of surprises and I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.  I had this nagging desire to find out what happened to Amy and whether or not Nick really did it.  Needless to say, I am very happy that I had this past week off from work; otherwise, I would have been pretty exhausted each day from staying up late, powering through as many pages as possible before finally succumbing to sleep.

In 2013, I will definitely be checking out Gillian Flynn’s other two novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.  If my excitement didn’t sell you on Gone Girl, a professionally written summary is included below:

Marriage can be a real killer.

   One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.

   On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

   As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

   With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Check out Gone Girl on Amazon.

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Filed under 2012, American Author, Books, Favorites, Fiction, Gillian Flynn, Mystery, Women Writers

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

norwegian-wood2

Title:  Norwegian Wood
Author:  Haruki Murakami
LOVED IT!

Murakami is, hand’s down, one of my favorite authors.  While I’ve only read three pieces by him, all of the works that he has penned are on my “must-read” list.  Entering any of his worlds, the reader must enter knowing that he or she will experience a wide range of emotions.  Norwegian Wood is definitely no exception.

For each of us, there are songs, smells, or places that transport us to the moment of a memory.  Just like that.  “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles is that song in Murakami’s novel by the same name.  The narrator, Toru, experiences love, loss, and life throughout the course of the novel.  The reader journeys with him through friends’ suicides, stressed and struggling attempts at romance, and frustrating friendships that threaten to pull Toru into an empty way of existing.

I can’t do justice to the story through any description.  Here is a summary:

A special movie-tie in edition for the long-awaited film release based on this beloved novel by Haruki Murakami: the story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, a journey to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

Norwegian Wood is  a beautiful, haunting, and emotional story.  I wouldn’t expect anything less from one of Murakami’s novels.  It left me wanting more.

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Sarah (Book #1 in Canaan Trilogy) by Marek Halter

 

Title:  Sarah (Book #1 – Canaan Trilogy)
Author: Marek Halter
Length: 336 pages

As usual, I’m a little behind in my posts here.  Sarah was my read for Hurricane Sandy; we lucked out and didn’t lose any power, but we did lose cable and internet.  So, we had plenty of light and a lack of external distractions (well, except for high winds and falling trees…) to encourage reading.  Needless to say, I powered through this book in about two days despite not really enjoying it as much as I wanted to.

One part of the book that I found exceedingly annoying is the fact that the reader is basically reminded every two pages just how beautiful Sarah is.  And she’s beautiful for her figure, face, and the fact that she doesn’t age.  She’s beautiful from the very beginning, but she stops aging after she takes some witch’s elixir to make her infertile.  Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but I found the aspects that apparently made her so beautiful and desired were  her not aging and never going through the changes that occur to a woman’s body with aging and childbirth.  Granted, Sarah struggled with not being able to age, but… it just became a little much.

My annoyance is probably partially my own fault and due to my ignorance about the Biblical tale of Sarah.  And, thanks to my ignorance, I can’t report on how true to the Bible this novel is.  I can tell you that it’s a huge bestseller and written well.  Regardless of how annoying I found the book at time, I still (overall) found enjoyment in reading it.  However, I would recommend reading The Red Tent with much more enthusiasm to anyone searching for a historical fiction about Old Testament women.

At this point, I’ll probably venture to read the remaining books in the trilogy, but I’ll probably put them off for a few months.

Synopsis from book:

Sarah’s story begins in the cradle of civilization: the Sumerian city-state of Ur, a land of desert heat, towering gardens, and immense wealth. The daughter of a powerful lord, Sarah balks at the marriage her father has planned for her. On her wedding day, she impulsively flees to the vast, empty marshes outside the city walls, where she meets a young man named Abram, son of a tribe of outsiders. Drawn to this exotic stranger, Sarah spends one night with him and reluctantly returns to her father’s house. But on her return, she secretly drinks a poisonous potion that will make her barren and thus unfit for marriage.

Many years later, Abram returns to Ur and discovers that the lost, rebellious girl from the marsh has been transformed into a splendid woman—the high priestess of the goddess Ishtar. But Sarah gives up her exalted life to join Abram’s tribe and follow the one true God, an invisible deity who speaks only to Abram. It is then that her journey truly begins.

From the great ziggurat of Ishtar to the fertile valleys of Canaan to the bedchamber of the mighty Pharaoh himself, Sarah’s story reveals an ancient world full of beauty, intrigue, and miracles.

 

You can visit Marek Halter’s Amazon.com Author Page for more information.

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Hiatus, complete + Game of Thrones

I guess that No Other Appetite is just emerging from some sort of unannounced hiatus… So, hello!  I’ve missed writing and now that our move is kinda sorta winding down and we’re settling in, I hope to resume writing with the same frequency that I had going leading up to the insanity of house-buying.

Over the past few months, I have read as much as possible, so I have a few books to write up about over the next few weeks.  Currently, however, I’m soldiering through Game of Thrones due to my recent obsession with the television show.  While tackling a novel as LONG as this one (coupled with the big move) possibly derails me from surpassing my goal of reading 45 books this year, it’s proving to be well worth that sacrifice.

While I am far away from being in a position to write my review/reactions to the novel, I can share that my favorite character (and who I am personally rooting for to win the Game) is Danaerys Targaryen (AKA Khaleesi or Mother of Dragons).  I ran a few internet searches for sites dedicated to her (while trying my best to not read too much history on her character as I don’t want to ruin what may or may not happen…) and found a few nifty sites that I am going to share here.

Oh, I also purchased this neat-o t-shirt from TeeFury:

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I will say – I haven’t been this excited about a specific literary character since Lisbeth in the Millennium trilogy.

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No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Title:  No Country for Old Men
Author:  Cormac McCarthy
Length:  320 pages
HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Another library book!  I’m on a roll with utilizing my local library.  I watched No Country for Old Men about a year ago.  I loved it.  I watched it immediately after reading and watching The Road by the same author.  I had a fever for McCarthy novels.

I won’t lie to you, however – I tried reading Blood Meridian and couldn’t get past the first chapter.  I really need to amp my brain up before I dive into that novel – and the reasons for my difficulty getting into that novel are the same as my reasons for being so totally in love with The Road and No Country for Old Men.

But, first, a synopsis of No Country for Old Men:

Set in our own time along the bloody frontier between Texas and Mexico, this is Cormac McCarthy’s first novel since Cities of the Plain completed his acclaimed, best-selling Border Trilogy.

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim’s burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex–Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, No Country for Old Men is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

I can attest that the book is as gritty, dark, and powerful as the above description leads one to believe.  It’s probably a good policy to not pick up any of McCarthy’s novels when you’re in search of something light, love-y, or something that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy in your heart.  If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The narrative hops around between the characters – the good guys, the bad guys, and the “??” guys.  McCarthy, as always, sticks true to the vernacular of the characters, which is both refreshing and a challenge.  On more than one occasion, I had to re-read a paragraph two or three times or take a step back at the beginning of a chapter to figure out who the pronouns referred back to.  There are cuts, shifts in narrative, and please leave your love of quotation marks at the door…  this is truly a unique and challenging read.  And I love, love, love McCarthy for it.

The reader doesn’t have a front row seat to all of the action, but we’re made aware of what happens.  Even if it isn’t exactly what we expect (or want) to happen.  The chaos that plays out in the lives of the characters in the book serve as a nice parallel for the chaos that ensues in the world around us, every single day, start to finish.  I won’t lie – the character of Sheriff Bell voices some of my own thoughts, concerns, and fears about society on more than one occasion.

So, in parting:

I read in the papers here a while back some teachers came across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they’d been filled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. So think about that. Because a lot of the time when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I’m gettin old. That it’s one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that cant tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I’ve got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late.

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The Covenant (Abram’s Daughters #1) by Beverly Lewis

Title:  The Covenant (Book #1 – Abram’s Daughters)
Author:  Beverly Lewis
Length: 320 pages
Ehhh…. kind of slow-paced

Ever since I first learned about the Amish community, I have been fascinated.  Pair this with the fact that, for some reason or another, the covers of the Abram’s Daughters have always been appealing to me.  And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I am guilty of judging books by their covers.  So, on my last trip to the library, I wanted to pick out a book in addition to The Stepford Wives and stumbled across the first book in the series!

Book 1 of Abram’s Daughters series from bestselling author Beverly Lewis. Years of secrecy bind the tiny community of Gobbler’s Knob together more than the present inhabitants know, and the Plain folk who farm the land rarely interact with the fancy locals. So when Sadie is beguiled by a dark-haired English boy, it is Sadie’s younger sister, Leah, who suffers from her sister’s shameful loss of innocence. And what of Leah’s sweetheart, Jonas Mast, sent to Ohio under the Bishop’s command? Drawn into an incomprehensible pact with her older sister, Leah finds her dreams spinning out of control, even as she clings desperately to the promises of God. The Covenant begins a powerful Lancaster portrait of the power of family and the miracle of hope.

First, I will say that I am both proud and happy that I powered through this book to the end.  The story is very slow-paced and the majority of the first 150 pages or so feel more like a lesson on the daily lives of the Amish more-so than the beginning of a riveting fictional tale.  But, as I said, I’m fascinated by Amish culture and was determined to not abandon this book halfway through.

My perseverance paid off the closer I neared the end – the pace picked up, MAJOR drama unfolded, and there was even a little bit of romance sprinkled in there.  The story leaves off at the perfect time for leaving the reader wanting to leap into the second installment.   Yes, in fact, the last half of the book makes you forget just how slow the beginning was.  THAT much happens.

While I will hold off a few months or so before getting started on the second book, I’ll definitely give it a try.  I foresee enjoying it, especially if the pace mirrors the second half of The Covenant and not the first half.

The Covenant on Amazon.

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The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

Title:  The Stepford Wives
Author:  Ira Levin
Length:  144 pages
Creepy and amazing! 

The beautiful weather got me wanting to escape the confines of the office building last week, so I took one day and went over to the library.  My “adventure” actually allowed me to walk away with not one, but TWO, books to give me a good amount of fiction between non-fiction titles.

The first book that I dove into was The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin.  A title that I have wanted to read for quite some time — also, a movie that I have never watched, but it’s always sorta kinda been on the list “to see”.  The first thing about this book that is impossible not to notice is that it’s short – there are no extra, flowery descriptions between its covers and that’s just fine with me.

The description:

For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town’s idyllic facade lies a terrible secret — a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.

At once a masterpiece of psychological suspense and a savage commentary on a media-driven society that values the pursuit of youth and beauty at all costs, The Stepford Wives is a novel so frightening in its final implications that the title itself has earned a place in the American lexicon.

Paired with the Simone de Beauvoir quote preceding the tale:

Today the combat takes a different shape; instead of wishing to put a man in a prison, woman endeavors to escape from one; she no longer seeks to drag him into the realms of immanence but to emerge, herself, into the light of transcendence.  Now the attitude of the males creates a new conflict: it is with a bad grace that the man lets her go.

Made me realize that the time had come for me to finally dive into this.

Despite being a quick read, the story, the characters, and the eerie events of Stepford will stick with you.  It’s almost a week later and I’m still thinking about Joanna and the other towns women who seemed to once have so much spark, creativity, and will.  All of that was stolen away by the men in town who would prefer to have perky, flawless, unthinking cleaning machines to come home to.

And, despite knowing what’s coming, each of the women walk straight into their complete loss of self – with some kicking, screaming, and fight – but, nonetheless, when it comes down to the end, each of them winds up going past the point of no return.

Prior to reading The Stepford Wives, I had no idea who Ira Levin was.  However, now I will definitely seek out some of his other titles (including Rosemary’s Baby) and, quite probably, write about them on here.

Check out The Stepford Wives on Amazon.

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Katharine of Aragon (trilogy) by Jean Plaidy

Titles:  Katharine, The Virgin Widow; The Shadow of the Pomegranate; The King’s Secret Matter
 
Author:  Jean Plaidy
Length: 643 pages (all three books in one volume)
Highly Enjoyable!

As I have mentioned many times (most recently, perhaps, right before my vacation?), I am enthusiastic about Tudors history – both fictional and real, actual history.  To further feed this obsession, I scoured GoodReads for any and all books that I could find.  Not too far into my search, not surprisingly, I came across Jean Plaidy’s name and the seemingly never-ending list of titles.

The books that I wanted to start with are the three about Katharine of Aragon – Spanish Princess, English Queen, and the first lady unlucky enough to NOT provide Henry the VIII with a strapping young son.  While I know that the Showtime series isn’t the most historically accurate account out there, I was drawn to their portrayal of her and immediately felt some warmth towards her personality and story.  While I have yet to read an actual biography about her, the fictional accounts of her that I’ve encountered so far (The Other Boleyn Girl and these books by Jean Plaidy) paint her in a similar way to the show, leading me to believe that she truly was a kind-hearted, spiritual woman who commanded respect and honor.

Reading Plaidy’s novels felt like I was reading closer to an actual historical account of the happenings in the Tudor court than when reading The Other Boleyn Girl.  Because of this, while still enjoyable, it took a little longer to get through them.  There is a fair amount of dialogue and action, however, and the keeps the books an entertaining read.  And while the story is undoubtedly focused on Katharine of Aragon, she doesn’t hold back from sharing a glimpse into what King Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, and the rest of the major players are up to, thinking, or plotting.

The version that I purchased (published by Three Rivers Press, featuring an awesome reading guide/questions) is the only version to contain the entire trilogy covering Queen Katharine’s story from her arrival in England from Spain in 1501 (to marry the young and sickly Prince Arthur) until her own heart breaking death on January 7th, 1536.  Let’s take a closer look at the three individual books in this volume….

Katharine, The Virgin Widow

IN THE ROYAL MARRIAGE MARKET 
THE INFANTA OF SPAIN WAS A TRUE PRIZE.

In the eyes of the world, Katharine of Aragon was a precious object to be disposed of for the glory of Spain. Her parents, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, send her to England to become the bride of Arthur, Prince of Wales.
But soon her frail husband was dead, and a fateful question loomed: Was the marriage consummated, as Katharine’s priest avowed, or was the young widow still a virgin? On that delicate point hinged Katharine’s–and England’s–future. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings was her willful, handsome brother-in-law, bold Prince Henry, who alone had the power to restore Katharine’s lost position.

Jean Plaidy’s narrative genius sparkles in this story of a remarkable royal marriage that inspired some of history’s bloodiest deeds . . . 

I struggled slightly to get into the first book, but, really, only because I needed to adjust to the third person narrative (I’m a sucker for first person…).  The story begins with an introduction to the children of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York during a horrific scene in which the king’s best dogs fight lions to the death.  This scene, in all its gruesome detail, sets the reader up for the plight of anyone else’s wish (or bravery) placed against that of a king’s.  When the dogs win, they still lose because they dared stand up against the king of all animals.  It’s important for all to know, and heed, their place in the social order.

At the beginning of the stories, the children are awaiting (quite eagerly) the arrival of the Infanta from Spain – a young girl born from the honorable Queen Isabella and her consort, Ferdinand.  Briefly, upon arrival (and after settling in), Katharine grows accustomed to the young prince she is set to marry.  He’s kind, shy, faithful, and does not appear to have a cruel bone in his body.  Everything changes when he dies during an outbreak of the sweating disease, however.  This is when Katharine enters into the first troublesome period of her life.  Forced into living without any allowance, she stays in a house with her ladies in waiting and servants, unable to pay them and unable to leave to return to Spain.  Her future is full of uncertainty and relies upon the whims of a fickle and greedy King.

The novel ends with her marriage to King Henry VIII – as he apparently loves to go against the advice and demands of anyone else – for why should he listen to them? HE is the King of England.  In the final scenes of Katharine, the Virgin Widow it appears as though her fortune has changed and happier days lie ahead.  Little does she know…

 The Shadow of the Pomegranate

The marriage of Katharine of Aragon and King Henry VIII was a match made in heaven. But hardly were they wed when powerful people in Henry’s court started spinning webs of intrigue around the innocent royal pair.

King Henry VIII is still a young man.  He loves games, dressing up, and proving to his people that he loves them.  Some of actions seem brazen while all of actions seem highly juvenile.  Above all else, though, he yearns to have a son and is confidant that he and Queen Katharine will produce many.  Only time will tell, though, as their first child born is, in fact, a son, but dies only after a very short time of being alive.

As we all know now, they never have a son.  Instead they have a healthy, intelligent, and highly talented daughter Mary.  If only she were born a boy… is a thought that is repeated throughout this book.  Katharine, alone, seems to be able to find the tenderness in his eyes and is willing to see him with a greater filter of warmth than most others might be willing to.  Perhaps even greater to her love for him, however, she adores her daughter and is devoted to protecting her interests.

The second book also brings the rise of Cardinal Wolsey, who acts as a major influence in directing the course of the king’s life – all with the intent of progressing his own interests..  The second book also brings an increase in the tumult that is King Henry VIII’s moods.  His rage flares up and, once aggravated, seems to know no bounds.  The longer he goes without a son, or, as he sees it, a legitimate heir to the throne, the angrier and less reasonable he becomes.

By the end of the The Shadow of the Pomegranate (which, by the way, is Katharine’s symbol, which is representative of fertility – cruel irony) with the King’s infidelity becoming public knowledge and an accepted fact of how things are going to be.  Bessie Blount, his favored mistress in the court, produces him with a son, whom he names Henry Fitzroy.  The affair and child are both flaunted in front of Katharine, but she maintains composure and finds solace in the fact that she is the Queen of England, beloved of the people.

 The King’s Secret Matter

The personalities and intrigues of the English royal court are brought to vivid life in this tale of Katharine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. The twelve-year marriage of Henry and Katharine has declined from an idyllic union into an uneasy stalemate. The king’s love for his aging queen has grown cold, and he is angry with her failure to give him the heir to the throne he desperately wants. When the seductive Anne Boleyn arrives at court, the king is captivated by her dark beauty and bold spirit, and becomes obsessed with his desire to possess her. With his chief advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, the king devises a secret plot to declare the marriage with Katharine null and void. But Katharine refuses to surrender to his wishes and fights desperately to retain her title and safeguard her daughter, Mary. The ensuing power struggle is one of the turning points in English history, and these pages capture it in spellbinding detail.

We can all guess what happens in the third book,  The King’s Secret Matter, can’t we?  The state of Katharine’s life is in rapid decline.  The king barely visits her.  Her nephew, the emperor, constantly breaks promises with King Henry VIII, thus, creating a distaste for all thing Spanish in his eyes – his wife being one of those “things”.  There are countless women in court who jump at the chance to sleep with the King and he is more than happy to make their wildest dreams come true.

And, as in any royal story, people are unceasingly plotting, planning, and seeking ways to further their own interests, at no matter what cost to others.  Unfortunately, for Queen Katharine, there aren’t many in the court able to fight for her interests since her interests are contrary to the King’s.  And, in this book, he does not shy away from sending “traitors” to the chopping block.  By the final page, we have bid adieu to the majority of the original players and are faced with a new set taking center stage.  And at the very center of that stage is Anne Boleyn (or, as it appears the people of England call her, Nan Bullen).

Katharine, once a woman to know all of the comforts and honors of a Queen, dies in a dank, lonesome building, far away from her daughter, Mary.  Throughout all of her protestations against the King’s cry that their marriage was never valid, she cared most about preserving her daughter’s  honor, dignity, and name.

These books increased my admiration and love for Katharine of Aragon.  They also made me feel even more excited to learn more about this period of English history.  Additionally, I will also read more of Jean Plaidy’s novels.  Her writing is clean and leaves you feeling like you actually, possibly, learned something.

Are you interested in the Tudors?  Which authors do you prefer?

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