Category Archives: Historical 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

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 Author Page for more information.

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The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

Title:  The Boleyn Inheritance
Author: Philippa Gregory
Loved it for my Tudors fix!

When I went to the library a few weeks ago, I knew that it had been FAR too long since my last installment of Tudor drama.  Luckily, the library had The Boleyn Inheritance on the shelf, which is the next installment (chronologically) in the series for me.  I read about, and fell in love with, Katharine of Aragon in The Constant Princess  despite my love for Anne Boleyn, which flourished out of The Other Boleyn Girl

The Boleyn Inheritance doesn’t pick up RIGHT after the execution of Anne Boleyn, but the reader receives brief accounts of Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour.  And while he didn’t execute Jane, the wives that are the focus of The Boleyn Inheritance seem frightfully aware of the fact that he didn’t exactly do much to save her.  Or mourn for very long before seeking out a replacement bride.

This portion of “history” (in quotations because, well, this is still a work of fiction) is told through the voices of three very different women: Jane Rochford (a woman that we know from previous Tudor tales), Anne of Cleves, and Katharine Howard (Henry just can’t enough of those Howard women!).  Each woman suffers from her own personal demons and/or sordid background.  They each must tread lightly in Henry VIII’s tumultuous court, remaining vigilant of his ever-changing moods and easily bruised ego.

Each woman also struggles with finding her own freedom and happiness in an era when these were not necessarily easily obtainable (or even guarantees) for any woman.  Gregory excels in roping the reader into really feeling for each of these women.  You can feel their fear and suffering.  When one is suspected of treason, your heart races with theirs and you turn each page knowing what he fate will be, but, in some cases, hoping that perhaps you’re wrong.

I also want to take a moment to call out that this book made me more of a fan of Katharine Howard.  Granted, my only previous exposure to her has been through The Tudors television series (yes, I’m still delinquent in reading my non-fiction collections on Henry VIII’s wives).  From the show, I found her to be insufferable – annoying, superficial, and, to be blunt, kind of dumb.  Through The Boleyn Inheritance, however, I was able to see her for what she really was: a young girl who just wanted love, attention, and all of the pretty dresses and cloaks that she could get her hands on.  What teenage girl WOULDN’T have behaved in the same way?  And what teenage girl (especially from a background similar to Katharine’s) wouldn’t jump at the prospect of being Queen of England?

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction, historical women, or anyone who is just looking for a very good read.  You don’t need to be familiar with the Tudor history up until this point to know what’s going on and there are plenty of passages recounting Henry’s previous wives to get you up to speed, anyway.

Book Summary
Three women who share one fate: The Boleyn Inheritance

She runs from her tiny country, her hateful mother, and her abusive brother to a throne whose last three occupants are dead. King Henry VIII, her new husband, instantly dislikes her. Without friends, family, or even an understanding of the language being spoken around her, she must literally save her neck in a court ruled by a deadly game of politics and the terror of an unpredictable and vengeful king. Her Boleyn Inheritance: accusations and false witnesses.

She catches the king’s eye within moments of arriving at court, setting in motion the dreadful machine of politics, intrigue, and treason that she does not understand. She only knows that she is beautiful, that men desire her, that she is young and in love — but not with the diseased old man who made her queen, beds her night after night, and killed her cousin Anne. Her Boleyn Inheritance: the threat of the axe.

She is the Boleyn girl whose testimony sent her husband and sister-in-law to their deaths. She is the trusted friend of two threatened queens, the perfectly loyal spy for her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, and a canny survivor in the murderous court of a most dangerous king. Throughout Europe, her name is a byword for malice, jealousy, and twisted lust. Her Boleyn Inheritance: a fortune and a title, in exchange for her soul.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Tudors

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Title: The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
Length: 393 pages
Very enjoyable read!

Despite being an avid fan of Anne Boleyn, I have a soft spot for Katharine of Aragon.  How could you not?  Despite being a princess, she lived a pretty difficult and upsetting life, though – as I choose to believe (which I state because I have yet to read a 100% non-fiction account of her life) – managed to maintain dignity and courage throughout everything.

Before I realized that there could be an actually appropriate order to reading Philippa Gregor’s Tudor novels, I read The Other Boleyn Girl – mostly to feed my ever-growing fascination with Anne Boleyn.  Despite becoming somewhat annoyed with how Gregory portrayed Boleyn, I very much enjoyed her storytelling and set myself a goal of reading them all – except going back one book first, in order to read them in order (which you can reference in my previously posted author spotlight on Gregory).

A few weeks ago, I finally put The Constant Princess on order at the library, received my notification that it was in, and then devoured the novel in a week – despite the somewhat chaotic, consuming (yet good!) stuff going on right now.  Once again, there were some elements of the story that I didn’t feel too enthusiastic about, I continue to enjoy Gregory’s storytelling and will hold to my goal of reading the remainder Tudor novels she has written.

One part that I didn’t fully enjoy is the portrayal of Katharine’s relationship with Arthur.  Possibly because her story is so tragic, I prefer to believe that they didn’t have the opportunity to fall in love, consummate the marriage, and share their hopes and dreams for England with each other.  With that said, and totally ignoring what I’d like to personally believe was the reality, I thoroughly enjoyed their actual love story in the novel.  It is incredibly sweet and makes the remaining trials and tribulations of her life all the more sad.

The novel also paints more of a picture of King Henry VII and his mother than I’ve seen (so far), which was enjoyable to read.  We get to see Henry VIII as young Harry, completely spoilt, coddled, and somewhat jealous of his older brother.  The reader witnesses the ups and downs of the start of his marriage to Katharine and the ending bleeds a little into the events from the time of Anne Boleyn, but only enough to give you a taste for the drama to come in future novels.

So, once again, this is a book that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the Tudors (though don’t expect this to be a bona fide history lesson) or just enjoys historical fiction, no matter the era.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Series, Tudors, Women Writers

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 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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Filed under Favorites, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Series, Tudors, Women Writers

What do you read on vacation?

Tomorrow morning my husband and I hop on a VERY early (5:45 AM!) flight out to the west coast.  We’re not going to hit up any beaches, though, as our preference lies with exploring the desert…

The beauty of Death Valley

But, regardless of the wonderful sights and adventures that we’ll be enjoying, one of the most important parts of any and all vacations is, quite simply, what to read!  Like with most trips, I planned this one out.  I set myself up to be right in the middle of Jean Plaidy’s Katharine of Aragon trilogy.  I want my Tudors fix and I don’t want to run out of pages before I return home to the full expanse of my ever-growing bookshelves.

Over the weekend I finished the first (and shortest) of the three – Katharine the Virgin Widow and am starting in on The Shadow of the Pomegranate.  So far, I’m totally loving this series.  I will admit, that it took a little extra effort to get myself into the rhythm of Plaidy’s writing, but I feel like I’m genuinely learning some history, feeling entertained, and nurturing a growing appreciation of Queen Katharine.

To leap into these stories almost immediately after The Other Bolelyn Girl was a little bit of a minor shock (especially since I thoroughly enjoyed Gregory’s writing style and the voice that she created for Mary Bolelyn), but I’m beyond happy that I worked my way through the “slower” parts of Katharine the Virgin Widow and am moving further along in the book.  Things start to get really interesting after the marriage finally takes place.

Luckily for me, and for all fans of Plaidy’s writing, she’s an enormously prolific writer, so I still have a plethora of options to move onto next!  In the meantime, however, I’ll enjoy having the characters from this era of the Tudor court accompany me on our trip out to Death Valley.

What book(s) do you bring with you on vacation?  Do you plan them ahead of time or do you just take along with you whatever you’re currently working on?  I’d love to hear!


Filed under Books, Favorites, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Jean Plaidy, Women Writers

Author Spotlight: Philippa Gregory

While I have (so far) only read one novel by her (The Other Boleyn Girl), I’m fascinated by anyone who successfully writes engaging, and even relatively believable, historical fiction.  In an effort to familiarize myself more with her work and background, I would like to focus on Philippa Gregory for this week’s author spotlight.


Philippa Gregory was born, and spent the first two years of her life, in Kenya.  She received a BA in History at the University of Sussex and went on to receive a PhD. in 18th century literature at the University of Edinburgh.  In addition to writing novels, she contributes to newspapers and magazines.  Additionally, she has taught at the University of Durham, University of Teesside, the Open University, and she was made a fellow at Kingston University.

She has written many books, mostly all historical fiction (listed below), and contests that her novels are completely historically accurate, but there has been controversy surrounding this claim.  Historically accurate or not, her novels are well-written and well-loved.

Gregory also does charity work – Gardens for Gambia.  Formed in 1993, the aim of Gardens for Gambia is to provide water for wells located at rural schools in Gambia.  This water helps the schools maintain gardens, which produce vegetables for the schoolchildren to eat and the surplus is sold to raise money for school equipment.  The link brings you to the information provided on Gregory’s official website.

She lives in Yorkshire with her family where she keeps horses and ducks.


Wideacre Trilogy

  1. Wideacre (1987)
  2. The Favoured Child (1989)
  3. Meridon (1990)

Earthly Joys

  1. Earthly Joys (1998)
  2. Virgin Earth (1999)

Tudor Novels – in historical chronological order

  1. The Constant Princess (2005)
  2. The Other Boleyn Girl (2001)
  3. The Boleyn Inheritance (2006)
  4. The Queen’s Fool (2003)
  5. The Virgin’s Lover (2004)
  6. The Other Queen (2008)

The Cousins’ War

  1. The White Queen (2009)
  2. The Red Queen (2010)
  3. The Lady of the Rivers (2011)

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Filed under Author Spotlight, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Women Writers

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
Author: Philippa Gregory
Length: 664 pages
Loved It!

As I recently mentioned, I am currently totally enamored with Tudor history – especially as it relates to Anne Boleyn.  For this newfound obsession, I blame the Showtime television series, The Tudors.  So, naturally, as a book lover, I wanted to find some good books related to this period and I recalled, from a few months ago, a friend of mine read many of the Philippa Gregory novels and had favorable things to say about them.

Even though The Other Boleyn Girl isn’t the first in the series (I believe that The Constant Princess is where you’d want to start), I decided to start there – mainly because Barnes & Noble has a slew of them in their bargain book section right now.  Regardless, the book starts off right where I wanted it to… the introduction of the Boleyn girls to King Henry VIII and the chaos that ensues because of the family’s ambition.

While reading this book, it’s important to remember that it’s historical fiction, so I kept reminding myself that the details being presented aren’t necessarily bona fide history.  But the story is presented in such an engaging, entertaining, and suspenseful way that it has only fueled my desire to learn more.  I also enjoyed that this book was told from the point of view of Mary Boleyn, the Boleyn girl who doesn’t usually get as much attention as her sister, Queen Anne Boleyn.  Through Mary’s eyes, the reader gets the infamous story of her sister’s rise and fall, but there are also breaks where the reader travels with Mary to Hever castle or a distant farm.

The description on the back cover also does an excellent job in laying out what to expect to find within its pages:

Two sisters competing for the greatest prize: the love of a king.

When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of the young Henry VIII.  Dazzled by the deadly rivalries of the court, Mary falls in love both with the most powerful man in England and her growing role as an unofficial queen.  She soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family’s plots as she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her ambitious sister, Anne.  then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king and take her fate into her own hands.

A rich and compelling tale of love, ambition, lust, and intrigue, The Other Boleyn Girl introduces a woman who survived the most glamorous and dangerous court in Europe by following her heart.

If you have any interest in historical fiction, Tudor history (or just the fictional stories about them), or just want a really excellent and entertaining read – I highly recommend this book!  And I cannot wait to read her other novels, as well.

Check out The Other Boleyn Girl on Amazon.


Filed under Books, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Women Writers

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Title:  The Buddha in the Attic
Author: Julie Otsuka
Length: 129 pages
Loved it!

This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.

I wasn’t familiar with this book before it starting appearing on all of the “Best of 2011” lists – particularly, the NPR reviews.  All of the buzz that I heard about after the initial exposure have been just about how incredible of a piece of writing this is.  So, I made this my first library loan of 2012!

At 129 pages, the only way that this could be a LONG read is if the writing was insufferable.  Luckily, it is not.  The story is told through the collective point of view (We, Some of us, Our…) of a group of Japanese women who came over to America as young brides-to-be to men that they only through mostly false pictures and completely fake letters.  Our first glimpse into their reality is from their departure from Japan, where they leave behind their families and move towards, what they believe, will be a stunning future in America.

After their arrival, we follow them through their first nights with their husbands, their jobs, the violence, their children, their pets, and everything ends with the internment during WWII.  The final section, after the internment, shows us the reaction of the Americans who were their neighbors, employers, and, in some cases, their friends.  What we don’t see, we soon forget, sometimes even when it comes to the plight of our fellow human beings.

Even though there isn’t one solid narrator/character that the reader gets to become intimately familiar with, Otsuka succeeds in creating, and cultivating, some sort of relationship between all of the women and the reader.  There were times during the book when I felt incredibly connected to these women with whom I have very little in common.  I wanted to listen to their complete stories, hug them, and then yell at the people who spread the rumors or burned down their barns or crops, abducted their children, or took advantage of them in any way.

I fully understand why this book made it onto countless lists for 2011.  I’d highly recommend this book and I look forward to checking out her other book, When the Emperor was Divine.

Check out Julie Otsuka’s website & her author page on Amazon.

New York Times book review of The Buddha in the Attic.

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Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan

Title:  Rules for Virgins
Author: Amy Tan
Length: Digital Short (42 pages)
Loved It! 

I first ready Amy Tan a few years ago.  The book was The Joy Luck Club and I remember that I enjoyed it, but I can’t remember any one single detail about it.  Therefore, it’s made its way back onto my “must read” list for 2012.  In the meantime, however, I opted to check out Rules for Virgins, which is available as a Digital Short on Amazon for .99.  Put out by Byliner Fiction (link brings you to an excerpt and their write ups on it), this is Tan’s first release of fiction in over six years.  Needless to say, Tan fans are very excited to get their hands on this.  And, in my opinion, they won’t be disappointed.

The story is a narration of advice from an older, experienced courtesan to a younger courtesan who is still a virgin.  Personally, I knew absolutely nothing about courtesan culture (or, really, anything about Chinese culture during this time period), so I was automatically intrigued.  The conversational tone keeps the story moving (you’ll be at the end before you know it) and the advice is, at times, shocking, hilarious, and might make you go “hmmm”.  In short, don’t read this if you’re a kid or blush easily.

In Tan’s own words (from the Byliner article linked above):

So now there is a story called Rules for Virgins. It takes place in Shanghai in 1912, when my grandmother’s cousin was a young woman in Shanghai. It concerns a fourteen-year-old virgin courtesan who is mentored by a seasoned one, Magic Gourd, now over the hill at age thirty-three, who has a no-nonsense attitude, modeled after my mother’s. If you take out the nature of these women’s profession, the actual advice is more like the marketing strategies of any business, and in this story’s case, humorous ones having to do with the vulnerability of men’s egos. That makes it an age-old story, I think.

This book is currently only available in a digital format, but if you don’t own an actual eReader, you can download an app onto your computer, iPhone, or iPad.  Enjoy!  This short story definitely makes for a good “last read” of the year!
Visit Amy Tan’s page on Amazon.

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Filed under Amy Tan, Books, Favorites, Historical Fiction, Women Writers