History

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The Sealwoman’s Gift – Sally Magnusson

Published May 21, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

What did I think?:

The Sealwoman’s Gift had been on my radar for a little while after I saw it being advertised as a highly anticipated read for this year from some of my favourite book-tubers. I mean, that gorgeous cover is enough to draw you in and make you want to read it, right? Then when I found out that it was a re-imagining of an actual historical event that happened in Iceland in the 17th century which tore apart countless families, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. I am trying to be good at the moment with a book-buying ban and a determination not to buy hardbacks on the cards, so I was delighted when Two Roads Publishers via Book Bridgr sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It came at a time when I really needed cheering up so a huge thank you to them. Generally, I found this novel to be a solid, beautifully written story that at points, was comparable to being told an old folk-tale. Of course, the fact that this event actually occurred makes this tale all the more intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed Sally Magnusson’s fictional version of it that was quite obviously extensively researched.

Sally Magnusson, author of The Sealwoman’s Gift.

The event I’m referring to is one many people may not be overly familiar with. It happened in 1627 and involved a host of pirates who attacked the coast of Iceland, removing many men, women and children from the nearest towns, sailing them back to Algiers and selling them all into slavery. We follow one woman in particular, Ásta, who is pregnant at the time of the raid and is captured along with her husband, Ólafur and most of her children. Ásta ends up being separated from her husband and this is the story of how she copes in the house she is sold into, her relationship with her children and her absent husband and especially, how she changes as a person when she is wrenched away from a much simpler life and everything she has ever known.

The beautiful Westman Islands, mentioned by Ásta in the novel.

I always worry when I fall in love with a book’s cover that the inside won’t match the outside, so as to speak. Luckily, I had no worries on this account with The Sealwoman’s Gift. I was absolutely captivated by Ásta’s tale and the people that she met along the way, particularly in Algiers where the course of her life changes forever. I have to admit to being slightly nervous when I saw the cast of characters in the front of the novel, especially the Icelandic names which I’m not too familiar with. However, there was no need to panic, the book is written in such a way that you can easily get your head round who is who in a very short amount of time. I also loved the inclusion and translation of some common Icelandic words which just added to the other-wordly, beautifully alien and very unique feel of this story.

This isn’t just a narrative that re-hashes a moment in history, this is also a story about the relationships between families and between husband and wife and how they are altered when one or both of the parties goes through a life changing event, experiencing new things outside their humdrum, ordinary existence and developing into a different person as a result. The author uses one character in the novel to bring a folk/fairy-tale element to the proceedings when Ásta is warned about her future by one of the more superstitious islanders. I loved how this was incorporated into the tale and it gave the reader something to look back on and analyse when our female lead’s life takes a more dramatic turn.

This is a debut novel that drops you right into Iceland’s past authentically and evocatively and having been to Iceland myself, I could picture everything in full, glorious detail. I’ll certainly be watching out for what Sally Magnusson does next, her writing is too gorgeous to miss out on.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Blog Tour – Stranger In My Heart by Mary Monro

Published May 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Stranger In My Heart (with foreword by HRH The Princess Royal) is about the search for understanding oneself, answering the question “Who am I?” by seeking to understand the currents that sweep down the generations, eddy through one’s own persona and continue on – palpable but often unrecognised. My father fought at the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, was taken prisoner by the Japanese and then escaped in February 1942, making his way across 1200 miles of inhospitable country to reach China’s wartime capital at Chongqing. Seventy years later I retraced his steps in an effort to understand a man who had died when I was 18, leaving a lot of unanswered questions behind. My book is the quest that I undertook to explore my father’s life, in the context of the Pacific War and our relationship with China.
A picture of a man of the greatest generation slowly unfolds, a leader, a 20th Century Great, but a distant father. As I delve into his story and research the unfamiliar territory of China in the Second World War, the mission to get to know the stranger I called ‘Dad’ resolves into a mission to understand how my own character was formed. As I travel across China, the traits I received from my father gradually emerge from their camouflage. The strands of the story are woven together in a flowing triple helix, with biography, travelogue and memoir punctuated with musings on context and meaning.

What did I think?:

When Anne Cater first got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in reading this book, I read the synopsis (as you do!) and immediately jumped at the chance. Thank you so much to her and to Unbound Books for allowing me to read an advanced review copy of this intriguing memoir in return for an honest review. If you’re new to my blog, you might not realise I’m not only a big fan of periods in our history like World War I and II, but I’m also a very curious soul regarding the culture and history of China. So imagine my delight when I saw that two of my favourite things were beautifully entwined in a biography of such a fascinating and brave man, told by one of the closest members of his family, his daughter.

Poster from artist Martha Sawyers ca. 1944 depicting a Chinese soldier with his wounded wife and daughter.

The subject of this memoir, Lieutenant Colonel John Monro was a considerably quiet, private and stoic man and the author of this book, his daughter Mary, knew surprisingly little about his struggles and the danger he faced as a soldier during the Second World War. It is only after he passes away that Mary makes a real effort to dig into his past, reading his diary entries from Hong Kong, marvelling at his escape from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and admiring his bravery as he faced a long trek through China, just to get to a place of safety. Moved by her father’s experiences, Mary takes it upon herself to attempt to carry out the exact same trip as her father, despite many place names in China having changed in the last seventy years. As she walks in her father’s footsteps, Mary feels that she connects with her father in a deeper manner and has such memorable encounters with people and places that can only be described as life-changing.

The Situation In China, 1944 – sourced from The US Army Center Of Military History.

Stranger In My Heart feels like the reader is given access to a detailed account of the struggles of a very unassuming soldier by means of his diary entries. It was an honour to be a voyeur into John Monro’s life and the incredible journey he made through China, all the while in danger of losing his life. The memoir was all the more touching and authentic for the inclusion of the diaries and for Mary’s own individual trip, many years later. I particularly enjoyed her quiet humour of the author as she described a sign posted at a hotel she stayed at briefly:

“Lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden.”

Like Mary, I had to have a little chortle to myself. Wrestling?? This book has everything you would want from a memoir and packs so much in addition to this. As I mentioned, the diary entries are incredibly thorough and so intriguing to read – straight from “the horse’s mouth,” so as to speak. Moreover, we also get a brief history of China (which I particularly loved as a Chinese history enthusiast!) and finally, snatches from the author’s own trip to try and recreate her father’s journey which read remarkably like a great travel book. I had great fun reading it and really appreciate the efforts Mary Munro made in researching her father’s life and recounting it for the interested outsider. By the time I got to the end, I couldn’t help but think that it’s almost as if this journey/book has given Mary peace with both her father’s life and his death and it was a pleasure to be taken along for the ride.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Mary has written numerous technical and academic articles and is an experienced lecturer and presenter, but this is her first book. She lives in Bath with her husband, Julian Caldecott, and dog, Gobi. She practises as an osteopath in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford on Avon. She treats people three days a week (see http://www.mmost.co.uk) and treats horses and dogs one day a week (www.hippokampos.co.uk and http://www.facebook.com/the2marys). She is a Trustee of the Sutherland Cranial College of Osteopathy (SCCO) and Member of the Royal Society of Medicine. She was formerly a marketing consultant, with five years experience at what is now Price Waterhouse Coopers, and three years with strategy consultancy, P.Four (now part of WPP). She began her marketing career with Cadbury’s confectionery and retains a lifelong love of chocolate.

Mary was born and raised at a farm on the edge of the south Shropshire hills, the youngest of four children. She attended Shrewsbury High School from age four to eighteen. She spent much of her childhood on horseback, which left her with permanent damage to her right eye, a broken nose, broken knee-cap and broken coccyx. She has been bitten, kicked, rolled on, dragged, and has fallen off too many times to recall, but she still rides racehorses for fun.

Find Mary on her website at: http://www.strangerinmyheart.co.uk

or on Twitter at: @monro_m276

Thank you once again to Anne Cater and Unbound Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Stranger In My Heart is due to be published in June 2018 and will be available as an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046559-stranger-in-my-heart?ac=1&from_search=true

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stranger-My-Heart-Mary-Monro-ebook/dp/B07CVKMBL3/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525977789&sr=8-1&keywords=stranger+in+my+heart

Charlotte Brontë: A Life – Claire Harman

Published April 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Penguin is publishing the definitive biography of this extraordinary novelist, by acclaimed literary biographer Claire Harman.

Charlotte Brontë’s life contained all the drama and tragedy of the great Gothic novels it inspired. She was raised motherless on remote Yorkshire moors and sent away to brutally strict boarding school at a young age. She watched helpless growing up as, one by one, her five beloved siblings sickened and died; by the end of her short life, she was the only child of the Brontë clan remaining. And most fascinating and tragic of all, throughout her adult life she was haunted by a great and unrequited love – a love that tortured Charlotte but also inspired some of the most moving, intense and revolutionary novels ever written in the English language.

Charlotte was a literary visionary, a feminist trailblazer and the driving force behind the whole Brontë family. She encouraged her sister Emily to publish Wuthering Heights when no-one else believed in her talent. She took charge of the family’s precarious finances when her brilliant but feckless brother Branwell succumbed to opium addiction. She travelled from Yorkshire to Europe to the bright lights of London, met some of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation (Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray), and became a bestselling female author in a world still dominated by men. And in each of her books, from Villette and Shirley to her most famous, Jane Eyre, Charlotte created brand new kinds of heroines, inspired by herself and her life, fiercely intelligent women burning with hidden passions.

This beautifully-produced, landmark biography is essential reading for every fan of the Brontë family’s writing, from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. It is a uniquely intimate and complex insight into one of Britain’s best loved writers. This is the literary biography of the year; if you loved Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens, this event is not to be missed.

What did I think?:

My wonderful boyfriend was kind enough to buy me this beautiful hardback edition of Charlotte Brontë – A Life a couple of years ago for a birthday and I cannot believe I’m only getting round to reading it now. Jane Eyre is tied with Pride And Prejudice for one of my favourite classics, actually if I’m being honest, one of my favourite ever books and I’m eagerly anticipating doing a re-read of my lovely Penguin clothbound edition very soon. I’ve always been fascinated about the life of Charlotte but occasionally, memoirs intimidate me slightly so I’ve putting this off for a while now! I honestly don’t know why I was being so silly because this biography was hugely readable and very enjoyable to boot. I have remained shamefully ignorant about Charlotte and her sisters in the past but found out much more than I could ever have anticipated from Claire Harman’s wonderfully researched tome. It’s definitely made me more keen to catch up on the rest of Charlotte’s novels – Vilette, Shirley and The Professor and I can’t wait to get started.

The reader is spoiled with this book in that not only do we get the life of Charlotte to pore over but we get detailed information on every single member of her family. Of course, who could leave out Anne and Emily who had such great successes of their own? We learn about the difficulties faced by Charlotte’s father when he first came to the country from Ireland and how he managed as a single father of six children after his wife died unexpectedly. Not only does Charlotte grow up without the steady hand and love of her mother whom she barely remembers but she has to suffer unbearable agonies as through her life, each of her five siblings also passes away. We get a fascinating insight into Charlotte’s time at boarding school which were so hideous that they inspired the events at the school in her most famous novel, Jane Eyre. Furthermore, we also learn about her great love, a married Belgian schoolteacher who she never really gets over and who breaks her heart by not reciprocating her feelings. Throughout it all, Charlotte comes across as one of the most determined, headstrong, stubborn and gentle women that I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her life was filled with heart-ache but throughout it all, she never gave up and managed to do what she had always dreamed of – to be a successful writer.

Oh my goodness, after this stunning, intricately detailed biography, I feel almost like I know Charlotte inside out. My heart broke with hers when her sisters and brother died, I felt her agony at suffering with low self-esteem and at times, fragile mental health and saw her pain when she fell in love to have it ignored. Not only did I enjoy “meeting” Charlotte but I loved learning in greater depth about Emily, Anne and Branwell too who all had their own individual demons to fight. Some parts were completely shocking – like Emily’s treatment of a dog which was not only hideous but thoroughly confusing to me. There is also evidence that Charlotte herself didn’t actually die of TB as was suspected but was instead suffering from quite a different condition that still plagues many women today (although luckily, they don’t usually pass away from it!). I don’t think I’ve read many biographies that touch my heart and make me feel so many emotions but Charlotte Brontë – A Life was definitely one of these. It’s quite dense in places and reads quite slowly in others but it’s all worth it to learn about the enthralling life of such a beloved author in our history.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Charlotte Brontë – A Life by Claire Harman was the twenty-sixth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Banned Books 2018 – MARCH READ – Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Published March 26, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

An exciting, eye-catching repackage of acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers’ bestselling paperbacks, to coincide with the publication of SUNRISE OVER FALLUJA in hardcover.

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren’t the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the third banned book in our series for 2018! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

APRIL: Saga Volume 3 -Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples
MAY: Blood And Chocolate -Annette Curtis Klause
JUNE: Brave New World-Aldous Huxley
JULY: Julie Of The Wolves -Jean Craighead George
AUGUST: I Am Jazz– Jessica Herthel
SEPTEMBER: Taming The Star Runner– S.E. Hinton
OCTOBER: Beloved -Toni Morrison
NOVEMBER: King & King -Linda de Haan
DECEMBER: Flashcards Of My Life– Charise Mericle Harper
For now, back to this month:

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

First published: 1983

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001  (source)

Reasons: offensive language

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  I’ve mentioned before how I like to go into our banned books completely blind about what the reason for challenging/banning it were and I always like to try and guess why people might not have deemed it appropriate. Well, when I looked at the reason for Fallen Angels being banned in 2001 (still can’t believe that was 17 years ago!!) I had to rub my eyes and look again to see if they’d missed anything. Yup, just offensive language. I have to admit, yes there was a tiny little bit of bad language in this book. It didn’t offend me however and it seemed realistic given the traumatic circumstances that the soldiers found themselves in at times. I’m going to draw from personal experience now and tell you about this lovely older lady I used to work with. Instead of swearing, she would substitute the word for a plant beginning with the same letter. For example, I’ll use the relatively tame: “Damn!” Instead of “Damn!,” she used to say, “Dandelions!” It used to make me smile, bless her heart. Anyway (and there is a point to this little tale) I can’t really imagine very young soldiers i.e. seventeen/eighteen year old getting in a horrific mess and saying “Oh, Fuschia!” or “Buttercup!!”

It felt real to me anyway and the utterances of “bad words,” was so few and far between that to be honest, I barely noticed it. I don’t personally make a habit of swearing on my blog, I know that some people would be offended by it and I would hate to offend anyone but I really do think teenagers/children hear worse things out on the streets/at school/on television than anything written in this book.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t really read up on the reasons why a book has been challenged. I just read it for myself and then try and work out if I knew why it was challenged. I did think the reason this book was challenged was because of the violence and racism casually littered into the story. Offensive language? Teenagers (and unfortunately younger children) hear much worse in their family homes/media/from their peers/music!

How about now?

BETH: As there’s only one reason why this book was challenged/banned, I want to just touch on reasons that I was surprised didn’t come up. We’ve been doing this Banned Books feature for a little while now and a lot of times, the theme of violence, overt sexuality or racism comes up as a reason for the book being thought inappropriate (by some!). Now there was less sexuality (although quite a bit of homophobia) but there was quite a lot of casual racism in Fallen Angels and definitely A LOT of violence. I mean, it’s set around a group of young soldiers in the Vietnam War so if you were expecting anything different, you’d be sorely wrong. As this book was mostly war and soldiers getting injured/dying, I have to say I was really surprised that this didn’t come up as a reason for challenging it? Not that I’m complaining, I don’t agree with banning any books of course, but if you were going to choose a reason…..CONFUSED.

CHRISSI: I’m confused too. I really didn’t think the swearing was that bad. I’ve read a lot worse language in some books. Of course, this book was about soldiers in Vietnam so there was bound to be violence, but I thought that was going to be the reasoning behind it. I’m genuinely baffled as to why the subject matter wasn’t questioned. If you’re going to challenge a book, challenge it for something more substantial than language. Pfft.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this book too well. Some of the scenes are incredibly powerful, especially when Perry and his friends are in the midst of fighting and generally, I find war horrifying anyway so it was always going to be quite an emotive read. However, I just felt like I wanted a bit more character development. I didn’t feel like we got to know any of the boys as well as we could have done if they weren’t fighting all the time. Yes, I get that it was meant to be about the Vietnam War and their traumatic experience of going to war so young but I just feel more could have been made of their characters.

CHRISSI: I was not a fan. Despite there being a war going on, I didn’t feel like much happened in the story. I don’t feel like I got to know any of the characters. I found myself skim reading it which isn’t a sign of a wonderful book…I do know that others would enjoy it. It just didn’t work well for me.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Not sure.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!

 3 Star Rating Clip Art
Coming up on the last Monday of April on Banned Books: we review Saga Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Conspiracy Of Blood And Smoke (Prisoner Of Night And Fog #2) – Anne Blankman

Published January 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The gripping sequel to Prisoner of Night and Fog. The epic tale of one young woman racing to save the man she loves during one of history’s darkest hours. For fans of The Book Thief and Beneath a Scarlet Sky.’

It’s terrifying and incredible to think how much of this story is true’ Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity on Prisoner of Night and Fog 

Gretchen Muller has three rules for her new life:

1. Blend into the surroundings
2. Don’t tell anyone who you really are
3. Never, ever go back to Germany

Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: she used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. When she made an enemy of her former friends, she fled Munich for Oxford with her love, Daniel Cohen. But then a telegram calls Daniel back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside down when he is accused of murder.

To save Daniel, Gretchen must return to her homeland and somehow avoid capture by the Nazi elite. As they work to clear Daniel’s name, they discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and escape in time – or will Hitler find them first?

What did I think?:

Conspiracy Of Blood And Smoke is the second book in the Prisoner Of Night And Fog duology and if you like young adult historical fiction with a strong focus on Germany just prior to World War II, this is definitely the series for you. I’ve always had an interest in that period of history and love to indulge myself in a mixture of fiction and non-fiction so when I thoroughly enjoyed Prisoner Of Night And Fog recently, I was determined to find out what happened to Gretchen and Daniel in the follow up novel. Now, there’s always a worry for me that the second book in a series isn’t going to match the first but luckily Anne Blankman has written another stellar outing for our star-crossed lovers and it was wonderful to be back in Gretchen’s world once more, particularly when she returns to 1930’s Germany. The research the author has done into this period of time shines through in a believable, frightening and super atmospheric story that I devoured in about two sittings.

I’ll try to be kind of vague for those of you that haven’t read the first novel in the series yet but basically all you need to know is that Gretchen, former pet and golden girl of Adolf Hitler is forced to return to Germany with her Jewish boyfriend, Daniel after he receives a telegram in England that makes him worry for his friends and families lives. They return back to Germany in absolute secrecy and in disguise as Daniel is now a wanted criminal and Hitler is obviously very sore at the fact that his former Nazi protégée Gretchen is now in love with a Jewish man. Being discovered would mean certain death for both of our protagonists but they are determined to first of all, clear Daniel’s name for a murder he never committed, and to expose Hitler for the psychopath he is suggested to be to the British authorities before he can have the chance of ruling Germany and starting a war.

This series was recommended to me by my wonderful sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads and I literally jumped at the chance to read it when she told me the synopsis. You might know that I’m not the biggest fan of romance but for some reason, Gretchen and Daniel’s romance just touches my heart. I’m not sure if it was because she was raised by Hitler to hate all Jewish people and when she eventually met Daniel, she realised that Hitler’s propaganda was completely false and incredibly dangerous. I have to say, I am a bit of a sucker for a Romeo/Juliet type love story and this is exactly what this relationship feels like. However, I also adore that the author challenges normal gender stereotypes (especially in 1930’s Britain/Germany) by making our lead female protagonist quite the brave heroine that thinks nothing of risking her own life in order to save Daniel.

Another thing I love about this series is that not everything is tied up with a bow. We know as a reader, there isn’t necessarily going to be a happy ending, we realise from history that Hitler DOES end up becoming Chancellor of Germany and obviously, we understand that World War II did happen and a huge number of people lost their lives. The “bad guy,” cannot be vanquished in this case but Gretchen and Daniel do manage to carry out a great deal of good that alerts certain individuals to exactly how dangerous in fact Hitler really is. This novel feels for me like one big adventure with such fast-paced action that at times it almost left me breathless. Expect the unexpected, suspend your disbelief slightly and just enjoy the evocative world that Anne Blankman has created.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Conspiracy Of Blood And Smoke by Anne Blankman is the third book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest for the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

The King’s Curse – Philippa Gregory

Published October 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The final novel in the Cousins’ War series, the basis for the critically acclaimed Starz miniseries, The White Queen, by #1 New York Times bestselling author and “the queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) Philippa Gregory tells the fascinating story of Margaret Pole, cousin to the “White Princess,” Elizabeth of York, and lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.

What did I think?:

I’ve got such fond memories of when I first became aware of Philippa Gregory. A friend introduced me to her Wideacre trilogy consisting of the books Wideacre, The Favoured Child and Meridon all of which I adored and then my sister introduced me to her Tudor books and this is when I fell in love with her as an author. I haven’t been reading her as prolifically as I once did as unfortunately I feel like her last few novels in the Cousins’ War series haven’t been as brilliant as I know she can write but I still hugely enjoy both her writing and her intense focus on the women that history hasn’t given an adequate voice.

Margaret Pole is one of those women and The King’s Curse tells her story. She is daughter of the Duke of Clarence, cousin to Elizabeth of York (Henry VIII’s mother) and in this novel, becomes lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon and then warden to her first daughter, Princess Mary. You may all be aware of what happens to poor Queen Katherine so this story is a fascinating insight into Margaret’s feelings and loyalties to both her King and to the woman she adores like a sister. Margaret comes across as a strong, sensible woman whose own family’s safety and well-being is paramount in her mind but she also demonstrates a steadfast faith and respect for those that she binds herself to both in duty and in friendship. She doesn’t have an easy life and her morals and values are tested in the worst ways imaginable but by the end, she remains true to herself and those close to her and earns the reader’s instant respect and admiration.

As I mentioned before, I love how Philippa Gregory takes a forgotten woman of history and suggests how important they may actually have been in the grand scheme of things. I loved learning more about her and was especially intrigued by her fragile relationship with King Henry VIII as he views her and her family as an obvious threat to his throne. Even though Margaret is our main protagonist, we still hear a lot about what is happening at the Tudor court at that period of history i.e. the divorce of Henry and Katherine, the rule of Anne Boleyn and the dissolution of the Catholic church with Henry VIII attempting to replace the Pope as the supreme ruler in England. It’s obvious the author has done some meticulous research as she forged this story and although parts of it have already been told before, for example in The Constant Princess and arguably her most famous novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, it never feels tired, old or re-hashed as we hear about events from a completely different point of view. I don’t think I’ll ever get weary of reading about the Tudor dynasty, a period of our past where the characters are just so incredibly effervescent and fascinating and I’m looking forward to getting to her next novel: The Taming Of The Queen.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Katherine Of Aragon, The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) – Alison Weir

Published April 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The lives of Henry VIII’s queens make for dramatic stories and Alison Weir will write a series of novels that offer insights into the real lives of the six wives based on extensive research and new theories.

In all the romancing, has anyone regarded the evidence that Anne Boleyn did not love Henry VIII? Or that Prince Arthur, Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, who is said to have loved her in fact cared so little for her that he willed his personal effects to his sister? Or that Henry VIII, an over-protected child and teenager, was prudish when it came to sex? That Jane Seymour, usually portrayed as Henry’s one true love, had the makings of a matriarch? There is much to reveal …

Alison will write about the wives in the context of their own age and of the court intrigues that surrounded these women and – without exception – wrecked their lives. She will transport readers into a lost and vivid world of splendour and brutality: a world in which love, or the game of it, dominates all.

What did I think?:

When I was at school I didn’t pay much attention to history lessons and felt it didn’t really interest me that much. Then as an adult, I found how much I was missing out on and I credit authors like Alison Weir for introducing me to important individuals from our past in both her fiction and non-fiction in such a wonderful way that without reading her I would have remained woefully ignorant. I first came across Alison Weir’s work in her non-fiction, namely the excellent book Henry VIII, The King And His Court which I highly recommend. This led to me being fascinated with the Tudor period of British history and devouring any book by the author that was relevant. When Alison starting writing historical fiction, I was delighted and her meticulous research and passion for her subject clearly comes across in her novels.

The Six Tudor Queens is a new series of historical fiction novels, each one focusing on a wife of Henry VIII:

“that provide insight into the real lives of these women, based on extensive research and new theories, novels that will put the six wives into the context of their own age”.

Thank you so much to Headline publishers via Book Bridgr who sent me an absolutely gorgeous hardback edition of the first novel, Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen in exchange for an honest review. Well, I have to admit I’m already slightly biased as I’m a huge fan of Alison Weir but believe me, I’m not going to gush about this book insincerely. It’s an absolutely stunning piece of work and gave much deeper insights into Katherine of Aragon as a person than I ever could have dreamed of.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Katherine’s story, I’ll give a very quick synopsis. She was the first wife of Henry VIII and originally came over as a princess of Spain to be the wife of his brother, Arthur who was the heir to the throne of England. However, Arthur dies quite suddenly and Katherine is left in limbo for the longest time while Henry’s father, Henry VII, decides what is to be done with her. She finally gets her happy ending when she marries Henry and becomes Queen but their marriage whilst initially a happy one is fraught with difficulties and tragedies over the years. Throughout all her personal losses, disappointments and outright betrayals however, Katherine remains dignified and regal, certainly making her mark on history as a true Queen of England.

I don’t want to say too much about Katherine’s struggles, particularly in her relationships with her husband, Henry but it’s an utterly compelling and gripping tale that reveals just how much effort and love Alison Weir has put into this novel to make Katherine’s story come alive. Out of all of Henry’s wives, she remains firmly in my top two, even more so now after the beauty of Alison’s writing. The next book in the series, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is due to be published on the 18th of May and I was ecstatic to be approved for it on NetGalley (thank you again Headline!). Expect a review for that around about the publication date but if it’s anything as powerful as this first novel, I’m going to be one happy Tudor fan girl.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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