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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My review of The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

About the book:

Why would a woman marry a serial killer?

Because she cannot refuse...

Kateryn Parr, a thirty-year-old widow in a secret affair with a new lover, has no choice when a man old enough to be her father who has buried four wives – King Henry VIII – commands her to marry him.

Kateryn has no doubt about the danger she faces: the previous queen lasted sixteen months, the one before barely half a year. But Henry adores his new bride and Kateryn's trust in him grows as she unites the royal family, creates a radical study circle at the heart of the court, and rules the kingdom as regent.

But is this enough to keep her safe? A leader of religious reform and a published author,  Kateryn stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own. But she cannot save the Protestants, under threat for their faith, and Henry's dangerous gaze turns on her.The traditional churchmen and rivals for power accuse her of heresy - the punishment is death by fire and the king's name is on the warrant...

From an author who has described all of Henry's queens comes a deeply intimate portrayal of the last: a woman who longed for passion, power and education at the court of a medieval killer.

My review:

I've read seven of Philippa's books so far and have enjoyed them all. I think, however, that this is my favorite because it delves into the theological issues of the time. That's not something you see very often in history novels. There was quite a bit of detail regarding the Bible and how important it was for people to read it for themselves.There were even some inspiring bits of scripture in the body of the story. Of course, what the Bible actually said didn't back up the Catholic church's teachings. No wonder the papists did not want the common people to know what was being said in Latin masses or those newly educated commoners would no longer follow the church's teachings and practices.

Many history books cover the horrors and the burnings/hangings/beheadings, etc., but they typically don't go into why people felt so strongly about their beliefs that they would rather die than deny their faith. I especially loved the section about Anne Askew and how she refused to betray the queen. She knew that the queen could continue to influence the king and the nation, so it was more important for the protestant cause for her to die than for the queen to be implicated.

I also loved how she showed that women had no choice but to obey their husbands - especially if the husband also happened to be king - and the toll it took on them as people. I'm sure Kateryn Parr worried about the king's future intentions for her given that she was wife number six and he never seemed satisfied for long. For her to be allowed so much freedom and encouragement to write and translate only to later have it used as a means of bringing her to her death by the papists was compelling. I don't doubt that many people were able to manipulate the king, especially when he was ill and on a rage from his health problems.

I found his tactics interesting. Pit people against each other so they fight among themselves. Then they have no time to plot against the king. That's a creative way to divert people from offing you. King Henry did so many things in a fit of rage that he came to regret later that I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for him despite everything. I didn't like how the queen had to agree with everything he said - crazy as it might seem - to avoid the chopping block herself. There were moments when Henry seemed to genuinely love Kateryn, but there were other times when she must've felt like a second ranked wife over the wife of his only son, who died in childbirth giving him an heir. He venerated her and that's a tough situation for the living spouse.

I found one of the last things Henry talked with his wife about to be very sad. She said he loved his children and Henry came back with a "not really" comment because he said he never felt loved himself. Used for what he could give people and hated by his enemies, maybe. But never truly loved. People wanted power and he could give them that. But ultimately he had all the power until he died. Then it was chaos all around. Better to be a working class person than royalty in those days.

I also felt bummed for the young aristocrats who were innocent but died because their parents implicated them hoping to save their own necks, like young Henry Howard being sent to the tower even though he hadn't plotted against the king. He protested his innocence and died anyway because the privy counsel had a lot of power and wanted to please the king. He couldn't even trust his own family to defend him because his father hoped sending him to the tower would let them keep his own head. So sad.

The Taming of the Queen was an interesting novel rich with theological debate and delving into the contrasting faiths. I loved that the most about this book. It was published by Simon and Schuster and released in August 2015.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why I love historical fiction

I just wanted to share a few thoughts regarding my love of historical fiction. I am not quite sure when my love of the genre began as I have always loved books. My first real recollection began with a series by Stephen Lawhead called The Song of Albion trilogy. Then I started reading books by Francine Rivers like The Mark of the Lion series and her most famous book, Redeeming Love. I was in my early twenties when this love for historical fiction took off. Now I can say that I have read in the past two decades at least 700 - 1000+ historical fiction books. Many of them surround similar themes/eras (like biblical fiction, the World War II era, 1800s western fiction, or Medieval Europe.) Anyway, feel free to comment on your favorite genre and why you love it. I also read a lot of contemporary novels, dystopian, young adult, romance, fantasy, etc. but my absolute favorite is still historical fiction with a hint of romance.)

Friday, March 11, 2016

My review of River Road by Carol Goodman

About the book:

From the award-winning author of The Lake of Dead Languages comes a chilling new psychological thriller about a professor accused of killing her favorite student in a hit-and-run accident.

Nan Lewis—a creative writing professor at a state university in upstate New York—is driving home from a faculty holiday party after finding out she’s been denied tenure. On her way, she hits a deer, but when she gets out of her car to look for it, the deer is nowhere to be found. Eager to get home and out of the oncoming snowstorm, Nan is forced to leave her car at the bottom of her snowy driveway to wait out the longest night of the year—and the lowest point of her life…

The next morning, Nan is woken up by a police officer at her door with terrible news—one of her students, Leia Dawson, was killed in a hit-and-run on River Road the night before. And because of the damage to her car, Nan is a suspect. In the days following the accident, Nan finds herself shunned by the same community that rallied around her when her own daughter was killed in an eerily similar accident six years prior. When Nan begins finding disturbing tokens that recall the death of Nan’s own daughter, Nan suspects that the two accidents are connected.

As she begins to dig further, she discovers that everyone around her, including Leia, is hiding secrets. But can she uncover them, clear her name, and figure out who really killed Leia before her reputation is destroyed for good?

My review:

This was a quick read and an adventurous story. What originally intrigued me about this novel was the setting took place in New York on a SUNY campus and I'm a SUNY alumni myself. I also love psychological thrillers. It didn't hurt that I love to write fiction and the main character was a writing professor at the university. Only the heroine came with baggage. She had a drinking problem and unresolved grief from the loss of her child and marriage. The story ended up being quite a ride. 

It read more like a mystery, but with some action like you'd find in a suspense novel. There were some red herrings along the way, but in the end I suspected one person was behind most of it and I ended up guessing correctly. The author gave you just a little bit of information here and there to make you suspect this character was somehow involved. 

Like with the game spin the bottle, the open end pointed at one person, but then they were cleared and the plot spun a bit more and someone else ended up being accused of the hit and run, and so on. The plot kept thickening and getting all twisty like River Road where the accident occurred. I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for the heroine for the majority of the story, so she was a sympathetic character as well. 

The minor romantic theme was nice and brought me some comfort, because otherwise she lived in a pretty lonely world and one that I wouldn't wish on anyone. There were no overt spiritual themes in this book and there was some mild cursing and sexual tension, but nothing graphic or over-the-top. I would recommend this story to mystery lovers and people who like getting lost in a story for a few days. This novel delivers and I enjoyed it quite a bit even though my favorite genre is historical fiction. 

River Road was published by Touchstone Books and released in January 2016.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My review of The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell


About the book:

In this smart and enthralling debut in the spirit of The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family's long-rumored secret estate, using clues her eccentric father left behind.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. As the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family, she's rumored to have inherited a vital, mysterious portion of the Brontë's literary estate; diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts; a hidden fortune that's never been shown outside of the family.

But Samantha has never seen this rumored estate, and as far as she knows, it doesn't exist. She has no interest in acknowledging what the rest of the world has come to find so irresistible; namely, the sudden and untimely death of her eccentric father, or the cryptic estate he has bequeathed to her.

But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and bits and pieces of her past start mysteriously arriving at her doorstep, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father's handwriting. As more and more bizarre clues arrive, Samantha soon realizes that her father has left her an elaborate scavenger hunt using the world's greatest literature. With the aid of a handsome and elusive Oxford professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontë's own writing.

A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, this vibrant and original novel is a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction. 

My review:

While I don't typically read mystery-type books, this one intrigued me because of the Gothic setting and description. For one,  I enjoy reading debut authors because they often have a new and interesting voice. This one is filled with quick wit and dry humor.  I've not read any of the Bronte sisters' novels, but I have seen Jane Eyre on film. I enjoyed the verbal banter and the arguments Samantha had with the intellectuals from Oxford, and with Orville in particular. The one core lesson I learned by reading this story is that sometimes challenging people makes them grow, and for that reason, it's a good thing to be a student and not always the "expert" in your own mind.

This novel has a literary fiction "feel" to the writing style. Sometimes I like that and sometimes I don't. In this case I enjoyed it because it centered around the main character's introspection into her family and her experiences. The story was more about learning about oneself and the joys and disappointments in life (that Samantha discovered about herself while residing in the tower at Oxford) than about the Bronte sisters, though their books were certainly a core theme and discussed a lot as part of the novel. 

I didn't think the story was as fast paced as described, but it held my interest and I read it fairly quickly. There were some poignant moments and I loved how Samantha finally allowed herself to feel some of her pain. I think sometimes when you are most vulnerable, you are also the most attractive. The story had a few curse words sprinkled in, but there was nothing I'd describe as offensive. I'd give it a PG rating for those who are discerning and concerned about content before they choose a new author or novel. The book releases tomorrow, and if you like English settings with academic and literary fiction at the core of the mystery, you'll enjoy this book.  

The Madwoman Upstairs was published by Touchstone books and releases March 1, 2016.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My review of Risen by Angela Hunt

About the book:

A Powerful Novelization from Bestselling Author Angela Hunt
Epic in scope, yet deeply personal, this novelization offers a unique perspective on the story of the resurrection. Roman Tribune Clavius is assigned by Pilate to keep the radical followers of the recently executed Yeshua from stealing the body and inciting revolution. When the body goes missing despite his precautions, Clavius must hunt it down.
His investigation leads him from the halls of Herod Antipas to the Garden of Gethsemane and brings him in touch with believer and doubter alike. But as the body still remains missing, Clavius commits to a quest for the truth--and answers that will not only shake his life but echo throughout all of history.

My review:

I loved this story. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I wanted to read the book first anyway. It was well-written and made me think about some of the events that happened from other people's perspectives. And the coolest thing about this story was Rachel's part in the Roman's understanding of Jewish history and how it all fits together with the Messiah. I loved how she even thought while making of the unleavened bread with it's stripes and holes and remembering what they meant. Everything tied back to the Messiah and Jesus fulfilling the prophecy that she grew up hearing about from her family's study of the Torah. 

The author says at the end of the book she was not actually part of the movie due to time constraints, but Rachel was in the original screenplay. She was my favorite character. Even though she knew she was living in sin by allowing Clavius to visit her house, she still talked with him about the prophesies of her people and answered his questions when when he came to visit her at night. I found it fascinating how God still used their relationship to open his eyes to the possibility of God coming to earth in the form of a man and redeeming us all. I loved how she shows through his perspective that Jesus was utterly and completely dead, and then when he examined the tomb it didn't look like it was broken into but that something inside the tomb snapped the ropes, etc.  Anyway, I can't wait to see the movie. 

Risen was published by Bethany House and released in December 2015

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My review of Chivalrous by Dina L. Sleiman

About the book:

Strong and adventurous Gwendolyn Barnes longs to be a knight like her chivalrous brothers. However, that is not an option for her, not even in the Arthurian-inspired Eden where she dwells. Her parents view her only as a marriage pawn, and her domineering father is determined to see her wed to a brutish man who will break her spirit. When handsome, good-hearted Allen of Ellsworth arrives in Edendale searching for his place in the world, Gwendolyn spies in him the sort of fellow she could imagine marrying. Yet fate seems determined to keep them apart. Tournaments, intrigue, and battles--along with twists and turns aplenty--await these two as they struggle to find love, identity, and their true destinies.

My review:

I enjoyed this book. It made me think of a warm and fuzzy Robin Hood themed story (the one made by Disney with the Fox and Hare, etc,) but  with a Christian twist. There is a strong faith element to the novel that makes it clear how our relationship to God must be personal to be effective. I could not agree more. There is also a bit of A Knight's Tale blended in with the knights fighting in tournaments and jousting. It put me in the mood to want to go to a Renaissance Festival, lol!

It was clear the story was tailored by the publisher to fit their typical readership. I'd say this book was rated G overall. There were a few realistic elements that shaped the main female character, like the physical abuse she and her mother suffered at the hands of her father, but it was a very small part of the story. It did fit the mentality of the times -- that women were supposed to be ruled by the men in the family.

I can see how Gwen's childhood and seeing what her mother endured would make her want to train to fight if needed to protect her family from the brutality of her father. I can see her hanging out in trees to get away from it all. I do feel a bit disadvantaged by not having read the first book in the series, which sounds like it had an even stronger Robin Hood theme, including a heroine named Merry. I do believe the story that comes next will be about Rosalind, and if so, it will no doubt tug on heart strings. Overall, this was an enjoyable read.

Chivalrous was published by Bethany House and released in September 2015,
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