Philippa Gregory in Chronological Order

August 30, 2007 at 5:04 pm | Posted in Adoption, Books, Family, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 24 Comments
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I thought that it might be helpful to list the books Philippa Gregory has written around the history of Henry VIII and his immediate descendants in chronological order for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading them for yourself.

1. The Constant Princess
2. The Other Boleyn Girl
3. The Boleyn Inheritance
4. The Queen’s Fool
5. The Virgin’s Lover
6. The Other Queen

Filling In the Gaps

Philippa’s books do not cover everything. After reading The Boleyn Inheritance, I wanted to know more about Henry’s last wife. I found The Last Wife of Henry VIII, which answered my questions and was a great read. Around that time, Alison Weir’s first “g0-round” in fiction came out, entitled Innocent Traitor. It tells the story of Lady Jane Grey, otherwise known as the Nine Day’s Queen. I would suggest reading this book after The Last Wife of Henry VIII and The Lady Elizabeth before The Queen’s Fool.

I have also read Portrait of an Unknown Woman, which is about an adopted daughter of Sir Thomas More. This book is no where near as directly related to Henry VIII as the others. What it does, however, is give the reader the feeling of living in Tudor England at the time of Henry’s affair with and marriage to Anne Boleyn. It’s very interesting to read a book where Henry is rearing his head in the book indirectly.

#34 ~ The Lady and the Unicorn

August 16, 2007 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments
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The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

This book was an incredibly fast read and a wonderful experience. Before finishing this book I thought that this was the best Tracy Chevalier novel I’ve read thus far. The characters are interesting from the very beginning and, unlike some books – not just Chevalier’s, I never really figured out “where all of this” was going until the end. That is really nice.

The Lady and the Unicorn tells the story of a randy artist commissioned to paint a series of portraits that will become tapestries for a “new money” aristocrat in Paris. [to be completed]

10/28/2007

Okay, so I never did complete this review. It was a good book. I think what drew me to it more than any other of Chevalier’s work was the transformation of paintings into tapestries. All of the characters involved were interesting and engaging. I also think that all received the future they deserved as well.

#33 ~ Special Topics in Calamity Physics

August 8, 2007 at 3:27 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Brain Food for Thought, Childhood Memories, Inspiration, LIfe, Marisha Pessl, Memoir, My Life with Books, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 2 Comments
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Just 75 pages into Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I knew that I was going to enjoy it. When what I was reading spoke to me personally in conjunction with an outside conversation I had just moments before reading it, I knew that I was reading something spooky-spectacular. Now that I’ve completed this novel, I can say that I’ve never read anything quite like it. It is as fabulous in its story as it is original in its style and form. I hope to keep my mind long enough to see how this book is regarded by future generations.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the story of Blue van Meer, the only child of an amazingly intellectual college professor named Gareth. She lost her mother at the age of five in a terrible car accident. From that time forward, the van Meer’s traveled from one small college town to the next ~ usually once per semester. The main story begins just before Blue’s senior year of high school. As a special “treat,” her dad takes a year-long teaching position in a small North Carolina town with an excellent prep school which will help Blue get into Harvard. Truth be told, Blue’s intelligence matches her father’s. There’s little doubt that Harvard would pass her up.

Given Blue’s nomadic childhood, she developed a strong bond with her father ~ in equal parts because he was her only constant and because she tended to keep to herself. That all changed at St. Gallway. Through a fluke encounter at the local grocery store, she catches the eye of Hannah Schnieder, a beautiful woman who happens to be the film teacher.

Hannah has mentored a group of five classmates called the “Bluebloods” by the rest of the class. Upon Hannah’s insistence, Blue is reluctantly included in their weekly Sunday dinners at Hannah’s house. After a couple of months, she’s even seen as one of them. In one form or another, they all get embroiled in figuring out Hannah’s mysterious life away from them. When Hannah is discovered dead, Blue’s newfound life is destroyed along with it. Worse still, while the “Bluebloods” are nearly violent in blaming Blue for Hannah’s death, no one else will believe that her was anything other than a suicide. Blue is forced to go it alone to detangle Hannah and why she was so mysteriously attached to her.

This book is written in first person by Blue as a memoir of her childhood. Pessl uses the experiences of this interesting father/daughter relationship to construct this novel. It is full of references and hand-drawn reproductions of pictures used to illustrate her points. One might think that references would bog down a novel written as a memoir, but they were nothing short of a delight. Blue never used a quotation unnecessarily. Although I never bothered to check to see how fictitious (or not) they were, this novel would not have worked without them.

I would have to say one of the most amazing things about the construction of this novel is the Table of Contents. It is created in the form of a syllabus from one of Gareth’s courses. Each chapter title is that of a well known novel or story. Each one (for at least those that I was familiar with) was absolutely perfect for that chapter. I could not believe how ingenious and creative that little touch is. How could I not buy a book with a chapter entitled, “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man?” For that matter, how could I not adore a character who makes up a Ulysses study group to get out of her house and out with her mentor? There were times that the Table of Contents alone made me happy to be alive as a literate human being.

There is still some summer left. Do yourself a huge favor. Buy this book.  I swear you’ll want to keep it. Take a long weekend (Labor Day if you must), sit back, crack open this book and be delighted. You may find yourself reading way into the wee hours of the night without being exhausted the next day.

Yes, my friends, it’s that refreshing.

#31 ~ Falling Angels

July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

This novel is setup in a compelling way. The story is told through the point of view of eleven (+/-) narrators. You have to delve into the agenda of each character in order to determine what really is happening and why Those agendas are prone to change as the character matures or makes life altering decisions. It took no time to get engrossed in the story and I can’t tell you how many times I skimmed through the pages to come in search of the next entry by one narrator or another.

The story revolves around two families roughly in the same socio-economic class, but with Maude’s family slightly higher than Lavinia’s. It is the shared love of the cemetery that brings these young girls together in friendship, much to the chagrin of their mothers. Maude’s mother, Kitty Coleman, is an educated woman who is disappointed in what life has to hold for her has caused her to neglect those in her life who love her. She feels that her life would be so much more had she not been required to get married. Lavinia’s mother, Gertrude Waterhouse, invests all too much of herself in her role as wife and mother. She would be no one if she did not have a husband, child, or house to care for. As time goes on, each mother is secretly grateful for the presence of the other child in their daughter’s life. Lavinia has all the flare and lust for life that Kitty wishes Maude had. Maude is down to earth and more reserved, the way that Gertrude wishes Lavinia was.

As they move toward adolescence, the cemetery is no longer enough to maintain the friendship. In fact, even the reasons why each girl enjoys going there separates them. Lavinia is ecstatic when an aunt passes away because it gives her the opportunity to practice and embrace the societal standards for mourning. Maude has no interest whatsoever in mourning traditions. Her interest in visiting the cemetery is practical. She wants to learn the ins and outs of burial and, most controversially, cremation. Maude becomes weary of Lavinia’s drama and conversely, Lavinia becomes bored with Maude’s practicality. As the girls’ friendship comes to a cross roads, Kitty becomes fully involved in the women’s suffrage movement, pulling the girls and both families in with her. Their involvement in the historic suffrage march in London changes all of their forever.

In the end, I found the build up much more intense and interesting than the conclusion. Still, I enjoyed reading it. Even the most beautiful jigsaw puzzle is far more fun to put together than it is to look at.

#30 ~ The Kite Runner

July 6, 2007 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This book was selected for me and I couldn’t be more thankful. It was a book I’ve seen and picked up many times before. Afghanistan . Do I really want to spend my reading time on a topic that is somewhat hard to avoid IRL? That was what I thought before I started reading about it. Now I’m glad that I was “forced” to read it.

This is the story of a boy, Amir, who doesn’t live up to his father’s expectations and that sense of shame is compounded when he chooses not to step in and save his best friend, Hassan, from a vicious attack – an attack that was precipitated in part by Hassan’s loyalty to him. Although it was Hassan who was hurt, Amir can’t stand the shame he feels when he’s around him. He pushes Hassan and his family away until they leave for good. You can’t escape your past forever or remove guilt and shame. Even after moving to the United States , gaining the love of his father, and marrying it haunts Amir. A call from a trusted mentor offers him a reason to return to his homeland and make amends with his past and peace with his own inadequacies – if only he’s now brave enough to do so.

I’ve decided not to go into too much detail and give Judi some time to read her copy. I would encourage everyone to read this book. You will not regret it.

#29 ~ The Way The Crow Flies

June 19, 2007 at 9:33 am | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Parenting Dilemmas, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 1 Comment
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The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald

 

When you sit down to read a book over 800 pages, you know that you’ve committed to a very detailed story. When you’ve challenged yourself to finish every book come hell or high water, that commitment can be very daunting. Thankfully, The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald was mainly an enjoyable read about the unintended impact secrets can have.

 

Much of this book is told from the perspective of Madeleine, the young child of a happily married Royal Canadian Air Force family, and her father, Jack. As the book begins, her family is relocating to the base in Centralia, the site of the accident that prevented her father from battling the Germans during World War II. She looks up to her father, Jack, as a hero. She loves for him to tell her the stories of his plane accident and how he met her mother, Mimi. Mimi is Acadian and frequently speaks to her children in French. Like many younger siblings (most typically my own), she worships her older brother Mike and would like nothing more than to be in his favor. For a little more than 100 pages, the reader gets to know the McCarthys. They are a typical nuclear family.

 

Through a connection with his beloved flight instructor and mentor, Simon, Jack becomes involved in a covert mission to move a rocket scientist who has defected from the Soviet Union into the United States. Jack’s mission is to take care of him while he’s located in London, Ontario, waiting for an American soldier to take him over the border. To his knowledge, Jack is the only person in Ontario aware of what is happening. Although he feels guilty about keeping this mission secret from his Commanding Officer, the young American officer who does not know why his family has been stationed in Centralia, and his beloved wife. In the beginning, his little white lies are easy enough to conceal and he enjoys being “in the know.”

 

Madeleine enters grade four about a month after the move. She’s made two good friends, Auriel and Lisa, made contact with an unconventional family living across the street, has come to dislike a pushy girl named Marjorie, and dislikes her teacher, Mr. March. For the first few weeks of school, her life is what could be expected of a fourth grader. When her teacher begins making her stay after school to do backbends in front of his chair, the entire book picks up and becomes difficult to put down. Madeleine’s happy childhood is over. She is ashamed of what he does to her and no longer feels worthy of her parents, most especially her father. When Mimi senses something isn’t right, Jack takes over and misses the signals that Madeleine is fighting so hard to hide. As a reader, your heart breaks for her and for all of the girls forced to stay “after three.”

 

Madeleine’s despair eventually leads to a habit of smelling her fingers. She is sure that everyone can smell the disgusting things she’s experienced. On Halloween, Madeleine takes her emotions out by soaping Mr. March’s classroom windows and debarking a tree with her father’s golf club. Her conscience gets the best of her and it is her confessions to Mr. March and the principal that save her from having to stay after school any longer. In addition, she has become friends with Colleen, the oldest daughter of the non-military neighbors across the street. Colleen is a rough and tumble older girl. Eventually, she makes Madeleine her blood sister.

 

All of this would have been a happy thing for her, except that he chooses the daughter of the American officer to replace Madeleine in the “exercise” group. Claire is a nice girl and Madeleine cannot bare the thought of sparing herself for this to happen. She finds away to protect Claire, but her experience in the “exercise” group with Marjorie and Grace, the two class misfits, has set into motion a string of events that could not be stopped.

 

After Claire is murdered and Colleen’s brother is implicated, Madeleine’s family loses its shine. At the same time, Jack’s entanglements with the defecting scientist began to interrupt his work and home life. He is forced to choose between being the honest person he has prided himself with being, his family, and his closest friend in Centralia or his covert position and relationship with Simon. His decision changes his future and that of each member of his family. In fact, all of the families that Madeleine has come to know in Centralia make life changing decisions after the murder. Although it is believed that the murderer has been captured, everyone who was due to transfer does so happily. It was as if this mass exodus was a predictor of the eventual dissolution of the Royal Canadian Air Force itself.

 

As an adult, Madeleine has to come to terms with the abuse she experienced and the unsolved murder of her childhood. Her parents, while still married, have grown apart. Jack spends much of his time watching television while Mimi gets a job and loses herself in volunteer work. The mother and daughter are no longer close. For me, the book slows down at this point. It is interesting to learn of Madeleine’s career and her adult relationships, but the lead up to the conclusion is long and tedious. As many things are not a secret to the reader, the build up of Madeleine’s therapy sessions is anticlimactic.

 

This book would have been much improved if the first 100 pages were shorted 75 of the last 150 pages were somehow condensed. Also, there is a lead in to many sections that talks about the crows, and what they saw of the murder victim that took me out of the story. Their intended purpose was lost on me. Still, I enjoyed this book and looked forward to learning the fate of all the people we met in Centralia. Unless you’re dying to read a long book, I would suggest waiting for the movie. It ought to be really good.

#28 ~ The Queen’s Fool

June 7, 2007 at 2:26 am | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, My Life with Books, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies | 1 Comment
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The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

The magnificent and deeply satisfying way in which Innocent Traitor ended made it too tempting to continue on with the saga of the Tudor monarchy. Reading Veronica only intensified that temptation. I was not disappointed. The Queen’s Fool is the story of a young Jewish girl who took flight from Spain after her mother was burned at the stake by the Inquisition. Hannah, an entirely fictional character, is no ordinary girl. She works hard and dresses as a boy to look the part of her father’s apprentice in London. She takes pride in her father’s book store and printing press. Still, the fear of being burned is never far away.

It is at her father’s shop in London where she comes in contact Lord Robert Dudley and his tutor, John Dee. When she sees a third person in their ranks, who, it was determined, must have been an angel, Dudley gets Hannah’s father’s permission to be bring her to the ailing Kind Edward as his holy fool. Thus, Hannah takes on Edward’s livery and enters court for the first time. Although he begged Hannah off on the King, Lord Robert wants her services to help him and his conspirators to best plan to take the throne from Lady Mary and keep England Protestant. When she is able to intuit the date of Edward’s death and that a woman named Jane (Lady Jane Grey) is to be queen, Robert sends her away from the King’s side and to stay with Lady Mary as his spy. Hannah is so enamored with Robert that she agrees. Perhaps it was because she has had to lead her life from one lie to another in order to keep herself alive, she found a way to keep her promise to Lord Robert while still remaining loyal to Lady Mary. She loves her the way in which a daughter loves a mother from the very first because Mary is gentle and kind to her.

And another...

And another...

It’s not until the noose tightens around all of England while Queen Mary burns as many heretics as she can find that Hannah’s love for being at court is trumped by her survival instincts. She is no longer safe now that the Queen is deeply depressed due to the state of her marriage and her kingdom. She blames her false pregnancy on God’s displeasure with England. Surely once the heretics are gone the Lord will shine down and provide an heir. It is nearly too late when she sends word to her father, who had moved to Calais with her betrothed husband, to come and take her to safety. Although young and not ready for life as a dutiful wife after living so many years in breaches and living like a lad, she does desire her husband Daniel. Although her mother and sisters-in-law highly disapprove of her, she tries her best to be a dutiful wife. Yet when the French attack Calais, she flees under the protection of Lord Dudley and finds herself once again meshed in the intrigue of the Tudor court.

I had a weird experience while reading this book. I read a paragraph and I felt deja vu wash over me. It was as if I had both read that same paragraph once before and that I had witnessed the scene with my own eyes. Spooky! If Queen Mary were alive to hear me even hint at feelings of reincarnation I’d be dry and crispy right now. You got to love those Tudors.

#22 ~ The Thirteenth Tale

May 12, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Posted in Books, Gothic Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

It took me a while to read this book, but that is not because it wasn’t interesting and delightful. Suffice to say that sometimes work gets in the way of life. I completely enjoyed reading a Gothic ghost story once again. I keep forgetting how much I enjoy them. There’s something about a misty, haunted moor filled with secrets and lies to keep my interest until the very end.

The narrator, an avid reader, lives above her father’s bookstore. From a very young age Margaret spent a majority of her time reading. Her ability to read expanded once she began working at the store full-time. The store is full of exotic books, but it is not the main way in which their livings are earned. Her father has a knack for finding the most difficult books. Four of those sales a year is all they need.

Her life is sheltered within this world of books until she is offered the opportunity to write the biography of one of Britian’s greatest living novelists. Vida Winter spent her life spinning tales when asked about her private life. To Margaret, she wants to come clean. Margaret’s family also has its secrets that keeps her at arms length from her mother. After some discussion with her father, she accepts the position and makes a temporary move to Ms. Winter’s estate.

The world of shadows, ghosts, and mentally unstable relatives unfolds for Margaret during sessions with the author in her library. As Margaret tries to tie together loose ends and prove to herself that Ms. Winter is not making a fool of her, the reader is, too. The rules that Ms. Winter put in place about not asking questions and not jumping ahead in the story are as tantalizingly frustrating to the reader as they are to the narrator.

The conclusion to this book is reminiscent to many other Gothic novels. Asylum by Patrick McGrath came to mind. It, by far, is my favorite book in this genre. I finished the book with satisfaction. It was nice to not feel disappointed. The fact that I wasn’t longing for more is not negative. It felt complete and that is a joy to me. Not everything has to end with Scarlett tormented on the stairs determined to get Rhett back after first rejuvenating her soul at Tara.

#19 ~ The Boleyn Inheritance

April 30, 2007 at 8:22 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Secrets and Lies | 7 Comments
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The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

I was so excited to begin reading this book. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl so much that I had to force myself to read other types of books before buying this one. The Boleyn Inheritance did not disappoint me. It is the continuation of the Boleyn family story after the beheading of Anne Boleyn and is told from the perspective of three different women who cannot avoid Henry the 8th’s dangerous court: Jane Boleyn, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard. Jane Boleyn, Ann Boleyn’s sister-in-law who sent the Queen and her own husband to their deaths, has been taken into the confidence of the Duke of Norfolk. He is the Howard family patriarch who bailed out on his niece and nephew to secure his place in King Henry’s court and to save his own life. He brought Jane back to court to be his loyal informant when Henry married Anne of Cleves.

We meet Anne of Cleves posing for a portrait to be sent to King Henry. He was to use the portraits to select his fourth wife. His third wife, Jane Seymour, had died from an infection brought about by the birth of his only legitimate son, Edward. Anne desperately wanted to Henry to select her so that she could flee the land of her birth and be rid of her family. Her brother was the Duke of Cleves. He locked his own father away because of the loss of his mental faculties. Anne feared for own sanity if fate kept her in her brother’s household under her mother’s suspicious eye.

Katherine Howard is a young, selfish girl. Although she was not raised in prosperity, she believed that she was meant only for luxury. While living in her grandmother’s house at the tender age of 14, she does not choose her friends carefully. She also didn’t guard her “maidenhood” or see any reason to refrain from anything that was fun or could advance herself financially. In her naiveté, she agrees to marry a young man and even exchanges vows with him in church in secret. In that day, doing such constituted marriage just as much as a ceremony with a priest. After her “groom” leaves to make their fortune in Ireland, she jumps at the Duke of Norfolk, her uncle’s offer to join the court as a maiden-in-waiting for Anne of Cleves. Little does she suspect that the Duke of Norfolk was only interested in her good looks as it might provide a way to get a Howard woman back into King Henry’s bed.

Much is known about the life and monarchy of Henry the 8th. In this book, the stories of his marriages of Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard to Henry the 8th are told from the perspective of each of these women as well as Jane Boleyn. Although her books are works of fiction, Philippa Gregory brings the women in his life to life for the reader. It doesn’t matter if you know their fate before you read this book. The voices of these women are engaging. They become more than just Henry’s wives or members of court. The reader becomes interested in their lives and their dreams. Just because you know who will lose her head doesn’t mean you don’t want to yell out to her to stop as she makes the wrong turn that leads her to the scaffold.

Once again, upon finishing this book, I had to force myself to read something that had nothing to do with Henry the 8th, his wives, England, or anything old enough to be considered historical. It was difficult. I find that my interests are pointing me more and more to these books. It could be said that I’m giving in to “chick lit,” but I don’t believe that is true. This was a novel, but it was based upon facts that were researched by the author. I did not know what was to become of any of the three narrators when I started this book. I learned some history as a result. I may not have learned dates but I can now give an overview of five of Henry’s six marriages and explain how they took place and what brought them to an end. It’s not all about the women, either. I am anxiously awaiting the moment when I begin The Autobiography of Henry the 8th. He was a fascinating man. I’d like to learn more about him from his perspective, even if it is from another work of fiction.

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To buy this book, click here.

#16 ~ The Glass Castle

April 18, 2007 at 3:12 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, My Life with Books, Secrets and Lies | 1 Comment
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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls, her brother, and her two sisters grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who resented any part of the responsibility that goes hand in hand with parenting. Her memoir is a beautiful testiment to the resilience of the human heart and soul. As depressing as the details were about her experiences with poverty, squaller, and absolute hunger could be, I couldn’t think of a better book to read. It made me happy that I had loving parents who enjoyed their children and worked hard to provide for us. It made me happy to be human, like each and every member of Jeannette’s family. Most of all, it made me happy that Jeannette was willing to share her story. In light of recent events at Virginia Tech, it is a relief to know that an underpriviledged childhood full of empty promises and hardship does not have to end in violence.

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