Katherine of Aragón, The True Queen by Alison Weir

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Katherine, the daughter of the King and Queen of Spain, came to England and married Arthur, the Prince of Wales, only to be widowed after six months. Political intrigues following her subsequent betrothal to Henry nearly prevented her marriage to the future King, but they were wed following the death of Henry VII, and Katherine became Queen of England at last. She had no way of knowing the man she loved so deeply would eventually become the source of her greatest sorrow.

I’ve already read and loved the second and third books in this series, so I was eager to read Katherine of Aragón, the True Queen. I was saddened to read about her ill-fated pregnancies: two miscarriages, two stillborn sons, and two other children who lived briefly (first-born son, Henry, for 52 days) before succumbing to death—leaving her with only one child, the Princess Mary.

Henry VIII is shown to be a loving husband to Katherine, until it becomes clear that she cannot give him the male heir he so greatly desires. That is when he conveniently begins to have a troubled conscience over having married his brother’s widow, saying it was against God’s law for them to be wed, despite knowing that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur was in name only. Katherine is deeply hurt, outraged that he wants to have their marriage annulled (leaving him free to marry Anne Boleyn and, hopefully, have a son with her), and refuses to agree their marriage is unlawful—not only because she loves her husband, but because she will do nothing to make her daughter illegitimate in the eyes of the world. She refuses to recognize the divorce when it happens, despite the hardships Henry imposed on her over the years, including being separated from her cherished daughter. Katherine maintains to her dying day that she is the Queen of England, and Henry’s true wife.

The reader sees everything through Katherine’s perspective, so there are many things afoot that she is completely unaware of, as she is completely isolated from everything and has little contact with the outside world.  It was brutal to see her get her hopes up about a reconciliation with Henry, only to realize he was still adamant about getting rid of her. And yet, through it all, Katherine’s love for him never wavers, and she remains pious throughout the long ordeal.

This was such a fascinating, compulsive read that I was sad to reach the end after spending four days fully immersed in Tudor England. Weir painted an amazingly vivid world with her words that it almost felt as if I were there, and I thoroughly enjoyed this fantastic novel.

If you love reading novels about the Tudors, and haven’t started reading this series, I highly recommend that you start now!

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Author: Alison Weir
Title: Katherine of Aragón, the True Queen
Series: Six Tudor Queens #1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: May 31, 2016 by Ballantine Books
Rating: 5 stars

Other books in this series:

About the Book

Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir takes on what no fiction writer has done before: creating a dramatic six-book series in which each novel covers one of King Henry VIII’s wives. In this captivating opening volume, Weir brings to life the tumultuous tale of Katherine of Aragón. Henry’s first, devoted, and “true” queen.

 

A princess of Spain, Catalina is only sixteen years old when she sets foot on the shores of England. The youngest daughter of the powerful monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Catalina is a coveted prize for a royal marriage – and Arthur, Prince of Wales, and heir to the English throne, has won her hand. But tragedy strikes and Catalina, now Princess Katherine, is betrothed to the future Henry VIII. She must wait for his coming-of-age, an ordeal that tests her resolve, casts doubt on her trusted confidantes, and turns her into a virtual prisoner.

 

Katherine’s patience is rewarded when she becomes Queen of England. The affection between Katherine and Henry is genuine, but forces beyond her control threaten to rend her marriage, and indeed the nation, apart. Henry has fallen under the spell of Katherine’s maid of honor, Anne Boleyn. Now Katherine must be prepared to fight, to the end if God wills it, for her faith, her legitimacy, and her heart.

About the Author

Alison Weir (born 1951) is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens. She currently lives in Surrey, England, with her two children.

Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her formal training in history at teacher training college.

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Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies by Marianne Monson

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Women of the Blue and Gray delves into the often ignored, yet vitally important, contributions made by women during the Civil War. Monson introduces us to a varied group of women, both Union and Confederate, and tells their stories. The bloody war wrought by a bitterly divided nation led many brave women—regardless of wealth or color—to rise up and do their part as nurses, spies, smugglers, and (disguised) soldiers.

In my experience, when it comes to reading about history, books tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) informative, but boring to read, or (2) informative, but written in such a way that keeps the reader fully engaged at all times. Happily, Women of the Blue and Gray falls into the second category. I was fascinated with the stories of each woman, often amazed at how courageous they were—especially given that it was in a time where women were often considered too ‘delicate’ to do most things. I was especially moved by the stories of African-American women who took dangerous risks as spies, despite knowing how grave the cost would be if ever they were caught. It was also gratifying to see that Native Americans included in this book. Their stories weren’t as easily found, but it was important to see the role some Native American played during the war, and how the Tribes were affected, as a whole, due to the conflict.

I highly recommend this book to women’s history enthusiasts. I think you’ll enjoy learning about these women as much as I did.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Shadow Mountain via Edelweiss.

Author: Marianne Monson
Title: Women of the Blue and Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies
Genre: Nonfiction, Women’s History, American History
Publication Date: August 7th 2018 by Shadow Mountain
Rating: 5 stars

About the Book

Hidden amongst the photographs, uniforms, revolvers, and war medals of the Civil War are the remarkable stories of some of the most unlikely heroes–women.

 

North, South, black, white, Native American, immigrant–the women in these micro-drama biographies are wives, mothers, sisters, and friends whose purposes ranged from supporting husbands and sons during wartime to counseling President Lincoln on strategy, from tending to the wounded on the battlefield to spiriting away slaves through the Underground Railroad, from donning a uniform and fighting unrecognized alongside the men to working as spies for either side.

 

This book brings to light the incredible stories of women from the Civil War that remain relevant to our nation today. Each woman’s experience helps us see a truer, fuller, richer version of what really happened in this country during this time period.

About the Author

MARIANNE MONSON has worked with books her whole life, as an editor, a passionate reader, and an author. She is the author of nine books and counting, including historical fiction, children’s books, and young adult novels. She teaches at Portland Community College, and her two children love writing almost as much as she does.

 

The Killing Type by Jane Corry

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The Killing Type is a short story about two sisters named Susie and Danielle. The barely speak to one another, but Susie is the first person Danielle turns to when she becomes convinced her husband, Simon, is trying to hurt her. Neither Susie, nor the police, believe Danielle’s claims. A few months later, someone dies, and only one question remains. Was it an accident—or murder?

This is one of the best short stories I’m truly impressed that such a compelling story with amazingly clever twists was accomplished with such brevity. I’ve read full-length novels that were nowhere near this unputdownable.

If you’re a fan of short stories, do give this one a try. I have a feeling you’ll love it!

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of  Penguin via Netgalley.

Author: Jane Corry
Title: The Killing Type
Genre: Short Story
Published: May 17, 2018 by Penguin
Rating: 4 stars

About the Book

A TWISTED TALE FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF MY HUSBAND’S WIFE AND BLOOD SISTERS – THE PERFECT TRAIN-RIDE READ

Susie and her sister have never been close. These days they barely speak. So when Danielle messages her out of the blue and begs to meet, Susie knows something must be wrong.

But what Danielle tells her seems crazy. Her husband, Simon, may be a bully, but surely he wouldn’t hurt her?

Then the accident happens. And Susie is forced to rethink everything.

Who is lying?
Who is telling the truth?
And who, really, is the killing type?

About the Author

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist who has written regularly for numerous newspapers and magazines including The Daily Telegraph Weekend section, the Mail on Sunday and Woman. She has spent time working as the writer-in-residence of a high security prison for men – an experience that helped inspire My Husband’s Wife, her début thriller which was a Sunday Times best-seller.. ‘I love twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end! My husband says I’m a nightmare to watch dramas with as I love to work out who did it before the final revelation!’

You can find Jane on Twitter at @JaneCorryAuthor and on Facebook at JaneCorryAuthor.

Jane runs regular writing workshops and speaks at literary festivals all over the world, including The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. Until her recent move to Devon, she was a tutor in creative writing at Oxford University. She is also an associate member of the Royal Literary Fund.

Many of Jane’s ideas come during her morning dog-jog along the beach followed by a dip in her wetsuit. (She’s an all-year-round swimmer provided the sea isn’t dangerous.) Jane also loves tennis, walking, reading, yoga, the ‘Quiet’ train carriage (a great ‘office’ for writing) and her family. She’s still coming to terms with being an empty-nester but makes up for it with lots of long-distance nagging! Jane’s second husband was a bachelor family friend who is also Godfather to her children. He makes her laugh every day although they can’t agree on how to load the dishwasher!

 

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America by Alissa Quart

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I’ve read several books that focus on the struggles faced by people living in poverty (such as Matthew Desmond’s  Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City).  I had not, however, read anything focused on the struggles of those in the middle class, so when I saw this book, I was eager to read it.

In Squeezed, Quart shares the difficulties faced by families, from the lower middle-class all the way up to the upper middle-class. Whether they are highly educated or not, each of them are drowning in debt, in part because of stagnate wages and the ever-increasing cost of living. In addition to the personal stories of struggle, Quart examines the factors that contribute to economic hardship.

Some parts of the book are quite cerebral. Although I hate to admit it, I was often bored out of my mind as I trudged through these portions. I was far more interested in the personal stories. I appreciated the value of the other information, even though I found it a bit dull.

Despite slightly mixed feelings, I’m glad I read this book.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Ecco via Edelweiss.

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Author: Alissa Quart
Title: Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America
Genre: Nonfiction, Social Issues
Published: June 26, 2018 by Ecco
Rating: 3.5 stars

About the Book

Squeezed weaves together intimate reporting with sharp and lively critique to show how the high cost of parenthood and our increasingly unstable job market have imploded the middle-class American Dream for many families, and offers surprising solutions for how we might change things
Families today are squeezed on every side—from high childcare costs and harsh employment policies to workplaces without paid family leave or even dependable and regular working hours. Many realize that attaining the standard of living their parents managed has become impossible.
Alissa Quart, executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, examines the lives of many middle-class Americans who can now barely afford to raise children. Through gripping firsthand storytelling, Quart shows how our country has failed its families. Her subjects—from professors to lawyers to caregivers to nurses—have been wrung out by a system that doesn’t support them, and enriches only a tiny elite.
Interlacing her own experience with close-up reporting on families that are just getting by, Quart reveals parenthood itself to be financially overwhelming, except for the wealthiest. She offers real solutions to these problems, including outlining necessary policy shifts, as well as detailing the DIY tactics some families are already putting into motion, and argues for the cultural reevaluation of parenthood and caregiving.
Written in the spirit of Barbara Ehrenreich and Jennifer Senior, Squeezed is an eye-opening page-turner. Powerfully argued, deeply reported, and ultimately hopeful, it casts a bright, clarifying light on families struggling to thrive in an economy that holds too few options. It will make readers think differently about their lives and those of their neighbors.

About the Author

Alissa Quart is the executive editor of the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She co-founded its current incarnation with Barbara Ehrenreich. She is also the author of four previous acclaimed books, “Branded,’’ “Republic of Outsiders,’’ “Hothouse Kids’’ and the poetry book “Monetized.’’ She writes the Outclassed column for The Guardian and has published features and reported commentary in many magazines and newspapers, most recently for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Nation and The New York Review of Books. She has won the Columbia Journalism School’s 2018 Alumni Award and the LA Press Club Award for Commentary, was a 2010 Nieman fellow at Harvard University, and has been nominated for an Emmy and a National Magazine Award.

34 Days by Anita Waller

 

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There’s very little I can say about the specifics of this book, since the blurb gives only the broadest overview.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so this is going to be a tricky review to write… but I’ll do my best to entice your reading appetite.

The morning of their 35th anniversary, Anna left her husband, Ray, who is an abusive, controlling man. Days later, she is stunned when someone close to her confides a shocking secret about Ray.  Anna finds herself swept away by a force she can’t control, knowing it will change the lives of everyone she loves, but is utterly powerless to prevent what’s coming.

34 Days has a swiftly moving plot, and it kept my eyes glued to the page (er… screen). I finished this one over the course of a single day, anxious to see what would happen next. I enjoyed reading the story, and cared about Anna, hoping that all would end well for her, despite the crazy circumstances she found thrust upon her life.

As I reflect upon the story as a whole, however, there were a few things I found wanting. Anna’s decision to leave Ray happens immediately, so there was no opportunity for the reader to want this to happen. We’re told Ray isn’t a good guy, and there are examples of this given later on in the story, but I think I would have preferred to figure this out for myself—perhaps in a brief chapter or two that took place in the early years of the marriage—rather than being plunged into the midst of her decision in the opening chapter of the novel. I wanted to cheer her on for being courageous enough to leave… but I knew absolutely nothing about her marriage, so I wasn’t sure if I should be happy for her or not.

I often wished the characters had been fleshed out a bit more, as so little is known about many of them. Particularly Ray, since he is the root cause for much of what happens in this book. The story revolves around two particular characters, but even with them, I found myself wishing I knew more about them—by what I was shown, not told. Several of the characters felt like window-dressing, and had very little impact on the story as a whole.

Many novels drop you right into the action, without giving the reader a chance to get to know the characters, and—depending on the story in question—can work well. I think 34 Days, on the other hand, would have benefited a great deal by doing the opposite. I would have felt infinitely more connected to Anna and other characters if I’d had time to get to know them prior to the main events being kicked off.

Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy reading this novel. I thought the premise was very good, and was excited to see what happened. There were a couple of explosive twists at the end that I loved, because they were so surprising. But I can’t help but regret not being able to truly connect with Anna on such a level as to deeply care what happened to her—to be rocked to the core when something didn’t go well for her. Even though I cared, it wasn’t to that degree.

I definitely had a mixed reaction to this book, but I’m glad I read it.

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Bloodhound Books via Netgalley.

Author: Anita Waller
Title: 34 Days
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication Date: October 3, 2017 by Bloodhound Books
Rating: 3 stars

About the Book

34 Days: A gripping psychological thriller from an international best-selling author
How much can your life change in just 34 days?
Anna and Ray have been married for thirty-five years. They are parents and grandparents and appear to be a normal couple. But behind closed doors something isn’t right.
On the day of their wedding anniversary Anna makes a decision that changes everything and throws her family into turmoil. Anna will discover that she is not the only one who has suffered and by leaving Ray she sparks a series of events so awful that it might just end in murder…
34 days is a stunning psychological thriller from the best-selling author of Beautiful & Angel. It will appeal greatly to fans of Kathryn Croft, Rachel Abbott, B A Paris & Louise Jensen.