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.

 

American Apartheid by Stephanie Woodard #Review @Igpublishing

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I’ve always loved learning about Native American tribes and cultures, but most of that learning was about the past, rather than the present. The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe remained in my thoughts long after the protest came to an end, and I wanted to learn more about the modern-day struggles of the various Tribes—not an easy task, given the lack of adequate (if any) media coverage on anything of importance related to Native Americans. So when I saw this book, I was eager for the opportunity to learn more about the issues faced by the Tribes, and began reading it as soon as possible.

The book consists of six chapters, focusing on a selection of issues. These issues include:

  • poverty and the lack of economic opportunity on reservations
  • voting rights (including easy access to polling places, translators, etc.)
  • land rights (including the preservation of sacred sites), and the way Native concerns for the land are typically ignored in favor of money-making opportunities that benefit non-Natives
  • police shootings resulting in the deaths of Natives, and unfair justice practices applied only to Natives
  • the removal of Native children from their parents and the devastating effects it continues to have (from boarding schools to foster home placements and adoptions to non-Native families)
  • the importance of traditional ways, their connection to the land/water, and passing their traditional ways on to younger generations

I was expecting to learn things that were disheartening (to say the least), but I couldn’t have foreseen the level of outrage I felt upon reading this book. I was well aware of the way the federal government often disregards what is in the best interests of the Tribes, but the lengths officials were willing to go to in order to do what they wanted, and to hinder the Tribes when something became a legal matter, was staggering.

Much of the information in this book was upsetting to me, particularly having to do with Native children who were forcibly taken from their families for no reason. As a mother myself, I can’t imagine such a horrific thing happening. It was equally difficult to read about the men and women who were killed by police (again, without reason), and the devastation their loved ones were forced to endure as a result. A particularly distressing story was about Jeanette Riley, a 36 year old pregnant woman who was mentally ill and threatening suicide. The police were called, and shortly after they arrived, she was shot and killed. (The shooting was later ruled as “justified” in this case.)

Distressing portions aside, reading about the connection Natives feel with the land and water was beautiful. I was particularly interested in reading about the ancestral Pueblo gardens in New Mexico, which were constructed in such a way as to preserve moisture in the soil—which is quite important in an arid climate. Another enjoyable story was about a Shoshone grandfather teaching his seven-year-old grandson about flintknapping (shaping stone into a useful object) as they sit in an area located in their ancestral homelands.

This review cannot begin to detail everything in this book. What I’ve shared above is but a snippet from the wealth of information it contains.

If you’re interested in current social issues regarding Native American tribes, I’m sure you’ll find this book as fascinating as I did. I feel this is an important work that will enable people to learn about and understand the struggles Tribes are still dealing with in the 21st century, and I highly recommend it!

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I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Ig Publishing via Edelweiss.

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Author: Stephanie Woodard
Title: American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle for Self-Determination and Inclusion
Genre: Politics & Current Affairs
To Be Published: June 5, 2018 by Ig Publishing
Rating: 5 stars

About the Book

In recent years, events such as the siege at Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline have thrust the plight of Native Americans into the public consciousness.
Taking us beyond the headlines, American Apartheid offers the most comprehensive and compelling account of the issues and threats that Native Americans face today, as well as their heroic battle to overcome them.
Stephanie Woodard details the ways in which the government curtails Native voting rights, which, in turn, keeps tribal members from participating in policy-making surrounding education, employment, rural transportation, infrastructure projects, and other critical issues affecting their communities. This system of apartheid has staggering consequences, as Natives are, per capita, the population group that is most likely to be shot by police, suffer violent victimization by outsiders, be incarcerated, and have their children taken away. On top of this, indigenous people must also fight constantly to protect the sacred sites and landscapes that hold their cultural memories and connect their spirituality to the nation’s mountains, plains, waterways, and coastlines. Despite these many obstacles, American Apartheid offers vivid pictures of diverse Native American communities that embody resilience, integrity, and the survival of ancient cultures.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland #Review @justinaireland @BalzerandBray

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Historical fiction meets the zombie apocalypse in Justina Ireland’s addictive new novel, Dread Nation.

The Civil War came to an abrupt end when the dead rose from the battlefields to feast upon the living, and slavery fell sometime later, with the passing of the Native and Negro Reeducation Act. Children of a certain age (and race) are required to go to combat schools to learn how to fight the dead. Jane McKeen has nearly finished her training at Miss Prescott’s School of Combat for Negro Girls when a friend requests for help from Jane and Katherine (another girl at Miss Preston’s) regarding a missing family, it leads to the discovery of a deadly conspiracy that puts all three of them in danger.

Historical fiction with zombies—two of my favorite things put together meant I had to read this book. My only regret is that I didn’t start reading it early in the day, because I read 80% of this in one sitting. (I would have finished it in one sitting, but my eyes kept insisting on closing. How rude!) I was hooked from the moment I read the Prologue title: In Which I Am Born and Someone Tries to Murder MeWhat a way to kick off a book!

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Each chapter title began the same way (In Which I…) and I looked forward to each one. Chapter titles aren’t used much anymore (at least, not in the books I read), which is a shame because they really add something to the overall reading experience that is quite enjoyable. I’m going to go on record right now and blame those enticing chapter titles for keeping me up all night. If it weren’t for those little hints of what each new chapter held, I might have been spared the major book hangover the next day… but no! There they were, making it impossible for me to set the Kindle aside and get some sleep… and I’m SO glad! 🙂

Dread Nation never shies away from the unsavory topics of racism and white supremacy. It’s used in the context of the historical setting, but one cannot help but acknowledge that it’s remains a serious blight on present-day lives; as such, it serves as a subtle commentary on the race issues that continue to plague America.

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Ireland’s writing is simply fabulous, and the world she created within Dread Nation is frightening in more ways than one. The zombies, known as shamblers in the book, are a definite threat in this world, but they aren’t the sole enemy. As with any good zombie story, people—white, religious zealots, in the case of Dread Nation—are the biggest threat to people of color.

I loved the fact that a woman is the main protagonist in this story. Jane is everything you could want in a heroine—she is courageous, a fierce fighter whose loyalty and need to protect her friends is as deeply ingrained within her as her will to survive. Jane is a force to be reckoned with—an admirable character that I won’t soon forget.

Final Thoughts

Dread Nation is an outstanding cross-genre novel that readers are sure to love. I’m extremely excited for the next novel in the series, and can’t wait to see what awaits our fierce heroine in the next chapter of this thrilling series. I’m highly recommending this novel, as it is truly a book worth reading!

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Balzer+Bray via Edelweiss.

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Author: Justina Ireland
Title: Dread Nation
Series: Dread Nation #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Alternate History
Published: April 3, 2018 by Balzer+Bray
Rating: 5 stars

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing by Ben Austen #Review

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I remember hearing about “the projects” when I was a child. I didn’t truly understand what it meant, or what they were, of course—that understanding wouldn’t come until several years later. When it did, the few things I read (or, occasionally, saw on television)  centered around African-American poverty, crime, and gangs; leaving me with the impression that it was a terrible, frightening place to live.

What I never learned about was how they came to be, or how different life was for the early tenants compared to what it eventually became.

High Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing tells the story of the Cabrini-Green public housing project in Chicago, Illinois. Though it would later become notorious for crime and gang activity, the high rises were once a lovely, desirable place to live, as we learn in reminiscences of former tenants, such as Delores Wilson. Wilson (along with her husband and children) moved into one of the high rises in 1956. In the fifty years she lived there, she witnessed how Cabrini-Green went from being a well-maintained, safe and friendly place to live, to what it eventually became before the last of the high rises were demolished in 2011.

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I can’t begin to comment, even briefly, on the politics and people involved that saw the construction and eventual demise of the Cabrini-Green high rises, and how it affected the lives of the people living there. Trust me when I say that all of it—the history of how it came to be, the politics involved throughout its existence, racism and deliberate segregation based on both race and financial status—made for some seriously interesting reading. The depth of Austen’s research is clearly evident throughout, and the book is written in a narrative-style similar in my mind to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted:Poverty and Profit in the American City. This isn’t a dry retelling of the facts; it’s a heartfelt history that tells the story of Cabrini-Green and its residents, warts and all. If anyone can manage reading the portions telling the personal stories of former residents without feeling an ounce of empathy (and, at times, anger and a sense of injustice), it would truly shock me.

This isn’t a light read by any means, but I think it’s an important one. Poverty and a lack of affordable housing is an ongoing problem in the United States. Unless we’re informed about past attempts to solve the housing problem, we cannot hope to do better in the future. And unless we’re informed about the realities about people living in poverty—the day-to-day struggles they face, and how hard their lives are—we’re not going to make any headway on improving that, either.

If this is a topic of interest for you, I hope you’ll take the time to read this book… and I hope you’ll find it as informative and moving as I did.

 

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Harper via Edelweiss.

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Author: Ben Austen

Title: High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing

Genre: Nonfiction, Social Science / Poverty & Homelessness

Published: February 13th, 2018 by Harper

Rating: 5 stars

book worth reading

About the Book

Joining the ranks of Evicted, The Warmth of Other Sons, and classic works of literary non-fiction by Alex Kotlowitz and J. Anthony Lukas, High-Risers braids personal narratives, city politics, and national history to tell the timely and epic story of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green, America’s most iconic public housing project.

Built in the 1940s atop an infamous Italian slum, Cabrini-Green grew to twenty-three towers and a population of 20,000—all of it packed onto just seventy acres a few blocks from Chicago’s ritzy Gold Coast. Cabrini-Green became synonymous with crime, squalor, and the failure of government. For the many who lived there, it was also a much-needed resource—it was home. By 2011, every high-rise had been razed, the island of black poverty engulfed by the white affluence around it, the families dispersed.

In this novelistic and eye-opening narrative, Ben Austen tells the story of America’s public housing experiment and the changing fortunes of American cities. It is an account told movingly though the lives of residents who struggled to make a home for their families as powerful forces converged to accelerate the housing complex’s demise. Beautifully written, rich in detail, and full of moving portraits, High-Risers is a sweeping exploration of race, class, popular culture, and politics in modern America that brilliantly considers what went wrong in our nation’s effort to provide affordable housing to the poor—and what we can learn from those mistakes.