Wednesday, November 30, 2016

698 (2016 #53). The Taming of the Queen

by Philippa Gregory

This is the seventh book written in Philippa Gregory's Tudor Court series, the other six having been completed by 2008.  She had written about all of Henry VIII's six wives but the last one - Kateryn (or Catherine) Parr.  That's who this book is about.

The previously twice-widowed Parr outlived Henry - but barely.  Near the end of his life, some of his advisers were trying to oust her for her religious beliefs.  Kateryn managed to stay one step ahead, and survived.  As Kateryn was a very intelligent woman, I found I really liked this book.

The book begins just before Henry asks Kateryn to marry him, and ends with his death.  She is in love with Thomas Seymour and, in Gregory's story, must hide that love from the king.  Another source indicates that the king was suspicious and kept Seymour away from court.  Gregory makes it clear in an afternote that she doesn't know how involved Kateryn and Thomas were while she was queen.  It's highly likely it isn't clear in any of the sources in her six-page bibliography.  The two did marry four months after Henry's death, but Kateryn died shortly after giving birth to their first child less than a year and a half later.  I do think it was more realistic to portray Kateryn pining for Thomas but not actually having an affair, as another book about her did.

I also thought it was interesting that, in the book, Gregory had Parr sit for the family portrait that is in Hampton Palace today.  The portrait is dated c. 1543-1547, which was during Kateryn's reign, but the queen in the portrait is Jane Seymour, the mother of Henry VIII's only legitimate son.  While it's possible that Kateryn posed for the artist only to find on its revealing that Jane's face was used (which is what Gregory writes), it is more likely that someone else posed, or that the artist worked off another image of Jane.  It makes for a good story though.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

697 (2016 #52). Lake in the Clouds

by Sara Donati,
read by Kate Reading

This is the third book in Sara Donati's Wilderness series, featuring the Bonner family (and their friends and kin) of New York.  This one takes place in 1802, eight years after the previous book.

Elizabeth Middleton Bonner, the female lead of the first two books, is still a player here, but the focus is on her stepdaughter Hannah, now 18 years old.  A good part of the story takes place in New York City, where Hannah goes to learn how to inoculate against smallpox.

Learning about medical treatment in the early 1800s, and life in a large city then, was quite interesting - for both Hannah and this reader.  You know too that, just as characters from previous books in the series reappear in this one, new characters introduced in this book (such as Dr. Savard) are bound to be in later books in this series.

There's also a lot of action back in Paradise, the fictional town in the real Adirondacks near Lake George and Saratoga, both of which I have visited.  In both locations, runaway slaves and the efforts by some slaveholders to bypass the 1799 gradual manumission laws provide the impetus for an interesting story arc.

There's not as much romance in this book as in the first two in the series - which is a good thing, in my opinion, and causes me to classify it as historical fiction rather than historical romance.  In fact there's so little romance that the conclusion for Hannah just doesn't ring true for me.  Still, I will be continuing on with this series.  Kate Reading's excellent narration in the audiobook certainly helps.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to public libraries.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

696 (2016 #51). The Second Mrs. Hockaday

by Susan Rivers

Set during the Civil War (as well as about 30 years later), and told through journal entries, letters, and legal documents, this is the intriguing story (based on a true one) of a woman accused of murdering a newborn illegitimate child during the Civil War.  The second Mrs. Hockaday is Placidia "Dia" Fincher, who marries Major Griffyth Hockaday shortly after her stepsister's wedding, shortly after meeting them.  Despite only having two days together before he is recalled to the war, there is a strong invisible "cord" (as Dia calls it) between them.  Nearly all of the story is told from Dia's viewpoint, as she struggles to keep the small Hockaday farm in South Carolina going in the midst of the war.  Dia's journal entries (lacking paper, in a copy of David Copperfield) and letters to a sympathetic cousin, that cousin's replies, and the correspondence between her son and stepson 30 years later form the novel.

Susan Rivers has constructed a story that was so compelling that it was a quick read.  Highly recommended as a great blend of historical fiction, mystery/suspense, and nonfiction - Rivers did extensive research on life in the era.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

Saturday, November 19, 2016

695 (2016 #50). Three Sisters, Three Queens

by Philippa Gregory

The women of the title are Henry VIII's first wife, Katharine of Aragon, and her sisters-in-law, his two sisters, Margaret Tudor Stewart Douglas Stewart and Mary Tudor Valois Brandon.  Each woman was a queen, of England, Scotland, and France respectively.

The main character in the book, though, is Margaret - she tells their story in first person present tense.  Katharine's and Mary's stories primarily come through (fictional) letters they write to Margaret.

There is little in the historical record about Margaret, so Philippa Gregory has lots of leeway in this novel.  She's an interesting woman, married three times and divorced once (before her brother divorced Katherine).

However, much of the book is spent with Margaret waffling (especially about her awful second husband Archibald Douglas), or being envious of her two sisters.  I think the book could have been around 400 pages (instead of 544!) and still told Margaret's story well.  Gregory includes five pages worth of bibliography at the end of the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Monday, November 14, 2016

693-694 (2016 #48-49). Two Children's Books published in Canada

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah is a colorful book with a cute Hanukkah story. The illustrations by author and illustrator Richard Ungar are done with a technique called watercolor monoprint and have an Impressionistic feel to them.
Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is the first book in cartoonist Ben Clanton's Narwhal and Jelly series.  This easy reader / comic book / graphic novel (64 pages) has hand-lettered text and simple illustrations done with colored pencils and colored digitally.  The four very short stories in the book are silly, but there are two pages of fun facts, one each about narwhals and jellyfish.

I'll be adding both books to my library's collection, but I really wish I could get a copy of Clanton's Vote for ME!

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[I received these books from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

692 (2016 #47). Truly, Madly, Guilty

by Liane Moriarty

This book was similar in structure to Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies.  Like that book, this one moves between the present and an event in the past, but back-and-forth rather than linear as in Lies.  Whatever happened occurred on "the day of the barbeque," and it isn't until a little more than halfway through the book that the reader learns exactly what happened that day.  It was a surprise.

Erika and Clementine are fr-enemies from childhood with a complex relationship.  Accountant Erika and her husband Oliver are childless, while cellist Clementine and her husband Sam have two young daughters.  They all get invited to a backyard barbecue at the huge home of Erika's and Oliver's next-door neighbors Vid, a wealthy electrician, his trophy wife Tiffany, a former pole-dancing stripper turned house flipper (and the character I liked best), and their ten-year-old daughter Dakota.  Minor characters are Erika's and Clementine's mothers, Sylvia and Pam respectively, and Vid's and Tiffany's other next-door neighbor, a cranky old man named Harry.

Most of the story is told from either Erika's or Clementine's viewpoint, although all the six main characters' viewpoints are presented in at least one chapter, as well as that of Dakota and Harry.  It certainly kept me turning the pages.

Once again, Moriarty addresses some serious issues:  hoarding, audition anxiety, infertility, blame, and guilt among them.  I don't want to give away too much and spoil the story for others.

I loved this quote near the end, where one main character wondered about another, “what sort of person [she] could have been, would have been, should have been, if she’d been given the privilege of an ordinary home. You could jump so much higher when you had somewhere safe to fall.”

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[The e-book, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively.]

Friday, November 04, 2016

691 (2016 #46). Empire of the Summer Moon

by S. C. Gwynne

My husband and I read this book because the author was invited to speak in our small town, the seat for our county which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.  Comanches roamed the area before the county's founding, and the highest point in the county, Comanche Peak (more a mesa), was once a Native American meeting place.

The long title and subtitle are somewhat misleading:  Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.  The Comanches weren't an empire and really not a tribe; rather, they were a group of bands with shifting leadership - anyone who could pull together a raiding party could be a chief.  The book really isn't about Quanah Parker, either, until the last few chapters.

The title sounds a lot like an article in Texas Monthly magazine.  That's not all that surprising, because author S. C. Gwynne has been with that magazine since 2000, and was with Time Magazine for twelve years before that.  To my husband and me, the book had the feel of a number of magazine articles being grouped together, in that its structure was not always linear, but involved a lot of repetition and backtracking.

Gwynne is a journalist, not a historian, and I was bothered that the book seemed ethnocentric.  Still, I learned a lot about the Comanches, including Quanah Parker and his mother Cynthia Ann Parker; those who fought them, particularly Sul Ross, Ranald Mackenzie, and Jack Hays; and other captives, such as Herman Lehmann and Rachel Parker Plummer. I'm glad I read the book, but I am not sure I would recommend it to others.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]