New Read: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession

Back in March, I started reading Six Tudor Queens, an ambitious six-book series from bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir, in which each novel chronicles the lives of each of Henry VIII’s six wives. After being captivated by the opening volume, Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, I didn’t wait long to pick up the next volume, Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession.

In this unforgettable second volume, Weir takes us back to 1512 to start the ill-fated tale of Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second, bewitching wife. Who at just 11-years-old was sent by her opportunistic father, Thomas Boleyn, a minor but ambitious English lord, to serve at the royal court of the Netherlands. There, and later in the French court, Anne thrives: absorbing progressive ideas, learning the art of courtly love and adopting the French fashion. So when in 1522 Anne makes her debut at the English court, to serve upon Queen Katherine, wife of Henry VIII, she causes quite a stir and inadvertently catches the eye of the King; and when the King commands it is not a game!

I really sympathised with Anne as she finds her hopes of a love match with Henry Percy dashed and instead finds herself hounded by the King to become his mistress. She desperately spurns his advances – after seeing how he pursued and discarded her sister, Mary – but Henry will not take no for an answer. In fact her rejection only intensifies Henry’s pursuit, and finally with an aging Queen Katherine and no male heir, Henry proposes marriage. Though she feels no real affection for him, the opportunity to elevate the Boleyn family and to take revenge on her enemies, is too great for her to resist.

I have always admired Anne for standing strong and for her part in the religious reforms, including Bibles in English. However, in this novel, Weir also shows a side to Anne I didn’t like. As the years drag by waiting for Henry’s divorce to be finalised, she becomes bitter, spiteful and cruel – pushing Henry to ever harsher treatment of her kind, former mistress Katherine, their innocent child Mary and their supporters. Once married things do not improve either, as Anne finds herself under immense pressure after failing to produce the longed-for son and her feisty, independent attributes Henry formerly admired rail him in a wife.

Ultimately though, Weir had me on the verge of tears again as Anne bravely met her violent and, I feel, unjust end. In bringing this emotional-rollercoaster of a story alive, Weir has kept closely to historical records, but taken some dramatic licence to flesh out minor characters and fill in any gaps. As in the previous book, Weir’s research and imagination meld seamlessly to create a completely believable tale – and perhaps a more balanced portrayal of Anne. So through her eyes it really feels like you are there in the lost Tudor world of splendour, power, ambition, courtly love and danger; as well as gaining a glimpse of the enlightened Dutch court and the glamorous French court too.

Overall, I thought Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession was a powerful, gripping tale of an intelligent and ambitious woman, who was the victim of a restrictive and dangerous time. While Weir didn’t make me like Anne as much as Katherine, the one person who is really coming out of this series looking bad is Henry! I can’t wait to read volume three: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen next. Great read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any of Alison Weir’s other novels?

This was also book 7/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

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New Read: Seven Sovereign Queens

After reading Seven Stages by Geoffrey Trease, a fascinating history of seven influential figures from the stage, which was one of my favourite reads of 2017, I was very keen to read more by this author. So I eagerly snapped up, from Endeavour Press, two more republications of Trease’s histories: Seven Kings of England, that I read earlier this year, and Seven Sovereign Queens.

Like the other two histories I have read by Trease, Seven Sovereign Queens (originally published in 1968) is broken up into seven short, detailed biographies of seven famous queens and empresses in world history: Cleopatra (51-30 BC); Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni (c.60-61 AD); Galla Placidia, the Empress of the West (423-437 AD); Isabella of Spain (1474-1504); Christina of Sweden (1632-1654); Maria Theresa, the Empress-Queen (1740-1780) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796). All of which have been expertly chosen by Trease, not only for their historical importance, but also for their dramatic personalities and their intriguing personal lives.

Another expansive history that took me on an interesting adventure in time and across the world, through the lives of these seven impressive rulers and fascinating women: from Cleopatra in Ancient Egypt to Catherine the Great in 18th century Russia. Before reading this I was familiar with Cleopatra, Boudicca, Isabella, Maria Theresa and Catherine. In fact, disappointingly I knew more than these brief biographies offered on Cleopatra and Catherine, but it was good to find out more about Boudicca, Isabella and Maria Theresa. The chapters that really grabbed me though were on Galla Placidia and Christina of Sweden, because they were rulers I knew nothing about before.

So while I still found this an interesting read, I sadly didn’t love it as much as Seven Stages, and that is simply down to the fact that this didn’t teach me as many new things. However I was still extremely impressed with the quality of Trease’s content, research, detail and layout, with a great balance between the academic detail and the easy readable style and language – Again, if I hadn’t already known it was published back in 1968, I could have easily believed this was published only this year! Kirkus’ quote on the front cover says, “Historical information written in the conversational tone associated with pleasurable reading” and I couldn’t agree more!

Overall, I thought Seven Sovereign Queens was an interesting and engaging history of seven stand-out female world rulers – an easy and quick read which I devoured in only a few sittings. While I didn’t quite enjoy this or Seven Kings of England as much as Seven Stages, I do still look forward to reading more by Geoffrey Trease. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other histories of these queens?

This was also book 6/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Re-Read: The Hunger Games

Finally in the school summer holidays, I got round to my planned re-read of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book in Collins’ highly successful, young adult dystopian trilogy. A trilogy that went on to spawn a film franchise that was a massive box-office success. After enjoying the films a lot, I was excited to remind myself of the extra details in the books.

This first book, introduces us to the nation of Panem, which was formed from the remains of North America after a post-apocalyptic event. This is a brutal and unfair world consisting of a rich, privileged Capitol region surrounded by twelve poor, working districts. After a failed, bloody rebellion by a former thirteenth district early in its history, the Capitol now reminds and punishes the remaining districts with the Hunger Games, a barbaric and cruel annual televised event. That forces each district to yield one boy and one girl, as ‘tributes’ for the games, who will be forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

It is on the day of the Reaping – a lottery system to choose the ‘tributes’ – in the poorest District 12 that we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen as she selflessly volunteers herself, after her little sister, Prim is chosen. Katniss’ male counterpart chosen is Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son who once showed her great kindness. The games are pretty much a death sentence for them, as they will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives from the richer districts, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. But Katniss is a survivor and Peeta will be a better ally than she realises.

What I love about Katniss is that she is an imperfect heroine. On face value she comes across prickly and she can be naïve and fiercely independent – finding it hard to trust people. However she is also loyal, kind, brave and devoted to her little sister, which adds up to make an imperfect but realistic heroine. Peeta on the other hand is exactly how you find him: strong, kind, personable and honest. (If anyone knows where I can find a Peeta of my own please let me know?!) They are both characters you can really root for and I found myself completely invested in their blossoming, complicated relationship.

Loving these characters means, that even though I knew exactly what was coming, I still found myself gripped and on the very edge of my seat as through Katniss’ eyes we enter the arena and have front row seats to the unfolding bloody games. After escaping the opening massacre, Katniss must find food, water and shelter. Whilst always being on guard for other ‘tributes’, because everyone is a possible enemy, including Peeta as only one can win this game. If all that wasn’t bad enough, the games masters also have some horrific tricks up their sleeves: a deadly wild-fire with fireballs reigning down; killer crackerjack bees; poisonous berries; water supplies drying up overnight and finally hideous mutant beasts.

All in all The Hunger Games is a gritty, dystopian young adult adventure, full of hardship, danger, love, death, friendship and courage; that lost known of its shine on re-reading it. I look forward to continuing my re-read of the trilogy with Catching Fire soon. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you watched the films?

This was also book 5/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Challenge: 10 Books of Summer 2018 (End)

Monday, 3rd September, saw Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge (with the option of 15 or 10 levels too) coming to an end. Here in the UK, we have been treated to a rare and gloriously hot summer, which has allowed me to regularly read in the sun. However, as usual, I think I blinked and missed it! I made a list of 10 books, so let’s have a look at which of them I actually managed to read:

  1. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
  2. Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole
  3. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
  4. Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [Re-Read]
  6. Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease
  7. Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir
  8. But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing

Those I didn’t finish/get round to were:

  • Cauldstane by Linda Gillard (currently reading)
  • Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell

Altogether that is eight of my ten books read – one down on last year – but I am actually really relieved with my result this year; as by the end of July I had only read three books! So to have read another five more by the end of August I think is pretty monumental. The only thing I am disappointed with is how behind I am with my reviews!

Have you read any of these books? Did you take part in this challenge?

New Read: Hannah’s Moon

Having previously enjoyed John A. Heldt’s Indiana Belle and Class of ’59, I picked up Hannah’s Moon, the fifth and final instalment in Heldt’s American Journey series, back in July to discover how it all ends. Although there is a continuing background thread to this series each book has its own individual, time travelling adventure so you could read these as stand-alone stories too.

In 2017, after struggling for years to conceive and then suffering the tragic still-birth of their only child, Claire and Ron Rasmussen decide to turn to adoption to start their longed-for family. Just after making this difficult decision, Claire is contacted by her brother David with an extraordinary offer from their distant aunt and uncle: How would they like to travel back to a time when there was an abundance of bouncing babies available to adopt and red tape was short? Within weeks, Claire, Ron, and David unbelievably find themselves, with a suitcase of money and false documents, on a train to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1945!

Through the alternating third person narration of Claire, Ron and David it was lovely to experience 1940s America, with its sedan cars, friendly neighbours, copious amounts of pie and a wonderful innocence, even despite the world war which is still raging. Claire, Ron and David are all likeable characters (even if they ‘chuckled’ and ‘giggled’ a little too much for my liking, as was Cameron’s wont in Indiana Belle too). So I enjoyed seeing Claire and Ron successfully adopt the angelic baby Hannah and David befriending their beautiful neighbour, Margaret. Then I felt for them when Ron is forced to join the Navy and Claire and David come under suspicion by the secret services.

As with his previous books, Heldt has stuck to his familiar time travelling formulae. A formulae which some may argue is a little far-fetched, as Heldt never really explains how the characters time travel with any realistic scientific detail. Personally I prefer the lack of scientific detail and I am happy to completely suspend belief and once you have these books make for light, escapist reads full of love, romance, hope, danger and endurance. And Hannah’s Moon is no exception.

For those interested, the continuing background thread revolves around Geoffrey and Jeanette Belle, through whose time tunnel (powered by gypsum crystals in their basement) all the characters in this series have gone off on their time travelling adventures. If you hadn’t already guessed it, the Belles are Claire’s distant aunt and uncle. And the last few chapters of this final book are dedicated to a reunion of all the characters from the series (some were unfamiliar to me as I haven’t read the earlier books but this wasn’t an issue as Heldt introduces them all to each other) for a poignant resolution.

Overall, I thought Hannah’s Moon was a nostalgic, time travelling adventure with touches of romance and drama. I enjoyed it more than Class of ’59 but not as much as Indiana Belle, the latter is definitely still my favourite. Now this series has come to an end, I look forward to trying Heldt’s newer Carson Chronicles series. Okay read.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1940s?

This is book 4/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Goodbye August, Hello September 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are well? The last month of summer has been a more peaceful one for me. Where I have enjoyed a good rest, caught up with friends, had a good clean out and visited my mum down south, which included a trip to The Hobbit Pub in Southampton. During this time here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 4          Non-Fiction: 2

First, I finished reading the time travelling romance, Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt, which took me back to Chattanooga, Tennessee 1945. An easy read and a satisfying conclusion to Heldt’s American Journey series. Next, I time travelled forward with a re-read of the gritty, dystopian The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book in Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy. After enjoying the films, it was great to go back and refresh myself on the book’s extra details. I whipped through this in just three days!

Then it was back in time again, as I completely lost myself in the scandal and danger of the tumultuous Tudor Court in Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir, the second book in Weir’ epic Six Tudor Queens series. Finally, nearing the end of the month, I finished reading the charming children’s classic, The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit, the fourth of Nesbit’s juvenile novels I have now read and another title ticked off my new Classics Club list.

Alongside these fictions, I also read two non-fictions in August. First, I read another quick and interesting history, Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease, who was one of my favourite new authors of last year. Then, on the very last day of the month, I finished reading the interesting Christian non-fiction, But is it Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing for my church’s book club, which will be meeting next week.

Pick of the Month: The Hunger Games

Altogether that is six books finished, which is a great amount! However I am so behind on writing reviews! So my full thoughts on all of these are still to be posted about. As it is the end of summer too, I will soon be doing a round-up post for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

In September, I am excited/nervous to start my new job in a special needs secondary school. I am also looking forward to going to see historian Lucy Worsley do a talk on Queen Victoria and starting my autumnal reading with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII reading event.

What did you do and read in August? What are your plans for September?

New Read: Sourcery

A few years ago now, I started to work my way through the books from Terry Pratchett’s epic Discworld series, which my father and I already own or as we get our hands on them. My last foray into this series was the Egyptian-inspired Pyramids, however for my next read I had to go back a little in the series. After getting my hands on a copy of Sourcery, the fourth published Discworld novel, last year.

In Sourcery, we return to Pratchett’s magic, weird and fantastical Discworld, as summer thunder rolls over sandy cliffs and the banished Ipslore the Red sits among the sea grasses, with his baby son, Coin awaiting Death. Now Ipslore was the eighth son of an eighth son, so, quite naturally, he was a wizard. But quite unnaturally he went and had seven sons, and then he had Coin: an eighth son… a wizard squared… a source of magic… a Sourcerer! Fast forward a few years to Coin – now an extremely powerful little boy – as he and his enchanted staff arrive at the Unseen University. Creating chaos as pure, raw magic flows from him into the old fusty wizards and building.

What ensues is the upheaval of the old, the traditional, the normal! As through the staff Ipslore controls Coin to enact revenge over the wizards, that banished him, and the world, which has side-lined magic as irrelevant. In steps Rincewind, an insufferably inept wizard and his fiercely loyal but maniacal Luggage to the rather reluctant rescue! (For those who don’t know, the Luggage is a large, iron-bound chest made of magical Sapient Pearwood, which has legs and can move very fast if the need arises). They are joined by the beautiful but deadly Conina, daughter of Conan the Barbarian in a hair-brain scheme led by a hat to save the world. Yes, I said a hat!

I love Terry Pratchett and this is now my tenth Discworld novel I have read. It is the fourth instalment in the series, first published back in 1988 (a great year). However this is a series I don’t feel you necessarily have to read in order, as the stories often follow various different groups of characters. In this case we see the return of old favourites Rincewind, the Luggage and the banana loving Librarian, as well as a host of new, colourful characters. So while I don’t think this is perhaps the funniest or most memorable of those I have read, there is definitely something here for existing, diehard Discworld fans and new readers alike.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. Although not one of my favourites from the series, it is another slice of madcap, fantasy fun, which helped me relax and escape the madness of the end of term at work. I look forward to reading more and I have plenty to choose from on my TBR. Good read.

Have you read this? What other Discworld novels have you read?

This is book 3/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.