Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Book Review: “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel

SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HISTORY AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED AT THE CHOICES HENRY VIII MAKES, AVOID MY REVIEW

“He sees it; then he doesn’t. The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before.” (Wolf Hall, pg 168).

I picked up “Wolf Hall” because I decided to join The Wall Street Journal Book Club and it is the first book on the list. I really do enjoy reading historical fiction so when I discovered that “Wolf Hall” was about Henry VIII, I couldn’t wait to open the book. What I found really interesting about “Wolf Hall” is that is focuses on Thomas Cromwell as the person in Henry VIII’s world.

“Wolf Hall” is actually the first book in a trilogy following Thomas Cromwell. The second book is already on reserve at the library (Bring Up the Bodies) and the third book is still in the works, expected in 2015 (The Mirror and the Light). I was very pleased to find out that there are more books in this series after enjoying “Wolf Hall” so much.

In this book, we open on Thomas Cromwell as a young boy having the shit beaten out of him by his father and we conclude when he becomes one of Henry VIII’s closest confidants. There were a lot of amazing quotes throughout the book, one that stood out to me was both true and I think foreshadowed events to come. “They never see a great man set up but they must pull him down – for the novelty of the thing.” (Wolf Hall, pg 45).

During “Wolf Hall” we see Henry VIII determine that his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was never valid. He spends the majority of the book changing things in England so he can annul his marriage, declare his daughter a bastard, and marry Anne Boleyn. We all know how well that worked out, but it was interesting to read from a different person’s perspective: Thomas Cromwell. In Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Girl” we follow Anne’s sister Mary as she tells the story around Anne becoming queen after Henry VIII uses Mary as a concubine. Thomas Cromwell certainly lent a different view on things. For one, Mary isn’t seen as an innocent girl who drew the king’s attention but rather as a vixen that spends all her time jealous of her lost lover to her sister. Thomas Cromwell himself is an interesting character partly because he is a strange fit into the Tutor world. He was brought up a blacksmith’s son; he left to become a solider; he found himself serving a cardinal and eventually finds himself one of Henry VIII’s closest confidants. Although he raised himself up in the world, a lot of people still looked down on him for being born a commoner. He also seemed to have a more humble demeanor because of this circumstance.  Since he was not raised in the same world, he has some insights that I found intriguing. “It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.” (Wolf Hall, pg 294).

I find Henry VIII a very interesting person and I know that I am not alone in this simply because there are so many books and movies about him. I would love to read a book where instead of Henry VIII being seen through someone else’s’ eyes – it is Henry himself telling the story. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll write that book.

Henry VIII really is a complex man; he did many notable things during his reign. You can almost admire the fact that he changed the world to his liking. At the same time, when things got difficult for him he declared ‘off with their head’. He reined from 1509-1547 and during that time there were SO many people killed. Some justly executed, but a lot were just people who Henry felt betrayed him, one way or another. Or he just had another woman catch his eye and the current one on his arm had to be gotten rid of.

One consistent view of Henry VIII always seems to be that he was a big child. He never was taught how to be an adult, partly because he was not expected to reign. His older brother was supposed to be king and his life was cut short. So Henry, who was spoiled as a child and given absolutely everything he wanted, became king. There was one quote that I found interesting because of how much it didn’t relate to Henry. “Childhood was like that; you are punished, then punished again for protesting. So, one learns not to complain; it is a hard lesson, but one never lost.” (Wolf Hall, pg 221). It is a lesson that he never learned. Perhaps if he had learned it, he wouldn’t have been so impatient with just everyone. Maybe he would have had a single wife. Who knows? His fickle nature was amplified by the fact that he never grew up.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a very interesting read although I would warn off those who can’t handle a heavy book, both figuratively and literally. It was a big book and a bit of a burden to carry around while on crutches, but I couldn’t get enough of the Tudor world and so I made it work for me. The novel itself was very well written, well researched, and overall a great read. It was on the dense side, definitely not a beach read by any means, but it fits well with what I want to read in the winter: a heavy book with lots of pages while I curl up with my puppy and a cup of tea.  If you enjoy historical fiction – especially historical fiction featuring Henry VIII – you would enjoy “Wolf Hall”.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Sixth Book Review: “The White Queen” by Philippa Gregory

“The White Queen” is yet another masterpiece of historical fiction beautifully written by Philippa Gregory. I am a big fan of Gregory’s work, she is always well researched and she brings a wonderful amount of creativity to each of her pieces. I love reading about the various historical families. “The White Queen” takes place around the War of the Roses and involves one woman’s rise to the throne. She uses a combination of her natural beauty and witchcraft courtesy of her mother.

“I look at him from under my eyelashes. ‘I don’t propose to sell myself at all,’ I say. ‘I am not a yard of ribbon. I am not a leg of ham. I am not for sale to anyone.’” (The White Queen, pg 21). This statement, I believe, really captures the strength of the main character, Elizabeth Woodville. She is a widow with her eye on King Edward IV of the House of York (the white rose). She is a very interesting character to read about. She has a brilliant strength that shines through despite all that she goes through. She also has a certain amount of naivety that she displays throughout the book. She does witness certain things that lift the wool off of her eyes, bit by bit as can be seen in this quote here. 

“I have heard men tell of many battles in this cousins’ war, and they always spoke of heroism, of the courage of men, of the power of their comradeship, of the fierce anger of battle, and of the brotherhood of survival. I have heard great ballads about great battles, and poems about the beauty of a charge and the grace of a leader. But I did not know that war was nothing more than butchery, as savage and unskilled as sticking a pig in the throat and leaving it to bleed to make the meat tender. I did not know that the style and nobility of the jousting arena had nothing to do with this thrust and stab. Just killing a screaming piglet for bacon after chasing it round the sty. And I did not know that war thrilled men so: they come home like laughing schoolboys filled with excitement after a prank; but they have blood on their hands and a smear of something on their clocks and the smell of smoke in their hair and a terrible ugly excitement in their faces.

I understand now why they break into convents, force women against their will, defy sanctuary to finish the killing chase. They arouse in themselves a wild vicious hunger more like animals than men. I did not know that war was like this. I feel I have been a fool not to know, since I was raised in a kingdom at war and am the daughter of a man captured in battle, the widow of a knight, the wife of a merciless soldier. But I know now.” (The White Queen, pg 185). 

I really liked this quote because of the revelations that Elizabeth goes through about war. It is really insightful and true. There are many times throughout the book when Elizabeth is exposed to hard truths. 

Overall, I just really enjoy Gregory’s writing. She has a great style that keeps her readers turning the pages. “She is not a boy though she is weak like a boy, nor a fool though he has seen her tremble with feeling like a fool. She is not a villain in her capacity to hold a grudge, nor a saint in her flashes of generosity. She is not any of these male qualities. She is a woman. A thing quite different to a man. What he saw was a half fish, but what frightened him to his soul was the being which was a woman.” (The White Queen, pg 241). 

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Philippa Gregory is a great author and I really enjoyed “The White Queen”. It is the first book in The Cousins’ War series. I think that Philippa Gregory’s books would appeal to both men and women, so as long as you enjoy books you would probably enjoy Philippa Gregory’s novels.

 

In case you want to read the whole series (as I plan to do) the order of the series is:

  1. “The White Queen”
  2. “The Red Queen”
  3. “The Lady of the Rivers”
  4. “The Kingmaker’s Daughter”
  5. “The White Princess”
  6. “The King’s Curse”

 

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU KNOW NOTHING OF HISTORY AND WANT TO BE SURPRISED BY THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN THE BOOK!

One thing that I want to touch on is how much information that Philippa Gregory exposes her readers to. I will be the first to admit, I have never been a big history buff. It is in no way my strong suit. So part of the fun of reading historical fiction is taking the time to learn about people, places, and events that while I may have touched on at school I don’t *really* know anything about. For example, in this book two princes are taken to the tower after their father (Edward IV) is killed. They never come out. Gregory takes some liberties with this story and provides her readers with one theory, but the reality of the situation is that no one knows what happened to the princes. 

According to the internet, the two princes – Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury were the only living sons of Edward IV at the time of his death. They were lodged in the Tower of London by the man appointed to look after them, their uncle, the Lord Protector: Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard ended up taking the throne himself even though Edward V was supposed to be preparing to take the throne. A lot of people believe that the boys were murdered although some believe that one or both of the boys were able to escape. Personally, I think that the boys were murdered by their uncle – what better way to assure yourself the throne than to kill the competition? Either way, the story is fascinating and one that I enjoyed learning about. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Book Review: “City of Ashes” by Cassandra Clare

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE FIRST BOOK IN THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS SERIES AND PLAN TO READ IT AND DON’T WANT ANYTHING RUINED FOR YOU.

“…there was also a wariness about him, as if he were waiting or watching for something. It was something she had noticed about Jace as well. Perhaps it was only the awareness of mortality.” (City of Ashes, pg 25). 

“City of Ashes” is the second book in the Mortal Instruments series and it was just as good, if not better, than the first book. I am very pleased with Cassandra Clare so far. The series may have been written for young adults, but the material definitely seems geared towards adults. There is a great story and underlying comedic tones that just make the book very enjoyable. For example, “‘There’s nothing wild about me. I’m stolid. Middle-aged.’ ‘Except that once a month you turn into a wolf and go tearing around slaughtering things,’ Clary said. ‘It could be worse,’ Luke said. ‘Men my age have been known to purchase expensive sports cars and sleep with supermodels.'” (City of Ashes, pg 69). This exchange was one of many that made me laugh aloud. This does have the side effect of making me look a little crazy when sitting on the train, but what are you going to do? 

In “City of Ashes”, our story picks up once again with Clary who is still waiting for her mother to awaken from the magical coma that she is in. Clary is dealing with many things including a new level to her relationship with Simon, living with Luke whom she now knows is a werewolf, trying to get past her feelings for Jace now that she has discovered he is her brother, not to mention coping with the fact that everything that she grew up with knowing to be a truth is a lie – that the world she lives in is much more complicated than anything she could have imagined. Although this quote is from later in the book, I really thought it spoke for how Clary really felt throughout the whole book, “…she was suddenly and strangely reminded of being four years old at the beach, crying when the wind came up and blew away the castle she had made. Her mother had told her she could make another one if she liked, but it hadn’t stopped her crying because what she had thought was permanent was not permanent after all, but only made out of sand that vanished at the touch of wind or water.” (City of Ashes, pg 450).

“City of Ashes” is a very entertaining, fast-paced book with very interesting twists and turns. I think the book is quite a good read and something that would appeal to a wide audience. Would I recommend this book? Yes, it was a great read and I look forward to checking out the next book in the series. 

 

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Book Review: “Little Lady, Big Apple” by Hester Browne

I really love chic-lit and was very excited when I discovered Hester Browne a few months ago. “The Little Lady Agency” is a great series and I enjoyed the second book in the series just as much as the first. I have the third book sitting on my windowsill in the ‘shortlist of books to read’. The great thing about these books is you can either devour them in one sitting or savor each chapter. The book is light and fun with a different take on chic-lit. 

“Little Lady, Big Apple” picks up once again with Melissa Romney-Jones running her rather successful business ‘the little lady agency’. Melissa is very good at what she does, however, there is now her boyfriend to think about – Jonathan. He is less than comfortable with Melissa offering ‘girlfriend services’ to any other guys which greatly cuts down on the amount of business that she can do. He invites her along to a New York trip so she can get a taste of the big apple. Melissa soon gets recruited to help polish-up an old school acquaintance which leads to much hilarity.

It was a lot of fun to read about Melissa’s continued adventures with her outrageously awful family, her new relationship with Jonathan and the challenges that they are facing there, and her thriving business. Hester Browne’s writing is a lot of fun. I think that her books are obviously geared more towards women, but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think most women would really enjoy “Little Lady, Big Apple” and there are some guys out there who just might enjoy the series as well. The book is great for a light, fun read – maybe pick it up after you read a Stephen King!

 

Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Third Book Review: “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt

I honestly cannot remember how long ago it was that I bought “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt. I thought it looked good, it was obviously a murder mystery which I always enjoy, and there were quotes all over the book cover about how “The Little Friend” is a classic in its own time. I couldn’t wait to read it, but as someone who enjoys savoring things that I am sure I will enjoy (like dark chocolate or Tracy Chevalier novels) I waited. And waited. And I went browsing in my personal library and brought it downstairs at least four times (each time returning it after a few weeks back to the third floor) and finally I decided it was time to read “The Little Friend”. 

“…when the Cleves chose to agree on some subjective matter it became – automatically and quite irrevocably – the truth, without any of them being aware of the collective alchemy which had made it so.” (The Little Friend, pg 19). This is a great example of the unique writing style that Tartt displays throughout “The Little Friend”. She is without a doubt, a talented writer.

“The Little Friend” is about a family that experiences an extreme tragedy. The family is celebrating mother’s day and the only son in the family is discovered hanging by his neck in the yard. No one knows what happened and the family is left scarred for life. The dead boy, Robin, leaves behind two sisters. The main character in this book is Harriet, the youngest child. She was only four when Robin was killed and she is determined to find her brother’s killer and bring them to justice.

It was a very interesting read to say the least. Reading about a family’s brokenness after a great tragedy — it is a unique pain that most people will luckily never have to experience. And what made this book stand out even more is that it was focused around Harriet. She was only four when her brother was killed and yet her life is so profoundly affected by his death. Partly because her family crumbles around her and she grows up in a horribly depressing environment. Partly because she develops a morbid fasciation with Robin’s death.

 

Harriet has such a deprived childhood that she develops her own thickness to the world. “‘The trick,’ he’d said in the movie, ‘is not to mind that it hurts.’ In the vast and ingenious scheme of suffering, as Harriet was now beginning to understand it, this was a trick well worth learning.” (The Little Friend, pg 472). It was really interesting to read about Harriet’s inner strength as she grows.

I’ll say this, Donna Tartt has a crazy imagination. She is also a very good writer and I found myself devouring most of her book. There were several parts that were rather upsetting, but overall I really enjoyed it. That is, until the end. I did not like the way that the book ended, but the rest of the book was so entertaining and well done that I think I will be picking up more of Donna Tartt’s works. Would I recommend this book? I don’t know…I mean it was really well written, but I felt like the ending was a let down. It was a good read, and I will probably look into her other novels. I don’t think “The Little Friend” is for everyone, but there are some who may enjoy it.