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George Boleyn by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgeway

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “George Boleyn has gone down in history as being the brother of the ill-fated Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, and for being executed for treason, after being found guilty of incest and of conspiring to kill the King. This biography allows George to step out of the shadows and brings him to life as a court poet, royal favourite, keen sportsman, talented diplomat and loyal brother.”

REVIEW: As many of you will not know, but as everyone who knows me well is all too aware, I am completely obsessed with George Boleyn. Much of my academic career so far has been dedicated to research about him and his life, and I am currently planning my Master’s dissertation, in which he will heavily feature. It has always frustrated me that George, despite being such a fascinating and important historical figure is generally overlooked due to the fame of his sister, Anne Boleyn. Although Anne Boleyn is of course worth great admiration –¬† my undergraduate dissertation was on her, in fact – it is upsetting that George is often relegated to a chapter or a few sentences in books about his sisters. His portrayal in fiction, both in the form of books and TV shows, is also something that I have often found distressing, not to mention based on very little factual evidence, as is pointed out in this book. Therefore I was delighted to receive this biography as a Christmas present from my Mum, who has been a victim of my obsession for several years now and has herself become quite fond of George. This biography brilliantly gathers together the little evidence we have on George from primary documents and cleverly examines what these sources can tell us about George’s life and his career as a courtier, poet and diplomat. The authors’ admiration for George and respect for his talents really shines through in the writing, and it made such an enjoyable change to read something of this nature dedicated entirely to George. This book will be a valuable source to me in the research and writing of my dissertation, and I hope it introduces many more people to the fascinating historical figure that is George Boleyn.

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.”

REVIEW: As many of you will know, I am a huge Picoult fan, and was delighted when a fantastic friend bought me ‘Small Great Things’, her latest novel, for Christmas. This book, like so many of hers have done, has really stuck with me since I finished reading it, and as her books often do has caused me to ask questions of myself that I might not have asked had I not read it. It is also highly appropriate to read this book now, in light of recent political events in the US and, indeed, across the world, as racial hate crime is on the rise. This book does not just tell the story of a nurse who is accused of killing a baby, a crime she did not commit; it tells the reader how it feels to be a black woman in the United States, showing both the subtle and more shocking racial prejudices that face them in day-to-day life.

Ruth Jefferson is a well-liked, experienced and respected midwife, and is both angered and upset when she is told by the father of one of the babies put into her care that she is no longer allowed to tend to the baby due to the colour of her skin. When the baby dies a couple of days later and it emerges that Ruth could have saved him, but was torn between her duty and the command of the child’s father, the situation soon blows up and Ruth is taken to court, accused of murdering baby Davis Bauer. Throught the novel we experience the events through the eyes of Ruth, the main protagonist, but also through Turk, the baby’s father, and Kennedy, Ruth’s lawyer. As the blurb states, this case changes the lives and perceptions of all three of these characters, but this is not something I want to delve deeply into in this review; Picoult’s books are always so gripping that I fear to give away the ending would simply ruin the novel and dramatically reduce its impact. And this book did have an impact on me.

Throughout the book we see the daily racism experienced by Ruth who, although less aggravated by it than her older sister Adisa, is physically hurt every time she is treated as inferior – which, of course, anyone would be. I have never considered myself to be a racist person, and I still do not in any way; yet, the question was raised in this book about the difference between active racism – whereby people act like the character of Turk and racially abuse those with different racial backgrounds to themselves – and passive racism, where people do not see themselves as racist but do not do anything to particularly discourage racism from happening. I found this point to be a really interesting one, and although I would definitely not accuse myself of active racism, I began to think that many of us are probably guilty of passive acts of racism, even if we do not mean to be. This debate is something that has really stuck with me since I finished the book, and is something I think many readers will find themselves thinking about once they finish the novel.

Overall I found this book to be gripping and excellently written, dealing with a sensitive subject in a way that educates readers as well as telling them a story. I would highly recommend it.

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Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and author Mary Shelley were mother and daughter, yet these two extraordinary women never knew one another. Nevertheless, their passionate and pioneering lives remained closely intertwined, their choices, aspirations and tragedies eerily similar. Both women became famous writers and wrote books that changed literary history, had passionate relationships with several men, were single mothers out of wedlock; both lived in exile, fought for their poisition in society, and interrogated ideas of how we should live.”

REVIEW: I have counted both Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley among my historical idols¬† since I was introduced to them both by my fantastic English teacher during my AS level year: Wollstonecraft for her feminist tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which addresses many areas that feminists such as myself still identify as areas that require change to this day; and Shelley for her novel Frankenstein, one of my favourite books of all time, as well as her tumultuous personal life. Until now, I have never before had the opportunity to read a biography covering this exceptional mother and daughter in one go. I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which Gordon chose to structure this biography; it can be difficult, initially, to understand how Wollstonecraft and Shelley can have led such similar lives, and how Wollstonecraft had such an influence on her daughter, when the two only shared the same earth for a matter of days. In structuring it so that the chapters alternate between Wollstonecraft and Shelley, Gordon makes it easier for the reader to map out the parallels in the lives of these two women, looking at what they were each experiencing during the different stages of their lives. Gordon’s writing style itself is fantastic – the book flows almost like a novel, and is engaging from start to finish, with keen speculation and vivid description adding to the enjoyment of the reader, who may feel daunted by such a large non-fiction text without such additional flourishes. Gordon made me feel much closer to these two women, whom I have long considered as role models, and I feel I gained so much more understanding and sympathy from knowing more about their lives. It has also given me a new way to look at things when reading their written works, as I can now apply my knowledge of their backgrounds and the events occuring in their lives when writing to enhance my understanding of their novels, letters, diaries and tracts. I found it difficult to put this book down, something of a rarity with me and non-fiction, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in literature, the women themselves or even those interested in the period from a historical perspective, as the lives of these women tell us much about the political climate and social expectations of the period.

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Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Cornwall, 1790-1791. Ross Poldark faces the darkest hour of his life. Accused of wrecking two ships, he is to stand trial at the Bodmin Assizes. Despite their stormy married life, Demelza has tried to rally support for her husband. But there are enemies in plenty who would be happy to see Ross convicted, not least George Warleggan, the powerful banker, whose personal rivalry with Ross grows ever more intense.”

REVIEW: My first book review of 2017 sees me returning to the Poldark series; there are so many books and my Aunt and I have been buying a few at a time and then swapping, so it’s going to take me a while to get through and I keep getting distracted by other books in the meantime! I do really enjoy this series, however, and this third installment, ‘Jeremy Poldark’, was just as good as its predeccessors. This novel opens in the weeks leading up to Ross’ trial at the Bodmin Assizes; after some ships ran aground near Nampara, Ross was suspected of not only smuggling some goods from these ships, but was also accused by some of murdering the ships’ crews. His nemesis, George Warleggan, smug after his victory over Ross in taking over the mines, is rallying people against Ross, hoping that he will be sent to prison. Demelza, however, arrives early in Bodmin and contrives to meet any whom she feels might have an influence on Ross’ case, working against Warleggan to gain support for her husband. We are also reunited with the character of Verity, who despite being happily married is clearly struggling to adjust to the role of stepmother, wiht two stepchildren who seem inclined never to see her. Francis’ struggles also come to the fore as he attempts suicide, but is talked out of it by the intelligent physician Dwight Enys, who takes on a greater role in this novel as he begins to fall in love and take over Doctor Choake’s medical authority. It is hard to write more without giving away too much, but safe to say this is a satisfying continuation of the series and I look forward to finding out what will happen next to the Poldarks – the mysterious Jeremy of the title included.

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Top Ten Books of 2016

So, the time of year for summarising my Top 10 best reads of the year has come around again! It’s been an unbelieveable awful year for me, and for a lot of people I know, but books have always been there to keep me going, and keeping this blog has given me a purpose even when I didn’t feel like I could ever be motivated to do anything again. First of all, a brief disclaimer – no, I did not include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, despite it being one of my favourite reads of the year. Why? It’s a script, and it seemed unfair to include it and neglect some of the amazing writers whose work I have had the pleasure of reading this year. Just for the record though, if I could have had two number 1 spots, it would have been on here.

10. Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/frenchmans-creek-by-daphne-du-maurier/

9. Katherine Howard by Josephine Wilkinson

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/katherine-howard-by-josephine-wilkinson/

8. Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/four-sisters-by-helen-rappaport/

7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/the-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins/

6. The Angel Tree by Lucinda Riley

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/the-angel-tree-by-lucinda-riley/

5. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/the-storyteller-by-jodi-picoult/

4. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/me-before-you-by-jojo-moyes/

3. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/12/26/the-fate-of-the-tearling-by-erika-johansen/

2.The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/08/20/the-kingdom-of-little-wounds-by-susann-cokal

1. The Bronze Horseman Trilogy by Paullina Simons

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https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/the-bronze-horseman-by-paullina-simons/

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/09/13/tatiana-and-alexander-by-paullina-simons/

https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-summer-garden-by-paullina-simons/

Okay, so it’s a bit cheeky to have a whole trilogy hogging the number one spot in my chart; but these books flowed so seamlessly together and we are all incredible that it would have been impossible to separate and rank them: so here they are, the whole set, as my top read of 2016. Aside from having the most amazing quotes (because the writing is among the most beautiful I have ever read), this trilogy is gripping, absorbing, heartbreaking, surprising, and it fills your heart with so much love and pain and joy you hardly know how to handle it – and that, I think, is the very best kind of books.

Thank you so much to everyone who reads this blog, makes comments, gives recommendations, and favourites and follows my post – I am eternally grateful. I also run accompanying Twitter and Instagram accounts for this blog (both @CBPbookblog); feel free to look them up. Thank you so much for all your support – see you in 2017!

 

 

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The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager, into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader. And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies – chief amongst them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them. To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable – naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne. So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea – and the Tearling itself – will be revealed…”

REVIEW: The first two books in this trilogy took up the top spaces in my Top Ten Books of 2015, and I was so excited to read the third and final installment this year. I am glad to say that it did not disappoint, and will be very high up on my Top Ten Books of 2016 (keep your eyes peeled!). ‘The Fate of the Tearling’ begins right where its predecessor, ‘The Invasion of the Tearling’, left off, with Kelsea being transported to the Red Queen in Mortmesne after sacrificing herself and her powerful Tear sapphires for the safety of the people of the Tearling. Kelsea is sure that the kingdom is in safe hands under the Mace, and believes that she is being taken to the Red Queen to die. The Red Queen – or Evelyn, as Kelsea knows her from her visions – however, proves to be rather more vulnerable than Kelsea anticipated, her fear of Row Finn driving her to paranoia and leaving her on the verge of madness, and the two form a strange bond that is almost close to friendship, despite Kelsea being kept as Evelyn’s prisoner. As this story continues, we also see much of the Mace and Aisa, his newly recruited guard, who is determined to become a member of the Caden but is shadowed by her own morals and demons. The Tearling begins to turn in on itself, with the priests of the Arvath waging war against the Queen’s government, who are too occupied with trying to find and rescue their Queen to deal with the true depth of the danger they are in. Kelsea’s visions also teach us more ab0ut Lily, who appeared previously in her visions, but this time through the eyes of a young woman named Katie Rice. Katie was a woman who settled in the Tearling after the Crossing, living under the leadership of the famous William Tear and eventually becoming the Head Guard to his son, Johnathan. Her loyalties to the Tears, however, conflict with her friendship with a young and mysterious Row Finn, whom Katie despises and yet is powerfully attracted to. All of these storylines combine to ensure a fantastic end to the trilogy, which I in no way wish to spoil for anyone. The twist at the end of the novel combines both Kelsea’s visions of the past and the present threats experienced by the Tear and, although the ending still leaves the reader with questions, it is somehow a satisfying conclusion to such a gripping and complex trilogy.

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The English Girl by Katherine Webb

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “1958. Joan Seabrook, a fledgling archaeologist, has fulfilled her lifelong dream to visit Arabia by travelling from England to the ancient city of Muscat with her fiance, Rory. Desperate to escape the pain of a personal tragedy, she longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin, and unearth the treasures it is said to conceal. But Oman is a land lost in time – hard, secretive, and in the midst of a violent upheaval – and gaining permission to explore Jabrin could prove impossible. Joan’s disappointment is 0nly alleviated by the thrill of meeting her childhood heroine, pioneering explorer Maude Vickery, and hearing first-hand the stories that captured her imagination and fuelled her ambitions as a child. Joan’s encounter with the extraordinary and reclusive Maude will change everything. Both women have things that they want, and secrets they must keep. Ad their friendship grows, Joan is seduced by Maude’s stories and the thrill of the adventure they hold, and only too late does she begin to question her actions – actions that will spark a wild, and potentially diastrous, chain of events. Will the girl who left England for this beautiful but dangerous land ever find her way back?”

REVIEW: As many of you will know, I am a huge fan of Katherine Webb’s novels and, despite my constant annoyance over the ridiculous price of hardbacks, decided I simply couldn’t wait for ‘The English Girl’ to be released as a paperback, and bought it as soon as I could. Although not my favourite of Webb’s brilliant books, ‘The English Girl’ certainly retains her creative, descriptive writing style, which gives the reader the sense of being within the book itself, and has the usual shocking twists and turns which make the book fascinating to read but difficult to summarise in a review without giving away too many spoilers. ‘The English Girl’ tells the story of Joan, a young woman who is grieving after the death of her father and longs to escape the confinement of being at home with her widowed mother. Her father’s tales of Arabia gripped Joan’s imagination from childhood, and upon discovering that her brother is going to be stationed in Oman, she embarks on a long-awaited trip to visit the land of her father’s stories and visit her brother Daniel, accompanied by her fiance, Rory. Joan is amazed by the beauty of Muscat, and although she is initially disappointed by her first meeting with her idol, Maude Vickery, the first female explorer to cross the dangerous desert territory of Oman, the two soon form an unusual friendship that leads to Joan becoming far more involved in the ongoing conflict that she ever could have anticipated. A shocking discovery alienates Joan from Rory and increases her desire for freedom and adventure, leading to her forming a friendship with Charlie Elliot, one of Daniel’s comrades and the son of another famous explorer, Nathaniel Elliott, whose name sends Maude Vickery into a strange mixture of sadness and rage. Joan becomes closely involved with the rebels in Oman, encouraged by Maude Vickery, and finds herself becoming entangled in a web of espionage far bigger than she could have imagined, taking risk upon risk in order to be able to explore more of the land of her dreams. The story also uses a split narrative to tell the story of Maude in her younger years, leading up to the tale of her exploration and the reason she hates Nathaniel Elliot so deeply. There are many twists towards the end of the book that I will not write about, for fear of giving away spoilers, but the ending was extremely well-written and brought together the past and present threads of the stories in an unexpected yet seamless way. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and grew very attached to Joan, the protagonist, on her quest for an adventure. I would highly recommend this novel.