Book Review – The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Book Reviews, Tudors

Boleyn. That has always been associated with one person. Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII of England, the woman who informally caused the English Reformation. But there was another girl who left behind an almost unknown legacy. Anne’s sister, Mary.

Mary Boleyn – The Other Boleyn Girl – artist unknown

The Other Boleyn Girl.

Philippa Gregory’s bestselling novel tells the story of Mary Boleyn, who came to court of Henry VIII at the age of fourteen. She became just one of many ladies who shared his bed and became his lover. When his interests dithered, Mary is ordered by her demanding family to pass on her knowledge to Anne. Soon, Anne becomes the centre of everything and Mary finds herself pushed to the side. But Mary begins to find happiness outside the court with a man who encourages her to break free. But she’ll need to act fast because there is danger lurking nearby…

I was about 11 or 12 when I learned a little about Anne Boleyn, but knew nothing about her sister Mary until I was 15. In all honesty, that is not really surprising. With all the research and stories that have been written about Anne Boleyn, it’s easy to forget about her older sister Mary. She was the one that got away. The one that escaped the scaffold, the one who lived the rest of her life. away from the court of Henry VIII. She did not have to go through the same trials and tortures of her siblings, so it’s not surprising that Mary Boleyn usually goes unnoticed.

But in The Other Boleyn Girl, this is not the case. In this book, Mary is the main character, starting when she is a mere girl of thirteen. By then, she is already married to her first husband, William Carey and is at the court of Henry VIII. Her father and uncle, (the Duke of Norfolk) are determined to bring their family greatness and using Mary as their pawn, they order her to seduce the king and have his child. Mary, portrayed as a naive and foolish little girl, falls in love with Henry and eagerly follows his every word and is delighted to give birth to his children.

In contrast, the famous Anne Boleyn was portrayed as cold, deceitful, selfish woman, willing to go to any lengths to get her desires. Even so far as to take Mary’s son away, which was disturbing. In a way, the infamous woman was being portrayed in this book as a 16th century gold-digger.

Another thing I was shocked by was the sub-plot that Anne was having an affair with her own brother George. It went so far as for her to conceive her brother’s child so as to keep her throne- which ultimately failed. It is known that incest was one of the charges that Anne faced during her trial, but historians are convinced of her innocence of these charges. Many agree that the charges were used to convince the public that Anne Boleyn was a monster, I found it crazy that Philippa Gregory would use the idea that Anne was guilty of incest.

Anne boleyn.jpg
Anne Boleyn, Elizabethan portrait 1533-1536

From my own studies, I found that Anne Boleyn was not how she was portrayed in the novel. While it is true that she was headstrong, stubborn and didn’t know when to keep her temper, she was also intelligent, charming and kind-hearted to those she cared about. Unlike many women before her, Anne actually refused to become the King’s Mistress, refused to give in to his demands, until they were married. She was known not be popular with the people of England, due to Henry being legally married to Katherine of Aragon. But ultimately, she gave the people their most powerful ruler – Elizabeth I.

Philippa Gregory has said that Mary Boleyn is her favourite character, but she has used this in a negative manner. She has spent all of her time focusing on making Mary the hero of the story, that she has neglected to truly focus of history. While it is known that Mary was exiled from court after, it is also known that she never returned. Unlike in the novel, it is very unlikely that Mary was present at the execution of her sister and didn’t return to court after 1534. While it is known that her two elder children Catherine and Henry would rise to become well-known members of Queen Elizabeth’s court, Mary lived the rest of her life in obscurity until she died in 1543.

As a person who has always had an interest in Tudor history, I was interested to read this book. And while there were aspects of the story that I found enjoyable, overall I was slightly disappointed with The Other Boleyn Girl. It was interesting to learn more about Mary Boleyn, but for those who are interested in the Tudors, I would suggest looking elsewhere to read about the famous kings and queens of this era.

Book Review – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank, Book Reviews

I have lost count on the amount of times that I have read this diary. In fact, I read it so much, my copy literally fell apart and I ended up having to buy another one! That’s how much the diary of Anne Frank meant to me growing up. 

Anne Frank c.1942

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, Anne Frank and her family fled to the Netherlands when Hitler came to power. For years, they lived a quiet, peaceful life until the invasion of the Nazis in 1940. From there, Anne’s life was horribly restricted – she was separated from her friends, banned from doing anything that she loved (including ice-skating, visiting houses and going to the movies), and lived with the fear of one day being sent to the death camps in Poland.

In 1942, for her thirteenth birthday, Anne received what would become one of the most famous books in the world: her diary. She began writing in it immediately, thrilled to think of this diary as her true friend. Just a couple of weeks later, when her sister received summons for deportation, the Frank family went into hiding behind a bookcase in her father’s office. They stayed there for two years, receiving food and care from trusted friends, until they were finally arrested in 1944. Anne never lived to see her sixteenth birthday – she died in Bergen-Belsen in February or March 1945.

‘It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. ‘

Anne Frank 15th July 1944

Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only one of his family to survive the war and returned home to find Anne’s diary. It was he who would begin the journey to get it published and work on spreading the word of his daughter.

Anne’s diary shows that despite everything that was happening in her life, she went through many things that young women today go through – friendship woes, boy troubles, puberty and family arguments. It shows that despite that her freedom was being restricted more and more by the Nazis, she still found the ability to enjoy life as much as she could.

‘Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.’ 

Anne Frank

Writing in her diary was Anne’s way to escape from the constant problems in the Secret Annexe in those two years. The arguments between the eight people in hiding, the conflicts that she endured with her mother and Fritz Pfeffer and her feelings towards Peter van Pels. It also showed that Anne was also aware of the dangers and fear of the world outside, but her hope for freedom.

The Diary of Anne Frank

One quote that I particularly like was written on 26th May 1944: ‘I’ve asked myself again and again if we hadn’t gone into hiding, if we were dead now and didn’t have to go through this misery, especially so that the others could be spared the burden. But we all shrink from this thought. We still love life, we haven’t yet forgotten the voice of nature, and we keep hoping, hoping for…everything.’ This quote, to me, represents that despite everything happening, she still held onto hope for a new change in the world. And while Anne did not live to see it, that change finally came when the Second World War ended in 1945.

Otto Frank stands in front of a portrait of his daughter

The Diary of Anne Frank is a book that I believe, everybody should read. It’s probably the most well-known story to ever come out of the Second World War. It shows the troubles that the Jews endured because of the Nazis, but it also shows Anne’s determination and hopes for her life. And while she may not have lived to see it happen, her wish to become ‘a famous writer’ did come true.

Book Review – Twilight and Midnight Sun

Book Reviews

It’s been a long time coming but Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer has finally arrived in the world of literacy.

It’s been 12 years in the making but the Twilight author has finally given us a story from the point of view of Edward Cullen, the 109-year-old vampire in the body of a 17-year-old boy.

When Twilight first came out in the cinema, I was an immature 12-year-old, dealing with hormones and trying to think about what I really wanted in life. I read the first book (simply because everyone was!), and I will admit, I found it a little dubious. Whether it was the characters or the writing, I wasn’t sure. But then again, I was young, and I had a thing for vampires at the time so I thought I would give it another chance.

So I got New Moon… and all I can say is, I do not know how I managed to survive through the entire book. I had never had a boyfriend, but even I knew that in real life, you don’t just curl up and die when your boyfriend dumps you. You have to get up, move on and get over it. I also didn’t like the constant comparisons that Meyer made with Romeo and Juliet. At the time, I was studying Romeo and Juliet myself, as part of my Junior Cert. To me, it’s not a story of true love. It’s an adolescent fantasy of what love is. What they believe to be love, ends up killing them.

Put it like this; how long did the two youths actually really know each other before they decided to marry? Think about it.

Another thing I didn’t like was the constant references to suicide. Edward running to to Volturi to kill him, Esme throwing herself off a cliff when her child died, Bella putting herself in constant danger… is this the right message to send to someone? That if life is too hard, you should kill yourself?

Anyway, I only got two chapters into Eclipse before I finally gave up. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was tired of hearing about how gorgeous Edward Cullen was and the constant complaining from Bella Swan about how life wasn’t fair. (But of course, we already knew that!) I stayed right away from Breaking Dawn and I didn’t go near the final three movies. By the time the last movie came out, I was sixteen. I had grown out of vampires and werewolves; I had moved on to books that covered real life issues.

I did start the unfinished draft of Midnight Sun… I just don’t think I ever finished it. To be honest, how Stephenie Meyer wrote through Edward’s eyes really unsettled me. The part where he watches Bella read outside her home, was disturbing. I’m sure that many Twi-hard fans would agree that this takes stalking to the next level.

Reading where he compares Bella to Persephone – a woman who was forced to marry a man without her consent, live somewhere she never wanted to be – it actually makes sense. It’s a reference to how he treats Bella. Stalking her, forcing her to go places where she doesn’t want to go, making her do things that she doesn’t want to do; he is exactly like Hades in that perspective. Yes, Meyer picked the wrong time to make the comparison (comparing Persephone’s pomegranate to Bella’s mushroom ravioli? Really?) but I think many will agree that the comparison holds true.

Stephenie Meyer waited 12 years to publish this book and to be honest, I think she waited too long. Society has changed, we have moved on. Even the most Twi-hard fans have grown up and have moved themselves away from the franchise. As much as we like to hang onto something we really like, we must learn to let go.

With the rise of MeToo and the constant horrific stories of abuse in the media, our perspective of Twilight has altered. Fans are beginning to see the realities and unhealthiness of Edward and Bella’s relationship. Control, isolation, mental and emotional abuse. In today’s society, do we really want to read a story like that?

Midnight Sun is a story that I’m sure that many devoted fans will be itching to read. But I will admit, it’s a little sad that they would still want to read about a controlling and abusive monster especially in today’s society.

Book Reviews – A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin

Book Reviews

Ah, golddiggers. The people of the world who feel that all they have to do is marry a rich individual and then they’re settled for the rest of their lives. They have all the wealth without having to work. To me, golddiggers are like Marmite – you either like them or hate them!

I have encountered a few golddiggers in the world of literacy (and yes, I am talking about you Anastasia Steele!), but none have intrigued me more than Bud Corliss, the main character in A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin.

The story follows Bud, an ex-soldier who is determined to get everything he wants in life. He is in a relationship with a young woman with Dorothy Kingship, the daughter of a wealthy oil tycoon and they are discussing marriage. But there’s a difference- she wants to marry for love, he wants to marry to get his hands on her father’s money. When Dorothy unexpectantly falls pregnant, Bud’s plans fall into disarray. But despite this setback, he is determined to get what he wants and will do anything to get it… even murder.

There is an event in Bud’s life that follows his through his plans. As a soldier, he shot a Japanese sniper who wet himself out of cowardice. This event stayed with Bud as a moment of strength and power, something that he wants to experience again. But by the end of the novel, this event comes back to haunt him.

It was interesting to see the lengths Bud went to get his planned fortune. In a way, it is a reflection on what lengths modern golddiggers go to get what they want. They flirt, seduce, play their cards right until they secure their riches. All they see are dollar signs. Of course, I don’t think that many golddiggers go to the lengths that Bud goes to!

It’s also interesting to look at the characters of the Kingship sisters, Dorothy, Ellen and Marion. Bud works his charm on all three ladies and not all of them will survive. You can see the differences in personalities in all three ladies; Dorothy is the dreamer, refusing to see anything but her fantasies, Ellen is more smart and determined to get answers to everything and Marion is the most serious, but sad woman who doesn’t have a good relationship with her father. All three woman are profoundly changed by Bud and not all of it in a good way.

If you like a good mystery novel, give this book a go. You’ll like how the story progresses and what emerges from one man’s greed and how a family’s wealth ends in heartbreak. Or if you just like reading about crafty golddiggers, take a look! But if you do, please don’t try anything that Bud does in this story! You could end up paying for it, and I don’t mean with cash!

Book Review – Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson

Book Reviews

Have you ever had a book that you can’t help but read over and over again? A book that you read so many times that the book ends up literally falling apart in your hands? For me, Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson is that book.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this book in my life. I don’t really know what it was that made me love it so much, but I did. I read a lot of Jacqueline Wilson books in my childhood, but Lola Rose was definitely my favorite. 

This book tells the story of a young girl named Jayni and the struggles of her life. She lives with her mother, little brother Kenny and her violent, abusive father. When the abuse reaches the limit, they run away to London in the middle of the night. The three of them hide away in a new flat and take on new identities in order to stop him from tracking them down. Jayni chooses the name Lola Rose and immediately, she becomes more confident, more secure of herself and she feels that she is not afraid of anything. But more frightening events follow when her mother falls ill and Lola Rose has to be more grown up than she genuinely feels inside…

Jacqueline Wilson covers many topics in her stories; in this case, she covers the topics of domestic abuse, fear and family illness. For me, these are some of the hardest challenges that anybody has to face in their lives. Covering these topics in a children’s book can be a controversy, but Jacqueline Wilson is able to do so in a realistic and believable manner. She writes in a way that makes you want to keep reading till the very end. 

Lola Rose is definitely a gripping book for children, because of the story and Wilson’s writing. Wilson herself has stated that it’s one of those books that’s closest to her heart. I would definitely recommend that anyone – whether they be eight or eighty- read this book. It’s one of Jacqueline Wilson’s best books and one that will always be a favorite of mine. 

Book Review – The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

Book Reviews

Here’s a question for you: what is your idea of the ‘perfect woman’? Does she have soft hair, smooth skin, a beautiful smile? Is she devoted, caring, obedient? Does she cater to your every whim? Well, in this book that I’m reviewing, I discovered a community that literally creates their idea of the perfect woman from scratch. 

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (the bestselling author of Rosemary’s Baby) sees Joanna, her husband Walter and their two children moving to the small town of Stepford, Connecticut. At first, everything seems normal enough; they settle in, make friends and become accustomed to the town. But as time passes, Joanna becomes very unsettled by the women of Stepford – stick-on smiles, hair never out of place, and content with doing nothing but cooking, cleaning and food shopping. As time passes, with her once-independent friends turning into nothing but demure housewives, and her husband becoming more enthralled with the ideas of the local men’s association, Joanna realizes that she must find a way to escape the town, before she becomes the next target.

I have to admit, this book scared me. The conspiracy of the Stepford men plotting against their wives, breaking them, stripping them of their minds, their independence and turning them into prettily perfect housewives, ready to bend and cater to their every whim. That frightened me. Women becoming nothing but pretty dolls. But in a way, it’s a testament to women of today. 

I have lost count of the amount of YouTube channels that are dedicated to showing you how to wear the perfect make-up, of Instagram profiles that show nothing but slender, beautiful women posing provocatively in various exotic places. There was a while ago, when I was watching TV and there was a teenage girl about to get married to her boyfriend of six months. She was basically giving up her identity to become his housewife. I’ll never forget what she said: ‘I wanted to be an oncologist and now, I want to be a stay-at-home mom. I want to stay at home and cook and clean for him.’ A modern-day Stepford wife, wouldn’t you say? 

Ira Levin’s writing definitely helped show the fear and transformation of the characters in the story, not just the female, but the males too. I was fascinated by the change of Joanna’s husband Walter. Initially, he was seen to be very supportive of his wife but after he becomes influenced by the mysterious men’s association of Stepford, he completely changes and conspires against her. The town of Stepford appears to have a mysterious hold on not only the women, but the men as well. They also change from being supportive husbands to being dominant control-freaks.

This novel certainly frightened me, but also definitely intrigued me. It’s a horror story, but more of a psychological horror rather than a traditional one. For me, that’s what makes it better. The Stepford Wives is one of those stories that will make you think about our lives today compared to forty years ago, but Ira Levin’s writing and interesting characters certainly make it a worthy read.

Book Review – Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Book Reviews

Sometimes, when I like to write things, I like to start by asking a question: what if? But this time, I’m not going to, because in a way, we already know.

In the time that we all have spent in isolation, trying to cope through this god-forsaken pandemic, we have all had to change. We have had to learn how to keep our distance, protect ourselves and look after our own well-being. This is a very worrisome and troublesome time for all of us, but we will get through this eventually.

But imagine if we had to do that every single day of our lives…

In Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, we meet Maddy Whittier. Maddy is living with a condition called Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) – if she ever goes outside, she could die. For eighteen years, all Maddy has had is her mother and her kind nurse, Carla. But when new neighbour Olly moves in with his family next door, Maddy begins to want to learn more about the outside world, experience everything that she is missing out on… and how much she is willing to risk to do so…

There was a case many years ago about a bubble baby named David Vetter. He lived out his entire life literally in a bubble. Although many attempts were made to help him experience life, sadly David died of complications of his illness at the very young age of 12. To read about the fictional story of Maddy and the real life of David makes me realise that in many ways, we are lucky. 

Yes, we are living with the risk of serious illness, but with proper caution and care, we can still go back to our lives, albeit a little different. Imagine if we had to live in bubbles, never being able to experience everything that we take for granted in our normal lives. This book has made me think about that.

Everything, Everything is a book about love – not just romance, but the love in a family. It shows how love can make people do things that can have dire consequences. Maddy’s love for Olly makes her risk her life to experience the outside world. Maddy’s mother’s love for her daughter makes her go to extreme lengths to care and protect her daughter…but at severe costs.

This book definitely makes you question what it would be like if you had to live your whole life completely in isolation. It makes you ask how far you would be willing to go to experience life, and what love can make you do. I would certainly say read this book as it’s definitely better than the film. 

Book Review – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Book Reviews

When I was eight years old, my aunt who lives in England would send me books that she thought I would like to read. These books were all children’s classics, books by Hans Christian Anderson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that kind of thing. One of those books is the one I’m reviewing now: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

This actually wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Dodie Smith. I had previously read a certain book about a large number of black-and-white dogs who escape from an evil fur-loving woman (you all know which one I’m talking about!), but that is for another time! I know that there is a 2003 film based on I Capture the Castle (featuring a young Henry Cavill) but I’ve never seen it. I was starting this book blind.

The story is split into three ‘diaries’ written by the fictional author 17 year old Cassandra Mortmain. Cassandra lives in a crumbling old castle with her father James, stepmother Topaz, older sister Rose, younger brother Thomas and live-in boy Stephen. Her father is a writer but suffers from severe writer’s block and hasn’t written anything for twelve years. The family have become poor to the point where they are selling their furniture to buy food. But when they meet their new landlords, the Cottons, things begin to take a turn for the better….

There are three themes to this story: Family, Friendship and Romance. While Rose feels frustration with her family and wants nothing more than to escape their dreary life in the castle, Cassandra loves her family and wants everyone to feel a sense of happiness. It is she and her brother Thomas who break their father out of his writer’s block and finally start him writing again. Cassandra knows that Stephen is in love with her but treats him with respect and friendship and encourages him towards his dream job in acting.

Things drastically change with Simon and Neil Cotton come into the picture. Almost right away, Rose sees this as an opportunity to step into the rich world. Cassandra sees this as a chance to make friends and experience something different in life. But then feelings come to a head and things take an unexpected twist for everybody…

Throughout the story, we can see Cassandra blossom from a naive little girl to a young woman who experiences her first taste of true love – and heartbreak. The diaries show her personal changes as the story progresses. Her relationships with Neil and Simon changed into something that I didn’t expect. I’m not going to spoil it for you; all I will say is that I thought she would end up with one of them but she ended up falling in love with the other. She writes her story in three books – the Sixpenny book, the Shilling Book and the Two-Guinea Book. These three books represent the financial (and familial) changes the families face throughout the story.

It’s not just the character of Cassandra who changes in the story. Her older sister Rose is definitely one of the early gold-diggers in the literacy world. When she sees the Cottons, all she initially sees is a chance for money and power. However as her own feelings begin to change, her character develops from a sneaky gold-digger to a woman deeply in love. Despite her sneaky ways, Rose is shown to deeply care for her younger sister and only wants the best for her. 

There are some cases where the writing becomes a bit too confusing and you have to read it a couple of times to get your head round it. And I was slightly disappointed by the ending of the story (I’m saying nothing!). But overall, I Capture the Castle was an enjoyable read and definitely a stand-out when it comes to romantic stories.

Book Review – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Book Reviews

I’m sure that this classic has been covered a million times already… but I’m going to be reviewing it anyway!

Here’s a bit of irony – I first came across the name Jane Eyre in another story (Roald Dahl’s Matilda), but as I was only seven at the time, I didn’t really take much notice of it. It wasn’t until I was about thirteen and saw the 1943 adaptation of the book (with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. It’s one of my favourite movies.) that I decided to look into the story. After buying a copy while visiting family in Donegal, I started reading.

Right from the first page, it’s very easy to see the sufferings of a young Jane Eyre. Bullied by her aunt and cousins, she is forcibly locked into the Red Room where her uncle died and falls ill. Jane is (willingly) sent away to a boarding school in Lowood. Life there fares no better – branded a liar by the cruel Mr. Brocklehurst, losing her only friend Helen Burns to illness – but after eight years, Jane finally gains a chance for a new start when she gets a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall. After some time, she meets her ward’s guardian, the mysterious Mr. Rochester and there, the story gets interesting…

In an era where women were seen as passive, vain and controlled by the men in their lives, Jane definitely stands out. She’s intelligent, independent, serious and capable of making her own decisions. She chooses to go to school, she chooses to work, she is determined to make a good life for herself. Initially romance does not play a great role in Jane’s life, but that changes when she meets Edward Rochester. Even then though, it doesn’t shake her determination to find true happiness. 

Jane is very compassionate in her character. When her aunt is on her deathbed, Jane finds it in her heart to forgive her, even when she learns that her aunt deliberately kept a letter from her one surviving uncle. However she also shows her ability to stand up for herself. Right before she leaves for Lowood, Jane finally tells her aunt how she really feels about her (one of my favorite scenes in the book!) and refuses to become Mr. Rochester’s mistress after their disaster of a wedding. She is even to refuse a marriage proposal from St. John Rivers (pronounced ‘Sinjin’. I wish I knew why.) despite massive pressure from the latter. 

By the end of the story, Jane finally achieves what she was so desperate to find in life. It was not love, but happiness. A home, a life where she is not seen as a burden. Love was an extra element that she found with Mr. Rochester. Despite his disabilities, she is still able to see the man that she fell in love with. As she says it simply: ‘Reader, I married him.’ 

Jane Eyre is definitely a book that I feel that people should read. See the movies surely, but you need to read the book as well. Once you get used to the writing, you will really enjoy this romance story. For me, this is a REAL romance (unlike others that I could mention….)

P.S. If you do decide to watch the movie, watch the 1943 version, it’s definitely the best.