Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) by Alison Weir

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is the first book in Alison Weir’s new historical fiction series that will cover each wife of Henry VIII.

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: The Spanish Infanta Katherine has traveled to England to become the bride of Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur is the oldest son of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, and her marriage and future son will help secure the Tudors on the throne. But Arthur is a sickly boy, and his death puts Katherine in an awkward position; stuck in England with no money except her dowry, which she begins to siphon off just to pay for food for herself and her servants. She is betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, under the assumption that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, but there are no guarantees that this marriage will take place.

Upon the king’s death, Katherine is finally married to Henry, now King Henry VIII, and it appears to be a true love match. Henry is young, handsome, and all too willing to produce an heir. Unfortunately, none of Katherine’s many pregnancies result in a live son. Babies are born dead, miscarried, or live only a few months. Only a princess, Mary, survives and thrives.

Katherine begins to worry that their marriage is cursed, perhaps because Elizabeth of York’s male cousin was executed before Katherine’s parents would allow her to marry Arthur. Henry stands by Katherine until she is no longer able to bear children; then he claims their marriage is invalid because Katherine was first married to his brother. It’s a bit longer before Katherine realizes Henry is desperate to take a new wife, and not just to get a male heir. The influence of Anne Boleyn will cause Henry to alter the course of history.

MY TWO CENTS: You may be wondering what sets this book apart from all the other Tudor fiction out there. First, it’s written by acclaimed historian Alison Weir, which means she’s very well versed in what is fact versus what is fiction. Because this is historical fiction, she’s taken some liberties with letters and the timeline; but you know she made those choices deliberately and not out of ignorance.

Second, this book is told in third person limited from Katherine’s point of view. If you are familiar with Tudor history, you’ll be aware of things going on behind the scenes that Katherine, as our narrator, doesn’t know. For example, it’s a long while before she realizes that Henry VII isn’t to be trusted. The reader realizes that Henry VIII has started cheating on her way before Katherine does.  Even as the reader realizes that first Mary Boleyn and then Anne Boleyn have surely entered the picture, Katherine remains blissfully ignorant. Finally, Katherine remains convinced until very, very late that Henry will ultimately give up Anne, reconcile with the church, and come back to her. The reader feels sorry for Katherine, knowing that she won’t ever get so much as a kind word from Henry ever again.

But at the same time, the reader must admire Katherine’s resilience. First she lives through the horrible poverty between Arthur’s death and Henry VII’s. Then, when faced with her dissolving marriage, she remains absolutely certain of its validity. Even when momentarily tempted to take the easy way out, she remembers that she must stay strong to secure her daughter’s position.

I don’t always love Weir’s fiction writing style. For example, characters “wept afresh” a little too often for my taste. But it’s certainly not as awkward as Weir’s “Captive Queen.” You can lose yourself in the story and the history.

BOTTOM LINE: A long book, and well worth the read; offers a unique perspective entirely from Katherine’s point of view. If you know Tudor history, you’re filling in the other angles of the story while reading what’s presented. I’m very much looking forward to other works in this series.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 31, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: I hope we in the US get these novellas: Arthur, Prince of the Roses, coming in November 2016, and The Blackened Heart, a bridge story between Katherine and Anne Boleyn, coming in March 2017. Anne Boleyn’s book will probably come spring/summer 2017.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

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Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Has anyone read the previous few Maiden Lane books and wondered how Elizabeth Hoyt was possibly going to rehabilitate Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery, from a villain to a hero for his book, Duke of Sin? The short answer…which delights me to no end…is: she didn’t.

Duke of Sin Front Cover (Grand Central Publishing)

Duke of Sin Front Cover (Grand Central Publishing)

THE PLOT: If you’ve read Dearest Rogue and Sweetest Scoundrel, you already know that Val is a blackmailing, kidnapping, completely immoral excuse for a duke. Okay, he cares about his half-sister, Eve, and once saved her from the Lords of Chaos, their father’s evil aristocratic secret society/rapey hunting club. But Val’s relationship to Eve is about as close to humanity as he gets. He’s even blackmailing THE KING to be permitted back in London, for crying out loud.

Val’s housekeeper, Bridget Crumb, knows pretty much all of what he gets up to. She’s actually positioned in his home to search for the various pieces of blackmail material he keeps around, such as family portraits and old letters, and take them back to diffuse his plots. She puts up with his wild behavior, but it’s hard for a practical housekeeper to take him seriously when most of the time he’s lounging around nude, talking about his sexual prowess, and acting completely insouciant about his nefarious activities.

Bridget starts to become more attached to Val as a person when he’s poisoned and she has to help him fight for his life. She learns some unfortunate things about his childhood and begins to act as his conscience. After all, he WAS raised by monsters and never learned right from wrong. But Val has no intention of changing. And Bridget might love him in spite of that…or because of it?

MY TWO CENTS: So you guys all know Tom Hiddleston, right? The actor also known as Hiddles? I hope so. I hope you’ve seen Marvel’s “The Avengers,” because the non-hero of the 10th Maiden Lane novel is totally based on Tom Hiddleston (confirmed by the author on her Facebook page). If you already love Loki in “The Avengers,” you don’t even need her confirmation. You will realize that Tom was the inspiration for this character as you read. You will hear Valentine Napier’s speeches as recited by Loki, and that is no joke. It doesn’t just work; it’s perfect.

Loki

I’m betting Val looks just like this when he’s facing down his poisoner…

...and this when he's teasing Bridget...

…and this when he’s teasing Bridget…

...only, you know, blond. Like Tom happens to be in real life.

…only, you know, blond. Like Tom happens to be in real life.

I was concerned that by the end, Val would be a sappy romance hero who found his true love. HA! HUGE kudos to Hoyt for keeping Val in character all the way through, down to punishing his enemies through their children in a way that will make you laugh out loud.

Bridget is a match for him because she’s his perfect foil. There’s no delicate, ladylike swooning here. She’s so matter-of-fact in the face of all his drama. Lucky for us readers, she can’t actually make him behave, and doesn’t try too hard. Bridget is also interesting for her ties to other Maiden Lane characters. You’ll be wanting to re-read book one, Wicked Intentions, right after you finish this or maybe while you’re still reading it, so make sure you have it handy.

BOTTOM LINE: This duke lives up to his title! I know it’s a romance, but Val’s antics are front and center. He’s entertaining as hell. Read him as Loki and ENJOY.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 31, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Once Upon a Moonlit Night, a novella about Hippolyta, is coming July 5. Alf’s book, Duke of Pleasure, will be available November 29, 2016.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl from Summer Hill (Summer Hill #1, Montgomery-Taggerts) by Jude Deveraux

The Girl from Summer Hill is Jude Deveraux’s answer to the question: Does the world really need another Pride and Prejudice retelling? And that answer is: YES! YES! YES!

The Girl from Summer Hill Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

The Girl from Summer Hill Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: In the small Virginia town of Summer Hill, Kit Montgomery is putting on a stage version of Pride and Prejudice. He’s enlisted one of his relatives, Hollywood star Tate Landers, to come and play Darcy. Through a misunderstanding, he gets off to a rocky start with chef Casey Reddick. (Well, she was watching him shower outdoors when he thought no one was looking, but she was also in her own house, so…) With all the town ladies mooning over Tate, no one can play a convincingly disdainful Elizabeth to his Darcy, except the girl on whom he made a really bad impression.

In the meantime, Tate’s ex-brother-in-law, TV actor Devlin Haines, shows up to play Wickham, and Casey finds his company preferable to Tate’s. But as she and Tate are thrown together, they begin to bond despite themselves. But Devlin’s lies and manipulations might drive Tate and Casey apart for good.

MY TWO CENTS: There are really three layers of Pride and Prejudice going on here. First, there’s the knowledge of the original that’s in the reader’s mind. (And seriously, if you don’t know the original story, just get off my blog.) Second, there’s the stage version the characters are practicing, which reminds readers of the nuances of the story and underlines the echoes of what’s going on with the characters in Summer Hill. Finally, there’s the version that the book characters are fulfilling throughout the course of the book.

It wasn’t long before I was grinning ear to ear. I LOVE Pride and Prejudice. I did my high school senior thesis on Mr. Collins many a long year ago, I love the definitive version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, and liked the Keira Knightley version well enough (she was too giggly as Lizzie, but Matthew MacFadyen…tolerably dreamy). This novel does a fine job of retelling the story and capturing the essence in a modern way. (Yet it never overlaps into Bridget Jones territory, at all.)

The secondary characters are also interesting. Casey’s sister Gizzy and Tate’s friend Jack are a cute Jane and Bingley. Hopefully Casey’s family will be explored further in the next books. Then there’s Olivia, Kit’s lost love, who has a secret connection with the Montgomerys.

Finally, while this is a Montgomery book, it’s not overwhelmingly Montgomerys. You have Kit, who you met during Ever After (previously reviewed here), and whose back story is uncovered here. Tate is a Montgomery from his mother’s side, but there’s not a lot of explanation of how he connects to the family tree. Which is kind of nice; just opens the door for all kinds of Montgomerys and Taggerts to pop up in Summer Hill in the future.

BOTTOM LINE: A cleverly written retelling of Pride and Prejudice that still seems fresh and compelling. Lizzie is spunky, Darcy is hot and misunderstood, and Wickham is more deluded and devious than ever. Jude Deveraux continues the modern renaissance she started with the “Nantucket Brides” series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Now available in hardcover and e-formats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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