“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” is an old mnemonic device for remembering the order and fates of Henry VIII’s six wives. In The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, the reader meets the wife that survived, Kateryn Parr. Written in first person from Kateryn’s point of view, the story delves into the many trials that she endures as a wife and queen. When the 31-year-old Kateryn marries 52-year-old Henry in 1543 to become his sixth wife, she has been twice widowed, and all of her marriages have been arranged. Before Henry proposes, Kateryn is set to marry Thomas Seymour, the man she actually loves. However, no one dares go against the tyrannical Henry, so Kateryn puts her love aside to marry the king.
At first, Henry dotes on Kateryn, buying her expensive presents and exotic birds from all over the world to fill her aviary. She can even tolerate Henry’s grotesque physique, the open festering wound on his leg and his fumbling attempts at love making. Yet, she's constantly reminded of her ill-fated predecessors as she wears their gowns and jewels, sleeps in the same bed and even raises their children.
As Gregory portrays Kateryn, it's her religious leanings that put her in constant danger. She's a devout Reformer who subscribes to the new church that Henry created primarily to marry Anne Boleyn. However, there are many Papists in the court who want England to return to the Catholic Church, and Kateryn’s religious sentiments make her powerful enemies. Henry is starting to waver between Reform and Catholicism as his health deteriorates, and begins to fear that, in breaking from the Church, he is doomed to eternal damnation. As Henry’s mental health also declines, he sees heretics and traitors everywhere, and not even Kateryn is safe. When she discovers the King is about to have her arrested, Kateryn must swallow her pride and humiliate herself in order to avoid the executioner.
In Hilary Liftin’s fictional tell-all biography, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, a young starlet falls in love with Rob Mars, Hollywood’s biggest star, marries him and begins a seemingly idyllic life among the A-listers. However, cracks quickly appear in Lizzie’s storybook life when Rob’s bizarre cultish group seeks to control their lives including how their twin sons should be raised. As Lizzie struggles to keep her identity, she realizes that the only way out is to make a break from this insular world. The problem is that the group is more powerful than she ever imagined and getting out could cost her everything.
Ostensibly, this is a fictitious biography that Liftin created from tabloid headlines, but the parallels between Lizzie and Rob and Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise are rather obvious. Lizzie began her career as a teenager on a popular TV drama that catapulted her to fame. Rob is very involved in a quasi-religious group that controls its followers through secretive rituals and uses its celebrity adherents to promote itself. Rob is also known for his high-wattage smile, doing all his own stunts and making grand public declarations of his love for Lizzie. While Liftin denies that she was specifically using Holmes and Cruise as her models for Lizzie and Rob, it’s hard to imagine who else she had in mind.
If you’re looking for a light, guilty pleasure read, then Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper definitely fits that bill. It may even shed some light on what a narrow world the rich and famous are forced to live in.
Private investigator Michael Kelly is used to the mean streets of Chicago. Even so, in The Governor’s Wife by Michael Harvey, Kelly finds himself embroiled in some nefarious dealings that even he finds troubling. The case starts out fairly straightforward for Kelly. Someone wants him to find former Illinois governor Ray Perry, who mysteriously disappeared after being sentenced to 38 years in prison for corruption. It doesn’t even bother Kelly that his client remains anonymous or that they've deposited a $200,000 retainer fee in his bank account. However, when the bodies start piling up and Kelly’s own life is threatened, he begins to wonder if he is being set up. Can he trust anyone to tell him the truth?
Michael Harvey obviously has a penchant for the hardboiled detective stories in the style of Mickey Spillane and Nero Wolfe. His fast-paced plot is filled with clichés of the tough–as-nails private eye who is one step ahead of the bad guys. There's plenty of action, rough language, plot twists, gun play and femme fatales, but Harvey has updated these elements for the 21st century. If you enjoy a throwback to a time when a P.I. lived by a code of honor and the bad guys were thoroughly evil, then The Governor’s Wife will appeal to you.
In the beginning of The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child, Jeremy Logan is headed toward a sprawling mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, to investigate the gruesome suicide of a research scientist. The victim, Dr. Willard Strachey, was a well-respected member of the team at Lux, a preeminent think tank organization. Coincidentally, Logan worked for Lux until he was let go because the scientists there had issues with Logan’s specialty. He is an “enigmalogist,” which is someone who studies and attempts to make sense of phenomena as ghosts, the Loch Ness monster and other such entities.
Logan is surprised to be summoned back to Lux. However, the company’s director, Gregory Olafson, is a friend of Logan’s and feels that the circumstances leading up to Strachey’s death fall under the supernatural. Strachey complained of hearing voices and seeing things no one else could. As Logan investigates both the man’s death and the other bizarre occurrences going on at Lux, he wonders if the reasons are otherworldly, or if something more sinister is going on. It’s a race against time for Logan to solve the mystery surrounding Lux’s culpability in Strachey’s death before he becomes the next victim.
Lincoln Child has written three other entries in the Jeremy Logan series, Deep Storm, Terminal Freeze and The Third Gate. You don’t need to read the others to enjoy The Forgotten Room.
In The Fateful Lightning: A Novel of the Civil War, author Jeff Shaara recounts the events beginning in late 1864 that led to the annihilation of the Confederate Army by General Sherman’s infamous march through Georgia. Told from multiple perspectives, Shaara allows the reader to get a sense of just how desperate both sides were to end the war and how frustrated everyone felt that the conflict had dragged out for so long.
While Shaara switches focus from Union to Confederate, his most compelling narrators are General William T. Sherman and Franklin, a slave on a Georgian plantation. Sherman is portrayed as a determined leader who has to make many difficult decisions in order to secure a Union victory. Shaara carefully crafts Sherman as a man torn between moral rights versus military might. This portrait of Sherman makes him a three-dimensional human being which is very different from many previous incarnations of Sherman, where he is usually either a superhuman hero or the devil incarnate.
Franklin’s character is based on some of the slaves who were liberated as Sherman’s army marched through the South. Having spent his entire life as a slave on the governor of Georgia’s plantation, Franklin’s liberation is an event he has always dreamed of but cannot quite grasp when it occurs. Fortunately, Franklin is literate and becomes a valuable resource to Sherman’s army. As he marches with the Union soldiers, Franklin’s world changes forever, and he bears witness to the double-edged sword that freedom turns out to be.
The final installment in Shaara’s Civil War Western Theater series, The Fateful Lightning stands on its merit. Whether or not you have read any of the other books in this series, this novel is an engrossing recounting of the final brutal months that decided the Union victory over the Confederacy.