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BOOK REVIEW: “The Kiss of the Concubine” by Judith Arnopp

5-star HFP “Highly Recommended” Medal

There are moments when, as a reader, you know the second a book impacts you. And when that impact comes at the very beginning, well, you know you are about to take an exquisite journey. I have felt this many times throughout the years and when it happens, the books become dear to me, and a must-have for my own personal library. This is one of those times.

Reading the blurb, one might think this is just another retelling of the infamous story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but I am here to say that this book transcends anything I have read to date on this popular subject. When you read lines such as: “…The king’s eyes fly open and his eyeballs swivel from side to side, his disintegrating ego peering as if through the slits in a mummer’s mask.” or “Henry and I are the most powerful couple in all of England and yet, in the face of death, we are powerless,” you are compelled to soak in every last detail. And last, I have to share this… “It is a dead sort of day, the type of day where the sky is white, and there is not even the hint of a breeze. Clouds muffle the horizon and I want to push them away, thrust back the oppression and the fear, and revel for one more day beneath blue skies, feel the wind on my cheeks, the scent of Hever in the air. Instead I am here, in my palatial prison, with no future, no next week to look forward to, perhaps not even a tomorrow.”

Oh, there are so many many more for you to enjoy on this heavenly journey of words. This is just a small sampling.

The immense beauty of Judith Arnopp’s selection of words and phrases is a lesson on how to write a historical novel. She takes what we already know of Anne and Henry to another level, a rare personal glimpse into their personalities, their fears, their hopes, and their love that turned England upside-down in terms of religion. In this book, Anne draws a reader’s sympathy, as she is portrayed as a young naïve girl thrust down a path that ultimately brings her ruin. The delicate way the author shows Anne’s love for her family home, Hever Castle, and the simplicities of that ‘other life’, the life before Henry, fleshes out her character and makes her tremendously relatable; as does the bond she shares with her brother, George, that is taken completely out of context by those wishing to destroy her.

The Kiss of the Concubine is now among my ‘go-to’ books that I will read again and again. Even this review does not do it justice. Simply put… get this book. It is stunning. A must-read!!

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BOOK REVIEW – “A WIDER WORLD” BY KAREN HEENAN

After giving a resounding five stars for Songbird by Karen Heenan, her first book in The Tudor Court Series, I’ve had to take a step back from the next book, A Wider World. While the story continues with one of the characters introduced in Songbird, a young minstrel called Robin, who comes into contact with Bess and Tom through his own servitude to Cardinal Wolsey, I must say that I had a hard time connecting with his character. I was completely lost within the first few chapters as each chapter flip-flopped back and forth in time, from his beginnings back and forth to his current situation as an arrested heretic on his way to the Tower of London. I think it might be a good idea for a person to read Songbird first, and then A Wider World, to get some kind of bearing, which perhaps is what Ms Heenan wants in the first place. After pushing though the story, I came to the conclusion that I just particularly did not like Robin’s character and I think that is the reason that I did not enjoy his story. The opening quote at chapter one is “He that is discontented in one place will seldom be happy in another,” and I think this Ms Heenan portrays this quite well in his story. I want to like the character and enjoy his journey when I read a book, and I did not connect with him at all.

That all being said, Ms Heenan is a gifted writer and does well in her descriptions and immersion in history and revealing to us as readers another world… and in Robin’s case, several worlds as he travels the continent and becomes acquainted with the ‘wider world’. For Ms Heenan’s skill alone in offering a well-told story, another view of Tudor life, I give this book four stars. I received this copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

BOOK REVIEW – “SONGBIRD” BY KAREN HEENAN

What a way to retell a story about King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn!! If you’ve ever wanted to know about the inner workings of the household, told from a servant’s POV, one who was closely linked to the infamous King and his wives, well, this is the book to get. This is the story of Bess Davydd, a young girl bought by Henry VIII to become a minstrel for his court, a songstress whose voice is as a nightingales. During the storyline, you are offered brief glimpses and encounters with the royals (i.e. Henry and Anne) but the story is much more about Bess and her love interests – Tom, another bought minstrel, and Nick, a nobleman. The story is compact, well-developed, and stretches into the depths of emotions separating commoners from the high-born, as well as showing the commonality, the human element. If I have one negative, and perhaps it is only from my POV, I struggled with wrapping my head around her age, of how young she is when she starts to experience “love” and with her sounding like a woman at the age of ten to fourteen. I mean, I get it, I know from my own research into history that girls at that age and in that time period were wives and mothers by the time they were fourteen, even younger, but I did struggle a bit with it. However, my own feelings did not overwhelm the overall story, to which I enjoyed thoroughly. I give this book five stars and will highly recommend to anyone who loves books about the Tudor era.