97. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

I have always been slightly dubious when picking up one of Philippa Gregory's books. There's no doubt that she is a talented writer, and that she does her research, however my problems tend to stem from what she chooses to present in the story line. I enjoyed her The White Queen series, and taking it with a pinch of salt for the magical elements I do go back to them every now and then. I really didn't enjoy her take on Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, as I don't believe that she was guilty of what she was accused. Gregory took the route portraying Anne as guilty of the charges. Over all it is probably one of the most hated books I have ever read. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up The Taming of the Queen. Focusing on Katheryn Parr, and the issues surrounding her new life as the King's desired bride, and the ensuing drama of court politics. 

I was pleasantly surprised. 

I enjoy Gregory's writing style in this book, it flows very nicely, and is descriptive without being too flowery. Katheryn is likable from the beginning, and as a reader you feel very sorry for her, as to marry the tyrannical Henry VIII is to essentially put her life on the line each and every day that the marriage lasts. She's put at the very pinnacle of power but can be brought down just a ruthlessly as her predecessor had been. 

I liked the way Katheryn felt she was living with the ghost of each wife through their belongings, as she drove ahead to forge her own identity as Queen of England. It can't have been an easy feat, and Gregory portrays this brilliantly when Katheryn is going through the Queen's wardrobe, and each item can be linked to a previous Queen. 

The way Jane Seymour is idolised by Henry is very much how I imagine it must have been in real life. Saintly, meek Jane, who died alone and scared after delivering Henry of his longed for heir. It's no wonder that I felt indignant at Katheryn being overlooked at various stages, that she is dismissed from the official family line in grand family portraits, and has to keep her head high and rise above it. I have to admit, I think that is something my pride couldn't swallow, so I doubt I'd of survived long in Katheryn's position. I would take the quiet life of a country lady in the place of the wife and Queen of Henry VIII for sure. 

By the time we meet Henry during these later stages of his life, the last four years to be exact, he is spoilt, cantankerous, petty and most importantly, dangerous. Katheryn must walk a never ending tight rope of cat and mouse, and it made for a gripping, page turning read. The court is balancing on a knife edge day to day, dictated by the whims of a very changeable King and Katheryn must take the lead and be the figurehead for the declining King. She brings his children to court so that they can grow as a family, and helps to have Mary and Elizabeth reinstated. Her portrayal of Mary and Elizabeth is very good, and echos of what was to become to them, although at this point in time in the book Mary is not as zealous in her religion in the open. She understands that whatever her private thoughts she must go with the status quo, to a point. She longs for a dynastic marriage and Katheryn attempts to aid her, however this amounts to nothing, and foreshadows Mary's desire for her future marriage to Philip of Spain. 

Then there is the enigmatic Elizabeth, who in her precocious youth beings her education as a future ruler, shadowing Katheryn when she is instated a regent in Henry's absence. A favourite passage of mine is when Elizabeth states that she will never marry, after learning that she should listen to her husband and not think for herself. It sets itself up nicely for any future offering from Gregory about Elizabeth's journey to the throne.

In his daughters Henry sees the failings of the mothers he discarded. I especially got this impression with Elizabeth. Even by this stage of his life, he still questioned her paternity, even when the vibrant Tudor hair was staring back at him. Perhaps he saw too much that reminded him of Anne. I very much believe that Henry ultimately convinced himself of Anne's 'guilt' so he could live with his decision. He would never admit that he just wanted her dead, he needed to be appear the wounded one, taking justice against the wrongs done to him. The wrongs he ordered to be found... But that is a topic for a different blog post entirely! 

I finished this book over the course of a week, squeezing it in between my morning commute and lunch break where I could. When not able to read it I genuinely found myself wondering what was next in store for Katheryn and the court, which makes The Taming of the Queen my favourite offering by Philippa Gregory to date. I had very little issues with it from a historical standpoint, or even from how she chose to portray each character. I liked especially how Katheryn is very much a woman of passion. She burns for Tom Seymour, but knows she must do all she can to hide these feelings, to hide their past, else endure the same fate of Catherine Howard. 

Katheryn walked a dangerous path, with the ghosts of Queen's close behind her, reminding her of what not to do in order to survive. She honored Anne Boleyn by raising her daughter in her mother's religion, and by becoming a mentor and friend to Mary, who so was sp desperately starved of her mother's love by her father. She becomes the only mother Edward would probably remember, and strikes up a charming relationship with the future boy-king. 
Katheryn learns the price she has to pay to keep her head, and lives in constant fear that one day the guards will come and take her to The Tower... 
If you like Tudor historical fiction, or are a fan of Gregory in general you will enjoy this offering. 

Rating: 5/5
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96. The Secret of the Cathars by Mike Hiller

I was very kindly sent a copy of The Secret of the Cathars by Authoright PR in exchange for an honest review, and I've finally got round to getting my review up!

In her last will and testament, Philip Sinclair's grandmother leaves him an unusual bequest, the translated journal of his ancient ancestor. Delving into the pages, Phillip soon realises that it is written by one of the four Cathar Perfecti who had escaped from the Castle of Montsegur in the mid-12th century with the treasure of the Cathars strapped to their backs -a treasure that has never been found. Attached to her bequest is a note urging him to travel to the Pyrenean fortress of Le Bézu where she believes the treasure still lies. Fuelled by the chance of an adventure, and honour-bound to carry out his grandmother’s final wishes, Phillip wastes no time in embarking on a journey into the heart of Cathar France to claim his inheritance. 
Meanwhile, a famous young French archaeologist Jaqueline Blontard also arrives at Le Bézu, with her assistant André Jolyon, to start excavation of the ruins as part of a new television series about the Albigensian Crusade. They believe their team will have the summer to uncover the secrets of the region before they are disturbed by the media, and the authorities. However, Jaqueline’s assistant is discovered dead, suspicion is immediately directed towards Phillip and the police instruct him to stay in the locality while they investigate. Doubting the polices’ motives, Jaqueline believes that Phillip is not responsible and the couple join forces to uncover the identity of the true murderers and keep up the hunt for the treasure. Caught up in their own investigations and their developing relationship, neither Phillip nor Jaqueline are aware that a dangerous and powerful organisation are watching their every move and are closing in quickly to beat them to their breathtaking discoveries.

The synopsis grabbed me from the start, and it reminded me very much of The Da Vinci Code in the way the plot has been laid out - mixing history with mystery and crime. I knew vaguely of the history of the Cathars, but this proved to be a further education for me, which is always something I like to look out for in my reading choices. I especially liked that it is based on real life locations, and it is a credit to the Hillier's descriptive flair that what he describes matches the places he writes about. 

That being said, it did take me quite a while to get into this story, as there were lots of characters to keep up with, however for the most part the plot, and writing style kept me entertained enough to continue with the story. 

I have always had an interest in archaeology, and studied some modules at university, so the character of Jacqueline Blontard really appealed to me, and helped draw me in, although at times her.... girlishness (for lack of a better word) put me off considering she is supposed to be experienced in her field. For me, she added an element of realism to the story, and I half wish she was a real person so I could watch her documentary like television programme to follow her explorations so I could live voraciously through her. 

I feel that there was almost too much subject matter in the one book, and that it could have been extended over to a sequel. If you like writers such as Dan Brown, I think you would enjoy this. Hiller is descriptive without being flowery, or over the top, and sets a decent pace for the most part. 

It was not necessarily to my tastes, and in all honesty it wouldn't be the first book I would pick up in a bookshop. It is a nice, easy ready once you get into it, although I do think with a bit more of a focus on plot development, especially towards the end, it could be a very good book/s. My rating is based on the fact that I felt it lacked a certain depth. It certainly scratched the surface, but for me it didn't hit the target. 

Buy: Here
Rating: 3.5/5
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