The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I think I’ve read this novel before- sometime back in high school, or maybe middle school- or perhaps I’ve just read so many Anne Boleyn novels that I have gotten them confused in my head. Either way, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, and couldn’t put it down. There is something about the Tudor era that just entices- the splendor, the drama, the danger. Since Henry VIII’s reign was such a turbulent time, I’ve been fascinated by the historical stories that take my imagination back to him and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. The 650 page novel took me a while to read due to my recently busy schedule, but once I picked it up, it was difficult to put down.

Gregory takes us back into time during the 1520’s under the rule of Henry VIII, through the eyes of Mary Boleyn, the younger sister of Anne Boleyn. Mary is a young courtier and recently married, living and serving the then Queen of England, Katherine. She has always been the obedient child, and when her uncle and father plot to move the family up in title and wealth, they command Mary to start attracting the King of England. Desperate for a son that seems impossible to receive from his wife, he seeks Mary’s company, and she becomes his mistress. Competitive sister Anne is full of charm and ambition, and though she claims to want what is best for the family name, she has a temper and jealous streak that says otherwise. While Mary is shut in birthing the king’s child, Anne is pushed by the family to keep the king’s attention from both his queen and any other pretty ladies in waiting. Then, while Mary is birthing the second child of the King- a son!-, Anne has stolen the King’s attention from his wife and from Mary. Pushed by Anne, the King seeks to dissolve his marriage with Queen Katherine, and seeks to take Anne for his new wife. In the reform of the reign, all hell breaks lose, and Mary, Anne, and their families find themselves caught in a tangle of manipulation and on the verge of treason. The Boleyn sisters learn that power can cost a life- sometimes others, sometimes your own.

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If you aren’t already familiar with the Boleyn legacy, then Google her name and read. You’ll want to read The Other Boleyn Girl to imagine the scandalous details.

*Added 6/19/2018* There is also a 2008 movie version of this novel starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, and it follows the book relatively well. Definitely recommend you watch!


The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

I have been extremely busy the last two weeks, and were it not for that, you would have had this review in about 3 days, max. The Red Book is excellent. Fast paced, genuine, and engrossing, when I got to steal a few minutes to read, it was hard to put the book down.

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Deborah Copaken Kogan introduces her four main characters- Addison, Mia, Jane, and Clover- as class of ’89 Harvard roommates about to meet up for their 20th reunion. They’ve maintained contact throughout the years, and contributed to Harvard’s Red Book, in which every 5 years alumni update their contact information and their short biography from the previous edition. However, as these women know, 5 years isn’t easy to sum up in a few pages. Life events aren’t static like words on a page, and as the reunion commences, these four find themselves in many stages of transition. Addison, who has never known financial strain due to pedigree and class, lands herself in jail with no financial means to get out as the family nest egg shatters in the hands of a bad accountant. Mia and her husband Jonathan, a blockbuster movie producer, are trying to find the balance between their age differences while raising four children- three teens and a newborn. Jane is working through the grief of losing her mother as well as coping with her significant other’s infidelity. Clover is desperate to have children, worrying about her age and her husband’s infertility, and can’t help but flirt with an old flame from her college days. Kogan’s writing style makes these characters genuine and easy for the readers to relate to.

Besides Kogan’s writing style, there is also some great foreshadowing that takes place, a sharp sense of humor, and a smart layout to the book. All these elements really help keep the reader focused on the whole plot, rather than just each individual subplot. I appreciated how she introduces characters with the Red Book outline- it gives great subtext to the character without distraction from the main characters. The setting also works so well- all these characters at a Harvard Reunion- in keeping the pace. Action is happening on every page, and it’s hard not to give too much away, but over the course of a long weekend so many life-changing events take place that by the end, the reader wants to know everything works out for the characters.

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Now, I’d recommend this book to anyone who liked the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, as well as anyone who is/was a fan of Sex and the City. Aimed more at a female audience, this book gets your right in the feels for sisterhood, friendship, and romance. I wouldn’t classify it as fluff either- Kogan has a sharp wit and blunt style, yet is still meaningfully reflective (although maybe a tad superficially) on life and what you make of it. But even those who are just looking for a quick read will not be disappointed by this novel.