With not much plot to drive her narrative, Fremantle’s emphasis is on intrigue, character portraits and the texture of...

QUEEN'S GAMBIT

Once more unto the six wives of Henry VIII, this time for the story of Katherine Parr, the older wife with healing skills who survived the king.

Sins, secrets and guilt dominate the landscape of British writer Fremantle’s debut, which offers a lengthy account of the waning days of King Henry. The Katherine Parr she describes is a well-meaning woman in her 30s whose conscience is burdened by helping her second husband, agonized by ill health, to die and by the death of an illegitimate baby whose birth followed her sexual self-sacrifice during an armed uprising, staged to save the virginity of her stepdaughter. Katherine has no ambitions to be queen. Instead, newly widowed, she finds herself powerfully attracted to high-profile courtier Thomas Seymour, but their passionate affair is shattered by the king’s determination to marry Katherine. Life at court is perilous. Katherine is strong when the king favors her but threatened by political factions and unable to conceive the heir that would make her invulnerable: "Her safety hangs on the whims of a volatile old man." The author depicts a kindly queen driven to desperation by a life of peril and concealment who, even after Henry’s death, enjoys mixed fortunes.

With not much plot to drive her narrative, Fremantle’s emphasis is on intrigue, character portraits and the texture of mid-16th-century life. Solid and sympathetic.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0306-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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