The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl6980828
Author: Phillipa Gregory
Pages: 661
Year: 2003
Publisher: Touchstone
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis: When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realises just how much she is a pawn in her family’s ambitious plots as the king’s interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king and take fate into her own hands.

A rich and compelling novel of love, sex, ambition, and intrigue,The Other Boleyn Girl introduces a woman of extraordinary determination and desire who lived at the heart of the most exciting and glamorous court in Europe and survived by following her heart.

This is the fluffy, chick-flick version of history, and I loved every second of it.

Mary Boleyn, our married protagonist, is at the ripe old age of 14 (FOURTEEN.) when her family forces her to woo King Henry XVI. (Winner of the Husband of the Year Award and Most Likely to Want a Son Superlative.)

Mary (the fourteen year-old) is driving the struggle bus for most of their relationship. She is incredibly awkward (much like any of us are around a crush or a large pepperoni pizza) and doesn’t know what to do with her hands. Most of this I attribute to her age, as she would have been in the 8th grade in modern times. Nearly-Headless Anne has to step in 98% of the time and focus the King’s attentions back on Mary to keep him from losing interest. An effort that Mary barely appreciates since she seems to view Henry as a spoiled brat who stamps his foot to get what he wants. (#meninist)

Henry, who wants a son, loses interest in Mary after the birth of their SON. (THE SON HE HAS BEEN BITCHING ABOUT FOR 500 YEARS). Mary is indifferent about this turn of events until she realizes that he has moved onto Anne. She is so determined to show that she doesn’t care that she starts sleeping with her husband again (who she doesn’t care about, FYI.) Meanwhile, Anne is busy being a massive tease and terrorizing the Queen. As we know from history, Anne rises further than Mary ever could, eventually overturning Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon, being an instrument in changing the official church of England from Catholic to Protestant, and eventually becoming queen herself. This is all well and good until she miscarries a few pregnancies, sleeps with her brother (what is this, Game of Thrones?), practices “witchcraft,” and ends up a head shorter.

In the modern era, it would have been national news that a major political figure was sleeping with a child. Meanwhile, this is completely accepted and encouraged during the Renaissance. (Gross.) Mary is expected to act like an adult and use her “feminine wiles” to control the King and use him to raise her family’s status in society. I repeat. A fourteen year-old child is expected to act beyond her means and place herself in harms way so that her family can have titles and lands. I guess modern societal standards and the rise of feminism have influenced my opinions, but I just can’t believe that any parent would subject their child to something like this. Granted, Mary was all for it at the beginning. She fell in lust with the King and held his attentions for two years. However, her family treats her and Anne like they are disposable and interchangeable. Their lives don’t matter as much as the power they get.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is interested in Henry XVI and Anne Boleyn. While this obviously isn’t the most historically accurate piece of literature you will ever read, it’s definitely entertaining.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Title: Defending Jacob11367726
Author: William Landay
Pages: 421
Year: 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis: Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own–between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

This was a really interesting read, I LOVED that it switched back and forth between Andy’s POV and the trial transcripts. The writing was pretty authentic, considering that William Landay is a former district attorney himself. He really knew what he was talking about with regard to legal jargon, which I really appreciated. Some authors really have no sense of the justice system and it really shows in their writing. (Seriously… write what you know.)

When I was recommended this book, I was told to expect a plot twist. The one I got was underwhelming. It was most definitely a plot twist, but it was so subtle that I didn’t even realize that it was a plot twist. (Should I say plot twist again?) I think most of the “twist” came from Andy being an unreliable narrator. For most of the novel, we’re viewing Jacob and the case through Andy’s eyes. We operate under the mental bias of a father protecting his only son and while it doesn’t influence your entire opinion of Jacob to the point of thinking of him as innocent, it definitely places a veil over the whole thing.

Finally, I thought that Defending Jacob did a great job exploring the question, “What would you do?” I am not a parent, but I don’t know what I would do if my child was accused of murder. How can you look at a person you created and raised up as being a cold-blooded killer? Would you believe or deny it? Would you protect them and possibly endanger other innocent lives? Or would you condemn them to a life in prison or even the death penalty? Andy and his wife Laurie fall on opposite ends of this spectrum. Andy believes wholeheartedly in his son’s innocence and does all he can to ensure Jacob has the best defense possible. Laurie has her doubts of Jacob’s innocence, and her inner turmoil of whether or not to condemn her only son is presented throughout the novel. As a single person without any children, it’s hard to say where I would fall on this spectrum. I hope that I never find out.

Broken Grace by E.C. Diskin

Title: Broken Grace25866725
Author: E.C. Diskin
Pages: 320
Year: 2015
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis: On an icy winter’s day in southwest Michigan, Grace Abbot wakes up as the survivor of a car crash. But she’s left with a traumatic brain injury and a terrifying reality: she can’t remember anything.

Left in the care of her sister, Grace returns to the family’s secluded old farmhouse to recover—but within an hour of her return, the police arrive. Grace’s boyfriend has been murdered. Without any memory, Grace has no alibi.

With suspicion weighing heavily on her and flashes of memory returning, Grace searches for clues to her past. But with every glimpse, her anxiety grows. There is something about the house, her family, her childhood…perhaps the accident isn’t the only reason she can’t remember. Are the dark recesses of her mind hiding something even more sinister and terrifying than she could ever imagine?

And someone is watching. Someone willing to kill again to protect a secret.

I wasn’t disappointed, but I wasn’t impressed either. The first chapter really hooked me and got me interested and invested in Grace. But I thought the rest of the novel was very cookie-cutter. I’ve read a thousand other crime novels similar to or exactly like it. Diskin tries really hard to throw us off of the killer’s scent by exploring other leads and motives, but come on… We all knew the plot twist was coming. (Or at least I did.)

Grace’s memory loss was the most interesting part of the novel. It was reminiscent of The Girl on the Train, in which we have another unreliable narrator. (The similarities stop there, don’t get too excited.) Grace spends most of the novel in a fog, not remembering anything about her life before her car accident. When she is accused of murder, it’s a race against the police to get those memories back and clear her name. I thought Diskin did a good job portraying Grace’s frustration with this, and influencing the readers to be just as frustrated as she is. What’s real, and what isn’t? Who can we trust? Who is telling the truth?  However I thought the flashbacks she had, while informative, were kind of cheesy. I guess there really isn’t any other way to portray a returning memory than to write it out like a movie playing in a character’s head. But I wasn’t really a fan of this technique. I really don’t know what I wanted from this, but I just felt like it was a little unrealistic.