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Katharine Parr: the Sixth Wife

by Alison Weir

Katharine was just 16 when she married nobleman Edward Burgh. After his untimely death, she married Catholic baron John Latimer, a widower twice her age. While John is on his deathbed, Katherine falls in love with Thomas Seymour, and they plan to marry. At 30 years old, Katharine attracts the attention of Henry VIII who pursues and finally persuades her to marry him. Katharine is now queen and stepmother to Henry’s three children – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. Katharine is a highly educated secret Protestant who wants to sway Henry in religious reforms she supports. After Henry is dead, Katharine finally marries Thomas Seymour, who at this point is more interested in Katherine’s stepdaughter Elizabeth as a way to obtain more power. Sadly, when Katharine gives birth to her longed-for baby, she does not survive.

The final entry in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir is a treat for fans of historical fiction and this era. I have learned so much about these women, not just information about their downfalls and deaths. I have included a list of the series in order of publication.

Six Tudor Queens series

   1. Katherine of Aragon (2016)
   2. Anne Boleyn (2017)
   3. Jane Seymour (2018)
   4. Anna of Kleve (2019)
   5. Katheryn Howard (2020)
   6. Katharine Parr (2021)

~Emma

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Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto

Meddie Chan is a young Indonesian/Chinese American who always puts her mother and Aunties first. She resents her role as the wedding photographer in her family’s wedding company, but dares not admit it. In her meddlesome and overbearing family, everyone has their role: Big Aunt is the pastry chef, Second Aunt is the make-up artist, and Meddie’s mother designs wedding gowns, while Fourth Aunt is the entertainment. Meddie wonders if she’s given up everything for her family, and is silently bitter for not moving away with her ex, Nathan, when she had the chance.

In an effort to be “helpful,” Meddie’s mother sets Meddie up on a blind date on the eve of an important and profitable wedding that the Chan family is planning. It’s bad timing when Meddie’s obnoxious blind date makes such an outrageous pass that Meddie ends up wrecking his car and, accidentally killing him. Rather than go to the police, she turns to her mother and Aunties for help. Obligingly, the Aunties rally to help hide the corpse, in a freezer! When the freezer, with corpse in tow, inadvertently follows them to the wedding, hilarity ensues.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q Sutanto is a sometimes-irreverent, blend of mystery and dark family comedy that has a hint of romance, too. It delivers the kind of over-the-top, madcap fun and mayhem you expect from authors like Janet Evanovich and Lisa Lutz, and it the gives readers a peek into Indo-Chinese culture along the way. Why not take a wild ride with the Aunties? Place your hold here.

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The Woman with the Blue Star

by Pam Jenoff

During the early 1940’s, 19-year-old Sadie Gault, her father and pregnant mother, are living in the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, Poland. To avoid roundups of Jews being sent to concentration camps, the family eventually escapes into the sewer. Pawel, a Polish sewer worker, helps them find a semi-safe place underground with the Rosenberg family. He brings the group food when possible. Tragically Sadie’s father drowns during their escape.

19-year-old Ella Stepanek lives with her cruel Nazi collaborator stepmother also in Krakow. One day Ella sees Sadie peeking through a grate in the street. The young women have much in common despite Sadie’s horrific living circumstances. The two become friends/confidants despite their only contact being through a sewer grate. The whole situation between the young women is extremely dangerous for them and for the others living in the sewer.

After Sadie’s mother gives birth, the group soon realizes that the baby’s cries will put everyone in danger. Sadly, Sadie’s mother leaves the sewer hoping to return after leaving the little girl at a catholic charity hospital. Eventually the sewer is not a safe hiding place for anyone

The story is told in alternating chapters between Sadie and Ella. It is a story based on historical fact and is not easy to read. It is a story of bravery, friendship, and family with an unexpected twist at the end.

~Emma

(The “Blue Star of David” on a white armband was worn by Jewish people from Poland, East Silesia and Upper Silesia.)

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Nora Seed, a 30-something who suffers from depression, is at her lowest point. Filled with regrets about the choices she has made, she decides to end her own life. Her plan goes awry, however, and Nora wakes up in a sort of limbo, a library filled with books containing every imaginable version of her life story. This library provides Nora with a chance to try out other lives to see if things would end up differently for her. If Nora finds the book that contains the life she wants, she can live out the rest of her days fulfilled and happy, and be saved.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig was on many people’s lists of favorite books last year, but I only just read it. My only regret: not starting it sooner. Place your hold for a copy of this memorable novel that explores life’s endless possibilities for Nora (and all of us) here.

Nora and this novel are fictional but mental health issues are not. If you know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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The Kew Gardens Girls

by Posy Lovell

During WWI, women were hired to replace men who were serving in the military to work at Kew, the Royal Botanical Gardens in London. Not everyone was pleased with this decision including the Gardens’ foreman Mac. The women’s lesser wages for the same work as men reflected this attitude. Ivy Adams, an illiterate teenager from Hackney, and Louisa Taylor, escaping her abusive husband in Kent, were both hired. Bernie Yorke, a former school teacher and a Quaker was also hired. It is soon discovered that Bernie refuses to enlist and he becomes a target of the “white feather campaign”. Men out of uniform were given white feathers, often by Suffragettes hoping to shame them into enlisting. Because Bernie was a conscientious objector, he lost his job at Kew. Soon Lady Winifred (Win) Ramsay begins as a volunteer worker at Kew Gardens just to keep busy while her husband is in the Navy. The three women become fast friends as they fight for equal pay for women at Kew and as they support pregnant Ivy as she waits for Jim to return home from the war.

This debut novel is a mixture of friendship, romance, sadness and fight. It’s a treat for fans of historical fiction. For those interested in Kew Gardens, please enjoy a brief tour/history at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khOfA1JhLyg.

~Emma

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The Sunflower Sisters

by Martha Hall Kelly

This Civil War narrative is told from three points of view. First, Georgeanna (Georgy) Woolsey is a member of the affluent abolitionist Woolsey family of New York City. She became a Union nurse who served at Gettysburg. At that time in history most nurses and doctors were men. Women weren’t welcome.

Second, Anne-Marie Wilson inherits the Peeler tobacco plantation in Maryland. She is a sadistic slave owner who becomes a confederate spy with a local merchant. Anne-Marie forces Jemma, one of her slaves who reads and writes better than she does, to write down and deliver information.

Third, Jemma is sold by Anne-Marie’s husband without her permission and becomes a photographer’s assistant. The photographer specializes in taking pictures of the dead. Jemma eventually escapes by dressing as a boy and is conscripted into the Union army as a drummer. When wounded at Gettysburg, she encounters Georgy. Soon the Woolsey family offer Jemma a home in New York City.

Anne-Marie comes to New York City to retrieve her property, namely Jemma. Before leaving the Peeler plantation, Jemma hid the book containing all of the secret information. Anne-Marie wants to destroy that book before she is arrested for treason but cannot find it without Jenna’s help.

The trilogy by Martha Hall Kelly is a treat for fans of historical fiction. I recommend reading all three novels.

The Caroline (Woolsey) Ferriday series includes:

  1. Lilac Girls (2016)
  2. Lost Roses (2019)
  3. Sunflower Sisters (2021)

~Emma

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Murder at the Mena House: A Jane Wunderly Mystery

by Erica Ruth Neubauer

Published in 2020, this debut novel takes place in 1926 at the Mena Hotel in Cairo. (The palatial hotel opened its doors in 1886 in the shadows of the Great Pyramids of Giza.) Young American widow Jane Wunderly is being treated to the trip by her matchmaking Aunt Millie. Jane’s first husband was killed in WWI. He was an abusive man making Jane fearful of any future relationships.

For some reason fellow hotel guest Anna Sainton, a self-proclaimed party girl, outwardly dislikes Jane. When Anna is found shot to death, Jane becomes the chief suspect. In pops a handsome mysterious stranger who calls himself Redvers. He represents himself as a banker, but there’s more. He latches on to Jane has she begins to investigate Anna’s death.

There is a lot packed into this cozy mystery including multiple deaths, romance, long-held secrets, a beautiful historical location, etc.  I look forward to reading the second installment in the Jane Wunderly Mystery series which just came out in March 2021.

~Emma

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The Rose Code

by Kate Quinn

The principal characters are socialite Osla Kendall (who dated Prince Phillip), London east-ender Mad Churt, and shy Beth Finch. Osla and Mad room with the Finch family while working at Bletchley Park. (Bletchley Park is the home of England’s WWII military code-breaking activities.) Beth Finch is under the total control of her mother. In her 20’s but nicknamed “mother’s little helper”, she has an extraordinary gift for solving crosswords and various puzzles. Osla and Mad recognize Beth’s gift and convince her to seek a position at Bletchley Park. Eventually Beth discovers there is a spy in their midst at Bletchley.

Beth is committed to Clockwell Sanitarium when she suffers a mental breakdown and spends 3 ½ years in the institution. When there is talk about Beth undergoing a lobotomy, she reaches out to Osla and Mad to help her escape. There is one more item to encrypt in order to uncover the spy at Bletchley. Others who had worked at Bletchley come together to help.

There is so much to this novel including the backdrop of the 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. This is the book for lovers of WWII fiction with strong female characters.

It’s interesting to note that Kate Middleton’s grandmother, Valerie Glassborow, and great aunt Mary worked at Bletchley. Both were Foreign Office Civilians in the Cover Management Y section, which managed the interception of enemy signals for decryption at Bletchley Park.

~Emma

Review of Helene Wecker’s The Hidden Palace – sequel to The Golem and the Jinni

Book cover of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

Fans of Helene Wecker’s award-winning historical fantasy novel, The Golem and the Jinni, rejoice – after eight years of waiting, we finally get a sequel!

The Hidden Palace comes out on June 8 and picks up shortly after the end of the first book (don’t worry – there are unobtrusive reminders in the text to get you up to speed with the preceding events). The evil sorcerer who had imprisoned jinni Ahmad in a metal vial (spoilers!) was defeated at much personal cost in the first book. Ahmad and Chava, the golem, now must weather the rapid changes at the turn of the twentieth century in New York City: the sinking of the Titanic, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and the beginning of the Great War, as well as changes in their relationship to each other and their communities.

Once again, Wecker has crafted an immigrant chronicle for the ages that grapples with the dual problems of the diaspora: attempting to assimilate into a new culture while at the same time keeping close one’s native culture, all while trying to find a place in the world. The Hidden Palace is a sweeping character-driven epic of a family forged in love, not blood ties, whose members fight and love and learn, falling apart and together organically. Even though I only read The Golem and the Jinni once many years ago, this new book felt like coming home, as if I never really left Ahmad and Chava’s world and was now spending time with treasured friends. The tone is melancholy with measured pacing so that readers can truly immerse themselves in the world, and while no one gets a happy ending, exactly, Wecker ends her novel on a hopeful, bittersweet note. The Hidden Palace is a worthy successor to its smash hit predecessor and will wrap you again in a fully realized world you won’t want to leave.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC (advance reader copy)!