The Other Boleyn Girl, written by Philippa Gregory and published in 2001, is among the very best novels written about Tudor England and King Henry VIII.  If you have not read this great novel place it on your must read list.  This true story about Mary Boleyn, the younger sister of Henry the VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, is remarkable in many ways.   The book enlightens the reader not only of the history of the period but it portrays an accurate glimpse into how women, even in their teens, were used as pawns for both power and pleasure.




This is the story of Mary, the first daughter in the Boleyn family to be offered to a King in return for the hope wealth and power. So driven was this family that when Mary’s star began to fade in Henry’s ardor , sister Anne pushed her aside to eventually become Queen Anne.  Although you may know how that romance ended, believe me, the writing of Philippa Gregory will  capture and fascinate you through the final page. This story of two sisters and a King is also a study of the structure of society in 16th Century England. It is not suprising that Philippa Gregory is a recognized authority on women’s history.

Tudor England was  fascinating and this blog has focused on many enjoyable reads set in that period, including the  great British novelist C.J. Sansom and the Shardlake series. Another wonderful work of historical fiction written of an earlier period, Medieval England, is Anya Seton’s Katherine.

After reading the Other Boleyn Girl I ordered the  2008 movie through Netflix.  The movie does not come close to the book’s more intricate story line and I would strongly suggest that reading the book is a must before watching the film.  Once you have read the book it is worth watching.



New From Jeannette Walls -The Silver Star

I join the millions of  readers who are fans of author Jeannette Walls.  Amazingly, her memoir The Glass Castle , first published in 2005 remains on the New York Times Best Seller List  eight years after its initial publication!  Walls also authored best selling Half Broke Horses, a memoir of  her grandmother Lily Casey Smith.


Her new book, The Silver Star, will likely not reach the status of either The Glass Castle or Half Broke Horses but it certainly qualifies as a good read, easily accomplished in two or three sittings.

In some ways, similar to The Glass Castle, Walls  weaves a story of a dysfunctional mother, acting more like a sibling as opposed to an adult role model. The main characters, two sisters  ages 12 and 15 are essentially left on their own as their mother pursues a constant parade of  greener pastures and  purported life changing opportunities.  When mom is present, the lifestyle is  at best nomadic and always chaotic.

The silver lining in this story comes at the hands of a distant uncle who despite his “old fashion” views creates a safety net for the girls and brings a sense of stability for the first time in their lives.  The book’s title Silver Star beckons the discovery of an unanswered question.

While The Silver Star is not a memoir, Jeannette Walls fills these pages with her life experience of making the best of an imperfect world.


The first week of July, 2013 commemorates the 150 anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many historians as the greatest battle of the war and the fateful turning point leading to the ultimate defeat  and surrender of Robert E. Lee and the demise of the Confederacy.  The great battle took place in three engagements on July 1, 2 and concluding with the disastrous Confederate Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863.  The sun rose on July 4th over a battlefield that witnessed over 5,700 killed and more than 27,000  wounded, thousands of whom died from wounds in the ensuing weeks.  More has been written regarding this great battle than any other in history, including  D-Day.


This week another new book,  Gettysburg by Allen C. Guelzo is added to the library of Gettysburg non-fiction.  Simultaneous to the release of Guelzo’s book and in conjunction with the Gettysburg 150th anniversary, the Smithsonian has released a fabulous interactive map that helps explain why General Lee made a critical mistake in underestimating the depth of the Union Forces he faced. The map addresses the issue of the extreme lack of intelligence and reconnaissance on behalf of either side during all of the Civil War engagements.  Prior to the commencement of hostilities, Lee climbed to the top of  cupolas, one at the Lutheran Seminary and the other at Gettysburg College to survey Union troops.  The Smithsonian GIS generated map, together with the research of Middlebury College professor Anne Knowles, clearly shows that deceptive terrain made it impossible for Lee to judge the magnitude of the Union forces. Lee’s problems were of course magnified  by the absence of his cavalry led be Jeb  Stuart. To examine the new GIS map of the Gettysburg battlefield go to :


With the natural focus this week on the Gettysburg anniversary it is easy to overlook yet another monumental Civil War battle that historically may equal and in some sense eclipse the great Gettysburg turning point. General  U.S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg  which culminated on July 3, ( the same day as Pickett’s Charge) in some sense had a greater impact on the war’s outcome than Gettysburg.  

Following two weeks of battle including fierce fighting at Jackson Mississippi and Champion Hill  Grant turned his forces West to Vicksburg, the last remaining Confederate obstacle to opening the entire Mississippi River to Union control.  Following days of brutal fighting and bombardment Grant laid siege to the city and finally on July 4th, 1863 accepted the surrender of General Pemberton’s  Confederate forces and took control of  what had been an impregnable citadel above the river.

While there  continues to be much debate over the work of Civil War historians  ( See David Blight’s  article That a Nation Might Live in the July 1 Book Section of  New York Times ), it will come as no surprise to followers of Gordon’s Good Reads  that I have turned to historical fiction and Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War book A Chain of Thunder, A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg. Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara, author of Killer Angels, the story of  the Gettysburg battle. Like the writing of the father, Jeff Shaara places the reader in the boots of the front line soldiers and additionally, in the case of A Chain of Thunder the devastated lives of the Vicksburg’s citizens.

Why does Vicksburg equal the historical importance of Gettysburg? The answer lies in President Lincoln’s recognition  that  he found in Grant following Vicksburg and his earlier victory at Ft. Donnelson,  a commander who could ” win.”!   There is little doubt that the victory at Vicksburg catapulted Grant into being named General In Chief of all Union Forces. In that capacity, Grant’s tenacity, with Lincoln’s unbridled support,  forged the final Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.   There is no doubt that the Grant Civil War legacy led to his becoming President of the United States, following the failed short-term of Vice President Andrew Johnson following Lincoln’s assassination.

Whether you prefer non-fiction or historical fiction of any combination thereof, The Civil War is an epic human story that changed the future of not only the nation, but the world.

Other Civil War historical novels by Jeff Shaara”  Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure, A Blaze of Glory.