The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd - BOOK REVIEW and link to GIVEAWAY

6/19/2012 10:11:00 PM

The Secret Keeper by Sandra Byrd
Title:  The Secret Keeper
Author:  Sandra Byrd
Publisher:   Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster
Release Date:  June 5, 2012
Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN 10:    1439183147
ISBN 13:   9781439183144
The Book Depository / Amazon

Goodreads description:

The author of To Die For returns to the court of Henry VIII, as a young woman is caught between love and honor. 
Juliana  St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight in Marlborough. Though  her family wants her to marry the son of her father’s business partner,  circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his  last wife, Kateryn Parr.

Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle of the  current heir, Prince Edward, returns to Wiltshire to tie up his business  with Juliana’s father’s estate and sees instantly that she would fit  into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother  agrees to have her placed in the Parr household for “finishing” and  Juliana goes, though perhaps reluctantly. For she knows a secret. She  has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has  seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king’s daughter, the lady  Elizabeth, to perilous consequence.

As Juliana learns the secrets  of King Henry VIII’s court, she faces threats and opposition, learning  truths about her own life that will upset everything she thought she  once held dear.

My Take: 

This is the tale of the fictitious Juliana St. John, daughter of a merchant knight, who finds herself serving in the household and, later, in the court of Kateryn Parr (Henry VIII's last wife, usually known as Catherine Parr, as well as other spellings as seen in the following portrait):

In 1542, Juliana is 17 years old.  Her father has died the year before, and now she has only her loving younger brother Hugh and her unaffectionate mother for company.  The book opens with a dramatic scene:  Juliana's mother has called her a witch, and Juliana goes to her neighborhood priest to find out if her portentious dreams mean that she really IS a witch.

Shortly after, Sir Thomas Seymour, a favorite of the court who serves on diplomatic and military missions for Henry VIII, visits Marlborough, where Juliana lives. While there, he recommends Juliana for service to Lord Latimer's Lady, Kateryn Parr.

This novel realistically depicts the almost wide-eyed wonder of a rural innocent arriving and living in London, as well as the slightly tarnished worldview and disappointment that results from being surrounded by the treachery and intrigue of the court.  We read of how Kateryn, recently widowed, is pursued by the King, now an obese man with an oozing, ulcerated, apparently untreatable, leg - as well as her eventual decision that she must accept his marriage proposal to help further the "true" teachings of God and temper Henry's reprisals on those that attempt to practice the Protestant brand of Christianity.

Juliana is treated almost as a daughter by Kateryn, and suffers her own blows and disappointments. In spite of this, she remains good at heart and loyal to a fault. Although her visions are few and far between, they manage to guide her through some sticky situations.

If you are looking for excruciating historical detail, this may not be the book for you.  But, if you enjoy being able to fill in the blanks with your own knowledge of Tudor history, and you're looking for "lighter" historical fiction, I feel that it would be a great, escapist type of read.    If you are "on the fence" about historical fiction, I would definitely recommend this one. I think it will whet your appetite for more.  It is well-written and compelling.  I  wanted to keep reading to see if Juliana would finally get her own happy ending after being surrounded by so much tragedy.

One of the characters that I want to learn more about is Anne Askew:

Although no true portraits remain of her, the above is a representation based on historical descriptions.  Anne is the only woman ever tortured in the Tower.  Being high-born made it doubly unique. Her crime? Preaching from Tyndale's Bible, "gospeling" as it was called, a double-crime against Henry's edicts banning Tyndale's teachings and books as well as banning women from gospeling or even reading aloud ANY holy writ in public. Burned at the stake in her mid-twenties, after being tortured on the rack, she was a true martyr to her beliefs.


...I recalled to mind that only a year and a half had passed since Queen Catherine Howard had run shrieking down this very hallway begging for her life from the king, who'd refused, as was his habit, to see her afore sending her to her death.  I made me very cold indeed with concern for my lady.

"Lord Edward was married to another woman first, but she is supposed to have continued having relations with Lord Edward's father, so her husband put her aside.  Many believe Edward Seymour's first two children to be his brothers and not his sons."

I was shocked and horrified that I had been the woeful messenger of this terrible news.  A warrant for her arrest, signed in his own hand.  And the king did not shy from executing his wives.

Writing:  4 out of 5 stars
Plot:   3.5 out of 5 stars
Characters: 3.5  out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion:  4 out 5 stars

BOOK RATING:   4 out of 5 stars

Sensitive Reader:  There are a couple of sticky parts here, but I think most of you would be OK with them, as they are integral to the story.

WIN IT: Go to the blog tour/giveaway post for your chance to win a copy for yourself!

BLOGGERS:  Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.

About Sandra Byrd

BUY IT:  At Amazon, The Book Depository, through the publisher's website,  and through other on-and-off-line booksellers.

Disclosure:  I  received a  complimentary copy of this title from the publisher through Historical Fiction Book Tours to facilitate my review.  No other compensation was received and I was not required to post a positive review.

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