Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, Alison Weir
When it comes to historical fiction, I can’t get enough of English royalty. Katherine of Aragon is possibly my favourite wife of Henry VIII and I loved how this book told her whole story. So often, we only see her as the dowdy old wife put aside for Anne Boleyn. But she has a story in her own right – she was an ambassador of Spain, she acted as regent while Henry was abroad. This book sees everything through Katherine’s eyes, trying to understand her motivations and worldview. Her devout faith and sheer stubbornness, when it would have been more practical to acquiesce to Henry’s requests.
Alison Weir has also written proper history so this book, although fiction, was very well-researched. It’s full of little details and background information and follows the timeline precisely. Sometimes, this distracted a bit from the story telling, especially at the start, but that’s only a minor complaint.
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
I aim to read one Jane Austen novel every year, and this year it was Sense and Sensibility. There’s a reason her novels have endured over time, she captures the dynamics of relationships that haven’t changed much even though society has. Marianne, with her unrealistic expectations of romance, who falls hard for the wrong man. Elinor, who struggles to stand up for herself and make herself known. Men who seem interested but disappear for no apparent reason. It could be lifted straight out of the world of today.
It had been a few years since I read this last. So, although I remembered the general plot, many of the details were fresh to me again. I love Austen’s storytelling and her characterisation. They’re always worth a re-read, in my opinion.
Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies, Jackie French
What an intriguing book this was! Starting just before WWI, Australian Sophie Higgs is sent to England for her season as a debutante. Here, she meets the mysterious Miss Lily who teaches her about charm and how she can use it to influence things behind the scene. But when war breaks out, she learns that this type of influence doesn’t always count for much and instead finds herself helping in much more practical ways.
This book somewhat reminded me of Downton Abbey, with all the aristocrats and etiquette. But it also has a harsher side, with the grim realities of war for both men and women. Throughout the story, Sophie has many romantic interests but the real story is about Sophie finding herself and her purpose. Oh, and there’s a pretty big twist towards the end. This is the first in a trilogy and I’m looking forward to reading the next ones.
Beartown, Fredrik Backman
It took me a while to get into this book. But when I finally did, wow! This turned out to be such a gripping read. It follows the perspective of a few residents of Beartown, a small, hockey obsessed Swedish town. At first, it was largely about preparing for the finals and the internal politics of the hockey club. I’m not sporty at all, so I didn’t find this riveting. But soon it becomes about so much more. When a horrific incident happens involving the hockey team’s star player, issues of loyalty and justice come to the forefront. Small town secrets and group dynamics, all with a tense undercurrent of violence lurking under the surface.
It was a little darker than most of the books I read, and way too much swearing for my taste! But, I think the swearing actually served its purpose well. The characters were vividly portrayed, which added to the ultimate impact. A very powerful read, in the end.
What have you been reading lately?