Monday, 19 September 2016

Book Review: Katherine of Aragon- The True Queen

Katherine of Aragon- The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens Book 1)
Alison Weir
Headline Publishing, 2016  (I own a copy, courtesy the publisher)

Ever since I read Philippa Gregory's novel The Constant Princess, Katherine of Aragon has been one of my most admired historical figures.  We all know some parts of the story of Henry the Eighth and his ill-fated six wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  But what we also know is that there are a lot of rumours about the time period which make for really interesting but really inaccurate dramas.  If anyone has ever seen The Tudors, that would be my case in point.

Tudor England was not just a haven of licentiousness and intrigue.  It was a highly political time, and also a time when religious belief was much more fervent than it is today.  Katherine of Aragon was sent to England to marry Arthur, Prince of Wales, who was the oldest son of the first Tudor King, Henry the VII and Queen Elizabeth of York, who was niece to the king he defeated to gain his crown-- Shakespeare's villain King Richard the third.  But not long after Katherine was wed to Arthur, he died of a sickness.  Katherine's family then planned to marry her to the second son, Henry, but political tides meant that she faced a long and uncomfortable wait before she could marry this boisterous and passionate prince who would one day be one of the most infamous kings in history.  She did eventually marry Henry but their union was not blessed with the sons which were of vital importance to securing the Tudor line.  Katherine and Henry had only one living child, a daughter who would become Queen Mary of England-- or Bloody Mary.  Henry, thanks to those at the court who would try to influence him, came to believe that the reason his marriage was not to be blessed with sons, was because his marriage to Katherine was offensive to God, citing a line from Leviticus which states that a man who marries his brother's wife will be cursed to have no living heirs.  He used this argument as the basis of his campaign to have Katherine put aside so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, and thanks to this process, he founded the Church of England with himself at the head, forcing England into a time of great religious persecution.

The history of this period is not little known, but it has been told in a myriad of ways and in varying degrees of truth, if such a thing can ever be uncovered.  It was therefore exciting to finally be hearing a version of the story told by historian, Alison Weir, who has written many factual accounts of English history, the Tudor period and the Wars of the Roses that came before it.

I enjoyed reading this massive volume immensely, but at times I did feel like the style of the storytelling, particularly in moments of exposition was a little closer to non fiction than to fiction.  This was particularly the case at the beginning of the book.  By the second part of the story I was racing along, caught up in what I was reading-- it was like revisiting an old friend.  Particularly considering so many of the more recent Philippa Gregory novels have not provided me with the excitement those early novels did, it was lovely to discover a new voice to add to this area of history I find so fascinating.  This is a long novel, but it needs to be so that you as the reader can get a real sense of how long and how hard Katherine fought to keep her conscience clear.  Though she was put aside by Henry the Eighth and ended her days in Kimbolton Castle, virtually in exile, I once read that she continued to make his shirts and to be a loyal wife to him even though he would not acknowledge her as such.  Weir makes the comment in her author's note that perhaps Katherine of Aragon is not the kind of feminist figure that we might look up to today, but for her time, she was quite remarkable.  As a woman, she had very limited influence over what happened to her, and she did what she could.  She looked up to her mother, Isabella of Castile, who was a formidable queen in her own right, and when Henry was in France waging war, it was Katherine who bolstered the forces at home to ward off invading Scots.  She was resourceful, loyal and virtuous, and if I were to be having a dinner party with any historical figures alive or dead, she would definitely get an invitation.

Katherine of Aragon is the subject of Phillipa Gregory's newest novel too, so I am reinvigorated to get my hands on a copy soon and spend more time in the Tudor period.  That should tide me over until March next year, when Goodreads tells me the next book in this series will come out, called Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession.  

What have you been reading lately?

Monday, 5 September 2016

What Elimy Read in August

I don't know what it was about August, but almost everyone I spoke to was busy, busy, busy.  August saw me spending one entire weekend escaping into book after book to get away from all the stress of uni and work and everything in between.  Without any further ado, here is what I read in August.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and JK Rowling

A lot has been said about the new 'Harry Potter' book, which isn't a book at all but a rehearsal edition of the script for the new play currently on in the UK.  There are a few problems with the play, but this came into my life at exactly the right time.  A lot of things were changing and I felt unstable-- it was just the ticket to be able to escape back into the familiar world of Harry Potter, even if some things were just a little bit off.

The Muse by Jessie Burton

I loved The Miniaturist, which came out a few years ago and told the story of an enchanted doll's house in Amsterdam in the 17th Century.  I was really looking forward to reading this follow up from Jessie Burton, who is a very talented author.  It's been a while since I read this one, but I remember enjoying it at the same time as being a little fed up with the long lost painting discovered in an old house plotline-- it's everywhere at the moment!!!  (And shows no signs of slowing down, because there's a new book by Bernard Schlink due out in November which has this plotline too!)  The two voices in this book complemented each other nicely, and I enjoyed following the story along.

The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner

I borrowed this book from the library on a whim after seeing Ann Turner speak at the 2016 Perth Writers Festival.  Unfortunately, while I raced through this mystery, it just really didn't do anything for me.

The Windy Season by Sam Carmody

You can read my review of this book here.

Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

The early reviews for this book said that it would do for publishing in the 1950s what Mad Men did for advertising.  I don't know about that, but I really liked reading about the journeys of the three characters in this book.  Miles, Eden and Cliff are all trying to make it in the publishing industry in New York, but it's a tough world and one mistake can end in endless tangles.  I loved The Other Typist when it came out a few years ago, and while this one was slower going, I would recommend it to anyone who loves reading about New York.

Carousel by Brendan Ritchie

What happens when four kids are shut inside Carousel shopping centre for 18 months, while outside the rest of Perth seems to have disappeared?  This debut YA novel by Perth writer/ filmmaker Brendan Ritchie explores a dystopian timeline for a quartet of young artists who must use their wits to find a way out of Perth's biggest shopping centre.

You can see me interviewing Kate McCaffrey and Brendan Ritchie this Wednesday (7th September) at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne.

Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey

An interesting counterpoint to McCaffrey's debut novel about cyber-bullying, Destroying Avalon, Saving Jazz explores what happens when you make a mistake and it goes viral on the internet.  Jasmine Lovely and her peers let their actions get a little out of hand at a party one night, and the aftershocks will disrupt Jazz's life in more ways than one.  Told in the form of a series of blog posts, this book explores the terrible night when it all went wrong, as well as the process of putting things back together.  I enjoyed this book, and it brought back fond memories of Destroying Avalon.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

This was my book club book for the month, and actually a re-read (hooray!  I haven't been able to re-read anything for ages!)  This is the first Jackson Brodie mystery, but it's much more than a crime novel.  Kate Atkinson's prose demonstrates exactly why she is winning awards all over the place.  I loved this multi-faceted novel and it's wide-reaching cast of characters.

Bodies of Water by V H Leslie

I first heard about this novella through Jen Campbell's Youtube channel and I was excited when my local library ordered a copy in.  While the story had all the makings of an epic ghost story, unfortunately the execution just didn't match up.  This one wasn't for me.

That's all for this month! What have you been reading?  Leave me some recommendations in the comments below.

Until next month-- happy reading!