What I’m Reading This Week

This last week, despite being really busy work and life wise, was a good one for me for both reading and blogging. I managed to make it through all the books I had on the go and catch up on some reviews I’ve been wanting to write.  I’m just over three months into my blog now and feel I’ve settled into a routine that works for me and am starting to develop my writing style. One thing I haven’t quite figured out though is how to plan which books I’ll read when – I have a running list but never seem to pick the one at the top…another always seems to be more appealing.

Whilst this isn’t anywhere near the end of the world, as I have just renewed one particular book from the library for the third time, I thought that writing a regular post on what I want to read next might help give me focus.  As I’m actually starting the week with no books on the go because I finished J by Howard Jacobson  last night, this seemed like a good day to start. And, as it’s Monday, I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey, who has a weekly post I’ve enjoyed following – It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

So, after a much longer pre-amble than I intended, here are the books on my beside table (or kindle) this week:

The Book: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

The Wake

The Blurb: Everyone knows the date of the Battle of Hastings. Far fewer people know what happened next…Set in the three years after the Norman invasion,The Wake tells the story of a fractured band of guerilla fighters who take up arms against the invaders. Carefully hung on the known historical facts about the almost forgotten war of resistance that spread across England in the decade after 1066, it is a story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world. Written in what the author describes as ‘a shadow tongue’ – a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable for the modern reader – The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster’s world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past.

The Reason: Because I’ve heard so much about it. I downloaded a sample because I was worried about the language but, having read a few reviews saying it needed to be read aloud and finding this works, I’ve decided I don’t need to be worried and am actually looking forward to reading something which feels completely different.Read More »

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir

Title: Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore
Author: Alison Weir
Genre: History, Biography
Format: Audiobook (length 13 hours, 11 minutes)
Published: 2011 (audiobook released Sept 2012)
Source: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5

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Of all the periods in English history, the time of the Tudors is the one that fascinates me most. The people, the politics, the intrigue. Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read about Henry VIII, his wives and his children. Other than in passing in these books, I’ve never read anything about Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne, mistress of Henry VIII and, quite possibly, mother of at least one of his illegitimate children. Coming across this biography in my local library, written by one of my favourite authors, seemed like a good opportunity to fix that. This was also a bit of an experiment for me as it was an audiobook, not something I normally choose but – with lots of long drives ahead of me in my new job – I thought it may be a good way to fill in the hours on the road.

The format itself had plus and minuses for me. On the plus side, I enjoyed listening in the car (whereas normally I would just be aimlessly flicking between stations most times) and it made being stuck in traffic much more tolerable. The narration was really clear and had a good pace so I was able to maintain my focus (which I’d been worried about as I do tend to wander when I listen to plays on Radio 4). However, as this was a biography with lots of dates, names and places, there were times when I wished I could go back to more easily to remind myself or check something. By the end, I had learnt to not worry about it too much and just go with the flow but it did take a while.

The book was really interesting, especially because I knew so little about Mary so as a subject it felt new and fresh. It dispelled a lot of myths about Mary and helped me form a much fuller picture of her and her place in history in my mind. It turns out, pretty much everything I thought I knew about Mary wasn’t true and I feel much more sympathetic towards her. My ending up with a more realistic picture of Mary would probably make Alison Weir happy one of her stated intentions was to help readers separate fact from fiction (including The Other Boleyn Girl books and films and The Tudors TV show, which were very popular whilst she was researching and writing this book).

One of the reasons that there are so many myths is that so little is actually known and, over the years, Mary has been subject to some very bad PR, being painted as a woman of “easy virtue” and not too bright. Alison Weir does a good job of building on what little is known to develop a pretty solid picture of Mary; as she does, she explains what she feels is credible evidence and why, and why she has made the assumptions she has. These include reaching the conclusion that not only did Mary have an affair with Henry, she did give birth to his daughter. Rather than being dim-witted or of loose morals, the Mary Weir describes is one who had very little control over her life until her later years, when she took the incredibly brave step for the time of marrying for love, saying “I had rather beg my bread with him than be the greatest queen christened”.

The main problem is this lack of solid facts about Mary, so Weir has to make a lot of assumptions, either from the little information that is available or from the lives of others, including her husband, her father, her sister or Henry’s other mistresses. It means as a reader you really are still not much clearer on the real Mary, unless you chose to see her as Alison Weir does (it’s what I chose to do). In a way, this makes Mary even more intriguing and it’s a pity there won’t likely be the opportunity to ever learn more.

Definitely a good read for history buffs or those, like me, who find the Tudor period fascinating. Is that you?

Emma x

Witley Court & Gardens

Continuing my master plan of making our way around all English Heritage’s sites…

Earlier this summer, we visited one of our favourite English Heritage sites, Witley Court & Gardens in Worcestershire (page 222 of the handbook), which is about 40 minutes from where we live and an easy drive.

Witley Court is a 19th century mansion that was one of England’s grandest homes before it burned down in 1937, leaving a rather impressive if eerie shell.

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Note: This photo is by Robek (Own work) via creative commons as mine didn’t turn out – all the rest are mine

The house is surrounded by landscaped gardens which include a still working fountain showing Perseus and Andromeda that is “fired” several times a day.

witley court gardens

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Around the house are woodland walks where you can see all types of trees, shrubs, and flowers, a lovely little waterfall and a lake which, in nice weather, is so peaceful you forget where you are.Read More »

Brodsworth Hall and Gardens

Aside from reading, one of the ways I love to spend my time is pottering around stately homes and ruins, imagining what life would have been like way back when and generally trying to soak up a sense of place and time. To make sure I get my fill, a few years ago we joined English Heritage and since then, I’ve been on a mission to visit every one of their sites – we manage about one a month so I should be able to get there (I’m not that old).

With our holidays starting, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time with my nose in the English Heritage handbook planning day trips. Whilst a handbook isn’t necessarily a book, I thought posting about the places we visit (or have visited) might be a nice way to share a different slice of my life…and encourage me to keep on with my mission.

First up is Brodsworth Hall and Gardens just outside Doncaster, South Yorkshire (page 251 of the guide). We’ve visited there a few times, most recently at the start of the summer, on a slightly grey day, and really enjoyed it.

Brodsworth Hall is a Victorian country house built in the Italianate style. It has barely changed since it was built the 1860s. When English Heritage took over the property in the late 80s, they decided to conserve rather than restore the furnishings, showing the house as it was, not what it had been. I wasn’t able to take photos inside the house, but it is fascinating.

When we were there last, you had to book on a tour – when we went last year we had been able to walk around ourselves. As we’d been before, we decided to not worry about booking a tour and spent the afternoon in the gardens, which have been restored and were full of colour.

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