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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy

This is a sympathetic portrayal of Catherine of Aragon who suffered so much at the hands of Henry VIII. Plaidy paints a vivid picture of the splendour of Henry's court and the life that Catherine is forced to endure after her downfall.

Catherine is depicted as proud and determined to fight for her daughter's legitimacy. She is a very loving wife and mother, and remains very fond of Henry even when he subjects her to great trials. She is, perhaps, shown as a little bit too saintly, but Plaidy does an excellent job of making the reader feel very sorry for her.

Plaidy's character analysis of Henry is also excellent. He could be kind and loving, but quickly change to being nasty. His mercurial nature must have been extremely frightening! Henry was capable of turning against people very quickly, and the fear of death became ever-present for those close to him.

Plaidy also wrote well about Wolsey, but I got a bit tired of reading about him. He wasn't a very likeable character, and I wasn't especially interested in reading about his thoughts. Plaidy probably thought that this made the story clearer, but I am not sure that it was necessary.

I enjoyed this book and thought that it was one of Plaidy's better novels. The story is depressing and the reader knows that at the start. This probably made the novel even harder to write because many readers like happy endings. This book is worth reading if you like historical novels set in Tudor times.

Six Wives by David Starkey

This is a clearly written and interesting book in which Starkey attempts to get rid of many misconceptions about Henry VIII's wives. These misconceptions have existed for centuries. Catherine of Aragon has always been regarded as saintly, for example. Although Starkey agrees that she was very religious, he does think that she probably lied about her first marriage. She did spend a long time with Henry's brother, Arthur, who was quite healthy. It is unlikely that the marriage wasn't consummated.

He also writes sympathetically about Katherine Howard. She is usually regarded as a rather stupid tecenager, but Starkey's book shows that she really wasn't stupid. She also had a mind of her own and spoke up for some people whose lives were in danger.

I did think that Starkey got carried away by speculation at times. He writes that Anne Boleyn, for example, had her bed hung with richly embroidered crimson velvet of the 'Bed of Alancon'. He thinks that Anne may have wanted this because she got the Duke of Alancon mixed up with the French duke, Longueville, captured by the English during Henry's war with the French. Catherine had written that she would exchange the coat of the dead King of Scots, killed in the great battle of Flodden, for the Duke. Starkey thinks that Anne may have regarded the relic as a symbol of Catherine's finest hour, and appropriated it for herself. This seemed to me to be rather a stretch. Perhaps Anne just liked the beautiful fabric?

One reviewer wrote that Anne was Starkey's favourite, but I didn't think so. He annoyed me by attributing ulterior motives to her at almost every turn. The passage about the bed was just one example.

He also appeared to dislike Jane Seymour, who didn't seem to have too many qualms about Anne's death. His view of her was more understandable, I thought.

This was not a riveting book. The beginning was a bit dull but Starkey got into his stride when he started writing about Anne Boleyn and the book became more interesting. Most people who like to read about Henry's fascinating wives will enjoy it.

Life Cycles by Neil Killion

This was an interesting and helpful book, but I do find the theory a bit complicated and mathematical! Here is my review: Dividing Your Life Into Life Cycles.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Library Loot

Like many book readers, I haunt my local library. I should read the books that I have at home, but I have to supply Mum with books too. She devours them so I really don't have enough books for her as well, unless I get them from the library. I often find books that I want, though!

Here's what I got today:

An Education by Lynn Barber;

The Lost Mona Lisa by R.A.Scott; and

How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson.

They all look good, especially An Education.


I just saw the movie and greatly enjoyed it. Falling in love with a wealthy thief has its advantages, apparently! Still, I'd like to see a film about a female student at Oxford.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tuesday Teaser!

I haven't done this for ages. If I remember correctly, I write two sentences from the book that I'm reading and then tell you what it is! I hope that's right. I think that they're supposed to be some of the best sentences from the book. Here they are:

"To the young Louisine, the strange, almost abstract image of stage-flats, dancers and specks of light resembled nothing she had ever seen before on canvas. 'I scarcely knew how to appreciate it, or whether I liked it or not, for I believe it takes special brain cells to appreciate Degas."

That's from page 150 of The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe.

Huge Readathon!

Kristen of Bookworming in the 21st Century is holding a huge readathon until this Sunday. You can obtain points if you join. (I haven't worked it all out yet, but I'm going to join).

Here are some books that I hope to finish:

The Private Lives of the Impressionists by Sue Roe;

Six Wives by David Starkey;

I am Madame X by Gloria Dilberto;


The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Books Read in June

Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed by Paul Mason

This was written just after the GFC hit so it has the value of immediacy, but it's out-dated now in some ways. Paul Mason describes the fall of Lehman brothers, the bank bailouts, and the sub-prime mortgage crisis clearly and reasonably simply. However, I still found the book a bit difficult to read.

He attributes the crisis to the failure of neoliberalism, deregulation, a share market that was allowed to run wild, and various other factors. His analysis of the causes of the crisis is probably the most interesting part of the book.

Mason writes about the crisis from a left-wing point of view. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not will probably depend on your politics to some extent. Right-wing commentators have often argued that the GFC had completely different causes.

Mason does draw conclusions and suggests that the answer is a completely new form of hyper-regulated capitalism. I couldn't be bothered reading this part of the book, however, because it was just too ideological and dull.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

Young Bess by Margaret Irwin

By the time that this book begins, young Princess Elizabeth has had a lot to cope with, including her mother's brutal death, different stepmothers, and her father's changing moods. She has, understandably, become guarded and somewhat distrustful. Now she finds herself dealing with her father's death and her feelings for Thomas Seymour.

Ebullient, handsome Thomas Seymour, played brilliantly by Stewart Granger in the movie, is the real star of this book. Mercurial and ambitious, he has his eye on the Crown and he falls in love with the young Princess. This naturally upsets his sweet wife, the late King's widow. Elizabeth struggles with her feelings, torn between her love for Thomas and her love for his wife, Katherine. Thomas Seymour, has 'wit, but little judgment' and his love for Elizabeth places him in great danger. It also places him in grave danger, from his equally ambitious brother, the Lord Protector.

The rivalry between the two brothers and their different characters is described with great analytical skill. The Lord Protector is cold and jealous, but he is also idealistic and he does a lot to help the common people. Which aspect of his character will win?

Elizabeth comes into her own when her love for Thomas means that she has to fight for her very life. Her courage and brilliance shine in the last section of the book.

Margaret Irwin's book describes the Tudor period in vivid detail and it's sure to please most lovers of historical novels. However, some may find the novel too full of historical detail and the style rather breathless and old-fashioned. She descends into purple prose at times, but some of the writing is luminous and some of the scenes are memorable. These include the scene in which Cranmer walks in the garden and thinks about his late friend and master, his beloved King.