First, as it’s the end of the year, I feel morally obliged to list some reading highlights.
For fiction, I especially enjoyed Sharon Penman’s long-awaited Devil’s Brood, Jean Plaidy’s French Revolution trilogy, Michelle Moran’s The Heretic Queen, and Louis Bayard’s The Black Tower.
In nonfiction, my favorites were James Swanson’s Manhunt, about the search for John Wilkes Booth; Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn (a book that has absolutely spoiled most historical fiction dealing with Jane-as-warped-wacko for me), Linda Porter’s The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary,” and Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England.
Both lists could probably be quite a bit longer, but I didn’t keep any sort of record of what I read this year, so I’m relying mainly on what jumps out at me from my shelves. I’ll probably think of other things once I sign off for the evening.
What am I reading these days? I just finished Alice Harcourt’s The Clandestine Queen, a 1979 historical novel that covers Elizabeth Woodville’s life from her time as a lady in waiting to Margaret of Anjou through the birth of her first royal son, Edward V. There are some anachronisms (use of “your majesty” and certain nicknames that sound more modern than medieval, for instance), but Harwood has clearly done her research as far as the historical events of the period are concerned. I found it a pleasant, if workmanlike, read, and I look forward to reading the other Harwood novel I have on hand, which deals with Perkin Warbeck and his bride.
Courtesy of Sourcebooks, I also have a copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Conqueror, which I take with me to the gym and read while on the treadmill. I confess to being confused from time to time as to who is William’s enemy and who is not, but as the characters themselves seem a bit confused on this point too, I can live with it.
On the nonfiction front, I recently finished David Starkey’s Henry VIII: Virtuous Prince. Issued in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne, this book covers Henry’s youth and the early days of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It’s arranged chronologically and thematically, with chapters on Henry’s education and on his early relationship with Wolsey, for instance. I found it very readable, although it could have used a better editing, especially since it’s intended for a general audience and not for specialists. (For instance, Starkey discusses the rebellion of 1483 without ever naming Henry Buckingham as a participant, then, some pages later, mentions Henry Buckingham with the expectation that the reader will somehow know who he is.) Next on the nonfiction list, I believe, will be Alison Weir’s biography of Katherine Swynford.
And now, what does this blog have in store for 2009? I’ve got a few posts in mind already, including Eleanor de Clare’s father, Gilbert de Clare, Joan of Kent’s messy marital litigation, and Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham’s mysterious, possibly insane mother. This should be the year too when I do a post on Anthony Woodville, having done his brothers and sisters already. As usual, we’ll have some fun here, starting on New Year’s Eve when sundry familiar figures make their New Year’s resolutions. Stay tuned!