Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books, Books, Books: A Review and Reading Challenges for 2010

Earlier this month I read Philippa Gregory's novel The Boleyn Inheritance, which tells the story of King Henry VIII's (of England) marriages to Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard, wives numbered 4 and 5 respectively, from their own perspective, as well as that of Jane Boleyn.

I really enjoyed this novel, possibly as much as I did The Other Boleyn Girl. The constant changing of perspectives had the potential to be confusing, however, Gregory made it work brilliantly, and the story is well-paced. The only downside that I can think of is that it was, at times, a little repetitive.
It was invigorating to read Anne of Cleves as an intelligent young woman who drew the short-straw when she was selected by Henry Tudor as his fourth wife, but then grabbed the opportunity for independence when it was presented to her.

It is amusing yet sad to think of Katherine Howard as a clueless, silly girl too young to be a wife, who thought it would be fun to be married to a King old enough to be her grandfather, yet who paid the highest price for her family's ongoing quest for power.

It is also very intriguing to read a perspective of Jane Boleyn. Desperate, selfish and slightly insane Jane, whose greed sent her husband George and sister-in-law Anne to the scaffold, and then many years later in a bizarre case of history repeating, Katherine Howard and herself followed in their footsteps.

As a historian, Philippa Gregory writes brilliant historical fiction, and I recommend her Tudor fiction novels to anyone who likes a good read, and especially to those into hist-fic. Her novels are thick, but so very easy to read.

Anyone who knows me would know that I love, love, love books. At every opportunity I am reading, so I have decided to dedicate some of my reading for the New Year to a couple very interesting online reading challenges that I stumbled across recently.

The first is the Women Unbound Reading Challenge, which runs until November 2010, and anyone is able to sign up to take part at any time. The challenge is to read a selected number of fiction and non-fiction books on the topic of Women's Studies. I have decided to accept this challenge as a BLUESTOCKING participant, meaning I will have to read at least 5 books, including 2 that are non-fiction.

The books I have decided to read for this challenge, in no particular order, are as follows:
1. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir (non-fiction: the life and death of Henry Tudor's wives) **COMPLETED**
2. Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir (non-fiction: Eleanor of Aquitaine was the wife of Louis VII of France, and then later Henry II of England, and mother of King Richard the Lion Hearted) **COMPLETED**
3. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (fictional account about the life of Elizabeth Woodville, Queen of England and wife to Edward IV, during the War of the Roses)**COMPLETED**
4. Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain (fictional account of the life of Eleanor Glanville, botanist in Puritan England) **COMPLETED**
5. The Lost Book of Salem by Katherine Howe (fictional account of the Salem witch-trials). **COMPLETED**

Once each book is read I will post a review with its theme in mind, and then link it back to the original challenge. There are at present over 100 people participating in this challenge, so if you too want to take part you can add your link at the Women Unbound Reading Challenge site.

The second reading challenge for 2010 I will be participating in is the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge over at Royal Reviews, which will run from 1 January 2010 until 31 December 2010. Again, anyone can sign up at anytime, but the books must belong to the Historical Fiction genre, and must be started on or after 1/1/10.

For this challenge I will be a FASCINATED participant, meaning I will have to read at least 6 historical fiction novels. I suspect it will probably be more, but I wanted to set myself a realistic target, as I do read genres other than hist-fic, and I also like to read non-fiction books between novels. So, setting myself a target of 6 hist-fic novels over a 12-month period should be easily achievable.

I dont know if this constitutes as cheating (I hope not!), but some of the books for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge will double-up for this one. These novels will be The Lost Book of Salem (**COMPLETED**), Lady of the Butterflies (**COMPLETED**) and The White Queen (**COMPLETED**). The other 3 novels I'm adding to this list will include Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks (**COMPLETED**), and The Queen's Fool and The Wise Woman, both by Philippa Gregory.

Again, if you'd like to participate you can do so by going to the Royal Reviews site and adding your name to the ever-increasing participant list.

Of course, I will be continuing with my seasonal reading lists, into which I will incorporate books for both challenges.


Summer Reading List (December - February)
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Lost Book of Salem by Katherine Howe
The Perfect Heresy by Stephen O'Shea

Christmas Comes but Once a Year...


Yes, I'm a wee bit late in getting out my Christmas greetings to all the lovely people who stop by to read my blog. I've been missing-in-action since I finished work on Christmas Eve, and am now taking a well-earned (albiet not long enough) 2-week break. All phones have been silenced. The only contact I have with the outside world is via the internet. Luckily it is far too HOT to leave the house: Perfect reading weather, and I plan to use it wisely.

SJ and I decided to have a Christmas tree for the first time this year; in previous years we have always been away from home at Christmas and therefore never saw the point in having one, but this year, for the first time, we woke Christmas morning in our own home. It was so nice to have it lit-up during the evenings leading up to Christmas Day; it is such a pretty tree, and I look forward to having it up again next Christmas. It is a small fibre-optic tree, adorned with a few small gold baubles for good luck (originating from the Witch Ball), and sits in front of the un-used fireplace in the living room, which made a great storage place for presents.

SJ & I werent the only ones to put up our first Christmas tree this year: Another family we know had always had a giant "singing Santa" in lieu of a tree, but were continuously told by people that their 5-year-old son was missing out by not having a Christmas tree. So, this year they went out and got a tree to stand alongside giant Santa. This got me thinking about Christmas traditions, and why we seem to need them to have Christmas spirit. I remember as children my siblings and I always looked forward to December as it meant the Christmas tree would come out of storage and we'd all stand around decorating it. It was an exciting time because when the tree was up in meant Christmas Day was just around the corner, and we'd begin to count the number of sleeps until it arrived. In hindsight I dont think it would have mattered if it was a tree, or a giant singing Santa, or something else entirely; whatever the symbolism used, Christmas would still have been an exciting time, as it usually is for children.

As it is Summer in this part of the world during Christmastime, most Christmas trees are artificial. A real tree would simply not survive until Christmas Day: the heat would make it shed its leaves and branches quickly, leaving a rather shabby sight come Christmas morning. As such, there are no Christmas tree farms, and our tree came packed in a box from a department store. The history of the Christmas tree is a fascinating one, and I have always assumed that anyone celebrating Christmas would have a tree of some kind. Do you have a Christmas tree, or is there some other tradition in your household?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Pictures: Northern Flinders Ranges

Some of the most amazing scenery you're ever likely to see:
Wilpena to Blinman to Parachilna
Flinders Ranges, South Australia
29 November 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Baked Figs with Vanilla Icecream

Apologies for my absence.

Does anyone else find that during November and December everyday life seems to pick up speed? Suddenly there are so many more things that need doing, yet seemingly less time in which to do them. Or, at least, that is how I feel at the moment.

I do have photos from November that I want to share, and will share at some point in the very near future, but right now I simply must, must, must tell you about this fantastically easy and delicious recipe for baked figs that I (surprisingly) found the time to make on the weekend.

All you need is:
12 figs, sliced in half
2 tspn sugar
300ml sherry
4 whole peppercorns
3 tbspn honey + extra for serving
Vanilla ice cream (made with buttermilk is best)

All you need to do is:
1. Place sliced figs facing up in large ovenproof dish.
2. Sprinkle evenly with sugar.
3. Poor sherry over figs.
4. Add peppercorns to dish.
5. Drizzle honey over figs.
6. Place in oven at 180*C and bake for 30 minutes.
7. Remove figs from dish and allow to cool, and pour remaining sauce into saucepan. Simmer on a moderate heat until the liquid has reduced by two-thirds, then chill in fridge.
8. Serve figs drizzled in sauce and extra honey with scoops of vanilla icecream.

(This recipe is a variation of the one I found here.)