Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir – who I hear you cry why Katherine Swynford; John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster’s first mistress, then wife, sister-in-law to Geoffrey Chaucer, you know the one. In a time of mistresses Katherine is probably the most famous and infamous, in fact I would go as far to say she was the Medieval Nell Gwyn. Weir as always is well researched and brings life into not just the main character but all those who touched her life or whose lives she touched. That being said however, it can also be said that maybe that is where the book falls down a bit. For like so many woman of the time very little was written about them while they lived, so there is more about the people around her than there is about her herself, but then again, when I for one pick up a book like this I know it before I set out so it doesn’t get me too hot under the collar, especially as it is still a very good read. While other historical biographies often correct the tarnished reputation of people, this one while being sympathetic hardly raises Kathrine’s reputation, which in itself says much.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell – Well have you read the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize? No, well neither had I, I had been put off by the number of people who have said they had started then stopped, and to be honest I was surprised that such a well-known and re-told story would merit such a prize and decided not to bother. However spying an audio version I re-thought, well if such a well-known and well written, filmed, dramatised story gets a prize maybe this one is worth giving the benefit of the doubt to, so I listened.
Henry VIII his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, marriage to Anne Boleyn and the birth of the Church of England is the setting for this tale – told you it was a well-known bit of history. It is told from a slightly different slant from most, the child of a blacksmith rises to be England’s most powerful man. Thomas Cromwell, being the central character and that, in my view, is what gives this book its edge. It is a well written page turner, even if when listening there are no pages to turn, and from what I know the historical side of it seems accurate which is a definite plus as I think there is no need to invent history when history itself can seem the stuff of fiction.
If you have been put off before hand like I was, give it a go you might be surprised.