Saturday, 2 January 2016

What I've Been Reading | December 2015

I had a really productive reading month in December, which was mostly down to a long Christmas period off work after a busier early month, quiet evenings and some serious reading time on my part. I am pleased to say I read a total of 64 books in 2015.

As a side note, if anyone wants to follow me on GoodReads, please go for it.

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith was a retelling which was leant to me by a friend. I have always enjoyed the original Emma and so, after this sitting on my shelf for a while, decided to try this out. It didn't take long to read and to be honest, I am glad it was a quick one. I found a lot of the characters irritating and the retelling style not really to my taste. The principal issue for me was that Emma Woodhouse, in Austen's original, is proud, thoughtless and arrogant - but still kind, generous and loving. The Emma Woodhouse in Smith's retelling has none of those redeeming qualities as as such, you cannot love her even after her redemption, let alone before. For die hard fans, this might be worth it - but if you're choosing between the novels, please, please, choose Austen.

I then moved onto historical fiction with The Captive Queen by Alison Weir - another I had borrowed, this time from my Mum. The story revolves around Eleanor of Aquitaine, a Duchess in her own right and Queen, at different times, of both France and England. The story follows her from her disastrous marriage to the King of France to her subsequent divorce and love match with Henry Plantagenet, who subsequently becomes Henry IV of England. It is a long ride which decides very much to portray Eleanor as a powerful woman in her own right, although often ruled by passion. This physical aspect of the book can be a bit trying but nonetheless becomes more poignant as Henry and Eleanor's relationship develops and they become estranged. The story is engaging and you trust that, with Weir at the helm, the historical accuracy is going to be reasonable. I would describe this as an 'intelligent historical romp'.

Moving onto crime, I then picked up The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson, which is one of her latest books in the series based around Josephine Tey. Set predominantly in the Suffolk countryside and using a history murder, The Red Barn Murder, as a basis for the book's story, I found this novel much more engaging than the previous ones I have picked up in the series. It was an easy and engaging read, with some interesting twists and turns, particularly at the end, which stayed with me after I had finished.

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J Maas followed, as I was keen to finish up to the end of this series as it currently stands, before the end of the year. I have enjoyed seeing how this series has grown and flourished, providing greater scopes for character growth, world building and a sense of a climax ahead. I don't know how many more books there will be in this series but I look forward to the next. An entertaining, easy fantasy read.

My final printed choice this month was a non fiction book I have had on my shelves for a few months but not had the time to read it. Burghley by Stephen Alford is a biography of William Cecil, Secretary and later Lord Treasurer to Elizabeth I of England. Having studied Elizabethan politics quite a lot when I was at university, I always loved Cecil and was very happy to engage with a book which focussed on his life. Alford's approach was interesting and offered some new perspectives on Cecil, particularly a greater insight into his home life that I have found in previous books. This isn't one to read if you are unfamiliar with the reign of Elizabeth I - several important events were glossed over, with an understanding that the reader would know the details, characters and outcome - but if you are an aficionado and interested in reading more about the life of this government minister, I recommend this one highly.

Finally, on the audiobook side, in December I listened to The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits by Emma Donoghue. A collection of short stories, mostly historical, inspired by women from history - this sounded right up my alley. The collection is diverse by permeated with Donoghue's writing style; a style I find at times compelling and at others irritating. Such was the case with this collection, which did lend itself well to audiobook form. Some of the stories were easily forgotten, even seemingly a little pointless; others were thoughtful, emotionally engaging and occasionally disturbing. One story - entitled 'Cured' - I made the mistake of listening to late at night. Without giving too much away, it is about a woman who goes to a doctor for treatment for her back pain. The twist in the story left me gasping with horror and that story has stayed with me ever since. However, this was a rarity in this collection. Others may feel differently, but it wasn't for me.

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