Monday, November 30, 2009

The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory (2005)

This was the book I won over at Sheila's blog (Journey Through a World of Books) - she constantly has great giveaways, so go over there and check it out. If I can win, anybody can!

The book is a historical novel that reconstructs the life of Katherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess and daughter of powerful Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. From birth, she is betrothed to Arthur, the oldest son of the English king, and thus destined to be Queen of England and crucial cement in the relationship between Spain and England and just a pawn in the diplomatic power games going on in Europe at the time.

As soon as she reaches marriageable age, she is shipped off to England to wed Arthur. Their marriage is short lived, as he dies unexpectedly, and then Katherine is left to rot away while her father-in-law basically holds her hostage until financial arrangements have been agreed with her parents. But Katherine does not give up trying to have a hand in her destiny and she perseveres and manages, by holding fast to a crucial lie, to marry Arthur's brother, and next in line for the throne, Henry the 8th.

Fascinating stuff, which makes me want to get out a history book and get clear on all the historical details. Author Gregory does a good job of getting inside her characters' heads without it seeming too implausible. I was most impressed by the years that Katherine was in exile in England, alone and for all intents and purposes abandoned by both sides of her family, which must have been very difficult for a young woman. But she managed to come back and fulfill her destiny as Queen of England after all, and do an excellent job of it, too. Until Anne Boleyn catches her husband's eye...but that is another book!

Friday, November 20, 2009


Just a postcard I picked up at a recent visit to the Magritte museum in Brussels - couldn't resist sharing it here!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)

This book was a gift from my long lost friend Rebecca who I reconnected with on
Facebook earlier this year. She came to visit us this summer and brought this book with her from London. I had vaguely heard of the book, but never read it.
Apparently it is a well known satirical comedy, and has been adapted many times for the stage and radio. I read the introduction with great interest, becoming rather intrigued by the book and the author’s background. The book is essentially a parody of the romantic rural novel popular at the time (eg novels by D.H. Lawrence).

The story follows sensible young Flora Poste, who, having lost both her parents at the age of 19, decides to go live with relatives. But not just any relatives – she tries her best to figure out which set of relatives could most use “improving”, as she loves nothing better than fixing others’ lives. With the inhabitants of Cold Comfort Farm she has found the mother lode of people needing all sorts of lifestyle advice!

Cold Comfort Farm has been dominated for years by reclusive Aunt Ada, who stays in her room but nevertheless manages to keep everyone on the farm under her thumb by constantly reminding them of her childhood trauma: “I saw something nasty in the
woodshed”. With the arrival of Flora, events are set in motion that will soon change the balance of power. With gusto she sets about improving just about anyone she can get her hands on, with wafts of “What Not to Wear”-style good intentioned and practical advice left and right. No stone is left unturned and she even applies herself to improving the life of the farm’s bull, Big Business.

An enjoyable read, even though I am sure much of the very British humor went over my head!