Book Review: Katherine by Anya Seton

Book 95

Katherine

This classic novel tells the most romantic love story in British history – the true tale of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of much of the British Royal family.  It is set in the vibrant 14th century England of Chaucer when magnificent pageantry was confronted by the Black Death, when knights went to battle in expensive foreign wars while peasants struggled to survive, and when the magnificent but despotic Plantagenets – Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II  – ruled over a court rotten with intrigue.  In this era of dangers and passion, John of Gaunt, the king’s son and the proudest of the Plantagenets, fought for power and fell desperately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented romance persisted through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness and redemption.

I am a self-confessed sucker for a love story so this book would have had to be pretty bad for me not to love it.  However this book is so much more than a love story and so much more than a piece of historical fiction as well.  The book spans the life of Katherine Swynford from when she was 15 to just before her death, so as you can imagine there is a lot of storyline packed in there.  I don’t know a lot about 14th century England so all the events could have been made up and I wouldn’t have been any the wiser, but apparently Anya Seton thoroughly researched everything: all the events portrayed happened, the characters all existed and everything was in the correct chronological order.  All Anya Seton did was interpret the various events in her own way and create the dialogue to bring the story to life.  When you read this book it’s hard to believe that this is true, the events of the book  seem so cliché in a way.  But this is a great story and the fact that the relationship between Katherine and John of Gaunt produced many of the future kings and queens of England just adds to the appeal to learn more about this era.

What I liked about this book:  The whole story is so detailed and rich throughout yet it never drags at all.  The descriptions of each scene and the people in them transported me there to medieval England.  Katherine is only 15 at the beginning of the story and her naivety and innocence is portrayed well through the text.  As she grows older you gain a sense of her experience seeping through as her view of the world changes.  A lot happens in the book but I never felt confused and I could always recall what had happened previously whilst I was reading.

What I didn’t like about this book:  My only fault with the book is the language sometimes.  In a way it makes it more authentic using terms from the age, but as these terms are not familiar now and as a lot of them are in French it can at times cause confusion.  Sometimes the characters would speak in French, just a line or two, but there would be no translation so you would have to use the context of the scene to interpret it.  I think this does add to the book, but also takes away a little at the same time.

It is beautifully written and is such a compelling story that you cannot put it down.  I cannot verify how accurate the story is but from what I understand it is as accurate as you can get.  I really enjoyed this book; I had feared that a nearly 600 page book about medieval England would not excite me but I was happily proved wrong.  I would recommend this anyone who loves a good romance but also wants something to sink their teeth into.

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Book Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

Book 83

HolesStanley Yelnats’ family has a history of bad luck, so he isn’t too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys’ juvenile detention centre. At Camp Green Lake the boys must dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the dried up lake bed.  The Warden claims the labour is character building, but it is a lie.  Stanley must dig up the truth.

I really enjoyed this book; it is very easy to read for many reasons.  The language is simple, yet descriptive enough for you to get a real sense of the environment Camp Green Lake is set in.  The book isn’t overly long and the story flows nicely from beginning to end.  It is really several stories in one; the story of Stanley and the events that occur at Camp Green Lake, Stanley’s family history concerning his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather and the story of Kissin’ Kate Barlow.  As the story develops you get tit bits of information building up to the bigger picture.  The story moves from present to past and back again but it is never confusing and there isn’t too much background information on characters or past events that are not crucial to the storyline.  All in all the perfect recipe for a children’s book, easy to follow with enough twists and turns to keep you interested.

What I liked about this book:  The protagonist Stanley Yelnats and especially his acceptance of his lot: being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and being sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake.  He took it like a man is the phrase that comes to mind, but I think the sad truth is that Stanley’s life wasn’t much better before he entered Camp Green Lake so he hardly had room for complaint on his change in circumstances.  But still he saw the experience for what it was: an opportunity to change himself and maybe the path his life was following.

What I didn’t like about this book: I don’t know if there is really anything you can say against this book.  Maybe it would have been nice to have a little more background information on some of the other characters in the story but that is not integral to the storyline.  You don’t need to know why the other boys are at Camp Green Lake but it would have perhaps gave the storyline a little more depth.  But this is a very small critique, I’m just picking holes really (no pun intended).

This is a great read and I can see why it is so popular.  There are several plot twists that you might not see coming if you try not to think too hard and just enjoy the book.  Perfect for a long train journey or a quiet afternoon with a good book.

Feelings of abandonment?

Hi everyone

I had been a bad blogger lately; after getting three reviews out in quick succession I haven’t blogged anything else.  I did have a bit of a cold which is why you haven’t heard from me but I still feel I have abandoned you guys a bit.  I have one review to get out for Katherine by Anya Seton and I am doggedly trying to finish On The Road at the moment (I seriously dislike this book).  Unfortunately I won’t be able to blog again for a while as I am having an operation on my eyes on Friday so there will be no reading or writing for a few weeks.  I don’t know how I will survive: no TV (or DVD’s), computer, books or cinema for at least two weeks.  I’m sure I will go out of my mind.  So you will won’t hear from me again until June (if I survive) although I will try to get my Katherine review out today or tomorrow.

Hope you all have a good Jubilee bank holiday!

Jennie