9

A New Favourite: Three Sisters, Three Queens

A few years ago, I got really excited because one of Philippa Gregory’s new books was billed as her first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl.

As you may recall, I loved The Other Bolyen Girl – it was my Philippa Gregory gateway drug. But The Kingmaker’s Daughter, although technically about the Neville sisters, was mostly about men making decisions around women.

In short, I didn’t like it.

I’ve tempered my expectations when it comes to Gregory of late. Most of the time, I take her books out from the library.

But, I think she might be hot again. Because The King’s Curse, The Taming of the Queen and now, Three Sisters, Three Queens were all amazing.

I didn’t post about The Taming of the Queen when I read it but know that Gregory’s depiction of Henry VIII’s clever final wife is excellent. Henry VIII as a stinking, cranky, brute of a man is vividly brought to life as poor Katherine Parr is forced into marriage with him and just wants to survive. I loved it – although finishing the book was bittersweet as you leave Katherine momentarily happy but if you are a student of history, you know she’s headed for a sad ending all the same.

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Three Sisters, Three Queens is mainly about Margaret Tudor, but Gregory weaves Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor (the Dowager Queen of France, not Mary I) into the story as well. This is incredibly effective for a couple of reasons: Katherine’s story has already been told and Mary’s wasn’t that interesting and this allows Gregory to play with the sister dynamics that are so fascinating given their statures and the times they lived in.

I had no idea about Margaret Tudor but now I love her. She was married off to the King of Scotland, James IV when she was barley 14. She was sent to live in Scotland, among a completely foreign court, forced to accept her husband’s many illegitimate children. When her husband was killed (on the orders of her sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon who was acting as regent for Henry VIII), she became regent for their son, James V.

But then she went and married this guy, Archibald (Earl of Angus) and the rest of the Scots were like “right, you forfeited the regency by marrying him so we’re in charge now.” She spent the next 10 years fighting for her right to be regent, fleeing anytime it looked like she was in danger. Her marriage, to a younger man who she had married for love, complicated her ambition as his family was knownto be in the employ of the English, working for personal gain, against Scotland.

Throughout the novel, Margaret and her sisters write each other letters, admonishing each other over matters of state, faith and family, the loss of children, troubles in their marriages, the changing borders. Their sisterhood is complicated by their status as queens, as each fights for her kingdom, her children and her happiness.

When I posted about this book on instagram, I said that it elevated the historical fiction genre. I stand by that. Gregory has written a fast-paced interesting book about women that history pits against each other. Viewed through Gregory’s lens, you see that these women were as much a product of their times as the men they were married to.

PS This one was recently released in paperback!

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12

Late to the Party: Outlander

When it was time to pick the next book I was going to read, it was between Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (it always seems to be a contender, but I haven’t taken the plunge yet – it looks scary) and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. My sister told me I had to read Outlander (it’s her copy I’m reading) and Alena  wisely pointed out that if it’s the same sister that told me to read Fangirl and The Fault in Our Stars then I should probably just read Outlander.

Well Alena, you were right. So I’m in the middle of Outlander. And I’m really unsure about why it took me this long to find my way here.

Scotland had never captured my imagination the way that England had. My fiancé had always wanted to go to Scotland but I’d never felt the pull. Until we went there last year. The trip was a surprise for my birthday and we ended up getting engaged on Calton Hill in Edinburgh under a tartan blanket in the rain. Ever since those 4 incredible days in Edinburgh, Scotland has had a firm grip on my heart. Given the opportunity, both of us would move there in a heartbeat – my fiancé felt like he’d found his spiritual home.

It should come as no surprise then that I’ve been searching out Scottish fiction on the regular. Any excuse to go back. I’ve read Alexander McCall Smith, taken up Ian Rankin, and even tried to get into Kate Atkinson. It was only a matter of time until I found my way to the Outlander series.

I’ve no doubt that I’m the last person on Earth to have read these books so a plot recap is probably not terribly necessary. But just in case there are other Outlander virgins among us, here’s the Cliff Notes version: Claire Beauchamp is second honeymooning in the Highlands with her scholar husband Frank, in 1945. She goes up to collect some wildflowers near a henge in the early morning and is suddenly falling through the Highlands in 1743, nearly raped by an English Dragoon who turns out to be her husband’s six times great grandfather. And then she meets Jamie Fraser, a giant, handsome red-headed Scot who turns out to be the love of her life.

If I had read these books before I met my fiancé, a tall handsome red-headed Jamie, I think I would have passed out when he introduced himself.

I did find the first 200 or so pages kind of hard going – there is so much to set up that it sometimes felt like the story would never get started. But once it did – I have no idea where I am half the time I’m reading. Sometimes I actually look up surprised to find myself here in this time, that’s how absorbing it is. There are battles, a witch hunt, secret marriages, loads of smutty scenes, and so many delicious accents. Gabaldon has created an incredible romance for the ages; Claire and Jamie belong together, despite the separation of time. Jamie Fraser is one of the greatest romantic characters ever. I love him.

The best part about reading Outlander right now of course is that the Starz series is set to start in August and I’m pretty happy that I don’t really have to wait for it.

If you have a minute, watch the actor who plays Jamie Fraser say “sassenach.” It’s awesome.

9

A Saturday Post

I never post on the weekends but I’ve been kind of a slacker in the blog department this week so I thought maybe a weekend post would make it up to you.

The other day I was wondering aloud about why there are so rarely books that are illustrated anymore. If you ever get the right Dickens’ version of anything you will get delightful illustrations. I believe that William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair has them as well – evidently a trend in their time. Adults like pictures too! This topic led me down the rabbit hole of wondering why there aren’t any more novel serializations in newspapers.

Aside from the fact that newspapers almost aren’t even a thing anymore, wouldn’t it be delightful if, among all the stories of explosions, war, deadly storms and bad people, there were fictional stories that lightened the mood? I’d read that.

Then I started reading 44 Scotland Street. Evidently Alexander McCall Smith had the same thoughts a few years ago. 44 Scotland Street was serialized in The Scotsman in Edinburgh and after the fact it was put together in a book and illustrated.

I wonder if I could have used more italics in that last paragraph…

Reading through some of the reviews on Goodreads before I started the book the consensus seemed to be that the book is about nothing. I’m not totally sure that I agree but it is one of those books about everyday life. Kind of the way A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is about everyday things but is one of the best books ever.

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44 Scotland Street introduces us to a variety of characters living in apartments at…yeah, 44 Scotland Street. Pat is on her second gap year, working in a gallery wher she may or may not have found a famous painter’s work. Bruce is Pat’s flatmate, the most narcissistic, arrogant little sh*t you ever did meet – he’s out for himself and there’s nothing better than watching him fail. Domenica MacDonald is the neighbour across the hall, an anthropologist that has lived lives enough for 2 people, she introduces Pat to a whole other side of Edinburgh. And there’s little Bertie, a five-year-old pushed into learning Italian and playing the tenor sax by his overbearing mother, Irene.

I will admit to having a soft spot for anything taking place in Edinburgh or by authors that hail from that particular spot on the planet right now. I was in Edinburgh in the Spring, it’s where I got engaged and if there was any way I could live there for always, I’d do it in a heartbeat. For now I will have to content myself with reading about it. This was the first book by Alexander McCall Smith that I read – I will be following this up with more. Lucky for me there are a lot of titles to choose from! McCall Smith enjoyed the experience of writing this serialization so much that he extended the run and there is now a series about the characters.

This book basically managed to take three things I felt were missing from my literary education – illustrations, serialized fiction, and Edinburgh – and put them all in one book. A library win.