As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I spend much of my commuting time listening to audio books and out of the few I’ve enjoyed recently there were two absolute stand outs.
Anarchy (#3 Making of England) – Stewart Binns
I did not realise this was part of a series nor did I know Stewart Binns’ name but will certainly be pursuing more. Each of the novels in the Making of England stands alone perfectly well which makes it easier to pick up at any time.
This third in the series recounts the 12th century period in England, known as The Anarchy, when the country fell into disarray after the death of Henry 1. Empress Matilda, named as heir by her father Henry was usurped by her cousin Stephen, leading to bloody civil war, poverty and even further degradation for the common people.
Narrated by the period’s most famous letter writer, Gilbert Foliot, the saga is told from the point of view of one Harold of Hereford – a knight of distinction who rose from the ranks of the common people to become a Knight of Venice, a founder of the Knights Templar and the defacto husband and champion of Empress Matilda known as Maude.
The prologue reveals that much of the Robin Hood legend has been based on adventures and experiences of Harold.
The action was fast-paced, gripping, graphic at times and thoroughly engaging. Fifteen hours of listening and I never found it dull, and there were several times when I winced and thought ‘nasty’ at descriptions of torturous deaths.
This is a period of history which I know not much about so this historical fiction focusing on many real life characters and events was a great overall view of this time and its’ people.
A Half-forgotten Song – Kathleen Webb
Still in the zone of historical fiction but a completely different period and theme, this novel by Kathleen Webb blends past and present in an intriguing concoction of secrets and lies, murder and mystery, passion and pain.
Zach Gilchrist has a failed marriage and a failing art gallery and a proposed manuscript going nowhere. He is attempting to write a biography of famous 1930s artist Charles Aubrey but wants to breathe new life into the existing factfile. To this end he visits the small coastal village in Dorset where Aubrey used to holiday with his mistress and their two daughters. There he meets Mitzy Hatcher ,now in her 80s, who was a frequent model for Aubrey and a close friend of the oldest Aubrey daughter. Zach begins to get to know Mitzy and also becomes embroiled with other inhabitants of the village. Suddenly appearing sketches from a long-dead Aubrey, a mysterious young female neighbour who invokes a curious sense of recognition in Zach, a Romany refugee, strange midnight sounds and lights combine to provide the reader with a really suspenseful and wholly absorbing plot.
For me the most compelling aspect was the thread of madness in various forms which ran through various characters. Completely and utterly enthralling, this made a welcome departure from my usual choice of historical fiction.
And one fluffier one that was also enjoyable:
Muddy Waters – Judy Astley
Random House eBooks
On a much lighter note, this one was definitely fun and a nice ‘light’ novel with lots of eccentric complications. The main character Stella lives on Pansy Island and is an ‘agony aunt’ for a teen magazine. Her husband writes erotic novels, her teenage children are almost about to leave the nest and her friend Abigail, has been abandoned by her husband.
Abigail reminds me very much of Patsy from Ab Fab – enough said?
Preview the book here