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Posts Tagged ‘historical fiction’

Coming to the end of another year, and I’ve recently finished the last book I’ll finish this year, my 105th of 2021. I do have other books I’ll continue reading, but I won’t finish any more before New Year. So time for my annual recap of reading!

This year I finished 105 titles, accounting for just over 25,000 pages reading in total. For the full list see my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge page, which the following image shows part of:

picture showing some of the covers from my Goodreads 2021 reading challenge page

I am astonished and delighted that I managed to read so much. This year was if anything even harder for me neurologically than last year when I also read in adversity. I have had 3 Covid vaccines already this year, with a 4th to come just before the New Year (I needed an extra 3rd primary one in September because I am severely immunosuppressed, so had a very poor vaccine response to vaccines 1&2). Each Covid vaccine pushed my auto immune neurological disease to flare badly, with dramatically increased neurological symptoms, taking up to 3 months to recover from each time.

But I kept reading, primarily with my Kindle and an utterly gigantic Ladybird book style font. Rereads were a major element for me this year, with 23 books, including ones by JRR Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll and Agatha Christie. I think I was often wanting to turn to books that I knew I’d enjoy, that were a guaranteed good read for me.

The main category of fiction I read, yet again, was fantasy, but I also read hefty amounts of sci-fi, children’s books and crime. Non fiction was a major component of my reading as well though, with 33 titles, including many ranging over travel and medical issues. Inspired by recent events I also read books by black authors, either fiction or non fiction about black lives matter issues.

There were a number of highlights for me in this year’s reading. and I’d like to single out a few. Firstly, after a very protracted read, I finished the Alan Garner tribute book First Light. This was utterly delightful, a wide ranging engagement by numerous writers musing on topics related to his life and works. Alan Garner is one of my favourite authors.

Another highlight, and one that I wrote a blog post here about, was reading the fictional account Rose Nicolson of the young life of my direct ancestor William Fowler, 16th/17th century Scottish poet, spy and secretary to the Queen. Yes it was very much fiction, but it brought his story to light in a marvellous way. Thank you again Andrew Greig.

Another joy has been discovering William Corlett’s Magician’s House series of children’s books. I am part way through reading these. They were released when I was at university, and though I saw the TV series then I didn’t read the books. Children’s fiction in a classic fantasy vein. I still have a couple more of the books to enjoy reading.

For a slower pace of life I’d like to recommend Michael Williams’s pair of On The Slow Train books (the original and its sequel), which are a marvellous mix of railway history, travelogue and social observation. For someone like me who has been almost entirely trapped at home this year this has been a marvellous glimpse outside my four walls.

And for my last recommendation of this year I’d like to mention Neil Thomas’s Retro Tea Breaks collection of interviews with computing and gaming pioneers. This was a lovely thing to work through, and I recommend it hugely to anyone else interested in computing and gaming history, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. I wrote a full review of it.

I’m not sure if I will manage to read so many books next year! But I look forward to another year of reading ahead, whatever.

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I recently started reading this novel by Scottish writer Andrew Greig. Set in late 16th century Scotland, it is written in the words of William Fowler, student, poet, and later secretary to Anne of Denmark, Queen of King James VI and I. William Fowler also happens to be my 12xg-grandfather, and someone whose family history I have researched extensively, beyond that published to date.

Reading a good Scottish historical fiction book is always exciting for me. Reading one supposedly written in the words of my ancestor is a step beyond! Early on in the book Fowler starts as a young undergraduate student at St Andrews University, something I would do myself over 400 years later.

Fowler’s family history in the book is problematic for me, with an invented older sister, as well as elimination of at least two surviving Fowler brothers. I have to cut the author some slack though. He is after all writing a work of fiction, and needs to make sensible choices for the story he is telling.

I also have some doubts re the St Andrews sections. A memorable early scene in the book sees young Fowler buying a fluffy red student gown. Historians know St Andrews students were wearing gowns then. But the colour red may have been introduced later. Of course it is the modern colour, that of my own fluffy St Andrews gown, and my husband’s (we met as undergraduates at St Andrews).

However the late 16th century setting is gripping, the characterisations and descriptions strong, and I am finding the book a briskly written real page turner. Even if I do need to switch off my genealogist side a bit! I am looking forward to reading the rest of it over the coming weeks.

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