Reading plans

Sample Sunday: History Under The Spotlight

Collage of covers of books by C J Sansom, Sharon Penman and Vita Sackville-West

I’m now in the second half of the alphabet in my trawl through the shelves of my unread books, I’ve reached authors whose surnames all start with the letter O.

Let’s see whether these are books I want to keep or move along to a more receptive home.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom

I’ve enjoyed Sansom’s crime fiction series set in Tudor England which features the lawyer Matthew Shardlake but was less enthusiastic about his stand alone novel Dominion. Winter in Madrid is a historical fiction novel set in Madrid in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. The main character is a wounded British soldier recruited by the British Secret Service to make contact with a shady Madrid-based British businessman who claims to have discovered gold. The setting and period hold some appeal but I don’t think I’m interested enough to want to read 500 plus pages of a spy story.

The Verdict: Time to set this free

Lionheart by Sharon Penman

Another chunkster, this one from a much earlier period in history. In Lionheart, Sharon Penman delves into the life of Richard 1, the great warrior king who went off on a campaign to regain the Holy Land pretty much as soon as he took the throne. While he was away, his brother John schemed to take his throne. Penman”s novel The Sonne in Splendour and her Welsh Princes trilogy were favourites of mine in the late 80s but I haven’t picked up any of her books for several years. This novel seems a very detailed account. It’s 600 pages and even then doesn’t cover all of Richard’s life — there’s a follow up which completes the story — so the question is whether I am so keen to learn about Richard that I’ll be up for reading 1000 pages about him. The answer is no.

The Verdict: Another one to set free

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West

The Edwardians looks back to 1905, when Sebastian – young, handsome, charming, intelligent – is heir to a centuries-old English country estate. He knows what will be expected of him when he comes into his inheritance but he’s not sure that’s he part he wants to play. Personal freedom comes to mean more to him than status, privilege and wealth.

I’ve read only one by Sackville-West — All Passion Spent — and loved her empathetic portrayal of her main character and her witty and perceptive exposure of less desirable characters. So I have high hopes for The Edwardians.

The Verdict: Keep

So that’s two down, one to remain. I’m slowly making inroads into the TBR. So far this year I’ve given away 28 books unread, a figure massively outweighed by the 60 plus books that have somehow managed to find their way into the house. I can’t think how that happens….

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read.What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

13 thoughts on “Sample Sunday: History Under The Spotlight

  • I would definitely get of the first two and depending on the mood as to whether to keep the Vita Sackville West though I’m sure the writing is good.

  • I have to agree. Of the three, only The Edwardians sounds like something I’d read. I’ve always wanted to read something by her, as well…

  • I’ve not read any of these, but suspect you have made good choices

  • Glad you’re keeping The Edwardians, it’s excellent!

    • That’s good news Simon. Thinking of taking this away with me for our family get together. I need something completely absorbing

  • I also have Lionheart on the TBR but will be keeping it as I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Sharon Penman. I’m not sure about Winter in Madrid – I enjoyed the Shardlake books, but that one sounds less appealing to me.

    • I didn’t realise until last week that she died earlier this year. I sill have my very old copies of the Welsh princes books

  • I would have done the same as you here – the Vita would be a definite keeper, but I’m not drawn to Sansom because of what I’ve read about Dominion.

  • It’s a while since I’ve read Winter in Madrid, but I agree, despite my interest in Spain at that time. The rest I haven’t read. But what a good idea yours is!


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