I consider myself an avid reader. I keep a number of books open and usually read them late into the evening before bedtime. I have friends who've switched to kindle books on a computer screen, but it's my long established habit and a great pleasure to buy a real, printed manuscript, open the cover and begin reading.
Lately I've taken to historical fiction with a passion. It's a joy for me to imagine myself alive in different eras and follow stories I've read about from history with the nuances of personal behavior and relationships between the characters, side stories and inventions that the incredible authors of these books have researched and added to the narrative. I began by reading the exciting books of 'The Crusades Trilogy', by Jan Guilou, a Swedish journalist who has written 3 extraordinary tomes about the Knights Templar. I cannot recommend these 3 books highly enough. They were fascinating to me and lit up my imagination. I still lull myself to sleep with episodes from them. The great Sultan Saladin comes to life in these stories that highlight the Muslim-Christian conflict over Jerusalem during the crusades. This epoch -and these stories- are the basis for the wonderful Orlando Bloom film, "Kingdom of Heaven".
Then there is the 'Lions & Devils' trilogy by Jason Born that tells the tale of the final defeat of Visigothic Spain at the hands of the African Moors and their Arab overlords in the 8th century which led to 700 years of Moorish rule of the Iberian peninsula. Tragic and at times terrifyingly brutal, the trilogy provided a more intimate and personal look at a pivotal era in Spanish history. Thoroughly fascinating!
The English are particularly apt at historical fiction and there are various authors who research and write about different periods with a plethora of books based in the period when Henry the 8th was king and the famous women in his life. Am currently reading 'The Spanish Bride' by Laurien Gardner which details the relationship of Katherine of Aragon and the English princes. Ann Swinfen, an English author who traces her ancestry back before the 16th century on the island, writes delightful books full of mystery and love for England, many invented stories set in Oxford and the countryside. Recently read her mystery, 'The Stonemason's Tale'.
The European period that most intrigues me is the last half of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th. It is the beginning of the renaissance in Italy (and Florence in particular), the 'Reconquista' in Spain and the reign of Henry 8th in England. C.W. Gortner has written 2 particularly amazing books. The first, 'The Last Queen' is about Spanish Queen Juana, daughter of Fernando and Isabella, immortalized in history as 'Juana la Loca'. In it he is surprisingly sympathetic to her and makes the argument that she actually saved the Spanish monarchy and led the way for her son the Emperor Charles the 5th to reign during Spain's vaunted 'Golden Era'. Gortner also wrote, 'The Queen's Vow', the story of 'Isabella la Catolica', mother to Juana and reigning Queen during the final events of the 'Reconquista'. She was wife and partner to Ferdinand of Aragon and patron of Christopher Columbus. Also written from an iconoclast's perspective this is a marvelous book for students of Spanish history.
Another book of historical fiction I adore, based in the same era is Paul Strathern's, 'The Artist, the Philosopher and the Warrior", a tale about Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Da Vinci, all living in Florence at the same time at the turn of the 16th century. I read this book just before travelling to Florence and was spellbound by the intense rivalries, jealousies and passions of these three. Viewing Michelangelo's David at the Galleria del'Accademia in Florence it was all rendered more fascinating having read the account of what it took him to sculpt it. The book brings to life the Medici's, the Borgias, the Popes of the time and the dealings of the Florentine Signoria (legislative council). Strathern is an expert on the Medici's, a fascinating obsession for me and the key to understanding the renaissance.
Jason Born, truly a multifaceted author, also has a series of books under the rubric of 'The Long Fuse' which tell the tales of the French Indian Wars in the 1750's in the northeastern U.S. before the revolution with breathtaking tales of Coronel George Washington and other heroes of that conflict. They are brutal and at times too much to take, but deeply instructive with extraordinarily detailed accounts.
Just completed 'The Darwin Affair' by Tim Mason. A gruesome mystery set in London in the late 1850's. It's a mystery based on a character out of a Dickens novel that includes references to Darwin, of course , as well as involving Queen Victoria, Prince Consort Albert and even Karl Marx in the plot. Incredibly delicious!!!
Hope some of you reading this have been inspired by these book listings. I could go on, but for now simply wish to thank my readers and hope this has been instructive and entertaining for those who love to read.