From the Keeper Shelf – 5

What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin

We’re going back to historical fiction today with What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin. Once upon a time, I used to discover new books and new authors by browsing at a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. I really did pick books by their covers, or at least I’d pick them up for the first time because of their covers. This trade paperback has a beautiful cover. It won the Commonwealth Prize in 2000 and was prominently displayed in the store at that time. The  quote from the NYT Book Review is on the back cover of this edition: “A sumptuous tour of [India}, that rich and poor and calm and chaotic country.”

“Sumptuous”. Sold!

And I wasn’t disappointed. Far from it. This is a glorious book. It’s a story of a man taking a second wife in the hope of gaining an heir, and the change in dynamics within his household. It tells of the new bride’s expectations and the existing wife’s struggle to accept the change. At the same time, the greater picture in India is one of political change and religious conflict. This is a layered story, rich with historical detail, teeming with strong characterizations and conflict. It’s so beguiling that it pulls you right into the story – I just looked for a pull-out quote and ended up reading for half an hour. The author’s voice is wonderful.

If you’ve never read Shauna Singh Baldwin’s work, give this book a try.

Edited to add: I wrote this post a few weeks ago when I was queuing up books in this series of blog posts about my keeper shelf. Recent events and initiatives made me realize that my keeper bookshelf needs more diverse voices. I’ll let you know what I discover to add to my shelf in the upcoming months in case you, too, want to hear some different voices.

Here’s the book at

Here’s the book on Goodreads.

Here’s the author’s website.

From the Keeper Shelf – 2

I warned you that my keeper shelf is very jumbled and here’s the proof of it. The second book in the front row of the top shelf is a completely different genre than yesterday’s book.

The Other Bolyn Girl by Philippa GregoryToday, I’ll talk about The Other Bolyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I have the Harper edition from 2011, which has the actresses from the movie version on the cover.

This is historical fiction and a big chewy read. It’s written in first person, which gives an immediacy to the story, and is about Anne Bolyn’s sister, Mary. What I love about Philippa Gregory’s books is that she obviously does a lot of research but she has a gift for leavening it with action and dialogue. Her books take me a while to read because there are always many characters and points of view, but I feel as if I’m right there with the characters. There’s a lot of fiction and non-fiction about Anne, so I enjoyed the fictionalization of her sister’s story. It’s always intriguing to see how a writer picks through the documentation that exists about an historical person and puts together a compelling story.

This work was also made into a movie but I haven’t seen it. I do tend to watch Michael Hirst’s mini-series The Tudors whenever I re-read this book. The pageantry is glorious in that production and it echoes what is described in the book.

Here’s the book on Goodreads and here it is on

Here’s Philippa Gregory’s website.

Recent Movies

We’ve watched some interesting movies lately, so I thought I’d share as much with you. Maybe you haven’t seen these ones.

Byron – this was a lovely period piece by the BBC. I think it was made originally for television as it is in two episodes. As always with the BBC, the period details are exquisite. It’s a biography of Byron, the poet who was said to be “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Here’s his bio on Wiki. The interesting thing about Byron is that his life is essentially the inspiration for every Regency romance you’ve ever read – he’s the dangerous rake, but he marries the sweet intellectual who adores him to bits. (He called his wife Anne Isabella Millbank “the princess of parallelograms”.) The difference in this Regency romance is that in real life, there was no HEA. Their marriage worked out very badly – her goodness, according to Byron, didn’t make him better but made him worse. A bit of a sad piece, but interesting all the same.

Bright Star – another story of another poet, another period piece. This one was directed by Jane Campion and is the story of John Keats, the romantic poet who died so very young. He died at 25, believing himself to be a failure. What’s interesting is how much of his poetry is familiar – some of it is recited in the film and though I’ve never studied 19th c English poets or read Keats (to my recollection) I knew lines of his work. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Here’s the Wiki on the movie. It was quite beautifully filmed and very evocative of the period. I really enjoyed it, although (again) it wasn’t particularly upbeat.

Woman in Black – another dark little story. This one is a ghost story set in (presumably) the Victorian era in what looks like Northumberland. It’s shot in colour but very close to black and white, and is quite atmospheric. Daniel Radcliffe stars in this one, having made an escape from the Harry Potter movies, and he does a very good job. Here’s the Wiki on the movie. The movie is based upon a book written by Susan Hill – and here’s another good way to find new authors. I’ve ordered a couple of her books to read as a result of seeing this movie.

How about you? Have you watched any interesting movies lately?

Another Interesting Book

A while ago, I saw the movie Anonymous. If you haven’t seen it, it’s either historical fiction or historical speculation – the idea is that somebody else wrote Shakespeare’s plays, specifically a nobleman named Edward de Vere. The movie told his story. It was beautifully photographed and very evocative of Elizabethan England. The chronology of the story was a bit convoluted though, so we watched it twice. (This is the advantage of waiting for a movie to be available for rent, rather than going to the movie theater!) Overall, I liked it and was intrigued by its hypothesis.

A few weeks ago, I spotted a book called “SHAKESPEARE” BY ANOTHER NAME: THE LIFE OF EDWARD DE VERE, EARL OF OXFORD, THE MAN WHO WAS SHAKESPEARE by Mark Anderson. (This is the advantage of having bricks and mortar bookstores to browse through – you can find books you didn’t know existed and synchronicity gets a little more room to play.) It’s a really interesting book. Again, it follows the life of de Vere and builds a case for him being the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. There’s no hard evidence but so many coincidences and connections that you have to wonder. I’m not an expert in this area – I’ve read Shakespeare’s plays and seen many productions, but he’s too late for me as a medievalist to know much about him and his world beyond that – but I find this book and its theory very compelling. This idea of de Vere being the actual playright was apparently  suggested a long time ago. Probably there are dozens of papers by Shakespearean scholars arguing in favour of it and against it – maybe I’ll look them up when I’m done. Right now, I’m enjoying the book and the glimpse of de Vere’s life in Elizabethan England.

What about you? Have you read any non-fiction lately that’s made you rethink your assumptions?