Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Henry II and Eleanor and a Manhattan Terrace Garden 20 Floors Up!

Two summers ago (2016) I read Sharon Kay Penman's first novel in her Plantagenet Series--When Christ and the Saints Slept.  I remember it being an enormous chunkster (well over 550 pages) but can't remember its exact length. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite it being a dense read, with loads of characters and tumultuous events, admirably done and engrossing, and I swore I'd read the second novel in the series the next summer.

Although 2017 did not work out, I am now engrossed in Penman's  Time and Chance, which begins with the relatively early part of Henry II's reign and the early years of his marriage to Eleanor. It's a large hardcover, with 512 pages, so I'll be going at it awhile. It will cover the entirety of Henry II's reign, because the third novel in the series covers the exploits of Henry's sons in full detail.

I love medieval English history, and it's fun when it's delivered as an historical novel. Sharon Kay Penman has written another series of books of early royal English history, but frankly I have no idea what the other series are about. I think I'd like to read all her books, BUT just one per year. Some are over 600 pages, and I don't think I read books fast enough to conquer more than one annually.

In addition I am adoring Susan Brownmiller's My City High-Rise Garden, which was published in 2017, when Brownmiller was 80 years of age. Here's a wonderful interview with her about the book. (I know, she does not look that old. It's probably the garden fitness training.) It's about her 35-year love affair with gardening on a terrace 20 flights up in a Manhattan apartment building. Such brutal weather conditions (Think the winds! And think about the fact that New York City is the windiest city, not Chicago!), the soil perpetually dry because of the winds, the loading and unloading of huge bags of soil and manure at such a site, the search for super-hardy stems and vines, etc. 

You will enjoy this book if you love to read about other people's gardening challenges, mishaps, disasters (oh--she has some beauts and yet she overcomes), and adventures. Believe me, you do not have to be a city dweller to appreciate and love this slim book. Brownmiller experimented with birch trees  and incredibly productive dwarf peach trees dripping with ripe fruit in August, perennials of all stripes, annuals, and loads of bushes of all sorts, not to mention boston ivy and climbing roses up the brick-face of the building. Fascinating  reading. Oh! And climbing clematis--how did she do it? 
For those who don't know Brownmiller, she was a prime leader of the second-wave feminist movement in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. She has written lots of books about this topic, BUT sorry, you will find no feminism in this gardening book. Oops! Well, maybe a wee bit!


  1. I absolutely love Sharon Kay Penman's books--after reading a couple out of order, I decided to start at the beginning. Next up for me is Devil's Brood, which I want to read this year. I didn't do it last year, and I don't want to wait too long. They are chunksters, but worth every minute! My favorite character is Ranulf :)

    1. Hi Jane,
      I'm so delighted to find another Penman fan! And, Devil's Brood--I will have to look that one up.
      I am in whole-hearted agreement that Ranulf is also my favorite character. All through When Christ and the Saints Slept, I lived in terror of his being impaled by some ungodly instrument of medieval warfare, and now, here I am again, fearing the same. I think Ranulf really adds a wholly human and humane element to the series.

  2. Thanks for the link to Brownmiller, I hadn't heard of her - but what a wonderful woman, and I can't believe her age.

    1. Each chapter was thrilling--She writes so well that I could picture every scene so clearly. It (almost) made me wish I had a terrace garden in NYC.