Saturday, December 7, 2019

Review: Death in Saint-Chartier by Ivo Fornesa

Synopsis: Seeking a quiet spot to write his memoirs, Laurent de Rodergues secludes himself in Saint-Chartier, a village in the heart of France. Yet his tranquil life is soon disturbed by Carlos, an eccentric millionaire determined to give the town's medieval chateau a costly and controversial makeover. When the chateau is unveiled after months of anticipation, the whole town turns out to gaze in wonder - only to find their host lying dead in a pool of blood. 

Laurent suspects foul play, and when the gendarmes find nothing, he makes it his mission to unmask the murderer. But where to begin? From jilted lovers to jealous rivals, disgruntled employees to shadowy associates practically everyone had a reason to want Carlos dead. As Laurent quickly learns, beneath its idyllic facade, the town of Saint-Chartier is rife with resentment and secret passions.

Laurent de Rodrigues returns to the village of his youth looking for peace and quite. Laurent plans on writing his memoirs, however procrastination and writers' block see the budding author exploring his local village. Dominating the small village is the Chateau de Saint-Chartier. And here elements of real-life intrude into our fictional story.

From 1974 to 2008, the castle had hosted the festival of Saint-Chartier, called the International Meeting of Luthiers and Master-Ringers. This festival, hosted in the park of the castle as well as in the whole village, featured concerts, balls and various activities. It took place every year for 4 days around Bastille Day. 

Following the change of ownership, the festival moved to the Castle of Ars and the restoration of the Chateau began in 2009, a fire in the mid 19th century destroyed part of it. Much of the reconstruction work in the novel is based upon these past works. 

The village of Saint-Chartier itself is quite isolated, the nearest railway station is indeed that of Chateauroux, some 30km away, and its population managed to barely creep above 500 in 2016. The are is noted for both milk production and the production of cheese.

As Laurent settles back into village life, we meet not only the locals, but the one man who has raised a number of hackles - millionaire Carlos Shennan. Carlos himself is a rather shady character whose background and business dealings raise more questions than are answered. His renovations have caused a bit of a stir in the village - though Laurent himself views both these and Carlos as rather refreshing. In a show of communal conviviality, Carlos opens the doors to the recently renovated Chateau and treats the locals to wine, music, and a feast.

When the death of the current own of the Chateau, Carlos Shennan is ruled as suicide, this leaves a bad taste in the mouth of our amateur detective. Laurent de Rodrigues, who, though still regarded as somewhat of a newcomer, decides that there is more to this death and begins his own investigation some many months later. "... nothing gives you a new perspective on things like a bit of distance .."

As Laurent investigates, there is more to each of his list of suspects than meets the eye; and as he reaches his conclusions, self-doubt enters. The final build up to the denouement is palpable - and we are left with a perplexing solution (no spoiler alert here).

The chapters are short yet richly detailed. I really enjoyed this mystery which loses nothing in the translation (originally published in Spanish). I loved how the author's own life is as every bit exciting as the one he has given his protagonist, and the added authenticity of real location and events makes it all the more intriguing. I am looking forward to more from this author.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny

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Making Sense of the Molly Maguires

Twenty Irish immigrants, suspected of comprising a secret terrorist organization called the Molly Maguires, were executed in Pennsylvania in the 1870s for the murder of sixteen men. Ever since, there has been enormous disagreement over who the Molly Maguires were, what they did, and why they did it, as virtually everything we now know about the Molly Maguires is based on hostile descriptions of their contemporaries.

Arguing that such sources are inadequate to serve as the basis for a factual narrative, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires examines the ideology behind contemporary evidence to explain how and why a particular meaning came to be associated with the Molly Maguires in Ireland and Pennsylvania. At the same time, this work examines new archival evidence from Ireland that establishes that the American Molly Maguires were a rare transatlantic strand of the violent protest endemic in the Irish countryside.

Combining social and cultural history, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires offers a new explanation of who the Molly Maguires were, as well as why people wrote and believed such curious things about them. In the process, it vividly retells one of the classic stories of American labour and immigration.

Moderate Radical by Rosamund Oates

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Moderate Radical

Moderate Radical explores an exciting period of English, and British, history: Elizabethan and Early Stuart religious politics. Tobie Matthew (c. 1544-1628) started Elizabeth's reign as a religious radical, yet ended up running the English Church during the tumultuous years leading up to the British Civil Wars. Moderate Radical provides a new perspective on this period, and an insight into the power of conforming puritanism as a political and cultural force. Matthew's vision of conformity and godly magistracy brought many puritans into the Church, but also furnished them with a justification for rebellion when the puritanism was seriously threatened. Through exciting new sources - Matthew's annotations of his extensive library and newly discovered sermons - Rosamund Oates explores the guiding principles of puritanism in the period and explains why the godly promoted the national church, even when it seemed corrupt. She demonstrates how Matthew protected puritans, but his protection meant that there was a rich seam of dissent at the heart of the Church that emerged when the godly found themselves under attack in the 1620s and 1630s.

This is a story about accommodations, conformity and government, as well as a biography of a leading figure in the Church, who struggled to come to terms with his own son's Catholicism and the disappointments of his family. Moderate Radical makes an important contribution to the emerging field of sermon studies, exploring the rich cultures derived from sermons as well as re-creating some of the drama of Matthew's preaching. It offers a new insight into tensions of the pre-Civil War Church.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bryan Dobson to launch new book on the history of Leitrim

Bryan Dobson to launch new book on the history of Leitrim
From Leitrim Observer
A wonderful new book on the history of Leitrim will be launched by Bryan Dobson, of the Dobson family, Mohill and of course one of RTE’s best known and most popular broadcasters on Friday, December 6 at 6.30pm, in Áras an Chontae, the County Council Offices in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The book is the first such book on the history of Leitrim. It contains thirty-five chapters covering much of the hidden history of Leitrim from the earliest times right up to this decade. The book is edited by local editors, Monsignor Liam Kelly and historian Dr Brendan Scott who lives in Ballinaglera.

The Book called, ‘Leitrim: History and Society’, is the most recent county history of twenty-seven county histories published over the years since 1985, which started with Tipperary. This wonderful project of county histories is the brainchild of the general editor of the series, Professor William Nolan of UCD.

read more here @ Leitrim Observer

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Review: Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen by Samantha Wilcoxson

26086754. sy475 Synopsis: She was the mother of Henry VIII and wife of Henry VII, but who was Elizabeth of York? Raised as the precious eldest child of Edward IV, Elizabeth had every reason to expect a bright future until Edward died, and her life fell apart.

When Elizabeth's uncle became Richard III, she was forced to choose sides. Should she trust her father's brother and most loyal supporter or honor the betrothal that her mother has made for her to her family's enemy, Henry Tudor?

The choice was made for her on the field at Bosworth, and Elizabeth the Plantagenet princess became the first Tudor queen. Did Elizabeth find happiness with Henry? And did she ever discover the truth about her missing brothers, who became better known as the Princes in the Tower? Lose yourself in Elizabeth's world in Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen.

I shelved this as "to read" in 2015 on Goodreads and got the opportunity to read it this year.

I'm not a fan - sorry. I don't think I was the target audience - I am thinking this was aimed at a younger reading audience, then again I might be wrong, but that's how it comes off to me. A little to much "fluff" (romance) for me - I like my historical fiction with a bit more edge to it - warts and all. Here, I am presented with - a the start - with a young woman who appears much older than she is - a 4yo (1470) with an adult's perception of events around her - not a good start. The story whisks along - years pass over mere pages; characters walk on and off as if on cue. There was no real attachment to any of them for me. The usual mythologies are given a new light, and whilst some authors take liberties with plot-lines and characters, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. 

I will applaud the author for taking on the person of Elizabeth. Very little is really known about this woman who lived through so much yet remained in the background for a greater part of her life. She was the peace-weaver between the Lancastrians and Yorkists; she was the sister and mother of kings; but she had no political role in her husband's reign - except for that of wife and mother.

I have no interest in pursuing the rest of the books in this series. Just doesn't fit in with what I am looking for in my historical fiction - I will probably tackle something a little more in the realm of non-fiction. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Map of Scottish Witches

logoMap of places of residence for accused Witches from the University of Edinburgh

The Data and Visualisation internship project at the University of Edinburgh had as its core aim to geographically locate and visualise the different locations recorded within the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database.

You can read an excellent summary of the project to date on Anne-Marie Scott's blog here: Some witchy history and a very smart woman in data science

Monday, November 25, 2019

Tausret by Richard H. Wilkinson

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One of only a few women who ruled ancient Egypt as a king during its thousands of years of history, Tausret was the last pharaoh of the 19th dynasty (c. 1200 BCE), the last ruling descendent of Ramesses the Great, and one of only two female monarchs buried in Egypt's renowned Valley of the Kings. Though mentioned even in Homer as the pharaoh of Egypt who interacted with Helen at the time of the Trojan War, she has long remained a figure shrouded in mystery, hardly known even by many Egyptologists. Nevertheless, recent archaeological discoveries have illuminated Tausret's importance, her accomplishments, and the extent of her influence. 

Tausret: Forgotten Queen & Pharaoh of Egypt combines distinguished scholars whose research and excavations have increased our understanding of the life and reign of this great woman. This lavishly illustrated book utilizes recent discoveries to correctly position Tausret alongside famous ruling queens such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra, figures who have long dominated our view of the female monarchs of ancient Egypt. Tausret brings together archaeological, historical, women's studies, and other approaches to provide a scholarly yet accessible volume that will be an important contribution to the literature of Egyptology — and one with appeal to both scholars and anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt culture.

A Byzantine Government in Exile by Michael Angold

Front CoverA Byzantine Government in Exile Government and Society under the Laskarids of Nicaea (1204-1261)

The Empire of Nicaea was a successor state to the Byzantine Empire, or rather a Byzantine Empire in exile lasting from 1204 to 1261 CE. The Empire of Nicaea was founded in the aftermath of the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and the establishment there of the crusader-run Latin Empire in 1204 CE and was ruled by the Laskarid Dynasty. When the forces of Michael VIII Palaiologos recaptured Constantinople in 1261 CE, the Empire of Nicaea, an empire in exile no more, effectively became the Byzantine Empire once again, until it ultimately fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 CE.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Review: Far Away Bird by Douglas A Burton

48381373Synopsis: Inspired by true events, Far Away Bird delves into the complex mind of Byzantine Empress Theodora. This intimate account deftly follows her rise from actress-prostitute in Constantinople's red-light district to the throne of the Byzantine Empire. Her salacious past has left historians blushing and uncomfortable. Tales of her shamelessness have survived for centuries, and yet her accomplishments as an empress are unparalleled. Before there was a legendary empress, there was a conflicted young woman from the lower classes. And her name was Theodora

Burton seduces the reader as Theodora seduces all around her. This is a powerful, evocative narrative, that draws you into the human rather than mythical aspect of the "notorious" Theodora from her early childhood to her return to Constantinople. It is as though Burton is channeling his subject as her life dances across the pages before you, the reader. You are drawn into her life as if walking side by side, her contemporary, her ethereal other self - her far away bird.

More on Theodora