Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte

A novel of "revenge, redemption ... and pastry" by author, Leslie Truffle - who could resist?
Forsaken by her parents and raised by criminals and reprobates, Sasha becomes a world-famous pastry chef at the tender age of seventeen. Entanglement with the disreputable Dasher brothers leads to love, but also to a dangerous addiction.
Sasha is at once an heiress, murderess, and patissiere extraordinaire - she is both heroine and villain - a contradiction from start to finish.  From the warmth of her cell in Wolfftown Gaol, situated in the Tasmanian hinterland, 22yo Sasha regales the reader with tales of her life, her loves, her rise and her ultimate downfall that led to this rather comfortable incarceration awaiting the hangman's noose (1912).  

A slightly off-kilter tale that throws up a cast of wonderfully absurd characters, with all the ingredients for the making of an entertaining story of a woman who refused to be shackled to life's social mores.  A sweet  and salacious read.

Review: The Kingdom of Women

A forgotten society embracing a matrilineal culture, hidden high in the Tibetan mountains. The title was enough to grab my attention and when the opportunity came to read it, I took it.


Essentially, The Kingdom of Women is a book based upon author Choo Wai Hong's journey of discovery of her ancestral roots and her "spiritual home" among the Mosuo.

So lets begin with a little background: author Choo Wai Hong had a high paying legal career in Singapore, which she gave up to embark upon this journey of self discovery. During her travels in China's Yunnan Province, she comes upon the Mosuo and is intrigued by their culture and customs. She is welcomed into the community and decides that she will lay down her roots here and "go native".

Thus Kingdom of Women is a memoir of Choo's times in the Mosuo community, covering a period of approximately seven years. We are introduced to the particular customs of this female dominant society, all the while lamenting at the adoption of modern Chinese cultural practices by the young Mosuo, and what soon may soon by lost to the mists of time.

The author's style is easy and not overly burdensome with clinical details - and her story comes across as part-memoir, part-travelogue. If you are looking for something more akin to an anthropological study of this fascinating culture, then this is not for you.

Further reading:
The Guardian: Is China's Mosuo tribe the world's last matriarchy?
New York Times: Kingdom of Daughters
Societies of Peace: Matriarchal marriage patterns of the Mosuo people of China










The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

There is a widely held belief that in Spain, during the European Middle Ages, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed peacefully and fruitfully under a tolerant and enlightened Islamic hegemony. Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University in the US, with a PhD from Harvard, has written a stunning book that upends this myth.

The myth itself has been a comforting and even inspiring story that has underpinned the so-called Toledo Principles regarding religious tolerance in our time. It has buttressed the belief that Islam was a higher civilisation than that of medieval Europe in the eighth to 12th centuries and that the destruction of this enlightened and sophisticated Andalusia should be lamented.

The myth of Andalusia has been based on neglect of primary sources and selective adulation of worldly Muslim rulers, as if they were representative of the clerical ulema and Muslim masses. In fact, as Fernandez-Morera shows, both mullahs and masses tended to bigotry and anti-Semitism. There were anti-Semitic pogroms every bit as violent and irrational as those in Christian Europe. And many Christians were expelled from Muslim Spain.

read entire review by Paul Monk @ The Australian

Unique library Remained untouched for 150 years and now goes under the hammer

How could I not re-post this story that was sent to my by my Facebook friend Jean Doorn.
From: De Redactie dot be
An exceptional library of the
18th century by a French intellectual who fled the French Revolution to Bouillon, will be auctioned next week. The library, both books and the furniture was not touched in nearly 200 years. "Utterly unique. It has pulled the door closed behind him, then no one has ever touched those books, "said the master safe. The rich collection of books there are 182 extremely rare.
It is undoubtedly the dream of every book collector: entering an authentic 18th century library from Bouillon where no book was touched in almost two hundred years. It happened to a Belgian expert from the Brussels auction Henri Godts.
The expert came across the unique library when some relatives of the original owner stepped into the Brussels auction house and dropped that they had an untapped library in the south of our country.
What did the expert revealed the life work of a French intellectual who fled to Bouillon during the French Revolution. About who is right, the family should not be disclosed. But most notable: any book that was saw in the library, there was exactly like in the original owner so left. The reason can only guess for now.
And not only the books were still in their original condition, including the furniture such as tables, chairs and seats are at least 150 years old and almost untouched.
The owner of the library apparently had a fondness for geography, ethnography and exoticism, and the auction was held in the library then 182 authentic 18th and 19th century, rare books with exceptional descriptions of countries and regions, peoples and cultures of the most exotic locations.
Expert Godts of the auction was ecstatic about the experience: "The books are all kept in good condition and still look like they are at that time rolled off the press in their original paper cover, "he said.

As Jean commented:
A library and sale with a lot of questions: (1) Why was it not touched for 150-200 years? (2) Why does the family not want to share the name of the French intellectual? (3) What's the relation between family and this intellectual? (4) What's the story behind him/ her? (5) Analysis of collection (6) Which books were (un)read?


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sea Charts of the British Isles

Sea Charts of the British Isles explores, through a series of historic charts, the multitude of sea ports, fishing and commercial harbours, naval bases, dockyards and seaside havens that have supported local life, and defended and imported for the nation.

Travelling along the coastline clockwise from London and the Thames Estuary, the charts range from naive and artistic medieval charts to detailed Victorian surveys. They reveal a wealth of information about the developing understanding of these shores, including the dangers of rocks and tides.

Furthermore, they bring home the changing nature of our coastline. Some reveal place names now lost to the sea, and ports now stranded miles inland owing to the silting of bays and estuaries.

read more here @ Tenby Observer


Sunday, June 18, 2017

All Things Tudor

Whilst looking at the blurb of a tome that caught my eye, I came across a number of books dedicated to the Tudors and their times - some old, some new. Let me share a few of the ones that interested me the most:

So High a Blood: The Life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox by Morgan Ring
From a richly detailed backdrop of political and religious turbulence Margaret emerges, full of resilience, grace and intelligence. Drawing on previously unexamined archival sources, So High a Blood presents a fascinating and authoritative portrait of a woman with the greatest of ambitions for her family, her faith and her countries.
Read review here @ Historia Magazine 

Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey by Nicola Tallis
In this dramatic retelling of an often misread tale, historian and researcher Nicola Tallis explores a range of evidence that had never before been used in a biography to sweep away the many myths and reveal the moving, human story of an extraordinarily intelligent, independent and courageous young woman.

The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story by David Loades
This is the epic rise and fall of the family at the heart of the Tudor court and of Henry VIII’s own heart; he described Jane as ‘my first true wife’ and left express orders to be buried next to her tomb at Windsor Castle. The family seat of Wolfhall or ‘Wolf Hall’ in Wiltshire is long gone, but it lives on as an icon of the Tudor age.

Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn
Steven Gunn explains how Brandon not only survived these vicissitudes of fortune and managed to retain the king’s friendship, but steadily increased his own power, wealth and standing. When Charles died in 1545, Henry ordered him laid to rest in St George’s Chapel in Windsor, where Henry had buried his favourite wife, Jane Seymour, and where he would end up himself a mere eighteen months after his one true friend.

Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham
This book explores all of these aspects of Prince Arthur’s life, together with his relationship with his brother, and assesses what type of king he would have been.

Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise by Melanie Clegg
The last serious biography of Marie de Guise was published in 1977 and whereas plenty of attention has been paid to the mistakes of her daughter's eventful but brief reign, the time has come for a fresh assessment of this most fascinating and under appreciated of sixteenth century female rulers.

Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII by Gareth Russell
A riveting account of Catherine Howard’s tragic marriage to one of history’s most powerful rulers. It is a grand tale of the Henrician court in its twilight, a glittering but pernicious sunset during which the king’s unstable behaviour and his courtiers’ labyrinthine deceptions proved fatal to many, not just to Catherine Howard.

The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles - Henry VIII's Nearest & Dearest by Sarah-Beth Watkins
This fascinating book studies the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. 

Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen by Jill Armitage
Jill Armitage revitalises Arbella’s tale, focusing on her lineage, her life and her legacy. Through her story we discover a well-born, well-educated woman desperate to control her own fate, but who is ultimately powerless against those in the scheming Tudor court; and the author explores the harsh consequence that comes from being on the wrong side of the revenge of a jealous, calculating queen.

Owen Tudor: Godfather of the Tudors by Terry Breverton
Without the secret marriage for love, there would have been no Tudor dynasty.

The Lost Kings: Lancaster, York and Tudor by Amy Licence
But the majority of these young men died in their teens, on the brink of manhood. They represent the lost paths of history, the fascinating “what-ifs” of the houses of York and Tudor. They also diverted the route of dynastic inheritance, with all the complicated implications that could bring, passing power into some unlikely hands. This book examines ten such figures in detail, using their lives to build a narrative of this savage century.

House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathan Amin
The Wars of the Roses were a tumultous period in English history, with family fighting family for the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the throne? What made his mother the great heiress of medieval England? And how could an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy?

The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath
The powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows presents the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.


Three Books on the Virgin Mary

Rachel Fulton Brown is associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, where she writes and teaches on Scripture, liturgy, and medieval devotion to the Virgin Mary. She recently spoke with First Things junior fellow Connor Grubaugh about three of her favorite books on the Blessed Virgin.

read more here @ First Things

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Author tells history of seafood through 400 recipes

'It started with cod'

The Gloucester freelance writer [ Justin Demetri ], who doubles as the visitors service director at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, already has to his credit a slew of small, self-published books on various elements of Cape Ann's history and life.

But as he spent the last year researching historic seafood recipes for his newly self-published book, "From Head to Tale: Historic Seafood Recipes Through the Ages," Demetri realized the project required a larger palette.

read more here @ Gloucester Times

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Book On William Marshal

A new blockbuster book, launched on Friday night of last week, presents the man who built Kilkenny Castle in a bold, new light.

How apt that the Parade Tower in the castle was the setting for the unveiling of “William Marshall and Ireland”.

Co-editor and imminent Kilkenny archaeologist, Coilin O'Drisceoil said the book, a collection of new essays, portrayed Marshal in a new light as a master strategist, a nation builder, and economic heavyweight in a way hat differs from his well researched persona as the 'greatest knight that ever lived’ and a ‘flower of chivalry.

“And just as importantly the book shines a light on the important role of Isabel de Clare in developing and defending the lordship of Leinster,” Mr O'Drisceoil said.

read more from Sean Keane ( sean.keane@kilkennypeople.ie ) - Kilkenny People (Jan 2017)