Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby by Joe Moshenska

A Stain in the BloodOn the 16th of August 1628, five battle-scarred English ships sailed into the harbour of the Greek island of Milos. Dropping anchor, the 25-year-old captain banqueted with the local lord before sitting down to write an account of his journey – an account that would transform him entirely.

Sir Kenelm Digby was one of the most remarkable Englishmen who ever lived: a trusted advisor to the King, but the sworn enemy of the all-powerful Duke of Buckingham; a pioneering philosopher and scientist, but committed to the occult arts of alchemy and astrology; a friend not only of Ben Jonson, Thomas Hobbes and van Dyck, but even Oliver Cromwell. He was also widely known as the ‘son of a traytor and husband of a whore’: a man who witnessed his father’s gruesome execution for high treason as a Gunpowder Plotter, and the lover of the most celebrated beauty of the age, Venetia Stanley.

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In an attempt to clear his name, and on a quest for personal glory, Digby assembled a fleet and set sail for the Mediterranean: a world of pirate cities and ancient ruins where people, ideas and exotic goods moved freely between languages and nations. His journey – encompassing fevers, mutiny, piracy, daring rescues and heroic sea battles – is a great and terribly overlooked adventure, and a prism through which to view England, and all of Europe, during one of the most pivotal periods in its history.

A Stain in the Blood is the story of an extraordinary life, and of a journey that helped to shape a nation. It is a revelatory first work of non-fiction by one of the brightest young writers and thinkers of today.

note: I have this one myself - I love a good book based on a sort of anti-hero.


further reading and reviews:
Trinity College: Joe Moshenka on writing the life of an adventurer
University of Cambridge: The adventures of Sir Kenelm Digby
The Guardian: review of A Stain in the Blood






Special Commission by John Hall

A crime with many motives but whose stands out the most?

Special Commission by [Hall, John]The year is 1449: Merchant Master Wood and his servant Bertram are in Kyme on a business trip. They attend the annual May celebration Lordy Kyme has organised for local people at his fortified manor house. But after dinner, the celebration descends into mayhem as Master Wood is found dead in suspicious circumstances, with a knife sticking out of his body. The obvious suspect, Mr Robert Middleham, an uninvited and unwanted guest, refuses to appear before a judge and jury. The only hope of solving the crime is for the Lord Chancellor to appoint a Special Commissioner, Martin Byrd, to look into the matter. But things are not quite as simple as that.

Mr Middleham is held responsible for the murder as his knife was sticking out of Wood’s body when he was found dead outside at the stables. After delving into the details of the case, the Special Commission realise there is bad blood between the Kyme and Middleham families. Could this rivalry have sparked Mr Middleham to crash the May Day extravaganza and kill one of Kyme’s guests? The case is complicated further when it is discovered that one of the kitchen maids, Daisy, who reported the dead body to Lord Kyme, had been more than friendly to a number of men at the party. Could jealousy have inspired the murderer to strike? Will Martin Byrd be able to cast light upon the secrets hidden behind the walls of the castle and find enough evidence to solve the mysterious murder of the merchant?


The Chronicle of Morea by Teresa Shawcross

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The Chronicle of Morea
The Chronicle of Morea, one of the most important and controversial historical narratives written in the late Middle Ages, tells the story of the formation and government by the Villehardouin dynasty of a remarkably successful Crusader State following the conquest by western invaders of the capital - Constantinople - and the provinces of the Byzantine Empire. 

By examining all the Chronicle's surviving Greek, French, Spanish and Italian versions, this study, the first of its kind, explores in depth the literary and ideological contexts in which the work was composed, transmitted and re-written. The result is a fascinating analysis of cultural exchange in a rich and vibrant eastern Mediterranean world where different ethnicities were obliged to live alongside each other, and outside political interests frequently intruded in dramatic fashion. Translations into English have been provided of all the material discussed.




The Letters of Lord Burghley, William Cecil, to His Son Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–1598

The Letters of Lord Burghley, William Cecil, to His Son Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–1598The 128 letters of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to his son Sir Robert Cecil in Cambridge University Library, Manuscript Ee.3.56, are the largest collection of papers showing the close direction and counsel he gave his son in seeking and obtaining the office of Principal Secretary, 1593–1598. 

The materials concentrate on the task of receiving and crafting a wide and large array of papers on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I and her Privy Council; finance, administration, foreign policy, and religion figure prominently, as does the shift from continental war to Ireland.

These letters presented in this tome, and edited by William Acres, also reveal the intimate relationship between the father and son; Burghley's care for his family, his thoughts of death, and a unique record of illness and old age are framed by his political and spiritual anxieties for the future of the Queen and her realms.

Jessica Fletcher and the Long Afterlife of Murder, She Wrote

From CrimeReads
So far as Murder, She Wrote is concerned, something sinister has been going on for all of thirty-five years now. A Time for Murder marks the 50th title in the iconic book series based on the fabulously successful television show.

Where does Murder, She Wrote fit into the canon of classic mystery series over the years?


Let’s start with the fact that the show can justifiably lay claim to being one of the most successful mystery series of all time. The TV producers who conceived the idea of a widowed mystery writer-turned-sleuth originally wanted Jean Stapleton, who won three Emmys for her portrayal of Edith Bunker on All in the Family, to play Jessica Fletcher. When she turned them down, they opted for Angela Lansbury instead, and the icon of Jessica Fletcher was born.

read more here @ CrimeReads

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Review: Death in Saint-Chartier by Ivo Fornesa

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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