Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony

The year is 1636 – the smuggling of Flemish lace into France is rampant.  Lace is now a form of currency – it also has the power to elevate or destroy.

Lace - Point d'Angleterre or Brussels Lace - became so popular (at one point 150000 women were employed in the industry) that laws were enacted to prevent other nations stealing away the lace-makers of Flanders and Brussells.  Its was also a perilous industry for a young woman who usually entered into this field as a young child, and often by age of 30, left a blind and crippled woman who resembled an aged hag.  However, France, during the reign of Louis XIII, introduced sumptuary laws which banned the wearing and ultimately the importing of foreign-made lace.  Many strange measures were taken to secure this article - and many devious methods were devised for its transportation across international borders.

See: History of Lace by Mrs. Bury Palliser
Our story starts with two sisters – Katharina, who is a lacemaker at the Flemish abbey of Lendelmolen; the other, Heilwich, who is a housekeeper of sorts to a nearby priest.  Both stories are presented in the first person narrative.

As intricate as the pattern of the lace, the other voices are added to the story - Denis, a border guard whose job it is to seek out the smugglers; a dog used for smuggling; Lisette, a young girl who has fallen under the spell of lace; Alexandre, a young man with no future of his own who seeks redemption and honour; and a wily, scheming count who hopes to use this precious gift as a bribe to secure his own financial future.  

As one by one the characters meet and their stories merge, we are drawn along on the journey – will the prized lace be secured in time to prevent the dishonor of one – or will our young hero fail in his task. The reader will be held spellbound until the final chapters reveal all – and the pattern is complete.

I read this in one sitting – it is not an overly long book, nor are the chapters drawn out.  All is concise and the stories easy to follow.

France in the 17th century is not my particular forte - however, I found this to be a most enjoyable read.  Highly recommended for all who love a good story.

About The Author:
Iris Anthony is a pseudonym. The writer behind the name is an award winning author of 10 novels.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Shooting Victoria

"Shooting Victoria" by Paul Thomas Murphy documents in detail the seven assassination attempts made upon Queen Victoria, many during the years 1842 to 1850.
"There was Edward Oxford, a bartender who dreamed of becoming an admiral, who was simply shocked when his attempt to shoot the pregnant Queen and Prince consort made him a madman in the world’s eyes. There was hunchbacked John Bean, who dreamed of historical notoriety in a publicized treason trial, and William Hamilton, forever scarred by the ravages of the Irish Potato Famine. Roderick MacLean enabled Victoria to successfully strike insanity pleas from Britain’s legal process. Most threatening of all were the “dynamitards” who targeted her Majesty’s Golden Jubilee—who signaled the advent of modern terrorism with their publicly focused attack." (Source: Amazon)
None of her attackers were given the death penalty, and only one a life sentence (the one who attacked her twice). Three of the attackers (including the crazy man that chased her) went to a mental asylum, though one of them was released after 7 years and allowed to leave the country. Two of the attackers were transported to Australia for 7 years, one received only an 18-month sentence, and one was caned 20 times and given a 1 year prison sentence. Victoria wasn’t thrilled about all of the light sentences. At the Queen’s insistence, the laws were changed so that defendants could be found both “insane” AND “guilty”. 

Many years ago I discovered a dust-covered novel of a fictional account of an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria - "Chase Royal" by Donald Seaman.  Murphy's book brought this novel back to my mind - another must read for those who love their Victoriana.

The Testament of Mary

From the Telegraph:

Colm Tóibín’s contentious life of the mother of Jesus is the latest novel, following Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, to reimagine history from the perspective of a famous figure. Allan Massie reflects on how novelists forge the past into fiction.

We know very little about Mary, the mother of Jesus. A dozen or so sentences in the Gospels; that’s all. Of course, we know what she has become, what the Churches and artists have made of her. We have all seen countless Madonnas and Child; it is one of the most familiar and moving images of Christian art. We are also familiar with the Pietà, the grieving mother holding the broken body of her crucified son. But Mary herself, the woman behind these images? What was she like? What did she feel? Did she believe that her son, Jesus, was divine, God’s son as well as hers?
The question is one from which, for obvious reasons, the Churches have preferred to turn away. It is also one for which there can be no sure answer. History does not supply us with the evidence. Faith may take its place, but faith may be questioned. Now the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, cradle Catholic and lapsed Catholic, has written a novella, The Testament of Mary, her story in her own, imagined words. It is done sensitively and intelligently, though there will be some who think it should not have been done at all. I suppose that it would have been banned in the Republic if written in the years before scandal undermined the authority of the Church.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: David Blixt - Star Cross'd

Master of Verona

Being already familiar with the story of Cangrande della Scala, I was keen to read this version of his life.  So far, my interest has been maintained and I have not been at all disappointed with David's re-creation of this fascinating and turbulent period in Italian history.

For those familiar with Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", here is the chance to read an interpretation of the "history" behind the play, and meet the real-life characters who inspired the Bard to put pen to paper.

But do not be deterred into thinking this is just a medieval romance - for where would a great story be without a cast of truly interesting characters; intrigue and drama; battles a-plenty; and life, love and death.

A must read - a looking forward for the next instalment in the "Star Cross'd" series.

Voice of the Falconer
From Goodreads: "In the tradition of Dorothy Dunnett and Bernard Cornwell, David Blixt’s latest volume in his historical epic of early Renaissance Italy picks up eight years after the end of The Master of Verona. Having been placed in charge of ‘Cesco – the bastard child reputed to be the only male progeny of Francesco (‘Cangrande’) della Scala – the political & economic leader of Verona – Pietro Alaghieri has been raising the child in exile in Ravenna."

Fortune's Fool
From Goodreads: "Italy, 1326. While the brilliant and wily Cesco is schooled in his new duties at the hand of a hard master, Pietro Alaghieri travels to Avignon, current seat of the Papacy, to fight his excommunication and plead for Cesco's legitimacy. He doesn't know an old foe has been waiting to ruin Pietro's life and seize control of Verona for himself. "

For more information on the author, visit David Blixt's blog - Master of Verona and website - David Blixt