Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Granada Gold

Armageddon falls on my twelfth birthday:

I see my Christian parents conquer Moorish Granada.
I am Juana Trastamara, part-English, heiress of the Alhambra,
and future troubled Queen of Spain.

From SA Carney's website:

Granada Gold is based on the true story of young Juana Trastamara. During the Granada War, she befriends Lord Edmund Sales, commander of the English longbow archers fighting for Christian Spain. In 1492, Juana’s parents – Queen Isabel and King Fernando – defeat the Moors, expel the Jews, and send Columbus sailing across the Atlantic. Juana’s arranged marriage to the womanising Habsburg duke, ‘Phillipe the Handsome’, is a personal disaster. Trapped in an increasingly abusive marriage, Juana has only one place to turn: England. Through Lord Sales, Juana meets Tudor King Henry VII, who falls deeply in love with her. The stage is set for international royal passion, betrayal, and death.

I really liked this fast-paced snapshot into part of the life of Juana "la loca" - or Juana / Joanna the Mad, Queen of Castile as she later became known.

The period covered is from late 1491 and finishes in December 1500.  Our story sees the fall of Granada to the Christian Monarchs - Isabella and Ferdinand; a curse; the expulsion of the Jews; the voyages of Columbus; family tragedy; and the betrothal and marriage of Juana to Philip the Handsome of Burgundy.  And it is from this time in Juana's life (ie: her marriage to Philip) that we begin to see the background to the stories of her madness.

As mentioned, it is a short tale, narrated by Juana that will keep you fascinated with each turn of the page.

For more on Juana / Joanna:
Sister Queens by Julia Fox
Juana the Mad: Sovereignty and Dynasty in Renaissance Europe By Bethany Aram
Juana of Castile: History and Myth of the Mad Queen edited by María A. Gómez
That Other Juana: Queen Juana I of Spain (Juana la Loca) by Linda Carlino
The Last Queen by CW Gortner

Sunday, December 15, 2013

History Extra - Book Reviews

I was sent this link via a history forum that I am a member of, and thought it would also interest readers - Book Reviews | History Extra.

These reviews cover a wide range of history topics and is part of the BBC History Magazine website.  The hardest part will be deciding what to include on your shopping list!

December Additions To The Library

December is done and dusted, and the order for December has gone in - though I anticipate a January delivery due to the Christmas break.

Gaelic and Gaelicized Ireland in the Middle Ages by Kenneth Nicholls
This edition is completely revised and enlarged in the light of research, by the author and other scholars, carried out on the subject in the intervening period. New information on late Irish law and the institutions of the autonomous lordships has been added, as well as illustrative matter.

Years of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
In 1666, a young woman comes of age during an extraordinary year of love and death. Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a "plague village" in the rugged hill country of England, "Year of Wonders" is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history.

Elizabeth Woodville by David Baldwin
Elizabeth Woodville is undoubtedly a historical character whose life no novelist would ever have dared invent. In this revealing account of Elizabeth's life David Baldwin sets out to tell the story of this complex and intriguing woman.

The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284 by David Carpenter
The two-and-a-half centuries after 1066 were momentous ones in the history of Britain. In 1066, England was conquered. The Anglo-Saxon ruling class was destroyed and the English became a subject race, dominated by a Norman-French dynasty and aristocracy. This book shows how the English domination was by no means a foregone conclusion.

Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry, 1100-1550 by Yuval Noah Harari
Alongside the familiar pitched battles, regular sieges, and large-scale manoeuvres, medieval and early modern wars also involved assassination, abduction, treason and sabotage. This book surveys a wide variety of such undercover operations from the eleventh to the sixteenth century.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle by Anglo-Saxon Chronicle English
In the late 9th Century, under King Alfred the Great of England, scholars compiled a history of the island from the invasion by Julius Caesar to 891. The narrative, drawn from many historical accounts, was known as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. After Alfred's death, the Chronicles were continued, with some versions being updated yearly until 1154. 

Katherine Swynford by Jeannette Lucraft
In this fascinating book, Jeanette Lucraft treats Katherine as a missing person and reconstructs her and her times to uncover the mystery of the 'other woman' in John of Gaunt's life.

The Normans in Europe by Arthur Henry Johnson
The sword and the cross The Normans (or Northmen) forged an empire that lasted four hundred years. Though principally known for their seat of power in Normandy, they originated from Viking stock and at the height of their supremacy had made their influence felt throughout Europe and into the Middle East. This was a martial people and its leaders took and held power with a cunning, ruthless and often cruel efficiency whilst at the same time contributing to the culture of their time. 

Medieval Punishments by William Andrews
Dive into the macabre history of England and Old Europe in this treasure chest of historical punishments. In the pages of Medieval Punishments are punishments from a less enlightened period, creating a thoroughly researched historical document that sheds light on the evolution of society and how humans have maintained social order and addressed crime. 

Stasiland by Anna Funder
In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; shortly afterwards the two Germanies reunited, and East Germany ceased to exist. In a country where the headquarters of the secret police can become a museum literally overnight, and one in 50 East Germans were informing on their countrymen and women, there are a thousand stories just waiting to get out. Anna Funder tells extraordinary tales from the underbelly of the former East Germany.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: Six Million Accusers - The Capture of Adolf Eichmann

"their blood cries out but their voice is not heard"

Again, another fascinating book by author David Lawrence-Young.  This time we are taken through the events that led up to the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the leading SS Officers behind The Holocaust.

I had in the past watched a wonderful documentary, narrated by Gregory Peck, called The Hunt For Adolf Eichmann, detailing the planning that went into this most famous kidnapping.  
Adolf Eichmann, 1942.jpgIn the years after World War II, Eichmann, whose name had come up numerous times during the Nuremberg Trials, had become one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals. Unfortunately, for many years, no one knew where in the world Eichmann was hiding. Then, in 1957, the Mossad (the Israeli secret service) received a tip: Eichmann may be living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
After several years of unsuccessful searches, Mossad received another tip: Eichmann was most likely living under the name of Ricardo Klement. This time, a team of secret Mossad agents was sent to Argentina to find Eichmann. On March 21, 1960, the agents had not only found Klement, they were certain he was the Eichmann they had been hunting for years.

On May 11, 1960, the Mossad agents captured Eichmann while he was walking from a bus stop to his home. They then took Eichmann to a secret location until they were able to smuggle him out of Argentina nine days later.

In "Six Million Accusers" (working title), rather than provide a clinical play by play of the events as they happened, David instead takes us on a personal journey with the main characters - and the faceless men of the Mossad become more human as their story develops inconjuction with that of the capture of one of World War II's most notorious men. We learn about their own history and why they were chosen above all others for this risky venture.

The journey was 15 years in the planning, culminating in the capture of Eichmann in Argentina in May 1960 - he is then spirited away to Israel (though not without a few heart-stopping moments for our intrepid crew - and readers alike!), before facing trial and being executed for his crimes.

As LIFE reported to its readers in its April 14, 1961 issue:
Once in a while some great man becomes the symbol of the era in which he lived. Less often one man becomes the symbol of a quality of his era — of its good or evil, its reason or madness. Such a man is Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi, a symbol of the hatred and unspeakable hideousness of Hitler’s Germany.

David's skill as both narrator and story-telling is beyond par - and this is yet another fascinating story in his growing collection of eclectic tales from the annals of history.   That the reader is sucked into the story and becomes one of the characters is just another of David's quirks as an author. "Six Million Accusers" is another must read - once you begin the journey, it only ends when you look up from your page and wonder where the time went.

Interesting Links:

  • From History Today: Richard Cavendish describes how Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina on May 11th, 1960.
  • From CNN: Mossad's hunt for the other Adolf: Spy agency's search for Eichmann revealed
  • From Spiegel Online: The Long Road to Eichmann's Arrest: A Nazi War Criminal's Life in Argentina
  • From The Guardian: Adolf Eichmann's capture, as told by the Mossad, in Israel exhibition
  • From the Jewish Virtual Library: The Capture of Nazi Criminal Adolf Eichmann

Stehanie Dray - Daughters of the Nile

Daughters of the Nile slide

From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra's daughter.

After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?

Read the Reviews

"A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray's crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life." ~RT Book Reviews

"The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned..." ~Modge Podge Reviews

"If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you." ~A Bookish Affair

Read an Excerpt

Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death. And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!" There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?" The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her. I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this. If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away." I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."


Daughters of the Nile cover

Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads

Available now in print and e-book!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo | Powells | IndieBound | Goodreads

Stephanie Dray Headshot

STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt's ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has-to the consternation of her devoted husband-collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Book Reviews By Others

From JS Online, a review of "Hild" by Nicola Griffith:
Steeping us in the taste of seventh-century England's mead, the weight and warmth of its gorgeously woven and embroidered fabrics, and the myriad sights, sounds and scents of long ago, Seattle writer Nicola Griffith has created a marvel and a joy.
 "Hild," the newest novel from this multiple award-winning author, takes place far from her works' previous settings: the future, an alien planet, or, in the case of her popular mystery series ("The Blue Place," "Stay," "Always"), contemporary Atlanta and Seattle. Historical fiction is new territory for Griffith. Yet through her seemingly effortless prose, the forts, farms, woods and battlefields of medieval Northumbria become deeply real to readers. Though never completely comfortable.
 "Hild" is filled with matter-of-fact accounts of the life of the past. Some are disturbing: the routine prevalence of death in childbirth; the shocking brutality of combat wounds — guts on the ground, yellow fat and red bones disappearing in a welter of blood. Some are surprising challenges to our modern take on medieval history, such as the presence of black people in European trading towns and ecclesiastical missions.

From the Wall Street Journal, a review of James Forrester's "The Final Sacrament" (final instalment in the Clarenceux trilogy, the other two books being "Sacred Treason" and "The Roots of Betrayal"):
"The Final Sacrament" brings to a close his trilogy about William Harley, loosely based on a real figure, who holds the post of Clarenceux King of Arms, the member of the College of Heralds charged with authenticating noble genealogies.
Clarenceux's previous adventures left him precariously trusted and protected by Lord Cecil, Elizabeth's Secretary of State. But on June 19, 1566, the situation changed, with the birth of a son (later James VI of Scotland and I of England) to Mary, Queen of Scots. His Catholic parents and Catholic baptism gave new hope to those who wished to overturn the Protestant Reformation. Things changed again eight months later with the murder of James's father, Lord Darnley. "The Final Sacrament" is set between the two dates, a point of dangerous instability.

From Pendle Today, a review of Alison Weir's "Elizabeth of York":
If Sir Thomas More was ‘a man for all seasons,’ then the female equivalent was surely Elizabeth of York.  Daughter of a Plantagenet king, wife of the king who founded the Tudor dynasty and mother of the larger-than-life King Henry VIII, this was the woman whose marriage ended the bitter Wars of the Roses.
Alison Weir’s comprehensive, compelling and very readable portrait of Elizabeth reveals not just her life and times but the woman behind the myth, the queen respected by her husband, adored by her son and revered by the nation.

(External reviews are not an endorsement by Melisende's Library)

Monday, November 11, 2013

November Additions To The Library

Well, November is upon us and the order has gone in for the next round of additions to the Library. And here they are:

The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome's Decadent Boy Emperor by Martijn Icks
Elagabalus was one of the most notorious of Rome's 'bad emperors': a sexually-depraved and eccentric hedonist who in his short and riotous reign made unprecedented changes to Roman state religion and defied all taboos. This book examines the life of one of the Roman Empire's most colourful figures, and charts the many guises of his legacy.

Great Commanders of the Medieval World 454-1582AD by Andrew Roberts
A magisterial survey of the military giants of the medieval world. (And at AUS$8.00- a bargain!)

The Kings & Queens of Scotland by Timothy Venning
The story of the rulers of Scotland's constituent states and then of the united kingdom of Scots from Kenneth MacAlpin onwards is complex and often violent. It is full of rapid reversals of fortune, brilliant and incompetent leadership, family strife, and triumph and tragedy closely intertwined. The obscure earlier history is often as fascinating as the better-known stories of the Bruce and Queen Mary, though less familiar. This saga of a thousand years is a tribute to the qualities of Scotland's rulers. (I have two others by Venning - collection nearly complete!).

The Italian Crusades: The Papal-Angevin Alliance and the Crusades Against Christian Lay Powers, 1254-1343 by Norman Housley
From the cover of the book:"The Papal - Angevin alliance and the Crusades against Christian lay powers 1254 - 1343" (hey - at over AUS$100.00 off RRP - a real bargain for a  300-page hardback edition!)

The Dukes of Burgundy: Charles the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Bold, Philip the Good by Richard Vaughan
First published nearly forty years ago, Richard Vaughan's masterly four-part history of the Valois dukes of Burgundy has never been surpassed. Beginning with Philip the Bold, Vaughan describes the emergence of the Burgundian state. John the Fearless defended and developed its power ruthlessly during his ducal reign, which reached its apogee under Philip the Good. Charles the Bold ruled a state that was recognised as one of the major powers of medieval Europe, his ambition extending to an alliance with England. With the death of Charles fighting the Swiss army at Nancy in 1477, Richard Vaughan brings this history of the Burgundian dukedom to a triumphant conclusion. (Four volume box set).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: The Enigmatic Caravaggio

I have just finished reading Matt Rees' "A Name In Blood" - a historical novel on the life of Caravaggio - I would hesitate to call it a biography though it certainly is a retelling of his life.

Alessio Boni as Caravaggio 
Most people with an interest in renaissance art and artists would be familiar with this notorious and yet enigmatic artist, his famous works, and his untimely and mysterious death. Just recently I had watched a two part series on Caravaggio starring Alessio Boni on SBS - and this is what drew me to Rees' book - I was searching for answers as to how this man met his ultimate demise, and Rees certainly puts forward a plausible theory.

From the Web Museum:
"Caravaggio was born Michelangelo Merisi on Sept. 28, 1573, in Caravaggio, Italy. Orphaned at age 11, he was apprenticed to the painter Simone Peterzano of Milan for four years. At some time between 1588 and 1592, Caravaggio went to Rome and worked as an assistant to painters of lesser skill. About 1595 he began to sell his paintings through a dealer. The dealer brought Caravaggio to the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte.

Early in 1608 Caravaggio went to Malta and was received as a celebrated artist. Fearful of pursuit, he continued to flee for two more years, but his paintings of this time were among the greatest of his career. After receiving a pardon from the pope, he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for two days. A boat that was to take him to Rome left without him, taking his belongings. Misfortune, exhaustion, and illness overtook him as he helplessly watched the boat depart. He collapsed on the beach and died a few days later on July 18, 1610."

Caravggio - A Life:
Caravaggio - wikipedia
Caravaggio - Biography dot com
Caravaggio - from Caravaggio dot com

Books on Caravaggio:
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon
Caravaggio: The Complete Works by Rossella Vodret
Caravaggio And His Legacy by J. Patrice Marandel
Discovering Caravaggio: The Art Lover's Guide … by Stefano Zuffi 
M : The Man Who Became Caravaggio by Peter Robb 
Caravaggio: A Life by Helen Langdon 
Caravaggio by John T. Spike 
Caravaggio: A Novel by Christopher Peachment 
Caravaggio: A Passionate Life Hardcover by Desmond Seward 
Caravaggio by Catherine Puglisi 
Caravaggio: The Artist and His Work by Sybille Ebert-Schifferer 

The Art of Caravaggio:
Caravaggio - at Art dot com 
Caravaggio - The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Caravaggio on the Screen: 
Caravaggio on SBS (2008) 
Caravaggio - YouTube 

Caravaggio in the News: 
Derek Jarman's Caravaggio - Press Release

Saturday, October 12, 2013

October Additions

As the last of the September additions arrived in the post a couple of days ago, October's list has been sent off. Here are the tomes for October:

Elfrida by Elizabeth Norton
Contrary to popular belief, Anglo- Saxon England had queens, with the tenth-century Elfrida being the most powerful and notorious of them all. She was the first woman to be crowned Queen of England, sharing her husband King Edgar's imperial coronation at Bath in 973. 

Cnut: England's Viking King 1016-35 by M.K. Lawson
King Cnut ruled England from 1017 to 1035 and left behind him a legacy of peace, law and order. However, the beginnings of his kingship were less auspicious. He was a cruel and vicious warrior, who invaded England with his father Swegen Forkbeard, perhaps at a tender age.

The Military Leadership of Matilda of Canossa, 1046-1115 by David J. Hay
This is the first account in English of the entire, forty year military career of one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages. Challenging the boundaries between military and gender history, it explains how one famous noblewoman rose to the defense of the reforming papacy, defeated the Holy Roman Emperor and turned the tide of the first great war between Church and State.

Jack the Ripper's Secret Confession by David Monaghan
While Jack the Ripper spread fear throughout the East End of London in 1888, another man stalked the streets hunting flesh. He called himself Walter. Walter printed up his memoir of sex under the title "My Secret Life". This book shows how this notorious work of Victorian pornography reveals that its author had the means to be Jack the Ripper. (Yes, I am an avid Ripperologist)

The Byzantine Lady by Donald M. Nicol
A lively collection of ten biographies of aristocratic women of the Byzantine empire in its final years.

Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species. Though the gifts of wildish nature come to us at birth, society's attempt to "civilize" us into rigid roles has plundered this treasure, and muffled the deep, life-giving messages of our own souls. Without Wild Woman, we become over-domesticated, fearful, uncreative, trapped. 

The Anarchy of Stephen and Matilda by Stephen M. Taylor
Join Matilda Plantagenet in her violent struggle to overcome sexism in medieval England. Share her aspirations as she attempts to balance love and motherhood with the ultimate political career. Experience her frustrations as she battles sins of the flesh, dogmas of the Church and her archnemsis, the beguiling Stephen of Blois. (I am seriously hoping that this is not a novel but  non-fictional account of this period).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Empress Dowager Cixi

Bel Mooney's review of Jung Chang's "Empress Dowager Cixi" from the Mail Online:
She was a version of Margaret Thatcher, in a different age, an alien culture. From humble origins yet a natural leader, she used a powerful mixture of intelligence and natural charm to get her way, fighting a single-minded path to the top.

Autocratic and determined, she would let few things or people stand in the way of her ambition to change history.

The lady knew how to manipulate men who were weaker - which was most, even in a male-dominated culture. Powerful rivals held no terror for her, and heaven help those who made her their enemy.

Depending on whether you’re a detractor or an admirer, she was ruthless or tough-minded, devious or shrewd, cruel or simply pragmatic according to the standards of the age. Nobody can argue that this stateswoman made a significant mark on history, yet history’s jury is still out.

Was she an innovator or a despot? The answer is almost certainly - both.

Other Links:
Article on Cixi featured in the Smithsonian Magazine:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Critics & Their Reviews

A couple of articles questioning where have all the critical reviews gone:

From the Atlantic Wire: Where have all the mean book reviews gone?
Literary critics have gone soft. Despite all the snark, sass, and anger in media and online today, one area has become remarkably nicer — book reviews. A look around the latest literary criticisms leaves you feeling upbeat, even excited about coming books, much to their publicist's delight. So where have all the hatchet jobs gone?

There really is something lost in the lack of hatchet reviews nowadays. They're fun! And even for the author, they might not be so bad. The Internet feeds on anger and hatred, and this can spill over to books. 

From the New RepublicThis Guy Thinks We Shouldn't Have Negative Book Reviews. Two Thumbs Down!
In a strange and unconvincing essay in The New Yorker, Lee Siegel, who made his name as a slashing and smart critic (for a time at The New Republic), writes that he is through with negative book reviews. He mentions a Clive James essay from several months back which lamented the lack of nasty reviews in American publications. But Siegel notes, correctly, that politeness has not been a permanent feature of American reviewing, and goes on to mention the harsh pieces that appeared in the inagural issue of The New York Review of Books fifty years ago.

Lee Siegel's article - Burying the Hatchet - featured on the New Yorker, which started it all:
I didn’t realize how strong my revulsion against negative reviewing had become until some months ago I read, in the New York Times, an essay by the critic Clive James titled “Whither the Hatchet Job?” James laments the inability of American critics to lay into their scrivening colleagues with the exuberance practiced by their British counterparts. “America,” James wrote, “does polite literary criticism well enough. And how: there is a new Lionel Trilling on every campus.” In contrast to the soporific American scene James sets the thriving vitality of book reviewing in Britain, where “ripping somebody’s reputation is recognized blood sport.”

And Clive James' Wither the Hatchet Job which is featured on the New York Times:
In Britain, the realm of book reviewing is still known as Grub Street though the actual Grub Street vanished long ago. But its occasionally vicious spirit lives on; one of the marks of Grub Street is that the spleen gets a voice. Ripping somebody’s reputation is recognized blood sport. Shredding a new book is a kind of fox hunting that is still legal today.

Such critical violence is far less frequent in America. Any even remotely derogatory article in an American journal is called “negative,” and hardly any American publication wants to be negative.

Fascinating Book Reviews

Two book reviews caught my eye today so I thought I would share them with you here.

The first is Jim Cullen's review of Reza Aslan's "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazereth" which featured on the History News Network:
Aslan believes the detachment of Jesus from his immediate political context was greatly facilitated by the apostle Paul, who, despite never knowing Jesus personally, managed to wrest control of the movement away from those (notably Jesus's brother, James) who did, and who tried to keep the Judaic dimension of his life central. It was Paul who made Jesus of Nazareth Jesus Christ, Hellenizing him for a broader (and often more educated) audience. Aslan, however, clearly prefers Jesus the man, who he concludes is "every bit as compelling, charismatic and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in." 

The second is Lee and J.J. MacFadden's review of "Food in Medieval Times" by Melitta Weiss Adamson which featured on the TriCities dot com:
The book begins with a timeline, starting in 451 A.D. and ending in 1500 A.D. In the introduction, we are told that the Europeans in this time period were unfamiliar with the potato, tomato, turkey, corn or cacao. We are also informed that cookbooks from this time period did not survive very well; nearly all of those that did survive are from the 14 and 15 centuries, lending little to no information as to how food was prepared in the early Middle Ages. In addition, these cookbooks were compiled and copied by the educated elite, which means the food of the lower classes remains somewhat of a mystery.

Investing In Rare Books

As a lover of books, and an avid collector of tomes both old and new, I came across this interesting article which appeared in The National on investing in those gems from the past and, sometimes, our not so distant present.

It is the stories behind the stories that really appeal. The tantalising inscriptions, long-forgotten messages and illegible scribbles.

”Books are a physical touchstone to the past,” says Margaret Ford, the international head of the books department at Christie’s. “And something that makes it personal, like a signed copy - that association is extremely special. Just knowing that book was actually in that author’s hands at some point in time, or knowing that I’m holding something that Churchill once held. Or owning an early edition of Virgil from 1470 - something that is more than 500 years old - and being able to hold that in your hands.”

There is nothing better than rummaging through a book sale or book store to find that old dusty gem that you want for your own personal library.  There are many such tomes on my over-stacked shelves - many well read, many unread, but all treated with love and care.  To say that the age of the book has long been overtaken but its digital cousin is a fallacy - books will always remain with us - especially when the world is still full of us bookworms who are also insatiable collectors.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

September Additions

Well, September is half way gone and the latest order has gone in for this month's additions to the Library.  So what have I chosen to order this month - see below and let me know what you think:

  • Northanhymbre Saga by John Marsden
  • A History of the Ostrogoths by Thomas S. Burns
  • Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy by David Foote
  • Vikings in the Isle of Man by David Wilson
  • Aethelred II by Ryan Lavelle
  • Kings, Mormaers and Rebels (Early Scotland's Other Royal Family) by John Marsden
  • An Onslaught of Spears (The Danish Conquest of England) by Jeffrey James

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

August Additions

Yes, as the July additions are slowly making their way to the Library, August's list has just been sent off - here they are:

Anglo-Saxon England by F.M. Stenton
Covers the emergence of the earliest English kingdoms to the establishment of the Anglo-Norman monarchy in 1087. Professor Stenton examines the development of English society, from the growth of royal power to the establishment of feudalism after the Norman Conquest.

Fourteen Byzantine Rulers by Michael Psellus
Chronicles the Byzantine Empire, beginning in 1025. This title shows an understanding of the power politics that characterized the empire and led to its decline.

The Other Tudors by Philippa Jones
Everybody thinks they know the tale of King Henry VIII's wives: divorced, beheaded died; divorced, beheaded, survived. But behind this familiar story, lies a far more complex truth. This book brings together the 'other women' of King Henry VIII. It examines the tales of the women who Henry loved but never married.

Richard III the Young King To Be by Josephine Wilkinson
This new biography concentrates on the much neglected early part of Richard's life - from his birth in 1452 as a cadet of the House of York to his marriage to the beautiful Anne Neville - and shows how his experiences as the son of an ambitious duke, a prisoner of war, an exile, his knightly training and awe of his elder brother, King Edward IV, shaped the character of England's most controversial monarch. 

The Rulers of the South - Sicily, Calabria, Malta - Vol II by Francis Marion Crawford
This early works is a comprehensive and informative look at the subject and is extensively illustrated throughout. Contents include; The Goths and the Byzantines, The Saracens, The Normans, In Later Times, and, The Mafia..... 

Joan of Arc by Kelly DeVries
Why did the soldiers of France follow a woman into battle when no troops of the Hundred Years War had done so before, and how was she able to win? This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Middle Ages and the phenomenon of the girl warrior.

The Maid and the Queen by Nancy Goldstone
How did an illiterate seventeen-year-old peasant girl manage to become one of histories most salient females? It is almost 600 years since Joan of Arc heard the voices of angels that would change her life forever: in a breathtaking story her quest saved France from English domination and restored France's hereditary monarchy. 

The Kings & Queens of Wales by Timothy Venning
A considered attempt to set out what we can know about the rulers of what is now Wales in the early medieval period, Timothy Venning's new book does not shy away from problems of dating and interpretation in the use of the meagre source material.

The Kings & Queens of Anglo-Saxon England by Timothy Venning
In The Kings & Queens of Anglo-Saxon England, Venning examines the rulers of Anglo-Saxon England, beginning with the legendary leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion as Hengest and Horsa or Cerdic and Cynric and moving on through such figures as Aethelbert of Kent, the first king to be converted to Christianity and his daughter Aethelburh, whose marriage began the conversion of Northumbria, to Alfred of Wessex and his dynasty, the Viking invasions, and the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, Harold Godwineson.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Band of Angels

"A Manchester University professor has published a book to shine light on the women she claims have been neglected by mainstream churches.

Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women by Professor Kate Cooper draws on five years of research and looks at some of the women who were hugely influential as Christianity spread in the first and second centuries.

She argues that women played a central role in spreading the new Christian faith through informal friendship and family networks.

Their authority within Christian communities was earned through their role as parents, community organisers, and small business owners."

"Drawing on the earliest Christian texts, Cooper examines what it would have been to live as a woman between the first and fifth centuries. Her book is as much an exercise in historical detective work as anything else, an act of reading between and behind the lines, rescuing these lost women from ancient sources, assessing their influence, and placing their lives in a broader social and historical context.

She explores in particular detail the exaltation of virginity and the role of the domestic space in the growth and spread of the church. Early Christians usually gathered in private homes, with families and communities praying together, and women were a vital part of this process."

Sunday, August 4, 2013

July Additions to the Library

Here are the latest additions to my personal Library for the  month of July 2013:

Gaelic Ireland, C.1250-c.1650 by Patrick J. Duffy
"This massive work, published in hardback in 2001 to critical acclaim, has become one of the definitive books on Gaelic Ireland. In is now made available in paperback. Running to over 450 pages, it includes a place-name index, a personal-name and collective-name index."

Stephen and Matilda by J. Bradbury
"This is a story of rivalry for the English throne which throws new light on a much-neglected aspect of Stephen's reign. The book looks at colorful characters and brings to life the civil war and the ensuing battle for the English Crown. The war is examined in detail through the various campaigns, battles and sieges of the period, including the two major battles at the Standard and Lincoln, showing that Stephen always held more ground than his opponents and was mostly on the offensive. The nature of the warfare and the reasons for its outcome are examined, along with comment on the strategy, tactics, technology in arms and armor, and the improvements in fortifications."

The Monks of War by Desmond Seward
"The Templars, the Hospitallers, the Tuetonic Knights and the Knights of the Spanish and Portuguese orders were 'noblemen vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience, living a monastic life in convents which were at the same time barracks, waging war on the enemies of the Cross'."

A Brief History of the Knights Templar by Helen J. Nicholson
"Presents an account of the Knights of the Order of the Temple of Solomon. This work recounts the history of these storm troopers of the papacy, founded during the crusades but who got so rich and influential that they challenged the power of kings."

Richard III by David Baldwin
"The only biography to reveal that the bones found in Leicester carpark ARE Richard III's. The DNA tests of the bones found in a Leicester car park reveal that they DO belong to Richard III beyond all reasonable doubt. These findings were announced at a press conference on February 4th and broadcast on the same day in a documentary on Channel 4." (I have the pre-finds book as well)

And two novels from one of my favourite authors:
Soldier of Crusade by Jack Ludlow
"1096. The Pope has called for a Crusade to free Jerusalem, and half the warriors of Europe have responded. Among them is the Norman, Count Bohemund, one-time enemy of Byzantium. His first task, pushing back the Infidel Turks, calls for an alliance with old enemy Emperor Alexius. But can the Crusaders trust the wily Emperor?"

Prince of Legend by Jack Ludlow
- awaiting publication but follows on from "Son of Blood" and "Soldier of the Crusade"

And for something completely different:
"Heart of Darkness" and "The End of the Tether" by Joseph Conrad
"Heart of Darkness is a short and vividly brutal account of colonial enterprise that has as much in common with the jaded Evelyn Waugh of Black Mischief as it does with any of Conrad's direct contemporaries in the late nineteenth century. It is accompanied in this volume by the tales with which it has been published since 1902, the autobiographical short story "Youth," and the less personal but more substantial tale of an old man's fall from fortune, "The End of the Tether." Though these stories differ considerably in style and content from his later novels, much of his reputation rests upon the words contained in this volume."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Additional Additions

Some book bargains and one "first read".  Also added a dozen e-books to the Library as well.  especially looking forward to Lester Picker's books:  The First Pharaoh and The Dagger of Isis which have also found a spot on the shelves of the Library.  June is looking good!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

June Additions to the Library

Exciting new additions to the Library have arrived in June:

Fighting for the Cross by Norman Housley
In a series of massive military undertakings that stretched from 1095 to 1291, Christendom's armies won, defended, and lost the sacred sites of the Holy Land. This book recreates the experience of crusading, from the elation of taking up the cross to the difficult adjustments at home when the war was over.

Chronicles of the Crusades by Sire de Jean Joinville & Geoffroi De Villehardouin
This book features the most authoritative accounts available of the Holy Wars: Villehardouin's "Conquest of Constantinople" and Joinville's "Chronicle of the Crusade of St. Lewis." 

Byzantium by Judith Herrin
For a thousand years, an extraordinary empire made possible Europe's transition to the modern world: Byzantium. This book provides various short chapters that focus on a theme, such as a building (the great church of Hagia Sophia), a clash over religion (iconoclasm), sex and power (the role of eunuchs), and a symbol of civilization (the fork).

The Queen's Agent by John Cooper
Elizabeth I came to the throne at a time of insecurity and unrest. Spain plotted an invasion, but Elizabeth's Secretary, Francis Walsingham, was prepared to do whatever it took to protect her. This title tells the story of a man devoted to his queen, sacrificing his every waking hour to save the threatened English state.

Famous Women by Giovanni Boccaccio
This collection of biographies in Western literature is devoted to women. It affords a glimpse of a moment in history when mediaeval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential.

Women and the Church in Medieval Ireland, C.1140-1540 by Dianne Hall
A major study of women and the medieval Irish church, this book includes ground-breaking investigations of medieval nunneries in Ireland, their personnel, patrons, buildings and estates and their strategies for ensuring the productivity of their resources. The author argues for the existence of close ties between the supposedly cloistered nuns and the surrounding lay communities. 

Downfall of the Crusader Kingdom by W. B. Bartlett
W.B. Bartlett brings to life the bitter infighting and political battles which ultimately led to the disaster at Hattin and the downfall of the Crusader kingdom.

The Normans in Europe by Arthur Henry Johnson
The sword and the cross The Normans (or Northmen) forged an empire that lasted four hundred years. Though principally known for their seat of power in Normandy, they originated from Viking stock and at the height of their supremacy had made their influence felt throughout Europe and into the Middle East.

Margaret Queen of Scotland by Henry Grey Graham
The Queen who became a Saint Born in 1045 in Hungary, Margaret was the daughter of an English Prince, Edward the Exile. She returned to Britain in 1057 when the childless Edward the Confessor required a successor because her father and subsequently her brother were considered to be legitimate heirs to the English throne. 

The Alexiad by Anna Comnena
"The Alexiad" was written around the year 1148 by Anna Comnena, daughter of Emperor Alexius I. Often considered the first major female historian, Anna Comnena studied philosophy and history extensively, subjects which lent themselves to her very thorough examination of the political and military history of the Byzantine Empire. (Finally have my own copy!)

The Norman Conquest by Marc Morris 
An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom. It is an invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought. This book explains why the Norman Conquest was the single most important event in English history. (Have Marc's book on Edward I, so this will make interesting reading.)