Saturday, October 14, 2017

York author Lucy Adlington reveals the secret sewing rooms at Auschwitz in her new novel

York Press features a review of Lucy Adlington's novel, The Red Ribbon, set in a fictional concentration camp during World War Two.

It was during her research into historical fashion that Lucy uncovered a footnote that lead to a remarkable story – and became the focus of The Red Ribbon.
She discovered that Hedwig Hoss, the wife of the commander at Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, loved fashion so much that she demanded a tailoring workshop be established, to be staffed by female prisoners. These prisoners were tasked with making beautiful clothes for Frau Hoss, as well as the wives of other male officers and female guards.
For a historian with a passion for clothes and fashion, The Red Ribbon was a novel she just had to write. Lucy was struck that in the midst of the horror of a concentration camp the frivolities of fashion could flourish. Hedwig Hoss is recast as Madame H in the novel. In real life, she employed prisoners to make her clothes, first at a room in her house (a villa near the camp), but by 1943 this was moved into a workshop at Auschwitz. She had 23 staff, making beautiful clothes for herself and other Nazi women.

read more here @ York Press and at Lucy's website

The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry

From The Daily Star, a review of Wendy Doniger's book, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex & Jewelry:

The first seven chapters are about rings throughout history; in particular, they are all recognition stories in which a ring is a vital clue. They deal with sexual rings (chapter 1), rings found in fish and found (with children) in the ocean (chapter 2), rings of forgetful husbands (chapters 3, 4, and 5) and of clever wives (chapters 6 and 7). Chapters 1 and 2 are broadly cross-cultural (though largely Anglophone) and deal with a number of relatively short texts; the next three chapters concentrate on fewer stories discussed in greater depths, taken from individual cultures: India (chapter 3), medieval Europe (chapter 4), and the Germanic world (chapter 5). Chapters 6 and 7 deal with a single theme – the “clever wife” – in cross-cultural distribution. Chapters 8 and 9 veer ever so slightly into stories about necklaces in particular cultures and particular historical periods: a treacherous royal necklace in eighteenth-century France (chapter 8) and true-and-false necklaces in nineteenth century English novels and twentieth century American films (chapter 9). The final two chapters return to rings, to the invention of the myth of diamond engagement rings in twentieth century America (chapter 10) and a concluding consideration of the cash value of rings and the clash between reason and convention in myths about rings of recognition throughout the world (chapter 11).

read more here @ The Daily Star

The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard 1935-1936

Read a review of "The Day Will Pass Away: The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard 1935-1936" by Ivan Christyakov at the StarTribune:

Police states spread complicity by forcing citizens into immoral roles. With “The Day Will Pass Away,” readers get a remarkable opportunity to peek into the 1930s diary of one such citizen — Ivan Chistyakov, a guard in the Soviet gulag.
Under Communist rule during the 20th century, Russia herded millions of residents into labor camps without trial. Many were sent thousands of miles to vast infrastructure projects in an attempt to shock-industrialize the nation. As purges under Stalin began and executions swept the country, Chistyakov found himself in command of an armed platoon on the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway, an eastern outpost of the camp system.

read more here at Star Tribune

Sunday, October 8, 2017

'The Good People' by Hannah Kent

Foreboding builds from the get-go of “The Good People,” Hannah Kent’s haunting historical novel about a rural Irish community gripped by sudden death and suspicion.

Kent’s suspenseful storytelling plunges readers into early 19th-century Ireland. She brings vivid life to the hardscrabble scenes: dingy cabins and backbreaking work and the grim hiring fairs where poor children sell their labor to less poor people such as Nóra. When Nóra and Nance head off to confront the fairies, you can feel the mud sliding beneath their bare feet.

Although “The Good People” is fiction, it faithfully represents the hold of ancient Celtic myths on generations of Irish. It also lays bare some hard truths about human nature and leaves you thinking about belief, suspicion and what happens to a community when fear takes hold.

read entire review here @ Star Tribune

Survival guide for women immigrants to 19thcentury Canada

In a new edition – Catharine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic (McGill-Queen’s University Press) – Cooke and co-editor culinary historian Fiona Lucas present what they refer to as a “historical toolkit.” Their study of Traill’s world provides the context and resources necessary to unlock the Guide and other historical cookbooks.

The Guide was first published 162 years ago, in 1855. Cooke says that the timing is ideal for reframing the work. Food studies and food history emerged as a discipline in the 20th century, she adds – it wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s that historians began to consider cookbooks as a source of valuable information.

'In the Woods of Memory': Okinawan novelist makes history visceral

From an article in The Japan Times:

It is almost impossible to find a serious novel that does not touch on the subject of death. “In the Woods of Memory,” taking for its theme the death of the soul, is no exception.
The rape of a 17-year-old girl by four U.S. soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa forms the animating horror at the core of this story, based on a number of similar cases related to the author [Shun Medoruma] by his relatives.
In writing this novel, Medoruma creates a sound chamber of voices, time shifts and associations, moving back and forth from 1945 to 2005. He filters experiences through eye witnesses, a wartime Okinawan-American interpreter, an obsequious village ward chief, an American attacker now tormented in his old age by his collusion in an act of barbarity, and his grandson, who is given the harpoon head used by Seiji in the attack on his grandfather.

read more here @ The Japan Times

read reviews here @ Foreword Reviews, @ Asia-Pacific Journal, @ Stone Bridge Press

Imaging Reveals Medieval Manuscript Hidden in Book Binding

In the mid-16th century, a bookbinder picked up a piece of parchment — one that was already centuries old — and used it to bind a book of poetry. This parchment's text remained unreadable for nearly 500 years, but now, thanks to state-of-the-art imaging techniques, people can read its words once more, according to a new study.

An analysis of the sixth-century text revealed that it was part of the Roman law code. Whoever made the poetry book likely considered the text to be outdated, as at that point, society was using the church's code, rather than Roman laws, the researchers said.

read more here @ Live Science

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Brilliant Defense of Christendom

In medieval times, we are told that tyranny ruled, and the Church and the nascent State were constant rivals in the pursuit of dominance. So many modern historians have cynically reduced this period when Christianity prevailed to a time of cultural darkness and violent power struggles.
Our historian’s central thesis is simply stated: “I argue that thirteenth century France was not a world of the secular and religious vying for position and power, but a world in which the material and the spiritual were totally dependent on each other and penetrated one another at every level.”
He claims medieval society offered “a coherent vision of the whole in which mankind moved through grace from the lesser to the greater, from the fallen to the redeemed. It was an integral vision which included all of social reality and it was removed from our own.”

read more here 

'Flowering of the Bamboo': Revisiting the mass poisoning of 1948

The acronym GUBU (grotesque, unusual, bizarre and unprecedented) fits the mass murder at the Teihoku Bank in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 1948. Sixteen people were deliberately poisoned, including an 8-year-old boy. More money was left behind than stolen.
While the incident has long been pored over in Japan, Triplett’s book was one of the first to explore the explosive case in English when it was published in 1985. Triplett, a journalist and playwright, stumbled on the case upon hearing about Sadamichi Hirasawa, a painter who was convicted of the murders and sentenced, but never executed. He lived out his life on death row. Hirasawa’s conviction was widely disputed.
Triplett examines the case from two perspectives: Hirasawa’s and that of Unit 731, the Imperial Army’s secretive Biological Warfare outfit, which had been operational during World War II and had ties to the case.
Besides the forensics of the crime Triplett’s book portrays just how much Japan was in flux in the immediate aftermath of the war: The Americans were trying to pull Japan’s institutions out of a deeply ingrained feudalistic culture, the police wanted to get someone on the hook quickly, and the press didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory while trying to convict Hirasawa in the court of public opinion. A compelling read, even if it unearths more questions than it answers.
read more here 
@ wikipedia - Sadamichi Hirasawa

See also:
  • Unit 731: Testimony by Hal Gold
  • Occupied City by David Peace
  • Justice in Japan: The Notorious Teijin Scandal by Richard H Mitchell
  • The Super Sleuths by Bruce Henderson & Sam Summerlin

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Draft Copy - The King James Bible

A fragment of the earliest known draft of the King James Bible has been discovered in Cambridge. 

However, new controversies seem to arise from this discovery. After examination and investigation of the manuscript, it was reported that the King James Bible had discarded big chunks of the original text of the Bible. Several notable people and events were completely erased from this new version. According to Dr Miller, this might have happened either because of some politics of the age or simply because of the laziness of the translators.

This discovery helps us to see the degree to which human intervention at a particular period of time has affected the Bible. Though the King James Bible is considered, as mentioned above, the “Word of God”, the unearthing of this manuscript may indicate towards the fact that this version of the Bible was actually a product of ideas and notions of the translators.

read more here @ The New York News Day

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Ten Dead Comedians

The title caught my attention.  Then I read the premise:
A darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other classics of the genre,Ten Dead Comedians is a marvel of literary ventriloquism, with hilarious comic monologues in the voice of every suspect. It’s also an ingeniously plotted puzzler with a twist you’ll never see coming!
So I knew what I was in for - a comedic take on a classic elimination murder mystery. And I wasn't disappointed.  The story was simple - a series of text messages are sent out to various comedians, inviting them to a small Jamaican island to take part in the next big thing.  No-one is about to greet them, and in each of their rooms is a memento of the past or the future.  A video by their host, the great Dustin Walker, accuses them all of crimes against comedy - all are to be judged and no-one is leaving - alive.
" ... a room full of comics turns into a shark tank with one sniff of blood in the water ..."
The story then builds up with each chapter.  There are plot twists upon plot twists, the characters are suitable odorous, and you found that you didn't really know which character you should be rooting for to survive the obligatory gruesome end.

I knew what I was in for and found myself engaged, having some preconception of the proposed plot-line as I am a dedicated Agatha Christie fan.  Fred van Lente's homage to this classic crime genre, style of story-telling, and sardonic humour will not be to everyone's taste ... but it is what is is.


For movie-buffs, see also:
Ten Little Indians (1965 film)
Ten Little Indians (1987 film)
Ten Little Indians (1985 film)
Clue (1985 film)
And Then There Were None ( 2015 miniseries)

The Library of William O'Brien

William O'Brien (1832-1899)
About four months ago The Guardian newspaper online ran an article about the forthcoming sale of the personal library of William O'Brien, an Irish judge and bibliophile. A large collection of books held in the Jesuit Library near Dublin for over a century, including many items of incunabula (books published prior to 1501), will go up for sale. The value of those being put up for sale is estimated at £1,500,000 (or about $1.9 million).

According to the Irish Times, Sotheby's described the collection as "one of the most important of its kind to come to the market." It is said to contain rare printed books from the 15th century, early Shakespeare editions, literature, and medieval manuscripts. A catalogue puiblished in 1932 by the Milltown Park Library (Jesuits) listed 117 items bequeathed to it by William O'Brien in 1899. An indication of the size of the collection is that the University of Cambridge had one of the largest libraries at the beginning of the 14th century, which consisted of 122 books.

read more here:
@ The Guardian
@ Sotherby's Blog - Introduction: William O'Brien
Sotherby's- auction results

The Treasures of Timbuktu

From an article in The New York Times, comes a tale straight from the pages of an Indianna Jones script - a fascinating tale of a group of librarians who saved the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu from jihadists. Or did they????
On Jan. 28, 2013, news broke of an epic cultural catastrophe. That morning, the mayor of Timbuktu, Halle Ousmane Cissé, told journalists that the jihadist occupiers of the town had destroyed its famous literary heritage. Experts declared it to be a disaster of incalculable proportions, the greatest loss of the written word in Africa since the destruction of the library of Alexandria.

Journalist and author, Charlie English was determined to find out more, and uncovered a story as fantastical as it was incredulous. He concludes that:
At its core, the story of the rescue of Timbuktu’s manuscripts is significantly true. But if it is more complex than it first appears, and vastly embellished, we should expect no less. The most fascinating part of the Timbuktu tale is that the doubts and distortions surrounding the 21st-century “Indiana Jones moment” mirror the myths that have arisen about the city throughout its history. Timbuktu has always traded on legend. The misreadings of this city have been the making of this place; they are what draws the world to it.
This event was further reported by various news organisation who beguiled readers with the epic adventures of the "bad-ass librarians" who with near military precision manged to remove over 370,000 manuscripts from a city in the grips of being overrun by military insurgents to safety - all without being caught.

read entire article here @ The New York Times
read more here @ NPR and  @ The Weekend Australian

A number of books have been written on the subject:

  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer
  • The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past by Charlie English
  • The Book Smugglers Of Timbuktu: The Race To Reach The Fabled City And The Fantastic Effort To Save Its Past by Charlie English

read reviews here 

The Battle of Clontarf - Ireland’s Troy?

New research suggests that the standard account of the Battle of Clontarf - Cogadh Gáedhel re Gallaibh (“The War Of The Irish Against The Foreigners”) – was partly a literary history borrowed from a classic tale of the Trojan Wars.

In Classical Literature and Learning in Medieval Irish Narrative edited by Ralph O'Connor, a chapter by Maire Ni Mhaonaigh - The metaphorical Hector': the literary portrayal of Murchad mac Bríain - relooks at the historical accounts of the Battle of Contarf, the legendary battle between the Irish and the Vikings in 1014.
Through a close study of the text, Dr Ní Mhaonaigh found that the imagery, terminology and ideas draw inspiration from a range of earlier sources – in particular Togail Troí (The Destruction of Troy), an eleventh-century translation of a fifth-century account of the battle for Troy.
In popular history, the battle has been characterised as an epic and violent clash between the army of the Christian Irish High King, Brian Boru, and a combined force led by the rebel king of the territory of Leinster, Máel Mórda, and Sitric, leader of the Dublin-based Vikings. The disputed outcome saw the Vikings beaten off, but at huge cost. Brian himself was killed, and became an iconic figure and Irish martyr.
“Academics have long accepted that Cogadh couldn’t be taken as reliable evidence but that hasn’t stopped some of them from continuing to draw on it to portray the encounter. What this research shows is that its account of the battle was crafted, at least in part, to create a version of events that was the equivalent of Troy. This was more than a literary flourish, it was a work of a superb, sophisticated and learned author.”
read more here @ University of Cambridge

From the tenth century onwards, Irish scholars adapted Latin epics and legendary histories into the Irish language, including the Imtheachta Aeniasa, the earliest known adaptation of Virgil's Aeneid into any European vernacular; Togail Troí, a grand epic reworking of the decidedly prosaic history of the fall of Troy attributed to Dares Phrygius; and, at the other extreme, the remarkable Merugud Uilixis meic Leirtis, a fable-like retelling of Ulysses's homecoming boiled down to a few hundred lines of lapidary prose.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Beyond the harem: ways to be a woman during the Ottoman Empire

A new volume of essays looks afresh at women’s lives during the 600 years of the Ottoman empire. The book challenges the stereotypes of female lives confined to the harem and hamam – and reveals how women were surprisingly visible in public spaces.

In Ottoman Women in Public Space, a group of scholars of the Middle East and the Islamic world turn their attention to a neglected topic: what life was actually like for women at the height of an empire that lasted for 600 years (right up until the turn of the 20th century) and, at its most powerful, stretched eastwards from present-day Hungary, southwards to the religious centre of Mecca, and westwards around the southern Mediterranean to the bustling port of Algiers.

With this new volume, Kate Fleet and Ebru Boyar and their contributors lift the lid on many thousands of lives previously marginalised by academic histories.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Baltic History

A selection of tomes on the history of the Baltic region

The Baltic: A new history of the region and its peoples by Alan Palmer. 
This history of the region covers the Viking era through the Medieval pinnacle of trade into the world war years of the twentieth century and the years of Soviet domination. Now, these countries are growing and emerging into strong democracies.

The Baltic: A History by Michael North
From the Vikings to the EU the Baltic has been a Nordic Mediterranean, a shared maritime zone with distinct patterns of trade, cultural exchange, and conflict. Covering a thousand years in a part of the globe where seas are more connective than land, Michael North’s overview transforms the way we think about one of the world’s great waterways.

A Concise History of the Baltic States by Andrejs Plakans
The book traces the countries' evolution from their ninth-century tribal beginnings to their present status as three thriving and separate nation states, focusing particularly on the region's complex twentieth-century history, which culminated in the eventual re-establishment of national sovereignty after 1991.

Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People by Endre Bojtár
Introduces the reader to Baltic issues in general; recounts the history of the Baltic peoples relying on archaeological sources; provides an objective linguistic history and a description of the Baltic languages; and provides original and fresh insights into mythology in the ancient history of the Baltic peoples.

Culture and Customs of the Baltic States by Kevin O'Connor
The approach in each of the topical chapters is to generalize what is common among the three states and then to focus on each country in turn. Chapters on the land, people, and history; religion; marriage, family, gender, and education; holidays, cuisine, and leisure activities; language, folklore, and literature; media and cinema; performing arts; and art are a superb introduction to the Baltics and to the unique aspects of the countries.

Northern Shores: A History of the Baltic Seas and Its Peoples by Alan Palmer
In the days of sail Viking longships and Hanse roundships plied the waters of the Baltic, and for centuries the area formed the axis of a five-nation power struggle, as bids were made for glory both on land and at sea. Today towering ferries and container ships criss-cross routes between cities with a proud past, and travellers are entranced by legendary castles and captivating palaces. This is the fascinating story of the northern inland sea and of the peoples of its shores, from the ice age to the nuclear age.

The Baltic World 1772-1993: Europe's Northern Periphery in an Age of Change by David Kirby
Here he tackles the contrasting experiences of Europe's northern periphery -- affluence and democracy in the north, stagnation and authoritarianism in the south -- from the French Revolution to the collapse of the USSR and beyond. This is a masterly study of a region that is far from peripheral politically to the post-Soviet world.

A History of the Crusades: The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries edited by H. W. Hazard
A comprehensive, collaborative account of the political, religious, military, and social causes, events, organizers and leaders, achievements, and consequences of the Christian Crusades and concurrent enterprises, through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Part of a six volume series, this edition has chapters on the crusades against the Hussites, and the German crusades in the Baltic

Crusading and Chronicle Writing on the Medieval Baltic Frontier- A Companion to the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia by Dr Carsten Selch Jensen, Dr Marek Tamm, Ms Linda Kaljundi
The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, written by a missionary priest in the early thirteenth century to record the history of the crusades to Livonia and Estonia around 1186-1227, offers one of the most vivid examples of the early thirteenth century crusading ideology in practice. A key objective of this book, therefore, is to synthesise the current state of research for the international scholarly audience.

An expert look at the history of Seaham’s churches

From an article in the Sunderland Echo, come this review of Fred Cooper's book, A History of the Churches at Seaham:
..... begins in Saxon and Norman times when the area we know as Seaham was served by the two churches of St Mary’s and St Andrews in the two parishes of (Old) Seaham and Dalton-Le-Dale.
Fred added: “In medieval times, churches were often built by the manorial lord who were the patrons of the church and were the possessors of the advowson i.e. the right to appoint the Rector.”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

10 Legendary and Mysterious Libraries of the Ancient World

Beyond Science has listed ten of the most remarkable libraries in the world.

In today’s list, we take a step back thousands of years to days when information and knowledge are stored and jealously guarded in giant libraries that are often the first monuments to be destroyed and sacked in times of war or invasion. Libraries that have shaped the world we now know of and the civilizations that have walked the earth, each contributing to humanity’s progress.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Epistolae: Medieval Women's Letters

One of the most remarkable resources for those studying women in medieval times, is this vast collection of letters written by them and to them - available online at Epistolae: Medieval Women's Letters.
Epistoalae is a collection of letters to and from women in the Middle Ages, from the 4th to the 13th century. The letters, written in Latin, are linked to the names of the women involved, with English translations and, where available, biographical sketches of the women and some description of the subject matter or the historic context of the letter. The letters were originally collected and translated by Professor Joan Ferrante of Columbia University, mainly from printed sources.

Fechtbuch - Medieval Fightbook

I first came across a reference to "Fechtbuch" via a documentary on SBS here in Australia - which was no doubt the National Geographic program that had aired much earlier.

The tome in reference - Fechtbuch - was a fencing manual written in 1443 by Hans Talhoffer:
Talhoffer was following a tradition established by Johannes Liechtenauer, an itinerant master swordsman of the fourteenth century who recorded the secrets of his fighting techniques in the form of cryptic verses. The Talhoffer manuscript includes verses from Liechtenauer, sections devoted to the procedures for fighting judicial combats both with and without armor, and the use of the weapons employed in such combats, including the highly specialized Stechschilde (thrusting shields), maces, long swords, spears, and daggers. There are also sections on knife fighting and wrestling, the latter based on the methods of Ott the Jew, a renowned wrestling master to the archdukes of Austria.
There is a 1467 copy of Talhoffer's Fechtbuch in the Bavarian State Library:
This 1467 manuscript Fechtbuch (Combat manual) provides instructions for various methods of fighting, without armor and wearing different kinds of armor, and on foot and on horseback. A series of annotated illustrations is devoted to combat with swords, daggers, pikes, and other weapons. Even the rules for a trial by combat between a man and a woman are included. The author, Hans Talhoffer (circa 1420–circa 1490), was regarded in his time as an unbeatable swordsman and one of the finest teachers of the so-called German school of fencing. Because of his reputation, many noblemen sought his services as an advisor and teacher. Among them was the first duke of Württemberg, Eberhard the Bearded (1445–96), who commissioned this manuscript. The manuscript itself has a curious history: originally forming part of the library of the dukes of Bavaria, it was stolen during the Thirty Years' War and ended up in Gotha. Only in 1951 was it again sold to the Bavarian State Library, where it is now preserved.
See also:

Read Online:
Further Reading:
  • Codex Wallerstein: A Medieval Fighting Book from the Fifteenth Century on the Longsword, Falchion, Dagger, and Wrestling by Grzegorz Zabinski
  • The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570 by Joachim Meyer 
  • The Art of Sword Combat: A 1568 German Treatise on Swordmanship by Joachim Meyer
  • Venetian Rapier: Nicoletto Giganti's 1606 Rapier Fencing Curriculum by Tom Leoni
  • The Art of Swordsmanship by Hans Lecküchner trans Jeffrey L. Forgeng
  • The Complete Renaissance Swordsman: A Guide to the Use of All Manner of Weapons: Antonio Manciolino's Opera Nova (1531) by Tom Leoni

The Principality of Antioch and its Frontiers in the Twelfth Century

My fascination with the Normans, and particularly Bohemond of Taranto, has led to my eager anticipation of Andrew Buck's book (being the result of his doctoral research under the guidance of Thomas Asbridge).  I am looking forward to adding both this tome as well as Asbridge's "Creation of the Principality of Antioch 1098 - 1130" to my "Crusades" shelves in the Library.

This review of Andrew Buck's book was posted on De Re Militari by Nathan Albright.

For those readers who have an understanding of the crusader states and are interested in knowing more about the political and diplomatic and military history of the Principality of Antioch, this book represents an able and detailed and thorough account of the twelfth century.

Blurb from Boydell and Brewer:

Situated in northern Syria, on the eastern-most frontier of Latin Christendom, the principality of Antioch was a medieval polity bordered by a host of rival powers, including the Byzantine Empire, the Armenian Christians of Cilicia, the rulers of the neighbouring Islamic world and even the other crusader states, the kingdom of Jerusalem and the counties of Edessa and Tripoli. Coupled with the numerous Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities who populated the region, Antioch's Frankish settlers - initially installed into power by the military successes of the First Crusade - thus faced numerous challenges to their survival.

guest blog @ Bearers of the Cross
review @ Amazon

More September Additions

With the latest round of additions to the Library, anyone would think I might have an addiction - to books that is.  I make no secret of the fact that I might have a "small" foible when it comes to books - I do tend to collect them on not such a small scale.  But to each their own!

Adding to my collection of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series:
  • A Dance With Dragons: Part 1 Dreams and Dust
  • A Dance With Dragons: Part 2 After the Feast
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
As for the rest:
  • A History of Wales by John Davies
  • Daughter of Venice - Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus and Woman of the Renaissance by Holly Hurlburt
  • The Rival Queens - Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone
  • Bess of Hardwick - First Lady of Chatsworth by Mary Lovell
  • Harold - Tha Last Anglo Saxon King by Ian Walker
  • Red Roses - Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence
  • Bosworth - The Birth of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria by Tracy Adams
  • Margaret, Queen of Sicily by Jacqueline Alio
  • Kingdom of Sicily 1130-1860 by Louis Mendola
  • Kingmakers - How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning
  • The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks
  • The Warrior Queen - The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Greatby Joanna Arman
  • King John - England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrantby Stephen Church


Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Defiance - The Extraordinary Life of Lady Anne Barnard

The lives of unconventional ladies has always fascinated me - and Lady Anne Barnard was no exception.  A woman who lived 1750-1825 and embarked on a series of adventures, none more outstanding than her journey to South Africa - unheard of for a woman at the time!  

I was unfamiliar with Lady Barnard, and the author, Stephen Taylor, uses diary entries and personal letters to bring this woman to life - they say sometimes fact is more exciting than fiction - and in Anne Barnard, this is doubly so.  One of the great adventuresses, who no doubt carved a path for those ladies who followed her.

For those who a student of women in history - this is especially one for you!

read review here @ goodreads

See also:
Lady Anne Barnard @ wikipedia
Lady Anne Barnard @ Cape Town History

Review: The Painted Gun

Where does one begin?? Heart-pumping read with more twists and turns than a carnival ride. Just when you think you've got a hold of the plot, a white rabbit appears, and you chase it down a seemingly unrelated rabbit-hole.

The case - a missing girl - straight-forward story line - find the girl, solve the mystery. Wrong! And this is where this talented author uses smoke and mirrors to confuse and confound the reader - the art of misdirection at its best. The conclusion - unexpected, totally.
With pitch-perfect dialogue, an exquisitely crafted plot, and a stylized, deadpan nod to classic hard-boiled writers like James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, and Dashiell Hammett, The Painted Gun introduces Bradley Spinelli as a force to be reckoned with in contemporary noir fiction.
This book reads like a famous movie that the author references! High praise indeed!

see review @ goodreads
visit website of Bradley Spinelli

Review: Death On Delos

Greece, 454 BC: The sacred isle of Delos - It is a crime against the gods to die or be born on the sacred island. Thanks to the violence over the treasury, the first blasphemy has already been committed. Can Nico solve the murder and get Diotima off the island before they accidentally commit the second?

Again, a little out of my comfort zone with crime fiction set in Ancient Greece - and although this was my first read in this series (I began at book 7), I found it quite easy to follow the characters of Diotima and Nicholas.  A few of the "real" characters were familiar to me through my cursory high school education in the Classical Era and the author, Gary Corby, does a great job in filling in the details.

So to the story itself - murder, of course, on a sacred island in the Aegean 545BC.  Our detective duo are already in situ and are called upon to solve this mystery.  However, this is not a straight-forward crime and the location itself is proving to be rather trying.  Add into this mix a delicate political situation, religious tensions, a cast of questionable islanders, and you have all the makings of great cosy mystery.

The author injects humour and satire into this novel, which adds to its enjoyment.  It is an easy to read novel that is not saturated in  unnecessary details.   Not only was my interest maintained, but the author also inspires the reader to explore more of this period in history - not only fiction but non-fiction as well.  Love the author notes at the end!

see review @ goodreads

Review: Outsider In Amsterdam

"This now-classic novel, first published in 1975, introduces Janwillem van de Wetering’s lovable Amsterdam cop duo of portly, wise Gripstra and handsome, contemplative de Gier. With its unvarnished depiction of the legacy of Dutch colonialism and the darker facets of Amsterdam’s free drug culture, this excellent procedural asks the question of whether a murder may ever be justly committed."

This was my first dip into crime fiction from the Netherlands - and I wasn't disappointed. It was a little slow moving to begin with - and here I may have been comparing it with UK & US crime fiction - but my interest was never for a moment left idle, and before you know it, the denouement is upon you.

We have all the elements of a great crime novel - murder, plot twists, interesting characters, police procedural - all things the avid crime reader will be familiar with. Add into this mix an exotic European location (Amsterdam), and you have an intriguing and punchy story-line.
While de Gier telephoned Grijpstra picked up the stool and put it right and climbed on top of it. He cut the rope with his switchblade, an illegal weapon that he carried against all regulations. The rope wasn’t thick and the knife very sharp. De Gier wanted to catch the corpse but van Meteren was quicker. He put the corpse down, very carefully, on the bed. No one thought that Piet would start breathing again.
He didn’t.
I actually kept forgetting this this was published in 1975 - so to the uninitiated in Dutch fiction, one would hardly have known the difference - some of the "attitudes" prevalent in the novel, whilst dated, could still be applicable in today's world.

I am going to source other novels in this series as this first outing was highly enjoyable.

see review here @ goodreads

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: The Forgotten Queen

When most talk of the Tudors, the focus is usually on Henry VIII, his six wives, and his children.  Often forgotten are the siblings of Henry VIII, in this instance, his elder sister, Margaret.

Margaret was married to James IV, King of Scotland, and her offspring and their offspring, would make an indelible impact upon the political reigns of Henry and his children, notably that of Elizabeth I.

So, it was with this in mind that I was curious to see how Margaret would be portrayed in this fictional account of her life, The Forgotten Queen by DL Bogdan.
"From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland."
Margaret's story is told in the first person narrative - so we are really hearing Margaret's story from her own perspective.  This form of story-telling is, I guess, an attempt to make the reader more empathetic towards the main character, who in this instance is selfish, petulant, childish, rude and egotistic.  Whilst this behaviour is understandable in a very young woman who is married off to a complete stranger in a foreign country for purely political reasons, it wears thin as Margaret ages.  Something else that really puts me off is the attempt at native dialects - it detracts from my reading pleasure.

Margaret's real story is an exciting read - this woman was a true survivor of the politics of her day.  

Further Reading:
  • Margaret Tudor on wikipedia
  • Queen Margaret Tudor: The Story of a Courageous but Forgotten Monarch by Stuart McCabe
  • The Sisters of Henry VIII: Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland (November 1489-October 1541), Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk (March 1496-June 1533) by Hester W. Chapman
  • The Thistle and the Rose: The Sisters of Henry VIII. by Hester Chapman
  • Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots by Patricia Hill Buchanan
  • The Sisters Of Henry VIII: The Tumultuous Lives Of Margaret Of Scotland And Mary Of France by Maria Perry
  • King Harry's sister, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland by Michael Glenne
  • The rose and the thorn: the lives of Mary and Margaret Tudor by Nancy Lenz Harvey