Monday, January 29, 2018

Sampler- A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window

Cover image - The Woman In The WindowShe sits and she watches and she waits. Anna Fox, the central character in the one of the decade’s most anticipated thrillers, The Woman in the Window, is a ‘shut-in,’ unable to go outside her New York home. Spying on her neighbours is her pet pastime, alongside drinking wine, watching old movies and recalling happy memories.

She knows everyone’s little habits, their relationships, their schedules. Creepy. Nothing escapes Anna’s vigilance, especially when newcomers like the Russells move into the house across the street. A father, mother and their teenage son, they seem like a perfectly normal family.

But one night there’s a blood curdling scream and Anna thinks she sees something terrible happen in their house, something so dreadful she can’t ignore. She has to tell someone.

Forced to make contact with the outside world, the reclusive life Anna has so carefully contrived begins to crumble. Problem is, in broad daylight it’s evident to everyone, police included, that Anna is heavily medicated, drinking and depressed. Nor is there a shred of evidence that the murder ever happened. Not a drop of blood. No other witnesses. No-one missing.

Other questions begin piling up: how did a skilled, well-respected professional like Anna, end up like this? What trauma set her life into a spiral? And why is she separated from the husband and daughter she so clearly loves and misses?

But it’s the over-arching question – is such an unreliable witness to be taken seriously – that will absorb readers the most. Anna seems crazy, yet even through the haze of drugs and drink, she is an astute observer. What is real? What is imagined? Who to trust?

While Anna tries to sober up and think straight, inside the darkened depths of the home that is her fortress, strange things begin to happen ....... read sample chapter here

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch review – the future is medieval

Joan of Arc and Christine de Pizan are reimagined in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, in this compellingly ambitious examination of gender, semiotics and warfare.

One premise of The Book of Joan is that the 21st century, for all its technological advances, has returned us to pre-modern levels of brutality and strife. There are children fighting once again; there are religious crusades; land is seized at will. Yuknavitch takes three real people from medieval France and reimagines them in a post-apocalyptic future.

The narrative mode is to show through dramatic, often moving scenes, and then to tell, reflecting on them analytically. This disjunction can be jarring, but it’s knowingly done, because the book’s style is itself a theme.

Katherine Arden: It's a great time for female fantasy writers

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine ArdenFrom CNET:

Katherine Arden's new book, "The Girl in the Tower," is an evocative fairy tale for adults set in medieval Russia. The novel is a sequel to Arden's acclaimed debut, "The Bear and the Nightingale" and is the second part of her Winternight trilogy. 

Nicholas Tufnell spoke to Arden about folklore, her writing process and why female fantasy writers are getting recognised in a way they haven't before.

The final Winternight book. It's called "The Winter of the Witch" and should be out late 2018.

Andy updates 18th century history book

From The Westmorland Gazette:
Andy Denwood has edited a new illustrated version of a local history book written in the 1700s.

NOT many parts of England are lucky enough to have a local history book written in the 1700s.

But the ancient parish of Warton — which used to include Carnforth and Silverdale — is one of them.

For more than 30 years, starting in 1710, schoolmaster John Lucas sat down after work to compile the book that became ‘A History of Warton Parish’. It covers everything from peat-digging and salt-making to the use of gunpowder in farming - not to mention funerals and harvests, fishing and fairies, meteors, school-days and football.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Rainsongs by Sue Hubbard - Review by Martina Evans

From the Irish Times:

An English woman’s journey to her dead husband’s Kerry summer cottage leads to a series of discoveries.

A recently widowed English woman, Martha Cassidy, is driving in the dark, lost somewhere outside Cahirsiveen. Her husband, Brendan Cassidy, has died suddenly of a heart attack, and she is on her way to his remote summer cottage on the headland. The practical need to sort and pack up his things is clearly more than that. “Coming here forces her to accept his loss. This was always his place.”

As Martha contemplates her loneliness here at the end of the world with Skellig rock in her sight line, the medieval monks who survived on that rock symbolise faith in the face of darkness and privation. But Skellig also represents unfinished business for Martha, a trip that was never taken.

Thousands Of Rare, First Edition Books And Manuscripts Destroyed In Freak Accident

A large portion of a private collection of King works, which included original typed manuscripts of Maximum Overdrive and The Eyes of the Dragon, has been lost to an accident.

Gerald Winters spent 20 years of his life travelling the world and collecting rare, invaluable pieces of King's literary work in hopes of one day opening up a small museum dedicated to the author's legacy. Last year, Winters packed up his life and collection and moved from Thailand to Bangor, Maine (where King calls home) to share his treasures with other fans. But this week, a freak flooding accident suddenly robbed the collector of thousands of first edition books, manuscripts, and a variety of other incredibly rare items that have come out of King's creative process.

Winters estimates that nearly 90 per cent of the collection - which also included signed works from J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin - was destroyed. Understandably, he's going through a period of mourning.

Essex's eventful past retold in new book

From Echo News:

Echo: Book cover- the Little History of Essex offers a compact history of Essex’s pastIf you caught the intriguing BBC4 documentary - England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey – which aired on BBC 4 on Thursday, you’ll already know how the short life of the teenage girl who sat on the throne of England for just nine days in 1553 was one of sadness - and a tragic bloody end.

But the often overlooked queen also had interesting links to our county, which are explored in a new book, The Little History of Essex.

Penned by Southend historian and author Judith Williams, the book condenses the most interesting chapters of the county’s past into one enjoyable easy read.

The Little History of Essex takes the reader through the ages of Essex- from its early beginning, to Norman and Medieval times, Tudor Essex, up to Victorian and then post war and modern history.

More than just one invasion after another: Medieval Ireland

A new book seeks to challenge that assumption, providing a look at a thousand years of the history of the island of Ireland, from the arrival of St Patrick in the 5th century to the political and religious events of the late 14th century.

The book, by Dr Clare Downham of the University of Liverpool, resists the tendency to define Irish medieval history by certain landmark dates, such as the arrival of the Vikings c.800, or the invasion of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1171.

Dr Downham’s reasons for this are compelling: an Irish person in 1175 is unlikely to have viewed them self as in a fundamentally different society as someone ten years before, and many of the changes in medieval Ireland, such as the increase in literacy and improvements in farming technology, were both far more gradual and far more wide reaching than the events of any single date.


Review: The Habsburgs by Benjamin Curtis

The Habsburgs by Benjamin Curtis
"The truth about the dynasty lies, predictably, somewhere in between its ostentatiously constructed self-image and the rather pock-marked public perception."

Benjamin Curtis' "The Habsburgs: The History of the Dynasty" is a great introduction into the Habsburg dynasty from its obscure beginnings until the 20th century.

Author Benjamin Curtis readily admits that in condensing such a history into a "manageable tome", there was much that had to be left out.  He makes no apologies for that, and instead focuses on what the reader actually wants to read - the personalities, court intrigue, politics and dynastic marriages, the battles.  

All the major players are there, from Rudolf I, Charles V , Philips II - IV, Maria Theresa, to the very last, Franz Joseph (d.1916).  All, and those in between, are given a voice, and each chapter is followed by a summation or analysis of the political and dynastic forces that impacted the reigns of the period covered.

Curtis gives us the groundwork to go out and explore on our own - as the dynasty itself did, extending its reach far beyond Spain and Europe.

A well-researched and readable tome; a worthy addition to anyone's personal library.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Juliana: The Mughal ‘Princess’ from Portugal

Medieval Indian history has stories and anecdotes of illustrious women such as Razia Sultana, Noor Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal and Jahan Ara, some of whom have also been featured stunningly so on celluloid. However, very little is known about Juliana, a Portuguese lady who played a sensational stellar role in the Mughal Court and witnessed from close quarters the unfolding of history, as well as history being made on account of the mystifying sway she had over this era.

Juliana Nama is a book that narrates the fascinating story akin to a fairy-tale of the alluring and charismatic Dona Juliana Dias da Costa—the favoured and beloved companion of Shah Alam, also known as Bahadur Shah-I—who succeeded his father, the controversial Monarch, Aurungzeb to the Peacock Throne. She not only left an enduring and unfading stamp on that period but perhaps, emphatically so, refashioned and altered the course of events to an exceptional degree.

Centuries of Dunfermline's history revealed in Patricia's new book

A North Queensferry author has penned a new book which features Dunfermline’s Burgh history. Patricia Dennison’s revealing text tells the story of urban development in Scotland over the course of the millennium. The evolution of urban life, in its different guises, is detailed throughout ‘The Evolution of Scotland’s Towns: Creation, Growth and Fragmentation’.

“Nothing defines the history of the ordinary person in Scotland better than the history of our towns,” she said.

Welcome return for author’s medieval investigator Foxley

Toni Mount has published the fifth book in her series of medieval murders. Picture: Toni MountA Gravesend author, lecturer and scientist has just launched her latest book dealing with medieval murders.  It is the fifth in a series that is making Toni Mount a household name in the area.

She told us: “It is called The Colour of Murder and deals with even more medieval murders, including the mysterious death of The Duke of Clarence, one of the future Richard III’s brothers, who, tradition tells us was drowned in a wine barrel.”

“Some 540 years ago, on 18th February 1478 the Duke of Clarence was, famously, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he jump or was he pushed? The question has never been answered, so this was an opportunity for my intrepid investigator Seb Foxley – to finally solve the mystery.”

Review - Noir Fiction

Buenos Aires Noir by Ernesto MalloBuenos Aires Noir - edited by Ernesto Mallo
I read this one prior to "Montreal Noir" and found myself comparing the two.

Predominantly told in first person narrative, the denouement is usually in the last page, at times, the last couple of sentences. Nothing is lost in the translation nor do you have to have an understanding of the city.  The characters are spread across a range of social, economic, political demographics, and periods in the city's history. Loved the added touch of the body map.  The crimes are varied but invariably involve murder. The violence is implied rather than "in your face" - more subtle, classic even.

" .... its inhabitants display the mischief found on the edges of the law ..." - most apt.

This is easy to both read and enjoy - yes, you can enjoy crime because with crime fiction, sometimes, you really can get away with murder!

Montreal Noir by Jacques FilippiMontreal Noir - edited by Jacques Filippi
I read this immediately after "Buenos Aires Noir" and found myself comparing the two.  The stories are slight longer than BA Noir, with a more modern feel. These are stories from the streets, with the crimes more in your face, the violence brutal and ugly.

" ... its unsettling, its subversive, its palpable but its never obvious ..."

Loved every page!

Review: The Prince Who Would Be King by Sarah Fraser

35007705Author Sarah Fraser achieves her aim in bringing to the forefront the life and character of Prince Henry Frederick Stuart (d.1612).

Henry Stuart was literally, for some time, the "forgotten prince", overshadowed by his more well-known younger brother Charles I of England, who succeeded to the English throne due to the untimely death of Prince Henry, who was his elder brother.

Fraser uses what available research there is to give us a glimpse into the private and political life of a young prince who people believed would be key to the unification of the Scottish and English crowns, even more so than his father James VI & I.  What we discover is a child, torn from his mother's arms at birth (and later becoming one of her fiercest advocates); a young man who never really knew his younger siblings until much later in his young life; was fought over by warring political factions for their own gain; and was growing in political influence himself as he grew older - he was not an impotent political player as we would assume, have many forays into the political stage.  We gain a valuable insight into the politics at play, first at the Scottish then English royal courts; we witness the factionalism, both political and religious; we read of scandal, intrigue, political alliances, and courtly machinations.

This is well researched and easy to read.  I found myself comparing the life of this prince to that of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VIII - two promising lives cut tragically short, leaving us not knowing  what men these young princes may have become.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review: Parlour Games and the Public Life of Women in Renaissance Italy

George McClure's "Parlour Games and the Public Life of Women in Renaissance Italy" is an academic tome that looks at the use of games in Renaissance Italy, particularly by upper-class women, as a means of displaying their intellect, wit, charm, being confined by the social norms from doing so in a more public forum.

A welcome addition for those with an interest in this particular field of study.

more in-depth reviews here @ Project MUSE and @ American Historical Review

Review: Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

The setting: London 1666 - fire has torn through the city but leaves behind more than just "blood and ashes". It leaves behind a murder victim in St Pauls Cathedral. James Marwood, government clerk, is tasked with tracking down the murderer and comes across Cat at the scene of the crime. Who is this victim that so sets the main characters (who have more in common than they know) off on a dangerous journey to discover the truth.

I quite enjoyed this mystery set in London just after the Great Fire - it put me in mind of CS Quinn's quartet of novels of the same period. In this instance we are introduced to two whose backgrounds are haunted by the ramifications of the execution of King Charles I of England. Slowly Taylor unravels the threads and the back-story is filled in.

The story of James Marwood is narrated in the first person whilst that of Cat (Catherine Lovett) is narrated in the third person - and as such I guess I was more drawn to James than Cat. I found the overall story engaging, suspenseful enough, and liked the introduction of the historical facts of London of the period.

I read the book over a about a week, but through no fault of the book or the author.  A copy now sits proudly on my own bookshelf.

Further Reading;

Monday, January 1, 2018

100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time

Over the course of 2017, Robert McCrum from The Guardian has been steadily positing a list of the 100 Best Nonfiction Books of All Time.

So, now the list is finally complete, feel free to indulge in the eclectic selection.

In the meantime, Robert explains how and why he chose some titles over others here @ The Guardian:

Sometimes, I wonder what such an exercise will look like in 2117. For now, this list will survive online, a snapshot of taste at the beginning of the 21st century. It will, no doubt, continue to provoke and infuriate. That’s partly its raison d’etre. More seriously, it will also continue to mine a treasury of prose that has been seasoned by adversity, guarded by devoted readers of all kinds, and cherished for expressing the shock of the new, in the greatest language the world has ever known.

Story Behind Umberto Eco's First Novel

According to a post in the Vintage News, Umberto Eco wrote his first novel, “The Name of the Rose” at the age of 48, after he had been invited to write a short detective story.

Several years before writing “The Name of the Rose,” Eco was approached by one of his friends who worked for a major Italian publisher. She invited Eco to write a short detective story which would be published in her magazine, but Eco declined the offer and jokingly told her that his detective story would be 500 pages long and it would take place in a medieval monastery.

read more here @ The Vintage News

What's Planned For 2018 In The Library

Best wishes for the start of a new year!

So, what is planned for the Library in 2018.  

For a start, catching up on some long overdue book reviews - and there are quite a few.  And taking those that I have posted on Goodreads and my blog, Women of History, and collating them over to the Library.

I will also be on the lookout for interesting items, articles, news stories pertaining to books, authors, reading, writing, and sprinkling them in between my reviews, as well as adding in some reviews or posts from external sources and highlighting some books that have taken my interest.

I have also undertaken the Goodreads reading challenge again - my aim, 100 books over the course of a year.

And try and post at least once a day!

Happy reading!