Monday, August 20, 2018

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings: Angelou's Quest To Truth And Power

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou's Autobiography, #1)Review by Mahvish Shahab for Feminism In India:
Published in 1969, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is Maya Angelou’s captivating and remarkably beautiful autobiographical novel. She was an artist, a poet, a writer, a composer and an activist among other roles which she defined very well throughout her career.

The book is a coming-of-age work which narrates the life of Marguerite (also called ‘My’ or ‘Maya’ by her brother, Bailey) from the tender age of three to the late teens and the struggles Maya and Bailey had to face. The young children were labelled like baggage and sent away to their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. It was in the South United States that Maya witnessed racism and prejudice all around. There are numerous incidents in the book in which Maya faced difficulties while growing up as a black girl in the South, yet triumphed despite persistent institutionalised discrimination.

Angelou has poignantly woven her story of oppression where she is caught in the crossfires of white supremacy and male prejudice. Maya has referred to the racial barrier as one of the ‘cages’ which she felt throughout her time spent in the segregated community. Another cage that she felt trapped by was that of being a woman which put her in a more vulnerable position. She recounts her feelings of being challenged racially while growing up and being restrained by certain cultural and gender based biases.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, a fairytale of women driving hard bargains

Spinning Silver by Naomi NovikReview by Olivia Ho for The Straits Times:

In the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, a girl must spin straw into gold. Writer Naomi Novik pulls off this figurative sleight-of-hand, finding the magic in the prosaic - financial loans, risk investment and contract law - and spinning it into a captivating story.

While it does not quite match up to its spectacular predecessor Uprooted, an ecological fairytale set on the edge of a perilous wood, it is enthralling in its own way.

Novik has an enormous talent for writing complex, competent heroines who go beyond the archetypes of "strong" or "feisty" and are impressively good at what they do.

Novik's story is a paean to women who will not settle for less. Over and over again, her heroines are given the choice to compromise - to be content with their lot, to keep their heads down for fear of trouble, or to save themselves when they could save others. Instead, they choose to drive a hard bargain.

read an excerpt here @ Penguin Random House

Library of Makkah Grand Mosque is ‘beacon of knowledge’

From Arab News:

The library of Makkah Grand Mosque ... was named the Library of Makkah Grand Mosque in 1357 AH when King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud set up a committee of Makkah scholars to study its conditions and organize it in accordance with its status and importance. 

The project is located on the Kaaba Mountain Road on the northwestern side of the services building for the third Saudi expansion project and is crossed by the first ring road.

The multi-purpose library project aims to establish a scientific center and a world-class cultural and knowledge center in the holy capital centered on a central library of 20 million titles.

read more here @ Arab News

The woman who was her own twin

To ancient Greeks, the chimera was a spitting, snarling, fire-breathing female patchwork of scary animals, with a goat thrown in for good measure. “A thing of immortal make,” wrote Homer, “not human, lion-fronted and snake behind, a goat in the middle, and snorting out the breath of the terrible flame of bright fire.” She apparently lived in Lycia (part of modern-day Turkey).

This might seem a long way from the Department of Social Services office in Washington State, USA, where a solo mother was summoned after applying for welfare in 2003. The incredible story of Lydia Fairchild – an American chimera and a living testament to the tricks heredity plays on us – is recounted in a new book by US science writer Carl Zimmer, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: the Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity.

In the years since Bianchi’s paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in 1996, researchers have found that more than half of mothers carry fetal cells decades after their pregnancies. And according to a recent estimate, says Zimmer, 42% of us carry cells containing our mother’s DNA.

Heredity, says Zimmer – and this is the overarching theme of his book – can surge and commingle in strange ways, blowing backwards and sideways like a strange eddy of wind, or a river current flowing the wrong way.

read more here @ NOTED

How Fiction Fueled Madeleine L’Engle’s Faith......

WrinkleInTimePBA1.jpgFrom Christianity Today:
Story, at its heart, is one of the primary modes in which God speaks to us, which means it’s one of the main vehicles for God’s truth. It’s also formative truth: The best, most ennobling stories have the power to shape our actions and play a vital role in moral and spiritual formation. “Rather than taking the child away from the real world,” wrote Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, “such stories are preparation for living in the real world with courage and expectancy.”

In writing about her growing up years, L’Engle claimed that “the greatest gift my mother gave me, besides her love, was story. She was a wonderful storyteller, especially about her childhood in the South. . . . ‘Tell me a story,’ I would beg, and my mother would take me in imagination back to her world so different from mine.”

“I’m particularly grateful that I was allowed to read my Bible as I read my other books,” she wrote in Walking on Water, “to read it as story, that story which is a revelation of truth. People are sometimes kept from reading the Bible itself by what they are taught about it, and I’m grateful that I was able to read the Book with the same wonder and joy with which I read The Ice Princess or The Tempest.”

read more here @ Christianity Today

Eva Palmer, the American who reinvented herself as an ancient Greek goddess

Eva Palmer (1874–1952) was arguably one of the most inspiring and fascinating women of the 20th century, described as both brilliant and gorgeous with floor-length auburn hair.

The American free-thinker, director, performer and creative was widely known as a fashion icon of her time inspired by the ancient Greeks. She was also the beloved wife of seminal Greek poet Angelos Sikelianos with whom she envisioned the Delphic Festivals revival. She had recounted this story herself in her memoirs, but her own story has never been told in detail. Now professor Artemis Leontis has written the first biography of a woman mostly known through the publication of her love letters to her husband. The book, titled ‘A life in ruins’, is expected to come out in February 2019 through Princeton University Press.

read more here

further reading:
Upward Panic: The Autobiography of Eva Palmer-Sikelianos
Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins by Artemis Leontis

UCLA Library to host digital archive of ancient Arabic and Syriac manuscripts

The UCLA Library and Early Manuscripts Electronic Library have partnered with St. Catherine’s Monastery to digitize and publish online on an open access basis some 1,100 rare and unique Syriac and Arabic manuscripts dating from the fourth to the 17th centuries.

A UNESCO World Heritage site located in a region of the Sinai Peninsula sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, St. Catherine’s Monastery houses a collection of ancient and medieval manuscripts second only to that of the Vatican Library. Some 400,000 images will be created, including of works from Syriac literate culture, which flourished between the third and eighth centuries, and Christian Arabic literature, which appeared in the eighth century as Christian communities adapted to the spread of Islam.

read more here @ UCLA Newsroom

'Fly Girls' tells the early history of women in aviation

Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History by Keith O’Brien centers on women who were brave and determined as they set about breaking technological and cultural barriers in their pursuit of flight, but their stories, taken together, are not as unambiguously victorious as the book’s subtitle suggests.

Between the unreliability of early planes – developed through trial and error and liable to have a wing suddenly sheer off midflight – and the virulent sexism that hampered these pilots’ access to better quality planes and the sponsorship they desperately needed, it was a tough road. A female flier could hardly emerge unscathed – with the possible exception of Amelia Earhart, the one name still familiar today, successful in flight and public persona, until she disappeared.

read more here @ Christian Science Monitor

Poison: A favorite means to an end

The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul" by Eleanor Herman, reviewed by Kay Johnson

Royal Art of Poison book coverThroughout history, especially in Medieval and Renaissance times, royalty and royalty-to-be often had abundant reason to be fearful of poison in their food and drink. Jealousy was common. Enemies could be anywhere and, to avoid big problems, most monarchs employed a taster or, in the case of Louis XIV, 324 of them.

That didn’t help much, says Herman, because nasty substances weren’t just used to steal a crown. Lead was found in cosmetics then. Sulfur was used to powder wigs, and mercury and arsenic, along with human remains, were prescribed as medicine. Urine was used by the clothing industry. Bloodletting was employed to reset “humors.” Rooster dung was given to induce vomiting, and even the air that the average person breathed could be poisonous.

But this book isn’t all about murder — or history, for that matter. Herman spends a good amount of time telling about royal as well as everyday lives and how people lived in the 14th-through-18th-centuries. She then explains how we know what we know now, and why the heyday of poison, if you will, ended.

read more here @ Crow River Media

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Review: The Vikings - From Odin to Christ by Martyn and Hannah Whittock

Jacket ImageFor me, this was a highly informative journey into the transformation of the "pagan" Viking into the acceptable "christian" that is well annotated and referenced, and makes use of the voices of the Vikings themselves, through their sagas, to provide context. The authors explore the conversion of the Viking peoples and how and why this religious transformation took place.  What is interesting is the differing views on what constituted conversion, where the roots of conversion eminated from, and the how each conversion event was unique. 

The authors make clever use of their chapters to sort out and compartmentalise the history of the conversion of each group or nation, making it more accessible to the reader.  We take a look at who were the Vikings of the pre-christian world, and compare that with our modern perception of them. We look at how different forms of Christianity were the driving forces behind the conversions - German, Irish, British and Greek missionaries each had their sphere of influence and success.

First up is the raids on Anglo Saxon England, Ireland, Frisia and the Frankish Empire.  Were these raids a serious threat to the already established Christian religions - for following these attacks was a serious collapse in pastoral care throughout into which the pagan religions filled the vacuum.

To the subject at hand - we now get down to the chapters that are the most interesting, and I will give a brief summary of each, starting with Chapter 4 -"The Cross and the Hammer" - the Vikings in northern England, the dominance of pagan rule, and of co-existance and assimilation.

Chapter 5 find us in 8th Century Ireland, with the inability of local leaders to unite and form a cohesive front against the Viking attacks and the establishment of permanent bases - at least not until the Battle of Clontarf.  The foundation of Normandy is covered in Chapter 6, with the transition of conversion taking a mere century, and the development of Church reform under these newly christianised leaders gained prominance.

Now we get to the main Viking nations: Chapter 7 covers the conversion process in 10th Century Denmark under the leadership of of Harold Bluetooth, despite earlier missions two centuries prior; and also clarifies some of the misnomers of the reign of both Svein Forkbeard and Cnut.  Chapter 8 takes us to Norway, whose missionary kings - the Olafs - lead the fight against pagan resistance.  The use of burials as an indicator of the level of the reaches of conversion, and the connection between conversion and the expansion of royal power is also discussed. 

Sweden and the arrival of the German missionaries in the 9th Century is covered in Chapter 9.  This conversion took much longer as this area was not so politically unified as its neighbours.  Unity and royal power increased at the same rate as the conversion, and was more or less complete with the incorporation of Finland by 13th Century.

Chapter 10 deals with the spread of the Vikings in the east, namely through the Byzantine Empire, the Baltic, the establishment of the kingdom of Rus, the reach of trade as far as Baghdad, and of course, the hero Harald Hardrada.  The colonisation and conversion of the North Atlantic Viking outposts of Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands in Chapter 11 quite naturally leads into the the voyages of the Greenlanders to Vinland in the 11th Century, and the first American Christians.

Back we head to Anglo Saxon England, and the reign of the first Viking Kings, Svein of Denmark and his son Cnut the Great, under who, as a loyal son the the Chruch, actively suppressed paganism.  The obliteration of Pictish culture under the Vikings in the islands to the north and the west (Hebrides, Orkneys, Shetland, et el), and the missions from Germany and Ireland, forms one of our final chapters.  It is assimilation, expansion, trade, spread of ideas, and the unity of political power in the mid 12th century that finally ended the "Viking Age".

This is truly a remarkable journey of the Christianisation of the Scandinavian world that really kicked off in the late 9th century and lasted for a period of three hundred years.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Heathcliff's missing years: Author tells the untold tale from ‘Wuthering Heights’

In the original novel, Catherine, though she loves Heathcliff with a burning intensity, marries her social equal Edgar Linton. It is a sacrifice; she hopes her marriage will enable her to raise Heathcliff’s lot in life. But overhearing of her plans to marry, Heathcliff flees Wuthering Heights.

And he is gone for three years. When he returns, he is a man of means, wealthy and well dressed, though still wild at heart and with a blazing passion and a foul temper. He will eventually take possession of both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. But where has he been in those three years? And how did he make his fortune?

There are no real clues in Emily Brontë’s novel, and it is Stewart’s work, Ill Will, that sets out to answer that question. Thus he has Heathcliff setting out to return to Liverpool, from where he was taken by Mr Earnshaw, in a bid to discover the truth of his own origins.

read more here @ The Independent
read Wuthering Heights online @ Project Gutenberg

Enid Blyton's Secret Seven are making a comeback ...

Image result for secret seven

"Nostalgia is a brilliant marketing tool," observes Levis. "The great thing about those books is that they really highlight the good points of the original books and remind adults why they might have been so lovely to read as a kid. That can only be a good thing."

It's probably been a while since you've read about swotters, jolly japes, peculiar fellows, Housemistresses and lashings of ginger beer. Yet a new book looks set to breathe life into a decades-old series.

Those of a certain age will no doubt recall Enid Blyton's fictional group of child detectives, The Secret Seven. The first book was originally printed back in 1949 and the 15th title was released in 1963.

Yet the franchise has been revived by award-winning writer Pamela Butchart with a new novel, The Secret Seven Mystery of the Skull. Here, and in time-honoured tradition, the seven friends set off on an investigation without adult supervision.

read more here 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review: Marrakech Noir by Yessin Adnan

Marrakech Noir (Akashic Noir Series)
Another solid outing in the Akashic Noir series - this time, the setting is the exotic Marrakech. The city is one that is more prone to scandal than crime, and as such there is no tradition of noir. Fantastic storytelling is used to block out dark memories and dark tales are avoided. Even now, we are told, only 30 detective stories have been written in the last two decades!

So our authors, from a variety of different cultural backgrounds, have taken inspiration from old crimes, long hidden, as well as those crimes now prevalent in a modern city. Add a touch of spice and humour, and you have Marrakech Noir!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: Baghdad Noir by Samuel Shimon

Baghdad Noir
Another instalment in the Akashic Books collection of noir fiction from around the world. This time, the setting is pre and post war Iraq; during the reign of Saddam and under the US occupation.

Don't go looking for private detectives - there is only one in this collection; the element is entirely human, and the focus is family and the political climate of fear. In the introduction, Samuel Shiman states that this type of fiction is a new concept for Arab writers, so take their journey, one so different from the noir of the 1940s & 1950s that we are more familiar with. You wont be disappointed.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Review: Song Castle by Luke Waterson

Song Castle
I am really in two minds with this one. I loved the premise of the story - the first eisteddfyd in Wales - festival of literature, music and performance - held by Rhys ap Gruffydd, Lord of Deheubarth (c.1170s). Its was the telling of the tale that left me flat and at times, wanting to skim ahead, wishing the author would get to the point.

Like a true Welsh tale, the story meandered back and forth in time, as we are slowly introduced to the characters embarking on the journey, as the historical scene is set, sometimes, at a painfully slow rate until we realise that we are only halfway through the book. It is only when the characters reach Cardigan, the seat of Lord Rhys' power, that the unseen political manouvering takes place during the contests.

This is an imagined version of events which is laid out in the "Brut Y Tywysogion" or The Chronicle of Princes.

Review: The Moriarty Papers by Sebastian Moran

The Moriarty Papers: The Schemes and Adventures of the Great Nemesis of Sherlock Holmes
I read this as a bit of fun - and as a homage to the greatest fictional villain and criminal mastermind of all time - Professor James Moriarty.

Told from the point of view of one of Moriarty's henchmen, one Colonel Sebastian Moran, we have a compilation of notes, newspaper clippings, photos, diary notes, articles put together in a scrapbook. These items gives us an insight into the inner workings and thinking of Moriarty, who refers to Holmes as 'the insufferable prig", and has utter disdain for both Watson and Conan-Doyle.

What I liked was Moriarty's notes on Holmes' cases, also from his perspective, with a list of his own criminal operations and the results. Readers of Holmes will be very familiar with many of the listed case studies.

Its a bit of fun that will appeal to fans of Holmes and Moriarty. Definitely one for the collection!

Review: A Necessary Murder by MJ Tjia

A Necessary Murder (Heloise Chancey Mysteries, #2)
Loved the first in the series - She Be Damned - and this second outing is a continuation of the story of Victorian England courtesan, Heloise Chancery.

Victorian England was a hotbed of crime and unsolved murders, with the influx of peoples from exotic locations as the Empire spread its grubby hands in the name of commerce and trade. A perfect backdrop for a thrilling story.

In this story, a link to the past rears its ugly head, resulting in a series of gruesome murders - all of which has the seemingly unflappable Amah Li Leen in a proverbial flap! What in Amah's past has come back to haunt her?

Yet, what I was immediately struck by when embarking on this story, was the similarity with the The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective .

I will let the reader decide.

Review: Anne of Cleves - Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Unwanted Wife
This is a nice concise entry level introduction into Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of King Henry VIII of England. It gives us an entree into the life of a woman, who despite her royal lineage, was never destined to be queen, and who it seemed (according to the author), was quite content to remain a "homebody" at the court of her family.

She was, when the search for a new wife for Henry VIII began in @ 1537, "... one at the end of an unflattering list ... report not favourable .." And yet, queen she became - and she seemed to make the most of her life as an independent woman of means following the divorce from Henry when " .... my husband hath nevertheless taken and adopted me for his sister ...."

A base for further reading.