Sunday, September 30, 2018

Women in the Military Orders of the Crusades by Myra Miranda Bom

Women in the Military Orders of the Crusades : New Middle Ages - Myra Miranda Bom
This study of the female members of the Order or Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem in the High Middle Ages analyses their presence in the context of female monasticism and compares their position to the position of women in other religious military orders. Introducing questions of gender into the history of the military orders.

read also 

Viking Identities - Jane F. Kershaw

Viking Identities is the first detailed archaeological study of Viking-Age Scandinavian-style female dress items from England. Based on primary archival and archaeological research, including the analysis of hundreds of recent metal-detector finds, it presents evidence for over 500 brooches and pendants worn by women in the late ninth and tenth centuries. Jane F. Kershaw argues that these finds add an entirely new dimension to the limited existing archaeological evidence for Scandinavian activity in the British Isles and make possible a substantial reassessment of the Viking settlements.

The jewellery also provides a fresh perspective on one of the most elusive of topics regarding the Viking settlements, namely, their location.

Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner by Henry Goddard

“Because of the shortage of real information, so little fact and so much fiction has been written about the Runners that they seem like characters from legend rather than history. This book goes some way to restoring them to life...”

The first autobiography of a Bow Street Runner to ever be published, Henry Goddard’s memoir provides an interesting insight into life as one of Britain’s ‘first police-detectives.’

When this title popped up in my news feed - and I was intrigued. Having come across the Bow Street Runners in various Victorian Crime Fiction tomes, I was interested to see what else was out there by fictional and non-fictional accounts.

So here is a select few titles that may interest:
  • The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750 - 1840 by J. M. Beattie
  • The history of the Bow street runners, 1729-1829 by Gilbert Armitage
  • Before the Bobbies: The Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 1720-1830 by Elaine A. Reynolds
  • A History of English Criminal Law and Its Administration from 1750: The clash between private initiative and public interest in the enforcement of the law by Leon Radzinowicz
  • Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900 by Clive Emsley
  • The English Police: A Political and Social History by Clive Emsley
  • The Great British Bobby: A History of British Policing from the 18th Century to the Present by Clive Emsley
  • Police Detectives in History, 1750-1950 by Clive Emsley
  • The Ascent of the Detective: Police Sleuths in Victorian and Edwardian England by Haia Shpayer-Makov
  • The Rise of Scotland Yard: A History of the Metropolitan Police by Douglas Gordon Browne
  • Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police by Sir John Fitzgerald Moylan
  • The Birth of the British 'Bobby': Bow Street Runners, Scotland Yard & Victorian Crime by Don Hale
  • A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A History of the Bow Street Runners, 1792-1839 by David J. Cox
  • Chronicles of Bow Street Police-office: With an Account of the Magistrates, "runners," and Police; and a Selection of the Most Interesting Cases, (2 Volumes) by Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald
  • Crime, Policing and Punishment in England, 1660-1914 by Drew D. Gray
  • Policing Victorian London: Political Policing, Public Order, and the London Metropolitan Police by Phillip Thurmond Smith
  • Crime, Policing and Punishment in England, 1750–1914 by David Taylor
  • The Queen's Peace: The Origins and Development of the Metropolitan Police, 1829-1979 by David Ascoli
There will by many more tomes out there for the interested reader - or budding author.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Master of War Series by David Gilman

I confess to not having read the first two in the series when I embarked upon read the third - Gates of the Dead by David Gilman - but found that I could read this one with no trouble (there are hints at Blackstone's background along the way). 

What attracted me to the story was the character of Sir Thomas Blackstone - for me he was a cross between Richard I, Sir John Hawkwood, Sir John Mandeville and William Marshall (plus a few others). All were larger than life men of their times - soldiers, adventurers - where fact was far more interesting than fiction - they were the type of real historical characters that make good fictional ones.

I like epic sagas where the main protagonist embarks on a quest / a mission / revenge for a past wrong. If this is your type of history, then you will enjoy reading this series.

Here is a bit of a synopsis of each book in the series to date:

Master of War - The Blooding:
England, 1346: For Thomas Blackstone the choice is easy - dance on the end of a rope for a murder he did not commit, or take up his war bow and join the king's invasion of France. As he fights his way across northern France, Blackstone will learn the brutal lessons of war - from the terror and confusion of his first taste of combat, to the savage realities of siege warfare. Vastly outnumbered, Edward III's army will finally confront the armoured might of the French nobility on the field of Crécy. It is a battle that will change the history of warfare, a battle that will change the course of Blackstone's life, a battle that is just the first chapter in a book of legend - Blackstone: Master of War.

Master of War - Defiant Unto Death:
The Black Prince has launched a devastating raid deep into France, laying waste to everything in his path. In response, the French have mustered an army that outnumbers the English forces 10 to 1 and and are determined to drive their hated foe from the land after years of bloody conquest.  Sir Thomas Blackstone, the British archer knighted on the field of Crecy, has used the intervening years to forge his own war band and has hacked out his own fiefdom in central France. He knows the English are outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and exhausted... but that will not stop him from fighting his way to one of history's greatest military victories.  But the field of battle is not only arena in which Blackstone will have to fight for his life... Although Poitiers was a great victory for the English its aftermath will cost Blackstone dear.

Master of War - Gate of the Dead:
Tuscany, 1358: Thomas Blackstone has built a formidable reputation in exile, fighting as a mercenary amid the ceaseless internecine warring of Italy's City States. But success has bred many enemies, and when a dying man delivers a message recalling him to England, it seems almost certain to be a trap. Yet Blackstone cannot disobey – the summons is at the Queen's demand.  On his journey, Blackstone will brave the terrors of the High Alps in winter, face the Black Prince in tournament, confront the bloody anarchy of a popular revolt and submit to trial by combat.  And every step of the way, he will be shadowed by a notorious assassin with orders to despatch him to Hell.

Master of War - Viper's Blood:
1360. With the English army at the gates of Paris, Blackstone faces his deadliest mission yet in the fourth instalment of the Master of War.  Edward III has invaded France at the head of the greatest host England has ever assembled. But his attempt to win the French crown is futile. The Dauphin will no longer meet the English in the field and the great army is mired in costly sieges, scavenging supplies from a land ruined by decades of conflict.  Facing a stalemate – or worse – the English are forced to agree a treaty. But peace comes at a price. The French request that Blackstone escort their King's daughter to Italy to see her married to one of the two brothers who rule Milan – the same brothers who killed Blackstone's family to revenge the defeats he inflicted on them. Blackstone, the French are certain, will never leave Milan alive... 

Master of War - Scourge of Wolves:
Winter, 1361: After two decades of conflict, Edward III has finally agreed a treaty with the captive French King, John II. In return for his freedom, John has ceeded vast tracts of territory to the English. But for five long years mercenary bands and belligerent lords have fought over the carcass of his kingdom. They will not give up their hard-won spoils to honour a defeated king's promises.  If the English want their prize, they'll have to fight for it... Thomas Blackstone will have to fight for it.  As he battles to enforce Edward's claim, Thomas Blackstone will see his name blackened, his men slaughtered, his family hunted. He will be betrayed and, once again, he'll face the might of the French army on the field. But this time there will be no English army at his back. He'll face the French alone.

Review - Soul of Toledo by Edward Webster

The reign of Alfonso X the Wise was the one which entailed the greatest prosperity and splendour for the Jewish community of Toledo. During his reign the Jewish quarter of Toledo became known for its scale, the luxuriousness and beauty of its public buildings, and the intellectual quality of its rabbis.  This was the place where the Jews of Toledo could work, raise families and practice their religion at one of the region’s 10 synagogues, without the fear of being persecuted for their beliefs. 

However, during the 14th century, the epidemic of the Black Death (1348), and the war between Pedro I the Cruel and Enrique of Trastámara resulted in deep social ill-feeling borne out by the attacks on the Jewish quarter in 1355 and 1391. In addition, there was a fire in the enclosure of Alcaná, a commercial district where the Jews had their shops, workshops and some houses. 

Image result for toledo spain

In the latter part of the same century the construction of the cathedral cloister was planned and this began to be built on August 14th 1389. There is some doubt as to whether the fire was started by the Chapterhouse of the cathedral to allow the construction of the cloister planned by Archbishop Pedro Tenorio in the Alcaná area.

The anti-Jewish revolts of 1391 reached Toledo too. On June 18th 1391 the Jewish quarter of Toledo was attacked at night in a similar way to other cities in the kingdom. Induced by the violent exhortations of Vincente Ferrer, the city was the scene of one of the most appalling outbreaks of violence. Previously the nobles of Toledo had on the whole done their part in protecting the Jews; but when the agitation reached that city they were found among the most violent in the onslaught on the larger Jewry. This had resisted the attacks of Henry II.; but it was now entered by the rioters at different gates, almost all the Jews being put to death - The victims of the slaughter included prominent craftsmen, poets and men of letters. The majority of the synagogues of the city were destroyed or seriously damaged. This was practically the ruin of the Toledo Jewry.

The disastrous economic consequences for the city were soon felt; particularly by private individuals, monasteries and other religious institutions who lost the income they had from the taxes on the Jewish aljamas. The hardest hit was the chaplains whose ecclesiastical profits derived from the rents in the Jewish quarter.

Ferrer again visited the city for a fortnight in May, 1411, with the result that the synagogue of St. Maria la Blanca was turned into a Church. In truth, the majority of the survivors of the massacre of 1391 had saved their lives by becoming converted; so that very few true believers still remained in the city, and these were deprived in 1419 of all opportunity to hold public office; and on June 15, 1449, thirteen of them were turned out of office as "suspects in faith," among them being members of the Lunez, Lopez, Gonzalez, Herrera, and Cota families, afterward distinguished among the Maranos, whose very name is supposed to have originated in Toledo at this time .

The aggressiveness of the Christians to Jews and Moslems, which became ever more pronounced, resulted in the proclamation of a series of ordinances against them (1451) whereby they were required to obey a series of restrictive measures such as the prohibition to walk around the streets at night, enter churches or monasteries without authorisation, leave their houses during Christian festivities as well as the obligation to wear distinctive signs sewn into their clothes. The Jews of Toledo had already complained that in 1450 King Juan II had ordered the revocation and cancellation of all anti-Jewish ordinances in place in the Castilian kingdom as there had been many places where they had done so and the Jews had left. The King ordered the Town hall of Toledo to follow his order and the latter, meeting on February 23rd 1452, reviewed the ordinances, doing away with some, but modifying and maintaining others.

Several fires accompanied the conditions of social disequilibrium which were still in place in the 15th century. Supported by the League of Nobles, who symbolically dethroned Enrique IV in the so-called Farce of Ávila  and crowned his brother Alfonso (5th July 1465), the old Christians started clearing the lands of Castile of all those who had Jewish blood, whether they were Jewish or convertsas well as Moslems converted to Christianity. The latter, feeling threatened, staged an uprising in Toledo on the day of the fires of Magdalena (22nd July 1467). Heavily armed, the converts surrounded the cathedral and they kept the Christians under siege after killing two canons and a few others. A thousand Christians and reinforcements came to the rescue of those besieged. The fighting then began on the outskirts of the cathedral and continued in the Magdalena district. Those besieged were able to get out. The converts responded by setting fire to the Magdalena district. All the neighbouring houses burned to the ground immediately; due to a high wine, the fire spread quickly resulting in an estimated one thousand six hundred houses were destroyed. The old Christians, after many days of fighting, were finally able to control the fire and reduce the converts. Their ringleader, Fernando de la Torre, was put to death; the same fate would befall many other converts in the following days.

The uprising was of little benefit to the insurgents who were forced to flee from Castile with their assets. Those who decided to stay, deprived of their right to bear arms ( 1468) or hold posts in the Administration (1469), finally had to convert and attest to their good faith to be Christians before the Inquisition Court.  Yest still more persecutions, forced conversions, mass murder, and rioting was prevalent in the city 1486 - 1490) before the establishment of the Inquisition under the Catholic Monarchs.

28526087This then is the backdrop of the novel - and it is a powerful one. The character of Vincente is born in the city in the wake of the violence of 1391 - his parents are secret conversos - he is a man conflicted in a time of political and religious upheaval. His nemesis is a power-driven lawyer who wants to incite a religious purge (I am wondering if he has been based on the notorious Vincente Ferrer).

This is a well-crafted tome - there is the human, historical and political element; the characters aren't perfect - they are flawed.  The plot is engrossing, suspenseful and dramatic due - I am certain - to the research that went into the storyline (many events mentioned in the novel are based on real events).  The narrative draws the reader into the everyday struggles of a persecuted group and you can't help but empathise.

I would put this on the same shelf as Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" and "Cathedral of the Sea" by  Ildefonso Falcones.  These are stories of epic proportions - and I have no doubt it will join the other two in being made into a series.

Friday, September 28, 2018

People in the Room by Norah Lange

From The Guardian:

A 17-year-old girl spends her days by her window, watching the house opposite in an affluent part of Buenos Aires. She is transfixed by a room where three women sit, the “pale clover” of their faces barely perceptible in the dim light. The unnamed narrator compiles a list of things they could be, or be made to be, in her imagination: spinsters, criminals, “wayward women”, “three governesses, with little joy in their lives” or “simply … three women who liked to pass the time in their drawing room”.

One day she intercepts an unsigned telegram addressed to the objects of her obsession. How does she guess the sender is a man? Why does she hate him straight away? As she spies on his visit to the room, her feelings – resulting, perhaps, from the fear of the unknown, of intimacy – strengthen: “Even though I knew I would hate him, I hated him even more when I saw him lean gently towards them.” Then a shared moment of beauty changes it all, “and it seemed as long as I was still young, nothing so complete or perfect could ever happen again”.

Born in 1905 in Buenos Aires, Norah Lange entered the Argentinian literary scene early, first as a poet; later, her novels and a childhood memoir became part of the Spanish-language canon. As César Aira says in his introduction to this first English translation of her work, she once told an interviewer that People in the Room had been inspired by the portrait of the three Brontë sisters painted by their brother, his own image erased from the canvas. Combining painterly qualities with poetic imagery, Lange’s prose is rich in metaphor, self-absorbed and, at its best, darkly irresistible.

read more here @ The Guardian and @ The Irish Times

The Queen and the Heretic by Derek Wilson

Derek Wilson’s The Queen and the Heretic: How two women changed the religion of England describes itself as a dual biography of Anne Askew, a noblewoman who was burnt at the stake for heresy during Henry VIII’s reign, and Catherine Parr, the King’s final wife and the first woman ever to publish a theological text under her own name.

In reality, the first part of the book is more of a history of the Reformation and religious changes in Britain during Henry’s reign, although Wilson does try to relate the changes back to the lives of both women as much as possible, besides attempting to establish where the foundations for their religious convictions stemmed from.

The book is easy to read and accessible. Wilson does not assume any prior knowledge from his readers, and is careful to give wider contextual information where relevant. Both women are brought to life with vibrancy, and as fully formed individuals. It is engaging, and the book deserves credit for highlighting the part played by Catherine’s works in influencing British religious policies and beliefs during this period of history. 

read more here @ Church Times

Amazon Buys Goodreads

Image result for goodreads logoFrom Phys Org: on Thursday announced that it is buying book lovers social network Goodreads in a move that could give Kindle tablets an edge over rival electronic readers. Goodreads is the leading website for sharing book recommendations and would complement reader reviews provided at's online shop for digital titles.

"Goodreads has helped change how we discover and discuss books," said Amazon vice president Russ Grandinetti. Since launching in early 2007, Goodreads has grown to boast more than 16 million members and 30,000 book clubs.

Analyzing book reading behavior on Goodreads to predict Amazon Bestsellers

From TechXplore:

Researchers at Northwestern University, Microsoft Research India, and the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur have recently developed a model to predict whether a book will become a bestseller on Amazon within 15 days of its publication. Their model, outlined in a study pre-published on arXiv, works by analyzing reading behavior on the online platform Goodreads.

"We have been working on analyzing the popularity dynamics of various social media entities, such as hashtags in Twitter, topics in Quora etc." Animesh Mukherjee, one of the researchers who carried out the study told TechXplore. "We felt that a similar approach could be taken to analyze the popularity of books and we found Goodreads to be ideal for this investigation."

A book's popularity depends on a multitude of factors and can be measured using several parameters. In their study, the researchers focused on how book reading characteristics influence its popularity. They performed a cross-platform analysis of Goodreads entities and tried to link these with the volume of sales for books on Amazon.

Their model achieved a very promising average accuracy of 88.72 percent in predicting books that would become Amazon bestsellers a few weeks after their publication. Their method, which was based on features derived from user posts and genre-related properties, attained an improvement of 16.4 percent compared to baseline methods that only use traditional popularity factors, such as book ratings or reviews.

'The Shape of Ruins,' by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

On the afternoon of April 9, 1948, an assassin drew a pistol on a downtown Bogota street and took the life of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, a charismatic, populist political icon who was one of the great South American orators of his time.

An enraged mob quickly formed, chasing down the presumed killer, a stonemason named Juan Roa Sierra, and yanking him into the street where he was pummeled to death. Hundreds, or by some estimates thousands, died in the riots that followed, a searing moment in Colombian history dubbed “El Bogotazo” that ushered in an era of extraordinary violence known as “La Violencia.”

read rest of review by Manuel Roig-Franzia @ Washington Post

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Review - Barcelona Heiress by Sergio Vila-Sanjuan

Barcelona, 1920s - a city racked by a tsunami of radical and bloody events that led to a confrontation between those citizens without rights - the working classes -and the bourgeoise, who after profitting greatly during the first world war at the expense of the labouring classes, were now determined to protect their own interests at any cost and were hell-bent on crushing the lower classes, using whatever weapons or institutions they could.

Unionism took hold in the previous decade, and a series of rolling strikes by workers would culminate in the La Canadiense strike of 1919 - a general strike involving the entire population of the city, lasting the biblical forty days, in which the workers demanded better working conditions. It was only a decade since the events of Tragic Week when workers rose up, buildings were destroyed and 150 were reportedly killed, and more than 1,700 individuals were indicted in military courts for "armed rebellion". Events still very much prevalent in the minds of Barcelona's citizens.

The working class, the industrial class, and the military were united together in the hope of removing the corrupt central government, but were unsuccessful. Fears of communism grew. A military coup brought Miguel Primo de Rivera to power in 1923, and he ran Spain as a military dictatorship. Anarchism became popular among the working class, and was far stronger in Spain than anywhere else in Europe at the time

As support for his regime gradually faded, Primo de Rivera resigned in January 1930. There was little support for the monarchy in the major cities, and King Alfonso XIII abdicated; the Second Spanish Republic was formed, whose power would remain until the culmination of the Spanish Civil War.

Barcelona Heiress is said to be based on real-life events that occurred during this time, and from the notes left by the author's grandfather (on whom I could find no information - I would have been interested to know who the author's grandfather was and what his role was in all of this).

The fictional narrative is from the perspective of Pablo Vilar, a journalist and lawyer, and man with connections to a diverse group of people that stretches across a vast area of the social strata (a bit like the infamous Inocencio Feced - a sinister figure from the 1920s; a man on familiar terms with all sorts of people in Barcelona ranging from the police chief Arlegui to the Libre’s president, Ramón Sales, as well as the Libertarian Movement and, naturally, the city’s underworld.)

There is also the parallel story of a vigilante who provides justice when the courts didn't. At the height of civil unrest in Barcelona. business owners hired assassins to infiltrate workers organisations and to murder troublesome union leaders; newspapers and their staff were targetted, as were lawyers defending unionists. The nobility, politicians, police, and church were not exempt from the violence and assassinations. Repression would be harsh and very one-sided.

The author assumes the readers' familiarity with the subject matter as a given. Had the author provided a short background to this story, then the fictional narrative would have made more sense. As it was, the execution was lacking as there was no real connection between narratives - it comes off as a disjointed attempt to recreate the glitz and glamour of the Gatsby era with the setting in Barcelona.

Side note: the author's father, the writer and historian José Luis Vila-San-Juan wrote 'The daily life in Spain under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera'.

Review - Colossus: Stone & Steel by David Blixt

Colossus: Stone and Steel
In Judea 66AD, retribution will be severe for the Jewish deafeat of the Roman army under Governor Gessius Florus. This was the time of the Great Revolt, originating in Roman and Jewish ethnic and religious tensions. The crisis escalated due to anti-taxation protests and attacks upon Roman citizens. Four years later, the Temple of Jerusalem will be sacked.

This is a well told story from both perspective - the Jewish (through the fictional characters of brothers Judah and Asher) and the Roman, and features the real life character of Josephus, the chronicler. The fictional character of the mason Judah finds himself an unlikely hero in the defence of Jodapatha, which was under the command of Yosef ben Matitiyahu, against the forces of the General (later Emperor) Vespasian and his son Titus.

The reader is drawn into this compelling story, which has a touch of the psychological thriller about, with a mix of political intrigue. In reality, it was a bloody and brutal time, and this has been conveyed quite convincingly - the tension in this region was palpable - you could cut the air with a knife.

If you have an interest in this period of history, this series may be for you.

The next book in the series is Colossus: The Four Emperors

Colossus: The Four EmperorsRome under Nero is a dangerous place. His cruel artistic whims border on madness, and any man who dares rise too high has his wings clipped, with fatal results.  For one family, Nero means either promotion or destruction. While his uncle Vespasian goes off to put down a rebellion in Judea, Titus Flavius Sabinus struggles to walk the perilous line between success and notoriety as he climbs Rome's ladder. When Nero is impaled on his own artistry, the whole world is thrown into chaos and Sabinus must navigate shifting allegiances and murderous alliances as his family tries to survive the year of the Four Emperors. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Women at War in the Classical World by Paul Chrystal

Paul Chrystal's Women at War in the Classical World is a useful overview of how women experienced warfare in the Classical World. He emphasizes that no matter where and when the warfare has occured, women were, and are, always involved. Chrystal primarily discusses the women involved in the wars and traditions of warfare of Greece and Rome, though he does address women of other ancient cultures in the introduction.

The book is usefully divided by time period and geographic location, with relatively short chapters focused on one topic or a few related topics. This makes it an effective introduction for students of the Classical World on a topic that is little handled in most textbooks of the period.

read full review @ UNRV

Æthelflæd by Tim Clarkson

From Birlinn Ltd.:

At the end of the ninth century AD, a large part of what is now England was controlled by the Vikings – heathen warriors from Scandinavia who had been attacking the British Isles for more than a hundred years. Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, was determined to regain the conquered lands but his death in 899 meant that the task passed to his son Edward. In the early 900s, Edward led a great fightback against the Viking armies. He was assisted by the English rulers of Mercia: Lord Æthelred and his wife Æthelflæd (Edward’s sister).

After her husband’s death, Æthelflæd ruled Mercia on her own, leading the army to war and working with her brother to achieve their father’s aims. Known to history as the Lady of the Mercians, she earned a reputation as a competent general and was feared by her enemies. She helped to save England from the Vikings and is one of the most famous women of the Dark Ages. This book, published 1100 years after her death, tells her remarkable story.

About The Author
Tim Clarkson is an independent researcher and historian who previously worked in academic librarianship. He gained an MPhil in archaeology and a PhD in medieval history, both from the University of Manchester. His other books include The Men of the North, The Makers of Scotland and Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age.

I have a few of Tim's books, so maybe I am slightly biased.  I do enjoy the topics on which he writes - so make sure you visit his website Senchus - and see what else takes his interest.

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD BarkerA riveting novel of gothic suspense, Dracul reveals not only Dracula’s true origin, but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

The prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul is a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them.

It is 1868, and a twenty-one-year-old Bram Stoker waits in a desolate tower to face an indescribable evil. Armed only with crucifixes, holy water, and a rifle, he prays to survive a single night, the longest of his life. Desperate to record what he has witnessed, Bram scribbles down the events that led him here...

A sickly child, Bram spent his early days bedridden in his parents' Dublin home, tended to by his caretaker, a young woman named Ellen Crone. When a string of strange deaths occur in a nearby town, Bram and his sister Matilda detect a pattern of bizarre behavior by Ellen—a mystery that deepens chillingly until Ellen vanishes suddenly from their lives. Years later, Matilda returns from studying in Paris to tell Bram the news that she has seen Ellen—and that the nightmare they've thought long ended is only beginning.

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre

Ben Macintyre brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man’s hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.

The celebrated author of Double Cross and Rogue Heroes returns with his greatest spy story yet, a thrilling Americans-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the end of the Cold War.

The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre
If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the savvy, sophisticated Gordievsky grew to see his nation's communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union's top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6. For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid at the United States's nuclear first-strike capabilities and brought the world closer to the brink of war. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky's name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain's obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets. 

Unfolding the delicious three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky's nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, Ben Macintyre's latest may be his best yet. Like the greatest novels of John le Carré, it brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man's hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.

Review - Dr Jekyll & Mr Seek by Anthony O'Neill

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek
In the classic RL Stevenson novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the lawyer Gabriel Utterson, investigates the series of strange events occurring between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde.

In this story or sequel, seven years have passed, and Utterson, on the verge of realising the inheritance left to him by his good friend Jekyll, finds his world crashing down as an imposter appears to lay claim to Jekyll's estate - an imposter who claims to be Jekyll himself!

Only one man is not taken in - that is the lawyer Utterson, a measured, emotionless bachelor, who alone knows the truth - that this can in no way be Jekyll. In his quest to bring the truth to the fore, Utterson realises that those who knew Jekyll in the past, and upon welcoming him back, are slowly being erased, and yet none can see this but himself.

"... how could he possibly be certain of anything, if he was no longer certain of himself ..."

In a vain attempt to prove his theory correct, Utterson abandons all common sense and seeks to recreate Jekyll's transformation potion. And so begins his slow descent ..... " ... [Utterson] knew he had been dismantled ... he knew that he would forever be regarded as mad ..."

I found this to be a rather compelling homage to Stevenson's original gothic horror story - it could quite easily have had another 100 or so pages added, as Utterson's delusions and decay are further investigated. i especially enjoyed the last chapter as events pertaining to Utterson are closed - although the fate of Jekyll remains tantalisingly unanswered!.

read more here 
@ Britannica - Summary & Notes (Jekyll & Hyde)

Inside a 17th-Century 'Barbarian' Cookbook From Japan

These day, treats including tempura, konpeitō hard candy, and fluffy castella cake are available in restaurants, convenience stores, and bakeries across Japan. It might seem hard to believe that these dishes, especially fried tempura, were once curiosities even to the Japanese. Early recipes for these things and more were compiled in a cookbook manuscript dating from the 17th century. It’s called the Nanban ryōrisho, or the “Southern Barbarians’ Cookbook.”

Who were the “southern barbarians?” According to Eric C. Rath, author of Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan, that was the term for the largely Portuguese Europeans who sailed to Japan beginning in the 16th century. As traders and missionaries, they brought along Christianity and Western technology. But they also brought their food.

The author is unknown, though Rath writes that they were obviously very familiar with Iberian cuisine, perhaps even knowing Portuguese and Spanish people personally. A collection of 45 recipes, which Rath translates in his book, the Barbarian’s Cookbook long existed as a handful of handwritten manuscripts in Japanese libraries, only to be published by the 20th century. The recipes therein offer a glimpse into changing attitudes towards food in Japan at the time, and the development of the nanban cuisine still enjoyed today.

Front CoverThe other half of the Barbarian’s Cookbook contained savory dishes, notable for the eggs and meat they required. At the time, lingering dietary taboos over both existed in Japan for health and religious reasons. 

By the time the Barbarian’s Cookbook was written, Christianity had been outlawed, and most foreigners prohibited from Japan. But nanban cuisine lingered. The sweet and meaty treats in the Barbarian’s Cookbook “became increasingly popular over the course of the Edo period,” writes Rath. But even today, many nanban treats remain favorites.

Ranjeeta Dutta reviews Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji by Manu S. Pillai

From The Hindu:

Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji review: Melting pot of ideasA history of the Deccan introduces us to a cosmopolitan world with fluid identities, cross-cultural interactions and political strategies

As a teacher of history, one is often confronted with students asking why the curriculum based on rigorous research has always remained confined to the precincts of university classrooms. Manu Pillai’s Rebel Sultans provides the much-needed bridge between the isolated world of academia and wider public audience. The book tells us a story of the fascinating world of Deccan, full of splendour, exciting political intrigues, glorious rulers, magnificent cities and fabulous treasures.

read more here @ The Hindu

Walls - A History Of Civilization In Blood And Brick

Book Cover - WallsFrom WAMC:

For over ten thousand years, much of humankind has lived inside walls behind walls behind still more walls. Walls have protected us and divided us, but have they also affected the way we think, work, and create?

David Frye’s new book, Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick is a narrative of invasions, empires, kings, and khans - presenting a new theory: walls haven't just influenced the course of history; they have profoundly shaped the human psyche.

David Frye currently teaches ancient and medieval history at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary LifeReview by Dan Jones for The Sunday Times:

Minutes before his head was struck off with an axe, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s disgraced former minister, made a speech. “I have been a great traveller in this world,” he said, “and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate and [since] the time I came thereunto, I have offended my prince.” He asked God for mercy, made some disingenuous remarks about the king’s grace, then went calmly to his death. Accounts vary as to the efficiency of the headsman, but as Diarmaid MacCulloch writes with the dry wit that characterises this triumphant and definitive biography, “even botched beheadings are soon over”.

For a time, the self-made 'ruffian' (as he described himself) - ruthless, adept in the exercise of power, quietly determined in religious revolution - was master of events. MacCulloch's biography for the first time reveals his true place in the making of modern England and Ireland, for good and ill.

read more @ Penguin Books and @ Publishers Weekly

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Chef's Secret: A Novel by Crystal King

A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Matilda by Catherine Hanley

"Matilda" by Catherine HanleyFrom Yale University Press:

Matilda was a daughter, wife, and mother. But she was also empress, heir to the English crown—the first woman ever to hold the position—and an able military general.

This new biography explores Matilda’s achievements as military and political leader, and sets her life and career in full context. Catherine Hanley provides fresh insight into Matilda's campaign to claim the title of queen, her approach to allied kingdoms and rival rulers, and her role in the succession crisis. Hanley highlights how Matilda fought for the throne, and argues that although she never sat on it herself her reward was to see her son become king. Extraordinarily, her line has continued through every single monarch of England or Britain from that time to the present day.  Publication date: March 2019

It should make a good companion to "The Empress Matilda" by Marjorie Chibnall

Fire at Brazil’s National Museum Threatens Hundreds of Years of History

A fire engulfed the National Museum of Brazil on Sunday night, ravaging the stately, 200-year-old museum in Rio de Janeiro and threatening the years of history encapsulated inside.

Aerial video posted by the television station Globo showed roaring flames and billowing smoke overtaking the large museum. Windows on multiple floors across the museum displayed a burning orange color, and the glow of the fire lit up the dark night sky.

The destruction to the building was significant, and it is unclear whether any historical artifacts had been saved. The museum housed a collection of more than 20 million items, including Egyptian mummies, Greco-Roman artifacts, dinosaur fossils and the oldest human fossil in the region, known as Luzia.

read more here 

Vast Theft of Antiquarian Books Sends a Shudder Through a Cloistered World of Dealers

In this niche world based on trust, where confidants are currency and handshake deals are commonplace, the arrest of a prominent dealer is a shocking suggestion of deceit.

While there have been other infamous rare book thefts, occasionally by industry insiders, the Carnegie Library case, according to prosecutors, notably involved a collaboration between a librarian and a dealer.

“That is absolutely unique,” said Mr. McDade, an expert on rare book thefts who has written several books on the subject. “You just don’t see it.”

As the library archivist, Mr. Priore had access to a collection of rare books and other items at the public Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. As a well-known dealer and owner of the Caliban Book Shop in Pittsburgh, Mr. Schulman had access to a network of potential buyers.

“It was an amazing setup that was close to foolproof,” Mr. McDade said, noting that most rare book thieves get caught trying to sell their goods.

read more here @  The New York Times

Passing of Sydney author Peter Corris

Being mostly published in London for the curiosity of the English, Australian crime fiction had followed European models, with some major success like Fergus Hume’s best-selling "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab" (1886), and the fine series of mysteries by post-second world war women writers June Wright, “Margot Neville”, Pat Flower and Pat Carlon. But local crime fiction was little publicised and had little impact – the books mostly came into libraries from London.

English business interests and Australian outlooks changed as time passed. Then, in 1980, Peter Corris’s The Dying Trade appeared, a crime story which was American in its influence, fully Australian in its spirit, and both published and strongly publicised at home. The novel was the first adventure of a tough, but at times sensitive, Sydney private eye with the wonderfully Australian name, offering both geography and morality, Cliff Hardy.

But what Corris will be most remembered for, and what he kept flowing in novels — and also in a number of short stories – were the adventures of Cliff Hardy. Cliff was drinking and chasing women a lot back in 1980. He calmed down in both departments, but kept at his investigations of corruption and malpractice, both business-oriented and personal.

Through his hero, with his physical and moral echt-Australian name Cliff Hardy, and through his lucid, calm plotting, Corris has matched Raymond Chandler in the modern world’s dominant crime form.

read more here @ Business Insider

Review - Slave Queen by HB Moore

Slave Queen (An Omar Zagouri Thriller)
This is my first Omar Zagouri book (though the third in the series).

The premise: a long forgotten Ottoman bloodline is seeking to re-establish itself in modern day Turkey. We have all the elements of a good mystery / thriller - archaeological mystery; black market smugglers; mysterious villain bankrolling the whole affair; a love interest; a conspiracy; the nemesis.

Current descendants of one branch are seeking to eliminate any of those that would be rivals. The links go back to the 16th Century Constantinople - the time of Suleyman the Magnificent and his queen Roxelana. This actual period in Ottoman history was wrought with internal intrigue as a mere concubine rose up in the harem to become the most influential woman at court. But Roxelana's rise was not an easy one and many enemies were made along the way, including the offspring of his usurped wife and concubines.  Here fact is certainly just as interesting as the fiction!

The action takes place - as mentioned - in both modern-day Turkey, and in the historical past, as one by one, rivals are eliminated. The coup de grace in the final chapters reveals all when the modern day players are brought together.

See all titles in Omar Zagouri series here @ Goodreads and @ HB Moore's blog

Review - Blood of Kings by MK Hume

The Blood of Kings (Tintagel, #1)
Roman Briton - 4th century AD - two very different men with one goal - unification.

This is a re-telling of "The Dream of Mascin Wledig" - the tale of Roman General Flavius Maximus and Caradoc, King of the Dumnonii. Maximus would be the first High King of Briton and Emperor of Rome, whilst Caradoc would be his regent in Briton.

The story is well researched; the characters are introduced and brought to life; the scene is well set; and Dark Age Briton is brought into the light.

Definitely well worth the read, especially for those with an interest in this period of history.

further reading:

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Review - A Long Crazy Burn by Jeff Johnson

A Long Crazy Burn
" ... nothing good ever happens after 3am .."

And it certainly doesn't in Jeff Johnson's acerbic tale of revenge, murder, love, and double dealing. This puts me in mind of the graphic novel - akin to Sin City - where Darby Holland is a crude, rude, violent street hustler, and the story is raw, gritty and no holds bar. 

Darby's tattoo parlour is blown up, he is beaten senseless, and behind the scenes, a real estate scam to clear out Portland Old Town and make it new and trendy develops.  As the caper unfolds, the action hots up, the pace quickens (as does the readers' pulse rate), as Darby embarks upon the long road to revenge.

Found it not at all difficult to read as this is the follow on from "Lucky Supreme".

see more

@ Great Pink Skeleton
@ Gehenna & Hinnom

Lucky Supreme:
The night world of Old Town Portland Oregon has gone mad in the grip of gentrification and at the center of it all is Lucky Supreme a seedy tattoo parlor whose proprietor is a street-bred artist with a unique approach to problem solving Darby Holland has enough on his radar but when some flash tattoo artwork stolen from him resurfaces in California he cant help himself. His efforts to reclaim it set him on a dangerous path dragging along his delightfully eccentric colleagues including the brains behind his brawn, Delia a twiggy vinyl-clad punk genius secretly from the other side of the tracks Before the wrecking balls swing through Old Town in the name of progress Darby must settle old scores and face new demons to save his reputation his shop and his sanity. He has secrets of his own and a tattoo shop in Old Town was a perfect place to hide but when cash, lies, crime and history collide, Darby Holland will need his ramshackle skill set his wits and a lot of luck to rise to the top of a human food chain or be eaten alive.

book cover of The Animals After MidnightThe Animals After Midnight:
In this third novel in the Darby Holland Crime Novel series, Darby's past rises up to do more than haunt him. You can run, but in the information age you can only hide for so long. Midnight Rider Productions is a dark web nightmare machine, headed by the one man who years ago drove Darby to hide in the seamy environs of Old Town and make his life there. But Darby left his own mark back in the day and the shadowy head of production has a grudge to settle. Rider has found him at long last and plans to make an example of him. Every dark secret of Darby's is exposed, every triumph reversed, every dream made real is set on fire, and as the Feds circle, smelling blood in the water, Darby has to run the most brutal rearguard action in the history of crime-meets-crime and gamble that he has finally grown powerful enough, crazy enough, and hard enough to beat the Devil himself. Meanwhile is best friend and should-be lover Delia, is about to be married to someone with his own dark secrets. With the help of his friends new and old, Darby must save Delia and himself and the rest of the Lucky Supreme faithful as he plays one force against another with desperate brilliance in an epic conflict that rages through the dark underbelly of Portland, Oregon.