Monday, December 30, 2019

Review: Women of the Third Reich: From Camp Guards to Combatants by Tim Heath

43972608Synopsis: The women of the Third Reich were a vital part in a complex and vilified system. What was their role within its administration, the concentration camps, and the Luftwaffe and militia units and how did it evolve in the way it did?

We hear from women who issued typewritten dictates from above through to those who operated telephones, radar systems, fought fires as the cities burned around them, drove concentration camp inmates to their deaths like cattle, fired Anti-Aircraft guns at Allied aircraft and entered the militias when faced with the impending destruction of what should have been a one thousand-year Reich.

Every testimony is unique, each person a victim of circumstance entwined within the thorns of an ideological obligation. Women of the Third Reich provides an intriguing, humorous, brutal, shocking and unrelenting narrative journey into the half lights of the hell of human consciousness - sometimes at its worst. 



So, whilst this era is not my usual period of study, I was fascinated by the premise. We read so much about life on the home-front in England or American during WWII, that I was curious to say the least, about what stories these women hold and would reveal. 

What author Tim Heath has done is provide a personalised, human face to a hated regime. We view this controversial period in history through the eyes of the young girls and women who lived through it, survived it, and were willing to talk about it. He states in his introduction that the answers to why these women and girls became "embroiled in the madness and horror of the Third Reich" would be found in the stories that followed - they are.

Its a compelling read. I wasn't sure what I was expecting when I picked up this tome - I guess more of a narrative from the author punctuated by examples collated from interviews - but it is the other way around for much of this work is the words and memories of the women themselves. And these words speak volumes. Take away the words "Hitler, SS, Nazi" and these girls' stories could have come from anywhere in war-torn Europe. In fact I made mention that some of the stories of the BDM (League of German Maidens) girls was very similar to what I had read in Yulia Zhukova's memoir "Girl with a Sniper Rifle" (Soviet perspective).

When Germany emerged from WWI, defeated, weakened and nationally humiliated by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which they as a nation considered an injustice, the country was ripe for the planting of the seeds of national socialism. This was the era in which many of the girls were born into and grew up in - their parents having lived through the horrors of war and the consequences of the imposed war reparations that followed. And what ultimately united them all - what they had left to cling to - was a sense of national pride - a word that today that is considered by so many in the West as politically incorrect and an unacceptable ideaology.

But for these girls this was all that they knew - and there were many hardline supporters of the regime up until the very end. However, like many who live under such a rigid, totalitarian regime (ie: Stalinist Russia, Communist China, Fascist Spain, or any other number of military dictatorships worldwide), to survive you toe the party line and keep your thoughts and feelings to the contrary to yourself - and there are many documented stories of those who did so out of fear of torture and death - for themselves and their families.

The definition of a military regime is as follows:
A military regime is a form of government wherein the political power resides with the armed forces. The military is the legitimate power-holding group that centralizes political and legal authority. Military regimes are generally held together by their egalitarian belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. Thus, military regimes emerge most often as products of political, economic, and societal crises to replace weak executives and governments. 

Back to the girls and their stories. What an eye-opener! Some of these left me lost for words - just sitting there, staring at the pages I had just read. How many readers just assume that these girls lived idyllic lives, completely oblivious to the world around them - I am sure there were some that did. But these women looked back on their lives and many recounted stories of verbal, physical and sexual abuse (at the hands of those who were supposed to revere them as paragons of Germanic virtue); of personal hardship and of surviving against all odds (scavenging for food, salvaging the dead from bombed out cities); of fighting for their country (especially in the final defense of Berlin); and in the years that followed (for it was the women who took on the initial role of rebuilding). 

The roles of the women was varied - though collated for us in the chapters: we are introduced to office and factory workers; women of the Red Cross; the women who took on a military role; and those that incurred the hatred of so many, the camp guards. Some of the stories are chilling to say the least, others are peppered with humour; all are personal and viewed through the eyes of those who lived through it all - they are, ".. a physical connection to the history ..". Many struggled post-war and found it hard to talk about this period, especially now with all the backlash and attitudes to acknowledging events in the past.

This isn't just a glorifcation of what once was nor a voyeuristic view of cruelty perpetuated at the hands of a few; it is the stories of women - mere girls at the time - and of how they lived and survived in a time many of us today were lucky not to have. And maybe, just maybe, when you come to the end, you shed a little tear for the loss of so much innocence.

The final word goes to Adelen Muller:
" .... an English soldier once asked me if I felt it was all worth it. I told him, 'These things are only worth it if you win the fight. If you are the loser it is never worth it' ..."
and to author Tim Heath:
".... There are few of us who will depart this earth with a completely clear conscious on how we have lived our lives. Our unhappy chapters are often conveniently suppressed, becoming mercifully blurred by time and overtaken by the happier events of our lives .... " 
and the Bible - The Gospel According to John:
'...  He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her .."


My Year In Books @ Goofreads

To see my year in books via Goodreads, click on the image below!


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536 by Norman Housley

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Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536






Religious warfare has been a recurrent feature of European history. In this intelligent and readable study, the distinguished Crusade historian Norman Housley describes and analyses the principal expressions of holy war in the period from the Hussite wars to the first generation of the Reformation. The context was one of both challenge and expansion. The Ottoman Turks posed an unprecedented external threat to the 'Christian republic', while doctrinal dissent, constant warfare between states, and rebellion eroded it from within.

Professor Housley shows how in these circumstances the propensity to sanctify warfare took radically different forms. At times warfare between national communities was shaped by convictions of 'sacred patriotism', either in defending God-given native land or in the pursuit of messianic programmes abroad. Insurrectionary activity, especially when driven by apocalyptic expectations, was a second important type of religious war. In the 1420s and early 1430s the Hussites waged war successfully in defence of what they believed to be 'God's Law'. And some frontier communities depicted their struggle against non-believers as religious war by reference to crusading ideas and habits of thought. Professor Housley pinpoints what these conflicts had in common in the ways the combatants perceived their own role, their demonization of their opponents, and the ongoing critique of religious war in all its forms.

This is a major contribution to both Crusade history and the study of the Wars of Religion of the early modern period. Professor Housley explores the interaction between Crusade and religious war in the broader sense, and argues that the religious violence of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was organic, in the sense that it sprang from deeply rooted proclivities within European society.

Slavery and Empire in Central Asia by Jeff Eden

Slavery and Empire in Central AsiaThe Central Asian slave trade swept hundreds of thousands of Iranians, Russians, and others into slavery during the eighteenth–nineteenth centuries. 

Drawing on eyewitness accounts, autobiographies, and newly-uncovered interviews with slaves, this book offers an unprecedented window into slaves' lives and a penetrating examination of human trafficking. 

Slavery strained Central Asia's relations with Russia, England, and Iran, and would serve as a major justification for the Russian conquest of this region in the 1860s–70s. Challenging the consensus that the Russian Empire abolished slavery with these conquests, Eden uses these documents to reveal that it was the slaves themselves who brought about their own emancipation by fomenting the largest slave uprising in the region's history.

The Novels of Justinian - trans David J. D. Miller

The first complete English translation of the novels and associated texts based on the original Greek, with significant emendations to the standard edition.

The Novels of JustinianThe novels comprise a series of laws issued in the sixth century by the famous Emperor Justinian (r.527-65), along with a number of measures issued by his immediate successors on the throne of Constantinople. They reveal the evolution of Roman law at the end of antiquity and how imperial law was transmitted to both the Byzantine East and Latin West in the Early Middle Ages. 

Crucially, the texts cast fascinating light on how litigants of all social backgrounds sought to appropriate the law and turn it to their advantage, as well as on topics ranging from the changing status of women to the persecution of homosexuals, and from the spread of heresy to the economic impact of the first known outbreak of bubonic plague. This work represents the first English translation of the novels based on the original Greek, and comes with an extensive historical and legal commentary.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Emperor and Senators in the Reign of Constantius II by Muriel Moser

Emperor and Senators in the Reign of Constantius IIIn this book - Emperor and Senators in the Reign of Constantius II: Maintaining Imperial Rule Between Rome and Constantinople in the Fourth Century AD Muriel Moser investigates the relationship between the emperors Constantine I and his son Constantius II (AD 312–361) and the senators of Constantinople and Rome. She examines and contextualizes the integration of the social elites of Rome and the Eastern provinces into the imperial system and demonstrates their increased importance for the maintenance of imperial rule in response to political fragility and fragmentation. 

An in-depth analysis of senatorial careers and imperial legislation is combined with a detailed assessment of the political context - shared rule, the suppression of usurpations, Constantius' use of Constantine's memory. Using a wide range of literary, epigraphic, numismatic, and legal sources, some of which are as yet unpublished, this volume produces significant new readings of the history of the senates in Rome and Constantinople, of the construction of imperial rule and of historical change in Late Antiquity.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Michael Fassbender options Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier | The Bookseller

43256597. sy475 Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier (Canongate) will be adapted for the big screen by Hollywood actor Michael Fassbender.

Andrew Eaton of Turbine Studios and Conor McCaughan and Fassbender of DMC Films are jointly optioning the multiple-prize-winning Irish author's book for feature film adaptation.

Barry is adapting the novel for the screen himself. The deal was handled by Lesley Thorne of Aitken Alexander Associates, on behalf of Lucy Luck at C&W.

Longlisted for the Booker Prize, Night Boat to Tangier is one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2019. Published in June 2019, the synopsis reads: "It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras, and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder—can it be put together again?"

Canongate called it a "novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic. But above all, it is a book obsessed with the mysteries of love".

The history of giving books as gifts at Christmas

From The Independent
Christmas is coming, and gift-giving is at the forefront of many minds. The latest tech changes from year to year, as do the latest fashions. But the gift that never seems to go out of style? A book.

The publishing world is at its busiest in the months leading up to Christmas. In Iceland, there is even a name for this: jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot) or “Christmas book flood”. The term has also come to refer to the Icelandic custom of exchanging books on Christmas Eve. As a result, a substantial portion of annual hardback sales are during this period, and nearly 850 new titles were released in 2019’s Icelandic book flood alone.

Books provide psychological uplift and are also an expression of home decor

People were giving books as gifts even before words were ever put to paper. In one of his books of epigrams, the ancient Roman poet Martial recommended the works of famous Roman writers such as “Ovid’s Metamorphoses on parchment” (animal skin) and “Livy (the Roman historian) in a single volume” (appearing in a scroll, on papyrus, or on parchment) as presents for the December festival of Saturnalia. Martial’s recommendations also included book-related items including “a book-case” and “a wooden book-covering”.

read more here @ The Independent


The woman who gave away 1600 books for Xmas

From Newsroom in New Zealand:
Sonya Wilson hit on a Xmas good deed: donate new books to kids who don't have books.


I had the idea for #KiwiChristmasBooks at about three in the morning. I was lying awake in bed, trying to re-write a short story in my head — my university assignment that was supposed to be a work of great genius, but was languishing closer to great mediocrity — when I got to thinking about books. Good books. Those books from my childhood and the worlds they opened up for me, the experiences I had through those stories. The lessons I learned. The characters I met. The things they taught me about my fellow humans.

Books are so great, my genius creative brain thought, monosyllabically.

I’m going to buy books for my family for Christmas this year, I thought. And also, I’ll donate some books to kids who don’t have books. It would be my Christmas good deed.

And now, I thought, I shall go to sleep.

read more here @ Newsroom

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby by Joe Moshenska

A Stain in the BloodOn the 16th of August 1628, five battle-scarred English ships sailed into the harbour of the Greek island of Milos. Dropping anchor, the 25-year-old captain banqueted with the local lord before sitting down to write an account of his journey – an account that would transform him entirely.

Sir Kenelm Digby was one of the most remarkable Englishmen who ever lived: a trusted advisor to the King, but the sworn enemy of the all-powerful Duke of Buckingham; a pioneering philosopher and scientist, but committed to the occult arts of alchemy and astrology; a friend not only of Ben Jonson, Thomas Hobbes and van Dyck, but even Oliver Cromwell. He was also widely known as the ‘son of a traytor and husband of a whore’: a man who witnessed his father’s gruesome execution for high treason as a Gunpowder Plotter, and the lover of the most celebrated beauty of the age, Venetia Stanley.

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In an attempt to clear his name, and on a quest for personal glory, Digby assembled a fleet and set sail for the Mediterranean: a world of pirate cities and ancient ruins where people, ideas and exotic goods moved freely between languages and nations. His journey – encompassing fevers, mutiny, piracy, daring rescues and heroic sea battles – is a great and terribly overlooked adventure, and a prism through which to view England, and all of Europe, during one of the most pivotal periods in its history.

A Stain in the Blood is the story of an extraordinary life, and of a journey that helped to shape a nation. It is a revelatory first work of non-fiction by one of the brightest young writers and thinkers of today.

note: I have this one myself - I love a good book based on a sort of anti-hero.


further reading and reviews:
Trinity College: Joe Moshenka on writing the life of an adventurer
University of Cambridge: The adventures of Sir Kenelm Digby
The Guardian: review of A Stain in the Blood






Special Commission by John Hall

A crime with many motives but whose stands out the most?

Special Commission by [Hall, John]The year is 1449: Merchant Master Wood and his servant Bertram are in Kyme on a business trip. They attend the annual May celebration Lordy Kyme has organised for local people at his fortified manor house. But after dinner, the celebration descends into mayhem as Master Wood is found dead in suspicious circumstances, with a knife sticking out of his body. The obvious suspect, Mr Robert Middleham, an uninvited and unwanted guest, refuses to appear before a judge and jury. The only hope of solving the crime is for the Lord Chancellor to appoint a Special Commissioner, Martin Byrd, to look into the matter. But things are not quite as simple as that.

Mr Middleham is held responsible for the murder as his knife was sticking out of Wood’s body when he was found dead outside at the stables. After delving into the details of the case, the Special Commission realise there is bad blood between the Kyme and Middleham families. Could this rivalry have sparked Mr Middleham to crash the May Day extravaganza and kill one of Kyme’s guests? The case is complicated further when it is discovered that one of the kitchen maids, Daisy, who reported the dead body to Lord Kyme, had been more than friendly to a number of men at the party. Could jealousy have inspired the murderer to strike? Will Martin Byrd be able to cast light upon the secrets hidden behind the walls of the castle and find enough evidence to solve the mysterious murder of the merchant?


The Chronicle of Morea by Teresa Shawcross

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The Chronicle of Morea
The Chronicle of Morea, one of the most important and controversial historical narratives written in the late Middle Ages, tells the story of the formation and government by the Villehardouin dynasty of a remarkably successful Crusader State following the conquest by western invaders of the capital - Constantinople - and the provinces of the Byzantine Empire. 

By examining all the Chronicle's surviving Greek, French, Spanish and Italian versions, this study, the first of its kind, explores in depth the literary and ideological contexts in which the work was composed, transmitted and re-written. The result is a fascinating analysis of cultural exchange in a rich and vibrant eastern Mediterranean world where different ethnicities were obliged to live alongside each other, and outside political interests frequently intruded in dramatic fashion. Translations into English have been provided of all the material discussed.




The Letters of Lord Burghley, William Cecil, to His Son Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–1598

The Letters of Lord Burghley, William Cecil, to His Son Sir Robert Cecil, 1593–1598The 128 letters of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to his son Sir Robert Cecil in Cambridge University Library, Manuscript Ee.3.56, are the largest collection of papers showing the close direction and counsel he gave his son in seeking and obtaining the office of Principal Secretary, 1593–1598. 

The materials concentrate on the task of receiving and crafting a wide and large array of papers on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I and her Privy Council; finance, administration, foreign policy, and religion figure prominently, as does the shift from continental war to Ireland.

These letters presented in this tome, and edited by William Acres, also reveal the intimate relationship between the father and son; Burghley's care for his family, his thoughts of death, and a unique record of illness and old age are framed by his political and spiritual anxieties for the future of the Queen and her realms.

Jessica Fletcher and the Long Afterlife of Murder, She Wrote

From CrimeReads
So far as Murder, She Wrote is concerned, something sinister has been going on for all of thirty-five years now. A Time for Murder marks the 50th title in the iconic book series based on the fabulously successful television show.

Where does Murder, She Wrote fit into the canon of classic mystery series over the years?


Let’s start with the fact that the show can justifiably lay claim to being one of the most successful mystery series of all time. The TV producers who conceived the idea of a widowed mystery writer-turned-sleuth originally wanted Jean Stapleton, who won three Emmys for her portrayal of Edith Bunker on All in the Family, to play Jessica Fletcher. When she turned them down, they opted for Angela Lansbury instead, and the icon of Jessica Fletcher was born.

read more here @ CrimeReads

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Review: Death in Saint-Chartier by Ivo Fornesa

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Synopsis: Seeking a quiet spot to write his memoirs, Laurent de Rodergues secludes himself in Saint-Chartier, a village in the heart of France. Yet his tranquil life is soon disturbed by Carlos, an eccentric millionaire determined to give the town's medieval chateau a costly and controversial makeover. When the chateau is unveiled after months of anticipation, the whole town turns out to gaze in wonder - only to find their host lying dead in a pool of blood. 

Laurent suspects foul play, and when the gendarmes find nothing, he makes it his mission to unmask the murderer. But where to begin? From jilted lovers to jealous rivals, disgruntled employees to shadowy associates practically everyone had a reason to want Carlos dead. As Laurent quickly learns, beneath its idyllic facade, the town of Saint-Chartier is rife with resentment and secret passions.


Laurent de Rodrigues returns to the village of his youth looking for peace and quite. Laurent plans on writing his memoirs, however procrastination and writers' block see the budding author exploring his local village. Dominating the small village is the Chateau de Saint-Chartier. And here elements of real-life intrude into our fictional story.

From 1974 to 2008, the castle had hosted the festival of Saint-Chartier, called the International Meeting of Luthiers and Master-Ringers. This festival, hosted in the park of the castle as well as in the whole village, featured concerts, balls and various activities. It took place every year for 4 days around Bastille Day. 


Following the change of ownership, the festival moved to the Castle of Ars and the restoration of the Chateau began in 2009, a fire in the mid 19th century destroyed part of it. Much of the reconstruction work in the novel is based upon these past works. 

The village of Saint-Chartier itself is quite isolated, the nearest railway station is indeed that of Chateauroux, some 30km away, and its population managed to barely creep above 500 in 2016. The are is noted for both milk production and the production of cheese.

As Laurent settles back into village life, we meet not only the locals, but the one man who has raised a number of hackles - millionaire Carlos Shennan. Carlos himself is a rather shady character whose background and business dealings raise more questions than are answered. His renovations have caused a bit of a stir in the village - though Laurent himself views both these and Carlos as rather refreshing. In a show of communal conviviality, Carlos opens the doors to the recently renovated Chateau and treats the locals to wine, music, and a feast.

When the death of the current own of the Chateau, Carlos Shennan is ruled as suicide, this leaves a bad taste in the mouth of our amateur detective. Laurent de Rodrigues, who, though still regarded as somewhat of a newcomer, decides that there is more to this death and begins his own investigation some many months later. "... nothing gives you a new perspective on things like a bit of distance .."

As Laurent investigates, there is more to each of his list of suspects than meets the eye; and as he reaches his conclusions, self-doubt enters. The final build up to the denouement is palpable - and we are left with a perplexing solution (no spoiler alert here).

The chapters are short yet richly detailed. I really enjoyed this mystery which loses nothing in the translation (originally published in Spanish). I loved how the author's own life is as every bit exciting as the one he has given his protagonist, and the added authenticity of real location and events makes it all the more intriguing. I am looking forward to more from this author.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny

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Making Sense of the Molly Maguires






Twenty Irish immigrants, suspected of comprising a secret terrorist organization called the Molly Maguires, were executed in Pennsylvania in the 1870s for the murder of sixteen men. Ever since, there has been enormous disagreement over who the Molly Maguires were, what they did, and why they did it, as virtually everything we now know about the Molly Maguires is based on hostile descriptions of their contemporaries.

Arguing that such sources are inadequate to serve as the basis for a factual narrative, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires examines the ideology behind contemporary evidence to explain how and why a particular meaning came to be associated with the Molly Maguires in Ireland and Pennsylvania. At the same time, this work examines new archival evidence from Ireland that establishes that the American Molly Maguires were a rare transatlantic strand of the violent protest endemic in the Irish countryside.

Combining social and cultural history, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires offers a new explanation of who the Molly Maguires were, as well as why people wrote and believed such curious things about them. In the process, it vividly retells one of the classic stories of American labour and immigration.

Moderate Radical by Rosamund Oates

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Moderate Radical






Moderate Radical explores an exciting period of English, and British, history: Elizabethan and Early Stuart religious politics. Tobie Matthew (c. 1544-1628) started Elizabeth's reign as a religious radical, yet ended up running the English Church during the tumultuous years leading up to the British Civil Wars. Moderate Radical provides a new perspective on this period, and an insight into the power of conforming puritanism as a political and cultural force. Matthew's vision of conformity and godly magistracy brought many puritans into the Church, but also furnished them with a justification for rebellion when the puritanism was seriously threatened. Through exciting new sources - Matthew's annotations of his extensive library and newly discovered sermons - Rosamund Oates explores the guiding principles of puritanism in the period and explains why the godly promoted the national church, even when it seemed corrupt. She demonstrates how Matthew protected puritans, but his protection meant that there was a rich seam of dissent at the heart of the Church that emerged when the godly found themselves under attack in the 1620s and 1630s.

This is a story about accommodations, conformity and government, as well as a biography of a leading figure in the Church, who struggled to come to terms with his own son's Catholicism and the disappointments of his family. Moderate Radical makes an important contribution to the emerging field of sermon studies, exploring the rich cultures derived from sermons as well as re-creating some of the drama of Matthew's preaching. It offers a new insight into tensions of the pre-Civil War Church.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Bryan Dobson to launch new book on the history of Leitrim

Bryan Dobson to launch new book on the history of Leitrim
From Leitrim Observer
A wonderful new book on the history of Leitrim will be launched by Bryan Dobson, of the Dobson family, Mohill and of course one of RTE’s best known and most popular broadcasters on Friday, December 6 at 6.30pm, in Áras an Chontae, the County Council Offices in Carrick-on-Shannon.

The book is the first such book on the history of Leitrim. It contains thirty-five chapters covering much of the hidden history of Leitrim from the earliest times right up to this decade. The book is edited by local editors, Monsignor Liam Kelly and historian Dr Brendan Scott who lives in Ballinaglera.

The Book called, ‘Leitrim: History and Society’, is the most recent county history of twenty-seven county histories published over the years since 1985, which started with Tipperary. This wonderful project of county histories is the brainchild of the general editor of the series, Professor William Nolan of UCD.

read more here @ Leitrim Observer