Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: The Driver

From the creator of the hit Fox television show "Bones", comes "The Driver" by Hart Hanson; a thrilling story with an unforgettable cast of characters and an engaging, wry first-person voice.
Fiction at its humorous, sardonic, and oft-times crude, best. The lines between good and bad are certainly blurred - our hero is more anti-hero. The plot is peppered with acerbic humour (not to everyone's liking), a cast of misfit characters, action a-plenty, and the slightly disturbing narrative running through our hero's subconscious. Hanson drags the noir fiction of the golden years of crime up by the waistband of its saggy pants and plants its firmly into the 21st century. I would sit this tome alongside Caimh McDonnell's "A Man With One Of Those Faces", Mark Toscano's "Accused" and Bradley Spinelli's "The Painted Gun". 

"..... through the glass darkly and down the rabbit hole ..." 
- sums this up perfectly !

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Library seeks witches to translate 17th-century spellbook

Calling all witches and warlocks … or library enthusiasts.

Chicago’s Newberry Library is crowdsourcing translations for three 17th-century manuscripts of spells, charms and magic.

Handwritten in archaic Latin and English, the three texts, “The Book of Magical Charms,” “The Commonplace Book” and “Cases of Conscience Concerning Witchcraft” are currently available online under the independent research library’s “Transcribing Faith” portal.

So far experts have figured out that “The Book of Magical Charms” – written by two anonymous witches (probably) in England in the 1600s – contains spells to cheat at dice, ease menstrual cramps and speak with spirits.

read more here @ New York Post

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: The Drowning King by Emily Holleman

Egypt 51BC - the House of Ptolemy is about to take its final steps on the political stage. The power struggle that is about to unfold is centred around three siblings - sisters Cleopatra & Arsinoe, and their brother Ptolemy. Fueling the flames are a cast of political hangers-on, palace eunuchs, Egyptians and Romans.

We all know the story of Cleopatra - but it is not her narrative in that the story is not told from her perspective as in many other novels. Arsinsoe and Ptolemy are the ones to give voice to events as they are unfolding in Egypt from the time of the death of their father. Here, Cleopatra is seen from their point of view. And it is a very different Cleopatra - "traitor, whore, handmaiden of Rome". Is she a naive pawn of the Roman Empire, is it all posturing and sleight of hand, or is she truly, the sly and cunning minx.

This is an easy to follow narrative. Even though I had not read the first in this series "Cleopatra's Shadows", the story of what transpired before is easily picked up - Arsinoe is our faithful reporter. It probably also helped that I was already familiar with the "guts" of the story prior to picking this book up. 

I found the alternating narrative (between Arsinoe and Ptolemy) not confusing at all, but well structured. We are immediately drawn to both the characters of Arsinoe and Ptolemy, in particular, who you can't help but feel sympathetic towards - outwitted at every turn by his two cunning and politically adept sisters.

Not once did I consider putting the book aside - the storytelling itself constantly builds - think of a snowball hurtling downhill, all the while getting bigger as it builds momentum, barreling towards its inevitable conclusion - a cliff-hanger! Yes, we are left wondering ... what now??? 

Eagerly awaiting Book 3 in this series - then who knows, back to reading them all one after the other.

Review of the Drowning King here @ Goodreads

Cleopatra's ShadowsBefore Caesar and the carpet, before Antony and Actium, before Octavian and the asp, there was Arsinoe. 

Visit website of Emily Holleman

Monday, June 26, 2017

From Pulp to Fiction: Our Love Affair With Paper

Dr Orietta Da Rold from the Faculty of English and St John's College leading a project called Mapping Paper in Medieval England, the pilot phase of which was carried out last year. The aim is to understand how and why paper was adopted in England and eventually became a dominant technology – more so even than electronic media have today.
In 2015, thanks to a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, Da Rold and her team spent eight months trawling archives up and down the country in search of paper manuscripts written or based in England between the years 1300 and 1475, when William Caxton set up his first printing press. They found 5,841 manuscripts, of which 736 were paper.
read full article here @ University of Cambridge

When the Western Isles were the Southern Isles

The Vikings in Lewis’ was published by Nottingham University’s Centre for The Study of The Viking Age (2014)

The Lewis Chessmen are among the most iconic images of both the Isle of Lewis itself and the Norse heritage of the whole of the British Isles.
The Vikings in Lewis’ follows three main strands of evidence to illuminate the cultural context in which the Chessmen came to be on Lewis, and their legacy into the present: archaeological finds from the Scandinavian settlements on Lewis; the influence of the Old Norse language on place names; and material from Old Norse sagas and poetry that makes mention of Lewis, the Hebrides or Hebrideans.

read more here @ Stornoway Gazette

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Dr Peter Frankopan’s book, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, shows the importance of the east and the role it had in shaping modern Europe.

UK-based academics regularly feature in The Sunday Times bestseller lists and the shelves of booksellers like Waterstones, but the enormous market in China is harder to break. 

But Dr Frankopan’s book was translated into Chinese and it seems to have struck a chord with readers in the country.

‘For it to go to No 1 – and not only in Non-Fiction but across all genres - is slightly mind-boggling,’ he says. ‘I was in Beijing last week and at the airport looked up and saw a wall of my books staring back at me.’

read more here @ University of Oxford
read review here @ The Guardian
read interview here @ The Telegraph
visit website of Peter Frankopan

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review: Seized by the Sun

Of the 38 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) confirmed or presumed dead
World War II, only one—Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins—is still missing.
On October 26, 1944, the 32-year-old fighter plane pilot lifted off 
from Mines Field in Los Angeles. She was never seen again.

Seized by the Sun: The Life and Disappearance of World War II Pilot Gertrude Tompkins by James W Ure is part of the "Women of Action" series.

This is a good introduction into the lives of the women of WASP. The focus of this work is on one woman in particular - Gertrude "Tommy" Tompkins (1912 - 1944). It is more of a memoir than a factual history, and we are treated to stories from Gertrude's early life (childhood and family), schooling, travels and marriage prior to her joining WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) at its very inception.

Then the book details Gertrude's "career" with WASP - her training, her female comrades, the flying, all the while reminding us - the reader - that these were dangerous times, and many of the female pilots were killed in the commission of their duties - 38 documented losses.

And then we come to Gertrude's final flight - what did happen that day is not fully known; some details are very sketchy; her state of mind was unknown; and even today, theories abound. 

As I mentioned, it is not a factual history of WASP, its pilots, nor a traditional biography. It is a simply written memoir for the curious reader. 

Review also @ Goodreads
See also: 

Review: The Devil's Cup by Alys Clare

Sir Josse d'Aquin is summoned to assist the beleaguered King John in the 17th - and final - Hawkenlye mystery. 
September, 1216. A foreign army has invaded England. The country is divided. Some support the rebel barons and Prince Louis of France; others remain loyal to the king. His rule under threat, King John summons Sir Josse d'Acquin to support him. But can Sir Josse save the king from himself? 

Historical fiction set in the time of King John of England, a mysterious relic, a prophecy, a mystery - the makings of an excellent read along the lines of the Brother Cadfael or Owen Archer series. 

For me, however, there were sixteen books that had preceded this one - and I, of course, had come late to the party. And I think that this really did detract from my reading enjoyment - I wanted to be immersed in the plot and the characters but it became obvious that I was missing something from not having read the previous books.

I think I will go back and see if I can track down the earlier books and then re-read and review again.

Review here @ Goodreads and Net Gallery

Review: In and of the Mediterranean by Michelle M. Hamilton

Spain & the Mediterranean - a collection of essays on medieval Iberian history in relation to the Mediterranean Sea. It is a study of the diverse religious and ethnic groups, of the politics of the period, and the interaction and co-existence of all groups.

The focus of each chapter is, either singularly or collectively, mainly from the Spanish perspective, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew. Each chapter (or indepth essay) is followed by extensive notes and works cited to enable the reader to explore further should they wish to do so. It is an academic tome not designed for the everyday layman.

Personally, I would purchase this book simply for Chapter 3 (The Princess & the Palace: On Hawwa' bint Tashufin & Other Women from the Almoravid Royal Family) and Chapter 10 (Amadis of Gaul's novel of chivalry, trans Jacob Algaba).

Review also posted @ Goodreads