Sunday, December 31, 2017

Writer switches from crime to history to tell medieval mystery

Image resultEnglish crime writer Minette Walters has settled down to talk with Weekend about her first full-scale novel in a decade.

But it's not what fans of her psychological thrillers may anticipate. Walters has defied conventional wisdom about sticking to what you know and swapped genres to write her first historical novel.

Approaching The Last Hours like a crime thriller means it has the pace of one, plenty of plot twists and a strong female protagonist faced with a life and death mystery: what, in the searing hot summer of 1348, is killing everyone around the village of Develish, Dorset?

read more here

Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven

From iAuthor!:
ALT_IMAGE 1
Winner of the Hercule Poirot Prize for Best Crime Novel. It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil. As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and séances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire's controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet's exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case. His investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature...

read more here 


'Lost Kingdom' by Serhii Plokhy

The Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy, the leading Western scholar on Ukraine, details Moscow’s historic insistence that Russia and its East Slavic neighbors occupy a joint historical space, and essentially comprise a single nation — despite strong language, cultural and religious differences.

Ukraine attempts to retain its independent, medieval Kyvian state over the centuries had off-again/on-again successes. At one point it was amalgamated into Poland.

In the 19th century Russian imperial authorities compromised (in a sense) by creating a tripartite nation composed of three tribes: Great Russian, Little Russian (Ukraine) and Belarusian. Russian revolutions in 1905 and 1917 destroyed the forced alliance, and Ukraine was independent again until the communists seized power after World War I. The “Lost Kingdom” of Mr. Plokhy’s title refers to its involuntary incorporation into the USSR.

read more here
@ Kirkus Reviews
@ Publisher Weekly
@ Hachette Books

For more on the history of the Ukraine:
  • A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples by Paul Magocsi
  • The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy
  • History of Ukraine-Rus': The Cossack age 1650-1653 by Mihail Sergeevič Gruševskij
  • Ukraine and Russia: Representations of the Past by Serhii Plokhy
  • Culture, Nation, and Identity: The Ukrainian-Russian Encounter, 1600-1945 by Andreas Kappeler, Zenon E. Kohut, & Frank E. Sysyn

Author - Antonia Senior

When the book "Tyrant's Shadow" by Antonia Senior came up in my email feed, I confess I was curious. The English Civil War period (1640s) was not really my "go to" area of study. True, I did know a bit about the times, but it was a period I couldn't say I truly immersed myself in.

English Civil Wars - the short version (courtesy of wikipedia):
The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over, principally, the manner of England's government. The overall outcome of the war was threefold: the trial and execution of Charles I (1649); the exile of his son, Charles II (1651); and the replacement of English monarchy with, at first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653) and then the Protectorate under the personal rule of Oliver Cromwell (1653–1658) and subsequently his son Richard (1658–1659). 

And, really, the only book I had read recently on the subject was "The King's Smuggler" by John Fox (review here @ Melisende's Library).


So to the books at hand:
Treason's Daughter:
London, 1640. Fifteen-year-old Henrietta Challoner dreams of adventure, of a life lived at the gallop, of the opportunities afforded to her brothers, Ned and Sam. She cannot know how devastatingly real these dreams will become, as the country slides towards vicious civil war...

The crisis threatens to tear Henrietta's family apart. As religious and political tensions spill into the streets, they all must decide what comes first - their family, their country or their desires. But while she strives to maintain the peace at home, Henrietta becomes embroiled in a deeper plot: to hand London over to the King.

The Tyrant's Shadow:
England, 1652: since Charles I's execution the land has remained untethered, the people longing for change. When Patience Johnson meets preacher Sidrach Simmonds, she believes her destiny is to become his wife and help him spread the Lord's word. Simmonds sees things quite differently.

Patience's brother Will has been bestowed the job of lawyer to Oliver Cromwell. Tasked with aiding England's most powerful man, he must try to overcome his grief after the loss of his wife. Then Sam Challoner, Will's brother-in-law, returns unannounced after years in exile, forcing Will and Patience to question their loyalties: one to a ruler, the other, a spouse. Who do they choose to save? Themselves, their loved ones or their country...
read more here @ Historia Magazine

However, after a bit more digging, I discovered Antonio had also written a book on Somerled, King of the Isles. Having read Nigel Tranter's 1983 fictional account "Lord of the Isles" and John Marsden's "Somerled - And the Emergence of Gaelic Scotland", I am quite looking forward to reading this account of a fascinating "real-life" character.

The Winter Isles:
In twelfth-century Scotland, far removed from the courtly manners of the Lowland, the Winter Isles are riven by vicious warfare, plots and battles.

Into this hard, seafaring life is born a boy called Somerled. The son of an ageing chieftain, Somerled must prove his own worth as a warrior. He will rise to lead his men into battle and claim the title of Lord of the Isles - but what must he sacrifice to secure the glory of his name?

The Winter Isles is an astonishingly vivid recreation of the savage dynastic battles of medieval Scotland: an authentic, emotional, powerful read.


read interview with Antonia Senior @ Historia Magazine

Book Bargains - December 2017

Whilst I didn't get any books for Christmas (couldn't rely on delivery during December), I did manage to pick up a couple whilst out and about Christmas shopping:


From Alex Connor (conspiracy thrillers set in the art world):

  • The Caravaggio Conspiracy
  • The Bosch Deception
These books combine all her passions; art history, painting and thriller writing. All have a fascinating historical back story, combined with a hard hitting contemporary thriller – giving an insider’s glimpse into the art world. Taking some of the most famous names in art – Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Titian etc. – Alex exposes little known facts about their lives and secrets, bringing the Old Masters from the past into the complex and, at times, dangerous world of art dealing in the 21st Century.


From Dr Kathryn Harkup:
  • A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other crime fiction writer. The poison was a central part of the novel, and her choice of deadly substances was far from random; the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. Christie demonstrated her extensive chemical knowledge (much of it gleaned by working in a pharmacy during both world wars) in many of her novels, but this is rarely appreciated by the reader.


From Alix Christie:
  • Guttenberg's Apprentice
"Gutenberg's Apprentice" tells his story: of a young man's hate and grudging love for a man both brilliant and stormy, their struggle to prevail against resistance and betrayal and the power of the Church. It is the story, too, of the last great communications revolution. All the wonder and doubt the digital world provokes today were felt half a millennium ago, in the workshop that produced the world's first printed book.


From Paul Spicer:
  • The Temptress
In the spirit of Frances Osborne's The Bolter, this fascinating life of femme fatale and gorgeous Chicago heiress, Alice de Janzé, offers a solution to the decadesold murder of Lord Erroll—the story at the center of James Fox's acclaimed book and movie White Mischief (my review  of The Temptress here @ Goodreads and of The Bolter here also @ Goodreads)


From Robert Lyndon:
  • Hawk Quest
The Normans have captured England. The Turks have captured a Norman knight. And in order to free him, a soldier named Vallon must capture four rare hawks. (I have read this and left it unfinished - so when it crossed my path again, I have decided to give this another go)


Review: Queens of the Conquest by Alison Weir.


"Saga of England's medieval Queens is vivid and stirring, packed with tragedy, high drama, and even comedy. It is a chronicle of love, passion, high intrigue, murder, war, treason, betrayal and sorrow, peopled by a cast of heroines, villains, amazons, stateswomen, adulteresses and lovers."

Weir claims her aim in writing this tome was to strip away the "romantic mythology and legends" - and yet each chapter has its own flowery title. She also claims that it is "not an academic history but a narrative of the times" - and yes it is.

What I actually found was an attempt at updating Agnes Strickland's "Lives of the Queens of England" (pub 1840s) - and there is nothing wrong in that (I have also read Strickland's works), and as more information comes to hand, research quite naturally is updated. Having said that, sometimes when one reads a new work, one has a sense of deja vu.

This tome encompasses the women of the early Norman period: Matilda of Flanders, Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne and Empress Maud - all fascinating women in their own right. Some chapters are longer than others - sometimes, with information is just not there for the author to really delve into the character of these women. There follows the usual sources, letters, bibliography at the end.

Look - an entry level book for the beginner, but nothing new for the purist looking for something with a bit more guts to it.


more about Agnes Strickland here @ wikipedia
more about Alison Weir here @ her website

Review: Maigret & the Tall Woman by Georges Simenon

Look, I personally love classic crime - and Maigret (recently brought to life by Rowan Atkinson), definitely falls into this category.  

The "tall woman" is the wife of a career safe-cracker (a woman whom Maigret knew from years gone by).  There is a murder, and the safe-cracker vanishes.  In his usual style, and sometimes with the thinest of evidence, Maigret investigates.  There is nothing seemingly rushed about this man, and at times you wonder if Maigret will ever solve the puzzle.  But you know he does.

This style of crime fiction is classic for a reason, and will never go out of style.  I was introduced to Maigret and others of his ilk many, many years ago, and then sometime ago, I indulged myself in reading a vast array of classic crime (for the pure joy of it) - Simenon was among the many authors.  And yet their characters are still fresh as if it were only yesterday.  That is the power of Simenon and his ilk - they still have the power to captivate an audience years later.

Well worth the effort to seek out more from Georges Simenon and the full list of Maigret titles, which you can do here @ Penguin Books

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Book Wheel: A 16th century rotating reading desk

The book wheel was first found in the designs of the Italian military engineer Agostino Ramelli in 1588. In most European countries in the 16th century, books were large and heavy and to do any research with them was, without doubt, a major undertaking. The wealthy, the scholars, and the priests did the most reading.

The book wheel was a bookcase with a design similar to a small Ferris wheel. A person could turn the wheel by hand or by a foot pedal, moving the books in a north to south fashion.

read more on Agostino Ramelli here

read more on The Book Wheel here





The hidden lives of army wives

A stolen chest of letters – penned by an army wife to her husband on the battlefields of the Second World War – has helped a Cambridge academic and biographer trace the history of the women behind the men in uniform.

Army Wives by Midge Gillies, Academic Director for Creative Writing at the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE), uses first-hand accounts, diaries and letters to piece together some of the extraordinary stories of servicemen’s wives through history – from Crimea to the war in Afghanistan

Exploring all aspects of army life across the centuries; from the impact of life-changing injuries to séances, public memorials and death in foreign fields, Army Wives seeks to understand the singular experience of what it means for women to be part of the ‘army family’.

read more here @ University of Cambridge and @ Murdoch Books

Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas

A couple of interesting looking books have crossed my desktop recently, which I thought I would share.


Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough
"The medieval Norse were adventurous travellers: not only raiders but also traders, explorers, colonisers, pilgrims, and crusaders. Traces of their trips survive across the world, including ruined buildings and burials, runic graffiti, contemporary accounts written by Christian chroniclers and Arab diplomats, and later sagas recorded in Iceland. Their adventures spanned from New Foundland to Baghdad, and many other countries in between." (read more here @ OUP Blog)

God's Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert
"I hope my story, told from Gudrid’s point-of-view, shows Viking women in a whole new light. Forget horned helmets and funky braids. Viking women weren’t that different from us. And they’re worth learning more about." (read more here @ Melisende's Library)

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown
"Joining scientists experimenting with cutting-edge technology and the latest archaeological techniques, and tracing Gudrid’s steps on land and in the sagas, Nancy Marie Brown reconstructs a life that spanned—and expanded—the bounds of the then-known world. She also sheds new light on the society that gave rise to a woman even more extraordinary than legend has painted her and illuminates the reasons for its collapse."

Vikings in the South: Voyages to Iberia and the Mediterranean by Ann Christys
"This book reconsiders the Arabic material as part of a dossier that also includes Latin chronicles and charters as well as archaeological and place-name evidence. Arabic authors and their Latin contemporaries remembered Vikings in Iberia in surprisingly similar ways. How they did so sheds light on contemporary responses to Vikings throughout the medieval world."

The Viking Explorers: Explorers of New Worlds by Jim Gallagher
"Chronicles the history of the Vikings and their explorations and conquests in Europe and North America between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, focusing on such Vikings as Leif Eriksson, Erik the Red, and Oleg the Wise."

Image resultThe Northmen's Fury: A History of the Viking World by Philip Parker
"The Northmen’s Fury describes how and why a region at the edge of Europe came to dominate and to terrorise much of the rest of the continent for nearly three centuries and how, in the end, the coming of Christianity and the growing power of kings tempered the Viking ferocity and stemmed the tide of raids. It relates the astonishing achievement of the Vikings in forging far-flung empires whose sinews were the sea and whose arteries were not roads but maritime trading routes." (I have this one myself - read more here @ Philip Parker's website)

A History of the Vikings by T. D. Kendrick
"Written by a former curator of the British Museum’s Department of Medieval Antiquities, the volume is one of the first complete accounts of the Nordic raiders. Amply illustrated and written with freshness and vigor, this perennially appealing story of conquest will be valuable to scholars and students of Nordic history."

Seafarers, Merchants and Pirates in the Middle Ages by Dirk Meier
"In this engaging and highly-illustrated volume, Dirk Meier brings to life the world of the medieval seaman, based on evidence from ship excavations and contemporary accounts of voyages."

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review - The Chiron Confession by Thomas Greanias

" ... you know the omega but not the alpha ... "

It is 96AD - post-Crucifxion and only the Apostle John remains. The reign of the Emperor Domitian was fraught with tension - government officials, playwrights, religious leaders could be executed at whim. Roman playwright Athanaius of Athens is framed for murder and for being the head of a secret society (Dominium Dei) by his rivals at the Court of Domitian. Accused and condemned to the arena, he flees and takes on the persona of the one he was accused of being - Chiron. 

" .... nothing makes sense anymore. I've literally fallen into my nightmare .."

After a slow start, things pick up as Athanaius is led this way and that in search of (1) the real Chiron, and (2) vengeance. Athanaius encounters a motley crew of characters - are they of help or are they a hinderance. The question is ... will he succeed in either quest with an assassin hot on his trail.

Author Thomas Greanius takes you on a tale into the political and religious turmoil, to uncover a mystery that is at the heart of the reign of Emperor Domitian. The question is .... will it be resolved or is there more to come ? 

see my review @ Goodreads
see review @ Kirkus Review

read more here
@ Biblical Archaeology - The King & I
@ Bible Study Tools - The Second Persecution
@ The Roman Empire
@ Thomas Greanias' website
@ Goodreads - Dominium Dei series
















Review - The Bandy Papers by Donald Jack

Bart Bandy is the anti-hero who seems to always come up trumps in this first volume of his wartime exploits. I kept imaging Bart in the visage of Rik Mayall's "Lord Flashheart" from the "Blackadder" series, with the naive innocence of Inspector Gadget.

Bandy's memoirs begin with his early years in Canada, then onto the battlefields of France during WWI, and then to his career in the Royal Flying Corps.

It is a humourous and witty tale written in the style of a "boys own adventure".  And finding out that the author served in the RAF in WWII, makes me wonder if this is slightly auto-biographical.  A ripping good yarn.

For fans of - "Flashman", "Biggles", and "Inspector Clouseau" or maybe even, "Inspector Gadget".  I could maybe also add for those you (like me) enjoyed Spike Milligan's books of his wartime exploits.

Link to full series here @ Farrago Books and @ Wikipedia

Review: Christopher Wild by Kathe Koja


..... he lives by his pen, his wit, his nerves, his temper, his ambitions, his appetites, 
his ability to manoeuvre on several fields at once, keeping free of the floods that wash others away .....

35913117Synopsis: Three lives. One man. 

Marlowe lives three different lives in this story, each time awakening in an dark alley, living a new life. I am afraid that for me, the narrative did not work; it was incoherent and disjointed (each paragraph begins with a dash symbol). I could barely follow the dialogue - was it all in his head or was he actually speaking the words aloud (hint: all dialogue is in italics), and thus I struggled at times to work out who was actually narrating the stories.

For me personally, the character portrayal, the editing and punctuation (or lack thereof), writing style and storytelling put the author firmly on the back foot with me. Marlowe was a complex character - poet, spy, heretic - there is so much that you could do with him in a fictional context.

And as much as I love Marlowe, I was not a fan of this, and sadly, I would not recommend it.




Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Too Many Books? We cannot not surround ourselves with book

“Now, surrounded by so many books, we lead indulgent and shameful lives. So what is the use of learning?”

This is the heartfelt cry of Antonio De Ferrariis, known as Galateo (1448-1517), a true Renaissance man, who died 500 years ago last month and whose memory has recently been celebrated in his native Salento, the beautiful and fascinating heel of Italy. 

His outcry about the pointlessness of learning dates from the very same year (1513) as Machiavelli’s Prince and the famous letter in which Machiavelli (1469-1527) describes his greatest pleasure as “seeking nourishment” in “the ancient courts of ancient men”, or in other words as “talking with books”, as Petrarch (1304-74), the so-called father of the Renaissance, had put it many years before. 

read more here @ Irish Times

review of ‘Galateo,’ by Giovanni Della Casa @ New York Times


Gladiator Blood and Liquid Gold: Good for What Ails You?

Surprisingly, some modern treatments have roots in deadly ancient practices.

"Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways To Cure Everything", Lydia Kang ... 
"delves into some of the wacky but true ways that humans have looked to cure their ills. Leeches, mercury, strychnine, and lobotomies are a few of the topics that explore what lengths society has gone in the search for health."
"As far-fetched and strange as they sound, some things in the book do have some utility in modern day medicine, albeit in a very narrow way," Kang observed.

"We often don't get to study medical history in our education," Kang added. "It's grounding to figure out why some of these treatments were accepted from both a societal point of view and a chemical perspective."

read more here @ Lydia Kang's website


Review - A Dangerous Woman by Susan Ronald

"never allow the facts to get in the way of a good story"


The title says it all: American beauty, noted philanthropist, Nazi collaborator. "A Dangerous Woman" by Susan Ronald is a compelling, well written tale of a vain, money-grasping woman, who constantly re-invented herself to suit the moment. Author Susan Ronald does well with the material at hand to unpick the intricately woven pieces of Florence's life as there is still much documentation that is kept under lock and key, and thus inaccessible to the author.

Susan Ronald describes this elusive woman as one who "craved significance", had an insatiable "lust for phenomenal wealth", and a seemingly bottomless desire "be be loved". Ronald says that these three elements were "the driving forces behind who she was and what she did".

Indeed, much of Florence's earlier life was devoted to being the centre of attention, and acquiring wealth, through means honourable and not so honourable. After failing to gain access into the influential French Salons and a stint as a Ziegfeld Girl, it was finally with her marriage to millionaire Frank Gould that the couple were able to build their "entertainment empire" on the French Riviera and in Monaco, and give to Florence what she craved most - wealth.

And it was through a steady stream on influential lovers during the German occupation of France that Florence was able to maintain her position; she carried on as if the 'war and occupation were inconveniences to be overcome". It was her unparalleled freedom to move throughout France during the occupation that was to later give rise to rumour, scandal, and charges of collaboration and treason. Much post-WWII scandal had no affect on her later philanthropic activities as a major donor to the Metropolitan Museum.  Upon her death, the bulk of her estate was sold and the proceeds (totaling approx. $64 million), given to the Florence Gould Foundation.

As one reviewer noted, maybe money can buy happiness.

reviewed @ Goodreads, and more reviews here
@ Kirkus Review
@ Macmillan Publishers
@ Publisher Weekly

More about Florence Gould here
@ Boston Globe
@ New York Times - Obituary
@ The Forward




Sunday, December 24, 2017

Lieutenant Nun by Catalina De Erauso

From Penguin Random House:
Lieutenant Nun by Catalina De ErausoOne of the earliest known autobiographies by a woman, this is the extraordinary tale of Catalina de Erauso, who in 1599 escaped from a Basque convent dressed as a man and went on to live one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. A soldier in the Spanish army, she traveled to Peru and Chile, became a gambler, and even mistakenly killed her own brother in a duel. During her lifetime she emerged as the adored folkloric hero of the Spanish-speaking world. This delightful translation of Catalina’s own work introduces a new audience to her audacious escapades.


Saturday, December 23, 2017

Flora Sandes, the only British woman who served as a soldier during WWI

From the Vintage News:
Flora Sandes was the only British woman who served as a soldier during the WWI; she was an officer of the Royal Serbian Army. It all began when she traveled the Kingdom of Serbia as a St. John Ambulance volunteer.

In sight of the tragedy of the war happening there, Sandes enrolled in the Serbian army, and very soon she got promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major. After the war, she got the rank of Captain and was decorated with seven medals.


Author, Alan Burgess, has written a fascinating account of Flora Sandes "The Lovely Sergeant". I have a hardback copy of the 1964 edition, which I have treasured since a youngester.

You can "borrow" an online copy here @ Internet Archive


The Latin Cartulary of Godstow Abbey

Godstow Abbey, on the south bank of the Thames a few miles north of Oxford, is now a fragmentary but picturesque ruin, famous, if at all, only as the burial place of Rosamund Clifford, Henry II’s mistress. In the Middle Ages it was a flourishing house of Benedictine nuns, possessing an extensive estate concentrated close to home but ranging across eighteen counties. The build-up of the estate is recorded in two cartularies, a previously published English version and a Latin version.

This first published edition of the Latin Cartulary of Godstow Abbey outside Oxford is an important text for the history of medieval religious women. Compiled in the early fifteenth century, and probably written by Godstow's prioress Alice of Eaton, it contains more than 900 documents written for and preserved by this well-known community of Benedictine nuns.

The contents include a unique Anglo-Norman verse life of Ediva of Winchester, whose dreams prompted her to found the abbey in the early twelfth century. Numerous early charters in the cartulary identify other twelfth-century nuns and their relatives, and shed light on the founding of the abbey, its royal and private patronage, and its extensive real estate holdings. Other documents in the volume are excellent sources for women's literacy and culture, religious practices in the diocese of Lincoln, social relations between the nuns and the larger community, and the local urban and rural economy in Oxfordshire and nearby counties. The volume's introduction examines the founding of the abbey, dating it earlier than has previously been done, and provides new information about the abbesses of Godstow. In the text, documents dating from about 1225 or earlier are printed in full, in the original Latin, with English introductions and notes; later documents have been fully summarized in English, with complete witness lists. This is also an invaluable text for local history, topography, and genealogy. This text is the original of the Middle English translation that was published in the early twentieth century.

Touché: The Duel in Literature

In Touché: The Duel in Literature, Dr John Leigh explores expositions of duelling in three centuries of writing. The first ever book devoted exclusively to the depiction of duelling in fiction, drama and poetry, Touché is pan-European in its scope and scholarly in its unpacking of contests that range from the comic stand-offs between Sir Lucius O’Trigger and Captain Jack Absolute in Sheridan’s The Rivals to the elegantly orchestrated cut and thrust of Dumas’s musketeers.

The sheer theatricality of the duel makes it an irresistible literary device, whether to demonstrate a gentleman’s valour in facing down a rogue or to mock the posturing of a foolish buck. The richness of the drama lies in the stage directions: the count-down to the allotted hour, the scene at dawn or dusk, the pacing out of the exact distance between opponents, the checking of weapons, and the sobbing of bystanders. The deeper fascination, for the reader, is with the process by which words become deeds and the freedom of the nobleman is enmeshed in an utterly inexorable, irrevocable process.


read more here 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Earliest-known children’s adaptation of Japanese literary classic discovered in British Library | University of Cambridge

A chance discovery in the British Library has led to the discovery and reproduction of the earliest-known children’s adaptation of one of Japan’s greatest works of literature.

Dr Laura Moretti, from the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge, came across an unknown children’s picture-book, dating from 1766, under the title of Ise fūryū: Utagaruta no hajimari (The Fashionable Ise: The Origins of Utagaruta) while on a study trip with her students
The Tales of Ise has since been adapted and reinterpreted continually down the centuries as part of the canon of Japanese literature. 

Dr Moretti’s new book, Recasting the Past (Brill, 2016), presents a full-colour reproduction of the 18th century edition, alongside a transcription in modern Japanese, an English translation, and textual analysis. The publication of the 1766 adaptation of the Tales of Ise fills a gap in scholars’ understanding of the work’s history. Although much scholarship has taken place on the reception of Tales of Ise and its target audiences in different epochs, no one has previously explored the age of its readership.


read more here @ University of Cambridge

My Year In Review

My Year In review (2017) as recorded by Goodreads and comparison with that of 2016

Img bookstack 360

Hannah Jewell’s 100 Nasty Women of History


Review by Jodie Sloan at Arts on the AU Review:
Join The Washington Post’s pop culture editor Hannah Jewell as she plucks (almost) forgotten women from the historical cutting room floor. From artists to investigative reporters, scientists to queens, political firebrands to murderers, there’s no such thing as the delicate fairer sex here.

From Wonderful ancient weirdos and Women who punched Nazis (metaphorically but also not) to Women who fought empires and racists and Women who knew how to have a good-ass time these 100 (well, technically 104) women are diverse group, a potent and inspiring mix of eras, escapades, and ethnicities.


read more here @ Arts on the AU Review


Liza Mundy’s “Code Girls”

Kathryn Smith reviews Liza Mundy's "Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II" for History News Network:

Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy had realized its intelligence operation was woefully inadequate. The Navy needed code-breakers, what are more formally known as cryptanalysts, and it began recruiting them … at the elite women’s colleges of the Northeast.

After the attack, the need became even more pressing, and the U.S. Army jumped on board. Between them, the two services—which were so competitive one wonders at times who they considered the true enemy in World War II—recruited more than 10,000 women to work at its top-secret code-breaking operations in Washington, D.C. Their story is told for the first time by journalist Liza Mundy in Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II. Of the 20,000 code-breakers in both services, more than half were women.

Mundy’s book is a welcome addition to the ranks of recent books revealing the crucial supportive work of women in war and peace, including Denise Kiernan’s The Girls of Atomic City, about the women who worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Numbers, about the black women mathematicians at NASA.


read more here @ History News Network


Saturday, December 2, 2017

Manuscript - The Crusader Bible

From The Morgan Library & Museum:
The Crusader Bible - Folio 15r
The Crusader Bible does not illustrate the entire Bible, but only portions of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and Samuel. The picture book’s forty-six folios depict some 346 episodes, and about forty percent of the pages are devoted to David’s life. The stories focus on important heroes in the history of Israel—Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, and David, offering models of kingship to be avoided or followed. The stories are not set in the Holy Land, but in the milieu of thirteenth-century France. The miniatures are unprecedented in their naturalism, monumentality, breadth of execution, and narrative detail. The story-telling skills of the artists surpass those in contemporary manuscripts, and the dynamic depictions of battles and meticulously portrayed armor betray first-hand experience. Originally there were no captions, so narrative clarity was achieved by cleverly designed architectural settings, costumes, and gestures. Originally there were forty-eight leaves: forty-three are in the Morgan (MS M.638), two (fols. 43, 44) are in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris (MS. Nouv. Acq. Lat. 2294), one (fol. 45) is in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (83.MA.55), and two are missing.

read and view here @ The Morgan Library & Museum


John Foxe's The Acts and Monuments Online

Image result for acts and monumentsJohn Foxe (1516/17 – 18 April 1587) was an English historian and martyrologist, the author of Actes and Monuments (popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs), an account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history but emphasizing the sufferings of English Protestants and proto-Protestants from the fourteenth century through the reign of Mary I. Widely owned and read by English Puritans, the book helped mould British popular opinion about the Catholic Church for several centuries.

John Foxe sought to create a new kind of history, different from the 'multitude of Chronicles and storywriters, both in England and out of England' that had gone before. It made very bold truth-claims. These were supported by a panoramic depiction of Christian history as a manifestation of God's providence. They were equally sustained by an unrelenting belief that documentary evidence could not be gainsaid. Read John Foxe's remarkable protestant martyrology online via The Acts and Monuments Online
For the wordes of my story are plaine, where as the cōdemnation of the Lady Eleanor, and of the mother of Lady Yong, beyng referred to the yeare of our Lord. 1441. I do also in the same story (through the occasion of that Lady) inferre mention of the mother of þe Lady Yong,declaryng in expresse woordes, that she folowed certein yeares after, and in the end of that Chapter, do name also the yeare of her burnyng to be. 1490. which was. 50. yeares after the death of Onley, & Margarete Iourdeman: by the computation of which yeares it is plaine, that no other woman could be noted in that place, but onely the Lady Younges mother.
(condemnation of Lady Eleanor Cobham, wife of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester)



Friday, December 1, 2017

The Swashbuckling History of Women Pirates

Few historical figures ensnare the imagination in the same way as pirates do. The rum, the talking parrots, the hats and cloaks and treasure—all make for dramatic, theatrical tales. But Duncombe’s book does more than revel in the mystery and infamy of lady pirates: It contextualizes them, providing history and background on the societies they came from. Whether it’s the Moroccan pirate queen Sayyida al-Hurra (who terrorized the Mediterranean during the mid-16th-century) or Queen Elizabeth I’s woman sea dog, Lady Mary Killigrew, Duncombe separates the myths from the facts and considers the charm of a little-understood group of women.

read more here @ The Smithsonian as Lorraine Boissoneault interviews Laura Sook Duncombe about her her new book Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: The Mediterranean World

The Mediterranean World: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Napoleon
The Mediterranean World: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Napoleon by Monique O'Connell

In The Mediterranean World, Monique O’Connell and Eric R Dursteler examine the history of this contested region from the medieval to the early modern era, beginning with the fall of Rome around 500 CE and closing with Napoleon’s attempted conquest of Egypt in 1798.

Twelve chapters dealing with different aspects in the history of this volatile region. The emphasis is on themes rather than a chronological history, and is designed for the lay-historian rather than the academic.

My personal favourite sections were on the medieval period - specifically "Medieval Frontier Societies". This is a period that is of interest to me, so a welcome addition to my own personal library.

see also: review @ Me, You & Books


Review: The Wicked Boy

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child MurdererTrue crime set in the east end of London in 1895 - featuring a case of matricide where the accused is a child. A 13yo boy and his brother go on a spending spree after the murder of their mother. The crime is discovered; the boys are brought to trial; one testifies against the other; and one ends up in Broadmoor Asylum.

What I was hoping for was a concise documentation of the crime, the trial, the outcome, a "where are they now", an appendix with relevant documentation. What I got was a lengthy tome, overly heavy on the historic, social, geographical details; filled with lengthy explanations, unnecessary narrative and interjection; medical and psychological theories; and extensive use of newspaper articles, archives, court documents.

I have no issue with the writing - the case was certainly intriguing and no doubt a cause celebre of the day. What I have issue with is the amount of information the reader is required to absorb, when half could have easily have been discarded without altering the gist of the storytelling. Sometimes less is more - certainly in this case it should have been.



Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: The Mitford Murders

The Mitford Murders (Mitford Murders #1)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read about the Mitford sisters in both Laura Thompson's "Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters" and Mary Lovell's "The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family", I was naturally quite intrigued as to how one of the Mitford girls was going to feature in a murder mystery.

Louisa Cannon is a young woman looking to escape a harsh life in London in 1920. A chance meeting of an old friend leads to an introduction to the young Nancy Mitford, and for Louisa, the possibility of creating a new life when informed of a newly vacant position within the Mitford household.

It seems that as Louisa is escaping the clutches of her evil uncle, a woman, Florence Nightingale Shore, is attacked a left for dead aboard a train. The two stories, told independently, begin to merge as the investigation onto Florence's death takes place, and by coincide, Louisa and Nancy Mitford slowly become involved.

The story build slowly, characters cross our paths as the investigation progresses, and we are treated to an insight in the lives not only of the gentry in the early post-war years but also those who returned from the fighting. The empathy and identification with Louisa developed as the story progressed.

I enjoyed the fact that this was a fictionalised account of the very real murder of Florence Nightingale Shore, with the author offering a resolution of sorts. I particularly liked the occasional interspersion of letters written by Florence from the front which gave a little background to current events.

I'll be very interested to see how the Mitfords are introduced into the next in the series - obviously as this is #1 there follows that there will be a second book.

Will most likely also track down "The Nightingale Shore Murder" by Rosemary Cook.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Heartline by Brendan David Carson

A little bit of gratuitous book plugging for a facebook friend, Brendan David Carson:


One doctor's first few years - in the emergency department, in psychiatry, in the prisons and on the public methadone programme. Unexpected births, sicknesses, deaths - and two or maybe three resurrections. What board games they play in the hereafter, the health department protocol for vampire hunting, when not to call the psychiatrist and why not to buy a used car from an Emergency doctor. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy for psychiatric illness, the death of Supergirl - and what it feels like to be responsible for somebody's death. 


This is my record of a few years in which my life changed a lot, working as a wide-eyed junior doctor in emergency departments, in psychiatric wards, and on the state's largest methadone programme. Names and dates and identifying characteristics have been changed, but everything I've written here is true. 



Visit Amazon to check out Brendan's book in paperback and kindle formats.