Saturday, September 23, 2017

More September Additions

With the latest round of additions to the Library, anyone would think I might have an addiction - to books that is.  I make no secret of the fact that I might have a "small" foible when it comes to books - I do tend to collect them on not such a small scale.  But to each their own!

Adding to my collection of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series:
  • A Dance With Dragons: Part 1 Dreams and Dust
  • A Dance With Dragons: Part 2 After the Feast
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
As for the rest:
  • A History of Wales by John Davies
  • Daughter of Venice - Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus and Woman of the Renaissance by Holly Hurlburt
  • The Rival Queens - Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal That Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone
  • Bess of Hardwick - First Lady of Chatsworth by Mary Lovell
  • Harold - Tha Last Anglo Saxon King by Ian Walker
  • Red Roses - Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort by Amy Licence
  • Bosworth - The Birth of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria by Tracy Adams
  • Margaret, Queen of Sicily by Jacqueline Alio
  • Kingdom of Sicily 1130-1860 by Louis Mendola
  • Kingmakers - How Power in England Was Won and Lost on the Welsh Frontier by Timothy Venning
  • The Family of Richard III by Michael Hicks
  • The Warrior Queen - The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Greatby Joanna Arman
  • King John - England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrantby Stephen Church


Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Defiance - The Extraordinary Life of Lady Anne Barnard

The lives of unconventional ladies has always fascinated me - and Lady Anne Barnard was no exception.  A woman who lived 1750-1825 and embarked on a series of adventures, none more outstanding than her journey to South Africa - unheard of for a woman at the time!  

I was unfamiliar with Lady Barnard, and the author, Stephen Taylor, uses diary entries and personal letters to bring this woman to life - they say sometimes fact is more exciting than fiction - and in Anne Barnard, this is doubly so.  One of the great adventuresses, who no doubt carved a path for those ladies who followed her.

For those who a student of women in history - this is especially one for you!

read review here @ goodreads

See also:
Lady Anne Barnard @ wikipedia
Lady Anne Barnard @ Cape Town History

Review: The Painted Gun

Where does one begin?? Heart-pumping read with more twists and turns than a carnival ride. Just when you think you've got a hold of the plot, a white rabbit appears, and you chase it down a seemingly unrelated rabbit-hole.

The case - a missing girl - straight-forward story line - find the girl, solve the mystery. Wrong! And this is where this talented author uses smoke and mirrors to confuse and confound the reader - the art of misdirection at its best. The conclusion - unexpected, totally.
With pitch-perfect dialogue, an exquisitely crafted plot, and a stylized, deadpan nod to classic hard-boiled writers like James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, and Dashiell Hammett, The Painted Gun introduces Bradley Spinelli as a force to be reckoned with in contemporary noir fiction.
This book reads like a famous movie that the author references! High praise indeed!

see review @ goodreads
visit website of Bradley Spinelli

Review: Death On Delos

Greece, 454 BC: The sacred isle of Delos - It is a crime against the gods to die or be born on the sacred island. Thanks to the violence over the treasury, the first blasphemy has already been committed. Can Nico solve the murder and get Diotima off the island before they accidentally commit the second?

Again, a little out of my comfort zone with crime fiction set in Ancient Greece - and although this was my first read in this series (I began at book 7), I found it quite easy to follow the characters of Diotima and Nicholas.  A few of the "real" characters were familiar to me through my cursory high school education in the Classical Era and the author, Gary Corby, does a great job in filling in the details.

So to the story itself - murder, of course, on a sacred island in the Aegean 545BC.  Our detective duo are already in situ and are called upon to solve this mystery.  However, this is not a straight-forward crime and the location itself is proving to be rather trying.  Add into this mix a delicate political situation, religious tensions, a cast of questionable islanders, and you have all the makings of great cosy mystery.

The author injects humour and satire into this novel, which adds to its enjoyment.  It is an easy to read novel that is not saturated in  unnecessary details.   Not only was my interest maintained, but the author also inspires the reader to explore more of this period in history - not only fiction but non-fiction as well.  Love the author notes at the end!

see review @ goodreads

Review: Outsider In Amsterdam

"This now-classic novel, first published in 1975, introduces Janwillem van de Wetering’s lovable Amsterdam cop duo of portly, wise Gripstra and handsome, contemplative de Gier. With its unvarnished depiction of the legacy of Dutch colonialism and the darker facets of Amsterdam’s free drug culture, this excellent procedural asks the question of whether a murder may ever be justly committed."

This was my first dip into crime fiction from the Netherlands - and I wasn't disappointed. It was a little slow moving to begin with - and here I may have been comparing it with UK & US crime fiction - but my interest was never for a moment left idle, and before you know it, the denouement is upon you.

We have all the elements of a great crime novel - murder, plot twists, interesting characters, police procedural - all things the avid crime reader will be familiar with. Add into this mix an exotic European location (Amsterdam), and you have an intriguing and punchy story-line.
While de Gier telephoned Grijpstra picked up the stool and put it right and climbed on top of it. He cut the rope with his switchblade, an illegal weapon that he carried against all regulations. The rope wasn’t thick and the knife very sharp. De Gier wanted to catch the corpse but van Meteren was quicker. He put the corpse down, very carefully, on the bed. No one thought that Piet would start breathing again.
He didn’t.
I actually kept forgetting this this was published in 1975 - so to the uninitiated in Dutch fiction, one would hardly have known the difference - some of the "attitudes" prevalent in the novel, whilst dated, could still be applicable in today's world.

I am going to source other novels in this series as this first outing was highly enjoyable.

see review here @ goodreads

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: The Forgotten Queen

When most talk of the Tudors, the focus is usually on Henry VIII, his six wives, and his children.  Often forgotten are the siblings of Henry VIII, in this instance, his elder sister, Margaret.

Margaret was married to James IV, King of Scotland, and her offspring and their offspring, would make an indelible impact upon the political reigns of Henry and his children, notably that of Elizabeth I.

So, it was with this in mind that I was curious to see how Margaret would be portrayed in this fictional account of her life, The Forgotten Queen by DL Bogdan.
"From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland."
Margaret's story is told in the first person narrative - so we are really hearing Margaret's story from her own perspective.  This form of story-telling is, I guess, an attempt to make the reader more empathetic towards the main character, who in this instance is selfish, petulant, childish, rude and egotistic.  Whilst this behaviour is understandable in a very young woman who is married off to a complete stranger in a foreign country for purely political reasons, it wears thin as Margaret ages.  Something else that really puts me off is the attempt at native dialects - it detracts from my reading pleasure.

Margaret's real story is an exciting read - this woman was a true survivor of the politics of her day.  

Further Reading:
  • Margaret Tudor on wikipedia
  • Queen Margaret Tudor: The Story of a Courageous but Forgotten Monarch by Stuart McCabe
  • The Sisters of Henry VIII: Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland (November 1489-October 1541), Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk (March 1496-June 1533) by Hester W. Chapman
  • The Thistle and the Rose: The Sisters of Henry VIII. by Hester Chapman
  • Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots by Patricia Hill Buchanan
  • The Sisters Of Henry VIII: The Tumultuous Lives Of Margaret Of Scotland And Mary Of France by Maria Perry
  • King Harry's sister, Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland by Michael Glenne
  • The rose and the thorn: the lives of Mary and Margaret Tudor by Nancy Lenz Harvey

Review: The Children of Henry VIII

There are two works of the same name but by different authors - and I have read both.

The Children of Henry VIII by by 

"At his death in 1547, King Henry VIII left four heirs to the English throne: his only son, the nine-year-old Prince Edward; the Lady Mary, the adult daughter of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon; the Lady Elizabeth, the daughter of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and his young great-niece, the Lady Jane Grey. These are the players in a royal drama that ultimate led to Elizabeth's ascension to the throne--one of the most spectacularly successful reigns in English history."

Weir book focuses on Henry's three legitimate children, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I, and also Jane Grey - for continuity of reigns.  Its is certainly an extensively researched book, for those who would quite naturally gravitate towards this work, there is nothing outstandingly new presented.  The focus is on the relationships between the siblings rather than any in-depth political treatise, and finishes up with Elizabeth I on the throne.

The Children of Henry VIII by 

"Behind the facade of politics and pageantry at the Tudor court, there was a family drama.  Nothing drove Henry VIII, England's wealthiest and most powerful king, more than producing a legitimate male heir and so perpetuating his dynasty. To that end, he married six wives, became the subject of the most notorious divorce case of the sixteenth century, and broke with the pope, all in an age of international competition and warfare, social unrest and growing religious intolerance and discord. "

Intriguing - yes.  This is not a standard biography of each of Henry's children, but more an intertwining history.  Into this mix is included the often over-looked Henry FitzRoy, which makes for a refreshing change, and was one of the main reasons I picked this up.  However, Guy does not paint a very flattering picture of either of Henry's daughters, not of his wives, which I found a little annoying.   This short tome would be considered more of an entree into the world of the Tudors than anything else.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September 2017 Additions

Out and about today, I dropped into one of my local book sellers (yes an actual building) for a bit of a browse, and came away with these titles:

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (new Penguin edition with forward by Ian Rankin) - I've love the 1946 movie version of this work - Bogart & Bacall at their finest. Wasn't too fussed with the Mitchum & Miles version (1978).  One of the great detective movies of all time (in my humble opinion)

The Opening Night Murder by Anne Rutherford - murder in Restoration London.

The Dragon Throne by Jonathan Fenby - a history of China's emperors.

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared To Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer (brother of the late Lady Di) - story of Charles II quest for revenge and retribution.

A Knights Tale by Edward John  Crockett - novel of Sir John de Hawkwood

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales - biography of Lisa Gherardini, Leonardo's muse.

The Riddle & The Knight: In Search of Sir John  Mandeville, the World's Greatest Traveller by Giles Milton - journey to rehabilitate this 14th century traveller.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

New Additions - August 2017

Went on a little bit of a book buying spree today and picked up a few bargains - all second hand, and a bit of a mixed bag.

Historical Fiction:
  • Warrior Queen by James Sinclair (Boadicea)
  • King's Ransom by Glenn Pierce (Richard III & Princes in the Tower - two time periods)
  • The White Boar by Marian Palmer (Richard III through the eyes of the Lovells)
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (French Revolution)
  • God & My Right by Alfred Duggan (Thomas a Becket)
  • The Lion of England by Margaret Butler (Henry II)
  • Claudius The God by Robert Graves (sequel to I, Claudius)
Non Fiction:
  • Memoirs of the Chevalier D'Eon by Frederic Gaillardet (Court of Louis XV)
  • Lords of the Golden Horn by Noel Barber (Ottoman Empire)
  • The Reign of Henry VII by R.L. Storey
  • The Wars of the Roses by J.R. Lander
  • Becket by Richard Winston
  • William the Conqueror by David C. Douglas
  • Richard III - The Road to Bosworth by P.W. Hammond & Anne F Sutton
  • Statesman & Saint: Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More and the Politics of Henry VIII by Jasper Ridley

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: The Dollhouse

Fiona Davis' story "The Dollhouse" is told in two parts by two women who live in the Barbizon Hotel (or Dollhouse as it was formerly known). 

What we have is a clever mystery that gradually unfolds in two time-lines: the modern day with journalist Rose Lewin, and the past, the 1950s, with Darby McLaughlin.  The lives of both women intersect in the modern-day timeline due to a chance meeting - Rose's interest is immediately piqued and she decides to discover the secret past of Darby, one that Darby and others are keen to keep hidden.  

As the story, told in alternating chapters, develops, Rose's "real life" begins to imitate that of the past life of Darby.  The more we read, the more we have this strange sense of history repeating itself - deja vu.  We the reader are never quite certain how things will pan out in the end - for either Rose or Darby, until the story coalesces in the final few chapters.

This is a powerful first novel wherein author Fiona Davis weaves a tantalising tale of love, betrayal, and mystery that keeps the reader enthralled to the very end.

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

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America's Greatest Political Family

The Roosevelts - one of America's most prominent political families - descended from Dutch immigrants, intermarrying with local well-heeled colonial families, and whose members have included two United States Presidents, a First Lady, and various merchants, politicians, inventors, clergymen, artists, and socialites. 
...... this is an absorbing, well-written and very important book for both scholars and general readers—solidly grounded in “letters, diaries, datebooks, telegrams, court records, FBI reports and contemporary newspaper accounts.” But, as author William J. Mann makes clear, the larger story of the Roosevelts has been “masterfully chronicled” many times. “Rather,” he insists, “my goal is to tell a story that has been embedded, entwined, in some ways hidden in plain sight,” within the history of politics and public policy. The rivalry of the Roosevelt dynasties, he acknowledges, is well-documented; “What’s been less acknowledged is the fact that the battles went far deeper and were more personal,” impacting the lives of “parents, children, siblings, and spouses” in what amounted to “a family at war.”
read review by Sheldon M Stern here @ History News Network

See Also:

Fighter Pilot by Lt LC Beck Jnr

The autobiography of 1st Lieutenant L.C. Beck Jnr, a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot with the 406th Fighter Group, who crash-landed in France during a mission.  Whilst a guest of the French Resistance, Beck put pen to paper.  
Holed-up in a small room on the third floor of a cafe while awaiting French resistance fighters to smuggle him out of German -held territory, Beck decided to write his autobiography—on the back of old cafe minus! When the time came to move on to Paris as the first stop to freedom, he placed his manuscript in a box with his parents address and instructed his French host, Paulette, to mail it when victory was achieved. His parents received the package on January 6, 1946.  What happened to Lt. Beck from then on came from others who survived the war.
read review by Robert Huddleston here @ History News Network

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis by Prerna Singh Bindra

While reading Prerna Bindra’s journey into the forests and some of the institutions that govern them, I felt I was on a train rattling across India seeing the beauty but also the ugliness. The author is inspired by the incredible beauty of wildlife but defeated by her encounters with the government. As a reader I am left feeling confused. The journey is disjointed and the train is traversing on too many tracks. Sadly, this is the reality of wildlife governance in India.

read Valmik Thapar's review here @ The Hindu

New Book on Palestinian History Gets Rave Reviews

An Israeli writer has authored what he claims is the most extensive research into the history of the Palestinian people – with discussions of their ancient traditions, their roots and their current struggle in the “diaspora.” The book, offered for sale in numerous venues – including Amazon – has garnered many positive reviews, with readers thanking the author, Assaf Voll, for “a magnificent contribution to historical understanding of a complicated situation.”

The book, we may have neglected to mention, is 120 pages long – and all its pages are blank.  Titled “A History of the Palestinian People: From Ancient Times to the Modern Era,” the book contains a short introduction to Palestinian history – and stops there. 

read more here @ Hamodia

Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond

Size, as we know, is not everything. You might only be the 90th largest, but you can still emerge with a sizable reputation. This is one of several lessons to be learned from the story of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, way down the list in terms of size but, as this new book’s subtitle suggests, looming large in the imagination. It is probably also the world’s most dangerous diamond, described here as being “like a living, dangerous bird of prey” because so many have lost their lives over it.

The origins of the Koh-i-Noor, the “mountain of light”, are unknown, beyond the reach even of this book’s two accomplished authors, but it seems safe to assume that it emerged out of alluvial deposit somewhere in India. It may have been known in antiquity and it may have been referred to in many a romantic tale, but its first verifiable appearance isn’t until the 18th century, where it decorated the Mughal emperor’s Peacock Throne in Delhi and where it stimulated envy and greed in the emperor’s rivals. Over the following 100 years, it brought torment and tragedy to a range of people in Delhi, Kabul and Lahore.

read more here @ The Guardian

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Indian author Arundhati Roy catapulted to literary stardom in 1997, when her debut novel, The God Of Small Things (IndiaInk), was released to widespread acclaim. It went on to win the prestigious Man Booker Prize that same year and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

But instead of becoming a literary star by riding on the wave of her spectacular debut, Roy immersed herself in the political struggles of her time: the Kashmir independence effort; Adivasi, or tribal Indian, land rights; and anti-nuclear protests. She argues against US imperialism and the far-right machinations of the Indian security state. Now, 20 years after her debut, Roy has returned with her second novel, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness.

read more here @ Star2

Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls

Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, the creators of Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls (2016), wished to address the lack of strong female role models in children’s literature. They noticed how books and popular media were full of gender stereotypes, which they felt they could challenge with their book.

Favilli and Cavallo crowdfunded their project and ended up raising over a million dollars. The result is an illustrated book featuring the stories of 100 women who have made a mark in their respective fields, be it literature or politics, sports or science. These women are “rebels” because they challenged stereotypes, overcame odds of all sorts, and didn’t take “No” for an answer.

read more here @ Star2

Huntington Exhibition to Mark the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation - In The News

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with an exhibition that explores the power of the written word as a mechanism for radical change. The exhibition will include about 50 rare manuscripts, books, and prints made between the 1400s and 1648 (the end of the Thirty Years' War). “The Reformation: From the Word to the World” will be on view in the West Hall of the Library from Oct. 28, 2017-Feb. 26, 2018.

read more here @ Fine Books & Collections

I'm A Teenager And I Don't Like Young Adult Novels. Here's Why.

Article shared by my good e-friend and author Dan McGirt - a young teen reader reveals her pet peeves about "young adult" fiction and offers up some advice for those who write it:
Let your characters, even the secondary characters, even the characters your MC hates, be real people. Let them be interesting and unexpected. Think outside the box that previous fiction wrote. 
This is probably my biggest pet peeve with some YA novels. The book is almost over, and one by one, every plot issue is tied up with a bow and set to rest. Soon, everything is perfect, and everyone’s living ‘happily ever after.’ But how can you live happily ever after when you’re still a teenager? It’s difficult to end a teenage narrative story, because by time you end your teens, you’re still beginning your life. 

read entire article by Vivian Parkin DeRosa here @ Huffington Post

Review: Catherine of Braganza by Sarah-Beth Watkins

Catherine Braganza - not a queen with whom I am overly familiar with - the Restoration not my particular area of expertise. So it was with anticipation that I sat down with this concise biography and discovered just who this woman was. A survivor!

Catherine's time as Queen of England was tumultuous - the reign of her husband, the notorious prolifigate, Charles II, was dominated by his long time mistress, Lady Castlemaine; Catherine's failure to produce an heir saw many plots abound to remove her or execute her - but Charles stood firm beside her. This was also the period of England's war with the Netherlands and the Great Fire of London.

Yet Catherine survived - she outlasted both Charles II and the reign of his brother James II; she witnessed Monmouth's rebellion (Charles' illegitimate son who challenged his uncle James II for power); she saw in the reigns of William and Mary following James' overthrow and exile; and then the coronation of Anne. 

Finally, Catherine returns to Portugal and for the first time, exercising royal power as regent for her nephew (1705). But her happiness was short-lived - she died the same year.

Sarah-Beth successfully recreates the life of Catherine who lived in a most exciting time. Her story is highly readable, not bogged down with too much dry historical facts, and leaves the reader with just enough information to send them off on their own journey of discovery of this queen who for many, was just a mere footnote in history.

Publisher: List of Sarah-Beth's books
Goodreads: review
Net Gallery: review

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte

A novel of "revenge, redemption ... and pastry" by author, Leslie Truffle - who could resist?
Forsaken by her parents and raised by criminals and reprobates, Sasha becomes a world-famous pastry chef at the tender age of seventeen. Entanglement with the disreputable Dasher brothers leads to love, but also to a dangerous addiction.
Sasha is at once an heiress, murderess, and patissiere extraordinaire - she is both heroine and villain - a contradiction from start to finish.  From the warmth of her cell in Wolfftown Gaol, situated in the Tasmanian hinterland, 22yo Sasha regales the reader with tales of her life, her loves, her rise and her ultimate downfall that led to this rather comfortable incarceration awaiting the hangman's noose (1912).  

A slightly off-kilter tale that throws up a cast of wonderfully absurd characters, with all the ingredients for the making of an entertaining story of a woman who refused to be shackled to life's social mores.  A sweet  and salacious read.

Review: The Kingdom of Women

A forgotten society embracing a matrilineal culture, hidden high in the Tibetan mountains. The title was enough to grab my attention and when the opportunity came to read it, I took it.

Essentially, The Kingdom of Women is a book based upon author Choo Wai Hong's journey of discovery of her ancestral roots and her "spiritual home" among the Mosuo.

So lets begin with a little background: author Choo Wai Hong had a high paying legal career in Singapore, which she gave up to embark upon this journey of self discovery. During her travels in China's Yunnan Province, she comes upon the Mosuo and is intrigued by their culture and customs. She is welcomed into the community and decides that she will lay down her roots here and "go native".

Thus Kingdom of Women is a memoir of Choo's times in the Mosuo community, covering a period of approximately seven years. We are introduced to the particular customs of this female dominant society, all the while lamenting at the adoption of modern Chinese cultural practices by the young Mosuo, and what soon may soon by lost to the mists of time.

The author's style is easy and not overly burdensome with clinical details - and her story comes across as part-memoir, part-travelogue. If you are looking for something more akin to an anthropological study of this fascinating culture, then this is not for you.

Further reading:
The Guardian: Is China's Mosuo tribe the world's last matriarchy?
New York Times: Kingdom of Daughters
Societies of Peace: Matriarchal marriage patterns of the Mosuo people of China

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise

There is a widely held belief that in Spain, during the European Middle Ages, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed peacefully and fruitfully under a tolerant and enlightened Islamic hegemony. Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University in the US, with a PhD from Harvard, has written a stunning book that upends this myth.

The myth itself has been a comforting and even inspiring story that has underpinned the so-called Toledo Principles regarding religious tolerance in our time. It has buttressed the belief that Islam was a higher civilisation than that of medieval Europe in the eighth to 12th centuries and that the destruction of this enlightened and sophisticated Andalusia should be lamented.

The myth of Andalusia has been based on neglect of primary sources and selective adulation of worldly Muslim rulers, as if they were representative of the clerical ulema and Muslim masses. In fact, as Fernandez-Morera shows, both mullahs and masses tended to bigotry and anti-Semitism. There were anti-Semitic pogroms every bit as violent and irrational as those in Christian Europe. And many Christians were expelled from Muslim Spain.

read entire review by Paul Monk @ The Australian

Unique library Remained untouched for 150 years and now goes under the hammer

How could I not re-post this story that was sent to my by my Facebook friend Jean Doorn.
From: De Redactie dot be
An exceptional library of the
18th century by a French intellectual who fled the French Revolution to Bouillon, will be auctioned next week. The library, both books and the furniture was not touched in nearly 200 years. "Utterly unique. It has pulled the door closed behind him, then no one has ever touched those books, "said the master safe. The rich collection of books there are 182 extremely rare.
It is undoubtedly the dream of every book collector: entering an authentic 18th century library from Bouillon where no book was touched in almost two hundred years. It happened to a Belgian expert from the Brussels auction Henri Godts.
The expert came across the unique library when some relatives of the original owner stepped into the Brussels auction house and dropped that they had an untapped library in the south of our country.
What did the expert revealed the life work of a French intellectual who fled to Bouillon during the French Revolution. About who is right, the family should not be disclosed. But most notable: any book that was saw in the library, there was exactly like in the original owner so left. The reason can only guess for now.
And not only the books were still in their original condition, including the furniture such as tables, chairs and seats are at least 150 years old and almost untouched.
The owner of the library apparently had a fondness for geography, ethnography and exoticism, and the auction was held in the library then 182 authentic 18th and 19th century, rare books with exceptional descriptions of countries and regions, peoples and cultures of the most exotic locations.
Expert Godts of the auction was ecstatic about the experience: "The books are all kept in good condition and still look like they are at that time rolled off the press in their original paper cover, "he said.

As Jean commented:
A library and sale with a lot of questions: (1) Why was it not touched for 150-200 years? (2) Why does the family not want to share the name of the French intellectual? (3) What's the relation between family and this intellectual? (4) What's the story behind him/ her? (5) Analysis of collection (6) Which books were (un)read?