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.

Links:
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?


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sea Charts of the British Isles

Sea Charts of the British Isles explores, through a series of historic charts, the multitude of sea ports, fishing and commercial harbours, naval bases, dockyards and seaside havens that have supported local life, and defended and imported for the nation.

Travelling along the coastline clockwise from London and the Thames Estuary, the charts range from naive and artistic medieval charts to detailed Victorian surveys. They reveal a wealth of information about the developing understanding of these shores, including the dangers of rocks and tides.

Furthermore, they bring home the changing nature of our coastline. Some reveal place names now lost to the sea, and ports now stranded miles inland owing to the silting of bays and estuaries.

read more here @ Tenby Observer


Sunday, June 18, 2017

All Things Tudor

Whilst looking at the blurb of a tome that caught my eye, I came across a number of books dedicated to the Tudors and their times - some old, some new. Let me share a few of the ones that interested me the most:

So High a Blood: The Life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox by Morgan Ring
From a richly detailed backdrop of political and religious turbulence Margaret emerges, full of resilience, grace and intelligence. Drawing on previously unexamined archival sources, So High a Blood presents a fascinating and authoritative portrait of a woman with the greatest of ambitions for her family, her faith and her countries.
Read review here @ Historia Magazine 

Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey by Nicola Tallis
In this dramatic retelling of an often misread tale, historian and researcher Nicola Tallis explores a range of evidence that had never before been used in a biography to sweep away the many myths and reveal the moving, human story of an extraordinarily intelligent, independent and courageous young woman.

The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story by David Loades
This is the epic rise and fall of the family at the heart of the Tudor court and of Henry VIII’s own heart; he described Jane as ‘my first true wife’ and left express orders to be buried next to her tomb at Windsor Castle. The family seat of Wolfhall or ‘Wolf Hall’ in Wiltshire is long gone, but it lives on as an icon of the Tudor age.

Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn
Steven Gunn explains how Brandon not only survived these vicissitudes of fortune and managed to retain the king’s friendship, but steadily increased his own power, wealth and standing. When Charles died in 1545, Henry ordered him laid to rest in St George’s Chapel in Windsor, where Henry had buried his favourite wife, Jane Seymour, and where he would end up himself a mere eighteen months after his one true friend.

Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham
This book explores all of these aspects of Prince Arthur’s life, together with his relationship with his brother, and assesses what type of king he would have been.

Scourge of Henry VIII: The Life of Marie de Guise by Melanie Clegg
The last serious biography of Marie de Guise was published in 1977 and whereas plenty of attention has been paid to the mistakes of her daughter's eventful but brief reign, the time has come for a fresh assessment of this most fascinating and under appreciated of sixteenth century female rulers.

Young and Damned and Fair: The Life and Tragedy of Catherine Howard at the Court of Henry VIII by Gareth Russell
A riveting account of Catherine Howard’s tragic marriage to one of history’s most powerful rulers. It is a grand tale of the Henrician court in its twilight, a glittering but pernicious sunset during which the king’s unstable behaviour and his courtiers’ labyrinthine deceptions proved fatal to many, not just to Catherine Howard.

The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles - Henry VIII's Nearest & Dearest by Sarah-Beth Watkins
This fascinating book studies the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. 

Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen by Jill Armitage
Jill Armitage revitalises Arbella’s tale, focusing on her lineage, her life and her legacy. Through her story we discover a well-born, well-educated woman desperate to control her own fate, but who is ultimately powerless against those in the scheming Tudor court; and the author explores the harsh consequence that comes from being on the wrong side of the revenge of a jealous, calculating queen.

Owen Tudor: Godfather of the Tudors by Terry Breverton
Without the secret marriage for love, there would have been no Tudor dynasty.

The Lost Kings: Lancaster, York and Tudor by Amy Licence
But the majority of these young men died in their teens, on the brink of manhood. They represent the lost paths of history, the fascinating “what-ifs” of the houses of York and Tudor. They also diverted the route of dynastic inheritance, with all the complicated implications that could bring, passing power into some unlikely hands. This book examines ten such figures in detail, using their lives to build a narrative of this savage century.

House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathan Amin
The Wars of the Roses were a tumultous period in English history, with family fighting family for the greatest prize in the kingdom – the throne of England. But what gave the eventual victor, Henry Tudor, the right to claim the throne? What made his mother the great heiress of medieval England? And how could an illegitimate line come to challenge the English monarchy?

The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath
The powerful, evocative new novel by the critically acclaimed author of The Handfasted Wife, The Woman in the Shadows presents the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Tudor England's most powerful statesman, through the eyes of his wife Elizabeth.


Three Books on the Virgin Mary

Rachel Fulton Brown is associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, where she writes and teaches on Scripture, liturgy, and medieval devotion to the Virgin Mary. She recently spoke with First Things junior fellow Connor Grubaugh about three of her favorite books on the Blessed Virgin.

read more here @ First Things

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Author tells history of seafood through 400 recipes

'It started with cod'

The Gloucester freelance writer [ Justin Demetri ], who doubles as the visitors service director at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, already has to his credit a slew of small, self-published books on various elements of Cape Ann's history and life.

But as he spent the last year researching historic seafood recipes for his newly self-published book, "From Head to Tale: Historic Seafood Recipes Through the Ages," Demetri realized the project required a larger palette.

read more here @ Gloucester Times

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Book On William Marshal

A new blockbuster book, launched on Friday night of last week, presents the man who built Kilkenny Castle in a bold, new light.

How apt that the Parade Tower in the castle was the setting for the unveiling of “William Marshall and Ireland”.

Co-editor and imminent Kilkenny archaeologist, Coilin O'Drisceoil said the book, a collection of new essays, portrayed Marshal in a new light as a master strategist, a nation builder, and economic heavyweight in a way hat differs from his well researched persona as the 'greatest knight that ever lived’ and a ‘flower of chivalry.

“And just as importantly the book shines a light on the important role of Isabel de Clare in developing and defending the lordship of Leinster,” Mr O'Drisceoil said.

read more from Sean Keane ( sean.keane@kilkennypeople.ie ) - Kilkenny People (Jan 2017)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: The Pilgrim by Davis Bunn

Abandoned by her husband and in danger because of her faith, Empress Helena embarks on a perilous pilgrimage from Caesarea to Judea. Although she encounters friends and foes alike in her travels, miracles follow her. Join her as she wins hearts for God and discovers the true cross of Christ!

Empress Helena was a woman who life would forever be linked with the Holy Land and the Crucifixion, in the sense that she reputedly discovered the True Cross.

Helena's life had humble, if not slightly seedy beginnings as one of her father's "supplementary amenities" at his drinking establishment in Bithyna (Asia Minor). She married well - Constantius, a man on the make under Emperor Aurelian - how they met is speculative. However, she was a "first wife" - when abandoned (c.289) in favour of a younger woman who provided the basis for a politically advantageous - though short-lived - marriage for her former husband, who by now had risen to the rank of Emperor (dc.306). 

With the enthronement of her son Constantine as Emperor (306), Helena returns to imperial court life - but there can only be one Imperial First Lady, and Helena had a distinct dislike for her daughter-in-law Fausta - the daughter of Maximus, whose stepdaughter Theodora, stole her husband so many years ago.

With the new religion of Christianity now the "official" court religion, Helena embarks upon a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (326 - 328) - she is by now a passionate convert to Christianity, and her pilgrimage is ostensibly a tour of the principal shrines. And yet, whilst in the Holy Land, Helena was said to have unearthed the True Cross, part of which she sent back to her son - the Emperor Constantine - in Rome, along with other relics of the Passion. Her finds were endorse by her son, who order the construction of a church to house them - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Helena's was, in fact, one of the first recorded Christian pilgrimages - and I guess you could say she was also one of the first documented archaeologists. 

So, knowing so much, I was looking forward to reading Bunn's novel on Helena. Its short - less than 200 pages - but it certainly packs a lot into those pages. Helena's story is spell-binding - you are captivated by her courage, you endure her hardships and struggles, and celebrate her triumphs. A reader can easily posit themselves in Helena's shoes (or rather, sandals). The reader never loses interest - and Helena's story, courtesy of Davis Bunn's, still resonates long after it is finished.  I read this back in August 2015 - and the story is as fresh in my mind today as if I had just set it aside.




Monday, June 12, 2017

'All Souls' Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

What do you get when a veteran academic with specializations in Renaissance history, alchemy and medieval science turns her hand to fiction? The "All Souls Trilogy" by Deborah Harkness is a work of romantic fantasy fiction for those whose tastes turn more toward the intellectual. Harkness is a professor of European and science history at University of Southern California in Los Angeles but has taught various subjects at multiple prestigious universities.


Each book in the series is lengthy, with plenty of plot twists and turns. Tidbits and factoids spanning the breadths of Harkness' learning are liberally injected into the story. At times, these additions make the plot seem convoluted, but if one has a bent toward historical trivia as this reviewer does, it will send the reader running to the library stacks in search of corroborative nonfiction titles. Each book builds on the previous, with the plot becoming denser and more satisfying with each addition. All in all, the series was an excellent read, at once dark and humorous, romantic yet mentally stimulating.


read entire review by Crystal Kendrick here @ Herald Dispatch



Politics of Food in Medieval English Romance Literature

Throughout civilized history, posits Aaron Hostetter, humans have rendered the material world edible in order to define our lives.

Finding evidence of this age-old truth, Hostetter explores the politics of food practices of medieval English culture as illustrated in romance literature of the time in his new book, Political Appetites.

The Rutgers–Camden researcher affirms that the romance literature in England during the medieval period, conceived broadly from the ninth to the 15th centuries, shows how food and food practice reveal human aspirations, as well as an enduring struggle with the limits of human existence.

read more here @ Rutgers-Camden News

Oldest 'comic book' boasts all-woman cast

It’s been more than a millennium since one of the oldest, goriest and most action-drenched comic books of all time was published.  So, it’s probably safe to reveal a spoiler.  In "Psychomachia" or "Contest of the Soul," the bad guys get it in the end. They really get it.

Needless to say the book — an epic poem drawn by 10th century monks with a decidedly graphic novel flair — never fell under the ratings jurisdiction of the Comics Code Authority.  The poem was originally written by Prudentius, a 5th century governor who increasingly devoted his life to ensuring there was sufficient God-fearing sentiment in his jurisdiction.

read more here @ Mother Nature Network


8 Fascinating Books About the Salem Witch Trials

This weekend marks the first execution of the Salem Witch Trials that took place 325 years ago. Bridget Bishop, one of 19 people executed for witchcraft in the Massachusetts city, was already on her third husband by the time the witch trials began. As the assertive mistress of two taverns, she had developed a reputation for arguing with her husbands in public and had been known to throw a wild party or two at her establishments. “I have no familiarity with the devil,” Bishop told the courts. Still, it didn’t save her life.


According to History of Massachusetts: “Bridget Bishop was not the first victim accused during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but it is believed that officials chose to hear her case first because they felt, given her prior history and reputation, it would be an easy win. They were right and a string of other convictions and executions followed hers before the hysteria came to an end in 1693.”

The burgeoning contemporary interest in witches, witchcraft, paganism, the occult, and their links to feminism and female power inspired our list of books on the subject of the Salem Witch Trials. 


read more here @ Flavorwire


Trash Man Creates Free Library Out of 20,000 Books Found in Garbage

For 20 years, Columbian rubbish-collector Jose Alberto Gutierrez has been holding to the books he finds while on his rounds in Bogota.

After two decades his collection totals more than 20,000 books - many of them thrown away by the people of the Colombian capital, now given a new life in the huge library Jose has amassed.

The Gutierrez's used to run children's reading sessions but, as more and more books come to the library - more through donations these days than through Jose's scavenging - they've run out of space to do that at home.

Instead, they're now concentrating on travelling around the country, delivering books to poor and remote districts where there's no public library.


read more here @ Good News Network

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review: The Fortunes of France by Robert Merle

This is an epic thirteen book series which "tells the story of Pierre de Siorac, a young Huguenot nobleman, and follows his adventures as he tries to balance his competing loyalties, to his faith and king, during the bloody French Wars of Religion of the sixteenth century, which pitted Catholics and Protestants against each other and tore the country in two."

These books are very descriptive – sometimes painfully so, and, I cannot emphasis the word enough, detail events from the French perspective. The story telling is, at times,  cumbersome as it reads like a history lesson, again from the French perspective.  We are also treated to a very detailed monologue of the cast of characters and their history.  In the beginning, I could not follow who was actually narrating events – it is Pierre (bc.1551), who retells of events that have occurred in the past until we reach current events (Book 3).

Book 1: The Bretheren - covers the period 1547 -1565
We are introduced to the Protestant de Siorac family, living in the Perigord region of France, and are told how they and their entourage came to occupy Mespech (1545) – these are “the Bretheren” of the title (Jean de Siorac, Jean de Sauveterre, and three other veteran soldiers).

Book 2: City of Wisdom & Blood - covers the period 1565 – 1570
Now an adult, Pierre de Siorac leaves Mespech and travels sto Montpellier, accompanied by his brother Samson and the crafty Miroul. This new life away from the safety of their home will bring with it many dangers and delights.

Book 3: Heretic Dawn - begins from 1570
Pierre de Siorac travels to Paris, where he becomes embroiled in personal and political intrigues at the royal court before the capital erupts in the communal violence of the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and he and his companions must fight for their lives.



It is a series definitely worth pursuing – I read the kindle versions of these three books, which probably detracted from my reading pleasure, as I do prefer to have a "hard copy" in my hand when reading

See Also:

The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed

In her book The Warrior Queen: The Life and Legend of Aethelflaed, Daughter of Alfred the Great, Joanna Arman delves into the life of this enigmatic Anglo-Saxon woman, who was recognised by contemporaries as a diplomat, military leader and ruler - things to which women of her times were not credited. And yet by all accounts, fact reads much better than fiction. I am looking forward to reading this when finally released.

Book Blurb:
Æthelflæd, eldest daughter of Alfred "the Great," has gone down in history as an enigmatic and almost legendary figure. To the popular imagination, she is the archetypal warrior queen, a Medieval Boudicca, while in fiction she has also been cast as the mistreated wife who seeks a Viking lover, and struggles to be accepted as a female ruler in a patriarchal society. The sources from her own time, and later, reveal a more complex and fascinating image of the "Lady of the Mercians." A skilled diplomat who forged alliances with neighboring territories, she was a shrewd and ruthless leader willing to resort to deception and force to maintain her power. Yet she was also a patron of learning, who used poetic tradition and written history to shape her reputation as a Christian maiden engaged in an epic struggle against the heathen foe.

Read more here:
@ Female First - 10 things you didn't know about Aethelflaed by Joanna Arman
@ Medieval Archives - review of The Warrior Queen 
@ Litera Scripta - Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians by Kaylin Oldham

The First Crusade: The Call from the East by Peter Frankopan

A book that sits proudly on my Crusades shelf in the Library, reviewed here by Andrew Holt, Ph.D:
I have long thought that Oxford historian Peter Frankopan’s The First Crusade: The Call from the East (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012) is one of the more interesting and important recent books for understanding the circumstances leading up to the calling of the First Crusade in 1095. His emphasis on Byzantine efforts to win western Christian military support in their conflict with Muslim forces in the East provides an up to date and robust consideration of the issue that is lacking in many other works that consider the era of the First Crusade.  Frankopan’s work, particularly chapter six, gives a good sense of why western Christians believed this based on his analysis of extensive Byzantine efforts to cultivate and win such military support. 
read entire review here @ Andrew Holt's blog

Teutonic Knights In Lithuania

Crusade and Conversion on the Baltic Frontier 1150–1500, edited by Alan V. Murray
Between the late thirteenth and early fifteenth centuries ‘another Hundred Years’ War’ raged between the Teutonic Knights and Lithuania. According to the Teutonic Order’s chronicler Peter von Dursburg, the systematic war against the last pagans of Europe began in 1283, although there had been military encounters before. When the Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania (1377-86, king of Poland-Lithuania to 1434 as Wladsylaw II Jagiello) received baptism in 1386 in order to become king of Poland, the official reason for the war – the subjection of pagan Lithuania to Christendom and the defence of the church against pagan attacks – vanished. The Teutonic Knights, however, did not accept this development and fought on, claiming that Jogaila’s conversion had been only a sham and that the Lithuanians were still pagan. The Reisen, as the Order’s campaigns were called, reached a peak in the decade following Jogaila’s baptism. More members of the European nobility than ever before flocked to Prussia to take part in the famous expeditions against the heathen.
review by Axel Ehlers @ De Re Militari

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A fascinating look at the history of toxicology

The first two volumes in the History of Toxicology and Environmental Health Series, edited by Philip Wexler, describe toxicology in antiquity. This new book continues the story by covering the approximate period between 400AD and 1600AD. It consists of 16 chapters written by contributors from various institutions in Europe, the Middle East and North America.

The book ...... [ delves ] into different aspects of toxicology, such as the contributions of scientific scholars of the time, sensational poisoners and poisoning cases, as well as myths. Historical figures, such as the Borgias and Catherine de Medici are discussed. Toxicologists, students, medical researchers, and those interested in the history of science will find insightful and relevant material in this volume.

read more here @ the Pharmaceutical Journal and @ Elsevier
read book here @ Science Direct

Boston library to return historical artifacts to Italy

The Boston Public Library is returning to Italy medieval manuscripts and a volume of works, ending in one case a mystery dating back seven decades.  The items include a manuscript from 1392, an illuminated leaf from a manuscript dating between 1418 and 1422, and a collection of works by Bernardino Telesio, published in 1590.

"Boston Public Library purchased these rare and important materials in good faith for the public to see and study and we took our stewardship of them seriously during the many years that they were in our care," said Beth Prindle, the library's head of Special Collections. "We are fully committed to their safe return."

read more here @ Daily Sabah


The Magic in 'Harry Potter's World' Exhibit

The Lawrence Public Library is one of a handful of libraries across the state to host the exhibit, on loan from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, says Gwen GeigerWolfe, an information services and public-health librarian at the Lawrence Public Library.

The exhibit’s six panels explore the connection between the magical creatures, plants and potions in J.K. Rowling’s beloved books and the real-life theories of Renaissance naturalists, alchemists and thinkers.

“The exciting part of this is we’re able to see that Harry Potter is wonderful and truly imaginative, but it relates to the real world,” GeigerWolfe says. “And we have these beautiful images and resources and medieval texts that we can reference to learn more about the story itself.”

read more here @ Lawrence Journal World

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy

My edition was a kindle version from Net Gallery.


Briton at the start of the new millennium was of interest - it was the period just after Boudicca led the Iceni revolt and of Cartimandua reign over the Brigantes - so I was especially interested to know how things faired in light of these event. 



Vindolanda was a Roman outpost in the middle on no-man's land - between the safety of the Roman Empire and the wild and rugged domains of the native barbarians (in northern Briton). Hadrian's Wall had not been built so the timber outposts were small, exposed and lonely - despite speculation that numbers may have reach 1000 men. 

And into this we are introduced to the harsh realities of the lives of those troops on the frontline, as seen through the eyes of one Titus Flavius Ferox (a native Briton, now Roman Centurian) and Vindex, head of a band of Brigantine scouts employed by the Romans.  Goldsworthy credibly re-creates the realities of life in a border garrison, from the Roman point of view, where the native Britons are the enemy to be subjugated, and guerilla warfare was the name of the game.


Vindolanda Tablet

A new leader has emerged who is uniting the native tribes, stirred up by an equally enigmatic druid, hell bent on the destruction of Rome. But not all is what it seems, and Ferox is commanded to "always search for the truth". Even today, Vindolanda is slowly giving up its truths as archaeologists discover a veritable treasure trove of everyday artifacts.





Vindolanda is a weighty read - a knowledge of Roman Briton would be an advantage - and further reading about Vindolanda is a must.  

Read more here: