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.