Пью второй месяц - кофе для похудения с имбирем. Очень довольна результатом!

Do You Love/Hate Richard III?

17 August 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Vulpes Libris will discuss Richard III during the week. “We won’t be providing any definitive answers this week, but we will – we hope – be offering a reasonably balanced overview of the most controversial and enigmatic monarch England has ever known.” Discussion topics include Shakespeare’s Richard III, Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour, Emma Darwin’s A Secret Alchemy (due out in the U.K. in November 2008), Sir John Everett Millais’ painting, The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, two different versions of Richard III in film, and Annette Carson’s Richard III: The Maligned King. Annette Carson will join in at the end of the week. (Tip of the hat to EC at Historicalfiction.org for the head’s up.)

Richard III Week

  • To Prove a Villain (Monday)
  • The Sunne in Splendor by Sharon Kay Penman (Tuesday)
  • Writing wrongs to make A Secret Alchemy (Wednesday)
  • The Shadows in History’s Eye (Thursday)
  • The Trouble with Richard III on Film, or just The Trouble with Richard III? (Friday)
  • The Maligned King by Annette Carson (Saturday)
  • Interview with Annette Carson (Sunday)
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Fiction and Non-fiction on Edward II

14 August 2008 — fuzzyhistory

I have admired Alianore’s Edward II blog from afar for awhile. I was catching up on my blog reading tonight when I found her post on fiction and non-fiction on Edward II. It’s a great list with short annotations.

I read two of the fictional titles on her “like” list – The Traitor’s Wife by Susan Higginbotham and The Lion of Mortimer by Juliet Dymoke. Both of these are excellent. I intend to re-read them.

I’ve been watching for Brenda Honeyman’s books at used book sales for several months. She’s not easy to find. I’ve seen some of her titles associated with the name Brenda Clarke. Unfortunately, she’s not available through my local library. I may have to go the interlibrary loan route (since she’s on Alianore’s “like” list).

Don’t miss the comments on the post. They’re equally informative and entertaining.

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Stealing Athena by Karen Essex

9 August 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Stealing Athena tells the story of the deconstruction of the Elgin Marbles during the early 19th Century. Originally belonging to the Parthenon, the Elgin Marbles comprise marble sculptures created, or supervised, by the Greek sculptor Pheidias. In 1801, Thomas Bruce, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, received permission to remove them to England. He did so over the course of several years at great expense and not without mishap.

While the politics of both countries regarding this event, as well as the disruption of the Napoleonic Wars, provide interesting background, the story centers around the lives of two women – Bruce’s (called Lord Elgin) wife, Mary, and Aspasia, the consort of the Athenian politician Perikles during the 4th Century B.C. Both women suffer to a greater or lesser degree because they live in a world that did not recognize their status except as a man’s chattel.

Thus, the premise of the novel intrigued me. But, unfortunately, the anachronistic portrayal of Aspasia, as well as oft-mentioned feminist ideals out of context with the times and anachronisms in conversations amongst ancient Greeks (particularly, the use of modern coarse slang) contribute to my overall dissatisfaction with the book.

If this were the sum of the problems with the novel, I might still have rated it “good” as defined in my chart. But the story fails to engage. I became bored at about page 150 and remained bored until the end. I was unable to connect with either Elgin or Mary.

Elgin was an irritating conniving vengeful bully, who despite his role in government, remained clueless about people and politics. Mary, more a woman of her times than Aspasia, was too innocent and saintly – a Mary Sue. Rating: Fair.

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While England Sleeps by David Leavitt

27 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Now a well-to-do has-been writer in his mid-50s, Brian Botsford is haunted by events of the late 1930s when fascism was on the rise in parts of Europe. In 1936, he was 22 years old and living at home, though his parents had died recently. He depended financially on a wealthy interfering aunt.

Lured by the strong pull of Communism amongst the circle of his acquaintances, Botsford attends a gathering where he meets Edward Phelan, a man 2 years younger and from the working class. Edward accompanies Botsford to the apartment where he recently moved.

Their brief sexual encounter leads to a more involved relationship. But whereas Phelan is comfortable with his sexuality, Botsford is not. Eventually his interfering aunt talks him into meeting a woman, who, he convinces himself, he ought to marry.

The woman – Philippa – knows him better than he knows himself. She rejects him. But in the meantime, Phelan discovers the betrayal and flees to Spain into the arms of the Communists.

Botsford’s reminiscences continue as they relate his feelings of sexual confusion and his eventual pursuit of Phelan. Readers gain snippets of insight into the dealings of the Communist Party, attitudes toward homosexuality and the conditions of war – the Spanish Civil War.

But, alas, this is not a novel about war or politics. Rather, it is a coming of age story – a tale about a man, who, by the time he accepts his homosexuality, finds it is too late for the one he loves.

Warning: Contains graphic descriptions of homoerotic sex. Rating: Very good. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.)

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Black Ships by Jo Graham

25 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Born of The Aeneid, Black Ships retells the story of Aeneas, the last prince of Troy, from the point of view of a female oracle. Known variously as Gull, Linnea, Pythia and Sybil, she walks with Persephone, the Lady of the Dead, serving as her voice when she communicates with the people.

Troy has fallen when the story opens. Gull is the child of a slave woman. Because of an accident that cripples her, she becomes Pythia’s acolyte. In a few years, at the tender age of 12 or 13, Gull becomes Pythia through the death of her mentor.

Aeneas arrives in Pylos seeking a place for his people to live. Pythia joins Aeneas at this point and travels with his people.

Centered around the trials and tribulations of their travels from Pylos to their final destination, Latium, near the future Rome, Black Ships describes the economic crisis of the times (approximately 1200 BCE) and how people coped with it.

While I very much enjoyed the story, I wonder if this modern retelling loses something of the reality of the times of Virgil’s Aeneid. The men seem too kind-hearted (e.g., Aeneas’ treatment of Basetamon), too deferential to Gull – though at times they believe her to be more a god than a woman. There are sword fights and skirmishes, but the battle scenes aren’t related in the same graphic detail as the travels or the relationships amongst the people.

At the end of the day, Black Ships is as much a love story as it is a historical novel. It’s in no way, shape or form the kind of trashy bodice-ripper often associated with the genre, historical romance. But neither is the novel what I would call historical fantasy. There is legend, but no dragons. There is mystique, but no magic.

While the categorization is unlikely the author’s fault, potential readers should be prepared for an emotional journey rather than a fast-paced romp through imagined lands. Rating: Very good. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.

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The God of Spring by Arabella Edge

19 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

In 1818, Théodore Géricault began painting his masterpiece on the shipwreck of the Medusa. It was a politically sensitive subject at the time in that the government-appointed captain of the ship abandoned its crew and passengers to die, fleeing to safety on a lifeboat. The God of Spring – so titled, explains the author, in accordance with the concepts of “self-sacrifice, celebration and death” that stem from the Aztec God of Spring – tells of Géricault’s obsession with his work. Indeed, obsession may not be a strong enough word to describe the artist’s state of mind. Several times while reading this tale, I wondered if he bordered on insanity.

Starting with Géricault’s illicit love affair with his aunt, which he ended when he became obsessed with the Medusa, Edge takes the reader back in time to relive the last six years of his life. You experience his insecurities in love, friendship and fame, his knowledge about art and painting as well as what he learns – about the composition of color, illness and human suffering – in order to produce The Raft of the Medusa. You endure the instability of his mind as he obsesses over bringing to life the survivors’ story.

Edge is a gifted storyteller. I never thought I would have an interest in how a masterpiece came to be. But without ever becoming sidetracked by the political scandal itself, Edge draws the reader in to Géricault’s work and the last days of his life. Rating: Very Good. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.

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As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

12 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

It’s been a long time since a book held me in its grip so completely I was unable to put it down. Fortunately, it’s the weekend and I could tune out all but the narrator, Jacob Cullen.

To say Cullen is a troubled man is to gloss over what drives him. Impoverished at a young age and sent from his home with his brothers to serve a wealthy Royalist family during the English Civil War, Cullen grows up disillusioned, insecure and distrustful.

Within the first 100 pages, he commits murder (to thwart a charge of treason), theft (to survive) and rape (to claim what is his). You witness a man who is violent and, perhaps mad. When he escapes into the arms of the New Model Army, and his lover-to-be, you know his story will end badly. But because you see the world through Cullen’s eyes, you hope against all reason that somehow things will turn out alright.

They don’t. But not because As Meat Loves Salt is a work of historical fiction and therefore, the ending is known. History simply provides the environment. Weary of the war, Cullen and his lover, Christopher Ferris, escape to the home of Ferris’ wealthy Aunt. Eventually, Ferris’ involvement with radical political thinking leads him to organize a farming commune with the biblical implications of a New Jerusalem.

Ferris is opposite Cullen in almost every respect. He is slight and gentle to Cullen’s muscular build and violent ways. But he possesses an inner strength that Cullen has never had. He’s stubborn. About the commune, he is Cullen’s equal in obsessive behavior.

The tale, then, is not just about history. It’s about a relationship between men when one borders on the brink of insanity. It’s about a Puritan upraising and sexual confusion. In the words of the author, who I think says it best, “It’s about longing, about being cast out from happiness into a shattered world, about the fear that there is some evil inside you that drives others away. It’s about the possibilities that love holds out to people, its power to ennoble and to enslave. It’s about the futility of trying to hold on to love by force.” Rating: Excellent. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.)

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

8 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

The first book in The Saxon Chronicles introduces the fictional Uhtred, a 10-year-old boy whose family holds Bebbanburg (now Bamburgh Castle) in Northumbria. The year is 866 and the Danes have begun to invade the northern regions of what is now England. When they strike Bebbanburg, a Dane named Ragnar captures Uhtred, and then raises him as a son.

Through the eyes of a boy who longs to be a warrior, Cornwell presents the Danish side of the story. The Danes believe the English kings are weak. Indeed, they raid Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia with relative ease, destroying monasteries, churches, nunneries and the English way of life.

A gifted storyteller, Cornwell makes you feel a part of these violent times. He describes not only the raids and the killings in graphic detail, but the mindset. “Start your killers young, before their consciences are grown. Start them young and they will be lethal.”

To break up the intensity of the slaughter, Cornwell interjects humor. It is, however, a humor even more irreverent than what appears in the Sharpe series.

“Your gods are false gods,” King Edmund of East Anglia tells the Danes.

“Prove it,” they respond, which leads to a discussion of how the Christian god influences events through His will.

A Dane asks, “So would your god protect you from my arrows?” Edmund responds that He would if it were His will.

“We shall shoot arrows at you….” Unable to back down from his stance about God’s will, Edmund stands before the archers, who, of course, kill him. “Nowadays, of course, [remarks Uhtred] that story is never told; instead children learn how brave Saint Edmund stood up to the Danes, demanded their conversion, and was murdered. So now he is a martyr and a saint, warbling happily in heaven, but the truth is that he was a fool and talked himself into martyrdom.”

Regarding King Alfred of Wessex (Alfred the Great), he portrays a man who is pious and sick, though intelligent and wise in the ways of warfare. He cunningly tricks Uhtred – after Ragnar’s death – into fighting for him. Alfred and the region of Cornwalum are the final holdouts by the end of the first book.

Since this is my second reading of The Last Kingdom, which I perhaps enjoyed more than the first reading, I can rate it none other than excellent. The Pale Horseman is the next book in the series, followed by Lords of the North and Sword Song. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral).

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Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King

1 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

Born Gruadh inghean Bodhe (also spelled Gruoch ingen Boite), Lady Macbeth was the granddaughter of Kenneth III, King of Scots (997-1005). As the author explains in the historical note, “So little is known of Macbeth’s queen that historians have drawn conclusions based on the events and circumstances around her.” Drawing such conclusions within the context of a fictional story works well.

The story of Gruadh opens with two kidnappings and rescues – the later event taking place when Gruadh is almost of marrying age (about 14). Consequently, Gruadh’s father seeks a protector and an alliance for his lineage.

About one year later, Gruadh marries Gilcomgan. Gilcomgan is mormaer or ruler of the Moray region – a region Macbeth covets. In this account, Macbeth attacks and traps Gilcomgan in 1032 “in a burning tower with fifty men at Burghead Sands.” He then marries Gruadh and becomes mormaer of Moray. King does a fine job of explaining how Gruadh feels about the loss of Gilcomgan and her new marriage.

But at this point, the story largely becomes Macbeth’s. While Gruadh struggles with almost equal desires to be both a warrior queen and mother, Macbeth serves as a general to King Duncan.

Duncan, however, was an inept ruler. By 1040, Macbeth garnered enough power to challenge and fatally wound the king.

The story then skips ahead to 1050, the year Macbeth went on a pilgrimage to Rome. On his return, rumors abound concerning Malcolm Canmore’s (son of Duncan) quest for the throne. In essence, history repeats itself. Canmore does to Macbeth what Macbeth did to Duncan. Macbeth’s rule ends in 1057 with his death.

Engaged from the start, I enjoyed this story immensely. The author is a wonderful storyteller. If there are weaknesses in the story, it’s the occasional narrative that reads too much like a research summary and the rushed ending. The last part, which covers from 1050 to shortly after Macbeth’s death isn’t as complete as the rest of the story. Nonetheless, Lady Macbeth deserves high marks and I await the author’s next book with bated breath. Rating: Excellent.

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The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman

1 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory

I picked up this book at the library mostly because of the intriguing cover and because I wanted a break from English historical fiction.

The story centers around two women – Celia, who lived as a harem slave in the late 16th Century, and Elizabeth, who is a 21st Century graduate student conducting research. Intrigued by a note written by Celia, Elizabeth sets out to discover what happened to her. Had the author stuck to this plot – and developed it – I might have enjoyed the story more.

Instead, the reader is sidetracked by the not-so-romantic tale of Elizabeth and Marius. Conceited and pompous, Marius simply uses Elizabeth. Worse, she lets him, all the while bemoaning that he does so. Then, determined to trace Celia, she bucks up and heads to Turkey.

Meanwhile, we learn about Celia’s romance. Prior to her capture, Celia was affianced to Paul Pindar. Pindar is an actual historic character – a wealthy merchant and later ambassador to Turkey. (To be clear, Celia is fictional.)

The plot centers around Celia’s attempts to escape the harem, Paul’s search for Celia, Elizabeth’s efforts to find out what happened to Celia, murder and intrigue within the harem, and Elizabeth’s developing relationship with a man she meets in Turkey. Do you begin to see the problem?

This 350-page book suffers from too many plots. Had the focus stayed on Elizabeth’s attempts to discover what happened to Celia; had the author not tried to connect the two women through their romances, this could have been a better book. Rating: Good.

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