Review – CULLODEN

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s webpage.
Trevor Royle, Little, Brown, 2016, £25, hb, 409pp, 9781408704011

My brother-in-law is a mild-mannered man, who wore a grey suit every day to work. We’d go on weekend outings around lowland Scotland, ending in a cosy pub. At Culloden Moor, though, he was suffused with anger, striding up and down gesticulating wildly as he relived every turn of the battle. It was easy to imagine him in clan tartan, claymore high, screaming defiance as he charged into the wall of lead from Cumberland’s muskets.

The battle that ended Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hopes in 1746 had consequences that exploded like a firework across Europe, North America, and India. Trevor Royle paints a fascinating picture, tracing the effects of the Jacobite defeat and the careers of the men on both sides of the battle lines across the next 50 years. He clearly shows how that battle set forces loose which shaped the British Empire, made the French defeat in the Seven Years War inevitable, and so set up the necessary conditions for the American Revolution to succeed. It changed the world.

In parts, the book is not an easy read. Cumberland’s sobriquet as the Butcher of Culloden was earned after the battle, with the brutal suppression of the clan system in the Scottish Highlands – his soldiers had orders “to drive the cattle, burn the ploughs, and destroy what you can”. There are parallels with the way Native Americans were treated whilst the British and French forces were jockeying for ownership of North America, and of course their retaliation isn’t for the faint-hearted either.

My brother-in-law’s ire at a battle lost three centuries ago sparked my curiosity enough to ask for this book. I expected a blow-by-blow account of the battle. I got much, much more than I bargained for – a much broader appreciation of a formative period in world history. I shall have to buy my brother-in-law a copy; I’m keeping mine!

 

 

 

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Review – THE GREEN COUNT

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Christian Cameron, Orion Books, 2017,, pb, 475pp, 9781409172796
This book continues the tale of William Gold, whom we first meet in The Ill-made Knight and The Long Sword. To date, Will’s career has taken him from impoverished squire, to being knighted on the field of battle; this story picks up in Cyprus in 1365.

I love historical fiction most when it’s nuanced – when the author assumes I know enough about the period to catch allusions to contemporary politics; when you are immersed in the landscape; and when the characters are rounded human beings with faults as well as virtues. It also helps – at least in an action story – when weapons are accurate and used correctly.

Christian Cameron has achieved all of this and more. I know the English 14thC, but this book ranges widely across the Mediterranean, taking us from Jerusalem to the Greek Islands, in the company of Knights of St John, priests, Mongols, slaves, noblemen, Islamic scholars, and more; the entire riotous spectrum of mediaeval life, portrayed in  technicolour and smellovision. I also learnt one or two new sword fighting techniques!

Sir William Gold is a thoroughly likeable man, who grows from an impoverished lone knight to the leader of a powerful company of men (not to mention gaining a wife and step-family), without losing the self-deprecating charm that makes him such a pleasure to spend time with.

Whether you’re after a roistering action book, a masterly portrayal of 14thC European and Asian realpolitik, or to admire a storyteller at the height of their powers – you will enjoy this book.

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Sheriff and Priest giveaway

I’m running a giveaway on Goodreads for two signed copies of Sheriff and Priest:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/253274-sheriff-and-priest

The giveaway runs from 7th – 24th September, hopefully to allow the winners time to read the book before publication date on 15th October.

Of course, if you don’t win and you want to get your copy ASAP, it’s available on pre-order from Amazon.

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Review – THE TRAITOR’S NICHE

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s website.

Ismail Kadare (Translator, John Hodgson), Harvill Secker, 2017, hb, 199pp, 9781846558450

Well. I got the distinct impression that this book went woosh! over my head. I have the nasty suspicion that, in the best tradition of European literary satire, I am missing whole realms of political commentary; but it was intriguing as a story.

The book opens at the height of the Ottoman Empire. We are in a square in the ancient Imperial capital; and in this square, in the stonework of the Cannon Gate, has been carved a niche. In this niche is a severed head. The book revolves around the inhabitants of the niche – the current, historical, and potential occupants, plus Abdullah and the Doctor, the civil servants charged with maintaining the integrity of the grisly relics, and the corrupt courier whose job it is to speed newly decapitated heads to their care.

Each of the vignettes are sympathetically done. The baroque madness of the Ottoman bureaucracy is beautifully drawn, and the characters are sketched well. Each time you find yourself hoping against hope that you aren’t meeting the next occupant of the niche. But I missed a narrative thread; the niche itself wasn’t enough of a unifying theme. I wanted something more – to know what brought each person to the point where the threat of the niche, or the consequences of a beheading, transformed their stories. As I say, though; I felt throughout that I was missing something, so don’t take my word for it!

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It’s a REAL book!

I have sore feet from dancing too much 🙂

Yesterday a big box arrived, with piles of the paperback; seeing them in the flesh, with multiples of that gorgeous cover, and feeling the pleasant heft of the book in the hand, caused the first outbreak of wild waltzing.

Then today, I put Sheriff and Priest up on Amazon for pre-order in the Kindle version; 5 years of digging, research, writing, editing, editing, editing finally out in the world! DISCO! 😀

A lot of this going on in my house today 🙂girl-160934_640

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All’s fair in love – NOT!

My Facebook friends will know that I have recently gone back to dating. I’ve been running a series of “Dating Rant” posts describing some of the weirder people you meet on internet dating sites, which I may put up sometime; but THIS post is about a dangerous predator, and is by way of warning about what is clearly a slick and well-researched routine. It horrified me how nearly I was taken in by this scam, even whilst recognising it as such, and I’d like to describe the pattern in the hope that it helps someone else to avoid it.

I won’t post pictures of the man involved, because I’m fairly sure that they were ripped off someone’s Facebook account or similar; actually, possibly two different men’s FB account. Pictures showed a vigorous man of the right sort of age, with two different but cute dogs in different photos. His name was clearly foreign. He said he worked in the construction industry, and I learn that only about half the UK’s construction firms have “About us” pages on their websites with pictures or descriptions of their staff. No google trail at all.

Now let me walk you through the ripoff routine… I do wonder what the next step would have been. I wasn’t prepared to play along enough to find out!

What he said What I heard What he meant
Hi, my name’s Jos, sorry for my poor English His name’s Jos Establish non-English speaker
I’m having problems using the site on my phone, and I really like your profile – would you mind if we moved to email? Someone else who hates the site’s clunky interface Let’s get off the site quickly before they catch me and throw me off
… a couple of emails down the line… I really like you. In fact, I think I’m falling in love with you. When can we meet? Well, it’s a bit soon to talk about love, but he sounds like a nice guy – I’d like to meet him too. Shame I can’t find him on google, but some people just don’t have a big net presence. Come on, little fishy… something really tasty wriggling on the hook…
Damn, I have unexpected visitors this weekend, and can’t meet up Damn, he has unexpected visitors this weekend, and can’t meet up This small disappointment will make you want to meet him more
Damn, work has sent me to Cape Town for a week Damn, work has sent him to Cape Town for a week Safely out of reach
My phone isn’t working properly, maybe it’s my data plan Communication is a problem overseas Next setup
Could you buy me a £10 Vodafone voucher so we can talk properly? He still wants to talk, even though he’s in a different country and really really busy! (But no, I’m not sending a penny to someone I haven’t met.) – I actually sent him instructions on buying his own voucher from an ATM in Cape Town. Small requests make larger requests later much easier to digest.
I’ve got wifi now, can we talk on WhatsApp? He’s on WhatsApp, great, I’ll ring him now. (Call rang out without a reply) Are you comfortably settled on that hook, little fishy? Thinking that maybe you’ve let him down somehow?
Work is developing problems, I’m going to be out here longer. I need to source a specialist crane to fix a problem on the roof. Damn, his work is developing problems, he’s going to be out there longer You really miss me, don’t you? And setup for the big ask.
Can you lend me the money to hire a crane? It would mean I’ll be home sooner, and I just need a loan until Friday. Yeah right. No. Bye! Come on, sucker… bite…

Looking back, I really am impressed – in a bad kind of way – by the sophistication of this scam. It preys on all the vulnerabilities you inevitably have, exposing yourself in the dating world. Throughout the carefully escalating process, there was always an innocent and an evil explanation for everything. He slipped up once; he fed those unexpected visitors a BBQ, allegedly – but the weather that weekend was worse than dire. It was at that point that I started to see that there was an alternative explanation for everything he was saying – but I was still sad when the half-expected request for money came through.

And yes, I am still dating; there are plenty of honourable, decent men out there who are neither weird nor predatory, and I still believe in love. I will, however, expect to meet them early in the conversation!

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Review – For The Most Beautiful

For The Most Beautiful

by Emily Hauser

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages.

Think of the tale of Troy. What names can you remember? Active men; Achilles. Paris. Passive women – Helen, only remembered for being beautiful; Cassandra being laughed at for her unbelievable prophesies. In “For The Most Beautiful”, Emily Hauser has told the story of two unlikely heroes, women whose voices have been lost. Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans’ High Priest, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, start off near the top of the hierarchy, but both are enslaved by the Greeks. Their struggles in the face of that disaster, and the need to preserve the essence of Troy, form the core of the book. Looking down from the clouds is the panoply of gods – with their own desires and agendas, and with two of the female gods NOT chosen as “most beautiful”…

If I hadn’t been reading a review copy, I might have abandoned it. The early vacuousness of its protagonists, and shallowness of the gods, really irritated me. But I persevered, and gradually grew to like, and then admire, the girls – very much. I got to the end of the book, and immediately read it again, this time appreciating the superb character arcs that Ms Hauser has drawn. The gods hadn’t changed, but then that is the nature of gods.

This is a fascinating picture of life in Bronze Age Troy, from the point of view of women at both the top and bottom of society. Ms Hauser’s knowledge of, and respect for, the period shines through. Read it twice. You won’t regret it.

 

 

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Review – STITCHES IN TIME

STITCHES IN TIME – The Story of the Clothes We Wear

Lucy Adlington, Random House, 2015, £16.99, hb, 410pp, 9781847947260

This review first appeared on the Historical Novel Society’s review pages

The author’s deep scholarship is very evident, as is her joy in clothing. A collection of anecdotes talking about an item of apparel per chapter, this book could have been entertaining froth; but it’s much, much more.

She focusses on the last 200 years, but ranges from prehistory onwards, describing the evolution of items in a very engaging manner. The book is illustrated with black and white sketches and photos, and has a colour centerfold.

From knicker elastic to hats, topics are covered in detail. My favourite timeline takes the pocket from a fold in a Roman toga to today’s handbag, covering chatelaines, a man’s “posturing pocket” (not what you might think), and the 18thC “indispensable” on the way; each journey has similar intriguing details.

I learned something new from every chapter, and was thoroughly entertained whilst doing so; there’s articles of interest here for everyone. The book has an extensive bibliography and source reference material, making it a good springboard for research. An excellent book for either the fashionista or the historical novelist in you…

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Review – Irvine Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy”

The Agony and the EcstasyThe Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book starts off slow, and the plot continues at this pace – it’s a pretty straightforward recounting of the major events in Michelangelo’s life, with some occasionally wooden reactions to them.
What makes this book shine – in fact, what makes it unmissably stellar – is the lyrical, beautiful descriptions of both the process of sculpting, and Michelangelo’s sculptures and paintings themselves. You learn how difficult it is to mine marble, how to transport it, how to choose a piece without inclusions by watching the sunrise through it. Then Michelangelo picks up his hammers and chisels – made afresh for each sculpture – and Irving Stone takes you inside the mind of the master, so that you feel you understand the exact places to carve away the snowy grain of the marble to achieve the desired effect, and you taste the marble dust at the back of your own throat.
Stone’s bibliography leaves you in no doubt that he knew what he was talking about, and there is a surprising body of Michelangelo’s writings in existence. I think that reading this book is about as close as you’re likely to get to one of the greatest creative minds who ever lived, and this book will be coming with me when I go to Florence. It has made me yearn to see these great sculptures and frescos, which Stone describes with such authority and conviction.

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Doctor Her

Yup – what Katy said.

Katyboo1's Weblog

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will know that today the BBC announced who the thirteenth Doctor Who will be. I had hoped for Sue Perkins with Idris Elba as her assistant, but frankly I think the rising libido of most right thinking people on the planet caused by such an alliance would have melted what’s left of the polar ice caps, so it was never going to happen.

Instead we have Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor and OMFG I actually cried, and I’ve been stealth crying on and off all evening because this is fantastic, fantastic news. Firstly Whittaker is a brilliant actor and deserves the recognition. Secondly, it’s only taken fifty four years to get a woman Doctor.

Only fifty four.

But you know it’s not all party hats and streamers. Already the Daily Mail are picturing nude shots of Whittaker on their website, and…

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