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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Galley copy giveaway

I’ve got a copy of Wimer in the flesh to give away on Goodreads – or at least, a pristine galley copy! The contest runs from 12/7/17 to 12/8/17, and is available to the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. And if you’re not in those countries and REALLY want an advance copy, and can live with my dog-eared and annotated one, drop me a line 🙂

Enter here:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/244621-sheriff-and-priest

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Magical Gozo

xaghra-twins-figurine-frontOn most maps, Gozo is (at best) a mere speck next to big sister Malta. Sometimes the whole archipelago is missing.

And yet, 6,000 years ago, the islands were home to the most amazing culture, building unique stone temples for both the living and the dead, and carving some fabulously well-endowed statues.

A skip in time, and Bronze Age peoples camped in the ruins, creating curiously slim, big-headed figurines.

Another tick of the clock, and two empires converge on the islands – the Greeks moving east, and the Punic people moving west from Carthage in Tunisia. The boundary line was the islands – Gozo is rich in Punic temples, and Malta has Greek ones.

The Knights Hospitaler made their home on Malta. Mostly they ignored Gozo; they built a chain of small castles to try and protect the people (and a magic mushroom) from pirates, but all their pomp and pageantry was on Malta.

The Knight’s heritage is a strong vibe across the big island. There, the tourism industry is tremendously important, and sites are carefully preserved, interpreted, and presented as a neat package. A little too preserved, for my liking – and sometimes horrendously crowded.

Gozo’s wealth of history is just as deep. Less preserved – with the exception of the Gigantea temple complex – but so much more accessible. It’s possible to touch the stones of a Neolithic temple, to walk around it and see how it fits with the rest of the landscape, and to soak up the atmosphere in your own time. Our guided tours may well be the only people around!

It was the weather and the flight time from the UK that first drew me to Gozo – but it’s the amazing history that has drawn me back time after time. It would give me a great deal of pleasure to show you some of my discoveries; I’ve partnered with a couple who run a stellar B&B to put together a package of welcoming accommodation, delicious food, and some of my favourite walks; Gozo at its most memorable.

But be warned; Gozo can steal your heart. Homer’s Odysseus spent seven years in willing captivity here; the magic will touch you too!

Click here to see details of the walking holiday: Walking Through Thyme.

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Folklore of fossil echinoderms

Source: Folklore of fossil echinoderms

Do click through and read this most interesting article, about how people all over the UK and wider thought about these lovely fossils – sand dollars, brain dollars, heart and loaf stones; I know them by many names, and the author (who works at the Natural History Museum) has pulled together a fascinating collection of stories around them.

I love finding them when I’m out in a field, and have been known to mount them as a pendant – how cool to know that I’m following the example of a Danish Romano-Celt 🙂

Nicky.

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Signs of spring!

Last week, daytime temperatures hovered around freezing, and fell to levels that meant I didn’t have the heart to throw my cat out at night. (And trust me, it has to be cold before that happens. She wakes me up by trying to get a claw up my nose.)

Today the thermometer was higher, almost in double figures – but with a lazy wind, the sort that would sooner go through you than around you. It took 30 minutes for my cheeks to stop stinging when I came inside.

I can be that precise because I was doing the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch for an hour, and keeing an eye on the time. I’ve had the feeling for a few days that the year has turned – but sitting doing nothing other than watching bird behaviour absolutely confirmed it. I have a small garden, but it seems to be large enough for two distinct populations of birds. On the left is Blackbird Couple A, spending suspicious amounts of time underneath the pyracantha, a disconsolate single male idly pulling up moss on the lawn in front. Closer to the house, Robin Couple A (presumably a couple, there was no fisticuffs going on)  were sat on the fence in the sunshine. On the right, Blackbird Couple B were underneath the weigela, Mrs. sat tossing leaves and looking bored, whilst Mr. bounced up and down and flicked his tail at her. Robin Couple B were in the upper storey, keeping an eye on the gentle stream of blue tits visiting the nut dispenser, moving in to intervene when some invisible behaviour code was breached. Sparrows and collared doves visited in pairs.

The 1st February marks Candlemas in the Christian calendar, Imbolc in the Celtic one, and it’s always a personal landmark also – the end of the shooting season, and the start of the detecting one; February is the only month in the year when I can play in a wood. Whatever your persuasion,

happy-spring

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December Rain

I’ve been enjoying a writing course called Writing for Young Readers, on the Coursera platform. One of the exercises was to write a 500 word autobiographical vignette, about something that happened when you were young – this brought back so many memories!

Here it is; December Rain.

The girl emerged onto the top of the plane steps, that first holiday from school, and the heat hit her with a flatiron.

Wow! she thought – have I been turned into an English person already, all red and sweaty?

December weather was supposed to be cool and pleasant, just right for going on safari. The bush, newly green from the October rains, should be full of the whole animal kingdom showing off their new babies – her favourite time of year.

She walked over the tarmac to the large tin shed that was the airport building, admiring the way her uniform shoes sank a little into the melting blackness with each footstep, then released with a tiny pucker. She could see her Dad standing at the open doorway, as close as he could get to the tarmac without breaking the rules, waiting for her. His favourite purple and grey checked shirt was pulled out of his shorts, dark circles of sweat under his armpits. Thank god, he’s hot too! Behind him, half-hidden in the shade, was her Mum, waving.

She ran the last few steps, and they hugged so hard it was like they were one person thick, the girl in the middle. When they let go, she slipped her hands into theirs. Her horrid white English skin was hidden inside her Dad’s huge, freckly grasp, and her Mum’s hand fitted hers exactly. They waited until the luggage handlers brought out her case, then walked together round the shady side of the building to the car, still holding hands.

The touch of the car seat on her back made her sweat rivers. She kicked off her shoes, then wound down the window and leaned forward to let the wind cool her. Her Dad was sticking his elbow out of his window so the material of his sleeve bellied full, funnelling the cooler air over his chest.

“The rains haven’t come yet!” he said, plucking the shirt material away from his body. “Bloody ridiculous heat, for December! No safari until it breaks, I’m afraid.”

She must have made a noise, because her Mum reached back and squeezed her knee.

“Don’t worry, pet – I’m sure they’ll break soon!”

The girl stared out of the window, seeing how brown and dry everything was. They might not break all holiday! The thought of a family safari was what had kept her sane, when she was lying sleepless in the stuffy dorm in England night after night, too cold even with the windows jammed shut, listening to all the others snore. She squeezed her eyes shut, so as not to cry.

She went to bed straight after supper. She woke when it was still dark. There was a breeze, and she leapt up to enjoy that magical air just before dawn, when the world feels alive – but it was better than that! As she stuck her head out of the window, a gloriously spicy smell of wet dust filled the room, and a fat drop hit her face, then another, then another. The rains had come!

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The Tendring Show

I love my local agricultural show! I’ve been going to it for donkeys’ years, and the only change is that I now pay a little more to belong to the farmers’ club that run it, so I get access to a nice shady (or sheltering) marquee, and some decent loos.

Here are the highlights as I saw it of this year’s show. If you click on one, you get a slide show.

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