Book Review: The Hollow Crown by Dan Jones (narrated by Dan Jones)

The fifteenth century experienced the longest and bloodiest series of civil wars in British history. The crown of England changed hands violently seven times as the great families of England fought to the death for power, majesty and the right to rule. Dan Jones completes his epic history of medieval England with a new book about the the Wars of the Roses – and describes how the Plantagenets, tore themselves apart and were finally replaced by the Tudors.

With vivid descriptions of the battle of Towton, where 28,000 men died in a single morning, to Bosworth, where the last Plantagenet king was hacked down, this is the real story behind Shakespeare’s famous history plays

 

I was not a fan of history when I was at school, and I feel I’ve learnt more from reading historical fictional novels as I got older, watching programs like “Horrible Histories” – why were we never engaged like this as kids?

Moving on: as I’ve grown up, the Tudors have held me in a certain thrall…..perhaps the first line of monarchs to bring a certain stability to England, even at a high personal cost. I picked this up on Audible as one of their “Daily Deals”. I wouldn’t have necessarily spent full price or my one monthly credit on a non fiction history book.  My problem with long Audiobooks is that I do have a tendency to switch off, or at least forget certain facts, which does require me to rewind to an unmarked place if a later fact suddenly becomes important. (at least with books you can go back and look…..!). This is entirely my fault, I will admit.

Dan Jones is used to being a TV and Audio historian, so has a certain approachable presence. This was his 3rd book, published in 2014.  He has written well, in as near as a chronological order as what makes sense, going back in time as he deems necessary (to paraphrase: in 1495 x happens, as a direct result of what happened in 1479).

As a narrator, Jones is clear and articulate with an appropriate level of energy.  This is not presented in a boring monotone, but is also not a overexcited child reading words followed by too many exclamation points.

I did have to listen to this several times before writing a review, but as stated above,  this is due more to my inattention to detail rather than the writer or narrator.

I do have other audiobooks by this author/narrator which I expect to consume (hopefully) soon – but no promises!

 

 

 

Book Review: The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri


The Shape of Water is the first in Andrea Camilleri’s wry, brilliantly compelling Sicilian crime series, featuring Inspector Montalbano.

The goats of Vigàta once grazed on the trash-strewn site still known as the Pasture. Now local enterprise of a different sort flourishes: drug dealers and prostitutes of every flavour. But their discreet trade is upset when two employees of the Splendour Refuse Collection Company discover the body of engineer Silvio Luparello, one of the local movers and shakers, apparently deceased in flagrante at the Pasture. The coroner’s verdict is death from natural causes – refreshingly unusual for Sicily.

But Inspector Salvo Montalbano, as honest as he is streetwise and as scathing to fools and villains as he is compassionate to their victims, is not ready to close the case – even though he’s being pressured by Vigàta’s police chief, judge, and bishop.

Picking his way through a labyrinth of high-comedy corruption, delicious meals, vendetta firepower, and carefully planted false clues, Montalbano can be relied on, whatever the cost, to get to the heart of the matter.

The Shape of Water is followed by the second in this phenomenal series, The Terracotta Dog.

 

Whilst this is the first of the book series, it is not the first in the TV series. My review of the exact episode can be found here.

Anyway, the events of the book are very similar to that of the TV episode, so I wont repeat here.  The books is translated from the Sicilian-Italian (a feat in itself, apparently). One of the things i struggle with with the TV episodes, is that not everyone gets named. Turns out, the same happens in the books. There are also things/inference in the show that doesn’t happen in the book.

Also: The relationship with Ingrid happens much earlier in the tv show than the book, with a seemingly different over tone in the book than in the book. In the book it’s Fazio, not Ingrid that takes the car down the waterway.

In Summary: the book is similar to the TV episode (something you should expect when Camilleri writes the screenplay too) but there are enough differences to make it worth the read.  Neither is better than the other, so feel happy in reading this book, and the series as a wole

 

Book Review: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris takes the reader back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, and the now accepted chocolatier, Vianne Rocher, continuing to practice her own brand of chocolate magic. How things have changed, even Francis Reynaud, the priest, once her fiercest critic is now a friend. Vianne has lost her summer child, Anouk, to Paris and the man she has fallen in love with. She finds some comfort that her winter child, the special Rosette will never leave her. Rosette doesn’t attend school, does not speak, has a companion that only few can see, Bam, the monkey, and has a special gift for art and drawing. Snow makes an unexpected appearance, and the winds of change are blowing, heralding death, unstoppable chaos and a confrontation between different forms of powerful magic, that of chocolate and ink. Vianne has a desperate sense of foreboding, the tarot cards, Death, The Fool and The Tower, promise a future that is to test and challenge her.

The death of Narcisse, the florist, triggers conflict and the entry of a newcomer with no feet taking over his shop premises. The mysterious Morgane and her reception by the village carries uncanny echoes of Vianne’s experiences on first settling in the village. Whilst many do not get Rosette and belittle her, Narcisse becomes close to the child after catching her stealing strawberries. He bequeaths his wood to Rosette, the strawberry thief, to be held in trust for her until she is of age. Whilst Rosette is overjoyed, Narcisse’s daughter is less than happy, looking for ways to challenge the bequest. Narcisse had rejected the church and was not fond of Reynaud, but he leaves behind a confession for Reynaud that tells of his heartbreaking background and history, particularly his close relationship with his beloved sister, Mimi, afflicted with seizures. Reynaud carries a heavy burden of guilt from his actions as a child that had such tragic outcomes, events he has never dared to speak of, which he is certain will see him roundly condemned by all. He is afraid that Narcisse knew of his secret. Morgane appears to wield a power over the community and Rosette that makes Vianne so afraid that she will do anything to make her leave.

Joanne Harris is a remarkably beguiling storyteller, infusing dark fairytales in the narrative, of Rosette, the snow child, with her own magic, her ‘accidents’, and her ability to influence the winds. She focuses on human insecurities, frailties and fears, of a casting of magic that disturbs the natural order of things and how natural forces will inexorably topple such unnaturalness. The magic of ink takes hold of a village and community, giving them what they need rather than what they want, including the mark of Cain, and with it comes the inevitable changes that life brings. This is a beautifully written and immersive read, and it is such a pleasure to return to this village and all its diverse characters, even the unlikeable ones! If you are drawn to the whimsical, the bewitching, and glorious storytelling, then this is a novel for you. Highly recommended! Many thanks to Orion for an ARC.

Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

The 4th – and nominally the last – book in the “Chocolat” series, this follows the Peaches for Monsier Le Cure book previously reviewed on this blog. The writing style has changed slightly, so there are now multiple voices – Vianne, Reynard (Le Cure) and Rosette (BAM! from previous books) in particular.

Vianne still has the Chocolate Shop and continues to feel uncertain, even when she has been accepted; Anouk is now in Paris, coming back to Lansquenet with a secret, just in time to share it for Easter; Reynaud is still haunted by what he believes is true (and we get to hear more of how and why he fears the boat people).

Vianne still believes that her “winter child” (Rosette) – the one who rarely speaks – will stay with her forever. Meanwhile Narcisse dies, leaving various legacies to people – most of his estate to his daughter; his strawberry patch to Rosette (the Strawberry Thief of the title); and a confession (of sorts) to Reynard…..the latter which goes around various people of the community, so we all get to hear a peace.

Narcisse has left a “confession” for after his death that is essentially a history of why he is a bit of a git.  This narrative/diary is read mainly by Le Cure, but, as part of the story, is passed around various characters in the story.

Meanwhile, the florist’s shop is let, to a tattooist called Morgane (her of the two artificial feet). She reminds Vianne too much of the usurper she encountered in The Lollipop Shoes, and therefore Vianne doesnt trust her, especially when Rosette seems all too enamored of the new woman across the street.

So the story has multiple threads, and multiple timelines for what is, essentially, an entwined story. Everyone is important. All threads come together (I wont provide spoilers so I will be knowingly vague). In essence: i enjoyed this book, especially as part of a series. It can be read on it’s own, but is always helpful to read in order/context

 

FYI the “Strawberry Thief” is referred to in the book as a design by William Morris, and more information (Including an image) can be found here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Embroidered Kitchen Garden by Kazuko Aoki

Embroidery artist and avid gardener Kazuko Aoki shares her newest collection of exquisite designs inspired by her very own kitchen garden. This bountiful assortment of embroidery motifs includes everyone’s favorite garden treats. From humble tomatoes and radishes to show-stopping figs and Brussels sprouts, this collection features over 30 edible plant designs. Stitch up a sampler to decorate your kitchen, create a one-of-a-kind farmers market tote, or just pore over the pages forendless inspiration. Each design features artfully illustrative details yet are made with just a handful of simple embroidery stitches. Embroidery enthusiasts will delight in this cornucopia of lush and sweet designs to stitch and savor. Instructions and templates for all designs are included, along with personal embroidery tips and expert advice from the author.

 

I got a copy of the ebook version of this from Netgalley, and quite honestly, even the ebook version is delicious.  The first half of the book has both images and text about certain food stuffs.

The second half has descriptions of how to stitch the images from the first half.  To be fair, this is the point where I would want the physical book in front of me. Not only to be able to switch easily between the instructions and the image, but the instructions do rely on you having a  certain level of stitching knowledge (this is not for the beginner!).

I will be on the lookout for the physical version of this book, to add to my collection!

 

Book Review: A Testament to Murder by Vivian Conroy

Suspenseful from the first page to the last, A Testament to Murder is perfect for fans of And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Crooked House

A dying billionaire. Nine would-be heirs. But only one will take the prize…

At the lush Villa Calypso on the French Riviera, a dying billionaire launches a devious plan: at midnight each day he appoints a new heir to his vast fortune. If he dies within 24 hours, that person takes it all. If not, their chance is gone forever.

Yet these are no ordinary beneficiaries, these men who crossed him, women who deceived him, and distant relations intent on reclaiming the family fortune. All are determined to lend death a hand and outwit their rivals in pursuit of the prize.

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Book Review: One Night of Passion by Erica Ridley

Meet the unforgettable men of London’s most notorious tavern, The Wicked Duke. Seductively handsome, with charm and wit to spare, one night with these rakes and rogues will never be enough…

Lifelong romantic Thaddeus Middleton is on the hunt for a wife. He hopes to find a woman more attracted to him than to money. Instead, he finds himself drawn to a spitfire who isn’t interested in him at all! At least, that’s what she says when she’s not kissing him beneath the stars…

Miss Priscilla Weatherby will inherit a fortune… provided she remains unwed and scandal-free. Easy enough, until she meets a man more dangerous than haughty lords and heartless rakes. Thad is a sweet, sexy delight, whose passionate embrace will ruin everything—including her! She’ll sacrifice anything for independence. Even love…

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Book Review: The First Village by Ian M Evans

Wales AD 383 is the most remote province of Roman-occupied Britain, colonised for over 300 years. Magnus Maximus, known to the Celts as Macsen Wledig, has grown restless with his role as general of the Roman army in Britannia. His nights are broken by dreams of an impossibly beautiful Welsh maiden. He sets his sights on moving his legions out of Britannia to challenge Gratianus – the emperor of the Western Roman Empire.

Flavius Arcadius is less than enamoured by his general’s plans. The army’s withdrawal will leave his family, neighbours and all of Britannia unprotected and at the mercy of internecine conflict between the local tribes and the even greater threat of pagan invaders from the east. He does, however, have a vision for the future – a fortified villa surrounded by a self-sufficient community – if only he could find a way to stay behind when the legions move.

 

 

Being a fan of authors like Lindsey Davies, Robert Harris, etc. I do have a thing for ancient (e.g. Roman) History. Therefore I had high hopes for this book. Woe!

I got to Chapter 9 – where they were *still* talking about, maybe, perhaps, going to their boss in regard to looking for the tottie he’s been dreaming about. I stopped there. Can I have a little more action please, and less as to why he’s not shagged the local freed, rich, woman who may or may not be giving him the run around?

It can/could have been good – other reviews imply it’s great later on in the story. However, I really couldn’t wait.   Too much talking, too much dry exposition, too little stuff happening….Unfortunately, too little to keep me engaged….