Review

Review: Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen by Alison Weir

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I learnt about the Tudors endlessly at school. It seemed to be our history topic every other year, but we always started with the infamous Henry VIII, and then moved on to his children. Therefore I really know very little about Henry VII, and his wife Elizabeth, in comparison – particularly Elizabeth, who barely seems to have gotten a mention in the school textbooks. It seemed like this book, by well-known historical writer Alison Weir, would be a good introduction to the ‘first Tudor queen’.

Whilst this book was immensely detailed and clearly Weir cares a lot about the subject matter and did her research very carefully, it perhaps did not feel like the right choice for someone with very little knowledge on Elizabeth to begin with. I just felt glad that I already had a lot of knowledge of later in the period, otherwise I think this book would have been very confusing. For anyone without a prior knowledge of English history, this would not be the right book at all. As you might have noticed, our monarchs have never been creative when it came to choosing names, so history books can often get confusing, what with endless Henrys, Elizabeths, Thomases etc… Obviously this is nothing to do with the author, but I feel like a family tree might have been to some advantage here, especially as the book opens a while before the birth of Elizabeth.

It is also not an easy book to dip in and out of, which I like to do with some history books – some I can read all the way through, others I’d rather just read certain bits. There are chapters only, no sub-chapters or even headings or sub-titles, which made it really quite difficult to work out where I wanted to focus on or not. And whilst some sections were really interesting – for example on Elizabeth’s childhood, her marriage with Henry VII, others were really quite dull. Weir also seems to have a habit of listing items and prices, which seemed unnecessary in some places – although the conversion to modern day currency was interesting, making the opulence of the monarchs all the more clear.

Overall, an interesting book that might be a difficult read for some, and that could definitely have benefited from sub-titles or sub-chapters, easily allowing the reader to pick out sections to read. It feels quite a heavy text without it, and whilst this may work for some, it doesn’t feel like a good place to start for those unfamiliar with this area of history.

Thoughts

Thoughts #49: Favourite Non-Fiction Books Written By Women

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As the title suggests, today I wanted to discuss my favourite non-fiction books written by women, as part of Women Writer’s Month. Non-fiction is a topic that’s not often included in the book blogging community when we gush over books, as I have discussed before. I’d love to hear whether you’ve read any of these or have any recommendations; let me know in the comments.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

Yes Please is Amy Poehler‘s autobiography, or rather anecdotal memoir. Amy is one of my comedy queens and I absolutely love her, a love which began when I first watched Parks & Recreation, where Amy appears as Leslie Knope. It is one of my favourite series ever, one that I can watch again and again and again. This book is typical of her sense of humour and is pretty perfect for any fan of hers – or fan of Parks & Rec.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants

The second of my comedy queens, and often seen on screen with Amy Poehler, Tina Fey has also written a memoir: Bossypants. I read this one more recently, and I’d also recommend it if you’re a big fan of either Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock, as Tina discusses various events that went on behind the scenes of those two shows.

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew

If you enjoy travel writing, then Josie Dew‘s A Ride in the Neon Sun is definitely for you – particularly if you’re a fan of Bill Bryson, because Josie has that same wonderful wit. However, all of her books are about travelling a new country by bicycle. I’ve read a couple of her other travel memoirs and they’ve all been wonderful, but this one was definitely my favourite.

Love and Louis XIV: Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser is very well-known for writing historical non-fiction, and Love and Louis XIV: Women in the Life of the Sun King is one of the few that I’ve read, although I plan on reading many of her other works. I first read it when I was 18, whilst studying Louis XIV as part of my A Level History course. I’ve been trying to find more books about female historical figures that are also written by women – and if you’re looking for the same, this is a good place to start.

Pompeii by Mary Beard

Pompeii by Mary Beard

Mary Beard is one of my absolute favourite historians – she is so enthusiastic and passionate, I love it. Pompeii is my favourite of all her books so far. Instead of looking at the elite of the town, she takes a look at the life of the ordinary citizen. There is also an accompanying television show if you are interested!

What are some of your favourite non-fiction books written by women?

Misc.

Rinn Recommends… Historical Fiction

Rinn Recommends...

This may or may not become a regular feature, or at least semi-regular. But it’s pretty much what it says on the tin – my various recommendations from different genres! Today, after finally finishing the beast of a book that is Outlander, I wanted to share my recommendations of historical fiction, a genre that is very close to my heart just behind fantasy and science fiction.

So prepare to travel back in time, and whisk yourself away by reading…

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful— irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

  • Time Period: Pre-8th century BC, when the Iliad was written.
  • Location: Various Greek city-states, Troy.
  • Why Should I Read It? This is a beautiful love story based on ancient works, and one of the most gorgeous portrayals of ancient Greece I have ever read.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Gates of Fire

At Thermopylae, a rocky mountain pass in northern Greece, the feared and admired Spartan soldiers stood three hundred strong. Theirs was a suicide mission, to hold the pass against the invading millions of the mighty Persian army.

Day after bloody day they withstood the terrible onslaught, buying time for the Greeks to rally their forces. Born into a cult of spiritual courage, physical endurance, and unmatched battle skill, the Spartans would be remembered for the greatest military stand in history–one that would not end until the rocks were awash with blood, leaving only one gravely injured Spartan squire to tell the tale…

  • Time Period: 480 BC.
  • Location: Sparta, Thermopylae.
  • Why Should I Read It? If you’re a fan of the film 300, then give this one a try. It is told from the point of view of a Spartan, captured by the Persians, and through him we get a glimpse into Spartan society. Definitely one for the ancient history buffs!

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant

Is there a family in history more dazzling, dangerous and notorious than the Borgias? A powerhouse of the Italian Renaissance, their very name epitomizes the ruthless politics and sexual corruption of the Papacy.

The father, Pope Alexander VI, a consummate politician and a man with a voracious appetite both as Cardinal and Pope. The younger Juan, womanizer and thug, and their lovely sister, Lucretia, whose very name has become a byword for poison, incest and intrigue. But how much of the history about this remarkable family is actually true, and how much distorted, filtered through the age old mechanisms of political spin, propaganda and gossip?

What if the truth, the real history, is even more challenging?

  • Time Period: The 15th century AD.
  • Location: Rome.
  • Why Should I Read It? The Borgias were a fascinating family, and although the truth about them is now pretty much lost amongst all the gossip and scandal of the past, Sarah Dunant writes a fabulous version of their story. Just enough back-stabbing and political corruptness to keep you turning the pages, without being over the top.

La Reine Margot by Alexandre Dumas

La Reine Margot

Margot is one of several in line to inherit the crown in France, where Roman Catholics and Protestants are jockeying for power. Margot’s mother, Catherine de Medici, is intent on seeing her son take the throne once the reign of King Charles IX ends. After being married to a man she doesn’t love and starting a tryst with one she does, Margot contends with her mother’s at-all-costs plan to control the political fate of the volatile country.

  • Time Period: 1572 during the reign of Charles IX.
  • Location: Paris.
  • Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating period of history, and Dumas illustrates it wonderfully. I had to study this particular period for history at school, and ended up reading lots of books set in around it.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach — an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord… 1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

  • Time Period: 1945 and 1743.
  • Location: Scotland – Inverness and the Highlands.
  • Why Should I Read It? Jamie Fraser. Is that enough? Oh, well… the only time I really enjoy romance is fiction is when it is in historical fiction, and this book basically has it all. A time travel element, a female lead who doesn’t take crap from anyone, sexy Scotsmen in kilts, castles, beautiful landscapes, adventure, intrigue… ahh just read it please.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

Armed with only his wits and his cunning, one man recklessly defies the French revolutionaries and rescues scores of innocent men, women, and children from the deadly guillotine. His friends and foes know him only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. But the ruthless French agent Chauvelin is sworn to discover his identity and to hunt him down.

  • Time Period: During the French Revolution (1789-1799), but specifically in 1792.
  • Location: Paris, Calais and London.
  • Why Should I Read It? ODDS FISH, M’DEAR! Percy Blakeney is one of the best characters of all time – acting out a foolish aristocrat in order to keep his cover, he is really incredibly clever and charming. The whole book is a real adventure, and I also highly recommend the film version starring Anthony Andrews.

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

Empress Orchid

To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor’s wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate façade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor’s son.

Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse around her, and that she will be its last Empress.

  • Time Period: 1852.
  • Location: The Forbidden City and Beijing.
  • Why Should I Read It? It’s a fascinating look at one woman’s rise to power. For me it really appealed because I hadn’t read many books about China, and was interested in learning more. I would not recommended the sequel though!

Have you read any of these recommendations, or do you have any recommendations of your own?

Review

Review: A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Despite not having seen the accompanying television series, I pretty much proved Lucy Worsley’s point when I was drawn to this book because of the title. A tale of how the British public have been obsessed with the idea of murder, particularly in the past three hundred years or so, it’s actually quite a lot more than that. Covering the development of the police force, the popularity of horror and true crime novels, famous authors inspired by true crime and other anecdotes like the origins of Madame Tussaud’s, Lucy Worsley manages to pack a lot into one volume.

The first chapter, the story of the Ratcliff Highway Murders, just didn’t do much to grab my attention despite its rather morbid happenings, and I have to admit that I only glanced over much of it – and I actually skipped over many more, but there were some stand-out sections. For example, the chapter on the first appearance of the ‘Penny Dreadful’ was fascinating – these were cheaper alternatives to true crime novels and therefore also accessible to the lower classes. It also explains the name of the recent TV series, which features familiar characters from horror and crime together in one place. There are also sections on authors like Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie – which serves to remind me that I haven’t read anything by either of them!

Although I may have skipped some chapters, this is definitely the sort of history book you can read the entirety of due to Worsley’s writing style, which panders to all. She does not assume the reader is familiar with the history, which makes it perfect for anyone with a new interest in the subject, yet she also does not patronise. However, some areas just unfortunately failed to capture my interest at all. Recommended if you’re interested in the history of criminology and inspiration behind true crime, or fancy reading something a bit more macabre!

Thoughts

Thoughts #12: Neglected Non-Fiction

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There is one thing I’ve noticed a definite lack of in the blogosphere.

Non-fiction.

Personally, I love many genres of non-fiction: autobiographies, memories, history and archaeology books, books on nature, science, linguistics… But it feels that many bloggers don’t have a particular interest, or at least don’t share it. So why is it not a common feature amongst the blogs?

  • It can be quite difficult to review (apparently I’ve reviewed only six non-fiction books since starting the blog), which means that whilst my fellow bloggers may enjoy non-fiction, it’s difficult to feature on the blog.
  • How do you review something that is fact? You can’t criticise so many of the different areas you would look at for a work of fiction. It seriously reduces the amount you can really say about the book.
  • Some people read to escape to other worlds, so non-fiction just doesn’t work for them.
  • I know that when I was at university, I avoided reading any history or archaeology books that were NOT relevant to my course, because I had so much to take in anyway, and didn’t want to end up remembering stuff about Henry VIII when my course was in ancient history! So perhaps, for that same reason, many fellow bloggers who are still studying prefer to avoid non-fiction.

I thought perhaps I’d share some of my favourite non-fiction books, in various categories, and hopefully you can share yours with me!

History & archaeology

Pompeii by Mary Beard The Borgias by Christopher Hibbert Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

This is perhaps, along with travel, one of my more read areas of non-fiction – as my degree was in ancient history and archaeology. I’ll read about almost any period of history up until the twentieth century. Mary Beard is one of my favourite classicists so anything by her is good. I also have a particular interest in the Borgia family (so much scheming!), and Louis XIV after studying him for History A Level when I was 18. I think books like this can often have a reputation for being stuffy, written by scholars who know everything about these ancient worlds and nothing about the present day one. And whilst that may be the case with some books of this type, there are so many wonderfully written and accessible history books. You could start with books that accompany a TV series of the same subject, as they’re often written for people who are learning along with the show.

Travel

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

If you’ve not yet read anything by either Bill Bryson or Josie Dew, then step on it! The two write very witty travel accounts – Bryson travelling alone by car (normally), and Dew alone by bicycle. They both capture the spirit of the countries they visit, and somehow poke fun at various elements of culture without being offensive in any way. Words cannot describe how excited I was last year when I realised there was a Bill Bryson book I hadn’t read yet – and so I got to experience that first read through joy!

Biography & memoir

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson 35488 How To Be A Woman

When it comes to biographies and memoirs, to me they either have to be witty and perhaps a bit self-deprecating, or of truly fascinating lives. Some memoirs I’ve read just don’t have either – even after the ‘big break through’. Or perhaps it was just how they were written. Once again, Bill Bryson makes the list with his autobiography, as does Caitlin Moran with her hilarious anecdotes of her younger self. And I recently read Johnny Cash’s autobiography and absolutely LOVED it. He is one of my very favourite musicians and had such an interesting life – plus the way it was told was just wonderful. He rambles from tale to tale, nothing is in chronological order – but it works. It’s as if you were sat there, having drinks with him and listening to him talk about his life.

What about you – do you enjoy reading non-fiction? What are your favourite genres of non-fiction? If you don’t enjoy it, tell me why! Why do you think it’s not often featured on book blogs?

Review

Review: The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Sex sells. Simple. The media is full of it: scandals, the porn industry, sex tips – but rarely is an actual discussion of sex positive. Often it is shown in a negative light, something that, despite being the most natural of human acts, is ruining and corrupting lives and generations. So it’s nice to finally see a discussion that is positive.

What’s interesting is that despite the leaps and bounds we’ve made over the past two or three thousand years, sex is still the same. At least, essentially. Some people are completely accepting of all facets of it, others have issues with things like same-sex relationships, some see sex for pleasure rather than procreation as a total sin. And whilst so many things have changed since the times of Homer, Pericles, Nero and various other important ancient figures, the varying views on sex have not.

The Joy of Sexus is a fascinating look at various areas of sex and sexuality, told through short stories and anecdotes and organised by ‘topic’, for example adultery, masturbation, same-sex relationships, aphrodiasics etc. Although at times it felt a bit haphazardly organised, I found each story very interesting – and revealing.

My main complaints are that some of the stories felt a little too short, like information was lacking. However, what is there has obviously been very well researched and Leon has a wide variety of anecdotes. Occasionally, some facts were repeated several times throughout the same chapter, but as I read an ARC I hope this has been corrected in the final version.
Sex is always going to be an interesting topic, and this book doesn’t let that down. A fascinating collection of tales, anecdotes and facts about sex in the ancient world, categorised by topic, this is an easy read that reveals just how little things have changed in at least one aspect of human life through the ages.

What makes me sad after reading this book is that some people in this modern age are much more narrow-minded when it comes to sex and sexuality than those thousands of years ago.