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review 2018-06-25 00:16
A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman (audiobook)
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century - Barbara W. Tuchman,Nadia May

Well, that was a long haul, but I don't regret the journey.


This is basically an overview of France, England, and other parts of Europe in the 14th century as it follows the ancestors and life of Enguerrand VI de Coucy. It's not exactly a biography, but it uses de Coucy's life to provide human interest and a way to structure Tuchman's history of the 14th century. Enguerrand de Coucy was an important man in France and married the king of England's daughter, so he moved in powerful circles.


I was worried that I might have made a mistake in choosing the audio for this but Nadia May is a great narrator and although lots and lots of information was thrown at me, I feel like I got something out of it. Audio still might not be the best way to go but even in print this book would have been long. As it should be, since it covers an entire century. It's like writing a history of the 20th century, but with more interpretation and fewer primary sources.


Anyway, some of the things that I got out of it were a better understanding of the different religious movements from that era and the general religious environment, a better understanding of chivalric romances, a better understanding or mediaeval attitudes, and lots of stuff about war at the time. I'm not sure how much of it will stick with me, but a reread eventually wouldn't be out of the question. There was certainly a lot of information to try to absorb, and some of it was a bit dry but overall it was quite interesting.


The 14th century was also the time of the schism of the two popes, so that part was entertaining. Tuchman starts into the 15th century and some of the changes that came about then but maintains her focus by contrasting it with the 14th century. This book was written 40 years ago but it seems to have aged fairly well.


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text 2018-05-28 17:04
Reading progress update: I've listened 696 out of 1718 minutes.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century - Barbara W. Tuchman,Nadia May

I wonder if the Swan Festival, where everyone chased young swans not yet able to fly, was an inspiration for the gosling juggling in Firefly. Fortunately participants were forbidden from killing what they caught.

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text 2018-05-28 15:26
Reading progress update: I've listened 624 out of 1718 minutes.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century - Barbara W. Tuchman,Nadia May

I don't normally have a very ribald sense of humour, but this made me chuckle:

Isabella* could well have listened to the tales of Jean de Condé, poet in her in her lifetime at her mother's native court in Hainault. His style is illustrated by a story about a game of truth-telling played at court before a tournament. A knight asked by the queen if he has fathered any children is forced to admit he has not. And indeed he did not have the look of a man who could please his mistress when he held her naked in his arms for his beard was little more than the kind of fuzz that ladies have in certain places. The queen tells him she does not doubt his word for it is easy to judge from the state of the hay whether the pitchfork is any good.


In his turn the knight asks, "Lady answer me without deceit, is there hair between your legs?" When she replies, "None at all," he comments, "Indeed I do believe you for grass does not grow on a well-beaten path."


*Isabella: eldest daughter of King Edward III and Queen Philippa


Also, so far I kind of love Isabella. She was spurned at the altar, then jilted a fiancé in her turn while keeping the money awarded to her as income by her father the king.

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text 2018-05-21 22:46
Reading progress update: I've listened 47 out of 1718 minutes.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century - Barbara W. Tuchman,Nadia May

I'm not sure how much of this I'll actually absorb via audiobook, but so far I'm really enjoying Nadia May's narration. Perhaps I'd get the same feel off of the page, but it's nice to have a history book narrated in something other than a monotone.


Plus the comment for the casual reader to just think of the various currencies as "pieces of money" and not to worry about the details was amusing. As was the introduction to the calendar (varied usages and not always consistent). And the problem of conflating different people into one.


I'm not going to be able to spell anything though. I guess that just goes with the mediaeval theme...

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review 2018-04-07 13:38
The Last Hours by Minette Walters
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

I selected this book based on an online recommendation. The cover and description were appealing, so I decided to give it a shot. The author is new to me, but the era of history is not. Fourteenth century history does, however, seem to be unfamiliar to the author.

Very little of the attitudes, speech, and beliefs of the characters in this book felt 14th century to me. Besides being flat, one-dimensional characters, many of them sounded like modern people thrown into a novel about the plague. Faith and church, which were an important part of life to most people, rich or poor, at this time, are treated with disdain and mockery by almost every character. Medical knowledge of the 21st century is injected throughout the novel to create an island of survivors while everyone around them is dying.

The only character I had any sympathy for was one the author tries very hard to paint as a villain. But I had pity for the neglected and abused fourteen-year-old daughter whose mother had long ago decided that insults were her favored parenting tool. We are supposed to believe that at some point Lady Anne had tried her best with Eleanor, but her treatment of the girl is horrifying, and it is not shocking that the girl has turned into a brat doing whatever it takes to get some attention. That's what neglected kids do.

As for Thaddeus and his boring ramble through the countryside abusing his own crew of teenagers.....I don't even know what the point of that was. There is a murder that is solved along the way, but no one seems too concerned about it.

The book ends with 'to be continued' but I will not be looking for more of these selfish, anachronistic characters' stories. 

This book was received from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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