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text 2017-08-01 22:12
England (the Southern / Central Part), from East to West and Back: Bookish Souvenirs
Jane Austen's Hampshire - Terry Townsend
The Book of Margery Kempe - Margery Kempe,Barry Windeatt
Intimate Letters of England's Queens - Margaret Sanders
1415: Henry V's Year of Glory - Ian Mortimer
Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors - Chris Skidmore
Constable in Love: Love, Landscape, Money and the Making of a Great Painter - Martin Gayford
The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science - Andrea Wulf
The House of Rothschild: Volume 2: The World's Banker: 1849-1999 - Niall Ferguson
The Malice of Unnatural Death - Michael Jecks
The Late Show - Michael Connelly

The Trip:

* Chiltern Hills and Thames Valley (to mystery lovers, aka "Midsomer County" -- though given that this is an area chock-full of quintessential(ly) English villages, it's no surprise that it also routinely provides locations for other series, such as Inspector Morse, The Vicar of Dibley, and of course, adaptations of Agatha Christie's mysteries ... Christie herself, after all, also spent her last years in this area, in a village just outside of Wallingford, where she is also buried.)

* Chawton: Jane Austen's home

* Gloucester and Malmesbury

* The Welsh Borderland: The Welsh Marches, Herefordshire, and Shropshire

* Bosworth and Leicester

* East Anglia: Norfolk, Ely, and Stour Valley (aka [John] Constable Country)



The Souvenirs:

* Jane Austen:

- Pride and Prejudice -- an imitation leather-bound miniature copy of the book's first edition

- Lady Susan -- audio version performed, inter alia, by Harriet Walter

- Teenage Writings (including, inter alia, Cassandra, Love and Freindship, and The History of England)


* Terry Townsend: Jane Austen's Hampshire (gorgeously illustrated hardcover)

* Hugh Thomson:

- Illustrations to Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion

- Illustrations to Mansfield Park and Emma

* Pen Vogler: Tea with Jane Austen


... plus other Austen-related bits, such as a playing card set featuring Hugh Thomson's illustrations for Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Persuasion, two Austen first edition refrigerator magnets, two "Austen 200" designer pens, a Chawton wallpaper design notepad, and a set of Austen-related postcards.


* Margery Kempe: The Book of Margery Kempe
* Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love

(have read bits of pieces of both, but never yet the whole thing(s) -- something to be remedied soonish)

* Margaret Sanders (ed.):

- Letters of England's Queens

- Letters of England's Kings

("Queens" looks decidedly more interesting, but I figured since there were both volumes there ... Unfortunately, neither contains any Plantagenet correspondence, though; they both start with the Tudors.)

* Terry Jones: Medieval Lives

* Ian Mortimer:

- The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-1330

- 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory

* Chris Skidmore: Bosworth -- The Birth of the Tudors

* David Baldwin: Richard III

* Richard Hayman: The Tudor Reformation

* Glyn E. German: Welsh History

(The last two are decidedly more on the "outline" side, but they're useful as fast, basic references)

* Martin Gayford: Constable in Love -- the painter John Constable, that is.

* Andrea Wulf: The Invention of Nature (yeah, I know, late to the party, but anyway ... and at least I got the edition with the black cover!)

* Chris Beardshaw: 100 Plants that almost changed the World (as title and cover imply, nothing too serious, but a collection of interesting tidbits nevertheless)

* Niall Ferguson: The House of Rothschild -- The World's Banker, 1849-1999



* Michael Jecks, Knights Templar:

- The Leper's Return

- The Boy-Bishop's Glovemaker

- The Devil's Acolyte

- The Chapel of Bones

- The Butcher of St. Peter's

- The Malice of Unnatural Death


* Shirley McKay: Hue & Cry (a mystery set in Jacobean St. Andrews, Scotland)


... and finally, two present-day mystery/thrillers, just to balance off (well, not really, but anyway ...) all that history:


* Jo Nesbø: The Snowman

* Michael Connelly: The Late Show

... plus several more mugs for my collection (because I clearly don't own enough of those yet), two Celtic knot bookmarks, a Celtic knot T-shirt, a Celic knot pin, a Celtic knot designer pen (can you tell I really like Celtic knot designs?), assorted handmade soaps and lavender sachets, and assorted further postcards and sticky notes, plus in-depth guidebooks of pretty much every major place I visited (which guidebooks I sent ahead by mail before leaving England, so they're currently still en route to my home).



Oh, and then there's John le Carré's The Pigeon Tunnel, which I bought at the airport right before my departure and am currently reading.  Books that you buy at the departure for a trip do qualify for a vacation book haul, don't they?









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review 2017-02-11 13:05
My kingdom for a horse!
King Richard III - William Shakespeare

Richard III. Hm.

Well, I think the beginning is a bit slow (not to say tedious) and there are a lot of characters. Maybe this play is less confusing for the English, because they have more insight on the War of Roses and the whole history of their monarchy. But I have no idea, how all of those characters are related to each other and even after I read it up, I still forgot and/or confused a lot of them. Luckily for me, most of them died anyways throughout the play.


I had the feeling, that the quality of Richards character was declining as the play advanced. Which is really sad, because I think Richard III is a fascinating role. For me he started out multilayered and actually quite likeable but ended somewhat flat and one dimensional – and not that likeable any more. The same actually applies to the other characters as well.

By the way, does anyone here understand, why Lady Anne agrees to marry him? (I can somehow understand how one could fall for a younger Ian McKellen in the movie adaption, but seriously, I do not really understand that woman).


With the exception of the last act, most of the action is happening off stage, so you are left with the appearance of messengers reporting the latest executions from the Tower. The play itself focuses mainly on intrigues and scheming, which can of course also be entertaining.


The introduction to the play in my edition says, that there is a special relationship between Richard III and Macbeth. Well, I don’t see that one. Actually, Richard III reminded me a lot of Julius Ceasar, but hey, why not throw in a little bit of Macbeth as well?

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review 2016-09-26 16:19
Richard III / William Shakespeare
Richard III - William Shakespeare


If ever there was a monarch who should have ended up buried under a car park, it is Shakespeare’s Richard III, “that bottled spider.”


I attended a performance of the play by Calgary’s Shakespeare Company and Richard was embodied by Haysam Kadri, who played Macbeth masterfully last year.  He plays the villain extremely well and gave us a Richard with an impish gleam in his eye, giving the audience wry asides about his plans.  I will go see this man in anything he should choose to act in—he is marvelous.  I heard him interviewed about the play on the radio Saturday morning, where he did the “winter of our discontent” soliloquy and I was immediately squee-ing like a fangirl. 


Conventional wisdom had it that Shakespeare had magnified Richard’s deformity, to match his twisted mind.  However, the body recovered from under the car park and identified as Richard III definitely had severe scoliosis.  Kadri must have needed badly to stretch after this performance, spending most of it bent over, with one heel rarely touching in the floor.


This was an abridged version of the play, condensed into a two hour performance.  As a result, the action seldom paused for very long and the plot proceeded at a break-neck pace.  A couple of the roles were gender-reversed, to make more parts for women in the production and that mostly worked (although there was one scene where the woman who played Catesby appeared as a dominatrix and it just seemed extremely awkward and out of place).  


Now I am just disappointed that I will be out of town during the next play, All’s Well That Ends Well and that they have chosen to remount the extremely successful Macbeth instead of choosing another play for this season.

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review 2016-09-13 17:51
Ravenspur (Wars of the Roses #4) by Conn Iggulden
Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors - Conn Iggulden

This is one of the best novels that I have read on the Wars of the Roses, and I do not say that lightly. Part of me is surprised that I can make such a statement about a book that does not necessarily portray each historical figure as I would have or highlight the events that I would feature, but, regardless of any differences in opinion that I might have with Iggulden, this book is amazing.

You know how one could be put to death in medieval times by being pulled apart by four horses? That's kind of how this book feels . . . . but in a good way.

In one corner, we have Margaret of Anjou, who Iggulden has attempted to force us to sympathize with throughout the series. In the first book, Stormbird, I would say he accomplishes this. Seeing Margaret as a hopeful young bride with little understanding of the greater political game being played around her, shed new light upon her. Unfortunately, I have yet to find an author who can justify the bloody acts perpetrated by Margaret in the name of her catatonic husband. In this book, she makes her last stand. I knew it was coming, knew what was going to happen, but for once wasn't thinking that she was finally getting what she deserved. No mother deserves what Margaret went through, even if she had caused so many other mothers to go through the same thing.

In the next corner, those irresistible Sons of York. So easy to cheer for despite their arrogance and weaknesses that eventually bring about the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. Iggulden shows us the closeness between Edward the warrior king and his devoted brother, Richard, while managing to realistically demonstrate how that could have easily evolved into self-preservation on Richard's part upon Edward's death. Edward and Richard were so well-versed in war that neither seemed to really know how to be a king of peace.

Then we have Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. To me, he is the real star of this series. Instead of being a wily kingmaker who puts whomever on the throne that will give him the greater power, he is portrayed as a man always trying to do the right thing - yes, the right thing for himself, but even more so for his country. He is haunted by the execution of his father and tortured by the idea of going to war with young men whom he thinks of as sons. Maybe that is why he made the poor tactical decisions that led to his death. I have never read a better characterization of this man who had such a vital impact on the Wars of the Roses. I wanted him to be victorious, for he and Edward to be reconciled and live happily ever after. Damn historical fact.

Finally, the Tudors were constantly sneaking around the edges of this story like that quiet contestant on 'Survivor' who is victorious in the end because everyone else has destroyed each other. Jasper is less gloriously and probably more realistically portrayed as a man who is unafraid of doing whatever it takes to protect his nephew. Henry's cold manner that he is so famous for is satisfactorily explained as the result of a childhood void of affection, but it serves him well when calmly leading men, unemotional in the face of horrible odds.

Each of these players was brought to life in a way that made me wish that none of them had to die. But they did, and often with an eerie quietness that gave me chills. Instead of the big build up and dramatic death scene often found in novels, these characters died like everyone else, from a chance weapon swing or unnoticed opponent. Felled by illness or a victim of their own impetuosity, they died without false glorification. I didn't even have time to cry for them before events moved on without them.

They all had faults. Margaret's ruthlessness. Edward's hunger for blood and adventure that could only be fed by drink when he was at peace. Warwick's reluctance to take the big steps that would bring about resolution. Each of them committed violent acts that would haunt them. They were each so real.

Usually an author lets you know who the hero of a story is. When we review books of this era, we say things like, 'This was a Lancastrian point of view' or 'a Ricardian novel.' This was the story of them all, and I wanted everyone to win. But there were so few real winners in the Wars of the Roses. After all, that's how Henry Tudor was crowned in the end. Nobody else was left.

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review 2016-07-11 13:05
Creation of a Monster
Richard III - William Shakespeare

This is one of Shakespeare's earlier tragedies though it probably falls more into the category of a history (particularly since it is the final play in the history cycle). A history it might be, though it can be argued that it is not an accurate history, but instead a piece of propaganda that was designed to cement the power of the current Tudor dynasty (not that Elizabeth I needed anything to cement her power).


The play is set in the closing years of the Wars of the Roses. This was a civil war in England between two noble houses, Lancaster and York, and rulership of the realm shifted between both of these houses during the period. Richard was not an illegitimate ruler since his brother Edward did name him as Lord Protector, but that was because he intended his eldest child would inherit the throne. However when his children disappear in the Tower of London, that obviously was not going to happen (though it is pretty clear in the play that they were murdered on Richard's orders).


It has been argued, and I tend to agree, that the purpose of this play was to demonise Richard of Gloucester, turning him into an usurper and a tyrant as opposed to simply another ambitious ruler. There is no evidence that he actually murdered Edward's children (other than this play of course, but the play was produced 100 years after the events in which it depicts), and contemporary sources suggest that he may not have been as tyrannical as Shakespeare made him out to be.


The play tracks the course of Richard ascension to the throne, and then his descent into tyranny, and finally his defeat at the Battle of Bodsworth field, which brought an end to the war and secured the Tudor dynasty on the throne. However, despite the propaganderous nature of this play, in those days legitimacy was still, even in a civilised country like England (to the extent that one could call England civilised), determined by the relative power of the ruler. He who had the strongest forces ended up being the one entitled to rule. This is clear when Richard was defeated as Henry ascended the throne and from his loins came the Tudor dynasty (which lasted about 100 years).

It is also interesting to note that unlike the English civil war, which was a war between the protestants and the Catholics, as well as a war between the parliamentarians and the monarchists, this was a classic medieval civil war where two royal houses strove for dominance. It is not surprising that this war broke out because it occurred immediately on the heels of the unsuccessful Hundred Years War where England attempted to conquer France and failed. It is not surprising that this happened as defeat in a war generally signals weakness in a ruler, and when a ruler is seen to be weak then his authority will be challenged. Another aspect of this period is England moving from the medieval world into the modern world as, after this period, England was stable, politically at least, until the outbreak of the civil war, though during that period we see the split from the Catholic Church (another sign of the country's movement into the modern world), and the development of a very strong literary culture.


For those who are interested, I have written a blog post on Richard III, specifically focusing on the 1995 film starring Ian McKellan.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187536182
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