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review 2018-03-28 05:04
An exceptional study of England in the high Middle Ages
England Under The Norman And Angevin Kings, 1075-1225 - Robert Bartlett

Robert Bartlett’s contribution to the New Oxford History of England series is about a kingdom in transition.  In 1075, England was a newly conquered realm of William of Normandy, who was transforming the sleepy monarchy of the Anglo-Saxons into a powerful feudal state.  A century and a half later, his great-great-great grandson, Henry III, issued a modified Magna Charta that served as the foundation of English common law, establishing the right of the English aristocracy against the king.  How this evolution took place forms just one aspect of this exceptional book, which addresses nearly every aspect of England’s politics, culture, and society during this period.


In doing this, Bartlett adopts an analytical rather than narrative approach.  Events are studied within the context of the broader patterns and developments of the era.  This makes for a more challenging read but also a much more rewarding one, with insights contained on every page.  Readers unfamiliar with the period should start with a survey such as David Carpenter’s The Struggle for Mastery, but even knowledgeable students of the period will learn much from Bartlett’s clear writing and perceptive analysis.

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text 2018-01-29 15:30
Get to know author Mercedes Rochelle!








Good day!! I got to know Mercedes while reading and reviewing her book "Godwine Kingmaker." I have enjoyed getting to know her as we message back and forth! I hope that you will enjoy getting to know her a bit more and check out some of her works! 



Hi Mercedes, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?


Good morning, Rebecca. Actually, I was a late-bloomer in the history department, having avoided the subject in my college years while I pursued the 19th century English Novel. Once I discovered Living History groups, I suddenly "got it", and my first novel was a blend of Shakespeare's Macbeth and 11th century history. I didn't recognize Historical Fiction as a genre until much later! In my twenties I moved from St. Louis to New York to be near the center of the publishing world, but success evaded me and I put my writing career on hold until a few years ago. Was I in for a big surprise!



What are your ambitions for your writing career?


I hope to help expand the new sub-genre called Historical Faction, where history is more important to the story than the love interest, or the imaginative plot that just happens to take place within a certain historical background. All too often the real history comes to us in something like "sound bites" without any depth. I want to make these people real; I want to take the pain out of learning history. I doubt whether I'll get rich in this endeavor, but that's where my muse is taking me.



Which writers inspire you?


My biggest inspiration was Alexandre Dumas; I loved The Three Musketeers so much I even learned French so I could read it in the original language. Even then, I didn't recognize it as Historical Fiction. Then I fell in love with Arthur Conan Doyle and his Historical Fiction novels—Sir Nigel and the indomitable Brigadier Gerard. More recently I enjoy Sharon Penman; she has always been the definitive source for me on the Wars of the Roses. And Colleen McCullough has opened up Ancient Rome to me in a way no one else has been able to touch.

What have you written?
(*Include books, novellas, short stories, poems, blogs, awards or anything of interest.)


So far I have written four novels on 11th century Britain. My first, HEIR TO A PROPHECY, I call a sequal to Macbeth, because I always wondered what happened to Banquo's son Fleance. Researching this book sent me backwards to the beginning of the century, as I became fascinated with Earl Godwine of Wessex, the father of Harold Godwineson who lost his crown at the Battle of Hastings. This turned into a trilogy, THE LAST GREAT SAXON EARLS; first I wrote about Godwine (GODWINE KINGMAKER)—who rose to power in the reign of Canute—and his family. Then I went on to explore the sibling rivalry between Godwine's sons (THE SONS OF GODWINE and FATAL RIVALRY). I always felt that Tostig has been unfairly branded as a traitor, and I wanted to learn what drove him to fight against Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. I do not doubt that their rivalry brought England to its knees in the events leading up to the Norman Conquest. But nothing is as simple as it sounds.

What are you working on at the minute?


I have jumped forward 300 years to Richard II. Once again I was inspired by Shakespeare, whose play about Richard struck a chord with me. I had no idea how complicated his reign was.


What’s it about?


My current project promises to be three or four books. Richard II, who came to the throne at the tender age of 10, spent the first ten years of his reign in conflict with the great nobles who did everything they could to control him and hang on to their own power. Richard finally got the upper hand and proceeded to wreak revenge on his enemies, though in the end he went too far and lost his crown to Henry of Bolingbroke. Richard is going to take two books! Then I will continue with Henry IV and his resentful son Henry V.

Do you write full-time or part-time?


I sell real estate for a living, which is seasonal work and my schedule changes every day. I get a lot of writing done in the winter when nobody wants to look at houses!

Where do the ideas come from?


In other words, which historical figures/eras inspire me? I wish I could answer that question! There's no doubt that I love almost everything about the Middle Ages. That'll keep my busy for a while! I think in the end I like to investigate stories that haven't already been done to death. Although everyone loves the Tudors, how many more books about Anne Boleyn or Queen Elizabeth do we really need? On the other hand, choosing more "obscure" subjects means fewer sales (unless I get lucky). So I might as well write about what moves me, and that is kind of like being thunderstruck. One day a scene in a Shakespeare play (like Richard II's soliloquy) or even in a documentary strikes me. If I can't shake it loose it goes on my list of future novels. I've been thinking about Richard II for thirty years. (I can't get James Shapiro's "Shakespeare: The King's Man" out of my mind. I feel a James I/Shakespearean Gunpowder Plot novel brewing in the back of my head.)



Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?


Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I am weak at plotting a novel from thin air, so I am quite grateful that the histories give me direction. I am strong at weaving together a narrative, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle made from pieces of histories. How and why did we get from point A to point B? The more research I do, the more the story writes itself—with lots of extrapolation from yours truly. As they say, fact is stranger than fiction and I am a firm believer in that. The hardest part is deciding what to leave out. Sometimes, an important fact is just not exciting and I have to figure out how to introduce it without derailing the narrative.


What is the hardest thing about writing?


Getting started each day. I resist firm routines, so standing up at my writing computer has to fit into my day somewhere; I admit it—sometimes I miss a day or two. In my previous writing session I like to stop in the middle of a sentence; this serves to jump-start the next day's composition. I usually go back a page or two, do a little editing, and by the time I get to the half-sentence I can just keep on going.

What is the easiest thing about writing?


Having finished! OK, that's too easy. I like the revision phase because for me, the hard work is in the first draft. I struggle to get all the facts down which usually means keeping four or five history books open and agonizing about which interpretation fits my narrative best. I go back and forth between them ad nauseum before I commit myself. In the revision phase I get to add in the creative stuff: the imagery, the transitions between scenes. This is difficult in its own way, but it's more satisfying.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

Website: http://www.MercedesRochelle.com   
Blog: http://www.HistoricalBritainBlog.com
Facebook:  http://www.MercedesRochelle.net
Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/authorRochelle
Goodreads: http://www.Goodreads.com/MercedesRochelle
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Mercedes-Rochelle/e/B001KMG5P6

Book Links:

HEIR TO A PROPHECY: http://a.co/cXA0IJz
GODWINE KINGMAKER: http://a.co/jcHU0r2
THE SONS OF GODWINE:  http://a.co/9rvqtyV
FATAL RIVALRY:  http://a.co/51LhYU6




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review 2017-12-31 22:57
Western Civilization to 1500
Western Civilization to 1500 (College Outline) - Walther Kirchner

The story of Western Civilization centers in Europe but begins over 8000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Egypt and seems like a daunting task to cover in less than 300 pages even if one only goes to the end of the Middle Ages.  Western Civilization to 1500 by Walther Kirchner is a survey of the rise of society from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt through the Greeks and Romans, the Middle Ages, and the beginning of the European Renaissance.


Kirchner spends less than 30 pages covering the Fertile Crescent and Egypt through 3500 years of historical development before beginning over 110 pages on Greco-Roman history and the last 130 pages are focused on the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.  This division clearly denotes Kirchner’s focus on Europe in this Western Civilization survey, though one cannot fault him for this as even now knowledge of the first three and half millennia of the historical record is nothing compared to the Greco-Roman sources, yet Kirchner never even mentioned the Bronze Age collapse and possible reasons for its occurrence.  The highlight of the survey is a detailed historical events of Greece and Roman, especially the decline of the Republic which was only given broad strokes in my own Western Civ and World History classes in high school and college.  Yet, Kirchner’s wording seems to hint that he leaned towards the Marxist theory of history, but other wording seemed to contradict it.  Because this was a study aid for college students in the early 1960s, this competing terminology is a bit jarring though understandable.  While the overall survey is fantastic, Kirchner errors in some basic facts (calling Harold Godwinson a Dane instead of an Anglo-Saxon, using the term British during the Hundred Year’s War, etc.) in well-known eras for general history readers making one question some of the details in eras the reader doesn’t know much about.  And Kirchner’s disparaging of “Oriental” culture through not only the word Oriental but also the use of “effeminate” gives a rather dated view of the book.


This small volume is meant to be a study aid for students and a quick reference for general readers, to which it succeeds.  Even while Kirchner’s terminology in historical theory and deriding of non-European cultures shows the age of the book, the overall information makes this a good reference read for any well-read general history reader.

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review 2017-12-30 02:01
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 - New Year’s Eve / St. Sylvester’s Day: A Miraculous "Sky Stone"
The Sacred Stone - Karen Maitland,Bernard Knight,Simon Beaufort,Ian Morson,The Medieval Murderers,Susanna Gregory,Philip Gooden
The Sacred Stone - The Medieval Murderers

Book themes for Hogmanay / New Year’s Eve / Watch Night / St. Sylvester’s Day: a book about starting over, rebuilding, new beginnings, etc. –OR– Read anything set in medieval times. –OR– A book about the papacy –OR– where miracles of any sort are performed (the unexplainable - but good - kind).


Well, go figure, this book took me by surprise.  I've read enough of the Medieval Murderers round robins at this point to be thoroughly familiar with both the format and the recurring characters -- and I've seen enough of the participating authors' writing styles to know exactly what to expect, and to have developed my preferences ... or so I thought.  So far, while I've liked the series well enough to go back to it again and again, my rating of the individual books has always been a solid 3 1/2 stars -- while there were individual sections in each book that I loved (or at least liked a great deal), there was always at least one that I didn't particularly care for; and more often than not, by the same author -- Bernard Knight.  Not so here: In fact, Knight's entry was one of my favorites. There had been one other Medieval Murderers book -- King Arthur's Bones --  where I'd already noticed that as soon as Knight ditches his very medieval-style macho main series characters I care decidedly more for his writing, particularly if and to the extent that he puts women at the center of his plots and writes from their perspective, as is very much the case here.  But up until now, I'd considered his chapter in King Arthur's Bones a one-off, because pretty much every other Medieval Murderers entry I've seen from him was centered around his main men, with plenty of gruff voices, growling, and repetitive vocabulary.  So Mr. Knight, might I suggest you continue to write about women ... or at least, allow that female touch to brush off on your writing about medieval men of the law, too?  It seems to be doing them (and you) a world of good!


The other thing I really liked about this book was the way in which it -- consistently throughout all the different authors' sections -- treated the superstitions associated with the meteorite or "sky stone" which it follows from its first appearance in 11th century Greenland to the present day.  Given the magical powers historically associated with meteorites in popular belief, there would have been occasion aplenty to either take the individual chapters down a route blurring and even trespassing beyond the edges of reality (looking at you in particular, Ms. Maitland), or to talk down to the charactes for their adherence to such beliefs; but (again, as in King Arthur's Bones) the authors thankfully show themselves both too solid historians and too emphatic writers to be tempted into doing either.  As with their entry centering on the Arthurian legend (where the principal question, of course, is whether you believe in Arthur's historical existence in the first place), in The Sacred Stone there is the repeated suggestion that the "sky stone" might have miraculous / unexplained healing powers and be a force for good -- but it is always counterbalanced by the whole series's central premise; namely, that a malign object's path is being traced throughout the centuries, from the Middle Ages to the present day -- an object that inspires and fosters violence, murder, treachery, and all-out evil; and here, in fact, it is precisely the belief in the stone's alleged benign powers that brings about the evil acts at the center of each of the book's individual sections.


I was sorry not to see Michael Jecks as a co-author of this particular installment of the Medieval Murderers series, but, as I said above, there was not a single chapter I would have wanted to do without; my favorites probably being the prologue and epilogue (there are, for once, no author attributions, but even without those I'm fairly confident that both of these were written by Susanna Gregory), as well as the chapter authored by Bernard Knight (easily enough identifiable because a very much aged version of one of his series characters does make an appearance, even though he's not the central character), and the sections written by two of my longstanding favorite Medieval Murderers participants, Ian Morson and Philip Gooden (in both their cases easily enough identifiable because their sections were written from the point of view of their main series characters). -- As an aside, I was also glad to have read an earlier entry in the series, House of Shadows, fairly recently, because it (inter alia) lays the groundwork for a plot line that I am happy to see Morson went on to incorporate into his main series (the Falconer mysteries, set in 13th century Oxford) and which he continues to spin in his entry for this particular book as well.


Final comment: I was tempted to use a different book for the New Year's Eve / St. Sylvester's Day square and attribute this one to the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti holiday book joker, as the Sol Invictus cult actually makes a recurring appearance in this book.  (And trust me, I almost fell off my chair when it was first mentioned and I realized it was going to be a theme in one of the sections -- and even more so, when it even showed up again in yet another section.) However, none of the book's sections are set even remotely on this particular deity's birthday or make reference to that particular day (and there is only the vaguest hint, if even that much, at the connection between Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and Christmas), so "Middle Ages", "miracles" and Square 16 it is, after all.  (The book would also work for the Hanukkah square, however: It features several main characters who are Jewish -- in fact, one entire section is set in the Jewish community of medieval Norwich -- and the miracle of light plays a role in more than one section as well.)


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review 2017-11-18 23:27
Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650
Reformations: Early Modern Europe, 1450-1660 - Carlos M.N. Eire

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter?  In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation.  An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.


Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences.  This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time.  The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses.  “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result.  “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s.  “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.


Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history.  The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers.  This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.


Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe.  Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does.  So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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