Sunday, January 29, 2012

New This Week - January 29, 2012

Every Sunday Tanzanite highlights books that will be released during the upcoming week.  She hopes you will find something you will enjoy!

By the King's Design by Christine Trent.  US and UK release January 31, 2012.

Annabelle "Belle" Stirling inherited the family draper shop from her late father, only to have it sabotaged by her ne'er-do-well brother, Wesley. Belle travels to London to seek redress, and while there, the Prince Regent, future King George IV, commissions her to provide fabrics for his Royal Pavilion. As Belle's renown spreads, she meets handsome cabinetmaker Putnam Boyce, but worries that marriage will mean sacrificing her now flourishing shop. When Wesley plots to kidnap the newly crowned King, Belle finds herself entangled in a duplicitous world of shifting allegiances, where every choice could have unexpected consequences for her future, her safety, and her kingdom...

A Parliament of Spies by Cassandra Clark.  US release January 31, 2012 (will be released in the UK February 27, 2012).

Autumn 1386. Hildegard of Meaux - a Cistercian Abbess with a keen instinct for crime solving - is accompanying the Archbishop of York, Alexander Neville, to London for the opening of Parliament amid much civic unrest. While packing to leave, the Archbishop's saucier is found brutally murdered in the ale vat, and it emerges that the culprit must be one of the Archbishop's party. The journey from York to London is fraught with more deadly surprises, and it becomes clear to Hildegard that this sinister plot may also involve King Richard, and those looking to depose him at all costs. Traitors, murderers, noblemen and madmen come together to create a puzzling scheme that only Hildegard can solve, digging up past grudges, new weapons and a mysterious friar. The most recent instalment in the highly acclaimed Hildegard of Meaux series, A Parliament of Spies paints a vivid picture of medieval London, where loyalty and treason are very difficult to identify.

Sister Queens:  The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox.  Non-fiction.  US release January 31, 2012 (released in the UK in 2011). 

The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.

Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.

Pendragon Legacy:  Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts.  UK release February 1, 2012.

It is the darkest hour of the darkest Age. King Arthur is dead, killed by his wicked nephew, Mordred. Saxon invaders rampage across the land and forces of evil are gathering. The path to the throne lies open to Arthur's only remaining flesh and blood - Mordred. But there is one with a better claim than Mordred - Arthur's secret child. Brought by Merlin to enchanted Avalon as a baby and raised there for protection, the king's heir must take up a vital quest: to search for the four magical Lights with the power to restore Arthur's soul to his body. Introducing Rhianna Pendragon: unlikely princess and Camelot's last hope.

Richard III by David Baldwin.  Non-fiction.  UK release February 1, 2012.
The first biography to show what Richard III was really like. Not many people would claim to be saints, or alternatively, consider themselves entirely without redeeming qualities. Some are unquestionably worse than others, but few have been held in greater infamy than Richard Plantagenet, afterwards Duke of Gloucester and, later still, King Richard III. Richard's character has been besmirched as often as it has been defended, and the arguments between his detractors and supporters still rage after several centuries. Was he a ruthless hunchback who butchered his way to the throne, a paragon of virtue who became a victim of Tudor propaganda, or (as seems more likely) something in between? Some would argue that a true biography is impossible because the letters and other personal documents required for this purpose are simply not available; but David Baldwin has overcome this by an in-depth study of his dealings with his contemporaries. The fundamental question he has answered is 'what was Richard III really like'.
Our Man in Rome:  Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador.  Non-fiction.  UK release February 2, 2012 (will be released in the US in June as The Divorce of Henry VIII).  

The inside story of Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

1527. Gregorio 'The Cavalier' Casali is Henry VIII's man in Rome. An Italian freelance diplomat, he charmed his way into the English service before he was twenty. But now he faces an almighty challenge. Henry wants a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and Casali must persuade Pope Clement VII of his master's case.

Set against the backdrop of war-torn Renaissance Italy, Our Man in Rome weaves together tales from the grubby underbelly of Tudor politics with a gripping family saga to reveal the extraordinary true story behind history's most infamous divorce.

Through six years of cajoling, threats and bribery, Casali lives by his wits. He manoeuvres his brothers into lucrative diplomatic postings, plays off one master against another, dodges spies, bandits and noblemen alike. But as the years pass and Henry's case drags on, his loyalties are increasingly suspected. What will be Casali's fate?

Drawing on hundreds of unknown archive documents, Our Man in Rome reconstructs his tumultuous life among the great and powerful at this turning point for European history. From the besieged Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome to the splendours of Greenwich Palace, we follow his trail in the service of Henry VIII. Lavish ceremony and glamorous parties stand in contrast to the daily strains of embassy life, as Casali pawns family silver to pay the bills, fights off rapacious in-laws and defends himself in the face of Anne Boleyn's wrath.

The First Crusade:  The Call From the East by Peter Frankopan.  Non-fiction.  UK release February 2, 2012 (will be released in the US in April 2012).

The first book on the Crusades to pay focus on the real backdrop and catalyst of the First Crusade from a talented and gifted debut historian.

In 1096, an expedition of extraordinary scale and ambition set off from Western Europe on a mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Three years later, after a journey which saw acute hardship, the most severe dangers and thousands of casualties, the knights of the First Crusade found themselves storming the fortifications and capturing the Holy City from its Muslim overlords. Against all the odds, the expedition had returned Jerusalem to Christian hands.

With its themes of the rise of the papacy, the confrontation between Christianity and Islam, the evolution of the concept of holy war, of knightly piety and religious devotion, the First Crusade is one of the best-known and most written-about events in history.

Yet this fascinating and innovative study, Peter Frankopan shifts the paradigm and asks vital questions that have never been posed before. Why was there an overwhelming desire to liberate Jerusalem in the mid-1090s, given that the city had been taken by the Muslims nearly 500 years earlier? What were the causes of the Crusade in the east which provoked such an overwhelming response in the west? What role was played by the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople in the genesis and execution of the expedition? In short, why was there a First Crusade?

Rather than concentrating on the pope and the knights of western Europe who have dominated the history of the First Crusade for centuries, Frankopan focuses on Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. He brilliantly restores the Emperor Alexios I Komnenos to the heart of the story, with a series of catastrophic events in the mid-1090s serving to paint a compelling and strikingly original picture of the expedition to Jerusalem that will change our understanding of the Crusades as a whole.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Photo Friday - #32

Random pictures from the UK

We stayed in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne one night during out trip in 2010 and walked across the River Tyne to find something to eat.  We really liked the bridge with the lights that changed colors but this was the only shot that turned out.

I wish our mail boxes looked like this!

Coastline in Northumbria

At the Mercy of the Queen by Anne Barnhill

Since the story of Anne Boleyn seems to remain a popular one in historical fiction, the challenge for historical fiction writers is to find a new or fresh angle to present to readers. In her debut historical novel, Anne Barnhill chooses a figure from her own family tree as the main character – Margaret Shelton. Margaret – or Madge as she is commonly referred to – was one of Anne’s cousins on her father’s side and when the family finds one of their own Queen of England, Madge is called to court to be a lady in waiting.

Barnhill is fairly sympathetic to Anne but she is not perfect – kind and good-hearted most of the time, she can be selfish and inconsiderate when the mood strikes her. As she becomes more desperate over securing her own future and her insecurities rise, it is her trusted cousin she turns to in the hopes of controlling her husband’s increasingly wandering eye. It is a big sacrifice and one that may potentially jeopardize her own happiness, but Madge is devoted to Anne and so she agrees to become the king’s mistress. Nothing like keeping it in the family!

As Madge becomes one of the queen’s main confidantes, a more intimate portrayal of Anne develops as she confesses her hopes and fears to her cousin and the two women navigate through quickly changing situations and shifting loyalties. Madge also tries to avoid the attentions of her betrothed, Henry Norris, in favor of an illegitimate son of Charles Brandon – Arthur, who Madge initially calls “Sir Churlish”. That nickname doesn’t bode well for their relationship which develops slowly over the course of the book.

There is one thing in particular that annoyed me – the use of some antiquated language (anon, prithee etc as well as some old fashioned sentence structure). Although it may have been an attempt to make the characters sound more authentic, to me it came off as gimmicky. Had the entire book been written that way it actually might have worked better since I probably would have gotten used to the language; instead, it was very random and distracting.

Overall, a good book – quick and easy to read and nice to see the focus on a figure who is usually only mentioned in passing and relegated to the shadows of the Tudor court.

In case the FTC asks: I received a copy from the publisher as part of the author's blog tour.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

New This Week - January 22, 2012

Every Sunday Tanzanite highlights books that will be released during the upcoming week.  She hopes you will find something you will enjoy!

The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300-1800 by William Monter.  Non-fiction.  US release January 24, 2012 (released in the UK earlier this month).

In this lively and pathbreaking book, William Monter sketches Europe's increasing acceptance of autonomous female rulers between the late Middle Ages and the French Revolution. Monter surveys the governmental records of Europe's thirty women monarchs—the famous (Mary Stuart, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great) as well as the obscure (Charlotte of Cyprus, Isabel Clara Eugenia of the Netherlands)—describing how each of them achieved sovereign authority, wielded it, and (more often than men) abandoned it. Monter argues that Europe's female kings, who ruled by divine right, experienced no significant political opposition despite their gender.

Edward III by W. Mark Ormrod.  Non-fiction.  US and UK reissue January 24, 2012.

Edward III (1312–1377) was the most successful European ruler of his age. Reigning for over fifty years, he achieved spectacular military triumphs and overcame grave threats to his authority, from parliamentary revolt to the Black Death. Revered by his subjects as a chivalric dynamo, he initiated the Hundred Years' War and gloriously led his men into battle against the Scots and the French.

In this illuminating biography, W. Mark Ormrod takes a deeper look at Edward to reveal the man beneath the military muscle. What emerges is Edward's clear sense of his duty to rebuild the prestige of the Crown, and through military gains and shifting diplomacy, to secure a legacy for posterity. New details of the splendor of Edward's court, lavish national celebrations, and innovative use of imagery establish the king's instinctive understanding of the bond between ruler and people. With fresh emphasis on how Edward's rule was affected by his family relationships—including his roles as traumatized son, loving husband, and dutiful father—Ormrod gives a valuable new dimension to our understanding of this remarkable warrior king.

Anne of Hollywood by Carol Wolper.  US release January 24, 2012.

“I wasn’t prepared for the enemies. Had I been as gorgeous as a supermodel, or as rich as an heiress, or an actress with an Oscar to my credit, people would still not be happy that I had Henry’s attention, but they’d understand. What they resented was the king coupling with a ‘nobody.’”

Skirts may be shorter now, and messages sent by iPhone, but passion, intrigue, and a lust for power don’t change. National bestselling author Carol Wolper spins a mesmerizing tale of a twenty-first-century Anne Boleyn.

Wily, intelligent, and seductive, with a dark beauty that stands out among the curvy California beach blondes, Anne attracts the attention of Henry Tudor, the handsome corporate mogul who reigns in Hollywood. Every starlet, socialite, and shark wants a piece of Henry, but he only wants Anne. The question is: can she keep him?

Welcome to a privileged world where hidden motives abound, everyone has something to sell, and safe havens don’t exist. With her older sister Mary, a pathetic example of a royal has-been, Anne schemes to win her beloved Henry in the only way that gives a promise of forever—marriage. Success will mean contending with backstabbing “friends,” Henry’s furious ex-wife, and the machinations of her own ambitious family, and staying married to a man who has more options than most and less guilt than is good for either of them will take all her skill. Anne will do anything to hold on to the man—and the lifestyle—she adores, however, even if sticking your neck out in Hollywood means risking far worse than a broken heart. With Henry’s closest confidante scheming against her, and another beautiful contender waiting in the wings, Anne is fighting for her life. Can she muster the charm and wit to pull off her very own Hollywood ending?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Photo Friday - #31

The Arc de Triomphe from my summer 2011 trip. 

Commissioned in 1806, the Arc honors those who fought and died in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

The La Resistance de 1814 sculpture

There are twelve streets that radiate outward from the arc making this the craziest roundabout I have ever seen.  We stood and watched the traffice for awhile, amazed that there weren't any accidents!  There didn't appear to be any rules and no one slowed down to yield to oncoming traffic - it was a free-for-all.  It's not real obvious from this picture but the motorcycle and car on the left side of the arc had to quickly stop when the little silver car dashed right in front of them. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Author Guest Post: Anne Barnhill, Author of At the Mercy of the Queen

Today I'm pleased to welcome Anne Barnhill to the castle as part of the blog tour for her recently released book, At the Mercy of the Queen.

I am waiting for my black velvet flats to arrive so I can sew or glue pearl (or possibly gems--fake, of course) onto them, adding one more layer to my Tudor ensemble. While it isn't true I wrote AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN just so I could don a Tudor dress, I will admit hiring a seamstress and getting a pattern were among the first things I did once I'd signed the contract. Yes, I love to play dress up and this gives me a tax-deductable reason to do it.

Thus far, I have the smock or shift, which in Tudor times was made of anything from coarse linen to lawn, which is a finely-woven linen, to silk. The higher a women stood on the socio-economic ladder, the finer the materials for her clothes. Thus, queens and duchesses wore silk while workwomen wore lindsey-woolsey or lockram, a coarsely woven linen. At the beginning of the 16th century, elaborate embroidery was used to edge the neckline and cuffs of the smock, often in black and referred to as blackwork. Henry VIII loved this look and in Jane Seymour's portrait, the blackwork is evident on her cuffs. As the century progressed, this fell slightly out of fashion as lace and ruffs grew in popularity.

On top of the smock is the petticoat, which is red, as was the case in Tudor England. Red was also the color of martyrs and Mary, Queen of Scots was executed wearing a red petticoat to proclaim herself a martyr for her Catholic faith. The petticoat can be full, including the top piece which holds the body up, or it can have a deep U in the front. Bess Chilvers, who is truly an expert in this area, has tried to explain this part to me, but I'm not sure I have it right yet. I think the stomacher is the top part. But there are so many possible layers it becomes confusing. Plus, sometimes the women wore different layers depending on the occasion and weather. If you are interested in further details, check out THE TUDOR TAILOR by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies.

So, I have smock, red petticoat and red and black stomacher, the shoes and, last but not least, I have a French hood. I want to start a movement to bring the French hood back into fashion. It's the perfect accessory for a bad-hair day! Plus, you can hide everything you might need to hide right under that hood---grays, thinning spots, cowlicks--the perfect way to keep looking your best under all circumstances!

Now, all I need are the outer clothes. I'm going shopping soon to select just the proper fabrics. By the time the next book comes out, I'll be ready to go, fully-clothed!

Thank you Anne!  Since I am past due for a hair appointment I think you may be onto something about bringing French hoods back in style!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

End of 2011 Review Catch Up

Due to a number of things going on in life and with the holidays, I managed to get severely behind in my reviews the last couple of months of 2011.  Eleven of them to be exact – yikes!  In order to try and get back on track, this is my "quick and dirty" solution.  I resolve to do better in 2012.  Really.  I do.
The Amber Treasure* by Richard Denning
A nice coming of age story set in 6th century Britain that focuses on a group of young men who yearn for war only to find that it’s not as glorious as they thought it would be.   Touching on love, friendship, betrayal and courage, it could easily be for a young adult.  I enjoyed the story and cared about what was going to happen next but it was rather lacking in historical details.  3 stars

Sunrise of Avalon* by Anna Elliott
The final book in Elliott’s Trystan and Isolde trilogy.  Beautifully written and often haunting and sad as the pair try to save Britain from her enemies and find a way to be together despite the many obstacles in their way.  The pair’s continued romantic tension and failure to communicate effectively gets a little tiring and the plot again drags a bit in the middle, but there is a nice twist to the well know tale.  4 stars

The Confession of Katherine Howard* by Suzannah Dunn 
This version of Katherine Howard’s story is told by one of her close friends, Catherine Tilney.  The first person narration makes the title of the book rather misleading since that actually makes it not the confession of Katherine Howard and Henry’s fifth wife actually ends up more of a background character.    The result is a somewhat chatty, middle-school narration which somehow seems a little too modern and “gossip girl-ish”.  3 stars

The Women of the Cousins War* by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin and Michael Jones.  Non-fiction.  
I thoroughly enjoyed the pieces on Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort, each written by the subject’s major biographer.  Philippa Gregory’s contribution is on Jacquetta Woodville (Elizabeth’s mother and the subject of her book, The Lady of the Rivers) as well as a lengthy introduction on women in history and history in historical fiction.  Since there is very little that’s really known about her subject, Gregory is forced into lots of “maybes”, “perhaps” and “could haves”.  I liked her introduction much more and even though I don’t agree with a lot of her theories, it was interesting to hear her point of view on the topic and how she approaches writing her novels.  4 stars (based on the contributions of Baldwin and Jones)

Theodora* by Stella Duffy 
Sixth century Byzantium is not a time period I normally read about and I had never heard of Theodora before, but her story sounded interesting so I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did!  I enjoyed Theodora’s story – a performer-turned-whore-turned-high-class-courtesan-becomes- empress rags to riches story.  The middle of the story plods along though as Theodora’s journey involves a sort of religious exile of sorts in northern Africa and some of the religious discussions and debates didn’t hold my interest.  3.5 stars

The Second Duchess* by Elizabeth Loupas
One of the best books I read in 2011!  The story of Alfonso d’Este’s second wife Barbara (his first being the young Lucrezia de Medici, the subject of Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess”) is well written and full of Renaissance Italy detail.  Loupas presents Barbara as a smart, likeable heroine who is determined to find out exactly what happened to her predecessor but she never come across as too modern in her behavior or her beliefs.  As the story and the intrigue develop, so does Barbara’s relationship with her husband and they becomes unlikely allies in their quest for the truth.  A nice touch is the enigmatic Lucrezia telling her side and giving clues to the reader.  5 stars

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes 
This take on Anne Boleyn’s story was written in the 1940’s and reissued a few years ago.  Although somewhat dated in research and writing style, I did like the focus on Anne’s early life with her family, which is about a third or so of the book.  But honestly I can't really remember much about it.  3.5 stars

Curse Not the King by Evelyn Anthony
The second book in Anthony’s Romanov Trilogy (also published as Royal Intrigue) covering the reign of Catherine the Great and her son Paul.  Published in the 1950’s and out of print, I really liked this one and thought it was well written even if somewhat melodramatic at times.  4 stars

Catherine the Great* by Robert Massie.  Non-fiction. 
 I really enjoyed a couple of Massie’s other books and this one was no different.  At 700 pages, it is for the most part, easy to read but it gets a little bogged down in the details at times, especially the last third or so.  Fascinating reading and excerpts from Catherine’s memoirs and letters are a nice addition.  4 stars

Dawn of the White Rose by Mary Pershall. 
At a very low point in my life a few months ago I decided I needed to read some totally mindless fluff that would allow me to forget my problems while at the same time giving me some hope for a happily ever after in the midst of a relationship full of seemingly insurmountable problems.  Having read one of Pershall’s previous books, I decided this one might fit the bill.  It did.  The subject of the book is my historical hunk, William Marshall.  But Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Greatest Knight this is not  - as it falls more into the bad-bodice-ripper variety – but that’s OK.  With a brooding, moody William, an irritating Isabel and a series of misunderstandings that made more sense to the characters then they did to me, this was a mess.  But admittedly, a mess I couldn’t stop reading!  Maybe it was my mood.  But it did what it was supposed to do at the time and so that counts for something.  2.5 stars
Fortune Made His Sword by Martha Rofheart
Written in the early 1970’s, Rofheart makes use of multiple first person narrations to relate the events of Henry V’s life (a technique she also uses in her book about Richard I, Lionheart).  A couple of her choices for narrators and the accompanying story they tell seemed to have little relevance to Henry, although the narration of one of the knights from Agincourt was rather interesting.  2.5 stars

There. I feel better now.

In case the FTC asks:  Some of these I received from the author/publisher for review.  Those are marked with an "*". 

Monday, January 16, 2012

New This Week - January 16, 2012

Every Sunday Tanzanite highlights books that will be released during the upcoming week.  She hopes you will find something you will enjoy!

Once again, I am a day late - blame my long weekend in Charlotte with hubby for the delay...

Alix and Nicky by Virginia Rounding.  Non-fiction.  US release January 17, 2012 (will be released in the UK in February 2012).

The dramatic story of Emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia—A penetrating and deeply personal study that gives profound psychological insight into their marriage and how it shaped the events that engulfed them.

There are few characters in history about whom opinion has been more divided than the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, and his wife the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. On one hand, they are venerated as saints, innocent victims of Bolshevik assassins, and on the other they are impugned as the unwitting harbingers of revolution and imperial collapse, blamed for all the ills that befell the Russian people in the 20th century. Theirs was also a tragic love story; for whatever else can be said of them, there can be no doubt that Alix and Nicky adored one another. Soon after their engagement, Alix wrote in her fiancé’s diary: “Ever true and ever loving, faithful, pure and strong as death”—words which met their fulfillment twenty-four years later in a blood-spattered cellar in Ekaterinburg.

Through the letters and diaries written by the couple and by those around them, Virginia Rounding presents an intimate, penetrating, and fresh portrayal of these two complex figures and of their passion—their love and their suffering. She explores the nature and possible causes of the Empress’s ill health, and examines in depth the enigmatic triangular relationship between Nicky, Alix and their ‘favourite,’ Ania Vyrubova, protégée of the infamous Rasputin, extracting the meaning from words left unsaid, from hints and innuendoes..

The story of Alix and Nicky, of their four daughters known collectively as ‘OTMA’ and of their hemophiliac little boy Alexei, is endlessly fascinating, and Rounding makes these characters come alive, presenting them in all their human dimensions and expertly leading the reader into their vanished world.

Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily by Graham Loud.  Non-fiction.  US and UK release January 17, 2012.

This student-friendly volume brings together English translations of the main narrative sources, and a small number of other relevant documents, for the reign of Roger II, the founder of the kingdom of Sicily. The kingdom created by King Roger was the most centralized and administratively advanced of the time, but its genesis was fraught with difficulty as the king sought to extend his power from the island of Sicily and Calabria into other parts of the south Italian mainland. This struggle, that lasted from 1127 until 1140, is graphically revealed by the two main texts in this book. A number of other texts illuminate key aspects of the reign: the relationship with the papacy, the German invasion of 1137 that came close to toppling the king's rule, the expansion of Sicilian power into the Abruzzi in 1140, and the law and administration of the kingdom, often seen as a model for the growth of effective government in the twelfth century. Despite the great intrinsic interest of the reign of King Roger, these texts have never appeared in English translation before. This will be an invaluable resource for students and scholars of medieval Europe.

Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War:  America's First Couple and the Second War of Independence by Hugh Howard.  Non-fiction.  US release Janaury 17, 2012 (will be released in the UK in April 2012).

August 28, 1814. Dressed in black, James Madison mourns the nation's loss. Smoke rises from the ruin of the Capitol before him; a mile away stands the blackened shell of the White House. The British have laid waste to Washington City, and as Mr. Madison gazes at the terrible vista, he ponders the future-his country's defeat or victory-in a war he began over the unanimous objections of his political adversaries. As we approach its bicentennial, the War of 1812 remains the least understood of America's wars. To some it was a conflict that resolved nothing, but to others, it was our second war of independence, settling once and for all that America would never again submit to Britain. At its center was James Madison-our most meditative of presidents, yet the first one to declare war. And at his side was the extraordinary Dolley, who defined the role of first lady for all to follow, and who would prove perhaps her husband's most indispensable ally.

In this powerful new work, drawing on countless primary sources, acclaimed historian Hugh Howard presents a gripping account of the conflict as James and Dolley Madison experienced it. Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War rediscovers a conflict fought on land and sea-from the shores of the Potomac to the Great Lakes-that proved to be a critical turning point in American history.

God's Jury:  The Inquisiton and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy.  Non-fiction.  US release January 17, 2012 (will be released in the UK in February 2012).

The acclaimed author of Are We Rome? brings his highly praised blend of deep research, colorful travelogue, and insightful political analysis to a new history of the Inquisition.

We think of the Inquisition as a holy war fought in the Middle Ages. But, as Cullen Murphy shows in this provocative new book, not only did its offices survive into the twentieth century, in the modern world its spirit is more influential than ever. Traveling from freshly opened Vatican archives to the detention camps of Guantánamo to the filing cabinets of the Third Reich, he traces the Inquisition and its legacy.

God’s Jury encompasses the diverse stories of the Knights Templar, Torquemada, Galileo, and Graham Greene. Established by the Catholic Church in 1231, the Inquisition continued in one form or another for almost seven hundred years. Though associated with the persecution of heretics and Jews—and with burning at the stake—its targets were more numerous and its techniques more ambitious. The Inquisition pioneered surveillance and censorship and “scientific” interrogation. As time went on, its methods and mindset spread far beyond the Church to become tools of secular persecution.

With vivid immediacy and authority, Murphy puts a human face on a familiar but little-known piece of our past, and argues that only by understanding the Inquisition can we hope to explain the making of the present.

A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor.  US and UK release January 18, 2012.

At the height of the Belle Epoque, François Dubon leads a well-ordered life in the bourgeois quarters of Paris’ eighth arrondissement. When not busy with his prosperous legal practice, he enjoys both a contented marriage to his aristocratic wife, Geneviève, and satisfying afternoon encounters with his mistress, Madeleine. He is never late for those five o’clock appointments nor for family dinner at seven—until a mysterious widow comes to his office with an unusual request.

The lady insists that only Dubon can save her innocent friend, an Army captain named Dreyfus who was convicted of spying and exiled to Devil’s Island two years earlier. Not wishing to disappoint the alluring widow, the gallant Dubon makes some perfunctory inquiries. But when he discovers the existence of a secret military file withheld from the defense during the trial, he embarks on an obsessive pursuit of justice that upends his complacent life.

Donning a borrowed military uniform, Dubon goes undercover into the murky world of counterespionage, where his erratic hours alarm his forbidding wife and make his mistress increasingly aloof. As the layers of deceit and double crosses mount, Dubon’s quixotic quest leads him into the heart of a dark conspiracy—one that endangers his own life and threatens to throw France herself into turmoil.

Based on the infamous Dreyfus Affair and enriched with a generous dose of classic noir, A Man in Uniform is a gripping and seductive mystery set against the gilded years of late nineteenth-century Paris.

Spartacus:  The Gladiator by Ben Kane.  UK release January 19, 2012 (will be released in the US in June 2012).

The first of two epic novels which tell the story of one of the most charismatic heroes history has ever known - Spartacus, the gladiator slave who took on and nearly defeated the might of Rome, during the years 73-71 BC.

In historical terms we know very little about Spartacus the man - partly because most contemporary Roman historians were keen to obliterate his memory and prevent him from attaining mythic status. This of course is grist to the novelist's mill. Ben Kane's brilliant novel begins in the Thracian village to which Spartacus has returned, after escaping from life as an auxiliary in the Roman army. But here he quickly falls foul of his overlord, the Thracian king, who has set his heart on Dionysian priestess, Ariadne - later to become wife of Spartacus. Betrayed again to the Romans by his jealous king, Spartacus - and with him Ariadne - are taken in captivity to the school of gladiators at Capua. it is here - against the unbelievable brutality of gladiatorial life - that Spartacus and Crixus the Gaul plan the audacious overthrow of their Roman masters, escaping to Vesuvius, where they recruit and train a huge slave army - an army which will keep the might of Rome at bay for two years and create one of the most extraordinary legends in history. SPARTACUS; THE GLADIATOR takes the story up to the moment when the slave army has inflicted its first great defeat on Rome.

Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon.  I had this with an original UK release date of January 19, 2012 but looks like it was released a little early.

1072 AD The Normans have captured England. The Turks have captured a Norman knight. And in order to free him, a Frank warrior named Vallon must capture four rare hawks. In the company of a Sicilian scholar and an English falconer, Vallon sets off a heart-stopping odyssey to the far ends of the earth - from Greenland to Russia to Constantinople, across raging Arctic seas and blood-drenched battlefields. Braving Viking warlords, vengeful Normans, and the unforgiving elements, Vallon and his comrades must track down their quarry one by one in a relentless race against time. Ten years in the making, Hawk Quest is high adventure in the grand tradition of Bernard Cornwell and Robyn Young, an epic story packed with visceral combat, marvellous period detail, and gripping suspense. The scale is huge. The journey is incredible. The history is real. This is Hawk Quest.

Ceawlin:  The Man Who Created England by Rupert Matthews.  UK release January 19, 2012 (will be released in the US in March 2012).

In this book Rupert Matthews puts forward his ground breaking new theories on the collapse of the post-Roman order in Britain and the formation of England. Drawing on newly analysed written sources and the growing mass of archaeological finds he presents a very different picture of post-Roman Britain than that usually put forward. In place of the anarchy and mayhem, Rupert suggests that Romanised governmental structures managed to survive the economic collapse of the 5th century and the population collapse of the early sixth century to emerge in new and barbarianised form in the later sixth century. The key figure in this story was Ceawlin, King of Wessex in the 570s. It was he who finally smashed the old order with his ambitious grab for power and who thus opened the way to the creation of the England that we know today with its English culture, English language and English character. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Photo Friday - #30

This week's pictures are from Leeds Castle

Ruins of the barbican built by Edward I

The grounds of the castle are so pretty and peaceful.

The banqueting hall contains a huge 16th century fireplace, a beautifully ornate ceiling and a number of paintings of British monarchs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tanzanite's Bookmark Giveaway - January 2012

Sorry for the delay in getting this month's giveaway posted - not sure where this month has gone already!  With the holidays and the move, I didn't get a chance to make a bookmark in December, but I still have three to choose from this month.

Top left:  Blackwork of a Knight effigy
Top right:  Richard III
Bottom:  Celtic knotwork in shades of blue

To enter, please complete the below form by midnight, January 31, 2012.  Contest is open worldwide.