Foundation

Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors (The History of England, #1)Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intended for a popular audience, not an academic one. There are no maps, no genealogical tables, and no footnotes. The style is breezy and narrative, ranging back and forth from kings and politics to the common people. Lots of digressions on various topics like architecture, games and sports, the development of bronze, the practice of medicine, etc. This covers prehistory up to the Tudors, so there is a clear sense of the development of various institutions over time. In his “conclusion” the author emphasizes his decision that this focuses on England only, leaving Wales, Scotland and Ireland for other historians. Though we do get a brief page on Owen Glendower. This isn’t the best historical overview I’ve read, but I enjoyed it, and 4 stars means I’ll likely read more in the series. If I have a complaint, it is that it tries to cover too much. I would have preferred a separate volume on the Plantagenets, which would have allowed a little more detail.

Book description: In Foundation, acclaimed historian Peter Ackroyd tells the epic story of England itself. He takes us from the primeval forests of England’s prehistory to the death, in 1509, of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. He guides us from the building of Stonehenge to the founding of the two great glories of medieval England: common law and the cathedrals. He describes the successive waves of invaders who made England English, despite being themselves Roman, Viking, Saxon, or Norman French. With his extraordinary skill for evoking time and place and his acute eye for the telling detail, Ackroyd recounts the story of warring kings, of civil strife, and foreign wars. But he also gives us a vivid sense of how England’s early people lived: the homes they built, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, even the jokes they told. All are brought to life in this history of England through the narrative mastery of one of Britain’s finest writers.

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A Pitying of Doves

A Pitying of Doves (Birder Murder Mystery #2)A Pitying of Doves by Steve Burrows

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t a bad book, but I’ve had it out on Interlibrary Loan twice now and kept it overdue quite a few weeks, and I just am not getting this read. I’m a backyard birdwatcher, so I like that angle, but I really wanted to like this series more. If I could keep it out, or if it were much cheaper as a e-book, I would probably finish this eventually and it might even get more stars. For now, though, the characters are not engaging me. And prose like this is not helping: “At times, she had the air of an art school teacher about her, though with Carrie Pritchard’s voluptuous figure leaning over their shoulders, Lindy was sure any teenage boys in her class would have considerably more on their minds than chairascuro [sic].” The misspelling aside, seriously, who thinks like that? It doesn’t help me get into their heads. So if the price comes down, I might give it another chance, but for now there are too many other things I’d rather be doing.

Book description: Why would a killer ignore expensive jewellery and take a pair of turtledoves as the only bounty? This is only one of the questions that piques Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune’s interest after a senior attaché with the Mexican Consulate is found murdered alongside the director of a local bird sanctuary. The fact that the director’s death has opened up a full-time research position studying birds hasn’t eluded Jejeune either. Could this be the escape from policing that the celebrated detective has been seeking? Even if it is, Jejeune knows he owes it to the victims to solve the case first. But a trail that weaves from embittered aviary owners to suspicious bird sculptors only seems to be leading him farther from the truth. Meanwhile, Jejeune is discovering that diplomatic co-operation and diplomatic pressure go hand in hand. With two careers hanging in the balance, the stakes have never been higher for Inspector Jejeune. And this time, even bringing a killer to justice may not provide the closure he’s looking for.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred-Foot JourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book started out with so much promise. Lovely writing about India, the sights and sounds, the food, the people, his experiences growing up. I enjoyed the travels, their adventures in London, finally arriving in a small French village, where the van happens to break down, and they decide to settle. Then I watched the movie, which I loved, and came back to finish the book. That’s when things started to diverge. I know that movies change things, and in this case, I think they made a better story out of it. The way the book depicts the conflict between the Haji family and Madame Mallory, her change of heart seemed most improbable. And once Hassan went to Paris, I thought the book just lost its focus. He left behind a lover, his family, and his Indian roots. And what did he gain from it? 3 Michelin stars and then what? The book raises that issue through bringing in a new character – a chef who commits suicide after losing his 3-star rating. Hassan has been reunited with Margaret after 20 years, but it leaves unanswered what he will do next.

This was an audio-book, and I found it difficult to understand all the French. Things were not translated, though I was able to guess at the name of his restaurant. Reading instead of listening I might have gotten more of it, since I can read French, but I don’t understand spoken French. I was also somewhat put off (being a vegetarian) by all the descriptions of hunting and slaughtering of animals for food.

Anyway, other reviewers have mentioned not liking the second half of the book as well as the beginning, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame the movie for that! If you want romance and happy endings, then watch the movie. And, of course, Helen Mirren is wonderful as Madame Mallory.

Book description: Born above his grandfather’s modest restaurant in Mumbai, Hassan Haji first experienced life through intoxicating whiffs of spicy fish curry, trips to the local markets, and gourmet outings with his mother. When tragedy pushes the family out of India, they console themselves by eating their way around the world, eventually settling in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps. They open an inexpensive Indian cafe opposite an esteemed French restaurant – that of the famous chef Madame Mallory – and infuse the sleepy town with the spices of India, transforming the lives of its eccentric villagers and infuriating their celebrated neighbor. Only after Madame Mallory wages culinary war with the immigrant family does she finally agree to mentor young Hassan, leading him to Paris, the launch of his own restaurant, and a slew of new adventures.

Dissolution

Dissolution (Matthew Shardlake, #1)Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very promising start to an interesting series. Loved the characters, good and bad, lots of period detail, more than just a mystery. Matthew is a hunchback which gives us a unique viewpoint as he wrestles with both his infirmity and his conscience. While I loved all the detail, back story, and fully developed side characters, it did make it a bit slow to get into the actual solving of the mystery. Everything happened in the last two discs (of 12). I look forward to more.

Book description: The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s feared vicar general, summons fellow reformer Matthew Shardlake to lead the inquiry. Shardlake and his young protege uncover evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason, and when two other murders are revealed, they must move quickly to prevent the killer from striking again.
Narrated by Steven Crossley.

A Siege of Bitterns

A Siege of Bitterns (Birder Murder Mystery #1)A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m probably over-rating this, but I think it’s a mystery series with some real potential. The author (and the detective inspector) both have an encyclopedic knowledge of birds that goes beyond your casual backyard bird watcher like me, but it’s what attracted me to read this book. There were wonderful descriptions of the marsh and habitat. I would have liked a little more back-story on what makes our inspector so brooding. Characterization, in general, was a little lacking, but in a series, this has room to grow and develop. The plot was complex enough with plenty of possible suspects. I picked out the murderer very early on, but I think it was just luck, not a failure of the book.

Book description: Inspector Domenic Jejeune’s success has made him a poster boy for the U.K. police service. The problem is Jejeune doesn’t really want to be a detective at all; he much prefers watching birds. Recently reassigned to the small Norfolk town of Saltmarsh, located in the heart of Britain’s premier birding country, Jejeune’s two worlds collide when he investigates the grisly murder of a prominent ecological activist. His ambitious police superintendent foresees a blaze of welcome publicity, but she begins to have her doubts when Jejeune’s most promising theory involves a feud over birdwatching lists. A second murder only complicates matters. To unravel this mystery, Jejeune must deal with unwelcome public acclaim, the mistrust of colleagues, and his own insecurities. In the case of the Saltmarsh birder murders, the victims may not be the only casualties.

Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou (Wars of the Roses, #2)Margaret of Anjou by Conn Iggulden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still 4 stars, but I thought this was a tad better than the first book. The action was a little easier to follow, though it still jumps from character to character. Derry Brewer is here, though not as a prominent character. Great battle scenes, a feisty queen doing her best to protect her young son and her vulnerable (and mostly mentally absent) husband, Henry VI. The British title of this book, Trinity, seems more apt to me. Plot and action all revolve around Richard Plantagenet the Duke of York, his brother-in-law Richard Neville the Earl of Salisbury, and Neville’s son Richard the Earl of Warwick, who join forces against the supporters of the king – cousins Edmund Beaufort the Duke of Somerset, and Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland. The resulting family feud and the struggle for power results in a war that threatens to tear England apart. Time period covered is 1454 through the defeat of Richard of York in 1460.

Book description: It is 1454 and for over a year King Henry VI has remained all but exiled in Windsor Castle, struck down by his illness, his eyes vacant, his mind a blank. His fiercely loyal wife and Queen, Margaret of Anjou, safeguards her husband’s interests, hoping that her son Edward will one day come to know his father. With each month that Henry is all but absent as king, Richard, the Duke of York, Protector of the Realm, extends his influence throughout the kingdom. The Trinity—Richard and the earls of Salisbury and Warwick—are a formidable trio, and together they seek to break the support of those who would raise their colors and their armies in the name of Henry and his Queen. But when the king unexpectedly recovers his senses and returns to London to reclaim his throne, the balance of power is once again plunged into turmoil. The clash of the Houses of Lancaster and York may be the beginning of a war that can tear England apart . . .

The Destiny Waltz

The Destiny WaltzThe Destiny Waltz by Gerda Charles

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have made it halfway through this book, and I just can’t go any farther. I’m giving it two stars, because there was enough there to keep me going for over 200 pages, but I’m just not getting any more out of it. It is exceedingly slow and introspective. The characters are, yes, self-conscious to a fault, anxious, defensive, and obviously don’t have a clue what happiness is. The convoluted dialogue is hard for me to imagine anyone actually participating in. I realize this was written in the late 1960s but it felt so much older. I don’t know what else was published in Britain in 1970, but seriously? this is the winner of the first Whitbread award?

KIRKUS REVIEW (Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1972):
Although this is basically a sentimental book (the title referring to the theme song of one of its two central characters — a former band leader — indicates that), it hasn’t the appeal of her Logical Girl (1967) and it is more consistent with her earlier work which offered a substantial sociology of Anglo-Jewry. Throughout the first half of this book, ostensibly dealing with the making of a documentary by four or five people, Gerda Charles examines the soul of the Jew always suffering from his Jewishness without even the “”protection of stupidity””; always worrying his way, self-consciously but ambitiously, out of his “”small”” world of the People of the Book at a time, 50 years before this, when in their crass ignorance they were not even “”People of the Word.”” This is the past inherited by the Jewish poet, minor, ingrown and consumptive, who will be the subject of the documentary; but it also imposes its allegiances on Michele, a writer and a teacher and a Rabbi’s daughter, and Jimmy Marchant, the band leader, who have never found personal happiness. Less susceptible to it is Georges Franck, director of the documentary — a charmer, a betrayer who finally will hurt everyone in connection with this project but still will enable Michele and Marchant to find some sort of compromise together for their half-lives. . . . The novel moves very slowly since the author is far more interested in permitting her characters to assess themselves and each other — it is sometimes talky but not preachy. At one point she questions whether life should take precedence over art — in this case it is life, and Gerda Charles, with her very level intelligence and practical realism, deals with it on just those terms.