Ivory Vikings

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made ThemIvory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them by Nancy Marie Brown

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable exploration of an archeological mystery, the history of chess, walrus ivory carving, Viking history, and the settlement of Iceland, interwoven with passages from the Norse sagas. Could Margret the Adroit of Iceland have made the Lewis chessmen? Certainly, but can it be proven? No. Still, Ms. Brown lays out the evidence, and I think the theory she presents can hold its own against those who insist on a Norwegian origin. The history of the pieces and their historical Scandinavian counterparts is fascinating! I listened to the audiobook, so I can’t speak about any accompanying maps and photos.

Book description: In the early 1800s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects. Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America.

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1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt

1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt by Juliet Barker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To be honest, I didn’t read the whole book. I made it to page 212 and then jumped to the last chapter. I’m sure this is an excellent and well-researched historical study, but it just was dense and dry. I’m looking more for a good story, not a recital of fact after fact. I couldn’t keep track of all the names without some kind of thread to follow. I liked the political and economic background, but then I just got bogged down in all the minutiae. To be fair, I’m reviewing for a public library audience, not an academic one. The color plates are nice, lots of notes, and yay! a bibliography, but what it really could have used were maps.

Book description: Barker tells how and why a diverse and unlikely group of ordinary men and women from every corner of England―from servants and laborers living off wages, through the village elite who served as bailiffs, constables, and stewards, to the ranks of the gentry―united in armed rebellion against church and state to demand a radical political agenda. Had it been implemented, this agenda would have transformed English society and anticipated the French Revolution by four hundred years. Skeptical of contemporary chroniclers’ accounts of events, Barker draws on the judicial sources of the indictments and court proceedings that followed the rebellion. This emphasis offers a fresh perspective on the so-called Peasants’ Revolt and gives depth and texture to the historical narrative. Among the book’s arguments are that the rebels believed they were the loyal subjects of the king acting in his interests, and that the boy-king Richard II sympathized with their grievances.

Son of the Morning

Son of the MorningSon of the Morning by Linda Howard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you don’t think too much about the glaring plot holes and gratuitous sex scenes I suppose this is sort of a fun, fluffy book. I have no clue what the title signifies. I don’t recall the phrase “Son of the Morning” coming up at all. I enjoyed the fact that a lot of the book takes place in the Twin Cities. And I’ll read anything about medieval Scotland, and a modern-day scholar translating historical documents. But Grace’s reasoning and inner-thought process left me shaking my head – starting with why the heck didn’t she go to the police immediately after witnessing the murder of her husband and brother. Then, of course, there is the fact that this CLUELESS woman is extraordinarily lucky, not just once, but quite a few times. This book contains VERY explicit sex – if you like that kind of thing you’ll be in heaven. It’s not my thing. Nothing particularly romantic about any of it. I suppose the fact that they share sex dreams before they even meet is supposed to indicate that they are meant for each other. Whatever. But first she has to get over feeling like she is betraying the memory of her dead husband. But like I said, if you can get past the plot machinations, I enjoyed the adventure of her outwitting the sadistic, evil guy, and her relationship with the woman she rents a room from in Chicago. But really, the sex added nothing at all to the story.

Description: A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the legend of the Knights Templar – long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power – Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him – and to save herself – she must go back in time to fourteenth-century Scotland and to Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. Audiobook read by Natalie Ross.

The Lady Queen

The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and SicilyThe Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily by Nancy Goldstone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fascinating subject with enough drama for a soap opera, but it just didn’t come alive for me. Perhaps because of the lack of primary sources, the book gets bogged down by too many mundane details. Who cares that they left one city on a specific date and arrive somewhere else four days later on a specific date. Still, this Lady is begging to be better known. Her life and times were harrowing and tragic, with violent husbands, feuding families, a papal schism, the plague decimating all of Europe, and the “free companies” marauding and pillaging the countryside. And yet she maintained her sanity, held her own against all the plotting and conniving, built churches and hospitals, sponsored the writer Petrarch at her court, reduced crime, and was an ardent promoter of peace.

Description: In 1348, at the age of twenty-two, Joanna I, the queen of Naples, stood trial before the pope, accused of murdering her cousin and husband, Hungarian prince Andrew. Arguing her own case in Latin, she won her acquittal, and went on to become the only female monarch in her time to rule in her own name; she presided over one of Europe’s most prestigious and influential courts for more than thirty years—until she herself was murdered. For the first time, Nancy Goldstone tells the full story of one of the most courageous and accomplished women in history, painting a captivating portrait of medieval royalty in all its splendid complexity.