This book is part of a series offering, as the title suggests, a very short introduction to a wide variety of different topics. This one is devoted to...moreThis book is part of a series offering, as the title suggests, a very short introduction to a wide variety of different topics. This one is devoted to the Tudors and takes us through the reigns of each Tudor monarch - Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, (briefly) Lady Jane Grey, Mary I and Elizabeth I. All of the basic facts are here, presented in a format that is easy to follow and understand. There are also some illustrations, genealogical tables, a chronology and a list of suggested further reading.
The only problem I had was that I already have quite a good knowledge of the Tudor period, so very little of the information in this book was new to me. For those readers who don't know much about the Tudors, however, this will be an excellent starting point. The book is also very small and would be easy to carry around in a bag or pocket so that you could dip into it when you have a few spare moments to read.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this Very Short Introduction and will consider trying another one on a different subject. (less)
Elizabeth of York’s story is a fascinating one. As the eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (the alternate spelling of Wydeville...moreElizabeth of York’s story is a fascinating one. As the eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (the alternate spelling of Wydeville is used in this book), Elizabeth lived during one of the most turbulent periods of English history, the Wars of the Roses. She was the sister of the two young princes who it is believed may have been murdered in the Tower of London, she married the first Tudor king, Henry VII, who defeated her uncle Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, and she was also mother to another king, Henry VIII. Despite all of this, Elizabeth is not usually given as much attention as other figures of the period. This new biography, Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World, explores Elizabeth’s life and her historical significance.
Alison Weir is an author of both historical fiction and non-fiction. Although I have read one of her novels, Innocent Traitor, this is the first of her biographies I’ve read and I was very impressed. The book is written in a style that I found engaging and easy to read but it’s also a very thorough, long and detailed account of Elizabeth’s life. An incredible amount of research must have gone into the writing of this book and it contains an absolute wealth of information…I read it on my Kindle and was constantly bookmarking interesting facts and passages.
As well as taking us, in chronological order, through Elizabeth’s entire life from her birth to her death and its aftermath, we are also given lots of details on the social history of the period and what life was like for people who lived during that time: what they ate and drank, the clothes they wore, and the way children were treated and expected to behave. There are lists of dishes served at banquets, descriptions of the duties of ladies-in-waiting and even an appendix giving a full description of every known portrait of Elizabeth. Sometimes there’s too much detail (I didn’t really feel the need to know the names of the nurses of each of Elizabeth’s younger sisters, for example, and the lists of her privy purse expenses and all the gifts she bought and received were a bit overwhelming) but it all helps to build up a full and vivid picture of Elizabeth’s world.
Less is known about Elizabeth than other Tudor figures, so there are times when the focus of the book switches to important political events, conspiracies and other things taking place in the wider world, rather than on Elizabeth herself. The only drawback here is that with so few primary sources remaining to give us information on Elizabeth’s life, Weir can only assume what Elizabeth may have thought or how she felt. This is not really the author’s fault but it would have been interesting to know Elizabeth’s true thoughts on some of these issues, such as the pretenders to the throne who appeared during Henry VII’s reign claiming to be Elizabeth’s lost brothers.
Much as I enjoyed this book, I did have a problem with the portrayal of Richard III. I was aware before I started reading that Alison Weir has a negative opinion of Richard and believes him guilty of all the crimes that he has been accused of, but I still thought there was too much speculation and personal bias in her discussions of him. In the absence of any real evidence, we are told that 'maybe Elizabeth hated him' and 'maybe Cecily was furious with him', for example. These are not really historical facts, are they? The opinions of other authors and historians who take a more sympathetic view of Richard are dismissed as 'wishful theories evolved by revisionists'. Anyway, this is just a small criticism of what is otherwise a wonderfully entertaining and informative book. For anyone interested in learning more about this important but often forgotten Tudor queen and her world, I would highly recommend reading Elizabeth of York. It really is a fascinating period of history and Elizabeth deserves to be remembered!
I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley.(less)
My sister gave me this pretty little book for Christmas, which was great because it's not the type of book I would usually think about buying for myse...moreMy sister gave me this pretty little book for Christmas, which was great because it's not the type of book I would usually think about buying for myself. The title might leave you wondering exactly what this book is about, but the subtitle helps to explain: Popular Expressions - What They Mean and Where We Got Them.
The book looks at some of the well-known phrases and proverbs which appear in the English language and explains what they mean and how they originated. Do you know what 'to shoot the moon' means, for example, or why we give someone 'the third degree'? Why do we 'steal someone else's thunder' and why do we 'go to the Land of Nod' when we fall asleep?
The phrases appear in alphabetical order. I was a bit disappointed by some of the entries which are little more than a straight definition of the phrase or proverb, but the majority were interesting and I learned a lot of fascinating little facts. Some of them such as 'ballpark figure' and 'take a rain check' have American origins. Others stem from Ancient Greece or Rome. There are others that come from the Bible, some that are derived from Aesop's fables and some that were made famous by Shakespeare. A few of the phrases have no definite origins and in these cases the author tells us that the definitions she's providing are merely speculation.
This is not really a book you would read from cover to cover in one sitting; it's perfect for dipping in and out, reading a few entries at a time. It's strangely addictive though as the entries are temptingly short (usually no more than two or three paragraphs). I'd recommend it to anyone with a love for the English language. It's a perfect book to buy as a gift too, as it even has a special page at the front where you can write your 'to' and 'from'! (less)
This is the first graphic novel I've ever read and I'm glad I chose this one to begin with, because I loved it!
This edition of Persepolis is actually...moreThis is the first graphic novel I've ever read and I'm glad I chose this one to begin with, because I loved it!
This edition of Persepolis is actually two books in one: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return. They can be bought separately but you really need to read the first book before the second.
These two books are the memoirs of Marjane Satrapi. In The Story of a Childhood she tells us what it's like to be a child growing up in Iran during the 1970s and 80s. Due to the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War, Iran becomes an oppressive and often dangerous place to live, particularly as Marjane develops into a rebellious teenager. Her concerned parents eventually decide that the safest option is to send their daughter away to start a new life in Europe.
Before beginning this book, I didn't know very much at all about Iranian history and politics. I found that seeing things through a child's eyes was fascinating and informative. Marji is an intelligent, imaginative girl and like all children she's always curious and full of questions, so for someone who knows very little about Iran, this book offers an opportunity to learn along with Marji.
In the second volume, Marji is a teenager living in Austria, struggling to adapt to life in a country with an entirely different culture. This second book is more about the personal problems she faces with relationships, drugs and money and although I had a lot of sympathy for the situation she was in, I didn't enjoy reading this book as much as the first one.
Although this was definitely a new experience for me, I was quickly able to forget that I was reading a 'graphic novel' and become absorbed in Marjane Satrapi's story. The simple, stark black and white drawings were perfect and made it easy to understand what was happening. Rather than just illustrating the text, the pictures played an equally important part in telling the story. I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to. It was a powerful and moving story, with some moments of humour too. So, if you are also new to graphic novels and unsure where to start, I have no hesitation in recommending this one to you! (less)
The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins was first published in 1988, although the edition I have was revised in 1996. The author, William M. Clarke, is marr...moreThe Secret Life of Wilkie Collins was first published in 1988, although the edition I have was revised in 1996. The author, William M. Clarke, is married to Wilkie Collins' great-granddaughter, Faith Elizabeth Dawson, and maybe because of this connection, the focus of the book is on Wilkie's private life and relationships with his family and friends rather than on his work. Clarke does attempt to show us the circumstances surrounding the writing of most of Collins' books, plays and stories and what may have inspired them, but he doesn't often go into any detailed analysis of these.
After a brief introduction, the book follows Wilkie's life in chronological order, beginning with his birth in January 1824. Wilkie was the eldest son of the Royal Academy landscape painter William Collins and his wife, Harriet Geddes, who was also from a family of artists. The first few chapters describe Wilkie's early childhood, some of which was spent in France and Italy and the rest in London. I found this the least interesting section of the book, but it does show us some of the influences Wilkie was exposed to from an early age which would have had an impact on his future career (an appreciation of Italian art, for example, and familiarity with all the writers, poets and authors who were part of his father's social circle including William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Constable). I also enjoyed reading about Wilkie's school days and how one of the older boys bullied Wilkie into telling stories late at night!
Clarke then takes us through Collins' adult life, including his friendship with Charles Dickens, his battle with rheumatic gout (an illness he suffered from for many years), his six-month reading tour of America, and his addiction to laudanum and his unsuccessful attempts to withdraw from it. I've mentioned that Clarke doesn't spend much time discussing Wilkie's writing, but I did find it interesting to read his thoughts on the effects of laudanum and how in the later stages of his career it may have affected Wilkie's ability to write descriptions of visual landscapes and construct the intricate plots he was famous for.
There are also some accounts of Collins' travels with Dickens and I enjoyed reading about these, especially their walking tour of the Lake District (which reminds me that I still haven't read The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices). It seemed Dickens disapproved of his daughter, Kate, marrying Wilkie's younger brother, Charles Collins, and this put a strain on their friendship in later years.
But it's Wilkie's romantic relationships that are given the most attention, which is understandable as this book is supposed to be about his 'secret life'. Wilkie never married but was in long-term relationships with two different women, Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd. He lived openly with Caroline and Harriet, her daughter from a previous marriage, while having three children with Martha, whose household he established at a separate address. Each woman was aware of the other and their children even visited each other. I'm sure neither woman could have been very happy with the position they were in but it seems they were both prepared to accept it as this arrangement continued for more than twenty years! Caroline did leave him briefly to marry another man (Wilkie actually attended the wedding) but returned several years later. Collins does seem to have genuinely cared about both of his families but this sort of behaviour must have been scandalous by Victorian standards (and not very admirable by modern standards either) and led to his sister-in-law, Kate, describing him as "as bad as he could be, yet the gentlest and most kind-hearted of men".
Wilkie's life was fascinating to read about, but I can't really say that I enjoyed this book as I found Clarke's writing style quite dry and boring. This is a book I've been dipping into over the last few weeks and reading a few pages at a time rather than ever feeling a compulsion to sit down and read it from cover to cover. It has clearly been thoroughly researched with lots of quotes from Collins himself and from people close to him (references are provided), and there's plenty of supplementary material – notes, photographs, family trees, bibliography and several appendices, including an analysis of Wilkie's bank accounts (Clarke's unique position as the husband of one of Wilkie's descendants meant he could access this information) but I think I would have been more interested in a book with more balance between Collins' private life and his writing. (less)
Biographies are difficult to review - no matter how good the biographer's writing might be, the success of the book really depends on how interesting...moreBiographies are difficult to review - no matter how good the biographer's writing might be, the success of the book really depends on how interesting the subject of the biography is. Fortunately for Fernando Morais and the reader, Paulo Coelho has evidently had a far more eventful life than the average person. The first half of the book, which dealt with Coelho's early life, was fascinating although I found I started to lose interest nearer the end.
Many biographers (particularly the authors of unauthorised biographies) allow their own opinions and speculations to get in the way of the facts - Fernando Morais does not do this. The book was written with the full cooperation of Paulo Coelho and Morais writes in a professional, factual style. He was given full access to Coelho's diaries which date back to his teenage years, though he repeatedly points out that Coelho tended to fantasize in his diary entries and therefore we can't place too much reliance on them. However, the inclusion of the diary entries, along with other fragments of Coelho's writing, gives us a better insight into his mind.
Morais looks at every stage of Coelho's life in so much depth it's obvious that he spent a lot of time researching the book thoroughly. He provides a complete list of all the people he interviewed during his research including some of Paulo's friends, family members and former girfriends. Some of Coelho's fans may be disappointed and disillusioned as he is often portrayed in a bad light, but as the biography was published with Coelho's blessing, he was obviously happy for us to read about the negative aspects of his character as well as the positive.
A Warrior's Life was an interesting book to read, despite the fact that before beginning it I knew almost nothing about Paulo Coelho. I received a review copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers and was glad to have an opportunity to read a biography I would probably never have read otherwise.
Before beginning this book I didn’t know very much at all about Chairman Mao, but I’m obviously not alone in that. As Jung Chang says in her introduct...moreBefore beginning this book I didn’t know very much at all about Chairman Mao, but I’m obviously not alone in that. As Jung Chang says in her introduction to the 2003 edition, ‘the world knows astonishingly little about him’. This book helped me understand why the Chinese people initally welcomed communism and how millions of children grew up viewing Mao as their hero and never dreaming of questioning his regime. It also explained why many people eventually became disillusioned and why the system started to break down.
One of the most horrible things in the book occurs within the first chapter when Chang describes her grandmother’s footbinding. It’s so awful to think of a little girl being forced to undergo this torture just because tiny feet (or ‘three-inch golden lilies’) were thought to be the ideal. Soon after her grandmother’s feet were bound the tradition began to disappear. However, this is just one small part of the book and the first in a long series of shocking episodes the author relates to us.
Some parts of the book made me feel so angry and frustrated, such as reading about the senseless waste of food when peasants were taken away from the fields to work on increasing steel output instead, as part of Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. The descriptions of the Cultural Revolution are also horrific; it went on for years and resulted in countless deaths. One of the most frightening things about this period was that nobody was safe – people who had been high-ranking Communist officials before the revolution suddenly found themselves branded ‘capitalist-roaders’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (sometimes by their own children) and some of them were driven to suicide.
The book is complete with a family tree, chronology, photographs and map of China – all of which were very useful as I found myself constantly referring to them and without them I would have had a lot more difficulty keeping track of what was going on.
As you can probably imagine, it was a very depressing book, as Jung and her family experienced very few moments of true happiness. She only really sounds enthusiastic when she’s describing the natural beauty of some of the places she visited – and the pleasure she got from reading books and composing poetry, both of which were condemned during the Cultural Revolution. However, it was also the most riveting non-fiction book I’ve ever read – I kept thinking "I’ll just read a few more pages" then an hour later I was still sitting there unable to put the book down.
All three of the women featured in Wild Swans – Jung Chang herself, her mother and her grandmother – were forced to endure hardships and ordeals that are unimaginable to most of us, but remained strong and courageous throughout it all. However, Wild Swans is not just the story of three women – it’s much broader in scope than that and is the story of an entire nation. So much is packed into the 650 pages of this book that I’ve barely scratched the surface in this review and if you haven’t yet read the book I hope you’ll read it for yourself – no review can really do it justice.(less)
I don't read many non-fiction books or biographies/autobiographies so this was something different for me. It was fascinating to read a personal accou...moreI don't read many non-fiction books or biographies/autobiographies so this was something different for me. It was fascinating to read a personal account of the effects the war had on one woman's life and on society as a whole. Reading this book made me realise how little I actually knew about World War I. A lot of the places and events mentioned in the book were unfamiliar to me and left me wanting to find out more.
As I read about all the pain and sorrow she was forced to endure, I became completely absorbed in Vera Brittain's story. I found it very inspirational that despite having her entire world torn apart by the war, she was still able to go on to build a successful career for herself as a novelist, feminist and pacifist.
Testament of Youth was a long, demanding and often heartbreaking book, but I'm glad I read it and I feel I learned a lot from it.(less)