Saturday, January 19, 2008

Book Award & 7 things you didn't know

Thank you for your award Sarah!!! It's really nice to get one :)

I understand though as a recipient of this award I have to write seven weird and wonderful facts that people don't know about me. So... here goes!

1. I love almonds, and just about anything made of almonds. I have a particular weakness for almond croissants and marzipan. No idea why I'm so addicted but if I eat out and see a pudding containing almonds, that's the dessert sorted!!!! I even go for dishes with almonds in when I'm eating Indian food.

2. I occasionally do needlework. I come from a family who do an awful lot of crafts. There are a lot of quilter's in the family, and my Mum has over the years dabbled in everything from lace making to dying fabric. So its no surprise that despite every effort to avoid these things I do do some sort of craft work. I've even been known to do a bit of knitting on very very rare occasions. At the moment I'm working on a cushion cover and am about to pluck up the courage to work on a large piece of cross stitch of a Samurai warrior.

3. Also, despite claiming to be the artisticly deficient member of the family, I took A-Level photography

4. I love Italy. I fell in love with Rome the first time I visited and have been there four times in total. I've seen the ruins at Pomepii and Herculaneum, been to see the Oracle's caves at Cumae and the museums in Naples. A few years ago I was lucky enough to work on a survey project to the north of Rome near a place called Otricoli. Back in September I started Italian lessons for the first time (as I started visiting Italy back in 1997 it's been a long time coming!). Best thing about Italy is the ice-cream. The variety, the gorgeous tastes! You've never had real chocolate ice-cream until you've been over there and had real Italian chocolate ice-cream.

5. I'm a re-enactor. Last year I joined a well known British group and have been to a couple of events. What many people find amusing is what I've chosen to do re-enactment wise. I seem to manage to evoke a need to look after me in people (is it because I'm short, pale, delicate looking???). So the last place they expect me to be is working the cannons :) Yep, I help man the artillery and yes, we do use real black powder so the bangs are real! Don't worry we use grass rather than cannon balls.

6. I love playing Mah-jong. Not that game you play on the computer where you attempt to match tiles to remove them until there are none left. No, I mean the proper 4 player game. I learnt how to play when I was at university and sadly I've not been able to really play much since I graduated. I wasn't too bad, in fact sometimes people would complain I was too good when I was having a lucky streak! I've tried to play on Yahoo a few times but people come and go so much that you're lucky to be able to play a few hands before having to abandon the game due to lack of players. I'd love to have my own set and enough friends who wanted to play round here!

7. When I bother to sit down and think about it I have a rather diverse set of interests from reading and needlework to playing with cannons. However one hobby which people never peg me for is computer games. I don't have many but I love things like Sid Meier's Civilization and Caesar III. I hadn't played any for ages but my sister bought me Civilization IV for Christmas and before I went back to work in the New Year I lost one or two days completely just playing Civ IV :)

There you go seven things you probably didn't know about me (or want to know for that matter!!!).

Remember guys, keep reading :)

The Last Days of Newgate - by Andrew Pepper

London, 1829. Pyke is one of these dying breed. The Bow Street Runners are about to be replaced by the Metropolitan Police. In the dark, vice ridden alleys of the city Pyke attempts to bring villains to justice. Yet like many of the Runners, Pyke is also involved in criminal activities of his own. With the lines between right and wrong so blurred it's no wonder that Peel wants to see the Bow Street Runners disbanded. Yet is he above using criminal methods himself to see them thoroughly discredited? Pyke is drawn into a plot to remove the Bow Street Runners altogether, inflame tensions between Protestants and Catholics and bring the city to its knees. Can Pyke get to the bottom of this mystery? With every conceivable spanner thrown into the works, including being framed for murder, the pressure is on and Pyke must get to the truth before the Hangman puts the noose around his neck.

Pyke is definitely an anti-hero. Despite supposedly bringing law and order to the city he is not above thieving and swindling. Out to get what ever he can and always putting himself first. At the start of the book you see him being offered a private commission, something that would be considered completely and utterly corrupt in today's society. He is certainly not the first person you would expect to be so appalled by the gruesome murder towards the beginning of the book that he feels compelled to investigate it. Yet as the story unfolds we begin to realise that despite his many flaws there is a flicker of human decency and compassion. You find yourself wanting Pyke to succeed, despite hating what he gets up to.

This is a very dark book and not for the faint hearted. There's lots of murder, highway robbery, sex with prostitutes, the realities of Newgate Prison, fighting and filth. The very graphic murder of a young family in the first few chapters really is horrific and even Pyke, who has seen it all, is made ill by it. I don't think this book could ever be made into a tea time drama for the BBC! I have to say that I don't normally go in for books this dark, but I felt I needed to find out what on earth was going on!

I don't know if I want to read the next book though. I found Pyke's various relationships and his problems with women difficult to sympathise with. If I'm honest he's the sort of man I would hope never to fall in love with. His loveless relationship with Lizzie is heart breaking and you keep wishing he could just be honest with her and himself.

Pyke is a well constructed, complex character. No one is ever squeaky clean and you can forgive some of what Pyke gets up to because of his circumstances. He's a very real character, it's almost as if Andrew Pepper could be writing his biography.

Unfortunately I know very little about the pre-Victorian 19th century. I've come across the Bow Street Runners before in Deryn Lake's John Rawling's series set in the late 18th century. The author has pulled upon some well known historic facts such as the awful conditions of Newgate prison and the work of Elizabeth Fry. The introduction of the Metropolitan Police Force is also based on fact. The religious tensions are probably very accurate too, as even today there are still tensions between Catholics and Protestants in some parts of Ireland. I think it's harder for authors to get away without researching the period they set their historical fiction in nowadays so they are less likely to be inaccurate.
If you enjoy historical crime fiction it is definitely worth giving this book a try, particularly if you are wanting to expand your tastes. It is a dark book and there is a lot of trials and tribulations so its best avoided if you're looking for an easy, light hearted read. I still don't know quite how I feel about the book (which will be reflected in my rating), but I would still urge people to give it a go.

*3 stars*

Farewell Britannia - by Simon Young

It's 430 A.D. in Britain. The Romans have left twenty years previously and the barbarian raids are becoming more and more frequent. For the last surviving members of the Atrebates family preparations are under way for a funeral. At the funeral will be the parade of ancestors, carrying relics of the past. For one of the family members this gives them the idea to put all these people's stories on paper. From one ancestor's trip to Britain with Caesar's troops in 55 BC right up to the fate of the writer's own brother, over 400 years of Romano-British history is covered in this exciting and innovative book.

For anyone with an interest in Roman Britain or who wants an introduction to the topic this book is a definite must read. It is an ambitious project, trying to cover over 400 years of history through snap shots. Each chapter is dedicated to a different person or event. As if that wasn't enough at the end of every chapter is Young's explanation of the known facts behind that chapter. The real genius lies in the fact that the author manages to keep the book together by using the history of one family as the story. Towards the end of the book the links become more tenuous but they're still made to work. Without this the book would seem more like a collection of scenes from different films, put together because they're all Roman but nothing else links them and they don't make much sense out of the context of the whole film they're from.

I must admit I was drawn to this book because Roman Britain is one of my specialist areas (or at least I like to think so!). Despite that this book managed to bring alive several events of the period that I knew of. I loved the chapter set in AD 61 because it showed the revolt from a completely different angle than anything I've read before. The later chapters were also extremely interesting, although they may cause offence to some as they portray some over zealous Christian worshippers attacking pagans and pagan temples. We forget that this sort of thing would have happened, there's even archaeological evidence to back this up. It really is a fascinating book and well worth reading.

It's greatest strength can also be its one weakness. In some ways its a collection of short stories rather than a novel and this could put some people off. I would however say, give it a chance. I tend not to read collections of small stories but I am extremely glad I read this.

As to the historical accuracy of this book, it is very well researched by Simon Young and he is at pains to point out where he has sourced his information from. At the end of the book, arranged by chapter, is a bibliography so that you can do further readings on any of the topics that interest you. At times Young does use artistic licence but this is fiction, not non-fiction!

As mentioned above if you have an interest in the period this book is well worth reading. It is also worth trying if you want to read something a bit different or you can always dip into it if there's a particular chapter that catches your fancy (Caesar's invasion or Boudicca's revolt perhaps?).

*4 stars*

If you are interested in fictional accounts of Roman Britain why not try:
*Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by R.S. Downie
*A Roman Ransom by Rosemary Rowe
*The Horse Coin by David Wishart

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An update

I think the first thing to say is a huge thank you to Sarah! I've
never won a web award of any sort so this is a real honour.
I realise I have to at some point post my crazy list of 7 facts
you didn't know about me and don't worry, I will! This is just
a quick post via e-mail to keep things ticking over.
I can't get to a proper internet connection until next week so
no reviews until then but you can look forward to the following
Farewell Britannia by Simon Young - a fictional account of a
British family under Roman rule. Spans four centuries so is
quite ambitious!
The Last Days of Newgate by Andrew Pepper - a murder
mystery/thriller set in the early 19th century. Quite dark.
Also if you're lucky I may get round to writing up a book I'll be
finishing in the next couple of days, The Dark Flight Down by
Marcus Sedgwick. It's a follow up to The Book of Dead Days
by the same author.
I've noticed of late more and more people are visiting this
site. I am so pleased that so many people out there are
reading. Please feel free to contact me about any of these
reviews or if there are any books you'd like to see me review.
All suggestions/criticisms/praise gratefully received :) The
A great many people who wander here via search engines
are searching for info about C J Sansom. Well, for those of
you in the UK the good news is that his next book in the
Matthew Shardlake series will be available from 4th April!
It's called Revelation and is set towards the end of Henry
VIII's reign, following on from the last book. I think those of
you in the US may have to wait until November
In the meantime, happy reading!
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