My Lord John – Georgette Heyer

Most people, if they know Georgette Heyer at all, know the author for either her detective novels or the Regency romances she wrote. I first came across her through both of these genres when I wasn’t quite old enough for adult books but had definitely outgrown children’s books.

I read my way through any books I could get my hands on as they came into the second-hand bookshop in the local market and eventually landed this one.

The Lord John of the title is John of Lancaster, third son of Henry of Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV. It starts when he is around 6 and finishes just as his oldest brother Henry is starting to take up some of the reins of government due to his father’s ill-health. The book ends abruptly as Heyer had to put it to one side to complete more popular books to pay her tax bill!¬†She intended this book to be the first of a trilogy about the House of Lancaster during through the Wars of the Roses.

As I remembered it, from 40 years ago, this book had a different feel to it and, to an extent, it awakened my interest in the Wars of the Roses; I live in Yorkshire in what would have been a Lancastrian supporting area.

Rereading the book as a “proper grown-up” with more knowledge of the history of the period this book wasn’t as interesting as I remembered it being. It was a chore getting through to the end feels as though it needs a good edit to lop out some of the boring bits.

It did remind though that I always wanted to know more about John of Lancaster and what he did with his life. If anyone can recommend a book I’d be grateful.

 

Gulag: a history of the Soviet camps – Anne Applebaum

Someone at work was laughing at me reading this book one lunchtime! “Another of your happy books” he said. I don’t actually see these types of books as unhappy but as satisfying and fuelling my thirst for knowledge about the way other people and regimes treat their fellow human beings.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a long time, waiting to read it. So long in fact that I’d forgotten I had it and bought another copy! I really must have a sort out.

Anyway, to the book.

I chose to read this because I found Applebaum’s previous book interesting and a very digestible read. When I looked back I found the book I thought she’d written was actually written by someone else. Which explains, perhaps, why I found this book a bit…chewy

The book covers the Soviet gulags from the 1920s, through the Great Terror of the 1930s and up to the camps for dissidents from the 1960s to the end of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. It looks at the origins of the camps, life and work in them and finally the fall of the camp industrial complex.

The research behind the book comes from a variety of sources including official OGPU/ NKVD/ KGB archives and memories and memoirs from those who were there. The memoirs and memories come from workers and guards as well as from prisoners, which gives an interesting perspective on some of the descriptions.

The different perspectives was the main thing I enjoyed about the book. It wasn’t just a misery memoir it was also an attempt, as far as possible with the resources available, to understand the whys and wherefores of the camps. It gave me a broader understanding of the gulag outside of the history of the Great Terror, Solzhenitsyn and the biographies of Anna Larina and Nadezhda Mandelstam.

The downside of having the different perspectives was that it is a very factual book. there are some stories and anecdotes but not that many. Which is why I’d categorise it as a chewy book. I like a bit of personal perspective to leven the facts.

I’m glad I read it. It has definitely widened my knowledge. If I was starting to read it again I might read a memoir or two at the same time to give it some balance.

Memoirs I’d recommend are:

Hope against Hope – Nadezhda Mandelstam

Click here to find out more about Nadezhda Mandelstam

This I cannot forget – Anna Larina

Click here to find out more about Anna Larina

One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Click here to find out more about Solzhenitsyn

Snap – Belinda Bauer

My Christmas book from Michael. Opened at 11.30am and finished at 9pm!

This isn’t my usual type of murder mystery, being set firmly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries but I’d obviously read a review and stuck it on my wish list, where Michael picked it up and bought me it.

The story starts in 1998 with 3 children stranded on the hard shoulder of the M5 waiting for their mother to return from reporting their breakdown. She never returns.

The second strand of the story centres around a London murder investigator, DCI Marvel, who has been sent to Somerset as a punishment for not following rules. He is unhappy at being there and seriously unimpressed when he is called upon to investigate a break-in. His interest is piqued when he finds out that this appears the be the latest in a long chain of unsolved burglaries.

The third strand involves Catherine While whose house is broken into but who doesn’t report it because of a knife and a note that are left on her bed.

Eventually, all three of the strands come together and several unsolved cases are solved.

This was a great “beach read” book. The central characters of the children and Catherine were engaging, the detectives less so but you knew Marvel was going to get involved and solve the case. It was signposted from early on where the clues were leading but you wanted to follow them anyway.

I found it slightly frustrating not knowing why the murderer really did it or why he had the very specialised knife although I didn’t really care deeply enough about the book to worry it over too much.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, if you want a book you drift along with for an afternoon. If you want something to engage your brain with, probably not.

 

Queens of the Conquest – Alison Weir

From one Conquest to another! This one has elicited much less of a rant than Robert Conquest did, you may be pleased to know.

This book is about the 5 Queens of the Norman England, all of whom have extraordinary stories but, in the words of Alison Weir, not enough is discoverable about them to fill a book each.

The book starts with Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror. I know a little about her and it is one of my claims to fame that I won a quiz for my team because I was the only person in the room who knew what William’s Queen was called! This Matilda gets quite a long section of the book to herself.

The next Queen is Matilda of Scotland who was married to Henry I. There are a lot of Matildas in this book and it’s quite difficult keeping up with who is who! It’s even more confusing that Matilda of Scotland was also known as Edith in her early life. This was one of those books where it is useful to be able to keep referring back to the family tree at the beginning.

I found Matilda of Scotland’s life to be one of the most interesting sections of the book. I didn’t know anything about her before and she had an interesting and varied life.

The only non-Matilda in the book is Adeliza of Louvain, Henry I’s second wife who only gets a short section to herself. As a Queen she isn’t particularly interesting although, through her second marriage after Henry’s death, she plays a significant part in the civil war that broke out between Stephen, Henry I’s nephew, and Matilda, Henry’s daughter, over who should wear the crown of England.

King Stephen was married to Matilda of Boulogne, the third Matilda of this book. She shares part 4 of the book with Queen Matilda, her husband’s rival claimant. For the purposes of the book Queen Matilda is referred to as Empress Maud. Her first marriage was to Heinrich V, Roman Emperor, and throughout mainland Europe Matilda seems to have been known as Maud.

This, for me, was one of the most enlightening parts of the book. I have only a confused understanding of the civil wat between Stephen and Maud. I didn’t really understand what the dispute was about and the rights and wrongs of the two parties. Having read this section of the book I’m clearer about why they were fighting, clear that neither was an ideal monarch and still a bit confused over who was who and why they chose the side they did.

The final part of the book is about Empress Maud after Stephen died and her son by Geoffrey Plantagenet became King Henry II.

The book is written in Alison Weir’s usual readable style and she evokes a sense of who these women were and a sense of empathy with the difficult situations most of them found themselves in at one time or another.

I feel as though I leaned a lot from reading the book although I wish the European aristocracy of the 12th and 13th centuries had been a bit more imaginative about naming their girl children!

A useful addition to the literature on medieval women.