Penny, Louise. The Nature of the Beast.

NY: St. Martin, 2015.

This is number eleven in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete, one of the most recognizable cops in Canada (he’s often in the papers) and now retired to the tiny, off-the-map village of Three Pines, down near the Vermont border. And this one includes a large swath of genuine history that most people, even most Canadians, have never heard of before.

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Hill, Paul. The Anglo-Saxons at War, 800-1066.

Barnsley, Yorkshire: Pen & Sword, 2012.

Ever since doing my undergrad history degree in the 1960s, I’ve had a strong and continuing interest in both the early medieval period and in pre-gunpowder military history, so I was pleased to happen upon this well-written work by a noted expert in both subjects. Hill is a well-known lecturer and past curator of the Anglo-Saxon museum at Kingston-upon-Thames, where a number of the Saxon kings were crowned, and he’s produced several previous volumes on closely related topics.

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Published in: on 14 February 2018 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Griffiths, Elly. The Janus Stone.

NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2011.

This is the second in the series featuring English archaeologist Ruth Galloway of northern Norfolk, and it’s even better than the first-rate first volume. Ruth is turning forty and she’s overweight, but she had a one-night stand with homicide DCI Harry Nelson — it was a combination of stress and special circumstances during the last case — and that’s complicating her life. Being a bone specialist, she’s been doing some forensics work for the police and this time, three months since the previous case, that brings her to investigate the skeleton of an infant found under the doorstep of an old house being torn down to make way for a block of luxury flats.

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Stephenson, Neal & Nicole Galland. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

[My apologies for the long gap between posts. I was out of the country for most of a week and for some reason was unable to access my blog.]

NY: HarperCollins, 2017.

I have a very short list of “automatic” authors — novelists that, whatever they write, I want to read it. I don’t even bother to read the reviews. Neal Stephenson was one of my earliest additions to that list, back when I read Snow Crash and then Cryptonomicon, and he’s never disappointed me. Still, I have my favorites among his works, and there are also those books that I really had to work at. This one falls somewhere in the middle, I think, but I still don’t quite know how I feel about it.

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Taylor, Jodi. A Second Chance.

Abercynon, Wales: Accent Press, 2014.

The “Chronicles of St. Mary’s” series, about time-traveling British historians in the not-too-distant future, has more than a few strange elements, including a bit of mythological fantasy thrown in (Kleio, the Muse of History, is also the Director’s steely-eyed PA). This third episode takes the mix to a whole new and rather complicated level.

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Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 1951.

I first read this marvelous sort-of historical novel in high school around 1960, and it cemented my determination to become an historian of some kind. I’ve reread it several times in the years since and it never fails to absorb me. “Josephine Tey” was one of the pen names used by Elizabeth MacKintosh, a mystery writer greatly appreciated by her professional peers but who is largely forgotten today — except for this book, which was always her most popular.

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Tayor, Jodi. A Symphony of Echoes.

Abercynon, Wales: Accent Press, 2013.

The first volume of the “Chronicles of St. Mary’s” series, Just One Damned Thing After Another, was a hoot — a galloping time-travel adventure larded with British-style understated humor and peopled with some of the most original and entertaining characters I’ve seen in a while. This second outing mostly avoids the problems that are common with sophomore novels, continuing the story of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Institute a generation or two in our future.

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Published in: on 10 October 2017 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gaiman Neil. Norse Mythology.

NY: Norton, 2017.

Like Gaiman — like most of the geekier sort of adolescent boys, in fact — I went through a period of reading everything I could find about mythology as a kid, beginning with Edith Hamilton’s classic work on the Greeks and Romans. But, also like Gaiman, I developed a strong preference for the Nordic deities — Odin, the All-Father, who is very wise but can’t be trusted, and Thor, not the sharpest god in Asgard but a good person to have on your side, and especially Loki, who seems the most human of the gods with his talent for making mischief. And there’s Ragnarok, the final battle in which the gods will be destroyed so that the world can start over again.

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Saunders, Nicholas J. Alexander’s Tomb.

NY: Basic Books, 2006.

Subtitled “The Two Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror,” this is a semi-academic (lots of footnotes, lengthy bibliography) but also very readable account of what we know happened — and what else we think may have happened — to the mummy of Alexander after he died in Babylon at the age of thirty-two. By Macedonian tradition, a deceased king was buried by his successor, so whoever controlled that particular very famous corpse had an excellent claim to taking over his empire. (more…)

Published in: on 14 August 2017 at 7:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.

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