Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#TuesdayBookBlog LIFE IN MINIATURE: A HISTORY OF DOLLS’ HOUSES by Nicola Lisle (@penswordbooks)(@NicolaLisle1) Not just a toy. A wonderful look at a small but fascinating world.

Hi, all:

I have a few non-fiction books pending reviews, but I was reminded of this one because of a Fair of Miniatures and Dolls’ Houses I had to cover for the radio station I collaborate with (Sants 3 Ràdio), and I had to bring you the book and its review as well.

I was so busy during the fair, there were so many people to interview and talk to (including a couple of wonderful charities, one that provides ergonomic cushions for women who had had a mastectomy due to breast cancer [Asociación almohada del corazón] and one that rescues and rehouses animals in Barcelona [Los Ángeles del Raval]), so many miniatures, exhibits, and objects to see, and so many pictures to take for the web of the radio, that I forgot to take any pictures to share here. But I promise I will add a link to the article when it is published. Oh, and you can see some examples of the work of the association organising the fair, Assarmicat, Associació d’Artesans Miniaturistes de Catalunya, here.

Here is the link to the article (in Catalan, but you can check the pictures):

https://www.el3.cat/noticia/78208/les-cotxeres-de-sants-acullen-la-20a-fira-dartesans-miniaturistes-i-exposicio-de-cases-de-

And here, the book, from the always reliable Pen & Sword.

Life in Miniature. A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

Life in Miniature. A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

Popular in Britain since the late seventeenth century, dolls’ houses are tiny slices of social history that give us a fascinating glimpse into domestic life over the last 300 years. In this beautifully-illustrated book, Nicola Lisle explores the origins and history of dolls’ houses and their furnishings, from the earliest known dolls’ house in sixteenth-century Bavaria to the present, and looks at how they reflect the architecture, fashions, social attitudes, innovations and craftsmanship of their day. She discusses the changing role of dolls’ houses and highlights significant events and people to give historical context. She also takes a look at some of the leading dolls’ house manufacturers, such as Silber & Fleming and Lines Brothers Ltd (later Triang). The book includes numerous examples of interesting dolls’ houses, the stories behind them and where to see them. This includes famous models such as Queen Mary’s spectacular 1920s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle and the eighteenth-century baby house at Kew Palace. There is also a chapter on model towns and villages, which became popular in the twentieth century and also give us a window on the past by replicating real places or capturing scenes typical of a bygone era. There is advice for dolls’ house collectors, as well as a detailed directory of places to visit, a timeline of dolls’ house history and recommended further reading. One of the most comprehensive guides available on the subject, this book offers unique insights into the world of dolls’ houses and is a must for anyone with an interest in the history and appeal of these miniature treasures.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.amazon.es/Life-Miniature-History-Dolls-Houses/dp/152675181X/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Life-in-Miniature-Hardback/p/18021

About the author:

Nicola Lisle is a freelance journalist and author specialising in history and the arts. She has written numerous articles for family history magazines, including Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History and Discover Your Ancestors, and was a regular contributor to Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for many years. She is the author of Tracing Your Family History Made Easy (Which? Books, 2011) and Tracing Your Oxfordshire Ancestors (Pen & Sword, 2018).

My review:

I received an early hardback copy of this non-fiction book from Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, which I freely chose to review.

I have always been fascinated by miniatures and dolls’ houses, although I have never collected or played with them. One doesn’t need to be an expert to enjoy this book, where Nicola Lisle introduces the history of miniatures (which have been found by archeologists in Egyptian and Roman digs) and dolls’ houses (some from as far back as the XVII century).

The book opens with an introduction and a discussion of some of the oldest known dolls’ houses, where the author also explains how they transformed from luxury items whereby the rich and important could boast and exhibit their riches, to eventually becoming children’s toys, affordable for the majority of the population. Then there are several chapters which, in chronological order, talk about some notable English dolls’ houses, explaining their history and describing them in such loving detail, that even those of us who haven’t seen them feel as if we were there.

There are also chapters dedicated to dolls’ houses in the literature, model towns and villages, a chapter containing advice on how to start collecting dolls’ houses, and one on notable collectors.

The book also contains a large section of images, which give us a taster of the type of houses mentioned, and it will also be useful as a reference for anybody interested in the topic, as, apart from a detailed index, it also contains two appendixes: places to visit, featuring houses and museums where we can see good examples of dolls’ houses live, and further reading, where we can learn even more about this hobby, art, and way of life.

Dolls’ houses are not mere toys: they reflect the mores of the different periods, the role of women in the house, the differences in social classes (with the separate quarters for owners and servants), the evolution of architecture and art movements, and they were (and are) great education aids, apart from transporting us to a different time and a different place.

I recommend this title to anybody who is interested in miniatures, especially in dolls’ houses, and in social history. It is a compact title with plenty of information for those already well-informed, and a good introduction for those who don’t know much but are eager to learn. A beautiful present for those interested in toys, collectibles, and social history in general.

Thanks to Rosie Croft and Pen & Sword in general and to the author for the book, to all of you for visiting and reading my blog, and remember to share, click, like, keep smiling, and take care. Be creative and enjoy what you do!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness (@penswordbooks) A different perspective into women’s history #women’s history

Hi all:

I bring you one of Pen & Sword’s non-fiction titles and a pretty special one. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness

Unmarried Women of the Country Estate: Four Stories from 17th-20th Century: Genteel Women Who Did Not Marry by Charlotte Furness

As the fight for women’s rights continues, and whilst men and women alike push for gender equality around the globe, this book aims to introduce readers to four women who, in their own way, challenged and defied the societal expectations of the time in which they lived. Some chose to be writers, some were successful business women, some chose to nurture and protect, some travelled the globe, some were philanthropists. Each one made the conscious decision not to marry a man. Elizabeth Isham of Lamport Hall, Ann Robinson of Saltram, Anne Lister of Shibden Hall and Rosalie Chichester of Arlington Court. These are elite women, all connected to country houses or from noble families throughout the UK, and this book explores to what extent privilege gave them the opportunity to choose the life they wanted, thus guiding the reader to challenge their own beliefs about elite women throughout history. This book is unique in that it brings the stories of real historical women to light – some of which have never been written about before, whilst also offering an introduction to the history of marriage and societal expectations of women. Starting in 1609 and travelling chronologically up to 1949, with a chapter for each woman, this book tells their remarkable stories, revealing how strong, resilient and powerful women have always been.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Unmarried-Women-of-the-Country-Estate-Hardback/p/17955

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

https://www.amazon.es/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

https://www.amazon.com/Unmarried-Women-Country-Estate-17th-20th/dp/1526704382/

Author Charlotte Furness

About the author:

Charlotte Furness was born and raised in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. After completing a Bachelor Degree in English, and a Masters Degree in Country House Studies at the University of Leicester, she started a career in heritage, working for English Heritage and the trust-managed Lamport Hall. She has also worked at Harewood House, Temple Newsam House and Renishaw Hall.

Whilst working in this field, she has come across many stories which, unless told, would have been lost in the annals of time. She now works as a full-time writer and sees it as her mission to bring these forgotten stories to the attention of as many people as possible, to preserve them so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlotte-Furness/e/B07DM3B4G3

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardcover ARC copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.

At a time when we are trying to recover the history and memories of women of the past, this book is a step in the right direction. It is particularly difficult to find information about working-class women, as they rarely had access to education and/or time to write their own stories. Well-off married women might have a bit more leisure and better access to education, although they are often constrained by the social roles they had to play as wives and mothers, but what about single women of means who didn’t get married? That is the question that Charlotte Furness tries to answer, not exhaustively but rather by choosing four “genteel” women who never got married, from the XVII to the XX century. As she explains, some have been subject to more research and are better known than others (although this is changing), but they also share the fact that they were attached to country states (either because they owned them or because they lived there their entire lives) and also that, luckily for us, they left plenty of written materials for us to peruse, be it letters, diaries, or even, as is the case for Rosalie Chichester, fiction and stories.

The author includes a section of acknowledgements, a note explaining her methodology, a list of plates (there are a number of black and white illustrations and photographs in the book, including portraits and photographs of the women, when available, and also of their relatives and the properties), an introduction where Furness talks about what marriage and married life was like in the periods covered, four chapters, one dedicated to each one of the women, a conclusion, a set of detailed notes (where extra information is provided), a select bibliography (for those who need to find out more), and an index.

The four women chosen are quite different, and the differences go beyond the historical period. Elizabeth Isham was deeply religious, battled with mental health difficulties (as did her mother and sister), and she clearly chose dedicating her life to her religious devotion rather than to a standard family life (there was even discussion about her marrying John Dryden at some point, so it definitely wasn’t due to a lack of prospects); Anne Robinson, stepped up and took on the duties of family life when her sister died, becoming the hostess of Saltram House for her brother-in-law and bringing up her niece and nephew; Anne Lister is a fascinating character, who always challenged the constraints of a woman’s role, took over the property and the business-side of things, and would have married her long-term companion, Ann Walker, if that had been possible at the time; while Rosalie Chichester fits more into the spinster image usually portrayed in fiction and movies: staying at home, living with her mother, involved in many local projects, looking after her animals, and leaving her property to the National Trust. But, she was also an eager traveller, kept detailed diaries, wrote fiction, and was passionate about protecting Arlington Court.

This is not a long book, but it manages to bring to life these four very different women, and, more importantly, tries to make sure we get to hear their own voices, rather than just read the interpretations others might have imposed on them. There are many things we don’t know about them, and, there is plenty more research to be done, but this is a great introduction for readers looking to learn about social history and the history of women from a different perspective.

I enjoyed learning about these four women, their lives, and their historical period, and I’d love to learn more about them. I recommend this book to people interested in women’s history, social history, also those interested in UK country properties, and, in general, readers of history looking for a different approach.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie Croft for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, and to keep reading, liking, clicking, sharing, and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog AMIGURUMI STYLE CROCHET: MAKE BETTY & BERT AND DRESS THEM IN VINTAGE INSPIRED CROCHET DOLL’S CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES by Cara Medus (@penswordbooks) A fabulous gift for fans of dolls and 1950s fashion #Bookreview #crafts

Hi all:

This is a bit different, although I did bring you a craft book a little while back. I couldn’t resist this one, because as soon as I saw the cover it reminded me of a doll I had to get once I saw it, although it wasn’t that long ago (a few years). Here she is:

My Catalan doll

She is actually not crocheted but knitted, but you’ll probably know what I mean when I share the book. By the way, as I was writing this I realised I’d never named her, so any suggestions are welcome as well.

And here comes the book:

Amigurumi Style Crochet: Make Betty & Bert and dress them in vintage-inspired crochet doll’s clothes and accessories by Cara Medus

Amigurumi Style Crochet: Make Betty & Bert and dress them in vintage-inspired crochet doll’s clothes and accessories by Cara Medus

Crochet Betty, an amigurumi-style doll, with patterns for her fifties outfits ranging from shopping to movie-going. There’s a detailed explanation of how to make the basic doll Betty, and also her cute cat Bert. Each section has patterns for a selection of stylish removable garments and accessories on a fifties theme, with a few added extras for Bert too. Come with Betty as she channels her inner Audrey Hepburn at the movies, or takes off on holiday in the glamorous footsteps of Grace Kelly.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-Paperback/p/17814

https://www.amazon.com/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-inspired-accessories/dp/1526747278/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-inspired-accessories/dp/1526747278/

https://www.amazon.es/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-inspired-accessories/dp/1526747278/

Author and crocheter Cara Medus

About the author:

Cara Medus has made and drawn things for as long as she can remember, but has been seriously crocheting for about 10 years. She became technical editor on ‘Simply Crochet’ magazine when it launched in 2013, and loved the geeky side of crochet; patterns, charts, numbers, you name it!

Cara now freelances for ‘Simply Crochet’ and as a crochet designer, and develops training material for crochet designers and tech editors. She often designs garments, but has enjoyed a recent return to amigurumi, as she is more able to match this with her love of illustration. It’s been a joy for Cara to discover Betty and Bert for this book //or book title// and launch them on some new adventures!

Cara lives in Bristol with her husband and sons where she does a bit of singing, yoga and coffee-drinking on the side.

https://caramedus.com/category/crochet/crochet-patterns/

My review:

Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword sent me an early paperback copy of this wonderful book from their White Owl line that I freely chose to review.

I casually discovered this book perusing through the Pen & Sword catalogue, and having long been a fan of crocheting (although I don’t dedicate it too much time, to be honest), I couldn’t resist. Betty, the doll and main character, is wonderful, and her cat, Bert, even more so.

I had to share a review of this book now, because although I haven’t had a chance to try my hand at creating Betty and her wonderful outfits, I thought it would make a fabulous Christmas present, not only for fans of crocheting, but for anyone who loves crafts, dolls, and especially the fashion of the 1950s.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with plenty of photographs of the doll, the details of the making, the stitches, and in an appendix, at the end, there is a list of abbreviations, information of the stockists (especially useful for those living in the UK, although I’m sure it might be possible to order online), detailed diagrams, charts, and symbol keys, and chapter one is dedicated to the basics.

As chapter one explains, it is useful to have some experience in making these types of dolls (yes, amigurumi comes from the Japanese, as you can guess), but the stitches are not very complicated, and there are plenty of instructional videos available for those who might need a bit more guidance (in fact, the author shares patterns and guidance on her own website). Even if you’re not strong at crocheting, this is an inspiring book for people who are creative and enjoy drawing characters (I thought those characters would make great illustrations for children’s books), decorating cakes (it reminded me of fellow blogger, author and artist-baker Robbie Cheadle and her Sir Chocolate series of book with her wonderful fondant characters, you can check the first book here), and the accessories are easier to make and would also be happily received by other dolls, I’m sure!

In case you’re wondering, the book contains six different outfits, with one chapter dedicated to each one, the chapter about the basics, and one dedicated to making the doll. The six outfits (all with cat incorporated and plenty of accessories) are: Betty at home, Betty at the movies (a red carpet occasion), Betty goes on holiday, Betty’s boudoir, Betty goes dancing, and Betty goes shopping.

Here you can see my picture of Betty goes on holiday (as you can see, she does it in style):

Betty goes on holiday

This book is a joy, and I recommend it to anybody interested in this type of crocheting, dolls, illustrations, crafts, or looking for a special kind of gift. Looking through it brings a smile to my face, and I’m sure it will do the same for you, and that is something we sorely need at the moment. A fabulous gift and a fun project to take on.

Thanks to Rosie, Pen & Sword, and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep safe, and always, keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview LIFE IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE: FACT AND FICTION by Danièle Cybulskie (@penswordbooks) A well-informed resource and a great read #history

Hi all:

I bring you a non-fiction book about a topic we all have read and watched films and series about.

Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction by Danièle Cybulskie

Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction by Danièle Cybulskie

Have you ever found yourself watching a show or reading a novel and wondering what life was really like in the Middle Ages? What did people actually eat? Were they really filthy? And did they ever get to marry for love? In Medieval Europe in Fact and Fiction, you ll find fast and fun answers to all your secret questions, from eating and drinking to sex and love. Find out whether people bathed, what they did when they got sick, and what actually happened to people accused of crimes. Learn about medieval table manners, tournaments, and toothpaste, and find out if people really did poop in the moat.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Medieval-Europe-Fact-Fiction/dp/1526733455/

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Medieval-Europe-Fact-Fiction/dp/1526733455/

https://www.amazon.es/Life-Medieval-Europe-Fact-Fiction/dp/1526733455/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Life-in-Medieval-Europe-Paperback/p/16524

Author Danièle Cybulskie

About the author:

Danièle Cybulskie has been researching and writing about the Middle Ages for over a decade. She is the author of The Five-Minute Medievalist and is a featured writer at Medievalists.net. A former college professor and specialist in medieval literature and Renaissance drama, her work has been published across international magazines, spanning topics from The Hundred Years’ War to Roman togas. Her mission is to make history fun, entertaining, and engaging, as well as to draw attention to our shared human nature across the centuries.

http://www.danielecybulskie.com/

My review:

I thank Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for providing me an ARC paperback copy of this non-fiction book that I freely chose to review.

We all have some image in our minds of the Middle Ages. We’ve read novels and/or historical texts, watched movies and TV series, visited castles, churches and cathedrals of the period, and imagined what it must have been like. Images of a king sitting at his throne, knights fighting in tournaments, princesses being courted, minstrels, big banquets, mixed with the Black Death, dirt, ignorance, religious intransigence, torture and violence. It can be difficult to disentangle truth from fiction, but the author of this book, Danièle Cybulskie, does a great job of covering a wide range of topics and dispelling many of the myths and misconceptions about the era within a fairly small volume.

The book is divided into seven chapters: A dirty little secret (about hygiene, cleanliness, and the disposal of waste); Farming, fasting, feasting (about food, diets, drinks…); the Art of love (sex, marriage, LGBTQIA, contraceptives, childhood); Nasty and brutish (about battles, combats, the justice system, torture, weapons, slavery…); the Age of faith (about religious belief, pilgrimages, convents and monasteries, Christianity and other religions); In Sickness and in health (about doctors, midwives and healers, treatments [more or less scientific], women’s medicine, Black Death…), and Couture, competition, and courtly love (about people’s clothing, entertainment, sports, games, reading materials…). The author also includes ‘a final word’ where she reminds us of how varied the life of the people in that era would have been (after all, it was a very long period, over a thousand years), and encourages us to think of them as people in their own right, as varied, individual and interesting as we are.

The text also includes a set of images, colour photographs of locations, objects, and manuscripts (many from the British Library, gorgeous), a bibliography (books, articles, and websites), a section of notes with details about the sources of information the author has used for each chapter, an index, and her personal acknowledgements.

This is an easy book to read from cover to cover, and can also be used as a general resource, to dip in and out of, for people interested in the period. It offers a good overview and plenty of information for the casual reader. I don’t think experts will find anything new here, but it is a solid entry level volume for those looking for an introduction to the history of the period, and it offers advice on other resources for those who might want to study any of the topics covered in more detail. I was particularly intrigued by the mention of the medical treatments and treatises in use, and enjoyed learning about a society that was far more varied and complex than we generally give it credit for.

Here a brief quote from the chapter on the age of faith, commenting on the role of convents on some women’s lives.

Convents were places in which women’s learning was encouraged too, so that they could better understand holy texts. For many women who did not wish for a life of marriage and children, convents were a sanctuary in which they could spend their days learning and discussing theology… For these women, many of whom would have been literate, having lifelong access to a convent’s library must’ve seemed a heavenly option, indeed. (80-1)

In sum, this is a great book for people interested in Medieval Europe who are not looking for a historical text full of dates, battles, and royal dynasties, but rather want to get a sense of what everyday life would have been like. A good resource for writers, amateur historians looking for further information, and a gift for those who enjoy a balanced and well-informed account of a historical period most of us don’t know as well as we think.

Thanks to Rosie Croft, Pen & Sword, and the author, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to keep safe, and like, share, and click if you find it interesting. Keep smiling and take care.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview ELIZABETH WIDVILLE, LADY GREY: EDWARD IV’S CHIEF MISTRESS AND THE ‘PINK QUEEN’ by John Ashdown-Hill (@penswordbooks) #history

Hi all. I bring you a book that digs deep into a fascinating historical period.

Elizabeth Widville. Lady Grey by John Ashdown-Hill
Elizabeth Widville. Lady Grey by John Ashdown-Hill

Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey: Edward IV’s Chief Mistress and the ‘Pink Queen’ by John Ashdown-Hill

Wife to Edward IV and mother to the Princes in the Tower and later Queen Elizabeth of York, Elizabeth Widville was a central figure during the War of the Roses. Much of her life is shrouded in speculation and myth – even her name, commonly spelled as ‘Woodville’, is a hotly contested issue.

Born in the turbulent fifteenth century, she was famed for her beauty and controversial second marriage to Edward IV, who she married just three years after he had displaced the Lancastrian Henry VI and claimed the English throne. As Queen Consort, Elizabeth’s rise from commoner to royalty continues to capture modern imagination. Undoubtedly, it enriched the position of her family. Her elevated position and influence invoked hostility from Richard Neville, the ‘Kingmaker’, which later led to open discord and rebellion.

Throughout her life and even after the death of her husband, Elizabeth remained politically influential: briefly proclaiming her son King Edward V of England before he was deposed by her brother-in-law, the infamous Richard III, she would later play an important role in securing the succession of Henry Tudor in 1485 and his marriage to her daughter Elizabeth of York, thus and ending the War of the Roses.

Elizabeth Widville was an endlessly enigmatic historical figure, who has been obscured by dramatizations and misconceptions. In this fascinating and insightful biography, Dr John Ashdown-Hill brings shines a light on the truth of her life.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Hardback/p/16407

https://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress-ebook/dp/B07WR3Y3M4/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress-ebook/dp/B07WR3Y3M4/

https://www.amazon.es/Elizabeth-Widville-Lady-Grey-Mistress-ebook/dp/B07WR3Y3M4/

About the author:

Dr John Ashdown-Hill was a well-known medieval historian, having published extensively on a variety of topics within that period but focussing mainly on the Yorkist era. He is best-known for his pivotal role in uncovering the burial place of King Richard III for and for tracing collateral female-line descendants of Richard’s elder sister to establish his mtDNA haplogroup, which matched the mtDNA of the bones found in the Leicester car park. In 2015 he was awarded an MBE ‘for services to historical research and the exhumation and identification of Richard III’.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ashdown-Hill

https://www.johnashdownhill.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review. This is a book that has put a new spin on the word “research” for me.

I am no expert on UK history in general, and my knowledge of the particular period covered in this book is patchy at best (we’ve all heard of the War of the Roses, and thanks to Shakespeare’s plays are familiar with at least some of the characters who played important parts in the events…), but a passing comment about this queen included in a book I read recently got me curious, and on reading the credentials of the author (who unfortunately passed away in 2018), I decided to read it.

This is not a book that simply picks up a few known facts and creates a semblance of a chronology and a fictionalised biography of the person. This is a truly exhaustive study of all the resources available (I’m no expert, so there might be some the author missed, but judging by the thoroughness of the text and the bibliography, they’d have to be pretty obscure), not only books, letters, official documents, court records, but also portraits, coins, sculptures, and even a study of the DNA of one of the queen’s known distant relatives. The author studies all aspects of this historical figure, many in dispute for years: the spelling of her name (there are many versions available and he explains the reasons why), her hair colour, her marriage (a secret marriage, which, it seems, was not as uncommon as it might sound, and definitely Edward IV was fond of them), her relationships with a number of historical figures (and her possible involvement in their fates), her religious faith, her lineage… He even tried to trace a possible sample of wood from her coffin, but it seems that if it had ever existed it was misplaced, and it’s not reappeared so far. Well, you get an idea.

This is not a book for a casual reader eager to get a bit of information about Lady Grey, but rather one for people who are looking for clarification on specific points of her life, or who want to deepen their knowledge of this figure and this historical period. Anybody interested in the many controversies surrounding the Kingdom of Edward IV, the disappearance of the two princes, Richard III’s role, and the many intrigues and controversies of the era (you have it all: secret marriages, bigamy, accusations of witchery, murders, possible poisonings, mysterious disappearances, executions, battles for the crown, treachery, marriages of convenience, bastardy… Modern soaps and spy novels can’t hold a candle to this), should check this book. Ashdown-Hill comments on biographies and books on the subject, pointing out factual errors, and trying his best to separate fact from fiction. He takes a scientific approach to the subject and does not offer his personal opinion, but sticks to the information available and avoids flights of fancy. In his conclusion he reiterates that there is much we’ll never know about Elizabeth, but some of the things that have been said about her are wrong. I’ve learned plenty reading this book, and although I am sure readers with more knowledge will gain much more from it, it has made me want to dig a bit deeper into the period.

The volume contains a number of family trees for the different branches of Elizabeth’s family, up to present day, and also photos (black and white and colour), illustrations, detailed notes for each chapter, a bibliography and an index.

I’d recommend this book to readers with a good knowledge of the period, looking to learn more about Lady Grey or about all the political intricacies of the era. It will be of particular interest to historians and also to writers eager to ensure accuracy in their depiction of the era, with its intrigues, secrets, and unanswered questions. A rigorous work of historical enquiry.

Thanks to Rosie, thank to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview GERMAN MILITARY VEHICLES IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique (@penswordbooks) t for those interested in military vehicles and the Spanish Civil War

Hi all:

This book is unusual for me, but…

German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique
German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique

German Military Vehicles in the Spanish Civil War: A Comprehensive Study of the Deployment of German Military Vehicles on the Eve of WW2 by Jose María Mata, Lucas Molina, José María Manrique

A comprehensive and up-to-date study of the combat and logistics vehicles which formed part of the German contingent that fought in the Spanish Civil War alongside the rebels.

The Panzer I, which so surprised the world in the Polish campaign and initially equipped the German Panzerdivisionen, was first seen in the Spanish Civil War, together with a wide range of war materiel such as antitank guns, flamethrowers, and so on.

This book looks at a wide range of vehicles: from the humblest motorcycle to the Horch staff car; from Opel ‘Blitz’, MAN Diesel, Mercedes, and Krupp trucks to the enormous Vomag 3LR 443 truck; not forgetting all the different types of military ambulances seen in Spain during the war years.

Never has such a comprehensive, painstaking and graphical study been made of vehicles used by the German contingent in the Spanish Civil War. The book contains over 500 top quality images, most of them previously unpublished, with each model that served in Spain perfectly identified.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/German-Military-Vehicles-in-the-Spanish-Civil-War-Hardback/p/12381

https://www.amazon.com/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

https://www.amazon.es/German-Military-Vehicles-Spanish-Civil/dp/1473878837/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword for sending me an early hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a connoisseur when it comes to military history or military vehicles, but I have recently become fascinated by unusual documents and photographs about the war, as they have the power to make the past come to life in a vivid way even for those who never experienced it. In the case of this book, 2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the end of the Spanish Civil War, and I have watched programmes and read articles about different aspects of it. Many talked about the air raids by Italian and especially German bombers in support of the Nationalist army and against the Republic, which worked well as a testing ground of their equipment prior to WWII. When I saw this book, it struck me that I hadn’t heard anything about other German vehicles used during the Spanish Civil War, although it made perfect sense that they would also send other military equipment to aid the war effort. And I felt curious.

This book is a treasure trove of pictures of the vehicles used in the Spanish Civil War. Apart from the photographs of vehicles (and not only German, as there is also the odd captured vehicle, like some Russian tanks), there are also pictures of insignia, medals, and some fabulous illustrations, both in black and white and in colour, of the vehicles and the soldiers. The collection includes tanks, cars, buses, trucks, ambulances, motorbikes (some with sidecars), and plenty of support vehicles (signal vehicles, anti-tank, anti-aircraft vehicles, mobile communication units…), and of course, the soldiers as well.

The text is minimal, and it contains factual information about the negotiations with the Germans, the number of vehicles and men they sent to train the rebel army, where they were posted, and there are also some charts summarising the numbers and the makes of the vehicles in each unit. As the authors explain, it is difficult to be precise when it comes to numbers, and in fact, they ask readers to get in touch if they find any discrepancies or have any further information that can be updated in future editions.

The main interest for a non-expert like me, apart from seeing many pictures of vehicles I’d never seen before, was to see the soldiers and the different locations also. Many of the pictures are clearly posed, but some seem to have caught soldiers going about their everyday lives (peeling potatoes, chatting, washing by the river…). There are no overly dramatic pictures or action pictures as such, but the uniforms, insignia, and vehicles could prove invaluable to historians and writers interested in obtaining an accurate description of the era. I also read reviews that commented on how useful such a book would be for people interested in building realistic military models, and by the same token, it would also be useful to people who provide props or create sets for movies or TV programmes.

I missed an index and a bibliography, although the book seems to be based on an individual collection, that of J.M. Campesino, and that might explain why there is no detailed information.

This is a book that will delight fans of military history and military vehicles, with the added interest that many of those vehicles were tried and tested in Spain first and were later put to use in WWII. The authors have published a number of books in Spanish on historic subjects related mostly to the Spanish Civil War, and I understand that Pen & Sword are working on publishing other related titles. An informative and visually engaging book about a period of Spanish history that remains very present, and we should never forget.

Thanks to the authors and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, and keep reading and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE 19TH CENTURY UNDERWORLD: CRIME, CONTROVERSY & CORRUPTION by Stephen Carver (@penswordbooks). A must read for anybody interested in London crime history

Hi all:

Today I bring you a review of a book that I think many of you will find interesting. And what a cover!

The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver
The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver

The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver

Underworld n. 1. the part of society comprising those who live by organized crime and immorality. 2. the mythical abode of the dead under the earth.

Take a walk on the dark side of the street in this unique exploration of the fears and desires at the heart of the British Empire, from the Regency dandy’s playground to the grim and gothic labyrinths of the Victorian city. Enter a world of gin spinners, sneaksmen and Covent Garden nuns, where bare-knuckled boxers slog it out for dozens of rounds, children are worth more dead than alive, and the Thames holds more bodies than the Ganges. This is the Modern Babylon, a place of brutal poverty, violent crime, strong drink, pornography and prostitution; of low neighbourhoods and crooked houses with windows out like broken teeth, wraithlike urchins with haunted eyes, desperate, ruthless and vicious men, and the broken remnants of once fine girls: a grey, bleak, infernal place, where gaslights fail to pierce the pestilential fog, and coppers travel in pairs, if they venture there at all.

Combining the accessibility of a popular history with original research, this book brings the denizens of this vanished world once more to life, along with the voices of those who sought to exploit, imprison or save them, or to simply report back from this alien landscape that both fascinated and appalled: the politicians, the reformers, the journalists and, above all, the storytellers, from literary novelists to purveyors of penny dreadfuls. Welcome to the 19th century underworld…

https://www.amazon.com/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption/dp/1526707543/

https://www.amazon.com/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption-ebook/dp/B07NHTTSG8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption-ebook/dp/B07NHTTSG8/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-19th-Century-Underworld-Paperback/p/16220

Dr Stephen Carver
Dr Stephen Carver

About the author:

Stephen Carver is a literary historian, editor and occasional novelist. For sixteen years he taught literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, spending three years in Japan as a professor of English at the University of Fukui. He left UEA in 2012 to become Head of Online Courses at the Unthank School of Writing, and to work with The Literary Consultancy in London. He retired from teaching in 2018 to write full-time, although he continues to be affiliated with TLC as a reader and a mentor. He is the biographer of the Victorian novelist W.H. Ainsworth, and his short stories have appeared in Not-Not, Cascando, Birdsuit, and Veto. His first novel, Shark Alley, was published in 2016. The 19th Century Underworld  was published by Pen & Sword last year and Steve has just finished a follow-up on Ainsworth and Dickens.

http://stephenjcarver.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a scholar in the topic of XIX century Britain, London in particular, although I have read a number of fictional books set on that period and place (it has always proved popular, especially with crime writers, for evident reasons) both recent and from the era, and also some historical books (some of the best coming from Pen & Sword as well) on specific aspects of the era, like children’s deaths. I was therefore not sure about what I would find here but hoped that it would enhance my understanding and give me a better sense of what life might have been like, away from the sometimes romanticised version we have of the Victorian era. This volume did that and more.

The book, which contains illustrations of the period as well (some black and white photographs, but mostly sketches and ink drawings that appeared in publications of that era, with a separate table of illustrations), contains facts and descriptions of the less savoury aspects of the XIX century life in London, but the emphasis is not on a XXI century perspective, but on written (and illustrated) sources of the period, and how the different topics were approached by the press, literature, and theatre of the time (movies are also mentioned, although those are references to later versions of the stories and characters discussed). Although most of us will be familiar with the penny dreadfuls, the author shares his expertise and offers us a catalogue of publications, authors (quite a few anonymous), publishers, guides and popular venues that reflect the fact that the hunger for certain types of subjects and the morbid interest in crime and vice are nothing new.

The book combines scholarship (there are detailed footnotes including information and sometimes explanations about the quotes and sources used in the text, at the end of the book, and also a lengthy bibliography and an index) with an engaging writing style, and manages to include plenty of information in each chapter, without cramming too much detail or leaving us with the impression that we are missing the most important part of the story. Although I’m sure most readers will be intrigued by some of the events and characters mentioned in the book and will want to learn more about them, Carver facilitates that task with his sources, and this book is a goldmine for researchers, writers, and anybody interested in the era in general. I usually mark passages I find interesting, to research later or to mention in my review, and in this case I can honestly say I broke the record for number of notes.

To give you an idea of the topics, I’ll briefly (-ish) go through the chapters. Chapter 1: Various Crimes and Misdemeanours, where the author explains that our view of the XIX century underworld is a product of popular culture, and he explains the efforts the society of the time made to try to categorise and control the crime in the capital. Patrick Colquhoun, a Scottish businessman and magistrate who liaised with Jeremy Bentham (a philosopher and social reformer we studied in Criminology for his ideas about prisons and reforms) wrote a book called A Treatise of the Police of the Metropolis in 1796, where he classified the criminals in London into 24 separate categories and estimated that there were around 115000 of them. The Radcliffe Highway murders and how these influenced some of the legal reforms are also discussed in detail.

Chapter 2: A Corinthian’s Guide to the Metropolis, talks about bare-knuckle boxing, betting, and also about a number of articles, guides, and books, purporting to inform discerning gentlemen of the entertainments and lifestyle that could be found in this part of town. We learn where Tom and Jerry came from (Pierce Egan’s writings and his characters seem to have inspired Hanna and Barbera), and the author notes that at this point (early in XIX century), the underworld was not represented as the gothic nightmare it would become later.

In Chapter 3: Bad Books for Bad People, we hear about authors that are more familiar to us, like Dickens and Thackeray, although also some others who’ve faded into oblivion mostly because their take on the topic lost the favour of the Victorians. They chose to write about criminals and outlaws (like Dick Turpin), but not in an overly moralistic or condemnatory manner, and although that was popular at first, later reformists condemned that stance, and it resulted in their loss of popularity and later ruin. There are wonderful examples of the use of jargon and vernacular, very popular at the beginning of the period but that would later fall out of fashion.  (This chapter reminded me of the gangster movies of the 1930s, which could depict violent and immoral characters as long as they ended up getting their just deserts).

Chapter 4: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, looks at the Resurrectionists, those who stole bodies from graves and sold them to medical schools. Although I’ve read some fiction about the subject and knew about Hare and Burke, I didn’t quite realise it was such an organised trade and the huge amounts of money involved. The inquiries and the law changes these incidents caused are discussed, and it is difficult to imagine how such events could have been ignored for so long, but there were powerful interests at play.

Chapter 5: The Real Oliver Twist, focuses on how life was like for children living in poverty, and it reminds us that studies of the 1840s showed that half the children born in the UK at that time died before age five. Children living of picking up dog’s dung, or being trained to become pickpockets or worse were not only the protagonists of fictional stories. They were all too real.

Chapter 6: Fallen Women, talks about prostitution, and I was fascinated by the author’s account of the biography and writings of French writer and activist Flora Tristan, a woman who was a feminist, a social commentator and reformer, who rather than blame prostitution on women’s lack of morals, blamed society and the lack of opportunities for women to get an education and make an honest living. She talked to prostitutes and wrote about what she found in 1840 and she anticipated some of Marx and Engels ideas. A woman I definitely want to learn more about.

Chapter 7: The Greeks Had a Word for It, talks about pornography, the ups and downs its publishers went through (as the period grew less and less tolerant), and it starts by reminding readers of the fact that pornography as a subject is very ancient, as people digging in Pompeii and Herculaneum found out. Many ancient objects of this nature that were recovered made it into private collections, mostly those of discerning gentlemen, and many museums had (and still have) hidden stashes of them. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this chapter, not because of the topic, or the content of the books mentioned (although some of the samples are hilarious) but because of the cat-and-mouse games writers and publishers played with the authorities and also of the evident hypocrisy of the whole endeavour.

Chapter 8: The Death Hunters, treats about what the author describes as “another type of pornography”, the interest in crimes and murders. True murder is not a new genre and although there were not many murders in London (or even the whole of Britain) at the time, the public appetite for it was huge, and sometimes writers would make them up. I had a chuckle at some of Illustrated Police News headlines (‘A Burglar Bitten by a Skeleton’ and ‘A Wife Driven Insane by a Husband Tickling her Feet’ are my favourites). The chapter ends up with Jack the Ripper’s murders, which the author elaborates further on Chapter 9: A Highly Popular Murder, where he notes that much of the speculation about the murders was created by media, and Jack the Ripper has become a phenomenon that combines reality with fiction. He does note that while the Ripper has grown in attention and popularity over the years, little time is dedicated to the victims. I am pleased to say that there is a new book due to be published by Pen & Sword about the victims of Jack the Ripper, and I hope to comment on it in the future.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in London history, history about crime in the XIX century, researchers and writers keen on exploring and writing on any of the topics covered in the book, and to anybody who wants to gain a different perspective on the London of the Victorian era. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie Croft, to the author, and especially to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, clicking, and for reviewing. Remember to keep on smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview A HISTORY OF TREES by Simon Wills (@WillsyWriter) (@penswordbooks) The perfect gift for nature. #non-fiction

Hi all:

Another different offering from me, and I think it will make a great gift:

A History of Trees by Simon Wills
A History of Trees by Simon Wills

A History of Trees by Simon Wills The perfect gift for nature lovers who enjoy amusing trivia, stories, and photographs.

Have you ever wondered how trees got their names? What did our ancestors think about trees, and how were they used in the past? This fascinating book will answer many of your questions, but also reveal interesting stories that are not widely known. For example, the nut from which tree was predicted to pay off the UK’s national debt? Or why is Europe’s most popular pear called the ‘conference’? Simon Wills tells the history of twenty-eight common trees in an engaging and entertaining way, and every chapter is illustrated with his photographs. Find out why the London plane tree is so frequently planted in our cities, and how our forebears were in awe of the magical properties of hawthorn. Where is Britain’s largest conker tree? Which tree was believed to protect you against both lightning and witchcraft? The use of bay tree leaves as a sign of victory by athletes in ancient Greece led to them being subsequently adopted by many others – from Roman emperors to the Royal Marines. But why were willow trees associated with Alexander Pope, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Samuel Johnson? Why did Queen Anne pay a large sum for a cutting from a walnut tree in Somerset? Discover the answers to these and many other intriguing tales within the pages of this highly engrossing book.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Trees-Simon-Wills/dp/1526701596/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-History-of-Trees-Paperback/p/16232

Dr Simon Wills
Dr Simon Wills

About the author:

Simon Wills is a history journalist, wildlife photographer and genealogist who writes for many magazines. He is an expert adviser to the BAFTA award-winning ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ TV series and has also appeared on the show. He is a regular presenter at ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Live, and other history-related events. Simon enjoys the meticulous research that’s needed to provide an authentic account of the past, but believes in telling a good story too, and reviewers have noted that he creates a very readable account.

You can follow Simon on Twitter @WillsyWriter or via webpage www.birdsandtrees.net

Simon’s latest publication is ‘A History of Birds’ featuring his original photos. This book is a bit like the TV programme ‘QI’, but for birds: lots of fascinating but true tales, told in an entertaining and informed way, and with many myths debunked. It’s the ‘back story’ to the birds in our everyday lives and covers everything from the ancient Egyptian belief that the Heron was the first animal created, to the arrest of a pigeon for plotting against the Indian Prime Minister in 2016.

His next book will be ‘A History of Trees’, due for publication in October 2018.

Simon’s well-received ‘Wreck of the SS London’ is the intriguing tale of the loss of a luxury liner in 1866. Only three passengers survived the disaster, and it left an indelible mark on Victorian society because the death toll was so heavy. It’s an intriguing story that is at times hard to believe. The unexpected twists and turns of real-life events open up the lost seafaring world of Victorian Britain.

Simon’s practical guide to photographs of our maritime ancestors, ‘Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors’, reveals the stories behind the images. What rank is that Royal Navy officer? Did he work for P&O? When was this Royal Marine photo taken? Are they lifeboatmen? How can I trace the career of a yachtsman? If you enjoy old photos, like to analyse them, or have seafaring ancestors, then this heavily-illustrated book will keep you interested.

Shortlisted for the Mountbatten Maritime Literature Award, Simon’s novel ‘Lifeboatmen’ is a surprising but true story set in 1866. Lifeboatmen are famed for their courage, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan in the middle of a hurricane?

‘Voyages From The Past’ tells the true stories of passengers who travelled by ship from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Their first-hand accounts illustrate how life at sea has changed dramatically over the centuries. Each voyage is full of the amusing, tragic, or everyday anecdotes of real people – from smelly ship’s captains and crooked ship-owners, to pirates, rats and disease.

Simon also has a longstanding interest in the history of healthcare – working part-time as an information adviser to the NHS. When he’s not working, his interests include cycling, cricket, birdwatching, the theatre, and his dog, Max.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Wills/e/B00B5FUQ94

My review:

Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this beautiful book that I freely chose to review.

I love trees and I can’t imagine living in a place with no trees at all, even if they are not in their natural environment, as is the case in cities. I’m not a connoisseur, although I’ve read some books that featured trees prominently and have enjoyed them, and this volume seemed the perfect opportunity to learn more.

This is a beautiful book that would make a perfect present for anybody interested in trees, in general, and UK trees in particular. It is a photographic book, but it also contains a wealth of written information about trees: factual and botanical data, historical events related to specific trees, folk and mythological stories about them, literary connections, etc. As the author explains in the introduction, due to the limits in the length of the book he could not include all British trees, and he selected the ones he felt were not only better known but had also the best tales to tell. Not that I had any doubt about it, but the author makes a good case for his choice of topic in the introduction: “Beyond their practical utility to us and our simple liking of them, trees form the great forests of the world, which are said to be the lungs of the planet. So trees, more than anything else, keep us alive” (Wills, 2018, p. vi).

The list of trees included in the book are: alder, apple, ash, bay, beech, birch, cherry, elm, hawthorn, hazel, holly, hornbeam, horse chestnut, lime, London plane, magnolia, maple, monkey puzzle, oak, pear, pine, poplar, rowan, sweet chestnut, sycamore, walnut, willow and yew.

This is a book one can deep in and out of as one fancies, or read it cover to cover. I often found myself picking it up just to have a quick look, and discovered an hour later that I was still glued to its pages and its wonderful stories. The original photographs are beautiful, and there are also well-chosen images from the British Library and the Welcome collection, as the author explains in his acknowledgements. The writing is supple and I’d dare say it will appeal to a large variety of people, because although it is not perhaps addressed at botanists or experts, it shares plenty of anecdotes and stories likely to interest most readers.

I had to share this ditty, because we’re in spring already and, well, one never knows:

The fair maid who, the first of May,

Goes to the fields at break of day,

And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree,

Will ever after handsome be (Wills, 2018, p. 67).

If you try it and it works, don’t forget to let me know!

I enjoyed the pictures, the stories, and I became convinced as I read the book that I’d like to read more of the author’s works, and I’d love to attend one of his lectures. Of course, he had me at the acknowledgements already, when he mentioned his dog, Max (oh, don’t worry; there’s a picture of him too).

“Finally, I would like to thank Max, to whom this book is dedicated, for allowing me to frequently stop his walk and take photos of trees. He’s very tolerant” (Mills, 2018, p. viii).

In sum, this is a beautiful, informative, entertaining, and amusing book that will delight all those who love nature, trees in particular, and who enjoy trivia, stories and photographs. Perfect as a present, for yourself or others, as an inspiration, and as a breath of fresh air. Enjoy!

Wills, S. (2018). A history of trees. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword White Owl.

Thanks to Rosie and Pen & Sword, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading and smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview FALLEN IDOLS: A CENTURY OF SCREEN SEX SCANDALS (IMAGES OF THE PAST) by Nigel Blundell (@penswordbooks) Great pictures and a reminder

Dear all:

I bring you another one of Pen & Sword’s books, one for those of you who love movies and photographs of the Hollywood of the Big Studios and its tarnished stars.

Fallen Idols. A Century of Screen Sex-Scandals (Images of the Past) by Nigel Blundell
Fallen Idols. A Century of Screen Sex-Scandals (Images of the Past) by Nigel Blundell

Fallen Idols: A Century of Screen Sex Scandals (Images of the Past) by Nigel Blundell (@penswordbooks) Great pictures, some amusing and some dark stories

It’s a scandal! How often we use that phrase and what a catalogue of sins it covers. That’s what this book is all about. It is literally a catalogue of sins – committed by some of the most celebrated names on the planet.

Within these covers are startling stories of scandals during a century when screen idols seemed to vie with each other in outraging public decency. It was an age when fan fever was at its height and an endless supply of shocking revelations emerged to fuel the frenzy.

Because of the perpetrators’ superstar status, the shame of exposure was often heightened, not only wrecking reputations but often harming careers and, at least, ensuring very public humiliation.

The lessons learned from these cases of celebrity scandal (though often, it seems, not by the celebrities themselves) is that the bigger the star, the harder the fall … and that deceit and intrigue so often turn hard-won fame into instant infamy.

Links:

Paperback:

https://www.amazon.com/Fallen-Idols-Century-Screen-Scandals/dp/1526742144/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Images-Past-Fallen-Century-Scandals/dp/1526742144/

e-book:

https://www.amazon.com/Fallen-Idols-Century-Screen-Scandals-ebook/dp/B07NJ5PMV2/

Author Nigel Blundell
Author Nigel Blundell

About Nigel Blundell

Nigel Blundell is a journalist who has worked in Australia, the United States and Britain. He spent 25 years in Fleet Street before becoming an author and contributor to national newspapers. He has written more than 40 books, including best-sellers on crime and royalty. He co-wrote the Top Ten exposé Fall of the House of Windsor, which first revealed the so-called ‘Squidgygate’ tape and the infidelity of both Princess Diana and Prince Charles. His other factual subjects have included military history, celebrity scandals, and ghosts and the paranormal.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Images-of-the-Past-Fallen-Idols-Paperback/p/15651

My review:

Thanks to Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

A while back I read and reviewed a book in the same series ‘Images of the Past’, called The British Seaside, and I enjoyed the combination of the wonderful images and the informative and humorous text, fairly light on reading but high on entertainment value. In this case, the same is true, even with the serious subject and the unavoidable reflections on how times don’t seem to have changed so much, although now we get to hear about many of the details that in the past would have remained hidden from the general public.

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of cinema, and Hollywood, from its beginnings to now, although times have changed somewhat, and tinsel town is not what used to be (if it ever was). I have watched documentaries and read magazines about the industry, particularly about the era of the big studios, when everything seemed more glamourous and shiny than our everyday lives.

This book looks, mostly at past scandals, from the early history of Hollywood to some more recent ones, but does not include the XXI century, and although some of us, who grew up watching reruns of classics, will remember many of these stars (and some have become icons, like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe), to the youngest generation most of them will sound like ancient history. Only Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and the TV preachers are still alive, and although their controversy remains alive, it seems to have been dwarfed by most recent scandals.

This is not an in-depth study of any of the cases, but rather a quick survey with a few details of the biographies and circumstances of some of the stars, whose lives became as well-known and exposed to the public attention as that of their characters. Despite that, although I thought I was familiar with the majority of the actors and actresses the book talks about, I discovered I didn’t know many of the details, perhaps because they were not discussed at the time or have been revealed later, and many of the pictures were totally new to me (and I thoroughly enjoyed them, especially those showing the stars when they were young). I am sure, though, that experts or true fans of these actors and actresses will not learn anything new, but I enjoyed the combination of text and pictures (and I particularly relished the introduction, which offers interesting insights into the effects of some of these scandals, like the Hays Code, that went beyond the content of the movies and affected the personal lives of the stars as well), that makes it ideal as a present for people of a certain age who enjoy celebrity magazines of the time, and also for the younger generation who might not have been exposed to these stories and the old-fashioned notion of celebrity and stardom.

It is impossible to read this book without comparing many of these scandals to some of the recent ones. The big studios spent a lot of money on lawyers, on keeping the press at bay, and of course, power has always talked. Thankfully, some of the things that were considered normal practice at the time have now become unacceptable and are the subject of legal procedures.

To give you a better idea of the content, there are fourteen chapters, each focused on one of these stars: Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn, Grace Kelly, Lana Turner, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Elvis Presley, Roman Polanski, Joan Crawford, Rock Hudson, Jim Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart, and Woody Allen.

I thought I’d share a couple of the quotes I’ve highlighted, so you get some idea of what to expect. Here, referring to James Dean:

“The star of East of Eden and Rebel without a Cause was bisexual and had affairs with actresses Pier Angeli and Ursula Andrews but when asked if he was gay his reply was: “Well, I’m certainly not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back!” (Blundell, 2018, p. 8).

In the chapter about the TV preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart (a fascinating phenomenon that seems pretty unique to the USA), it explains that Swaggart confessed and apologised to his congregation and the viewers of his TV channel the first time he was caught with a prostitute. But the second time, he truly spoke his mind:

“This time, rather confessing to his congregation, Swaggart brazened it out with the rebuff: ‘The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business’ (Blundell, 2018, 143).

In sum, this is a fun book for people who love anecdotes and to peep into the lives of the Hollywood famous, especially those from the era of the Hollywood big studios. If you want a brazen and amusing book, with its dark moments and plenty of pictures to get the conversation going, or are looking for a present for somebody who loves movie memorabilia, I recommend it.

Blundell, N. (2018). Images of the Past. Fallen Idols. A Century of Screen Sex Scandals. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Rosie, Pen & Sword, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE MURDER THAT DEFEATED WHITECHAPEL’S SHERLOCK HOLMES: AT MRS RIDGLEY’S CORNER by Paul Stickler (@paul_stickler) (@penswordbooks) #Truecrime

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book that brings to life what a real murder investigation was like in Britain in the early XX century.

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel's Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler
The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler. A fascinating true police-procedural account from the early XXc

In 1919, when a shopkeeper and her dog were found dead in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with brutal head injuries, there followed an extraordinary catalogue of events and a local police investigation which concluded that both had died as a result of a tragic accident. A second investigation by Scotland Yard led to the arrest of an Irish war veteran, but the outcome was far from conclusive.

Written from the perspective of the main characters involved and drawing on original and newly-discovered material, this book exposes the frailties of county policing just after the First World War and how it led to fundamental changes in methods of murder investigations.

Offering a unique balance of story-telling and analysis, the book raises a number of unanswered questions. These are dealt with in the final chapter by the author’s commentary drawing upon his expertise.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes/dp/1526733854/

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

Author Paul Stickler
Author Paul Stickler

About the author:

Paul Stickler joined Hampshire Constabulary in 1978 and spent the majority of his time in CID. He spent many years involved in murder investigations and was seconded to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to study international perspectives of crime investigation. Since his retirement in 2008 he has combined his professional knowledge with his passion for history, researching murders in the first half of the twentieth century. He spends his days delivering lectures to a wide range of audiences. More can be found out about him on his website: www.historicalmurders.com

Although the above is the official information included in the book, I could not resist but copy the profile from his website.

A retired detective, Paul Stickler has turned criminologist and crime historian and explores the detail behind some of the most fascinating cases in criminal history. His experience in murder investigations coupled with his passion for history make his presentations absorbing, challenging, entertaining and informative. He has recently published his first book about a bizarre murder investigation in Hertfordshire just after the First World War. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Paul has featured in a number of television and radio programmes about his career and his research into early twentieth-century murders.

He studied history with the Open University obtaining a Bachelor’s degree (1997), graduated from the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia with a post-graduate diploma in Law Enforcement (1997) and read criminology at Solent University for his Master’s degree (2013) specialising in the research of historical crime. He is a Visiting Fellow of Solent University and his hobbies include gliding, high altitude walking and playing guitar (badly) and piano (even worse).

http://www.historicalmurders.com/profile/

Oh, and the website is fascinating, to people interested in true crime and also those authors or scholars researching the topic. I recommend it.

My review:

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I was fascinated by this book and by the way it is told. The case itself cannot compare to some of the sophisticated cases we read about in mysteries and thrillers, complex and full of twist and turns. A shopkeeper, widowed, that lived with her dog, and sold a bit of everything, appeared murdered on a Monday morning, next to the body of her dog. There was blood everywhere, she’d evidently been hit on the head, possibly with a weight that was found close to the body, and there was money missing. People had been at her shop on Saturday evening and one of her neighbours had heard some strange noises in the early hours of Sunday, but that was it. This was 1919, and, of course, forensics were not as advanced as they are now, but there was an investigation of sorts, although, surprisingly, in the first instance the local police decided it had been an accident. When the new police chief revised the case, he was not so convinced, and called on Scotland Yard for assistance. They sent Detective Chief P. S. Wensley, who had been involved (although only marginally) in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders and would become pretty well-known for the Houndsditch murders and the siege of Sidney Street. Unfortunately, two weeks had passed since the original crime he was sent to investigate, the body had been buried, and the evidence had not been well-looked after, but still… He and his team investigated and put together a case against an Irish immigrant who’d fought the war. And, well, the rest is history (and you’ll have to read it yourselves).

Despite, or perhaps because, of the somewhat ‘simple’ murder, the book is a fascinating read. The author —evidently familiar with current crime investigation techniques— explains his reasons for choosing to tell this story, to recover the case of a fairly anonymous woman, and to do it in this particular way, pointing out that he did not intend to set off on a ‘cold-case’ type of investigation.  In his own words:

That is the beautiful thing about history; trying to show exactly what happened using original material and putting it in a contemporary social setting so that the reader can better understand and make sense of it all. I hope that the narrative has not only thrown light on policing in the early part of the century but portrayed it as a piece of history and not as retrospective critique. (Stickler,  2018, p. 145)

In my opinion, he succeeds. Stickler’s method, which consists in looking over the shoulder of the people who were investigating the murder and those who participated in the court case, showing us what they would have seen, and guessing at what they might have thought, while at the same time providing us historical background, so we are able to understand how the police force worked, and what the atmosphere was like in the country shortly after WWI, works very well. As we read the book we can’t help but think about what we would have done, worry about their mistakes, and wonder about the missing details and the conflicting witness statements and evidence. We learn about the social make-up of the town, the relationships between the different communities, the way the police force worked at the time, and we gain a good understanding of the legal issues as well, without having to read long and dry historical treatises. The writer has done a great deal of research and his skill as a writer is evidenced in the way he seamlessly creates an involving narrative that never calls undue attention to it. For the sake of completion, the author includes a commentary at the end, where he provides a postscript, as it were, with information about what happened to the protagonists, and also with his own speculations (that he had kept to himself until then) as to why things happened as they did.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime, especially in Britain, Criminology and Criminal Justice System students, readers who enjoy historical police procedural novels, and also writers of the genre interested in researching the topic (the bibliography and the author notes will be of great help, and there are also pictures from the time provide a fuller understanding of the story). And, as I said, I also recommend checking the author’s blog to anybody interested in the topic.

A great book and a fabulous resource.

Stickler, P. (2018). The murder that defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s corner. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.

Thanks to Alex and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling.

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