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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 Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh (@JJMarsh1) A spider web that traps readers and doesn’t let go #RBRT

Hi, all.

I bring you a great book that will be released on the 1st of May, and I want to recommend. Another great find by Rosie Amber and her team.

Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh

Odd Numbers by JJ Marsh

The Guilty Party meets The Secret History

Can you forgive a friend?

Strange things bring people together. Like a tragic death.

Over two decades, five friends reunite every other New Year. They celebrate, grieve and heal. Memories grow dusty and the nightmare starts to fade.

On the 20th anniversary, in a remote snowy chalet, old doubts surface.
Wounds reopen and morality comes into question.

Is friendship a safety net or a tie that hobbles to the past?

They thought they knew each other’s secrets.
Did they miss the biggest one of all?

When history is rewritten, they must act to preserve the future.
A fatal decision means this reunion will be their last.

A psychological drama with beautifully portrayed characters and an intricately woven plot. The suspense emerges between the lines, grabs you softly but never lets go.

“Twist follows twist in a riveting mystery as sharp as the shards of glass from a shattered champagne bottle.” Abbie Frost, author of ‘The Guesthouse’

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0874LDH6N/

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0874LDH6N/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B0874LDH6N/

Author JJ Marsh

About the author:

JJ Marsh is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs series, featured in The Guardian Readers’ Recommend and The Bookseller’s Editor’s Choice

Jill is:
* A founder member of Triskele Books, an award-winning author collective founded in 2011
* Swiss Ambassador for The Alliance of Independent Authors
* Co-editor of The Woolf, Zürich’s literary ezine and writers’ workshop
* Reviewer for Bookmuse, the readers’ site with a difference

She lives in Switzerland with her husband and three pugs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

Join Jill’s Newsletter to get:
* Exclusive prequel to the Beatrice Stubbs series – FREE
* New releases
* Cover reveals and sneak peeks
* Giveaways
* Background information & research trip reports

To sign up, copy and paste this into your browser’s address bar: http://jjmarshauthor.com

Other places to connect with Jill:

Facebook: facebook.com/jjmarshauthor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/JJ-Marsh/e/B007WIHQ5U/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

JJ Marsh is an author I’ve read great reviews about and has been on my list for a while, so I took the chance when I saw an ARC for her next book had become available. I can’t compare it to the rest of her works, but based on this novel, which is a new genre for her, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending her books, and I look forward to catching up on some of her previous novels.

I think the description above provides plenty of hints as to the plot, and this is one of those novels where the way the story is told and the fine details are fundamental, so I’ll try to avoid over explaining things or giving too many hints (I want to avoid spoilers at all cost). This is a story built around six friends (three women and three men) who meet at university, while they are studying to become international translators, and grow to be quite close. They come from different countries (mostly Europe, although one comes from the US, and one is from Indian origin), have very different personalities and backgrounds, and it’s likely that their friendship would have fizzled and died if not for a tragic event that takes place while they are away celebrating New Year (and the new millennium) in December 1999. After that, they meet every two years, and the event that binds them together weighs heavily on them all, having a very different impact in each one of them. Things come to a head on the 20th anniversary of that fateful New Year’s celebration and readers are privileged witnesses of another night to remember. This novel reminded me of a book I read and reviewed recently, The Hunting Party, but also of films like The Celebration (Festen), where there is a build-up of tension, strained relationships, plenty of secrets and lies, and a surprise or two. Although I think many readers will smell a rat from early on in the novel, even if they get it right (and let’s say things are left open to interpretation), the beauty of this novel is in the way it is built, the variety of points of view, and the psychological insights it offers into a catalogue of characters that are not miles away from people most of us know. Considering this is the author’s first incursion into the psychological drama genre, I take my hat off to her.

There are a variety of themes that come up in the novel, some more important to the action than others, for instance the nature of friendship, the way different people experience grief, the guilt of the survivor, how we change and evolve over time and how our relationships change with us, love, death, careers, priorities, family, charity missions, and, of course, lies.

As for the characters, I won’t go into too much detail about them, because the author does a great job of building them up through the novel, and readers should discover them as they read. Marsh chooses one of the female characters, Gael, as the main narrator, and she starts the story ‘now’ (in 2020). The whole novel is written in the first person, but not all from the same point of view. Although I’ve said that Gael is the main narrator, and she has more chapters than the rest, we also get to hear the voices of the other characters, who take us back into some of the reunions the friends have had over the years, and that allows readers to compare and contrast Gael’s version of the rest of her friends with their own words and insights. Readers can compose a mental picture and fit in the pieces of the puzzle, making their own minds up and deciding if they agree or not with Gael’s perceptions. It also makes for a more rounded reading experience, as we get to know each character more intimately, and perhaps to empathise, if not sympathise, with all of them. I liked Gael from the start: she is articulate, a journalist, and a bit of a free spirit, but she always tries to understand and accommodate others as well, and she is more of the observer and the outsider in the story, for reasons that will become evident to the readers from early on. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the friends are like an ersatz family, with individual roles they always fall back on when they are together (the nurturing mother, the responsible and dependable father, the youngest and spoilt sister, the rushed and sporty brother, the sister whom everybody confides in [Gael]), and this reminded me of Eric Berne’s Games People Play. All the characters are articulate and savvy enough to be aware of this and play it for keeps as well.

The book flows well, and the language used is appropriate to each one of the individual characters, fitting with their personalities and quirks without calling too much attention to itself. It helps move the story along and manages to build up the tension, even when there isn’t a lot of action in the usual sense. There are mysterious events taking place (some that will have readers wondering if the characters are imagining them or not), clues that sometimes don’t seem to amount to much, hints, and some memorable scenes. But all those elements are woven subtly into the narrative creating a spider web that traps the readers and the more they read, the more they become entangled in the strands of the story and the characters until it becomes almost impossible to put the book down.

There is a closure of sorts, although the ending is ambiguous and most of the surprises and big reveals have come before then. I liked the fact that there is much left to the imagination of each reader, but I know such things are down to personal taste.

This is a great psychological drama, with engaging characters (some more likeable than others), fascinating relationship dynamics, and a mystery at its heart. It’s a gripping read, perfect to keep our minds engaged and to have us pondering the ins and outs of friendships, relationships, and which actions would push us beyond the limits of forgiveness. A gem.

The last 7% of the e-book contains the first-chapter of the author’s work-in-progress, in case you wonder about its length.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and especially, keep safe!

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