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Brigitte Hilgner (Vienna Austria)
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The Dance of Death (Roger the Chapman)
The Dance of Death (Roger the Chapman)
by Kate Sedley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.52

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly disappointing, 22 Feb 2010
I must have read nearly all of Roger the Chapman's stories and so far I enjoyed them all - but I consider this new "mystery" a let-down. The story is hardly credible, the plot pretty thin and halfway through the book I came to the conclusion that either all characters would have to be spies (they aren't) or nearly all of them would have to be normal citizens with the least suspicious character the most sinister culprit (that's the case).
I like Roger the Chapman roaming the English countryside or wearily seeking his way through the dangers of London, but Roger in Paris is out of his depth (he himself knows, as he keeps complaing - did the author have some misgivings, too?). Roger's bikerings with the chief spy remind me of Marcus Didius Falco and Anacrites, but Lindsey Davis renders their dispute both more thrilling and amusing.
I hope that Roger will give up spying to return to his usual trade!


The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: How a Remarkable Woman Crossed Seas and Empires to Become Part of World History
The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: How a Remarkable Woman Crossed Seas and Empires to Become Part of World History
by Linda Colley
Edition: Paperback

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An irritating book, 7 July 2009
Quite a few journalists write biographies which tend to be good to read and quite gripping but sometimes I miss the thorough research of a historian. Linda Colley is a historian; judging by the sources mentioned at the end of the book her research has been painstaking. As far as it is possible to judge on the basis of this book, Elizabeth Marsh (1735-1785) was a remarkable, maybe even a faszinating woman. So why am I dissatisfied with this book?
Whenever I try to take a close look at Elizabeth the author gets in the way. Ms Colley analyzes, interprets, comments, and explains. She makes assumptions, she speculates, she conjectures, and is permanently busy presenting us her opinion. This book isn't really about Elizabeth Marsh, it is about Linda Colley (Look how clever I am! Let me explain to you - otherwise you won't understand a thing).
I hope that some good journalist might take an interest in Elizabeth - I think she deserves a proper biography.


Henry VII (Routledge Historical Biographies)
Henry VII (Routledge Historical Biographies)
by Sean Cunningham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 22.49

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For starters, 1 May 2008
Yale University Press offers the impressive series "Yale English Monarchs" and anyone looking for a well-resarched, thorough biography of an English king or queen is well advised to check this series. S.B. Chrimes' biography of Henry VII was published in 1972, so it seems about time to take a fresh look at this monarch.
Judging by the chapter "Modern opinions on Henry VII" in Sean Cunningham's book this is being done but I did not get the impression that the author himself has many new worthwhile findings to report.
Like many recent books called "biography" this "Henry VII" does not offer a coherent narrative of the life of the monarch with all facets included; we are given a kind of "backbone" biography in chronological order with the main events in Henry's life which fills about half the book. Then individual aspects are taken out of context and presented as a kind of long essay without much attempt at linking them to the story of Henry's life which was presented at the beginning. We read about finance and taxation, Parliament, the courts, the power of the nobles, council and councillors, Henry VII and the church, to name but a few chapters, and are thus left with many pieces of a big puzzle; it is up to the reader to put all these pieces together in the attempt of making a whole.
Background knowledge of the Wars of the Roses and Henry's predecessors is recommended for a better understanding - otherwise one might for example wonder why Richard III got so little support from his nobles at the battle of Bosworth and why so many of them defected. The book offers only scarce information about Henry's wife and children; particularly his successor, Henry VIII, remains a shadowy figure. Cunningham calls Stanley Chrimes biography of Henry VII "detailed but colourless"; be that as it may, I wouldn't say that Cunningham's own book is all that colourful. To readers who know nothing about Henry VII it provides a first impression of the king and individual aspects of his reign. To all others I would recommend Chrimes.


The March: A Novel
The March: A Novel
by E. L. Doctorow
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The march into an unknown future, 3 Sep 2006
This review is from: The March: A Novel (Paperback)
I had to read the first page twice to grasp its meaning. It is such a gush of words that my brain felt overwhelmed, inundated, suffocated - as people must feel who just learn that war is about to engulf them and shatter their lifes. There could not be a better match of style and content.

The American Civil War is a subject which has already been tackled by many, but Doctorow still manages to tell a fresh story. He does not take sides - Union and Confederate soldiers commit attrocities, show compassion and sometimes even something resembling greatness.

There are three categories of people:

the old ones who either die or disappear from the story, presumably to die off-scene;

the middle-aged ones who will go on living but without illusions, hopes or expectations; they might as well be dead, becaue their lifes are really over;

and there are the (very) young ones who will build a new life for themselves and maybe even a new country, although the "Land of hope and glory" seems very far away at the end of this war.

Doctorow beautifully catches the hapharzardness of the last months of the Civil War; it is more or less a question of accident whether people survive or die and if fate exists it is definitely blind. But this is not a book without hope, because Coalhouse and Wilma, Stephen and Pearl, and the child David will start a new life - and maybe even a better one than before.


Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance
Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance
by Matthew Kneale
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and disturbing at the same time, 21 Nov 2005
What does it take to make the life of an ordinary person derail? Not much, according to Matthew Kneale. The title of his book is deceptive because one could argue that in some of the stories no crime is being committed unless we use the word "crime" as a synonym for sin - maybe the latter is an outdated concept in our age of abundance?
And then there is the harmless word "small" - is that appropriate in the case of a suicide bomber (he only manages to blow himself up)? What about this self-assured British family completely out of their depth in a foreign country who cause the death of an innocent man? That story sent a chill down my spine. Several of the stories had me wonder how I would react in similar circumstances - the honest answer is "I don't know". But I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that I might not behave any better than the protagonists in the stories.
A thought-provoking book - although not quite as brilliant as "English Passengers".


The Penguin History of Britain: The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284
The Penguin History of Britain: The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284
by Prof David Carpenter
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.99

41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a tour de force!, 30 Jan 2005
It takes some time to digest this book because it offers such a wealth of information on more than 500 densely printed pages (not counting the bibliography and the index). It starts with the Norman invaders crossing the Channel (providing us also with a glimpse of the situation in Britain prior to the Conquest), tells of a realm straddling the Channel and kings (e.g. Henry II) at times more focused on the continent than on England. Scottland and Wales are treated as separate entities (which they were until Edward I changed the situation) and covered in detail. Irish history (as far as it is intertwinded with British history) is not neglected. We learn about the changes in rulership, the gradual development of parliament, the impact of royal decisions and actions upon all stratas of society and the interactions between kings and not only their barons but also the knights and the burghers who gradually gained in importance.
The history of a country is always the history of its rulers, too, but in this book it's not so much their person/personality which is the focus of attention, we see them as part of a whole which they only managed to shape to a certain degree and which sometimes developed a life of its own which the ruler no longer managed to control effectively (e.g. John, Henry III).
The book is good to read, very fluently written, but requires one's full attention because it is so cram-full with facts. A glossary would have been helpful.
Invaluable for anyone interested in that period in history.


Whistler and His Circle in Venice
Whistler and His Circle in Venice
by Eric Denker
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Simply beautiful, 27 Dec 2004
If you know nothing or very little about James Mc Neill Whistler as I did, this is the book for you! It was published on the occasion of an exhibition in Washington D.C. (2003) and is bound to appeal to everyone who likes Venice (who doesn't?) and is interested in the impact of La Serenissima upon 19. and early 20. century visual art.
The reproductions of etchings, water-colours, chalk & pastels, and some early photography are excellent, the accompanying text provides detailed information about Whistler himself and some basic data for other artists covered, among them John Singer Sargent, Frank Duveneck, Joseph Pennell, and John Martin.
All in all this is a beautiful book which wets the appetite for more.


Bone Dry
Bone Dry
by Ben Rehder
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The hazards of life in Texas, 27 Dec 2004
This review is from: Bone Dry (Mass Market Paperback)
This is the first Ben Rehder book I read, and I did so with great pleasure and amusement. There are plenty of twists in this thriller, but the author does not leave us with any loose ends, which I appreciate. The good ones are really nice and likeable, the bad ones are really nasty (and get what they deserve), and in the grey zone between we find a whole bunch of interesting (sometimes weird) characters. There is even a kind of happy ending. One learns quite a bit about hunting in Texas - rather different from hunting in the U.K. or anywhere else in Europe.


Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation
Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation
by Prof Umberto Eco
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eco - the challenge, 10 Nov 2004
I guess that every professional translator has an author whose books he/she would love to translate. I have always felt such a desire regarding the books of Umberto Eco. As far as his novels are concerned, "Mouse or Rat?" managed to kill this desire once and for all.
The book does not only tell us a lot about translating, but about the author, too. It is a great book insofar as it makes it clear that translating is a skill, an artform, and bloody hard work, because you really have to weigh your words. Translating is not only about languages and being able to manage at least two of them, it also requires a profound knowledge of the civilization, culture, and everyday life these languages are inseparably connected with. The book makes it clear that translating is not something which virtually everyone can do (you wouldn't believe how many expat housewives with kids who can't get a job in the country their husbands have been sent to start working as so-called "translators" as soon as they have a smattering of the language of their new home country!), but that it should be left to the experts. This revelation alone should make the book compulsory reading for everyone who wants to use the services of a translator.
I found Eco's comments about his own work, especially his novels, most fascinating. Nobody who reads them can ignore the fact that he pours an awesome lot of knowledge into these books and that he secretly hopes that the reader will not just read and enjoy the story for its own sake but recognise the book as a kind of roman-à-clef. In "The Island of the Day Before" the characters indirectly quote pieces of Italian Baroque poetry ("spot the poem") and every chapter has the title of a 17. century book ("spot the book") - a challenge not only to the reader of the original but also to every translator. (To be fair: Eco seems to offer support to his translators, but even so their task is a daunting one.)
"Sometimes I ask myself if by chance I write novels purely in order to put in hermetic references that are comprehensible only to me. I feel like a painter who, in a landscape, puts among the leaves of the trees - almost invisible - the initials of his beloved. And it does not matter if not even she is able to identify them."
I am not sure how seriously this comment of Eco's should be taken, but it put me off his novels. I do like a challenge, but as a translator I fervently believe in making a text comprehensible to the reader; I am not sure that Eco would want me to do this and I doubt that I would enjoy trying to do it in the case of his books.


A Concise History of Australia (Cambridge Concise Histories)
A Concise History of Australia (Cambridge Concise Histories)
by Professor Stuart Macintyre
Edition: Paperback

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All you need to know about Australian history, 10 Nov 2004
For a seminar I needed some fundamental information about Australian history, and I am very glad that I have discovered Stuart Macintyre's "Concise History"! The book provides solid information and is enjoyable to read. It addresses the needs of people who know nothing about Australia, but I guess it is also a useful reference book for those who are already somewhat familiar with the Continent's history. The book begins at the beginning (1770) and provides information up to our day and age. It is well structured. The author tries to be as unbiased as possible (he succeeds) and does address touchy issues, such as the changing but still difficult relationship between the aborigines and those who came later and the attitude to immigrants ("Whites, please!"). For all the quotations, sources are mentioned, and the "Guide to further reading" is good and comprehensive. A book well worth reading.


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