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Matthew Turner "loyalroyal" (Reading, UK)
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Edward the Confessor (The Yale English Monarchs Series)
Edward the Confessor (The Yale English Monarchs Series)
by Frank Barlow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.95

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Edward the Confessor - Frank Barlow, 21 Sept. 2008
This is a good, solid and scholarly account of England's penultimate Anglo-Saxon king - and the last of the line of Alfred the Great to be king. Frank Barlow is clearly an authority on the king and on the period in general.

Originally published in 1970, this is a reissue of the original, with new material and an updated bibliography (of primary and secondary sources). The author has also taken the opportunity, in the new introduction, to take stock of new research and publications that have appered since then, including the re-editing of key primary sources for the reign, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Orderic Vitalis's Historia Ecclesiastica. The book also comes with black and white plates illustrative of the reign, maps, genealogical tables and appendices with short essays discussing problems associated wih Edward - such as the Vita Aedwardi Regis and the process of Edward's canonisation.

Despite being a saint, Barlow works through the sources, legends, myths and propaganda to bring the reader to the real Edward - a consummate politician and survivor, whilst also providing a good understanding of Anglo-Saxon England on the eve of the Norman Conquest.

Recommended.


Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy
Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy
by Alison Weir
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A handy guide to Britain's Royal Families, 6 Sept. 2008
This is an easy to understand guide to the genealogy of Britain's Royal Families - including the rulers of Scotland and England. Not as in depth as I'd hoped but it's still useful to have as a quick reference guide. Recommended.


The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Fall of the Roman Empire
by Peter Heather
Edition: Hardcover

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enthralling account of the fall of Rome, 4 Sept. 2008
This is a book which is as every bit of epic as its subject matter. Peter Heather writes in an accessible, easy-to-follow manner making this book ideal for the layperson, scholar and student. Rather than seeing the end of the western Roman Empire as a result of internal decline and internecine warfare (the Edward Gibbon approach), Heather argues that the Empire fell due to the rise of the Germanic tribes north of the Danube, both economically and politically into supergroups, which became too strong for the western resources to ovecome. Coupled with this, argues Heather, the movement of the Huns in the 370s, forcing the Greuthungi and Tervingi Goths onto Roman territory, and again between 395-420 onto the Great Hungarian Plain, forcing this time more Goths, Burgundians and Alans etc, provided the catalyst for barbarian encroachment upon Roman territory. Each loss of teritory meant loss of revenue with which to pay the diminishing legions. The most telling of losses were the rich African provinces to the Vandals. Really, it is not so much as the decline of the west, but the rise of the barbarians, caused by the sudden appearance, and disappearance, of the Huns.

Other reviewers have provided more in-depth looks at the pros and cons of this book - with which I would agree (in particular some of the contemporary language and jokes would seem out of place)- therefore I will not repeat them here. Suffice to say this is an excellent, informative account of one of the world's most important events.

Thoroughly recommended.


The Alexandria Link
The Alexandria Link
by Steve Berry
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Below Par from Steve Berry, 10 Aug. 2008
This review is from: The Alexandria Link (Paperback)
I'm a huge fan of Steve Berry, having read all but one of his books, but this one, for me, was the weakest of them all. The novel is fast-paced, with plenty of thrills, surprises and dead bodies, as you'd expect in a Berry novel. However, this one seemed to lack something and didn't grip my interest as much as his other novels have done.

The premise of the novel is excellent, the kidnapping of Cotton Malone's son Gary and the possible recovery of the lost Library of Alexandria. However the plot is convoluted, complex and difficult to understand. Berry jumps from Washington and the political plotting of the US Vice-President, to Bainbridge Hall in Oxfordshire, to Lisbon and the Sinai. The reader is left dazed and confused. Pace, which I believe is one of Berry's strongest aspects as a thriller writer, here only adds to the confusion. We get about four sub-plots roled in to one big storyline, with tenuous links, at best, joining these sub-plots together. The result is that each have little to do with each other. Much of the book is irrelevant to the main plot of Malone's search for the lost Library of Alexandria and some manuscripts predating Christ that could change our understanding of the Old Testament and have dire repecussions for the modern-day Middle East. Annoyingly though, we are never told what these manuscripts say.

I was left with the impression that Berry was trying to pack as much as possible into the book - Poussin's Shephards of Arcadia II, the lost library of Alexandria, the research of Kamal Salibi on the Old Testament, political intrigue and long-defunct medieval orders such as the Order of the Golden Fleece - and was struggling to make it into a workable, credible plot. Sadly, as a Berry fan, I have to admit it didn't work for me.

In summary, although it has some good moments, I can't recommend it. I hope Steve Berry ups his game for his next novel!


Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past
Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past
by Paul Cartledge
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining look at Alexander, 28 Jun. 2008
This was a very enjoyable, and entertaining, book to read. Paul Cartledge writes in a scholarly way, yet manages to keep the reader's interest.

This is a biography of Alexander the Great, but it is not written in chronological order (the timeline provided is useful here). Rather, it is a collection of essays on "themes" or "aspects" of Alexander. These include, among others, his legacy and enduring fame, his relations with the Macedonians, Greeks and Persians, his generalship, the world in which he was born into, and the question of his divinity. One enduring theme throughout the book, to me, is Alexander's pothos (strong desire or yearning), either to outdo his father's achievements, surpass the deeds of Heracles and past heroes and need to carry on conquering. Alexander also comes across as a ruthless ruler - as the murders of his historian Callisthenes, Cleitus, Parmenion and Philotas testify - yet his geniusness as a general cannot be denied.

For those who find the mention of various ancient place-names confusing maps are provided, as well as a handy glossary of terms and a list of the dramatis personae of those people mentioned in the text. Detailed maps are also shown of Alexander's great victories at Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela, the Hydaspes and the siege of Tyre.

For me, the best aspect of the book was the Appendix. Titled "Sources of Paradox", here Cartledge provides an in-depth look at the advantages, disadvantages and limitations of the sources on Alexander. Every writer seems to be considered - Plutarch, Arrian, Cleitarchus, the Vulgate and Official, to name a few. The chapter is rather a masterclass in how a trained historian and expert works with the sources. The section ends with two examples of how the sources contradict and provide problems for a would-be historian of Alexander - the death of Callisthenes (rather how he died, not why) and what really happened at Alexander's trip to Siwah to visit the oracular shrine of Ammon. The "Sources of Paradox" essay alone makes this value for money.

However, for a work on such a major historical figure, this is a surprisingly short book. Maybe the author did not want to go into too much depth - as a result this is perhaps a good "introduction" to Alexander, but it is by no means a basic, simple work. Also, Cartledge does not provide footnotes within the main text, which I personally prefer. Nevertheless a lengthy bibliography is included at the back for anyone, like me, wishing to read more and finding out which sources were used.

This is the first biography I have read on Alexander the Great, and Cartledge has provided an excellent biography which has instilled in me a desire to learn more about such a fascinating, complex character, who just happened to be history's greatest commander.

Thoroughly recommended.


Lost Temple
Lost Temple
by Tom Harper
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £7.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost Temple - Tom Harper, 9 Jun. 2008
This was a good read, although it never got truly gripping or compelling. A previous reviewer (11/01/08) has mentioned the siege of Antioch, but he/she is mistaken as that event does not appear anywhere in this book, nor is this novel set in the Crusades. Indeed he/she seems to be reviewing a different book. Previous reviewers have done an adequate job in describing the novel, the plot and its good and bad points, so I shall keep this brief.

The book is different in that the secret or historical mystery is not concerned with Christianity, but with ancient Greece and Mycenae, the age of heroes and of Homer, and the Linear B text. In this respect the novel is an original, and welcome, addition to the historical thriler genre. The book remained interesting, and there was plenty of pace. However, things did get predictable and you could spot the bad guy a mile off. Most disappointing of all was the weak ending - a bit of a cop-out - and it made all that had gone beforehand irrelevant and perhaps a waste of time.

In conclusion, I would recommend the book, but be prepared for a let-down at the end!


The Cradle King: A Life of James VI & I: A Life of James VI and I
The Cradle King: A Life of James VI & I: A Life of James VI and I
by Dr Alan Stewart
Edition: Paperback

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Cradle King - Alan Stewart, 18 May 2008
I'm a big fan of historical biographies, especially of England's monarchs, but this book was, as the other reviewers have said, frankly boring and dull. True, a historian should make ample use of primary sources and take quotations from them - which to his credit Stewart does - but he goes overboard. Every paragraph has a quotation, sometimes wholesale, leaving no room for the historian's other task of analysing the sources, discerning what is happening, and more importantly, why something has happened the way it did.

Similarly, the author merely produces a chronological account of James I & VI's life, there is little analysis, historical investigation and study of the socio-political themes of the period which the king faced. As a result the reader is left with a terse, dull read.

In summary, I can't recommend this book. I'm sure there are better biographies of James available. This one is for hardcore fans of James I & VI only.


Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series)
Sovereign: 3 (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sovereign - C J Sansom, 17 May 2008
This is the first book I have read in the Shardlake series and found the book to be OK, but nothing special. The descriptions are very detailed and believable, Sansom has obviously researched Tudor England well and is knowledgeable of the period. However, the descriptions are too detailed, slowing the plot down to a snail's pace and making the book far lengthier than it should have been. As a result I found the book interesting but hardly compelling. Too often the author spent too long on the minutiae of Shardlake's daily movements, a blow-by-blow account of what he did when he got up, during the day and when he went to bed. I lost count the number of times he mentioned he was hungry or moaned about his back. At one point I was expecting Sansom to give details of Shardlake's bowel movements, although we came close with him urinating up a well!

The protagonist Matthew Shardlake did not appeal to me either. He appeared obnoxious, to self-preoccupied and not a man of the times, that is of sixteenth century England.

The plot itself was OK but anybody with an interest in the history of Yorkist England would know what the "secret" was about as soon as the name of Blaybourne is mentioned. There is a whodunnit as well running as another plot-line and this too was a bit easy to work out. To me it seemed obvious that I wondered how a supposedly bright man such as Shardlake could have been so gullible and slow in working it out.

In summary, I would recommend the book, as it is very atmospheric and the closest you'll get to being in Tudor England. It gets bogged down though!


The Romanov Prophecy
The Romanov Prophecy
by Steve Berry
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The Romanov Prophecy - Steve Berry, 12 April 2008
This is a good, solid thriller, definitely worthy of 4 stars. Not 5, though, as it is not perfect. There is plenty of action as you'd expect in a Steve Berry novel. I am a bit of a fan of Berry and of the 4 novels (he's written 6) I've read so far from him this was the most enjoyable, and not quite so incredulous as the others.

The protagonist, Miles Lord, is a worthy hero and a likable enough person. He does have an uncanny knack of getting out of deep trouble with surprising regularity. As others have noted the regularity of chase scenes and escapes from certain death are a bit repetitive and unbelievable, and I would agree with that to an extent. Nevertheless such scenes are done well- full of action and, sometimes, gripping. However, the escape from the gorillas was a bit too incredulous. Lord is a bright lawyer who had an unhappy relationship with his dead preacher father - this theme crops up quite often in the novel, and I'm not quite sure how relevant it was to the story, possibly it makes Lord more determined to succeed in unravelling Rasputin's prophecy and the lost Romanov heir. Lord is the perfect opposite of his boss, Taylor Hayes. The other hero, Michael Thorn, is also the exact opposite of Hayes - Hayes hunts animals, Thorn keeps dogs, Hayes is avaricious and ambitious, Thorn is happy with his quiet family life.

The story itself is intriguing, based on Rasputin's prophecy of the re-emergence of the Russian monarchy. In the novel, Russia has voted to restore the monarchy and the Tsarist Commission is entrusted with filling the vacant throne with claimants descended from the former imperial family. There is of course political intrigue in the shape of the Secret Chancellery, working for the election of Stefan Baklanov as a puppet ruler, through whom the Chancellery can control Russia. The notion of Russia restoring tsarism might perhaps be a bit far-fetched today, but not quite so much when Berry first wrote the book in 1996. Lord is charged with searching through the archives for anything that could impugn Baklanov's claim to the crown - this quickly pushes Lord on to the trail of an 80 year-old plot surrounding the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family.

Some of the historical aspects of the book are a bit suspect, such as the explanation of the workings of the succession law of 1797 of Paul I. It did not bar females completely. Females could succeed if the male line became extinct. Also some of the marriages made by the modern Romanovs, revealed fictionally in the book, probably would have not been accepted as dynastic as spouses had to be of equal (i.e royal or imperial) birth.

All in all fans of Berry will not be disappointed and I'd recommend newcomers to the author to start off with this novel. Recommended.


The Julian Secret (Lang Reilly Thrillers)
The Julian Secret (Lang Reilly Thrillers)
by Gregg Loomis
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Julian Secret - Gregg Loomis, 20 Mar. 2008
This was OK, there are better novels in this genre than this, but there are also many worse. This is the first book I've read from Loomis and there is just enough in The Julian Secret to make me read more of his work.

As for the novel itself, it is quite a short one at only 371 pages, in fact perhaps a bit too short for a novel of this type. That being said, only the last 200 pages or so were actually dedicated towards the Julian Secret, the first 100 being taken up somewhat needlessly with the domesticity of the protagonist, Lang Reilly, and his girlfriend, Gurt Fuchs. There is also not much in the way of intrigue or twists or turns, leaving the reader with a matter-of-fact, straightforward plot. However, there is plenty of action to keep the thriller lover happy. One annoyance was a few typos and spelling errors, which should not be that distracting. More serious were the one or two historical inaccuracies. For example the rulers of Bavaria were of the Wittelsbach dynasty, not Wittelbach.

The secret itself is not, in my opinion, not that earth shattering, and to be honest, a disappointment. It revolves around the last pagan Emperor of Rome, Julian the Apostate (reigned 361-363), who was of course no friend of Christianity. I won't say too much so as not to ruin the story for any would-be readers. However, in an alternate world, such a find, I think, would benefit the Catholic Church (and other denominations) rather than threaten it as this book claims. One big disappointment in this book though is that the secret was found far too late in the novel, and once found, nothing happened, as if it was of no import. Reilly and Fuchs just went back to normal life, although there is a hint that it found its way to a Berlin museum, but this is not expanded upon.

In short, I'd recommend the book for fans of this genre. There's lots of action, when it gets going, but it is not the best one around, but certainly not the worst either.


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