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Matthew Turner "loyalroyal" (Reading, UK)
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Attila The Hun: A Barbarian King and the Fall of Rome
Attila The Hun: A Barbarian King and the Fall of Rome
by John Man
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ok at best, 16 April 2011
I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed in this. This is a quick easy and read. In some cases, the largely informal style of writing used by Man can be engaging, but it did not work for me in this book. Maybe I was being too demanding, expecting a scholarly, in-depth look at Attila. Unfortunately, this is not what I got.

For a book about Attila, he appears very little in this book. To be fair, given the paucity of sources on Attila, this is not all Man's fault. Other reviewers have noted Man's often digressions into travelogue-mode, be it in Mongolia, Hungary or France, as well as many largely irrelevant (or tenuously indirectly related at best) passages on bit-part characters in the Attila story. I have to agree with a previous reviewer in that the whole chapter (written somewhat in a silly, great revelatory manner) on Lajos Kassai, a practitioner of mounted archery, is unnecessary. The controversial Xiongnu-Hun link is also given too much space, although I think it is possible, it is unlikely that they are one and the same.

However, it is not all bad, hence the two stars. Part II is by far the best section of the book, in particular chapter 6, where Man does a good job in recreating Priscus' embassy to Attila's court. Using Priscus' account of the trip and his own intuition (using imaginary speech of the leading characters), Man does well to bring Attila's court to life, and brings to life the tension involved in the Roman plot to assassinate Attila.

In summary I wouldn't recommend this book if you wish to learn about Attila the man, but it may be useful as a basic overview of the Huns (if you skip Part I).


The Six Wives Of Henry VIII
The Six Wives Of Henry VIII
by Alison Weir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of Weir's best - highly readable, 13 Mar. 2011
For me, this is the best book of I have read by Alison Weir. I found it highly entertaining, readable and informative - this is quite an achievement with such a huge subject matter as Henry VIII's six wives. A composite biography, there is really seven biographies in one book. This is as much a biography of Henry VIII as it is of his wives.

Although this is seen as 'popular' history, I would still recommend this book to anyone wishing to learn more about this fascinating, an important, period in English history. Weir's research seems extensive, the bibliography is exhaustive, although there are no footnotes or end notes. That is not a criticism though as her text appears credible enough.

Weir gives an excellent snapshot of the Tudor period - the pageantry, religious upheaval, political and religious factionalism, Henry's obvious and desperate need for a male heir, political backstabbing (both at court and abroad with Charles V and Francis I), fashion, the rise and fall of ministers and human tragedy. Weir show how Henry, once the perfect Renaissance prince, turned into the egotistical tyrant of popular legend. The turning-point appears to have been the struggle of the divorce (strictly annulment) from Katherine of Aragon and the breakdown of his relationship with Anne Boleyn - a love that turned to hatred, coupled with (as he saw it) her failure to produce a son.

Weir also gives convincing portrayals of Henry's wives - the saintly, but stubborn and misguided Katherine of Aragon (treated appallingly by Henry); the ambitious and vindictive Anne Boleyn (although her execution on trumped-up charges of treason and incest merit sympathy); the equally ambitious, but more circumspect, Jane Seymour; the meek and willing to please Anne of Cleves; the silly, but tragic Katherine Howard and the learned Katherine Parr.

Highly recommended.


The Perilous Crown: France Between Revolutions, 1814-1848
The Perilous Crown: France Between Revolutions, 1814-1848
by Munro Price
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, history how it should be written, 12 Feb. 2011
This was one of the best history books I have read for a while, it both fascinates and teaches you at the same time. it is written in a very pacy manner, giving you the compulsion to read more - even though you know what happens in the end.

Although the subtitle says 'France between Revolutions 1814 - 1848', the primary focus of the book is on the reign of Louis-Philippe I, France's last king. Even the period before his seizure of the throne in 1830 is seen through the eyes of Louis-Philippe and his sister Adelaide. This lays the groundwork for the rivalry between the senior Bourbon line (represented by Louis XVIII and Charles X) and the junior Orleans line of Louis-Philippe I. In some ways this Bourbon-Orleans rivalry continues to this day with rival claimants to the now defunct French crown. Back in the period of 1814-1848, this rivalry was as much to do with politics (the Bourbons were more inclined to the ultras, the Orleans to some form of constitutional/parliamentary monarchy) as dynastics.

If Charles X lost his throne by trying to turn back the clock to the Ancien Regime, Louis-Philippe appears to have lost his through bad luck and a loss of nerve. It was bad luck that his sister Adelaide had died some months before the 1848 revolution. He had relied on her for advice and support, on her decisiveness in accepting the crown on his behalf in 1830. Her absence in 1848 might have played a crucial role in the king's lack of decisiveness and loss of nerve - maybe she would have persuaded him to use the army against the National Guard rebels and the civilian revolters, rather than take no action at all? Other factors appear to have been the government's increasing move towards conservatism, lack of political reform, slow response to the 'banqueting' movement (in favour of electoral reform), reliance on the unpredictable National Guard (many of whom were disenfranchised through the restrictive electoral system).

In summary, this is an excellent work of history. Recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2012 9:14 AM BST


The Gladiator (Eagles of the Empire 9)
The Gladiator (Eagles of the Empire 9)
by Simon Scarrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good addition to the Eagle series, 22 Jan. 2011
I have been a fan of Simon Scarrow and his Eagle series for a while, having read all of the previous books in the series. This ninth installment of the adventures of Centurions Cato and Macro does not disappoint. Like all of the books in the series, there is plenty of action, combat, violence and political machination. One of the major plus points of Scarrow's writing, for me, is his superb recounting of battles - he really takes you to the heart of the scene and it feels like you are there fighting alongside Cato and Macro. He does an excellent job of showing just how horrific warfare is.

Other reviewers have already gone over the book's basic plot, so I'll not repeat that. Suffice to say, it is a straight-forward, no-nonsense plot, easy to follow. The result is an enjoyable, pacy novel ideal for fans not just of Scarrow but of historical fiction in general.

I will add though, that I'm looking forward to seeing how the friendship of Macro and Cato develops now that Cato, a prefect, is technically Macro's superior. At the moment that seems against the natural order of things, and a tad unrealistic, given Macro's vastly greater military experience. Also, although it's great that Cato has found a fiancee in Julia, after his ill-fated relationship with Lavinia in some earlier books, I do feel that sometimes she gets in the way, and leads to Cato and her father Sempronius making some odd decisions which feel a bit silly. For example, Sempronius orders Macro to take Julia out of the besieged Gortyna, to take her to safety in the north. As Gortyna was surrounded, and most of Crete was occupied, by the slave rebels, it appeared pretty obvious that she would fall in to enemy hands on the way. The best bet would surely have been to stay in Gortyna to at least have her close to you, no matter how hopeless the situation. Cato's personality has changed too, he appears more selfish. He is still the Cato we know and love, but seems less analytical and rational.

Anyway, this is a good book and I recommend it.


The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud
The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud
by Julia Navarro
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not at all good, 29 Dec. 2010
I did not enjoy this book. I was hoping or a fast-paced, action-packed thriller but this book fails miserably in both respects. In the now hugely popular, and saturated, market of religious/historical thrillers you expect to come across a few awful ones. Unfortunately, this is one of them.

A rather boring, tedious novel, it neither thrilled me or piqued my interest. There is plenty of dialogue, so much in fact there is hardly any description, either of the characters (both in terms of their looks and personality), of Turin, Turin Cathedral or other locales. Very poor indeed. The story itself is quite straightforward and it is obvious what is going to happen. With a predictable plot, this just adds to the tediousness of the writing. The plot is also longwinded, there are no action scenes. Most of the book appears to be taken up with various characters going to parties and dinners, all of which serve little or no purpose to the plot.

After a series of fires in Turin Cathedral, where the Holy Shroud is kept, a man's body with no tongue and no fingerprints is found. The Arts Crime Department is called in. The story itself is quite straightforward and it is obvious what is going to happen. With a predictable plot, this just adds to the tediousness of the writing. The plot is also long-winded, there are no action scenes. For example, it takes the head of the investigation, Marco Valoni, over half of the novel to take the obvious step of releasing a similarly mutilated prisoner (also found in Turin Cathedral two years earlier) in the hope that he'll lead him to the prisoner's organisation.

The novel also switches back in time, frequently, to recount the story of the Shroud from the time of Jesus to how it got to Turin Cathedral. These sections are, admittedly, better written and more interesting than the present-day sections. However, there are too many of these flashbacks and take up too much of the book. They also disrupt the flow of the book and I felt that at least half of them were added to pad out the novel.

In summary, I can't recommend the book.


Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt
Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt
by Joyce Tyldesley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mainly ok but a bit light-weight, 19 Dec. 2010
First of all, I would say that overall I enjoyed the book. This is the first biography of Cleopatra I have read and my knowledge of her is limited to her relationships with Caesar, Mark Antony and her legendary acts such as suicide by an asp bite, dissolving pearls in wine or wrapping herself up in carpet to seduce Caesar.

Joyce Tyldesley does much in this book to verify, or debunk, many of the above. Tydesley does show that Cleopatra was much more than the legendary beautiful queen, using her feminine charms to seduce Caesar and Mark Antony in turn. She emerges as an astute politician, sometimes ruthless and ambitious too. She is also seen as a caring mother, a competent queen who acts both as a traditional Egyptian and Hellenistic ruler (she had to given the multi-ethnic make-up of Ptolemaic Egypt). As such she used both Egyptian culture, iconography, coinage and art to portray herself as Egypt's lawful 'Pharaoh', as well as demonstrating herself in Hellenistic dress and poses to appeal to her Greek subjects. Above all, I think Tyldesley has shown Cleopatra to be a survivor, until overtaken my the more resourceful Octavian.

However, as I said in my title, I think the book is a bit light-weight. This concerns the personal side of Cleopatra. I do not feel as though I have learnt much about Cleopatra the woman, her likes, dislikes, her traits etc. A lot of the book is taken up with discussions on matters that do not have any direct link to Cleopatra. Some sections have an indirect, or tenuous, link to her, but i think about 35-40% of the book is not really relevant to a Cleopatra biography, and gives an impression of padding out the book.

Overall, this was ok.


Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Vintage)
Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (Vintage)
by Elaine Pagels
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.43

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good insight into early Christianity (or Christianities), 30 Oct. 2010
Overall I would say that I enjoyed reading this short book. This is the first book book from Pagels I have read and my first delve into Gnostic texts. As such, I found this to be a good introduction to alternative Christianities.

I feel that the book's title is a bit misleading though. The book is not really about the Secret Gospel of Thomas as such, but a brief history of all the differing Christianities, traditions and beliefs which were widespread before the formation of the Catholic Church, as we know it, under Constantine. Thomas does get some analysis, but it is not enough to justify the book's title. Where Thomas is evaluated, it is invariably compared with the canonical Gospel of John. Indeed there is a whole chapter devoted to the similarities and differences between John and Thomas. From what I understand of the book, Pagels is arguing that the author of John wrote his gospel as a response to Thomas, or as a rebuttal to the "Thomas Christians".

The Gospel of John does get extensive treatment in this book, as Pagels sees it as playing a pivotal role in the formation of the fourfold gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and New Testament canon under Athanasius (and the Nicene Creed). This is due to Irenaeus seeing the gospel as the most valid, or inspired, gospel, as it is the only one which recognised Jesus Christ's true identity - as Lord and God, the Word made human. As such, the book diverts from the Gospel of Thomas to Irenaeus's struggle to fight heresy (as he sees it) and set up a catholic, orthodox church - a united church which could overcome persecution from the Roman authorities.

Overall, recommended.


Downfall (2 Disc Edition) [DVD] [2005]
Downfall (2 Disc Edition) [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Bruno Ganz
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £3.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A superb film, 17 Oct. 2010
There have been plenty of positive reviews of this film already, so I just want to add that I too enjoyed the film and thought that it was one of the best films I have seen. The acting is superb, especially by Bruno Ganz as Hitler. It is an atmospheric, haunting, gruesome and compelling film. There are one or two historical inaccuracies but overall the film keeps tolerably well with historical fact. The film is in German but don't let that deter you from enjoying this immense film. Superb.


The Final Reckoning
The Final Reckoning
by Sam Bourne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, 16 Oct. 2010
This review is from: The Final Reckoning (Paperback)
This is, for me, Sam Bourne's best thriller by some distance. I have read his previous two - The Righteous Men and The Last Testament - and was unimpressed with them. I started this novel with some trepidation and misgivings, not expecting to like it, but in the end I actually enjoyed it. Unusually for Sam Bourne, this novel does thrill and surprise. Unlike lots of other books in this genre, which offer alternative Christianities (or any other religion) missing manuscripts or relics, this novel deals with real events, real people. It is - dealing with the Holocaust and some Jews' wish to punish Nazi war criminals - also a tragic story, a story with morals and horror, it makes you care. I think, because it is based on the Holocaust and real events, that the novel works and the reader (I did) becomes more emotionally involved with the characters, not just with the Nazis' victims but also the modern-day ones too. Surprisingly for fiction, the novel does stick fairly well to real events.

I would recommend the book, not just for a thrilling story, but also if you want to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and the Jews' bid for justice in a post-war world which saw only 24 Nazis convicted as war-criminals at Nuremburg.


The Ancient Curse
The Ancient Curse
by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a minor horror story, 9 Oct. 2010
This review is from: The Ancient Curse (Hardcover)
This was the first book I have read from Valerio Massimo Manfredi, and I'm not sure if I'll read anymore. The title blurb states that Manfredi "shows Dan Brown how it should be done". My honest answer to that is that Manfredi doesn't get anywhere near to Brown's standard - even including Brown's disappointing latest novel.

Maybe this assessment is due to the fact that the book has been translated from Italian into English, and that some aspects of the book - such as idioms, everyday sayings or adjectives - were lost in translation. However, there are some sentences that didn't make sense, which should have been ironed out before publication.

As for the novel itself, this was not what I was expecting. Yes, it is thrilling, there are dead bodies, horrific deaths and some action, but for me the story lacked plausibility. It also read like a minor horror story (a genre I do not like) with a terrible beast massacring people, a scary middle-aged woman who seems possessed by something and a spooky house complete with mummified animals and humans. As another reviewer has said, Manfredi resorts to the supernatural. In this case it is an ancient Etruscan curse and a chimera. The part of the chimera, going round killing people by ripping their throats out, reminded me a bit of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

This was ok as a quick read, but if you want something a bit more realistic, skip it. This is probably a book for Manfredi fans only.


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