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Roman Clodia (London)
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Elizabeth I and Her Circle
Elizabeth I and Her Circle
by Susan Doran
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Re-opens the questions about Elizabeth's personal and political relationships, 16 April 2015
This is an academic account of Elizabeth and the various ‘circles’ which surrounded her: her relations, her courtiers, her Privy Council and political advisors. Doran goes back to the sources and views them from both a personal and political perspective, throwing light on these relationships through which Elizabeth’s monarchy was constituted.

Doran has been working on Elizabeth for much of her scholarly life and this book speaks back in interesting ways to the existing literature. For a general readership it may perhaps come over as detailed but possibly a bit dry; but for anyone working on the period via either its history or its literature, this is a provocative and reassuringly well-supported book.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


The Oxford Illustrated History of World War Two
The Oxford Illustrated History of World War Two
by Richard Overy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Modern scholarly essays on WW2, 16 April 2015
Like the history of WW1 in the same series, this is another stimulating collection of essays reviewing WW2 from a current scholarly perspective.

Starting with the genesis of the conflict, moving through the various theatres, and then looking at front-line activities at home and abroad, this takes a global approach to the war. I especially liked the essay on war culture and the mutual implications of art and propaganda.

Recommended for anyone working on WW2 or for general readers wanting a snapshot sense of where academic research is today on WW2.


The Ancients and the Postmoderns
The Ancients and the Postmoderns
by Fredric Jameson
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Exuberantly erudite, 16 April 2015
This is a ferociously erudite book as Jameson zooms between Mahler and Wagner, Rubens and Robert Altman, post-soviet cinema and Hamlet, Marx and The Wire. If you’re not well up on critical theory (not just Lacan and Foucault but also Deleuze and Guattari) then this will be hard going.

Despite the range of Jameson’s references, though, (and I, for example, know pretty much nothing about modernist film) there is an exuberant sweep to the thinking and the prose which carries us over our own ignorance to the wider arguments that Jameson is working out about the nature of postmodern culture: if modernism is our classical antiquity then what does our new aesthetic history look like?

So this certainly isn’t an easy read (and why should it be?) but it is eclectic, provocative and vastly stimulating.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, and the Table (Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, and the Table (Arts & Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History)
by Massimo Montanari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £23.53

4.0 out of 5 stars A culinary and cultural history of food in medieval Italy, 16 April 2015
This is a detailed academic history of food in medieval Italy which looks at both what was on the table, as well as what it meant once it was there. Montanari takes a broad approach to the culture of eating and explores ingredients, raw materials, dishes and utensils as well as texts about food

The main argument is that taste is not subjective but culturally constructed, and that it reveals something about the values of a society. The material being analysed comprises cook-books, medical treatises, books on agriculture, etiquette books and the archaeological traces of food culture.

The information is full and revealing: recommended for cultural and food historians interested in this period.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)


Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics)
Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics)
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) A mixed selection, 16 April 2015
What holds these crime/detective stories together is that they were written during the first half of the twentieth century, and that they all take place in holiday or resort destinations. The tales themselves are quite mixed and in almost all cases we can see why they haven't really stood the test of time: the book starts with a Sherlock Holmes story but the others tend to the B list.

That said, there's definitely a curiosity value to reading this which perhaps makes us appreciate the true 'golden age' writers (Christie, Sayers, Tey et al.) all the more. So this is a lightweight read and as long as you don't expect to unearth a hidden gem, these make entertaining switch-off reading - 3.5 stars.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


Victorian Fairy Tales
Victorian Fairy Tales
by Michael Newton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Continues the academic reappraisal of the fairy tale genre, 16 April 2015
This review is from: Victorian Fairy Tales (Hardcover)
This book extends the reappraisal of fairy stories that has taken place in recent years and examines stories written during the Victorian period aimed at both children and adults. A helpful critical introduction sites the tales themselves, and the ways in which they fantasised and experimented with the traditional oral tradition stories which themselves were often acutely concerned with issues of identity, social hierarchies, politics, family relationships and love.

What makes fairy stories so potentially subversive is the way they reject narrative rationality, becoming more akin to dreams – both areas of potent interest to the Victorians with Freud’s theories and literary realism taking cultural centre-field, though certainly not without also being questioned.

The stories that follow are a mix of the familiar and the unknown, though we can often trace their genesis from other tales. They’re longer than the traditional (Grimm, Andersen, Perrault) tales, sometimes akin to novellas. It’s certainly possible to simply read these as merely charming stories – but their concerns with gender, with social (in)justice, with rule, authority and power tell another story.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


Close Quarters: A Thriller Set in Washington DC and the Ukraine (A Marc Portman Thriller)
Close Quarters: A Thriller Set in Washington DC and the Ukraine (A Marc Portman Thriller)
by Adrian Magson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.58

3.0 out of 5 stars Fast and furious, 16 April 2015
Fast-paced and action-packed, this is a good commute read or when you need something easy and unchallenging – the action never stops as a shadowy super-hero helps the CIA rescue a man from Ukraine... while back at home, there’s something rotten at the heart of the CIA itself.

Magson does tend to the info-dump style of writing at times (‘cut-outs are a means of passing information or material from one ‘cell’ to another often in isolation’, ‘hiring a car requires a credit card and a passport or driver’s licence, neither of which I wanted to show’), and the characters and plot are familiar: the plucky girl CIA trainee, the megalomaniac villain, the secret conspiracy that reaches throughout Washington...

All the same, as long as you don’t expect too much political or literary sophistication, this is an entertaining romp which never sits still for a moment.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


Great Shakespeare Actors: Burbage to Branagh
Great Shakespeare Actors: Burbage to Branagh
by Stanley Wells
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) A short history of Shakespearean performance, 16 April 2015
This is a set of potted biographies and memoirs by Stanley Wells on the people who have acted Shakespeare from the sixteenth century to today. Many will be familiar: David Garrick, Sarah Siddons, Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, down to Simon Russell Beale and Kenneth Branagh – but others might be less known to a non-academic audience: Will Kemp, Ira Aldridge, Thomas Betterton.

This isn't really an academic piece but offers information that might not always interest the general reader. The premise that Shakespeare's plays are merely scripts and that acting is a 'creative art' is hardly the innovative thought that this books seems to think, but this is an affectionate look back at how Shakespeare's characters have been created and re-created on stage.

It’s a little difficult to know quite who to recommend this book to: in some ways it’s a potted history of Shakespearean performance, in others a set of brief biographies of notable stage actors – and, in the latter stages, Wells brings his own memories into play on actors and performances he himself has seen. So a bit of a mixed bag overall – perhaps good to dip into in idle moments rather than to read cover to cover.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


Barbarians
Barbarians
by Tim Glencross
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Left-wing intelligentsia navel-gazing, 15 April 2015
This review is from: Barbarians (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is intermittently funny as it turns a sharp gaze on the posturing of the Islington left-wing intelligentsia – but there’s not enough substance here to sustain a whole novel.

Poking gentle fun at a cast of characters who are all Oxbridge, well-read, art-collecting, political classes, lawyers and media writers, part of the issue with the book is that only the same groups will get many of the pointed observations and jokes – and Glencross is himself an Oxbridge, ex-political researcher, now lawyer and writer...

In lots of ways this does offer an accurate picture of the last years of Labour and the coming of the coalition government – but from what is effectively a narrow and fundamentally elitist perspective.


Single Woman Seeks Revenge
Single Woman Seeks Revenge
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and frothy but with a serious message, 15 April 2015
Ok, this is frothy nonsense in lots of ways as a 36 year old year old decides to take revenge on all the men who have broken her heart, going back to her teens. The revenges are hardly either credible or even that vengeful but at the heart of the book is a message about women having self-respect for themselves.

The romance is decidedly cheesy and Drew one of the most characterless, colourless leading men ever – but the letters that our agony aunt heroine writes are hysterically funny. For all the silliness inherent in the genre, I enjoyed this as a sometimes laugh-out-loud read with a core message worth expounding.

(I received a review copy via Netgalley)


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