Wars of the Roses – Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

 Wars of the Roses - Stormbird cover

Wars of the Roses – Stormbird by Conn Iggulden was first published in 2013 and it’s the first book in a trilogy. After really enjoying reading the author’s Dunstan I felt the need to go onto this series, luckily my local library had a copy on its shelves. The subject matter was something that I knew absolutely nothing about. It begins in 1437. King Henry VI is young and inexperienced, after years of there being a regency as he was too young he is now supposedly in charge. In reality he’s just about as far from being a warrior king like his father as is possible. He spends his time praying, obviously isn’t looking after his health, hardly sleeps and consequently is often ill both mentally and physically. His doctor seems determined to kill him with bleedings and purgatives. He’s desperate for a long peace with France but the territories in France that have been won in battles over the years are under threat from the French.

In an effort to keep the peace Henry decides to marry Margaret of Anjou, a very young daughter of the Duke of Anjou. Part of the secret deal brokered by his spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk is that Henry gives back some of his French territories including Anjou and Maine so they will be in French hands again. This infuriates the English men who had farmed the land for years and regarded it as their own. They still remember the men who had died in battle to gain the land. They’re thrown off the land by the French and often killed by French soldiers, the surviving refugees make for England to complain about their treatment. As they travel towards London the force grows ever larger and led by Jack Cade they storm the city.

Richard, Duke of York has ambition to usurp Henry, but Queen Margaret is determined to keep herself and her husband in power, despite his shortcomings. Margaret has to take over as Henry is unfit to rule.

I really liked this one. I knew next to nothing about this era of English history and I felt that I learned a lot, there’s a bibliography at the back so hopefully the history is mainly correct. I didn’t even realise that there was land in France called ‘Maine’ which is presumably where the state in America took its name from.

I’ll definitely be reading the next one in this trilogy.

Helen of She Reads Novels didn’t enjoy it as much as I did and you can read her view of the book here.

Off In a Boat by Neil Gunn

Off in a Boat cover

Off In a Boat by Neil Gunn is an account of the journey that he and his wife embarked on in 1937 after he decided to give up his safe job in the civil service, sold their house and bought a 27 foot wooden boat so that they could explore the Inner Hebrides. It seems that neither of them knew much about sailing but they had charts and read books before they set off. The boat that Neil Gunn bought was in need of a lot of work as it was in bits when he viewed it first but that didn’t put him off buying what was a far from ideal vessel. If you look at the book cover you’ll see that the living space must have been cramped to say the least and Gunn’s wife – affectionately known as the Crew had a hard time of it, and wore out her trouser knees as she had to crawl around so much while she did the cooking.

It could be said that the pair were foolhardy in their ambition as if the engine had stopped while in wild water they would have been toast – but they survived. Half-way through the journey they were joined by his wife’s brother who was known as the Mate and luckily he had more experience of sailing and engines although he was happier when he was able to hoist the sail and turn the engine off.

Although this book was written in 1937 I imagine that the actual journey part of it would be much the same today although the landmarks used in the navigation will be very different, but it isn’t just an account of a journey and adventure through beautiful scenery, he also incorporates Celtic and Norse legends, references Boswell and Johnson and highlights the hospitality and kindness that they experienced from the ordinary local people. Sadly the same could not be said for the rich landowners, some of whom had the delusion that they owned the sea and any fish in it and also had the right to steal oars from anyone who happened to have had the temerity to beach their rowing boat near their land. In some ways the new landlords were even worse than those who had cleared their land of crofters, forcing them to sail to America and Canada – and replacing them with more lucrative sheep.

I was unsure about this book when I bought it but I ended up enjoying it even more than Neil Gunn’s most famous novel The Silver Darlings.

Jean Sibelius – Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki in Finland was one of the destinations on our recent Baltic cruise. We decided to walk out to see the structure which commemorates the composer Sibelius – we walked and walked – and ‘better’ walked as the Scots phrase for too much goes, thinking we would never get there, but we did, just as three bus tours full of Chinese tourists descended on it. They all wanted an individual photo of themselves standing beside the monument for some reason, so it was quite some time before we could get an image of it on its own. Meanwhile I wondered if any of them had even heard of Sibelius, but for all I know they may have been a Chinese branch of his appreciation society!

Sibelius, Helsinki

I’m wondering if the designer got mixed up between Sibelius and Mendelssohn as it really reminds me of Fingal’s Cave which is the cave on the uninhabited Scottish island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides which inspired Mendelssohn to write his best known piece of music of that name. you can see images of it here.

Below is the man himself and yes they did all have to have their photo taken with him – individually.

Sibelius, Helsinki, Finland

I found the video below on You Tube, it’s his Finlandia, Op. 26.symphonic. Apart from beautiful music it also shows amazing scenery and lots of animals as well as the northern lights.

A Capital View – The Art of Edinburgh – by Alyssa Jean Popiel

 A Capital View - The Art of Edinburgh cover

A Capital View – The Art of Edinburgh – by Alyssa Jean Popiel is what used to be called a coffee table book – maybe it still is but I haven’t heard that term for yonks. It’s sumptuous and features one hundred artworks from Edinburgh City’s art collection. It must have been such a difficult task for the author to choose which artworks to include in the volume as Edinburgh City Council has been collecting since the middle of the 18th century. But this isn’t only a book which focuses on the artworks, it also gives lots of interesting details on the lives of the artists and the history of the areas featured in the images, and of course in lots of cases the places have been demolished and it’s lucky that the artists preserved them for posterity.

Below are a few of the artworks featured.

The Village of the Water of Leith from a Window in Rothesay Terrace by Sir William Fettes Douglas

Edinburgh

North Bridge and Salisbury Crags by Adam Bruce Thomson

Edinburgh

Plainstane’s Close, 1878 by Robert Noble

Edinburgh

The Palace of Holyroodhouse by Claude Buckle (1960) which was a British Railways poster.

Edinburgh

Although I borrowed this book from that library that I’m not supposed to be visiting, I think I might end up buying it as it’s so interesting.

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

 Excellent Intentions cover

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull is a British Library Crime Classics reprint which was first published in 1938.

This book begins with the prosecution in a murder case and so the reader discovers the ins and outs of the death of Henry Cargate – the wealthiest inhabitant of Great Barwick. He was a man who went out of his way to rub people up the wrong way and never missed a chance to throw his weight about and let people know just how well off he was.

During the prosecution and defence the reader has absolutely no idea who is in the dock being tried. I must say that very early on I guessed who the culprit was and I was feeling a bit miffed about it, but literally on the last page the author redeemed himself with an unusual twist, something that apparently Richard Hull made a habit of doing.

The book cover has been taken from a 1930s travel poster for Epping Forest in Essex. It looks lovely, but whenever I hear the words Epping Forest it reminds me that when I lived in Essex in the 1970s I was told that that was where the London gangsters buried the bodies!

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

 Dunstan cover

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden was published in 2017 and I was given my copy by a friend who had managed to buy it twice, it’s good to know that other people do that too!

The setting is 10th century England. The king is Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, but the book is Dunstan’s account of his life beginning with his first memories and going on to tell how he and his younger brother were taken to a monastery by their father and left there to get an education. The money paid over by their father is desperately needed by the religious order, but that doesn’t mean that they get special treatment by the brothers. It’s a rough and brutal upbringing, but Dunstan manages to impress the abbot and it’s believed by most in the religious community that Dunstan has been touched by an angel.

He has huge ambition and a love of learning, especially when it comes to architecture and construction and nothing is going to stop him from getting what he wants out of life – but that means he has to become a monk/priest which isn’t something that he’s really cut out for. On the other hand he does have a dislike of women and that ends up impacting on the lives of the other monks who had been allowed to marry in the early Christian Church. It doesn’t make him popular but as Dunstan is happy to sin grievously through his life, being a bit unpopular isn’t going to bother him.

Dunstan ended up being close to kings, seven of them in all and according to this book which appears to be well researched he was very much a flawed character, and that seems very likely to me.

This is a great read, my first by the author but not my last.

Copenhagen, Denmark

I’ve been busy with visitors over the past few days – hence no blogging, and I have such a backlog of things to blog about that I’m cheating a bit and directing anyone who is interested in seeing photos of our recent trip to Copenhagen to Jack’s blog. You can see his Copenhagen blogposts here. He tells me a few more posts are still to come.

I hope to be back to whatever is my normal soon!

World War 2 War Memorial – St Petersburg, Russia

WW2 Monument, St Petersburg, Russia

Over the last couple of days we’ve had the commemorations of the D-Day landings which were attended by the leaders of the allies and also by the German leader, Angela Merkel. But there was apparently no invite for President Putin, despite the fact that they were definitely our allies and if Hitler hadn’t taken on more than he could handle when he attacked Russia it’s almost certain that we would all be speaking German now. It was a close run thing.

I’m definitely not a fan of Putin, but given the fact that the Soviets lost more people in the war than anyone else, it seems mean and petty to leave them out of the memorial services. So I thought I’d show you a couple of photos of the War Memorial at the top of Nevsky Prospekt which is St Petersburg’s equivalent of Paris’s Champs Elysees or Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street.

WW2 Monument, St Petersburg, Russia

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

 Lady Anna cover

I hadn’t even heard of A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel when I spotted it in a second-hand bookshop in Innerleithen. I quite fancied the subject matter though, the setting is the French Revolution and it’s a chunkster at 872 pages. I was disappointed for the first 100 pages or so and I did think that Mantel had definitely improved in her historical fiction with Wolf Hall, but this one eventually got going.

This book has an eight page cast of characters at the beginning, which is just as well as it certainly helps the reader to keep things straight. I think we all have a fair idea of what went on in revolutionary France, but this book begins in the 1760s with the early life of the main participants in the grab for power in the 1780s.

Mantel says in her Author’s Note that where possible she used a lot of the characters’ actual words, whether from their written speeches or preserved writing and has woven it into her dialogue.

She also says: I have tried to write a novel that gives the reader scope to change opinions, change sympathies: a book that one can think and live inside. The reader may ask how to tell fact from fiction. A rough guide:anything that seems particularly unlikely is probably true.

I ‘did’ the French Revolution at school but reading this book made it all much clearer to me. I don’t think that my school books mentioned anything about the involvement of the British government who were working to destabilise France as a way of getting rid of King Louis and helped to finance the revolution – but now that I think about it – of course they would have!

This was a great read.

Church on the Spilled Blood, St Petersburg

The Church on the Spilled Blood in St Petersburg is quite something – as you can see. You really couldn’t get further away from the ecclesiastical architecture that prevails in western Europe, in other words – it’s definitely different. Yes that is scaffolding swathing it. It seems that no matter where we are there’s scaffolding hugging whichever building we particularly want to see!

Church of the Spilled Blood 7
And from another angle.

Church of the Spilled Blood 4

This church was built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II which took place in 1881. A bomb was thrown at him and it went off when it landed at his feet, I believe he lived for a few hours but was never going to survive. You can read about Alexander II here.

Church of the Spilled Blood

Below is the decoration on one of the sides of the church.

Church of the Spilled BloodSpilled Blood

We didn’t go into the church as Nevsky Prospect was calling to us, we aren’t religious and you aren’t allowed to take photos inside anyway. The outside was stunning enough for me.