The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff – The 1965 Club

The Mark of the Horse Lord cover

Participating in The 1965 Club encouraged me to read The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff which I’ve had in the house for at least a couple of years. I would have read it sooner if I had realised that the setting is mainly in the exact place that I grew up – albeit some 2000 years or so earlier than when I was stravaiging about the land around Dumbarton Rock or Theodosia as the Romans called it, and Are-Cluta which is an ancient name for Dumbarton although it was more widely known locally as Alclutha. There is a handy map and glossary in my 1967 reprint of the book.

The Romans are in control of most of Britain and Phaedrus is a young red haired gladiator hoping to win his freedom after spending seven years as a gladiator. He does gain his freedom but a drunken night of celebration leads him into big trouble and imprisonment again.

He’s confused when he’s unexpectedly sprung from prison by a group of strangers, they had spotted how similar in looks Phaedrus is to Midris, their missing king. Eventually they talk Phaedrus into taking the king’s place and to try to eject the usurperer Queen Liadhan from Are Cluta (Dumbarton). Phaedrus will have to make the rest of the tribe believe that he is really King Midris. The real king has been blinded by Liadhan to make sure that he can never be accepted as their king again and he’s earning a living as a leather worker in the south.

While travelling north of the Antonine Wall to Dumbarton Phaedrus works hard at learning the history of all of the tribe so that he won’t be discovered as a fake Midris, and eventually a brutal battle ensues.

As you would expect of Rosemary Sutcliff this book is beautifully written, she does take some liberties with the geography of the area but not many readers would realise that. I was particularly pleased that she included an unusual character in the shape of a young warrior who just happened to be in touch with his feminine side when it came to clothes and jewellery. He was a bit of a fashion icon but the inclusion of Conory seems to have riled up the fundamentalist religious types one of whom cut her Goodreads rating right down to one star!!! for what she kept calling ‘content’. Honestly there is nothing in the least bit sexual in this book. Some people just go around their lives scouring everything for something they can object to, and if it isn’t there then they make up something that will feed their homophobia. I suppose it makes them feel superior somehow.
But we all know better don’t we?!

I’ll give it four stars on Goodreads. If you want to know what Dumbarton Rock (Theodosius) looks like have a keek at some of the posts on this link here.

I read this one for The 1965 Club.

1965 club

The 1965 Club

1965 club

Ages ago I decided to take part in The 1965 Club which is being hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, but I got mixed up with the dates and read a book a month too early, so if you are interested you can read my thoughts on what should have been my first read of the week The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre.

Previous books from 1965 that I’ve read are:

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith

Ninth Life by Elizabeth Ferrars

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

I’ve just finished reading The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff and I’ll blog about that one tomorrow.

Classics Club Spin # 20 – The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov

I’m going to be reading The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov for The Classics Club Spin # 20 as the number that came up in the spin is 19, and I have to read it by the 31st of May. I’m particularly pleased to get this one in the spin as the setting is Revolutionary Russia and amazingly I’m going to be in St Petersburg in May. Jack is insisting on calling it Leningrad as when he visited in the 1970s that was what it was called! I had been wondering which books I could take with me on my trip as it’s always good to read books that are set in places as you actually visit them, even if it’s now a historical book.

Otherwise, I had a lovely Easter Sunday, it was a gorgeous day here in Scotland, we were on the north east coast of Fife, so basically on the edge of the North Sea – not that I dipped any part of me in there, I left that to others. I did see a pod of four dolphins in the distance though. I took photos but I suspect that a magnifying glass will be required to see anything resembling a dolphin.

If you are doing the CC spin – are you happy with the book you got?

The Japanese Garden at Cowden, Clackmannanshire, Scotland

Japanese Garden , Cowden, Scotland

Japanese Garden , Cowden, Scotland

Last Monday was a bright and beautiful day so we decided to drive along The Japanese Garden at Cowden near Yetts o’ Muckhart which is in Scotland’s smallest county of Clackmannanshire.

There’s a small area given over to a gravel garden, and we watched a couple of the gardeners carefully raking the gravel and then making circular patterns in it. Luckily I managed to take this photo just before some garndparents took their grandchildren for a scuffle through it, ignoring the ‘keep out’ sign. Reading is wasted on some people!

Japanese Garden, Cowden, Scotland

As most of the cheery trees in streets, parks and gardens were already in bloom I thought it would be a good time to re-visit the Japanese gardens that we visited for the first time in the autumn. But it’ll be quite a while before anyone can sit under this tree below’s cherry blossom.

Japanese Garden, Cowden, Scotland, cherry tree

It turned out that as the original cherry trees which were planted in the garden back in the 1920s seem not to have survived, the trees that are there now are really small, having been planted recently.

But heigh-ho, we still had a lovely afternoon there. There’s still a lot of work ongoing, such as building new paths and expanding the woodland walk.

Japanese Garden , Cowden, Scotland
You can walk across the zig-zag bridge, if you aren’t worried about your balance, but you aren’t allowed onto the arched bridge – Health and Safety probably.
Japanese Garden , lake, Cowden, Scotland

The large pond (or is it a lake?) has a healthy amount of frog spawn in it, or maybe it’s toad spawn as when we were in the woodland walk I almost stood on this fine fellow who was sitting on the path, as I approached him I thought he was a clump of autumn leaves – or something even worse that I definitely didn’t want to put my foot in!

Toad

The Japanese Garden at Cowden is certainly worth a visit, although I must admit that we went a bit too early – well I had a ‘two for one ticket’ which was expiring the next day! In another week or so from now the maples will be looking great.
Japanese Garden , Cowden, Scotland

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

 In the Name of the Family cover

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant was published in 2017 by Virago and it’s a sequel to Blood and Beauty which I blogged about here so it’s a continuation of the Borgia family’s story. It’s a chunky read at 488 pages.

It begins in 1501 and Niccolo Machiavelli is a young poverty stricken diplomat and witness to many of the shenanigans going on within the Vatican where an elderly and ailing Rodrigo Borgia is still Pope Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia is now on her third husband, and is Duchess of Ferrara, her life isn’t her own, she’s used as a political pawn by her father and as ever for women of those times she’s under pressure to give birth to a male child. Pope Alexander’s remaining son Cesare realises that when his father dies the power that the Borgias have had is going to disappear. Cesare has never been one to toe the line.

The whole book is liberally scattered (or should I say pock marked) by references to the French pox as it had become almost an epidemic, it’s a historical fact that syphilis first appeared around this time, apparently brought to Italy by French troops.

I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as Blood and Beauty. I have a feeling that Dunant wasn’t as interested in this part of the Borgia story and even the arrival of Machiavelli didn’t help with what seemed to me to be quite a flat book. As you would expect not everyone agrees with me.

The Times has it on a list of Best Historical Fiction of 2017 describing it as ‘A stunning tale of power and family.’

History Today said it had been ‘Meticulously researched.’

Daily Mail said ‘Stuffed with violence, danger and passion.’

Mark Lawson of the Guardian said ‘Dunant has made completely her own the story of Italy’s most infamous ruling family … in a way that we can see, hear and smell.’

Classics Club Spin #20

classics club spin

It’s Classic Club Spin time again and the rules of the spin are:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Monday 22nd April the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 31st May.

My list is a bit different this time.

Five by Scottish authors:

1. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
2. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
3. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
4. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
5. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

Three by American authors:

6. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
7. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
8. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Five by English men

9. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
10. Maurice by E.M. Forster
11. Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley
12. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
13. The Tempest by Shakespeare

Five by English women

14. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
15. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
16. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
17. Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
18. The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff

and lastly two by a Russian author:

19. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
20. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Are any of these ones favourites with you?

New to me books

I’ve banned myself from the library – again, which is just as well as I seem to be hauling home new to me books almost on a weekly basis. Yep I was book-mugged again.

More Books

I couldn’t say no to another Blackie’s book, this time it was –
1. A Book of Stories from the Norse.

Yet another Blackie book, complete with dustjacket is
2.St Catherine’s College by Angela Brazil

Two British Library Crime Classics jumped out at me:

3. The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons – and

4. The Christmas Card Crime – a book of short stories which I’ll keep for next Christmas reading.

and lastly, I was given a book by a friend as it was a doubler, he hadn’t remembered that he already had this one (we’ve all been there I’m sure)

5. Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

I’ve never read anything by that author before. Have you read any of these books?

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom

The Cheval Glass cover

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom was first published in 1973. It isn’t the first book that I’ve read by the author but the ones I have read were much earlier. I really expected to see that this book was one of her last – as it’s shot full of holes. It only has 183 pages and I read it in a couple of sittings and when you do that it’s so noticeable when the same man’s hand is described as being smooth and brown – then later on as being wrinkled, when the author wanted to point out how much older he was than his young love interest.

The setting is Norfolk and Hilary is a young artist who is renting the lodge house of a large house called Whitethorn. Her landlord is James, a 60 year old retired army officer, married to Margaret and with a young daughter and two much older sons.

In no time flat James and Hilary have embarked on an affair. James is very much attracted to much younger women. When Margaret falls terminally ill Hilary moves into Whitethorn to help look after her. By now she has formed a close relationship with Pearl the young daughter. Pearl is obsessed with a cheval glass which is housed in the attic and talks about the lady in the mirror.

This book isn’t well or even carefully written and I hated the fact Margaret is not allowed to know how ill she is, it brought back so many bad memories for me as I experienced that situation while I was helping my mother to nurse my father when he was terminally ill. For me it meant such a waste of precious time – lying about a situation that my father well knew about – but my mother couldn’t cope with. But it’s what some people used to do.

As I said previously – I expected this to be one of Ursula Bloom’s last books as it is so carelessly written but according to Wiki she wrote over 500 books in her lifetime under various names – just churning them out, so it is no surprise that it’s so badly written. According to the Fantastic Fiction link at the beginning of this post she wrote fourteen other books in 1973. Quantity over quality obviously! Did she write them, or was it some sort of franchise deal? -As often happens in publishing.

Ursula Bloom (1892 – 1984) aka Sheila Burns, Mary Essex, Rachel Harvey, Deborah Mann, Lozania Prole.

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

Emily Climbs cover

Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery is the second book in a trilogy, I only realised that when I started reading this one but I decided just to bash on with it. The book was first published in 1925 but my copy is a very recent purchase and a Virago reprint. When I bought it Jack mentioned that he thought the cover was horrible. Is that a bloke thing? I think it’s enchanting!

Emily is an orphan who lives on Prince Edward Island, Canada – at a house called New Moon with two of her aunts and a cousin. She has become very attached to the place, despite the fact that her Aunt Elizabeth is a bit of a dragon. The Scottish Presbyterian psyche is very evident in the family. Emily is constantly being told to remember that she is a Murray, despite the fact that her father was a Starr. The Murray family is seen as of some consequence locally.

Emily longs to become a writer, but Aunt Elizabeth thinks that fiction is telling lies so she’s dead against Emily’s writing. Her teacher Mr Carpenter has encouraged her writing over the years but when it comes time for Emily to move on to a high school in nearby Shrewsbury it’s by no means an automatic transfer as far as Aunt Elizabeth is concerned. It would be expensive and she doesn’t really want Emily to leave New Moon and her influence.

A compromise is reached when it’s agreed that Emily can stay in Shrewsbury with Aunt Ruth – another Murray, but this one got married and is now a widow. Emily must promise not to write any fiction for the three years she’ll be studying.

This is a lovely read, I enjoyed being a part of the community and meeting all the quirky inhabitants, many of whom I recognised. There’s a possessive widowed mother who is determined to keep any females away from her beloved only son. Harsh aunts who never give any praise – for fear of spoiling the child, but in times of dire need they’re on your side against the world. I felt such an affinity with Emily who is a book lover and a tree lover, she wrote:

“Trees have as much individuality as human beings. Not even two spruces are alike. There is always some kink or bend of bough to single each one out from its fellows. Some trees love to grow sociably together, their branches twining like Ilse and me with our arms about each other, whispering interminably of their secrets. Then there are more exclusive groups of four or five – clan Murray trees; and there are hermits of trees who choose to stand apart in solitary state and who hold the commune only with the winds of heaven. Yet these trees are often the best worth knowing. One feels it is more of a triumph to win their confidence than that of easier trees.”

L.M. Montgomery’s Scottish roots are very much in evidence in this book. There’s also a lot of comedy – and I needed that!

Powis Castle, Wales

It is ages since we visited Powis Castle, when we drove all the way down to Wales so that Jack could go to a football match, in fact it was over a year ago. I could have sworn that I had blogged about our visit, but apparently not. This often happens to me as I ‘write’ blogposts in my head, but get no further than that, and then I think it’s done and dusted!

Powis Castle from Approach Path

Powis is the only castle in Wales that I’ve visited, according to a recent TV programme I watched most of the castles in Wales are actually English as they were built by the English to keep the Welsh in order. Thankfully the same does not apply in Scotland, our castles are very definitely Scottish, and so different from those in England. Some Welsh people apparently have a bit of a problem about having all those English built castles looming over them, and I can’t say I blame them, but on the other hand – they are still interesting and historic structures. However, Powis is unusual in that it was actually built by a Welshman in the 13th century – Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn. Apparently he was given permision to build it by Edward I as he had been so loyal to him. As Edward I was also known as The Hammer of the Scots I can only imagine that Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn’s loyalty was rooted in fear.

Powis Castle, Courtyard and Equestrian Statue
As I recall it was very cold, well it was February, but the gardens still looked lovely.
Powis Castle Gardens
You can see the bones of the planting better in winter, but I would like to go back in the summer sometime, there are so many other castles in Scotland to see though, so I may never get around to it, Wales isn’t exactly handy for us.
Formal Garden Powis Castle 6

The peahens were patrolling around the grounds.
Peahens, Powis Castle
And when I walked around the plant sales area below they were all over the place, holding me up, but I did manage to buy a souvenir of my visit in the shape of a Sarcococca confusa (Sweet Box) but it hasn’t flowered this year. I live in hope!
Peacocks

You can see some fantastic images of Powis Castle here.