August 10th, 2011


Books 77-78: Heresy and At the House of the Magician

Book 77: Heresy (Giordano Bruno 01).
Author: S. J. Parris, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Murder Mystery. Elizabethan England.
Other Details: Paperback. 495 pages.

This is the first in a series of historical mysteries featuring scientist, magician and heretic Giordano Bruno. In 1583 Bruno spent three years in England and during that time is thought to have worked for Elizabeth's spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham. In this first story Bruno travels to Oxford in order to take part in a debate on the theories of Copernicus. However, he has also been retained by Walsingham to report on the activities of secret Catholics in Oxford. He lodges at Lincoln College, where the debate will take place, and before long there occurs a series of gruesome murders mimicking the deaths of Christian martyrs. Bruno investigates; uncovering many secrets and plenty of suspects while eventually placing himself in mortal danger.

I enjoyed this book a great deal and found it very much in the same vein as the Shardlake novels of C. J. Sansom and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. One newspaper reviewer suggests that J.K. Rowling was also an influence as the college bursar, who proves an adversary, is named Slythurst and bears a passing resemblance to Severus Snape. Well, you never know.

Bruno is a fascinating character and Parris obviously has researched his life in depth and managed to capture his complexity without becoming too stodgy. She has blended historical and fictional events and conveyed a strong sense of the period setting. I was also impressed at how well she integrated Bruno's knowledge of and love for the hermetic arts into his narration. I discovered that she had written a thesis while at Cambridge on the influence of the occult philosophy on Renaissance literature which does explain her familiarity with the material.

Random House Page on 'Heresy'- contains links to background info, downloadable excerpt and author's note on her research.

Book 78: At the House of the Magician.
Author: Mary Hooper, 2007.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Elizabethan England. YA.
Other Details: Paperback. 240 pages.

Lucy dreams of becoming a maid in one of the houses of the gentry and catching a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth and members of her court. When she runs away from home to escape from her abusive, drunk father a twist of fate sees her being taken on as the nursemaid to the children of Dr. John Dee, Elizabeth's astrologer and magician. She accidentally witnesses some of the strange goings on between Dr. Dee and his sinister assistant, Edward Kelly and later her curiosity leads her to discovering a plot against the queen. Yet she is no one and who would believe her?

This is a much lighter undertaking than Heresy and is the first in a trilogy set in Elizabethan England for YA readers. Sir Francis Walsingham makes a cameo in this novel as Lucy becomes part of his network, setting up for the next two novels By Royal Command and The Betrayal.

Hooper includes notes on the historical characters, a glossary and bibliography. It was a very quick read that I chose in honour of Dr. Dee's birthday last month. I felt that Hooper gave a good account of the complexities of the politics and religious strife of the period making this an accessible introduction for younger readers. Lucy is a very sweet narrator and I expect I shall continue with the others in the series to see how her story plays out.

Book 79: How to Leave Twitter by Grace Dent

Book 79: How to Leave Twitter.
Author: Grace Dent, 2011.
Genre: Humour. Internet.
Other Details: Paperback. 199 pages.

Three years ago Grace Dent joined Twitter and after some hesitation found herself addicted to the all consuming social networking site. How to Leave Twitter (Subtitled: My Time as Queen of the Universe and Why This Must Stop) is her wickedly witty guide to Twitter, that is not only hilarious but actually quite informative.

Dent advises on the stages of Twitter addiction (How to Join Twitter) as well as how to justify your Twitter addiction to non-Tweeting friends and family (I found this section very useful); the upsides, such as live tweeting for events and telly programmes, keeping abreast of breaking news and the like; the downsides, mainly consisting of other people's annoying Tweeting habits (this is a section pretty much everyone on Twitter, if they are honest, will blush over as they recognise themselves); celebrities on Twitter (a very useful FAQ on the phenomena) and of course, How to Leave Twitter, or at least how to take a break and reclaim your life.

I really could relate as like Dent I created an account a while back and began following a few notable people and then drifted away wondering what all the fuss was about. Personally I remained in what Dent describes as the 'Resisting Twitter' stage until a few months ago when an invite to experience Eurovision 2011 via Twitter was so much fun that it caused me to skip over all the intermediate steps to become a full blown convert and semi-addict.

After finishing this I felt that it should be essential reading for anyone on Twitter or for those considering joining, though the level of in-jokes might be off-putting. I'm also not sure how well Dent's razor-sharp snarky humour will be received outside the UK though that is a matter of individual taste.

Alongside the material about Twitter, she includes some quite pointed rants, such as how the editors of women magazines tend to change her rather caustic style making her seem more warm and fuzzy. She is full of praise about how vocal women are on Twiiter and also how it has proved revolutionary for her work as a television critic as she is able to get the buzz on what people are watching and/or mocking. A little book full of gems and LOLs.

Grace Dent's 100 Things About Me & Twitter - extract of the book from 'The Guardian' where Ms Dent often writes.
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Book 14 - 2011

Book 14: The Davinci Code by Dan Brown – 593 pages

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I’m going to do something unexpected here and go against the grain of what everyone else has said about this book. I actually think its better than Angels and Demons! I know that puts me in the minority, but let me explain. Firstly, the writing in Angels and Demons is atrocious: the characterization is poor, the dialogue clichéd, the drama contrived. But whilst it’s no Shakespeare this time around, there is a definite improvement in Brown’s style in this one, as if he’s taken a writing lesson or two. The relationship still feels a little ridiculous, the chemistry off, but its better than before. Also, I think for me, for this one, the subject matter was far more interesting. I studied religion in high school and again in university and its one area of learning that I enjoy. I think that really helped this book for me. Also, having been to Paris and London, I was able to better visualize where Brown was talking about when he described locations which I believe furthered my enjoyment of this book. The whole notion of Christ’s divinity (and I don’t mean to say that I don’t believe he wasn’t divine, more that in saying that, I do still struggle with the idea that in being divine he was not therefore a man) and the mistreatment of Mary Magdelene in the Bible are the two things I struggle with the most within Catholicism (for the record, I am a practicing Catholic). I really liked that this story acknowledges the role of women within religion and in many respects, I feel that what it is saying makes sense (which probably not make me any different from many other people, even if purely from academic perspective, it perhaps makes me naïve, or romantic) especially given the pagan faiths Catholicism was based on – many of which were goddess-worshipping (and by extension, female-centric and/or giving a role of power or divinity to women). So overall, I actually enjoyed it more than its predecessor, though I will say that the movie adaptation of this was far poorer than the adaptation of Angels and Demons which worked much better in film form.

14 / 50 books. 28% done!

5581 / 15000 pages. 37% done!

I'm about 8 reviews behind (its busy season at work so I have no life) but I'll get there...eventually...before the end of the year...

Currently reading:
- The Iliad
by Homer – 408 pages
- Warrior Rising
by P.C. Cast – 340 pages
- Cross Bones
by Kathy Reichs – 348 pages

And coming up:
- The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
- The Other Queen
by Philippa Gregory – 437 pages
- The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages