Sunday, December 30, 2012

April Queen

Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in 1122 and died in 1204 and became the most powerful woman in Europe. 1137 was an eventful year as at the age of 15 Eleanor became Duchess of Aquitaine, married the son of Louis VI of France and then became Queen Consort of France when her husband was crowned Louis VII. When Louis decided to take part in the Second Crusade to Constantinople and Jerusalem 1147, Eleanor decided to go as well on the three year expedition. In 1152 Eleanor and Louis were divorced. During their marriage they had two daughters but Louis needed an heir. Two months later Eleanor married Henry of Anjou and between them they ruled territories making up half of western France from Normandy in the north to Aquitaine in the south. In 1854 Henry became king of England as Henry II and Eleanor therefore became Queen Consort of England. Eleanor and Henry had five sons and three daughters, including Richard who was king from 1189-1199 and John who was king from 1199-1216. Eleanor was not content to lead a quiet life but took an active interest in the governance of their territories. She also supported her sons when they rebelled against their father resulting in her imprisonment in a number of castles from 1174 by Henry, including Old Sarum. She remained a prisoner until the death of Henry in 1189. When Richard became king Eleanor regained her position of power both in England in her French territories, particularly when Richard joined the Third Crusade and while he a prisoner of the Germans. When John became king in 1199 Eleanor's interests were focused on Aquitaine and her final years were spent as a member of the community at Fontevraud Abbey.

Douglas Boyd has made a detailed study of the life of Eleanor and the world in which she lived including the constant political power struggles between countries and between members of families,  the role of the church in the affairs of countries throughout Europe plus the alliances formed by strategic marriages of the children of rulers of countries and territories. She was obviously a very strong and remarkable woman.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The uncommon appeal of clouds

When a valuable painting by the artist, Poussin, is stolen from a country house Isabel Dalhousie is approached to support the owner when he is contacted by representatives of the thieves wanting to claim the reward for the safe return of the painting. Such a situation creates a series of ethical issues including should  a ransom be paid for a painting as this would only encourage the thieves to steal again. If a ransom is not paid, however, a valuable painting that was to be donated to the nation may be lost. Isabel's deliberations on this situation include meeting members of the family of the owners of the painting. Could they be involved in the disappearance of this work of art. As with all Isabel Dalhousie novels many issues about how we live our daily lives are raised and explored.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Trains and Lovers

Train journeys sometimes create opportunities where people who are only together for a short time may share thoughts and experiences during the journey. In Trains and lovers, Alexander McCall Smith looks at aspects of love through the eyes of four strangers sharing a carriage on the train from Edinburgh to London. People can be touched by love in many different ways and the stories provided by the passengers explore some of these. Hugh recounts the story of a relationship that developed from a chance meeting on a railway platform, David remembers a special friendship that bordered on love from his youth, Kay recounts the story of her father leaving Scotland for Australia and the new life he discovered in the outback while Andrew's story tells of his love for Hermione as well the the bond between parents and children. This could be a good book to read on a train.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunshine on Scotland Street

Further accounts of the daily life of the inhabitants of 44 Scotland Street and surrounding area. The compilation of stories begins with Angus Lordie's preparations (or lack thereof) for his wedding to Domenica. The one thing he did organise was the guardianship of his dog, Cyril, which he entrusted to six year old Bertie for the three weeks of the honeymoon however the three weeks turns out to be an adventurous time for Cyril until his master's return. Matthew and Elspeth continue to look after their triplets with the help of Anna though Matthew questions his chosen career while Bertie and his father, Stuart, contemplate how to live with the domineering Irene. Bruce returns to the the area and meets a challenge he never anticipated. Alexander McCall Smith once again entertains as he reveals the often mundane events in the lives of his characters but in so doing causes the reader to consider every day issues living in the twenty-first century.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The house of memories

Monica McInerney is one of those authors that you can rely on for producing an enriching reading experience and her new book lives up to expectations. Although the story is primarily about grief and grieving it is also about love and the strength of families providing support and understanding in time of need. Much of the novel is set in London at the home of Lucas Fox. His niece, Ella O'Hanlon, runs away to London to try and escape the grief of losing a young son in an accident. Through the support of her uncle and her step-brother, Charlie, who lives in Boston, Ella gradually comes to understand her feelings and also how the grief of losing a child affects all family members. Once I started reading this moving book I had to continue reading it as I became involved with the characters and their lives.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The gift of speed

In The gift of speed, Steven Carroll has written a book about ordinary people living in a Melbourne suburb in the summer of 1960 - 1961. The time period covers the visit of the West Indies Cricket Team to Australia.  In fact cricket is a major feature of the story-line. Michael is a bowler. He is happiest when he has a ball in his hand, when he is bowling the ball against the palings of the back fence, when he is practising or playing cricket. His aim is to increase the speed at which he bowls, to perfect the speed of his bowling. In parallel we learn of the progress of the West Indies team as they travel throughout Australia, the impact of the test matches on Australians - particularly the tied test in Brisbane - the pressure on Frank Worrell as the first appointed black West Indies captain. It is also a story about a marriage and family life. Throughout the book we also view the thoughts of Rita, Michael's mother, as she considers leaving her husband, the thoughts and actions of Vic, Michael's father, as he loses himself in playing golf but also considers leaving home, the thoughts of Victor's mother as she approaches death. The book captures a time in the life of a suburban family. The edition I read had notes for discussion at the end of the book plus links to websites providing further information about issues mentioned in the story.

This is the second book in a trilogy. The first is The art of the engine driver and the third is The time we have taken. It can, however, be read as a stand alone book.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Notorious nineteen

The first Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich was published in 1994. The nineteenth book in this series continues the exploits of bounty hunter, Stephanie, her off-sider, Lula, Grandma Mazur, Joe, Morelli, Ranger and a host of zany characters. When conman, Geoffrey Cubbin mysteriously disappears from a hospital in the middle of the night investigations show that he is not the only person to have done so. As well as finding out what has happened to Cubbin Stephanie is also employed by Ranger to act as a guard for him at a social function. Needless to say nothing goes smoothly as Stephanie and colleagues attempt to unravel the crimes and also keep alive. For those who are counting, the number of cars associated with Stephanie that meet a sad end increases dramatically in this book.