Book Review: “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life” by Daniele Cybulskie

57035252When we read about those who lived in past centuries, there is often a disconnect. We know that they were also human beings like we are, but we see how different their ways of life are compared to ours, and it feels incredibly bizarre. We can find wisdom from the past for our more modern lives. One of the most unlikely sources of knowledge for our daily lives comes from the lives of men and women who choose to take a religious path. In her latest book, “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom For Modern Life,” Daniele Cybulskie shows her readers how medieval monks can help us live our best lives here in the present.

I heard this book from Daniele Cybulskie, and just from the description, I wanted to read it. I enjoyed the previous book that I have read by Cybulskie, which was “Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction,” and I wanted to read more by her. I knew a bit of monastic life from other books that I have read, but I wanted to learn more.

Cybulskie took the idea of a book that explores daily life to another by using the monks’ routines to act as a self-help book for the modern age. It may seem strange for an academic book to work as a self-help book, but if you think about how much we can use the past to help us understand the present, this concept makes perfect sense.

The lifestyle of a medieval monk is not for everyone, but there are aspects that we can respect and apply to our own lives. This book is broken into sections that focus on different aspects of monastic living, such as looking inward, looking outward, gardening, moderation, and minimalism. Cybulskie explains why someone would choose to become a monk and what monasteries would have generally looked like before the dissolution. She then explains the different parts of monks’ daily routines that we could apply to our modern daily lives. These aspects include gardening, helping others, focusing on our mental health, eating healthy, meditation, setting boundaries, and my personal favorite, finding time to read. The illustrations and the quotes that Cybulskie includes in this book add another layer of enjoyment and depth into a charming historical self-help book.

Cybulskie has written another book that makes learning about medieval Europe fun for any history fan. Although I am not usually someone who reads self-help books, I found this particular title an enjoyable mix of advice and history. After reading this book, you may not want to become a monk, but I think readers can learn something new from this book. If you wish to a delightful book about medieval life and how we can apply lessons from the past to our modern lives, I highly recommend you read “How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life” by Daniele Cybulskie.

Book Review: “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke

57135832When we think of the legacy of King Henry VIII, a few descriptions come to mind—married six times, father of three children who would be the king and queens of England one day. We often see him as a man conflicted with religious changes and someone who could be tyrannical when dispatching his enemies and those closest to him. We don’t usually associate Henry VIII with a collector and patron of fine art, but his collection would help bring the Royal Collection to life. The artwork that Henry VIII commissioned and collected tells how he wanted to be viewed by the world. In “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship,” Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke peel back the layers of Tudor propaganda to show the truth about King Henry VIII and the artists who made his ideal image.

I first heard about this book from a social media post from Alison Weir, and the way she described it was so intriguing to me. I have not read many books about art history, which I do love, so I wanted to see if Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke could add any new information into the world of Tudor art.

Collins and Clarke take their readers on a journey through the life of the titular king, explaining crucial moments during his long reign and how he used different types of art to express his worldview. For even the most casual Tudor fan, one would think of the first name when Tudor art is Hans Holbein the Younger. However, there are so many other brilliant artists that Collins and Clarke highlight in this book. There were sculptors like Guido Mazzoni, who created the terracotta sculpture of a young boy who is believed to be Henry VIII as a boy, and Pietro Torrigiano, who made the tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

The Tudor age saw the emergence of portraits, miniatures, and paintings as art, which is reflected in Henry VIII’s collection. Some artists are unknown and are still referred to as either the English or Flemish schools, but we know about miniaturists’ contributions like Lucas Horenbout and Holbein. I loved this book because Collins and Clarke took the time to explain how these pieces were created to give us a better appreciation for the crafts. From sculptures and paintings to tapestries, stained glass, and etchings, each piece of artwork highlighted in this book tells a unique tale of the Tudor king and how these pieces would become the Royal Collection that we know today.

If you are a lover of art and Tudor history, you will find “King and Collector: Henry VIII and the Art of Kingship” by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke enthralling. This small book is exquisitely written, and it provides its audience with a plethora of fascinating art facts—a must-read for any Tudor history fan.

Book Review: “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth

51601860The 15th and 16th centuries were full of dynamic political and religious reforms, but they were also known for cultural changes throughout Europe. The medieval foundations started to crumble, and the early modern age emerged. One of the centers of change was Italy, a series of states with their rulers vying for power and prestige. These rulers would help finance masterpieces in art, literature, and architecture, but it was their rivals that threatened to tear the Renaissance society apart. In “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution,” Mary Hollingsworth explores the lives of the men and women who helped shape the Renaissance.

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this book. This title was intriguing to me, and I wanted to learn more about Italian history. The Italian Renaissance has been an area in history that I have been interested in studying more, but I was unsure where to begin.

Hollingsworth takes the tales of some of the most famous families in Italy to tell the story of the Renaissance. Each chapter focuses on two or three dynamic figures that shaped the era. Men like Cosimo de’ Medici, Alfonso of Aragon, Francesco Sforza, Leonello d’Este, Ferrante I of Naples, and Doge Andrea Gritti knew how to change the political landscape of Italy while acting as patrons for the artists that would define this era. The artists that they would employ were masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian. We also saw powerful women like Lucrezia Borgia and Isabella d’Este, who impacted the Renaissance.

Although Hollingsworth mentions the works that the princes helped fund and did include stunning images of the masterpieces of art and architecture, the bulk of this book is looking at the drama behind the art. We see a complex political landscape of lords fighting each other, family members, and even papal authority for land and prestige. Things were bound to be complicated with famous families like the Estes, the Medicis, the Sforzas, and the Borgias. Still, it created a beautiful mosaic of different influences of colorful figures.

One thing that I wish Hollingsworth would have included would be family trees of the prominent families. As someone who is not that familiar with the significant Italian families and the individual states, I think it would have helped those who are not that familiar with Italian history.

Overall, I found this book an enjoyable and fascinating read. I think it provides gorgeous images of new aspects of the Renaissance with thrilling stories of love, jealously, and the desire for power. Suppose you want a great introduction to the Italian Renaissance and those who funded these masterpieces. In that case, you should check out “Princes of the Renaissance: The Hidden Power Behind an Artistic Revolution” by Mary Hollingsworth.

Book Review: “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell

43890641._SY475_The Black Death has ravished England and Europe for centuries. Although the plague in the 16th century was not as devastating as in previous centuries, it still was a horrific disease that killed thousands. For example, in Warwickshire, England, a family understood how unforgiving death could be and how it can tear down even the strongest of familial bonds. The family of the playwright William Shakespeare must navigate the sudden loss of their beloved son while they keep their family together. “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell is the story of the death of one child and how his death affected so many people.

When it comes to this book, it was one of those titles that I had heard so many good things about it, but I waited for a while until I bought it for myself. I wanted to understand why it was such a beloved novel.

It should be noted that O’Farrell does write in the present tense, which is somewhat unusual for a historical fiction novel. Since I do not read many books written in the present tense, it took me a few pages to feel comfortable with the narrative. We witness Hamnet rushing all over town to find his family as his twin sister Edith lays sick in bed, fearing that she is ill with the plague. We then switch to a different scene where we see the mother named Agnes, who is deemed eccentric and unusual, fall in love with a penniless Latin tutor who is the son of a glover. These two storylines seem separate, but when you realize how they connect, it shows how strong the love between Agnes and her husband was and how she fiercely loved her children.

In the end, it was not Judith who died but Hamnet. His death shifts the entire tone of this book, and we see the whole family grieve in different ways. Grief is painful for everyone, but Agnes’s grief is debilitating. Often, O’Farrell would have a scene in this novel or a line to make me want to cry. Hamnet’s death and the aftermath have been one of the most emotional rollercoasters I have read all year.

This novel was spectacular in the way it was written. Although the present tense did throw me for a loop at first, the story and its emotional weight were nothing short of impressive. It may have been about the Shakespeare family during the late Tudor dynasty, but it can translate to any family dealing with a pandemic, past or present. It is a novel that transcends time that anyone who loves historical fiction will devour. If you want an elegantly written book with a poignant storyline, “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell should be on your to-be-read pile.

Book Review: “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages” by Dan Jones

57347786When we study human history, in general, we tend to pick a country and a period to focus on and research. Books on the subject material tend to focus on one land with interactions between other nations. It is infrequent for authors to take on multiple countries unless concentrated on one event that affected numerous locations. Those books often read like textbooks and can be a bit dry. Finding the perfect balance between these elements and engaging with the reader is a monumental task for any author, but Dan Jones has taken on the challenge. His latest behemoth tome, “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages,” takes on the gigantic task of telling the story of the Middle Ages from diverse perspectives.

To take on such a massive undertaking is no easy feat, but Jones seems to do it seamlessly. He breaks this book into four segments to not overwhelm his readers, each dealing with a different element that made the Middle Ages unique. Every story has a foundation, and the story of the Middle Ages begins with the fall of the Roman Empire. With the empire’s fall, we see the rise of Barbarian groups, the Byzantines, and the Arab states that would define this era with the Crusades. Jones takes his readers on a journey through climate change and pandemics that forced humanity to move from place to place to survive.

We encounter revolutions of all kinds; religious, political, artistic, architectural, and technological. Humankind was not as stagnant as many people believed during the Middle Ages. This was an age full of life and colorful figures that shaped the world around them, from philosophers and artists to kings and conquerors. Men and women like St. Aquitaine, Attila the Hun, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther, and Christopher Columbus defined this era. Although Jones does focus on more European figures, he takes the time to show people groups like the Mongols, the Franks, the Arabs, and the Byzantines to show how diversity ruled this period in history. Those who study the Middle Ages know the stories of the Black Death, the Crusades, and the Sack of Rome, but there are so many more stories that give life to this period in human history.

I felt nostalgic for my high school and college classes when I read this book. These were the classes that made me fall in love with studying history. Other stories in this book were brand new to me, which thrilled me to read. If there were an element that I wished he would have included, I think I would have liked to have seen more stories of medieval Asia and Africa. I think it would have added a new element to the story of the Middle Ages.

Out of all of the books that I have read by Dan Jones, I think this one is my favorite. I could tell how much passion and the amount of research Jones poured into this book, and it shows. Combining over a thousand years of history into one book is an impressive feat that Jones has mastered. “Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages” by Dan Jones is a triumphant tome that any fan of medieval history will appreciate.

Book Review: “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown” by Matthew Lewis

58661950In human history, when citizens have disagreed with a new law or those in charge, they often stage a protest to show their frustration. When their voices are not heard, people often turn to rebellions and revolts to make sure their opinions matter. We might think that revolution and rebellion as a form of protest are modern ideas, but they go back for centuries. Revolutions and rebellions shaped history, no more so than in the middle ages. In his latest book, “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown,” Matthew Lewis examines the origins of the most famous rebellions in medieval England and how they transformed the course of history.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I have been a fan of Matthew Lewis’ books for years now, and I wanted to read his latest book. The topic appealed to me, and I wanted to see something new about these rebellions.

Lewis begins with the Norman invasion and those who resisted William the Conqueror as king to understand the vast history of rebellions in middle ages England. The most famous of these rebels was a man named Hereward the Wake. We then move to the Anarchy, a battle between cousins, Empress Matilda, the rightful heir, and Stephen of Blois, her cousin and the one who would inevitably be King of England. Empress Matilda’s son Henry II would become King Stephen’s heir, but the first Plantagenet king had to endure numerous rebellions from his friend Thomas Becket and his sons.

Moving into the halfway point of the middle ages, Lewis explores how the first and second Barons’ Wars were fought over the rights of the average citizen kings like John were put in their place with the Magna Carta. Some rebellions had other goals, like the deposition of Edward II in favor of his son Edward III and Henry of Bolingbroke’s revolt against his cousin Richard II, and of course, the Wars of the Roses with the deposition of Henry VI. It was not just the nobility that decided to rebel against the monarchy, as we see with the Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, and the Jack Cade Rebellion. The cost for rebellions could be extremely high, as men like Simon de Montfort, Hugh Despenser the Younger, and Richard Duke of York would find out.

Individually, every one of these rebellions would have numerous books dedicated to deciphering the intricacies of why the rebels did what they did. However, Lewis has taken on the mammoth task of combining these tales into one comprehensive nonfiction book easy to read for novices and experts alike. This book is another triumph for Matthew Lewis. If you want an excellent book that examines the origins of medieval rebellions and how they impacted English history, “Rebellion in the Middle Ages: Fight Against the Crown” by Matthew Lewis is the ideal book for your collection.

Book Review: “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent- Connolly

41975683When it comes to studies into the Tudor dynasty, many different approaches have been taken in the past. We have examined every monarch, their spouses, how they lived, what they wore, and the various political events that defined the dynasty. The list is endless to the different studies that have been done with the Tudors, yet there are still new areas of study that are being explored. One of those areas of study is how individuals with disabilities survived in the past. How did society treat those who had disabilities, and what rights did they have according to the laws of the land? In her first non-fiction book, “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools,” Philippa Vincent-Connolly explores the lives of famous fools and monarchs with disabilities to discover how they were treated by Tudor society.

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this book, I was interested in learning more, and I will admit that studies on those who had disabilities in the past have never been an area of research that I considered before. I wanted to learn more and see if Vincent-Connolly could provide new information about the Tudors.

To understand disabilities during the Tudor dynasty, Vincent-Connolly defines a few terms, such as a natural fool, those with disabilities, and an artificial fool, which we consider clowns or jesters. They were either viewed as vile sinners or holy innocents, more divine than the average citizen. Like William Somers and Jayne Foole, natural fools were deemed prominent members of the Tudor court and allowed to speak freely to the monarch ruling at the time. Those who lived at court were well taken care of and were depicted in portraits as background figures. Of course, disabilities also affected royalty and the nobility, like Henry VIII, Claude of France, and Lady Mary Grey. For those who did not have the luxury of living at court, some Poor Laws and communities were dedicated to caring for natural fools. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the care for those with disabilities shifted from the church to the communities and their families.

Vincent-Connolly has a passion for this subject and is genuinely dedicated to sharing that passion with fellow Tudor nerds. The one major problem that I had with this book was its repetitive nature, and if it were organized better, this repetitive problem would not be as bad, which would be an easier read. She included one source that I disagreed with, but it was a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.

Overall, I found this book informative and fascinating. The lives of Tudors who had disabilities mattered, and it was an intriguing book that added a new aspect to Tudor research. I think this will open a discussion about those who had disabilities in the past and give us a better appreciation of their struggles and how they survived. If you want to learn something new about this dynasty, I suggest you check out “Disability and the Tudors: All the King’s Fools” by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly.

Book Review: “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager

57933320On a cold December day in 1386, two knights met at the field at Saint-Martin-Des-Champs in Paris to face each other in a duel. This may seem like your average duel for entertainment to any outsider, but this was a duel to the death to determine who was telling the truth when it came to a sinister crime. A Norman knight, Jean de Carrouges, accused a squire, Jacques Le Gris, of raping his wife, Marguerite. It was a truly heinous crime, but what was it true, and why did these accusations lead to a duel to the death? Eric Jager explores this specific event and the factors that led to this clash in his nonfiction book, “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat.”

I became interested in this book when I heard that it was being turned into a movie. I talked to the Five Minute Medievalist Daniele Cybulskie on Twitter about the film, and she mentioned this book. I wanted to read this book before I watched the movie to compare the two interpretations of the tale.

During this duel, France was in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War with England. It was a time of tension when loyalty, chivalry, and honor meant a great deal to knights and members of the nobility. Teen King Charles VI ruled France with the help of his uncles and men who were as loyal, such as the wealthy Count Pierre of Alencon and his knights, including Jean de Carrourges. Jean de Carrouges’ family was known for their loyalty and landholding, which Jean IV hoped would continue during his time as head of the family. However, this was not to be. Unlike his predecessor Count Robert of Perche, Count Pierre did not favor the de Carrouges family, but instead to a squire named Jacques Le Gris.

Jacques Le Gris and Jean de Carrouges were old friends, but when Count Pierre gave property that de Carrouges believed would pass onto him as part of the inheritance to Le Gris, a feud began between the two. The feud hit a fever pitch after Jean de Carrouges married his second wife, Marguerite, the daughter of Robert de Thibouville, who betrayed the French king twice and still kept his head. Although he married a traitor’s daughter, de Carrouges stayed loyal to Count Pierre and ventured to Scotland to fight for King Charles VI, which proved disastrous.

Broke and in poor health, de Carrouges pleaded with Count Pierre for financial help, but he insulted Le Gris. This was the final straw for Le Gris, and he decided to attack de Carrouges, where it would hurt, by attacking his innocent wife. Naturally, de Carrourges was upset and took his case against Le Gris to the Parlement of Paris, where he declared that he wanted to face Le Gris in a duel, an ancient trial by combat where the victor would be declared innocent. If de Carrouges lost the fight, he would not only be risking his soul to damnation, but his wife would be burned alive.

Jager brings to life a story from the past full of drama and intrigue that will capture modern readers’ attention. The amount of details that he includes in this nonfiction book makes it feel like a historical fiction novel. Jager spent ten years researching this one story, and it shows. It was such a gripping story, especially the duel itself, that I was a little sad when it ended. If you want a gripping tale of love, revenge, and justice, you must read “The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat” by Eric Jager.

Book Review: “Rizzio” by Denise Mina

57147033 (1)David Rizzio was one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ favorites at court and the private secretary to the queen. Being a royal favorite would not have been seen as a grave offense in any other country during this time, yet this is Scotland in the 16th century. Scotland was filled with deadly feuds between lords fighting for control of the crown, which would lead to numerous prominent men being murdered, including Rizzio. On March 9, 1566, David Rizzio was murdered in front of Mary, Queen of Scots, while she was several months pregnant. The tale of the grotesque crime and those who witnessed the events of that night are told in Denis Mina’s latest gripping novella, “Rizzio.”

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this novella. When I read the description of this book and how dynamic the cover design was, I knew that I wanted to read this title. I was intrigued to see how Denise Mina would write the tale of Rizzio for a modern audience.

We begin with a tennis match between David Rizzio and Lord Darnley, Mary’s angsty and angry husband. Darnley wants to be King of Scotland and is tired of Rizzio getting in the way of his plans and that his wife favors this Italian nobody. He wants Rizzio to die, but not by his hands. Darnley has enlisted a ragtag group of nobles to help kill Rizzio and make way for Darnley to become the King.

However, things don’t go as smoothly as Darnley plans. Mary hosts a dinner party for a small group of friends at Holyrood Palace before she goes into confinement to give birth to her son and heir, James VI. A delightful party is disrupted by Darnley, Lord Ruthven, and their men, including one Henry Yair, who have come to kill Rizzio. Mary tries in vain to protect her Italian favorite, but she cannot save her friend in the end.

The tension and the drama that Mina was able to create in such a short amount of time were masterfully done. She was able to show how complex Scottish politics and the battle between Catholicism and reform so that readers who are not familiar with this time could understand the friction between the factions. Even though I knew the history behind this event, how Mina described it sent shivers down my spine. The one issue that I had with this novella was the ending, and it felt a bit flat and rushed to me. I wish she would have tied in the death of Mary and Darnley a bit better into the murder of Rizzio.

I think for a historical fiction novella, Mina does an excellent job of grabbing the reader’s attention and transporting them to that horrible night. This story may be short, but the emotional impact and details will stay with readers even after reading it. If you love reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and Stuart Scotland during the 16th century, you will find “Rizzio” by Denise Mina thrilling.

Book Review: “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” by Sarah Gristwood

58218928._SY475_When we think about love, we have ideas about how people fall in love through dating and wooing one another. Sweet words and gestures. Flowers and chocolate. Dates at fun venues and romantic dinners. This is a more modern interpretation of romance and love, which was vastly different than the concept of courtly love that was common in royal circles in medieval Europe. What exactly was courtly love, and how did it play a role in the Tudor dynasty? Sarah Gristwood explores this topic in her latest nonfiction book, “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty.”

Before we dive head deep into Tudor history, Gristwood gives us a history lesson into the origins of courtly love and how it evolved. We begin with the 12th century and the stories of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot that Chretien de Troyes wrote. Troyes’ romantic tales were known to Eleanor of Aquitaine and the troubadours that would spread them to every royal court in Europe. This game of romance between royals and the ideas of knights protecting their fair maidens from danger would change over time. Still, the basic idea that emotions and feelings were central to courtly love would remain prevalent. We see different authors, like Chaucer and Dante, approach the concept of courtly love from different directions and specific rules of this love game set in stone for future generations.

Gristwood traverses the complex family drama known as the Wars of the Roses to show how both Lancaster and York played the courtly game of love. The ways that the sides played the game were different with the various couples involved, but the ideas culminated with the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The imagery of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were passed down to their sons, Prince Arthur and King Henry VIII. Henry VIII would play the game of courtly love with each of his six wives, with varying degrees of success. He would find out that courtly love and politics would be a complex combination to maintain, and this lesson would pass onto his children as they tried to play the game.

Edward VI and Mary I tried to play the game, but they soon realized they were destined to be more involved with politics than love. It was their half-sister Elizabeth who brought back courtly love to its former glory with her numerous favorites. Although the actions of the Tudors can tell us a lot about their intentions, their letters and poetry gave a better understanding of how this courtly love game was played.

I found the new information that Gristwood provided in this book was fascinating. It gave a new dimension to the Tudor dynasty and the relationships between the monarchy and their courtiers or mistresses. An innovative nonfiction book about love, chivalric stories, and the desire for power that any Tudor fan will adore. If you love books by Sarah Gristwood and learning new aspects about Tudor court life, you must have “The Tudors in Love: The Courtly Code Behind the Last Medieval Dynasty” in your collection.