Book Review: “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen

60293344._SY475_The year is 1522, and London is in a jovial mood. King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon are to play host to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as he visits England. As one of King Henry VIII’s most loyal advisors, Cardinal Wolsey had the great honor of hosting a grand masque featuring King Arthur and the Black Knight for the distinguished company. Unfortunately, as preparations for the luxurious masque are in full swing, Wolsey’s historian is horrifically murdered. The only one who can solve the case is Anthony Blanke, the son of John Blanke, the trumpeter before the masque is ruined, and Henry VIII discovers the truth. The story of this case is told in Steven Veerapen’s latest novel, “Of Blood Descended.”

I want to thank Steven Veerapen for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I am always in the mood for a good Tudor mystery, and when I heard that the main character was the son of John Blanke, I was intrigued to see how Veerapen would portray his story.

Veerapen begins this novel by introducing Pietro Gonzaga, Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, and his family as Gonzaga is on the cusp of revolutionary discovery. We then cut to Anthony Blanke returning to London after his father, John Blanke’s death. He is reluctant to go back to court and all of its intrigues, but it is necessary as Cardinal Wolsey himself summoned him. Wolsey is hosting a grand masque in honor of King Henry VIII and the Imperial Emperor Charles V; the theme is King Arthur and the Black Knight, and he has decided to cast Anthony as the titular Black Knight.

Progress with the masque goes smoothly until someone discovers Signor Gonzaga’s body after being brutally slain. Gonzaga’s murder sets the stage for a whirlwind chase to find the murderer, but the monster leaves a trail of blood behind him, and no one is safe. The action, intrigue, and mysteries will keep you guessing until the final pages to figure out who the mastermind was behind it all.

I loved the mystery behind the murder and how Veerapen was able to weave the Arthurian legends and prophecies with the story of the Tudors. I enjoyed the cameos from Thomas Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, but my favorite cameo was Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil, who does not appear that often in Tudor historical fiction. I thought Anthony was such a fascinating protagonist as he gave a different perspective on the diversity of London life. Even though characters like Anthony Blanke, Sister Jane, Mark Byfield, and Harry Gainsford are entirely fictional characters, they feel like they would fit exceptionally well in the Tudor world.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn that Veerapen included in this novel. I hope to see more stories with Anthony, Jane, Mark, and Harry. If you enjoy Tudor murder mysteries, you will be enthralled with “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen.

Book Review: “River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads” by Cat Jarman

53242328 (1)When we think of Vikings, a few images come to mind. It is either the cartoonish image of warriors with horned helmets or blood-soaked warriors from TV shows like The Vikings. They are seen as men and women who fight Christians in England and France and sometimes into North America, but we do not see them in the east. With archaeological digs and discoveries being made recently, what can the artifacts tell us about the Viking world? In “River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads,” Dr. Cat Jarman takes her readers on a journey of discovery, following the trail of a single carnelian bead.

I have read a few books about Vikings, and of course, I have watched historical dramas about this period, but I wanted to know more. When I heard about this particular title, I was captivated by the prospect of learning something new about these warriors that have interested us for centuries.

Dr. Cat Jarman is a bioarchaeologist and field archaeologist passionate about discovering the truth about the Viking Age. She explains how each discovery was made and what scientific processes to discover the truth. We can figure out where these people might be from and what they ate during their lives through the teeth and bones of the bodies. But what is left beside the bodies gives us clues into what the Vikings were doing during their lifetimes, giving us a better understanding of these men and women from Scandanavia.

We began our journey in 2017 when Dr. Jarman possessed a single carnelian bead. The bead was discovered in Repton, along with a mass burial that included the bodies of a father and son. This single bead takes her on a journey to discover why the Vikings had this kind of bead and what other artifacts she found along the way might tell us about this group of people. From DNA analysis to silver coins that might have been used to buy enslaved people, statues of women in armor, nails from ships used to transport the warriors across the sea and rivers, and graffiti that was left behind give us hints about the Viking lifestyle.

Before I read this book, I thought Vikings and their journeys were limited to England, France, and Scandinavia because they are the most popular stories. Still, the Vikings traveled as far as the Middle East and perhaps India and the Silk Road. The way Dr. Jarman balanced scientific and archaeological research with the historical and mythological narrative into a thrilling book to read.

“River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Roads” by Cat Jarman is a masterpiece that anyone who loves history, Vikings, or archaeology will adore. If you think you know the history of the Viking Age, I urge you to read this brilliant book. I can’t wait to hear more about Dr. Cat Jarman’s research into this age and what else will be discovered soon.

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: “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: “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones

57841287As the weather gets colder, the leaves turn brilliant colors and fall from their trees, marking the perfect time of the year to snuggle with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good spooky tale. Many would reach for a modern supernatural story, but ghost tales have been hiding in archives for centuries. One such story comes from the time of King Richard II. It was first found and transcribed from Latin in 1922 by medievalist M.R. James. Dan Jones has taken on the challenge to retell this story for a modern audience. Initially written by an unknown monk of Byland Abbey, this medieval ghost story is called “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings.”

I want to thank Head of Zeus Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I am a big fan of Dan Jones and his historical nonfiction books, so I was thrilled when I heard about this title.

Our tale begins with the tailor named Snowball and his horse Borin traveling home from Gilling to Ampleforth one November night. All of a sudden, Snowball is attacked by a raven that transforms into a grotesque dog. The dog gives Snowball a mission that only he can complete, to find a specific priest to ask for absolution for a criminal with no name and whose crime we do not know. If he does not return to the same spot where he has met the dog, there will be consequences.

To give readers even more information, Jones includes the story of how M.R.James came to find the tale and why he chose to bring this story into the 21st century. He also tells the story of Byland Abbey and includes the original Latin text for those who feel ambitious to translate it themselves.

I am not usually a fan of creepy ghost stories, but I found this tale entirely enthralling, and it sent chills down my back in a matter of pages. Even though Jones does not include that many physical descriptions for characters like Snowball and Borin, I can picture this tale playing out. For his first venture into the world of fiction, I think Jones does a brilliant job, and I hope one day he will make an anthology of medieval ghost stories. If you want a delightfully ghoulish ghost story that is perfect for fall, I highly recommend you read “The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings” by Dan Jones.

Book Review: “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings

56549196The period of human history that we know today as the Middle Ages spanned over a thousand years, and within that time, significant progress was made into understanding our world. Inventions and discoveries were made not just in Europe but throughout the known world during this time. One area of study that saw a lot of change was medical studies and understanding the human body. How did physicians heal the sick during the Middle Ages, and how did their experiences change their field of study? These questions and more are all explored in Juliana Cummings’ latest book, “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this book. I like learning about aspects from the past, so when I saw this title, I was interested in reading it. I am not usually curious about medical information, but medieval medical history draws me in, so I hope to learn more.

To understand many of the theories of medieval medicine and their origins, we have to go back to the Greeks, primarily Galen and Hippocrates. Many people would be familiar with the works of Hippocrates. Still, they might not be familiar with Galen even if they know his Four Humours Theory, which was pivotal in understanding the human body. Cummings also includes the works of Arab scholars, European scholars, and physicians to help the audience understand how vast the world of medical history was during the Middle Ages.

Cummings does not stick with one medical treatment or disease during this time, and she covers everything from the Black Death, syphilis, and leprosy to pregnancy and injuries during battle. Reading about the theories and cures that physicians, apothecaries, and barber surgeons applied to heal the sick and dying was quite fascinating. Even though I did take a copious amount of notes while reading this book, I did feel like other books on this subject did a better job of focusing on the medicine part. This book introduces many theories and physicians to those unfamiliar with medical history, but it falls a bit flat with actual cures that they would have used. The ending of this book also needed a bit of work since it just ended abruptly. I think it would have been appropriate for Cummings to explain why the history of medieval medicine is important for readers to understand in the 21st century and beyond.

Overall, I think this was a decent introductory book into the vast world of medieval medical history. Cummings’s writing style is easy to follow, and she has done her research about this subject. If you want a solid introductory book into the world of medieval medical history, you should check out “Medicine in the Middle Ages: Surviving the Times” by Juliana Cummings.

Book Review: “The Boleyns of Hever Castle” by Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway

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As history nerds, many have wondered what life might have been like during our favorite dynasties. What were castles like in their heydays? Though we might not have a time machine, we have rare chances to visit the actual castles that our favorite historical figures called home. One such place is the breathtaking home of the Boleyns, Hever Castle. Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway have combined their talents to create a beautiful book all about this magical place entitled “The Boleyns of Hever Castle.”

As someone who has never visited England before, Hever Castle is on my bucket list of Tudor places to visit. I have seen the gorgeous pictures and videos from those who have visited and get the exciting opportunity to work at Hever, like Owen Emmerson, the Assistant Curator and Castle historian at Hever. When I heard that Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway were writing this book together, I knew I had to read it.

Like any good tour guide, Emmerson and Ridgway paint a picture for their readers of what they might see when they visit the castle. As they explain, the castle has gone through a few renovations throughout the centuries, so they focus on areas that would have been familiar to the Boleyn family during their 77-year stay.

Of course, Emmerson and Ridgway take an in-depth look into the Boleyn family, how they became owners of this stately palace, and how the estate survived after the fall of the illustrious family. For those who know the story of the Boleyns, it is a delightful reminder of how important Hever was as their home when times got somewhat rocky at the court of Henry VIII. What I found most intriguing was how the castle and the legacy of the Boleyns survived because people like William Waldorf Astor and Queen Victoria had such a love for the Tudors and preserving the past.

It is not just the brilliant writing that tells the tale of Hever Castle in this clever book, and the photographs tell the other half of the story. Since Tudor fans may not have had a chance to visit, myself included, these pictures, sketches, and maps add another layer of enjoyment to this book. Full of fascinating facts, colorful photos, and rigorous research, “The Boleyns of Hever Castle” by Owen Emmerson and Claire Ridgway is an essential book for anyone who is a fan of the Boleyns and the Tudor dynasty.

Book Review: “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner” by Josephine Wilkinson

55781068A man hidden from the world languishes for decades in a prison cell. He is not allowed to speak to anyone, or he will face severe consequences. Often in literature, his head is covered in a mask made of iron. His identity and why he angered King Louis XIV so much have remained a mystery for centuries. The prisoner was known as the man in the iron mask throughout history, but who was this enigmatic figure? In her latest book, “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner,” Josephine Wilkinson dives deep into the archives to construct his story and the stories of the men behind the mystery.

I want to thank Pegasus Books for sending me a copy of this book. I usually do not read books about 17th century France; however, I had heard high praise about this particular title. I wanted to learn more about different great mysteries in history, so I decided to try this narrative.

Wilkinson’s narrative follows Eustache Danger, who many believe to be the infamous prisoner. He spent nearly 30 years in the prison system of France during the reign of King Louis XIV and was constantly under the watchful eye of his jailer, Benigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars. Saint-Mars followed the direct orders of the minister of war, Francois Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois. Eustache was not the only prisoner who was kept under Saint-Mars’ surveillance. Wilkinson also tracks the movements of prominent prisoners like Nicholas Foucquet and Antonin Nompar de Caumont, Comte de Lauzun to show how drastically different Eustache’s punishment is compared to the higher echelons of society.

Eustache’s story is broken down by who he was associated with and the actual prisons he would call home for 30 years. The story of the man in the iron mask is often associated with Bastille, but that was his final destination. Starting in Pignerol, Eustache would follow Saint-Mars to the Chateau d’Exilles and the Ile Sainte-Marguerite, until finally ending up at the Bastille; each prison had its unique accommodations and transportation issues for the silent prisoner. No one was aware of what crime he committed and why silence was his punishment. Yet, people have speculated throughout the centuries, from Voltaire to Alexander Dumas, with Wilkinson providing her theory about who he was and the crime he might have committed to enduring the wrath of the king for so long. These theories would take an obscurely silent prisoner to a man whose face was hidden from the world in a mask made of iron.

There is a reason that the story of Eustache Danger’s imprisonment has captured the imagination of historians for generations, and that is because it is so mysterious. Wilkinson’s narrative and her meticulous research into the archives have brought his story back into the spotlight. The descriptions of prison life are so vivid, with details of Eustache’s life interwoven beautifully. He may not have had a chance to speak while he was alive, but Wilkinson has given the prisoner a voice that will capture anyone’s attention. If you want a thrilling read full of intrigue, drama, and myths galore, you should check out “The Man in the Iron Mask: The True Story of Europe’s Most Famous Prisoner” by Josephine Wilkinson.

Book Review: “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom” by Annie Whitehead

38243840._SY475_England’s history is full of daring moves and colorful characters, but it is also very ancient compared to other countries. We often considered the “start” of English history in school as the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nevertheless, this was just a stage in the massive story of the island. We have to consider those who called England their home; those who knew England, not as a unified country, but seven kingdoms known as the heptarchy. The most famous of these seven kingdoms was Wessex, the last kingdom, but their mortal enemy had a rich history of their own. Mercia was a thriving kingdom for hundreds of years, with colorful characters that many people are not familiar with. Annie Whitehead has taken the tales of this forgotten kingdom to the forefront with her book, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom.” 

I would like to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. I was looking forward to learning about the Mercians and why their stories are significant in Anglo-Saxon England. My knowledge about this kingdom is minutiae, although I know some famous figures, including Lady Godiva, Penda, and Aethelflaed, from other books written by Whitehead. 

Whitehead begins her journey into this kingdom’s rich history with the story of the 7th-century ruler Penda, the Pagan King of Mercia. His tale of surviving savage battles and making Mercia into a powerhouse set the standard for Mercian kings that would follow. His son and successor, Peada, would bring Christianity to Mercia, and the diocese of Lichfield, which still exists today, would be formed shortly afterward. Mercia was a kingdom that fought for survival against the remaining six realms of the heptarchy, especially against Wessex. Of course, it was not just other Anglo-Saxons that the Mercians were pitted against, as we see the rise of the Vikings with their Great Heathen Army and  Welsh princes fight for control of the isle. 

Mercia’s kings would fall into obscurity as Mercia turned from a kingdom to an earldom with the uniting of the heptarchy into one nation under one king. We know about Mercia’s history through scant details included in annuls and accounts written by men like Henry of Huntingdon and Bede and chronicles like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Whitehead has combed every source to give her readers the most comprehensive history of a realm that has been forgotten over time. The very nature is academic, yet Whitehead tries to engage those armchair historians who might be familiar with characters like Godiva, Aethelbad, and Offa with tales of murder and intrigue. My advice for future readers of this title is to take notes as there is a plethora of information, especially royal genealogy. 

Mercia is a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to my knowledge of its history, but that just made reading this title even more thrilling. If you want a story of one of the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, you should check out, “Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom” by Annie Whitehead. Whitehead has brought the tales of Mercia to a modern audience in the best way possible.

Book Review: “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner

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The future King of England married a Spanish princess to create an alliance between the two countries through their children. This may sound like the marriage of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon. However, this story is much older and the happy couple was Edward I and Leonor of Castile. Unlike the Tudor match, Edward and Leonor have numerous children, including Edward’s heir who would one day become Edward II, whose story has been told in various ways. The stories that Kathryn Warner has chosen to focus upon in her latest book, “Daughters of Edward I”, are the princesses who tend to be hidden behind their brother’s legacy.

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book. I have read a few books by Kathryn Warner in the past and I have enjoyed them in the past for their complex nature. I enjoy a challenge and when I heard about this book, I knew I wanted to give it a shot. I, unfortunately, was not familiar with these princesses before partaking in this new adventure, so I was excited to hear their stories for the first time.

Edward I and Leonor of Castile had around fourteen children, but only six lived into adulthood; their heir Edward II and his five sisters. The names of the sisters were Eleanor of Windsor, Joan of Acre, Margaret of Brabant, Mary of Woodstock, and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. Their marriages and children, except for Mary of Woodstock who would become a reluctant nun, would connect the Plantagenet bloodline to some of the most important families in England and beyond. When it comes to the marriages of the sisters, they tend to follow the counsel of the crown, except for Joan of Acre who chose to follow her heart and marry a man who she loved for her second marriage.

Warner’s specialty is unraveling the convoluted nature of certain family trees to uncover members who tend to slip into the shadows of the past. She explores the sisters’ relationships with their father Edward I, their brother Edward II, their nephew who would become Edward III, as well as the families that were essential to understanding England during the 13th and 14th centuries. I will admit that I did find myself using the lists in the back that gave brief descriptions of the daughters and their children as I was getting a tad confused on who was who and their relationship to others. However, I am really glad that Warner included that resource as it added something to this book.

Warner has taken on the difficult task of trying to uncover the stories of the daughters of Edward I and Leonor of Castile and has given readers a resource that can prove valuable in understanding this complex family dynamic. There were parts where the writing was a touch dry for my taste, but overall I found it a stimulating reading and that is because of the laborious research that Warner partook to tell their tales and the tales of their descendants. If you want a meticulously researched resource that tells the stories of women who knew Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III well, “Daughters of Edward I” by Kathryn Warner is the perfect book for you to add to your collection.