The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan

ISBN 978-1-84854-876-3

I’ve often wondered what it would be like for someone from the past to suddenly find themselves in our time. Much would depend on when, and from what environment they came.

This book has a US Massachusetts judge called Jeremiah, who fell overboard in 1906 into freezing sea, and who quickly became part of an iceberg, being unfrozen by a group of scientists, including the heroine Kate Philo. Its a very human kind of love story. The author is gentle and empathetic when dealing with (most) of his characters, and the theme is dealt with intelligently. Kiernan is very good at clearly describing scenes and situations, as well as different personalities. It’s very much a book about people and their relationships, but also remains remains an enjoyable page-turner.

I highly recommended it.

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The Spirit of London by Boris Johnson

ISBN 978-0-00-751117-4

With Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Australia, and having only recently discovered that he has written a number of books, I decided to buy a couple and find out how he writes.

“The Spirit of London” (an updated version of “Johnson’s Life of London”, is very good. Most chapters cover famous London characters from Boudica and Mellitus to Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. I’m not sure how much of his politics I agree with, but he is one of those politicians (Malcolm Turnbull, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Carr) who seems to see beyond immediate issues. He has studied the past and applied it to the present. He has a level of empathy, and gentleness.

He emphasises the nature of the London population, 40% having been born outside the UK. He scorns those that call naturalised British citizens “plastic Brits”. For thousands of years generations of people from all over the world have migrated to London, making it one of the greatest cities in the world. Whether these were Romans, Danes, Huguenots, West Indians, or more recently Poles. He notes that London is now one of the largest French cities, with such a large French population, that French presidential candidates feel they have to visit London on their campaign trails.

He does claim that the first flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harington in 1596 for the Virgin Queen, although I remember seeing one in Knossos, Crete, which admittedly was very crude, but was also another 3500 years older.

I’d never heard of Mary Seacole, born in Jamaica in 1805, and a major contributor to nursing. She tried to join Florence Nightingale in Crimea, but after rejection set up a “British Hotel” there as “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers”, but also helped soldiers on the battlefield, including Russians and Turks.

Richard (Dick) Whittington (born on or just after 1397), Lord Mayor a number of times, set up a charity with his wealth, that still supplies cash to the needy today.

JMW Turner and Constable’s difficult relationship is fascinating, as are the chapters on Robert Hooke and John Wilkes. He discusses what these people did, but also their personalities and quirks.

I’m looking forward to reading “The Dream of Rome”, the other book of his I bought.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

ISBN 978-0-85720-543-8

900 Jews holding out against the Romans on a mountain in a place known as Masada. This story is about the two woman and five children who survived.

The author manages to bring the characters and the situation into raw, awe inspiring life. She combines historical detail, life, drama, and magic in a book that I can only fully recommend you read.

After reading the book I wanted to visit Masada. It’s a place I’d heard about as a child, but never given much thought to. Like so many of the best books of this sort,  one of its strengths is that it is primarily about people, but also full of detail on the situation in the middle east in that time.

The Last Apache Girl by Jim Fergus

ISBN 978-0-330-44585-6

Set in the 1930’s Ned Giles, an aspirant photographer from the North, joins an expedition to track down a young Mexican boy, taken by Apache. Ned meets a young Apache girl who survived her family’s massacre by scalp hunters. The Mexican government paid for Apache scalps at the time.

My grandfather travelled in the “wild west” in the first decades of the 20th century crossing the country under trains and dragging bodies out of bars. This historical romance certainly rings true, including the social attitudes and lawlessness of the time concurring with his stories.

Although my description makes the book sound very violent, it is not. It’s an easy-to-read, historically fascinating romance, and well worth a read.

The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin

ISBN 978-00-0-7313242 Harper Collins, 2008

This centres around a newspaperman, Thomas Kitson, and is set in Crimea and Manchester during and just after the Crimean war in the 1850s. This is Plampin’s first novel. I will be first in line to buy the next one.

The British military leadership’s arrogance and sociopathic attitude of the time is very clearly shown, along with the way the main characters’ lives are affected by their society and their personalities. The book is full of historic facts and descriptions of the society of the time, but also full of fast moving drama, passion, treachery and betrayal.

A French Affair by Susan Lewis

ISBN 978-0-7531-2704-9 Isis Audio Books, Read by Karen Cass

An excellent “page turner”, read extremely well by Karen Cass. Set in the UK and France, it combines escapism, sensuality and drama, and has sent me back to the library to look for more books by the same author.

The story is about a Jessica, a wife and mother, who suspicious of the circumstances around her daughter’s accidental death, insists on travelling to Burgundy to investigate.

It’s the kind of book that makes you wish you had the money to allow you to move to France and start a vinyard.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

ISBN 9780006514008 HarperCollins

This is the first Philippa Gregory book I’ve read and I’m very impressed. She has an extremely convincing knowledge of the Tudor period and manages to bring the sorry saga of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to life. Vivid, easy to read and fascinating.

Like any good historical novel, it seems wrong to label this fiction.

I’ll be reading more of her books soon.