The Cruel Way by Ella K. Maillart

bookshelves: under-50-ratings, published-1947, travel, summer-2015, paper-read, women

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: BrokenTune
Read from January 26 to July 13, 2015
Description: Once again Ella Maillart is on her way to Asia, but she is not alone. Christina, (real name Annemarie Schwarzenbach) a friend of Klaus and Erika Mann, accompanies her. She possesses exceptional charm and talent but she is a drug addict. Two courageous women, both highly original, find themselves in a difficult situation. An 18 hp Ford car takes the experienced travellers towards Afghanistan, via Istanbul, Trebizond, Tehran and Herat. They face checkpoints, poor roads, petty officials, crowds, deserts. Ella Maillart brings to her account her skill of precise observation, her taste for encounters and her affinity for the nomads, as well as her historical knowledge and the ethnological approach of a great Asia specialist.

To Christina
In Memorium

Opening:“If it’s not warmer tomorrow when I take you to the station, the car might easily break down: it can no longer cope with such frosts.”

Having read All the Roads Are Open, the other side of the coin, I must say that Maillart’s offering is to be preferred. I want to read the Silk Road one where Maillart goes drive about with Ian Fleming’s bro’.

The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager

Ordered on the back of Blood Royal

Description: The gripping, atmospheric true story of the “duel to end all duels” in medieval France: a trial by combat pitting a knight against a squire accused of violating the knight’s beautiful young wife

In 1386, a few days after Christmas, a huge crowd gathers at a Paris monastery to watch the two men fight a duel to the death meant to “prove” which man’s cause is right in God’s sight. The dramatic true story of the knight, the squire, and the lady unfolds during the devastating Hundred Years War between France and England, as enemy troops pillage the land, madness haunts the French court, the Great Schism splits the Church, Muslim armies threaten Christendom, and rebellion, treachery, and plague turn the lives of all into toys of Fortune.
At the heart of the tale is Jean de Carrouges, a Norman knight who returns from combat in Scotland to find his wife, Marguerite, accusing Jacques LeGris, her husband’s old friend and fellow courtier, of brutally raping her. The knight takes his cause before the teenage King Charles VI, the highest judge in France. Amid LeGris’s vociferous claims of innocence and doubts about the now pregnant Marguerite’s charges (and about the paternity of her child), the deadlocked court decrees a “trial by combat” that leaves her fate, too, in the balance. For if her husband and champion loses the duel, she will be put to death as a false accuser.
Carrouges and LeGris, in full armor, eventually meet on a walled field in Paris before a massive crowd that includes the king and many nobles of the realm. A fierce fight on horseback and then on foot ensues during which both combatants suffer wounds—but only one fatal. The violent and tragic episode was notorious in its own time because of the nature of the alleged crime, the legal impasse it provoked, and the resulting trial by combat, an ancient but increasingly suspect institution that was thereafter abolished.
Based on extensive research in Normandy and Paris, The Last Duel brings to life a colorful, turbulent age and three unforgettable characters caught in a fatal triangle of crime, scandal, and revenge. It is at once a moving human drama, a captivating detective story, and an engrossing work of historical intrigue.


sine qua non

Opening: On a cold morning a few days after 1386, thousands of people packed a large open space behind a monastery in Paris to watch two knights fight a duel to the death.

Jager spared us nothing in stage setting the circumstances for the duel and for this reason Part I seemed important and exhausting in equal measure. It was interesting that the Scots did not appreciate French troops arrival to help against the English.

Part II kicks of with a chapter called The Judgement of God and some of those there late mediaeval laws are hilarious to the modern-day eye:

A horse that killed a man and then scaped with its master’s help was convicted of murder in absentia and hanged in effigy.
p. 132

The duel was written in an eye-scorching way, no two ways about that. Did you think justice was served?

Having dipped into this for over a year, it feels good to finally get it off the onhold shelf!

4* Royal Blood
3.5* The Last Duel

Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall…

Description: Set in the dashing, roaring days of the wicked 1600’s this is the story of the lovely, wanton Barbara Skelton, who craved excitement and adventure and embraces more satisfying than her dull bore of a husband could give her. So Barbara turned to highway robbery and with her lovely figure concealed in male attire, she became a terror to wealthy travellers, who saw only the muzzle of her pistol and the masked face behind it. But in that lonely countryside rode another ‘gentleman of the road’ who, one fatelful night, was to discover Barbara’s secret. Between these two outcasts there flared a fierce, brutal passion which gave Barbara the unhealthly excitment that her wanton nature craved. The pair took ever more dangerous risks until inevitably the figer of suspicion pointed at Barbara. Murder, unfaithfulness and betrayal followed, and Barbara watched her accomplice die on the gallows, believing she was now safe herself. She was wrong. Fate had a stranger end in store for Barbara Skelton, and she was to pay her debt in full.

Operation Cicero by L.C. Moyzisch

bookshelves: film-only, summer-2015, published-1950, wwii, under-20, spies, turkish-and-or-ottoman-root, biography

Recommended for: Laura, Wanda et al
Read from April 13 to July 07, 2015

Description: During WWII the valet to the British Ambassador to Ankara sells British secrets to the Germans while trying to romance a refugee Polish countess.…

Elyesa Bazna dressed for a singing recital at about the time he began his exploits.


The Ionia Sanction (The Athenian Mysteries #2) by Gary Corby

Description: The case takes Nico, in the company of a beautiful slave girl, to the land of Ionia within the Persian Empire. The Persians will execute him on the spot if they think he’s a spy. Beyond that, there are only a few minor problems:

He’s being chased by brigands who are only waiting for the right price before they kill him.

Somehow he has to placate his girlfriend, who is very angry about that slave girl.

He must meet Themistocles, the military genius who saved Greece during the Persian Wars, and then defected to the hated enemy.

And to solve the crime, Nico must uncover a secret that could not only destroy Athens, but will force him to choose between love, and ambition, and his own life.

For Helen,
and Megan

Opening: I ran my finger along one foot of the corpse, then the other, making the body swing with a lazy, uncaring rhythm. I stared at his feet, my nose so close I went cross-eyed as the toes swung my way.

It is always mind-boggling to stand within the ruins of Ephesus knowing that once upon a time this was a city smack-bang on the coast. Now it is land-locked, the same as Portus in Italy.

Anyway, getting back on track, Nico travels to Ephesus which is mostly independent from the ubiquitous Persian overlords, to return a slave and ‘sort of’ look for Diotima who we met in the first book. I would have preferred not to have found the pole-dancing Brion, yet finding out why ceramics are being imported to Athens, where the modern equivalent is sending coals to Newcastle, was a fun ride.

LATER: after reading through the end notes I can tell you these events took place 460BC, my maths in the contrast section below were out by ten years because I based it on Socrates’ birth ~469BC and matched his actions in this book to teenager/young man behaviour.


Ruins of Magnesia


Trivia from wiki: Socrates says that in his youth he was taught “the philosophy of love” by Diotima, who was a seer or priestess. Socrates also claims that Diotima successfully postponed the Plague of Athens.

Themistocles asks Artaxerxes for sanctuary.

Maeander river which gives rise to the word meander. As Benny Hill used to say: ‘learning all zee time’! heh

Juggling two hist-fics from ancient Hellene at the same time was rather fun and they yearn to be contrasted.

The King and the Slave: Croesus at the age of 70 and slave first to Cyrus and then to the son, Cambyses, so this must be ~525BC. The setting is Lydia, which is western modern day Turkey and the philosopher mentioned is Solon. Croesus is attributed with inventing the first coins.

Straight hist-fic based on Herodotus’ writings, engagingly conveyed and nicely narrated in the audio form. Recommended.

The Ionia Sanction: Socrates is a young man so this must be ~450BC. The other philosopher mentioned is Anaxagoras. The setting is Ephesus in Ionia and the Persian King is Artaxerxes.

An historical-fiction mystery, written in an amusing upbeat manner yet falls well short of slapstick, thank heavens. Recommended

4* The Pericles Commission (The Athenian Mysteries, #1)
4* The Ionia Sanction (The Athenian Mysteries, #2)

The King and the Slave by Tim Leach

bookshelves: summer-2015, ancient-history, historical-fiction, war, published-2014, under-10-ratings

Recommended for: Susanna, Wanda, Laura et al
Read from April 18 to July 06, 2015

Narrated by: Barnaby Edwards
Length: 9 hrs

Description: Ten years after the fall of Babylon, Cyrus’s army is on the march again. His slave Croesus, no longer a young man, accompanies him as always, as does the king’s son and heir Cambyses, who has inherited none of his father’s diplomacy or charisma and all of his vanity and violence.

When the warriors of Persia are unexpectedly crushed in battle Cyrus is put to death, and Cambyses assumes the throne. Croesus, once a king himself, is called upon to guide the young man; but the young man cannot be guided, and after taking offence at an insult by an Egyptian ruler, Cambyses takes the full force of his father’s empire to Africa for bloody and brutal vengeance…

Buggrit! this is the second in a series based upon Herodotus’ writings and I am thoroughly enjoying it so will have to find that first book…

Cambyses II of Persia capturing pharaoh Psamtik III. Image on Persian seal, VI century BC.

Cambyses II was a cruel, bloodthirsty tyrant which makes for a great read.

Juggling two hist-fics from ancient Hellene at the same time was rather fun and they yearn to be contrasted.

The King and the Slave: Croesus at the age of 70 and slave first to Cyrus and then to the son, Cambyses, so this must be ~525BC. The setting is Lydia, which is western modern day Turkey and the philosopher mentioned is Solon. Croesus is attributed with inventing the first coins.

Fictionalised from Herodotus’ writings engagingly conveyed and nicely narrated in the audio form. Recommended.

The Ionia Sanction: Socrates is a young man so this must be ~450BC. The other philosopher mentioned is Anaxagoras. The setting is Ephesus in Ionia and the Persian King is Artaxerxes.

An historical-fiction mystery, written in an amusing upbeat manner yet falls short of the slapstick, thank heavens. Recommended.

TF The Last King of Lydia
4* The King and the Slave

The Third Gentleman by Ian Rankin

bookshelves: summer-2015, britain-scotland, edinburgh, play-dramatisation, published-2013, historical-fiction, napoleonic, under-10-ratings, teh-demon-booze, mystery-thriller, rituals, superstitions, period-piece

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read on July 06, 2015

Description: Another case for the roguish Mr Cullender in the Edinburgh of the 1790s.

As the Press Gang roams the streets looking for likely lads to fight Napoleon, and while the Town Guard finds themselves baffled by a spate of wine cellar murders, Cully gallantly rushes to the assistance of a young lady in distress.

Ian Rankin’s period detective story stars Alexander Morton as Cully, Wendy Seager as Mary, Douglas Russell as Horsburgh and Cara Kelly as Jane.

This is the second Cullender novel, the first was The Serpent’s Back

Scribblers by Steve Waters

bookshelves: summer-2015, historical-fiction, play-dramatisation, politics, published-2015

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Laura
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read on July 06, 2015

Description: Dramatising the shadowy relationship between the state and the stage in the 1730s, ‘Scribblers’ focuses on the relationship between young playwright Henry Fielding and the First Minister Robert Walpole. Tracking back and forth between high politics and the emergence of a fringe theatre of real dissent, it explores the premature birth of political theatre through the mad-cap work of Fielding before it was strangled by the Licensing Act of 1737.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu ….. Niamh Cusack
Robert Walpole ….. David Troughton
Henry Fielding ….. Carl Prekopp
James Ralph/Lord Hervey ….. Trevor White
Nicholas Paxton/Henry Giffard ….. Peter Hamilton Dyer
Molly Skerrett ….. Jane Whittenshaw
Charlotte Charke ….. Laura Elphinstone

Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2) by Stephen King

bookshelves: summer-2015, published-2015, series, mystery-thriller, books-about-books-and-book-shops, lit-crit

Read from June 30 to July 04, 2015

Description: A masterful, intensely suspenseful novel about a reader whose obsession with a reclusive writer goes far too far—a book about the power of storytelling, starring the same trio of unlikely and winning heroes King introduced in Mr. Mercedes

“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.

Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after thirty-five years.

Not since Misery has King played with the notion of a reader whose obsession with a writer gets dangerous. Finders Keepers is spectacular, heart-pounding suspense, but it is also King writing about how literature shapes a life—for good, for bad, forever.

"Suicide is circular"
- from The Notebooks by Rothstein

Pete, and even more so, his sister Tina, are given thought processes beyond their tender years, annoyingly so. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this straight mystery to a sturdy three+ stars – there is something so chilling about dysfunctional and obsessive readers, yet Finders Keepers is not anywhere near the excellence of Misery.

3* A Death
3.5* Finders Keepers
3* Joyland
3* Mr Mercedes
4* The Shining
3* The Stand
4* It
5* Misery
3* Carrie
5* The Gunslinger
3* Pet Sematary
4* 11/22/63
3* ‘Salem’s Lot
3* The Green Mile
3* Needful Things
3* Cujo
4* Different Seasons
3* The Drawing of the Three
3* Firestarter
5* The Waste Lands
3* Wizard and Glass
4* Insomnia
2* Dreamcatcher
3* Desperation
4* Four Past Midnight
2* The Tommyknockers
4* Dr Sleep
2* The Mist
4* Hearts in Atlantis
3* Rose Madder
4* Full Dark, No Stars
3* From a Buick 8
3* Just After Sunset
3* Blaze
3* Storm of the Century screenplay
1* UR
3* Children of the Corn

The Wisdom of Forgiveness by Dalai Lama XIV, Victor Chan

bookshelves: summer-2015, nonfiction, nobel-laureate

Read from April 19 to July 04, 2015

Description: Imagine for a moment that you have a good friend who just happens to be in the Dalai Lama’s inner circle of friends. Now imagine that you have the opportunity to spend time with this friend, hearing about his travels and conversations with His Holiness, relishing every minute detail.

Chan’s presents a very personal account of his time spent with the Dalai Lama, unlike other books that tend to be more academic or intellectual. As a result, the reader is able to see the Dalai Lama in a different light. It’s like viewing Mount Fuji from an angle different from the picture postcard; still the same beautiful mountain but with new angles and lines.

Some of Chan’s descriptions border on the unbelievable. Did His Holiness really say that about the gun? And did he really say that about wanting to exact revenge on the Chinese soldier (if a certain situation arose)? And did His Holiness really say that to Oprah? These passages give “The Wisdom of Forgiveness” its uniqueness and color.