The House Party: A Short History of Leisure, Pleasure and the Country House Weekend by Adrain Tinniswood (Review)

The House Party: A Short History of Leisure, Pleasure and the Country House Weekend by Adrain Tinniswood

Blurb

A delightful journey through the glamorous story of the English country house party by the bestselling historian.

Croquet. Parlour games. Cocktails. Welcome to a glorious journey through the golden age of the country house party – and you are invited. 

Our host, celebrated historian Adrian Tinniswood, traces the evolution of this quintessentially British pastime from debauched royal tours to the flamboyant excess of the Bright Young Things. With cameos by the Jazz Age industrialist, the bibulous earl and the off-duty politician – whether in moated manor houses or ornate Palladian villas – Tinniswood gives a vivid insight into weekending etiquette and reveals the hidden lives of celebrity guests, from Nancy Astor to Winston Churchill, in all their drinking, feasting, gambling and fornicating. 

The result is a deliciously entertaining, star-studded, yet surprisingly moving portrait of a time when social conventions were being radically overhauled through the escapism of a generation haunted by war – and a uniquely fast-living period of English history. 

Review

We bought this book when we visited Croome last month and it has been tempting me to read it ever since. I could have easily read this book in one sitting as I found it so interesting but I made it last two days instead.

The book begins at the beginning of house parties starting from when Queen Elizabeth I used to visit and stay at people’s houses when she was travelling through the country to when eventually the traditional house party died out. 

This book is filled full of glamour, wealth, luxury and everything you can imagine that happened in fine country houses during house parties. 

I loved how the book described every detail of the house party from the invitations to what food and drink would have been served and the activities people would have partaken. The stories told in this book about different house guests and their hosts were hilarious. I particularly liked the house guests who brought their own thermos flask with cocktails in to have in their room because they knew their particular hosts didn’t hold cocktails before dinner. 

There were a lot of little stories in this book and a lot of famous names mentioned. However, for such a short book I think too many stories were mentioned and maybe just a few famous houses should have been focused on. To be honest I would have loved a much longer book as I could have happily read another 200 pages about the famous houses and their parties. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons and I will definitely be reading more of Tinniswood’s work.

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About the author

Adrian Tinniswood has worked as an author, broadcaster, lecturer and educational consultant for nearly 30 years in both Britain and the United States. Tinniswood studied English and Philosophy at Southampton University and was awarded an MPhil at Leicester University.

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Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir (Review)

Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir

Blurb

A naive girl, thrust forward by her ambitious family. A pretty girl, who has captured the heart of the King. Katheryn sings, she dances, she delights in the pleasures of being queen. The King tells the world she is his rose without a thorn.

But this young woman has a past of which Henry knows nothing. It comes back increasingly to haunt her, even as she courts danger yet again. For those who gather roses must beware of the thorns.

Review

I started reading this and could not put it down, thankfully I had handed in my latest assignment as I would have been thoroughly distracted. Alison Weir really does keep producing some amazing books and they seem to be getting better and better. 

Katheryn Howard is Henry VIII’s fifth wife and one who was used by her family and did not  remain Henry’s wife for long. Katheryn lost her mother at an early age and was then passed from one relation to another until she reached the household of her Grandam. The household of her Grandam contains many young women and these young women lack morals and soon Katheryn is following their example and also taking it further. 

When Katheryn serves Anna of Kleve she catches the King’s eye and so her uncle the Duke of Norfolk and her Grandam take advantage of this and make sure that the King only has eyes for Katheryn. 

Katheryn has lacked guidance and makes some naive decisions before she is married and sadly these come back to haunt her when she is married to Henry. Henry loves and adores Katheryn and will do anything for her happiness and Katheryn finds herself very happy whilst married to him but also she lives in constant fear.

Katheryn was basically a very naive and silly young woman who knew the risks but lived in a world of delusion where she thought she wouldn’t be found out and she was wrongly used by her family and those she trusted. 

I always felt sorry for Katheryn because if she had had better guidance as a child and teenager I believe she wouldn’t have made the decisions that she did but sadly she might still have been used by her family. Weir really builds a wonderful picture of Katheryn’s life and even though I know her story well I could not stop reading to see what happened next. I did want to shake Katheryn at times and tell her to grow up but this didn’t affect the love I have for this book. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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About the author

Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

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Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnarvon (Review)

Christmas at Highclere by The Countess of Carnavon

Blurb

Highclere Castle, known as ‘the real Downton Abbey’, bustles with activity at the best of times, but it is never more alive than at Christmas. Christmas at Highclere is a look behind the scenes at the routines and rituals that make the castle the most magical place to be throughout the festive season.

Lady Carnarvon will guide you through Advent, Christmas preparations and Christmas Eve all the way through to the day itself, and beyond. Learn how the castle and grounds are transformed by decorations, including the raising of a twenty-foot tree in the saloon, the gathering of holly and mistletoe from the grounds. All the intricacies of the perfect traditional Christmas are here: from crackers and carol singers. The festive feeling is carried through to Highclere’s Boxing Day traditions, the restorative middle days and the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

This book also tells the story of historic Christmases at Highclere – of distinguished guests warming themselves by the fire after a long journeys home through the snow, unexpected knocks on the door, and, always, the joy of bringing family – and staff – together after a busy year.

As well as telling the stories of Highclere Christmases past and present, Lady Carnarvon provides recipes, tips and inspiration from her kitchen so that readers can bring a quintessentially British festive spirit to their own home. Lady Carnarvon divulges the secret to perfectly flakey mince pies, the proper way to wrap presents so that you and your guests are guaranteed a Christmas to remember.

Lavish, celebratory and utterly enchanting, Christmas at Highclere is celebration of one of the UK’s most beloved historic houses and is the perfect gift for any Downton Abbey fan.

Review

My husband and myself are massive fans of Downton Abbey and so I bought this last year for my husband’s Christmas present and it has been on the recipe book shelf waiting for Christmas to arrive. 

I picked this book up to look up some Christmas recipes as I wanted some new challenges for the Christmas season and quickly decided that I would be making the Yule log for Christmas. However, I then decided to start reading the book from the beginning and all of a sudden I was hooked and could not put it down.

I love the Countess’ writing style, she is very skilled and brings everything to life beautifully. The Countess starts with the season of Advent and how the castle prepares for the Christmas period by decorating for opening and also what preparations they make for family and friends who will be visiting over the period. The Countess then continues through the festive season until Epiphany.

This book has family history and traditions, personal anecdotes about the family’s past Christmases and then recipes peppered throughout the book all linked to the different stages of the festive period. The accompanying pictures are absolutely stunning and they really show how stunning the castle is, although my favourite pictures are of the family’s many dogs.

I absolutely loved this book and I have several recipes that I will be trying out on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I highly recommend this book and definitely give it 5 out of 5 Dragons. I have also added the other books the Countess of Carnarvon has written to my wish list as I really want to read more of her work.

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About the author

A former auditor for Coopers & Lybrand, Lady Carnarvon is the wife of George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Today, she manages affairs at Highclere Castle, home of the worldwide television drama Downton Abbey, including overseeing its grounds and gardens and many special events such as the Egyptian Exhibition in the cellars of the Castle.

Fascinated by Highclere’s history, Lady Carnarvon has written four books. The first two are about the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb with Howard Carter in 1922. Her latest are New York Times Bestseller Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere, and Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey.

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (Review)

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry

Blurb

Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths—stylishly retold by Stephen Fry. This legendary writer, actor, and comedian breathes new life into beloved tales. From Persephone’s pomegranate seeds to Prometheus’s fire, from devious divine schemes to immortal love affairs, Fry draws out the humour and pathos in each story and reveals its relevance for our own time. Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, this gorgeous volume invites you to explore a captivating world, with a brilliant storyteller as your guide.

Review

My first encounter with Stephen Fry would have been watching Blackadder episodes with my big sister when I was little and since then he has always been a great favourite. I can’t believe I have put off reading Mythos for so long but I know that I won’t be putting off reading Heroes. 

Fry’s retelling of the Greek myths is brilliantly done and a great read that had me laughing my head off at regular intervals. Fry’s humour comes through this book with subtly and also when the myth calls for it straight in your face brilliance. 

Mythos begins right at the beginning of what the Greeks believed was the beginning of everything and progresses from there onwards. Each main section is divided into subsections that make the reading easier and more accessible.

Fry’s retelling of these familiar myths gives them a fresh and new feeling and makes them highly informative but also fun. I loved Fry’s commentary throughout and his very useful little extra bits of information in the footnotes. Fry’s talent as a writer shines through with this book but also his excellent knowledge into Ancient Greek Mythology. 

My particular favourite characters are Zeus and Hera, how Fry portrays them is hilarious and you can’t help but laugh at some of their marital stories. My favourite retelling of all though has got to be Hermes stealing Apollo’s cattle and then Apollo being utterly dumbfounded by meeting his new half brother Hermes.

This is an amazing read that makes the Greek myths accessible to everyone. I give this book a big 5 out of 5 Dragons and highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys a good laugh. 

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About the Author

Stephen Fry (1957) is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing for stage, screen, television and radio he has contributed columns and articles for numerous newspapers and magazines, and has also written four successful novels and a series of memoirs.

Sappho: Poems and Fragments by Sappho (Review)

Sappho: Poems and Fragments by Sappho, translated by Josephine Balmer

About the author

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Sappho (Σαπφώ or Ψάπφω) was an Ancient Greek lyric poet, born on the island of Lesbos. In history and poetry texts, she is sometimes associated with the city of Mytilene on Lesbos; she was also said to have been born in Eresos, another city on Lesbos. Her birth was sometime between 630 BC and 612 BC, and it is said that she died around 570 BC. The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired throughout antiquity, has been lost, but her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.

About the translator

Josephine Balmer is a British poet, translator of classics and literary critic.

Blurb

This second, expanded edition of Josephine Balmer’s classic translation of the Greek poet Sappho has new, recently-discovered fragments, including the Brothers Poem, the Kypris Song and the Cologne Fragment. In a new essay on these additions she discusses the issues raised in translating these fragmentary and ever-shifting texts. Poems & Fragments is now the only complete, readily-available translation in English of Sappho’s surviving work. Sappho was one of the greatest poets in classical literature. Her lyric poetry is among the finest ever written, and although little of her work has survived and little is known about her, she is regarded not just as one of the greatest women poets, but often as the greatest woman poet in world literature. In a comprehensive introduction, Balmer discusses Sappho’s poetry, its historical background and critical reputation, as well as aspects of contemporary Greek society, sexuality, and women.

Review

This is another read for my Masters and I must admit I was very excited to read it as I had done a unit on Sappho and just a handful of her work so it was nice to read all her known works. Sappho’s work sadly is mainly only fragments and I will be honest I find this so depressing as from the known fragments that we do have it is evident that Sappho was an amazing talent. I just hope more of her work is found over time like it has been so far.

The introduction of this book is excellent and I really enjoyed how it was broken down into sections and was so informative. I also enjoyed the section on the new fragments that have been found recently.

I’ve always found Sappho a fascinating character and I wish more was known about this very talented poet but sadly not a lot is known and what we do know was written many years after her death and can’t be relied upon.

Sappho’s poetry although only fragmentary is full of passion and life and it was a joy to read. Her poetry is full of different forms of love; romantic love, maternal love, friendship and love for all the many wonders in this world. I love reading her poetry because it is as relevant today as it was when it was written, Sappho is timeless.

Balmer has been really sympathetic with the translation and the translation flows well which makes reading this book a joy. I will admit I could not put it down once I started reading it.

I highly recommend this book, it might be mainly fragments but it is worth the read to see how this amazing woman’s voice has survived all these years and opens up a small window to a part of history that was thousands of years ago. I really hope we continue to find more of her work and hopefully learn more about this talented poet. I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons and I leave you with one of my favourite fragments.

Beauty endures only for as long as it is seen;

goodness, beautiful today, will remain so tomorrow.

 

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The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love by Alison Weir (E-Short Review)

The Chateau of Briis: A Lesson in Love by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

1515 – Dressed in wine-coloured satin, with her dark hair worn loose, a young Anne Boleyn attends a great ball at the French court. The palace is exquisitely decorated for the occasion, and the hall is full with lords and ladies – the dancing has begun. Anne adores watching the game of courtly love play out before her eyes, though she is not expecting to be thrown into it herself. But moments later, a charming young man named Philippe du Moulin approaches to ask for her hand in the dance. And before she can resist, so begins Anne’s first lesson in love.

Review

Another short story from the Six Tudor Queens series and I must admit I really enjoyed this one. It was somewhat more satisfying than The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today as that just left me feeling a bit frustrated with the story.

This is a wonderful little story but it was a little emotional rollercoaster. Anne Boleyn has her first lesson in love in this story and although it is only something Weir has made up it would explain a great deal about Anne Boleyn’s character. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her at times.

This little glimpse into Anne’s life in the French court is wonderful and full of detail. I throughly enjoyed it but again found it was very short, just a few extra pages and I would have been happier but it is a perfect little novella to read between Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession and Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen. I have given this story 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir (Review)

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

About the author

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Alison Weir was born in 1951 and is a British writer of history books, and latterly historical novels, mostly in the form of biographies about British Royalty.

Blurb

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

Review

The life of Anne Boleyn is well known and one that has always had me fascinated. I will be  honest I know I shouldn’t like Anne Boleyn because of what happened to poor Katherine of Aragon but I don’t think anyone can pin that all on Anne Boleyn because Henry VIII would have divorced Katherine in the end as he was quite determined to have a son.

The moment I started reading this book I could not put it down and I absolutely loved what Weir did with the story of Anne Boleyn and I ended up seeing Anne in a very different light. Anne Boleyn was a well educated and very refined young woman. Her experiences in the courts of Burgundy and France set her up wonderfully to be a star in the English court and of course the King could not help but notice her.

Anne was the victim of ambition, her family’s ambition and her own. Weir showed Anne determined to keep her virtue intact but wanting the crown more than anything. Anne could see she could help make changes in the church, she could help the people if she was queen. However, things were also against her.

I really felt sorry for Anne in this book, she thought she could make changes but instead things were twisted against her and she had no way of surviving. The other element I enjoyed was how Weir showed Anne’s relationship with her daughter Elizabeth and it was different to what I expected but made a lot of sense.

At the end of this book I will be honest I cried my eyes out and it really left me feeling quite cold at the end. I knew the outcome obviously but how Weir ended the book was astonishing and very haunting, it is something I will not forget.

Weir really triumphed with this book and I will admit it is one of my favourite reads for this year and I can’t wait to read the next one. I highly recommend this book to all historical fiction fans and give this book a massive 5 out of 5 Dragons.

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The Complete Poems by Catullus (Review)

The Complete Poems by Catullus (Translated by Guy Lee)

About the author

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Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84-c. 54 BC) was a Latin poet of the late Romans Republic. He favoured writing about personal life rather than the classical heroes.

About the translator

Guy Lee was a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. He is the translator of numerous Latin texts including works by Ovid, Virgil, Tibillius, and Persuis.

Blurb

Of all Greek and Latin poets Catullus is perhaps the most accessible to the modern reader. Dealing candidly with the basic human emotions of love and hate, his virile, personal tone exerts a powerful appeal on all kinds of readers. The 116 poems collected in this new translation include the famous Lesbia poems and display the full range of Catullus’s mastery of lyric meter, mythological themes, and epigrammatic invective and wit.

Review

I had to read about 40 of the poems from this book for one of the assignments in my Masters but I loved the poems so much that I decided to read the whole book.

This book has the Latin on the left hand page and the translation opposite which was a massive help when I was writing about how different translators have treated certain poems. At the beginning of the book there is lengthy introduction by Guy Lee the translator which is very informative as it gives you details about Catullus’ life, work and translation. I loved this introduction as it was very interesting and gave me a compact introduction to Catullus. The Explanatory notes were also useful and the Appendices.

This book of poems had me laughing out loud and that is not something I do often when reading poetry as I am not generally a poetry fan. I loved the humour in the poems and I will be honest I was quite shocked at how rude some of the poems were. Some poems were just two lines long and some were pages and I will be honest the lengthier ones could be a struggle to read in full.

I will be honest I have taken breaks from the book and have dipped in and out of the poems. I have also returned to old favourites and re-read them with joy. I have also found some of the poems useful to reference in my assignments.

I really enjoyed the book and I am grateful for it being part of my required reading because it has been a good read. It is also in my opinion a good translation because it is less wooden than certain translations I have also read. I highly recommend this book of poems to people who want to read more of the classics. I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons because I did find some of the lengthier poems a bit trying.

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The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus (Review)

The Madness of Cambyses by Herodotus

About the author

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Herodotus c. 484-425 BCE was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire. He is known for having written the book The Histories.

Blurb

The story of the great and mad Cambyses, King of Persia, told by part-historian, part-mythmaker Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

Review

Just recently I dug out my collection of Little Black Classics and selected all the ancient Greek and Roman books to read because I thought they would be good background reading for my course and this is the first one I have read.

This little book is only 50 pages long and is a nice little snippet from the main book The Histories by Herodotus. I happily read it enjoying the sunshine we have been having and drinking a nice mug of tea.

The beginning was a bit hard to digest due to all the different names but once I got past that I really enjoyed the book. The translation is a little wooden for me but it still flowed nicely. I must admit this did make me giggle as King Cambyses is completely mental and just kills everyone for the slightest thing and in most cases this is like cutting off his own nose to spite his face, because all this death doesn’t do him any favours.

Herodotus does meander about a bit with his knowledge but I loved that because you learn extra little bits about what the ancients thought about different cultures. Some facts Herodotus tells you definitely come across more as myths but I liked that because that is what the ancients believed.

I really enjoyed this little book, it was a quick and knowledgeable read and it was fascinating to see one of the world’s earliest historians at work. I highly recommend this little book to people who are interested in the ancient world and to people who want a gentle introduction into some ancient texts. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

Purchase Links

Waterstones

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