Welcome to the Christmas Book Fair and today historical non-fiction and fiction offering great gift options.
The first author is Mike Biles for his history compendium A Bit About Britain’s History: From a long time ago until quite recently, which I can highly recommend along with his second book A Bit About Britain’s High Days and Holidays.
About the book
Could this short, elegant, volume be the only book on British history you’ll ever need?
A Bit About Britain’s History is for anyone who wants a light introduction to Britain’s amazing story. If you don’t know the basics, or would like a reminder, this book is for you. It is also perfect for those that didn’t enjoy history at school, but who have suddenly realised they’d like to understand it a bit better now. Organised clearly and chronologically, A Bit About Britain’s History covers every period from a long time ago until quite recently. It begins by briefly mentioning that the place was once inhabited by extremely large lizards, and ends up with a post-war 20th century consumer society. Short articles explain the essential aspects of Britain’s past, including how the ancestors of its current inhabitants arrived, how they fought each other, formed nations, fell out over religion, acquired a large empire, became gradually more democratic, helped win a couple of world wars and were left wondering what to do next. At the end of the book are detailed timelines for each period, which provide useful reference and make fascinating reading in their own right.
So – what did the Romans achieve? How did Christianity arrive? Who are the English and why did they fight the French so often? What is Henry VIII’s greatest legacy? When did democracy start and people get the vote? Why on earth did Britain get involved in WW1?
A Bit About Britain’s History might be the only book on British history you’ll ever need; or it might be your stepping stone to more in-depth academic reading.
One of the reviews for the book
Reviewed in the United States on March 5, 2021
One of the best nonfiction books I’ve purchased & read in a while. It seemed appropriate to use my favorite and treasured bookmark I picked up at Cheddar Gorge back in 1999.
This isn’t a comprehensive history book yet richly detailed to keep your interest. The writing isn’t dry as one might think when conjuring up ideas of our school history tomes. The delivery of the historical information is very engaging and the humor kept me turning the pages. The time periods are broken down in eight chapters starting with ancient Britain, early medieval, Tudors, Stuarts running to the modern history.
I loved reading about the Romans and the timeline at the end of the book breaks things down, sort of a basic crash course on which period you may want to explore more. I learned more about Britain’s history and the development of government from this book and found subjects I want to know more about. Why couldn’t history classes in school/college be this delightful?!
If you have a history buff or Anglophile in your family this would make a dynamite gift for birthday or Christmas. Mike Biles has a wonderful and informative blog as well called A Bit About Britain.
I enjoyed this book so much that I ordered another of Mike Biles’ books – A Bit About Britain’s High Days and Holidays. This time I selected a Kindle version. My paper copy of the history book is littered with post-it bookmarks for reference. As soon as I have access to internet again (sigh) I will download and enjoy the holidays and high days book.
Looking forward to any publication by Mike Biles.
Also by Mike Biles
The next book today is by Marina Osipova – Push Me Off a Cliff a novel set in post war Russia.
About the book
March of 1948. Three years have passed since the Great Patriotic War ended in victory, disposing into the streets of the destroyed and hungry cities and villages brave decorated soldiers: thousands of them having been burned, maimed, or disfigured beyond recognition.
On a crowded commuter train, Maria hears an invalid singing, which painfully connects her to her time at the front and to the love that failed to happen to her. Why, then, since that day, does the voice from the past echo so insistently in her present life? The torture of uncertainty—was it really Armen?—intensifies after the next encounter and leaves her with an unsettling compulsion to do . . . what? Help him? Or, rather, rescue herself from her lonely and unassuming existence her heart subtly rejects? She must decide whether she is willing to let go of the life she knows for feelings she had never thought she could experience.
But, first, she has to find him.
As the genocide of 1915 within the Ottoman Empire destroyed the lives of Armen’s parents and about one-and-a-half-million ethnic Armenians, his future is shattered by this other war and betrayal. Legless and totally alone, and without any family after his mother is gone, it seems the most merciful thing for him would be to end his miserable existence by leaping off a cliff. Otherwise, he must find the courage to continue living in the condition the war left him and find his place in the bitter every-day reality full of difficulties prone to men like him.
Maria and Armen. Each carries private wounds. In the face of despair, will fate offer them a chance to heal their souls and hearts?
One of the recent reviews for the book
We will truly never know what went on inside the minds of the ones who fought in this war. We only have books to guide us through history.
This book will captivate you. It did me. The time and energy this author put into this storyline is incredible.
As a veterans’s wife, I felt so.much of the main character’s thoughts and bravery. I’m sure life wasn’t pleasant back then and I couldn’t imagine anything they went through.
This is a story of love, but not just love. This is set at war time. The book gives us a peek into the lives of the main characters that are dealing with life.
It is well written and so worth the purchase!
Other books by Marina Osipova
Another book that I can personally recommend is by Patricia Furstenberg – Transylvania’s History A to Z: 100 Word Stories
About the book
In Transylvania’s History A to Z, a collection of 100-word stories sprinkled with breathtaking photographs, Patricia Furstenberg uses the confining rules of the 100-word story form to stirringly capture Transylvania, Romania’s historical and geographical region.
Transylvania’s unspoiled natural beauty, its tumultuous history, and the people who touched it are depicted in this book.
Written as snapshots, tall tales, and descriptive narratives, these 100-word stories are the espresso of creative writing.
A – Z, 100-Wors Stories are inspired by Transylvania’s history, from the Paleolithic Period to WW1
Each 100 Words Story is followed by a brief historical reference
The unique beauty of a 100-word story is in the way the words are strung together, each one a gem, and in the spaces left between the words, and between the sentences. So much can be told, with little words. It is a challenge for the writer, and a thrill for the reader, as each time the tale is read, a new detail springs to mind.
“As an armchair historian, I love researching lost tales, traveling, exploring hidden corners, and unearthing new facts, forgotten characters, or hidden clues. I love to give them a voice and to bring them into the light in my tales. Be it people, animals, or the land and its architecture, no detail is too small, no voice is too soft. What was once overlooked now brings history alive in my historical or contemporary fiction books and short stories, such as the 100-Word Stories based on the history of Transylvania.” (Patricia Furstenberg)
My review for the book November 20th 2021
What an amazing way to learn history, particularly of a country that has such a rich and tempestuous story to tell.
The author has written 100 word fiction for each entry dating back to paleolithic times with the historical background to the story following. The stories tell of a country that is tempting to invaders, inhabited by resilient and proud people, who have survived extraordinary periods of occupation by Romans and successive marauders from neigbouring kingdoms many times over the centuries.
Transylvania is showcased in wonderful photographs, either of the breathtaking scenery or surviving historical structures of monuments. It is clear that Patricial Furstenberg has a deep knowledge of the country and its history and a love and respect for it too.
She offers a guided tour through the ages using fiction and fact creatively and compiled with great skill.
Not only do I have a greater understanding of the history of Transylvania but it has encouraged me to explore it further. Recommended
A small selection of other books by Patricia Furstenberg (some in Afrikaans)
The final review today is for Nancy Kilgore for her most recent release, Bitter Magic: Inspired by the stgory of a confessed witch.
About the book
Bitter Magic, inspired by the true story of Isobel Gowdie and her witchcraft confession, reveals a little-known corner of history—the lives of both pagan and Protestant women in the Scottish Reformation of the 1600s as witch trials and executions threatened their lives, values, and beliefs.
The story is told by Isobel herself and also by Margaret Hay, a fictionalized seventeen-year-old noble woman. When Margaret stumbles across Isobel one day, it seems as though Isobel is commanding the dolphins in the ocean to dance. Margaret is enchanted. She becomes interested in Isobel’s magic, in fairies, and in herbal remedies; Isobel freely shares her knowledge. While Margaret worries that being around Isobel could be dangerous, she also respects Isobel’s medical successes and comes to believe that acknowledging the efficacy of herbal remedies or believing in fairies does not challenge her Christianity.
But Isobel believes in more than cheery fairies and herbal medicine. She has dark wishes as well, unknown to most people. Isobel seeks vengeance against the local lord who executed her mother for witchcraft. More important, Isobel’s trance experiences (or are they dreams?) lead her to confess to a wide range of sins, including consorting with the devil. Then, during her trial, Isobel names thirteen others, calling them all witches. To her great shock, Margaret hears her own name. Can her tutor, a Christian mystic named Katharine, save them?
One of the recent reviews for the book
Isobel Gowdie was a 17th century woman who confessed to witchcraft during the Scottish Reformation of the 1600s. She is the main character in this riveting historical fiction novel that examines not only her life, but the lives of all of the people who were caught up in the witch trials during that period of time.
Margaret Hay, a fictionalized seventeen year old noble woman, who is filled with curiosity meets Isobel after watching her enchant several dolphins, causing them to dance in the waters of the ocean. Margaret becomes drawn to Isobel despite her Christian upbringing and this creates a great amount of conflict within her. She is afraid that it will estrange her from her family, who forbids her from involving herself with people like Isobel. Regardless of the consequences, Margaret becomes enthralled with Isobel’s magic, fairies and herbal remedies.
As pleasant and helpful as Isobel is with Margaret, things turn much darker as Isobel soon becomes entranced by the devil and black magic begins to take hold. Isobel is put on trial and she confesses to her “sins” but she admits to having a coven of witches and she names Margaret as one of them.
I love historical fiction. It transports me back to a time where I can endeavor to understand people and the places that have gone before me. To journey back to the 1800s or even the late 1700s is enjoyable for me but to take me back to the 1600s? It’s a little too far removed from the present for me, but I decided to take the leap with this one- and I am so glad I did! The author made me feel very comfortable as she walked me around inside of an old Scottish castle, visiting with the people of those times. Kilgore’s words have a beauty and a rhythm all of their own and the pacing flows nicely- I was entranced by her prose. I didn’t want to stop reading. It was pure magic by itself.
This story had me thinking a lot about religion, our views of the world and how we quickly jump to conclusions, without deeper introspection and examination of the world and the people around us. Even to this day, we are a deeply conflicted people. If we just took the time we could learn a lot from people like Margaret and the wonderful but tortured spirit that was Isobel Gowdie.
Also by Nancy Kilgore
The final book today is by Sarah Taylor with Beautiful Dreamer – A fictional biography of Stephen Foster American songwriter of such iconic songs as “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races” Sarah is also in the Children’s Reading Room in with Old Dog Tray.
About the book
Quiet and dreamy-eyed, Stephen Foster wants nothing more than to be a musician in a world where boys are supposed to grow up and go into business, like the family hero, his older brother William. Even though he can play the flute perfectly from the age of six, his family’s expectations of a traditional profession drive him to Cincinnati, where he works at his older brother Dunning’s warehouse. While in Cincinnati, he publishes his first great hit at the age of twenty-one, “Oh! Susanna.” With Firth, Pond and Company, the best New York publisher, to sell his songs and E.P. Christy, among the greatest of minstrel performers, to sing them, Stephen is sure he can make songwriting his business. He turns out hits like “Old Folks at Home” and “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night,” songs that Frederick Douglass said “awaken the sympathies for the slave,” as if his life depends on it. With the Civil War approaching and personal tragedies striking, it does.
One of the recent reviews for the book
In Beautiful Dreamer, Sara Taylor not only gives us the story of a gifted artist working his way through a difficult life but she offers a remarkably convincing portrait of the author’s world, which was the eastern half of the U.S., both north and south, during the treacherous years leading up to the civil war. For this alone, the book is mighty valuable, especially since that age so resembles the one we live in, with political differences driving apart friends and families.
Aside from the background, what most engaged me was the fate of Mr. Foster’s courtship and marriage. Here is a capsule version (a spoiler, so stop here if you have already decided to read the book): a lovely woman accepts the hand of an artist, though he can’t promise her prosperity. But when times get hard, he senses her discouragement and retreats to the lonely part of himself, in part to devote himself to his art, and in part to get away from her attitude. His withdrawal sends her into darker discouragement, from which his only defense is to retreat even farther away, by solitude or with the help of liquor.
If you have any fondness for Stephen Foster’s music or for U.S. history, you should read Beautiful Dreamer.
Also by Sarah Taylor
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you will be leaving with some books.. thanks Sally.