Tuesday, 30 May 2017
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The LacunaKingsolver´s earlier work The Poisonwood Bible, led me to investigate the horrifying history of the Belgian Congo, and portrayed some of the difficulties that westerners have in trying to understand Africa in its post-imperial status.  It was a revelation.

I had expected something equally powerful in The Lacuna, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction,  2010.  The cover might have discouraged me.  What sort of exciting story can be constructed around  Lacuna, a posh word for a gap?  The cover also shows Bestselling author of The Poisonwood Bible.  Even as a literary agent, I should prefer Author of bestselling The Poisonwood Bible.   I started this book with misgiving.

Portugal European  and World HistoryProfessor Newitt has addressed a subject which must be high on the list of anybody interested in Portuguese history and as Emeritus Professor at King's College in London, he is well qualified to write this book. 

The author is clearly at home with his material and the ideas brought forward are new and interesting. For anybody who wishes to appreciate the disproportionate role of this tiny country on the edge of Europe in pioneering European expansion into Africa and Asia as well as its own metropolitan history, this book would be an excellent introduction.

The Greatest Traitor by Ian MortimerThe Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327 – 1330 Ian Mortimer (no relation) Pimlico 2004.

The period of English history covering the reigns of the first Edwards has always seemed to me like some sort of distasteful sandwich – the mighty Edward I and Edward III with the very unlovely filling of Edward II in the middle.  And so this biography of a relative unknown offered the chance to assess my prejudice anew.

Harold Hutchinson (Edward II; 1971) pronounced that Edward of Carnarvon (incidentally the first English prince of Wales 1284 -1307 - ?1327) was guilty during his reign of royal efficiency only.

Tip and Run by Edward PaiceWorld War 1 - The Campaign in East AfricaLast June I was kindly lent a book called The Battle for the Bundu (Charles Miller, 1974: Macmillan). This book began to open for me an episode in WWI which is still very much closed for many people.  The war in East Africa was so costly in human and financial terms, and ultimately so futile, that the victorious powers chose to obscure as far as they could any accounting of the cost.  Another book has come to hand (by the speedy and efficient services of Amazon) called Tip and Run; the untold tragedy of the Great War in Africa (Edward Paice, 2008: Phoenix). 

This book offers much more detail and also discusses the relationships between the warring powers (Great Britain, Belgium, Portugal and to a lesser extent France and Italy on the one side and Germany and to a lesser extent Turkey on the other).

Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany MurrayA humorous and enchanting novel set in the 'rock and roll' 70's and 80's, it follows the formative years and journey to stardom of Fred and the young girl who grew up adoring him. 

Based in the family-run recording studio in the Welsh Marches, Diamond Star Halo was inspired by Tiffany Murray's own childhood, growing up at the legendary Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, where her Father was a producer and her Mother the in-house cook.  

A Small Death in LisbonAn engrossing and intricate tale, this murder thriller won a Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel.  It weaves together two intersecting periods spanning half a century of history, politics and social change.  In the late 1990s, a teenage girl’s body was found dumped onto the Paço de Arcos beach, just south of Lisbon.  The affable and very human Inspector Zé Coehlo, a widower living with his own teenage daughter, is drafted into the case.  Because the affluent parents of Catarina Sousa Oliveira had reported her missing, the victim’s identity is quickly established, but how could the death of such a young woman have resulted from events in Portugal more than 50 years ago?

The Gardens of PortugalA sumptuous coffee table book with glossy photographs and a lot of information, Helena Attlee has made garden history her subject for over 20 years. A busy lady, enthusiastic and well informed she writes and lectures on garden design and leads specialist tours throughout Portugal, Italy and Spain.

The book opens with an outline history of the principal gardens in Portugal. Twenty great gardens are featured, travelling from north to south, many of which lie around Lisbon and Porto. All of them borrow from the country’s rich sea-faring history bringing together a fusion of styles and ideas from east to west in a flamboyant mix.

The Good Plain CookThis is Bethan’s second novel. It is an evocative literary treat; think Upstairs, Downstairs meets Atonement.
Based very loosely on the lifestyles of Peggy Guggenheim, the 1930s bohemian artist and her reclusive, difficult lover, it is an unconventional look at family life over one hot summer.

The story is set in rural Sussex in the summer of 1936. Kitty Allen, a young-for-her-age, local girl answers an advertisement for a “Good Plain Cook” and sets to work at the seemingly idyllic summer home of the eccentric and forceful American and her communist lover, along with their children and an assortment of staff thrown in for good measure! The sultry humid never-ending days of summer reflect the simmering emotions and passions experienced by these wonderfully drawn characters.