Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Tigress or Forli by Elizabeth Lev

I recently visited Florence, which you can read about on my other blog The Content Reader Goes OutdoorFlorence is one of the prominent city-states during the Italian Renaissance. I am currently reading various books about the de' Medici family and will return to the subject later on. While searching for books about this time, I happened to find a book about Caterina Riario Sforza (1463-1509). She was the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan. The story of her life is more than life itself. She was an incredible woman; mother, wife, warrior, and icon.  She met many of the important men of her time:
"Pope Sixtus IV, Caterina's benefactor and uncle by marriage, who commissioned the Sistine Chapel frescoes in which she is immortalized. 
Count Girolamo Riario, Caterina's first husband and an originator of the Pazzi conspiracy, whose corrupt ways led to their flight from Rome to Forli. 
Niccolò Machiavelli, the Florentine political theorist who as a young diplomat was humiliated by Caterina and later took revenge with his pen. 
Giacomo Feo, Caterina's secret second husband, a jumped-up family retainer whose assassination led to a bloodbath on the streets of Forli. 
Giovanni de' Medici il Popolano, Caterina's beloved third husband, who provided Caterina entrée into Florentine culture and society, and an heir worthy of her legacy. 
Cesare Borgia, nephew to the ruthless Borgia pope Alexander VI, who would bring Caterina's rule to an end with unspeakable cruelty." 
Raised in the court of Milan, she grew up in a world of intrigues. That might have been the reason for her surviving all the different ordeals she met with during her life. She was married to her first husband at the age of ten and bore him six children. She was intelligent and well-read and considered the most beautiful woman of her time. When her family was threatened she did not hesitate to take unusual measures to save them. Even if it meant to ride from Forli to Rome, eight months pregnant!

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Best books read in 2019

A little bit late to summarise my reading for 2019, but better late than never. I use inspiration from Books in Bloom, who got inspired by Jamie@The Perpetual Page Turner and Esther@BiteInBooks for various surveys.

Best In Books

1. Best books you read in 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t:
- La fille qui lisait dans le metro by Christine Féret-Fleury

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read:
- Med Örnen mot polen by Svenska Sällskapet för Antropologi och Geografi (Scientific account of the Andrée expedition 1897)

4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did):
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I have pushed a lot, if people read, well, that is another matter).

5. Best series you started in 2019. Best sequel of 2019. Best series ender of 2019.
1793 by Niklas Dag och Natt

6. Favourite new author, you discovered in 2019:
- Beatriz Williams

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone:
- None

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year:
- The Man from St Petersburg by Ken Follett (audio)

9. A book you read in 2019 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2019:
- The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

11. The most memorable character of 2019:
- Count Alexander Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2019 to finally read:
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

15. Favorite quote from a book you read in 2019:

- “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

16. Shortest and longest books you read in 2019:
- Five Great Short Stories by Anton Chekhov (shortest)
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (longest - all four books/parts)

17. Book that shocked you the most:
- Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (audio)

18. OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!):
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year:
- The Third Man by Graham Greene

20. Favorite book you read in 2019 from an author you’ve read previously:
- The Muse by Jessie Burton

21. Best book you read in 2019 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else:
- Jag for ner till bror by Karin Smirnoff

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2019:
- Count Alexander Rostov in A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

23. Best 2019 debut you read:
- Silvervägen by Stina Jackson

24. Most vivid setting you read this year:
- Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

25. A book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read:
- I think I read too many serious books this year!

26. A book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2019:
- I cry easily, but can't recall really crying over any of the stories I read in 2019

27. Hidden gem of the year:
- The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams

28. A book that crushed your soul:
- Bränn alla mina brev by Alex Schulman

29. The most unique book you read in 2019:
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

30. The book that made you the maddest (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it):
- Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (audio)

There you are! It might be a little bit onesided, considering that I went for A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles ten times. But, it did stand out as the best book ever. It is interesting to highlight the books you have read during the year in this way. Do you agree about any of the books I have chosen here? Please let me know.

Our trip to the Caribbean

During December and January, we made a trip to the Caribbean. If you are interested, you find a few posts on The Content Reader Goes Outdoor. St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, and Guadeloupe.

I would love to hear your views of the islands, if you have visited, or intend to visit.

A magic beach in Martinique

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

The Girl who Temped Fortune by Jane Ann McLachlan

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Publication date: March 3, 2020
I received an ARC of this book from the author for a fair & impartial review

I am always excited when I have a historical fiction novel in my hands. Especially, if the story is based on real life persons and events. I visited Florence recently, and am reading books (nonfiction) about that city, its history and famous persons. Its history is also connected to the history of other city states and kingdoms in the peninsula that today is Italy.

Jane Ann McLachlan's historical novel The Girl Who Tempted Fortune, is set in the Kingdom of Naples. I have not read much about this kingdom, although its history is closely connected to other European history. I was therefore pleased when I got the opportunity to read this book. The summary:
"In the royal courts of medieval Europe, where aristocrats vie for power and royal cousins battle over crowns, is it possible for the lowly daughter of a fisherman to dream of becoming mother to a monarch? 
Yet Philippa of Catania, the daughter of a Sicilian fisherman, risks everything to ride the wheel of fortune to the dizzying heights of power. And in the most enlightened kingdom of all Christendom, the 14th Century court of King Robert the Wise and his beautiful and brilliant heir, Queen Joanna 1 of Naples, it might not be so impossible after all. 
Follow the real story of Philippa of Catania as she defies the limits of birth and station on an unbelievable yet true journey to the heights of power and wealth in 14th Century Italy."
If it had not been for the prophecy her great grandmother once told, Philippa's mother might not have seen an opportunity for her to get away from her poor life. "This girl will travel far from home and rise high above her station. She will be mother to a queen - ...". In 1298, prince Robert of Anjou is in Sicily to conquer the island for the Kingdom of Naples. His wife, princess Violante, accompanies her husband although she is pregnant. Once the labour starts, the local mid-wife, Philippa's mother, takes Philippa with her to help with the important birth. Philippa is hired as wet nurse to the child, Charles. She is herself a young mother and married to an older man. The course she has entered will take her away from her family and Sicily for a new life at the court of the king of Naples.

Philippa's story and events are told in different time frames; between autumn 1298 to summer 1302, and March to October 1346. The former years tell the story of Philippa's new life, her sorrows, her ambitions and her life dependent on the whim of royal people. The final year is told as present day, and related to the terrible events that is occurring. Under the strain of the situation, Philippa is looking back on her life, how it developed, and what was really the meaning of the prophecy.

I am not always fond of stories going back and forth. In the beginning, I was wondering why the author had chosen such a way of telling her story, when it could have been told chronologically. However, as the two time frames develop, I realised it adds another perspective to the story. As you read what is happening in 1346, the initial story unfolds and gives you the background you need. As the times turn bad in the city, so does the situation for Philippa and her family. Imprisonment and torture were standards in those days, and Ms McLachlan does not shy away from describing such events.

That is probably why this is such an excellent and interesting novel. There is history, a little bit of romance and politics, but above all the nitty gritty dealings of the day. It brings the real world into the story, which I found very thrilling. Making a check on the real history, I found that Ms McLachlan has obviously done a lot of research, and treated the facts with respect. All through the story she brings in various real life characters, making history alive, taking you to the Naples of the day. Above all, she has written an interesting account of a fantastic woman, who rose above her station. What a life she led, and what an ending. Wonderfully, written novel and highly recommended.

This is the second book of the Kingdom of Naples series. The first book is: The Girl Who Would Be Queen. Each of the books can be read separately.