Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes #ancientgreece #myths #legend #nonfiction #audiobook #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for Pandora’s Jar: Women in Greek the myths by Natalie Haynes. I saw this title on Audible and as I do love hearing about myths from all around the world I decided to give this one a go.

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The Greek myths are one of the most important cultural foundation-stones of the modern world.

Stories of gods and monsters are the mainstay of epic poetry and Greek tragedy, from Homer to Virgil to from Aeschylus to Sophocles and Euripides. And still, today, a wealth of novels, plays and films draw their inspiration from stories first told almost three thousand years ago. But modern tellers of Greek myth have usually been men, and have routinely shown little interest in telling women’s stories.

Now, in Pandora’s Jar, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Greek creation myths as her starting point and then retelling the four great mythic sagas: the Trojan War, the Royal House of Thebes, Jason and the Argonauts, Heracles, she puts the female characters on equal footing with their menfolk. The result is a vivid and powerful account of the deeds – and misdeeds – of Hera, Aphrodite, Athene and Circe. And away from the goddesses of Mount Olympus it is Helen, Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Antigone and Medea who sing from these pages, not Paris, Agamemnon, Orestes or Jason. 

MY REVIEW

I do like stories and tales from the times of Ancient Greece. I think it was watching films such as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, then as I got older reading stories and watching documentaries and now listening to audiobooks.

The author brings together her knowledge of this topic and she definitely knows her stuff. She narrates her own book and she has a nice voice to listen to.

She tells of the women that have appeared over time that many of us will already know about, and there are some that I hadn’t heard of. These are ones that have been forgotten about or didn’t have such an important role in history according to more male-dominated figures. As I listened to this book I realised I knew far more male figures from mythology than I did female. The author does suggest that historians such as Aristotle and Socrates and writers such as Ovid are men, so focused more on the strengths, adventures, toils, and victories of their male heroes. Women tended to be scorned rather than revered, and Medusa is a prime example of this, and when I listened further the author went on to tell of how women had been used, abducted and blamed. The author does give a more balanced view of women in history, rather than being the victims they are shown their own rights and show their own strength. The author does use modern references to give a present-day example using songs from pop culture, literature and art.

This is a really interesting book to listen to, there are loads of historical fact and obviously a lot about myths and legends from the days of the Greek heroes. This is a book that provides a good discussion and isn’t one that tries to rewrite history, it does give opinions and thoughts to help bring women into the forefront and away from the patriarchal stereotype. It is one I really enjoyed listening to and one I would happily recommend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natalie Haynes, author of THE FURIES (THE AMBER FURY in the UK), is a graduate of Cambridge University and an award-winning comedian, journalist, and broadcaster. She judged the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and was a judge for the final Orange Prize in 2012. Natalie was a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, Radio 4’s Saturday Review, and the long-running arts show, Front Row. She is a guest columnist for the The Independent and The Guardian. Her radio series, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, was first broadcast in March 2014.

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The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman Narrated by Joan Walker #audiobook #audible #nonfiction #history #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for a brilliant audiobook. The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman and narrated by Joan Walker. This is a title that I adored, I admit it was the narrator Joan Walker that I was looking for as I had recently listened to another book narrated by her. She is a fabulous narrator and one that I will be keeping an ear and eye out for in the future.

The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots.

Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines.

In The Royal Art of Poison, Eleanor Herman combines her unique access to royal archives with cutting-edge forensic discoveries to tell the true story of Europe’s glittering palaces: one of medical bafflement, poisonous cosmetics, ever-present excrement, festering natural illness, and, sometimes, murder.

MY REVIEW

This has been a fabulous audiobook to listen to. I will mention the narrator first though. Joan Walker is a narrator I have only recently come across and I have to say she is brilliant. She has a very soothing voice and I am just able to relax as she tells of the poisons that the author has compiled into this book.

This is a history of poisons through the centuries. From way back when to the modern day and taking in all the varied, various and macabre ways of discovering if you have been poisoned and also the treatments over the centuries to find an antidote. After listening to this I am so glad I live in the age of today rather than a few hundred years ago.

I will say that this isn’t a book you want to listen to while you are eating your lunch! Especially if it’s the sections dealing with how royalty and noble persons would guard against poisoning, well how the medics at the time would. Using mummified human remains for example to ward off ill effects is just a very basic thing that was used.

This is so interesting to listen to and it follows a natural progression of medical discoveries and treatments over the centuries. From basic herb lore to cutting-edge laboratory discoveries this book includes a lot.

There is the obvious historical and medical interest to be found in this but also if like me, you are also a fan of crime fiction then this is also a great listen.

The author obviously knows her stuff and it does come across in the narration. I think this is where the narrator and author have been well matched as I think both enjoyed writing and reading this book as much as I did listening to it.

This is one of those books that is ideal for curious minds as well as those with a fascination for the macabre world of poisoning. It is a series of snapshots through history that documents how effective a good poison cold be. It is something that has changed monarchs, rulers and important decisions, and as we know it is still in use in today’s world.

If I had to sum this book up I would say it is fascinating and an eye-opener. It is one I would definitely recommend.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

New York Times best-seller Eleanor Herman’s new non-fiction book, The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul, is set to come out in June 2018. Think royal palaces were beautiful places to live? Think again!

Herman offers a rare combination of skills for a historian – her research is intensely scholarly, yet she writes the story in a colorful, witty manner. “History is so fascinating that it never has to be presented in a boring way,” she explains. “These were flesh and blood people, just like you and me, facing war and plague, falling in love, living among splendid art and gut-wrenching poverty. Sometimes people ask me if I plan to write novels. And I say, with all the things that really happened, who needs to make stuff up?”

Eleanor, a New York Times bestseller, has also written Sex with Kings (a history of royal mistresses), Sex with the Queen (a look at queens’ love affairs), Mistress of the Vatican (a biography of an influential papal mistress), and a four-part YA fantasy series on Alexander the Great, called The Blood of Gods and Royals.

Eleanor is a frequent commentator in the media about royal scandals, and has hosted episodes for The History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, and America: Fact vs. Fiction. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Eleanor graduated with a degree in journalism from Towson University, studied languages in Europe, and for thirteen years worked for NATO’S Nations & Partners for Peace magazine. She is married and lives in McLean, VA with four very demanding cats

ABOUT THE NARRATOR

Joan Walker is a hugely experienced, extremely versatile professional voice artist. Her range extends from crisp concise technical narration, to inventing the perfect character voice for a bubble blowing elephant. It’s a voice that can be funny, friendly, sexy, warm, authoritative…or more.

As well as appearing in over 500 plays on BBC radio, Joan has voiced countless TV and radio adverts, read copious talking books some of which have won awards including the Golden Earphones from AudioFile USA plus the American Library Journal Best Audio of 2016, narrated an array of documentaries, created voices for animations and video games and is the voice of audio guides in some of the greatest art galleries and museums in the world.

Following a degree in maths and psychology Joan taught maths for 2 years to earn enough money to send herself to drama school. She did a 1 year post graduate diploma at Welsh College of Music and Drama, qualifying in July 1983 and starting her acting career immediately as part of the rep at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster.

Her career includes theatre, television, film, lots of radio drama and poetry, much commercial voiceover work, talking books, narration for galleries and museums, and most recently a world tour of Mamma Mia! Lycra, platform boots and Abba songs for a whole year. Bliss.

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The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak @HoZ_Books @jadedgwill #nonfiction #europe #historicalbiographies #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak. This is a brilliant non-fiction book that is such an addictive read. Two formidable women from history doing their utmost to survive and continue their hold on power.

My huge thanks to Jade Gwilliam at Head of Zeus for sending me a gorgeous hardback copy of this book. When it comes to history and books I prefer physical books simply because I can flick back and forth easier to look at maps, graphs and other stuff that is often included.

The remarkable, little-known story of two trailblazing women in the Early Middle Ages who wielded immense power, only to be vilified for daring to rule.

Brunhild was a Spanish princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a lowly palace slave. And yet—in the 6th-century Merovingian Empire, where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport—these two iron-willed strategists reigned over vast realms for decades, changing the face of Europe.

The two queens commanded armies and negotiated with kings and popes. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children and lost them. They fought a years-long civil war—against each other. With ingenuity and skill, they battled to stay alive in the game of statecraft, and in the process laid the foundations of what would one day be Charlemagne’s empire. Yet after Brunhild and Fredegund’s deaths—one gentle, the other horrific—their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend.

In The Dark Queens, award-winning writer Shelley Puhak sets the record straight. She resurrects two very real women in all their complexity, painting a richly detailed portrait of an unfamiliar time and striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power. The Dark Queens offers proof that the relationships between women can transform the world.

MY REVIEW

The Dark Queens is a brilliantly researched book about two queens who helped and ruled parts of Europe in the mid – 500Ad.

Brunhild, born 543AD came from Spain to marry the Merovingian king, Sigibert in 567AD. Her sister-in-law Fredegund was a palace slave, who then went on to also become Queen.

The author has done a fascinating and fabulous job of bringing the lives of these two women to life. Mid 500AD is not a time when women have any power, the only power they have is that they bear sons. Their worth is in their fertility so how on earth did two women rise to become the most prominent rulers of their time?

Using manipulation, spies, poisons, assassins, being quick-witted, devious and above all willing to do what they must. At times doing what men would do.

This is an era when sibling rivalry, family squabbles and arguments can lead to all-out war. Europe is not settled and when kingdoms are split between brothers then there is always going to be sour grapes if one has more than another. The more land one has, the more the others want and so it is important to be aligned with the right side, although which side is the right side is always open to contention. Of course, sides can be swapped.

The author makes the history of Brunhild and Fredegund so easy to read, while there are dates and facts they are incorporated in such a way as to make this really enjoyable reading. Not lists of dates, or who was married to who and when this one killed that one and succeded the throne. But, instead, it follows an almost storylike style. Many times I actually forgot I was reading a factual or non-fiction history book as the author had made it so exciting. It does have a fiction feel and this makes it really accessible reading.

I discovered so many things about these two women and just how hard they worked to get where they got and also to remain there. I was aware of both women from history but didn’t know hardly anything about them.

As I read this I imagined Europe as a chessboard with the Queens, Kings and others being the pieces on a bloody and vicious board. Each one trying to outwit the other, trying to out-think, out-manoeuvre and predict where the other would next strike.

If you have an interest in European history, especially from Medieval times then you really need to pick up this book. It is the story of two women who became powerful leaders in a world of men. Quite an inspiring book and one that shows just what it took to be successful way back in the later part of 500AD.

It is a book I would definitely recommend, brilliant reading, well researched and also loads of notes, bibliography and the like at the end for further reading. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shelley Puhak is the author of The Dark Queens, which is her nonfiction debut. Her essays and articles have appeared in publications like The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, and Virginia Quarterly Review; been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing, and designated as Notable in four editions of Best American Essays.​

Shelley is also the author of three award-winning books of poetry. The most recent is Harbinger, a National Poetry Series selection, forthcoming with Ecco/HarperCollins in 2022.

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The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon translated by Natasha Lehrer @jadedgwill @HoZ_Books #nonfiction #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for The Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon translated by Natasha Lehrer. This is a fabulous non-fiction book about Pauline’s search for her family’s art collection.

Massive thanks to Jade at Head of Zeus publishers for my hardback copy of this book. I answered a social media call for readers interested in non-fiction books.

It all started with a list of paintings. There, scribbled by a cousin she hadn’t seen for years, were the names of the masters whose works once belonged to her great-grandfather, Jules Strauss: Renoir, Monet, Degas, Tiepolo and more. Pauline Baer de Perignon knew little to nothing about Strauss, or about his vanished, precious art collection. But the list drove her on a frenzied trail of research in the archives of the Louvre and the Dresden museums, through Gestapo records, and to consult with Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. What happened in 1942? And what became of the collection after Nazis seized her great-grandparents’ elegant Parisian apartment? The quest takes Pauline Baer de Perignon from the Occupation of France to the present day as she breaks the silence around the wrenching experiences her family never fully transmitted, and asks what art itself is capable of conveying over time.

MY REVIEW

This is a wonderful and a captivating book about a lost, or I should say, a Vanished Collection of artwork. The author, Pauline Baer de Perignon has written such an absorbing account of her research into her family and a missing art collection.

The collection belonged to Jules Strauss, a well-known collect0r of famous painters, artists and furniture collections. During her research that was initiated by her cousin, she discovers that there are paintings that were lost and have yet to be returned.

The paintings were taken during World War II. There were a lot of German collectors, Hitler himself was one and there were no qualms at the time as to how certain masterpieces ended up in the wrong hands. Trying to discover the provenance of stolen and looted paintings is the only way of returning them to their rightful owners. This is a difficult and long process, and not guaranteed.

The author of this book has written a story of her family’s history as she tracks down information about lost artefacts. It brings several things to light and also makes you realise how things have changed over the years. Documents are lost, destroyed or still need to be catalogued.

This is such an absorbing book to read, it is a fabulous journey into a family’s history and through to its present. This is one for those who like their history and also mysteries as it does become the author’s challenge to piece together all the information she discovered.

After finishing this book I immediately went to the internet to search for the paintings mentioned and also for Jules Strauss himself. This was great as I was able to see the artwork. A brilliant book and one I would definitely recommend.

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The Silk Roads: The Extraordinary History that created your World – Children’s Edition by Peter Frankopan #audiobook #20booksofsummer @NetGalley @BloomsburyUK #audioreview

I am delighted to share an audio book review today for The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. I have this book in hardback and have been meaning t read it for so long. When I saw there was an audio version available via NetGalley I immediately requested a copy. My thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for granting my request to listen and review.

This is a children’s version aimed at those around 11 years and up. A quick listen at just over two and a half hours long.

Set your sails east with this stunningly original new history of the world. Peter Frankopan explores the connections made by people, trade, disease, war, religion, adventure, science and technology in this extraordinary book about how the east married the west with a remarkable voyage at its heart – the journey along the Silk Roads.


From ancient world laws laid down by King Hammurabi and the mighty Persian empire, to terrifying Huns, the rise of Europe, two world wars and politics today, The Silk Roads moves through time and history sewing together the threads from different peoples, empires and continents into a phenomenal history of the globe.


With stories from each and every corner of society, Frankopan’s magnificent retelling of his literary triumph The Silk Roads, sumptuously illustrated by Neil Packer, is a must-have world history.

My Review…

I have a hardback version of this book but as yet have not read it. When I saw there was an audio version I thought this might be the ideal time to listen instead. I was aware that this is a version that is abridged and aimed at a teen audience and so shorter in length than the actual book.

This narration is excellent to listen to, my only issue was that it finished far too quickly! I was really enjoying the book and I could have listened for a lot longer.

This is the story of the Silk Road, from the first recognition and use of this route to modern-day use. Not only does the author deal with important events on the Silk Road, but he also uses these events to mention other events in the world. This works really well as there are various reference points so you are aware of what else was going on at the time.

So while this is primarily about the Silk Road it is also a world history book. Cross-referencing like this means you get glimpses of social events, cultures, histories. The author explores how political decisions, trade decisions are all part of how we see different countries and their rulers in the world. How money and politics are more important than the people.

Condensing world history down into this version is excellent. It makes this a fascinating listen for those who like history but want a more manageable version. After listening to this I do think I will be picking up my physical copy of the book and also the follow-on book.

A fabulous listen and one I would definitely recommend. 

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Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City by Dr Edmund Richardson #nonfiction #NetGalley @BloomsburyBooks #history #bookreview

I am delighted to share my review today for Alexandria: The Quest for the Lost City by Dr Edmund Richardson. There is something about ancient and lost cities that does interest me so when I saw this book on NetGalley I did request it.

For centuries the city of Alexandria Beneath the Mountains was a meeting point of East and West. Then it vanished. In 1833 it was discovered in Afghanistan by the unlikeliest person imaginable: Charles Masson, deserter, traveller, pilgrim, doctor, archaeologist, spy, and eventually one of the most respected scholars in Asia, and the greatest of nineteenth-century travellers.

On the way into one of history’s most extraordinary stories, he would take tea with kings, travel with holy men and become the master of a hundred disguises; he would see things no westerner had glimpsed before and few have glimpsed since. He would spy for the East India Company and be suspected of spying for Russia at the same time, for this was the era of the Great Game, when imperial powers confronted each other in these staggeringly beautiful lands. Masson discovered tens of thousands of pieces of Afghan history, including the 2,000 year old Bimaran golden casket, which has upon it the earliest known face of the Buddha. He would be offered his own kingdom; he would change the world, and the world would destroy him.

This is a wild journey through nineteenth-century India and Afghanistan, with impeccably researched storytelling that shows us a world of espionage and dreamers, ne’er-do-wells and opportunists, extreme violence both personal and military, and boundless hope. At the edge of empire, amid the deserts and the mountains, it is the story of an obsession passed down the centuries.

Pre-order Link – Amazon UK

My Review…

I am rather partial to picking up the odd history book and Alexandria appealed to me when I read the synopsis. That first paragraph referring to a man who, I initially thought was a bit of a rogue, has quite a remarkable life.

Charles Masson decided that he didn’t want to be in the East India Company, years of bad pay, awful work and no chance of raising his position basically up and walks out. Unbeknownst to him, this would be the start of a very remarkable life.

The author has got a wonderful way of approaching the story of Masson and has made it very addictive. The story charts what is known of Masson, the people he met, the politics of the time as well as the East India Company. There are loads of references and these have been listed at the end of the book so it makes it much easier reading.

I have to say that the author changed my opinion of Masson, originally I thought him a bit of a rogue, this then changed to him being a man obsessed with finding Alexandria beneath the mountains. To finally feeling quite sorry for him.

His quest to find one of the cities called Alexandria becomes all-consuming. He travels, talks to people, spends all his money and on occasion risks his life. He is robbed beaten, imprisoned, starved and on the brink of death but still, his pursuit continued.

Yes, this is a non-fiction book, and yet it felt like a really fascinating action and adventure read. This is very much down to the skill of the author as he has created such a readable historical account. I adored reading this and it has also led me on to my own further reading about Masson and Alexander.

One for history fans, such an informative book that was great reading. One I would definitely recommend.

Many thanks for reading my post, a like or share would be amazing 🙂 xx