today I’m reviewing four history books, including one for children, and a novel with fantastical elements. Here we go:
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? by Ian Mortimer
Which century saw the most change? The answer seems obvious. Pretty much all of us would answer the 20th, without giving it a second thought. Mortimer, though, gave it a lot of thought. Not so quick to dismiss all the other candidates as easily as most of us, he decided to investigate the major changes that occurred in the Western World in the last 1000 years, and only then come up with an answer. After explaining the criteria he used, he explores the changes that occurred in each century in the society, in the economy, and in the scientific and medical fields, and the impact they had on everyday life. For each century, he also selects the person who influenced change the most. Only then, he draws his conclusion on which century saw the most change. Finally, in the last section he reflects on the direction the Western World is heading to and which changes could happen in the not-so-distant future.
Not everyone will agree with Mortimer’s choices. Some will question his criteria, other his attempt, using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and statistics, to quantify change, and other still will complain that what they consider major changes didn’t even make it into the book. It would have been impossible to write a book like this that pleased everyone, but still Centuries of Change is a very fascinating read that provides some interesting food for thought. There are a few sections which are a bit dry, but mostly, the book flows easily and is entertaining enough to keep your eyes glued to the page. I highly recommend it.
Available at: Amazon
The French Executioner by C.C. Humphreys
History meets fantasy in The French Executioner, the tale of the man who cut off Anne Boleyn’s head (and, in this book, six fingered hand too). Before her execution, Anne asks the swordsman Jean Rombaud to bury her hand at a sacred crossroads, warning there will be those who will do anything to stop it. It’s a very dangerous mission, but Jean accepts. So starts an incredible journey that will take him across Europe to cities devastated by St Anthony’s Fire, wars, and apocalyptic Messiahs, and on board slave galleys.
It’s a very intriguing story and a very different take on the Tudors, but it took me several chapters to get into it. You see, I’m one of those annoying people who like their historical fiction novels to be as accurate as possible. There’s very little accurate here. But, as I kept on reading, I found something else. A quest. Magic. Improbable friends who meet and lose one another along the way. Wars and battles. Impossible odds. The French Executioner has all the ingredients of a great fantasy novel. But one that takes place in a 16th century Europe ravaged by religious wars and featuring real historical figures. The only thing that’s missing is dragons, but that would probably have been stretching fantasy a bit too far.
Once I started considering this as a fantasy novel with historical elements rather than the other way around, I enjoyed it a lot more. But I still have two problems with it. One: the author relies a bit too much on coincidences. Two: the story is way too long. There were several parts, especially towards the end, that lengthened the story unnecessarily without adding anything to it.
Despite these shortcomings, I loved The French Executioner. It may be far-fetched, but it is also action-packed, fast-moving, and full of interesting characters. I highly recommend it to both fans of history and fantasy.
Available at: Amazon
My Days With Princess Grace Of Monaco by Joan Dale and Grace Dale
My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco is not your usual biography. I’m not sure it can be called a biography at all. Instead, it is an account of a beautiful friendship. Joan Dale met a young Princess Grace when she moved to France with her husband. Princess Grace had just married Prince Rainier and didn’t have many friends in her new country. So, she was very happy to find a young American couple who shared similar interests and whose kids were of similar ages to hers. The two couples became even closer when Joan’s husband Martin started working for the Prince. They dined together, vacationed together, and had their children schooled together. Joan attended all the beautiful society events and balls that took place in Monaco in the 1960s, and was also privy to what really went on during the crisis with France that nearly cost Prince Rainier his throne. Although Joan moved around a lot during her life, she always remained close to Grace. She was also invited to the last cruise the Grimaldi, minus Stephanie, took before Grace’s death.
Grace and her family lived a glamourous life, but were simple, down to earth people. Joan gives us glimpses of their more normal, private life, remembering when Prince Rainier made crepes in the kitchen or Grace exercised on the ship during her last cruise. It’s a charming portrait, and you almost feel like you are intruding. Yet, the Dales are very respectful of Grace and her family. They wanted to share another side of Grace the world had never seen, and setting the record straight on many lies still circulating. There is nothing sensational or too gossipy here.
The portrait of Grace that emerges from these pages is very flattering. Grace was a kind and compassionate woman, devoted to her family and adopted country. If I had to find a fault with this book is that the Dales praise her so much that, at times, it’s hard to believe Grace really was a human being. But I guess some people are so amazing that it is hard to find fault with them, and when we do, easily excuse them.
Beautifully written and illustrated with many private photos, My Days With Princess Grace Of Monaco are a must read for all fans of Grace Kelly, the Grimaldis, and royalty. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Ellis Island by Molly Aloian
From 1892 to 1954, millions of people left their countries to start a new, better, life in North America. After facing a long sea journey, they would finally arrive at the Ellis Island Immigration Station in NYC.
Molly Aloian uses historical records, first hand accounts and pictures to teach children about this important part of American history. The book explains the reasons why many people felt like they had no choice but to emigrate, the hardships they faced both on their journeys and once in America, and what tests and medical examinations they had to pass before being allowed to enter their new country. Aloian also briefly discusses the other major immigration points in North America, such as Angel Island and Grosse-isle. Informative and entertaining, Ellis Island is a great way to introduce children to the complex topic of immigration.
Available at: Amazon
Will you pick up any of these books, or already have?
Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.