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Latest Reviews

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100 nasty women of history / Hannah Jewell.
Author: Jewell, Hannah, author.
Publisher: London, UK Hodder Headline (UK) 2017. -- London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2017. -- ©2017
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 6/09/2021 4:04:45 PM
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Tired of reading history written by men about men and largely for men? Looking for greater acknowledgement of the contribution from the other half of our species? Hankering for greater gender equality? I was. So when I stumbled across this book, I saw promise. Each entry was given between two and half-a-dozen pages. The range began in the third millennium BCE and moved back and forth to the beginning of the 21st century. The ideal dipping book, I thought. Just enough to give me a snapshot of these notable women without burdening me with superfluous detail.

Then came the shocker. The subtitle should have warned me: Brilliant badass and completely fearless women everyone should know. Badass Hannah Jewell was a writer for Buzzfeed (sounds like a media publication aimed at the youth). She is now a pop culture host at the Washington Post. The style she uses in this book is atrocious. The dialogue, the idioms, the slang and terminology come straight from a pop culture radio show. Her lame attempt at humour, with her sarcastic asides and commentary, was grating to say the least. Inappropriate? Just imagine trying to watch a drama set in Imperial Rome with rap and hip hop as background theme music. The incongruity of theme, setting and mood could not be more dissonant.

I was tempted to return this book the day after I borrowed it. But no. I thought if I could just skip Hannah's asides and her most offensive language - plenty of four letter words and expletives - I could glean some worthwhile history from it. And so I did.

Under sufferance, I discovered many unsung heroes - unsung due to their gender and due to the traditional male dominance in history. There were warriors and revolutionaries, especially independence fighters in the British Empire. Intellectuals included literary women women of science and medicine, philosophers, community and social builders. Along with entertainers, there were those asserting their unconventional sexuality long before the LGBTI movement. Quite a few female flyers challenged, and often beat, many of the early male aeronautic pioneers. The women in the section titled Women who punched Nazis, showed extraordinary courage, ability and resourcefulness.

I disagreed with the author's descriptive "nasty" in her title. Unconventional? Yes. Shrugging off the societal gendered stereotype? Sure. Persistent tenacious and persevering? Again, affirmative. Capable intelligent assertive even revolutionary? No doubt. But nasty? No. I suspect this was used as a marketing devise. As inappropriate as Hannah Jewel's annoying style, which was probably also in part a marketing tool.

Look, for me, Hannah's style was repulsive. However, maybe there is an audience out there to which it will appeal. Maybe some of the younger generation need to hear their style of language to draw them into history. Maybe you will warm to it more than I did. Or maybe you can do what I did - that is quickly recognise and skip the repugnant asides and be introduced to this rich collection of women deserving of greater recognition.
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The golden wolf / Linnea Hartsuyker
Author: Hartsuyker, Linnea.
Publisher: London : Little, Brown, 2019.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 23/08/2021 4:05:47 PM
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The Golden Wolf is the third book in a trilogy set in 9th century Scandinavia. The other two are The Half-Drowned King and The Sea Queen. This was a seminal time for Norway. King Harald, originally the king of only a small kingdom in the south-east of modern Norway, succeeded in uniting all Norway's tiny kingdoms into a single nation.

The protagonists of these three novels are a brother, Ragnvald, and his sister Svanhild. These were historical figures. One of Ragnvald's sons Einar became the Earl of the Orkney Islands and progenitor of a line of Orkney rulers. Another son, Rollo, became the first Duke of Normandy and the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror.

This novel begins about 13 years after the second novel finished. Ragnvald and Svanhild, the Sea Queen, are still going strong. Their children have reached, or are fast approaching, adulthood and also making their mark in history. The story begins with several mini-plots.

Ragnvald is in Jutland with one of his and one of Harald's sons, trying to arrange a marriage between Harald's son and King Erik of Jutland's daughter. However, King Erik is more interested in enlisting Ragnvald in a rebellion against Harald's rule over Norway using Harald's disgruntled eldest son as a temporary ally.

Ragnvald's two eldest sons, Einar and Ivar, are in Hordaland, Norway, trying to bring Queen Gyda to King Harald to fulfil a 20-year-old promise to marry him after he united Norway. Enthusiasm for this marriage varies widely.

Rollo is fleeing a mistake when he attacked one of Harald's and Ragnvald's (his father's) allies, killing this ally's son. He faces outlawry, a possible death sentence, unless Ragnvald can engineer some other solution.

Svanhild is an emissary to Skane, the intention to form an alliance with King Harald, only to find the local lord aligning himself with Harald's rebellious son and taking her hostage. A rescue mission must be arranged.

And Svanhild's daughter Freydis is kidnapped, ending up in Iceland where her father, whom she has never met, lives. This father, Solvi, is Ragnavald's archenemy and, 20 years ago, was the most capable opponent to Harald's ambitions to unite Norway.

The Machiavellian scheming and shifting alliances in this novel are complex. Ragnavald's loyalties are tested. He has pledged his life to serving King Harald, yet for all that he has done for Harald, Harald is becoming wary of the power Ragnvald himself has accrued.

Norway's new titular king, Harald (from whom the author is distantly descended) is portrayed as the worst offender of loyalties, sorely testing those who have been dedicated to his quest to unify Norway for the past 20 years. Raynvald must sacrifice a life goal so that Harald can create new alliances. Svanhild is forced to switch sides yet again (she has already do so twice in the previous two novels) and now opposes Harald.

The novel closes with several, serious, battle-scarred casualties. The unity with which the trilogy begins is seriously shaken, if not, in some aspects, irretrievably shattered.

One advantage of reading a well-written series, one with credible characters, is that the more books you read, the more you come to identify with the characters, trying to decipher their motives, their behaviour and their goals. By the time I got to this third book in this series, I felt I was truly living alongside them, sharing their joys and sorrows, egging them on or cautioning them, judging them and puzzling over their actions.

Overall a well-researched and composed trilogy with threads of history stitched together with the drama of fiction.
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How philosophy works : the concepts visually explained / consultant editor, Marcus Weeks.
Author: Dk -- Weeks, Marcus, editor.
Publisher: London : Dorling Kindersley, 2019. -- �2019.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 23/08/2021 4:04:34 PM
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In the past, I have tackled several books on philosophy, only to become mired in excessively detailed tedium and a seeming irrelevancy for everyday life. Then recently, while trying to get a handle on the philosophical concept of the social contract, I consulted this book viz. How Philosophy Works. The index led me to the middle of the chapter six on political philosophy. I was immediately struck with its succinct presentation: So clearly explained, so germane. I thought, at last a book that promises a key to unlock the ponderings of the great philosophers, a tool kit with which to apply philosophy to the world of us mere mortals.

Unfortunately, after such glowing promise, I did have to wade through the first chapter titled Foundations. Yes, this started in ancient Greece with the early thinkers and worked its way through Medieval and into early modern times. I sometimes thought, what sort of bubbles did these thinkers live in? How did their wild speculations relate to the real world? But the good thing about this book is that at least I understood what they thought, regardless of how far their ideas seemed from reality. And it also occurred to me that they were trying to solve some of the very same mysteries that we are still trying to solve today. Compare also the wild speculations of today's physicists regarding dark matter and energy, multiple universes and the nature of time - all without any observable evidence.

The last few philosophers in this chapter, immediately preceding and following Karl Marx, did show application to recent history. There were some enlightening ideas on when a belief, opinion or intuition could be called knowledge, a fact or truth. A cogent issue following four years of Donald Trump, simmering climate change and, presently, COVID-19.

Much of chapter two focused on the essence of language and how it related to meaning. For me, each philosopher seemed to only grasp a limited perspective of language. None seemed to integrate its socio-cultural connotations, function and context, speaker and audience into a holistic schema. The function of language in science and the evolution of science was also skirted.

Next was the nature of existence. An excessive focus on concrete objects I thought. What about abstractions? Other philosophical explorations included consciousness, identity freedom and feminism. At the end of this chapter, you should gain additional perspectives of yourself and others as sentient beings, as individuals, but also as part of a communal whole.

Talking of sentient beings, this book can't avoid a chapter on the nature of the mind. How does it relate to matter? The brain is matter but it is not the mind. How can we use language, in part a product of the mind, to describe the mind? A circular, self-confirming, tautological trap?

Finally, in chapters five and six, I got to the two applications of philosophy that led me to this book in the first place viz. the philosophy that underlies morals and ethics and the relationship between government, politics and the people. These are areas of applied philosophy that affect our everyday lives.

What are morals? Do they even exist? Where do morals come from? How do we form or acquire them? Are they a biological product of evolution or do they derive from rationalisation and the exercise of free will? Does free will even exist? Finally, how should morals be applied? A few, specific, moral issues are also included viz. animal rights, euthanasia and cloning. Of the dozen philosophers reviewed, none referred to religion or God for a moral compass. It appears us secular mortals just have to work hard on this matter ourselves.

There is quite a range of ideas about the possible nature and role of government, also about the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of citizens. The integration of these last three for individuals presents some sticky conundrums.

The book finishes with a discussion of logic - the art of reasoning - working from a number of related facts (the premises) to deduce a conclusion. Also referred to as the nature of argument. Without sound argument and valid reasoning, false or misleading conclusions will derive. If action is then based on these conclusions, failure will likely result.

Each philosophical concept or theory in this book is given a double page coverage. The textual explanation is reinforced with an animated diagram greatly assisting comprehension. Descartes said (in translation) "I think, therefore I am". These great thinkers, little burdened by the exigencies of survival, certainly had plenty of time to think. You may or may not agree with some of their abstract postulations, but this book does an excellent job of giving the reader an understanding of them. Armed with this understanding, you will be able to act as judge and jury to their validity.
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Evolution : the human story / Dr. Alice Roberts [editor-in-chief] ; [foreword, Alice Roberts] ; [model reconstructions by paleoartists Adrie Kennis and Alfons Kennis].
Author: Roberts, Alice M., editor, author of foreword. -- Coward, Fiona Susan, editor. -- Kennis, Adrie, illustrator. -- Kennis, Alfons, illustrator.
Publisher: London : DK Publishing, 2018. -- 2018.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 5/08/2021 12:14:56 PM
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A few years ago, I watched the BBC TV series presented by this eminent anthropologist and documentary maker. However, I wanted to read it was well. Things stick better when I read. When watching TV, I have no control over the rate at which information is presented. Quite often, the presenter has moved on before I have fully grasped what I just heard. I have no time to fit new information into my pre-existing framework of understanding. When I read, I determine the pace. I can pause and cogitate. I can review earlier matter to fit it all into a bigger picture.

Talking about pictures, that is another advantage of this coffee-table-sized book. It is full of pictures and illustrations to put you in a truly appropriate learning mood. It has illustrations, graphs, tables, diagrams, timelines and maps. A picture says a thousand words. For me, these are a great aid for integration of information into my mental schemata. For those who are pictorially minded, or find endless text confusing or tedious, these will be a boon.

This book is presented in five parts.

In the first part, we learn the nuts and bolts of archaeology, palaeoanthropology and palaeontology. What are fossils? There are several types. How do we date them? There are a number of methods. How do we interpret the findings? Interpretations are often subject to dispute and challenge. Answers to these, and other questions, opens the tool box of the experts for us.

Next, we look at the whole primate family - the new and old world monkeys and the great apes (of which Homo sapiens are but one). The third part focuses more closely on the Hominins. Hominin describes all species that comprise the lineage that diverged from that of chimpanzees 10 to seven million years ago. I was familiar with the genera Australopithecus and Homo. I was unaware of five others that existed during this time. Similarly, I recognised seven species belonging to the genus Homo. Alice introduced three more. Several different species always existed contemporaneously until about 30,000 years ago. Now, only one survives, Homo sapiens.

One piece of information I thought lacking was an explanation of how some of the early Hominins (human ancestors) differed from other Hominids (the great apes). Their anatomical features and behaviour was often little distinguished. Neither was it explained why some species, even co-existing ones, were given different genera. As I travelled in this journey through time, I kept asking: When are they going to start eating meat and when will they finally completely abandon the trees and become exclusively bipedal? It was a eureka moment when I got my answers.

The fourth part is titled Out of Africa. While the spread of Homo sapiens around the world will be of primary interest to many, we were by far not the first Hominin species to leave Africa. My imagination ran wild when I tried to speculate as to why they failed to meet the challenges of the new environments they encountered. Remnant populations of a couple of species still existed when Homo sapiens arrived.

I would have ended a book titled Evolution at this point. But the subtitle, The Human Story required a concluding part. This last part took us on a journey from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Alice takes us around the world to visit the rise of agriculture and animal husbandry in different regions. Metal working, craft development, trade, institutionalised religion, early city states and nation states all resulted from this pivotal Agrarian Revolution.

Whether you are a history buff, a lay scientist or just interested in the journey of early humans and their ancestors, this is a book for you. It is so well organised and presented with such a plethora of visual aids that you will be unable to help becoming so much better informed.
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The sea queen / Linnea Hartsuyker
Author: Hartsuyker, Linnea.
Publisher: London : Little, Brown, 2018. -- �2018.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 5/08/2021 12:13:32 PM
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The Sea Queen is the second in a trilogy set in 9th century Norway. The first book is The Half-Drowned King, the third book The Golden Wolf. I strongly recommend that you read these in order as the characters and plot lines flow chronologically from one book to the next.

There are two protagonists, and two strongly linked storylines, for each of the first two novels (and, I presume, in the third book which I am yet to read).

Ragnvald has recovered his grandfather's kingdom of Sogn, lost by his father not long before the beginning of the first novel. This he achieved through his alignment with King Harald, a young and ambitious king who is determined to unite the numerous chieftains and petty kingdoms of Norway under a single crown. Harald is a true historical figure, an ancestor of the author and recognised the first king of a united Norway. However, Ragnvald's hold on Sogn is tenuous. Harald values him as a wise and strategic commander. He continually places demands upon Ragnavald as he battles rebellious lords and untrustworthy allies. Ragnvald's regular absences from Sogn leaves it vulnerable to raids and claims by usurpers.

In The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald's sister Svanhild surprisingly marries his mortal enemy, Solvi. Solvi is a sea king, a raider, a master naval commander and probably the most dangerous rival to King Harald's ambitions. He is capable of garnering the assistance of powerful allies, including the Swedish king, the Frisian king, a smattering of Norwegian exiles and Harald's own most powerful ally. However, Svanhild's love for Solvi is sorely tested and breaks when a personal tragedy strikes. Svanhild switches her allegiance (and love?). Her new match seems too good to be true, but works well into this story.

For a novel set in the tail end of the Dark Ages, there are surprisingly few battles scenes. There is only one major battle, but it is tension filled. Our heroes seem outmatched and outmanoeuvred. How will the battle-wise Ragnvald save his lord and men? How will he extricate them from a seemingly inevitable impending disaster? Of course, as well as a major battle, there are several short sword plays to keep readers who like a bit of swash-buckling interested. There is also quite a bit of political intrigue and rivalry even a touch of Machiavellianism with tense alliances formed, loyalties tested and oaths betrayed.
There is another small battle at the end of the novel that we skirt around the edges of. However, it is in this battle that Svanhild truly earns her cognomen, the Sea Queen.

By the end of the novel, Harald seems to have vanquished all opposition to become the titular king of a united Norway. Where will the third novel in the series go?

The author, in her notes, states that this novel contains more true historical events than the first novel The Half Drowned King. She mentions a couple. However, although the whole trilogy is based around the union of Norway into a single kingdom in the late 9th century, it may be difficult for the reader to separate fact from fiction. Never fear. I assure you, you will get a feel for the history while becoming absorbed into the story.
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What happened to you? : conversations on trauma, resilience and healing / Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph. D. ; Oprah Winfrey.
Author: Perry, Bruce Duncan, 1955- author. -- Winfrey, Oprah, author.
Publisher: London, UK Bluebird 2021. -- London : Bluebird, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, 2021. -- ©2021
Review by: Jackson, Jane Ms  on: 2/08/2021 7:50:59 PM
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This book is a must for an introduction to the concepts of complex trauma and the neurobiological bases of behaviours arising from that trauma. Dr Bruce Perry is an internationally recognised researcher and clinician in this important field and Oprah Winfrey translates and makes this a conversational, easy-to-understand tutorial for people who have experienced trauma as children.
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Propaganda and the ethics of persuasion.
Author: Marlin, Randal, 1938-
Publisher: Peterborough, Ont. ; Orchard Park, N.Y. : Broadview Press, c2002.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 21/07/2021 12:14:14 PM
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We live in an age of information. First came writing, then the printing press sparking a drive towards mass literacy. This was followed by electronic media - the radio, TV and today the internet. So you think you are well informed? Think again. Propaganda and its close cousins, advertising and public relations, are alive and well.

Marlin eases us, in stages, on a journey of discovery. First, a definition. How does propaganda differ from the mere transmission of information or education? The fact that it is deliberate and organised and aimed at a mass audience might not differentiate it, however, its aim, i.e. persuasion (to a cause, belief or behaviour), does. The fact that it usually involves a degree of deception should make us wary. Cicero, in Ancient Rome, was perspicacious when he wrote, in translation, "Honesty may be the best policy, but it is not the best politics".

Marlin's romp through history, beginning in ancient Athens and Rome, through Medieval Europe, the French Revolution and Napoleon, to World War I and the Nazis, is informative. I was amazed at the global extent of British propaganda in WWI. Some of their pioneering methods were instructive for the Nazis a couple of decades later.

In chapter 3, where Marlin introduces us to the tools of trade, the techniques used by propagandists, he warns us of the traps of opinion polls and the use of statistics to substantiate claims and hoodwink the audience.

If propaganda, advertising and the public relations industry do employ deception, or at the very least omission or obfuscation of facts, it raises questions concerning its moral integrity. In discussing ethics, Marlin gives a lot of weight to some of the great thinkers over the last three millennia. Much of his analysis remains theoretical and can be heavy going. I would have preferred that he provided more instances of how these philosophers' theories applied to real-world examples.

As we are essentially talking about the art of persuasion, the real world figures large in the 200-year coverage of advertising and public relations that Marlin expounds.

Another chapter considers freedom of expression. While most prominent thinkers emphasise the right and benefits of such freedoms, they also recognise limits. Some may even support censorship and legal restrictions in exceptional cases. Given that some legislative restrictions on freedom of expression may be warranted, Marlin devotes a further chapter to regulatory controls upon hate speech, advertising and the mass media. His focus is, however, heavily on the Canadian scene. While some of this is instructive and illustrative of the Australian situation, I felt his coverage and examples were too detailed and too exclusively American.

The concluding chapter on the role of the internet, while informative, is dated. This book was, after all, published in 2002. If he wrote today, this chapter would have devoted much to the rise and prominence of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These were non-existent in 2002.

We are on an almost daily basis assaulted by a barrage of information. It would seem pertinent that we be aware of possible deception and manipulation. Marlin's book is comprehensive and organised. You will learn the history and nature of propaganda, the techniques and ethics, or lack of, of mass persuasion. You will become more alert... Our country needs lerts!

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The half-drowned king / Linnea Hartsuyker.
Author: Hartsuyker, Linnea.
Publisher: London : Little, Brown, 2017. -- London Little, Brown, 2017. -- ©2017
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 15/07/2021 1:30:15 PM
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A promising first novel for a trilogy. The next two are The Sea Queen and The Golden Wolf. Having read the first of the series, I'm ready for the second.

The novels are set in 9th century Norway. At this time in history, Norway is politically like England. Rather than a single nation-state, it is a collection of kingdoms of various sizes and strength, right down to what was little more than glorified chiefdoms. But there is a young, ambitious unifier. The 16-year-old Harald is a powerful king in the south. He has been prophesised by his mother to be the king of a unified Norway. Through negotiation threat and force he seems well on his path to achieve this goal. It is interesting that historically it was a Harald who united Norway towards the end of the 9th century. Likely the author modelled her Harald on the real one.

There are two linked stories running parallel in this novel. Ragnvald is 20 years of age. He is the grandson of a king on the west coast - a map at the beginning of the book helps orientate place names with characters and action. His father lost this kingdom shortly before his early death. Ragnvald was raised as the foster son of Olaf, a friend of his father who had taken over his farming estate supposedly in trust until Ragnvald reached maturity. The novel opens with the attempted murder of Ragnvald while returning from raiding in Ireland. It seems Olaf does not want to honour Ragnvald's inheritance. Throughout the novel, Ragnvald nurses his desire for revenge against both Olaf and the man who attempted his murder. In the meantime, he allies himself with King Hakon - another powerful king allied to the young and ambitious Harald - only to fall out with both of them towards the end of the novel.

The other storyline follows Ragnvald;s 15-year-old sister. In a curious and uncomfortable, almost unfathomable, twist of fate, she ends up marrying the man who tried to murder her brother. Divided and painfully conflicting loyalties. The author presents this complexity of human nature well.

By the end of the novel, Ragnvald has achieved one of his vendettas. The which, why, and how... well, you'll have to read it to find out.

This is formulaic historical drama. A mix of drama and action, love, friendships and rivalry, ambition and soul searching. If such historical fiction is your genre, it's good. You will detect threads of real-life history, learn of Norse culture during this era and be entertained by the characters and their strivings.
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Secrets hidden below / Sandra Bennett.
Author: Bennett, Sandra D., author.
Publisher: : Peribo, 2018 -- Canberra, ACT : Elephant Tree Publishing Pty Ltd, 2018. -- �2018.
Review by: Moss, Hayley  on: 22/06/2021 6:17:59 PM
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It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I read it for three hours in a row during a car trip. H.M. Age 9.
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How to bee / Bren MacDibble.
Author: MacDibble, Bren, author.
Publisher: Crows Nest, NSW Allen & Unwin 2017. -- �2017.
Review by: Moss, Hayley  on: 22/06/2021 6:12:42 PM
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It was one of the best books that I have ever read and I will be hoping for other books about Peony and the farm. I hope that you will like it as much as I do. H.M. Age 9.
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