Friday, March 22, 2013

The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance 1427 – 1527, by Leonie Frieda. Harper, 2012

Leonie Frieda has taken on the task of portraying women of power from the Italian Renaissance. It’s a huge job, and, while she has meticulously researched the project, it falls a bit short.
Renaissance Italy was very different from the Italy of today. It was a loose collection of states ruled by dukes and counts who formed and broke alliances as it best suited them. The immensely powerful Catholic Church was corrupt. Intrigue, greed and war were the order of the day. With the men frequently away on military missions, the ruling of the states fell to their wives. Sometimes the men stayed home and sent their wives on diplomatic missions. Women may have been political pawns back then, but some of them managed to wrest power of their own. Isabella d’Aragona, Isabella and Beatrice d’Este, Catarina Sforza, Clarice Orsini, Lucrezia di Francesco Tornabuoni, and Frieda’s apparent favorite, Lucrezia Borgia, were women who did this.

To appreciate what these women did, one has to know the historical setting: the states, the families that ruled them, and how these families were all connected by intermarriage. A lot of the book is necessarily devoted to this. The women weave through story, born into this family, married into another, and, in some cases, into another and another. Thankfully, there are family genealogies in the front of the book so one can attempt to keep it all straight! The author doesn’t always refer to the people by the same name every time, adding to the confusion.

The most interesting thing to me was the author’s rehabilitation of Lucrezia Borgia’s reputation. Rather than the evil mistress of poison and pawn of her father, Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander, she is portrayed as an innocent, loving, woman of intellect and kindness. In fact, the whole Borgia family is described in a good light, something I never expected. Well, perhaps ‘good’ is pushing it; it’s more that they are all just products of their time.

Sadly, the women never really come to life. They remain flat, performing actions without us ever really knowing their feelings. It’s a pretty good history book, but not great on the biography part.

Note: This book came to me through the Amazon Vine program in return for an honest review. My opinions are in no way changed by the fact that the book was free. The link below is an affiliate link; if you go through it to buy the book, I get a tiny amount of money. 


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Cat Owner’s Manual, by Dr. Bruce Fogle. DK Publishing 2003

A handy, quick to read book on all aspects of cat ownership. While brief, it goes some medical issues that other cat books don’t- which makes sense, since the author is a veterinarian. A glossary in the back helps the reader to understand the medical section better. There is also a large section devoted to the various breeds of cats that includes whether the breed is quiet or talky, friendly or aloof, active or sedate- information that can really help a person decide if the breed is for them or not. He also goes into cat genetics, which I enjoyed- I finally found out why it looks like my black cat has a white undercoat! (the hair is only black on the tips; the part closer to the body is white. It’s caused by something called the inhibitor gene).  My only quibble with the author is his section on homeopathy- he doesn’t push it, but it’s there with vaccinations. I know a lot of people use it, but personally I think it can risk the cat’s life to use it instead of biological vaccinations or science based cures. 

Note: this is an affiliate link. If you buy a book by clicking through, I will earn a tiny amount of money. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Quite an Undertaking: True Tales From the Mortuary, by Elizabeth Lycar and Lorrie Guymer Hutton. Nip & Tuck Publishing, 2012

The title of this short biography is a little misleading; while Violet Guymer was indeed an undertaker and mortuary owner, it’s only a small part of the story.

In 1905, Violet, with two small children, followed her husband, Daniel, and his brother, Lawrence, from England to the wilds of western Canada. At the time, the Canadian government was giving settlers 160 acres of land for the $10 cost of recording the deed. Prior to this, Violet was a professional dancer and lived a contented life of teas, community affairs, rose gardening and bridge games. Life on the frontier in Manitoba was a far different thing. Suddenly, with the men working long days, Violet had to learn to live a primitive life. More children soon followed the two she had arrived with.

Thankfully, they soon moved into town, which, while still a place without water or sewer, at least had some amenities, and Daniel and Lawrence had some financial success with a draying company and a mortuary. Things fell apart when Daniel died suddenly, leaving the widow with a lot of small children to take care of. She did it by stepping into Daniel’s shoes, taking over running the draying company and learning mortuary science. For a long time, she did it successfully, too. Of course she had to deal with people who thought that a woman shouldn’t be doing that kind of work- not that they had an answer to how else she was supposed to provide for her family! Violet led an eventful life that was filled with long hours and back breakingly hard work. She was a terrifically strong woman who refused to give up.

The book is told mainly in Violet’s voice, with parts told by her daughter and granddaughter, and one long letter from Daniel to her. It’s not a smooth narrative but jerks about a bit. While it was interesting, I was really hoping for more about the mortuary business and there was really not much on that.