Christmas Books Special – 2009 – Part 3 of 4 History

Straight into this edition. To read part 1 and part 2, click the links!

Empires Of The Sea

Empires of the Sea: The Final Battle for the Mediterranean, 1521 – 1580
Roger Crowley also wrote Constantinople: The Last Great Siege. That was a good book. But it lacked two things that make this book essential reading, personality and narrative structure. It is as if Crowley went away after Constantinople and read Tom Holland, realised that he could do as well or better and set to. He paints a wonderfully engaging picture of the Mediterranean world and of its rulers, capturing the burdened Phillip II in a few short sentences scattered throughout the book. His real strength though is that his insight stretches to the tensions within the camps and between them, explaining with equal authority the pressure on the Sultan’s commanders and those of the Christian states. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, it is just excellent.

Hidden Cork

Hidden Cork: Charmers, Chancers and Cute hoors (DOI: I commissioned this book)
I love a good non-fiction book that opens up unknown places and interesting little bits of information, digestible if you will. Hidden Cork brings to life many of the characters and crazy people who have populated the history of the city along with the stories of fabulous and forgotten events. Michael Lenihan, who wrote the book, is an absolute charm of a writer who has a deep interest in the topic and a passion that is unrivalled. A gem of a book.

The Gutenberg Revolution

The Gutenberg Revolution
John Man’s short and concise biography of Johann Gutenberg is a joy to read. When I look at how the world is changing for what (firmly tongue in cheek) Cory Doctorow at TOC Frankfurt called The People Of The Book, this is the perfect Christmas gift for the publisher, writer, editor or reader in your life. Man has really fleshed out a character who up until I read his books, was at best a cardboard cut out. Maybe it’s my emerging preference for quality narrative fiction (this list really attests to that) but I’d recommend it to anyone, not just a book fan, but the history fan too.

Like the Sci-Fi & Fantasy section, keeping this section to three is too hard and so I have cheated a little by suggesting two notable exclusions.

Notable Exclusions

The Dictionary of Irish Biography
Yes it is expensive, yes it is beyond what most people would need or want, but it’s very imposing-ness makes it invaluable and essential for those engaged in deep study of Irish history, even as jumping off point.

A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
By Marc Morris is an absorbing account of the life of Edward I, a man most people only know for being William Wallace’s enemy in Braveheart. In fact his life was enormously interesting spanning wars in the Levant, France Scotland and Wales, not to mention a vicious civil war while he was still only crown prince. Morris delivers a stirring narrative too, all told one of the better biographies I’ve read

Christmas Books Special – 2009 – Part 2 of 4

Sci-fi & Fantasy today
It is a difficult thing to hold my list to three books in this post (and so cheekily I’ve chosen some series based books). I have read some incredible sci-fi and fantasy books over the last year, some of which have really broken through to the mainstream of sci-fi readers and some of which have only done passably well. The three I’ve selected simply ran away with my imagination.

Fire Upon The Deep

Fire Upon The Deep
Vernor Vinge is by many people’s standard one of the modern greats of Science Fiction. Until I read a post by Jo Walton about his book Fire Upon The Deep on Tor.com the emerging online hub of science fiction and fantasy, (which goes to show the value of a good educational role for online communities). There was so much in the post that appealed to me that I went out and bought the book and have since bought another, I will probably buy anything and everything he writes or has written. Fire Upon The Deep is an absorbing read with strange and wonderful characters, exciting and yet extremely limiting realities (FOR THE AUTHOR THAT IS). What a book to read if your creative insights are running dry, it is sure to spark imagination and profound thoughts.

Empire in Black & Gold

Empire In Black & Gold (The Shadow of the Apt Series)
I was not convinced at first by this book. The pace seemed slow, the language stilted. Yet it was good enough for me to keep reading. And then, boy did it take off like a rocket. Perhaps THE most exciting and inventive series I’ve read in a while. It offers new perspectives on a host of fantasy memes. I was sent book two and three by another fan and I’ve decided that it is that kind of series, the kind that converts readers into zealots. I think you should all become zealots! Read the first four in rapid succession and you’ll feel bereft when it comes to the last page and you’ll be dying for the next book!

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself (The First Law Trilogy)
Joe Abercrombie is a fine writer. One who knows a lot about fantasy. In this remarkable series he pretty much subverts the accepted narratives of fantasy while creating new and exciting versions around the carcass. A berseker (and an evil one at that) central hero, a torturer who holds our pity, respect and I suspect for most people, our admiration and a wise central enigmatic character that is almost the exact opposite of your Belgarath or Gandalf.

Tomorrow, History,
Eoin

Honourable Mention: The Long Price Quartet, by Daniel Abraham (AMAZING)

Christmas Books Special – 2009 – Part 1 of 4 Food & Drink

I normally run a recommendation post for fiction and non-fiction books every Christmas. This year I’m having a tough time narrowing the field down so I’ve decided to do it a bit differently, I am going to suggest 3 books for each of the following categories:

Food & Drink

This section is an easy choice because three books stand head and shoulders above everything else either released by an Irish company or written by an Irish author. These three should be on my shelf by 26th December if all goes to plan 🙂

Forgotten Skills of Cooking

Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking
What more can you ask for? The Allen’s are cooking royalty, Rachel is storming the charts this year as she did last year and Darina brings the years of experience and knowledge to bear in this very handsomely produced tome.

Good Mood Food

Donal Skehan’s Good Mood Food [DOI: I commissioned this]
Donal is incredible. His blog is always fresh and exciting, his recipes are hearty, homely and importantly for those non-professionals out there (Like me) relatively easy. The book is a riot of colour and features some of the best food styling and photography you’ll see in an Irish published book this year.

Eat Good Things Every Day

Eat Good Things Everyday
Carmel Somers’ book makes me drool, an unattractive image I can accept. I’ve not eaten in the Good Things Cafe, in Durrus where Carmel cooks every day, but on reading this, I know that I really will have to, and soon. It also has an excellent, simple and attractive cover.

Sci-Fi tomorrow!
Eoin

Eoin’s Christmas Recommendation – Non-Fiction

Eoin Purcell

First Things First
So I’ll get the shameless self promo out of the way from the get go. I heartily recommend my own addition to the Food & Drink genre, Our Grannies’ Recipes. It is a wonderful collection of recipes gathered and collated from ourgranniesrecipes.com and set beautifully in a hardback b-format for the relatively decent price of €14.99 (I hear H&H are selling it at €12.99). Whatever price you get it for, Age Action Ireland will get €1 for each and every copy sold. That’s good news I like to think. Not much chance of it getting to you by post so drop into your local bookstore and buy it there.

Our Grannies' Recipes
Our Grannies' Recipes

Other Great Ideas
Given the tumultuous times publishing is passing through I thought it might be nice for those who enjoy books and the bookish life to read Gabrieal Zaid’s So Many Books. It is a great read and well worth the tiny amount of time and effort you will expend reading it. So Many Books is a really nice company whose slogan is, Publish Few But Wonderful Books. There is a lesson in that for us all!

So Many Books FCP
So Many Books FCP

I have a weakness for Niall Ferguson so I could hardly write this post and not mention his rather great looking,The Ascent of Money. I think they rather smartly retooled the TV series to make this appear a far more skeptical tome than had originally been envisage, but I’ll wait until I have read the text to judge that.

The Ascent of Money FCP
The Ascent of Money FCP

I read and loved Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920. It is a really excellent book that in a short few pages paints a picture of a forgotten conflict that might have had much further reaching effects were it not for the cataclysmic World War Two. Alternatively you could conceivably make the case that the world would be different for the better now but I hesitate to suggest that, the Europe of 1920 was hardly ready for a war with Russia the like of which it would have had to face had Poland succumbed to the ALMOST unstoppable juggernaut.

Warsaw 1920 FCP
Warsaw 1920 FCP

A smaller list than normal this year. The sheer volume of good material made me lean in the direction of the truly great stuff. I hope no one minds.

Fiction tomorrow,
Eoin

Eoin’s Top Picks For Christmas (not many, but quality)

Eoin Purcell


If you are the bah humbug type* this post will annoy you

With only 14 shopping days left till Christmas I thought it might be nice to supply a few of my recommended books (With legitimate exceptions) for all. Listed in order of enjoyment/recently enjoyed by my count and expected enjoyment for others (a complicated logarithm I think you’ll agree) I have included extra information and buying links**:

1) HIDDEN DUBLIN: DEADBEATS, DOSSERS & DECENT SKINS (Frank Hopkins): As I have mentioned before I love history and Dublin history is so full of curious incidents, accidents, figures and characters that it makes for fascinating reading.
Buy it HERE

2) COOKING WITH BOOZE (The Right Hon. George Harvey Bone, Esq.): I like cooking an awful lot and GHB makes it fun too. Check out the videos he has made covering some of the wonderful recipes.
Buy it HERE

3) THE LOOKING GLASS WAR (John Le Carré): This is my first Le Carré though, as you will see below, I am already a fan by TV series. I will be buying more for sure. I loved this book. Tense, exciting, human and all the time terribly real, this book turned out to be so much more than I expected.
Buy it HERE

4) TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY: The BBC has one of the finest back catalogues known to TV and this is one of the best. A spy thriller about spying on spies, with one of the scariest good guys of all time George Smiley (Played wonderfully by Alec Guinness) a man who seems harmless on the surface but has a deep steeliness to him. I am looking forward to reading the book but as I have only watched the series that is what I will recommend.
Buy it HERE

5) THE REMINDER by Feist (Music): The news that Feist has been nominated for four Grammy’s didn’t surprise me much. I have become slightly obsessed by this Canadian singer. Quite frankly she is fabulous, perhaps not as good as Final Fantasy but certainly more accessible.
Buy it HERE
And watch this:

Five quality number I think you will agree. Oh and I think it’s time for the Christmas theme!
Eoin

*(Perfectly reasonable I think sometimes)
**(As I have no associates accounts or anything like that there is no value to me if you use the buying links or choose not to, I’m just putting them there for convenience)