Hello, and welcome to imagic reflections!

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Here, we talk about books, history (actual and alternative), the latest discoveries in archaeology, music, movies, and just life in general.  Whatever catches my interest at the time.  Occasionally, I’ll post a scrap kit for you to download.  This doesn’t happen as often as I’d like anymore, but that’s life.

Before downloading any of my scrapbook freebies, please take the time to read my Terms.   Downloading any of my creations implies an agreement to these terms, whether or not you have actually read them.  My terms may be changed at any time without notice, so be sure to check back.  Thank you and have fun!

My book reviews express my own opinions and feelings about books I’ve read, but if you want to repost them elsewhere, then feel free to do so.  With appropriate credit, of course.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

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Watchman_LeeIt’s been a long time since I read Mockingbird. I chose not to re-read it before I read this.  I know that a lot of people compare this second, or first, Harper Lee work to To Kill a Mockingbird and find it lacking, but I chose to read it on its own merits.  But, Mockingbird casts a long emotional shadow.

I guess I have the same problem as Jean Louise, because I can’t remember the last time a book made me so honest-to-God angry.  Not frustrated. Not irritated.  Not annoyed.  Angry.  Pissed off, sad, and … hurt, frankly.  Reading Chapter 8, I felt every modicum of grief, shock, and anger she did.  It felt as though Atticus had betrayed me.

In the novel Jack talks about a kind of death for Scout, but, from her side and that of women who were girls everywhere, it was the death of Atticus.  Every girl who read To Kill a Mockingbird in school was left with a rather idealized, and idolized, vision of Atticus Finch.  Go Set a Watchman murders that vision in cold blood, leaving it bloody and broken on the courtroom floor as we watch in paralyzed horror.  The last few chapters saw me crying and fuming in silent rage.  Even after reading the last sentence, I still feel that simmering blend of anger and grief.

Go Set a Watchman is a wonderful book.  At times, I admit, it came off as preachy, but that didn’t at all muffle its emotional impact.  A punch in the solar plexus of the heart.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

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Grandmother_BackmanIt starts with a girl and her Granny sitting in a police station because they got caught trying to climb the fence at the zoo to see the monkeys.  There’s also the matter of the monkey crap Granny threw at the cops!

I loved this book.  I cried.  The fate of the wurse really got to me.  Though, I felt bad for the poor thing throughout the book.  I mean, all that chocolate.  And cookies.  Dreams and chocolate are excellent things for girls who are almost eight to have, but not so much for wurses.

I adored Granny, sympathized with Mum, wanted give Kent a knock upside his head and Britt-Marie a boot in the backside.  Or up the backside.  :)

There’s just something about a novel as told by a child.  They seem to have more impact.  Pack more of an emotional punch.  Room, for example, or The Education of Little Tree.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is an excellent read with many laugh out loud moments, a few chuckles, smirks, grins, and tears.  It’s quality literature that is, at times, reality challenged, as Granny would say.

I definitely plan to seek out Mr. Blackman’s other novel, A Man Called Ove.

Rating:  5 out 5 stars

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DigiScrap Goodness

Lindsay Jane has posted the most adorable kit on her blog, World of Dinosaurs.  I just love all the dinosaurs.  And the meteor!

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Here are a few other kits that teased my imagination while browsing around:

There’s also cuteness going on at Kristmess DesignsFun at the Fair.  Complete with coasters, carousel, and popcorn.

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Who doesn’t love Ice Cream on a hot day?  This kit from Just So Scrappy is perfect for those messily refreshing layouts.

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Lastly, a kit after my own heart!  Book-A-Holic from Cornelia Designs.  Personally, I prefer the term “biblioholic”, which I got from a friend I met back in my chat room days.

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The Last Kingdom to Premiere in October

BBC America has announced that The Last Kingdom, based on the awesome Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon/Warrior Chronicles, will premiere Saturday, October 10 at 10/9c.  Something else to move to the top of my TBR pile.

Two studies about the First Americans

new&nerdlyHow many migrations, initially, did it take to populate the New World from the Old?  There’s a new study to be published tomorrow in the journal Science which takes a fresh look, using new statistical models, into the first peopling of the Americas.  You can take a peek at it, though, at Science Express:

Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans

Or, for the less nerdy:

According to this study the answer is one, not counting those that brought the Paleo-Eskimo and Inuit to frozen shores of the Arctic.  The ancestors of all other Native Americans arrived in one migration event no later than 23,000 years ago, whereupon they settled, for the most part, in Beringia for about 8,000 years.  However, there was still some admixture going on with East Asian/Austro-Melanesian populations.  This probably happened through contact with inhabitants of the Aleutian Islands.  Between 11,500 and 14,000 years ago, a split occurred in the lineages of the Americas between the ancestors of the Athabascan peoples of Northern North America and those of the Amerindians of Southern North America, Central America, and South America.  Remember, the ice melted enough for people to reach interior North America about 15,000 years ago through two routes, a coastal route and the so called Ice Free Corridor.  And it was about 13,000 years ago when the Clovis Complex arose, interestingly enough.

Also of interest is another study, this one published in the journal Nature, that elucidates, a bit, on the Austro-Melanesian connection:

Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the AmericasNature
July 21, 2015

This study, which focuses on Amazonia, says that a single population, what they’re calling Population Y, interbred with the ancestors of Amerindians very early, indeed.

Also:

Volcanic eruptions that changed human history

new&nerdlyA recent study conducted by the Desert Research Institute, and published in the journal Nature, uses new techniques to recalibrate ice core data with that obtained from tree rings and the written word of the ancients.

Researchers find new evidence that large eruptions were responsible for cold temperature extremes recorded since early Roman times

According to the above article and abstract, the climatic oddities of the mid 6th century were caused by two volcanic eruptions.  The first, as yet unidentified volcano, erupted in late 535 or early 536, and was located somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  This event caused widespread climatic chaos recorded in chronicles and histories from China to Rome.  Such as this bit from Procopius’s History of the Wars:
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And it came about during this year that a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year, and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear nor such as it is accustomed to shed. And from the time when this thing happened men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death. – Book IV, Chapter XIV

This initial blast was followed by a second, of at least equal magnitude, in the year 540, tentatively identified with an eruption of Ilopango in El Salvador that, according to radiocarbon dating occurred between 410 and 550 CE.  Krakatau in Indonesia has also been suggested as the source of the second blast (notably in Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization by David Keys) as has Mt. Rabaul on the island of New Britain.

Also discussed in the study are eruptions hinted at in ancient/medieval sources in 626 CE (volcano unknown) and 939 CE (Eldgja in Iceland), among others.

Tea Sampler: Wild Blueberry Black Tea

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TeaSampler-LightThis month’s catalog sample from The Republic of Tea is Wild Blueberry Black Tea.

I love blueberries.  Let me count the ways.  First thing in the morning in a fresh from the oven blueberry muffin.  Pored sticky and hot over buttermilk biscuits.  For dessert in a warm crumble topped with cold, sweet vanilla ice cream.  Best of all, from purple-stained fingers straight off the bramble, served with girlish giggles.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The blueberry flavor in this tea is awesome.  Not exactly subtle, but not overpowering or fake, either.  Just natural, warm summery goodness.  It’s great hot with a splash of milk.  I have a feeling it would be equally good served over ice.

Gets a definite thumbs up.

Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe by Peter Heather

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First, I just have to say that I appreciate that Mr. Heather doesn’t discount contemporary sources, which it appears to be the fashion for modern historians to do. Sure, they contain quite a bit of hyperbole, propaganda, and rhetorical formulae, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t, in large part, a true portrayal of, then, current events. His treatment of Ammianus and his account of the Alamanni, for example, and the fact that he doesn’t immediately toss out Gildas just because his De Excidio is a monastic polemic with a point.

Empires_HeatherHaving said that, Mr. Heather has the gift of taking an interesting subject and making it boring.

Being boring, however, does not mean the book isn’t informative.  Some of the things I learned:

  • The internal migrations within Germanic Europe, especially the Wielbark Cultural phenomenon and its equation, to his mind, with East Germanic speakers was fascinating, if a bit dry.
  • The role of the Hunnic Empire, both its rise and fall, in the subsequent “Volkerwanderung“.  Huge groups of Germanic elites and their retinues migrated out of the Middle Danube region, thus making room for the Slavic groups migrating into the Hungarian Plain as a new elite.
  • The similar role played by the Avars in, sort of, coalescing various Slavic groups into bigger, more militaristic, ones.
  • I wasn’t aware that the Baltic language area once took up that much territory!

The first 30% of this book is an extremely boring, often repetitive, chronicle and explanation of the massive migration of various loose confederations of Germanic and Iranian speaking barbarians into the Roman Empire from the second century on. It goes on, and on, and on, ad nauseam, about the difference between the modern definitions of “peoples” and “identity” versus the loose, often fluid, nature of the migrating tribal confederations and coalitions of the Roman and post-Roman period.

It’s at about the 30% mark that he starts talking about the Anglo-Saxon “invasion” of Britain. This is a case of a steady stream of small groups of immigrants, lasting for decades, with various ebbs and flows. It starts with pirates and raiders. This went on for a couple of centuries, until the abandonment of Britain by the Empire in the first decade of fifth century. This opened the way for settlers, whether mercenary or otherwise. War bands with families and retainers inviting others.

The legal evidence suggests, for instance, that freedmen stood in permanent dependence to particular freemen, so a freeman and his semi-free dependents might well have moved as a group.  This may also have been true of greater lords and their free retainers (and the free retainers’ freedmen too).

He’s talking about the Franks here, but I think this probably holds true for the Anglo-Saxons as well.

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Image credit: Hel-hama, obtained from Wikipedia.

This slow trickle of immigrants continued until the Britons, finally, managed to unite under one leader, Aurelius Ambrosius. This, probably, led to a build of Angles, Saxons, and other barbarians, to combat the united Britons. Nothing on the scale required of continental barbarians to combat the Empire, but, still, larger than had been occurring before. Finally, there was a massive battle at a place called Mons Badonicus, Mount Badon, or Baden Hill, that saw the Britons slaughter the invaders. After Ambrosius’s victory, there is evidence of a migratory “ebb”, even of some migration back to the continent. However, by the time St. Augustine and his fellow missionaries make there way to the Kentish Court of King Ethelbert in 597, the Romance speaking, Christian Britain of Ambrosius had been transformed into a pagan, Germanic speaking hodgepodge of kingdoms.

… something apparently tipped the balance of power established at Badon Hill firmly in favour of the Germanic-speaking immigrants — or at least the dominance of their cultural forms — in the mid- to late sixth century [bold is my own]. In all probability, continued immigration from the continent played some part in the process.

Plague of Justinian, anyone? Mr. Heather makes only one, nearly microscopic mention of this epic catastrophe, and that was during his discussion of the seventh century collapse of the East Roman Empire in the face of the Arab explosion:

… the periodic sequence of plagues that afflicted the Mediterranean world from 540 onwards …

I cannot agree with his conclusion that the Anglo-Saxon invasion/migration cannot be classified as elite transfer rather than mass migration just because it involved a lot more social upheaval than that of the Normans.  At the time of the Norman Conquest, the number of nobles and that of manorial estates was fairly equal.  Thus less disturbance in the landed economic and social norms.  This was not the case with the Anglo-Saxons.  There were more Anglo-Saxon landowning elite than there were landed Romano-British estates, therefore, those estates had to be broken up to meet a king or chieftains need to reward his following.  Despite this, in my admittedly amateur opinion, it should still be classified, if it must be, as elite transfer.

Anyway …

As you can tell, Ambrosius, Arthur, and the Anglo-Saxon conquest are among my favorite historical topics.  :)

Jones_VikingsAfter this, Mr. Heather discusses the Franks and their dramatic, rapid conquest of Gaul and a huge portion of the former outer Roman periphery.  Then it’s the Vikings.  He begins with an anecdote about the directions to Greenland that was actually amusing.  And, in fact, this is the most interesting portion of the entire book.  However, Gwyn Jones’s excellent A History of the Vikings makes for much better reading.  It’s more than a little outdated, I know, but it’s still worth a look.

Then we get to the Slavs, about which I knew next to nothing so the part was of particular interest to me.  So, I slogged through it and learned quite a bit.

Empires and Barbarians makes for difficult reading due to the struggle not to zone out due to boredom.  Frankly, I skimmed the last, summarizing, chapter.

Rating:  2.5 out of 5 stars for readability; 4.25 for knowledge acquired despite that

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Tea Sampler: Cinnamon Toast HiCAF Black Tea

TeaSampler-LightOne of the nice things about the Republic of Tea are the free samples.  Not only do they send out a sample pack in their monthly catalog, but there are usually two samples included with each order.  With my last order, they sent something I hadn’t tried before, Cinnamon Toast HiCAF Black Tea.  HiCAF is line of extra-caffeinated teas.

Cinnamon Toast is a misnomer for this tea.  Apple Pie would be more appropriate, because the “natural apple flavor” comes through in a big way.  The caramel, not so much.

The smell is amazing.  I usually steep mine in the microwave and, when I opened the door, the scent of apples and cinnamon immediately burst into my kitchen.

It tastes really good, though, again, apples with just a little bit of cinnamon.  It just needs a little vanilla and a good splash of milk to be perfect.  Or half-in-half if you want something really decadent.  Apple Pie à la Mode.

The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader

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None of the main characters of this book are particularly likeable.  Not to me, at least.  I liked Father Peter, Anna, and Ellie.  That’s about it.  Oh, and the village women.  But Sarah and Father Ranaulf, no.

Anchoress_CadwalladerThe blurb asks:

What could drive a girl on the cusp of womanhood to lock herself away from the world forever?

The answer, in Sarah’s case, is cowardice.  Life in the Middle Ages was dangerous.  Death was always close by, waiting for the slightest pretext to collect a soul.  For women, the act of bringing forth new life, her only purpose according to medieval thought, was the most among the most lethal.  For both her and the baby.  After watching what happens to her mother and her sister, Sarah is afraid to live among men.  To risk marriage and children and death in childbed.  Her decision had nothing to do with Sir Thomas.  That happened after she’d spoken to Father Simon and the bishop.

Speaking of Sir Thomas.  He was a calculating, petty, vindictive man, wasn’t he? A spoiled man who despised being told “no”, and would go to any lengths to get revenge on those who did.  You have to feel sorry for Lady Cecilia.  And poor Anna.  You know the fact that she resembled Emma was not a coincidence.  Definitely calculating.

Father Ranaulf was rather standoffish and wholly unconnected with real life, his mind and heart submerged within the copied words of Augustine of Hippo, Tertulian, John Chrysostom, and other religious thinkers.  His outlook was very literal and by the book.  He thaws out, some, over the course of the book, but never really comes alive.

Illuminations_SharratOne thing that niggled at me throughout the book was the name of our anchoress:  Sarah.  The use of an Old Testament for a Christian in 13th century Europe is highly unusual.  The Inquisition, as such, didn’t really exist, as yet, but any hint of Jewishness would, still, have been dangerous.  Heretics and apostates were still burned.  In my mind, it just didn’t fit.

The Anchoress is an interesting read with much food for thought, but the main characters are rather difficult to relate to.  Maybe it’s a difference in philosophy.  The whole “pay for his sin” stuff.  Another novel about a more sympathetic anchoress is Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen by Mary Sharratt.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

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