Sunday, 15 October 2017

Weekly Poem: Psalm 13 by Mary Herbert

How long, O Lord, shall I forgotten be?
What? ever?
How long wilt thou thy hidden face from me

How long shall I consult with carefull sprite
In anguish?
How long shall I with foes triumphant might
Thus languish?

Behold me, Lord, let to thy hearing creep
My crying;
Nay, give me eyes and light, lest that I sleep
In dying;

Lest my foe brag, that in my ruin he
And at my fall they joy that, troublous, me

No! no! I trust on thee, and joy in thy
Great pity:
Still, therefore, of thy graces shall be my
Song's ditty.
Mary Herbert

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book Review: The Bookseller's Tale by Ann Swinfen




The Bookseller's Tale is the first in a series of mysteries set in 14th-century Oxford. The book takes place a few years after the population has been decimated by the Black Death, the effects of which are still widely felt. Nicholas Elyot, the main character, is a bookseller who lost his wife to the plague. One day he finds the body of a student in the River Cherwell, and discovers that his death was not due to natural causes. The town authorities don't seem to have any interest in investigating the murder, but Nicholas and his friend Jordain Brinkylsworth, a member of the university, feel they owe it to the victim to find out.


One of the big things I liked about this book was the historical detail - we find out quite a bit about medieval Oxford, the university, and particularly about Nicholas' work as a bookseller, which I found really interesting. Some readers might not enjoy these details as they mean there is a little less focus on the mystery, but I think they seemed to fit naturally into the story. I also enjoyed the scenes of domestic life, and how the effects of the Black Death were explored; for example, the characters feel that since "the Death", people are more immune to suffering and thus less willing to help others. I'm not sure whether this would have been the case but it's not something I'd thought about before, so it's interesting to consider.
As for the mystery, I thought it was good. Perhaps not surprisingly, books play a significant role, and it was one of those mysteries where there are various clues which don't make sense and have to be pieced together. There were a few twists along the way, which I didn't see coming (though perhaps others might).
The one thing I thought could have been improved on the characterisation. The main characters were all likeable enough, but they seemed a bit flat and forgettable; none of them exactly leapt off the page. Still, there were enough interesting things about this to keep me reading, and I'm hoping the characters might develop more in later books.
All in all, I thought this was a good read, and I'm looking forward to continuing with the series. (There are four books at present, and hopefully more to come.) I might also check out some of the author's other books, as most of them also sound interesting. If you enjoy mysteries, and/or have an interest in history or the Middle Ages, then I'd definitely suggest checking this out.
At time of posting, this is currently discounted to 99p/$1.29 on Kindle. I'm not sure how long the offer will last.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Weekly Poem: She walks in beauty, like the night

photo from Unsplash

She walks in beauty, like the night
   Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightened o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
   How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart where love is innocent.

Lord Byron

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Mini-Reviews #7: Classic Adventures

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Professor Arronax is on an expedition to find what is believed to be a large whale which has been attacking ships. However, his trip takes a surprising turn when he and two companions find themselves trapped on board the submarine Nautilus - the real culprit. Until they can find a way to escape, they must travel along with Captain Nemo and his men, exploring the underwater realm, and attempting to reach the South Pole, facing adventures and dangers along the way.
This was quite good. I didn't enjoy it as much as Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but I still found the adventures for the most part enjoyable, and I liked the character of Captain Nemo - he is a bit of an ambiguous character, someone who has suffered a lot and does some bad things, but he is an interesting character and I can't help liking him at least a bit. The descriptions of things seen under the sea were also interesting. I also liked the scientific details - there is enough to make the story somewhat believable, but not so that it gets bogged down in details.

The Prisoner of Zenda

Rudolf Rassendyll travels to Ruritania just before the coronation of King Rudolf IV, a distant cousin of his. He is surprised to find out just how much he and the King resemble each other - so much so that most people would not be able to tell them apart. As a result of this he ends up being drawn into a charade, by which he must pretend to be the King, now a prisoner of his half-brother Michael who is after his throne. Michael cannot reveal his as the pretender, without giving away that he has the real King as a prisoner. So Rassendyll, along with two loyal friends, must find a way to rescue the King without being killed themselves.
Altogether I really enjoyed this book. It's fast-paced and entertaining, but also has moments of reflection. There are also some quite funny moments, both in dialogue and in event, such as when Rudolf has to fight off three men with a tea-table (who would have thought it?). It's not a book that takes itself too seriously. But the ending too is pretty satisfying. I also liked Rudolf's intentions to be honourable and do the right thing - it also made the situations more complex, and the solutions more satisfying.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Weekly Poem: Let me not to the marriage of true minds

So, I was thinking a while back that it might be nice to share some of my favourite poems on here, and decided to try doing a weekly post. Despite getting a few posts together I didn't get round to actually posting anything, but I found this in my drafts recently and thought I might as well give it a go. How long I will keep it up I cannot say, but I have a few poems lined up for the coming weeks at least.

This was originally meant to be posted back in February, and I chose the poem in honour of Valentine's day and of I Love Austen Week (since the poem is quoted in the 1995 version of Sense & Sensibility and always makes me think of Marianne & Willoughby). It doesn't really fit quite so well now, but I've decided to share it anyway.
image by Christian Hebell // Creative Commons Zero
 Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! It is an ever-fixèd mark,
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his heart be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
        If this be error, and upon me proved,
        I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
William Shakespeare

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Mini-Reviews #6: School Stories


The Manor House School by Angela Brazil

The girls of Winterburn Lodge are not looking forward to another dreary term at their London boarding school. So they are rather excited when it is announced that, due to an issue with the drains which necessitates extensive maintenance work in the school building, the school will be moving to a country manor house for the summer term. As well as providing lots of opportunities for outdoor games and pursuits, the manor naturally comes with various associated legends and mysteries; in particular, a horde of hidden treasure which is rumoured to be somewhere within the grounds. Lindsay and Cicely, the two heroines, determine to find this treasure, which leads to some adventures - and misadventures. Throw in a few half-term excursions that don't go according to plan, and you get a very action packed book!
I quite enjoyed this book. It was entertaining and there was a lot going on. It seems to be aimed at a younger age group than most of Angela Brazil's books; the main characters were eleven and twelve and it read more as an adventure story than a school story, some parts of which stretched credulity rather a little. But it was a fun read. It's available on Project Gutenberg.

End of Term by Antonia Forest

The fourth book in Antonia Forest's series about the Marlow family, although the second I've read. Like the first book, Autumn Term, this is mostly about twins Nicola and Lawrie, the youngest in a family of eight children, and their school friends. Unlike The Manor House School, this is a fairly realistic boarding school story, with most of the drama surrounding the end of term Christmas play. Lawrie is desperate to play the Shepherd Boy, while Nicola's friend Miranda, who is Jewish, feels left out at not being allowed to participate. Meanwhile Nicola has hopes of getting into the junior netball team. Things don't go entirely according to plan, but will it all work out in the end?
This was a really good book. I didn't enjoy Autumn Term as much as I had been expecting to, but I found this a much better read. The characterisation is very strong and there is a strong emphasis on the relationships between the characters - both within school and between the Marlows in the home scenes - which is very well done and which I liked a lot. Despite being a more realistic story, there's still a fair bit going on and the climax is fairly dramatic, which made it a gripping read towards the end. I definitely really liked this book and will look forward to reading more about the Marlow family. Unfortunately the books can be quite hard to track down, but I do have one more, The Attic Term, sitting on my shelf so I expect I'll be reading that quite soon.

I'm linking up with the Old School Kidlit reading challenge, since this month's theme was school stories. I've been rather sporadic about participating so far, but since next month's theme is mysteries, which is another of my favourite genres, I'll hopefully be getting back on track.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Footnotes: September 2017

I'm linking up again with Footnotes, a monthly quotation link-up hosted by Ashley and Emily.
This month's prompt is: a quotation that makes you laugh.
I've recently read Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers; one of her series about Lord Peter Wimsey, who is trying to prove the innocence of a young women convicted of murder. It's a brilliant book, so of course I couldn't just limit myself to one quote.
"I have already carefully explained to you that this time I am investigating this business. Anybody would think you had no confidence in me."
"People have been wrongly condemned before now."
"Exactly; simply because I wasn't there."
"I never thought of that."
"I say - I've thought of a good plot for a detective story ... You know, the sort that people bring out and say, 'I've often thought of doing it myself, if only I could find time to sit down and write it.' I gather that sitting down is all that is necessary for producing masterpieces."
"But you wouldn't want a wife who writes books, would you?"
"But I should; it would be great fun. So much more interesting than the ordinary kind that is only keen on clothes and people. Though of course, clothes and people are all right too, in moderation. I don't mean to say I object to clothes."
"My idea is that Miss Vane didn't do it," said Wimsey. "I dare say that's an idea which has already occurred to you, but with the weight of my great mind behind it, no doubt it strikes the imagination more forcibly."
"I know I've got a silly face, but I can't help that."