Saturday, 30 July 2016

Happy Birthday, Emily Brontë!


http://www.abm-enterprises.net/emily.htm
Emily Brontë, circa 1833
Today marks what would be the 198th birthday of Emily Brontë, She is of course most famous as the author of Wuthering Heights, which I've yet to read, but I have read and enjoyed several of her poems, so I decided that today would be a good day to share one of them:

            No coward soul is mine
            No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere
            I see Heaven's glories shine
            And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

            O God within my breast
            Almighty ever-present Deity
            Life, that in me hast rest,
            As I Undying Life, have power in Thee

            Vain are the thousand creeds
            That move men's hearts, unutterably vain,
            Worthless as withered weeds
            Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

            To waken doubt in one
            Holding so fast by thy infinity,
            So surely anchored on
            The steadfast rock of Immortality.

            With wide-embracing love
            Thy spirit animates eternal years
            Pervades and broods above,
            Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

            Though earth and moon were gone
            And suns and universes ceased to be
            And Thou wert left alone
            Every Existence would exist in thee

            There is not room for Death
            Nor atom that his might could render void
            Since thou art Being and Breath
            And what thou art may never be destroyed.

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Cathedral Courtship by Kate Douglas Wiggin

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I've wanted to read this book for quite a while - I read Rose o' the River by the same author last summer and really enjoyed it, and this one sounded quite interesting, but somehow it has taken me a year to get around to reading it. In the end, being a very short book, it only took an hour or so to read, but I'm glad that I finally got around to it.
 
Kitty Schuyler is (somewhat reluctantly) taken to England by her aunt to tour various cathedrals - a trip which is supposed to be "improving", which Kitty is not especially thrilled about. In the first cathedral, they come across a young man, another American visitor who is making a sketching tour of cathedrals. Finding the itinerary which Kitty and her aunt have mislaid, and having fallen in love with Kitty at first sight, he decides that since both he and they are making the same tour, he may as well go along with them. So follows a series of meetings in various places around the country; romance ensues.
 
The story is told alternately by the two main characters, in diary format. Although they both come off as a bit shallow, they are still likeable, entertaining characters, especially Kitty, who clearly has a love of literature. She makes references to a few classic books, and there is a part of the story where she is given a copy of Persuasion, that was one of my favourite parts (I shall say no more so as not to ruin it, but if you are a fan of Persuasion you must read this book, just for that part).
 
Overall, this was a sweet, light-hearted romance; I could have done with it being a little longer just so that the story could have been told in more detail, but it is definitely well worth a read. I'll probably wait a lot less than a year before reading another of Kate Douglas Wiggin's books.
 
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
 
Note: I read the Kindle version available from Amazon, which not very well formatted (although still readable), so if you want to read this I would recommend downloading from Project Gutenberg (the version without the cover image is better).

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Miriam by Mesu Andrews

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Summary (from Goodreads):
The Hebrews call me prophetess, the Egyptians a seer.
But I am neither. I am simply a watcher of Israel and the messenger of El Shaddai.
When He speaks to me in dreams, I interpret. When He whispers a melody, I sing.

At eighty-six, Miriam had devoted her entire life to loving El Shaddai and serving His people as both midwife and messenger. Yet when her brother Moses returns to Egypt from exile, he brings a disruptive message. God has a new name – Yahweh – and has declared a radical deliverance for the Israelites.

Miriam and her beloved family face an impossible choice: cling to familiar bondage or embrace uncharted freedom at an unimaginable cost. Even if the Hebrews survive the plagues set to turn the Nile to blood and unleash a maelstrom of frogs and locusts, can they weather the resulting fury of the Pharaoh?

Enter an exotic land where a cruel Pharaoh reigns, pagan priests wield black arts, and the Israelites cry out to a God they only think they know.

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This book tells the story of the Israelites' escape from Egypt, told from the point of view of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. I think this is the first biblical fiction book that I've read. I found it interesting and thought that it was a good exploration of the life of Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron. Although Miriam had a very important role in the life of Israel, and obviously in her brothers' lives, the Bible doesn't actually tell us that much about her, and we don't know much about how any of the characters were affected by the events that occurred during this time. How did she feel when her brother Moses returned to Egypt after forty years in the wilderness, proclaiming that God wanted to free Israel from slavery? How were she and those around her affected by the plagues and the events surrounding them? This book helps to answer these questions and to explore what Miriam's life might have been like and how she might have thought and felt about what was going on at this time. The story covers the period from just before Moses' return to Israel until the crossing of the Red Sea.
 
I really liked the character of Miriam and I thought that the depiction of her inner struggles was well done. I also liked how the story makes you consider what the consequences of the plagues and the events surrounding them might have been, both for the Hebrews and the Egyptians, and for the relations between the two nations. From a historical viewpoint it seemed mostly accurate and there is quite a bit of historical detail which helps you to understand the context of the time. I think too that it does help to give the reader new insights into the story and the characters who appear in it.

There were some things about the story that I didn't like as much. There were a couple of romantic subplots that I didn't particularly care for (I don't think they were badly done, I just wasn't particularly invested in them). Although I thought that Miriam was a really good character, I found that many of the characters in the story weren't that interesting (and a few of their attitudes seemed a bit too modern for the time period), and I felt that the story dragged a bit for me in the middle (although it started and ended pretty strong). There were a few events in the story that I thought were unlikely, although I realise that it is fiction and we can't know for sure about a lot of the things that happened.

So overall, I did enjoy this book although there were parts of it that I didn't find interesting or didn't particularly care for. I did feel that it gave me a deeper understanding of the events surrounding the Israelites' escape from Egypt, in particular how they would have affected the people involved in them, and raised some interesting points to consider. I would recommend it to people who like this sort of fiction or are interested in finding out more about the events in portrays.

Some quotes that I liked:
"Never be grateful for tragedy, but always trust that God can use it in His good plan for you."

"We can tell you how El Shaddai makes Himself known to us, but only He can teach you [to know Him] - as you trust Him."

"Anyone can develop a God sense similar to the way we use other senses to experience things. Though we can't taste, touch, see, hear, or smell our invisible God, He sometimes uses those experiences to communicate His nearness."
 
Rating: 3/5
 
You can read the first few chapters for free here.
 
Find it on Goodreads or Amazon or visit the author's website.
 
I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland

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I first read this book back in November 2011. Although I know I really enjoyed it, I'd forgotten most of what happened in the story. This was probably a good thing from a re-reading point of view, since I was surprised by some of the twists the story took, although I remembered the main plot points. I think overall my feelings are not much changed from the first time I read it (so it has stood the test of time for me fairly well so far).

The heroine of this story is Gatty, a fifteen-year-old field-girl living in the year 1203. After her father's death, she is given the opportunity to become a chamber-servant to Lady Gwyneth de Ewloe, raising her position in the world. This leads to the chance for her to travel to Jerusalem when Lady Gwyneth decides to go on a pilgrimage there. (Although I have described it as an opportunity, Gatty isn't given much choice in any of these matters; she has to go along with what is decided for her by her superiors.) In the Middle Ages, journeying from England to Jersualem is a fairly major undertaking; the entire journey takes almost a year to complete, there and back. So it's a pretty big deal, and Gatty grows up a lot and learns a lot about the world, and herself, on the way. As she reflects towards the end of the book, she is "the same, but not the same".

I liked Gatty a lot as a character, and she definitely grows and develops throughout the story. The developments of her relationships with the other characters, particularly Lady Gwyneth (who is like a mother figure to her) and Nest (Lady Gwyneth's other chamber-servant, who is very different from Gatty and initially dislikes her, but they come to like and understand each other better during the story), are also very well done.
  
I like the concept of a journey as a plot device, as a chance for self-discovery. The journey itself is interesting to read about, as there are a number of problems and difficulties to overcome, and not all of the pilgrims make it to Jerusalem. Quite a few things happen on the journey; thieves, unscrupulous tradesmen, dangerous terrain (such as riding along the edge of a precipice), and various other dangers and temptations, and there are times when it looks as though everything is lost - but all comes right in the end. Naturally, we also learn about life in the 1200s, and see the sights of medieval Europe along with Gatty.

The writing is also very good, and the ending of the book is just about right too. Although overall it is a slightly bittersweet book, in which bad things do happen, there is enough good in it to outweigh the bad and to finish with a happy ending.

This is technically a sequel to the author's Arthur trilogy, which it would probably be helpful to read first, but you definitely don't have to have read it. (I did enjoy it overall, but not as much as this book.) It has also been published under the title Crossing to Paradise. Find it on Goodreads here.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

To Kill a Mockingbird

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This is the cover of the copy I read, which is
really pretty
This isn't really a review, as such, because I don't think there could be anything I could say about this book that hasn't been said a million times before. Instead, I'm just going to talk about my general impressions of this book.
 
I have to say, going in, I was a little apprehensive. Although I did expect to enjoy it, at least part of me thought I would find it boring, and thought that if I did enjoy it, it would only be in a sort of admiring, appreciative way, and I didn't expect to find it especially readable. Despite having read and enjoyed lots of classics this is how I often feel when approaching a classic author for the first time. However, this time (as I mostly am) I was proved wrong!
 
I didn't actually know that much about this book before I read it. I vaguely knew that it was about racism and centred around a trial of a black man (and I knew what the outcome was), but that was about all. So I was surprised that there was quite a bit more to the story than this, although it was still an important part of it.  It's more a story of a young girl growing up (although she's still pretty young at the end of the novel) and how her experiences and perceptions of the world around her and the people in it change, over the course of a couple of years. The central event of the story is the trial, but it isn't the whole of the story, and quite a lot of other things happen in it too. It's a story about learning to consider things from other people's points of view and to give them the benefit of the doubt - not judging them. It's also very readable; I read the whole book in about four days (which is pretty fast for me). I don't often get completely sucked into books but there were quite a few points when I didn't want to stop reading this. So, I really did love it. If you haven't read this book yet, then you really should.

Rating: 5 out of 5
 
This is the second book I've reviewed from my Classics Club list!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ten Books Set Outside the US and UK


This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is Books Set Outside the US. I live in the UK so I wasn't expecting my reading list to be quite as dominated by American books as other people's, but I was quite surprised to find that only 3 (and a half) of the books I've read so far this year were set in the US (compared to 20 set at least partly in the UK)! I was expecting the split to be fairly equal (I think it is a lot more so most years, I just seem to have picked up a lot of books set over here this year). So I've decided to modify the topic to include only books not set in the US or the UK. I've selected all of the books from different countries too to make it more interesting. All of them are books that I would recommend.
 
 
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (France)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Germany)
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Canada)
Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson (Ireland)
Nothing Else Matters by Patricia St. John (Lebanon)

 
Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (Norway)
Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig (Denmark)
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace (Zimbabwe)
Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden (Australia)
Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin (Spain)

Monday, 18 July 2016

It's Monday! July 18th


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by The Book Date. This is my first time participating in it!
 
This week was a reasonably good one for reading; although I only finished one book I've made a fair amount of progress on several others. I was also away over the weekend so didn't get much of a chance for reading then. I also managed to pick up a few books that I've been wanting to read for a while at a second-hand bookshop and The Works, so it's been a successful week for book buying as well :)


Recent additions to my library
 
Books finished this week:
 
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This was on my Classics Club list. I really really liked this book (and can't quite believe I waited so long to read it). I should have a review of it up sometime this week.

Currently reading:
My currently-reading pile - not including Kindle books
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I've just started this but am enjoying it pretty well so far.
 
The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham. This is going OK. It's quite a quick read so I'll probably have finished it in a few days.
 
Miriam by Mesu Andrews. I am quite enjoying this.
 
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe. I'm also enjoying this, but reading it pretty slowly.
 
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson. I haven't actually read any of this for a while, after finishing the first section of it, but I'm hoping to pick it up again this week.
 
What I plan to read next:
Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Wouldbegoods by E. Nesbit

In this coming week I hope to post a couple of reviews for things I've read recently, so look out for them!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Six in Six

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Six in Six is hosted by Jo at The Book Jotter. It sounded like a fun way of summarising my reading for the first half of the year. Basically the idea is that you choose six categories and list six books in each category. (If you want to take part you can still do so until the end of July.)

Choosing the categories was quite difficult - there were quite a few I could find five books for, but not six! However, I've eventually manage to choose six categories:
 
Six new authors that I now want to read more of
Paula Byrne (Belle)
G.K. Chesterton (The Innocence of Father Brown)
Jacqueline Harvey (Alice-Miranda at School)
Robert Lacey (Great Tales from English History)
Stephanie Ricker (Five Glass Slippers, The Battle of Castle Nebula, The Star Bell)
Suzannah Rowntree (The Rakshasa's Bride)
 
Six books I have enjoyed the most
Escape from Rome by Caroline Lawrence
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
The Battle of Castle Nebula by Stephanie Ricker
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Bard's Daughter by Sarah Woodbury
Five Glass Slippers by various authors
 
Six series of books read or started
Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton (read book 1)
Alice-Miranda by Jacqueline Harvey (read book 1)
Roman Quests by Caroline Lawrence (read book 1)
Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters (read book 2)
Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries by Sarah Woodbury (read prequel and book 2)
After Cilmeri by Sarah Woodbury (read book 2)

Six authors I read last year – but not so far this year
Joan Aiken
Jane Austen
Ally Carter
Agatha Christie
Kate Grenville
L.M. Montgomery
 
Six mystery/detective novels I have read
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters
The Bard's Daughter by Sarah Woodbury
The Uninvited Guest by Sarah Woodbury

Six classics I have read
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (re-read)
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Ten Bookish Facts About Me

http://www.brokeandbookish.com/2016/07/ten-facts-about-us.html

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is: Ten Facts About Me. I've opted for bookish facts, so here they are:
  1. I've read 41 books so far this year. Last year I read 80 in total, so I'm pretty much on track to hit the same total this year.
  2. I read a fairly wide range of stuff: although I gravitate towards classics, historical fiction and non-fiction I also read fantasy, contemporary fiction and occasionally sci-fi or poetry. I'm also a fan of mystery novels (mostly historical ones).
  3. Although I prefer to read books in physical format, I also read quite a lot on my Kindle.
  4. The book I've read the most times (that I've kept track of) is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I've read nine times. Second place goes to Anne of Green Gables with six.
  5. The first chapter book I read by myself was called The Chocolate Monster. It was about a girl who is always getting into trouble for losing things but then finds out that there's a (friendly) monster who lives under her floorboards who is stealing them. She then tries to find a way to get rid of it (I can't remember what the eventual solution was).
  6. I really enjoy rereading books, and have a fairly long list of books I want to reread, but I don't actually do it that often (only 3 of the books I've read so far this year were rereads). I just have too many books I want to read!
  7. If I had to choose one favourite book, it would be Anne of Green Gables. (I'm hoping to do a post about why I love it so much soon.)
  8. Some of my favourite authors are L.M. Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Elizabeth Gaskell, Hilary McKay, Louisa May Alcott, Theresa Breslin, J.K. Rowling, Noel Streatfeild, Jane Austen, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Michelle Magorian, and Sarah Woodbury.
  9. I have a tendency to read far too many books at once. Also to get distracted by shiny new books and forget about the ones I'm already reading (and then by the time I go back to them I've forgotten what's happened so I have to start again).
  10. Although I read a lot, I'm quite a slow reader. Also sometimes my mind wanders when I'm reading and then I realise I haven't taken in anything for a page or two and have to go back and read it again.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Weekly Recap - July 11th




I've finished three books this week, which makes it a pretty good reading week! Admittedly two of them were pretty short, but it still feels good :)

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Finished this week:
Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland (re-read) (review to come)
Rivals of the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
Practically Perfect by Hilary McKay

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Currently Reading:
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
Miriam by Mesu Andrews
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

Cover image for To kill a mockingbird

To Read Next:
I'm reading quite a few fairly long books at the moment and I feel like I probably have enough to be going on with! But I have several library books I want to get to soon:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham

Blog Posts This Week:
Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Under 2000 Goodreads Ratings

I haven't been posting that much lately, but I'm hoping to post a bit more often over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Ten Really Under-Rated Books I Enjoyed

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is Top Ten Books We Enjoyed That Have Under 2000 Ratings On Goodreads. I have a lot to choose from this week since more than half of the books I have listed as read on Goodreads fit into this category! So, I've narrowed it down to ten books (or, at least, ten series) that I really enjoyed.

 

Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin

I read this book quite a few years ago, but I really enjoyed it. It's the story of two young people living very different lives who get caught up in the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition.

Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The story of a young English girl going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages. It's beautifully written and an interesting coming-of-age story. This is a spin-off of the author's Arthur trilogy, although you don't have to have read that to read this book. (Also published as Crossing to Paradise.) Read my review here.

A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham

This was an interesting historical fiction novel, which is told like a memoir, of a girl who is a companion to Princess Sophia, one of George III's daughters. It's an interesting look at the lives lived by Sophia and her sisters, as well as what life was like for ordinary people in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
 

Just Henry by Michelle Magorian

Another really good book. Set just after the Second World War, Henry still misses his father who died in the war, and struggles to get on with his mother and stepfather. But he makes a discovery which challenges his prejudices and his views of people in his family.
  

The Exiles trilogy by Hilary McKay

I've mentioned my love for Hilary McKay's Casson Family series in a previous TTT post, but this series is pretty good as well! I don't like it quite as much as the Cassons, and the first book is definitely my least favourite, but I would still recommend the series as a whole.
 

Happy and Glorious by Hilary McKay

Another Hilary McKay book - this one is aimed at younger children and is pretty short but it is quite funny and entertaining.
 

The Battle of Castle Nebula and The Star Bell by Stephanie Ricker

I'm really enjoying this series (which also includes the novella A Cinder's Tale, which was published in Five Glass Slippers). It's a sci-fi series set in the future, which isn't the sort of thing I usually read, but I've really enjoyed all three books. You can read my thoughts on The Battle of Castle Nebula here and on The Star Bell here.
  

Apple Bough by Noel Streatfeild

I've read quite a lot of Noel Streatfeild's books, and whilst this isn't nearly as well-known as Ballet Shoes, I think I enjoyed it just about as much. It's also been published as Travelling Shoes.

The Midnight Charter and The Children of the Lost by David Whitley

I read The Midnight Charter a number of years ago, and enjoyed it. The concept is of a world in which everything can be bought and sold, including emotions, and children until they turn twelve. Everything is based on trade and there is no concept of charity or giving things without getting a return. It's quite an interesting story, but it was only much later that I realised it had been turned into a trilogy, and read The Children of the Lost, which I also enjoyed. I haven't got around to reading the last book yet, but hopefully I will sometime soon.
 

Rose o' the River by Kate Douglas Wiggin

I don't remember that much about this book but it was a sweet story, a romance set around the turn of the twentieth century. I really enjoyed it.