Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Monthly Recap: November

How is it already the end of November?! Christmas is nearly here!
 

What I read:
November was a pretty good reading month for me. All of the books I read were pretty good, and there were a few that were really good.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (****) (review)
Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (****) (review)
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston (****)
The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence (****)
The Princess Virginia by A.M. and C.N. Williamson (****) (thoughts on these three)
Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin (***) (This was entertaining, but I didn't enjoy it as much as some of the author's other books)
Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin (****) (I really enjoyed this; it reminded me quite a bit of children's classics like Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm)
The Old Peabody Pew by Kate Douglas Wiggin (***) (Enjoyable, but nothing really happened)
 
Book of the Month: This is actually pretty difficult, because The Fellowship of the Ring was very good, but I feel like in terms of sheer enjoyment, The Archers of Isca probably wins. Whose Body? and Mother Carey's Chickens definitely deserve honorary mentions though, as they were both very good too.

Posts:
 
Currently Reading:
The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
In Wartime by Tim Judah
God's Undertaker by John Lennox
 
What I Plan to Read Next:
(not that I ever stick to these)
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea
The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild
 
I'll probably read some Christmassy books in the next few weeks too, but I haven't quite decided what yet. I'd also like to reread some old favourites, since that is definitely something I've neglected far too much this year.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers

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This is the first in Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, but the second that I have read. Gaudy Night was really good but, since many people consider it the best in the series, I was worried that this book wouldn't live up to it; especially as GN focuses mostly on Harriet Vane, who doesn't appear in this book, and I wasn't sure I would enjoy this as much with only Peter. I needn't have worried though; although this isn't quite as good, it's definitely still very enjoyable.
 
The mystery itself was interesting; it begins with the rather bizarre circumstance of a man discovering a body in his bath, having no idea how it got there. Naturally this is rather intriguing to Lord Peter, who decides to investigate, working with a friend in the police. There are quite a few twists and turns along the way to the conclusion (which I guessed just after Lord Peter had solved it, but before he revealed the solution), which is certainly original. Some aspects were a little gruesome but this wasn't overdone.

Another aspect of the book that I really liked was the characters, who I look forward to getting to know better in later books; it was good to see more of Peter himself in this book, along with his devoted servant/sidekick Bunter, and his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, who are all great characters. It was also just a fairly entertaining read all round. I especially enjoyed the occasional references to detective novels; there are a few times when characters say things like "if we were in a detective novel this would happen, but obviously this is real life," which I found quite entertaining.

There are a few offensive comments made by characters in the book, particularly with regards to the Jews, which has caused some controversy; although the impression I got was that these reflected the views of the characters saying them (and of many people at the time the book was written), and are not necessarily those of the author. Other than that, I can't think of many things I didn't like about this book.

Overall, this was a great book, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

This tag seems to have been going around for quite a while now, as I've seen it on a lot of blogs. I haven't been specifically tagged for it, but it looked fun so I'm going to steal it and fill it out anyway :) It originated from The Library Lizard.
 
What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
Just one?! I've long had an interest in reading about Ancient Rome (started by the Roman Mysteries series, which I loved when I was about thirteen) but I also feel a strong draw seventeenth-century England (the Civil War and so on), although I'm not entirely sure why. More recently I've developed a love of the Middle Ages. Basically anything before about 1700 :) Although I enjoy books with more recent settings too!
 
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What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
This is another hard one, because I have a lot of favourite authors who are no longer around :) I think I'd like to meet Elizabeth Gaskell, because I really enjoy her books and it seems like she was a nice person. I'd also like to meet C.S. Lewis. Besides others :)

What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
Alice-Miranda at School, which I read earlier this year and I know I would have loved when I was eight or nine (I enjoyed it quite a lot, mostly for that reason).
 
What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?
There are quite a lot of books that I'd hope I'd still be remembering and re-reading when I'm older! Some that I've read fairly recently that fit into this category are To Kill a Mockingbird, Gaudy Night and Gatty's Tale.

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What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
I enjoyed the world of the Cendrillon Cycle books by Stephanie Ricker, especially in the latest instalment. It's a future that is exciting with lots of possibility for exploration. (Although I haven't read many books with futuristic settings that I would like to live in!)

What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
My favourite book ever is probably Anne of Green Gables, which is set in the late Victorian era - so I'll go with that.
 
Spoiler time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Yes, I do this sometimes, though not too often. Sometimes I can't deal with the level of tension in a book, or if a story appears to be heading in a direction I don't like, I might peek ahead and see if I want to continue with it or not. I'm not usually that bothered by spoiler, although it depends on the type of book.

If you had a time turner, where would you go and what would you do?
So many options! I honestly don't know where I'd start. I think I'd be too afraid of messing with time to actually do anything, more than just observing, but I think I'd like to go and see various great events from the past. I can't think of anything specific right now though, although I feel I should be able to.

Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in different time periods?
I really like the concept of time travel as I think it includes lots of possibilities that could be really interesting to explore. That said, I haven't actually read that many books that include it, and it often isn't done very well. I have quite enjoyed the first few books of Sarah Woodbury's After Cilmeri series (although this kind of ends up as alternate history). And of course Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, although I don't really think of it as a time travel book since that is only a small part of the plot. But it was always my favourite Harry Potter book and probably my favourite book at one time.

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What book/series do you wish you could go back in time and read again for the first time?
That's quite hard ... I'd actually like to be able to read Harry Potter for the first time again since I don't really remember reading the first few books and I'd like to know how I felt about certain plot twists and whether or not I would have seen them coming.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Mini-Reviews #4: Historical Settings

 
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The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence
The sequel to Escape from Rome; this was almost as good as its predecessor! This book focuses more on Fronto, the eldest sibling, although we also get a lot more of the other characters than the book description implies. I love the characters in this series so much, so that was great. Like the first book, there is a fast-moving plot but it is also quite character-driven, which I like. The ending does feel a bit inconclusive, as there are a few plot strands left quite open, but since this is part of a series that is understandable (although it is quite a long wait until the next book comes out!) There was one twist in the story that, as a Roman Mysteries fan, I found very exciting, but I won't spoil it for you! All in all, this was a very good book, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the story develops through the rest of the series.
 
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Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston
For a Jane Austen sequel, this was actually pretty good! It tells the story of what might have happened had Elizabeth accepted Darcy's first offer of marriage, in Kent. I'm not sure I can quite accept that, but if you can get past the premise, it's a pretty good book. The development of Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship feels fairly realistic, if a little fast; they have quite a lot to work through, since in this version of the story Elizabeth never receives Darcy's letter trying to explain what she perceives as the injuries he has done to those around her, and since she is not entirely honest about just how much she disliked him (until his proposal began to change per perception of him). The author also does a good job of delving into the implications of their decision - for example, what will Bingley's reaction be to his friend doing something that he had recently convinced him not to do (getting engaged to a woman of low connections who doesn't love him)? How will Elizabeth's family and her neighbours react, and how will they get on with Darcy? The characterisation and dialogue is mostly true to the original novel and the time period - although there are a few modern turns of phrase, and one or two historical inaccuracies, these are not major issues - and I enjoyed spotting a few quotes from the original novel.
 
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The Princess Virginia by C.N. & A.M. Williamson
Princess Virginia has always fancied herself in love with the Emperor of Rhaetia (who she has never met), so when he offers to marry her, she ought to be delighted - however, she decides that she only wants to marry him if he truly loves her, so she decides to travel to Rhaetia under an assumed name and try to win his love. Naturally, not everything goes quite as planned, but everything comes right in the end. It's a slightly ridiculous story, but a very entertaining one, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Ten of My Favourite Movies That Were Based on Books

 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is a movies freebie, so I've decided to list ten of my favourite films that were based on books. I've included miniseries as well, because there were a few that I couldn't not include. There were quite a few others I could have included, but here are ten films/miniseries that I really like and could watch over and over again:
  1. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  2. Wives and Daughters (1999)
  3. Les Miserables (2012)
  4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  5. North and South (2004)
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
  7. Cranford (2007)
  8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
  9. Ballet Shoes (2007)
  10. Little Women (1994)

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Thoughts on The Fellowship of the Ring

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So, I have finally finished part one of The Lord of the Rings!
 
Some thoughts:
 
I am completely blown away by the depth of the world-building. This reads more like a historical narrative than a story set in a made-up world. The level of detail and the different languages and cultures within the world feel real. I think this is one of the main strengths of this book for me - it makes me want to discover more about this world, and it feels like really it is only scratching the surface in this book. Some of the descriptive passages are also beautiful. I rather enjoyed most of the songs and poems as well, and felt that they added to the authenticity of the world, as many of them tell legends and well-known stories within Middle-Earth.
 
As for the story itself, I have to admit that I found it rather slow going at times; there were sections where really not a lot happened. So that did make it a little hard to get through at times. The pace did pick up a bit as the story progressed, and I'm expecting it to be a lot quicker in the remaining two books. I also found it quite difficult to keep track of all the people and place names, let alone their legends and traditions. I think it is a book I would appreciate more on rereading.
 
All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, although sometimes it was more of an awed, appreciating enjoyment than anything else. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, and hope to reread this someday too.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Ten Books I've Added to My Wishlist Lately

 
 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's theme is Ten Books I've Added to My Wishlist Lately. So, here are ten books I've recently discovered that I want to read:
 
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Lady in Waiting by Rosemary Sutcliff
I much enjoyed the last of Rosemary Sutcliff's books that I read, and this one, about Walter Raleigh's wife, sounded interesting.
 
Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales by Elisabeth Grace Foley and others
A collection of six historical fairytale retellings which is coming out in December.


Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
A classics mystery set in 1930s Oxford sounds like something I would enjoy.
 
A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
Another mystery - this is a genre I've been getting back into recently. I can't remember much about this but I obviously thought it sounded good when I added it.

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Human trafficking and modern slavery is a major issue today that I would like to know more about.
 
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
I've read a few reviews of this recently and it sounds quite intriguing.
 
After reading and enjoying the first book in this series recently, I'm looking forward to reading the rest.
 
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The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
This book was recommended to me recently and sounded good.
 
Hild by Nicola Griffith
A novel about Hilda of Whitby, who I find quite interesting as a historical figure.


The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
Another book I can't remember much about, but I remember it sounded intriguing.
 
 
Have you read any of these books? Let me know what you thought, if so!
You can see more books that I've been on reading and adding to my TBR list on Goodreads.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Mini-Reviews #3: Children's and YA


Here are my thoughts on four books I've read recently. Read previous mini-review posts here and here.
 
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My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
I really liked this book. It retells the story of Lady Jane Grey, set in an alternative version of sixteenth-century England where some people (Edians) have the ability to turn into animals. Others think that this ability is unnatural and that Edians should all be destroyed. It's very well done and very entertaining. Definitely recommended, especially if you are a history fan.

Outcast by Rosemary Sutcliff
This was my second attempt at reading this author; I have to admit I didn't especially enjoy The Eagle of the Ninth, but I'm glad I gave Rosemary Sutcliff another try! I really enjoyed this book. It was in essence a fairly straightforward story, about a boy trying to escape from slavery and find a place to belong, but it was very well done. I think the tension between "light" and "dark" moments was exactly right; there was enough suffering and danger to make the story authentic and to make you care about Beric, and what happened to him, but it never got so bleak as to be depressing; generally it was just at the darkest moment that Beric's fortunes seemed to change, and the ending was happy, although it relied on one or two convenient coincidences. Overall, I thought this was a very good, and very enjoyable book, and I'm definitely going to be reading more from the author in the future.

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest
I did enjoy this, but I didn't love it like I was expecting to. I'm not sure why that was - I think I just didn't feel enough interest in the main events of the story. I liked the characters - the sister/family relationships especially, although we only get little glimpses of them. But I definitely would like to read more of this in future books; I own one other in the series, and will look into getting the rest (they are a little bit pricy though; I was lucky to pick up the two I own cheaply at a charity shop).

Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day
I really liked this. It was quite reminiscent of Hilary McKay, who is one of my favourite authors. It's quite a simple story, the story of three sisters who move to London when their mother becomes a  successful author. Although excited at first, it's not quite what they expected; Pea (the main character) finds she has a hard time making friends, and there are other aspects that don't quite go to plan - like when they arrive in their house and find they've forgotten to buy furniture, so only have a small amount from their old (much smaller) house. Overall, this was a quick but entertaining read. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series (there are four books in all, plus a companion book about the Llewellyns' next-door neighbours).

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Favourite Authors: Charlotte Mary Yonge

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Image: Public Domain

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) was an extremely popular and prolific author in the Victorian era, which her writing career more or less spanned; her first book, Le Chateau de Melville, was privately printed in 1838, and her last, Modern Broods, was published in 1900. Despite this, she is almost forgotten nowadays. However, she was very influential at the time and was admired by many contemporary authors such as George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Christina Rossetti, and (especially) Louisa May Alcott. Although her books were definitely "of their time" in terms of the prevailing morality and sensibilities present in many of them, which is one of the reasons why they are not read much today, I think there are still things that can be appreciated about them today (although they are not for everyone). She is most known for her Victorian domestic chronicles, which detail the lives of (usually very large) families of characters, most of whom are interconnected (which can be confusing). She also wrote a fair amount of historical fiction, as well as non-fiction. (There is a complete list of her works, with links to download many of them for free, here.)
 
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Her most famous book is The Heir of Redclyffe (1853), one of the bestselling books of the Victorian era, and generally considered to be one of Charlotte Yonge's best. In short, it's a story about a series of misunderstandings between two cousins which lead to tragic consequences. It's also a good example of a Victorian domestic story and the characters and interactions between Philip, Guy, and their other cousins, the Edmonstones, are the main point of the story really. Characterisation is probably Charlotte Yonge's strong point, particularly in this book, and I really like some of the secondary characters, Charles and Charlotte Edmonstone in particular. (It's also mentioned as being read by both Jo March in Little Women and Rebecca Randall in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) The sequel, The Trial, is also pretty good.
 
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Another book is The Daisy Chain, which is about a family of 11 children, whose lives are changed near the start of the book by a carriage accident involving several members of the family. The story  basically chronicles the lives of the children (focusing mostly on the middle few) as they grow up: there are school and home troubles, ambitions, romance, marriage, births, deaths. The central character is Ethel, who is at first awkward and bookish, and whose dream is to build a school and a church for Cocksmoor, a poor area near where they live; this is the central climax of the novel. This book was supposed to be a part of the inspiration for Little Women, and, although I prefer LW to this, it's still worth a read. It's also a good starting point for the "linked novels", and some characters from it return in other books.

The Pillars of the House is in a similar vein to The Daisy Chain, although in this case there are thirteen children, who are orphaned fairly early on in the story, leaving the responsibility of looking after the family largely on the shoulders of the eldest two children, the "pillars of the house" of the title, Felix and Wilmet (who at the start of the story are aged 16 and 15). Again this chronicles the ups and downs of life for the family, with some children getting more attention than others. At around 1100 pages it's very long, and does drag a bit at times, but this does allow for a lot of development of the characters, and the book covers a long period of time (about 18 years). It isn't as good as The Daisy Chain, but the characters are mostly well-drawn and likeable and the younger ones are probably more fleshed out than some of the May family are.
 
I've not read any of her historical novels, except for The Little Duke which I didn't particularly care for (although it's among her most popular books, so don't let that put you off), but I intend to (The Chaplet of Pearls, which is set in 16th century France, is on my Classics Club list). I do find I usually have to be in the mood to read one of her books though, so I'm not sure how soon I'll be picking it up.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

October Recap


What I Read

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Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi. A story about a girl growing up in Egypt. This was OK, but I didn't love it. Read my review to find out more.

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest. A classic children's book about twins who go to boarding-school determined to live up to the achievements of their four older sisters (which, not surprisingly, proves much harder than they expected). I enjoyed this story, but I didn't love it as much as I expected to.

Notebooks of a Middle-School Princess by Meg Cabot. This is the first in a spin-off series of The Princess Diaries for younger readers. It was a very quick read, which I thought was OK, but it would probably be good for the target audience.

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Pea's Book of Best Friends by Susie Day. A MG contemporary novel about three sisters who move from the country to London when their mother becomes a quite successful author. It's sweet and quite funny at times, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. This was my Classics Club Spin book, so my thoughts will be up on December 1st. But I will say for now that I did really enjoy it.
 

 Currently Reading

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (Classics Club)
In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine by Tim Judah (Review copy)
Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston
A Book of English Poetry edited by G.B. Harrison

Reviews Posted This Month

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

Non-Review Posts