New Read: The Crusades

The Crusades

One of my continuing aims in 2014 is to try to read more non-fiction in particular about history. I noticed that at the beginning of 2013 different editions of A Very Brief History series by Mark Black were being offered for free on Amazon so I started collecting them. After enjoying the Tudor editions from the collection so much I was keen to read more. While I read six of Black’s histories last year until now I had read none this year. To rectify that I had a mooch at the beginning of October through the editions I had left and picked The Crusades.

Before reading The Crusades all I really knew was that many wars were waged in the Middle East by Roman Christian nations in the vain hope of obtaining the holy city of Jerusalem. The crusades originally began when Byzantine Christians came under threat from the growing Islamic movement and appealed to their Roman counterparts for aid. What they got instead was a bloody rampage that saw knights, lords, kings and commoners a like pillaging, raping and murdering Muslims, Jews and Christians a like. The only individuals I knew that had taken part was England’s well loved King Richard the Lionheart, the Knights Templar, and the great warrior leader Saladin. What I learnt from reading The Crusades was that nine crusades were launched in total between the years of 1095 and 1272. All of which but the first crusade were pretty much futile and unsuccessful. There weren’t just crusades launched in the Middle East either. A crusade was waged into Spain to defeat and oust the Muslims that had settled there. Another crusade was waged against small fringe Christian groups; like the Cathars in the South of France. And another crusade was waged against the Slav pagans living in Eastern Europe. Basically if you weren’t a Roman Christian in this period you could be a target.

This brief history of The Crusades is separated into chapters on the religious background, the political background, the situation in Western Europe and then a chapter on each of the nine crusades; chronicling who was involved, what was gained and/or lost. Now this is called a very brief history and they aren’t lying if you are someone looking for an in-depth history of the crusades you won’t find it here.  However I thought it was a wonderful introduction and taster of the important events from the period. I also thought each chapter was really interesting and could be great starting places to discover what you would like to read and research further.

I am glad I discovered Mark Black and his A Very Brief History series in 2013. Sadly I haven’t read any more from this series till now. I really can’t leave it so long next time. I thought The Crusades was clear, concise and well-written. Each chapter was an easy bite-size length and the chapters flowed really well. The previous editions I read on the Tudors and Victorians I managed to finish off in only one or two sittings. This took me a couple of sittings to finish off as I dipped in and out of it between other books. A good read for when you don’t have a huge amount of time. I easily squeezed one or two chapters in when I had a break.

The Crusades was a simple introduction into the angry, bloody and confusing time of the crusades. I recommend to those interested in reading more about history. I have plenty more editions from this series still to read.

Have you read about the crusades? Any recommendations?

New Read: The Last Werewolf

The Last Werewolf

September and October have been months full of dark and mysterious reads due to the fact I am taking part in the R.I.P IX event. I took a short break to have some Discworld fun I was soon back in the mood for a darker or more mysterious read which led me to pick up The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan.

The Last Werewolf introduces us to Jake Marlowe. Before being bitten he was an English country gentlemen with a beautiful wife. Now Jake is a lonely 200+ year old werewolf living the millionaire lifestyle in London; spending his time smoking, drinking, whoring and planning his next meal. Not my usual themes and activities I like to read about but then one night Jake is informed by his human minder that ‘the Berliner’ has been hunted down and killed by the secretive, supernatural unity WOCOP. Leaving Jake the last of his kind and the units final target. Fed up with life Jake is preparing for death without a fight but many different fractions have different plans for him. This plot was a slow starter for me but I grew more interested once the supernatural adventure got going.

The Last Werewolf‘s protagonist Jake is not someone I found easy to like. During his long life Jake has accrued millionaires of pounds and spends it on cigarettes, expensive whiskey and high class escorts. Not particularly endearing qualities. Later in the book we are informed he has donated thousands if not millionaires  to good causes but it was too little too late for me on that front. Then of course you have the hundreds of people he has killed and eaten to deal with. However like most eternal creatures Jake does have a lot of history and knowledge to share which I liked. While I didn’t like him I did find myself invested in what would happen to him next. Sadly I had an issue with the portrayal of women in The Last Werewolf. The only women we are introduced to properly are those who Jake sleeps with. It is explained that werewolves are sex addicts but I still found it rather depressing to find women described and depicted in a sexual way all the time.

The Last Werewolf is the first novel I have read by Glen Duncan. When I received a copy of The Last Werewolf I was a little apprehensive because I had been warned that the descriptions of violence were particularly gruesome. My interest in the supernatural overcame my apprehension though and I started to read. I must say that this novel does contain strong and graphic descriptions of violence and sex which at times left me uncomfortable; thankfully I didn’t find any of the scenes painfully long. Duncan’s writing style is detailed and wordy which keeps the reader well informed but does slow the pace of the novel. Overall though I found the pace and action of the novel sufficient to keep me turning the pages to find out what happened next. I’m glad I did too because I did find the ending a little intriguing; I wonder how Duncan will move the story on in further books.

The Last Werewolf is a graphic, supernatural adventure around the world. I recommend to those who are interested in horror and the supernatural. Warning the novel does contains foul language, violence and sexual content so recommended for adults only. I’m undecided whether I would like to continuing reading the trilogy.

Thank you to Canongate Books for providing a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Glen Duncan?

I am counting The Last Werewolf as Horror and Supernatural for the R.I.P IX event hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

Guest Post: Fairy Tales on Screen

Guest Post

I always enjoy Jessica’s monthly “Adaptations” posts, about screen versions of books, so when she offered me a guest post, I thought it would be fun to do something along the same lines. When I set out to write fairy tale retellings, I mostly drew from the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.  But I wanted to draw from the sources people would know…so my third major inspiration was Walt Disney! Fairy tale purists (I’m not one) don’t always like Disney’s cleaned-up and cheerful versions, but I grew up with Disney movies and while I do groan in a few places, I still enjoy them.

Snow White and Cinderella are two of the early ones that unfortunately make me groan.  The girls don’t do anything for themselves, and they know their “true love” for basically the duration of one song before they’re getting engaged.  But sometimes you have to know what you don’t like in a story to know what you do want—so my stories tend to feature long romances and heroines with agency.

Sleeping Beauty somehow sits better with me, even though it really has the same problems. Maybe I enjoy a prince who talks to his horse, or maybe Aurora and Philip just had a really good song to fall in love during.  All the same, for me the main event here is the fairies.  They were part of the inspiration for the Good Fairies in my fairy tale world.  Flora, Fauna and Merriwether have sparkles flying out of their wands all the time, when they aren’t even casting spells!  My Good Fairy floats about in a haze of sparkles and hearts, and everyone has to do extra sweeping up after she visits.

I was fortunate to grow up while Disney was putting out some really good retold fairy tales. My favorite as a kidStoryteller was Aladdin, possibly because Jasmine is such a step forward from sweet-faced Snow White.  She has a pet tiger and she runs away from home and she refuses to simply be married off as a political chess piece. From the same era, The Little Mermaid is a lot of fun too—although it may be the most grievous example of Disney making the fairy tales so much more cheerful than the originals.  But…I like happy endings, and the Hans Christian Andersen story is so sad.  If nothing else, I love Sebastian in this one, and especially the crazy cook chasing him through the kitchen.

Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney fairy tale retelling now. It takes a lot from the original fairy tale, and where it deviates, I think it does so in smart ways.  It simplifies things down by taking out Beauty’s siblings, and improves the plot enormously by adding a villain in Gaston.  Most importantly, it kept the key detail about Beauty’s character—her love of books, of course!  Every book lover I know wants the Beast’s library.

Disney’s fairy tale movies seem to be on a continuing path of getting better. Tangled is absolutely delightful, even if it doesn’t have much to do with the original “Rapunzel.”  And Eugene is awesome and so is the horse (!) and Rapunzel is so much more complex than the early days heroines. Most recently we have the awesome Frozen.  It only took 75 years from Snow White, but we finally had a Disney princess say the words, “You can’t marry a man you just met.”  It’s also a movie where the two female leads are really the ones driving the plot—and even if the plot has virtually no resemblance to the original “Snow Queen,” it’s amazing anyway.

This trend in Disney movies actually makes me glad that they haven’t yet done a movie of “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.” Although that may be why most people haven’t heard of the fairy tale when I tell them my new novel is based on it!  But with Disney retellings getting better, I hope it means some day we’ll get a really great movie about twelve princesses dancing their shoes to pieces.

If this was on my blog, this is when I would ask what your favourite Disney retelling is.  But I suppose I can ask Jessica’s readers the same thing?

Cheryl Mahoney is a book blogger at Tales of the Marvelous, and the author of two books based on fairy tales.  The Wanderers, published in 2013, follows the journeys of a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter.  Her new novel, The Storyteller and Her Sisters, retells “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.”  Both novels feature heroines who take control of their own lives, a love story that lasts considerably more than a day, and a Good Fairy who sheds sparkles everywhere she goes.

Thank you Cheryl. I love all Disney fairy tale adaptations I have watched. My favourite would have to be The Little Mermaid. As Cheryl asked what is your favourite Disney retelling?

Re-Read: The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic

September and October has been full of dark and mysterious reads due to the fact I am taking part in R.I.P IX event, and as much as I’ve been enjoying my reading I felt I needed a break from the darker material. With that in mind I picked up The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett sequel to The Colour of Magic, the first in his epic Discworld series, for a comforting  and easy re-read. With its blend of fantasy and humour I thought it would be a great change.

In The Colour of Magic we are first introduced to Pratchett’s magic, weird and fantastical Discworld; a flat disc world which stands on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the shell of giant turtle who swims through the universe. I never cease to be amazed and amused by Pratchett’s wonderful imagination. The Light Fantastic continues the adventures of Rincewind the wizard, Twoflower the first Discworld tourist and his magical chest after they have been forced to flee the capital, Ankh-Morpork, after a devastating fire. The trio only seem to moving from the frying pan into the fire though as they encounter space travel, talking trees, trolls, flying stones and barbarian hordes. Meanwhile the world is heading for a giant star which will surely mean its destruction…

The protagonists of The Light Fantastic are Rincewind, Twoflower and his magical walking chest; who even though it can’t speak really does seem to have its own personality and way of communicating. Rincewind is clever but is utterly lacking any bravery, confidence or magic which all in all makes for a very poor wizard. It is very funny to read about his many miss-adventures and forced moments of heroism. Then we have Twoflower the first tourist who longs to see the sights regardless of his health or his safety. Twoflower is not necessarily brave though he is just naïve and far too trusting but things have a way of working out for him. The combination of Rincewind, Twoflower and his magical walking chest makes for a hilarious read before you add any of the other characters and creatures they meet along the way.

Terry Pratchett is a well loved author of mine but scandalously I haven’t read one of his novels since 2012! To make up for that and to refresh my memory in July this year I decided to go back to where it all started; The Colour of Magic. Having loved that re-read I was keen to move onto the sequel The Light Fantastic. This is not a series you necessarily have to read in order as the stories are usually short, fun and simple which also follow many different characters/sets of characters. I felt it would be nice to read the first two novels again though so I could have the chance to focus on Pratchett’s first descriptions of the actual world itself. To get a better sense of it before going on to reading some new adventures. I really enjoyed this re-read but for different reasons to The Colour of Magic. I found on re-starting The Light Fantastic that while I knew the general flow of the story I had completely forgotten much of the detail of the adventures; if it hadn’t been for the characters this would have felt like a whole new read for me. This is definitely a lesson in that re-reads are sometimes really needed!

The Light Fantastic is another wonderfully fun and colourful adventure. I highly recommend to those who enjoy fantasy and comedy. I am looking forward to more adventures in Pratchett’s Discworld.

Have you read Discworld? Have a favourite instalment?

New Read: Just After Sunset

Just After Sunset

I have been ploughing on with my love for short story collections in 2014. I have mainly been reading classic collections; my last being more Sherlock Holmes adventures His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle. After this I was still craving short stories but also something a bit different. With it being R.I.P time of year I picked up Just After Sunset by Stephen King.

Just After Sunset is a collection of thirteen horror, mystery and supernatural short stories. Eleven of the stories having been originally written and published in various publications between 2003 and 2008, one in 1977 and one previously unpublished story. My favourite stories from the collection were Willa about the survivors of a train crash, The Things They Left Behind about survivor’s guilt after 911 in New York, and N. a collection of letters and psychiatrist notes on an unusual OCD patient. However I found it very hard to choose just a few as my favourites. As all the stories in this collection are clever, chilling, intriguing and in some parts gripping. Needless to say I worked my way through this collection relatively quickly as I couldn’t put it down until I had got through at least one story each sitting.

Just After Sunset has a large and diverse cast of characters; some I liked, some were intriguing, some I sympathised with, and others I didn’t particularly like however they were all interesting to read about. I think there is a good balance of male and female characters, young and old characters, and some different social and cultural backgrounds. All the characters were well written and believable even though we only got to know some of them over ten or so pages; which I think shows what a great writer King is.

I am no stranger to Stephen King’s work having read all of his epic dark fantasy series The Dark Tower. After finishing that series though I have been reluctant to venture into King’s full horror work because lets face it I was a bit scared I wouldn’t enjoy it. With  much encouragement from my father and other bloggers I decided I needed to give it a go and I am so glad I did. A short story collection was a good in-between option instead of going straight into a full horror novel. Just After Sunset is a detailed and well written collection of short stories with King’s flare, intrigue and uncanny ability to draw the reader in. In the introduction King explains he was inspired to write and create this collection after fearing he had lost the art of short story writing after having written so many novels. I haven’t read his short stories from his earlier career to compare but what I do know is this collection is excellent. I hope that after this positive experience I will be brave enough to read one of King’s full horror novels!

Just After Sunset is a well written collection of horror, mystery and supernatural short stories which had me glued to my seat. I highly recommend to those interested in horror, the supernatural and the short story format.

Have you read this collection? Do you have a favourite Stephen King story?

I am counting Just After Sunset as Horror and Supernatural for the R.I.P IX event hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

New Books: October 2014

New Books - October 2014

Hello my fellow bookworms, here’s what goodies I have managed to add to my bookshelf and Kindle recently:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (The Farseer Trilogy)

The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney

Just three fictions for me this month. Quite a few years ago now I borrowed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from the library and thought it was wonderful. I recommended it to my father who bought a copy and quickly read it. He has now passed it on to me because I think its high time for a re-read. I then picked up epic fantasy Assassin’s Apprentice for free from Amazon.co.uk. I heard many good things about Robin Hobb and thought this was the perfect chance to finally try some for myself. I then received a free copy of The Storyteller and Her Sisters from the author. Cheryl Mahoney is a good book blogging friend of mine so I am excited to read her second fairy tale retelling.

Tolkien by Devin Brown

Our Zoo by June Mottershead

Love So Amazing by Pam Rhodes

The Ancient Path by John Michael Talbot (with Mike Aquilina)

In comparison to fiction I have a good mixture of four new non-fictions this month. I received a review copies of biography Tolkien, memoir Our Zoo, and faith non-fictions Love So Amazing and The Ancient Path from Netgalley. They’re all by new authors for me and they all sound rather good; I am not sure what to start first!

I am pleased I managed to keep my new acquisitions down to a reasonably small amount again this month and they were also all free.

Have you read any of these? What new books are you excited about?

Adaptations: October 2014

Adaptations #3

I absolutely love adaptations. I know this can sometimes be a controversial subject with book lovers but not for me. I think my real love of them came from my time studying performance at university. There I became fascinated with taking a story and telling it through a different medium; whether that be book, film, TV, or on the stage.

Hello fellow bookworms. As these adaptation update posts seem to be going down well I’ve decided to continue them in 2014. Here are the adaptations I watched during September and October:

Thor: The Dark World (2013)          Not Read          Film          Television
An action-packed superhero film set in space based on Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby who features in Marvel Comics. I last saw Thor in Avengers Assemble (2012) which I thought was a fun and action packed adventure. I thought The Dark World was another fun and action packed adventure this time set in part on Earth and Asgard, which I loved, as Thor, Jane and Loki battle across the universe with the Dark Elves. I was totally sold on this film. Great watch.

Pride & Prejudice (2005)          Read          Film          Television
A sumptuous period film based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice. I spotted this being reshown on ITV3 one Saturday morning and just had to tune in. I hadn’t seen this film since I went to the cinema when it was first released. While I remember liking it at the cinema; I appreciated it far more on this second watching. A beautifully made film with some lovely performances from the ensemble cast; I particularly loved Matthew Macfadyen, Keira Knightley, Claudie Blakley and Rosalind Pike. Great watch.

Penny Dreadful (2014)          Read          TV Series          Television
A new fantasy, horror series inspired by the characters of classic horror novels Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. A gory, different and well made adventure into the darker side of Victorian life that premiered here in the UK on Sky Atlantic. Includes a good ensemble cast including; Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, Billie Piper and Timothy Dalton. Probably not a show for everyone though as it contains fighting, blood,  sex, foul language, and distressing scenes. It is said it will return for a second series. Good watch.

September was still interesting but a slow month for adaptations for me; it wasn’t till the end of October beginning of September that I watched the above. All of which were good to great watches. All very different watches though. From space adventure, to charming classic, to fantasy horror. Now I don’t seem to have any adaptations recorded so we will have to see what adaptations I manage to watch during October and November for my next update.

What have you been watching?