New Read: Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims

Kingmaker Winter Pilgrims

After returning home from my holiday at the end of August I finished the French classic The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. After I was still in the mood for something historical and epic in which case I decided to throw myself into the political and power struggles of The War of the Roses in Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements.

In Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims we join Katherine and Thomas a nun and monk who find themselves forced to flee their abbey to save their lives. England is in turmoil. War has broken out between the two lines of the Plantagenet royal family; Lancaster and York. King Henry VI from the Lancaster line is seen as weak and senile, and rumours spread that his French queen Margaret of Anjou is the one really ruling the country. This sees the rise of Richard the Duke of York and his army to fight Margaret of Anjou and free the king however Richard also has his eyes on the throne for himself. The naïve Katherine and Thomas find themselves in a new and dangerous world. After follow the flow of people they find themselves in Calais, Thomas as a trainee archer and Katherine dressed as a boy named Kit, where they fall in with Yorkist supporters.

I found myself drawn to the protagonists of Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims Katherine and Thomas. It was excellent to see history from the perspective of the common people rather than from the elite. We first meet Katherine and Thomas in their structured and hard life in the abbey. They are brought together when Katherine, another sister and Thomas find themselves outside the walls of the abbey prey for the local Lord’s son and his men as they ride by. Thomas a kind, meticulous and artistic man turns out to also be a fair fighter saving himself and Katherine but after the death of a man they both must flee. While Thomas had felt some content in the abbey Katherine had led a cruel life of servitude. Katherine is kind but has had to become tough and there is a fierce fire within her; once free of the abbey Katherine really grows as a person. Thomas also grows but he is much more a reluctant convert as he misses the quiet life of the abbey. As Thomas and Katherine find themselves plunged into the world of blood, death and fighting their faith begins to change. Thomas’s gets stronger while Katherine begins to lose hers. I enjoyed reading about both Katherine and Thomas, and found their physical, emotional and spiritual journeys fascinating.

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims is the first novel I have read by Toby Clements and it is also the first book in Clements’s new historical adventure series. Historical adventure definitely describes Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims well; this is a bloody and gripping historical adventure. I have read many historical novels this year full of detail and drama however this is the first historical novel this year that has really immersed me into the action of the time. Clements describes intimately how Thomas feels, what he sees and what he does in battle. This detail might not be for everyone and isn’t what I usually go for but Clements has done it very well and clearly knows what he is writing about. The bloodshed and detail for the novel is why I think it took me the whole month to read this novel. I felt I needed to take my time and I also needed to be in the right mood. Rushing or forcing myself to read when not in the mood could have ruined my enjoyment. As it was though I took my time and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims is a bloody, gripping and highly detailed historical adventure. I highly recommend to those interested in adventure, history and war. I hope to read more from Clements and this series in the future.

Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone for providing a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Clements?

New Read: The Gabriel Hounds

The Gabriel Hounds

Last week it was the Mary Stewart Reading Week (14th September to 21st September) which is the brain-child of the lovely Anbolyn @ Gudrun’s Tights. I have been really looking forward to taking part in this event again. Last year I read and loved my first Stewart novel Wildfire at Midnight during this event. I still had two of her novels on my to-be-read pile to choose from and feeling in an exotic mood last week I plumped for The Gabriel Hounds.

The Gabriel Hounds follows Miss Christabel Mansel a rich and pampered young lady who has broken the conforms of society to travel alone in the middle east. Whilst out there she is reminded that her eccentric Great Aunt Harriet is living like a reclusive king in a grand palace in Lebanon not far from Christabel’s hotel. Christabel is intrigued and ignoring warnings heads out alone to Dar Ibrahim palace to visit her Aunt and find out more about the legend of the Gabriel Hounds. On arrival it becomes clear all is not as it seems though. Autumn is the perfect time for a good suspenseful mystery and The Gabriel Hounds is a great one! It is full of intrigue, secrets, suspicion, lies, betrayal, twists and turns. I was gripped. If it hadn’t been for the need to eat, sleep and go to work I would have happily finished this book in one sitting.

The Gabriel Hounds protagonist Christabel Mansel (Christy for short) while being rich, pampered and spoilt is a very likeable character. Christy is well aware she is rich, pampered and spoilt. I liked her honesty and when needed Christy can be a feisty and tough lass which I really enjoyed seeing. The cast is a lot smaller in The Gabriel Hounds than in my previous Stewart read but still an interesting collection. In Dar Ibrahim we have eccentric and mysterious Great Aunt Harriet, young ‘doctor’ John Lethman, the servants pretty Halide, her brother Nasirulla and old Jassim. Outside the palace there is Christy’s loyal driver Hamid and her dashing cousin Charles Mansel. For most of the book you hope one of these latter will be able to figure it out and come to the rescue. I thought these were interesting characters which always kept me thinking.

The Gabriel Hounds is the second novel I have read by Mary Stewart. I picked up my first Stewart novel last year having been inspired by the thoughts of fellow book bloggers Anbolyn @ Gudrun’s Tights and Helen @ She Reads Novels. I am so glad I listened to them because I loved my second Stewart read too. The Gabriel Hounds is a wonderful romantic suspense, with a sweeping story and creeping mystery which had me hooked after only a few chapters. It is extremely well-written with a good steady pace and it all flows wonderfully. I think Stewart has a wonderful style which in cooperates a mixture of suspense, romance, and society issues. I also loved Stewart’s beautiful descriptions of the dusty landscape of Lebanon and the decaying grandeur of the Dar Ibrahim palace. Again Stewart made me really want to visit!

The Gabriel Hounds is a wonderful romantic suspense in an exotic and beautiful setting; a perfect read for the start of Autumn. I highly recommend this for those who love suspense and mystery. I look forward to reading Airs Above the Ground my remaining Stewart novel on my to-be-read shelf.

Are you a fan of Mary Stewart? What did you read for the event?

I am also counting The Gabriel Hounds as Suspense for the R.I.P IX event hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

The Classics Club: His Last Bow

His Last Bow

I have been ploughing on with my love for short story collections in 2014. I have so far read and adored the Adventures, Memoirs and Return of Sherlock Holmes. I haven’t read any since last year however I have been very keen to get my hands on more Sherlock Holmes stories. I was lucky enough to download the complete and free collection of Sherlock Holmes to my Kindle. So at the beginning of September with the R.I.P event going on I delved into His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle his fourth collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.

His Last Bow is a collection made up of another eight Sherlock Holmes short stories Arthur Conan Doyle wrote and published in The Strand between 1908 and 1915; much later than the stories I have previously read. Probably the most famous adventure from the collection would have to be the Bruce-Partington Plans where we see Mycroft calling on Sherlock to find stolen plans for a secret submarine project. I instantly recognised this story as it was adapted for the dramatic finale of the first year of the BBC’s Sherlock series. I very much enjoyed Bruce-Partington Plans as well as the adventures of The Dying Detective and Lady Frances Carfax. However that being said as usual there were no adventures in this collection I didn’t enjoy, they were all fascinating, the three I have named though particularly amused me.

Like previous collections I have read I thought His Last Bow had a good range of stories (although a smaller collection than the previous ones) which were varied and well-balanced. There was also the wonderful chemistry between the two protagonists that I love to witness during the intricate mysteries. The difference I like about this collection is you get to see Holmes and Watson as they start to age and reflect back on old adventures. I did again find I was most drawn to Holmes’s companion Dr Watson in this collection. As much as I love the mind and foibles of Holmes it is his down-to-earth companion Watson that I find I really connect with. I think it is a very clever device of Doyle to have Watson narrate the stories even though Holmes is the main protagonist. I just don’t think these stories would be as popular if the poor reader had to be literally in the mind of Holmes!

While the length of each story varied quite dramatically in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes for His Last Bow the length was a standard length which I much prefer. I am still really enjoying reading the short story collections of Sherlock Holmes. As the shorter length of the stories means I can easily keep the thread of the mystery and fully enjoy all the twists and turns, without the worry of needing a break. I do now however have all of Doyle’s Holmes novels and I would like to read them in the not so far future too; especially The Hound of the Baskervilles. For now I look forward to reading the next and final short story collection The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

His Last Bow is another fascinating read with more interesting adventures for me to discover. I highly recommend to those interested in classic crime. This is now my 26th read off my Classics Club list.

Have you read this collection? Do you have a favourite Sherlock Holmes story?

I am also counting His Last Bow as Mystery for the R.I.P IX event hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

New Read: Once Upon a Timepiece

Once Upon a Timepiece

After finishing off the epic, classic Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales collection near the end of August I found myself at the beginning of September still craving short stories but also something a bit different. In which case I picked up Once Upon a Timepiece a modern novel composed of twelve short stories by Starr Wood.

Once Upon a Timepiece follows a gold 1946 Breitling Chronomat man’s watch which was designed for aviators in World War II. This watch passes from hand to hand during a year in various, unusual and unexpected ways. Each chapter is a month from that year looking at the individual who has it during that period. How the watch comes to their possession, what they do with it, how it changes their lives, and finally how they eventually lose it. I thought the concept of Once Upon a Timepiece was excellent. It was really interesting to delve into the lives of a diverse selection of people and then to see how the watch changed or moved them on. I found some of the stories quite sad and serious but others were lighter which made for a good balance. At the end I liked the hint that perhaps the watch might finally go to who it was meant to be with all along.

Once Upon a Timepiece has a large cast of characters; some I liked, some were amusing, some I sympathised, and other I didn’t like at all. However the true protagonist really was the gold 1946 Breitling Chronomat watch. I enjoyed the history and research Wood put into the story of the watch; plus the effect he had upon the individuals that possessed it. I actually looked this watch up and it is a rather good looking watch. I can understand how it would be appealing and important to so many people. While of course the watch has no emotions and is not able to make any choices it is the link between all these people’s lives. The glue and interest of the whole novel.

Once Upon a Timepiece is the debut novel of Starr Wood. I have read many novels and quite a few short story collections as well now but to read a novel composed of short stories was a refreshing and interesting experience for me. I thought Once Upon a Timepiece was beautifully and precisely written with well chosen detail and description. The characters themselves were well created and believable even though we only got to know some of them over a few pages; which I thought was a real achievement for Wood. I think you could also tell Wood had really done his research to have created such a diverse collection of characters and stories. All in all I flew through Once Upon a Timepiece in just one week.

Once Upon a Timepiece is refreshing and fascinating novel that looks into the lives of ordinary people who are all touched by the same watch. I highly recommend to those interested in modern literature, family drama and short stories.

Thank you to the publisher Bo Tree Books for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read Once Upon a Timepiece?

New Read: Becoming Myself

Becoming Myself

I am a relatively new Christian having come to faith in my late teens. Now in my twenties I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and to hear what other Christians have to say. I like always having a piece of faith non-fiction on the go so after I finished reading 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience by Stormie Omartian I was keen to pick something else. I chose Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge a quite recent acquisition.

Becoming Myself  Eldredge discusses how a woman can embrace and become God’s dream for them. At any age as women we could feel alone, forgotten, unimportant, full of shame and unattractive. I have to admit I’ve times when I have felt these. Eldredge says though that in God’s eyes we are beautiful and never forgotten; even through times of trouble and pain God has a plan to bring us through and to help us reach our full potential. I found Becoming Myself an uplifting and comforting read as a Christian woman. We all make mistakes, carry baggage, have painful memories and hang ups about our bodies or personalities. God doesn’t just see these he uses them and looks forward to what we can become. Becoming Myself has certainly left me with a lot to think about.

Stasi Eldredge is a new author for me in 2014. I was really well supplied with new Christian non-fiction in 2013 and that has continued this year. I was drawn to Becoming Myself because of the female focus and point of view which I had previously appreciated in Dancing in the Arms of God by Connie Neal last year and The Power of a Praying Woman by Stormie Omartian earlier this year. These were both great reads. I felt Becoming Myself was well written in a friendly and down to earth way with both serious, sad and happy moments through out. On the whole I enjoyed and appreciated this mixture the lighter moments helped to get me through the tougher and sadder themes. My only issue was with some of the light-hearted comments Eldredge used usually directly after having made a profound or serious point. While I understand Eldredge probably used these to lighten the mood and offer encouragement I however found them a little jarring while I was still thinking over the profound or serious point that was just made. This is however a matter of personal taste not a comment on the writing quality. I think the content of Becoming Myself was good with interesting and well researched stories, examples and quote which made for an enjoyable and thought provoking read.

Becoming Myself is an interesting and thought provoking look at God’s plan and dreams for us from a woman’s point of view. I recommend to those interested in Christian and women’s non-fiction.

Thank you to David C. Cook publisher for providing a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read Eldredge? Any recommendations for other faith literature?

The Classics Club: The Three Musketeers

The Three Musketeers

During August I spent two wonderful weeks on holiday in France. The first week in the mountain towns of the Midi-Pyrénées and the second week on the edge of Lac d’Annecy in Haute-Savoie. I thought it seemed the perfect time to pick up the French classic The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas especially with the historical architecture of old Annecy town. I could already imagine our musketeer heroes walking through the streets.

The Three Musketeers follows the adventures of a young, poor and hot headed Gascon gentlemen of the name of D’Artagnan who is journeying to Paris hoping to impress and obtain a commission in the King’s Musketeers. Within a day of arriving in Paris though he finds himself insulting and obtaining duels with Aramis, Porthos and Athos; three of most well respected members of the King’s Musketeers. These men are to become firm friends instead of enemies though. Together they are to assist the Queen, fall in love, rescue young ladies, thwart the Cardinal’s plans, frequently fight with the Cardinal’s Guards, and chase the infamous assassin and spy Milady De Winter. All the while D’Artagnan has his eyes on joining his friends in the King’s Musketeers. The Three Musketeers is a sweeping romantic adventure following D’Artagnan and his friends during the reign of Louis XIII which takes us from the streets and palaces of Paris to the fields of battle, to on the road across France, on the choppy English channel and even to London, England. I really didn’t want to put this down and I think it was the perfect read for my holiday too.

D’Artagnan the main protagonist of The Three Musketeers is young, handsome and hot headed which gets him into many scrapes but he is also clever, brave, loyal and overall a rather endearing character. I don’t think D’Artagnan always does the right thing but I think generally his heart is in the right place and he does learn a lot during his adventures. Unlike D’Artagnan who is open and often as easy to read as a book his friends Aramis, Porthos and Athos are more of a mystery. Aramis, Porthos and Athos are all assumed names to hide the gentlemen’s real names which I didn’t realise before; but does explain why they have such unusual names. Aramis is a religious man who regularly threatens to join the church if were not for a mysterious love, then we have flamboyant Porthos with his wealthy mistress, and then finally Athos a dark and brooding character. While I really like D’Artagnan I always find myself with a soft spot for Athos in adaptations I have watched and it was no different in the novel. Together though they all make an interesting and enjoyable group to read about.

The Three Musketeers is the first novel I have read by Alexandre Dumas but I am no stranger to the story having watched many film adaptations and the recent television series. I have a particularly fondness for the 1973 film starring Oliver Reed but the recent television series The Musketeers (2014) was very good too. These adaptations had left me with high expectations fortunately the novel easily lived up to them. I thought The Three Musketeers was well written with plenty of interesting characters and places. Dumas’s style is detailed and wordy rather like Dickens unlike Dickens though Dumas’s wordiness is in the character’s conversation more than in the descriptions of the story. Most readers would not be used to such wordy speeches or conversations except perhaps in Shakespeare but I really enjoyed it as it suited the characters and situation. All in all I thought the style of the novel meant the reader was swept away with the characters on their exciting and romantic adventures.

The Three Musketeers is a sweeping historic and romantic adventure in France which I could hardly put down. I highly recommend to those interested in reading the classics and French literature. This is my 25th read off my Classics Club list meaning I am now half way through my challenge to read 50 classics.

Have you read this? Or watched any of the adaptations?

New Read: Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law


At the end of July looking forward to my two week holiday in France I picked up Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law by Michelle Granas as something a little bit different. Previously I have, in the majority, read historical and fantasy fiction while I thought a thriller might be good for my holiday. I ended up spending my first week in France reading this.

Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law follows Cordelia a woman who up until the start of this story has led a quiet and sheltered life with her oddball family in an old suburb of Warsaw, Poland. On a trip to see an elderly relative with her father Cordelia’s life is to be turned upside down. Their car gets stuck in mud and when a stranger (with a strangely familiar face) helps them out Cordelia is unwittingly pulled into helping this stranger elude the authority, dodge hungry journalists, fight injustice and perhaps find love along the way. That stranger is in fact Zaremba a wealthy businessman who has been accused by the government of bribing officials but Zaremba protests his innocence and will do almost anything to prove it. Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law while being a thoroughly enjoyable thriller is also a wonderful glimpse into the society and politics of Poland which is something I had known nothing about before.

The protagonists of Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law Cordelia and Zaremba are characters I really enjoyed reading about. Cordelia has led a very sheltered life due to her physical disability but also the pressure from her family to stay and care for them. Cordelia isn’t the obvious choice for a hero but that is why I love her. Cordelia lives with a severe physical disability whilst also caring for her agoraphobic brother, demanding father and a mother who is suffering with Alzheimer’s; that is one loving and strong person in my book. I thought it was wonderful to watch Cordelia come out of shell and comfort zone to reach her full potential. Zaremba is rich, successful and extremely confident; I didn’t always like him but he is certainly fascinating to read about. There is more to Zaremba than meets the eye and I think Cordelia brings out the best bits in him and they compliment each other well.

Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law is the first novel I have read by Michelle Granas. I think it is well written with good description and a nice pace. While this is a thriller Granas doesn’t use gratuitous violence or allow the action to take over completely. Instead Granas uses violence when it is needed and takes the time to share information and quotes about Polish society and politics which I found fascinating. I must admit that before reading this I knew little to nothing about Polish society, politics or history (bar World War II).  Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law I feel was not only written to entertain but to also inform; both of which I think Granas does well. I initially picked this up as I was looking for something a little different and that is exactly what I got. I found the story, characters, setting and background of Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law pleasantly refreshing.

Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law is an interesting and refreshing drama about the political intrigues of Poland. I recommend to those interested in thrillers, politics and stories set in Poland.

Thank you to the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or something else set in Poland?