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

Zaremba

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?

New Read: 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience

7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience

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 Overwhelmed by Perry Noble I was keen to pick something else. I browsed my Kindle’s to-be-read folder and chose 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience by Stormie Omartian as I enjoyed another of Omartian’s work at the beginning of the year.

In 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience Omartian shares elements that Christians can use to make themselves a strong and successful prayer warriors. These elements include wearing the whole armour of God, girding our waists with truth, wearing the breastplate of righteousness, helmet of salvation, and using the sword of the spirit (word of God) and the Gospel of Peace. Omartian discusses how these elements can help our prayer, how we can use them, and how they will help strengthen our faith and change our lives. Each element is given its own chapter and ending prayer which gives you seven chapters and prayers to read. I found it very useful and nice to follow this pattern by reading a chapter and prayer a day giving me time to reflect and act on what I’d read before reading this next.

Stormie Omartian was a new author for me at the beginning of this year but this is now the second work of her’s I have read this year. 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience was a free experience from Amazon which is based on information from Omartian’s full book Prayer Warrior. For this reason I wasn’t surprised to find this was a very different read for me from The Power of a Praying Woman which I read previously. I thought 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience was well-written, short and concise. Each chapter was a short and easy read, and I really enjoyed the specific prayers at the end of each chapter. Though this wasn’t as detailed as my previous Omartian read I did really appreciate the time to think this work gave me. The short seven chapters and prayers concept I think could work really well for anyone who is in a small church group. I am in one myself and I think 7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience would be great to share with them, using a different element each week. I was really well supplied with new Christian non-fiction in 2013 and it appears that this is continuing this year too. I look forward to seeing what I discover next.

7-Day Prayer Warrior Experience is a concise and easy but thought provoking look at how we can all become prayer warriors. I recommend for individuals or groups interested in enhancing their faith and prayer time.

Have you read Omartian? Any recommendations?

New Read: A Storm of Swords book 1

A Storm of Swords book 1

I was ever so lucky to be gifted with a full set (to-date) of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin last Christmas. I had not long finished watching the fourth series of the blockbuster TV adaptation Game of Thrones when at the beginning of July I reached for A Storm of Swords: 1 Steel and Snow; the third instalment in Martin’s epic series.

A Storm of Swords: 1 Steel and Snow is the third instalment in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The next two paragraphs will contain spoilers for the previous instalments.

A Storm of Swords: 1 returns us to the action of The Seven Kingdoms to find them still in chaos with bloody war raging across the land. King Robert’s heir apparent Joffrey is still upon The Iron Throne but the kingdoms are filled with terrible rumours that he is not actually Robert’s. That instead he is the product of his mother’s incest. This has led to the rise of other claimants to the throne. Both Robert’s brothers Stannis and Renly laid claim to the throne and in their struggle for it Renly has been killed in mysteriously; dark magic is being whispered among the people. This leaves Joffrey with one less enemy and the opportunity to betroth himself to Renly’s beautiful young widow Margery Tyrell. This is a popular move among the people leaving Stannis and his new religion less popular than ever yet Stannis is still a threat. There is also Robb Stark, King of the North, the eldest son of Lord Eddard Stark who seeks justice for his land and family. Then across the sea Daenarys Targaryen the only remaining descendant of the Targaryen Dragon Lords still has her eyes upon the throne too. Meanwhile unbeknownst to them all evil is stirring beyond The Wall and there isn’t enough Brothers of the Night Watch left to hold it back much longer. Winter is coming. Oh that phrase continues to send a shiver down my spine! A Storm of Swords: 1 was another action and intrigued packed adventure which I needed my wits about me to keep up with. There is still a lot going on in this series and I could hardly be parted with this instalment because I couldn’t wait to find out more.

The adventure of A Storm of Swords: 1 is peopled with a whole host of interesting characters too.  So many I couldn’t possibly discuss them all here so instead I am going to focus on the four remaining protagonists vying for The Iron Throne. First of course we Joffrey the apparent heir to King Robert and his wife Cersei Lannister. Joffrey is beautiful, cruel, and vain. I can’t say there is any winning feature about him. He really is a character you love to hate. Next we have Stannis Baratheon the brother of King Robert. Stannis is proud, loyal, fair, but not the most charismatic of characters unlike both of his brothers. After his defeat at the Black Water and the mysterious murder of his popular brother Renly; Stannis is more unpopular than ever. Then we have Robb Stark son of murdered Eddard Stark. Robb is young, clever, brave, and yet humble. Unlike those named above he did not set out to be a King it was his men that proclaimed him King of the North because of their love for him. Robb and his men are causing a lot of trouble to Joffrey and the Lannisters which I love. Finally over the sea we have Daenarys Targaryen the only remaining heir of the Targaryen Dragon Lords who were banished by King Robert. Daenarys is the only female claimant. She is young, beautiful, and ambition yet she is kind and fair with it. Of all the claimants the only two I still truly like are Robb and Daenarys. Actually Daenarys is still one of my favourite characters since the first book. Even though the four remaining claimants are all fascinating to read about.

While I have watched the television series, A Storm of Swords: 1 the book is new for me. What put me off reading this series for some time now has been the sheer length of these books. A Storm of Swords book 1 is just under 600 pages so is actually the smallest instalment I have read so far but to me that is still a pretty long book!My fear has always been that the stories would be slow and drag but no fear on that count has been needed. I couldn’t put this book down and had the reached the end before I knew it. Like the previous instalments A Storm of Swords: 1 is jam-packed with action, adventure, intrigue, love, war, lies, fighting, secrets, and shocks! Martin’s writing is detailed and compelling, and love his choice to break these books up into bite-size chapters shown through the eyes of different characters. As a reader I find myself completely immersed in the Seven Kingdoms as I get to explore different cities, castles, and lands from the view-point of the different characters. There are a lot of names, places, and events to remember in this series but I didn’t find it that hard to keep track especially as there is maps and a fantastic appendix to help.

A Storm of Swords: 1 is an excellent epic fantasy adventure. I highly recommend to those who enjoy fantasy and historical literature. This series does contain sexual and violent content so not recommended for younger readers. I am eager to start reading the next instalment A Storm of Swords: 2 Blood and Gold. I may have to hold off for a bit though to make the long wait for the start of the fifth series of the blockbuster TV adaptation Game of Thrones next year.

Are you reading this series? Are you watching the TV series?

Previous instalments of A Song of Ice and Fire series:
1. A Game of Thrones
2. A Clash of Kings