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.

Have you read Once Upon a Timepiece?

New Books: September 2014

New Books - September 2014

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

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley

The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney

The Little Village School by Gervase Phinn

Mortom by Erik Therme

I have another rather eclectic mix of new fiction this month. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was quickly read by my father and has now been passed on to me to try similarly The Little Village School was passed on to me by a family friend. I was contacted and kindly offered a review copy of mystery Mortom by the author which I happily accepted as I thought it sounded interesting. While I picked up copies of the children’s classic The Water-Babies and fantasy The Wanderers for free from Amazon UK. Cheryl Mahoney is a good book blogging friend of mine so I am excited to read her debut novel The Wanderers a fairy tale retelling.

Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd

Again I have only one new non-fiction this month. I received a review copy of Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd from Netgalley. Last year I read Tudors: The History of England Volume II by Peter Ackroyd which I found fascinating so I am interested to read Rebellion.

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?

The Classics Club: Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales

I have been ploughing on with my new-found love for short story collections in 2014 but you may not have noticed that I was. That would be because I picked up the epic Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales collection back in February! I have been dipping in and out of the collection for the last seven months with my two week holiday in France being the time I needed to finish it off.

This Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales collection that I read contains over 200 magical short stories. I found some of the stories easily recognisable from my childhood, some seemed a little familiar, while there were plenty that were brand new for me. Those that I instantly recognised included The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen, The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid and The Princess and the Pea. One of my preconceptions going into reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales was that they would be a lot darker than the modern versions we think of today. While The Little Mermaid is a lot sadder than the Disney film I didn’t really find the stories that much darker. There is quite a lot of death and suffering in these stories which left me with a less positive feeling than I perhaps would have had from modern counterparts.

When I read The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales last year I struggled with the lack of different and strong female characters. I know that with an old work this can be common so I was left a little apprehensive that I would have the same problem with Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. I am happy to inform you I didn’t have a problem. I thought there was a lovely mixture of male and female characters of different ages, roles and social status. Many of the stories are also filled with an assortment of animals, plants, magical creatures, spirits and inanimate objects which can speak and come to life. I really loved the variety that Hans Christian Andersen’s used in his stories in this collection.

I have wanted to read Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales for a while now. I haven’t read anything by Hans Christian Andersen before so when I spotted a free digital version of this collection I snapped it up for my Kindle. Unfortunately this version I have has some stories repeated more than once. A little annoying but didn’t really harm my enjoyment of the stories. I was not surprised to find the stories were a little archaic in style and sentence structure, and contained some phrases or opinions pertaining to class, gender and race of the time they were written in but nothing I found particularly offensive. I can overlook these because I expect them from such an old work. I actually enjoyed reading these stories not just for their magical elements but because of the social commentary and Christian beliefs embedded within them. When I read The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales I came away feeling depressed and with mixed moral messages. Happily  Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales I felt tackled some difficult topics well with balanced moral messages and even in some of the darkest times there felt like there was some hope.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales is an epic collection of tales filled with magic, adventure, faith and life. I found it rather charming. I recommend to those interested in reading classic fairy tales. This is my 24th read off my Classics Club list.

Have you read this? Do you enjoy fairy tales?

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?

Monthly Reflection: August 2014

August 2014

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are happy and well? August has been a very different month for me. The start of the month saw me setting off for a lovely two week holiday in France. I got to stay and visit some beautiful and historic places. The holiday didn’t leave me with a great amount of time for reading but the time I did have I devoted to longer fictions. I returned from my holiday to find my certificate for my course had arrived, I’m official passed, and my contract for my new job at a school just down the road had arrived too! With all that excitement here is what I managed to finish reading:

Fiction: 3          Non-Fiction: 0          Poetry: 0

My free time in the first week of my holiday in France was spent reading Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law by Michelle Granas* a fictional drama set in Warsaw, Poland; which I thought would be something a little different for me. A well written drama with an interesting political context. I was happily entertained reading this book for about a week. The characters, story and setting were pleasantly refreshing. Meanwhile for the whole holiday I continued dipping in and out  of the epic collection Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales* and by the end of holiday I had finished it! My 24th read off my Classics Club list. I started this collection back in February and by the beginning of my holiday I had read 60% meaning I read an impressive 40% during those two weeks which I am pretty pleased by. The short story format and the fairy tale theme seemed to suit the time I had spare when travelling or relaxing in the sun. After finishing Zaremba whilst still in France I was drawn very appropriately to the French classic The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas*. My 25th read off my Classics Club list. A sweeping romantic adventure following D’Artagnan and his friends during the reign of Louis XIII that I had trouble putting down and I thought was a perfect read for my second week of my French holiday. By the end of my holiday I was half way through The Three Musketeers and I finished it after having been home about a week which was quite nice as it prolonged that holiday feeling for me. It also means I am now officially half way to my goal of 50 books for The Classics Club.

During the month I also finished one non-fiction book which is good for my goal of continuing to read more non-fiction in 2014. At the beginning of my holiday I picked up Becoming Myself by Stasi Eldredge* a Christian/faith non-fiction that looks at how women can reach their full potential in Jesus. I dipped in and out of this during my holiday but really got into once I had returned home and finished it off during the last week of August.

Pick of the Month: The Three Musketeers

And those are just the books I finished during August. It feels very odd not to be telling you “I was dipping in and out  of the epic collection Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales” but of course I’ve finished it! Once home to replace this I picked up Once Upon a Timepiece by Starr Wood a novel told through short stories looking at how one watch affects the lives of different people who possess it. It is different and I am enjoying it so far. I have continued to dip in and out of historical non-fiction The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport during the month. Not something I want to rush as there is a lot of information I didn’t know before to take in. Then right at the end of the month I started Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrim by Toby Clements a novel set during The War of the Roses but I don’t think I have read enough of it to comment on it just yet.

What did you read in August?

*My full thoughts on these books are still to be posted.

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

New Read: Sisters of Treason

Sisters of Treason

After a busy June and first half of July I was so very grateful when my college course finished, the schools broke up for the Summer holiday and the sun came out. Finding myself with glorious weather and time on my hands half way through July I decided to throw myself into the political and power intrigues of the Tudor period in Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle.

In Sisters of Treason we join the infamous Grey family during the Tudor period. The young Jane Grey has been overthrown from the English throne by her cousin Mary Tudor after the death of King Edward VI which left the succession in doubt. Poor Jane is put death along with her husband Guilford Dudley and her power hungry father leaving her mother Frances and two younger sisters Katherine and Mary to the mercy of the new Queen Mary and her re-instated Catholic regime. Frances is able to remarry and as a favourite cousin of Queen Mary is allowed to live away from court but Katherine and Mary are not to be so fortunate. Katherine is now the Grey heir and with her looks and royal blood she could become the figure head for the Protestant rebels during Queen Mary’s reign and for the Catholic rebels during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. For which she is kept close at court under suspicion during both Queens’s reigns. Then there is the youngest Mary who is small with a crooked spine who is not seen as much as a threat because who would wish to marry her and it is believed she wouldn’t be able to bear a child but her traitor’s blood still keeps her at court for most of her life. While Katherine and Mary are two very different young women they will both find themselves on the wrong side of Queen Elizabeth I as they seek the lives and loves they so yearn for.

The narration of Sisters of Treason is told from three perspectives. There is Katherine (as spelt in this novel) Grey a beautiful and spirited young woman who is less worried about the monarch or religion but longs only for love and marriage. While I found Katherine’s motive innocent I think she is often selfish and rather naïve to individuals and the dangers around her. Then we have her younger sister Mary Grey while she might be small with a crooked spine Mary is intelligent, witty and loving. I really liked Mary she certainly wasn’t perfect but I always felt she tried her hardest and thought of others with her only wish being to live a quiet life away from court; which doesn’t seem that much to ask really. I did sympathise with both sisters plights though as it was other people’s actions which has left them tainted with treason no matter what they do. The third narrator is Levina Teerlinc a Flemish artist who makes miniatures for the royal court. In this novel Levina is a close friend with Frances Grey and is often like an Aunt to the young Grey sisters. I liked reading about a woman with a career and artisan skills in the Tudor period. Levina also gives a perspective from someone outside of royalty and the aristocracy which I thought gave a good balance to the story.

I had heard of Elizabeth Fremantle before but Sisters of Treason is the first novel I have read by her. After reading positive reviews of Fremantle’s debut novel Queen’s Gambit I snapped up the opportunity to read her second novel Sisters of Treason. I thought Fremantle’s writing style was detailed and easy to read with the story flowing really well and smooth transitions between the three narrators. The action and tense of the story is firmly set in the present which means that tension can be built about the retribution for the sisters acts even though if you know anything of English history you already know what is going to happen. Last year I read a couple of short histories that looked at the three Grey sisters and yet I was so drawn into this story I didn’t find myself thinking back to the facts but waiting instead for the novel to unfold the story. After finishing Sisters of Treason I realised how little I thought about the actual feelings or personalities of the Grey sisters when reading those short histories. Even though this was fictional it really did help me to think of these young women as really people. Fremantle has obviously filled in some historical gaps and fictionalised events and people in this novel which I thought she did really well. I totally believed in her characters and the Tudor world she created with her words. At the end of the novel Fremantle also references the real historical characters, events and facts she took inspiration from.

Sisters of Treason is a well written and fascinating look into the intrigues and lives of those living under the shadow of treason in the Tudor period.  I highly recommend to those interested in historical fiction and English history. I would really like to read more by Elizabeth Fremantle.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else by Elizabeth Fremantle?