New Read: Elizabeth I and Her Circle

Elizabeth I and Her Circle

I am fascinated by all things Elizabethan and I admire Elizabeth, as a strong woman and leader. I lap up any documentaries, TV series, films and books about her. So when I saw Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran for offer; I just had to request it.

The majority of the book looks at the advisors that Elizabeth chose to surround herself with. Those I had heard of before were Sir William Cecil, the Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. While those I knew little of were Sir Christopher Hatton, Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex and Sir Robert Cecil, 2nd son of Sir William Cecil. While she had her ups and downs with them all, ultimately she appears to have been a good judge of character. Choosing knowledgeable men who cared for her and the country. Not just for their looks; as she has been accused of. Robert Dudley, again for me, came out as a more sympathetic character, than previous histories and portrayals have made him out to be.

Sadly as there is little written proof, i.e. letters, there is only a small proportion of this book given over to the ladies who waited on Elizabeth. They had intimate access to Elizabeth, many were kinswomen on the Boleyn side, and also many stayed with her their whole lives, even after they married. Elizabeth was known to have a terrible temper, like her father, but she is perhaps not the tyrant to her ladies as she is often portrayed. She didn’t refuse them to marry. In fact she bestowed gifts and privileges on many of her ladies and their spouses. Her wrath was only incurred when a lady married without permission,  secretively and below their station; which incidentally were all against the law anyway.

This is packed with so much interesting information that I couldn’t possibly discuss it all here. I also don’t want to give too much away; in case of spoilers. I know talking about spoilers in a non-fiction review sounds a little silly, but this was as gripping for me as reading a novel. I found it very hard to put down! I haven’t read anything by Susan Doran before. I am pleased I took a punt and requested this. I thought it was well written and researched, with a great use of letters for proof and reference. At first I found the letters difficult to read. However once I got used to the fact Elizabethan’s spell phonetically and follow no standard rule; I was fine. In fact the letters made the information feel more real and present, which really helped to capture my imagination.

Elizabeth I and Her Circle is a fascinating read, which I highly recommend to those who are interested in English and Elizabethan history. Great read.

Thank you to Oxford University Press for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Do like reading about Elizabeth I? Do you know if Susan Doran has written any other histories?

Goodbye July, Hello August 2015

July 2015

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? July has been a month of contrast for me. With days of glorious sunshine to days of rain, and one night there was an almighty thunder-storm. Plus super busy days at the end of the school term to the start of a relaxing and hopefully restorative summer holiday.

Once the holiday started I did enjoy some super lazy days, but I have kept my brain active planning ahead. I am helping a local theatre group run a drama summer club and in August I have volunteered to lead/present a summer club at my church. Plus, as this post goes live, I will be on my way to London for Secret Cinema’s Star Wars event. This month also saw 23 of the ladies from church heading to Moor Hall for a luxury afternoon tea, which was a surprise hen do for a dear friend. Who is getting married in August, something else I have been planning ahead for.

Both my reading and my adaptation watching have been great this month, in quantity and quality. Here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 4     Non-Fiction: 2     Poetry: 0

I started the month off by finishing Victorian Fairy Tales edited by Michael Newton. An interesting collection of enchanting fairy tales from a selection of well loved, Victorian authors. Many of whom are more well known for writing novels not fairy tales.

Although slow I have made progress on my 10 Books of Summer reading this month. Firstly I read historical, mystery The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, which had been lent to me by my mother with glowing praise. I thought it was a dark and excellently written mystery, which had me gripped through out. All set within the detailed and immersive setting of 17th century Amsterdam. Then I enjoyed a re-read of The Return of the King by J R R Tolkien; bringing my re-read of the epic The Lord of the Rings to an end. My full thoughts still be posted. That means at the end of the month my total for this event is now 3 books.

The majority of my reading this month has taken me into the past or fantasy land. So I decided to shake things up by going into the future with Hope’s Rebellion by Jade Varden. A gripping, Dystopian, young adult novel which I just sped through.

Alongside these fictions I also read 2 non-fictions. First I read The Praying Woman’s Devotional by Stormie Omartian. An inspiring guide that helped enhance my daily, personal prayer and Bible reading time. Then I read Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran; a history of the Elizabethan court. A fascinating book, which gripped me like a novel rather than a non-fiction. My full thoughts still to be posted.

Pick of the Month: I couldn’t possibly pick just one!

That means I have finished reading 6 books, a little more than my normal amount. During the month I also made good progress through Christian, memoir Face to Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib and Bodie Thone. I also started Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, but I put it aside to start Mansfield Park by Jane Austen; for the Austen in August event.

In August I am looking forward to Secret Cinema’s Star Wars event (today!), my friend’s wedding, the holiday club at my church, and I hope to spend a week with my mother on the south coast. Plus of course more good reading.

What did you do and read in July? Any plans for August?

Meme: Tough Traveling – Flying

Tough Traveling

Nathan, over at the Fantasy Review Barn, runs the weekly meme Tough Traveling, where readers are encouraged to tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is FLYING RIDES

“Because honestly?  Horses just got boring.
(Thanks to author Anne Leonard for the suggestion)”

I could think of plenty of flying examples, trouble was trying to limit the amount of dragons I featured! Here are my picks for this week’s topic:

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien – when Bilbo, the dwarves and Gandalf find themselves in hot water, or in this case trees, the eagles of the Misty Mountains carry them away to safety.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini – Eragon, a young peasant boy, finds and bonds with a rare dragon egg; unknowingly becoming a dragon rider. Together Eragon and his dragon Saphira must learn how to fly and fight as one.

Harry Potter by J K Rowling – Harry and his friends during this series fly by many means including; on broomsticks, thestrals, a hippogriff, a dragon and even in a magically modified, Ford Anglia!

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke – A dragon named Firedrake is seeking the safe refuge of the Rim of Heaven. He takes Ben, an orphaned boy, along with him as a companion and map reader.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – Lyra and her friends travel in Lee Scoresby’s hot air balloon, towed by Serafina Pekkala and her fellow flying witches.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis – The Pevensie’s obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb learns a hard but valuable lesson, when an enchanted bracelet turns him into a dragon!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum – And perhaps the award for most inventive, flying journey goes to Dorothy. Who flies in her house. during a storm, to the magical land of Oz.

Can you think of some fantasy, flying journeys? Please let me know if your taking part in Tough Travels this week too.

New Read: Hope’s Rebellion

Hope's Rebellion

For much of July my reading has taken me into the past. I decided it would be fun to go the opposite way; to go into the future with my next read. So I picked up Jade Varden’s dystopian, young adult novel Hope’s Rebellion.

Godenor is a bleak and desolate land, with few resources which must be strictly dealt out to the population. Due to this the population is segregated. At just 3 years old children are either taken to work camps to learn how to serve as Dinwas or work in the mines. Or, the more fortunate children, are taken to education camps to learn a craft. At the end of their education the Allocator decides where they will be assigned. The premise is nothing new but I did think it was well crafted. There is one more thing that can determine your fate; your hair colour. Those children with golden hair are prized above all others.

We find out about this world through the eyes of 3 very different girls. First we have Drexi. Initially assigned to a work camp her bravery earns her a transfer to an education camp. Sadly the stigma of her black hair and her golden-haired mother’s failure is a constant battle for her. Then we have small, quiet, mousey haired Prelly. Accidentally taken to the education camp when she became lost and was found by a kind soldier. Finally but not least we have Rinna, or Rinna of the Gold as she is known. As she has the prized golden hair Rinna’s life was planned out from the day she was born. She is to become a wife and mother. In the education camp these 3 girls become fast friends. A friendship that will be truly tested when they are allocated and become adults.

This is the first book I have read by Jade Varden. I came to know of it when the author contacted me about it. I am really pleased I took a chance on it. As I thought it was a gripping, young adult adventure in an authoritarian, fantasy world. While Drexi, Prelly and Rinna were at school I didn’t really think of it as a dystopian world. The world before and any whiff of rebellion is not discussed until the girls are allocated. The pace of the novel is fast and I found myself flying through it. There were a few moments where the wording jarred a little with me and others where I wish there had been a little more detail. I totally understand that sometimes too much detail would have taken us away from the action and tension that was building though, so was a necessary cut.

Hope’s Rebellion was a gripping and fast read for me, this is an author and world I would like to read more of. I recommend to those who enjoy young adult, fantasy and dystopian books. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Have you read a good dystopian novel I should try?

Adaptations: July 2015

Adaptations #3

Hello my fellow bookworms and adaptation lovers, here are the adapted films and TV series I watched during July:

Grimm (2015)          Read     TV Series     Television
The 4th series of the fantastical, crime drama inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Nick Burkhart and the Portland police force not only need to tackle human criminals, but also fairy tale and mythological creatures. Likeable characters, and interesting creatures and crimes. On top of which this series had some real, shocking twists and turns. Good watch.

Jurassic World (2015)          Not Read     Film     Cinema
The 4th science fiction blockbuster in the Jurassic Park series, based on Michael Crichton’s novel. I have loved all of these films, and this new one was no exception. This time they’ve not just got a park but a whole resort-styled world of dinosaurs. However a new genetically modified creature is to cause mayhem. Great characters, action, and CGI; then you have that classic theme music. Don’t blink you might miss something! Great watch.

Dracula Untold (2014)          Read     Film     Television
Fantasy, horror prequel to Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Prince Vlad, wishing to protect his family and people from the Ottoman empire, seeks the help of an ancient and evil power. A lavish historical drama, with spectacular fight scenes, and great performances by Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper and Charles Dance. Great watch.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2015)        Not Read     TV Series     Television
Fantasy BBC costume drama based on Susanna Clarke’s novel. During the Napoleonic wars, Strange and Norrell, two magicians work to bring magic back to England. A lavish and fascinating series with a surreal twist. There is also a great ensemble cast. Featuring Marc Warren, one of my favourites, as a scheming fairy. Great watch.

Wayward Pines (2015)          Not Read     TV Series     Television
Science-fiction drama based on the novels by Blake Crouch. Agent Ethan Burke awakes in a mysterious, small town after a car accident. To find he can neither leave nor contact the outside world. A gripping series, full of twists and turns, starring Matt Dillon, Toby Jones and Juliette Lewis.Warning: serious cliff hanger ending! Great watch.

I have had a great adaptation month, with great quality and quantity. As well as those featured above I also re-watched the final Harry Potter films; shown by ITV on Saturday evenings. Again no write-up because I re-watch them too often, and you’d be sick of the sight of them!  Then I still have the 2nd series of Penny Dreadful and the 3rd series of Hannibal to start. Plus brand new series Black Sails, a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. So hopefully plenty to share with you again in August.

Have you watched any of these? What have you been watching recently?

New Read: The Praying Woman’s Devotional

The Praying Woman's Devotional

As a practicing Christian I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and to hear what other Christians have to say. After finishing Beautiful Attitudes by Scott Evans I chose to read The Praying Woman’s Devotional by Stormie Omartian; my 4th Omartian read.

In a previous book, The Power of a Praying Woman, Omartian reached out to all women who believe in God and his son Jesus Christ, to make prayer a keystone in their lives. In The Praying Woman’s Devotional Omartian continues this idea by suggesting themes, prayers and scripture that can help women to pray.

The book is broken down into more chapters than I could count. Each one has a theme, and begins with a piece of scripture to read and consider. Then there is Omartian’s thoughts and reflections on the theme and scripture. Then each chapter finishes with a unique prayer. I thought the short and neat chapters were a perfect structure, which made it easy to read one chapter a day/night. I have also enjoyed the structure of Omartian’s previous books. I think it is something she is very good at. This structure, and scripture and prayer suggestions were really easy and comforting for me to read. However could be even better for those wishing to read the Bible but who aren’t sure where to begin.

I first discovered Stormie Omartian in 2014 and I have read pretty much everything by her I have been able to get my hands on since. I picked this newest book up in April (2015), don’t let how long it took me to read it daunt you though. I simply took my time. Reading one or two chapters a day/night, and I found it a very effective way to enhance my daily, personal prayer and Bible reading time. There was far less discussion of Omartian’s own personal experiences, however that suited this book which felt more personal for me, as the reader. I was again impressed with the writing, and how many themes and elements in a Christian’s life Omartian managed to cover.

The Praying Woman’s Devotional was an inspiring read for me. I look forward to reading more by Omartian. I highly recommend to women interested in enhancing their personal prayer and Bible reading time. Great read.

Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read anything by Stormie Omartian? Any recommendations for other faith literature?

New Read: The Miniaturist

The Miniaturist

My mother lent me The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, with glowing praise for how much she enjoyed it. I can see the instant appeal for her, as she is herself, a miniaturist. I was excited to read this and it continues my 10 Books of Summer reading.

The Miniaturist takes us back to autumn, 1686 as young Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to start her married life. Nella’s mother has arranged a good match for her with Johannes Brandt, a wealthy merchant. The reception at her new, grand home is less than appealing, with two unusual servants, a stony sister-in-law and a distant husband. I think there is a really interesting mixture of characters. Through them Burton, the author, is able to bring up difficult issues, including gender roles, sexuality and racism. While I didn’t particular like the characters, not even Nella, I did sympathise and ultimately found them fascinating to read about.

Not long after her arrival Nella is presented with an extravagant and extraordinary wedding gift. A complete and perfect miniature version of her new home. This is when the story really takes off. Nella’s new home is full of secrets, lots of secrets. The ‘miniaturist’ Nella employs to furnish her Dolls House makes exquisite pieces but soon pieces, not ordered, begin to arrive. These unexpected pieces seem to eerily coincide with people and events within the house, which the ‘miniaturist’ shouldn’t possibly be able to know about. As more arrive Nella begins to believe the mysterious ‘miniaturist’ is trying to warn her of the secrets and terrible dangers which are to befall her household.

This is a dark, fast paced and excellently written mystery. From the moment the Dolls House arrived I could barely prize myself away. Being equally scared and excited about what could possibly happen next. I warn you this is not a happy read but it is gripping and tackles some really difficult and important issues. All set in the immersive setting and tense atmosphere of Amsterdam in the 1600s. This is not a time period I know much about. Burton, the author, has brought it all beautifully alive though. I could see the bustling streets and tall houses, I could feel the bitter cold, I could smell the sweet pastries, and I could feel the fear and hysteria in the air. However interesting it was to read about. This is one place and time period I would not like to visit; let alone have lived in.

The Miniaturist is a gripping and immersive read, and Jessie Burton is an author I look forward to seeing more of. I highly recommend to those who enjoy mysteries and historical fiction. I also recommend to those interested in literature that discusses LGBT, race and gender issues. Great read.

Have you read this? What did you think? Any recommendations for other literature set in Amsterdam?