New Read: The Girl in the Glass Tower

In 2014, I read the fascinating The Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle, about the ill-fated Grey sisters, after which I was eager to read more of her work. It was earlier this year I got that chance when I received a copy of this, The Girl in the Glass Tower, Fremantle’s novel about the less well known Arbella Stuart, which was published just last year.

The Lady Arbella was the only child of Charles Stuart which made her, along with the Grey sisters, a possible contender for the English throne. Having been orphaned at a young age, Arbella is raised in comfort and privilege, with the very best education to prepare her to be queen, by her domineering maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cavendish (better known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’). However her royal blood is more a curse than a gift for Arbella, as she is forced to live cloistered away from the world behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. If she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate a treacherous game of power, intrigue and danger.

History has largely forgotten poor Arbella and it would seem her contemporaries also wrote her off as cold, aloof and mad! So I think it is wonderful that Fremantle chose to showcase her in this book. Fremantle paints Arbella as a clever, strong-willed, but naïve woman, who actually has a lot of passion and love just no one to share it with. And there is little wonder she may have grown to be cold, aloof and mentally unstable, when she had no family or true friends to speak of other than her grandmother. Now while her grandmother may have cared for and protected Arbella, heartbreakingly it was more as an investment rather than she had any true love for her.

Again Fremantle has delivered a well-written and believable glimpse into the intrigue and danger of the Elizabethan and early Stuart period in English history. Through Arbella we see a life within a gilded cage – in fact, Fremantle brings it to life so well I was often left feeling claustrophobic and hopeless; as I’m sure poor Arbella did too. Cleverly Fremantle has balanced this feeling by having a second narrator Ami (based on a court poet and mistress), who looks back on her old friend Arbella’s life by lovingly reading through her papers; which were thoughtlessly discarded after her death. While Ami does have her own troubles and is racked with guilt over her friend’s sad end, I felt she does offer a more hopeful and healthier perspective.

Overall, I thought The Girl in the Glass Tower was another fascinating read, that really grabbed at my heartstrings and had me truly invested in the lives of Arbella and Ami. I can’t wait to read more by Elizabeth Fremantle and it just so happens I have her 2014 novel Queen’s Gambit, about Katherine Parr, on my bookshelf! Great read.

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

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

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 9/10

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New Read: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (A Very Brief History)

Unintentionally this year, I have had a bit of an US president theme going on in my reading through Mark Black’s A Very Brief History series. Having read about Richard NixonJohn F Kennedy and The Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed only appropriate to read the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis instalment next.

Before reading this, I knew that Jacqueline was a fashion icon, affectionately known as Jackie O, who had first been married to the young, handsome and sadly doomed president John F Kennedy, and was heartbreakingly by his side in the car when he was assassinated on the 22nd November 1963. But I knew very little else. From reading this, I was interested to learn how Jackie was the one to redefine the role of First Lady into the form we know it as today, as well as redesigning and restoring The White House to its current glory. After JFK’s death, she also played a key role in building a positive legacy for him and his short term in office. Clearly this woman was more than just a very pretty face.

In hindsight, I think I am very lucky to have managed to collect so many of Black’s short histories, as I doubt I would have ever read about US presidents, politics or about Jackie for that matter otherwise. Which would be a great shame because I found her really interesting. This was another clear and concise history that is broken down into bite-size chapters on: Jackie’s early life; her Kennedy marriage; her time as First Lady; JFK’s assassination; her later Onassis marriage and life; her death and the release of sealed tapes she recorded just after JFK’s death. I warn you now though, this really is a short history so if you know or have read about Jackie before, than I doubt you will learn anything new from this. I recommend to those, like me, who know little to nothing.

Overall, I thought Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Very Brief History was another quick and interesting read. I have seven more editions from this series still to go – it seems appropriate to read either the instalment on the Vietnam War or Ronald Reagan next. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else about Jackie Kennedy?

Top Ten Tuesday: My Autumn TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

There are many wonderful books awaiting me on my bookshelf and Kindle, however here are ten books I am particularly looking forward to reading this Autumn (ordered alphabetically by title):

~1~

Assassination at Bayou Sauvage by D J Donaldson

After loving Blood on the Bayou last year, I am excited to read another mystery with medical examiner Andy Broussard and criminal psychologist Kit Franklyn.

~2~

Cauldstane by Linda Gillard

Gillard is one of my favourite authors and last year, I was thrilled to top up my Kindle with three of her novels. Of those three I fancy reading this first.

~3~

Headline Murder by Peter Bartram

This Crampton of the Chronicle mystery has sat on my Kindle for too long and there doesn’t seem a better time of year to finally get round to it.

~4~

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

Maitland’s historical fiction tends to be on the dark side with a touch of the supernatural, so I’ve been saving this for when the night’s start to draw in.

~5~

The Quarry by Iain Banks

This mystery from the late, great Banks has sat on my bookshelf for too long and this seems like the season to finally give it a go.

~6~

Queens of Conquest by Alison Weir

I am super excited about this: the latest history from Weir about medieval queens.

~7~

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

After loving The White Queen earlier this year, I am looking forward to continuing Gregory’s popular Cousins’ War series.

~8~

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

I don’t think Autumn would be Autumn without a sweeping historical mystery from, one of my favourite authors, Kearsley.

~9~

The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien

O’Brien is pretty much my go-to-author when I want to be lost in a good historical fiction, so I am excited to read her latest novel.

~10~

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman [re-read]

I am looking forward to continuing my comforting re-read of Pullman’s young adult trilogy, His Dark Materials.

What are you looking forward to reading this Autumn? Also, please link in the comments if you have taken part in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic too.

Cookbooks: July – August 2017

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, over the summer break from school/work these are the recipes I tried:

Chicken Caesar Salad
Hairy Dieters 1 – Vegetables & Salads – Page 115

A hearty, classic salad that I had never tried before. I found the salad, chicken and croutons easy to make, however the dressing was tricky and to be honest I wasn’t a big fan of the dressing once I had managed to make it. So overall a perfectly edible salad but not to my personal taste. Okay recipe.


Easy Chicken Bake
Hairy Dieters 2 – Family Favourites – Page 62

A colourful one-tray meal, which is easy to prep and even easier to cook. Consisting of simple stuffed chicken breasts cooked nestled within a tray of roughly chopped veggies. I popped it in the oven, left it for half an hour and returned to a delicious, healthy family meal. I will definitely be making this again. Great recipe.


My family love a curry, so as well as remaking a spicier version of the Coconut Prawn Curry, I had a go at this new recipe too:

Turkey Keema Peas
Hairy Dieters 4 – Quick Feasts – Page 127

This is a lighter version of the traditional keema pea curry, which swaps the fattier lamb mince for leaner turkey mince. The mince and peas are cooked in a mild mixture of onion, spices, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and coconut milk. Really easy and quick to make and tasty; I simply served with plain brown rice. Good recipe.


Finally, this last recipe isn’t technically from a cookbook, however the Co-op Food magazines have some wonderful recipes in and this is another one I just had to share:

Scottish Salmon Risotto
Co-op Food – July Edition – Page 37

A light, summery risotto which is delicious, speedy to make and full of the good stuff; perfect served with a light side salad and a glass of wine. Before, I’d been nervous of making risotto for myself, but I needn’t have worried as this was super easy to make and it is another dish I will definitely be making again. Great recipe.

Plus after my dad returned from his holiday to Tenerife, I made Spanish Tomato Bread from a recipe I cut out of a much older edition of the Co-op magazine. It turned out delicious and helped to reawaken my dad’s sunny memories of his holiday. In fact, it went so well I have already made it twice.


Also in August, I remade the Veggie Bean Burgers which I first made during a bbq back in June. As it was during cooler weather this time though, I cooked them in the oven and they turned out even better than last time.

Overall, I think I have had another good month of cooking and I look forward to more, especially as I am now reading Plant Based Cookbook by Trish Sebben-Krupka and I have Super Food Family Classics by Jamie Oliver, which I am very excited about, lined up to read too.

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

What cookbooks are you reading? Have you tried any new recipes?

Re-Read: Northern Lights

Back in July, I re-read Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, after deciding this would be the year I would finally re-read Pullman’s ever popular trilogy: His Dark Materials. Scarily I believe it has to be more than ten years since I first read this wonderful series!

Among the scholars of Oxford’s Jordan College, the young orphan Lyra Belacqua has grown up wild and spirited. With her daemon Pan and best friend Roger, Lyra explores Jordan’s ancient buildings, scampers across the roofs, battles Gyptian kids and generally causes havoc around town; while all the time dodging lessons and wash time! However Lyra’s small world is to be blown apart by the imprisonment of her enigmatic Uncle Asriel, the kidnap of Roger by the feared “Gobblers” and the arrival of the beautiful Mrs Coulter. To rescue her uncle and friend, Lyra sets forth for the dangerous far North, with a rare truth-telling instrument, an alethiometer, as her guide.

It was a sheer joy to re-immerse myself back into this magical adventure with the headstrong Lyra; who is much braver than I would have been at her age! While at first this world may seem very similar to our own there are some significant differences. The most significant being that each human is joined with a sentient spirit, known as a daemon, which takes the form of an animal. As Lyra is still a child her daemon Pan can change form – at different times offering comfort as a snow ermine, lookout as a brown moth and protection as a wildcat. Also as we journey north, more fantastical elements emerge, including: witches and panserbjørne (armoured bears)!

The over-arching baddie to the piece is not a singular person but instead an institution: The Magisterium (more commonly known as ‘the Church’). The Magisterium is a zealously religious institution that wields immense power and influence over the land. Who can and will move swiftly to squash any person or idea that they deem to be heretical. This is the element of these books that shows Pullman’s Atheist views. I am a Christian but thankfully in this first instalment, I don’t find Pullman’s views in any way offensive or too overbearing. In fact, I can slightly sympathise with the negativity against an organised religion which is more interested in human-made rules rather than God.

Having now refreshed my memory with this re-read, the weaknesses of the 2007 film adaptation, The Golden Compass, are now more apparent to me. Which is a shame because after I got over my annoyance that they changed the title (it’s not a compass!!) I actually rather enjoyed the film. I thought it beautifully visualised the world and creatures, with great casting of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra and Ian McKellan as the voice of Iorek Byrnison. Sadly though I was disappointed by the ending and now I can see even more clearly how the mystifying decision to stop a chapter short of the book’s ending took so much of the surprise, drama and power out of it. Such a shame.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Northern Lights and I look forward to re-reading the rest of the trilogy. Next up: The Subtle Knife. Great read.

Have you read this? Or watched the film adaptation?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 8/10

Tough Travels: Dragons

Tough Travels is a monthly meme hosted by Fantasy Faction, which, inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, spotlights each month a different fantasy trope for us to compile lists and have fun with. Last month we discussed STRONGHOLDS. This month’s topic is:


DRAGONS

‘The Tough Guide advises that Dragons are ‘very large scaly beings with wings and long spiky tails, capable of breathing fire through their mouths. They can be almost any colour or combination of colours, though green, red and black are preferred. They are always very old. Most of them seem to have flown to Fantasyland aeons ago across the void. This migration was almost certainly to get away from our world, where people would insist that they were dangerous monsters that had to be exterminated. Dragons, as all Fantasyland knows, are no such thing.’ Or are they?’

Diana Wynne Jones, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland


This is another topic that I missed the first time round and as I love dragons it is great to have a chance to have a go at it. Here are a few of my fire-breathing favourites:

Smaug
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

First, we have the “greedy, strong and wicked wyrm” Smaug, who chased the dwarves of Erebor from their home. Smaug curled up on a bed of treasure and bones is the image of the quintessential evil dragon!

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Saphira
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini

In contrast to Smaug, we have the beautiful last female dragon in Alagaësia, Saphira, who unexpectantly hatches for a young farm boy named Eragon. Together they will fight to overthrow evil and bring peace to the land.

**********

Norbert
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling

Hagrid is thrilled when he finally gets a dragon: the small, cute and lovable Norbert, however as Norbert is a Norwegian Ridgeback he will neither stay small, cute or lovable for very long!

**********

Drogon
A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

No current list would be complete without Drogon, the largest most powerful dragon of Daenerys’ fearsome brood. While he might help her fight the good fight, he is also known to flame sheep and small children…well dragons will be dragons, right?!

**********

Firedrake
Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke

Finally, we have the young silver dragon Firedrake, who, when his home and fellow dragons are threatened by thoughtless human actions, sets off with young Ben to find the mythical dragon homeland: the Rim of Heaven.

**********

Who are your favourite dragons? Please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this month’s topic too.

Come back next month for: Minions.

Challenge: 10 Books of Summer 2017 (End)

While I was on holiday, the 1st September came and went, which saw the officially end of Summer and the 10 Books of Summer challenge. I feel I have had a great Summer of reading, however I also think I blinked and missed it! So let’s have a look at what I actually managed to read:

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

***

First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

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Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

***

Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari

**

Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow by Colleen Oakes

**

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

***

The Lioness and the Spellspinners by Cheryl Mahoney

***

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman [Re-Read]

***

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

***

(While I finished reading these two last books, I am behind on my reviews, so keep your eyes peeled for my full thoughts on them.)


Which means I have read …

9/10

I am really pleased with my result this year and while I didn’t quite finish I am up on both my previous years. The only book I didn’t get round to was A Dance with Dragons, Part 1 by George R R Martin, which I chose not to read because I was still watching the newest series of the hit TV series, Game of Thrones, as I feared I might get confused. Having made progress each year and enjoyed some fab reading, bring on next year!

Have you read any of these books? Did you take part in this challenge?