New Read: Bellewether

Back in January, I escaped the busyness of life and the dreary weather with Bellewether, the latest dual-narrative novel from, one of my favourite authors, Susanna Kearsley. Having previously read, and loved, six of her previous novels, I eagerly ripped through this anticipating a good dose of mystery, romance and history, and I wasn’t to be disappointed!

It all begins with a house: the Wilde House, which dates back to 1682, when Jacob Wilde came across from England and picked a spot above a small cove in Messaquamik Bay, Long Island to build his family a home. In the present day, it is a museum to Jacob’s famous descendent: the dashing, adventurer Benjamin Wilde, who captained the fair Bellewether. Sadly the house has been neglected over recent years, so the board decide to appoint a new curator: Charley Van Hoek, who has recently moved to the area after the sudden death of her brother to take care of her teenage niece.

I instantly liked Charley because she is a smart, practical and down-to-earth woman, with her head well and truly screwed on. Not the type for flights of fancy, and yet, one night, in the woods behind the house, Charley would swear she saw a ghostly, swinging lamp; which is linked to the legend of Benjamin Wilde’s sister, Lydia and her doomed romance with a French officer. As Charley starts to delve deeper into the history of the Wilde House, she discovers it holds many secrets and that Lydia’s legend may be based on some truth… but not quite the whole truth.

The second narrative of the novel follows Lydia Wilde in 1759, where the North American colonies are being torn apart by the continuing war between Britain and France. Whilst Lydia is already struggling to keep her fractured family together – following her mother’s death – she little needs the added trouble of two captured French officers, brought to them for their parole of honour. Neither does the French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran have any desire to be there, but by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Again Kearsley has weaved together two immersive, believable narratives, with two strong, compelling heroines. All delivered in her comforting and familiar writing style, which I have come to love so much; like a favourite jumper. I must admit I wasn’t initially thrilled when I learnt that this was set in America – I do have a biased preference for her previous settings of the British Isles and Italy – however I was proven very wrong. This was a really interesting setting and time period, that Kearsley brought to life beautifully, which made for a refreshing change and taught me quite a bit too. Although it does all wrap up a little abruptly at the end.

All in all, I thought Bellewether was a wonderful escapist read, with a lovely blend of history, war, romance and mystery. It isn’t about to topple my old favourites The Rose Garden and Mariana, but it is a nice edition to Kearsley’s burgeoning canon of work. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Have you read any of Susanna Kearsley’s other novels?

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Cookbooks: January 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, rather belatedly, due to my being so behind on my book reviews, here are the comforting new dishes I tried over the cold month of January:

Chicken Turkey and Ham Tangle Pie
The Hairy Dieters (1) by Si King & Dave Myers
Pies – Page 80-82

On New Year’s Day, I had my grandad round for lunch and decided to use up the leftover Christmas turkey in this new pie. Made with smoked ham, leeks, white wine, half-fat crème fraiche and cooked turkey (instead of chicken), this pie tastes so rich and creamy you’d never know it was low-fat. Rather than one large pie, I prepared three small individual pies with puff pastry lids, and served with new potatoes and Brussel sprouts. Yum! Great recipe.


Baked Bananas With Chocolate Rum Sauce
The Hairy Dieters (4) Fast Food by Si King & Dave Myers
Speedy Sweets – Page 182

In the comments for my last cookbooks posts, I discussed how I never try new dessert recipes – Something I thought needed remedying. So for dessert on New Year’s Day, I decided to try these bananas, baked with a little rum and demerara sugar, with this divine, homemade dark chocolate and rum sauce. Which I served with a small, naughty scoop of vanilla ice cream. Super easy, super quick and super tasty. Great recipe.


Sweet Carrot Smash
Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver
The Meals – Page 92

With carrots not being a particular favourite in my family, I have to be canny about how I serve them. So this delicious yet simple side dish recipe was perfect for me. The carrots are simply sliced and boiled, with some olive oil, seasoning and thyme, then roughly mashed. That good it has already been lapped up several times by my non-carrot-loving father. Good recipe.


Courgette, Mint and Lemon Soup
The Hairy Dieters (5) Go Veggie by Si King & Dave Myers
Soups and Salads – Page 56

I absolutely love courgettes, so I was thrilled to find this lighter, Vegan-friendly recipe not made with milk or cream, as many other courgette soups are. Instead King & Myers have kept this simple with a healthy blend of courgette, peas, baby spinach and a little potato to thicken it. All given a fresh tang with a touch of lemon and mint to. All in all a tasty, super green soup, which should help keep us lean! Good recipe.


So altogether that was four new recipes tried back in January. Over the month, I also remade Jamie Oliver’s Veggie Bolognese and Super Leek & Potato Soup (Super Food Family Classics), and Minty Cabbage (30 Minute Meals) several times. As well as The Hairy Bikers’ Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin (Hairy Dieters 1).

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

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

New Books: Christmas 2018 & January 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, now I have finally caught up on my reviews, here is belated update on the new books I got for Christmas, my birthday and during the rest of January:

Origin by Dan Brown

First, I was absolutely thrilled to receive the paperback of Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon adventure for Christmas from my dad. It was sadly the only book I received for Christmas, but it’s a great one.

The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl

Oz: The Complete Collection by L. Frank Baum

Also with an Amazon voucher I received for Christmas, I treated myself to these two for my Kindle. The first, Koukl’s Christian non-fiction, The Story of Reality is my February read for my church’s book club, which I am currently reading. The second is the complete collection of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, that I hope to continue reading as part of The Classics Club.

The Gilded Lily by Ernest Dudley

Then in January, through Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter, I picked up a free copy of new-to-me author, Ernest Dudley’s non-fiction about the life and loves of the fabulous Lillie Langtry, a British-American socialite, actress and producer.

The Fork, the Witch and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia by Christopher Paolini

Last but certainly not least, I received a beautiful hardback copy of Christopher Paolini’s collection of extra Alagaësia stories from my dad for my birthday. Hopefully this will be the carrot I need to get back to and finish Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series.

Do you fancy any of these? What new books have you got recently?

New Read: Theatre Royal

Last year, through Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter, I got a free copy of their republication of Theatre Royal by Michael Coren. Never having heard of the author before, I was spurred on to try it after absolutely loving another theatre history, Seven Stages by Geoffrey Trease, from this publisher, so I had high hopes for this one too.

First published in 1981, this history chronicles a hundred years of The Theatre Royal, Stratford East. From its opening night, with Lord Lytton’s popular drama Richelieu, in 1884. To its glory days, in the 1960s, under the enigmatic and controversial Joan Littlewood, with Gerry Raffles and their ground-breaking ensemble Theatre Workshop; who are perhaps best known for their wacky, hard-hitting musical, Oh, What a Lovely War! Finally, to how in the 1970s, it sadly struggled to move on and forge a new identity once Littlewood left, and how it was holding on in the 1980s with hope for the future.

I have to admit I went into this not really knowing what to expect – what with me knowing nothing about The Theatre Royal, Stratford East. What I found was a straightforward and detailed history that charts the origins and ups and downs of this out-of-town theatre. It most certainly must have been a hardy place and had some staunch supporters, because it managed to survive two world wars, a dearth of funds, many failed projects and many more failed plays. All of which was brought starkly to life with quotes from glaring critics, bitter directors, as well as faithful actors.

Earlier, I said I didn’t know anything about this theatre or so I thought, because actually when I read more I realised I did know of Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop. I presume I must have studied them at some point at university, but I didn’t recall them or this theatre before. Otherwise though, everything in this book was new to me. My only reservation with the book was that its sole focus is on the productions and logistics of keeping the theatre going. Impersonally listing production after production and the critics opinions of them. Which is fine for a theatre student, but could be dry and hard going for regular readers.

Overall, I thought the Theatre Royal was an excellent, comprehensive history of the highs and lows of this famous theatre – which is still going now, even if this history stops in the ’80s – however this wasn’t as entertaining a read as my previous theatre book from this publisher. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other histories of famous theatres?

Adaptations: January 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms and adaptation lovers, here are the adaptations I watched in January:

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Not Read     Film     Cinema

At the start of the month, I had a magical trip to the cinema to see this charming sequel to the classic 1964 film; based on the books of P. L. Travers. The practical perfect nanny returns to help the now adult Michael Banks, his sister and his three children save their home from being repossessed. Probably couldn’t ever beat the original, but it has a jolly good try, with Emily Blunt doing a grand job and some wonderfully eccentric, colourful songs and dances. Great watch.


Midnight, Texas (Series 2)
Not Read     TV Series     Television

The second series of this American supernatural drama, based on the books of the same name by Charlaine Harris, which takes us back to the small, mysterious town of Midnight. Where psychic Manfred (François Arnaud) and the town’s other supernatural inhabitants must band together, when the opening of a holistic healing spa brings a new, deadly threat with it. Lots more fun to be had here, but sadly the show has been axed. Good watch.


That’s two new-to-me adaptations watched. I also enjoyed comforting re-watches of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011). Which brings my grand total up to four adaptations for the whole month.

As for non-adaptations, I watched series one of Charlie Brooker’s A Touch of Cloth (2012), a spoof police procedural series starring the brilliant John Hannah and Suranne Jones. Also I caught up with the first series of Sky Atlantic’s gritty drama, Tin Star (2017) – Tim Roth was excellent in it, but all the characters were so thoroughly unlikeable that I’m not sure I’ll be tuning in for the newly released second series.

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

The Classics Club: One Year Gone

Hello my fellow bookworms and classic clubbers, I created my second list for The Classics Club back on the 8th February 2018, which means today marks the one year stage. Time has flown by! Here is what I have read off my new list in my first year:

This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald

A beautifully written, sometimes gripping, satirical portrait of the golden Jazz Age. While I don’t think Fitzgerald’s work is really for me, I am glad I persevered because these are important works of literature and social commentary.

*

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

A beautifully written classic, with engaging characters, which cleverly explores the societal troubles, strifes and wrongs of the time.

***

Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia by Emilio Salgari

Another rip-roaring adventure (with a touch of romance) that swept me back in time and across the seas.

**

The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit

This was the lighter classic I was hoping for, with its blend of magic, adventure and old-fashioned ideals. Unfortunately, this is just not Nesbit’s best work I have read

*

The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

A clever allegorical portrayal of the journey Christians must take through life. I can’t say it was an easy read – in fact it was in parts hard work – however it was a rewarding read.

**

Emma by Jane Austen

I very much enjoyed a fun, comforting re-read of this witty, utterly charming romance, with its imperfect heroine and farcical misunderstandings.

***


Which means I have completed…

6/50

Lower than I had hope but not a terrible start. It has not helped that I have read some quite long and challenging books. Looking forward, I think I need to indulge in more of the shorter, easier children’s classics I have on my list, to give myself a bit of break now and again.

Have you read any of these? What classics have you enjoyed over the last year?

New Read: The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today

During the crazy-busyness of Christmas, I squeezed in a couple of short reads. First the festive e-short Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble by M. C. Beaton. Then The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today by Alison Weir, an e-short companion piece to Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, the second book in Weir’s fantastic, historical Six Tudor Queens series.

In the modern day, Jo, a historian and long-term admirer of Anne Boleyn, has organised for a group to take a guided tour of the Tower of London, to walk in the shoes of her Tudor heroine. Jo is thrilled by their tour guide’s full Anne Boleyn costume and historical accuracy. However while Jo really wants to lose herself in the dramatic setting that she has come to love and the guide’s realistic portrayal of the queen, something nags at the back of her mind, it’s almost like there is a ghostly presence lurking around them…

We take the tour with Jo, experiencing the guide’s excellent performance and the growing mystery of the crying, young woman, that only Jo and ourselves seem to be able to see. I could feel that a twist was coming and when it did, it didn’t disappoint. However the length of the story did – this is a very short, e-short. In fact, the story itself was only about 10% of the book. The rest was made up of teaser, first chapters for Katherine of Aragorn: The True Queen, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession and Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen – Two of which I have already read, so were of little interest to me.

So, overall, I thought The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today was an interesting little tale of history, mystery and ghosts, with a cool twist at the end. Fortunately, this was being offered for free though, because I would have been really disappointed if I had paid for it. Sadly, It has put me off paying for any of the other e-short companion pieces, but I still very much look forward to reading the next novel about Jane Seymour from the series. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or any other books from the Six Tudor Queens series?