New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble

Over the crazy-busyness of Christmas, I escaped, when I found a few quiet moments, away into Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble by M. C. Beaton, a festive e-short from Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series.

At home alone for the holidays, our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin decides to show her generous side by inviting over six lonely, local ‘crumblies’ for a slap up Christmas dinner… Only problem is Agatha can’t cook! While she employs swanky caterers to prepare her starter and main, she mistakenly decides to make the pudding herself. And, when her monstrous creation is unceremoniously dumped on lecherous, 85-year-old Len Leech’s head – killing him instantly – the mysteries start to mount up higher than the season’s snowfall.

While only short, I thought this was a well-rounded mystery and our formerly sharp, bossy and cajoling Agatha is on top form. First, as she tries to be kind, softer and homely, but for all her heart being in the right place it all goes horribly wrong, of course! Which is perfect for us, because it means plenty of laughs and it sets Agatha off on another eccentric, bumbling amateur investigation. Along the way she is helped, hindered and warned off by several of the regular cast from the series, including my personal favourites: the lovely vicar’s wife, Mrs Bloxby and the funny Detective Constable Wong.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed another trip to the charming village of Carsely in Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Pudding for a quick, fun cosy mystery. Nothing ground-breaking here, but a perfect book to enjoy snuggled up in a blanket, when I had chance over the Christmas period. I now look forward even more to reading the next full-length book from the series, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. Good read.

Have you read this? Have you read any other cosy-crime recently?

This also ticked off a title with a season in it and so completed my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (6/6)

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Goodbye January, Hello February 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? According to the Media and many people I work with this was a long, miserable month, but it simply wasn’t true for me! I celebrated my birthday;  attended a fascinating talk by Professor Alice Roberts; had an uplifting weekend away in Kent; and threw myself into my church’s year of exploration by joining a new house group and attending a weeknight vision service.. All in all I think a great month!  With all this excitement, here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 2      Non-Fiction: 0

Firstly, I finished reading the newest dual narrative novel, Bellewether by, one of my favourite authors, Susanna Kearsley, which swept me back to 1759 to experience how the Seven Year War between Britain and France impacted on the regular American colonists. Lastly, I finished a comforting, fun re-read of the charmingly witty Emma by Jane Austen, my result for The Classic Club‘s last Spin event. Now I need to confess I didn’t technically finish Emma till a day into February, however as I read the vast majority of it in January I hope you understand me counting it here.

Pick of the Month: Bellewether and Emma

Altogether that is only two books read – a perfectly reasonable amount for me normally. However I do find myself rather disheartened, because I actually read a lot more but just didn’t seem to finish much. During the month, I was actually also reading non-fictions: Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley and The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl. On the other hand, I am still behind on my reviews, so actually not finishing too much should help me catch up.

Compared to January, February looks like it is going to be relatively quiet, as I don’t have much planned. Except I am looking forward to the school’s half term break. So hopefully it will be a month of reading and catching up with reviews.

What did you do and read in January? What are your plans for February?

New Read: Frenchman’s Creek

In 2018, I was lucky enough to read two of the gothic queen, Daphne du Maurier’s novels. First, in June, I read the superb, time-travelling horror, The House on the Strand and then, at the end of the year, Frenchman’s Creek.

Restless with the pomp, ritual and debauchery of London’s Restoration Court, Lady Dona St Columb takes her children and retreats to the hidden creeks and secret woods of her husband’s family estate of Navron, in Cornwall. The peace Lady Dona craves, however, eludes her from the moment she stumbles across the hidden mooring place for a white-sailed ship, known to plunder the Cornish coast. And once she has met its captain: the daring, French philosopher-pirate, Jean Aubrey, she finds her heart besieged and her person embroiled in a quest fraught with danger and glory.

Our protagonist, Dona is a beautiful, headstrong woman; a loving mother; an unhappy wife and a prisoner of her own making. Flightily she married her husband, Henry because he had a charming smile, so now she finds herself trapped with a man she feels she’s outgrown and finds herself increasing her daring, gossip-inducing behaviour to relieve her boredom. Which culminates in her taking part in a cruel, drunken prank, that finally shames her into breaking out of the vicious circle by leaving London, Henry and his insidious friend, Lord Rockingham behind.

Once at Navron, Dona spends her long, summer days of freedom sleeping in late; frolicking and picnicking with the children and walking along the coast; which is where she first catches sight of the white-sailed ship that is to turn her life upside down. As one would expect, du Maurier brings the stately but neglected estate of Navron, on her native Cornwall’s coast, beautifully to life. As the windows are unshuttered and thrown wide-open, light and the fresh sea breeze re-awaken the large, musty rooms, and from her room Dona has a view straight down to the sea.

Later in the novel, du Maurier actually takes us out to sea – with the dashing Jean Aubrey and his crew – showing us at its calm, serene best, but also at its turbulent, thrashing worst. While I am a self-confessed landlubber, I couldn’t help finding myself swept away with the beauty, adventure and romance of it all. Likewise, on meeting Jean, Dona finds herself swept away – selfishly abandoning her children to their maid – to read poetry, fish, dine and maraud with this charismatic man. However things come to a head, after their plans go terribly awry and Henry arrives unexpectedly to reclaim his wife. Will Dona return to her husband and children or risk it all for her pirate lover?!

Overall I thought Frenchman’s Creek was a beautifully written, sweeping romance. Quite a few of my fellow du Maurier fans have told me this is one of their least favourite of her novels, and on finishing it, I can understand why, because there is little to no gothic influence and Dona is not the most likable of characters. But while it pales in comparison to the stunning Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel it is still a… Great read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite of Du Maurier’s novels?

This also ticked off a title with a nationality in it for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (5/6)

New Read: The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions

At the beginning of last year, I enjoyed reading The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller as an escape from the bitterly cold and dreary weather of February. So, later in the year, when the cold weather returned in December, I reached for The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions, the second book in Miller’s epic fantasy trilogy.

This book kicks off exactly where the last finished. The dark lord, Rectar’s demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum and now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow. So the Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem… Castallan, the traitorous wizard, has declared himself King of Humans from his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all costs.

All the while I continued to feel for Danuir – balancing the strength and authority of his former self, with the fairness and humility of his current reincarnation – as he battles to bring the Three Races together. Knowing that to face the double threat of Rectar and Castallan, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices undermine his best efforts, again and again. It’s bad enough fighting the endless succession of Rectar’s mindless demons and Castallan’s super, red-eyed humans, let alone dealing with infighting with your own allies. I could’ve totally understood him giving up, but to his ultimate credit he doesn’t!

In a new thread to the story, Danuir puts his new passion for unity into practice. Sending his old, hunter friend, Garon in charge of an army of the Three Races to aid the Kazzek Trolls, who find their home in the Highlands besieged by Rectar’s demons. The poor trolls have been largely ignored by the humans and villainised by the fairies for generations, so Danuir’s choice is controversial. However, I for one am very pleased, because I loved this thread and the trolls! As with the dragons, Miller has put his own twist on them: having them as hairy giants with tusks – rightly or wrongly, I pictured them as similar to the common image of the Yeti!

After the bloody, last battle in the first book, it is cheering to have new characters to root for, but to also see the return of familiar faces too. Including, Danuir’s old friends, the wizard, Brackendon and human hunters, Ballack and Garon; Blaine, the Guardian of Tenalp; the shape-shifting witch, Kymethra, and the imprisoned princess, Cassandra. However they now find themselves scattered across the land – having their own trials and adventures – as the continued war pulls them off in different directions. Which gives us, the reader, the chance to see more places and different perspectives.

So, overall, I thought The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions was another extremely fun, fantasy adventure, that again helped me to escape from the miserable weather. Now I just need to know how it ends! Fortunately, I believe the third and final book will be available later this year. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or any of the other books in the trilogy?

New Read: Zombie, An Anthology of the Undead

Last year, for the What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, the tricky category of ‘a title that begins with Z’ gave me the push I needed to finally pick up the short story collection, Zombie, An Anthology of the Undead edited by Christopher Golden. Which came highly recommended by my dad, but I have been putting off because horror really isn’t my favourite genre.

However they do say it is good to get out of your comfort zone now and again, don’t they? And I am pleased I eventually read this collection as I found it to be an interesting mixture of nineteen zombie tales from an eclectic array of popular horror, fantasy, thriller and literary authors. While there were perhaps some stories that were just a little too distressing or horrific for my taste, there were plenty more I enjoyed and I can’t knock any of the stories for the quality of writing.

My particular favourites were: In the Dust by Tim Lebbon, about three survivors of an outbreak now imprisoned in a quarantined town; Family Business by Jonathan Maberry, a poignant drama about two brothers in a post apocalyptic world; and Life Sentence by Kelley Armstrong, that sees a rich businessman willing to do anything to discover immortality. As well as Delice by Holly Newstein, a revenge tale of voodoo reanimation; Ghost Trap by Rick Hautala, about the eerie discovery of a body by a diver; and The Storm Door by Tad Williams, a creepy, noir mystery of possession.

Those I didn’t particularly enjoy were: What Maisie Knew by David Liss, about reanimated people being used as slaves, and Kids and Their Toys by James A. Moore, a twisted tale of a group of boys playing with a dead man, because they were simply too graphic and disturbing for me. Also Copper by Stephen R. Bissette, about a gang of the dead raiding the homes of the living, or I think that was what it was about, because I found the style of the story hard to follow. Similarly, Among Us by Aimee Bender, which I still have no idea what it was meant to be about.

While not making it into my favourites, the other nine stories: Lazarus by John Connolly, The Wind Cries Mary by Brian Keene, The Zombie Who Fell from the Sky by M. B. Homler, My Dolly by Derek Nikitas, Second Wind by Mike Carey, Closure, Limited by Max Brooks, Shooting Pool by Joe R. Lansdale, Weaponized by David Wellington and Twittering from the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill were all enjoyable in different ways.

Overall, I thought Zombie, An Anthology of the Undead was a well chosen collection of zombie inspired tales to dip in and out of, which I think has something for everybody to enjoy, including big wimps like me! Good read.

Have you read this collection? Or any of the authors featured in it?

This also ticked off a title that begins with Z category for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (4/6)

Top Ten Tuesday: My Top 10… New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

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

New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

Last year, I was again blessed to read and enjoy many new-to-me authors, especially through my church’s book club. Here are the ten new-to-me authors I liked the most from the year:

  1. Anne Brontë – Anne’s beautifully written The Tenant of Wildfell Hall showed me that she is a worthy equal to her older, better known sisters.
  2. Nabeel Qureshi – My first read of the year for my church’s book club was his eye-opening, international bestseller, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.
  3. Brother Andrew – While my May read for my church’s book club was Andrew’s truly inspiring and thrilling memoir, God’s Smuggler.
  4. Snorri Kristjansson – Perfect for the darker, cooler days of autumn was Kristjansson’s excellent, debut Viking murder mystery, Kin.
  5. Peter Bartram – I loved escaping back into Bartram’s nostalgic mysteries, Headline Murder and Stop Press Murder set in 1960’s Brighton.
  6. Michael R. Miller – More fun, escapist reading came in The Reborn King and Veiled Intentions, from the epic fantasy series, The Dragon’s Blade.
  7. Mingmei Yip – While I travelled back in time to China of the 1900s, with Yip’s exotic, historical fiction, Peach Blossom Pavilion.
  8. Lee Strobel – My church’s book club read for February was Strobel’s The Case for Grace, a compelling collection of inspiring stories.
  9. Christopher Nicole – The first book in Nicole’s historical saga, Eleanor of Aquitaine was a gripping historical soap opera for the start of summer.
  10. John Bunyan – It might have been hard going at times, but Bunyan’s classic allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress was a rewarding read.

Have you read any of my choices? What new-to-you authors did you read in 2018? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

New Read: The Pilgrim’s Progress

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. Back in October we read and met to discuss The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Next up was the classic, Christian allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which I put onto my new Classics Club list as soon as I found out we would be tackling it.

Part 1, published in 1678, follows Christian, an everyman, who leaves behind his home, wife and children in the City of Destruction to make the perilous journey to the Celestial City. Along the way he faces many trials, tribulations, monsters and spiritual terrors, as he travels through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Doubting Castle and the Delectable Mountains. His pilgrimage is hindered by characters such as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative and Ignorance, but he is also supported by Evangelist and his travelling companions, Hopeful then Faithful.

All of which is surreally presented as a dream sequence narrated by Bunyan as an omniscient narrator: giving him the power to observe all, but powerless to help. There is no arguing with the content, characters and wisdom in this enormously influential classic – which has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print – but I did struggle with the style and flow. I found it a bit jerky and I often found I had to go back and re-read sections to fully understand what was being said.

However I found Part 2, published in 1684, a much easier and quicker read. In this second part, Bunyan follows the subsequent pilgrimage of Christian’s wife, Christiana, their sons and their maidenly neighbour, Mercy. They journey to all the stopping points Christian visited, but they take a longer time as the sons marry, have children and their party grows. They are also guided by the brave hero, Greatheart, who along the way slays four giants and a monster named Legion, that have been terrorising pilgrims.

This second part grabbed me instantly and flowed much better, especially as it has a more natural time frame for the journey – akin to a Christian’s life span. I was fascinated to see Bunyan express some very ‘modern’ thoughts and ideas through out this second pilgrimage too. First in his choice of a female pilgrim, but also in his portrayal and discussion of the important role women have in bringing people to and nurturing faith. I enjoyed it so much, that I actually finished this part in less than half the time the first part had taken me.

So, overall, I was left feeling a little confused about how I felt about this book, with the big difference I experienced between Part 1 and 2. It was not till after my church’s book club eventually met, last week, to discuss this, that I saw in hindsight how much more I enjoyed this than I initially thought. We discussed our struggles with Part 1; our preferment for Part 2 and our universal love of Bunyan’s emblematic characters – many of which are characters you can find in life today. And the general consensus was that the content was great, even if the style and language was problematic.

All in all then, I found The Pilgrim’s Progress to be a clever allegorical look at 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, and this is a book I feel with benefit from re-reading. Good read.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any other classic Christian books?

This is book 5/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.