Goodbye September, Hello October 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are well? In the last week, our Indian summer ended and it has really started to feel like autumn now. So I have dug out my cosy boots, woolly tights and extensive scarf collection. I have also made a good start at my new job and I enjoyed seeing historian Lucy Worsley do a fascinating talk on Queen Victoria. During the month, here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 2          Non-Fiction: 1

I got the month and the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading event off to a great start with the spooky Cauldstane by Linda Gillard, which swept me off to Scottish Highlands for romance, drama, mystery and ghouls! I can’t believe I have waited this long to read this! Then I continued my R.I.P reading with another nostalgic mystery, Stop Press Murder by Peter Bartram, the second book to follow journalist Colin Crampton’s investigations back in 1960s Brighton. Alongside these fictions, I also re-read Christian non-fiction, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen in preparation for my church’s book club meeting, later this week.

Pick of the Month: Cauldstane

Altogether that is three books finished, which is sadly half of what I read in August. However it is probably a good thing when it comes to my reviews, as I am still behind! So my full thoughts on all of my reads this month are still to be posted about. I am also very close to finishing a re-read of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the second book in her thrilling YA trilogy.

In October, I look forward to going to see TV presenter Neil Oliver do a talk on the story of the British Isles and a belated birthday trip to Warner Bros, Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter. As well as continuing my R.I.P reading whilst snuggled up in a blanket with copious amounts of hot chocolate as the nights draw in.

What did you do and read in September? What are your plans for October?


New Read: The Enchanted Castle

Back in June, I found myself craving a lighter classic to continue my Classics Club challenge. So I reached for The Enchanted Castle by E Nesbit, a lesser known example of Nesbit’s many classic children’s novels, that was first published in 1907. I adore her best known work, The Railway Children and I also really enjoyed Five Children and It and the other books in her magical Psammead series, which meant I had high expectations for this.

Similar to the Psammead series, The Enchanted Castle starts with a group of Edwardian children being, rather improbably, left to their own devices. In this case the children are siblings Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy, who find themselves stuck at school over the summer holidays, with only the French governess and the maid, after a measles outbreak at home. Determined not to let this ruin their summer, Jerry sweet-talks the adults into allowing them to set off alone, with a picnic, for a jolly good adventure. Where upon they stumble across a mysterious castle with a beautiful princess asleep in the garden.

Once they awake the princess, she takes them on a tour of the castle and tells them it is full of magic, and they almost believe her, but Jimmy, and myself, immediately think something seems fishy. It is only when the magic ring she is showing them really turns her invisible and she gets stuck that way, that she panics and admits she is really the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, and was just playing! What follows is a rather hodge-podge mix of adventures as the children try to get Mabel out of trouble and along the way discover the many other magical powers the ring possesses.

The fantastical scrapes and delights the children get themselves into due to careless wishes, is all very reminiscent of those in Five Children and It. But for me it just wasn’t half as much fun with them just wishing while wearing the ring, then it was having to go visit the wonderfully cantankerous sand-fairy, ‘It’! Some great fun was still had though, as they caught thieves whilst invisible; frolicked with statues by night and brought inanimate objects to life. However, due to the nature of the ring randomly granting wishes, the story hopped around a fair bit and so didn’t seem to flow as well as previous Nesbit stories I have enjoyed.

As for the children, there was the charming Gerald (Jerry), the no-flies-on-me Jimmy and the girls – I say the girls because sadly Cathy and Mabel were too similar and often blended into one for me. A bit of a let down when I think of the believable and endearing characters of Roberta, Phyllis and Peter in The Railway Children. On the other hand, I had a similar complaint about the children being rather one-dimensional in Five Children and It too, but then that book had the larger-than-life ‘It’ to save the day! All in all, Jerry, Jimmy and the girls were a sweet, but forgettable group of children to read about.

Overall, The Enchanted Castle 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. I still look forward to reading more by Nesbit – Maybe I should try some of her books for adults next? Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Nesbit? Could you recommend one of her adult novels?

This is book 4/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10… Books TBR By My Favourite Authors

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:

Books By My Favourite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read

With one of my goals this year to make more time to read books by my favourite authors, this is a perfect topic for me. In no particular order, here are the top ten books by my favourite authors I have yet to read:

  1. The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley – Many of fellow Kearsley fans have named this as their favourite of her wonderful dual narrative novels.
  2. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier – Historical fiction set during Charles II’s reign, where an English lady falls in love with a French pirate.
  3. Lady Susan by Jane Austen – Having enjoyed all of Austen’s full length novels, I keep forgetting this shorter work posthumously published.
  4. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis – A collection of Lewis’s reflections on his painful bereavement following the death of his wife, Joy in 1960.
  5. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens – I hope this will be my next Dickens’ read, after enjoying the BBC’s 2008 adaptation some years ago now.
  6. Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien – I would love to read this but I am not sure I will ever be brave enough to read this dense Middle Earth history.
  7. Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien – This is the newest historical fiction from O’Brien, one of my go-to authors for my historical fix.
  8. The Trysting Tree by Linda Gillard – Bitter-sweetly I look forward to reading this, the last of Gillard’s moving women’s fiction on my Kindle.
  9. Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir – After loving the first two books in Weir’s epic Six Tudor Queens, I look forward to more.
  10. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett – Finally, I don’t think this list would be complete without an instalment in Pratchett’s fantastical Discworld.

Have you read any of my choices? What books by your favourite authors do you have to read? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

New Read: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession

Back in March, I started reading Six Tudor Queens, an ambitious six-book series from bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir, in which each novel chronicles the lives of each of Henry VIII’s six wives. After being captivated by the opening volume, Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, I didn’t wait long to pick up the next volume, Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession.

In this unforgettable second volume, Weir takes us back to 1512 to start the ill-fated tale of Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second, bewitching wife. Who at just 11-years-old was sent by her opportunistic father, Thomas Boleyn, a minor but ambitious English lord, to serve at the royal court of the Netherlands. There, and later in the French court, Anne thrives: absorbing progressive ideas, learning the art of courtly love and adopting the French fashion. So when in 1522 Anne makes her debut at the English court, to serve upon Queen Katherine, wife of Henry VIII, she causes quite a stir and inadvertently catches the eye of the King; and when the King commands it is not a game!

I really sympathised with Anne as she finds her hopes of a love match with Henry Percy dashed and instead finds herself hounded by the King to become his mistress. She desperately spurns his advances – after seeing how he pursued and discarded her sister, Mary – but Henry will not take no for an answer. In fact her rejection only intensifies Henry’s pursuit, and finally with an aging Queen Katherine and no male heir, Henry proposes marriage. Though she feels no real affection for him, the opportunity to elevate the Boleyn family and to take revenge on her enemies, is too great for her to resist.

I have always admired Anne for standing strong and for her part in the religious reforms, including Bibles in English. However, in this novel, Weir also shows a side to Anne I didn’t like. As the years drag by waiting for Henry’s divorce to be finalised, she becomes bitter, spiteful and cruel – pushing Henry to ever harsher treatment of her kind, former mistress Katherine, their innocent child Mary and their supporters. Once married things do not improve either, as Anne finds herself under immense pressure after failing to produce the longed-for son and her feisty, independent attributes Henry formerly admired rail him in a wife.

Ultimately though, Weir had me on the verge of tears again as Anne bravely met her violent and, I feel, unjust end. In bringing this emotional-rollercoaster of a story alive, Weir has kept closely to historical records, but taken some dramatic licence to flesh out minor characters and fill in any gaps. As in the previous book, Weir’s research and imagination meld seamlessly to create a completely believable tale – and perhaps a more balanced portrayal of Anne. So through her eyes it really feels like you are there in the lost Tudor world of splendour, power, ambition, courtly love and danger; as well as gaining a glimpse of the enlightened Dutch court and the glamorous French court too.

Overall, I thought Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession was a powerful, gripping tale of an intelligent and ambitious woman, who was the victim of a restrictive and dangerous time. While Weir didn’t make me like Anne as much as Katherine, the one person who is really coming out of this series looking bad is Henry! I can’t wait to read volume three: Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen next. 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 any of Alison Weir’s other novels?

This was also book 7/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

New Read: Seven Sovereign Queens

After reading Seven Stages by Geoffrey Trease, a fascinating history of seven influential figures from the stage, which was one of my favourite reads of 2017, I was very keen to read more by this author. So I eagerly snapped up, from Endeavour Press, two more republications of Trease’s histories: Seven Kings of England, that I read earlier this year, and Seven Sovereign Queens.

Like the other two histories I have read by Trease, Seven Sovereign Queens (originally published in 1968) is broken up into seven short, detailed biographies of seven famous queens and empresses in world history: Cleopatra (51-30 BC); Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni (c.60-61 AD); Galla Placidia, the Empress of the West (423-437 AD); Isabella of Spain (1474-1504); Christina of Sweden (1632-1654); Maria Theresa, the Empress-Queen (1740-1780) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796). All of which have been expertly chosen by Trease, not only for their historical importance, but also for their dramatic personalities and their intriguing personal lives.

Another expansive history that took me on an interesting adventure in time and across the world, through the lives of these seven impressive rulers and fascinating women: from Cleopatra in Ancient Egypt to Catherine the Great in 18th century Russia. Before reading this I was familiar with Cleopatra, Boudicca, Isabella, Maria Theresa and Catherine. In fact, disappointingly I knew more than these brief biographies offered on Cleopatra and Catherine, but it was good to find out more about Boudicca, Isabella and Maria Theresa. The chapters that really grabbed me though were on Galla Placidia and Christina of Sweden, because they were rulers I knew nothing about before.

So while I still found this an interesting read, I sadly didn’t love it as much as Seven Stages, and that is simply down to the fact that this didn’t teach me as many new things. However I was still extremely impressed with the quality of Trease’s content, research, detail and layout, with a great balance between the academic detail and the easy readable style and language – Again, if I hadn’t already known it was published back in 1968, I could have easily believed this was published only this year! Kirkus’ quote on the front cover says, “Historical information written in the conversational tone associated with pleasurable reading” and I couldn’t agree more!

Overall, I thought Seven Sovereign Queens was an interesting and engaging history of seven stand-out female world rulers – an easy and quick read which I devoured in only a few sittings. While I didn’t quite enjoy this or Seven Kings of England as much as Seven Stages, I do still look forward to reading more by Geoffrey Trease. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other histories of these queens?

This was also book 6/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10… Books on My Autumn TBR

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:

Books On My Autumn 2018 TBR

There are many wonderful books awaiting me on my bookshelf and Kindle, however here are ten books, ordered alphabetically, I am looking forward to reading this autumn, with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril reading event in mind:

  1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan – This classic Christian allegory is my November read for my church’s book club.
  2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – I look forward to continuing my re-read of this thrilling YA trilogy.
  3. Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell – This set of fictional biographies of famous chefs through the ages sounds fascinating.
  4. Theatre Royal by Michael Coren – After loving another theatre history from this publisher, I have high hopes for this one too.
  5. Zombie edited by Christopher Golden – A horror, short story collection that will be perfect for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge.
  6. The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory – After loving The Red Queen, I look forward to continuing Gregory’s popular Cousins’ War series.
  7. A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King – I think it is high time to read more from King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery series.
  8. Kin by Snorri Kristjansson – A dark, intense and compelling Viking murder mystery which I am super excited about reading.
  9. A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland – After reading The Plague Charmer, I am looking forward to Maitland’s newest dark historical fiction.
  10. The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions by Michael R. Miller – After reading The Reborn King, I look forward to continuing Miller’s fantasy trilogy.

Have you read any of my choices? What books are on your autumn TBR? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

Cookbooks: August – September 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms and foodies, in the last month or so of summer here are the new recipes I have tried:

Spinach and Rice Stuffed Tomatoes
Plant Based Cookbook by Trish Sebben-Krupka
Vegetables – Page 141

When I came home from my uncle’s farm with some of his home-grown large, juicy beef tomatoes I just had to try this recipe. Which had me stuffing them with a cheesy rice, spinach and pine nuts filling and then baking them until they were tender and sweet. Simply served with a large, dressed green salad this made for the perfect taste of summer. Great recipe.

Marinated Fish With Stir-Fried Greens
The Hairy Dieters (4) Fast Food by Si King & Dave Myers
Fuller Faster – Page 94

I also came home with a home-grown cabbage from my uncle’s which was stir-fried with spring onions, green pepper and chilli, to accompany fresh salmon fillets cooked in a sticky Chinese style marinade. A refreshing, tasty new take on fish and greens, but I did also need to cook some rice to serve with it, because this wouldn’t have been filling enough for my family’s appetites otherwise! Good recipe.

Four Seasons Minestrone (Summer)
Super Food Family Classics by Jamie Oliver
Soups – Page 212

A recipe that makes use of beautiful seasonal veggies and guarantees you will get all of your 5-a-day portions with just one serving of this! On top of the basic soup base there are suggested veg for each season to top it up – I used baby artichokes, fresh tomatoes* and runner beans* (*brought back from my uncle’s farm). I enjoyed this seasonal take on this classic Italian soup and I look forward to trying the other seasons’ twists. Good recipe.

Pasta with Summer Vegetables and Parma Ham
The Hairy Dieters (3) Good Eating by Si King & Dave Myers
Comfort Classics – Page 112

This deliciously summery dish is made by gently cooking leek, asparagus, peas and runner beans in a light white wine and low-fat crème fraiche sauce. Then cooked pasta and ripped pieces of Parma ham are simply tossed in to finish it off. A super simple but super tasty pasta dish, which made for a refreshing change from the usual tomato-based pasta dishes. Great recipe.

Roasted Cod with Parma Ham and Peppers
The Hairy Dieters (1) by Si King & Dave Myers
One-Pan Dishes – Page 43

Another colourful one-tray meal which is easy to prep and even easier to cook. Consisting of cod fillets wrapped in parma ham, cooked nestled within a tray of roughly chopped peppers, courgettes and onion. I popped it in the oven and returned to a delicious, healthy family meal. However I did serve it with some boiled new potatoes, because this wouldn’t have been filling enough for my family’s appetites otherwise! Good recipe

That’s five new summery recipes tried altogether. I also remade the Co-op’s rich, spicy Summer Veg Pilaf and The Hairy Dieters’ gutsy Chilli Salad Bowls. Although I enjoyed our blistering summer, I am now looking forward to trying some new, comforting autumnal recipes.

Do you fancy any of these recipes?

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