New Read: Crazy Busy

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. Our last book was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, after which we took an extended break for Easter and the arrival of the vicar’s fourth bundle of joy! Fortunately while the vicar is still very busy someone else has stepped up to get the group back up and running, with our first book back being: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.

In Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem, the best-selling author, Kevin DeYoung rejects the modern day, crazy-busy lives we lead. With our long days of work, extended by emails at home; all our church activities and responsibilities; and phones, computers and other gadgets that keep us constantly connected and distracted. DeYoung argues that these lives of constant ‘busyness’ are far from what God intends for us and instead hopes to offer us the restful cure we are all in need, but have been too busy to find for ourselves.

As a senior pastor, a popular blogger and the author of several popular books, DeYoung brings warmth, humour, honesty and a life-time of experience to this book. Which at only 118 pages long with short, snappy chapters, it really is a mercifully short book and is ideal for reading in 5-10 minute bites. Each chapter discusses different elements and habits that may be causing unnecessary busyness in our lives for which DeYoung recommends what different actions and mindset could help cure them. Except for the chapter on children, I found all these chapters really helpful and insightful.

Overall, I found Crazy Busy to be a quick, down-to-earth and helpful read, from which there are many tips I will be taking forward to help lighten and de-stress my own life. My book club will be meeting to discuss this book later this month. Next month we will be reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you read anything else by Kevin DeYoung?

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New Read: Season of Storms

Mid-Autumn felt like the perfect time to pick up another of Susanna Kearsley’s wonderful mystery novels: Season of Storms. Kearsley is one of my favourite authors – I simply love how her writing style is so comforting and familiar for me, like a favourite jumper. Sadly though it has been over a year since I read my last of her novels: Named of the Dragon!

In the early 1900s, in the elegant and isolated villa Il Piacere, Italy, the playwright Galeazzo D’Ascanio is inspired to write his most stunning and original play, for the beautiful, English actress Celia Sands: his love and muse. However the night before she was to take to the stage in the leading role, Celia disappeared. Now, decades later, Alessandro D’Ascanio is preparing to stage his grandfather’s masterpiece, and another young, beautiful English actress, who shares Celia Sands’ name, has agreed to star. Within a theatre in the grounds of Il Piacere, not only will Galeazzo’s play come back to life but so will secrets and ghosts from the past.

Initially, our protagonist the ‘new’ Celia Sands is reluctant to take the job because she has long avoided using her famous name to boost her fledgling career. Instead she has been known as Celia Sullivan so as to make it in her own right; which you can only admire her for. She only agrees when she learns that this is to be her old friend, Rupert’s last directorial role before he retires. Rupert and his partner Brian have been surrogate parents to Celia since she was a small girl, while her glamorous actress mother has flitted from place to place and man to man. They are joined in the production by dashing stage manager Den O’Malley; the famous actress Madeleine Hedrick and the roguish actor Nicholas Rutherford (Madeleine’s lover).

As soon as Celia stepped into the large, decadent and labyrinthine villa Il Piacere, with its impeccable gardens; stunning lake views and its handsome, compelling and compassionate master, Alessandro, I was completely swept away! Even more so when its past secrets start resurfacing and though Celia knows she should let the past go, in the dark, as she dreams, it comes back none the less; as if the first Celia is reaching out to her. Again I think Kearsley has weaved a mystery full of history, theatrical details, stunning settings, and a touch of romance and the supernatural. My only niggle would be the end which was a little anticlimactic, however there is reason for there not being a grand reveal so it really is only a minor niggle.

Overall, I found Season of Storms to be a wonderfully immersive and gripping mystery, that took me away from the cold and wet of the UK. I really must not allow another year to go by before I read more by Kearsley, and there is no excuse to either as I have The Firebird on my to-be-read pile, as well as a new copy of, my favourite, The Rose Garden lined up for a re-read. Great read.

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

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 4/4

New Read: Assassination at Bayou Sauvage

After reading Blood on the Bayou by D. J. Donaldson last year, I was eager to read more from this series. So I was absolutely thrilled when I was offered a copy of Assassination at Bayou Sauvage back in April. (Although this is a series, it is suggested that these books can be enjoyed as stand alones too).

As we moved deeper into Autumn, I felt it was the perfect time to join chief medical examiner, Andy Broussard and criminal psychologist, Dr Kit Franklyn for another mystery in the colourful New Orleans. While Broussard is left reeling from the shocking shooting of his uncle Joe at a family picnic, Kit has to step up to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. Soon what seemed like two clear cut cases is thrown into doubt, as Kit’s first solo efforts soon lead back to the murder of Uncle Joe. Sensing the horrendous magnitude of this case, Broussard has to try to move past his emotions to help his colleagues and friends to uncover the truth before it’s too late!

Again Donaldson immediately drew me in and completely immersed me into this detailed, meticulous and graphic, although I felt it was never gratuitous, mystery. It was also great to reunite with Broussard and Kit, who already seem like old friends to me. Although the narration is still split evenly between these two protagonists, it definitely felt like this was more Kit’s investigation; who is temporarily deputized to help the NOPD cope with a work slow-down. This gives Kit the opportunity to really show what she can do intellectual, physically and mentally, as she is pushed to her limits by not just the case but also by the bullies who support the slow-down.

What I also really loved again was the setting – I have always had a fascination with the Deep South of the USA, especially after watching the first series of HBO’s True Detective, and these books play right into that. In fact, the setting almost becomes another character because it is that good and integral to the story. I thought Donaldson brilliantly brought to life the setting and totally made me feel like I was there: feeling it’s hot, humid weather; eating its delicious food; meeting the colourful, eclectic people; and travelling to the smaller communities out in the crocodile infested wetlands.

Overall, I found Assassination at Bayou Sauvage to be another deeply engrossing, audacious mystery which I loathed to put down and absolutely whipped through. I would definitely like to read more Broussard and Franklyn mysteries. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Or any other mysteries set in the Deep South?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 3/4

New Read: Queens of the Conquest

After receiving a copy of Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens 1066-1167  by Alison Weir back in July, I have been desperate to try this new non-fiction offering from one of the queens of history.

Even more exciting is this is the first volume in an epic new series, through which Weir hopes to strip away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to tell the real story of England’s medieval queens in the century after the Norman Conquest. It is a chronicle of love, power, marriage, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, and peopled with a cast of heroines, saints, villains, states women and lovers. This first volume covers the hugely influential figures and fascinating characters of the first five Norman queens, from Matilda of Flanders to the controversial Empress Maud.

Beginning with Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William I, who conquered England in 1066, and the mother of the future Henry I and William II. Moving on to Matilda of Scotland, the first wife of Henry I and the mother of Maud and William. Then Adeliza of Louvain, the second wife of Henry I who hoped for more children after the death of his heir William. Culminating in the turbulent period of ‘The Anarchy’ where we have two queens: Matilda of Boulogne, the wife of the usurper Stephen, and the Empress Maud, who claimed to be queen in her own right as the named heir of her father, Henry I.

I found all of these important women fascinating to read about, although inevitably the last section covering the strong, feisty Matilda of Boulogne and Maud was the most exciting for me. All of their lives Weir cleverly pieced together through accounts, letters and charters from the time, but due to the rarity of these primary sources Weir also pads things out with interesting facts about medieval life and detailed descriptions of castles, clothes and festivities. Also to add a more personal touch Weir speculates on how each queen may have felt in significant times in their lives in a balanced, clear way, so there is no confusion with the facts.

My only niggle would be that I don’t think Weir was completely successful in sweeping away all the prejudices of the time. I could definitely feel the negativity towards the Empress Maud – now I’m not saying she was a saint but I did feel sorry for her as nothing she seemed to do was right. While her contemporary Matilda of Boulogne’s equally hard actions were acceptable as she acted on behalf of a man: her husband Stephen. Unlike Maud who dared to act on her own account! No matter how balanced Weir appeared to make her descriptions I couldn’t help feel that she and history looked more favourably on Matilda.

Overall, I thought Queens of the Conquest was a fascinating history of the early Medieval queens – I definitely want to read the next volume when it comes out. 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 Weir’s other histories?

New Read: Resthaven

At the end of September, I decided to continue my Autumn themed reading for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII event with the young adult thriller Resthaven by Erik Therme; which had been on my Kindle for too long!

As the new kid in town, Kaylee feels isolated and awkward, so the last thing she wants to do is go to a sleepover with girls she barely knows, let alone likes. Things only get worse when it turns out the queen bee Jamie has arranged a scavenger hunt inside the old abandoned retirement home, Resthaven, which sits right on the edge of town. After an explosive argument the girls all split off separately around the dark empty building…but Kaylee soon discovers that they’re not alone and to top it off the front doors have been mysterious padlocked from the outside! Now Kaylee must find everyone and try to find another way out before it’s too late.

Our narrator Kaylee is joined on this disastrous scavenger hunt by the sensitive Anna, who invited her, the silent Wren, the ditzy Sidney and the bullying Jamie. The problem was I didn’t really like any of them! As stereotypical teenage girls they were all hormonal and seemed to take it in turns to be selfish, thoughtless, insensitive and downright hurtful to each other, including our heroine Kaylee. So sadly I can’t say I found myself rooting for any of them!

Fortunately, Therme has written a tight story with pacey action scenes, twists and turns, and an element of surprise or two. Therefore I certainly wasn’t left bored and I was drawn to keep reading to find out more. As we read on we also learn more of the back stories of each girl, which does help to explain their current behaviour and attitudes, even if it doesn’t completely justify them. Plus of course there is the other person/s in the locked building with them that adds tension, mystery and a real sense of danger.

So overall, shame about the characters but otherwise I thought Resthaven was an easy-to-read, fast paced, young adult thriller which I just zipped through. It was also a very good fit for the R.I.P event. Okay read.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else for the R.I.P event?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 2/4

New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

After enjoying four comforting re-reads, I was excited to read new-to-me Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M C Beaton, the fifth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. (If you are unfamiliar with this author and series you may instead want to read my thoughts on the first book: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death).

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin believes all her dreams are about to come true, as the morning of her marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. However before the service can be completed, Agatha’s presumed dead husband, Jimmy Raisin, turns up very much alive and kicking! In embarrassment James storms off and Agatha is left mortified. Things are only to get worse though, when Jimmy is discovered dead the next morning, Agatha and James are the prime suspects. So they will have to reluctantly work together again to catch the real murderer to clear their names.

Our formerly sharp, bossy and cajoling Agatha has reached her lowest point ever. Now embarrassed and heart sore she cares little for maintaining her usual immaculate appearance and strong outer persona, which in fact only makes her more endearing to the reader, her friends and secretly even James Lacey too. Personally not being a huge fan of the distant James, I wasn’t all that bothered when the marriage was stopped, but I was upset when the young Detective Sergeant Wong’s head is turned by the ambitious Detective Constable Maddie Hurd; who he believes is the one?! Fortunately, Mrs Bloxby is as steadfast and lovely as ever!

As with my re-reads, it was an absolute pleasure to return to the charming village of Carsely, but this time for an all new crime and a more personal although still rather eccentric and bumbling investigation with Agatha. I love a good murder mystery, however I don’t always want all that gore and gritty realism, which is when a cosy-crime like this is perfect. These aren’t ground breaking books, instead they are grab a mug of tea, curl up and simply enjoy kind of books. They are rapidly becoming my go-to-books for comfort.

Overall, I thought Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage was another quick, fun and comforting read. Next up is Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. Good read.

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

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 1/4

New Read: Watling Street

Back in May, I requested a copy of Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past by John Higgs because, living just off this ancient road, I was interested to learn more about it.

In this book, Higgs takes us on a journey along one of Britain’s oldest roads, from the White Cliffs of Dover to the Druid groves of Anglesey, which was long ago formed by the tramping of feet; straightened by the army of Rome and gained the name Watling Street in the Dark Ages. This has been a road of witches and ghosts, of queens and highwaymen, of history and myth, of Chaucer, Dickens and James Bond. Alongside it Boudicca met her end; the Battle of Bosworth was fought; the Nazi’s enigma code was broken at Bletchley Park and Capability Brown remodelled the English landscape.

Methodically, Higgs works his way up the road starting in London and stopping off at key points along the way to discuss the history of the area; the people who lived there and the culture that sprung up there. Each stop off is detailed and well described, but loose in structure as Higgs allows his thoughts and feelings to meander and grow. Which is great when it is a topic you enjoy, however I found it hard when he got into full flow on something I didn’t share his passion on.

I found the glimpse into the history, culture and characters of Canterbury, the infamous Tyburn, St Albans, Dunstable and Bletchley fascinating. On the other hand, I wasn’t very interested in the town planning of Milton Keynes; the street football game in Atherstone or the enthusing on life in London (not living there myself). So a real mixed bag! Sadly there was also no stop off in my own home town. In fact it only warranted one or two lines! While I learnt more about the rest of the road, I have to admit being extremely disappointed not to learn anything about my own piece of the road.

Overall though, I thought Watling Street by John Higgs was an interesting, if somewhat eccentric and meandering, exploration of the people, history and culture that has grown up along this ancient road. Okay 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 about Watling Street?