Challenge: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII

September is almost upon us and that means it’s time for one of my favourite reading events: Readers Imbibing Peril, this year hosted by Heather of My Capricious Life. As much as I have loved the glorious summer we have enjoyed here in the UK, now I am ready for autumn and all the small pleasures it brings: golden leaves, darker nights, woolly tights, comfy boots and curling up in a blanket to enjoy something suitably mysterious and comforting. The latter of which is exactly what R.I.P is all about!

The idea of this event is to spend September and October reading books from the following categories:

Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror and Supernatural.

There are also different levels of participation to choose from, including a one-book option for those readers who don’t want to commit to too much. As usual, I am signing up for Peril the First, which means:

‘Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between’

With a quick glance over my bookshelves and in my Kindle’s to-be-read folder here are some of the books I could read:

  • A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King – The next instalment in King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery series.
  • Zombie edited by Christopher Golden – A collection of short, horror stories, that will also be perfect for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, as a title that begins with Z.
  • A Gathering of Ghosts by Karen Maitland – After being suitably chilled by The Raven’s Head and The Plague Charmer, I am looking forward to Maitland’s newest dark historical fiction.
  • Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton – The next book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series.
  • Kin by Snorri Kristjansson – This has been described as a dark, intense and compelling Viking mystery. Exciting!
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – I have long wanted to read this classic off my Classics Club II list, which is hailed as the first detective novel.
  • The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley – Recommended by my dad, I am intrigued by the premise for this modern gothic horror, with its old house and desolate coastline setting.
  • Stop Press Murder by Peter Bartram – After enjoying Bartram’s nostalgic mystery, Headline Murder I am looking forward to the next in the series.

It is highly unlikely I would ever read all these books and I am not restricting myself exclusively to these books either, however I do love making a list of possibles! See you back at the end of October to discuss what I actually read.

Are you taking part in the event this year? What are you hoping to read? Out of my possibles what do you think I should read?

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New Read: Charles II

All the way back in March, I picked up the weighty Charles II, Biography of an Infamous King by new-to-me author John Miller (originally published in 1991), a republication of which I snapped up for free via Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter. I dipped in and out of this hefty tome over several months – Finally completing it at the end of July.

In this biography, based on extensive research in the UK, France and the US, Miller delves into the age in which Charles lived and unravels Charles’ complicated and often contradictory personality. On one hand he is seen as a shrewd, intelligent and resourceful king, but on the other hand as a man of great indolence, indulgence and frivolity. Miller suggests that, while Charles was intelligent, his impatience with administrative protocol and a certain weakness of character, made it easy for others to manipulate him. Also that perhaps much of his indolence was only a façade to buy him time to vacillate over important decisions and to lull his detractors.

To understand him better we need to look at the time period. Between 1642-1651 the land was ripped apart by the English Civil War that resulted in his father, Charles I being deposed and executed in 1649. Which forced Charles into nine years of exile. After the death of Oliver Cromwell, Charles was invited back and the monarchy restored in 1660. However his experience of the wars left him indecisive – vacillating uncertainly between policies as he tried to please everybody. It also left him reluctant to trust his subjects and led him into policies which seriously damaged the good will of his people.

Now this wasn’t really the read I was expecting. From the subtitle ‘Biography of an Infamous King’ I was looking forward to the juicy details of Charles’ many mistresses… but there is none of that! Instead this is a purely political biography. Told through long, detailed tracts of the numerous bills, acts and declarations that were discussed, argued, passed and thrown out by parliament. Including the Act of Uniformity (to conform the English Church), the Test Act (to prevent Catholics holding office) and the defeated Exclusion Bill (to exclude Charles’ brother James from the throne).

So very like Charles himself, I slowly struggled through swathes of minute political detail – I had little interest in – to find those impressive gems of historical fact and insight that I craved. Fortunately Charles and I did manage to reach the end. In his last few years, Charles did find some resolution, defeated his enemies and left the Stuart monarchy more powerful than it had ever been before or after. While I was left feeling I had really accomplished something and gained a new understanding of a much (I feel a little unfairly) disregarded king.

Overall Charles II, Biography of an Infamous King is an extremely detailed and an impeccably well researched political history. The only problem was a political history wasn’t really what I wanted. However if politics is your cup of tea, you might love this. Okay read.

Have you read this? Can you recommend a personal history of Charles II?

New Books: July & August 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I have another combined post here for you. Over the last month and a half, here are the new books I have got my hands on:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

In July, at the end of the school year, I helped to re-organise and clear out the school library. Where sadly there were too many sets of older books, which have either been dropped out of the curriculum or there just isn’t enough time in the year to fit in. So I snuffled up a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book I haven’t read since I was in school, before it was thrown out!

Stop Press Murder by Peter Bartram

Earlier this year, I enjoyed Bartram’s nostalgic murder mystery, Headline Murder, so I was thrilled to be contacted by the author and offered a copy of the next book in the series, Stop Press Murder.

The Carnival of Florence by Marjorie Bowen

Finally, through Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter, I got a free copy of historical fiction The Carnival of Florence by Marjorie Bowen, an author I haven’t read but who I have heard very good things about.

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

New Read: Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia

After I enjoyed the swashbuckling classic, Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Italian author Emilio Salgari, last year, I was thrilled to be offered the chance to read another, Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia, by its translator Nico Lorenzutti. First published in 1896 this edition was translated by Lorenzutti in 2007.

Some years after the last adventure and the destruction of their home, Sandokan, the feared ‘Tiger of Malaysia’; his faithful friend Yanez and his loyal band of rebel pirates are back with a vengeance. On one such raid, Yanez spares the life of a young Indian man, Kammamuri, who is attempting to rescues his poor master, Tremal-Naik, who has been wrongfully sentenced to life in a notorious British penal colony. Kammamuri enlists the help of Sandokan and Yanez, but in order to succeed they must lead their men against the forces of James Brooke, ‘The Exterminator’, the dreaded White Rajah of Sarawak.

It was great fun to be re-united with our righteously angry, princely pirate Sandokan and his friend, my personal favourite, Yanez, the charming Portuguese adventurer. However it was sad to learn that Marianna, ‘The Pearl of Labuan’, the woman Sandokan moved heaven and earth to possess, has tragically died in the few intervening years. But this does help to show a softer, more human side to Sandokan, especially when he discovers that Kammamuri has in his protection his master’s fiancée Ada Corishant; who is the very image of her beautiful cousin… Sandokan’s very own, dear Marianna!

Sadly Ada plays an equally small, passive role in the adventure, as Marianna did in the previous book. However Ada is by far a more interesting character: having been snatched from her father and fiancée in India by the terrible Thuggee cult. This shocking event and the violence she witnesses during her time with them have shockingly sent her quite mad, which is the main reason she plays such an understandably passive role. Seeing the sad state this beautiful, young woman has been brought to only resolves Sandokan and his pirates to see her fiancée, Tremal-Naik free and reunited with her.

While it was nice to have a more interesting female character and through her a more touching, realistic romance, what I really picked this book up for was adventure! And boy did Salgari deliver more of that! With battles at sea, deadly traps, shipwrecks, cannibals, jungle hideouts and a fetid convict ship, Salgari takes us on another fast paced, roller coaster ride. Also Lorenzutti’s translation is so smooth and seamless it means we never miss a beat or flow of the all the twists and turns.

Overall, I thought Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia was another rip-roaring adventure (with a touch of romance) that swept me back in time and across the seas. I look forward to reading more by this author. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or any of Sandokan’s other adventures?

This is also book 3/50 off my Classics Club II list.

New Read: Sourcery

A few years ago now, I started to work my way through the books from Terry Pratchett’s epic Discworld series, which my father and I already own or as we get our hands on them. My last foray into this series was the Egyptian-inspired Pyramids, however for my next read I had to go back a little in the series. After getting my hands on a copy of Sourcery, the fourth published Discworld novel, last year.

In Sourcery, we return to Pratchett’s magic, weird and fantastical Discworld, as summer thunder rolls over sandy cliffs and the banished Ipslore the Red sits among the sea grasses, with his baby son, Coin awaiting Death. Now Ipslore was the eighth son of an eighth son, so, quite naturally, he was a wizard. But quite unnaturally he went and had seven sons, and then he had Coin: an eighth son… a wizard squared… a source of magic… a Sourcerer! Fast forward a few years to Coin – now an extremely powerful little boy – as he and his enchanted staff arrive at the Unseen University. Creating chaos as pure, raw magic flows from him into the old fusty wizards and building.

What ensues is the upheaval of the old, the traditional, the normal! As through the staff Ipslore controls Coin to enact revenge over the wizards, that banished him, and the world, which has side-lined magic as irrelevant. In steps Rincewind, an insufferably inept wizard and his fiercely loyal but maniacal Luggage to the rather reluctant rescue! (For those who don’t know, the Luggage is a large, iron-bound chest made of magical Sapient Pearwood, which has legs and can move very fast if the need arises). They are joined by the beautiful but deadly Conina, daughter of Conan the Barbarian in a hair-brain scheme led by a hat to save the world. Yes, I said a hat!

I love Terry Pratchett and this is now my tenth Discworld novel I have read. It is the fourth instalment in the series, first published back in 1988 (a great year). However this is a series I don’t feel you necessarily have to read in order, as the stories often follow various different groups of characters. In this case we see the return of old favourites Rincewind, the Luggage and the banana loving Librarian, as well as a host of new, colourful characters. So while I don’t think this is perhaps the funniest or most memorable of those I have read, there is definitely something here for existing, diehard Discworld fans and new readers alike.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sourcery by Terry Pratchett. Although not one of my favourites from the series, it is another slice of madcap, fantasy fun, which helped me relax and escape the madness of the end of term at work. I look forward to reading more and I have plenty to choose from on my TBR. Good read.

Have you read this? What other Discworld novels have you read?

This is book 3/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Holiday to Norway 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, you may have noticed it went very quiet around here at the end of July/beginning of August. That was mainly due to the crazy wind-down to the school year, after which I almost immediately jetted off for a holiday in one of my dream destinations: Norway. I had an absolutely amazing time, so I thought I would share with you some of my photos and what I got up to.

Day 1: A very early flight got us into the beautiful city of Stavanger with plenty of time to soak up the dazzling sun and the atmosphere of the Tall Ship Festival. As well as enjoying a spot of lunch and exploring the historic old town, with its traditional, white timber homes. We then hopped on our coach for the long, scenic drive to our accommodation on the shore of Skanevikfjord.

Day 2: This day temperatures peaked at 35º Celsius, so the planned hike was cancelled and we were left with a free day. A group of us spent the day sun bathing on our accommodation’s jetty, swimming in the fjord and canoeing round the small nearby island.

Day 3: We got up early and travelled for a full day at the Norwegian History Museum to learn about those fascinating Viking kings. Whilst there we had the chance to dress up in traditional clothes (I just had to) and to visit a replica Viking farm, which was complete with long house, herb garden, boat house, round house and other smaller buildings. On the way back we also stopped off for a short break at a monument to King Harald Fairhair.

Day 4: As it was Sunday, the owner of our accommodation showed us around the local prayer house and wooden church, and we then stayed for the late morning service at the church (the priest kindly translated bits into English for us). The afternoon was ours to again enjoy the sun and gorgeous scenery.

Day 5: We got up early and travelled by coach and ferry for a full day hiking up to a stunning view of the Folgefonna Glacier. Some people were even brave enough to take a dip in the glacier lake! On the journey back we also stopped off at several breath-taking waterfalls and the small town of Odda, which is apparently the ugliest town in Norway but I thought it was lovely!

Day 6: After five days of glorious sunshine, with temperatures well over average, the heavens finally opened and we were treated to an almighty thunder-storm! So I spent the day in the accommodation’s lounge, with views on three sides, curled up with a cup of tea and several good books.

Day 7: We got up early and travelled by coach for a full day on the island of Karmøy. First we spent the morning in the historic fishing town of Skudeneshavn on the southern tip of the island. We enjoyed the sea views, walked around the traditional, white timber homes, stopped for tea and cake, and went in the town’s lovely little museum. Then, we spent a chilled afternoon on Åkrehamn beach.

Day 8: Sadly we packed, took our leave of our wonderful hosts and for the last time hopped on our coach for the long, scenic drive to Norway’s second city, Bergen. Where we took a trip up on the Fløibanen funicular to an amazing viewing point. Then enjoyed a mooch around the shops, fish market and sights, although it did begin to rain. Finally we caught an early evening flight back home.

Have you been to Norway? Where have/are you travelling this summer?

New Read: The Return of the Prodigal Son

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. In June, we read and discussed Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. The group takes a break over summer, but I thought I would get ahead by reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen; believing it had replaced But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing as our September book… however it turns out the books have been switched back round! Oh well – I had almost finished this when I found out and I still have plenty of time to read Orr-Ewing’s book as well before our meeting in September.

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, the bestselling writer and pastor, Henri Nouwen chronicles how a chance encounter with a poster of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, catapulted him into a long spiritual adventure. That saw him making a pilgrimage to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to see the original in the flesh and undertaking deep, personal meditation; that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

Inspired by Rembrandt’s powerful depiction of the Gospel story, Nouwen probed the several elements to the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s resentment and the father’s compassion. Broken down into three parts with three short chapters each, Nouwen describes and discusses concisely each element and how he feels about them. With this lay out it meant I was able to take my time and easily dip in and out of this book, which gave me plenty of time to think and reflect.

The themes of homecoming, affirmation and reconciliation contained in this book will resonate with all of us who have ever experienced loneliness, dejection, jealousy or anger. I was also interested in how Nouwen felt that he and many of us have probably been both the younger and elder son at some point in our lives; even if you initially feel sympathy for one or the other. But the point is not which son we are, instead the challenge is to be able to love like the father and to be loved as the son, which Nouwen believed was the ultimate revelation of this parable.

Overall I thought The Return of the Prodigal Son was an inspiring guide that helped me to look at this well-known parable with fresh eyes, and I think it should make for an interesting discussion point. My church’s book club should meet sometime in October to discuss this – I think I will repost this review then, with the extra thoughts from the group for you. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri Nouwen?

I am also including this book towards my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, as a title with the word ‘the’ used twice (3/6).