New Read: The Girl in the Glass Tower

In 2014, I read the fascinating The Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle, about the ill-fated Grey sisters, after which I was eager to read more of her work. It was earlier this year I got that chance when I received a copy of this, The Girl in the Glass Tower, Fremantle’s novel about the less well known Arbella Stuart, which was published just last year.

The Lady Arbella was the only child of Charles Stuart which made her, along with the Grey sisters, a possible contender for the English throne. Having been orphaned at a young age, Arbella is raised in comfort and privilege, with the very best education to prepare her to be queen, by her domineering maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cavendish (better known as ‘Bess of Hardwick’). However her royal blood is more a curse than a gift for Arbella, as she is forced to live cloistered away from the world behind the towering glass windows of Hardwick Hall. If she ever wishes to break free she must learn to navigate a treacherous game of power, intrigue and danger.

History has largely forgotten poor Arbella and it would seem her contemporaries also wrote her off as cold, aloof and mad! So I think it is wonderful that Fremantle chose to showcase her in this book. Fremantle paints Arbella as a clever, strong-willed, but naïve woman, who actually has a lot of passion and love just no one to share it with. And there is little wonder she may have grown to be cold, aloof and mentally unstable, when she had no family or true friends to speak of other than her grandmother. Now while her grandmother may have cared for and protected Arbella, heartbreakingly it was more as an investment rather than she had any true love for her.

Again Fremantle has delivered a well-written and believable glimpse into the intrigue and danger of the Elizabethan and early Stuart period in English history. Through Arbella we see a life within a gilded cage – in fact, Fremantle brings it to life so well I was often left feeling claustrophobic and hopeless; as I’m sure poor Arbella did too. Cleverly Fremantle has balanced this feeling by having a second narrator Ami (based on a court poet and mistress), who looks back on her old friend Arbella’s life by lovingly reading through her papers; which were thoughtlessly discarded after her death. While Ami does have her own troubles and is racked with guilt over her friend’s sad end, I felt she does offer a more hopeful and healthier perspective.

Overall, I thought The Girl in the Glass Tower was another fascinating read, that really grabbed at my heartstrings and had me truly invested in the lives of Arbella and Ami. I can’t wait to read more by Elizabeth Fremantle and it just so happens I have her 2014 novel Queen’s Gambit, about Katherine Parr, on my bookshelf! 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 anything else by Elizabeth Fremantle?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 9/10

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Re-Read: Northern Lights

Back in July, I re-read Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, after deciding this would be the year I would finally re-read Pullman’s ever popular trilogy: His Dark Materials. Scarily I believe it has to be more than ten years since I first read this wonderful series!

Among the scholars of Oxford’s Jordan College, the young orphan Lyra Belacqua has grown up wild and spirited. With her daemon Pan and best friend Roger, Lyra explores Jordan’s ancient buildings, scampers across the roofs, battles Gyptian kids and generally causes havoc around town; while all the time dodging lessons and wash time! However Lyra’s small world is to be blown apart by the imprisonment of her enigmatic Uncle Asriel, the kidnap of Roger by the feared “Gobblers” and the arrival of the beautiful Mrs Coulter. To rescue her uncle and friend, Lyra sets forth for the dangerous far North, with a rare truth-telling instrument, an alethiometer, as her guide.

It was a sheer joy to re-immerse myself back into this magical adventure with the headstrong Lyra; who is much braver than I would have been at her age! While at first this world may seem very similar to our own there are some significant differences. The most significant being that each human is joined with a sentient spirit, known as a daemon, which takes the form of an animal. As Lyra is still a child her daemon Pan can change form – at different times offering comfort as a snow ermine, lookout as a brown moth and protection as a wildcat. Also as we journey north, more fantastical elements emerge, including: witches and panserbjørne (armoured bears)!

The over-arching baddie to the piece is not a singular person but instead an institution: The Magisterium (more commonly known as ‘the Church’). The Magisterium is a zealously religious institution that wields immense power and influence over the land. Who can and will move swiftly to squash any person or idea that they deem to be heretical. This is the element of these books that shows Pullman’s Atheist views. I am a Christian but thankfully in this first instalment, I don’t find Pullman’s views in any way offensive or too overbearing. In fact, I can slightly sympathise with the negativity against an organised religion which is more interested in human-made rules rather than God.

Having now refreshed my memory with this re-read, the weaknesses of the 2007 film adaptation, The Golden Compass, are now more apparent to me. Which is a shame because after I got over my annoyance that they changed the title (it’s not a compass!!) I actually rather enjoyed the film. I thought it beautifully visualised the world and creatures, with great casting of Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra and Ian McKellan as the voice of Iorek Byrnison. Sadly though I was disappointed by the ending and now I can see even more clearly how the mystifying decision to stop a chapter short of the book’s ending took so much of the surprise, drama and power out of it. Such a shame.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Northern Lights and I look forward to re-reading the rest of the trilogy. Next up: The Subtle Knife. Great read.

Have you read this? Or watched the film adaptation?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 8/10

Challenge: 10 Books of Summer 2017 (End)

While I was on holiday, the 1st September came and went, which saw the officially end of Summer and the 10 Books of Summer challenge. I feel I have had a great Summer of reading, however I also think I blinked and missed it! So let’s have a look at what I actually managed to read:

Sandlands by Rosy Thornton

***

First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

***

Pyramids by Terry Pratchett

***

Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari

**

Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow by Colleen Oakes

**

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

***

The Lioness and the Spellspinners by Cheryl Mahoney

***

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman [Re-Read]

***

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

***

(While I finished reading these two last books, I am behind on my reviews, so keep your eyes peeled for my full thoughts on them.)


Which means I have read …

9/10

I am really pleased with my result this year and while I didn’t quite finish I am up on both my previous years. The only book I didn’t get round to was A Dance with Dragons, Part 1 by George R R Martin, which I chose not to read because I was still watching the newest series of the hit TV series, Game of Thrones, as I feared I might get confused. Having made progress each year and enjoyed some fab reading, bring on next year!

Have you read any of these books? Did you take part in this challenge?

Goodbye August, Hello September 2017

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? I must apologise for my absence over the last two weeks. For the first week, I was very busy helping to run my church’s holiday club for children and then, I jet off for a wonderful week in the historic gem of Rome. Considering all that I managed to still read these:

Fiction: 3          Non-Fiction: 1

I began the month, by indulging in a wonderfully comforting re-read of Northern Lights by Philip Pullman; the first book in Pullman’s popular His Dark Materials fantasy series. Then in The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle, I was whisked back in time to meet Arbella Stuart, a less well-known, ill-fated Tudor claimant for the throne. Finally, when I had time to relax by the pool in the scorching heat of Rome, I enjoyed a fantastical, time-travelling romp in Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor; the first book in Taylor’s The Chronicles of St Mary’s series.

Alongside these fictions, I also continued my US political themed reading with the short non-fiction Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Very Brief History by Mark Black.

Sadly though I got no reviews written for any of my reading in August, so you will have my full thoughts on all these goodies to look forward to in September. Also, two of these books were off my list for the 10 Books of Summer 2017 challenge, for which I will be doing a round-up post soon too.

Pick of the Month: Northern Lights

Altogether that is four books completed in August, which is a good amount for me during a busy time. During my holiday I also made great progress through Watling Street by John Higgs and The Mistress of Blackstairs by Catherine Curzon; the latter of which I finished on my flight home (2nd Sep). Through out the month, I also continued to dip in and out of the classic North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

In September, I look forward to starting a new year at school; catching up with all my reviews and reading, of course!

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

New Read: The Lioness and the Spellspinners

Earlier this year, I read The People the Fairies Forget by Cheryl Mahoney, the third charming, fairy tale re-imagining I have enjoyed from Cheryl’s Beyond the Tales series. Luckily for me, I already had the fourth book and prequel to the series, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, lined up to read. (If you are unfamiliar with this author or series, never fear, I don’t think these books necessarily need to be read in order).

This book takes us back to Marilegh (before the famous dancing princes curse) which is a kingdom made up of many islands. On one of the smallest, remotest islands lives young Forrest and his family, who enjoy a quiet, peaceful life of farming intertwined with the family tradition of magical spellspinning. However Forrest’s safe world is to be dramatically turned upside down by the arrival of a more unpredictable and dangerous form of magic, that also coincides with him unceremoniously finding Karina, a prickly, knife-wielding girl, sleeping-rough in his family’s barn one morning.

Stuck on the island, Karina is taken in by Forrest’s kindly, indomitable mother, no questions asked, but after growing up as an orphan on the tough streets of the capital, she finds it hard to trust this strangely hospitable and trusting family. And when they claim they can knit spells of protection, luck and health into their garments, that really doesn’t help either. From her dark past she knows magic exists, but magical knitting that’s just ridiculous … right?! This scoffing at their family tradition raises the hackles of the protective Forrest, who initially eyes this newcomer with suspicion yet, like the rest of his family, he is willing to give her a chance.

However when the chickens start laying golden eggs; the horse starts talking in rhyming couplets and Forrest’s parents are suddenly called away, Forrest and Karina will crucially need to get over their misgivings and work together to figure out the cause of this series of fantastical and inexplicable magic before it can become something more dangerous. So unravels a new tale of magic, friendship, danger, theft and betrayal – all of which is brought to life beautifully by Cheryl with some great description, imagination and humour. Also, for those who have read the other books in the series, there are subtle, clever nods to characters and adventures that are to come, with an amusing cameo from a younger incarnation of a certain ‘Good Fairy’; sparkles and all!

Overall, I thought The Lioness and the Spellspinners was another well written, witty and thrilling adventure, that still gently pokes fun at the traditional fairy tale tropes. Both refreshing and comforting to read. Now, I need to wait (not so) patiently for Cheryl to write another book. Great 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 by Cheryl Mahoney?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 7/10

New Read: The White Queen

Since watching the BBC’s wonderful adaptation, I have long wanted to read The White Queen, the first book in Philippa Gregory’s popular Cousins’ War series. Gregory retells the bloody history of the battles between York and Lancaster – what we now call the War of the Roses – through the eyes of the indomitable women caught up in it all; starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

It is famed that Elizabeth was an extraordinarily beautiful and ambitious widow, who stood on the side of the road to petition the new, young York king, Edward. After catching the eye of the handsome, roguish Edward, Elizabeth secretly marries him and rises to the exalted position of queen consort. But her position is still fragile, with the continued uprisings in the name of the deposed Lancastrian king, Henry VI and even rumblings of discontent among Edward’s own followers at his unsuitable choice of bride. To secure herself and her family, Elizabeth must wisely play the intricate and dangerous game of marriage alliances, political intrigue and war.

I love that Gregory has chosen to tell this series from the perspective of the women: the secret, often silenced but no less important players in these wars of men. While I didn’t always ‘like’ Elizabeth, I have to praise Gregory for creating a fascinating character to read about, with believable shades of light and dark. On one hand, Elizabeth is a strong, brave and fiercely loving wife and mother, on the other hand she can be a deeply proud, ambitious and vengeful woman. Only one bad choice will lead to death, pain and loss, and her children trapped as pawns in a deadly stalemate with her enemies.

And this cleverly gives Gregory an opportunity to explore and give her own explanation for the mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: what really happened to ‘the princes in the Tower’? Were Elizabeth’s sons, Edward and Richard, coldly murdered by their uncle, Richard III or are there more sinister plans and shadowy players involved? In her notes, Gregory concedes that her ideas are only conjecture, however her well-educated surmises of those who had the most to gain from the deaths of the two princes are interesting and certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Now, what lifts this up from being just a very good piece of historical fiction is the supernatural elements. Through her mother, Elizabeth really was a descendant of the Dukes of Burgundy, who cherished the tradition that they were descended from the water goddess, Melusina. Combining this legend and the known accusations of witchcraft, Gregory has cleverly weaved a realistic thread of magic to Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta. They truly believe they can raise storms, place curses and have visions of the future. However Gregory leaves us wondering if the effects of these ‘spells’ are real or just coincidence?

Overall, I thought The White Queen was a brilliantly written and researched piece of historical fiction, with wonderful touches of romance, mystery and magic. I look forward to reading the next book in the series: The Red Queen, about Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Philippa Gregory?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 6/10

New Read: Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow

After devouring Volume 1, last year, and Volume 2, earlier this year, I was very keen to get my hands on this: the third and final volume in Colleen Oakes’ young adult Wendy Darling series, inspired by J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. (If you are unfamiliar with this author or series you may instead want to check out my thoughts on the first book: Wendy Darling, Volume 1: Stars).

At the beginning of this series, Wendy and her brothers were whisked away by the wild, magical Peter Pan to Neverland; a fantastical land of turquoise seas, glimmering beaches, mermaids, pirates and freedom. However, Wendy soon discovered all was not as it seemed and she was forced to take shelter with the dreaded Captain Hook. Together they have hatched a dangerous plan to bring down the blood-crazed Peter for good, but it will involve Wendy returning to Pan Island and the clutches of Peter. The fate of her brothers, her beloved Booth and the whole of Neverland is in her hands.

It was wonderful to see this interesting re-imagining from the point-of-view of Wendy, and she was again joined by a host of colourful characters, including: the adorable Michael; the thoroughly dislikeable John; the big-hearted Smith (Smee!) and, my personal favourite, the infamous Captain Hook. While I haven’t always ‘liked’ Colleen Oakes’ re-imagined characters I do think they are realistic and much better fleshed out than in J M Barrie’s original tale. I also loved being able to delve deeper into the settings too, which Oakes’ brought vividly to life through her beautiful descriptions.

Sadly I did have a small issue with some of the language used in this final instalment – considering the main protagonists are meant to be from Edwardian London. There was the more harmless use of the Americanised ‘toy store’ instead of toy shop, but then there was the far more dubious use of ‘f*nny’ … Now, I believe in America this is slang for ‘ass’ or ‘bottom’. Here in the UK though, it means a much more intimate part of a lady! Fortunately, Oakes weaved such a wonderful tale of adventure, danger, magic and love with so many twists and turns, that the small slips in language didn’t majorly affect my overall enjoyment. Plus what an ending – I didn’t see that coming!

Overall, I thought Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow was another enjoyable fantasy adventure and a satisfying end to this interesting re-imagining of Peter Pan. Previously I have read and loved another of Colleen Oakes’ series, Queen of Hearts, and I really, really hope the final instalment of this comes out soon! Good 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 other books inspired by Peter Pan?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 5/10

(Coincidentally, Wendy Darling, Volume 1 was also my 5th read for last year’s 10 Books of Summer!)