New Read: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Back at the beginning of July, I continued my summer reading with the first in a historical saga, Eleanor of Aquitaine by new-to-me author Christopher Nicole. Originally published in 1995 under the pen name of Alan Savage – I came across this, Endeavour Press’ 2016 republication, on Netgalley.

This book took me back to 1135 to meet Eleanor, the beautiful thirteen-year-old heiress to the Duchy of Aquitaine and the most eligible bride in Europe. Negotiations are in progress for her marriage to the Dauphin, Louis of France when her father dies suddenly giving her no choice but to rush the wedding ahead. Thus in a space of a few short months Eleanor transforms from heiress to duchess, to Dauphine, to Queen of France at only fifteen years old. With her marriage comes the end of her girlhood dreams of romance however her burning desire for love and adventure remains.

While her adventurous streak is fed by taking up the cross and travelling to Jerusalem with her husband during the disastrous Second Crusade, her burning desire for love is not sated by the pious Louis; who as the younger son was initially destined for a monastic life before the sudden death of his older brother, Philip. Even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged, and their differences were only exacerbated while they were abroad. After returning to France and the birth of a second daughter, Louis finally agreed to an annulment of their fifteen year marriage.

Immediately Eleanor escapes and makes for Poitiers – on the way evading two attempts to kidnap and marry her. Only on arriving to be claimed by the much younger Henry, Duke of Normandy and the future King Henry II of England. And this is where my prior knowledge of Eleanor begins, so it was really interesting in this book to read about her life with her first husband. Nicole portrays Eleanor as a precocious young woman, who grows into a strong-willed, passionate queen. Which fits well with the rebellious wife and formidable dowager queen I knew she went on to be in later life.

My only problem with this book was the sex. Okay, I get it Eleanor is famed to be the ‘queen of love’ or in other circles defamed as a worldly harlot. Also I knew the rumours of her ‘excessive affection’ for her uncle Raymond, prince of Antioch, who she was reunited with during the Crusade. So I knew love affairs would probably be involved in this story, however I was not prepared for the numerous amount and/or the erotic detail they would described in. According to Nicole neither man, boy or woman was safe around Eleanor!

Fortunately, overall I found Eleanor of Aquitaine to be such a gripping historical soap opera, that I was able to skim quickly over those pesky sex scenes and continue on undeterred. I have book two in the saga, Queen of Love, ready and waiting on my Kindle. 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 fiction about Eleanor?

This is book 2/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.


New Read: The House on the Strand

After loving My Cousin Rachel last summer, it felt right, back in June, to start this summer of reading with another of Daphne du Maurier’s wonderfully atmospheric novels. Taking recommendations from my fellow bloggers, I decided to read du Maurier’s 1969 novel, The House on the Strand next.

When Dick Young’s old friend, Magnus, offers him an escape to his country-pile of Kilmarth, on the Cornish coast for the summer holidays, Dick jumps at the chance. However there is a catch… Magnus also wants him to trial a new drug, a drug which transports Dick back to the wild, bleak Cornwall of the troublesome fourteenth century. Where Dick witnesses the intrigues of the local gentry, and becomes fixated on a horseman named Roger and the captivating Lady Isolde Carminowe. But soon Dick’s repeated trips see him withdrawing from the modern world and his family, and lead to some worrying and dangerous repercussions in the present.

After having previously only read novels by du Maurier set in the 1930s or earlier, it was a little disconcerting when I started reading this to hear mention of televisions and dishwashers! However this more modern, safe, comfortable setting is used to great effect as a clear juxtaposition to the wild, dangerous past that Dick travels back to. I must admit time travel was not something I would have ever linked with the gothic queen, du Maurier, but in fact she does it very well! Creating two gripping time lines which I was equally invested in – a precursor/inspiration perhaps for those newer dual narrative novels by Susanna Kearsley and others that I enjoy so much.

That being said, Dick is not the most likeable of characters, especially with the indifference and sometimes even contempt he treats his wife and stepsons with. As the terrible consequences of Dick’s addiction start to unfold it was them I truly felt for and Magnus: Dick’s long-lasting friendship with whom is about his only endearing feature. Like Dick though I did feel for and found myself rooting for Roger and Isolde in the past. Which made for double tension! Hauntingly I watched as Dick was powerless to help them as their fate was revealed, while I myself was powerless to stop him.

Now this wouldn’t be a review of a du Maurier novel without mentioning her ever vivid and realistic portrayal of the Cornish coast, that, like in many of her novels, is as important as a character in its own right. In the modern day, I was able to immerse myself in long summer days of sailing, fishing and picnics. While, in stark contrast, in the fourteenth century we go through all the seasons: from Isolde’s children riding on a sunny day, to a ship floundering in a storm and deep snow trapping everyone indoors. Although some of the houses have come and gone, the only big (ominous) change to the landscape is the railway cutting through the land in the present day.

All in all, I thought The House on the Strand was a superb, time-travelling horror, that had me gripped from beginning to end. Not as great as Rebecca but definitely a contender for my top ten reads of this year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I have Frenchman’s Creek and The Loving Spirit on my shelf to choose from next. Great read.

Have you read this? What do you think I should read next?

This is book 1/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Goodbye June, Hello July 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are well? Surprisingly, here in the UK, we have been in a blistering heat-wave for the last week or so. As well as the scorching temperatures, I have been far too busy for reading out on the patio. With three school trips; the busy wind-down to the end of term, and applying for new jobs. Plus I enjoyed an Olly Murs tribute & curry night and booked my summer holiday! During all that this is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 1          Non-Fiction: 1

First this month, I finished reading Christian non-fiction Vanishing Grace by best-selling evangelical author, Philip Yancey. A thought-provoking and sometimes challenging read, which made for a very interesting discussion at my church’s June book club meeting. Then I got my 10 Books of Summer reading challenge started with the gripping, gothic suspense The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier, which had me time-travelling back to the wild, dangerous Cornwall of the 1300s. So while a slow start in numbers, it was a cracking start for quality. I’m afraid I am really behind on my reviews though, so you will have to wait for my full thoughts on both of these.

Pick of the Month: The House on the Strand

Altogether that is just two books finished, which makes this my new, lowest month of the year! Clearly I have just been too busy! However through out June, I have been reading non-fiction Charles II, Biography of an Infamous King by John Miller and the swashbuckling classic Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia by Emilio Salgari. Then at the end of the month, I started reading Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen (for my church’s next book club meeting).

In July, I look forward, bitter-sweetly, to the end of term, the summer holidays and hopefully reading more!

What did you do and read in June? What are your plans for July?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10… Books on My Summer 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 to Read By the Pool/At the Beach
(This can also serve as your summer 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 summer, as part of my 10 Books of Summer challenge:

  1. Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir – After loving Katherine of Aragon, I look forward to continuing Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series.
  2. Cauldstane by Linda Gillard – I have three of the wonderful Gillard’s women’s fictions on my Kindle. Of those three I fancy this the most.
  3. Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole – I am looking forward to this, the first book in Nicole’s historical saga about this famous queen.
  4. Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt – I am hoping for another light, time-travel romance from Heldt – Perfect for the summer holidays.
  5. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier – In your kind comments this seemed to have the edge on Frenchmen’s Creek for me to read next.
  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I look forward to starting a re-read of this thrilling YA trilogy, preferably in the sun please.
  7. Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell – This set of fictional biographies of famous chefs through the ages sounds fascinating.
  8. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen – This highly acclaimed book is the next read for my church’s book club.
  9. Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease – After reading Seven Kings of England, I am interested to find out more about some famous queens.
  10. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett – Simply because a summer TBR without Pratchett and his madcap Discworld doesn’t seem right!

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

Challenge: 10 Books of Summer 2018

The sun is out and summer and the holidays are just around the corner! And I am thrilled to announce Cathy is hosting her brilliant 20 Books of Summer challenge (with the option of 15 or 10 levels too) again this year. As usual I am aiming for the lower goal and here are the 10 books I hope to read:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [re-read]
  2. Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell
  3. But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing
  4. Cauldstane by Linda Gillard
  5. Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt
  6. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
  7. Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole
  8. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
  9. Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease
  10. Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

The challenge runs till the end of summer (3rd September), so just after that I will check back in with you all to discuss what I manage to read!

Are you taking part in this summer challenge? Are there any of these books you think I should read first?

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

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