New Books: Christmas 2018 & January 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, now I have finally caught up on my reviews, here is belated update on the new books I got for Christmas, my birthday and during the rest of January:

Origin by Dan Brown

First, I was absolutely thrilled to receive the paperback of Dan Brown’s latest Robert Langdon adventure for Christmas from my dad. It was sadly the only book I received for Christmas, but it’s a great one.

The Story of Reality by Gregory Koukl

Oz: The Complete Collection by L. Frank Baum

Also with an Amazon voucher I received for Christmas, I treated myself to these two for my Kindle. The first, Koukl’s Christian non-fiction, The Story of Reality is my February read for my church’s book club, which I am currently reading. The second is the complete collection of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, that I hope to continue reading as part of The Classics Club.

The Gilded Lily by Ernest Dudley

Then in January, through Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter, I picked up a free copy of new-to-me author, Ernest Dudley’s non-fiction about the life and loves of the fabulous Lillie Langtry, a British-American socialite, actress and producer.

The Fork, the Witch and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia by Christopher Paolini

Last but certainly not least, I received a beautiful hardback copy of Christopher Paolini’s collection of extra Alagaësia stories from my dad for my birthday. Hopefully this will be the carrot I need to get back to and finish Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle series.

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

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New Read: Theatre Royal

Last year, through Endeavour Press’ weekly e-newsletter, I got a free copy of their republication of Theatre Royal by Michael Coren. Never having heard of the author before, I was spurred on to try it after absolutely loving another theatre history, Seven Stages by Geoffrey Trease, from this publisher, so I had high hopes for this one too.

First published in 1981, this history chronicles a hundred years of The Theatre Royal, Stratford East. From its opening night, with Lord Lytton’s popular drama Richelieu, in 1884. To its glory days, in the 1960s, under the enigmatic and controversial Joan Littlewood, with Gerry Raffles and their ground-breaking ensemble Theatre Workshop; who are perhaps best known for their wacky, hard-hitting musical, Oh, What a Lovely War! Finally, to how in the 1970s, it sadly struggled to move on and forge a new identity once Littlewood left, and how it was holding on in the 1980s with hope for the future.

I have to admit I went into this not really knowing what to expect – what with me knowing nothing about The Theatre Royal, Stratford East. What I found was a straightforward and detailed history that charts the origins and ups and downs of this out-of-town theatre. It most certainly must have been a hardy place and had some staunch supporters, because it managed to survive two world wars, a dearth of funds, many failed projects and many more failed plays. All of which was brought starkly to life with quotes from glaring critics, bitter directors, as well as faithful actors.

Earlier, I said I didn’t know anything about this theatre or so I thought, because actually when I read more I realised I did know of Joan Littlewood and Theatre Workshop. I presume I must have studied them at some point at university, but I didn’t recall them or this theatre before. Otherwise though, everything in this book was new to me. My only reservation with the book was that its sole focus is on the productions and logistics of keeping the theatre going. Impersonally listing production after production and the critics opinions of them. Which is fine for a theatre student, but could be dry and hard going for regular readers.

Overall, I thought the Theatre Royal was an excellent, comprehensive history of the highs and lows of this famous theatre – which is still going now, even if this history stops in the ’80s – however this wasn’t as entertaining a read as my previous theatre book from this publisher. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other histories of famous theatres?

New Read: The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today

During the crazy-busyness of Christmas, I squeezed in a couple of short reads. First the festive e-short Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble by M. C. Beaton. Then The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today by Alison Weir, an e-short companion piece to Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, the second book in Weir’s fantastic, historical Six Tudor Queens series.

In the modern day, Jo, a historian and long-term admirer of Anne Boleyn, has organised for a group to take a guided tour of the Tower of London, to walk in the shoes of her Tudor heroine. Jo is thrilled by their tour guide’s full Anne Boleyn costume and historical accuracy. However while Jo really wants to lose herself in the dramatic setting that she has come to love and the guide’s realistic portrayal of the queen, something nags at the back of her mind, it’s almost like there is a ghostly presence lurking around them…

We take the tour with Jo, experiencing the guide’s excellent performance and the growing mystery of the crying, young woman, that only Jo and ourselves seem to be able to see. I could feel that a twist was coming and when it did, it didn’t disappoint. However the length of the story did – this is a very short, e-short. In fact, the story itself was only about 10% of the book. The rest was made up of teaser, first chapters for Katherine of Aragorn: The True Queen, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession and Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen – Two of which I have already read, so were of little interest to me.

So, overall, I thought The Tower is Full of Ghosts Today was an interesting little tale of history, mystery and ghosts, with a cool twist at the end. Fortunately, this was being offered for free though, because I would have been really disappointed if I had paid for it. Sadly, It has put me off paying for any of the other e-short companion pieces, but I still very much look forward to reading the next novel about Jane Seymour from the series. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or any other books from the Six Tudor Queens series?

New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble

Over the crazy-busyness of Christmas, I escaped, when I found a few quiet moments, away into Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble by M. C. Beaton, a festive e-short from Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series.

At home alone for the holidays, our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin decides to show her generous side by inviting over six lonely, local ‘crumblies’ for a slap up Christmas dinner… Only problem is Agatha can’t cook! While she employs swanky caterers to prepare her starter and main, she mistakenly decides to make the pudding herself. And, when her monstrous creation is unceremoniously dumped on lecherous, 85-year-old Len Leech’s head – killing him instantly – the mysteries start to mount up higher than the season’s snowfall.

While only short, I thought this was a well-rounded mystery and our formerly sharp, bossy and cajoling Agatha is on top form. First, as she tries to be kind, softer and homely, but for all her heart being in the right place it all goes horribly wrong, of course! Which is perfect for us, because it means plenty of laughs and it sets Agatha off on another eccentric, bumbling amateur investigation. Along the way she is helped, hindered and warned off by several of the regular cast from the series, including my personal favourites: the lovely vicar’s wife, Mrs Bloxby and the funny Detective Constable Wong.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed another trip to the charming village of Carsely in Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Pudding for a quick, fun cosy mystery. Nothing ground-breaking here, but a perfect book to enjoy snuggled up in a blanket, when I had chance over the Christmas period. I now look forward even more to reading the next full-length book from the series, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist. Good read.

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

This also ticked off a title with a season in it and so completed my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (6/6)

New Read: Frenchman’s Creek

In 2018, I was lucky enough to read two of the gothic queen, Daphne du Maurier’s novels. First, in June, I read the superb, time-travelling horror, The House on the Strand and then, at the end of the year, Frenchman’s Creek.

Restless with the pomp, ritual and debauchery of London’s Restoration Court, Lady Dona St Columb takes her children and retreats to the hidden creeks and secret woods of her husband’s family estate of Navron, in Cornwall. The peace Lady Dona craves, however, eludes her from the moment she stumbles across the hidden mooring place for a white-sailed ship, known to plunder the Cornish coast. And once she has met its captain: the daring, French philosopher-pirate, Jean Aubrey, she finds her heart besieged and her person embroiled in a quest fraught with danger and glory.

Our protagonist, Dona is a beautiful, headstrong woman; a loving mother; an unhappy wife and a prisoner of her own making. Flightily she married her husband, Henry because he had a charming smile, so now she finds herself trapped with a man she feels she’s outgrown and finds herself increasing her daring, gossip-inducing behaviour to relieve her boredom. Which culminates in her taking part in a cruel, drunken prank, that finally shames her into breaking out of the vicious circle by leaving London, Henry and his insidious friend, Lord Rockingham behind.

Once at Navron, Dona spends her long, summer days of freedom sleeping in late; frolicking and picnicking with the children and walking along the coast; which is where she first catches sight of the white-sailed ship that is to turn her life upside down. As one would expect, du Maurier brings the stately but neglected estate of Navron, on her native Cornwall’s coast, beautifully to life. As the windows are unshuttered and thrown wide-open, light and the fresh sea breeze re-awaken the large, musty rooms, and from her room Dona has a view straight down to the sea.

Later in the novel, du Maurier actually takes us out to sea – with the dashing Jean Aubrey and his crew – showing us at its calm, serene best, but also at its turbulent, thrashing worst. While I am a self-confessed landlubber, I couldn’t help finding myself swept away with the beauty, adventure and romance of it all. Likewise, on meeting Jean, Dona finds herself swept away – selfishly abandoning her children to their maid – to read poetry, fish, dine and maraud with this charismatic man. However things come to a head, after their plans go terribly awry and Henry arrives unexpectedly to reclaim his wife. Will Dona return to her husband and children or risk it all for her pirate lover?!

Overall I thought Frenchman’s Creek was a beautifully written, sweeping romance. Quite a few of my fellow du Maurier fans have told me this is one of their least favourite of her novels, and on finishing it, I can understand why, because there is little to no gothic influence and Dona is not the most likable of characters. But while it pales in comparison to the stunning Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel it is still a… Great read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite of Du Maurier’s novels?

This also ticked off a title with a nationality in it for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (5/6)

New Read: The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions

At the beginning of last year, I enjoyed reading The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller as an escape from the bitterly cold and dreary weather of February. So, later in the year, when the cold weather returned in December, I reached for The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions, the second book in Miller’s epic fantasy trilogy.

This book kicks off exactly where the last finished. The dark lord, Rectar’s demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum and now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow. So the Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem… Castallan, the traitorous wizard, has declared himself King of Humans from his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all costs.

All the while I continued to feel for Danuir – balancing the strength and authority of his former self, with the fairness and humility of his current reincarnation – as he battles to bring the Three Races together. Knowing that to face the double threat of Rectar and Castallan, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices undermine his best efforts, again and again. It’s bad enough fighting the endless succession of Rectar’s mindless demons and Castallan’s super, red-eyed humans, let alone dealing with infighting with your own allies. I could’ve totally understood him giving up, but to his ultimate credit he doesn’t!

In a new thread to the story, Danuir puts his new passion for unity into practice. Sending his old, hunter friend, Garon in charge of an army of the Three Races to aid the Kazzek Trolls, who find their home in the Highlands besieged by Rectar’s demons. The poor trolls have been largely ignored by the humans and villainised by the fairies for generations, so Danuir’s choice is controversial. However, I for one am very pleased, because I loved this thread and the trolls! As with the dragons, Miller has put his own twist on them: having them as hairy giants with tusks – rightly or wrongly, I pictured them as similar to the common image of the Yeti!

After the bloody, last battle in the first book, it is cheering to have new characters to root for, but to also see the return of familiar faces too. Including, Danuir’s old friends, the wizard, Brackendon and human hunters, Ballack and Garon; Blaine, the Guardian of Tenalp; the shape-shifting witch, Kymethra, and the imprisoned princess, Cassandra. However they now find themselves scattered across the land – having their own trials and adventures – as the continued war pulls them off in different directions. Which gives us, the reader, the chance to see more places and different perspectives.

So, overall, I thought The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions was another extremely fun, fantasy adventure, that again helped me to escape from the miserable weather. Now I just need to know how it ends! Fortunately, I believe the third and final book will be available later this year. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or any of the other books in the trilogy?

New Read: Zombie, An Anthology of the Undead

Last year, for the What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, the tricky category of ‘a title that begins with Z’ gave me the push I needed to finally pick up the short story collection, Zombie, An Anthology of the Undead edited by Christopher Golden. Which came highly recommended by my dad, but I have been putting off because horror really isn’t my favourite genre.

However they do say it is good to get out of your comfort zone now and again, don’t they? And I am pleased I eventually read this collection as I found it to be an interesting mixture of nineteen zombie tales from an eclectic array of popular horror, fantasy, thriller and literary authors. While there were perhaps some stories that were just a little too distressing or horrific for my taste, there were plenty more I enjoyed and I can’t knock any of the stories for the quality of writing.

My particular favourites were: In the Dust by Tim Lebbon, about three survivors of an outbreak now imprisoned in a quarantined town; Family Business by Jonathan Maberry, a poignant drama about two brothers in a post apocalyptic world; and Life Sentence by Kelley Armstrong, that sees a rich businessman willing to do anything to discover immortality. As well as Delice by Holly Newstein, a revenge tale of voodoo reanimation; Ghost Trap by Rick Hautala, about the eerie discovery of a body by a diver; and The Storm Door by Tad Williams, a creepy, noir mystery of possession.

Those I didn’t particularly enjoy were: What Maisie Knew by David Liss, about reanimated people being used as slaves, and Kids and Their Toys by James A. Moore, a twisted tale of a group of boys playing with a dead man, because they were simply too graphic and disturbing for me. Also Copper by Stephen R. Bissette, about a gang of the dead raiding the homes of the living, or I think that was what it was about, because I found the style of the story hard to follow. Similarly, Among Us by Aimee Bender, which I still have no idea what it was meant to be about.

While not making it into my favourites, the other nine stories: Lazarus by John Connolly, The Wind Cries Mary by Brian Keene, The Zombie Who Fell from the Sky by M. B. Homler, My Dolly by Derek Nikitas, Second Wind by Mike Carey, Closure, Limited by Max Brooks, Shooting Pool by Joe R. Lansdale, Weaponized by David Wellington and Twittering from the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill were all enjoyable in different ways.

Overall, I thought Zombie, An Anthology of the Undead was a well chosen collection of zombie inspired tales to dip in and out of, which I think has something for everybody to enjoy, including big wimps like me! Good read.

Have you read this collection? Or any of the authors featured in it?

This also ticked off a title that begins with Z category for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (4/6)