New Read: Best Left in the Shadows

Best Left in the Shadows

After having read A Reaper of Stone and Broken Banners by Mark Gelineau and Joe King, which I really enjoyed, I decided I had to read more! So I returned to the kingdom of Aedaron with Best Left in the Shadows, that is the 1st novella in the crime noir thread to this epic series.

Magistrate Inspector Daxton Ellis is brought down into Lowside, the poor and dangerous underworld of the city, looking for answers. A girl has been beaten and murdered, this wouldn’t normally raise much attention in Lowside – it is a regular occurrence in fact – but this is no ordinary girl. She is a true blood girl from Highside, a daughter of wealthy and powerful parents and a direct descendant of the First Ascended. Magistrate Dax is charged with bringing those responsible to justice quietly and discreetly. To do this he is forced to call upon the streetwise Lowsider and former flame Alys for help.

I loved the love/hate, tension filled but also playful chemistry between Dax and Alys; it helped to lighten this dark, crime tale for me. Dax and Alys originally met and dated during their time training in the academy, when they were young, naïve and idealistic. All grown up, they’ve come to believe that a true blood guy and a Lowside gal can never be. Although secretly I think Dax is still pretty idealistic but he is also acutely aware of his station and responsibilities. Alys on the other hand is a free, kick-ass spirit who has learnt how to play and survive in this dangerous world – a world that Dax can’t break into without her help.

This is the 3rd novella I have read by the new dynamic duo, Mark Gelineau and Joe King, and it is perhaps my favourite so far too. I love how Gelineau and King say they came together to write the Echo of the Ascended series in homage to all the classic, epic fantasy tales and great heroes of their childhood. In this crime noir thread to this epic series, it was exciting to see a different, darker and seedier side to the kingdom of Aedaron; set in the Lowside of the city rather than, in the previous books, out in the large, isolated march lands. I really am impressed by the character description and fantastic world building Gelineau and King have managed to achieve in these novellas.

Best Left in the Shadows was an intriguing fantasy/crime noir adventure which I just sped through! I can’t wait to continue reading this series with Civil Blood. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Or any of the other Echo of the Ascended novellas?

Once Upon a Time X – #4

New Read: Turn of the Tide

Turn of the Tide

Earlier this year, I was contacted by the author, Margaret Skea, about her two novels; set in 16th century Scotland – she described them as historical fiction written with Christian values. Enjoying historical fiction and being a Christian, I didn’t wait long to pick up the first book, Turn of the Tide.

On a dark, stormy night in an isolated ravine the Earl of Glencairn and the Cunninghames set a deadly ambush for their long-time rivals, the Montgomeries. The whole retinue, high and low born a like, are massacred which leads to a string of bloody reprisals across the land. Finally, the young James VI must step in to stop the chaos; forcing the leaders of the clans to sign a peace treaty. While they outwardly keep the peace, the rivalry continues as they vie for the favour of the king, the tension grows and the ascendancy of Hugh Montgomerie only antagonises the vicious Cunninghame heir, William, further.

I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in this bloody, family drama during the reign of the young James VI in Scotland; a period of history I have never read about before. In fact, it is well documented that the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries did have a long-standing rivalry, with attacks and deaths on both sides. For the purposes of this story though, the author has chosen to portray the Earl of Glencairn as the antagonist and his heir, William, as the villain; and what a villain he makes! While Hugh Montgomerie gets to play the more sympathetic role – he is filled with anger and longs for justice yet he also wishes for the bloodshed to end.

The author cleverly steps out from the real history to narrate the story to us through the fictional Munro and his family. Munro is an honest and hardworking man who has been dragged into this terrible feud due to his forefathers long-standing allegiance to the Cunninghames. He is sickened by the part he played in the bloody ambush, at the beginning of the book, but he felt he had to do it to protect his family. He may respect Glencairn but his dislike and fear of William turns to outright hatred, as he witnesses first hand William’s selfishness and cruelty. Dangerously, Munro and his family also find themselves being drawn towards the true friendship that Hugh and his family offer.

This tale had me on the edge of my seat through out! I found Munro to be a likeable protagonist, William a horrible villain, Hugh an interesting alternative and James VI a vain and silly king. I thought Skea brought her real and fictional characters alive beautifully – I believed in them, rooted for them and feared for them in this dark, hard and bloody time period. A period which was so well evoked through the costume, customs, language and bleak landscape the characters dwelt within and used. In particular, I appreciated Skea’s use of a realistic dialect yet still something we could understand today – if you did become a little stuck there is an extensive glossary to help.

In conclusion, I found Turn of the Tide to be a gripping and fascinating 16th century tale of family, rivalry and death. I can’t wait to read the second Munro book, A House Divided. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Any recommendations for other historical fiction from this time period?

New Read: Henry IV

Henry IV

This political history of Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson came my way at just the right time. After enjoying historical fiction The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien (about Henry’s sister, Elizabeth) I was thrilled at the chance to read about some of the real history that inspired it.

The first half of the book looks at Henry as the heir to his powerful father, John of Gaunt – Duke of Lancaster (the 4th son of Edward III). Henry grew up in a time where the House of Lancaster was regaining the power and prestige  it had formerly had. Henry enjoyed a good education, a successful marriage, wealth and hands on experience travelling Europe: jousting, crusading, courting foreign dignitaries and he even made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He was shaping up to be a model knight and lord (and possible king). However the family’s re-ascendency and Henry’s success made for an uneasy relationship with his cousin, Richard II, that culminated in his banishment in 1398 and the denial of his inheritance in 1399.

I actually found the second half of the book, Henry as king, less gripping. This is not the author or books fault, but because Henry didn’t really seem to deliver on the promise he’d shown. While Richard II had been a deeply unpopular king, Henry was to find people don’t like usurpers either. To give him his due, he was a fair king who listened and worked with the Commons and Lords. Yet he still suffered with mismanagement, a lack of resources and overspending. His reign was also plagued with rebellions in Wales and Ireland, incursions by the French into Guyenne and Calais, and the Scots raiding the northern borders. The latter half of his reign also saw him suffer terrible health that eventually ended in a slow, painful death in 1413.

The author discusses how he chose to focus on Henry IV because he is a rather forgotten king – other than being the usurper of Richard II and father of the Agincourt hero Henry V, what do most people know about him? I can honestly say before reading this, I knew nothing more. I learnt a lot from this book and I came to appreciate more the longstanding feud between Lancaster and York. The author also warns the reader, so I will too, that this book is a political history; not a personal history. This didn’t bother me because it is surprising how much personality and character you can draw from letters, meetings, taxes, loans, laws and decrees. However if you are less acquainted with reading non-fiction this might not be the best place to start.

I thought this political history of Henry IV was a detailed, informative and interesting read – it has wetted my appetite to read more non-fiction and novels from this time period. 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? Any recommendations for books about Henry IV?

The Classics Club: The Phoenix and the Carpet

The Phoenix and the Carpet

After enjoying the charming children’s classic Five Children and It in March this year, I only waited till April to return to Edith Nesbit’s Psammead fantasy series with The Phoenix and the Carpet.

The five siblings: Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane and their baby brother, the Lamb, are back home with their parents; in a middle-class townhouse in London. Now they are back to the cold, dark and boring routine of home they reflect fondly on their magical summer holiday with the Psammead (sand fairy). Then mother buys them a second-hand carpet for the Nursery, as the carpet unfolds a small, strange egg drops out from which a phoenix hatches! Not only that, but the carpet itself is a magic carpet which will grant them 3 wishes a day. So with the help of the phoenix, the children set off for more magical, absurd and disastrous adventures on their own flying carpet.

I enjoyed catching up with and sharing some more adventures with Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jane and the Lamb. 5 children which are inquisitive, clever, argumentative and can sometimes be rather naughty; which can make them slightly less likeable, than the Railway Children, but equally realistic and amusing to read about. I still found that no one sibling stood out from the group – I couldn’t really distinguish Robert from Cyril or Anthea from Jane. However I did feel they have matured somewhat and ‘the lamb’ is even sweeter now he can speak and sing.  Overall still a fun group to read about, especially now they have mother to try to explain strange circumstances away too.

As in Five Children and It, I really enjoyed the children’s quaint and eccentric adventures  that arose from their childish and often spur-of-the-moment wishes. This time they found themselves on tropical islands, in derelict castles, finding hidden treasure, helping those in need, matchmaking and flying above the rooftops of London. And if anything I found myself loving the glorious, preening phoenix more than the ‘It’, the grumpy sand fairy. On top of which the carpet even seemed to have its own eccentric personality, which we find out from what it brings back from its own solo missions.

The Phoenix and the Carpet was another charming, magical children’s classic which I zipped through. I look forward to finishing the series with The Story of the Amulet. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any of Nesbit’s other children’s books?

The Classics Club – 42/50
Once Upon a Time X – #3
What’s in a Name 2016 – An item of furniture (3/6)
The Women’s Classic Literature Event – #5

(Originally I actually picked this book for What’s in a Name 2016 but I have since realised it fits so many other challenges too)

New Read: The Martian

The Martian

I have finally read science-fiction drama The Martian by Andy Weir! As per usual I am late to the party, as this was a bestseller and lit up many of my favourite blogs last year. At the beginning of this year my father lent me his copy so there were no more excuses not to read it.

In the year 2035, the Ares 3 mission to Mars is dramatically cut short as the crew are forced to evacuate during a furious sand storm that batters their base and threatens their Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), which is their only form of escape. Tragically Commander Lewis is forced to launch the MAV before the crew’s botanist and mechanical engineer, Mark Watney, reaches them. Mark is feared dead and Lewis can’t risk the rest of her crew however against all the odds Mark survives. Now stranded on Mars with no means of contacting Earth or the rest of his crew, Mark’s only hope is to find a way to survive until the Ares 4 missions arrives in 4 years time!

I would never wish anyone to be stranded alone like this but of all the crew Mark Watney really is the best to be. Mark was originally picked for the mission for his good nature, humour and resourcefulness. Also as a botanist he has the best chance to try to grow food and as a mechanical engineer he can fix or bodge together anything. Mark is an awesome protagonist! While the scientific workings of his mind often went over my head, I couldn’t help admiring his knowledge, skill and sheer determination. He is also hilarious which helped to lighten his dark and lonely situation.

The book is told in a diary form as Mark records mission entries everyday or every few days (or sols as they are called on Mars), depending on how busy he is. This technique helps us to have an intimate and personable relationship with Mark. Plus it helps to add tension because when you wait for several sols for an entry you fear what might have happened now! There are also a few chapters that give us a glimpse back to the rest of the crew on their long journey back to Earth, grieving the loss of Mark, and to Earth where NASA discover the shocking truth; due to a satellite coordinator spotting that equipment has been mysteriously moving on the, what should be empty, Mars base.

This is the debut novel of Andy Weir – I was even more impressed when I realised that Weir initially self-published it in 2011 before it was taken up by Crown Publishing and re-released in 2014. While I love to watch science-fiction films and TV shows, I sadly read very few science-fiction books. I must warn this is a scientifically technical and detailed book which isn’t usually for me as it goes straight over my head. There were a few moments I had to do a literary ‘smile and nod’ to what Weir was describing yet I was so gripped from page 1 that it didn’t matter at all. On top of that you just have to find out what happens to the, hilarious and highly likeable, protagonist Mark.

The Martian is a gripping and immersive science-fiction drama which had me on the edge of my seat and, surprisingly, laughing from start to finish. I am now even more excited about watching the film adaptation, starring Matt Damon. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you watched the film?

The Classics Club: Cranford

Cranford

I’ve long wanted to read something by Elizabeth Gaskell after hearing such wonderful things about her novels. I finally got the push I needed when I picked up this lovely collected edition, The Cranford Chronicles, from a local charity bookshop; I decided to start with the eponymous Cranford tale first.

We are introduced to the small rural town of Cranford by a young woman (we find out her name later), who regularly comes to stay with friends in the town. Through her eyes we come to see the day-to-day lives, trials, tribulations and joys of the town’s inhabitants; who are mainly widows and spinsters. They live quiet lives of genteel poverty where traditional standards and customs are upheld, and money is never discussed. Little happens to ruffle their lives except the passing of a friend, new people moving into town, or friends being lured away into marriage by those pesky men.

As you may imagine this is not a story full of action or drama, instead it is a touching and meticulous study of the lives of women in a small town in Victorian England. What really makes this story is the characters. Our young narrator comes to stay most often with the upright Miss Deborah Jenkyns and her tender-hearted sister Miss Matty; the spinster daughters of the late reverend. Their friends include Miss Pole, Mrs Jamieson, Mrs Forrester and Lady Glenmire. The few men who do come to live in Cranford cause gossip and commotion with their mere presence: the loud Captain Brown and Dr Hoggins with his audacious proposal. Yet for all the women’s airs and graces there is some true friendship too.

I think this novella was a lovely introduction to Gaskell’s work for me. It didn’t necessarily feel like a novella but more like a short story collection – as we had short snapshots into the characters lives, as and when our young narrator came to stay or received letters. I enjoyed how this helped me to dip in and out of the story as if I too were coming to visit. I found Gaskell’s style detailed and meticulous – perhaps not as gripping or dramatic as some of her contemporaries – but comforting and personable. I really felt I got to know the town and characters. I joined them in the trivia of their lives, the pain of their losses, their joys and the often silly customs and fronts they uphold.

I found Cranford to be a charming and comforting classic. I looking to reading the rest of The Cranford Chronicles which includes: My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison’s Confession. I would also love to see the BBC’s 2007 TV adaptation. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you seen the TV adaptation?

The Classics Club – 41/50
The Women’s Classic Literature Event – #4

Adaptations: April 2016

Adaptations

Hello my fellow bookworms, adaptation lovers and any of those dropping over from the Book to Movie challenge; here are the adaptations I’ve watched recently:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Not Read     Film     Cinema

A gritty, action-packed, superhero bonanza; featuring characters from the DC comics. Gotham’s dark vigilante Batman and Metropolis’ indestructible Superman meet for one almighty clash. Spectacular effects, epic fights, leads into the Justice League and Ben Affleck was much better than I feared. I’ve heard negative reviews but I thought it just worked and for me it was a … Great watch.


 The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015)
Read     TV Series     Television

ITV Encore’s thrilling new series that re-imagines the Frankenstein myth (Mary Shelley) on the streets of 19th century London. The discovery of a mutilated child’s body leads Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) into a terrifying case of missing children, body snatching and Galvanism. A gritty and gripping series, with a great ensemble cast, but a shocking and frustrating ending! Great watch.


Little Women (1949)
Read     Film     Television

Classic Hollywood adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s charming novel about the March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, as they grow up during the American Civil War. A sweet, amusing and romantic film with some really lovely casting, although you do have to excuse Beth appearing to be the youngest and Amy being played by an older Elizabeth Taylor. Good watch.


Shakespeare Live! From the RSC (2016)
Read & Not Read     Variety Performance     Television

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the BBC broadcast a live variety performance from the RSC (Stratford). Presenters, Catherine Tate and David Tennant, were joined by a host of actors, singers, musicians, dancers, comedians and famous faces to bring classic scenes from his many works into new life. Good watch.


I also re-watched the amazing Jurassic World (2015) and Spider-Man (2002) (the latter in preparation for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War); which brings my total up to 5 adaptations. This month also sees the release of the new live-action The Jungle Book (2016) and the long-awaited 6th series of Game of Thrones! Both of which I am excited to watch.

Have you watched any of these? What have you been watching recently?