New Read: George Washington

George Washington

In 2013 I collected twenty-one and read six of Mark Black’s A Very Brief History series; while I have enjoyed these I sadly only read one in 2014. I decide to remedy this in 2015. George Washington is my 3rd from this series, this year.

Before reading this I knew George Washington was an American president, and well, that was pretty much it! So while this was only a brief history. I actually found myself learning a lot! Black does discuss a bit of Washington’s education, marriage and plantation. However the bulk of the history was his military and later his political career. His military career began as a British officer in a local militia in the French and Indian War . Later after British laws harmed his business he became the Commander-in-Chief  to the Continental army fighting his former British colleagues in the American Revolution. With his military background you could be forgiven for thinking he would have been an aggressive president. Instead he was keen to keep the newly forming country out of war. Working hard to keep peace with the French, British and Spanish.

I am glad I discovered Mark Black and his A Very Brief History series back in 2013; because I’m not sure I would have picked up a full history of Washington. This was a good, clear and concise introduction for me which is broken down into easy bite-size chapters. On Washington’s family history, education, military career, life outside the army, the American Revolution and war, his time as president, his resignation, and finally his death and funeral. I warn you now though if you already know something of Washington or American history I doubt you will learn anything from this. I recommend to those, like me, who know little to nothing.

George Washington was another quick, easy read for me. I polished a couple of chapters off each night before bed. I have eleven more editions from this series still to go. Okay read.

Have you read any book about George Washington?

The Classics Club: Spin #10 Result

The Classics Club #1

A quick update for you fellow bookworms the result for the 10th Classics Club Spin is in!

The number randomly selected is: 5

Which means I will be reading: The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

I didn’t really expect this result. Not sure why. However I have really enjoyed all the Sherlock Holmes’ short stories and novel I have read so far. I look forward to giving this a go.

Have you read this? What has the spin chosen for you?

New Read: The Shadowy Horses

The Shadowy Horses

While August here in the UK hasn’t been cold. It sadly hasn’t always been glorious sunshine either. During a spell of wet and dreary weather I reached for The Shadowy Horses by, one of my comfort read favourites, Susanna Kearsley.

This time Kearsley swept me away to Eyemouth, a small fishing community, on the rugged and windswept coast of Scotland. Up on the grounds of Rosehill manor a small group of archaeologists are excavating to find a completely, unknown Roman marching camp. The group is led by eccentric Peter Quinnell. Who for most of his career has been obsessed with discovering what happened to the lost Ninth Legion. Many of his contemporaries think Quinnell is mad, however this time he is sure. After a young, local boy saw a ghostly Roman soldier marching across the fields.

Our protagonist is Verity Grey (great name) a renowned archaeologist and historian. Who comes up from London to join the excavation. Verity has no idea what she is getting herself into. Not being one to believe in ghosts or the supernatural. She however finds herself liking and believing Quinnell and the boy. Perhaps because on her very first night at Rosehill. She heard horses running in the field below her bedroom window. Only to discover there are no horses on the estate! I enjoyed reading about Verity, she is a likeable, and the ever-increasing spooky experiences. Verity is joined by eccentric Quinnell, his glamorous niece Fabia, fellow archaeologists David and Adrian (an old flame!), the boy Robbie, and his parents Jeannie and Brian, and grandpa Wally. There are some really interesting relationships and secrets between these characters to discover.

This is now the 4th novel I have read by Susanna Kearsley. My last read, Mariana, was earlier this year. I particularly love Kearsley’s writing style which I find just so comforting and familiar, like a favourite jumper. After a few pages I was lost in another fascinating tale of life, love and history. This isn’t a dual time period novel like previous reads, however it is still full of history with the archaeological dig which is woven with the mystery of the lost Ninth Legion. I loved all the archaeological details. As a little girl I wanted to be an archaeologist, and to this day I am still obsessed with watching Time Team and other documentaries. There is also a link back to the past through local historical tales and the ghostly Roman soldier. I’m not sure the mystery of the lost legion is completely solved here, perhaps that’s for the best, it was a nice ending though.

The Shadowy Horses was a capturing tale for me. I was immersed in the love, history and mystery of it all. I highly recommend and I look forward to reading more by Kearsley. I have Season of Storms and Named of the Dragon on my to-be-read pile. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you read any of Susanna Kearsley’s other novels?

10 Books of Summer – 5/10

The Classics Club: Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park

At the end of July I picked up Mansfield Park by Jane Austen for the Austen in August event. This is my sixth and final, complete, novel I’ve read by Jane Austen. Sadly my last read had been Northanger Abbey back in 2013! This event seems to have been just the push I needed.

The story begins when impoverished, little Fanny Price comes to live with her wealthy relatives, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at Mansfield Park. There she grows up and is educated with her four older cousins; Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia. While Fanny is still treated, by some, as the unwanted poor relation. She does appreciate the comfortable and quiet life she is afforded. However life at Mansfield is to change as the cousins grow, mature, and fall in love. That change is accelerated with the arrival of handsome, vain and frivolous siblings, Mary and Henry Crawford, to the park’s vicarage.

Our protagonist Fanny Price is a quiet, kind and intelligent, young woman. Who on the whole I liked and enjoyed reading about. Sadly Fanny is also rather self-deprecating, which I know from reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, is not a trait I like. There were several times I wanted to give her a jolly good shake and tell her to pull herself together. Fanny is thankfully joined by an interesting and good sized cast of characters. Though there are incidents of unkind words and treatment. Such as Mrs Norris’ sharp tongue, Sir Thomas’ sternness, Lady Bertram’s indifference, and even kind Edmund has moments where he forgets Fanny. For me there was not any truly bad characters. There is also good character growth. Later in the novel we see Sir Thomas’ kinder side and Lady Bertram’s appreciation of Fanny. Actually even the troublesome Crawfords had their light and dark shades. I applaud Austen for another cast of balanced and believable characters.

For me Mansfield Park compared to previous Austen novels was a slow burner. I wasn’t really gripped until Maria and Julia left, and Fanny became the main focus for friendship and love. I enjoyed her visits to the vicarage, taking tea, and the ball. Which were all full of Austen’s trademark, convoluted, witty and beautiful speech and tête-à-têtes. I also think the use of letters kept me gripped, just as much as it did the characters who were waiting for news. Especially when poor Fanny is left stranded with her family in Portsmouth. Cut off from those she loves and who love her. It is a wonderful look into how frustrating it must have been waiting for important news without the aid of phones and the internet!

While the majority of the novel is a slow and comfortable read; there are some real surprises and scandals to come in the last quarter of the book. As I got nearer and nearer the end I couldn’t see how things would be resolved in the pages I had left. Austen ties up the many strands in a neat and pleasant way, but also in perhaps a rather abrupt way; similar to Northanger Abbey. We are told in hindsight about it like a report rather than viewing it for ourselves. This took some of the emotionally pleasure out of it for me. I knew the happy ending but I didn’t really have the chance to feel it.

Mansfield Park was another beautiful glimpse into Regency England. Perhaps not to become my favourite Austen, however still another thoroughly enjoyable novel. I highly recommend to Jane Austen fans. This is my 33rd read off my Classics Club list. Good read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite Austen novel?

New Read: Face to Face with Jesus

Face to Face with Jesus

As a practicing Christian I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and to hear what other Christians have to say. I also enjoy memoirs. So when I saw inspirational, memoir Face to Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib and Bodie Thoene; I just had to read it.

This memoir begins one sunny, autumn morning. Samaa, her sisters and many of her friends have gathered for morning worship at their church. When suddenly the joy and peace is shattered by an explosion. A bomb had been left, in a rucksack, in the midst of the congregation. Samaa is shocked but unharmed so begins to help evacuate people from the building. While helping others she leans on a fire extinguisher, which is concealing another bomb, and there is another terrifying explosion. This is when Samaa has her face to face experience with Jesus.

We are then taken back in time to when Samaa was born, who was originally named Mariam. Samaa is, the youngest child, born into a large, traditional Muslim family. During her childhood the country is thrown into chaos due to a bloody civil war. It was a little annoying we are never told what country this is. Only that it is a Middle Eastern country which had been under Communist rule. I didn’t really need to know but it did leave me trying to guess. To protect herself in this turbulent times Samaa takes free Taekwondo lessons from a Christian group. It is through this group that Samaa came to convert from Islam to Christianity.

This is a very honest memoir, with a simple and innocent style to it. Samaa is open to sharing the many miracles and blessings that came with her conversion. But also open to sharing the danger her conversion put her in. As she was born Muslim she is expected to stay in that faith. To leave it, is to become an infidel. It was heart breaking to read about the violence and cruelty Samaa and her sisters are subject to because they are women and infidels. This is perpetrated by nurses, doctors, the police, neighbours, and worst of all their own family. Yet they do not waver in their faith. Samaa forgives and prays for the very people who hurt her. I had to admire her. I wish I could be as strong and forgiving as her. I also liked how Samaa used biblical passages in her prayers and narration.

Face to Face with Jesus was a moving and inspirational read for me. I recommend if you enjoy Christian memoirs and/or are interested in the lives and faiths of the Middle East. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Have you read any other books about the Middle East?

New Read: Insurgent

Insurgent

Earlier this year I read and enjoyed Divergent by Veronica Roth; the 1st book in Roth’s dystopian, young adult series. At the beginning of August I picked up the 2nd book, Insurgent, to continue reading the series. (This post may contain spoilers for the previous book).

Insurgent returns us to post-apocalyptic Chicago, USA which, for many generations, has been ruled by a faction system based on traits. Abnegation for selflessness, Amity for peace, Candor for honesty, Dauntless for bravery, and Erudite for intelligence. This system has been thrown into chaos though after a devastating attack on Abnegation. It is now Erudite’s mission to hunt down all divergents, those that have an aptitude for more than one faction, and to control information that they feel is dangerous for the general populace to know.

This is an emotionally charged and guilt ridden, roller coaster ride for our protagonist Tris. She finds it very hard to come to terms with the death of loved ones and those she was forced to kill, while trying to stop the attack on Abnegation. To make matters worse Tris and her Dauntless friends are now homeless. Half of Dauntless are helping Erudite leaving the other half to seek refuge with Amity and Candor. Not knowing what is the best course of action and who they can trust. Tris is a strong and kind character but her guilt and pain are now making her confused and reckless in her actions and decisions.

I thought this was another taut and immersive adventure, set in a well written and visualised dystopian world. I feared that without the initiation process Roth might lose some of the tension and pace. This was happily an unfounded fear. Roth kept the pace fast and the tension high as Tris and her friends are chased by the Erudite from one faction to another. Which also gave us a good opportunity to find out more about how Amity, Candor and the factionless live. This chase and uncertainty puts Tris, her friendships, and her love interest with Tobias under considerable strain. Making this is a darker read with a touch of teen angst.

Insurgent was another taut and fast read for me. I look forward to reading Allegiant next. I recommend to those who enjoy dystopian, young adult novels. Good read.

Have you read this? Or watched the films? Do you enjoy dystopian novels and films?

10 Books of Summer – 4/10

New Read: The King’s Sister

The King's Sister

Last year I read and enjoyed The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien. So when another of her novels came up I had to request it. Sadly I allowed The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien to wallow on my Kindle to-be-read pile for too long.

The King’s Sister takes us back to 1382 where we are introduced to Elizabeth of Lancaster. She is the youngest daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, cousin of Richard II, and the sister of the future Henry IV. This is a turbulent time in England’s history. As tension grows between the Lancaster and York houses. The country is on the verge of the Cousin’s War; what we now call the War of the Roses. In this uncertain time Elizabeth’s father secures a safe marriage for her. Elizabeth however only has eyes for the charming but ruthlessly ambitious Sir John Holland; the half-brother of King Richard.

Elizabeth is not a character I have read about before. Anne O’Brien, the author, said herself she chose Elizabeth because there is little to nothing written about her life. Other than that she was “an over sexed” woman due to the fact she had 3 husbands in her short life. A rather bigoted, one-sided view of history. O’Brien makes Elizabeth a passionate, intelligent and fiery woman. Who has been spoilt and pampered all her life, and thus has subsequently become rather selfish. I didn’t really like Elizabeth but I found her fascinating and could admire what she stood for; a woman breaking the norms. Ultimately though she is the master of her own misery.

Elizabeth’s first marriage was in fact to the 8 year old Duke of Pembroke when she was 17 years old, which was never consummated. This is not the romantic marriage that she imagined, so Elizabeth begins an illicit romance with Sir John Holland. The consequences of which forces her father to annul her first marriage. I could sympathise with the embarrassment and upset her first marriage caused her but I couldn’t condone her actions. John and Elizabeth’s marriage will be a fiery, passionate and turbulent union. While it is a shining success under the reign of Richard II. The marriage is to be tested to its limit when Elizabeth’s brother usurps the throne for himself. Now Elizabeth will find herself torn between her love for her husband and brother. An almost impossible choice to make.

In this book O’Brien has brought the tense, brutal and colourful Medieval England to life. With the pageants, dances, tournaments and courtly love; that were in vogue at the time. At first I felt there was too much romance and not enough history. However in hindsight O’Brien needed to secure Elizabeth and John. As it was then through their marriage we saw the tension, drama, hurt and historical events that unfolded to bring Richard II down and the rise of Henry IV. Once this began I was hooked and even though I didn’t like Elizabeth. I found myself emotionally invested it what would happen to her and her family. From little historical information O’Brien has still managed to create in Elizabeth a rounded and believable character. So much so by the end I was rather choked up.

The King’s Sister was an emotional charged read for me. It is also perhaps the earliest historical fiction I have read. I would like to read more from this time period and by Anne O’Brien. I highly recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction and romance. Great read.

Thank you to Harlequin (UK) Limited for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? What other Anne O’Brien novels should I try?