New Read: Master of Shadows

Master of Shadows

Earlier this month, I finished my third book towards the 10 Books of Summer challenge: Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver. I have enjoyed many documentaries presented by historian Neil Oliver, and so I was very interested to read his first foray into historical fiction.

Master of Shadows sweeps us back to Constantinople, the jewel of the Byzantine Empire, in the 15th century. However now the city is a shadow of its former glory and sits on the very edge of the Christian world – where cut off from the Roman Catholic church it faces the might of the newer, more powerful Ottoman Empire alone. Within the walls we meet Prince Constantine, the crippled heir to the throne, and Yaminah, a young woman who Constantine saved as a child, but their future is in grave doubt. As the ambitious and ruthless Sultan Mehmed II assembles the largest Ottoman army ever amassed outside the crumbling walls of their city.

Sadly from history we know all does not go well for Constantinople and it finally falls to the Turks in 1453; who rename the city, Istanbul. During this turbulent time in history the city of Constantinople acts like a magnet –  in this story we meet two characters who find themselves inexplicably pulled towards the city to help in it’s final, dark days. First, we have John Grant a young man with a sixth sense forced to flee his homeland of Scotland. Secondly, we have Lena a very mysterious, middle-aged woman with fighting skills equal to, if not better than, most men. These two characters will also discover they have a connection to each other and to Constantine and Yaminah.

The narration of this story flips between John, Constantine, Yaminah, Lena and John’s surrogate father Badr, plus there is some narration in the past from John’s mother and father and Yaminah’s mother. That is a lot of threads to follow, so you need your thinking cap on. All threads were interesting however this story really gripped me once the characters and their threads came together in the doomed city; then I could hardly put the book down. The initial appeal of this book for me was the setting of Constantinople – I think Oliver brought the once mighty city to life beautifully and I could feel the palpable fear rising from its inhabitants.

I think this is a super impressive debut novel from Neil Oliver and you can tell that his background as a historian has really helped him. This book is detailed and very realistic – in particular, I think he blended real historical events and characters perfectly with the fictional. There was the historical characters of Constantine, Mehmed, another who I can’t name because it would be a major spoiler and even John Grant is based on the historical rumour that a Scotsman was among the city’s defenders. However along with that realism comes some graphic sexual and violent detail which made this a very good but not a great read for me – this is just my personal taste though and is no reflection on the quality of writing or story.

Master of Shadows is a realistic historical adventure that swept me back to the bloody downfall of Constantinople. I would definitely be interested in reading more by Neil Oliver. 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 of Neil Oliver’s non-fiction books?

10 Books of Summer – 3/10

New Read: Let God’s Word Empower Your Prayers

Let God's Word Empower Your Prayers

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. After finishing Stormie Omartian’s memoir, Out of Darkness: My Story of Finding True Light and Liberation, I dived almost immediately into another of her books: Let God’s Word Empower Your Prayers.

In a previous devotional books, The Power of a Praying Woman and The Praying Woman’s Devotional, Omartian reached out to all women who believe in God and his son Jesus Christ, to make prayer a keystone in their lives. In  Let God’s Word Empower Your Prayers Omartian continues this idea by suggesting themes, prayers and scripture in this devotional that could help both men and women in their daily prayer life.

This devotional is broken down into bite-size chapters that each have: a theme, a piece of scripture to read and consider, then the author’s thoughts and reflections, and finishes with a prayer. I thought this structure helped make this devotional perfect to dip in and out. You could read a chapter each time you had a bit of free time or they could easily form part of your usual daily prayer routine. If you are wishing to start reading the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin this could be a good devotional to help you. I read a chapter or two a night during my prayers before bed. I found it a good way to focus and inspire my prayer about aspects of my life I’d forgotten or not thought of before. My only niggle would be these chapters felt even shorter than previous books, so a few times I was left wanting a little more.

I first discovered Stormie Omartian in 2014 and I have read everything by her I have been able to get my hands on since, this has included: The Power of a Praying Woman, Choose Love, The Praying Woman’s Devotional, a short study guide addition of Prayer Warrior and most recently her memoir Out of Darkness. I have found everything I have read by Omartian beautiful and inspiring, so when I saw this I had to request it. This is perhaps not my favourite of her books because I don’t think it touched me as much as previous more women orientated devotionals but it was still well worth a read.

Let God’s Word Empower Your Prayers was a thoughtful and inspiring read and I still look forward to reading even more by Omartian. I recommend this devotional to other Christians interested in enhancing their personal prayer and Bible reading time. Good read.

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

Have you read anything by Stormie Omartian? Any recommendations for other faith literature?

New Read: The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code

Back in June, I finally got round to reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, which is the second thrilling Robert Langdon adventure but I somehow managed to skip reading it and read all the other books first.

The Da Vinci Code re-unites us with Brown’s well loved protagonist Robert Langdon, a symbolist professor at Harvard University, who is in Paris to give a talk after his famous escapade in Vatican City. Now Robert has unwittingly been drawn in as a suspect for the murder of Jacques Saunière, the elderly curator, who was found in the Louvre with his body covered in baffling symbols. Robert is forced to go on the run with the help of police cryptologist, Sophie Neveu. Together they need to decipher the baffling riddles and follow the hidden clues within Leonardo da Vinci’s work to uncover dangerous secrets and find the true killer.

Robert Langdon has appeared in three of Brown’s others novels; Angels and Demons, The Lost Symbol and Inferno. Robert is in his forties, intelligent, cultured and let’s face it rather geeky; for which I love him. In the film adaptations Tom Hanks plays Robert and while I think Hanks is not quite tall enough he does suit the character very well – I must admit when reading the books now I picture him. For this adventure Robert is joined by the young, beautiful and gifted French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, who just so happens to be the estranged granddaughter of the murder victim, Jacques Saunière. I really liked Sophie and she brings her own mystery to the story too.

I have read three of Brown’s previous thrillers led by Robert Langdon; Angels and DemonsThe Lost Symbol and Inferno. All have been gripping thrillers although the American setting of The Lost Symbol didn’t grab my imagination as much as the Italian settings of Angels and Demons and Inferno. Knowing this you may well have guessed how pleased I was that this novel took us to Paris, the old and beautiful city of love, history, revolution and art. Later in the book, we also got to visit historical sites in London and Scotland – so not only was I gripped but my inner history nerd was happy too.

The Da Vinci Code was another gripping thriller that follows Professor Robert Langdon through the history, art and symbols of Leonardo da Vinci and delves into the secrets of the Priory of Sion. I am now eagerly awaiting the release of the Inferno film adaptation later this year even more. Great read.

Have you read this? Are you a fan of the Langdon thrillers?

10 Books of Summer – 2/10

Re-Read: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts

Later this year, I am really looking forward to returning to the magical ‘Harry Potter’ world with the release of the new film Fantastic Beasts; starring the wonderful Eddie Redmayne. In preparation I thought I would re-read Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, aka J K Rowling.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them was originally published in 2001 to raise money for Comic Relief and was written by Rowling under the pseudonym of Newt Scamander; a fictitious adventurer and author from the wizarding world. It isn’t a story but in fact a textbook – that Harry and his friends use in their lessons at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – which is full of magical creatures like mermaids, pixies, dragons, centaurs and many more; where they live; and how dangerous they are! A particularly amusing touch is that Rowling has included Harry’s and Ron’s annotations to the book, which includes: many cheeky comments about Hagrid’s love of dangerous beasts and their own experiences with some of the creatures named.

I first read this as a young teenager when it came out, with its companion Quidditch Through the Ages, right in the middle of the Harry Potter phenomenon – sadly that was quite a long time ago now! Before this re-read, I had only vague memories of this being an amusing read but, if I’m honest, I was struggling to see how it could be made into a film. On re-reading this super slim book in record quick time I discovered it was a lot funnier than I remembered and it has so many interesting (fantasy) facts. I can also now see that there are a lot of ways the film makers could go with this book – the fictitious author, Newt Scamander, must have had so many thrilling adventures researching all the wonderful creatures he writes about.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them was a quick and fun read for me, and I now can’t wait for the film even more! Before it comes out perhaps I can squeeze in a quick re-read of its companion, Quidditch Through the Ages, too. Good read.

Have you read this? Are you looking forward to the release of the new film?

Once Upon a Time X – #9

The Classics Club: The Story of the Amulet

The Story of the Amulet

After enjoying the two previous books, Five Children and It and The Phoenix and the Carpet, in June I returned and completed Edith Nesbit’s charming Psammead series with The Story of the Amulet.

The siblings: Robert, Anthea, Cyril and Jane find themselves at a loose end again after being left in London under the care of their old nurse. Their father is away due to the war and their mother has gone away for her health, taking their baby brother ‘the lamb’ with her. Out one day, trying to amuse themselves, the four older children surprisingly stumble upon their old friend ‘It’ (a sand fairy) in a pet shop! They rescue him but he is not their only magical discovery, they also come across a broken ancient amulet which has the power to take them on many adventures in the past.

It was lovely catching up with and sharing some more adventures with Robert, Anthea, Cyril and Jane; but sadly no ‘Lamb’. The four older children 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 was a little sad not to be able to catch up with ‘the lamb’, as he was such a sweetie in the last book, but we did have the old nurse and the professor upstairs to get to know. I particularly enjoyed how the professor joins them for one adventure and thinks it’s all a wonderful dream!

As in the previous books, I really enjoyed the children’s quaint and eccentric adventures which this time arose from their wishes to help them find the complete amulet. I travelled with them to Ancient Egypt where they met a suspicious priest, to Babylon where they sing for the queen and the mythological Atlantis before the cataclysmic wave; the latter of which causes much distress to the cantankerous old ‘It’ who hates water. What was nicer about these adventures was they had a purpose: to retrieve the complete amulet with which the children hoped to be able to wish their parents and baby brother safely back to them.

The Story of the Amulet was another charming, magical children’s classic and a fitting end to the Psammead series. I’m almost a little sad that I’ve finished the series, however there are still other novels to discover by Edith Nesbit. Good read.

Have you read this? What other Nesbit novels would you recommend?

The Classics Club – 44/50
Once Upon a Time X – #8
The Women’s Classic Literature Event – #6

New Read: The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki

I was so excited when I received a copy of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris; as I’d heard good things about the author. Sadly though this book languished on my Kindle until last month the Once Upon a Time X event inspired me to put it on my summer TBR pile.

In Harris’ first adult’s fantasy novel we are taken back into ancient Norse Mythology. To a time of gods, ice giants and demons. We see the rise of the All-Father, Odin; his recruitment of the powerful and beautiful to become gods beside him; the golden years of Asgard; to the ultimate betrayal and bloody fall during the Ragnarök. This is those old Norse tales with a twist though…as Harris retells this history from the point-of-view of Loki, the trickster god. Loki tell us he is a seriously misunderstood character and he is taking this opportunity to tell us the true version of events and set the record straight.

Loki, the Light-Bringer and trickster god, describes himself as the misunderstood, elusive, handsome and modest hero of this tale. Whilst we might know Loki best for his notorious reputation for trickery, deception and cruel pranks. I can agree Loki is most definitely elusive and sometimes misunderstood and mistreated too, however he is far from modest or particularly heroic either. Our narrator is in fact vain, deceitful, selfish and his notorious reputation is well-deserved. He wasn’t a nice protagonist to read about but his point-of-view is fascinating and often very amusing too – whether you believe his version is up to you. Personally I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him!

This is the first novel I have read by Joanne M Harris. While I have been tempted by a few of her novels, I was particularly interested in this one because of my childhood love of Norse Mythology. I can’t claim to be an expert on this mythology however as I read this fond memories of stories and the different Gods and monsters came flooding back to me. Then on top of that, you have the inspired choice to pick the unlikely protagonist of Loki. I was really impressed with how Harris made Loki into a well-rounded and believable character. And whether or not you like him or believe a word he says, there really is always two sides to every story.

The Gospel of Loki was an interesting and refreshing twist on the ancient Norse Mythology, which was a pleasure to read and surpassed my high expectations. Now, I am seriously interested in reading more of Joanne Harris’ novels. 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? What Joanne Harris’ novels would you recommend?

10 Books of Summer – 1/10
Once Upon a Time X – #7

New Read: Witches Abroad

Witches Abroad

At the end of last year, I started to work my way through, from the beginning, books from the epic Discworld series by Terry Pratchett; which between my father and I we own. Next up was Witches Abroad the twelfth published Discworld novel.

In Witches Abroad we return to the kingdom of Lancre in Pratchett’s magic, weird and fantastical Discworld – there we re-join the local witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and young Magrat. Peace reigns over the land again but things are to be turned upside down for the witches when Magrat inherits the wand and role of Fairy Godmother. Romantic and idealistic Magrat immediately sets out for a land far, far away (Genua) to help her new fairy god-daughter, and ignoring her protestations Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg insist on coming along too.

The witches are my favourite set of Discworld characters, so far; particularly Granny Weatherwax. Granny is a weather worn, practical and stubborn old woman, although Nanny Ogg and young Magrat are as equally endearing and hilarious. During their long journey the witches have some disastrous adventures, accidental successes, humongous rows and strangely discover many old fairy tales are playing out in the lives of real people. This gives them a whole host of magically characters to meet: an annoying Little Red Ride Hood, a confused and tortured wolf, a sleeping princess, two odd step-sisters and a super creepy Prince Charming – someone has seriously messed with the order of the world and they must be stopped!

Terry Pratchett is a well loved author of mine and I was very sad at his passing last year – to me the best way to do him tribute is to continue to read and share my thoughts on all his wonderfully fun books. Witches Abroad is the eighth Discworld novel I have read, but the twelfth published. Although before I haven’t read them in any particular order, I am now trying to read the oldest to the newest books I own. However I don’t believe this is a series you necessarily have to read in order. The stories often follow various different characters – in this case this is the 2nd witches book and I was so excited to read more about them that I skipped Pyramids, which I will have to go back too.

Witches Abroad is another hilarious and fun Discworld adventure, inter-fused with fairy tales and the voodoo culture of the Deep South of America. Great read.

Have you read this? Who are your favourite set of Discworld characters?

Once Upon a Time X – #6