New Read: North and South

As part of The Classics Club, I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Cranford Chronicles, which is made up of the novellas: Cranford, Mr Harrison’s Confession and My Lady Ludlow. After them it seemed high time to read one of Gaskell’s full novels and it just so happened I had Gaskell’s 1854 novel North and South on my to-be-read shelf.

North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, a young, clever and spirited young woman who is to have her comfortable life turned upside down. Firstly, by the marriage of her close companion and cousin, Edith, then by the shock revelation that her father wishes to retire from the church. This means the family must leave their quiet, rural vicarage, their neighbours and all they know to settle in the smoggy, bustling northern industrial town of Milton. Immediately on arriving Margaret has a ready sympathy for the discontented mill workers and their cause, which will sit uneasily with her growing attraction to the charismatic mill owner, John Thornton.

What immediately struck me about the relationship between Margaret and Mr Thornton is its similarity to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. Now I own they are very different as characters, however both pairs have in common that they are blinded by pride and led by their own prejudices. Margaret thinks he is cold, coarse and money driven, while Thornton believes she is haughty and misled. I actually liked both Margaret and Thornton, although I often found myself wanting to knock their heads together! So a delicious (if not sometimes infuriating) will they, won’t they narrative runs through out the novel.

But there is much more to North and South than a rocky love story. Within the story Gaskell also poses and explores fundamental questions about the nature of Victorian social authority and obedience: ranging from religious crises of conscience (Mr Hale); to the ethics of Naval Mutiny (Frederick Hale) and industrial action (Thornton and the mill workers). This is also an emotional rollercoaster which Gaskell so vividly and realistically portrays, that it made me feel I was right there alongside Margaret; as she fights her internal conflicts which mirror the turbulence that surrounds her.

For that reason this wasn’t a quick or easy read like Gaskell’s novellas were for me. I still enjoyed Gaskell’s detailed, meticulous and personable style with her eye for the small details, but I found this was less comforting than her previous stories. Instead with its hard-hitting issues, I found I needed to take my time to mull over and absorb it all. It actually took me from July to November to read three-quarters of this book, yet I whipped through the last quarter in a matter of days as the pace and drama really ramped up.

In conclusion, I thought North and South was a touching and important look into Victorian life, love and society, and the huge upheaval that arose from industrialisation. I suspect I will enjoy this even more on re-reading it. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Elizabeth Gaskell?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 6/6 (a title with a compass direction)


New Read: Crazy Busy

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and I am very lucky that my church has it’s own book club to help me with this. Our last book was Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, after which we took an extended break for Easter and the arrival of the vicar’s fourth bundle of joy! Fortunately while the vicar is still very busy someone else has stepped up to get the group back up and running, with our first book back being: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.

In Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem, the best-selling author, Kevin DeYoung rejects the modern day, crazy-busy lives we lead. With our long days of work, extended by emails at home; all our church activities and responsibilities; and phones, computers and other gadgets that keep us constantly connected and distracted. DeYoung argues that these lives of constant ‘busyness’ are far from what God intends for us and instead hopes to offer us the restful cure we are all in need, but have been too busy to find for ourselves.

As a senior pastor, a popular blogger and the author of several popular books, DeYoung brings warmth, humour, honesty and a life-time of experience to this book. Which at only 118 pages long with short, snappy chapters, it really is a mercifully short book and is ideal for reading in 5-10 minute bites. Each chapter discusses different elements and habits that may be causing unnecessary busyness in our lives for which DeYoung recommends what different actions and mindset could help cure them. Except for the chapter on children, I found all these chapters really helpful and insightful.

Overall, I found Crazy Busy to be a quick, down-to-earth and helpful read, from which there are many tips I will be taking forward to help lighten and de-stress my own life. My book club will be meeting to discuss this book later this month. Next month we will be reading Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you read anything else by Kevin DeYoung?

New Read: Season of Storms

Mid-Autumn felt like the perfect time to pick up another of Susanna Kearsley’s wonderful mystery novels: Season of Storms. Kearsley is one of my favourite authors – I simply love how her writing style is so comforting and familiar for me, like a favourite jumper. Sadly though it has been over a year since I read my last of her novels: Named of the Dragon!

In the early 1900s, in the elegant and isolated villa Il Piacere, Italy, the playwright Galeazzo D’Ascanio is inspired to write his most stunning and original play, for the beautiful, English actress Celia Sands: his love and muse. However the night before she was to take to the stage in the leading role, Celia disappeared. Now, decades later, Alessandro D’Ascanio is preparing to stage his grandfather’s masterpiece, and another young, beautiful English actress, who shares Celia Sands’ name, has agreed to star. Within a theatre in the grounds of Il Piacere, not only will Galeazzo’s play come back to life but so will secrets and ghosts from the past.

Initially, our protagonist the ‘new’ Celia Sands is reluctant to take the job because she has long avoided using her famous name to boost her fledgling career. Instead she has been known as Celia Sullivan so as to make it in her own right; which you can only admire her for. She only agrees when she learns that this is to be her old friend, Rupert’s last directorial role before he retires. Rupert and his partner Brian have been surrogate parents to Celia since she was a small girl, while her glamorous actress mother has flitted from place to place and man to man. They are joined in the production by dashing stage manager Den O’Malley; the famous actress Madeleine Hedrick and the roguish actor Nicholas Rutherford (Madeleine’s lover).

As soon as Celia stepped into the large, decadent and labyrinthine villa Il Piacere, with its impeccable gardens; stunning lake views and its handsome, compelling and compassionate master, Alessandro, I was completely swept away! Even more so when its past secrets start resurfacing and though Celia knows she should let the past go, in the dark, as she dreams, it comes back none the less; as if the first Celia is reaching out to her. Again I think Kearsley has weaved a mystery full of history, theatrical details, stunning settings, and a touch of romance and the supernatural. My only niggle would be the end which was a little anticlimactic, however there is reason for there not being a grand reveal so it really is only a minor niggle.

Overall, I found Season of Storms to be a wonderfully immersive and gripping mystery, that took me away from the cold and wet of the UK. I really must not allow another year to go by before I read more by Kearsley, and there is no excuse to either as I have The Firebird on my to-be-read pile, as well as a new copy of, my favourite, The Rose Garden lined up for a re-read. Great read.

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

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 4/4

New Read: Assassination at Bayou Sauvage

After reading Blood on the Bayou by D. J. Donaldson last year, I was eager to read more from this series. So I was absolutely thrilled when I was offered a copy of Assassination at Bayou Sauvage back in April. (Although this is a series, it is suggested that these books can be enjoyed as stand alones too).

As we moved deeper into Autumn, I felt it was the perfect time to join chief medical examiner, Andy Broussard and criminal psychologist, Dr Kit Franklyn for another mystery in the colourful New Orleans. While Broussard is left reeling from the shocking shooting of his uncle Joe at a family picnic, Kit has to step up to investigate the disappearance of a young woman. Soon what seemed like two clear cut cases is thrown into doubt, as Kit’s first solo efforts soon lead back to the murder of Uncle Joe. Sensing the horrendous magnitude of this case, Broussard has to try to move past his emotions to help his colleagues and friends to uncover the truth before it’s too late!

Again Donaldson immediately drew me in and completely immersed me into this detailed, meticulous and graphic, although I felt it was never gratuitous, mystery. It was also great to reunite with Broussard and Kit, who already seem like old friends to me. Although the narration is still split evenly between these two protagonists, it definitely felt like this was more Kit’s investigation; who is temporarily deputized to help the NOPD cope with a work slow-down. This gives Kit the opportunity to really show what she can do intellectual, physically and mentally, as she is pushed to her limits by not just the case but also by the bullies who support the slow-down.

What I also really loved again was the setting – I have always had a fascination with the Deep South of the USA, especially after watching the first series of HBO’s True Detective, and these books play right into that. In fact, the setting almost becomes another character because it is that good and integral to the story. I thought Donaldson brilliantly brought to life the setting and totally made me feel like I was there: feeling it’s hot, humid weather; eating its delicious food; meeting the colourful, eclectic people; and travelling to the smaller communities out in the crocodile infested wetlands.

Overall, I found Assassination at Bayou Sauvage to be another deeply engrossing, audacious mystery which I loathed to put down and absolutely whipped through. I would definitely like to read more Broussard and Franklyn mysteries. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Or any other mysteries set in the Deep South?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 3/4

Re-Read: The Subtle Knife

This month, I indulged in a comforting re-read of The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, the second book in Pullman’s ever popular trilogy: His Dark Materials. (There is a chance of spoilers so if you are unfamiliar with this series I recommend you read my thoughts on the first book: Northern Lights).

After following her father over the bridge he created, Lyra finds herself alone in a new world, where the adults have disappeared; soul-eating Specters stalk the streets and witches share the skies with troops of angels. There she meets Will, a boy on the run from his world, and together they go searching: Lyra for the meaning of Dust and Will for his missing father, but what they find instead is a deadly secret, a knife of untold power. From then on their lives, their loves, and their destinies are to become irrevocably intertwined.

Again it was another complete joy to re-immerse myself back into this second magical adventure with the headstrong Lyra and her new ally Will. While I love Lyra she can be a wild, spontaneous and selfish character, so the addition of the practical, kind and selfless Will brings a nice balance. At first they very reluctantly work together as the only strangers in this new, strange world, but they do go on to form a true friendship as they travel between this new world and Will’s world, which is very similar to our own world with no daemons or Magisterium.

However The Magisterium is not completely forgotten as Mrs Coulter has also found a way to travel between worlds and has some new, deadly allies too. For this reason the religious element is smaller and more subtle in this book, although you can see it building again as the angels are flying north to Lord Asriel, who is recruiting from many different worlds a large army to fight ‘The Authority’. There are not only baddies though, Lyra’s friends the witch queen Serafina Pekkala and the aeronaut Lee Scoresby come to her and Will’s aid. Even though this was a re-read, there was a lot of this detail that I’d forgotten – it was lovely to get re-acquainted with it all.

Overall, I loved my re-read of The Subtle Knife and I look forward to finishing the trilogy with The Amber Spyglass soon. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Philip Pullman?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 5/6 (a title with an item/s of cutlery)

New Read: Queens of the Conquest

After receiving a copy of Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens 1066-1167  by Alison Weir back in July, I have been desperate to try this new non-fiction offering from one of the queens of history.

Even more exciting is this is the first volume in an epic new series, through which Weir hopes to strip away centuries of romantic mythology and prejudice to tell the real story of England’s medieval queens in the century after the Norman Conquest. It is a chronicle of love, power, marriage, murder, war and betrayal, filled with passion, intrigue and sorrow, and peopled with a cast of heroines, saints, villains, states women and lovers. This first volume covers the hugely influential figures and fascinating characters of the first five Norman queens, from Matilda of Flanders to the controversial Empress Maud.

Beginning with Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William I, who conquered England in 1066, and the mother of the future Henry I and William II. Moving on to Matilda of Scotland, the first wife of Henry I and the mother of Maud and William. Then Adeliza of Louvain, the second wife of Henry I who hoped for more children after the death of his heir William. Culminating in the turbulent period of ‘The Anarchy’ where we have two queens: Matilda of Boulogne, the wife of the usurper Stephen, and the Empress Maud, who claimed to be queen in her own right as the named heir of her father, Henry I.

I found all of these important women fascinating to read about, although inevitably the last section covering the strong, feisty Matilda of Boulogne and Maud was the most exciting for me. All of their lives Weir cleverly pieced together through accounts, letters and charters from the time, but due to the rarity of these primary sources Weir also pads things out with interesting facts about medieval life and detailed descriptions of castles, clothes and festivities. Also to add a more personal touch Weir speculates on how each queen may have felt in significant times in their lives in a balanced, clear way, so there is no confusion with the facts.

My only niggle would be that I don’t think Weir was completely successful in sweeping away all the prejudices of the time. I could definitely feel the negativity towards the Empress Maud – now I’m not saying she was a saint but I did feel sorry for her as nothing she seemed to do was right. While her contemporary Matilda of Boulogne’s equally hard actions were acceptable as she acted on behalf of a man: her husband Stephen. Unlike Maud who dared to act on her own account! No matter how balanced Weir appeared to make her descriptions I couldn’t help feel that she and history looked more favourably on Matilda.

Overall, I thought Queens of the Conquest was a fascinating history of the early Medieval queens – I definitely want to read the next volume when it comes out. 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 any of Weir’s other histories?

New Read: Resthaven

At the end of September, I decided to continue my Autumn themed reading for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII event with the young adult thriller Resthaven by Erik Therme; which had been on my Kindle for too long!

As the new kid in town, Kaylee feels isolated and awkward, so the last thing she wants to do is go to a sleepover with girls she barely knows, let alone likes. Things only get worse when it turns out the queen bee Jamie has arranged a scavenger hunt inside the old abandoned retirement home, Resthaven, which sits right on the edge of town. After an explosive argument the girls all split off separately around the dark empty building…but Kaylee soon discovers that they’re not alone and to top it off the front doors have been mysterious padlocked from the outside! Now Kaylee must find everyone and try to find another way out before it’s too late.

Our narrator Kaylee is joined on this disastrous scavenger hunt by the sensitive Anna, who invited her, the silent Wren, the ditzy Sidney and the bullying Jamie. The problem was I didn’t really like any of them! As stereotypical teenage girls they were all hormonal and seemed to take it in turns to be selfish, thoughtless, insensitive and downright hurtful to each other, including our heroine Kaylee. So sadly I can’t say I found myself rooting for any of them!

Fortunately, Therme has written a tight story with pacey action scenes, twists and turns, and an element of surprise or two. Therefore I certainly wasn’t left bored and I was drawn to keep reading to find out more. As we read on we also learn more of the back stories of each girl, which does help to explain their current behaviour and attitudes, even if it doesn’t completely justify them. Plus of course there is the other person/s in the locked building with them that adds tension, mystery and a real sense of danger.

So overall, shame about the characters but otherwise I thought Resthaven was an easy-to-read, fast paced, young adult thriller which I just zipped through. It was also a very good fit for the R.I.P event. Okay read.

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

Have you read this? Or anything else for the R.I.P event?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII – 2/4