New Read: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Back at the beginning of July, I continued my summer reading with the first in a historical saga, Eleanor of Aquitaine by new-to-me author Christopher Nicole. Originally published in 1995 under the pen name of Alan Savage – I came across this, Endeavour Press’ 2016 republication, on Netgalley.

This book took me back to 1135 to meet Eleanor, the beautiful thirteen-year-old heiress to the Duchy of Aquitaine and the most eligible bride in Europe. Negotiations are in progress for her marriage to the Dauphin, Louis of France when her father dies suddenly giving her no choice but to rush the wedding ahead. Thus in a space of a few short months Eleanor transforms from heiress to duchess, to Dauphine, to Queen of France at only fifteen years old. With her marriage comes the end of her girlhood dreams of romance however her burning desire for love and adventure remains.

While her adventurous streak is fed by taking up the cross and travelling to Jerusalem with her husband during the disastrous Second Crusade, her burning desire for love is not sated by the pious Louis; who as the younger son was initially destined for a monastic life before the sudden death of his older brother, Philip. Even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged, and their differences were only exacerbated while they were abroad. After returning to France and the birth of a second daughter, Louis finally agreed to an annulment of their fifteen year marriage.

Immediately Eleanor escapes and makes for Poitiers – on the way evading two attempts to kidnap and marry her. Only on arriving to be claimed by the much younger Henry, Duke of Normandy and the future King Henry II of England. And this is where my prior knowledge of Eleanor begins, so it was really interesting in this book to read about her life with her first husband. Nicole portrays Eleanor as a precocious young woman, who grows into a strong-willed, passionate queen. Which fits well with the rebellious wife and formidable dowager queen I knew she went on to be in later life.

My only problem with this book was the sex. Okay, I get it Eleanor is famed to be the ‘queen of love’ or in other circles defamed as a worldly harlot. Also I knew the rumours of her ‘excessive affection’ for her uncle Raymond, prince of Antioch, who she was reunited with during the Crusade. So I knew love affairs would probably be involved in this story, however I was not prepared for the numerous amount and/or the erotic detail they would described in. According to Nicole neither man, boy or woman was safe around Eleanor!

Fortunately, overall I found Eleanor of Aquitaine to be such a gripping historical soap opera, that I was able to skim quickly over those pesky sex scenes and continue on undeterred. I have book two in the saga, Queen of Love, ready and waiting on my Kindle. 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 other fiction about Eleanor?

This is book 2/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

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New Read: The House on the Strand

After loving My Cousin Rachel last summer, it felt right, back in June, to start this summer of reading with another of Daphne du Maurier’s wonderfully atmospheric novels. Taking recommendations from my fellow bloggers, I decided to read du Maurier’s 1969 novel, The House on the Strand next.

When Dick Young’s old friend, Magnus, offers him an escape to his country-pile of Kilmarth, on the Cornish coast for the summer holidays, Dick jumps at the chance. However there is a catch… Magnus also wants him to trial a new drug, a drug which transports Dick back to the wild, bleak Cornwall of the troublesome fourteenth century. Where Dick witnesses the intrigues of the local gentry, and becomes fixated on a horseman named Roger and the captivating Lady Isolde Carminowe. But soon Dick’s repeated trips see him withdrawing from the modern world and his family, and lead to some worrying and dangerous repercussions in the present.

After having previously only read novels by du Maurier set in the 1930s or earlier, it was a little disconcerting when I started reading this to hear mention of televisions and dishwashers! However this more modern, safe, comfortable setting is used to great effect as a clear juxtaposition to the wild, dangerous past that Dick travels back to. I must admit time travel was not something I would have ever linked with the gothic queen, du Maurier, but in fact she does it very well! Creating two gripping time lines which I was equally invested in – a precursor/inspiration perhaps for those newer dual narrative novels by Susanna Kearsley and others that I enjoy so much.

That being said, Dick is not the most likeable of characters, especially with the indifference and sometimes even contempt he treats his wife and stepsons with. As the terrible consequences of Dick’s addiction start to unfold it was them I truly felt for and Magnus: Dick’s long-lasting friendship with whom is about his only endearing feature. Like Dick though I did feel for and found myself rooting for Roger and Isolde in the past. Which made for double tension! Hauntingly I watched as Dick was powerless to help them as their fate was revealed, while I myself was powerless to stop him.

Now this wouldn’t be a review of a du Maurier novel without mentioning her ever vivid and realistic portrayal of the Cornish coast, that, like in many of her novels, is as important as a character in its own right. In the modern day, I was able to immerse myself in long summer days of sailing, fishing and picnics. While, in stark contrast, in the fourteenth century we go through all the seasons: from Isolde’s children riding on a sunny day, to a ship floundering in a storm and deep snow trapping everyone indoors. Although some of the houses have come and gone, the only big (ominous) change to the landscape is the railway cutting through the land in the present day.

All in all, I thought The House on the Strand was a superb, time-travelling horror, that had me gripped from beginning to end. Not as great as Rebecca but definitely a contender for my top ten reads of this year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I have Frenchman’s Creek and The Loving Spirit on my shelf to choose from next. Great read.

Have you read this? What do you think I should read next?

This is book 1/10 for my 10 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge.

Goodbye June, Hello July 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are well? Surprisingly, here in the UK, we have been in a blistering heat-wave for the last week or so. As well as the scorching temperatures, I have been far too busy for reading out on the patio. With three school trips; the busy wind-down to the end of term, and applying for new jobs. Plus I enjoyed an Olly Murs tribute & curry night and booked my summer holiday! During all that this is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 1          Non-Fiction: 1

First this month, I finished reading Christian non-fiction Vanishing Grace by best-selling evangelical author, Philip Yancey. A thought-provoking and sometimes challenging read, which made for a very interesting discussion at my church’s June book club meeting. Then I got my 10 Books of Summer reading challenge started with the gripping, gothic suspense The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier, which had me time-travelling back to the wild, dangerous Cornwall of the 1300s. So while a slow start in numbers, it was a cracking start for quality. I’m afraid I am really behind on my reviews though, so you will have to wait for my full thoughts on both of these.

Pick of the Month: The House on the Strand

Altogether that is just two books finished, which makes this my new, lowest month of the year! Clearly I have just been too busy! However through out June, I have been reading non-fiction Charles II, Biography of an Infamous King by John Miller and the swashbuckling classic Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia by Emilio Salgari. Then at the end of the month, I started reading Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen (for my church’s next book club meeting).

In July, I look forward, bitter-sweetly, to the end of term, the summer holidays and hopefully reading more!

What did you do and read in June? What are your plans for July?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10… Books on My Summer TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. If you love books and making lists, this is the meme for you! This week’s topic is:

Books to Read By the Pool/At the Beach
(This can also serve as your summer TBR)

There are many wonderful books awaiting me on my bookshelf and Kindle, however here are ten books, ordered alphabetically, I am looking forward to reading this summer, as part of my 10 Books of Summer challenge:

  1. Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir – After loving Katherine of Aragon, I look forward to continuing Weir’s Six Tudor Queens series.
  2. Cauldstane by Linda Gillard – I have three of the wonderful Gillard’s women’s fictions on my Kindle. Of those three I fancy this the most.
  3. Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole – I am looking forward to this, the first book in Nicole’s historical saga about this famous queen.
  4. Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt – I am hoping for another light, time-travel romance from Heldt – Perfect for the summer holidays.
  5. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier – In your kind comments this seemed to have the edge on Frenchmen’s Creek for me to read next.
  6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – I look forward to starting a re-read of this thrilling YA trilogy, preferably in the sun please.
  7. Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell – This set of fictional biographies of famous chefs through the ages sounds fascinating.
  8. The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen – This highly acclaimed book is the next read for my church’s book club.
  9. Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease – After reading Seven Kings of England, I am interested to find out more about some famous queens.
  10. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett – Simply because a summer TBR without Pratchett and his madcap Discworld doesn’t seem right!

Have you read any of my choices? What books are on your summer TBR? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s TTT topic too.

Goodbye May, Hello June 2018

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are well? Happily, here in the UK, there have been many more days of sunshine to indulge in reading on the patio this month, as well as some spectacular thunderstorms! I have also celebrated several birthdays; had a trip to Drayton Manor theme park; and enjoyed a few days on the south coast, during the half term break, with my mum. All in all a good month. Here’s what I have been reading in the sun:

Fiction: 5          Non-Fiction: 0

First this month, I read the brilliant Queen of Hearts, Volume 3: War of the Cards by Colleen Oakes, the long-awaited finale to Oakes’ twisted, young adult re-imagining of Wonderland. Next I lost myself in the historical fiction Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip, with its exotic setting and heart-breaking tale. Then at the end of the month, I started and finished within a few days, the cosy crime Headline Murder by Peter Bartram, which is the first book to follow journalist Colin Crampton and his investigations back in 1960s Brighton.

Also this month, I finished my slow but steady read of the classic The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, a wonderful novel I felt I needed to take my time with, and I finished my re-read via Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Audiobook) by J.K. Rowling and narrated by the hilarious Stephen Fry, which I have been enjoying immensely while I do my ironing. However you may have noticed I finished no non-fiction this month! Although, for the best part of the month, I have had two longer, heftier non-fictions on the go.

As well as a quality month of reading this was a very productive month too. As Queen of Hearts, Volume 3: War of the Cards and Peach Blossom Pavilion ticked off two categories on my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. While The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was my March spin result and my second book off my new Classics Club list. However I am not up-to-date with my reviews, mainly because a lot of these books I finished right at the end of the month. So you have three May reviews to look forward to in June.

Pick of the Month: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Altogether that is fives books finished, which is up on the previous few months and equals the earlier months of January and February. Carrying on into June, I have non-fictions: Charles II, Biography of an Infamous King by John Miller and Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey (for my church’s next book club meeting).

In June, I look forward to starting my 10 Books of Summer reading challenge with The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and continuing my Classics Club reading with Sandokan, The Pirates of Malaysia by Emilio Salgari. Plus I have a WWII school trip (I am planning to dress up as a land girl), an Olly Murs tribute night and my book club meeting to discuss Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey. Looks like it could be another good month.

What did you do and read in May? What are your plans for June?

New Read: Peach Blossom Pavilion

Several years ago now, I snapped up this exotic, historical fiction, Peach Blossom Pavilion by Mingmei Yip, when it was being offered for free on Amazon (UK). However since then it has sadly lay neglected on my Kindle, even though I was excited to read it! That was until now, as taking part in the What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge encouraged me to finally pick it up.

On doing so I was swept back to China, at the turn of century, where young Xiang Xiang’s father is falsely accused of a terrible crime by a powerful war lord and is brutally executed. The dishonour forces her mother to enter a Buddhist nunnery, so Xiang Xiang is left in the care of a distant relative, who takes her to the Peach Blossom Pavilion. There she is well fed, clothed and schooled in music, literature, painting and calligraphy, but also, to her innocent surprise, the art of pleasuring men. For the beautiful Pavilion is in fact an elite house of prostitution. Now to repay all that care and training she must sell her skin and smiles to the filthy, rich chou nanrens.

From a sunny California apartment, this riveting story is revealed as Xiang Xiang, now an old lady, is questioned by her great-granddaughter and her fiancée about how she rose from a childhood of shame to become Precious Orchid: one of the richest, most celebrated Ming Ji or “prestigious courtesan” in all of China. And it is a tumultuous tale unlike any they’ve heard before… Filled with deceit, abuse, friendship, suffering, love, loss, politics, danger and daring escapes. Through it all though Xiang Xiang/Precious Orchid never gives up on her dreams to escape; be reunited with her mother; avenge her father’s death and find true love.

In Xiang Xiang/Precious Orchid the author, Mingmei Yip, has created a well rounded and believable heroine – I just had to feel for this sweet, naïve young girl, who through so much heartache and hardship grows into a clever, strong woman. Though there is a selfish streak to her, it was forgivable as it was a product of her treatment. And through her eyes Yip was able to beautifully evoke China of the 1900s and the life at the Pavilion, with its sensual silk gowns; mouth-watering food; traditional tea service; the opera, arts and festivals; faith and the start of western influence.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in the exotic setting and heart breaking tale of Peach Blossom Pavilion. After reading this I would be interested in reading more by Mingmei Yip. Good read.

Have you read this? Or any other historical fiction set in China?

I have included this book in my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge, as a title with a fruit or vegetable in it. (2/6)

Challenge: 10 Books of Summer 2018

The sun is out and summer and the holidays are just around the corner! And I am thrilled to announce Cathy is hosting her brilliant 20 Books of Summer challenge (with the option of 15 or 10 levels too) again this year. As usual I am aiming for the lower goal and here are the 10 books I hope to read:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [re-read]
  2. Lives of Notorious Cooks by Brendan Connell
  3. But Is It Real? by Amy Orr-Ewing
  4. Cauldstane by Linda Gillard
  5. Hannah’s Moon by John A. Heldt
  6. The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
  7. Eleanor of Aquitaine by Christopher Nicole
  8. Sourcery by Terry Pratchett
  9. Seven Sovereign Queens by Geoffrey Trease
  10. Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn, A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir

The challenge runs till the end of summer (3rd September), so just after that I will check back in with you all to discuss what I manage to read!

Are you taking part in this summer challenge? Are there any of these books you think I should read first?