New Read: The Time Machine

Back in April, I took part in The Classics Club’s 20th Spin event, which chose the classic, science fiction novella, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I was really pleased with my result, because I have long wanted to read this but just didn’t seem to be getting round to it – in fact, it is left over from my first list – so this finally gave me the push I needed. However I wasn’t able to make the  31st May deadline though, as I had Howards End by E. M. Forster to finish first.

Published in 1895, the story that launched H.G. Wells’ as the father of science fiction, begins with a group of free-thinking, Victorian men in-the-midst of a luxurious after-dinner discussion by the fire side. In which their host, who comes to be known as the Time Traveller, raises the argument of time travel and a machine he has been working on. A week later a similar group meet for dinner, but their host, the Time Traveller, is conspicuous by his absence – he was seen entering his laboratory by his servants – then when he reappears he his dishevelled, half-starved and with bare, bloodied feet.

The reader and the guests are kept on tender-hooks as the Time Traveller takes some time to recover, and much speculation circulates the group as they impatiently wait for their host to return and explain. When he does he announces, “I’ve had a most amazing time….” and so begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing account of his journey 800,000 years into the future. Where he discovers two bizarre races: first the ethereal, childlike Eloi and then the creeping, subterranean Morlocks.

I just loved the atmosphere that Wells was able to create with the well-used technique of friends gathering around a fire and to hear a story told – reminiscent of many classic horror stories – which created a clever juxtaposition; as this is not your usual scary story, with its ghosts, ghouls and monsters. Instead this is an new breed of unsettling story, that travels not back but forward in time, to gives us an alarming vision of the future. Where the Earth is slowly dying, our civilisation has long gone, and the symbiotic relationship between Eloi and Morlock taps into some of our worst fears.

My only niggle would be the Time Traveller himself – Instead of the brave explorer I was sort of expecting, I got a pretty foolhardy adventurer. He lolloped about the landscape, like some giant, English dandy on holiday, with little concern for his safety or for the safety of the Eloi; who so innocently and unquestionably befriended him. In hindsight though, was this perhaps an intentional portrayal and damning commentary from Wells on the Western explorers of his time, as they explored deeper into Africa and South America with little concern for the indigenous people?

Niggle aside though, I thought The Time Machine was a truly imaginative and ahead of its time tale of the future, and with the Time Traveller’s gung-ho attitude, the adventure skipped along at a quick, exciting pace too. Good read.

Have you read this? Have you read anything else by Wells?

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Goodbye June, Hello July 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? Well June has been a month of extreme weather: from week long rain to a mini-Saharan heatwave! It has also been another busy month attending to a local Film and Comic Con; celebrating Father’s Day; a theatre trip to see The Lady Vanishes and going to a local, street food and music event. With all that going on, here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 2          Non-Fiction: 1

In July, I had quite a ‘classic’ month of reading. First, I finished reading the classic, science fiction The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, which I carried over from June and was my result for the last Classic Club’s Spin event. Then being eager to see what happened next to Aunt Jo and her boys after Little Men, I picked up the charming, children’s classic, Jo’s Boys by Louisa May Alcott, off of my 10 Books of Summer 2019 reading list. Two gentle, classic reads, that were easy for me to dip in and out of when I found time.

As well as these fictions, I also read, one lazy Sunday morning, the short non-fiction D-Day: A Very Brief History by Mark Black, a super quick bite of World War II history. I’m afraid I am behind on my reviews, so you will have to wait for my thoughts on all three of these.

Pick of the Month: Jo’s Boys

Altogether that is three books read – a perfectly reasonable amount for me, however I can’t help but feel a little disappointed because I feel I was reading more than that. As, through out the month, I was also reading the Norse mythological fantasy, Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris and the memoir Undivided by Christian worship leader, Vicky Beeching.

In July, I look forward to a church ‘fun day’; a joint work’s retirement and leaving do; breaking up for the summer and my holiday to the Amalfi Coast. Also, hopefully, more reading!

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

New Read: Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist

Near the end of May, I was in the mood for an easy, comforting read, so I reached for Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton, the sixth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. While each book is a self-contained mystery, there is the continuing character arc for Agatha running through them all, therefore I recommend checking out the first book, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, if you’re unfamiliar with the series.

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin, having been spurned at the alter, leaves the sleepy Cotswold village of Carsely in hot pursuit of her fleeing fiancé James Lacey to Northern Cyprus, where they had planned to honeymoon. Instead of the passionate reunion in the sun she had hoped for though, Agatha ends up playing a pathetic game of cat and mouse with the irritated James. Until they are both awkwardly thrown together by the murder of obnoxious British tourist, Rose Wilcox in a disco. Can they put aside their troubles to solve this mystery, especially as Agatha’s life seems to be in danger?

Our poor Agatha is at her most cringeworthy in this book, as she pathetically chases after James. I’ve never particularly liked him because he was always distant but now he is down-right cold and quite callous. I really felt for the heartsore Agatha, especially as she is far away from the support of her good friends and is instead surrounded by an odious group of British tourists – Anyone of which could be the murderer, who is trying to bump her off next. So I was thankful for the return of the dapper Sir Charles Fraith (from the Walkers of Dembley mystery), as a much needed friendly face, ally and a second love interest for Agatha.

With all of this emotional turmoil for Agatha and with the mystery taking place miles away from the usual, charming setting of Carsely, this was a little less comforting read for me. Agatha’s amateur investigation is as eccentric and bumbling as ever, but there is a more darker sense of urgency with the attempts on Agatha’s life and the lack of support and protection from James. In fact, James is almost as much use as a chocolate tea-cup! Fortunately, we have the well-meaning, if not always useful, support of Sir Charles and his rakish, bill-dodging antics to make us smile.

While perhaps not quite as comforting as previous instalments in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist is another quick, easy and fun cosy-crime. At first I thought this was a re-read, however the further I got into the twists and turns, I had no idea what was coming. So either my memory is worse than I thought or I never actually read/finished this. Next up is Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death. Good read.

Have you read this? Have you read any other cosy-crime recently?

New Read: By Sword and Storm

Back in 2016, I read Turn of the Tide and A House Divided from Margaret Skea’s wonderful historical series about Adam Munro and his family during the reign of James VI of Scotland in the early 16th century. With a bloody clans feud, betrayal, loss and a witch trial, I was hooked and both books made it onto my 2016 list of top ten books of the year. So I’m sure you can imagine it was a hard wait for the 2018 release of the eagerly-anticipated third volume, By Sword and Storm.

At the beginning of this book, we re-join Adam and Kate Munro, and their children Robbie, Maggie and Ellie, now they have all fled Scotland and taken refuge in France. Kate and the girls are settled with Madame Picarde at her  farmstead in Cayeux. While Adam and Robbie are both serving in the Scots Gardes to the French king, Henry IV. The year is 1598 – The French Wars of Religion are drawing to an end and Henry introduces the Edict of Nantes, which establishes religious freedom in all but Paris.

For the exiles, the edict and Kate’s unexpected pregnancy symbolise a new start, free from their past troubles and persecution, despite their lingering home-sickness for Scotland and their friends: the Montgomeries. After suffering so much hardship, I truly wanted to see the Munros find some peace; but of course if they did, that early on the book anyway, there wouldn’t be a book! Instead, when Adam bravely foils an attempt on the French king’s life, the whole family are called from the quiet of Cayeux to Henry’s glittering court in bustling Paris.

However this does open up some exciting opportunities: Adam has his family back by his side; Robbie meets a young Huguenot woman; Maggie has the chance to study medicine and Kate becomes close to the king’s mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées. But as well as delights, Paris also holds danger, as religious tensions remain high. While they have dispensation from the king for their protestant faith, they must all tread carefully, be discreet and not let their sympathies give them away.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland, Hugh Montgomery, his wife Elizabeth, and his brothers John and Alexander must also tread a delicate path in their dealings with the spiteful William Cunninghame, his cousin Patrick and his cronies Hamilton and Fullerton. The king, James VI, has outlawed the carrying of weapons and duelling in Edinburgh to curb these long-standing family feuds, but they are still simmering away beneath the surface and James’ has little patience or mercy left. These are still troubled times for the Munros and Montgomeries alike…

Unlike the previous books though, this time the friends are separated and unable to support each other. Each time the narrative switched, I found myself emotionally torn, as I was rooting for them both. As well as the drama it created, having the families split also gives Skea a wonderful opportunity to show us a new setting and a different thread to history. As I knew little to nothing about Henry IV or the French Wars of Religion before reading this book, I was thrilled and again Skea did a beautiful job of bringing the history alive in a totally believable way.

All in all I thought By Sword and Storm was another wonderful, historical rollercoaster ride, that had me gripped from start to finish. When I started reading this I believed it was the third volume in a trilogy, but since finishing it I read that it is actually a saga – I am really hoping it is the latter as this had a tantalisingly open end and I just want more! Great read.

Have you read this? Have you read any other Scottish historical fiction?

New Read: Howards End

After watching the BBC’s delightful 2017 adaptation, starring the brilliant Hayley Atwell and Matthew MacFadyen, I was inspired to put E. M. Forster’s turn-of-the-century classic, Howards End onto my new list for The Classics Club. Then in March, I picked this up thinking it would be perfect for spring.

Howards End is considered by many to be Forster’s masterpiece, in which the author explores the slowly changing landscape, social conventions, codes of conduct and relationships in turn-of-the-century England. He does this with humour and pathos through the lives and interactions of three very different London families: the bohemian Schlegels; the rich, capitalist Wilcoxes and the impoverished Basts. The meeting of individuals with such polarised social status, world outlook and economic situation makes for some positive effects, comical blunders but also some disastrous consequences.

What, or should I saw who, really made this novel for me was the engaging Margaret Schlegel, an intelligent, idealistic and independent woman, with a love of the Arts, nature, travelling and social justice. Who, in a time when there were still many constrictions on women, is courageous enough to live the life and be who she wants to be, whilst also lovingly accepting others for who they are. Highlighted in her unwavering love for her rather irritating younger siblings: the flighty Helen and the pompously philosophical Tibby.

Similar it is with her love and compassion that Margaret draws many of the other main characters into the story and drives the plot along. First she befriends Ruth Wilcox, the matriarch of the Wilcox family, who is sick and alone, and in Margaret, Ruth believes she has met a kindred spirit. This later leads to the blossoming romance between Margaret and the widowed Henry Wilcox, who is a kind, practical and unsentimental businessman. Margaret also encourages and tries to help Leonard Bast, a poor Bank clerk with a passion for literature and music, after Helen accidentally takes his umbrella.

A lot of the story takes place in London, a little on the coast and in the country, however in the air always hangs Howards End… This house was the prized possession of Ruth Wilcox, which she wished to bequeath to Margaret, however even though her family don’t feel the same about the place, yet they can’t bare to part with it either. I could so easily picture the old, rambling house set in its semi-wild gardens, surrounded by fields out in the suburbs; that have yet to be swallowed up by London’s gradual expansion. For much of the book the house lies empty and it is Margaret who unintentionally brings life back to it. Forster creates a beautiful symmetry: beginning and ending the story with Howards End.

Oh I could go on, but I will stop. Overall I thought Howards End was a touching, humorous and masterful tale of family, society and change in the early 20th century, with vibrant characters and vivid descriptions of place. This did turn out to be a perfect read for Spring. Great read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by E. M. Forster?

This is book 8/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

Goodbye May, Hello June 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? May has absolutely flown by for me in a blur of four friends and family birthdays (including my baby brother’s 21st!), a lovely bank holiday weekend, buying a new car, and a short term at work which led to another week break. Even though it flew by, it was a quieter, more relaxing month, which left me plenty of time for some great reading. Here’s what I read:

Fiction: 3          Non-Fiction: 1

First, I finished reading the engaging, turn-of-the-century classic, Howards End by E. M. Forster off of my Classics Club list, which I was inspired to add to my list after watching the BBC’s delightful 2017 adaptation. I found the book to be an equal delight and the perfect spring read as I had hoped. Then I travelled further back to 16th century Scotland and France, in By Sword and Storm by Margaret Skea, the gripping and eagerly anticipated conclusion to Skea’s brilliant Munro Scottish Saga trilogy. It was great to catch up with well loved characters and see some conclusions for them… although I think teasingly left open enough for the possibility of more.

Finally, for something completely different, I indulged in a short, fun read of Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton, the sixth full-length mystery from Beaton’s long-running cosy crime series. The premise for which was so familiar I thought this was a re-read, but the further I got into the twists and turns I had no idea what was coming, so either my memory is worse than I thought or I never actually read/finished this before.

Alongside these fictions, I also finished my continued read of the fascinating biography, Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. Started back in January, I took my time over this in-depth and enthusiastic look into this beloved author’s life through the places and spaces that mattered to her.

Pick of the Month: I can’t choose!

Altogether that is a brilliant four books read – not only does that make this my best month numbers wise this year, it was all top-notch quality too. At the end of the month, I also started reading my first book off my 10 Books of Summer 2019 Reading Challenge: Runemarks by Joanne M. Harris; my book club‘s next read, Undivided by Vicky Beeching; and my Classics Club Spin result: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells.

In June, I look forward to a trip to a local Film and Comic Con; a special ‘Vision Evening’ at my church; celebrating Father’s Day and a trip to the theatre to see The Lady Vanishes. It is shaping up to be a busy month – Here’s hoping there is still plenty of time for reading!

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

New Books: April & May 2019

Hello my fellow bookworms, it has been a while since I did one of these posts, because I have been resisting the urge to buy any new books. However I have received a few review copies, which are free…so totally okay, right? Here’s the goodies I’ve got over the last two months:

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce

Radioactive Evolution by Richard Hummel

Back in April, I received two new books from two new authors. First, I was kindly sent a copy of the new historical fiction, Her Kind from the publisher Penguin. It is said to be a ‘vivid re-imagining of the events leading up to the Kilkenny Witch Trial’, so I am super excited about it!

Then I also happily accepted a review copy of Radioactive Evolution, a new science fiction and fantasy cross-genre, from the publicist, after it was described as a collision of Hunger Games, Ready Player One and Game of Thrones.

Caitlin’s Son by John A. Heldt

The Comedy Club by Peter Bartram

While in May, I received two review copies from authors I have enjoyed before. First Heldt’s new time-travel novel, Caitlin’s Son, which is the fourth book in his Carson Chronicles series. I have previously enjoyed several books from Heldt’s earlier American Journey series, so I look forward to trying more.

Then The Comedy Club is the third book in Bartram’s nostalgic, murder mystery series. Having already enjoyed Headline Murder and Stop Press Murder from the series, I am looking forward to more adventures with ace crime reporter, Colin Crampton in 1960’s Brighton.

Do you fancy any of these? What new books have you got recently?