New Read: Sandlands

After hearing such wonderful things from several blogging friends about the short story collection Sandlands by Rosy Thornton, I was absolutely thrilled when the author offered me a copy. I put it on my 10 Books of Summer 2017 list to make sure I got to it at last…I can’t believe I waited so long!

Sandlands is a gentle and magical collection of sixteen stories that follow the creatures and people of the Suffolk landscape. Sadly I couldn’t possible mention them all here, even though I loved them all, or this post would be ridiculously long. However some of my favourites included: High House, about the enigmatic Mr Napish feeding a fox rescued from the floods; The Watcher of Souls, about an owl that has been guarding a cache of long-lost love letters; Nightingale’s Return, where the nightingale’s song lures a foreigner home; and The Witch Bottle, that see’s love and a curse echoing through the centuries.

Through the landscape and creatures in these wonderful stories, the author has cleverly linked the past to the present, and generations of lives are beautifully intertwined. I found myself absolutely swept away and I even found it quite hard to put down this collection of tales; full of life, death, nature, animals, and all with a delightful touch of magical realism. Likewise though I was also able to dip into one story at a time when I had a free moment. What worked so well about this collection for me was how these were all individual stories, which I could read one at a time when I had time, likewise though you could keep reading through as the setting links these stories so well, similar to a novel.

Overall, I thought Sandlands was an enchanting collection of short stories, which took me on a journey through the nature, lives and history of Suffolk. I would love to read more by this author. Great read.

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

Have you read this? Any recommendations for other nature filled short stories?

10 Books of Summer 2017 – 1/10

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I’ve Been Meaning to Read

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

Top Ten Series I’ve Been Meaning To Start But Haven’t

This topic was originally done back in March 2013, long before I began taking part in this meme, so this is a new topic for me. While my list is perhaps not a mile long, there are many series I have been meaning to read for some time but I haven’t got round to, yet! Here are the ten series/trilogies that first came to mind (ordered alphabetically):

~ 1 ~

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

A young adult fantasy series that follows Artemis Fowl II, a criminal mastermind. It sounds right up my street. Sadly no one I know seems to have read it to have recommended or lent it to me.

~ 2 ~

The Cousins’ War by Philippa Gregory

Since watching the BBC’s brilliant adaptation, The White Queen (2013), I have wanted to read this popular historical series, set during the War of the Roses. Fortunately I am hoping to remedy this soon, as back in February I got my hands on five books from the series.

~ 3 ~

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

For too long, Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in this fantasy trilogy, has been sitting on my Kindle, forgotten! I think perhaps I need more of the books to give me the push I need to start reading, because otherwise this trilogy sounds exactly my kind of thing.

~ 4 ~

Fortunes of France by Robert Merle

Similarly, The Brethren, the first book in this epic historical series, has been sitting, neglected, on my TBR bookshelf. Sadly, shortly after receiving it, I read two not-so-glowing reviews of it which left me wondering if it was for me. Yet the only real way to find out is to read it!

~ 5 ~

The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

After loving Riordan’s mythological Percy Jackson series, you would have thought it was a dead cert that I would move on to this series. However I tried The Kane Chronicles first, as I adore Ancient Egypt even more than Ancient Greece, but I was left feeling disappointed with its protagonists. And so this series fell by the wayside.

~ 6 ~

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Similarly, after enjoying The Mortal Instruments urban fantasy series, I hoped to move on to this, a fantasy trilogy, from the same author. For some reason though that hasn’t happened yet.

~ 7 ~

Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart

With my love of Arthurian legend and this author, I knew when I heard about this trilogy a few years ago that I wanted to read it. Fortunately back in April, I picked all three books up for a bargain on my Kindle, so I hope to start reading them very soon now; no excuse!

~ 8 ~

Miss Marple by Agatha Christie

Generally I need to read more of Christie’s classic, golden age mysteries! The very few I have read have been about her well loved, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and I know I really must give her equally well loved, detecting spinster Miss Marple a chance too.

~ 9 ~

Peter Grant/Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

This urban fantasy, crime series sounds right up my street, and I have book one, two and five on my TBR bookshelf…so no excuse really. Get reading Jessica!

~ 10 ~

Wolf Hall Trilogy by Hilary Mantel

Finally, but certainly not least we have this award winning historical trilogy, which I have wanted to read since watching the BBC’s amazing adaptation, Wolf Hall (2015). I have the first book on my TBR bookshelf, however I think the sheer length of it might be what’s putting me off starting it.

What series/trilogies have you been meaning to read? Also, please link in the comments below if you have taken part in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic too.

New Read: Class of ’59

Earlier this year, I really enjoyed nostalgic mystery Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt. So much so I didn’t wait long to pick up this, Class of ’59, the next book in his American Journey series. Which also nicely ticks off the ‘title with a number in numbers’ for the What’s in a Name 2017 challenge.

In summer 2017, Mary Beth settles down for a quiet morning on her vacation in a family friend’s old mansion house in Southern California. Her peace is broken when she discovers a 1950’s attired trespasser in the garden, who seemingly appears and disappears into thin air. That trespasser is in fact Mark, the resident of the same house but in 1959, who had unwittingly time travelled through a tunnel in the basement. Before long they realise the miraculous opportunity they have, so Mary Beth and her sister Piper travel back to Mark for a journey of love, danger and adventure in the age of sock hops, poodle skirts, drive-ins and jukeboxes.

Heldt has chosen to split the narration of this book between four characters, rather than just one or two which I have experienced in his previous books. We see the more adult perspective of the 1950s through the point-of-views of the brokenhearted Mary Beth and all-round good guy Mark. I found both likeable characters and they suited each other well, although for me their relationship did have a slight insta-love feel to it. At the same time we experience the more exciting teenage scene of the 1950s, through the on/off angsty teen relationship between Piper and Mark’s brother Ben. I found these two less endearing but no less interesting.

Again I thought the author, Heldt, brought alive the time and place really well, with the school prom, lovers’ lane, college dinners, fashion, music and a touching encounter with an iconic, blonde bombshell. However even though I enjoyed seeing both aspects of this nostalgic age, I found myself less attached to the characters as I had to spread my attention between four of them and two blossoming relationships, in what is a relatively short novel. For that reason, I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as the previous, Indiana Belle.

That said though, overall, I found the Class of ’59 was an enjoyable time travel romance, which was a light escapist read for my overworked brain. I still look forward to reading more of Heldt’s novels Okay read.

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

Have you read this? Any recommendations of other books set in the 1950s?

What’s in a Name 2017 – 4/6 (a title with a number in numbers)

New Books: May – June 2017

Hello my fellow bookworms, during May and a little into June I added these goodies to my Kindle and bookshelf:

Wendy Darling, Volume 3: Shadow by Colleen Oakes

By Blood Divided by James Heneage

Watling Street by John Higgs

During May, I was lucky enough to receive these three review copies via Netgalley. By Blood Divided and Watling Street were quite whim requests, however I have been waiting (not so patiently) for volume 3 to finish off Oakes’ Wendy Darling trilogy for a while.

Learn to Knit by Fiona Goble

Knitted Home Crafts by DK

At the end of May, I treated myself to these two beginner knitting books, which were going for a song in The Works. My nan taught me the basics of knitting as a child, but sadly I have never taken it much further – I thought these had some nice, simple home projects I could have a go at.

Death of a Gossip by M C Beaton

Death of a Cad by M C Beaton

Then, just sneaking into June, my dad treated me to the first two books in M C Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series. He’d spotted a book he really wanted in The Works, and we all know you might as well go for the brilliant 3 for £5 deal in there! I really like Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series, so it should be fun to try her other famous crime series.

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

New Read: My Cousin Rachel

I have been meaning to read more by Daphne du Maurier for some time (my last was Jamaica Inn back in 2015!), and after getting some feedback from other bloggers, it was pretty conclusive that I should read My Cousin Rachel next. Started back in March, it wasn’t till the sun emerged in May that I found myself really in the mood for it.

Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised solely by his older cousin, Ambrose; a resolutely single man that delights in Philip as an heir. But as a young man, his cosy world is shattered when Ambrose is forced by ill health to leave Cornwall for the warmth of Florence. While there he falls deeply in love and marries – and then dies suddenly. Leaving Philip grief-stricken at his loss, and racked by jealousy and suspicion of his cousin’s widow, Rachel. Despite himself, on meeting each other, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in his beloved Ambrose’s death?

This is the question that Philip, the narrator, and so in turn us, the reader, comes back to again and again. It a rollercoaster ride for us, as Philip tries to grapple with the prejudices he holds; the damning rumours he has heard and the changing opinions around him, while trying to tally that with how different Rachel seems in the flesh. Is she a money grabbing, man-eater? Or is she the wronged widow? Personally I always felt there was something not quite right about her.

However we, the readers, only ever get to see Rachel through the eyes of Philip, but is he a reliable narrator? He clearly loved his cousin Ambrose very much, and vice versa, however the secluded, privileged bubble that they lived in has allowed Philip to grow up naïve, impulsive and spoilt. Do his suspicions simply come from his jealousy of having to share Ambrose’s love? On the other hand, does Rachel’s strong, emotional affect on him stem from the fact he is uneducated in love and women? I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him! Especially when the advice and opinion of his trusted godfather on Rachel does a full 360 in a matter of weeks too.

Around these two imperfect characters and their intense relationship, Daphne du Maurier has beautifully weaved another captivating, gothic mystery, which is full of secrets, rumours, tension and passion. All set  against the stark, atmospheric coast of Cornwall, that du Maurier loved so much and which she can describe in such vivid, realistic detail. I may have taken a while to be the mood for this book; once I was though I was swept away, gripped firm and finished reading it in a matter of a few days! Might have been quicker if I didn’t need to eat and sleep!

Overall, I thought My Cousin Rachel was a wonderfully atmospheric read, right up there with the pure quality of Rebecca, which is a very strong contender for my top ten reads of the year. I look forward to reading even more from du Maurier – I already have Frenchman’s Creek and The House on the Strand on my to-be-read pile. Great read.

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

Goodbye May, Hello June 2017

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? May has been a mixed bag of a month. At the beginning, I enjoyed a weekend on the south coast to celebrate my brother’s birthday, but it was followed by miserable late-April showers. While the month ended with a glorious week of sunshine, I managed to cut my finger badly and was left feeling rather sorry for myself! Fortunately my poorly finger couldn’t stop me reading, here is what I read:

Fiction: 4          Non-Fiction: 1

It was a busy time for me at the beginning of May, when I picked up Monstrous Little Voices edited by David Thomas Moore, a wonderful collection of stories with elements of war, romance, magic and deception, which was perfect to squeeze in when I had a moment or two. Then when the weather took a turn for the worst, I indulged in a comforting re-read of Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M C Beaton, the fourth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series.

As the sun emerged later in the month, I finally found myself in the mood for the wonderfully atmospheric My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier. It was back in March, I actually started reading this, however I read the majority of it in a matter of days! At the same time, I had on the go the lighter read of Class of ’59 by John A. Heldt, a nostalgic, time travel romance. Which also covered nicely the ‘title with a number in numbers in’ for the What’s in a Name 2017 challenge. My full thoughts on these two books are still to be posted.

Alongside these fictions, I also continued my unintentional US president theme by reading the short non-fiction The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Very Brief History by Mark Black.

Pick of the Month: My Cousin Rachel 

Altogether that is five books read, which is a good amount for me. I have also continued to intermittently listen to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and dipped in and out of the memoir Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham. While at the end of the month, I started reading the Italian classic Sandokan, The Tigers of Mompracem by Emilio Salgari and the short story collection Sandlands by Rosy Thornton.

In June, I am looking forward to a trip to the wonderful Butterfly Farm and going to see Puccini’s opera Madam Butterfly; honestly this butterfly theme was not planned! And, of course, I look forward to more reading, in particular for my 10 Books of Summer challenge.

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

Re-Read: Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

As the miserable weather has continued in May, I indulged in another comforting re-read. This time of Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley by M C Beaton, the fourth book in Beaton’s long-running, cosy-crime series. (If you are unfamiliar with this author and series you may instead want to check out my thoughts on the first book: Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death).

Our smart dressing, retired-PR executive Agatha Raisin returns after a miserable spell back in London, feeling depressingly like her old, cross self and terribly out of shape. As a remedy Agatha decides to join Carsley’s rambling group, which just so happens to be led by her handsome neighbour, James Lacey. However rambling doesn’t turn out to be as staid or safe as she imagined … as the body of young Jessica Tartinck, leader of the Dembley Walkers, is found in a shallow grave on Sir Charles Fraith’s estate. Luring James along to help her, Agatha starts to investigate and discovers that Jessica seemed to live to enrage people, subsequently there is a very long list of suspects!

Formerly Agatha had been sharp, bossy and cajoling. Sadly after her stint, thanks to her so-called friend Roy, back in the PR business many of these unpleasant traits had returned. Fortunately once she is settled back into the village and has the vicar’s lovely wife Mrs Bloxby and the young Detective Constable Wong back, Agatha does begin to soften again. Plus she is the cat that got the cream, when she convinces the reluctant James to play husband and wife, so they can infiltrate the Dembley Walkers; a more rag-tag, back stabbing, oddball group you couldn’t wish to have in a murder mystery. Then there is Sir Charles and his ghastly manservant Gustav. Put together they make Agatha seem positively cuddly!

In this re-read, it was again an absolute pleasure to return to the charming village of Carsely; spend time with an eclectic mix of characters and follow Agatha for another eccentric, bumbling investigation. I love a good murder mystery however I don’t always want all that gore and gritty realism, which is when a cosy-crime like this is perfect. These aren’t ground breaking books, instead they are grab a mug of tea, curl up and simply enjoy kind of books. They are rapidly becoming my go-to-books for comfort.

Overall, Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley was another quick, fun and comforting re-read, however this is the last of my re-reads. Next up is, the new-to-me, Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage. Good read.