Goodbye August, Hello September 2015

August 2015

Hello my fellow bookworms, I hope you are all well? August has been an exciting month for me.

I started the month off with a trip to London for Secret Cinema’s epic Star Wars event. I also squeezed in a little sight-seeing whilst there too (see photo above). Then I attended my friend’s wedding. It was a glorious, sunny day, and she was a beautiful bride. I then rounded the month off with my church’s holiday club, Mega Makers. I played one of the main characters that presented the club. It was a tiring but really fun week. It was also amazing to see so many new faces in our church.

While I have been busy in my holiday I have still had plenty of time for adaptations and reading. Here is what I managed to read:

Fiction: 5     Non-Fiction: 2     Poetry: 0

Although slow again I have made progress on my 10 Books of Summer reading this month. Firstly I whipped through the fast paced Insurgent by Veronica Roth; 2nd book in Roth’s dystopian, young adult series. Then I immersed myself in The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley. One of my favourite comfort read authors, and this book didn’t disappoint. Another beautiful tale of love, history and mystery. Plus I have had the Austen in August event. For which I picked up the delightful Mansfield Park, my final Austen novel on my Classics Club list. I really must consider reading Austen’s shorter and/or unfinished works now.

I read all these challenge and event books in the middle of the month. While I started the month off with historical fiction The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien. Which swept me back to 1382 to meet Elizabeth of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt and the sister of the future Henry IV. And I ended the month with another historical fiction The Medea Complex by Rachel Florence Roberts; my full thoughts still to be posted.

Alongside these fictions I also read 2 non-fictions. First I read inspiring, Christian memoir Face to Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib and Bodie Thoene. Then I read George Washington another instalment in Mark Black’s A Very Brief History series. Although short I learnt a lot from it about Washington and American history.

Pick of the Month: The Shadowy Horses

That means I have finished 7 books! During the month I also made good progress into Christian non-fiction The Faith of a Mockingbird by Matt Rawle, and I started reading The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle. My result for the last Classic Club spin.

In September I look forward to the start of a new school year, where I am moving up with the children to year 6. Plus of course more good reading.

What did you do and read in August? Any plans for September?

Re-Read: The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment

Battersea Park Road

I first read inspirational memoir, The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment by Isabel Losada, more years ago than I can or wish to count. Needless to say I thought it was high time for a re-read to see if I still enjoyed it.

In The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment Losada chronicles her search for love and acceptance, from herself and others. So starts her slight obsession with going on courses and looking for new experiences. To name a few Losada tries T’ai Chi, colonic irrigation, a weekend retreat with nuns, an Insight seminar, a past lives session, an Astrological reading, and even naked inner Goddess workshops. While I don’t fancy trying even half of the things Losada tries I did find it inspirational how open and brave she was. Losada’s journey is honest, funny and emotional.

I love Losada’s down-to-earth and honest writing style. It didn’t feel like reading a book but instead an informal chat with a friend over a cup of tea. Although in the case of ‘Starbuck’s addict’ Losada, she would perhaps prefer a coffee. Also when I say honest, I mean really honest. Losada’s honesty is often hilarious, sometimes heart-breaking and sometimes painful but I truly appreciated it. I was originally drawn to The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment because I adored From Tibet with Love a previous read by Losada. For my re-read I decided to read them in publication order to see how Losada’s experiences and writing progresses. I look forward to re-reading From Tibet with Love next as I have fond memories of enjoying that even more than this.

The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment is a funny and inspirational memoir. It is hard to know exactly who to recommend this too, as it covers so much! I do highly recommend though. Perhaps you will enjoy this too if you like memoirs, new experiences, and inspirational and faith literature. Good read.

Have you read this too? Have you perhaps tried some of Losada’s experiences?

New Read: The Lady of Misrule

The Lady of Misrule

April was a fantasy fiction filled month for me. To change things up a little at the beginning of May I picked up historical fiction The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn.

The Lady of Misrule takes us back to 1553 as Elizabeth Tilney arrives at The Tower of London to chaperone Lady Jane Grey. Jane reigned as Queen of England for only 9 days before she was overthrown by the supporters of her Catholic cousin Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry VIII. Now Jane and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley, are to be imprisoned in the Tower as traitors. Elizabeth while only there to attend goes on to form an unlikely friendship with Jane and Guildford in the last few months of their young lives. The quiet and isolation is to also give Elizabeth time to reflect on her own life and beliefs.

With all of the action being confined to the Tower, The Lady of Misrule really is a character driven story. Elizabeth is rebellious, naïve and Catholic, though truly she has no real belief system and only follows what is expected of her. In stark contrast we have Jane who is well-educated and has a strong Protestant faith, which she is willing to die for.  I found the forced closeness of these polar opposite young girls and the ensuing fragile friendship interesting, however I’m not sure I liked either Elizabeth or Jane. In fact I think I preferred Guildford. He begins off pompous and all for show, but underneath it I think he is perhaps the most honest and down-to-earth.

The Lady of Misrule is the 2nd novel I have read by Suzannah Dunn. Last year I read The May Bride, which went on to be one of my favourite reads of 2014. I was eager to read more by Dunn. I didn’t quite enjoy this as much. I think this was mainly due to Elizabeth and Jane who I just wasn’t as fond of as young Jane Seymour from The May Bride. However I again found Dunn’s writing style comforting and familiar. Dunn’s beautiful description swept me off  and immersed me into the confined, daily life in the Tower. The repetitive routine of rising, dressing, eating, reading, praying, watching from the window, and then retiring to bed was all brought vividly back to life. To achieve this Dunn has obviously filled in some historical gaps and added some fictionalised characters; I thought it was all well done though. Then the brutal ending, even though I knew it was coming, really wrenched at my heart and felt so real.

The Lady of Misrule is a well written, interesting and intimate glimpse into the final months of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey. I highly recommend to those interested in historical fiction and English history. I would still like to read more of Suzannah Dunn. Good read.

Thank you to Little, Brown Book Group UK  for providing a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read Suzannah Dunn? Any recommendations?

The Classics Club: The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

I have become quite a fan of short story collections and I hope to continue reading more in 2015. Starting as I mean to go on I picked up The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle the fifth and sadly the final collection.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is a collection made up of another twelve Sherlock Holmes short stories Arthur Conan Doyle wrote and published in The Strand between 1921 and 1927, much later than previous stories. I think this is perhaps the less well known collection of stories although The Sussex Vampire is probably the most notable story just for its title.  I very much enjoyed The Sussex Vampire, The Creeping Man and Thor Bridge. That being said as usual there were no adventures in this collection I didn’t enjoy, they were all fascinating, the three I have named though particularly captured my imagination.

Like previous collections I have read I thought The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes had a good range of stories which were varied and well-balanced. There was again the wonderful chemistry between the two protagonists that I love to witness during the intricate mysteries. The difference with this collection was that two of the stories was told by Holmes himself not, as is usual, by Watson. While this made an interesting change I still find myself most drawn to Holmes’s companion Dr Watson. As much as I love the mind and foibles of Holmes it is his down-to-earth companion Watson that I find I really connect with.

This is certainly not my first foray into Sherlock Holmes. I have loved the Adventures, Memoirs, Return of Sherlock Holmes and His Last Bow short story collections. I again enjoyed the shorter length of the stories which means I could easily keep the thread of the mystery and fully enjoy all the twists and turns, without the worry of needing a break. Sadly though this is the last collection. I shouldn’t be despondent though because I do still have three novels to read.

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is another fascinating read with more interesting adventures for me to discover. I highly recommend to those interested in classic crime. This is my 30th read off my Classics Club list. Good read.

Have you read this collection? Do you have a favourite Sherlock Holmes story?

The Classics Club: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

My result for The Classics Club’s last wonderful Spin feature was The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I was pleased with this result as have been keen to read more of Dickens’s work. Sadly when the Christmas holiday finally arrived my brain needed a rest and I couldn’t face the length of The Pickwick Papers. Instead I decided to go with A Christmas Carol a shorter and more seasonal work by Dickens.

A Christmas Carol joins the famous miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his clerk Bob Cratchit who are still working on Christmas Eve. Scrooge finally allows Cratchit to leave and agrees to him having Christmas day off as long as he starts early on Boxing day. With that Scrooge returns to his dingy rooms to spend Christmas alone. But Scrooge’s lonely revelry is broken when his dead business partner Jacob Marley comes to him to warn him that he is to be visited by three spirits. The first spirit is the ghost of Christmas past, next the ghost of Christmas present and finally the ghost of Christmas future. All show him scenes to reflect his life and the life to come if he doesn’t change his ways. The story of A Christmas Carol is probably known to most people whether you’ve read the book or not due to all the different film, TV and stage adaptations. I grew up watching The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) as a child. The fact I knew the story already didn’t take anything away from this wonderful tale though.

Ebenezer Scrooge the protagonist of A Christmas Carol is as well known if not more so than the story itself. The name Scrooge along with ‘bah-humbug’ has long been in our vocabulary for a miserable, ungenerous and Christmas spoiling individual. Ebenezer is a great character I can see why he has stayed in the imaginations of so many people. He starts off twisted, miserable and completely devoid of hope. You’d like to hate him but he is too pitiable for that for me. Then as the three spirits show him scenes from his past, present and those that could happen in the future. Ebenezer goes through an almost magical transformation as the layers of greed, age and bad experiences are peeled away from him. Revealing the nicer person he had the possibility to become as a child.

 A Christmas Carol is the first work by Dickens where I didn’t find his language convoluted or too highly detailed in fact I thought the language was just right. A Christmas Carol is only a novella unlike Dickens’s other much longer works but he still manages to pack a real good story into its pages. The plot was simpler and there were far less main characters than previous works I have read. I really enjoyed seeing Dickens focus in so intently on one character. I found it refreshing. Of course Ebenezer isn’t alone Dickens still fits some of his colourful characters into the story including: poor Bob Cratchit, his wife and children particularly Tiny Tim, miserly Jacob Marley, warm-hearted Mr and Mrs Fezziwig, Ebenezer’s long-lost lover and his kind and friendly nephew Fred.

A Christmas Carol is a slightly creepy but warm-hearted tale of redemption perfect for the Christmas holiday. I highly recommend reading this novella. This is my 19th read off my Classics Club list. I look forward to reading The Pickwick Papers soon.

Have you read A Christmas Carol?

The Classics Club: Bleak House

Bleak House

After finishing The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald the last novel I read off my Classics Club list I found myself in the mood for Dickens. As if it was fate my result from  The Classics Club Spin was Bleak House by Charles Dickens! I started this book during the unpredictable weather of June and finished it in the glorious heat of July. I didn’t quite finish it in time to post about it for the 1st July deadline but I am still very proud to have finished this very long classic.

Bleak House is mysterious, harrowing, and thrilling in equal parts. This twisting tale is narrated by Esther a young orphan. Esther’s childhood isn’t a loving one on the death of her aunt Esther is sent to a boarding school where she starts to discover love. Finally as a young woman she is sent for by her mysterious benefactor Mr Jarndyce who wishes her to become a companion and house keeper. It is living at Bleak House with Mr Jarndyce, and his two other wards Ada and Richard that Esther finally finds real contentment. However there is a cloud looming over the inhabitants of Bleak House and that is the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce case. A law suit that has been raging for years of which Mr Jarndyce, Ada, and Richard are all embroiled in. Esther seems to be the only one with the heart to bring them all together away from the disturbing influence of that draining case. Yet Esther is to be faced with her own problems when the death of an unknown man ‘Nemo’ is to bring to light secrets from her own past. Bleak House is one of Dickens longest novels for good reason; there is just so much going on! I found the beginning of the novel was a little slower to get into what with the vast cast of characters I had to be introduced to. Once all the characters and threads were introduced though I couldn’t put this book down.

Bleak House similarly to my two previous Dickens reads Oliver Twist and Great Expectations is narrated by an orphan, but unlike the two previous this orphan is a female which I thought made a refreshing change. Esther is a wonderful character who I instantly liked. She is kind, loving, sensible, brave and almost completely self-less. However she isn’t perfect and she does recognise that which makes a more believable character. In Bleak House Esther is joined by a host of interesting and colourful characters. I wouldn’t expect any less from Dickens. We have the kind but rather eccentric Mr Jarndyce, the beautiful Ada, hopeless Richard, the childish Mr Skimpole, the boisterous Mr Boythorn, the calculating Mr Tulkinghorn, the distant Lady Dedlock, the brave Mr George, the devious Grandfather Smallweed, and many, many more than I could possibly name here! As I said above it did take sometime to be introduced to all these characters, and to get them all straight in my head. Once I had though they all added something to the mystery and enjoyment of this novel. Although as there were so many I’m not sure individuals were as memorable as those from my previous reads.

I still find that Dickens’s use of language is rather convoluted and highly detailed but the more of his work I read the easy I find it is to get into the flow of his style. Once I’m into the style I find I am free to just get lost in the story. And boy, can Dickens weave a great story. I said this about my previous Dickens read Great Expectations but this time I really mean it. Bleak House really is the most intricate and twisting tales I’ve read of his so far! There were a lot of characters and threads in this novel which made it at first a slow start but I think Dickens weaved them all together beautifully by the end of the novel. And even though I knew the basic premise of the story from a TV adaptation I had watched before I still found Dickens had some surprises up his sleeves for me. Hence why I tried to keep my summary of the story as vague as possible. I would hate to spoil the mystery for anyone who hasn’t read this yet.

 Bleak House was a mysterious and thrilling look into the light and dark aspects of Victorian London. I highly recommend reading this novel. This is now my 14th read off my Classics Club list. I now have a copy of The Pickwick Papers, and digital copies of A Christmas Carol and  A Tale of Two Cities to choose from for my next Dickens read.

Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? What Dickens’s novel do you think I should read next?

The Classics Club: Great Expectations

Great Expectations

After reading and enjoying Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens at the end of 2012 I have been even more keen to read more of Dickens work. Already having Great Expectations on my to-be-read pile pretty much made up my mind which of Dickens’s work would be my next read. As the cold weather seems to have descended on the UK again I thought Great Expectations would be a great read to snuggle up in a blanket with as the dark nights drew in.

Great Expectations follows the life of a young orphaned boy nicknamed Pip. When we join young Pip he is living with his strict sister and her big-hearted husband Joe Gargery. At which point Pip has little to no expectations other than to join Joe as an apprentice in his smithy. A series of strange events and encounters are to set Pip on a completely different road though. As a young man he is visited by a London lawyer who informs him that he has a secret benefactor who wishes to pay for Pip to become a gentleman. Pip moves to London with his great expectations looking to make a name for himself and finally claim the hand of the woman he loves. Great Expectations reminded me of a previous Dickens’s read Nicholas Nickleby because they both span a great deal of one individual’s life. There was plenty of time to really get to know Pip, his virtues as well as his faults and failings, and how he goes on to grow and change from a boy into a man.

As I said above the last Dickens’s novel I read was Oliver Twist which as many of you will know follows the trials and tribulations of the orphan Oliver. It was hard not to find myself comparing the two orphans against each other, even though I don’t believe it is necessarily a fair comparison. Oliver is a highly loving, patient, and well-mannered child but we only really see him during his younger years. Pip on the other hand is no angel but I do think Pip is honest about his own faults and on the whole his heart does seem to be in the right place. The real crucial difference though is that I got to see Pip grow. From a confused, self-conscience, and naive boy, to a proud, foolish but generous young man, to finally a loyal, loving, and sensible man. It is not an easy road but in the end I think Pip becomes a good man. I particularly loved watching his transformation.

I still find that Dickens’s use of language is rather convoluted and highly detailed but the more of his work I read the easy to get into the flow of his style is. Once I’m into the style I find I am free to just get lost in the story. And boy, can Dickens weave a wonderful story. This one in particularly is the most intricate and twisting tales I’ve read of his so far. Yet like previous novels what really makes Dickens novels for me is the vast array of colourful characters. I read recently the criticism that Dickens’s characters are rather one-dimensional and more caricatures rather than real people. I can see where they are coming from his characters are very over the top but that’s what make them so memorable for me. And in Great Expectations I wasn’t disappointed along the way we meet the simple but big-hearted Joe, the mysterious lawyer Jaggers, heart-broken Miss Havisham, ridiculous Mr Pumblechook, the cold and beautiful Estella, friendly Herbert Pocket, several scary convicts, and many, many more. I particular loved Joe, I would love my own Joe Gargery.

Great Expectations is a charming and exciting journey seen through the eyes of young orphan trying to find himself and make his way in Victorian England. I highly recommend reading this novel. This is now my 11th read off my Classics Club list. I now have copies of A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Pickwick Papers to choose from for my next Dickens read.

Are you a fan of Charles Dickens? What Dickens’s novel do you think I should read next?