New Read: Origin

Knowing how much I had loved Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code and Inferno, my dad bought me a paperback copy of Origin by Dan Brown for Christmas. So excited was I to find out what Robert Langdon would possibly get up to next, I bumped this straight to the top of my to-be-read pile.

This new, thrilling adventure starts as Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain to attend the unveiling of a controversial scientific discovery. The evening’s host is one of Langdon’s former students, Edmond Kirsch, who is now a dazzling high-tech billionaire and futurist. But before Kirsch’s precious discovery can be revealed, the meticulously orchestrated evening erupts into chaos. Reeling with shock and fearing imminent danger, Langdon flees with Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director, to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Gripped, I was borne along the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, as Langdon and Vidal follow a trail of modern art and enigmatic symbols, which will take them from the Guggenheim Museum, to Gaudí’s Casa Milà and Sagrada Família, and Barcelona’s Supercomputing Center. All the whilst trying to evade an eerily, all-knowing enemy, who seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace and who will stop at nothing to silence Kirsch’s discovery forever. Racing around fascinating locations is one of my favourite, quintessential elements of Langdon’s adventures, and this one was no exception, although the locations were of a more modern nature than I usually prefer.

Another quintessential element of these books is controversy! After uncovering all the clues, Langdon and Vidal are able to reveal Kirsch’s shocking discovery and the breath-taking truth that has long eluded us: Where did we come from? Where are we going? A truth that Brown builds us up, throughout the novel, to believe will shake the major religions to their core… However for me, who is happy to have science and God, it wasn’t really that Earth-shattering, although I did find it very interesting. There was also an absolutely spine-chilling twist at the end – Unfortunately I had already guessed at it about half way through, but had put it to the back of my mind!

So while Origin was another thrilling adventure, that gripped and fascinated me in parts, it is sadly not to become one of my favourites of the Langdon series. Although it was very good, escapist fun and I did enjoy it more than The Lost Symbol. Good read.

Have you read this? Or other books from the Langdon series?

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Re-Read: Emma

Back in November, last year, I took part in The Classics Club’s 19th Spin event, which chose Emma by Jane Austen for me. Having loved all of Austen’s finished novels, I took the opportunity, when creating my new list for the club, to include them all for a re-read.

I was thrilled with my result, as Emma, the final novel published during Austen’s lifetime, was the second Austen novel I read, many years ago. Often said to be Austen’s most perfect read about a very imperfect – albeit lovable – heroine… The beautiful, rich and intelligent, Emma Woodhouse, who, having been cosseted by her affectionate father and faithful governess, Miss Taylor, believes it is her duty to help others arrange things just as she thinks they should be. Oh I understand Emma annoys some readers, however I can’t help but love her! While she is spoilt, she is naïve and so, makes some disastrous decisions, through it all her heart is in the right place.

The real trouble starts when – ignoring the advice of good family friend Mr Knightley – Emma sets out to play cupid for her new, favourite companion: the lovely, shy Harriet Smith. In addition, Emma makes a hasty, close intimacy with newcomer Frank Churchill, the estranged son of their convivial neighbour Mr Weston, whose arrival into small, quiet Highbury causes quite the stir. And these two decisions are to lead Emma into schemes and actions that are to fail miserably, and inadvertently hurt people she cares about. If only she could hear us saying stop! Or if only she would listen to the stalwart Mr Knightley!

However through all the trouble and strife, Emma is resilient, makes amends for the hurt she has caused and learns from it all too. In particular, she learns a lot about others and more importantly about herself. Actually if it hadn’t been for her foolish mistakes some important secrets may not have come to light and she may never have discovered a very important thing about herself: where her heart truly lay and always had! Naww, it all ends happily! However some readers do wonder if Emma has really learnt her lesson, I can’t answer that for definite, but I think she has and she now has someone beside her to help her stick to the path.

All in all, I think Emma is an utterly charming, witty and slightly farcical classic, about the coming-of-age pains of a young woman in Regency England. It just makes me smile and it made for a wonderfully comforting re-read – getting re-acquainted with its colourful collection of characters was like meeting up with old friends. I can’t wait to re-read more! Great read.

Have you read this? Or any of Austen’s other novels?

This is book 6/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

New Read: Bellewether

Back in January, I escaped the busyness of life and the dreary weather with Bellewether, the latest dual-narrative novel from, one of my favourite authors, Susanna Kearsley. Having previously read, and loved, six of her previous novels, I eagerly ripped through this anticipating a good dose of mystery, romance and history, and I wasn’t to be disappointed!

It all begins with a house: the Wilde House, which dates back to 1682, when Jacob Wilde came across from England and picked a spot above a small cove in Messaquamik Bay, Long Island to build his family a home. In the present day, it is a museum to Jacob’s famous descendent: the dashing, adventurer Benjamin Wilde, who captained the fair Bellewether. Sadly the house has been neglected over recent years, so the board decide to appoint a new curator: Charley Van Hoek, who has recently moved to the area after the sudden death of her brother to take care of her teenage niece.

I instantly liked Charley because she is a smart, practical and down-to-earth woman, with her head well and truly screwed on. Not the type for flights of fancy, and yet, one night, in the woods behind the house, Charley would swear she saw a ghostly, swinging lamp; which is linked to the legend of Benjamin Wilde’s sister, Lydia and her doomed romance with a French officer. As Charley starts to delve deeper into the history of the Wilde House, she discovers it holds many secrets and that Lydia’s legend may be based on some truth… but not quite the whole truth.

The second narrative of the novel follows Lydia Wilde in 1759, where the North American colonies are being torn apart by the continuing war between Britain and France. Whilst Lydia is already struggling to keep her fractured family together – following her mother’s death – she little needs the added trouble of two captured French officers, brought to them for their parole of honour. Neither does the French-Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran have any desire to be there, but by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Again Kearsley has weaved together two immersive, believable narratives, with two strong, compelling heroines. All delivered in her comforting and familiar writing style, which I have come to love so much; like a favourite jumper. I must admit I wasn’t initially thrilled when I learnt that this was set in America – I do have a biased preference for her previous settings of the British Isles and Italy – however I was proven very wrong. This was a really interesting setting and time period, that Kearsley brought to life beautifully, which made for a refreshing change and taught me quite a bit too. Although it does all wrap up a little abruptly at the end.

All in all, I thought Bellewether was a wonderful escapist read, with a lovely blend of history, war, romance and mystery. It isn’t about to topple my old favourites The Rose Garden and Mariana, but it is a nice edition to Kearsley’s burgeoning canon of work. Great read.

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

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

New Read: Frenchman’s Creek

In 2018, I was lucky enough to read two of the gothic queen, Daphne du Maurier’s novels. First, in June, I read the superb, time-travelling horror, The House on the Strand and then, at the end of the year, Frenchman’s Creek.

Restless with the pomp, ritual and debauchery of London’s Restoration Court, Lady Dona St Columb takes her children and retreats to the hidden creeks and secret woods of her husband’s family estate of Navron, in Cornwall. The peace Lady Dona craves, however, eludes her from the moment she stumbles across the hidden mooring place for a white-sailed ship, known to plunder the Cornish coast. And once she has met its captain: the daring, French philosopher-pirate, Jean Aubrey, she finds her heart besieged and her person embroiled in a quest fraught with danger and glory.

Our protagonist, Dona is a beautiful, headstrong woman; a loving mother; an unhappy wife and a prisoner of her own making. Flightily she married her husband, Henry because he had a charming smile, so now she finds herself trapped with a man she feels she’s outgrown and finds herself increasing her daring, gossip-inducing behaviour to relieve her boredom. Which culminates in her taking part in a cruel, drunken prank, that finally shames her into breaking out of the vicious circle by leaving London, Henry and his insidious friend, Lord Rockingham behind.

Once at Navron, Dona spends her long, summer days of freedom sleeping in late; frolicking and picnicking with the children and walking along the coast; which is where she first catches sight of the white-sailed ship that is to turn her life upside down. As one would expect, du Maurier brings the stately but neglected estate of Navron, on her native Cornwall’s coast, beautifully to life. As the windows are unshuttered and thrown wide-open, light and the fresh sea breeze re-awaken the large, musty rooms, and from her room Dona has a view straight down to the sea.

Later in the novel, du Maurier actually takes us out to sea – with the dashing Jean Aubrey and his crew – showing us at its calm, serene best, but also at its turbulent, thrashing worst. While I am a self-confessed landlubber, I couldn’t help finding myself swept away with the beauty, adventure and romance of it all. Likewise, on meeting Jean, Dona finds herself swept away – selfishly abandoning her children to their maid – to read poetry, fish, dine and maraud with this charismatic man. However things come to a head, after their plans go terribly awry and Henry arrives unexpectedly to reclaim his wife. Will Dona return to her husband and children or risk it all for her pirate lover?!

Overall I thought Frenchman’s Creek was a beautifully written, sweeping romance. Quite a few of my fellow du Maurier fans have told me this is one of their least favourite of her novels, and on finishing it, I can understand why, because there is little to no gothic influence and Dona is not the most likable of characters. But while it pales in comparison to the stunning Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel it is still a… Great read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite of Du Maurier’s novels?

This also ticked off a title with a nationality in it for my What’s in a Name 2018 reading challenge. (5/6)

New Read: The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions

At the beginning of last year, I enjoyed reading The Dragon’s Blade: The Reborn King by Michael R. Miller as an escape from the bitterly cold and dreary weather of February. So, later in the year, when the cold weather returned in December, I reached for The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions, the second book in Miller’s epic fantasy trilogy.

This book kicks off exactly where the last finished. The dark lord, Rectar’s demonic invasion of the west is gaining momentum and now, only the undermanned Splintering Isles lie between the demons and the human kingdom of Brevia. If the islands fall, the rest of Tenalp will soon follow. So the Three Races must work together if they are to survive, but they have another problem… Castallan, the traitorous wizard, has declared himself King of Humans from his impenetrable Bastion fortress, but Darnuir, now King of Dragons, intends to break those walls at all costs.

All the while I continued to feel for Danuir – balancing the strength and authority of his former self, with the fairness and humility of his current reincarnation – as he battles to bring the Three Races together. Knowing that to face the double threat of Rectar and Castallan, all dragons, humans and fairies must truly unite; yet old prejudices undermine his best efforts, again and again. It’s bad enough fighting the endless succession of Rectar’s mindless demons and Castallan’s super, red-eyed humans, let alone dealing with infighting with your own allies. I could’ve totally understood him giving up, but to his ultimate credit he doesn’t!

In a new thread to the story, Danuir puts his new passion for unity into practice. Sending his old, hunter friend, Garon in charge of an army of the Three Races to aid the Kazzek Trolls, who find their home in the Highlands besieged by Rectar’s demons. The poor trolls have been largely ignored by the humans and villainised by the fairies for generations, so Danuir’s choice is controversial. However, I for one am very pleased, because I loved this thread and the trolls! As with the dragons, Miller has put his own twist on them: having them as hairy giants with tusks – rightly or wrongly, I pictured them as similar to the common image of the Yeti!

After the bloody, last battle in the first book, it is cheering to have new characters to root for, but to also see the return of familiar faces too. Including, Danuir’s old friends, the wizard, Brackendon and human hunters, Ballack and Garon; Blaine, the Guardian of Tenalp; the shape-shifting witch, Kymethra, and the imprisoned princess, Cassandra. However they now find themselves scattered across the land – having their own trials and adventures – as the continued war pulls them off in different directions. Which gives us, the reader, the chance to see more places and different perspectives.

So, overall, I thought The Dragon’s Blade: Veiled Intentions was another extremely fun, fantasy adventure, that again helped me to escape from the miserable weather. Now I just need to know how it ends! Fortunately, I believe the third and final book will be available later this year. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or any of the other books in the trilogy?

New Read: The Pilgrim’s Progress

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. Back in October we read and met to discuss The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Next up was the classic, Christian allegorical novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which I put onto my new Classics Club list as soon as I found out we would be tackling it.

Part 1, published in 1678, follows Christian, an everyman, who leaves behind his home, wife and children in the City of Destruction to make the perilous journey to the Celestial City. Along the way he faces many trials, tribulations, monsters and spiritual terrors, as he travels through the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Doubting Castle and the Delectable Mountains. His pilgrimage is hindered by characters such as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative and Ignorance, but he is also supported by Evangelist and his travelling companions, Hopeful then Faithful.

All of which is surreally presented as a dream sequence narrated by Bunyan as an omniscient narrator: giving him the power to observe all, but powerless to help. There is no arguing with the content, characters and wisdom in this enormously influential classic – which has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print – but I did struggle with the style and flow. I found it a bit jerky and I often found I had to go back and re-read sections to fully understand what was being said.

However I found Part 2, published in 1684, a much easier and quicker read. In this second part, Bunyan follows the subsequent pilgrimage of Christian’s wife, Christiana, their sons and their maidenly neighbour, Mercy. They journey to all the stopping points Christian visited, but they take a longer time as the sons marry, have children and their party grows. They are also guided by the brave hero, Greatheart, who along the way slays four giants and a monster named Legion, that have been terrorising pilgrims.

This second part grabbed me instantly and flowed much better, especially as it has a more natural time frame for the journey – akin to a Christian’s life span. I was fascinated to see Bunyan express some very ‘modern’ thoughts and ideas through out this second pilgrimage too. First in his choice of a female pilgrim, but also in his portrayal and discussion of the important role women have in bringing people to and nurturing faith. I enjoyed it so much, that I actually finished this part in less than half the time the first part had taken me.

So, overall, I was left feeling a little confused about how I felt about this book, with the big difference I experienced between Part 1 and 2. It was not till after my church’s book club eventually met, last week, to discuss this, that I saw in hindsight how much more I enjoyed this than I initially thought. We discussed our struggles with Part 1; our preferment for Part 2 and our universal love of Bunyan’s emblematic characters – many of which are characters you can find in life today. And the general consensus was that the content was great, even if the style and language was problematic.

All in all then, I found The Pilgrim’s Progress to be a clever allegorical look at the journey Christians must take through life. I can’t say it was an easy read – in fact it was in parts hard work – however it was a rewarding read, and this is a book I feel with benefit from re-reading. Good read.

Have you read this? Can you recommend any other classic Christian books?

This is book 5/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

New Read: A Gathering of Ghosts

Earlier this year, I read Karen Maitland’s The Plague Charmer. While it was still a bit darker than I usually prefer, I was impressed by the writing and enjoyed it more than, my only other Maitland read, The Raven’s Head. So I was pleased to have the chance to read her newest, dark historical fiction, A Gathering of Ghosts.

In this book, Maitland took me back to 1316 – a time of famine and unrest – to the isolated Priory of St Mary on the wilds of Dartmoor. Underneath which lies a sacred, ancient well, that people travel to, from far and wide, in search of healing. But now the Sisters of the Knights of St John find themselves and their home under threat. Not only from locals, who believe the well was theirs long before Christianity arrived, but also from the knights of their own order, who wish to control the well and its revenue for themselves. Then the well is hit by plagues of frogs, flies and blood soon after the arrival of young, blind boy. Is there witchcraft afoot? Or is the Old World fighting back at last?

Maitland shows the following trials and tribulations of the sisters, in the majority, through Prioress Johanne, the elected head of St Mary; Sister Fina, the young keeper of the well; Meggy, the lay gatekeeper and Knight Brother Nicholas, the agent sent to seek proof of corruption to bring the sisters down with. On the other hand, we have the gifted Morwen, the daughter of Kendra, the local cunning woman and former keeper of the well. As well as seeing the sad lot of the desperate, incoming tinners through Sorrell, a young disabled woman, who hears a voice calling her to the moors.

If that wasn’t enough, there is also a host of smaller part narrators and many other diverse characters for our narrators to interact with. I must admit it was hard keeping up and to make personal connections with so large a cast. However about half way through I think I had got a handle on the main characters and I did become fond of Prioress Johanne and Sorrell. And as with Maitland’s previous books, it is interesting to have a large range of people from the Medieval social spectrum. Although there is a distinct lack of people of wealth – emphasising this really is a tale of want on all sides.

Again I can’t fault Maitland for her eye for detail and her extensive research, which has gone into bringing this tale of suffering, superstition, fortitude and the supernatural vividly to life. On finishing the book, I was not surprised to discover in Maitland’s research notes that she took inspiration from real Medieval events, places, religious orders, superstitions, beliefs and weird natural phenomena. So while this was still darker and more depressing than I would prefer, I found myself absolutely gripped!

Overall, I thought A Gathering of Ghosts was another compelling, dark historical fiction, which I perhaps didn’t enjoy quite as much as The Plague Charmer, but did enjoy more than The Raven’s Head. I would definitely be up for reading more by this author – in particular, The Vanishing Witch, which I have heard very good things about. Good read.

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

Have you read this? Or have you read anything else by Karen Maitland?