Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell

I have two confessions:

  1. I do not really like historical fiction, pre 1900 settings.
  2. I have never read Bernard Cornwell before.

So, ‘Fools and Mortals’ was a bit of a breakaway choice for me this month. It had been an impulse buy last year as I was attracted by the reference to Shakespeare (as many of you know, I am a huge Shakespeare fan).

This was a little bit of a slow burn for me, for the very reason I do not usually pick an historical novel, there is a lot of scene setting. I, of course, appreciate the need for this as we have to be transported to the era but I often find it causes my attention to wander (or that could be reading on the commute).

However, the idea of the story did grab my attention. The complex politics of being a ‘player’ in Elizabethan England. An England of quite diverse beliefs and power and, indeed, the pressure that Shakespeare and his contemporaries may have faced to be successful in their field. However, this tale also has a hint of crime fiction: when a valuable manuscript goes missing and Shakespeare’s own brother comes under suspicion, he must work to attempt to clear his name.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel, especially all the nods to the work of Shakespeare. But I do think I need to give Bernard Cornwell another go with a different book to really form an opinion.

Any suggestions from you lovely readers about other Cornwell books I could try?

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Books are such a magical thing because not only do they allow you to escape, but they also bring people together. I read my first novel by Linwood Barclay last year and made sure I passed it straight on to my sister-in-law when she was looking for some reading inspiration because I knew she would love it. And so, she returned the favour with ‘No Time For Goodbye’ this year.

This was a bit of a slow burn for me; I was not sure it was going to grab my attention in the same way. However, I was so wrong. Barclay takes his time to really establish the scene, which of course is necessary if you want to build a good thriller. And this is a good thriller: the tension builds throughout the tale and what appears to be the big reveal is gripping. However, that is not where the story ends, and you actually face another twist, just when you think not much else can surprise you. The slow burn is certainly worth it, for the thrilling pace you face once it picks up is pretty edge of your seat.

So, this may be a short but sweet review, as I do not want to spoil the read for anybody else, but if you like a good thriller that builds to quite a page turner, then ‘No Time For Goodbye’ is worth seeking out.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

My second Collins was just as wonderful as my first – I often wonder why it has taken me so long to take the plunge to read his work.

This novel is a slow burn to begin with as Collins introduces his colourful characters and sets his haunting scene. ‘The Woman in White’ sets Walter Hartright on quite an adventure. There are many twists and turns as Hartright and Marian try to ensure that Laura is safe from Sir Percival Glyde and the literally larger-than-life Count Fosco. How can they ensure that her fate does not mirror that of ‘The Woman in White’?

It is one of the best classic mystery novels. However, there are those that have described it as a ‘ghost’ story. Now, I know for some that does not seem to make sense. Collins had not written your traditional ghostly tale, however I think there are ghosts in this tale. This is about the ghosts of past lives, not the ghost of dead souls. This tale, for me, is one that warns about the risks of the past catching up with you and the lengths to which some people will go to keep those ghosts buried. And, let’s be honest, for the rather Mr Fairie – he is eventually made to feel like he is seeing a ghost…

This is, on some levels, a novel of its time – women being manipulated by men (appearing not to have the character not to be), however, there are moments when that is challenged slightly. Yet one of the things about the classics is that they are written in the past and that should not ever taint our view of a good story. Collins may have had some views we would not always agree with now, but he was a master storyteller and deserves his classic author status.

A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

The book-buying ban I have chosen to follow for the start of 2019 has been a blessing in disguise because it is making me pick up books that I really should have read sooner.

The is one of those discovered gems ‘The History of Britain in 21 Women’ is a book I bought last year but which then sat on my ‘to-be-read’ pile, not seeing the light of day. I am now wondering why I did not pick it up sooner. As a History teacher for the day job, I am always keen to keep learning and improve my knowledge. This book educated me and provided me with excellent nuggets of information to share with my classes. It could even be said that it enthused me even more for a subject that I already love.

I am not sure how Jenni Murray managed to whittle down her list to only 21, as Britain is a country with such a rich history and culture. However, what is clear is that she genuinely believes in every single choice that she has made. There are some that may appear obvious choices to some of us, but there are some that may surprise us in equal measure.

I was pleased to see the recognition of Jane Austen and her work, and those who fought to ensure that women had a political voice. However, for me, the moment that struck a chord (especially as I teach the History of Medicine) was the inclusion of Mary Seacole. Her significance has been an issue that we regularly debate in the classroom, so it was joy to find her on this exclusive list.

This book is an entertainingly written joy to bring history to life. I hope everyone is inspired to pick up this book and find out about the wonderful women of Britain. It is certainly making me think about who I would add to the list.

Any ideas about who your women of British history would be?

‘You’re Such a Purist!’

On my Second Blog Birthday I decided to think about the phrase ‘You’re such a purist!’. Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse has been known to repeat this many a time as we watch various adaptations of much-loved novels. Do not get me wrong, I understand that a novel can not be transported directly to the screen, but there are some things in some novels which are just not to be messed with!

There whole term ‘Purist’ was often thrown at me during ‘Sherlock’. A much-loved show, but can something that has been so changed really have characters called Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson? By all means, writers can be inspired by other writers and even characters, but the final straw for me was the day a friend turned to me and uttered the words ‘I love Sherlock Holmes’ and when questioned had never read a story but had a crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. If the show had encouraged her to pick up the original books and discover those glorious original tales, I could maybe have forgiven the statement – but sadly it did not!

More recently, I had a little rant after watching ‘The ABC Murders’ over the festive season. Unfortunately, it simply was not a Christie tale that we sat down to watch. There is something wrong about adding such violence to the gentle escapism of the original story. And why transform Poirot’s character and side step Captain Hastings? Can modern audiences simply not be entertained without so much extreme drama? If they were to pick up the novel, I am not sure it would be anything like they expect.

Do not get me wrong, it does not mean that any adaptation should not be allowed. The Joan Hickson Marple’s are beautifully done and, although more recently Miss Marple may have appeared in cases that weren’t hers, at least if you pick up the book the tale is not changed beyond real recognition.

If TV and film encourage people to pick up books then I agree that is not a bad thing – after all I read ‘Brideshead Revisited’ after the great TV production with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews – but should we find novel to hardly resemble the production?

Have you been left cold by any adaptations of much-loved novels? Or am I really the only ‘Purist’?

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I can not thank HayleyFromHome enough for sharing this book with me. This novel has to be one of the loveliest stories I have ever read and every moment has been pure joy.

I did break the golden rule as a bookworm and watch the film first (well I was on a long-haul flight). However, this has not taken away from the enjoyment of the book because the film is just as enjoyable.

This is the kind of YA fiction that world needs. Simon is a typical teenager, struggling a little with his place in the world as he deals with his identity. We follow Simon on his journey as he comes out to his friends and family – and gets to know the mysterious ‘Blue’.

The whole story is beautifully written – alternating between the standard narrative and the email exchanges between Simon and ‘Blue’. It is such an ordinary yet important tale for the modern world and, in fact, it is a shame that this is not the kind of novel that hit popular YA audiences sooner.

What struck me about this book, and comes from the title, is what really is the normal agenda? Who decides what is ‘normal’? (A question Simon and Blue discuss).

This novel, for me is a modern classic – one I want to share with everybody (just like the film). So, thank you again, HayleyFromHome, for sharing it with me this festive season.

The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn

The title of this novel immediately made me think of that classic film ‘Rear Window’. Not a bad first thought as, like the central character Dr Anna Fox, I love those classic films, so I thought I was likely to enjoy this novel.

It is clearly inspired by all those Hitchcock-style films as Dr Anna Fox is unlikely to leave her house and her only real day-to-day contact with the outside world is through the windows of her home. Like ‘Rear Window’, she witnesses what appears to be a crime but, with her muddle of the real world, film plots, memories and medication, nobody seems to believe her. The evidence is also scarce and Anna wonders if she can even rely on herself.

This is an engaging thriller with plenty of twists and turns. One of the plot twists was a little obvious, however there were plenty of other surprises along the way. I also thought that Finn’s nods to so many of the classic films was a nice touch – in fact, I have a film list now from all the references. After all, they clearly were some inspiration for the novel.

I did race through this book at some speed, as I was always keen to know what would happen next and what some of the dark secrets were. It is a great thriller, which is something we all need sometimes.

Have you read ‘The Woman in the Window’ or any other thrillers I need to add to my wish list?

The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

So, the first book of 2019 is completed. It was a gem to start the year – especially as we are all probably looking for a way past winter as we enter January.

Although we all know we should not judge a book by its cover, how can you not be drawn to this stunning cover? Classical and stylish in white, gold and green, it oozes winter fantasy. There is also the figure of the girl which is another delight of this novel: strong female leads (well, they do not have a choice, as all the boys appear to be mysteriously disappearing).

The story is set in perpetual winter, the only season many have known, with spring and summer almost a myth. Mila and her sisters have already lost their father in a mysterious disappearance that, when their brother, Oskar, also disappears on the same night the family have some strange visitors, they decide something is to be done. It leads them on a magical adventure with Rune, the boy mage.

This is a beautifully written tale that whisks you off on a fantastical adventure. Strong female leads can give inspiration to many young readers – after all, we can all go on adventures in our own way.

Which book have you started your 2019 reads with?

Three Festive Reads

While we are still in that daze of those days between Christmas and New Year I thought I would share three of my favourite reads of 2018.

  1. Father Christmas and Me by Matt Haig

I first started reading the books of Matt Haig last year – and his festive novels were my starting point. Therefore, when I spotted ‘Father Christmas and Me’ in paperback this festive season, I had to read it.

This was a lovely third festive novel. It dealt beautifully with the theme of difference and the uncertainty that many (especially the young) feel about trying to fit in.

The clash of the Easter Bunny and his team wanting to ruin Christmas gives Amelia (our young heroine) to not only save Christmas, but also cement her place in Elfhelm.

I enjoyed the humour in the novel and, although it is part of a series, it can be a standalone novel. Enjoyable all the way through.

2. One Day in December by Josie Silver

The lovely Miss W gave me ‘One Day in December’ as a Christmas gift. I was so excited, as I had spotted this novel all over the Bookstagram world.

This is a lovely read – a modern romcom. Girl almost meets boy, but girl and boy become friends and life starts to happen to them both, but not quite in the way either hopes.

I can not spoil this book for anyone who would like to read it, however I have to issue a mascara warning – for tears of sadness and tears of joy.

3. Miss Marley by Vanessa Lafaye

I am a huge fan of ‘A Christmas Carol’; it is a story that always guaranteed to evoke a festive mood. I am also a fan of those authors who have the guts to take on the stories of some of our most established classic characters.

I saw an article that talked about how Sarah Marshall had to complete Vanessa Lafaye’s work, as she died before she was able to. This made me even more intrigued to read this book because they clearly had both a great friendship and a deep appreciation of Dickens’ work.

It is clever that it is told from the point of view of Jacob Marley’s sister. It offers us the tale of her and her brother and, and why Marley becomes the ghost we all know so well. It is a tale that provides us with some answers/predictions to the background of the famous characters.

I really enjoyed this book and may need to make this as much of a tradition as the original ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Do you have any favourite festive reads I should plan for next year?

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

Reading a novel by Agatha Christie at this time of year is like a hug. Although this is not a festive read, it has been selected by ‘The Maidens of Murder’, as the BBC has an adaptation of this classic in its festive TV schedules.

One reason why this novel makes me happy is that our dear friend Hastings provides us with the narrative (well, the parts that they can). Returning to a novel with one of my favourite fictional teams already means I will enjoy the story. And I did…

I found this to be one of Christie’s most clever tales. You really do fall for the huge red herring that is marked for you from the start – even though you know you probably should not. Our murderer really does go out of their way to try and get away with murder.

Of course, you know that Poirot will always get his target. However, this also reminded me of Sherlock and his foe Moriarty, as this is more of a case of puppet and a puppet master as many of their classic encounters can be.

As a bold statement, I think this could be one of Poirot’s most wonderful cases – especially as the big reveal was as much of a surprise to me as the characters in the room with man himself.

I would like to thank ‘The Maidens of Murder’ for encouraging me to read of a scope of Christie’s work – I look forward to more in 2019!