Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another

Historians + time travel = happpppppyyyyyyy Pip

This book really is a silly, raucous and a tremendously entertaining adventure. I love history and so the idea of time travelling historians going on adventures and saving the day really is always going to win with me!

Facebook advertising…really?

It turns out, Facebook advertising works. You see, I first saw this book advertised to me on there. Usually, I’m very skeptical about any ads, but boy did the sellers get this targeting right because I clicked straight through to read the blurb and quickly added it to my wish list on Amazon.

When I finally got around to purchasing it I decided it would be one of my ‘book a month’ reads for my challenge this year. A bit of light relief in reading is always a good thing. Sometimes I find, when you’ve either been reading some heavy going stuff, or you’ve been unfortunate enough to end up with a dud book, it’s nice to pick up an easy-to-read page turner that you can laugh out loud at while you’re whipping through it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 12.41.51The comedy element

This was one of those. It was just funny. It had a good story-line that kept you bounding along. I mean sure, you had to suspend your reality-checker to enjoy it, but isn’t that why we read sometimes?

I mean, just the title, it made me giggle when I read it. Along with the tidbit about time travelling historians, it’s what drew me in naughty as it is.

Lots of different history

I loved the idea of these teams of historians popping along to different pivotal moments in history. Even better, I’m usually tucked away in my 18th century pigeon-hole loving life with wide-hipped dresses and enormous wigs, but this book pulled me into some completely different ‘time zones’. Like to the library in ancient Alexandria, the Cretaceous period and Medieval England.

A word of warning

I always think it’s worth pointing out aspects that not all readers might like. This book I would say probably isn’t for younger readers. There are some love scenes in it which may not be to everyone’s taste.

A series

One of the things I am quite pleased about is that this is a series. Although I’m not ‘I need to buy the next one right now’ invested in the overarching storyline, I was definitely entertained enough to come back to this at some point and get the next in the series. The 1,500+ Amazon reviews show Taylor has entertained quite a few with these books.

 

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A Very Short Introduction to World War I by Michael Howard

I have purchased several of the books in this series recently. They were recommended (at least the historical ones), when I was doing my degree as short and sweet introductory texts to historical periods written by specialist academics.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 12.20.30Readable and small

The thing is, they’re jolly readable. If you want a pocket-sized quick read to carry around with you in the dark recesses of your bag for any happenstance where you’re left stranded somewhere (like I do, because I’ve had one too many cars breakdown and like to be prepared), then these books are baby gems.

Questions about WWI

I’ve always wanted to learn about World War I. I did learn about the Great War when I was in primary school, I think, but that was a long time ago and you don’t necessarily learn the key things you want to know when you’re older.

Like why did it start?

Who was on which side?

Why did it become a World War?

How many people really died?

What and where were the eastern and western fronts?

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 12.20.21

A pocket-sized read

All these questions bubbling around in the stream of my thoughts and finally an easily readable book to give me the base level facts, figures and theories. The best part about it being that it’s not just another ‘popular’ history, it’s published by the trusted Oxford University Press.

So what better time to choose to crack on and read this bad boy than as part of my ‘book a month’ challenge?

Everyone should read this

I just can’t recommend this book enough if you want an overview of World War I. And I just can’t recommend it enough if you don’t, because what I’ve learned from reading it, is that we should always remember. People are right when they sell poppies and say ‘Lest we forget’ around the 11th November every year.

The sheer loss of life is incomprehensible. I’d heard that before, but I couldn’t help repeatedly exclaiming it to anyone who was near me at the times I was reading this book. It is shocking and honestly makes you question the human race. It makes you thankful for those who gave their lives, for those who still do, and it makes you think we should always remember.

Next read

You can probably guess that I’ve bought the World War II equivalent to this. I read the above one first for obvious reasons, and because I know WWI had such a profound impact on the starting of WWII (which I know a tad more about but not a lot, I’m not much of a modern historian), I wanted to really get my head around it.

I won’t lie, I don’t remember a great deal of what I read in the World War I book because there is just SO much. I’ll need to read it again soon. But I can say I’m very glad I read it.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce murder mysteries really are a pleasure to read. I’ve gone on about him before and I’m thankful to my mother-in-law for introducing me to these books and keeping me in good supply!

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d was one of my latest reads for my ‘book a month’ challenge and I find Alan Bradley rarely disappoints. This is a series of murder mysteries, set in about 1950 in the English countryside with a young girl genius as the detective. It is suitable balanced between macabre and comedic.

IMG_5159I have ALL the books, bar one

I have his books in a hard back collection (apart from the first pesky one which alludes me because I can’t find the right edition to match the rest), and they are not only beautiful to look at, they’re beautiful to read.

Sentence structures…no really

He has a way of structuring sentences that just seem to roll of the mind’s tongue. Okay, that was weird, but it’s the best description I can do. And he’s witty. I’m always a fan of wit and as his heroine is an 11 year-old girl sleuth, he’s really quite good at sometimes having her misunderstand something because she’s a child, but the reader know exactly what’s going on. Clever.

Did I know who did it?

I must say, I did not know who was responsible for this death. And I also must say, it was not for lack of trying. Generally I’m not necessarily one to try and figure out a murder mystery but rather just let it take me along on a wonderful ride of clues and final reveal. However, as I’ve read quite a few of his, I really did have it in my mind that I wanted to guess who had done it.

Perhaps I was silly, because I really didn’t get it, but I did feel a little like I didn’t get enough clues to guess for myself. It was as though I was a little blind-sided by the big reveal rather than getting the satisfying, ‘ahhhhhh, of course.’ in my mind.

That being said, I will always recommend Bradley’s books and this could well have been my brain at fault not his writing. To be fair, I was in France at the time of reading and my brain was very much addled by the sheer amount of bread and cheese I was consuming.

 

Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek

I love Cornwall. Have you gotten that yet?

It just feels like I have that place in the blood (and I can claim some Cornish ancestors), so any book that’s based there holds quite the draw for me. And with the re-doing of Poldark there’s quite a few who are enthralled by stories from that part of the world. Du Maurier is well known as a lover of Cornwall and lived much of her life there.

She’s author of the famed and haunting Rebecca, and also of Jamaica Inn which was dramatised again a few years ago (and her short-story The Birds inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film). I’d recommend watching Jamaica Inn by the way. It was slated at the time due to poor sound quality when it aired and ‘mumbling’ by the actors, so I ignored it for quite some time, but I finally came round to purchasing it when my period drama well had run dry and it did not disappoint. Sure, some of the accents are hard to decipher, but I thoroughly enjoyed the brooding nature of the cinematography and the well-acted characters.

Jamaica Inn

Literally, this is how I look when I’m on a Cornish beach. All brooding and contemplative…and apparently muddy

 

Jamaica Inn

A rather nice-faced actor here…

Anyway, Frenchman’s Creek was on my list, and so I start my book a month for a year challenge with that. I was down in Cornwall when I began reading it, so that was rather handy, and let me just say, the opening passage is quite literally (or literary – pun oh so intended), b-e-a-utiful.

Screen Shot 2018-08-03 at 11.19.56

Not the most inspire of covers. I bought this modern version to read, but because of how much I enjoyed it, I’ll be on the lookout for a vintage edition for my bookshelves

‘When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed, and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores. The short seas break above the bar at ebb-tide, and the waders fly inland to mud-flats, their wings skimming the surface, and calling to one another as they go.’

And on and on it goes, as though the words are the sea itself, tumbling in waves over the reader until they’re totally immersed.

Tempo and melody

Two things I love about du Maurier’s writing: it’s hypnotic tempo, and her ability to portray people’s thought patterns.

In the first passage you get the hypnotic tempo, as if you’re being pulled along, helplessly on the tide of the book and trip, trip, trip along like the words are in a silent melody of their own. Divine.

Thought patterns captured

The other thing she is so brilliant at is capturing thought patterns. She has this insightful ability to follow the trip, trip, trip of her characters thoughts in such ways as if we’re really in their heads thinking, ‘yes, I follow that, I would think like that.’ Rebecca is actually a better example of it, but Frenchman’s Creek has this aspect too.

I’m always impressed by authors who make me think in such a way that in ordinary life I never would. Du Maurier can do this to me. Frenchman’s Creek follows Dona St Columb, an aristocratic lady from the 17th century who runs away from her husband with her children to their old rambling Cornish manor, Navron. There, while escaping the meaninglessness of her life and the person it has made her become, the story is about her finding herself again and falling in love.

Perhaps not a story I condone

Normally, I’m not a fan of any story that condones extra-marital anything. And I still am not. But what I think du Maurier does so well is to capture the changing emotions and thoughts that are going on here. I don’t advocate the actions, but her writing really is electric, and that’s not to mention the pirate, smuggling, adventuring that the novel has too! And don’t be fooled, it doesn’t end like you think, just like with most of her novels.

Encapsulating words

And du Maurier always seems to capture my heart for Cornwall and the countryside, the way I see it and love it, as encapsulate in these words:

…the river would be the same as it was in a century now forgotten, in a time that has left few memories.

In those days the hills and valleys were alone in splendour, there were no buildings to desecrate the rough fields and cliffs…

Oh, it gives me shivers! So, thank you to all those people who encouraged me to read du Maurier, I will slowly be devouring her books for many years to come and I recommend Frenchman’s Creek to Cornwall and literature lovers alike.

Trivia

On a trivial note, one of du Maurier’s daughters was called Flavia, which will lead nicely on to my next post about Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley who’s heroine is also called Flavia…

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – The things I liked

It’s funny that, because I write books, people often think I am very well-read. I am often asked, ‘Have you read ***?” and I find myself regularly replying, ‘No.’

To-Be-Read List

 

It’s not that I don’t like being asked these sorts of questions. When I hear suggestions it always adds to my to-be-read list which shadows me like a great hulking elephant daily, and I love learning about new novels I haven’t heard of. However, I do always feel a certain amount of guilt. Not just guilt, but a desire to sit down that instant and read a novel in a day. Ah, for the times when I would read through the night until 7/8am to finish a good book!

Should writers read?

Writers should read - Philippa Jane Keyworth

I guess the guilt comes from the knowledge that as a writer I should always be reading. Writers should always be reading, because writers will never be perfect, we are always learning, our writing is always evolving, not just with extra knowledge but as we travel through life.

The desire to read

Then the other half of me is battling with the feeling that I want to be reading. I want to be curled up with a book being sucked into another world and forget where I’m sitting, that I have my own life, maybe even my own name!

When I was young…

I remember reading as a kid. I would read when I was supposed to be asleep, and because I didn’t want to get caught I would push the curtains a little way back in my bedroom and read by the light of the moon. Perhaps that’s why my migraines first started…worth it.

I miss that. Then again, I think a lot of it is down to me putting down the TV controller and choosing to read instead. With that in mind, I recently finished North and South which I naughtily put down a while ago.

Reading the classics

I have always been quite a slow reader. I used to be embarrassed about it, maybe I still am a little, but I just need to remember in those moments that reading is for enjoyment (I can be a hard task-master). Anyway, when it comes to classics I seem to take quite a while, and I wouldn’t say (depending upon the classic) that it’s always easy, page-turning reading. Sometimes it’s a bit of a slog, but I will say that, when I get to the end of a classic, I’m almost always glad I’ve read it.

 

That’s how I feel about North and South. I’m glad I read it. It wasn’t a book that sucked me in so I completely forgot my surroundings – that’s probably because I suffer from a writer-history brain which is analysing a lot – however, I am so glad I read it.

Things I liked about North and South:

I’ve always liked the TV adaptation – I mean, who wouldn’t like Richard Armitage in a dress shirt? Prue Batten will back me up on that one – but it was good to finally read the book. Here are the things I liked:

  1. The portrayal of the working class, merchant class and upper class
  2. The faults in Margaret Hale and Mr Thornton’s characters
  3. The spiritual element – it says a lot about Mrs Gaskell
  4. The sentence structure
  1. It’s brilliant reading something by a writer of the time, it makes for interesting reading when you realise that their opinions of their own class and those around them are written in the book. She also challenges each classes view of the other. Gaskell manages to look at the woes and limitations of each class and then slowly help her characters to understand more about each other. I don’t want to ruin it if you’re going to read it so I won’t say more, but the social commentary in itself makes it worth reading
  2. I like that Margaret and Thornton both have their faults – it’s always so much more realistic and it’s interesting how their faults are related to where and how they grew up, their class and their family
  3. I wasn’t expecting this. I probably should have been as Gaskell was married to a Unitarian minister. The way she writes about faith in the novel is particularly delicate and it was an unexpected and enjoyable aspect. She doesn’t pretend to preach to any of her characters, nor fully understand/explain how their faith develops, but you see it having a subtle effect throughout the novel – another interesting aspect of the time, especially as a few of the characters allude to the Rise of Doubt in the era
  4. Didn’t realise this one until I picked up another book. I started reading a modern book and, although I’m enjoying it, I hadn’t really appreciate the smooth, beauty of Gaskell’s sentence construction. That woman writes like water moves and having changed to a much more modern, clunkier sentenced book, I’m really appreciating her

I never recommend people to read books for the sake of it. You have to want to read the book and enjoy the genre. If you like romances, enjoy history and enjoy classics and haven’t yet read North and South then I would recommend it.

I got North and South free on my Kindle here.

P.s. I was forcing myself to finish it before re-watching the BBC adaptation so now I’ve finished…

north-and-south

 

What to do with reviews

I owe all the ingenuity of this blog post to my husband. He came up with a great idea of what to do with the reviews for my book The Widow’s Redeemer, and before you think it, no, he did not say ‘Don’t read them’ or ‘Throw them in the bin’.

You see, it is exactly because he didn’t say those things, that the idea he had is so good – but more about that in a minute. Generally, I have been over-the-moon about the reviews I have received, in fact, it’s almost weird to have people writing about a work which was, for so many years, only read by about two people! Now it has seen the light of day, and people are giving their opinions on it.

Now of course, it’s never going to be a particularly nice sensation when you read someone’s opinion of your work and it isn’t: ‘Wow! This is the best book in the world, I am amazed and astounded at the authors intelligence, I will never read another book again because the standard is just too high now. This is better than Austen and Dickens!!!!!’

Okay, so that was a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. Whenever us as humans get criticised in life, whether constructively or destructively, we don’t jump up, shake the person by the hand, slap them on the back and say, ‘Thank you so much that was the best thing I’ve ever heard.’

There are some humble and quite inspiring people who can take criticism very well. They don’t get indignant, or angry, or sad. They just take it, say thanks, and use it. Now how many people do you know like that?

Well, I’m not one of them. I am rather too proud for my own good and my ego regularly needs taking down to size (mostly done courtesy of my husband). However, one thing I have learned through writing over the past few years, is that if you want to get published or pursue writing, you will be criticised and you need to learn to take it.

I guess it’s true that opinions are subjective most of the time. Me for instance, I like romances (duh!) and so I wouldn’t necessarily think a book without a romance in it, is a great book (not all the time, there are certainly exceptions). It’s worth bearing subjectivity in mind when people are criticising your work. However, subjectivity does not usually extend to: plot-holes, grammatical errors, and a few other things 😉

My conclusion to the above couple of paragraphs is that when it comes to criticism, you take from that criticism what you believe applies to your work and can be used and the rest, you leave. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt a little to hear, and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t get indignant, but thankfully I can vent those irrational feelings to my husband and then react with common-sense (not all guaranteed).

So, back to the ingenious plan of my husband’s. I was speaking to him about my reviews and saying how there are certain parts in them which give constructive (note my use of that word) criticisms. I said (with much more common-sense then I thought I had) that I would be using them to help me with my next novel (exciting). His great plan was that not only should I use the tips and advice from the reviews I have received but that, where possible, I could incorporate them into a blog series as I progress through my second story and it’s edits! How cool is that?!

So, that’s what I shall be doing. It won’t exactly be every single week that I do it, but I will, as I work through my novel, be putting up posts about how my reviews have helped me to improve my writing (hopefully)! Exciting times – oh, and also, I have added 5,000 words to the MS for my next story, I just wanted to boast about that – see how big my ego is – the only thing is, I still need to add  35,000 more before it’s actually the length of a novel……..PAHAHAHAHAHA!