Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review: The Thirty-Nine Steps

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Summary: Richard Hannay, recently returned to London after some years in the British colonies, is bored of his life and fed up of English society - until one day a mysterious man turns up in his flat with a rather sensational story. He claims to have uncovered a secret plot, with potentially huge ramifications, and that there are men trying to kill him to prevent him from revealing their secret. When the man is murdered several days later, it seems that his story is indeed true, and Hannay realises that, not only will the men now be after him, but so will the police, as there is strong circumstantial evidence that points to him as the murderer. So he flees to Scotland, where he must try to survive, evading capture by either of the parties after him, long enough to be able to relate the man's story to the relevant authorities - but will they even believe him?
 
I saw the film of this a while ago and enjoyed it, but I didn't remember that much about it. Probably this was a good thing, because it meant that most of the twists in the book still took me by surprise. I found this an enjoyable, entertaining story, although thrillers aren't usually my cup of tea. I enjoy mysteries, but generally prefer ones where the story is focused on the puzzle and the characters, whereas this story is more action-focused, with the main character mostly trying to stay alive and escape from the bad guys. However, Hannay has does have some entertaining adventures along the way, and manages a few clever escapes, and I still enjoyed this book. It's also a very quick read, which I read in one afternoon/evening. If it's the sort of thing you enjoy, then I'd definitely recommend it.

This is book #7 I've reviewed for the Classics Club. I'm just over a year in, so I'm a little behind schedule, but I'm hoping to read and review some more books soon.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

I Love Austen Week Tag!

Hamlette at Hamlette's Soliloquy is hosting I Love Austen Week this week - a week dedicated to all things Jane Austen! Be sure to check out the festivities here if you feel so inclined. Here are my answers to the week's tag.
 
 
1.  Which did you experience first, a Jane Austen book or a movie based on one?
My first proper experience with Jane Austen was the 2005 Pride & Prejudice film. I didn't know much about the story beforehand and wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I LOVED it. So I quickly started searching out other film adaptations, and of course the books themselves. I think I had seen at least one film version of each book before reading it.

2.  What is your favourite Austen book?
Until a few days ago I would have said Sense & Sensibility, but I've recently started rereading Pride & Prejudice and suspect that it is about to take over. There are just so many good bits that I'd forgotten!
 
3.  Favourite heroine?  Why do you like her best?
This is quite a hard question! I think Elinor, Anne and Jane are the ones I would most like to know in real life. But I like all of them (except maybe Emma, but I like her character arc through the story).
 
4.  Favourite hero?  Why do you like him best?
I really like Colonel Brandon (especially Alan Rickman's version). He's just a really nice guy :) Although again, I find it difficult to pick a favourite.
 
5.  Do you have a favourite film adaptation of Austen's work?
My favourite Austen film adaptation (and possibly my overall favourite film) is the 1995 version of Sense & Sensibility. I basically just love everything about it. I also really like the Kate Beckinsale Emma, and both versions of Pride & Prejudice (controversial I know). (I wrote about my thoughts on different adaptations here.)
 
6.  Have your Austen tastes changed over the years?  (Did you start out liking one story best, but now like another better?  Did you think she was boring at first, then changed your mind?  Etc.)
Well, my actual first experience with Jane Austen was watching the first two hours of Emma at a friend's house, and I actually found it quite boring. However a few months later I watched P&P and decided that she was definitely not boring. Since then, though, my opinions have not changed materially, although possible I've come to appreciate different things about her stories than when I was initially introduced to them. [I do like Emma now (although it's not one of my favourite of her books, I really like the Kate Beckinsale film, although I still haven't seen the 2009 one all the way through), but I think it is a story that improves on acquaintance - I enjoy it more knowing the full story than I did before.]
 
7.  Do you have any cool Austen-themed things (mugs, t-shirts, etc)?  (Feel free to share photos if you want.)
No, although I do have a very nice boxed set of all of her novels.
 
8.  If you could ask Jane Austen one question, what would you ask her?
I can't think of anything off the top of my head.
 
9.  Imagine someone is making a new film of any Jane Austen story you choose, and you get to cast the leads.  What story do you want filmed, and who would you choose to act in it?
I would like someone to make a good, accurate version of Mansfield Park. I'm not sure about casting though - I don't think I know enough actors to make an informed decision.

10.  Share up to five favourite Jane Austen quotations!
 "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." - Pride & Prejudice (such a good opening line; indeed the whole first chapter of P&P is just so good)

"I cannot make speeches, Emma. If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." - Emma
 
 "We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him." - Pride & Prejudice

"People always live for ever when there is any annuity to be paid them." - Sense & Sensibility

"Oh!" cried Marianne, "with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."
   "It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for dead leaves."
- Sense & Sensibility

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Monthly Recap: January

 
What I Read:
I read two non-fiction books this month: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (which I enjoyed, and will probably post about at some point), and The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, which was a fascinating book about life around the time of the first millennium (the early Middle Ages happens to be one of my current favourite historical periods, but there aren't that many books about it, so I was glad to find this).

Fiction-wise, I re-read two books, Raider's Tide by Maggie Prince, a tale of marauding Scots, growing up and (maybe) romance in sixteenth-century England; and The Little Duke by Charlotte Mary Yonge, set in tenth-century Normandy. I also read The Long Vacation, also by Charlotte Mary Yonge, and A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay.

Reading Challenges:
Old School Kidlit Challenge: This month's theme was Award Winners; I was reading The Circus is Coming by Noel Streatfeild, which won the Carnegie medal in 1938, but I haven't got around to finishing it yet. I do still intend to, but it's not top of my reading list at the moment. Hopefully I will do better with next month's theme, which is Books You Loved in Childhood. I plan to re-read The Tanglewoods' Secret by Patricia St. John, which I really enjoyed at the age of about six or seven, but have never revisited. It's pretty short, so it shouldn't be too difficult to fit it in.

Mount TBR: I didn't actually get anything finished this month; but I've made progress on some books that I'm still reading, so hopefully I'll get some finished soon.

I also set a goal for myself to read 12 non-fiction books and 12 re-reads this year; I'm currently ahead on both of these, so that's good :)

Posts:
I joined in with Top Ten Tuesday, listing ten underrated books I've read recently.
I also posted a reading challenge sign-up post, and a list of books I'm looking forward to reading this year. I haven't read any of them yet, but hopefully will get to some next month!

Currently Reading:
As usual I have quite a lot of books on the go! I'm reading The Abbess of Whitby by Jill Dalladay, A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, L is for Lifestyle by Ruth Valerio, and Millennium by Tom Holland. (As well as a few others that I pick up occasionally.)

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Ten Underrated Books I've Read in the Past Year

http://www.brokeandbookish.com
 
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Ten Underrated Books I've Read in the Past Year. Here are ten books I read last year that I think deserve more recognition:
 
The Bard's Daughter by Sarah Woodbury
A short murder mystery set in medieval Wales, prequel to a longer series of mysteries, of which I've read the first couple.
 
Five Glass Slippers by various authors
This was an anthology of five novellas by different authors all based on "Cinderella". While I liked some of the stories better than others, overall I enjoyed this collection and the last two stories in it were both really good.
 
Alice-Miranda at School by Jacqueline Harvey
This book was aimed at fairly young children, but I still found it very enjoyable. It's the sort of book I'd have absolutely loved as an eight- or nine-year-old, and my enjoyment of it was probably partly nostalgia, but I do think it's a good book, too.
 
Happy and Glorious by Hilary McKay
A collection of entertaining stories about a young Queen, again written for younger readers, but enjoyable for older one too.
 
The Battle of Castle Nebula by Stephanie Ricker
This is a prequel to one of the stories in Five Glass Slippers, which was my favourite of the anthology, and this book did not disappoint. The sequel, The Star Bell, was also very good.
 
Escape from Rome by Caroline Lawrence
(review
The first book in a new series, which is a spin-off of one of my favourite series as a child. Obviously I was going to read it for that reason, but I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did; I think in many ways it was better than the original books! The second book in the series, The Archers of Isca, is also out and I enjoyed it almost as much.
 
A Cathedral Courtship by Kate Douglas Wiggin
A sweet romantic tale set in England in the late 1800's.
 
Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin
A story about four siblings growing up in the early twentieth century. It's rather reminiscent of children's classics like Anne of Green Gables, and definitely deserves to be much better known. I enjoyed this book a lot.
 
The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke
A beautifully written Christmas tale of the "other", forgotten wise man, who is accidentally left behind when his three friends when they go following the star, and has to make his own way to Bethlehem in order to seek the new King. The story didn't entirely go where I was expecting, but it was very good.
 
Raider's Tide by Maggie Prince
The story of a young girl living in the north of England in the time of Elizabeth I - a time of danger when the people live in fear of marauding Scots come to raid the borderlands, killing, destroying and stealing. A romantic/coming-of-age tale. I'm not sure why I like this as much as I do, but I've read it twice now and enjoyed it a lot both times. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, North Side of the Tree, soon.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

I've decided to sign up for a couple of reading challenges this year. First, Mount TBR, hosted by My Reader's Block, because I have a lot of books that I've bought but haven't got around to reading yet, and I really want to make some progress on the stack this year. I've decided to sign up for Mont Blanc, which is 24 books that I already own. This doesn't sound particularly challenging but it's twice as many as I managed last year, so it seems a reasonable number to aim for! I'm including Kindle books that I paid for, but not free ones.

https://myreadersblock.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/2017-mount-tbr-headquarter.html
 
I've also discovered the Old School Kidlit reading challenge hosted by Read-at-Home Mom. This sounds very much my sort of thing, so I decided to participate. The idea is to read classic or older children's books, with monthly themes; January's theme is Award Winners, and I will probably be reading either The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge or The Circus is Coming by Noel Streatfeild, both of which have won the Carnegie award, and both are currently sitting unread on my shelf, so this will also help my progress towards Mount TBR.
 
http://www.readathomemom.com/2016/12/old-school-kidlit-reading-challenge-2017.html
 
Besides these challenges, I'm also going to try to read one book from my Classics Club list, one non-fiction book and one re-read per month. I'm not sure how long this will last, but I'd like to aim for it! This month I'm reading The Two Towers for the Classics Club, L is for Lifestyle by Ruth Valerio for non-fiction (although I have several other non-fiction books on the go which may or may not be finished this month), and I've just finished re-reading Raider's Tide by Maggie Prince, which I recently got the sequel to but realised that I remembered very little about this book! I enjoyed it just as much this time around, and am looking forward to reading the next book, North Side of the Tree.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading This Year

I'm not very good at sticking to reading lists, but this is partly because I tend to list books that I feel I ought to read, because I've had them for a long time or whatever other reason, rather than ones I really want to read. While I'm still hoping to make a significant dent in my TBR pile and to read some important books this year, I thought for now I'd make a list of some of the books that I am currently excited about reading. Most of them are ones I already own, but there's a few I'll have to either buy or get from the library.


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Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
The Shadow Things by Jennifer Freitag
Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon
Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery
Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
North Side of the Tree by Maggie Prince
The Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Forged in the Fire by Ann Turnbull
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Once by various authors

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I'm also intending to make re-reading more of a priority, since only three of the books I read in 2016 were re-reads and I would like it to be a few more than that this year, especially as my "to-re-read" list grows ever longer.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in Review

2016 has been a very good reading year for me - both in quantity and quality. In total, I read 86 books, which exceeds last year's total of 80. I also read quite a number of very good books and discovered several new favourite authors.
 
My total includes 67 fiction, 15 non-fiction and 4 poetry; I'm fairly happy with these proportions. Not surprisingly, my most-read fiction genre this year was classics, with 32 books. However, I am surprised that fantasy/sci-fi came in second, with 14 books; this is clearly something I've been reading a lot more of this year than in previous years. Besides this I read 12 historical novels, 11 contemporary fiction, and 10 mysteries (some books have been counted in multiple genres). Only 3 of my reads were re-reads - I intend to improve upon this next year.
 
In total I read 73 different authors this year - this is my highest title to date, but this is mainly because I read quite a few books which had two or more authors. 47 of these authors were new to me. My most-read authors of the year were Kate Douglas Wiggin and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, both with 5 books.
 
Some of the best books I read this year were:
 
Fiction
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
One Corpse Too Many and Monks-Hood by Ellis Peters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Escape from Rome and The Archers of Isca by Caroline Lawrence
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows
Outcast by Rosemary Sutcliff
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
Five Glass Slippers by various authors
 
Non-Fiction
Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians by Chris Armstrong
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
 
Re-Reads
1066 and All That by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Gatty's Tale by Kevin Crossley-Holland