Welcome!

I love reading! Well, I suppose you worked that out from the title of this site, didn’t you?

I read flash fiction, short stories, novelettes, novels, full-length books, poetry books and am quite fond of book series too.

I also read most genres, though there are some I am more likely to read than others, but hey, I will give pretty much anything a go!  You never know when you are about to uncover a hidden gem.  Unless you read it, you don’t know if you will love it…and that is part of the magic of books.

I like to do what I can to support indie authors (I’m one myself), so if you would like me to review your book / story, just get in touch 🙂

If you have any suggestions, recommendations or review requests, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

Have a great day!

To learn more about me, read my about page.  To see what I’ve already reviewed, visit the A-Z review index.

Book Review: We All Die In The End by Elizabeth Merry

My first review for Indie Only Month 2020 is Elizabeth Merry’s collection of interconnected tales, We All Die In The End. My thanks to Elizabeth for providing me with a copy of the collection in return for an honest review. 

 

You can find my Afternoon Tea interview with Elizabeth Merry here.  We All Die In The End can be found on Amazon and Goodreads.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Perfect summer reading if you enjoy real-life styled tales, some light, some dark, all compelling, evocative and well-written. A fantastic read. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

This is a diverse collection of interlinked stories set in a small, seaside town in Ireland. Some of them verge on the macabre; others deal with abusive relationships and many of them are grim. But there is humour here too – although it is dark humour.

There’s Sadie, avoiding her mother’s advice:
“Sadie said nothing. She trimmed the fat off the kidneys and the liver, her fingers curling away from the soft, red slither and she held her breath against the faint smell of blood. Madge lifted her walking-stick and rattled it against the leg of the table.”

And poor, wee Andy, struggling with a teenage girlfriend and their baby daughter:
“Andy felt the unhappiness grow in his chest again. It was heavy and he fought against it. No, he said to himself. No. He held his arms up and out in front of him and made soft, crooning, engine noises.”

And then there is recovering alcoholic, Arthur:
“So, I watched Lydia and waited for some bloody nuisance of a child to come screeching after her but no child came. Well, that didn’t make any sense but then Lydia stopped and I saw her speak to the doll. Oho, Arthur, I said to myself and I threw down the cigarette. Oho, I said, what’s this? What have we here?”

Just a couple of the strange and interesting characters in this ebook available on Amazon Kindle.

Favourite Quote

What does it matter?  What does any of it matter?  We all die in the end.

(From We All Die In The End by Elizabeth Merry)

Review

I really enjoyed reading this collection of nineteen interconnected short stories. I loved how a mention of one character in one story sets up another story, in a very loose, roundabout sort of way as the stories themselves are all separate.  It gave great fluidity to the book, and once I started reading I found it very difficult to stop.  The stories were compelling and addictive, and the characters so well-devised that I found myself gripped, wondering where the next story was going to go. The connections between the characters come in the form of family ties, friends, neighbours and work colleagues, giving a cross-section of the population of a small Irish coastal town.

A wide variety of topics and themes are covered: infidelity, the struggles of young parents, crime, mental health issues, religion and spiritualism, dreams and first kisses, sadness, manipulation, regret, guilt, love, fear…There’s a little bit of violence in a handful of the stories, and adult themes and bad language gets a mention a few times as well, but there is nothing graphic and it’s not overused.  It adds to the stories rather than detracts from them, and I think it is always worth pointing that out.

As I’ve already said, all the characters have depth and authenticity.  It doesn’t take long for the author to present the reader with fully-fleshed people, and it is the thoughts and emotions of these people that bring these stories to life.  The author has a great grasp of people and captures wonderfully the two faces of an individual – the one they show to the world and their real self.  And it is the secret side of themselves, what they think, what goes on in their homes once their doors are locked and curtains closed that ensure the reader keeps reading.  Not everyone we meet is likeable, not everyone we meet is nice.  There are characters with ugly personalities and brutal ways, but there are others just trying to make it through the day or realise their dreams.

The descriptions of the town, especially down by the sea (the beach, the pier, the harbour) and the pub, are so clear and evocative that I could easily imagine them as I worked my way through each story.  Indeed, the whole town felt very real, I could picture the different houses and flats, and the different rooms within each, quite clearly.

The tension of some of the situations some of the characters find themselves in is palpable, and some of the twists that unfurl aren’t predictable but make perfect sense for the characters they happen to.  In essence, these stories are about people; they’re not real, but they could very easily be, and they serve to remind us, we don’t really know other people as well as we sometimes think.  A fantastic read.

Rating

Bookish Reflections – June 2020

A monthly round up of all things bookish at Sammi Loves Books…It’s my attempt at becoming more accountable in my reading and reviewing habits…


In a nutshell

June was a busy month at Sammi Loves Books HQ! Plenty of deadlines ensured my reading and reviewing goal for the month of posting 5 or 6 reviews to catch up with my backlog didn’t happen, but I did average out at a review a week, so I won’t complain too much.

Unfortunately, July looks set to be just as busy…but as it is Indie Only Month, I’m not going to let that bother me.  I have a couple of books I’m really excited to read, and I’ve already a review set for sharing tomorrow…Elizabeth Merry’s “We All Die In The End”, which was a fantastic read.

I am going to remain open to review requests until the end of 7th July for any authors interested in having their work reviewed as part of Indie Only 2020, and I have now indicated that in the sidebar on the left.  And, for any historical fiction authors out there, there is a good chance I will open them again for historical fiction only, at the end of this month or the beginning of next. So, if you are interested please do get in touch – you can find out all you need to know on this page.

If any writers / poets / authors / etc, would like to be interviewed as part of Afternoon Tea at Sammi Loves Books check out this page for more information, FAQs and an index of all the previous interviews.  If you’ve any questions, please do get in touch at: sammicoxbooks@gmail.com

To keep up-to-date with what I’m reading and reviewing, find me on Facebook and Goodreads.

Books I’ve reviewed

Other Book-Related Posts

Favourite read(s) of the month

  • Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

Books I’ve bought (or been given)

  • None – None, none, none…Woohoo! I am on such an amazing roll with not acquiring any new books at the moment.  You can not possibly imagine how chuffed I am! 😉

Books I’ve downloaded

  • A review copy of We All Die In The End by Elizabeth Merry

What I’ve been reading on Wattpad

  • Not very much recently as I’ve not been using the platform…There are not enough hours in the day

June’s “Read and Review” Goals*

  • The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie
  • The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

* Light blue = review posted | Blue = review not posted | Black = did not read / review

What I’m reading and reviewing in July

  • We All Die In The End by Elizabeth Merry
  • One of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries by Elizabeth Spann Craig, though I’ve not yet decided which one
  • The Medium by C.J. Archer

Basic Book Review Challenge 2020

To post (at least) one book review a week, to reach a target of 52 over the course of the year.

Month started at: 20 / 52

Month finished at: 24 / 52

Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019

I’m revisiting this challenge I started last year, to complete the challenges I missed. I’ve completed the following challenges from the list this month:

  • Oops…I didn’t complete a single one…there’s till 6 to go! Sigh…

Total challenges completed in 2019: 8 / 20

Total challenges completed in 2020: 6 / 12

Total: 14 / 20

You can find the complete list of challenges here.

A to Z Review Index Challenge

  • No change here – Still the letter “I” to go.

Challenge status: 1 / 2

Read, Review, Rehome

Goal: 20 | Total so far: 11 / 20

  • Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie
  • The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
  • The Magician’s Nephew by C.S Lewis

Book Review: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of Four is the second novel by Arthur Conan Doyle to feature Sherlock Holmes.

Quick Review

Entertaining and melodramatic, this short mystery has a lot going on and culminates with an epic night-time boat chase down The Thames.  Not to be missed!  4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

‘I abhor the dull routine of existence…That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created, for I am the only one in the world.’

‘The only unofficial detective?’ I said, raising my eyebrows.

‘The only unofficial consulting detective,’ he answered.  ‘I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.’

At first the interruption to the boredom of Sherlock Holmes seems to have little to do with crime. But there is mystery enough to intrigue the jaded detective. A governess, whose father vanished ten years ago and who has been receiving the gift of a valuable peal sent annually and anonymously, now needs an escort to meet her unknown benefactor.

But before the night has ended, an impossible murder is discovered. Although Watson is bemused by love, Holmes is helped by Toby the tracker dog and the Baker Street Irregulars to hunt down a brutal killer and interpret the Sign of Four…

Favourite Quote

I narrowed it down to two:

The first links in with the excerpt from the summary above:

‘My mind,’ he said, ‘rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.  But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.’

(The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 8)

The second quote focuses on Holmes not being impressed with Watson’s attempt to record the Jefferson Hope case, which Watson calls, ‘A Study in Scarlet‘:

‘Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.

(The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle, page 9)

Review

The Sign of Four has a lot going on in it, for a short book.  There is, of course, the mystery, which leads to a locked-room mystery, which leads to a period of tracking using the remarkable talents of a half-spaniel half-lurcher named Toby, there’s a little bit of a love story, a treasure hunt and a fantastically dramatic action-adventure style ending, which is memorable to say the least.

We really get to see into the person behind the Sherlock Holmes character in this instalment. Yes, he has a brilliant mind and he can do what others can’t, but we are shown in a very clear and obvious way that just because he is a genius, he doesn’t have to be good or likeable and usually he is quite the opposite. He can be rude and dismissive, he takes drugs simply because he is mentally bored and yet we love him and the stories he is in.

And there is something quite extraordinarily melodramatic about this storyline…it’s entertaining, it’s gripping, but there is an element of it being too much, too over-the-top, too outlandish.  And given how short the book is – my copy is only 138 pages long –  it is more of a novella than a full length novel.

There are two standout highlights of this story for me.  The first is that Dr Watson meets Mary and falls in love.  Aww.  The second is the night-time boat chase down The Thames, which is worthy of any modern-day action film.

Did I enjoy it as much as the previous novel, A Study in Scarlet, or more than some of the short stories?  No, I don’t think I did, but it was certainly entertaining and well worth a read.

Rating

Book Review: The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

The Magician’s Nephew is the first book, chronologically, in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Some enchanting descriptions mixed with some memorable and profound passages make this book worth a read, and sets up the next book, the most famous of The Chronicles of Narnia, perfectly. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory’s peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew’s magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined.

Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia.

Favourite Quote

‘Ah, but when I looked at that dust (I took jolly good care not to touch it) and thought that every grain had once been in another world – I don’t mean another planet, you know; they’re part of our world and you could get to them if you went far enough – but a really Other World – another Nature – another universe – somewhere you would never reach even if you travelled through the space of this universe for ever and ever – a world that could only be reached by Magic…’

(The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, page 25)

Review

As I mentioned in previous reviews this year, I’m spending a little of my reading time returning to childhood classics, some I’m re-reading and others which I haven’t yet read.  Having a pretty collection of The Chronicles of Narnia sitting on one of my bookshelves (they’re not mine but my sister’s and I said she couldn’t have them back until I’ve read them – that was a fair few years ago now!  Sorry Sis!) I thought it was high time to begin working through the series.  I only remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe during my formative years, but to be honest, I can’t recall too much from the book itself, but I did enjoy the 2005 film adaptation (although it took me a fair few years to get around to watching that…)

There is a part of me that wants to compare Lewis’ Narnia to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but I think, that would be wholly unfair, so I won’t.  At least, I won’t until I have read all seven books, and then it will only be a maybe.  We shall see…

Although The Magician’s Nephew is the first book chronologically in The Chronicles of Narnia, it wasn’t the first book in the series to be written, and there were times when I was reading that this was obvious, and when it was noticeable, I did find it to be quite jarring.  Yet there were also times that  this very same thing offered an “Aha!” moment or two.  Also, it is worth pointing out that this is basically the “Genesis” of Narnia, how that magical world came to be and how people from our world discovered it.

One thing that struck me was its concept of good and evil comes across as very basic.  There are simply bad people doing bad things so that the good characters can do good things.  As a children’s book of instruction on how to behave, I suppose it works, but as an adult reading it, I found my enjoyment of the story quite limited.  I wanted to know why the bad people were doing bad things, I wanted to know what their motivations were.

As to what I really loved about the story…of course, the world described is a beautiful one, and the descriptions are beautiful in their simplicity.  And there are some wonderfully profound quotes peppered throughout. Then, there is Aslan…mystical and enchanting, he is a wonderful character.  Polly and Digory were likeable too.

I’m quite excited to be reading the next book in the series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I feel that, although The Magician’s Nephew was a little up and down in terms of what I enjoyed and what I did not, book two – the most famous of The Chronicles of Narnia – has been set up perfectly.

Rating

Afternoon Tea with Elizabeth Merry

My latest author interview over afternoon tea is with Elizabeth Merry, who released a collection of interconnected short stories back in April.  I will be sharing a review of “We All Die in the End” next month as part of Indie Only Month here at Sammi Loves Books, but today I am pleased to be able to put my ten reading and writing questions to her.

So grab a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit or slice of cake, then sit back and relax and read the interview…


Thanks so much for taking the time to join us for afternoon tea today, Elizabeth. To begin with, for those who don’t know you or have yet to discover your writing, please introduce yourself.

Hello. My name is Elizabeth Merry. I am originally from the north of Ireland but have lived most of my life, very happily, in Dublin. I raised my family here and am now free and easy again and able to devote time to writing and blogging.

•♦•

When did you first realise you wanted to become a writer?

All my life I have been a voracious reader but the first time I realised that writing was a possibility for me was when my daughter was about four. I asked her to tell me a story and she said no, I should tell her one. So I did, and the story grew, and it occurred to me that I might write it down. And so began . . .

•♦•

Where do you find your inspiration?

Anything I have ever written has begun with a picture in my head; a man on a beach, smoking and staring at the sea, or a boy sitting in a window seat, reading. I don’t know where these images come from – but I’m very glad they do!

•♦•

Can you tell us about your writing process? What’s the first thing you do when you get a new idea?

To begin with I just make notes. I find out about the man on the beach or the boy reading, and slowly the idea grows. At this stage more characters appear and then I write an outline, which I may, or may not, stick to but I need it there all the same. It helps to give pace and shape to the story.

•♦•

In your opinion, what’s the best and worst thing about being a writer?

The worst thing is getting that first draft finished. I always find it stressful; I work slowly and in short bursts. But the best thing then is editing, shaping and polishing – I really enjoy that process and could (and do) spend hours at second and third drafts.

•♦•

What projects have you been working on recently? What plans do you have for the future?

In April just gone, I published an ebook on Amazon, “We All Die in the End”. It is a collection of interlinked short stories, not all written at the same time, but all in the same place. I did a lot of work on them and linked them together, so a support character in one story might become the main character in the next. I enjoyed working on that project.

At the moment I am working on a collection of poetry. Many of the poems have been published in literary magazines and now I’m arranging them in chronological order, beginning with childhood . . . I will call it “From There to Here”.

•♦•

Many authors are also avid readers. Who are some of your favourite authors? Can you share with us some of your favourite books?

I’ll have to start with Dickens – I studied “David Copperfield” at school (long ago) and have read it at least twice since. So many wonderful, unforgettable characters! I also love Annie Proulx, Donna Tartt, Joseph O’Connor, and my current top of the list – Patrick de Witt.

•♦•

If you were only allowed to own three books, which three would you choose?

Three books? Well, I’d have to have “Catch 22” because it makes me laugh so much. And then I think, Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy” for when I’m trying to make sense of the world. And . . . “David Copperfield” a book to get lost in.

•♦•

We love quotes at Sammi Loves Books. Please share with us one of your favourite quotes from one of your own stories or poems, and explain why you chose it.

Here is my favourite quote from my own work – it’s a haiku about my mother. She is nearly ten years gone now but I think about her a lot, and my hands remind me of hers.

“My hands kneading dough
become your hands in cloudy
puffs of wheaten flour.”

•♦•

Another thing we love at Sammi Loves Books is afternoon tea. If you could have afternoon tea with any author or fictional character, who would you choose and why? Just so you know, the table can seat four, so feel free to fill all available seats, but don’t forget to leave one for yourself! 😉 Also, where might you have this afternoon tea and what is being served? You know, so we can all enjoy it…

well, let’s see . . . I’d like Patrick de Witt but I think he might be a quiet man and wouldn’t talk very much. So, Joseph O’Connor for sure – author of the novels “Star of the Sea” and “Redemption Falls” among others. He has also written many non-fiction books which make me laugh out loud – e.g. “Inside the Head of the Irish Male”. And Dervla Murphy, prolific travel writer from Co Wexford. She travelled the world on her bicycle and would be full of stories. Finally, Oscar Wilde although he’d probably take over and no one else would get a word in. And we’d have our afternoon tea in Florian’s in Venice because Dickens loved it and Venice is my favourite European city. It would be coffee instead of tea with all sorts of pastries and little cakes, and a small glass of Grand Marnier. And outside the orchestras would be tuning up for the evening and the sun would be shining hot and I would never want to leave.

•♦•

Thank you so much for the interview, Elizabeth.  I so thoroughly enjoyed your answers especially your description of afternoon tea in Venice.  It sounded magical! And the haiku about your mother was both moving and beautiful – thank you for sharing it.  Wishing you every success with your short story collection and all future projects!

And readers, don’t forget…As I mentioned in the introduction to the interview, I have a review forthcoming for “We All Die in the End”, so keep a look out for that in July! 

Connect with the Author

My name is Elizabeth Merry; I was born in Bangor, Co Down on the north east coast of Ireland and I’m the eldest of six sisters, four of whom still live in Co Down where I visit them often. I have lived most of my adult life in Dublin. Here I raised my family who are all off now, living their own lives, although I see them every week or so. I began writing many years ago, mostly short stories for children, and then I tried a novel which was published but is out of print now. I am considering re-publishing it myself on Amazon but I will do some re-writing first.

Here is a short list of publications:

Short stories for children in the National Press in Ireland.
A play for children broadcast on RTE Radio 1 in Ireland.
A novel for children – The Silver Tea-Set – published
by Glendale Press, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin (no longer in business).
Several poems and short stories published in various literary magazines.

I am now an Indie Author and recently published “We All Die in the End” on Amazon, available on both sides of the Atlantic. This book is a re-working of short stories so they are all linked together, same town, same eccentric characters.
At present I am working on a collection of poetry, “From There to Here” which charts my life to date, and as I said, I will have a long look at the previously published book for children which I will probably re-name “Ghosts in Trouble”.

I can be found:


If you would like to be interviewed as part of Afternoon Tea at Sammi Loves Books, check out this post.

Book Review: The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A quick, entertaining read, with plenty of historical details to get lost in.  Well worth a read.  3.5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

An ancient crime, with a curse that remains…

In the darkest hours of the night at the Museum of Volterra, young archaeologist Fabrizio Castellani is immersed in his work. He has discovered that the famous Etruscan statue known as the ‘shade of twilight’ contains a mysterious object, seemingly enclosed within the sculpture itself. He is suddenly interrupted by the phone ringing – on the other end of the line an icy female voice warns him to abandon his research at once.

A series of gruesome killings follow. The victims, who have all been involved in the desecration of an unexplored tomb, seem to be have been torn to pieces by a beast of unimaginable size. Meanwhile, as Fabrizio excavates the Etruscan tomb he discovers something extraordinary, and chilling…

Will Fabrizio manage to unravel these secrets without being sucked into the spiral of violence himself?

Favourite Quote

“…not the usual vestal virgin he was used to seeing wandering the halls of museums and NAS offices.”

(From The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, page 19)

Note as to why this was chosen as my favourite quote: it made me wonder if the corridors of these museums usually had women dressed in the robes of the priestesses of Vesta wandering up and down them…

Review

It’s been years since I have read anything by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, although I have plenty of his books, translated from the Italian to English, on my shelves.  To give you some idea how long it has been, I started this site’s A-Z Review Index in 2013 and no reviews for his books were listed prior to today…

The Ancient Curse is an interesting blend of history and modern mystery with a dash of horror thrown in.  Both the past and present are brought dramatically to life as an Etruscan curse is awakened and vengeance for an ancient crime is visited on the town of Volterra.

The supernatural elements of the story were executed well.  I felt the fear, could imagine the monster (boy, was it mean!), and sense the building terror, for most of the book.  I really enjoyed the Etruscan history mentioned in the story; usually the Etruscans are overlooked in favour of the later Romans when it comes to historical fiction, so this I found very interesting.  I also liked reading about the archaeology, from the discovery in the tomb, to how things were recorded and reported as well as behind the scenes at the museum.

The only difficulty with translations is that I find dialogue doesn’t always sound quite right, and that can hinder me creating a strong connection with the characters.  I liked Fabrizio, Francesca and Reggiani, but I didn’t have any strong feelings towards them or about what might happen to them.  That being said, as I read the book I felt the plot, meaning the curse, the historical context and the archaeological descriptions and accuracy, were perhaps the most important aspect and the characters came second.  That doesn’t bother me much, but it might bother some readers.  Following on from that, the romance was probably the weakest part of the story…but then, I didn’t read it for the romance.

Overall, I would say this was well worth a read, and that I’m happy to have found time to read another of Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s books.  The next one on my list is The Lost Army…hopefully I’ll get around to reading that as part of this year’s Historical Fiction Month in August…

Rating

3.5 / 5

Book Review: Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Suspenseful, unpredictable and atmospheric.  This was an engaging, easy read, which kept me guessing…  4 / 5

Summary

It is Egypt in 2000 BC, where death gives meaning to life.  At the foot of a cliff lies the broken, twisted body of Nofret, concubine to a Ka-priest. Young, beautiful and venomous, most agree that it was fate – she deserved to die like a snake!

Butat her father’s house on the banks of the Nile, the priest’s daughter Renisenb believes that the woman’s death was suspicious.  Increasingly, she becomes convinced that the source of evil lurks within their household – and watches helplessly as the family’s passions explode in murder…

Favourite Quote

‘I, Renisenb, am an old woman, and I love life as only the old can, savouring every hour, every minute that is left to them.  Of you all I have the best chance of life – because I shall be more careful than any of you.’

(From Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie, page 200)

Review

A trifle, a little, the likeness of a dream, and death comes as the end…

(From Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie, page 55)

Death Comes As The End is a standalone novel, set in ancient Egypt, and I found it to be a great read. Historical fiction meets murder mystery, and although this book lacks gore and detailed descriptions of the death, there is no cosy element you find in many books of this genre. Instead you are exposed to the tense, suspenseful atmosphere that pervades this house as fear takes hold on the family.  There are plenty of plot twists to keep you wondering what is going to happen next, and just when you think you might have worked it out, something happens and changes everything.

The descriptions of ancient Egypt – the people, the places, the state of the country at the time the story is set, the ordinary life of Egyptians, the religion – it was all fantastic.  I found it very easy to envisage it all, and immerse myself in the story.  One of the hardest parts of reading this book was to pick a single favourite quote from all the ones I had bookmarked!

The characters really made the story, and it is their interactions and motivations that ensured I never lost interest in what was happening.  My favourite character was probably the quiet, dependable, sensible Hori, but I also loved Esa’s plain-speaking ways; she never shied away from telling anyone what she thought of them!

The only downside to the story was how Renisenb was portrayed.  At first, she came across as a little naïve, a little childish, but throughout she is exposed to the critical thinking of others.  Life seems a little more abstract to her than it does to, let’s say, Hori or Esa, or even Imhotep.  But then, she has suffered a bereavement and grief could be the reason for this.  This doesn’t mean that I didn’t like her as a character, I did.  Nor does it mean that I didn’t find her character convincing, I did.  Only that at times I found her a little frustrating as she had a habit of taking things at face value and not understanding that it was possible for things to not be as they appeared.

Loving all things ancient Egyptian as I do, I loved this book.  If you’re a fan of ancient Egypt and want to read an unusual murder mystery, I recommend this book to you.

Rating

 

Bookish Reflections – May 2020

A monthly round up of all things bookish at Sammi Loves Books…It’s my attempt at becoming more accountable in my reading and reviewing habits…


In a nutshell

A fairly balanced month in terms of reading versus reviews, but I’m still a little bit behind.  Finger’s crossed I’ll make up some ground in June, otherwise these outstanding reviews will not be posted until August.  Why? We have Indie Only Month coming up, followed by Historical Fiction Month…

It’s been a good long while since I was open to review requests on this site, and I’m considering altering that for a short period of time for this year’s Indie Only Month (for those who do not know, that falls in July) and if the genre allows, Historical Fiction Month (August) too.  If there’s any interest please get in touch – you can find out all you need to know on this page.

If any writers / poets / authors / etc, would like to be interviewed as part of Afternoon Tea at Sammi Loves Books check out this page for more information, FAQs and an index of all the previous interviews.  If you’ve any questions, please do get in touch at: sammicoxbooks@gmail.com

To keep up-to-date with what I’m reading and reviewing, find me on Facebook and Goodreads.

Books I’ve reviewed

Other Book-Related Posts

  •  None

Favourite read(s) of the month

  •  Circe by Madeline Miller
  • What the Owl Taught Me by Annest Gwilym

Books I’ve bought (or been given)

  • None

Books I’ve downloaded

  •  None

What I’ve been reading on Wattpad

  • Not very much recently as I’ve not been using the platform…

May’s “Read and Review” Goals*

  • Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • The Leper of St Giles by Ellis Peters
  • The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory

* Light blue = review posted | Blue = review not posted | Black = did not read / review

What I’m reading and reviewing in June

  • The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (read, awaiting review)
  • Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie (read, awaiting review)
  • The Ancient Curse by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (currently reading)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (currently reading)

Basic Book Review Challenge 2020

To post (at least) one book review a week, to reach a target of 52 over the course of the year.

Month started at: 15 / 52

Month finished at: 20 / 52

Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019

I’m revisiting this challenge I started last year, to complete the challenges I missed. I’ve completed the following challenges from the list this month:

  • #14 – a book of poetry or short fiction
  • #17 – a book that has been adapted for TV or film

Total challenges completed in 2019: 8 / 20

Total challenges completed in 2020: 6 / 12

Total: 14 / 20

You can find the complete list of challenges here.

A to Z Review Index Challenge

  • No change here – Still the letter “I” to go.

Challenge status: 1 / 2

Read, Review, Rehome

Goal: 20 | Total so far: 8 / 20

  • A Plague On Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory
  • Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
  • Circe by Madeline Miller

Book Review: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters

* This review may contain spoilers *

The Leper of Saint Giles is the fifth book in the Chronicles of Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters.

Quick review (read on for full review)

Engaging and entertaining, this is a fast-paced mystery full of unforgettable characters. 4.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Brother Cadfael has had no time to think about the grand wedding which is to take place in the church at Shrewsbury Abbey and is causing such excitement in the city. The groom is an aging nobleman; the bride a very young woman coerced into the marriage by her greedy guardians. But it soon becomes apparent that the groom, Huon de Domville, is a cold, harsh man — in stark contrast to his beautiful bride-to-be. Before the wedding can take place, a savage killing occurs, setting Brother Cadfael the task of determining the truth, which turns out to be strange indeed.

Favourite Quote

‘I have always known that the best of the Saracens could out-Christian many of us Christians.’

(From The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters, page 220)

Review

Another fantastic instalment in the series.

At the centre of the story are two young lovers: Iveta, a beautiful heiress and granddaughter of a great hero of the Crusades, and Jocelyn, the squire to the man to whom she has been betrothed.  Not many medieval marriages were love matches, but there is something about this one that has very many onlookers look at Iveta with sadness and pity as she arrives in Shrewsbury to marry the aged Huon de Domville. For all her wealth and status, she is at the mercy of her greedy guardians.

Cadfael, always, is wonderful as the main character.  Compassionate and caring, his observant nature ensures little passes him by and so when injustice strikes, he can be relied upon – by both readers and supporting characters alike – to the right the wrong if he can.  As for the other characters, they are all convincing and believable. The avaricious Picards, the passionate hothead Jocelyn, the hapless Brother Oswin, the kind and inquisitive Brother Mark…all are well-crafted.

Iveta’s character is the one that stands out.  She is very wishy-washy and weak, perfectly presented as the downtrodden maiden about to be forced into an unwanted marriage, which by the standards of the time is probably fairly accurate.  And, as the story unfolds she does become stronger, but those whose who like their heroines to be fiery and independent from the beginning may find it difficult to connect with her.

It’s easy to get lost in the sights and sounds of medieval Shrewsbury, the abbey and the surrounding area.  Historical descriptions are easy to envisage and the rich details of all the growing things that are encountered as the characters journey from one place to another are a treasure to read.

Leprosy, like the pestilence, was much feared in the middle ages, and those who suffered from it were segregated from healthy populations.  [A side note: this was another book I read during lockdown…] The disease is handled very sensitively in the story, as we meet lepers of all ages, at various stages of the disease.  Bran, a young lad at the leper house, has to be one of my favourite characters from across the series, and Lazarus is like a guardian angel.

The ending is one of the best of the series, where all threads meet with fairly explosive force and the truth comes out in its entirety.  Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction.  The next book in the series is The Virgin in the Ice, which is one of my favourite Cadfael books.  I’m excited to revisit this one, and hope to get around to it soon.

Rating

4.5 / 5


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #17 in the list: a book that has been adapted for TV or film

Book Review: A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory

* This review may contain spoilers *

A Plague on Both Your Houses is the first book in the Matthew Bartholomew series by Susanna Gregory.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A great first book in a series! Interesting characters and setting, and an engaging mystery.  Highly recommended for fans of Ellis Peters Cadfael books. 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

In the tradition of Ellis Peters, A Plague on Both Your Houses introduces the physician Matthew Bartholomew…

…whose unorthodox but effective treatment of his patients frequently draws accusations of heresy from his more traditional colleagues. Besides his practice, Bartholomew is teacher of medicine at Michaelhouse, part of the fledging University of Cambridge.

In 1348 the inhabitants of Cambridge live under the shadow of a terrible pestilence that has ravaged Europe and is travelling relentlessly eastwards towards England. Bartholomew, however, is distracted by the sudden and inexplicable death of the Master of Michaelhouse – a death the University authorities do not want investigated. His pursuit of the truth leads him into a complex tangle of lies and intrigue that cause him to question the innocence of his closest friends – and even his family.

And then the Black Death finally arrives…

Favourite Quote

Clenching his fists in frustration, he wondered whether he should have complied with Nathaniel’s request – applied leeches to his arm to remove the excess of humours, and read his stars to see what other treatment they might suggest.  But the man only had a hangover!

(From A Plague on Both Your Houses by Susanna Gregory, page 92)

Review

Cambridge of 1348 is brought to life vividly and with ease against the backdrop of the plague, in what might be consider another perfect choice for a lockdown read…

For the first book in a series, this grabbed me with both hands! The characters were engaging, the setting in place and time interesting, and the mystery entertaining.  Many plot twists and turns ensured that the story held my attention throughout and never once felt predictable.

Matthew is an interesting character.  Like Ellis Peters healing monk, Cadfael, they are both men who walk an unusual path in their chosen vocations.  Cadfael is A Rare Benedictine ( I couldn’t resist the reference! 😉 ) with a lifetime of worldly experience under his belt before donning his monk’s robes and this gives him a certain perspective on all that unfolds around him.  Matthew is a physician who spurns the widely “accepted” treatments of the day – leeches and star charts – for what we would clearly recognise today as medicine, thanks to his Arab teacher.

As Matthew is a physician, expect to read descriptions of the medical conditions that require his attention and his treatment of them. As the plague strikes Cambridge, many of these passages focus on the symptoms of the pestilence, which some readers might enjoy less than others. Personally, I didn’t find it to be too much, and I thought the spread of the disease and the effect it had on the people of the story was handled sensitively.

For an otherwise well-written, convincing story we seemed to slip a little towards medieval melodrama towards the end.  Here, the hitherto clever villains paused in the execution of their plan to explain all they had done to up to this point and the motives behind their actions, to ensure that everyone understood why they were doing what they were doing.  This seemed out of step with the rest of the story, and drew out the conclusion far beyond what I expected.

That being said, all loose ends were nicely tied up as we reached the last page, and the final act is certainly dramatic and exciting. The book, on the whole, finds a balance between action and ordinary life, and as the story progresses, the pace picks up nicely.

If you’ve got connections to Cambridge, especially the University (like the author of the book) you will find this an entertaining, captivating yarn.  If you are a fan of Cadfael, or are interested in medieval history and medicine, I think you will also enjoy this book. The next book in the series is An Unholy Alliance, and I’m looking forward to reading it very much!

Rating