From My Bookshelf – February 2023 Book Reveal

And February’s book is…

The Prince and The Pilgrim by Mary Stewart.

And the treat to accompany the book for February, hot chocolate and biscuits.


You can find out everything you need to know about the From My Bookshelf challenge, including links to the books as they are revealed, and the reviews once they are written, here.

Advertisement

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry was my January book for the From My Bookshelf Challenge 2023.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A richly written tale, full of interesting characters, vivid settings and beautiful prose. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears.

Favourite Quote

I’ve always said there are no mysteries, only things we don’t yet know, but lately I’ve thought not even knowledge takes all the strangeness from the world.

(From The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, page 217)

Review

I’m not sure what is about Essex but they sure do like their myths of dragons and serpents! I had been introduced to the story of another serpent, which hails from just down the road from where this book is set, by Him-Indoors, in a place called Wormingford. Naturally, not believing Essex to be inundated by dragons, I’d wondered if the one in this story was the same. How interesting to learn that it wasn’t, or that Essex suffered an earthquake which registered 4.6 on the Richter scale. I do love it when fiction is a source of fact!

Once I finished the book, I felt rather than this being a story, with a beginning, middle and end, what you have is a snapshot into the lives and thoughts of a range of characters, all of whom were well-drawn, authentic, interesting and entertaining. Yet I felt there was no story to speak of, no direction to the tale. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t think the book was worth reading, or that I didn’t enjoy it. I did. The story flows between and around these characters, and most of them interconnect in some way to Cora Seaborne and her desire to discover the truth behind the mystery of the Essex Serpent in the wake of her cruel husband’s death, whilst dwelling on the nature of relationships and friendships.

The cast of characters is fairly extensive. Cora Seaborne is interesting as the convention-breaking, Mary Anning-inspired wealthy widow. Dr Luke Garrett was entertaining as the boundary-pushing surgeon who is consumed almost entirely by his profession. But my favourite character was that of the determined Martha who is Cora’s companion and the nurse/nanny to Cora’s son, Francis. Her need to make the lot better for those of her class and background means no matter her audience, she will talk of social reform.

The settings were well-described and I could easily imagine each of them. Aldwinder, the fictitious Essex village, and the Blackwater Estuary were particular favourites, though the glimpse we are given of Colchester and the home partially destroyed by the earthquake were captivating.

The book cover is, of course, gorgeous, with a William Morris feel to it, and it was this which first persuaded me to the read the book. Another point worth noting is there are some truly delightful and poetic passages, with rich and flowery sentences, within the story.

Just a heads up: if you don’t like reading about horrible things happening to animals, there is a passage you might not enjoy in this book. I didn’t like it and it contributed to the loss of a star.

Rating

Books I’ve Acquired – January 2023

  • Writing Popular Fiction – Rona Randall
  • Writing a Thriller by Andre Jute
  • And Only to Decieve by Tasha Alexander
  • Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
  • Will by Christopher Rush
  • Death of Blue Blood (Murder She Wrote) by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

Book Cover Love #6

Angelfall by Susan EE

This is one of those books that I bought simply because I loved the cover. The colours, the grungy style of the artwork and those angel wings…it immediately captured my attention.

I read and reviewed this book back in June 2016, and I ended the review with: “As paranormal reads go, this was both entertaining and captivating and I would not hesitate to recommend it to fans of the genre.”

You can read the review in full here.

From My Bookshelf – January 2023 Book Reveal

And January’s book is…

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

And the treat to accompany the book for January, some incense.


You can find out everything you need to know about the From My Bookshelf challenge, including links to the books as they are revealed, and the reviews once they are written, here.

From My Bookshelf 2023 (challenge)

Happy New Year! I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted here. Suffice to say, the end to my 2022 was as bad as the beginning of the year. But it’s now 2023, and I look ahead with optimism 🙂

The first thing I decided to do, book-wise, this year, is another self-set challenge, From My Bookshelf. The idea came to me in December, and was set in motion then, but with one thing and another, I’ve not been able to share it. So here’s what it’s about:

Basically, it’s a faux book subscription box, that will see me read 12 books, picked as randomly as possible from my own bookshelves, one for each month of the year.

Why?

  • Because I love the idea of subscription boxes, but I feel like I can’t justify adding 12 new books to the thousands I already own and have yet to read, and I also know I will continue to buy books throughout the year to add to my ever growing TBR.
  • Because I can’t guarantee that I will like someone else’s book choices
  • Because this feels like a free gift to myself and who doesn’t like free things or presents?
  • Because I like book and reading challenges (as you may or may not have noticed), though I might not always be the best at completing them. Don’t forget, I still have a few challenges outstanding for my classic book challenge, as well as my reading challenge from 2019…
  • Because I feel this is a good way to read some of the books I usually overlook when it comes to picking my next read…and some of these books have been gathering dust for years…

So, the books were picked with little more than a glance before Christmas, wrapped in Christmas paper (why not?), and set aside in a designated box. And I’m probably not surprised to admit, I’ve already forgotten which books were chosen, which ensures a sense of surprise should remain with this challenge throughout the year. Once the books were wrapped I wrote a label for each month of the year, and then got Him-In-Doors to select a book for each of the months, to add another layer of mystery to the challenge 😉

Then, each month I will unwrap the book for the month and announce it here. I will also share what treat I’ve set aside for that month’s challenge, because treats go hand-in-hand with books and reading, don’t you think? The treat could very well be anything…cake, biscuits, hot chocolate, tea, a candle, some incense…I think you get the idea. I then have the month to read and share the review.

I’m very excited to begin this challenge, and will use this post as an index for unveiling all the volumes, and for links to the reviews.

Are you joining in with any reading challenges this year?

From My Bookshelf 2023

  • January | Book reveal – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry | Book review
  • February | Book reveal | Book review
  • March | Book reveal | Book review
  • April | Book reveal | Book review
  • May | Book reveal | Book review
  • June | Book reveal | Book review
  • July | Book reveal | Book review
  • August | Book reveal | Book review
  • September | Book reveal | Book review
  • October | Book reveal | Book review
  • November | Book reveal | Book review
  • December | Book reveal | Book review

Book Review: The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence

The Thieves of Ostia is the first book in The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An entertaining, educational and engaging historical mystery for children. Also a quick, easy, fun read for adults. Highly recommended! 4.5 /5

Summary (from back of book)

Mystery and adventure for four young detectives in Ancient Roman times…

While investigating the disappearance of her father’s signet ring, Flavia Gemina makes some friends – Jonathon the Jewish boy, Nubia the African slave girl and Lupus the mute beggar boy. Together the friends start solving mysteries.

Can they discover who is killing dogs in Ostia, and why?

Favourite Quote

“All the wealth in the world is no good if you don’t have a family.”

(From The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence, page 44)

Review

First, my thanks to Joy over at Tales of Eneana for recommending this book to me a few years ago. Having now read it, I wish I had come to it sooner!

I really enjoyed this book, and as I read, couldn’t help but wish this series had been around when I was growing up!

The setting was wonderfully described, from mosaics to frescos, from house design to the lighthouse. The ancient Roman port of Ostia was brought to life superbly. One of my favourite locations was the cemetery outside the town walls, and the descriptions of the tombs.

The characters were varied and from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I could easily imagine Flavia and her friends, Jonathon, Nubia and Lupus, as well as Mordecai and Captain Geminus. Flavia is clever but isn’t a show-off, which makes for nicely balanced character. She is also sympathetic and compassionate, which balances the cruelties of the Roman world with what we expect in a protagonist in a modern story.

Even though this is a children’s book, the story was engaging and gripping. It’s a quick read, one I didn’t want to put down. I loved that the chapters were called “scrolls” and that there was enough historical information in the story for it to be educational as well as fun.

I was a little surprised by some of the subjects covered in the storyline, which included the killing of dogs (which is never easy to read) and suicide, but these issues were handled sensitively. As were the issues of slavery and the loss of family members.

The next book in the series is The Secrets of Vesuvius, which I am keen to begin reading soon! Highly recommended.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Recent Book Acquisitions

I’ve been on a bit of mystery binge lately. New books which have been added to my shelves include:

  • Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain
  • A Spoonful of Murder by J. M. Hall
  • Inspector Singh Investigates by Shamini Flint
  • Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke
  • The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra

I’ve already started reading Inspector Singh Investigates and I’m enjoying it so much. Review coming soon…

A Changing of Reading Habits

I’m not sure why, but this year I have completely ignored my own personal reading challenges. July came and went and so did Indie Only Month. Then August said hello, and then goodbye, as did Historical Fiction Month…

These little challenges have structured my reading year for the last ten years in some instances. And, each year, I have looked forward to them with relish and excitement, usually spending the preceding weeks and months putting together wish lists for books to be read and reviewed during the time set aside for the challenge.

Yet this year, things have been different. In part, I think it has been down to the fact that I am not reading as much as I have done in previous years. That’s not to say I’m not reading, I am, I just feel I am being more selective about what I read, as well as being a lot more critical of books I’m not enjoying or don’t live up to hype or expectations. In years past, I would have persevered with a book that felt a little slow or too bogged down in unnecessary detail. This year, if a book doesn’t grab my attention, I put it down and struggle to pick it back up – if I pick it back up at all.

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture, that if I have read a book this year, and gone on to review it, and that review has been positive, I really, really, meant what I said. It has taken a good book to get me through these past months, so if I said I liked it, I liked it a lot.

Another trend I’ve noticed with my reading habits this year, is that I have planned little of what I wanted to read. Instead, I am picking whatever takes my fancy, whether I’ve read it before, had it for years, or only bought it that morning. Usually, I have a pile which are my “next-to-read” books. That doesn’t seem to be working for me at the moment.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I’m also finding that I am reading more than one book at a time, something I’ve not done since university. Now, I regularly have three books on the go. The first is The Lord of the Rings which I am reading as part of a read along over on my writing site – feel free to head on over there and join in. It’s low commitment at only half a chapter a week. Then I have a book by my bed, which admittedly I don’t read more than a handful of pages before I’m too sleepy to read. The third book sits on my coffee table, and I’m finding, this book sees the most progress.

Looking ahead, there are still two more challenges tentatively marked on the calendar: Halloween Reads and Festive Reads Fortnight. I am not planning on ruling them out at this moment in time, yet I do find myself wondering if I may have outgrown them.

So for now, the badges for the challenges will remain, as will their prominent links to the relevant pages on this site. Whether I will keep them up next year or look to restructure my book reading and reviewing system, remains to be seen, but will probably depend on how the last quarter of this year goes… However, I can’t ignore the fact that at the moment, I am posting twice a week with little difficulty, something I’ve struggled with. And that suggests to me very little planning seems to be working for me, for now, at least…

Book Review: Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An atmospheric, chilling read. Foreboding and dramatic, this horror story is perfectly balanced and blurs the lines between normal life and the supernatural. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A deeply atmospheric literary horror novel about the nature of repressed guilt, grief and fear.

Daniel once had a baby brother, but he died, a long time ago now. And he had a wife and a daughter, but that didn’t work out, so now he’s alone. The easy monotony of his job as a milkman in the remote northwest of England demands nothing from him other than dealing with unreasonable customer demands and the vagaries of his enigmatic boss.

But things are changing. Daniel’s started having nightmares, seeing things that can’t possibly be there – like the naked, emaciated giant with a black bag over its head which is so real he swears he could touch it . . . if he dared.

It’s not just at night bad things are happening, either, or just to him. Shaken and unnerved, he opens up to a local witch. She can’t t discern the origins of his haunting, but she can provide him with a protective ward – a witch-bottle – if, in return, he will deliver her products on his rounds.

But not everyone’s happy to find people meddling with witch-bottles. Things are about to get very unpleasant . . .

Witch Bottle is literary horror at its finest, perfect for fans of Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Starve Acre.

Favourite Quote

I like to imagine that I live in one of the old farmhouses that dot the lonely moors, even though the thought of living in one of them makes me feel cold and afraid.

(From Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher, page 12)

Review

Witch Bottle is a strange, sometimes weird, imaginative horror story. I think, if I’m honest, I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy at all, I just expected to enjoy it more.

There were plenty of things about this book that I thought were done very well. The atmosphere steadily built up until it became chilling. The book was well-written, easy to read and flowed nicely. I could easily picture the setting and the people Daniel met over the course of his day. The bizarre goings-on were so well-written that it was easy for the line between normal life and the supernatural to become blurred. Characters talking of ghosts almost seemed ordinary. Almost. And this gave the story a haunting, menacing, sinister quality.

Isolation was definitely one of the words I kept coming back to when I thought about writing this review. The isolation and bleak desolation of the setting. Daniel’s isolation from loved ones and family, and having very few real friends, if any. The isolation and loneliness that comes with issues of mental health. There is a chilling bleakness to this story, both in the narrative as the tale unfolds but in the backstory too. There’s is very little cheer here.

The story just felt a little too elusive for me, and I was unsure about the ending. Where the book had done so well balancing the creepy supernatural with normal life, making these strange goings on appear part and parcel of local, rural life, the ending felt a little out of step with the preceding tone.

Rating

3.5 / 5