Fools and Mortals

Richard Shakespeare, younger brother to playwright William, is a petty thief but he is also an actor, who dreams of a successful stage career. If he can ever be given the chance to play a man, that is. His brother seems determined not to come to his assistance in achieving this dream, and even when he is promised a man’s role within the new play, that is not quite as it seems.

Then, when Richard is given responsibility for the scripts, some of them go missing, and the blame is immediately placed upon him. Richard soon identifies the real culprit and sets off on a dangerous mission to retrieve the playscripts that are so crucial to their theatrical success.

I really enjoyed reading this story. It certainly brought the world of Elizabethan London to life on the page and as a big fan of Shakespeare’s plays there was plenty to enjoy within the descriptions of rehearsals and preparations of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and briefly, ‘Romeo and Juliet’). The characters were well thought out and the author’s note at the end of the story gives an insight into just how much research was involved to bring the historical elements into the story.

In terms of negatives, I would say that the book is a little slow at the start and that the adventure across the streets of London, suggested by the blurb, actually happened within a very brief part of the story, so it was not quite what I expected. The main focus of the story is the world of the theatre, so it did not quite deliver the adventure/thriller plot I had thought it would. 

Good to read overall, even though it was not what I’d thought, but I would probably not recommend it to anyone who does not enjoy the works of Shakespeare.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – illustrated edition

It is becoming a bit of a Christmas tradition for me to read the latest illustrated edition of the Harry Potter series.

This book follows Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione through their third year at Hogwarts School. They must face a new threat from escaped prisoner, Sirius Black, and the dreaded Dementors who are searching for him. Even worse, it would appear that Black not only wants to harm Harry, but is also responsible for the death of Harry’s parents 12 years ago…

 The Prisoner of Azkaban has been my favourite book of the Harry Potter series for a long time. Why? I think the fact that it is a self-contained adventure before the later books all become part of the big plotline of facing Voldemort. Yet also, it is a massive part of that plot, and crucial to our understanding of what happens next. I like the introduction to the Marauders, and their story is one that I know I would love to read more of.

So, with all that in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed this edition with its beautiful illustrations. My favourite pictures in this book were the ones of Buckbeak and the other Hippogriffs; the level of detail brought the creatures to life on the pages.

A must for Harry Potter fans.

Christmas at the Log Fire Cabin

This is the second Christmas romance I’ve read this year and I enjoyed this one as much as the first.

Poppy is content in her relationship with stable but boring Harrison and when he proposes just before Christmas she couldn’t be more pleased. However, he then suggests a ‘cooling off period’ before they make their final decisions; hardly a romantic gesture.

Whilst Harrison is in Spain with family, Poppy spends Christmas beginning her new catering venture at the Log Fire Cabin. Handsome client Jed is very different to Harrison, yet Poppy finds herself drawn to him as they spend more time together over the Christmas period.

This was great fun to read, and one of the things I enjoyed most about it was that it was not just about romance but also Poppy gaining more confidence in herself. An enjoyable quick read for the Christmas period.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

There’s something about cold November nights that really makes me want to read dark murder mysteries and where better to turn than this classic by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are approached by Dr Mortimer following the death of his neighbour and friend Sir Charles Baskerville. The Baskerville family has long been haunted by the myth of a demonic hound out for blood, and the discovery of a large paw print at the scene of the crime has Dr Mortimer convinced that this may be more than just a story. The arrival of the new heir to the Baskerville estate prompts Holmes and Watson to embark upon a case of solving the murder and preventing another from happening.

This is probably Conan Doyle’s most famous work, and yet it is noticeable that for a large part of the story, Holmes is absent, existing only in the shadows, whilst Watson takes centre stage. The real strength of The Hound of the Baskervilles is its haunting atmosphere; the evocative Gothic descriptions of Dartmoor, and the books reliance on the supernatural genre to build tension around a mystery that is all too rational and human in the end. 

Overall, this is not my favourite Holmes story (personally I prefer the short stories about the world’s most famous fictional detective), but it is an enjoyable, exciting tale and just perfect for curling up with on dreary November nights.

Light-hearted Christmas romance: Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair

I’m getting into the Christmas spirit early this year. Normally, I’m an absolute no-Christmas-activities-before-December type of person, but this year I felt in need of a bit of early Christmas cheer and, I have to admit, the cover of this book looked so irresistible that I couldn’t wait until December.

In this story, Anna actively avoids Christmas every year. It brings up so many negative memories for her that she seeks out jobs that will keep her busy, and away from anything festive, throughout December. When she takes on a job as an aide to Catherine (who is recovering from surgery) at Wynthorpe Hall she is convinced that this year will be no different, as the family plans a very peaceful, quiet, festivity-free Christmas.

However, things don’t quite go to plan, and the arrival of Catherine’s family soon changes those plans. Her youngest son, Jamie, is particularly determined to change Anna’s views on Christmas. They set each other a challenge: he will try to make her love Christmas again, and she will try to make him love his home again…

This was fun and quick to read, full of romance but also friendship and family and it made for a good festive story. Personally I’m not always a huge fan of ‘love-at-first-sight’ stories, but I really enjoyed this one and it made for a great Christmas story to unwind and relax with.

The War of the Worlds

Every year I try to read at least one classic novel that I’ve not managed to get around to in the past. Even though I’d never read the novel The War of the Worlds before, I was fairly familiar with the storyline, as many people will be (I must have listened to the musical on tape several times in the car as a child).

One night, the narrator of the story notices a meteor crash landing nearby. The next day the whole town is buzzing with excitement that this is not in fact a meteor, but a martian ship that has crash landed on Earth. However, the excitement soon turns to fear as more martians arrive and construct giant machines that seem to have one intent: the destruction of mankind. The narrator begins a dreadful journey to escape these martian invaders, encountering on his way not only alien threats, but also the madness that can take over human beings under this sort of threat.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The War of the Worlds and honestly could not quite believe I’d left it so long to read this classic. For a book written in the 19th Century, it is actually surprisingly modern and relevant and made for a real page-turner. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to the narrator and his family; how would they survive such deadly killing machines? The ending really worked for me too, although some may find it disappointing. To me, it seemed utterly believable.

A fantastic classic, well worth reading.

The Mangle Street Murders

In 2017, I have mostly been reading crime novels and historical fiction, so what better story to choose next but a book that covers both of those genres.

 The Mangle Street Murders by M.R.C Kasasian is set in the 19th Century and follows a young writer called March Middleton. She moves to London to live with her new guardian Sidney Grice, a famed private detective. He is hoping she might write about his investigations but March is not a woman to sit idly by and behave in the way men expect her to, and soon joins in with the investigations herself. When Grice is approached by Grace Dillinger about her son-in-law, who has been accused of murdering his wife, March convinces him to take on the case. William Ashby maintains he was innocent, yet Grice is convinced the right man has been convicted. March remains unconvinced, and wants to look into the case in more depth, if only to help Dillinger, who she feels a lot of sympathy for.

This was a fantastic book to read. The plot held together well and the murder mystery was convincing. Most importantly the characters were so well painted for the reader that they really came to life on the page.

I really enjoyed every part of this story  and even the infuriating characters were ‘fun’ to read. One I’d recommend for fans of Victorian crime stories (there’s even a reference to Conan Doyle dropped in).