A Cloak and Dagger Christmas

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So, here’s the second catch-up post for the end of last year – I’m on a roll! Though 2019 is in full swing, I really want to mention what a lovely time I had reading murder mysteries back in December. I was more than ready for some murder mystery goodness last month, so the Cloak and Dagger Christmas Challenge 2018 was absolutely perfect timing. Hosted by the lovely booktubers Kate (Kate Howe) Mel (Mel’s Bookland Adventures) and Kate (The Novel Nomad), this was such a fun way to connect with other readers, find new books and discuss old favourites. Because of course, nothing quite says Christmas like a good murder!

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The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie. This is a short story collection with 4 short Poirot cases and a Miss Marple at the end. Of course, I read it for the Christmas pudding story, and it was glorious.

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I have it as a BBC audio drama and usually listen to it throughout December each year, but I thought it was about time to actually read the words! I bought myself a Christmas pudding scented candle from Good Book Hunting to enjoy whilst reading – what a treat 😊

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A Christmas Case: A Posie Parker Novella by L B Hathaway. This is such an underrated series in my humble opinion. I’d read the first two books, Murder Offstage and Tomb of the Honey Bee, and thoroughly enjoyed them both. They are well written, witty and imaginative. Plus they are set in the 1920s and feature an independent and spirited female private detective – just my cup of tea. This novella was absolutely brilliant, my favourite Posie Parker mystery yet and, because I gobbled it up in one sitting, I had to read the next book in the series, Murder at Maypole Manor straight after!

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Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan. A classic crime novel written in the 1940s. Lots of snow, strangers snowed in at an old country house, a suspicious death… what’s not to love I thought. And enjoy it I did, although it just wasn’t all I hoped it to be…the characters fell a bit flat, I didn’t engage with any of them especially and there were parts of the plot that were so far flung that it took away some of my reading pleasure as it all felt rather disjointed. Nevertheless, the setting was fabulous and as we had a lukewarm Christmas here in the Midlands without a snowflake in sight, it gave me that winter feeling I craved.

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The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle. I listened to this on Audible with Alan Cumming as a brilliant narrator. Sherlock Holmes stories are a bit hit and miss for me and I often find myself liking the idea of them more than actually reading them. I also find that audio versions suit me far better – yes, I’ve got the collection read by Stephen Fry (that man could read me the shipping forecast and I would be happy). Anyway, this was a short, quirky and entertaining story, perfect for a cosy listen on Boxing Day with a glass of port and a rather too much cheese 😉

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Last but definitely not least, I enjoyed my yearly re-listen to the audio book version of Mistletoe and Murder, one of the Murder Most Unladylike books by the very talented Robin Stevens. It is one of my favourites from the series so far and the descriptions of Oxford and Christmas time make my heart sing each time I listen. This is middle grade fiction at its finest, set in my favourite period of history, the 1930s, and with two sparky, incredibly intelligent and unique girl detectives – plus I love how relevant the themes are throughout the series and how great the representation is. Check out Robin Stevens’ booktube channel by the way – she has so many great recommendations and is just a joy to watch.

 

Victober (and yes, I know it’s January!)

To say I’m behind with this whole book blogging thing is somewhat of an understatement! The last months have been utterly bonkers work wise and, combined with a bit of a mental health wobble and seasonal ailments, the reviewing just hasn’t happened. Fortunately, the reading part did though! I am determined to start this new year with a couple of bookish catch-ups and a regular (ish) posting schedule. Because I love books and would rather like to be a part of the book blogging community.

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So, first of all: Victober! I absolutely LOVED Victober this year and totally immersed myself in the literature and writers of the Victorian period. I don’t think I’ve ever read so many classics in one month – go me! Here’s a quick summary of what I read:

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: This was a buddy read with the lovely Oly Bliss (find his booktube channel here) and I’m so glad that this was the case as I really needed someone to bounce my thoughts and opinions off – I found this book baffling at times to say the least! I knew the premise of course and shan’t bore you with it here but I struggled with establishing what I thought Wilde was trying to say with this story. I constantly found myself asking, “Is this social criticism? Does Wilde really believe this? Where on earth does his empathy lie? Is that Wilde’s voice shining through or is he just playing with the reader? What is it he wants us to know?” I realised that although I know a fair amount about the times Wilde lived in, I actually know very little about the man himself apart from the very obvious. Though he has always fascinated me, and I feel I have a better grasp of his plays, I feel I need to know more to fully form an opinion of this narrative. Did I enjoy Dorian Gray? I enjoyed analysing the story, I appreciated all the commentary and questions it put out there, I loved the exploration of the relationship between life and art and the idea of a painting showing a soul’s decline is fascinating. But in terms of writing style, structure and characters, I felt let down. And I know so many readers love The Picture of Dorian Gray, I know I am in somewhat of a minority but my opinions on this blog are always honest. This book kept me at a distance.

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North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: In contrast, this book was an absolute joy; I totally lost myself in the characters, the class politics, the industrial setting, the role of women, the value of education…and I could go on for quite some time!  This was also a buddy read with Oly and it was a pleasure to share this reading experience with someone who loved the story and the characters as much as I did #TeamMargaret 😉 The thing that struck me most about North and South was how relevant the themes it addresses still are today; there was so much in there to identify with.  This book really deserves a review of its own so that I can do it justice, so watch this space…

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{Isn’t this cover amazing? I now have three versions but who’s counting!}

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I read this as a teenager and quite honestly, I didn’t get why it was presented as such an amazing classic piece of literature. The characters were dark and twisted and I didn’t identify with any of them, I couldn’t see any romance whatsoever and parts of it seemed to go on for what seemed like eternity. This time round my experience was totally different: I loved the complexity of the characters and how Emily really explores their psychology in great depth; though the majority of the relationships presented are truly toxic, I really felt the passion, confusion, frustration and power present. I absolutely adored Nelly Dean as a narrator and think she very much deserves her own backstory – time to investigate if such a book exists. I listened to Wuthering Heights as an Audible book with Joanne Frogatt as the narrator; she was absolutely incredible and very much added to my connection with Nelly Dean. When a narrator gets a book so spot on and offers such a genuine, engaging performance, it’s like the story in question is given a whole other layer of meaning. And of course, the whole Yorkshire setting spoke to my heart too; I love the Yorkshire Moors in all their beauty and their stark bleakness and yes, Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived, is one of my favourite places on earth.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë:  I read this in my later teens as well and again I can’t say that it had a lasting impression on me. To be honest, I found it slow going, Jane was far to meek and passive for my liking and I thought Rochester used Jane for his own needs despicably. The nearly 40-year-old me read very differently. I loved the detail, the interludes, the variation of pace (although I do still think that Charlotte could have done with an editor!). Jane was so much more complex than I remembered her to be and her resilience, strong will and people watching skills were just fabulous. What a journey she goes on. The situation with the first Mrs Rochester locked away due to her mental illness was fascinating and frustrating and difficult– Charlotte left me wanting to know so much more and I felt so sad that the first Mrs Rochester didn’t have a voice of her own apart from her aggression. I thought Rochester was  a desperately lost soul and I liked him! Manipulative. Yes. Rather short sighted in his actions and without the best grasp of how to treat women. Yes. But also a very lonely human being looking for connection. And at this point I have to mention my  favourite adaptation of this by the BBC, starring the awesome Ruth Wilson as Jane – if you haven’t seen it, you MUST!

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë: I watched the brilliant BBC adaption of this a few years back with the incredible Tara Fitzgerald as Helen and I remember being stunned by how contemporary the themes of domestic abuse and alcoholism were and how Anne presented such a modern woman in Helen. So, again I’ll be honest: the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be and it made me realise again how adaptations very much depend on the influences of the times they are created. Just like reading really. Although the above mentioned themes still had a lasting impression and their darkness was explored brilliantly, I was left wanting more when it came to Helen. I saw her strength and sheer resilience in the protection of her boy, her intense struggle in her marriage and her attempt to finally break free. But then she returns to him at one point in the story and I almost felt like she was a different person from this point on. The moral aspect of forgiveness and human kindness prevailing above all else just didn’t sit right with me. It was a let down after Anne had put so much energy into Helen and it felt like she changed her mind about a woman being so daring in her behaviour or felt that she had to conform to a more more subtle ending for the readership of her time. Perhaps I feel this way because I am a modern reader with an experience of abuse in my past. Perhaps I don’t like my endings too sweet with all ends tied up nicely. Perhaps I just fell in love with Tara Fitzgerald’s interpretation a little too much.

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To end on a positive note: I still have the Lucy Worsley biography of Queen Victoria on my tbr and I know this will be a such a treat – a unique insight into Victoria’s life and the period she gave her name to. I was lucky enough to spend an evening listening to Lucy talking all things Victorian when her book was launched and, as always, I was in awe of the sheer amount of interesting information she knows and her wonderful quirky humour. For me, history needs to be accessible, engaging and written with energy and I know that this is exactly what I shall find.

Femmeuary Wrap Up

This month I have taken part in the lovely Lauren’s (from Lauren and the Books) themed February challenge, which has celebrated all things female; from books to film, to role models and friendships. I shall insert her booktube channel here. Though I do see myself as a feminist and actually, when I come to think of it, I read largely female authors, it has been really refreshing to dedicate a whole month to exploring what feminism and being a woman means to me. Here is a short synopsis of what I have been reading, watching and listening to:

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Audio book: The Gender Games by Juno Dawson. Now, I have so many thoughts to share with you about this book that I WILL write a separate post. This is such an important book: an exploration of how society defines gender and the implications of these definitions in the world we live. It is a commentary, full of observations and open questions, written in a really accessible way. In part, it is also the very genuine, honest memoir of Juno’s personal journey. The audio book is read by Juno herself and this works brilliantly ( I am so fussy about narrators but not only do I love Juno’s voice but it also adds a very personal element to the book).  I have now bought a physical copy of the book too so that I can go back and underline to my heart’s content.

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British Library online resource: Votes for Women. This month has celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the first women to gain the vote here in the UK. I find it so interesting/frustrating that class very much defined who could vote and who could not (only householders over the age of 30 could in 1918). To celebrate the beginning of such an important change in women’s rights, the British Library has put together an online resource of photographs, posters, pamphlets and articles. Click here for this brilliant resource.

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Book group: The Feminist Orchestra. The passionate, politically minded Jean (from Jean Bookish Thoughts, click here for her booktube channel and here for the goodreads group) has started an online book club for reading and discussing feminist texts, both non-fiction and fiction. I can’t wait to get stuck in with the first book, which my local library is ordering in for me: Feminism is for Everybody by Bell Hooks.

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Children’s book: Great Women Who Made History by Kate Pankhurst. A gorgeously illustrated, fact filled book aimed at children – and people like me, who love short, accessible, illustrated non-fiction.

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Play: Hedda Gabler. I was lucky enough to be given a couple of tickets to the National Theatre production of Ibson’s Hedda Gabler, adapted by Patrick Garber and Ivo van Hove, at the Nottingham Theatre Royal. Hedda is one of the dark heroines of theatre: free spirited and frustrated by society’s constraints, desperate to assert her own power whilst struggling with her own sanity. Lizzy Watts was incredible in the role and I loved this contemporary version too.

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Graphic novel: Red Rosa by Kate Evans. I’ve already written about Rosa and reviewed this graphic novel here. Rosa will forever be a role model for me.

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Film: Milada. A film (on Netflix) about the Czech politician Milada Horáková, who fought for women’s rights and democracy until she was executed by the Communist regime in Prague in 1950. I didn’t know anything about this principled, resilient, incredibly intelligent woman.

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Biography: The Brontë Sisters, the Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily and Anne by Catherine Reef. I’ve just started reading this book aimed at younger readers. I adore the Brontës, and for me, each is a role model in her own right. I am amazed over and over again at how they overcame all odds to have their work published and how their individual pieces are still so very popular and relevant today. I bought this book as I am interested to see how their lives are described for a new generation. Plus, THE COVER!

What a brilliant month I’ve had.

 

Victober 2017

In the land of BookTube, October is Victober; a whole month of reading Victorian writers. There are specific challenges that can be followed – search Victober 2017 on YouTube for more information and reading suggestions – but I am simply going for three books, that I feel really drawn to read. So here they are:

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1. North and South: Elizabeth Gaskell. Industrial revolution. Poverty. Social injustice. A tempestuous relationship and a sparky heroine. I am not quite sure why I haven’t read this before!

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2. The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories. I do love a good ghost story in autumn and the Victorians were rather good at those! I chose this collection because it promises a focus on women writers of the time.

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3. The Turn of the Screw: Henry James. I watched a screen adaptation a couple of years ago, which I absolutely loved in all its creepiness and I’ve been meaning to read the real thing ever since. Victober is the perfect opportunity. And that cover- creepy!

Do you enjoy Victorian literature? I have a love hate relationship with it if I am quite honest. I find some of it too dry (like George Elliot), I can’t connect with some of the masters – Charles Dickens for example, and I’m not too great at the sumptuous depravity angle either. But creepy and scary I can do, as well as good social commentary with a strong female lead. I shall report back.