Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins (Review)

Blind Spot by Paula Hawkins

Blurb

Since they were kids, Edie, Jake and Ryan have been the closest of friends. It’s been the three of them against the world. Edie thought the bonds between them were unbreakable. So when Jake is brutally murdered and Ryan accused of the crime, her world is shattered.

Edie is alone for the first time in years, living in the remote house that she and Jake shared. She is grief-stricken and afraid – with good reason. Because someone is watching. Someone has been waiting for this moment. Now that Edie is alone, the past she tried so hard to leave behind is about to catch up with her…

Review

I do love a Quick Reads book. The series has introduced me to so many amazing authors and sometimes I just fancy a quick book that I can basically read in one sitting. 

This book centres around the character Edie. Edie is married to Jake but since she was a child she has always been best friends with Jake and Ryan. The three of them are a team, Edie believes there are no secrets between any of them but when Jake is brutally murdered and Ryan is accused of the murder her world starts to unravel. 

Edie is left alone, living in a remote house that she shared with Jake. She is left with mounting bills, the debts she finds out that Jake had secretly taken out and the prospect that one day the house will fall off the cliff it is on. Edie has no job, no real friends and she is afraid. She is afraid because it soon occurs to her that someone is watching her, someone knows her every move. Edie’s past has come back to haunt her. 

I really enjoyed this story but I did find Edie very annoying. Edie was one of those people who happily ignores what is right at the end of her nose because it suits her circumstances. She is oblivious to anything other than herself or Jake and Ryan and anything outside of the trio she does not want to know. This way of thinking has been going on since childhood with damning consequences. 

I had no clue who the murderer was in this book until I got towards the end and started to have my suspicions. Considering the book was so small it kept me hooked and constantly wondering what would happen next. It was brilliantly written and I will definitely be reading more by Paula Hawkins. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragon. 

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About the author

Paula Hawkins (1972) is a British author best known for the novel The Girl on the Train.

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Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien (Review)

Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

Blurb

J.R.R. Tolkien’s earliest children’s story.

While on holiday in 1925, four-year-old Michael Tolkien lost his beloved toy dog on the beach. To console him, his father J.R.R. Tolkien improvised a story about Rover, a real dog who is magically transformed into toy, and his quest to find the wizard who can return him to normal.

The adventures of Rover, or ‘Roverandom’ a he becomes known, include encounters with an ancient sand-sorcerer and a terrible dragon, by the king of wordplay, the story underwent a number of revisions and was originally considered for publication in January 1937, the same year as The Hobbit, was abandoned when the publishers asked instead for a sequel, which culminated in The Lord of the Rings. Roverandom was finally published in 1998.

Review

I love Tolkien and I have read The Lord of the Rings more times than I can count. So when I saw this in Waterstones I knew I had to get it and I was not disappointed. 

Roverandom is all about a little dog who due to being a little bit rude and not minding his manners to a wizard he ends up as a small toy dog instead. Roverandom ends up being taken from his home and his beloved ball and goes on all kinds of adventures meeting wizards, dragons, mer people and much more. 

This story is typical Tolkien but doesn’t flow with his usual style but I think this is because it wasn’t refined for publication by Tolkien. You can also clearly see that the wizards in this book were the starting points for Gandalf as Artaxerxes is a little bit similar to Gandalf. 

This is a wonderful little story that you can just imagine Tolkien telling his distraught son to help with the loss of his beloved toy dog. The story also has a very clear moral about the consequences of not minding your manners and being polite. Roverandom goes on his adventures and learns to be a better dog, a dog with manners who is polite and kind and thinks of others. It really was a beautiful little read that I give 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on the 3rd January 1892 in Bloemfontein. He moved to England when he was three years old and was home schooled with his younger brother and taught by his mother. Tolkien served in the First World War and after the war he established a distinguished academic career and was recognised as one of the finest philologists in the world. He is best known as the creator of Middle Earth and the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was awarded a CBE and an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University in 1972. He died on 2nd September 1973 at the age of 81.

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Galatea by Madeline Miller (Review)

Galatea by Madeline Miller

Blurb

In Ancient Greece, a skilled marble sculptor has been blessed by a goddess who has given his masterpiece – the most beautiful woman the town has ever seen – the gift of life. Now his wife, Galatea is expected to be obedience and humility personified, but it is not long before she learns to use her beauty as a form of manipulation. In a desperate bid by her obsessive husband to keep her under control, she is locked away under the constant supervision of doctors and nurses. But with a daughter to rescue, she is determined to break free, whatever the cost…

Review

I do love Madeline Miller so when I saw this short story I immediately preordered the book off Waterstones. I read this short story over a mug of tea one afternoon between teaching. 

I know the story of Pygmalion which was first told in the now lost Hellenistic work “De Cypro” by Philostephanus and then retold in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s telling, Pygmalion is a king and sculptor who carves a statue of a woman out of ivory and falls in love with the statue. Aphrodite answers Pygmalion’s prayers and turns the statue to a real life woman who he marries. The woman never actually gets a name in the original texts and the name Galatea which means “she who is milk white” was not associated with Pygmalion’s statue until approximately the early 1700’s. 

In Miller’s retelling of this tale the focus is on Galatea rather than Pygmalion which makes a nice change from the usual male perspective. In this retelling Galatea says she was made out of stone rather than ivory but this fits better with Miller’s retelling than ivory would. 

I did enjoy this little story and it was nice to hear Galatea’s voice because she doesn’t get a voice in Ovid’s version. As a reader you can’t help but feel sorry for Galatea who never had any say on her life from the moment Pygmalion carved her and you can see how she suffers. I really wish this story had been longer as I think it would have made an excellent book, as a short story I just didn’t feel like it had enough in it to really get me absorbed into the book like I have been with Miller’s full length books. I give this book 3 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.

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The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings by Dan Jones (Review)

The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings by Dan Jones

Blurb

A chilling medieval ghost story, retold by bestselling historian Dan Jones. Published in a beautiful small-format hardback, perfect as a Halloween read or a Christmas gift. 

One winter, in the dark days of King Richard II, a tailor was riding home on the road from Gilling to Ampleforth. It was dank, wet and gloomy; he couldn’t wait to get home and sit in front of a blazing fire.

Then, out of nowhere, the tailor is knocked off his horse by a raven, who then transforms into a hideous dog, his mouth writhing with its own innards. The dog issues the tailor with a warning: he must go to a priest and ask for absolution and return to the road, or else there will be consequences…

First recorded in the early fifteenth century by an unknown monk, The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings was transcribed from the Latin by the great medievalist M.R. James in 1922. Building on that tradition, now bestselling historian Dan Jones retells this medieval ghost story in crisp and creepy prose.

Review

This story was originally part of a set of stories written down by an unknown monk in the fifteenth century. The medievalist and novelist M. R. James found these gems in 1922 and transcribed them. Dan Jones has now taken one of these stories and retold it in modern day prose. 

The story is set in the time of King Richard II and focuses on a tailor. On his way home this poor tailor encounters something terrifying and hideous. This poor tailor is then given a warning and if he doesn’t heed this warning there will be dire consequences for him. 

The story is a short story and was perfect for reading whilst enjoying a cup of tea. I didn’t find the story very scary but I did find it a bit gruesome at times. I also felt very sorry for this poor tailor who I really do not think deserved his treatment by the spirit. 

The book also contains the original latin which once my latin is better I hope to have a go at translating myself and seeing what the original story reads like. Overall, I enjoyed this little story but it didn’t wow me so I give it 3 out of 5 Dragons.

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About the author

Dan Jones is a historian, broadcaster and award-winning journalist. His books, including The Plantagenets, Magna Carta, The Templars and The Colour of Time, have sold more than one million copies worldwide. He has written and hosted dozens of TV shows including the acclaimed Netflix/Channel 5 series ‘Secrets of Great British Castles’. For ten years Dan wrote a weekly column for the London Evening Standard and his writing has also appeared in newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, GQ and The Spectator.

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Lady Susan and Other Works by Jane Austen (Review)

Lady Susan and Other Works by Jane Austen

Blurb

This collection brings together Jane Austen’s earliest experiments in the art of fiction and novels that she left incomplete at the time of her premature death in 1817. Her fragmentary juvenilia show Austen developing her own sense of narrative form whilst parodying popular kinds of fiction of her day. Lady Susan is a wickedly funny epistolary novel about a captivating but unscrupulous widow seeking to snare husbands for her daughter and herself. The Watsons explores themes of family relationships, the marriage market, and attitudes to rank, which became the hallmarks of her major novels. In Sanditon, Austen exercises her acute powers of social observation in the setting of a newly fashionable seaside resort. These novels are here joined by shorter fictions that survive in Austen’s manuscripts, including critically acclaimed works like Catharine, Love and Freindship [sic], and The History of England.

This edition includes:

Frederic and Elfrida

Jack and Alice

Edgar and Emma

Henry and Eliza

Love and Freindship

A History of England

The Three Sisters

Lesley Castle

Evelyn

Catharine, or the Bower

Lady Susan

The Watsons

Sanditon

Review

This was the only work by Austen I had left to read and as I usually like to start the New Year with an Austen book I decided it was high time to read this collection of works and complete the set. 

I was really excited to read Austen’s juvenilia work and I was not disappointed. I was also really frustrated that so much was left unfinished. I knew it would be unfinished but I so desperately wanted to know how the stories ended. 

Austen’s juvenilia stories were hilarious and you could really tell they were written by a girl who had not seen a lot of the world yet but was starting to get a good understanding of people. At times you could really see the true magic of Austen’s wit starting to develop and make itself known. There are a great deal of fainting ladies in Austen’s juvenilia works, they are either fainting on the sofa, on the floor, basically all over the place and for very little reason. One thing we do learn though is that it is better to run around like a lunatic than faint in bad weather because running around keeps the cold away and fainting will make you catch a chill with mortal consequences. 

One of my favourites in this book was A History of England. I loved Austen’s clear love of Mary Queen of Scots and hatred of Elizabeth I, she is forever putting down Elizabeth I and praising Mary Queen of Scots at every opportunity. The history is not accurate and it is clear that Austen has made up quite a bit of her facts with hilarious results. There are also no dates but the monarchs are in chronological order. The added illustrations by Cassandra Austen were an added bonus. 

Lady Susan I struggled to get into to begin with due to the story being written in the form of letters but once I got used to it I loved it. Lady Susan is quite a character and one I imagine people with any sense would steer clear of. She has a quite a reputation but men pay no heed to this reputation because of her way with words and her beauty. Thankfully, most women can see through this scheming character. 

I could go on and on about how much I loved this book and there really wasn’t any story that I did not enjoy. It was so interesting to see Austen develop as an author and I loved her little dedications for each story. I give this book a massive 5 out of 5 Dragons and will definitely be reading it again. 

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(All purchases made using one of the above affiliate links gives a small percentage of money to myself with no extra cost to yourself. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of this blog. Thank you ever so much, your support is gratefully received.)

About the author

Jane Austen born 16th December 1775 died 18th July 1817 was an English novelist known for her six major novels. Austen’s novels are known for social comedy and accurate depiction of human relationships.

This review is part of my Classics Club challenge. Please click the link to see my list of 50 books.

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A Scandinavian Christmas: Festive Tales for a Nordic Noel by Various authors (Review)

A Scandinavian Christmas: Festive Tales for a Nordic Noel by Various authors

Blurb

Have yourself a very hygge Christmas with some of the best Christmas stories from across Scandinavia – old and new 

This collection brings together the best Scandinavian Christmas stories including classics by Hans Christian Andersen of Denmark, Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlof, as well as the popular contemporary Karl Ove Knausgard. These Nordic tales convey a festive and contemplative spirit laden with lingonberries, elks, gnomes, Sami trolls, candles, church spires, gingerbread and aquavit in abundance. 

A smorgasbord of unexpected literary gifts which make up a vibrant, elegant hardcover volume sure to provide plenty of pleasure and hygge, that specifically Scandinavian blend of cosiness and contentment.

Review

As regular readers of my blog you will probably have noticed I love a Christmas book. So when I saw this book, I bought it for my Christmas 2021 reading (the review is rather late, apologies) because it looked like a good read. The book is made up of short stories which I thought would be perfect for dipping into over the Christmas period.

I will be honest this book was rather surprising to me and at times I almost gave up with it. The reason for this was because at times the stories could be quite depressing and not something I really wanted to read about over Christmas. Yes, I know it is Scandinavian and sometimes their work can be on the depressing side. I have read a lot of Hans Christian Andersen and know that he can be on the bleak side at times but I wasn’t expecting so much bleakness in this Christmas book. The other reason I almost gave up was because certain stories didn’t make much sense to me and felt incomplete or because they didn’t have anything to do with Christmas. 

My favourite stories were the ones by Hans Christian Andersen but I didn’t enjoy the more modern stories. Overall, for me the most Christmassy thing about the book is the beautiful cover. I had high hopes for this book and hoped the stories would have a bit of flare but overall I found the book rather flat and disappointing. I give this book 3 out 5 Dragons because there were a few stories I did enjoy. 

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Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year by Laurie Lee (Review)

Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year by Laurie Lee

Blurb

From the author of Cider With Rosie, Village Christmas is a moving, lyrical portrait of England through the changing years and seasons.

Laurie Lee left his childhood home in the Cotswolds when he was nineteen, but it remained with him throughout his life until, many years later, he returned for good. This collection brings to life the sights, sounds, landscapes and traditions of his home – from centuries-old May Day rituals to his own patch of garden, from carol singing in crunching snow to pub conversations and songs. Here too he writes about the mysteries of love, living in wartime Chelsea, Winston Churchill’s wintry funeral and his battle, in old age, to save his beloved Slad Valley from developers.

Told with a warm sense of humour and a powerful sense of history, Village Christmas brings us a picture of a vanished world.

Review

I ordered this book in November to read in December but sadly it didn’t arrive until the beginning of January but once I saw it only had a few Christmas stories and the rest were all based on the rest of the year I decided to read it straight away. This is my first Laurie Lee book and I really enjoyed it.

The book is divided into the seasons and each season has lots of reflections from Lee’s past. The stories range from when he was a young boy growing up in his beloved village in the Cotswolds to when he was living in London. Lee also writes about some of his memories of when he returned to live in the Cotswolds and his fight to save the beauty of his village. 

I really loved Lee’s descriptions and his way with words in this book which meant that at times I could not put the book down. I particularly enjoyed his beautiful story called ‘The Shining Severn’ which describes the river Severn in all its glory. ‘Harvest Festival’ was also a favourite of mine but to be honest I loved all the stories and you could really appreciate the love Lee has for his country. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and hope to read ‘Cider with Rosie’ soon. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Laurence Edward Alan “Laurie” Lee, MBE, was an English poet, novelist, and screenwriter. His most famous work was an autobiographical trilogy which consisted of Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and A Moment of War (1991). While the first volume famously recounts his childhood in the idyllic Slad Valley, the second deals with his leaving home for London and his first visit to Spain in 1934, and the third with his return in December 1937 to join the Republican International Brigade.

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Murder in Midwinter by Various Authors (Review)

Murder in Midwinter: Ten Classic Crime Stories for Christmas by Various. 

Blurb

Midwinter. As snow falls softly outside and frost sparkles on tree branches, it’s time to curl up before a roaring fire, wrap your hands around a steaming mug of mulled wine, and forget your worries for now.

But as the temperature drops outside, malice is sharpening its claws … and murder walks abroad. In these classic stories of mystery and mayhem, let ten of the great crime writers in history surprise and delight you with twists and turns as shocking as an icicle in the heart.

Featuring stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, Cyril Hare, Anthony Berkeley, Ruth Rendell, Margery Allingham, Ellis Peters … and more.

Review

I love the books from the Murderous Christmas Stories series and tend to read one every December to help put me in the festive spirit. Although I was surprised to find that this book only actually had 3 stories set at Christmas and the rest were set in the Autumn or Winter months, but I suppose it is called Murder in Midwinter rather than Murder at Christmas.

I enjoyed all but one of the stories but my favourites were The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle and Rumpole and the Health Farm Murder by John Mortimer. Rumpole was a brilliant character and made me laugh a great deal, he is set in his ways and no matter how much his wife tries he will not change. Sherlock was up to his usual fantastic deductions in The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet. 

There was only one story in the book that I was not keen on which was the first one in the book The Queen’s Square by Sayers. I really did not get into it and found the relentless costume descriptions rather boring. However, thankfully I did not let the story put me off the rest of the book because the rest of the stories were excellent. 

Overall, I give this book 5 out of 5 Dragons because to be honest Rumpole and the Health Farm deserves 5 Dragons all to itself because I enjoyed it so much. 

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George Silverman’s Explanation by Charles Dickens (Review)

George Silverman’s Explanation by Charles Dickens

Blurb

After a traumatic early childhood spent living in poverty in a Preston cellar, the suddenly orphaned George Silverman grows up convinced that he is at fault for all the misfortunes in his life. Hoodwinked by hypocritical clergymen and exploited by his employer, he finds himself forsaking love and facing professional ruin.

One of Dickens’s very last writings, ‘George Silverman’s Explanation’ is a dark and psychologically insightful investigation of failure and guilt. This volume also includes two other lesser-known pieces of fiction: the novella for children ‘Holiday Romance’ and the detective story ‘Hunted Down’.

Review

I found this book by chance in a book shop in Hay on Wye and having never heard of this Dickens story I instantly decided I needed to buy it and read it. It has been a long time since I have read any Dickens but once I started reading this book I realised just how much I miss his writing. 

I know Dickens’ books can be on the dark side at times but I was not expecting this much darkness. George Silverman’s life has been plagued by misfortune, his earliest memories are of being hungry and living in a cellar with his parents who left him on his own most of the time whilst they tried to find work. However, after suddenly losing his parents he is rescued by a man who calls himself Brother Hawkyard who makes sure that George has an education and food to eat but at the same time makes sure that George is living on the charity of others. 

George is telling this tale of his life in the first person. Poor George has not had much happiness in his life and when the possibility of happiness appears he does not believe he is worthy and finds a way to avoid it. This feeling of unworthiness is down to George believing that all the unhappiness in his life was his fault. 

The story is very sad and it is quite clear that he was let down by the adults who were bringing him up. It shows just how difficult it was for a child who was born into poverty to change their future to a more successful future. 

The next short story in the book is ‘Holiday Romance’. This story is apparently for children and I must admit I found it rather dull and it did not appeal to me at all so I skimmed through it quite quickly. The next short story ‘Hunted Down’ was much better and one I really enjoyed it. Not only was it humorous but it was also very tense at times. The story is very much like a detective story but not quite. Mr Sampson deals in life insurance and when a certain Mr Slinkton keeps turning up in his office Sampson realises that certain things are becoming suspicious and that a crime is afoot but can he stop it in time?

Overall, I really enjoyed this little book and I give it 4 out of 5 Dragons. 

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About the author

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was a writer and social critic who created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the twentieth century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories enjoy lasting popularity.

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Chess by Stefan Zweig (Review)

Chess by Stefan Zweig

Blurb

On a cruise ship bound for Buenos Aires, a wealthy passenger challenges the world chess champion to a match. He accepts with a sneer. He will beat anyone, he says. But only if the stakes are high. Soon, the chess board is surrounded. At first, the challenger crumbles before the mind of the master. But then, a soft-spoken voice from the crowd begins to whisper nervous suggestions. Perfect moves, brilliant predictions. The speaker has not played a game for more than twenty years, he says. He is wholly unknown. But somehow, he is also entirely formidable

Review

Well this book was very much a wild card for me. I spotted this book hidden on a bookshelf of much bigger books whilst on holiday in Hay on Wye and although I had never heard of the author I felt drawn to the story. At only 76 pages this book was a quick read for me that I completed in one sitting and it was an interesting read. 

The narrator of the book is an Austrian who is on the cruise ship bound for Buenos Aires. The cruise ship also has on board a world famous chess player called Czentovic who will happily play a game of chess if the money is right. The narrator tells us of how Czentovic is challenged by a wealthy man and so the game of chess begins. However, just as it looks like Czentovic has won, a stranger lends some helpful advice to the wealthy man. After that the narrator finds out all about the stranger and why he is so good at chess.

This short story is beautifully written and is concise and just the right length. I sometimes find that a short story feels rushed and leaves you wanting a longer story but this one is paced perfectly and leaves you satisfied you have read a short story with no details missing. I really enjoyed this story and I plan on reading more books by Zweig. I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons.

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About the author

Stefan Zweig was one of the world’s most famous writers during the 1920s and 1930s, especially in the U.S., South America, and Europe. He produced novels, plays, biographies, and journalist pieces. Among his most famous works are Beware of Pity, Letter from an Unknown Woman, and Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles. He and his second wife committed suicide in 1942.

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