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      July Supporter Giveaway   07/01/2019

      It's Christmas in July! The winner of the July Supporter giveaway will receive this beautiful Barnes & Noble edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, as well as a special Charles Dickens tea by  theliteraryteacompany.co.uk .   I've been keeping this book a secret for so long (I couldn't wait until Christmas!) It's actually from a really lovely independent bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, the town of books. I'm so glad I finally get to show you! The picture doesn't even do it justice. A nice feature that you can't see in this image - the page edges are gold and (an extra surprise for the winner) the back is just as beautiful as the front! We also now have twice as much tea as previous giveaways!  (Thank you Literary Tea Company!)   As always, supporters are automatically entered into the giveaway and a winner will be chosen at random at the end of the month. If you want to enter this giveaway but you aren't a supporter, you can join in here https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum .   Good luck  
Madeleine

Madeleine's Book Log - ongoing

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Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - Years ago I was given a lovely illustrated version of this book, which was gorgeous (I've still got it somewhere) but now that I've read the original novel I realise it was a very truncated version! A good introduction though, to the "real" book. I have mixed feelings about it, I found the first part unbearably twee and sometimes found it hard to figure out the way they spoke - maybe they did talk like that back then, as it's partly autobiographical and is based on the author's own life and her own sisters. I did nearly give up on it a few times but persevered and it did get a bit better, although I was surprised to discover that most of the TV and film versions, well the ones I've seen anyway, combine LW with the second book. Overall it wasn't bad, but I did find it very saccharine at times. 6.5/10

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1 hour ago, Madeleine said:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - Years ago I was given a lovely illustrated version of this book, which was gorgeous (I've still got it somewhere) but now that I've read the original novel I realise it was a very truncated version! A good introduction though, to the "real" book. I have mixed feelings about it, I found the first part unbearably twee and sometimes found it hard to figure out the way they spoke - maybe they did talk like that back then, as it's partly autobiographical and is based on the author's own life and her own sisters. I did nearly give up on it a few times but persevered and it did get a bit better, although I was surprised to discover that most of the TV and film versions, well the ones I've seen anyway, combine LW with the second book. Overall it wasn't bad, but I did find it very saccharine at times. 6.5/10

I used to love this book but on my second read recently, I felt exactly the same as you about it being too saccharine. I also didn't like some of the archiac stereotyping of gender in this too. Then again, it was written in a different time. Great review!

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I think you have to look at something like gender stereotyping in relation to when the book was written (or set if it's a historical by a more modern author) as that was how things were, however with the men away it was the women who kept things going at home of course.  So I don't think you can really call it archaic as that was the situation then.

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The Frost Fair by Edward Marston - Edward Marston has written many historical crime series, and this book features architect Christopher Redmayne and his friend, constable Jonathan Bale, and takes place in the years following the Great Fire. Both men have different views of the current monarchy, Redmayne doesn't mind flamboyancy (after all, many of his customers are wealthy and part of his job in designing their houses is to show this), whereas Bale is very puritanical and disapproves of drinking, carousing and general hedonism. Despite this, the men are good friends and both are enjoying the legendary Frost Fair on the Thames when one of Bale's sons finds a body under the ice. The victim was an Italian fencing master, and his circle of friends and clients includes Christopher's dissolute brother Henry. When Henry's dagger is revealed to be the murder weapon, he's hauled off to Newgate and it looks like a open and shut case. But Christopher has his doubts, and when he's attacked twice after making his own enquiries, Bale is forced to admit that his friend is probably right, and is forced to investigate the case further himself. This was an enjoyable novel, the main characters were believable and likeable, although some of the supporting characters were a bit two-dimensional, and although there is obviously a back story here (it's not the first time Christopher's brother's lifestyle has got him into trouble, and it would be interesting to see how he and Bale became friends), but it worked well as a stand-alone novel. 7.5/10

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I agree completely with your Frost Fair review. I've read some of Marston's 'Railway Detective' books since I read Frost Fair and they're quite similar, good mysteries, fun to read but don't have a great deal of depth.

 

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was surprised to learn that there are actually two Little Women books, both of which are included in the film version. I think the book is worth reading, because it's interesting in its historical context (when Jo actually seems a lot more rebellious) but I agree it is painfully twee by modern standards. 

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I must admit I was surprised that

Spoiler

Beth was still alive at the end and didn't  realise she dies in the second book!

 

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That's exactly the same thing I was most surprised about! I thought it made the book feel very different in the end too.

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On 2/1/2019 at 11:02 AM, Madeleine said:

I think you have to look at something like gender stereotyping in relation to when the book was written (or set if it's a historical by a more modern author) as that was how things were, however with the men away it was the women who kept things going at home of course.  So I don't think you can really call it archaic as that was the situation then.

In the sense of the situation they were faced with, no, I don't think it's setting gender stereotypes. However, some of the references the men used for the women and the assumptions about them, were archaic. Then again, this book was written in a different time.

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17 hours ago, Madeleine said:

I must admit I was surprised that

  Hide contents

Beth was still alive at the end and didn't  realise she dies in the second book!

 

Spoiler

In the version I have on my Kindle, Beth dies. Perhaps I have the two stories in one.

 

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Yes my original version had that too, they obviously put the two together.

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13 hours ago, karen.d said:

In the sense of the situation they were faced with, no, I don't think it's setting gender stereotypes. However, some of the references the men used for the women and the assumptions about them, were archaic. Then again, this book was written in a different time.

Exactly, so I don't think you can really say it was archaic.  Apparently it's semi-autobiographical, as the author was one of four sisters, so I assume she wrote of her own experiences too, as that was how it was back then.  Jane Austen's books have similar themes too.

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10 hours ago, Madeleine said:

Jane Austen's books have similar themes too.

I've never really been keen on Jane Austen. Have you read many Jane Austen novels?

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I have read Austen, and I'm not a big fan myself - I hated Emma and Persuasion, was left cold by Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, but Pride... and Sense.. are OK.  Too twittery really for me, plus studying the first two for A level probably didn't help either!

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19 minutes ago, Madeleine said:

Too twittery really for me, plus studying the first two for A level probably didn't help either!

Yes I'm not keen on her qork, for more or less the same reason!

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The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson - this is the first in a new trilogy by the author of the Dark Iceland series, this is Hidden Iceland and the main protagonist is a female police officer called Hulde (sorry can't remember her surname!) who is, so she thinks, a few months away from retirement, and dreading the day when she has to leave, as her job is pretty much her life, following the death of first her young daughter and then her husband. But then her boss calls her into his office and tells her that her successor is starting in 2 weeks, all her cases have been delegated to her colleagues and she can leave right now if she wants to. Stunned, she asks for a little more time and so her boss gives her two weeks notice, and tells her that, to keep herself busy, she can look into any cold case she chooses. She immediately picks the case of Elena, a young Russian asylum seeker who had been found dead on a remote beach a few months earlier, but a quick investigation concluded that her death was suicide, case closed. But when Hulde discovers that Elena had been granted asylum, and that the investigation was at best sloppy and at worst left vital details off the record, she starts to dig deeper and, inevitably, makes some discoveries that others would like kept secret. And that's all I can really say, it's a fairly standard police procedural, but gradually we also find out about Hulde's own past, there are several twists along the way, and the final ending is quite surprising and certainly original. A quick enjoyable read and I look forward to the next book, which is a prequel. 9/10

Edited by Madeleine

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The Bear and the Nightingale" by Katherine Arden - this is the first book in the Winternight trilogy, set in Russia and featuring a girl called Vasya, who lives with her family in a small town in the countryside, and is viewed with suspicion as she is able to communicate with strange creatures, including the household demons. But the real trouble starts when her father re-marries; his new wife claims to see demons everywhere and is a religious fanatic who hates Vasya. When a prospective marriage offer is rejected, her parents threaten to send her to a convent, but before she can go she runs away into the woods, where the Frost Demon has other plans for her, for he sees her special qualities and also her potential. Meanwhile a freezing winter is taking it's toll, and various neighbours, having succumbed to either illness, the cold or old age, start coming back as vampires. Vasya and her brother manage to fight them off, but the threat is growing and eventually she has to decide whether to stay at home (and certain misery in a convent) or join the demons. I found this disappointing, although I liked Vasya's character I found it all a bit disjointed, I think perhaps I thought it might be more like the Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, but it seemed to go on forever. I may however give the sequel a go, as the early chapters at the end of this book were promising. Plus it was cheap on the web, and the cover is gorgeous.5/10

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Shame you didn't like The Bear and the Nightingale as much as some other people have :(.

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"The Winter Secret" by Lulu Taylor - there are two storylines to this novel, both revolving around a beautiful house in Dorset, Charlcombe Park. It's original owners were Golden Age film star Natalie Lowe, her husband, a Russian prince called Paul, and their daughter Xenia. Natalie had a glittering Hollywood career, but unable to cope with the pressures of fame she gradually succumbed to drink, pills and manic depression, further exacerbated by the horrendous treatments of the time until Paul leaves one day, and Xenia and Natalie are left at the house in poverty, with only a few residual fees from Natalie's films to occasionally sustain them, as well as an artistic commune who live there for a while. Eventually Natalie passes away, and wealthy businessman Charles Redmain buys the estate, allowing Xenia to live out her days in a cottage on the estate, which she does, reflecting on past glory and wondering what happened to her father. Charles restores the house, and when his first marriage breaks up his ex, Ingrid, continues to live there in another cottage. Then he re-marries and brings his new wife Buttercup (ridiculous name, it's a nickname!) to live at the house, and whilst she initially enjoys the luxury of having everything done for her, eventually she starts to get restless, and after suffering a miscarriage she tries to go back to work. But this falls through, but on a trip back to London where Charles has his office staff as well as a penthouse flat in Westminster, she starts to realise that she is being watched everywhere, and every phone call, email and credit card transaction is monitored and logged. She starts to wonder what really caused the break-up of his first marriage, and wonders just how far Charles will go to protect his property. I did find Buttercup a bit annoying at first, but thankfully she decides not to be a victim, and sets about trying to make a life for herself; she desperately wants to keep her marriage, but once she discovers a web of lies, duplicity and obsession, she realises she is becoming more trapped. I did start to like her as she fought for her individuality, and for her admirable qualities of trying everything to save her marriage, and I just wanted her to run as soon as she could! Charles was a rather two-dimensional figure, I could almost see hear him sneering as he taunted poor Buttercup, and the ending wasn't a surprise, although there were also a couple of twists. I did get to like Xenia as well after a while, although initially she seemed to spend far too much time wallowing in her mother's faded glamour, but as her life was spent following her mother around film sets and then looking after her, she probably would have had no idea how to live a "normal" life. An enjoyable read, if the ending was a bit predictable. 7/10

Edited by Madeleine

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Great review! I hadn't heard of The Winter Secret but I did have Lulu Taylor on my TBR as I bought a couple of her books for cheap many years ago (without knowing anything about them). I'm not sure if I'd still enjoy them today, they're not a high priority right now, but it's good to know of someone who enjoyed one of her books :).

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They're Ok, I've read a couple now and I can see they all tend to follow the same sort of pattern and plot, bit predictable and some of the characters (as I said, especially the main male) are a bit two-dimensional.  They're fine for an escapist read though.

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The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick - this is the second book in the trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and covers most of her turbulent marriage to Henry II, during which she was either pregnant, or recovering from a birth, and after John's arrival, she was told any more would kill her. Meanwhile Henry is becoming more and more controlling, and as the children grow up, they become increasingly disaffected by their father's reluctance to hand over any power to them. So the seeds of rebellion are sown, and Eleanor takes the brunt of the blame. This was another engrossing read, with the people all brought vividly to life, and a reminder of how women were treated back then, although the idea of pregnancy brain seemed to be popular even then! 7.5/10

"In the Woods" by Tana French - this is the first book in a crime series called The Dublin Murder Squad, and is set mainly on the outskirts of Dublin and focusses on two young detectives, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, who are not only work partners but also best friends. When the call comes in that a young girl's body has been found at the site of an archaeological dig, they grab it quickly, but get more than they bargained for, as the case is a hard one, with every lead turning out to be at best only circumstantial. Even worse, it's a painful reminder of Rob's past, for although he passes himself off as an Englishman, in reality he was born and lived in the same small town, until the age of 12, when he and his two friends went into the woods one day to play, and only he returned. He's never been able to remember a single moment of that day, he was found fairly quickly with blood on his shoes, but apart from a few scratches he was unhurt, but catatonic with shock. His parents decided to move to England where he was sent to boarding school before joining the police. Now he's terrified that not only will his true identity be discovered (his real name was Adam Ryan), but also that he might find out what did happen all those years ago, for the murder victim's father was one of the local teenagers, who he and his friends used to spy on in the woods with their girlfriends. Will the man remember him? Was he responsible for whatever happened to his friends? This book works on two levels, at one it's a fairly conventional police procedural, and on another it's about Rob's past, and also his relationship with Cassie, who is the only person who knows his background. I found this an extremely well-written thriller, more character driven than many crime novels and very vividly described, although I did find Cassie's reaction to what happened between her and Rob a little bit melodramatic. 8/10

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On 02/01/2019 at 3:51 PM, Madeleine said:

Top 10 of 2018

 

The Miller's Dance (Poldark book 9) - Winston Graham
The Shadowy Horses - Susanna Kearsley
Sycamore Gap - L J Ross
Thin Air - Michelle Paver
How to Stop Time - Matt Haig
The Lost - Mari Hannah
Force of Nature - Jane Harper
The Toymakers - Robert Dinsdale
Lost for Words - Stephanie Butland
The Thief's Daughter - Victoria Cornwell

 

I love the entire DCI Ryan series by LJ Ross. In a similar vein the DI Dixon books by Damien Boyd are great reads too.

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