Circe


Book covers matter. They influence our first impressions, and often impact upon our decision on whether or not to even pick up a book. The cover of Circe by Madeline Miller is truly beautiful; a gold and black foiled jacket, decorated with flowers and ferns . I was massively attracted to it for much of 2018; but it also intimidated me. I didn’t think I would ‘get’ it – the perceived stumbling block being that I knew very little about Greek mythology. Yet still, it called to me.

My children (aged 10 and 14) love Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and the only conversations sure to get them talking and engaging with each other these days (now that they are growing up and growing apart) are those about Greek gods. I often listen to them and feel like they are speaking a different language, but it is one I want to understand. Even more reason for me to try Circe!

I was still nervous. Luckily, one day when I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across #BookBuddyReads, and Circe was a read scheduled for November. I signed up and hoped for the best.

#BookBuddyReads is an Instagram book club. When you sign up, you’re allocated a group, and @bookbuddyreads suggests a start date which kicks off the conversation. My group was a real geographical mix, with some readers in the UK, and some in the USA. We sorted our mutually convenient time to chat, and agreed on the number of chapters we would read before our virtual chat. Some of the group were very knowledgeable on Greek mythology, but others weren’t. I’ll be honest, my lack of knowledge didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the book. So, what did I think?

I absolutely loved it. Madeline Miller has taken a lesser known god, and given her a story. And what a story!
Circe is a daughter from the house of Helios. Her parents have little interest in her, and her siblings are equally uninterested. After years of lonely growing up, her mother gives birth to a sibling who become’s Circe’s closest friend and ally. Yet the gods are a fickle, dis-likable bunch. Circe is soon disappointed and heart-broken by their treatment of her. Almost by accident, she discovers that she has powers none of the other gods possess; she can use herbs to transform gods and mortals. She is a witch.

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

When her father Helios learns of this, he is embarrassed. He banishes her to the island of Aaia where she is condemned to spend the rest of eternity. Ironically, it is only when she reaches the island, that she starts to feel happy.

“I stepped into the forest; and my life began.”

What follows is her tale of life on the island. She is visited by many well-known gods and mortals of mythology, who even I had heard of : Hermes, Daedalus, Odysessus and Athena to name but a few.

There are many reasons I recommend reading Circe. Madeline Miller writes beautifully, and has created a real masterpiece. I imagine that if you are a fan of the gods, you will adore it, but even if you are not, and like me, know very little, I would recommend it!

It gets a 5 star rating from me, and ranks among my ‘stand out’ reads of 2018. I definitely feel better for having faced a fear, for learning about Greek mythology while enjoying a fantastic book, and being able to understand some of what my kids are talking about!
I loved the #BookBuddyRead also and we have all signed up for The Song Of Achilles starting in January.

About Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller

Madeline Miller has a BA and MA  from Brown University in Latin and Ancient Greek, and has been teaching both for the past nine years. She has also studied at the Yale School of Drama, specialising in adapting classical tales to a modern audience. The Song of Achilles is her first novel and was the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.

http://madelinemiller.com/

 

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Jólabókaflóð – Yule Book Flood

For such a small country, Iceland has given much cultural joy.  We fell in love with their gutsy football team in the Euros, they have produce musicians like Bjork and Segur Ros.  Now here’s another reason to love Iceland.  They have their own book giving tradition on Christmas Eve, called Jólabókaflóð (phonetic pronunciation = yo-la-bok-a-flot)

The tradition originated during World War II, when imports were restricted, but paper was cheap.  The island population was not large enough to justify a year-round publishing industry, so what publishers did was flood the market with books in the final weeks of the year.  Thus began Jólabókaflóð, which involves gifting books on Christmas Eve, then spending the evening reading.  Perfect, eh?

This is a tradition I want to introduce into our family this year.  I fancy the idea of curling up with a book, instead of frantically trying to find the Christmas presents I’ve stashed around the house, while hubby constructs a wooden kitchen/dolls house/garage!  How sophisticated and simple it all sounds!  Here’s to Jólabókaflóð.

 

Great Books for Kids

About a year ago, a conversation with a friend lead to the idea for my Book Blog.  As a teacher, and a bookworm, I often get asked to recommend good books for kids.  Equally, I have asked friends with older children for book recommendations as my kids have moved into a new reading age group, so a place to share book love and recommendations was how Emma’s Book Blog came to be.  While my blog has so far been focused on adult books, I wanted to do a post which shares some of my love of children’s books.  Many of these books are part of a series, so a gateway book will often lead children to new worlds.  Here are some of the books that did that for us.

Picture Books

I adore picture books.  I started collecting them before I had children, and I was so excited when I was finally able to share stories I loved – and to use silly voices while doing it!   There are still so many picture books I haven’t read – this is just a list of loved story books from our home:

Where the Wild things Are by Maurice Sendak

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (and Once There Were Giants)

Hairy Maclary by Lindley Dodd

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

Alfie and Annie Rose by Shirley Hughes

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (and anything by Julia Donaldson is a hit!)

Little Red Train by Benedict Blathwayt

Charlie & Lola by Lauren Child

Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer

Otto by Tomi Ungerer (age 8 +)

 

5-7 year olds (Chapter Books)

Millie Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

Mr Gum series by Andy Chandler

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (also Mallory Towers, Famous Five etc.)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

Clarice Bean by Lauren Child

 

7-11 year olds

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

When Hitler Stole Bear Rabbit by Judith Kerr

The Suitcase Kid by Jaqueline Wilson

Cool by Michael Morpurgo (also Kasper, Prince of Cats…or any other MM book!)

Football Academy by Tom Palmer

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan

The Bolds by Julian Clary

Ruby Redford by Lauren Child (my husband loved these too)

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

11+

After having finished the Harry Potter series, my daughter was lost. The following series of books filled that hole, and maintained her love of reading.  They have acted as gateways to new authors and series.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

The Trials of Apollo by Rick Riordan

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (also try A Monster Calls)

 

Hopefully you will find something of interest there if you are looking for gift ideas for Christmas.  If you have any questions, leave them below and I’ll help out if I can.  If not, I can ask my kids to pass on their recommendations!

I’ll finish by sharing our favourites, and mentioning a few I could really like to get my hands on this Christmas.

My 10 year old son’s all time favourite book is Wonder by RJ Palacio; it really is a fabulous tear-jerker.  I loved it too.

My own childhood favourites (obviously from the dark ages) are Danny Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, and the Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene – oh, and all of the Judy Blume novels.

My daughter’s favourite authors are Derek Landy and Rick Riordan.  She has read everything they have published so far.

I really want to get  my hands on Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer, along with The Truth Pixie, or anything by Matt Haig.

The Concordat by Sean Heary

What the blurb says: 

Since his rise to power, Russian President Alexander Volkov has increasingly engaged in hostile activities as he attempts to rebuild the Russian Empire. In support of his tactics, the Russian FSB has forged a Concordat dated 1939 in which the Vatican supposedly agreed to cease all opposition to the Nazi government in return for being appointed the official state religion of the Third Reich.

Planting the counterfeit in a Berlin apartment, the FSB engineer a plan to blackmail the Vatican via the son of a murdered former East German Stasi colonel. The Vatican reluctantly agrees to acquire the counterfeit to prevent it falling into the hands of the Church & it’s enemies, sending the head of the Vatican Police, Lorenzo Rossi, to Germany to negotiate with the blackmailer. But Rossi’s flight is delayed and by the time he arrives the blackmailer is dead and the Concordat has vanished.  What follows is a deadly trail to Paris and onto Moscow, where he meets Cathy Doherty, a CIA with a passion for all things Russian. Together they set out to establish the origins of the
Concordat, and its intended purpose. Armed with information provided by a CIA informant, the forger is identified. Will Rossi be able to recover the Concordat and flee Russia with his life?

My thoughts : 

When I read well-written crime thrillers, I am agog at the planning, plotting and research that goes into creating and connecting all the threads of the stories.  This was one such book.

A Concordat is discovered in present day Berlin.  It details an apparent agreement made between the Pope and Adolf Hitler in 1939, which reflects very badly on the Vatican – let’s face it, they can do without another controversy!  With this in mind, even though they know it is a forgery, they decide that they want the document recovered – silently, swiftly and secretly.  They send their head of the Vatican Police Force, Lorenzo Rossi, to complete the mission.  But obviously, things are not going to plan!  What lies ahead of Rossi is a fast paced journey from Rome, to Berlin, then Paris and onto Moscow…but will he recover the Concordat without causing damage to the reputation of his beloved Catholic Church?

Like many thrillers, it is populated by a huge host of characters, yet I never lost track of who was who, and what was happening.  This has got to be down to the skill of the writer, Sean Heary.  I really enjoyed this book – it was frantic and fun – though I had pretty ‘murdery’ dreams whilst reading it!

Thank you to Anne Carter of Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of this promotion, and for my review copy of this book.

About the author:


Sean Heary lived for many years only a stone’s throw from the Kremlin. No wonder he writes
political thrillers. He also worked for several years in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where he met his
wife. Born and raised in Australia, Sean now makes Germany his home.
Twitter @Sean_Heary
Goodreads :
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18112174.Sean_Heary.

Check out some of the other reviews on this blog tour

A Greater God by Brian Stoddart

Paperback: 362 pages
 Publisher: Selkirk International Pty (30 Nov. 2018)
 Language: English
 ISBN-10: 0648393801
 ISBN-13: 978-0648393801

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Greater-Superintendent-Fanu-Mysteries-Book-ebook/dp/B07J6GJWB9/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1543260595&sr=8-1&keywords=A+Greater+God

What the blurb says:

Superintendent Chris Le Fanu returns to Madras from Penang where he leaves his new Straits Chinese love interest, Jenlin Koh, and a tempting new post in police intelligence there. He finds Hindu-Muslim tension on the rise in Madras, and his friends and subordinates Mohammad Habibullah and Jackson Caldicott at loggerheads as a result. A series of Muslim murders around the Presidency adds more tension. Le Fanu’s arch enemy, Inspector-General Arthur “The Jockey” Jepson is reacting recklessly to the new conditions, then Le Fanu has to travel to Hyderabad where his former housekeeper and lover Roisin McPhedren is seriously ill. Le Fanu swings between his personal and professional challenges as a gang of revolutionaries and Hindu nationalists from North India travel south to aggravate the troubles. Le Fanu and Jepson clash head-on as the latter causes several policemen to be killed, and Le Fanu is losing support because his main civil service protectors are leaving Madras. Just as he seems close to overcoming all these problems, news arrives that Jenlin Koh is on board a ship reported missing near Ceylon. How will Le Fanu cope?

My thoughts :

I need to blurt this out straight away; I LOVED this book. I was invited to be on the Blog Tour and accepted on the basis of the synopsis, but I had some reservations, and a little bit of ‘book fear’. Would I ‘get’ it? My worry was for nothing! By the end of the first page, I had a good feeling which just continued and compounded the more I read.

This is the fourth book in the Chris Le Fanu mystery series by Brian Stoddart, New Zealand born author. I haven’t read any of the previous books, and this book does work as a stand alone. While I now know some of Le Fanu’s backstory, I really want to read the previous three books so that I can know all about him.

Set in British India, 1920, the opening of the novel sees British born Chris Le Fanu travelling to Madras from Penang where he has been living for a number of months, following his resignation as Inspector General of the police force in Madras. (I loved the inclusion of historical reference maps at the front) It appears that he is travelling back to Madras to draw a line under his attachment to the force, and to put an end to his life there; he believes his future career and love life lies in Penang. But things do not go at all to plan.

For Chris Le Fanu, Madras evokes mixed feelings; he lived there for so long, it’s like a home-coming of sorts. But he had chosen to leave – to escape a position he was dissatisfied with, and to escape the hurt he had felt after his fiance had been unresponsive to his marriage proposal.

Madras is in turmoil; there are tensions between the Hindu, Muslim and British communities. This leads to social unrest, and ultimately to the murders of several prominent leaders in the Muslim community. Le Fanu cannot help but become involved in trying to solve the issues, and to ease tensions between the communities.

Before reading this book, I knew very little about the history of British rule in India, and even less about the lives of the expats who chose to live there, either as part of ‘the establishment,’ or as a business men and women. I really appreciated the insight this impressively researched novel gave me. I loved Le Fanu’s character – his personal life is a complete mess, but he’s good soul who is admired and respected by most of the people he comes into contact with. His character enables us to see the complexities, social and moral issues raised by The British Empire overseas and in India in particular. He shines a light on the juxtaposition of upper class British cultural institutions and ‘norms’ in India, like the Royal Madras Yacht Club. He understands the dissatisfaction of Indians, of Muslims and Hindus alike, who served in the British Army during World War I, for little or no recognition when they returned home.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good detective or crime novel, and anyone who wants to know more about India’s history. Donna Leon’s Brunetti has long been favorite detective series of mine, but now, I have a another – Chris Le Fanu!

Thanks to @annecarter of Random Things Tours for the review copy, and for inviting me to share my thoughts.

PS

I developed a serious taste for Scotch whisky whilst reading this. If you read it, you’ll know where I’m coming from!

Check out the other reviews on the blog tour:

About Brian Stoddart

Brian Stoddart is a writer of fiction and non-fiction who is now based in Queenstown, New Zealand. Born and educated a Kiwi he has worked around the world as an academic, university executive, aid and development consultant, broadcaster,commentator and blogger. He works as an international higher education consultant and has worked on programs in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Syria and Jordan as well as in the UK and USA. This work follows a successful career as university researcher, teacher and senior executive which culminated in a term as Vice-Chancellor and President of La Trobe University in Australia where he is now an Emeritus Professor. That academic career took him all over the world including long periods in India, Malaysia, Canada, the Caribbean, China and Southeast Asia. He has written extensively on sports history, politics and culture as well as on India and south Asia in which field he completed his PhD.
Most recently he has begun writing on his contemporary experiences, beginning with his life in an old house in
the Old City of Damascus immediately before the upheavals of 2011-12.
He is now also a crime novelist. A Madras Miasma was the first in a series of books set in 1920s Madras in
India, and featuring Superintendent Chris Le Fanu. The Pallampur Predicament was the second and A Straits
Settlement has appeared in 2016 as the third. He also writes extensively for mainstream and new media as well as expert commentary for press, radio and television. Brian is also a cruise ship lecturer, specialising in international affairs and history. In his spare time, he enjoys photography, reading (especially crime fiction),travel to new places, and listening to music, especially gypsy jazz

Twitter @BrianStoddart

Website: http://www.brianstoddartwriter.com/

Book Fear

This is the first year I’ve been a book blogger, and I love my new hobby!  I love reading, I love writing, and on my book blog I combine both.  Also, I’ve made lots bookish pals who, like me, have books on the brain.  I’ve found my tribe…and they’re all over the world, and we can chat all the time about books!  I’m looking forward to some ‘real life’ meet-ups in 2019.

Over the past year, I’ve learned so much more about myself as a reader.  However,  I’ve come to realise that I suffer from something I’m not even sure there’s a name for, so I’ll have a go at coining the phrase; Book Fear or Book Intimidation? Anyone else got a name for it? While I’ve been going about my daily life (thinking about books) I’ve realised that there have been a few books which have intimidated me before I’d ever even picked them up.  Maybe this is a reflection of my own insecurities…who knows – I’m no psychologist.  Anyway, like most forms of fear, I’ve realised that I need to just get over it and get on with it!  Here are some of the books that I’ve recently feared , and ended up lu-huving!

Circe by Madeline Miller

My knowledge of the Greek Gods has been passed up from my children, who are Percy Jackson geeks!  They adore Rick Riordan’s series The Trials of Apollo, and chatter on all the time about the old Olympians.  My husband and I shake our heads in ignorance and just enjoy the fact that brother and sister share a common interest.  I decided to broaden my own knowledge and tackle Circe, even though I thought I wouldn’t get it. I was so nervous, I couldn’t do it alone!  I signed up on Instagram’s Book Buddy Reads.  Now I’m wondering what all the faffing was about.  I read it.

Reader, I loved it!

Normal People and Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

 

Less of a preamble to these.  I just didn’t think I’d get either of them, but I did, and I loved them.

Anyone else out there suffer from Book Fear, or is it just me?  What books have unnecessarily intimidated you?

Supernova Hangover by Emma Jones

I haven t really enjoyed a book since Riders. But now I have. This is fab. Hugh Grant

“Captures the Nineties dream in Technicolour glory and offers a clear window into the minds of Generation X,” June Sarpong

Two girls meet on a train with a shared mission to have it all…

Toots Silver, a young, local news reporter from the North West, lands in London with little more than her ambition. Against the odds, she talks her way into a dream job at a celebrity magazine, riding high on a new craving for showbiz gossip. The shimmering nightlife of Cool Britannia lures her into an exhilarating, twilight world and an explosive affair with an A-list interviewee. But the comedown forces her to confront the soulless desires of her generation. In New York, she s on the trail of the defining exclusive of her age. But conflict erupts between personal integrity and journalistic ruthlessness which might jeopardise the success that will secure her position in a looming post-millennial world. Can you live the high-life, without it getting you down?

Toots Silver is trying to survive the dark side of fame, in a world of twist I know that story, and Supernova Hangover tells it well. Michael Barrymore

At last ! A British journalist tells us about life on the inside John Cleese

Supernova Hangover is a rites of passage book, set in the Nineties – a time of hope, before austerity and the end of optimism. Read it and cheer up. Steve Coogan

My thoughts:

I jumped at the chance to be on this blog tour when I read the celebrity endorsements, and saw that it was set in the late nineties.  I have a real nostalgia for that period; Blur, Oasis, and my first time living away from home.  However, I quickly realised that Toots Silver, the protagonist, was living in a very different Cool Britannia to mine; while I was drinking pints of Blastaway and dancing on our sticky student union floor, she was drinking champagne and partying with A-listers!

The opening chapter in the book is the funeral of a celebrity that Toots is attending with her young son.  The chapter ends as Toots opens the doors to leave the church, only to find she is the focus of the paps flashing bulbs.  But why?  What has this seemingly quiet mother done to warrant such attention?

The main body of the book takes us through Toots’ heady rise from Northern nobody, fresh off the train, to London It Girl.  She lands a job as an editorial assistant for a new magazine, seemingly based on her willingness to snort a line of coke with her prospective boss in her interview.  Before long, she is sent to interview the hottest movie star on the planet, and she impresses him with her straight talking, no nonsense opinions.  As her reputation grows, will she manage to keep her feet on the ground?

This book shines a light on the London party scene in the nineties.  It is light and fizzy, and it may be a nostalgia trip for some – for others, it’s a glimpse into the lives of the twenty-four hour party people!

Supernova Hangover is available on amazon.  Thanks to Anne Carter to inviting me to read and review this book.  Don’t forget to check out the reviews of the other great bloggers on this tour.