First Chapter First Paragraph: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is one of the books I’m currently reading. It’s the first book in the All Souls Trilogy series.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls, #1)

The leather-bound volume was nothing remarkable. To an ordinary historian, it would have looked no different from hundreds of other manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, ancient and worn. But I knew there was something odd about it from the moment I collected it.

Blurb:

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires.

Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist.

Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to read this book as I don’t often read books about witches or vampires, although I have read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. It was the opening paragraph that made me decide to try it – for several years I worked in the Archives Department of a County Council, so anything to do with ancient manuscripts fascinates me. I’m up to chapter 7 and it’s slow, easy reading and Diana is as much a reluctant witch as I am a reluctant reader of vampire stories.

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: A, B and C

Earlier this year I looked through my TBRs – the ‘real’ books – and as it did prompt me to read more of them, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at some of the TBRs on my Kindle. I have a bad habit of downloading books and then forgetting all about them – it’s as though they’ve gone into a black hole.

So here is the first instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. I’ve picked books from different genres – fantasy fiction, crime fiction and non-fiction – a biography.

Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)

A is for Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, Book One of the Farseer Trilogy  (On my Kindle since September 2014.)  It’s fantasy fiction set in the  imaginary realm of the Six Duchies and tells the story of the illegitimate son of a prince, assassin FitzChivalry Farseer. He is raised in the stables, rejected by all his family apart from his uncle Chade, who trains him as an assassin.

My memories reach back to when I was six years old. Before that, there is nothing, only a black gulf no exercise of my mind has ever been able to pierce. Prior to that day at Moonseye, there is nothing. But on that day they suddenly begin, with a brightness and detail that overwhelms me. Sometimes it it seems too complete, and I wonder if it is truly mine. Am I recalling it from my own mind, or from dozens of retelling by legions of kitchen maids and ranks of scullions and herds of stable-boys as they explained my presence to each other? Perhaps I have heard the story so many times, from so many sources, that I now recall it as an actual memory of my own. (page 2)

The Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe, #1)

B is for The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, with an introduction by Ian Rankin. It’s been on my Kindle since July 2017. Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres – I read a lot of it, but have never read any of Chandler’s books. This is his first book featuring Philip Marlowe. Rankin writes that is ‘a story of sex, drugs, blackmail and high society narrated by a cynical tough guy, Philip Marlowe‘ and that it is ‘such fun to read that you won’t notice how clever its author is being.’

The the old man dragged his voice up from the bottom of a well and said: ‘Brandy, Norris. How do you like you like your brandy, sir?’

‘Any way at all,’ I said.

The butler went away among the aboriginal plants. The General spoke again, slowly using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.

‘I used to like mine with champagne. The champagne as cold as Valley Forge and about a third of a glass of brandy beneath it.’ (page 4)

The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History

C is for The Churchill Factor: How One Man made History by Boris Johnson, on my Kindle since June 2016. The extract below is from the Introduction in which Boris explains why he wants to convey something of Churchill’s genius in this book, and asking what made up his character.

I knew that he had been amazingly brave as a young man, and that he had seen bloodshed at first hand, and had been fired at on four continents, and that he was one of the first men to go up in an aeroplane. I knew that he had been a bit of a runt at Harrow, and that he was only about 5 foot 7 and with a 31-inch chest, and that he had overcome his stammer and his depression and his appalling father to become the greatest living Englishman.

I gathered there was something holy and magical about him, because my grandparents kept the front page of the Daily Express from the day he died, at the age of ninety. … So it seems all the more sad and strange that today – nearly fifty years after he died – he is in danger of being forgotten or at least imperfectly remembered. (page 3)

If you’ve read any of these please let me know what you think?

My Friday Post: The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week was the week for the library van to visit (it comes once a fortnight on Tuesdays) and I borrowed a few books, including The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris.

The Gospel of Loki (Runemarks, #0.5)

ALL OF US CAME FROM FIRE AND ICE. Chaos and Order. Light and dark. In the beginning – or back in the day – there was fire coming out of a hole in the ice, bringing disruption, turmoil and change. Change isn’t always comfortable, but it is a fact of life. And that’s where life as we know it began, as the fires of World Below pierced the ice of World Above.

Blurb:

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods – retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself.

Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.

The first adult epic fantasy novel from multi-million copy bestselling author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

I found the smiths in their workshop. A cavern, deep in World Below, where a series of cracks in the earth gave vent to a seam of molten rock. This was their only source of light, it was also their forge and their hearth. In my original Aspect, I would not have suffered, either from the fire or the fumes, but in this body I was unprepared, both for the heat and for the stench.

~~~

At the beginning of the book there is a list of Characters, with a word of advice – don’t trust any of them. Loki describes himself as the Trickster, the Father of Lies … Not the most popular guy around. I’m really looking forward to reading this – hope I won’t be disappointed!

What do you think – should I carry on reading – or not?

 

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

Publication date 8 February 2018, Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing

Review copy from the publishers, via NetGalley

My rating:  5 stars 

Blurb:

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

My thoughts:

I loved this book. As a child I loved stories about magic, stories that transported me to another world, but The Toymakers is not a children’s story. It is an extraordinary, magical and wonderful book that captivated me, a book set mainly in 1917 whilst the First World War was taking its toll of humanity, leaving despair and tragedy in its wake. It’s a blend of historical fiction and magic realism.This is a story of love, and family relationships, as well as of the devastating effects of rivalry and war.

Papa Jack’s Emporium in London is a toyshop extraordinaire. It opens with the first frost of winter each year and closes when the first snowdrop blooms. And the toys it sells aren’t ordinary toys – they seem alive, from patchwork dogs, to flying pegasi, Russian dolls that climb out of one another, runnerless rocking horses, whales that devour ships, fire-breathing dragons and many others to the toy soldiers that wage war on each other.

The story begins in 1906 and ends in 1953, following the lives of Papa Jack Godman, his sons, Kaspar and Emil and Cathy Wray, who aged 15 and pregnant had run away from home. Cathy finds sanctuary at the Emporium, and Papa Jack tells her how he came to live in London and founded the Emporium, how he had found in making toys a kind of magic, a way of reaching a man’s soul.

At first Cathy lived in the Wendy House, which like the Tardis is larger on the inside than the outside, with Sirius the patchwork dog. It was where her daughter, Martha was born. Kasper and Emil are caught up in a battle for control of the Emporium, and they both fall in love with Cathy, but it is Kasper that she marries. The years pass, the First World War breaks out, Kasper joins up, but Emil’s application is refused, so he stays at home, developing his toy soldiers. I was struck by the irony and pathos of a world at war mirrored in the battles fought by Emil’s toys soldiers. And things come a head when Kasper returns a damaged man and retreats into his mind. What happens next changes their lives for ever.

The Toymakers is a wonderful book, one that will stay with me, not just about the horrors of war and rivalry, but above all about the power of love, the magic of childhood and the effect of toys – when you are young you play with toys to feel grown up, imagining what it will be like to be an adult. But when you are an adult what you want from toys is to feel that you are young again. They remind you that the world was once as filled with magic as your imagination will allow.

Many thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

Blurb:

There are two types of people in the world. Those who can only remember yesterday, and those who can also recall the day before.

You have just one lifeline to the past: your diary. Each night, you write down the things that matter. Each morning, your diary tells you where you were, who you loved and what you did.

Today, the police are at your door. They say that the body of your husband’s mistress has been found in the River Cam. They think your husband killed her two days ago.

Can you trust the police? Can you trust your husband? Can you trust yourself?

My thoughts:

The nature of memory always fascinates me. Just how much can we rely on our memories – what is real and reliable, how well can we really remember what happened, how much do we bury in our subconscious? In Yesterday by Felicia Yap she has created a world where memory for everyone over the age of eighteen is limited for 70% of people to just one day (the Monos) whilst the rest (the Duos) have two days of memory. Each day everyone has to write down their actions, thoughts and feelings in their iDiaries and then memorise the ‘facts’. But are these ‘facts’ reliable?

This is a murder story, told through extracts from iDiaries and the perspectives of four people, that of the victim, Sophie, Claire a Mono, married for twenty years to Mark, a novelist and prospective MP who is a Duo, and DCI Hans Richardson, who is racing against time to find the murderer.

I found it rather confusing at first, getting my head around the fact that everyone has such a short-term memory. Just how reliable are the four narrators, are they even who they say they are and do they write the truth in their iDiaries?  I think it is an interesting book but I did have to suspend my disbelief, especially towards the end of the book, which I found farcical and rather annoying. It was one twist too far for me. And I couldn’t really get over the fact of how much time you would have to spend writing everything down and then learning what you had done and thought each day.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1112 KB
  • Print Length: 401 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316465259
  • Publisher: Wildfire (10 Aug. 2017)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • My rating: 3*

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

Last year I loved Nicola Cornick’s time-slip novel, House of Shadows. Her latest book is The Phantom Tree, due to be published on 29 December, another time-slip novel and I loved this one too.

Blurb:

‘My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.’

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait ‘“ supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better’¦ The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past ‘“ it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.

But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows’¦

My thoughts

The plot of The Phantom Tree alternates between the Tudor period and the present day following the life of Alison Banestre (known as Bannister in the present day) as she moves between the centuries trying to find out what happened to Mary Seymour. It is a mystery, based on the true story of Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr (Henry VIII’s sixth wife) and Thomas Seymour, who she married after Henry’s death.

It’s a fascinating book, as little is known about Mary’s life. What is recorded is that she was born in 1548, her mother died after the birth and her father was executed a year later for treason against Edward VI. She disappeared from the records around about 1550, although there has been speculation that she lived until adulthood. In The Phantom Tree Nicola Cornick has provided another speculation on Mary’s life. As she states at the beginning of her book it is ‘entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination.’

Having read Hilary Mantel’s, Wolf Hall, I was very interested in the setting of Wolf Hall where Mary and Alison, her cousin, went to live in 1557, the fourth year of the reign of Mary I. Mary Seymour was then ten years old and had a reputation for witchcraft. Wolf Hall, a rambling, run down manor house was owned by the Seymour family where Mary and other Seymour children went sent to live.

The time travel element of the book works well. I liked the way the traces of history in the present day are handled and are seen as layers of reality. Alison moves between the centuries, both forwards and backwards in time but then she found the gateway to the past had closed and she was trapped in the present day. She has to find another gateway where the past and the present meet, or some other means of connecting to the past.

I preferred the sixteenth century setting, with its belief in witchcraft slotting so well into the storyline. Mary has visions which are viewed with fear and superstition. Alison, in the future doesn’t know what happens to Mary, or to her son, Arthur, who was taken from her after his birth. She had helped Mary escape from Wolf Hall and in return Mary had promised to help her find Arthur. I think the characterisation is done well – Alison comes across as a rather unlikeable person, in contrast to Mary who is younger and has a gentler nature, although at first they didn’t get on together. I also liked the way the clues in the portrait helped Alison to discover what happened to Mary and Arthur.

My thanks to the publishers via NetGalley for a review copy of The Phantom Tree.  It is a book that seamlessly incorporates mystery and elements of the supernatural into the historical detail as the past and present meet. A most enjoyable book.

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: HQ (29 Dec. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848455046
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848455047

Books Read in August 2016

I read 6 books this August, three of them TBR books, and all are fiction, a mix of crime fiction, historical fiction and epic fantasy novels. One book is a library book and one a review copy. (The links are to my  posts on the books.)

  • The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman (TBR), a fascinating novel about the Wars of the Roses and Richard III from his childhood to his death at Bosworth Field in 1485 and one of the best historical novels that I’ve read.
  • The Woman Who Walked into the Sea by Mark Douglas Hume (LB), the second The Sea Detective novel, set in an imaginary coastal village of Poltown in the north of Scotland, the story revolves around the main character,Violet who had been abandoned as a new-born baby.  It had been assumed that her mother, Megan had committed suicide, although her body had never been found.  Cal McGill helps Violet find out what really happened.
  • The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth, a Miss Silver Mystery first published in 1961. It begins well as the main character finds herself in the dark in a cellar, not knowing who she is or how she got there. Overall, I thought the book was odd and not very convincing. There are too many coincidences, improbabilities, and loose ends.
  • The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland, a review copy from Lovereading due to  be published in October. This is another unputdownable book by Karen Maitland, set in Porlock Weir in 1361, bringing the medieval world to life in all its brutality and hardship. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My full review will follow later this month.
  • A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire,1) by George R R Martin (TBR), an epic fantasy novel  set in a grim and violent world full of tragedy, betrayals and battles; a tale of good versus evil in which family, duty, and honour are in conflict. It’s complex and multifaceted, and full of stories and legends and wonderful characters. I loved it.
  • The Mysterious Mr Quin (Agatha Christie'¦The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie (TBR) – I finished this collection of short stories yesterday. It’s one of her earliest books, first published in 1930, not at all like her Poirot or Miss Marple books, and I enjoyed it very much. It’s beautifully written. I’ll write about it in more detail soon.

It’s impossible to decide which is my favourite this month between books in different genres. I loved The Sunne in Splendour, The Game of Thrones and The Mysterious Mr Quin in almost equal measure, each book taking me to completely different worlds and times.