Top Ten Tuesday: Characters with theatrical jobs

This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is “Characters Whose Job I Wish I Had”. As Jana says we can put our own unique spin on each topic and as I wanted to join in with Lory’s Reading the Theatre month, I have chosen ten characters who have jobs connected with acting and the theatre. These are not all jobs I would like to have myself, but some of them sound fun!

~

1. Commedia dell’Arte actor
In one of my favourite books, Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, Andre-Louis Moreau takes the role of Scaramouche the clown in a Commedia dell’Arte troupe as part of an elaborate plan to avenge his murdered friend.

2. Puppeteer
Adelaide Culver, the heroine of Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp, finds a collection of wonderful hand-made puppets created by her late husband and opens a successful Puppet Theatre in an old coach-house.

3. Theatre manager
In Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, meets the famous Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving and becomes manager of his Lyceum Theatre.

4. 6th century actress
Theodora by Stella Duffy is a novel based on the life of Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire. Before marrying the Emperor Justinian, Theodora receives training as an actress, dancer and acrobat.

5. Music hall star
Becoming Belle by Nuala O’Connor is a fictional retelling of the life of Belle Bilton, a star of the Victorian music hall who becomes the Countess of Clancarty through marriage and finds herself involved in a controversial court case.

6. Aspiring actor and con artist
The wonderfully entertaining The Way to the Lantern by Audrey Erskine Lindop follows the story of a young actor, pickpocket and con man whose various fake identities lead him into serious trouble during the French Revolution.

7. One of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men
In Fools and Mortals, Bernard Cornwell creates a fictional story for Shakespeare’s brother Richard, imagining that he is an actor with The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and must prevent rival London acting companies from stealing William’s plays.

8. A member of an acting family
The Savage Brood by Martha Rofheart is a multi-generational family saga taking us from Tudor England to 20th century Hollywood and encompassing just about every type of acting you can think of!

9. Pantomime Cat
Who Killed Dick Whittington? by E and MA Radford is a Golden Age crime novel in which a murder takes place on stage during a traditional British pantomime. Suspicion falls on the actor in the Cat costume!

10. Drama teacher
In Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood, Felix Phillips loses his position as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival and gets a new job teaching drama and literacy to the prisoners at Fletcher Correctional, directing them in a production of The Tempest.

~

Have you read any of these? Can you think of any other books you’ve read with characters who work in the theatre? There were a few more I could have included on my list, but I had to limit myself to ten!

Top Ten Tuesday: Valentine Titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie. I decided to approach this in the same way as my Halloween Top Ten Tuesday and simply list ten words that are often associated with love or Valentine’s Day and find a book I’ve read with each of those words in the title.

Here are the ten books I’ve chosen.

1. The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna – I think this is still the only book I’ve read set in Sierra Leone. I found it too slow, but beautifully written and a fascinating glimpse of a country I would otherwise have known nothing about.

2. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh – This novel tells the story of a girl who grows up in foster care before getting a job as a florist’s assistant and discovering the ‘language of flowers’ – the secret meanings of different types of flower and how they can be used to communicate.

3. The Red Sphinx by Alexandre Dumas – This is a sequel to The Three Musketeers, but with a different set of characters. I loved it – it was one of my books of the year a few years ago!

4. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe – I have read several of Ann Radcliffe’s novels and although this one, published in 1790, is not my favourite, it’s still fun to read and has everything you would expect to find in an early Gothic novel!

5. The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil – This novel follows the story of two students who fall in love but face obstacles due to their different cultural and religious backgrounds. I enjoyed this book, which I found to be much more than just a love story.

6. Passion by Jude Morgan – I love Jude Morgan’s writing and in this fascinating novel he explores the lives of four women and their relationships with the Romantic poets, Byron, Shelley and Keats.

7. The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans – This historical mystery set in 1880s London sounded like exactly my sort of book, but I was disappointed by it and felt that there was no real sense of time and place.

8. Elizabeth the Beloved by Maureen Peters – A short and entertaining novel about Elizabeth of York, Henry VII’s queen. It lacked the depth I prefer in my historical fiction but would probably be a good introduction to the period.

9. Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart – The least suspenseful of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, this is a lovely, gentle book but not one of my favourites.

10. The Valentine House by Emma Henderson – This enjoyable family saga set in the French Alps is the perfect way to finish my Valentine-themed Top Ten Tuesday!

~

Have you read any of these books? Which other books with love-related words in the title can you think of?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Redhead by the Side of the Road to The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we are starting with Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. It’s a book I haven’t read and know nothing about, but here is the description from Goodreads:

Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work – his TECH HERMIT sign cheerily displayed on the roof of his car – maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs (7:15, every morning). He is content with the steady balance of his life.

But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction because of a cat. And when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle.

Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

~

I struggled to think of a first link (some months it’s much more difficult than others, particularly if you haven’t read the book), so I’m afraid I’m going to be unimaginative and just link to another book with the word ‘road’ in the title: The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (1). In this non-fiction book, first published in 1937, Orwell writes about the poor living conditions of working-class people in the north of England, with a particular focus on miners and their families. In one chapter, Orwell describes how he went down a coal mine himself to observe the working conditions.

Another book from the 1930s – fictional this time – which is set in a coal mining community is How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn (2). The story is narrated by Huw Morgan who is looking back on his childhood growing up in the valleys of South Wales, watching his elder brothers go off one by one to join their father in the mines. I loved this poignant and beautifully written novel.

My next link is to another novel set in Wales, but in a much earlier period. Here Be Dragons (3) is the first book in Sharon Penman’s Welsh Princes Trilogy and tells the story of Joanna, daughter of King John of England, and her marriage to Llewelyn ab Iorweth, Prince of Gwynedd. I loved this book and the second one, Falls the Shadow, and was sorry to hear of Sharon Penman’s death a few weeks ago. I must get round to reading the final book in the trilogy soon.

The title ‘Here Be Dragons’ refers to a term used to describe unexplored territories on maps; there are no actual dragons in the story! My next book, however, does involve dragons. Temeraire by Naomi Novik (4) is the first in a series of historical fantasy novels set during an alternate version of the Napoleonic Wars in which dragons provide military support to the British and French navies. I really enjoyed it and loved the relationship between Captain Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, so I don’t know why I still haven’t continued with the second book in the series.

I have read quite a lot of other books set during the Napoleonic Wars but the one I’m going to link to here is Watch the Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken Hodge (5), a gothic suspense novel from 1966 complete with smugglers, spies, a haunted house and plenty of family secrets! The unusual title, ‘Watch the wall, my darling’, is a line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, A Smuggler’s Song.

There are many books that have titles inspired by poetry, so I’m going to finish my chain with Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (6). The title of this Miss Marple mystery is taken from Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott – “Out flew the web and floated wide – The mirror crack’d from side to side; ‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried The Lady of Shalott”.

~

And that’s my chain for February. My links have included: the word ‘road’, coal miners, Wales, dragons, the Napoleonic Wars and lines from poems. I have even managed to bring the chain full circle with the word ‘side’ in both the first and last title!

Next month we’re starting with Phosphorescence by Julia Baird.

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I read for the first time in 2020

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) is:

New-to-me authors I read in 2020.

There are lots of authors I read for the first time last year, but I have listed here a mixture of some that I loved and definitely want to explore further and some that I’m still not sure about.

~

1. Robertson Davies – I enjoyed Fifth Business, the first book in Davies’ Deptford Trilogy, so the next logical step is to read the next book, The Manticore. I hope to get to it at some point this year.

2. Dorothy B. Hughes – I loved The Expendable Man, published by Persephone, and am looking forward to reading more of her books.

3. Hella S. Haasse – In a Dark Wood Wandering was another of my favourite books from last year. Her other novels all sound intriguing; I just need to decide which one to try next.

4. Ann Patchett – The Dutch House was a surprise; I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I did. I had previously dismissed her as not for me, but will now have to investigate her earlier books.

5. Matthew Plampin – Mrs Whistler is a fascinating novel about the artist James Whistler and his relationship with Maud Franklin; Plampin’s other books all seem just as interesting!

6. Maggie O’Farrell – I didn’t love Hamnet as much as most other readers seem to have done, but I liked her writing enough to want to give her another chance.

7. Carol McGrath – I enjoyed The Silken Rose, a novel about Eleanor of Provence, and am looking forward to reading Carol McGrath’s next novel about another medieval queen, Eleanor of Castile, when it is published later this year.

8. Georges Simenon – Now that I’ve read Simenon’s atmospheric 1934 novella, The Man from London, I think I’ll have to try his Maigret series next!

9. Joseph Conrad – Lord Jim was my first Joseph Conrad book, apart from an earlier failed attempt to read Heart of Darkness. I don’t think he’s my sort of author, although I could be tempted to try one more, possibly Nostromo.

10. Ethel Lina White – The Wheel Spins is the book on which The Lady Vanishes was based. Although I didn’t love the book as much as the film, I’m now interested in reading more of her work.

~

Have you read any of these authors? Can you recommend which of their books I should try next?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Hamnet to Macbeth

It’s the first Saturday of the month (and of the new year) which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we are beginning with Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I read this book last year and although I thought the writing was beautiful, I didn’t love it as much as most other people seem to have done. It’s a great book to start this month’s chain with, though, because there are so many possible options for the first link!

Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.

Shakespeare is not named in Hamnet; he is always referred to as ‘the husband’ or ‘the father’, which puts the focus on Agnes and their children. The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan (1) does use Shakespeare’s name, as well as the more commonly used Anne Hathaway in place of Agnes, but it also focuses on Shakespeare as a husband and father and is written largely from his wife’s perspective.

Another book I’ve read with a title beginning ‘The Secret Life of’ is The Secret Life of Wilkie Collins (2), a biography of one of my favourite Victorian authors. The writer of the biography, William M. Clarke, was married to Collins’ great-granddaughter, which gave him access to personal information about Collins’ private life, family relationships and romantic entanglements, and these things form the basis of the book. However, I found the writing style quite dry and I would also have preferred more discussion and analysis of Collins’ work as well as his life.

Next, I’m linking to a book by Wilkie Collins himself: The Frozen Deep (3), not one of his better known books but still one that I enjoyed reading. It’s a short one – a novella, really – but still an entertaining and compelling story, inspired by reports of Sir John Franklin’s famously doomed 1845 voyage to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage during which the ships became icebound and the members of the expedition disappeared.

Clare Carson’s historical novel The Canary Keeper (4) is set just a few years after the Franklin Expedition. The novel follows Birdie Quinn, a young woman who finds herself a suspect in a murder case, as she travels to the Orkney Islands to try to identify the real killer and clear her name. As she investigates, she discovers some fascinating links between the murder and the expedition.

I can only think of one other novel I’ve read set in Orkney and that is King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett (5), a very different kind of story from The Canary Keeper and taking place many centuries earlier! This beautifully written and thoroughly researched novel is based around the theory that Macbeth, the historical King of Alba, and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, were the same person.

This, of course, leads me to Macbeth by William Shakespeare (6) and so brings the chain full circle! It’s not often that I manage to do that, so I’m pleased to have achieved it with my first chain of the year.

~

And that’s this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. My links included Shakespeare, secret lives, Wilkie Collins, the Franklin Expedition, Orkney and Thorfinn/Macbeth.

In February we will be starting with Redhead By the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler.

Top Ten Tuesday: My favourite books of 2020

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to list our top ten favourite books of 2020. I know there are still a few days of 2020 left, but I’m confident that I’m not going to finish anything before the end of the year that would have made it onto my list, so I think it’s safe to post it now!

I have found it difficult to concentrate on reading at times this year (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you why) and I haven’t read as many books as I normally would – the fewest since 2010, in fact. I also feel that, although I’ve read some very good books this year, there aren’t many that really stand out from all the others and I struggled to pick out ten favourites. Instead of ten, then, I am only listing eight – and here they are:

~

1. The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes (1963)

From my review: “If you think you might want to read this book, it’s best that you know as little as possible before you begin. And I do highly recommend reading it! I was completely gripped from beginning to end…I couldn’t bear to put the book down until I knew what was going to happen to Hugh.”

2. A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie (1950)

From my review: “Of all the Christie novels I’ve read, this has one of the best openings: first an introduction to each character in turn as we jump from house to house as newspapers are opened and the announcement is read; then the murder scene itself – a wonderful set piece with all of the suspects together in one place. We are given many of the clues we need in that scene and the rest in the chapters that follow, so that the reader has at least a chance of solving the mystery before the truth is revealed.”

3. In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse (1949)

From my review: “Both Hella S Haasse’s recreation of early 15th century France and her portrayal of the key historical figures of the period feel completely real and believable…I loved the imagery Haasse uses in her writing; her descriptions of poppies glowing in green fields, sunlight sparkling on clear water and reflections of clouds in the river unfold like medieval tapestries.”

4. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (2019)

From my review: “You could describe this as a book about a house, but I think of it more as a book about people and the connections between them – in particular, the relationship between a brother and a sister…the bond between them is deep and unbreakable and although there are times when it seems to restrict them from doing things they really want to do and times when it gets in the way of their other relationships, I still found it very moving.”

5. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2020)

From my review: “I didn’t love this book quite as much as Magpie Murders, probably because I already knew what to expect so it didn’t feel as original, but it was still hugely entertaining and, like the previous novel, packed with word games and other little puzzles cleverly woven into the text. And of course, as an Agatha Christie fan I adore the Atticus Pünd stories in both books, which are such perfect homages to Christie herself. ”

6. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper (1974)

From my review: “Like the previous books in the series, this is an atmospheric and eerie story, steeped in magic and ancient folklore…I found this book as compelling as the first two and read most of it in one day; as a book aimed at younger readers, it’s quite short and the plot moves along at a fast pace, but as an adult there’s still enough depth and complexity to the story and characters to hold my attention.”

7. The Butcher of Berner Street by Alex Reeve (2020)

From my review: “This is one of several new historical mystery series I have been enjoying over the last few years…The plot is well constructed and although I did guess who the murderer was, there were several possible suspects and enough twists and turns to give me a few doubts. More than the plot, though, I loved the setting, the atmosphere and the insights into various aspects of Victorian life: the class differences and the fate of those living in poverty, the early days of the women’s suffrage movement and attitudes towards the Catholic church.”

8. Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin (1924)

From my review: “The book is beautifully written, with the same elegant prose and powerful descriptive writing I’ve loved in the other Margaret Irwin novels I’ve read…The eighteenth century storyline on its own could have been the basis for a compelling novel, but the addition of the ghost story/time travel elements make it something special, particularly as they are handled so well that they feel almost believable. It’s a lovely, magical read and just the sort of thing I was in the mood for at the moment!”

~

Have you read any of these?

What are your favourite books of 2020?

Top Ten Tuesday: Historical Winter Reads

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a ‘seasonal freebie’. Here are ten historical fiction novels I have read and reviewed on my blog, all with the word Winter in the title. I hope my list gives you some ideas for your winter reading!

~

1. The Winter Isles by Antonia Senior – Set in 12th century Scotland, this is the story of Somerled and his rise to become Lord of the Western Isles.

2. Winter Siege by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman – In the winter of 1141, a little girl is rescued by a soldier and together they become caught up in the Anarchy, the conflict between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.

3. The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick – This is the second book in Chadwick’s Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy and follows the breakdown of Eleanor’s marriage to Henry II, the rebellion of their four sons, and the King’s feud with Thomas Becket.

4. Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements – A monk and a nun are forced to flee their priory, only to find themselves drawn into the Wars of the Roses. This is the first in a series, although I still haven’t read the others.

5. Wolves in Winter by Lisa Hilton – Set in Renaissance Italy, this novel takes us from the household of Piero de’ Medici in Florence to the home of Caterina Sforza, Countess of Forlì and Imola.

6. Wintercombe by Pamela Belle – First in a series set during the English Civil War and following the story of Silence St Barbe, left behind by her Parliamentarian husband to protect their beautiful home, Wintercombe.

7. The Winter Prince by Cheryl Sawyer – A novel about Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of King Charles I and commander of the Royalist Cavalry during the Civil War.

8. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak – The early years of Catherine the Great, as seen through the eyes of Varvara, a fictional character who is brought to Russia’s Imperial Court as a spy for the Chancellor, Count Bestuzhev.

9. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale – A young man tries to build a new life for himself in a place called Winter in Saskatchewan, Canada at the turn of the 20th century.

10. One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore – A thriller set in Stalin’s Moscow at the end of World War II and based on a true story.

~

Have you read any of these? If I had included other genres on my list, I could also have added The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden (historical fantasy) and Winter King by Thomas Penn (non-fiction). Are there any other books with ‘winter’ titles you can think of?