Top Ten Tuesday: Colourful titles on my TBR

The theme for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is Books with Colours in the Titles. Looking at the books I have waiting to be read on my TBR, I was surprised to see how many have a colourful title! Here are ten of them:

1. Red Sky at Night by Jane Aiken Hodge – I have had mixed experiences with Jane Aiken Hodge’s books so far – I’ve enjoyed some but been disappointed by others. I hope this book, which is set in England during the Napoleonic Wars, will be a good one.

2. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West – I’ve been interested in reading this book about Rebecca West’s journey through 1930s Yugoslavia for years but have been put off by the length. I will make a start on it eventually!

3. Dawn of the White Rose by Mary Pershall – I found this in a charity shop last year. It looks a bit too light and romance-y for my taste, but I was drawn to it because it’s about Isabel de Clare and William Marshal, whom I’ve enjoyed reading about in Elizabeth Chadwick’s books.

4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – I’ve read some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories but none of his novels. I’ve had a copy of this one on my shelf for a long time and still haven’t read it.

5. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss – This is a non-fiction book on the life of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers (two of my favourite classics). It has been on my TBR since just after it was published in 2012.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – Another book that has been on my TBR since 2012, when it was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. I still want to read it; it’s just one of those books that I never seem able to get around to!

7. Red Adam’s Lady by Grace Ingram – I downloaded this when it was on special offer for Kindle a while ago. It sounds like an entertaining romantic adventure novel set in medieval England, originally published in the 1970s but recently reissued.

8. A Thread of Gold by Helen Cannam – I found this on the same day as the book above. From the blurb, it seems to be a family saga set in the vineyards of France in the late 19th and early 20th century.

9. The Turquoise by Anya Seton – I read a lot of Anya Seton’s books years ago and loved them, but there are still a few that I haven’t read. This book, set in 19th century New York and New Mexico is one of them.

10. White Corridor by Christopher Fowler – I enjoyed the first four books in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May detective series, then for some reason stopped and never continued with the fifth one, White Corridor. I’m determined to read it soon.


Have you read any of these? Do you have any colourful titles on your own TBR?

Top Ten Tuesday – and Historical Musings #60: Ten reasons I love historical fiction

It’s been a while since I took part in Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl) so I decided I would join in today. This week’s topic is: “Reasons Why I Love…[a favourite book, genre, author etc]”. I didn’t get round to putting one of my Historical Musings posts together for this month – I’m finding that even though I’m on furlough with all the time in the world to read and blog, I somehow seem to be getting less done than ever before – so I’m combining the two here by listing 10 reasons to love historical fiction.


1. It provides the perfect opportunity to learn about other times and places.
When I read a good historical fiction novel, I am left with the feeling that not only have I been entertained by a great story, I’ve also learned something new. If a subject particularly interests me, I sometimes look for a non-fiction book so that I can add to my knowledge with some factual information, but in many cases my initial introduction to a new historical period or historical figure has been through fiction.

2. I find it much easier to retain facts gained through reading fiction rather than non-fiction.
For some reason, no matter how hard I try and no matter how fascinating the subject, I often seem to struggle to concentrate when I’m reading non-fiction. By the time I reach the end of the book I find I’ve forgotten a lot of the information I’ve just read. I am much more likely to remember names, dates and facts if they are given to me in the form of historical fiction.

3. It’s a great way of escaping from modern life for a while.
Although I do sometimes like to read contemporary fiction, I am usually much happier reading books set in the past (both classics which were actually written in the past and historical fiction). I live in the modern day, so I like my reading to take me somewhere – and sometime – different, especially at the moment with everything that’s going on in the world!

4. Reading historical fiction can be a thoroughly immersive experience.
I love books where the author has clearly gone to a lot of effort to create a complete and believable historical world – and yet the very best authors make it seem so effortless! My favourite historical fiction books often contain maps, family trees, character lists, authors’ notes and other material all of which adds to the world building. I really do like to feel as though I’ve stepped into a time machine and been transported back in time.

5. Understanding the past can help us to understand the present – and maybe even the future.
Just because a novel is set in the past doesn’t mean it can’t incorporate themes which are universal and timeless. When I read Robert Harris’s Cicero trilogy, I was struck by the similarities between modern politics and the politics of the Roman Republic, while Guinevere Glasfurd’s The Year Without Summer draws parallels between the extreme weather of 1816 and the climate change the world is experiencing today.

6. There’s so much variety!
Historical mysteries, historical romances, historical adventure novels, quick and light reads, long, challenging or ‘literary’ reads, books set in Ancient Greece, books set at the Tudor court, family sagas, classic novels such as A Tale of Two Cities, Romola or The Three Musketeers…the term ‘historical fiction’ encompasses such a wide range of different types of book that it should always be possible to find something to suit your mood.

7. I love to see how different authors portray the past and how they tackle some of history’s greatest mysteries and controversies.
Some people may wonder why I enjoy reading about the same topics over and over again. Well, no two books are exactly the same and every author has a different approach and a different way of interpreting the same historical people and events. One of my favourite periods is the Wars of the Roses and no two novels I’ve read set in that period offer the same opinion on Richard III or the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. Only by reading as much as possible can you begin to put together a balanced picture and to start to form your own views.

8. Historical fiction can give a voice to women who were unable to tell their own story.
History has often been described as written ‘by men, about men’ and fiction can help to redress the balance. For example, I knew nothing about women like Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Eboli until I read That Lady by Kate O’Brien or Lizzie Burns until I read Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea.

9. It’s a chance to get to know historical figures who have been forgotten or ignored.
Following on from reason 8, I have already mentioned some of the lesser-known women who have been subjects of historical fiction; there are also lots of men who have played important roles throughout history but whose names have been largely forgotten. How many people have heard of the Scottish soldier Thomas Keith and yet he had a fascinating life and career which is recounted in Blood and Sand by Rosemary Sutcliff.

10. There are just so many great stories to be told.
From the Thomas Overbury scandal to the Gunpowder Plot, from the Affair of the Poisons to the Pendle Witch Trials, the possibilities are endless!


Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? Can you think of any other reasons to add to this list?

Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, asks us to list ten books on our Winter TBR. As usual, I have a lot more than ten books that I’m hoping to read in the next few months, but I have chosen a selection of them to list below.


1. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie – This is December’s book for the Read Christie 2019 Challenge and one that I was planning to read anyway as there’s a new BBC adaptation coming in 2020. I’ve enjoyed taking part in the challenge this year and was pleased to discover that it’s happening again next year!

2. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – I picked this up to start reading a month or two ago, but decided the time wasn’t right. I do still want to read it as I’ve heard so many positive things about it, so it is going to be a winter read now instead of an autumn one.

3. Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – In November I finally managed to catch up with the fourth book in the Jackson Brodie series, Started Early, Took My Dog, and now I have the fifth book, Big Sky, from the library so will need to read it soon.

4. The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch – I don’t do nearly enough re-reading these days, but Susan Howatch’s Penmarric was a re-read for me in 2018 and Cashelmara in 2019, so it makes sense to pull this one off my shelf for a re-read in 2020!

5. The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley – This is the sixth book in the Seven Sisters series and is set partly in Kenya. I’ve been putting off starting this one because of the length, but I’ll have some time off work over Christmas so will probably read it then.

6. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – This will be my first Ann Patchett book so I don’t know what to expect, but it does sound good!

7. Greenwitch by Susan Cooper – After enjoying Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark is Rising earlier this year, I’m looking forward to moving on to Greenwitch, the third book in the sequence.

8. The Brothers York by Thomas Penn – Most of my reading tends to be fiction, but I wanted to include at least one non-fiction book on my Winter TBR too. This book is about one of my favourite periods of history, the Wars of the Roses, so I’m looking forward to reading it.

9. The Hardie Inheritance by Anne Melville – This is the final book in a trilogy and as I loved the first two, both of which I’ve read this year, I’m hoping this will be another enjoyable read.

10. My Classics Club Spin book! I’ll find out on Sunday which book I’m going to be reading from the Spin list I posted two days ago.


Have you read any of these? What did you think? And what is on your own winter TBR?

Top Ten Tuesday: My Autumn TBR

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, asks us to list ten books on our Autumn TBR. As usual, I have a lot more than ten books that I’m hoping to read in the next few months, but I have chosen a selection of them to list below.

Two books I’m hoping to get to soon for the R.I.P. XIV event:

1. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

2. Tombland by CJ Sansom

A book left over from my 20 Books of Summer List:

3. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

My Classics Club Spin result, announced yesterday:

4. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy

Some review copies I haven’t read yet:

5. To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek

6. A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

For the Read Christie 2019 Challenge:

7. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

Next in a series started earlier this year:

8. Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb

Non-fiction, because I don’t read enough of it:

9. The Brothers York by Thomas Penn

10. Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice


Have you read or will you be reading any of these? Which books are on your autumn/fall TBR?

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters who share my name

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, is a ‘Character Freebie’ (any topic of our choice that deals with book characters).

I thought it might be fun to list some characters who have the same name as me (Helen). I wondered whether I would be able to think of ten, but it turned out to be easier than I expected – in fact, I could have included more!

1. Helen Burns – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The saintly Helen Burns was Jane’s best friend at Lowood School and although her role in the novel is short and tragic, she has a lasting influence on Jane’s life.

2. Helen Irvine – Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

Helen of Kirkconnel Lea was the heroine of a famous ballad and her story is told in this beautifully written historical fiction novel.

3. Helen of Mar – The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter

The daughter of the Earl of Mar, Lady Helen falls in love with Scottish hero William Wallace in Jane Porter’s 1809 novel.

4. Helen Franklin – Melmoth by Sarah Perry

This secretive Helen becomes fascinated by the story of Melmoth the Witness and discovers that the legend holds a personal significance.

5. Helen Schlegel – Howards End by E.M. Forster

The younger and more impulsive and passionate of the two Schlegel sisters in Forster’s classic novel.

6. Helen of Troy – For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

I’m sure this famous Helen needs no introduction!

7. Helen Fong – China Dolls by Lisa See

One of three young women who become friends after meeting at an audition for dancers at a San Francisco nightclub in 1938.

8. DCI Helen Rowley – Sacrifice and the Lacey Flint series by Sharon Bolton

A recurring, though minor, character throughout Bolton’s Lacey Flint series (as Dana Tulloch’s partner) and also has a bigger role to play in the standalone novel Sacrifice.

9. Helen Giniver – The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

This Helen is one of several characters whose lives and relationships are explored in Sarah Waters’ World War II novel.

10. Helen Huntingdon – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

A Brontë character started my list so another Brontë character will finish it! Written in diary format, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall describes Helen Huntingdon’s marriage to an abusive, drunken husband.


Can you think of any other literary Helens? Are there any fictional characters who share your own name?

Top Ten Tuesday: Special books from my childhood

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl, asks for our top ten childhood favourites.

There were many, many books that I loved as a child, so this is by no means a definitive top ten and if I did this again next week it could be a different list entirely. For now, though, here are ten books – in no particular order – that bring back special memories.


1. Watership Down by Richard Adams

I was about ten years old when I first read this book and it immediately became a favourite. I have re-read it many times since – the last time was in 2010 and I still loved it as much as ever. It’s beautifully written and certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as just ‘a book about talking rabbits’; it’s about so much more than that and has a lot to offer an adult reader as well as a child.


2. Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams

I think I was probably about seven years old when I fell in love with Gobbolino, a little cat who is rejected by his mistress, a witch, because he has blue eyes and a white paw. Dreaming of being an ordinary kitchen cat, Gobbolino sets out in search of a new owner, but finds that nobody wants to give a home to a witch’s cat. This book was published in 1942, a few years after Williams’ more famous children’s book The Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse. I loved the little wooden horse too, but his adventures never resonated with me as much as Gobbolino’s!


3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

I loved this book as a child, despite it being so sad and despite the themes of animal cruelty and suffering making me cry every time I used to read it. I had (and still have, somewhere) a gorgeous hardback edition with colour illustrations and it’s the book itself that I remember as much as the story. The image above doesn’t really do it justice!


4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I had a lovely hardback edition of The Secret Garden too, although I’m not sure what happened to it (it was not the one pictured above). It’s been a very long time since I last read this book but I still remember the excitement when Mary discovers the door to the locked garden at Misselthwaite Manor. I’ll have to put it on my list for a re-read in the near future, if I can find my copy.


5. Ballet for Drina by Jean Estoril

I loved books about ballet as a child, and nearly included Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes on this list, but I think I preferred the Drina series by Jean Estoril (a pseudonym of Mabel Esther Allan). The series was published in the 1950s and 60s and consisted of eleven books following the dancing career of Drina Adams. Some of the later books were stronger and more interesting, but the first, Ballet for Drina, is the one I remember most clearly.


6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read Little Women, but my first copy of it was an abridged version for younger children with the cover shown above. It was part of a series of classics and I also had a few of the others including Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels and Kidnapped. I didn’t like any of them as much as Little Women! My grandmother later gave me her own old copy which contained both Little Women and Good Wives and I still have that book on my shelf.


7. A Visit to Folly Castle by Nina Beachcroft

A more obscure one next. I read this several times as a child and loved it, but had forgotten both the title and the author’s name so spent hours a few months ago googling everything I could remember about the plot to try to identify it! It was a fantasy novel about a girl called Emma who finds a message in a bottle that leads her to the home of Cassandra, a lonely girl who is desperate for a friend. As Emma begins to get to know Cassandra, she discovers that there is something not quite human about her new friend’s family. Does anyone else remember this one?


8. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

It seems that a lot of my childhood favourites involved animals! I loved this classic novel about the friendship between Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider and a little girl called Fern. I used to like the film too (the animated one from 1973, not the more recent live-action one).


9. The Valley of Adventure by Enid Blyton

I could have included almost any Enid Blyton book here, as I read and loved so many of them. Her Malory Towers and St Clare’s school stories and The Five Find-Outers mystery series were particular favourites, but if I had to pick just one of her books it would be The Valley of Adventure. In this book, a group of children find themselves stranded in a lonely Austrian valley surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, trying to hide from a gang of criminals who are searching for hidden treasure.


10. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I was torn between several books for the final place on my list, but I finally decided on L.M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables. I did read some of the other titles in the Anne series as well, but was less interested in the later ones. The first book was my favourite because I loved watching the development of Anne’s relationships with Matthew and Marilla.


Have you read any of these? Which books would be on your list?

Top Ten Tuesday: Lines from Lymond

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

Inspirational/Thought-Provoking Book Quotes

There are so many quotes I find thought-provoking or inspirational from various books that I really didn’t know where to begin, so I decided to narrow things down slightly by choosing ten from my favourite series, The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. I say ‘slightly’ because all six of these books are worth quoting in full, in my opinion! Anyway, here is a selection…


1. “You cannot love any one person adequately until you have made friends with the rest of the human race also. Adult love demands qualities which cannot be learned living in a vacuum of resentment.”


2. “I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands.”
The Game of Kings


3. “Lack of genius never held anyone back,” said Lymond. “Only time wasted on resentment and daydreaming can do that.”
Queens’ Play


4. “Man is a being of varied, manifold and inconstant nature. And woman, by God, is a match for him.”
The Disorderly Knights


5. “I don’t like this war. I don’t like the cold-blooded scheming at the beginning and the carnage at the end and the grumbling and the jealousies and the pettishness in the middle. I hate the lack of gallantry and grace; the self-seeking; the destruction of valuable people and things. I believe in danger and endeavour as a form of tempering but I reject it if this is the only shape it can take.”
The Game of Kings


6. “Man is not intellect only,” Guthrie said. “Not until you reject all the claims of your body. Not until you have stamped out, little by little, all that is left of your soul.”
The Ringed Castle


7. “Remember, some live all their lives without discovering this truth; that the noblest and most terrible power we possess is the power we have, each of us, over the chance-met, the stranger, the passer-by outside your life and your kin. Speak, she said, as you would write: as if your words were letters of lead, graven there for all time, for which you must take the consequences. And take the consequences.”
Queens’ Play


8. “The more modest your expectations, the less often you will court disappointment.”


9. “I ask for no apology,” said Míkál. “I ask nothing but kindness.”
“I have learned,” said Lymond, “that kindness without love is no kindness.”
Pawn in Frankincense


10. “Today,” said Lymond, “if you must know, I don’t like living at all. But that’s just immaturity boggling at the sad face of failure. Tomorrow I’ll be bright as a bedbug again.”
The Disorderly Knights


What are your favourite lines from your favourite books?