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!

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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.

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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!

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

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.

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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.

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

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:

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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!”

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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!

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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.

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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?

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is a ‘Halloween Freebie’. There were lots of ways I could have approached this topic, but I decided to list ten words that are often associated with Halloween and find a book I’ve read with each of those words in the title.

Here are the ten books I’ve chosen. I think most of these would make great Halloween reads!

1. Blood Upon the Snow by Hilda Lawrence – First published in 1944, this is one of three crime novels to feature the private investigator Mark East and his two friends, the amateur detectives Bessy and Beulah. This atmospheric novel is set in a lonely town in the mountains during a snowy winter.

2. The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson – The first in a series of historical mysteries set in the eighteenth century. This book is set almost entirely within London’s notorious Marshalsea Prison and although all of the other books in the series are excellent too, I particularly loved this one because of the fascinating setting.

3. The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements – A seventeenth century ghost story set on a sheep farm in the Yorkshire moors. Although I found the book quite slow, it’s also very atmospheric and steeped in English folklore.

4. Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart – This is not one of my favourites of Mary Stewart’s suspense novels, but I still enjoyed it. Published in 1976, it has a few touches of the supernatural and a wonderful country house setting, complete with moat and maze.

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – I didn’t love this 1911 classic quite as much as I’d hoped to, but it’s very entertaining and has a great setting – an opera house with an underground lake, a maze of tunnels and a torture chamber. Worth reading whether or not you’re a fan of the musical.

6. The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley – Twelve-year-old detective Flavia de Luce is investigating the death of a young actor who is found drowned in a river. I prefer the earlier books in the Flavia series, but this is still a good one.

7. A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – This is the first book in the Cadfael mystery series featuring the monk, Brother Cadfael, and set in the medieval period. I really enjoyed this book and still need to continue with the rest of the series.

8. Midnight is a Lonely Place by Barbara Erskine – I find I usually like the sound of Barbara Erskine’s books more than the books themselves! In this one, a writer rents a cottage on the Essex coast, only to discover that the house appears to be haunted by the ghost of a Roman soldier. I didn’t love the book, but I did find it very creepy!

9. The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde – This classic satirical comedy is a ghost story with a difference; an American family move into an English country house which is said to be haunted, but no matter how hard the resident ghost tries, the family refuse to be frightened!

10. Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie – The obvious choice to finish my list! It’s one of the later Poirot novels, published in 1969, and I don’t think it’s one of the best, but with the murder taking place during a Halloween party it’s the perfect Christie novel to read at this time of year.

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

If you’re wondering why there are no witch-related books in my list, I used them in a previous Halloween Top Ten Tuesday here!

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.

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