In 1982, at the age of just 23, Elspeth Beard set off on a 35,000-mile solo adventure around the world on her 1974 BMW motorbike. Reeling from a recent breakup, and with only limited savings, a tent, a few clothes and some tools, packed on the back of her bike, she was determined to prove herself. Nothing could prepare her for what lay ahead.
I thought a travel biography would provide a bit of welcome escapism during lockdown and Google recommended Lone Rider. I don’t know what I did to anger Google… but I’m sorry. I’m very, very sorry.
This book should be re-named “Lone Rider: one woman’s whinge around the world”. I persevered with it until about halfway through, under the mistaken belief that she couldn’t possibly hate, be bored by, or find things to nitpick about with every country she visited. About halfway, and 4 or 5 countries in, it became apparent that she could. It must be some sort of special skill…
You think I’m kidding… she said the entire US was boring and the people rude and anti-biker. New Zealand reminded her of the 1930s, and not in a good way. She liked Australia except for the roads (awful), the cost of things (it was too expensive), the immigration rules (ridiculous), and the rural people (boorish, alcoholics, sexist, and faintly ridiculous). She felt broken by it, personally, by the country as a whole. Then she went to a tropical island, in the dry season, and complained that, while floating on a lilo with a glass of champagne, the river wasn’t full enough…
I just… what does this woman even want?!
Oh and the relentless relationship whinging… the “bad luck” she seems to suffer wherever she goes (which I would personally call poor choices but she clearly felt victimised)… To begin with, she misses her ex boyfriend. She doesn’t understand why he broke up with her. Then she has bad sex with a complete stranger, lends him a piddling small amount of money, and is horrified to discover *gasp of surprise* that he had given her a fake address. She has a bike accident on roads she’s warned are bad. She gets her money stolen by leaving it in an insecure hotel room, in a place she’s been warned is not safe. I just think, if you’re going to travel, an ounce of common sense might be a useful thing to have. And while yes, break ups are hard, there is really no need to whinge on about it for 200 pages.
And don’t even get me started on how utterly unlikeable she is…
Let’s just leave it there, before this becomes a whinge fest all of its own, shall we?
Suffice it to say, this was a hard pass from me! It was a great concept, a fantastic and admirable adventure to have undertaken, and she’s clearly very gutsy, but her constant grinding negativity ruined this for me. Can anyone recommend a travel biography where the author actually enjoys travel? I’m open to suggestions!
I went into The Duke and I with curiosity, but no great expectations – and Great Expectations it is not. But the Netflix adaptation is generating a lot of interest and I was intrigued! I haven’t had much luck with this method of choosing books in the past (The Witcher being a prime example, where the writing was so deeply awful I felt compelled to DNF for the sake of my remaining brain cells). However, despite some fairly glaring issues, I thoroughly enjoyed The Duke and I. If the book is anything to go by, the hype may just be warranted!
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room though: historical accuracy. The Duke and I is set in Victorian England and has caught a lot of flack for playing fast and loose with period details. It’s undeniably inaccurate. But then, it makes no real pretensions to accuracy. The dress and setting details are vaguely correct, but the dialogue and social conventions are not. Not at all. It’s an Americanised, sugary Hollywood version of Victorian England. And, normally, I’d be the first person to find that irritating. I’d be the first person pointing out all the errors. But I can’t here because I find I simply don’t care. That’s how good the story is.
The characters are likeable, intriguing, and multidimensional in a way I rarely find with romance. There is also a relatively detailed and rich backstory, for a romance. It was somewhat jarring in today’s day and age to find a female protagonist openly declaring that her ambitions run to marriage and children; and yet, while not politically correct by today’s standards, that is fitting within the period. Despite that, the female characters are outspoken, intelligent, well educated, and witty. They are not conventional. The Duke is brooding, sexy, intelligent, and flawed; somewhat reminiscent of Mr Darcy.
The romance is sweet, surprising in some ways, and yet follows familiar patterns to provide a satisfying degree of escapism. The ending left me with a smile on my face.
I loved the period dress, the ballroom and drawing room scenes. It gave the romance an air of “other”, a glamour. While no one could claim this is a work with much basis in historical fact, the setting definitely gave the book a little something extra. A little additional degree of escapism. It was a little spicy, without making me cringe too much.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Duke and I. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Perhaps I should care that it wasn’t historically accurate or literary. But I don’t. Would it have been improved by greater accuracy? Possibly, but I actually rather appreciated its frivolity. It made me smile. It was sweet, fun, and romantic. It provided a moment of much needed escapism. In fact, I highly recommend it!
The lesson being: It’s not where you come from, it’s where you want to go.
A Del of a Life, David Jason
In all honesty, it’s impossible for me to review anything by David Jason impartially. I grew up watching Frost and Only Fools and Horses. He’s one of my favourite humans. I would read a book about his favourite uses for the word LOL, if he should ever stoop that low (which I’m sure he wouldn’t). How do you find fault with a legend? I don’t think I’d dare, even to myself.
I read his first autobiography with great joy. David Jason has had a fascinating life and worked with some of the greats in British comedy. He’s been in some of the most iconic British TV. A Del of a Life is a continuation of that story, an add on, but works perfectly well as a standalone. If you’re also a fan, or just like biography, I would highly recommend both books.
A Del of a Life is well written and has a strong voice. As you might expect, it’s also laugh out loud funny. I enjoyed the stories about David Jason’s career and glimpses into his life enormously. It felt like sitting down for a cup of tea with your granddad or favourite uncle, and listening to stories about their life. And, now into his ninth decade, he certainly had some insights worth sharing. Advice was couched in humorous tones, never arrogant, but given in the form of stories from experience; my favourite kind of advice!
I sincerely enjoyed this book. And I hope not just because I’m a fan. It was uplifting, brought the reader on a journey, funny, and smart. Not to mention, a thoroughly interesting read written by a thoroughly interesting man.
This week’s TTT topic is “Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2021”. I actually have a list of new releases I’m hanging out on the edge of my seat waiting for, so this one is perfect for me!
Hard-drinking petty thief Dellaria Wells is down on her luck in the city of Leiscourt — again. Then she sees a want ad for a female bodyguard, and she fast-talks her way into the high-paying job. Along with a team of other women, she’s meant to protect a rich young lady from mysterious assassins. At first Delly thinks the danger is exaggerated, but a series of attacks shows there’s much to fear. Then she begins to fall for Winn, one of the other bodyguards, and the women team up against a mysterious, magical foe who seems to have allies everywhere.
In a steam-powered world, Miss Constance Haltwhistle is the last in a line of blue-blooded rogues. Selling firearms under her alias, the “Brass Queen,” she has kept her baronial estate’s coffers full. But when US spy J. F. Trusdale saves her from assassins, she’s pulled into a search for a scientist with an invisibility serum. As royal foes create an invisible army to start a global war, Constance and Trusdale must learn to trust each other. If they don’t, the world as they know it will disappear before their eyes.
Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet’s slide toward certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.
Quiet, thoughtful princess Thanh was sent away as a hostage to the powerful faraway country of Ephteria as a child. Now she’s returned to her mother’s imperial court, haunted not only by memories of her first romance, but by worrying magical echoes of a fire that devastated Ephteria’s royal palace. Thanh’s new role as a diplomat places her once again in the path of her first love, the powerful and magnetic Eldris of Ephteria, who knows exactly what she wants: romance from Thanh and much more from Thanh’s home. Eldris won’t take no for an answer, on either front. But the fire that burned down one palace is tempting Thanh with the possibility of making her own dangerous decisions. Can Thanh find the freedom to shape her country’s fate—and her own?
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in Otera, a deeply patriarchal ancient kingdom, where a woman’s worth is tied to her purity, and she must bleed to prove it. But when Deka bleeds gold – the colour of impurity, of a demon – she faces a consequence worse than death. She is saved by a mysterious woman who tells Deka of her true nature: she is an Alaki, a near-immortal with exceptional gifts. The stranger offers her a choice: fight for the Emperor, with others just like her, or be destroyed…
Taryn Cornick believes her sister Bea was deliberately run down and killed. She believes it so hard she allows a man called the Muleskinner to exact the justice Bea was denied. An eye for an eye. Which is when Taryn’s problems really begin. Because the police suspect Taryn’s involvement in the death. Worse, others have their eyes on Taryn – those in a faraway place who know what Taryn’s family have been carefully hiding in their vast library. The Absolute Book. They want it – and they want Taryn to help find it.
Iraya Adair has spent her life in a cell. Heir of an overthrown and magically-gifted dynasty, she was exiled from her home on the island nation of Aiyca when she was just a child. But every day brings her closer to freedom – and vengeance.
Jazmyne Cariot grew up dressed in gold, with stolen magic at her fingertips. Daughter of the self-crowned doyenne, her existence is a threat to her mother’s rule. But unlike her sister, Jazmyne has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.
Sworn enemies, the two witches enter a deadly alliance to take down the woman who threatens both their worlds. But revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain – except the lengths Iraya and Jazmyne will go to win this game. Two witches. One motive. And a very untrustworthy alliance.
Two young girls plot a murder by witchcraft. Soon afterwards a government clerk dies painfully in mysterious circumstances. His colleague James Marwood is asked to investigate – but the task brings unexpected dangers. Meanwhile, architect Cat Hakesby is working for a merchant who lives on Slaughter Street, where the air smells of blood and a captive Barbary lion prowls the stables. Then a prestigious new commission arrives. Cat must design a Poultry House for the woman that the King loves most in all the world. Unbeknownst to all, at the heart of this lies a royal secret so explosive that it could not only rip apart England but change the entire face of Europe…
Anna’s Aunt has always warned her of the dangers of magic. Its twists. Its knots. Its deadly consequences. Now Anna counts down the days to the ceremony that will bind her magic forever. Until she meets Effie and Attis. They open her eyes to a London she never knew existed. A shop that sells memories. A secret library where the librarian feeds off words. A club where revellers lose themselves in a haze of spells. But as she is swept deeper into this world, Anna begins to wonder if her Aunt was right all along. Is her magic a gift … or a curse?
The Unspoken Name was one of my most anticipated reads this month. Sadly, while I can appreciate why other people enjoyed it, and it definitely had good points, I found the focus shifts jarring. I DNF’d it halfway through.
The beginning of The Unspoken Name is captivating. It opens on a young girl, Csorwe, who has been raised in a religious house as a human sacrifice. We explore her feelings as the day of her death draws near, a death she’s been raised to expect and even believe in, and the intricacies of the rituals surrounding the culture. It’s beautifully written and utterly fascinating. Poignant without being sentimental. And slightly disturbing.
Then enters Sethennai, who adds a layer of mystery and intrigue. I was completely hooked as the story moved on and into an even more complex and beautifully imagined world. The worldbuilding in the beginning, the development of the characters, the mystery, is truly captivating. I was blown away. At the beginning of The Unspoken Name, it is difficult to believe this is a first novel, because it is just so accomplished.
And then, halfway through, the story changed completely. It still follows Csorwe, but the original focus on her relationship with her mentor, Sethennai, is gone. Now, she’s hunting for a relic – a relic which started off as an interesting point of sub-plot. So, it was fantasy, now it’s now a sort of fantasy Indiana Jones adventure. Then, suddenly, the relic has been found and its now a romance. This might have been acceptable if the three story phases were tied in together, or if it didn’t seem to just happen suddenly. I found all the chopping and changing too jarring. It was like the author couldn’t make up her mind which book to write.
Moreover, the character of Csorwe has changed so much by the time she’s doing her Indiana Jones thing as to be almost unrecognisable. It’s not just that she’s suddenly older. She’s like a different person: more confident, self-assured, and awkward rather than charmingly naive. Her touching loyalty to her mentor and the complex feelings about her past seem to have vanished completely.
The fine details of the worldbuilding, which is what made the beginning so special, also disappeared and plot holes started to appear. Why does the relic suddenly appear? How did they find it? We just jump to it and are expected to believe it was impossible to find, but has now been easily located. No real explanation. The Qarsazh are presented as prudish, prejudiced, overly religious, and highly structured. Yet, when one of the main characters starts openly and inappropriately flirting with one of them, this is completely accepted. They’re unfriendly one minute and relying on others like they’ve known them all their lives the next. We’re suddenly in a story which makes no sense and where nothing properly explained.
And then there’s Tal. Who is annoying as fuck. In the middle of a tense moment, he starts shouting, or mocking everything everyone says, or flirting with someone, and no one seems to notice he’s being inappropriate. He behaves appallingly in the beginning, is clearly an untrustworthy character, and yet suddenly becomes an ally. There’s no justice enacted or character growth to justify his inclusion as a protagonist. He’s just a distraction – and so annoying he actually set my teeth on edge.
Honestly, the book is well written. The world building is phenomenal. The characters and story are fascinating. The pacing itself is a work of art. But, for me, The Unspoken Name was confused. It was three books, sandwiched together into one. The plot holes and the characters made no sense by the middle. While there were things I liked about this book, ultimately I just couldn’t get passed the issues.
I really wanted to like this one, but it was a DNF for me.
In case you’ve been living on… well, a desert island! A desert island list is a game where you choose things you couldn’t do without if stranded on a desert island. Presuming you have food, water, shelter, and Netflix, of course… In this case, which books would you want to be stranded with? You get 5 picks.
My criteria was pretty simple: preferably a whole series in one book or set, because that would be more entertaining than one book, and definitely things I could happily read over and over again. I mean, you don’t know how long you’re going to be stuck there, do you?!
Top 10 Tuesday, hosted over on That Artsy Reader Girl, is a weekly bookish list challenge. And this week’s prompt is a Christmas freebie. So, this is my Top 10 Favourite Books To Read Around Christmas.
I love reading ghost stories this time of year, and Ghost Stories by Mark Gatiss is a great little spooky collection!
Probably my favourite ghost story collection is by Roald Dahl. The Book of Ghost Stories is kind of a classic Christmas read for me at this point! That being said, I’m hesitant to recommend it given what’s come out about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism… He seems like a twat basket. And I’m not linking it for that reason. But this book is on my list.
Cozy Christmas romances don’t get much better than A Winter’s Tale! I live for the cozy this time of year.
Sarah Morgan might be the queen of cozy Christmas romance. I love her Christmas books!
Another classic Christmas read! Twas the Night Before Christmas was read to me as a child, and I still read it every year!
Slightly spooky, wintery goodness. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, while not specifically Christmassy, has a pretty incredible wintery setting. And its a little scary, so its definitely on my list!
I just adored White Boots as a child and its still the perfect Christmas read for me!
I love Agatha Christie, and Christmas really isn’t complete for me without a cozy Christmas detective mystery. I always get a few vintage mysteries for Christmas. But, of course, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is my favourite!
What’s your favourite Christmas read? Do you read any of the ones on my list?
Author: Kester Grant | Publisher: Harper Voyager (2020)
I was really unsure when I picked this up whether or not it was going to be “my thing”. Honestly, the synopsis just doesn’t do it justice! I was totally gripped from start to finish. The Court of Miracles is definitely one of my top reads this year.
The book is set is an alternate reality where the French Revolution failed, which led to the revolutionaries and the poor being mercilessly hunted and forced underground. They formed a secret criminal society to survive. The world the characters inhabit is grotesque, brutal, and gritty. It’s a sort of magical realism, but not quite your typical fantasy.
The worldbuilding is phenomenal. There is actually very little description of places or things, and yet it has a really strong sense of place. It’s dark. Unpleasant. Frightening. And there is a sense of history and reality, which grounds the book and stops it becoming too fantastical. The little touches, like using real places, give the book an air of authenticity. Despite being quite an unpleasant world, one you definitely wouldn’t want to visit, there is a swashbuckling quality to it which lends the whole book a sense of whimsy and playfulness.
The light touch on descriptive language means the plot moves at a fast lick. And it has more twists than a mountain road. I was hooked right to the very end.
The plot itself is dark. Really, really dark. It can be a little heartrending. It doesn’t shy away from the kind of themes you’d be more likely to find explored at this level in straight modern fiction: loss, rape, drugs, sex trafficking, and child abuse. And, although there is ultimately hope and redemption, the characters never get an easy ride.
All of which makes it sound like a depressing or heavy read – which it really wasn’t. The Court of Miracles is ultimately an adventure and a fantasy. The fine line between completely bumming out the reader with serious subject matter, getting across a point, exploring important themes and questions vs entertaining is walked masterfully. Despite some of the more serious and grotesque aspects of the worldbuilding, of the plot, the book is fun – even humorous. The first person narrative is clever, immersive, and skillful.
The characters… oh my gosh, can we talk about Eponine? I love a strong female protagonist and she is all of that and more. She’s sassy af. Strong. Brave. Talented. Flawed. Real. Ruthless and yet human. I want to be her. I want to be her friend.
Tiger is the most repugnant and terrifying character. Like Jabba the Hutt, but more unpleasant. A book really isn’t satisfying for me without a good counter to the heroine. And what makes Tiger so horrifying is that we understand him, we see him on the news and we really fear what he represents. We almost relate to him. There’s no magic here, just straight up human evil. And, in a way, that’s more frightening.
If you liked Christina Henry’s Alice, I think you’ll definitely like The Court of Miracles. I’d say it’s also one for fans of Saba Tahir and Leigh Bardugo.
The Court of Miracles is ultimately an exploration of evil and humanity. It’s the story of what a person can achieve with grit and inner strength. It’s about hope and love and loyalty.
This was one of those books that I never wanted to end and found impossible to put down. Highly recommend it!
Since this is a new space for me, I thought I should tell you a little something about myself!
I’m not really new…
This is actually my second book blog. I began book blogging in… I want to say 2018… as Mim Inkling. And then I quit. I was busy – new muggle job, moving across country, wedding planning, a new side hustle… And I thought I should be focusing on more practical outlets. Honestly, I just really missed it! The bookish community, the great book recommendations, and the creativity of blogging. I had a blast doing it! Eventually, life quietened down and so, here I am again for round two. I’m really going to try not to quit this time!
Where I’m from… I’m English and I currently live in a tiny village in Cheshire, on the border of Wales.
What I’m going to blog about… books. And I’ll share some of my writing. That’s about it! If you want to follow me, I’m on Instagram as @onceuponanelderberry – I’d love to connect with you over there!
Three random facts… I’m a qualified information law specialist, I have a dog called Rubeus, and my favourite ice cream is salted caramel.
Dream job… Writer.
If I could live anywhere… I’d like a house in Wales. I’d probably also spend part of the year in Cornwall, Norway, Sweden, and the US, given a choice.
My favourite book… Such a difficult question! I’m going to cheat and go top three: Pride and Prejudice, Chocolat, and The Five People You Meet In Heaven.
The fictional character I would most like to be… Kinsey Millhone from Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. She’s badass!
Favourite book heroine… Elizabeth Bennett. Always and forever.
Fictional character I’d most like to date… Heathcliff. Honestly, he was just too sexy!
Favourite series… Again, far too many! Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, Harry Potter, all of the Hercule Poirot books (if that counts as a series), Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy, The Invisible Library series…
Book setting I’d most like to visit… The invisible library is pretty high up the list! The Shire would be quite cool. The entire Harry Potter world, obviously.
The last book I read was… something trashy and satisfying by Katie Fforde. I love a good cozy romance!
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