Saturday 27 November 2021

The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, is my 12th. book for Marg's Historical Fiction challenge 2021.

My recent read of  And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander made me curious about the story of Achilles and this book by Madeline Miller filled a few gaps in my rather scant knowledge. The tale is told from the point of view of Patroclus, a young exiled prince taken in by Achilles' father, Peleus. Peleus had a child with a sea goddess, Thetis, the result being Achilles and he is thus a golden child, beautiful and excelling in everything, but especially anything to do with weapons and fighting. Patroclus, alone and miserable, eventually comes to the attention of Achilles and the two become inseparable. A firm friendship deepens into love as they get older, one that no one can understand as Patroclus is very ordinary indeed and the polar opposite of the love of his life. Thetis especially seems to loathe her son's lover. The elephant in the room is Achilles' fighting ability and the certain knowledge that one day he will be called upon to test that in battle. And so it comes to pass when Helen, married to King Menelaus of Sparta, is either abducted, or runs away with, Paris, the son of Priam, the king of Troy, and thus begins the Trojan war and the ten year seige. 

I don't really understand why I failed to be fully engaged by this book. It's hugely popular and a lot of people absolutely love it. Don't get me wrong, I liked it well enough. At no stage did I want to give up and I really appreciated learning a lot more about this particular branch of Greek mythology. It just lacked something for me, I didn't really love anyone in it or feel completely connected to the story. Also, a small query. I always thought that in Ancient Greece any kind of sexuality was quite acceptable, so why was it all so shameful between Achilles and Patroclus? Why so much secrecy? I didn't get that at all. I did love the boys' 3 or 4 year sojourn on a mountain with a centaur. Who wouldn't want to do that! Anyway, interesting and informative and by no means terrible (I gave it a 3 star rating on Goodreads). My quest to find out more about Greek mythology will continue and I have a list of books and authors I will search out in 2022. 

A few of them:

Fire From Heaven - Mary Renault

The Silence of the Girls - Pat Barker

Circe - Madeline Miller

Ariadne and Elektra - Jennifer Saint

The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood

A Thousand Ships - Natilie Haynes

Athena's Child - Lynn Hannah

Daughters of Sparta - Claire Heywood

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold - Stephen Fry

I'm sure there are loads more so if anyone has any recommendations they would be welcome.


Friday 19 November 2021

Catching up with reviews and currently reading

A couple of books to catch up on today, starting with Into the London Fog, a collection of weird stories, edited by Elizabeth Dearnley.

This was a bit unusual for one of the British Library's wierd collection of books. I bought it thinking it was, as they usually are, all fiction, but it turns out 4 or 5 of the contributions are actually non-fiction... either essays or accounts of real-life crimes going on in the city. For me, that wasn't too much of a problem as I actually like reading essays, but for some it might be and Goodreads reviews bear that out. Each story came under the heading of the part of London where it was set, Whitechapel, Waterloo, Mayfair (referred to in the story by Rhoda Broughton as 'May Fair' so I assume that's how it used to be known?) and so on. Favourites included the essay by Virginia Woolf where she goes out for a walk on a late winter's afternoon with the excuse that she needs a new pencil. Delightful description of a second-hand bookshop in this very atmospheric piece. I also enjoyed The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen, a tale of a woman being haunted by her fiancé who died in WW1. The Mystery of the Semi-detached by Edith Nesbit was also very good. It's another story of an engaged couple torn assunder by circumstances. Spring Heeled Jack, an anonymous piece written as a newspaper article, recounts how London was terrorised in the 1830s by somebody - or more likely a group of people - setting out to scare people to death... dressing up to look frightening and jumping out at ordinary folk going about their business. There were deaths apparently, people dying because of a weak heart or as a result of running away and getting knocked over. All in all, this was rather a patchy compilation. A few good stories, a couple of interesting essays, but nothing I was completely bowled over by apart from possibly the Woolf essay which I liked a lot. I need to read her, A Room with a View.

And now... I was going to say 'for something completely different'... but Elly Griffiths' The Lantern Men does actually have its creepy side too.

So, this is book 12 of the author's well known 'Ruth Galloway' series of murder mysteries based around the archaeology and countryside of Norfolk. Ruth has moved on since the last book. I won't say too much but she's no longer an archaeologist with the University of Norfolk and no longer helping the local police and Harry Nelson with their murder cases. However. (There always is one of those.) A serial killer Nelson thinks killed more women than he admits to has said that he will make a deal. He'll tell the police where more bodies are buried as long as Ruth is brought in to take charge of the dig. She can't resist, naturally, partly because it all seems to be tied in with a place she's just been to on a writer's retreat but also - it's Nelson. A local legend concerning weird lights luring people to their deaths on the marshes and known as 'The Lantern Men', also comes to the fore, which gives the whole thing a supernatural bent.  Lots of twists and turns in this instalment, making it an excellent read for autumn and Halloween. It was also nice to catch up with Ruth and Harry and the extended family, also the wonderful Cathbad. And the Norfolk coast plays its part as usual, love the salt marshes as described, wild and wonderful. So much atmosphere in these books, I love them. 

Currently reading. Well there's this:


Which I absolutely 'love' and have decided to take my time over. In fact, as Theroux's visits to the The South take place over a year, season by season (I've just finished autumn), I may well read the book in a similar manner. Which might mean I don't finish it until next August. I'll have to think about it. I'm quite in favour of 'slow reading' sometimes... bit like 'slow cooking' only books. :-)

Also reading this:


Hmm. I like it. But not once have I felt compelled to pick it up and read on because I'm excited about what happens next. I'm sure you all know how that feels? My knowledge of Greek mythology is sketchy. I took the 'O' level in the late sixties so I'm familiar with names and deeds but that's about it. I want to increase that scant knowledge but the subject is vast so I've also just started this for basic background info:


Another one to read slowly and savour. And 'hopefully' learn something! Whether it'll stick or not is another matter. I do feel rather excited that there's quite a lot of fiction out now that puts flesh on the bones of all these myths. So that could make for some fun reading. And that's what it's all about, right?

Friday 12 November 2021

The 2021 Christmas challenge & readthon

So here's a challenge I haven't participated in before, it's the '2021 Christmas challenge & readthon'. This is being hosted by Michelle at Christmas Spirit.



The challenge runs from the 22nd. November until the 6th. January 2022 and the sign-up post is HERE.

There are three ways to participate.

1. Challenge - pick a level

2. Readathon - read as much (or as little) as you want. (Any kind of book.)

3. Participate in both!

I'm just going to do the first one and the levels for that are: 

Candy Cane: read 1 book

Mistletoe: read 2 - 4 books 

Christmas Tree: read 5 or 6 books, or more (this is the fanatic level!)

For the reading challenge, these must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, children's books (we even have a level for them!), etc.

I'm going to have a go at 'Mistletoe' which involves reading 2 to 4 books. 

I have a stack of 6 physical books on my shelf and probably more than that in my Kindle 'Christmas' collection. Very much looking forward to starting on this one on the 22nd.


Monday 8 November 2021

New books!

I haven't done a 'new books' post in a while. This is mainly because my Kindle Fire is the main recipient of most of my new books these days. It's so easy - possibly *too* easy - to pop books on there, cheaper (although not always) and they don't take up any shelf space. Plus, I absolutely love the display page on my KF. I get sent books though, and loaned them, and I do still buy physical books, so this is my haul over the past couple of months.

From the bottom of the left hand pile which are all fiction.

Miss Austen by Gill Hornby, purchased at my local bookshop. This is about Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra, looking for personal letters her sister wrote in order to destroy them but also looking back at their childhood. I have several Austen themed books I want to read next year plus have a tentative plan to go and see her house in Alton in Hampshire and maybe get to the Jane Austen museum in Bath which I've never been to.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Is there a more famous book at the moment? This one is not mine, it was lent to me by my youngest daughter. I saw the author interviewed on the Sky Arts bookclub programme and apparently it's her first fiction book after years of writing non-fiction. Love the sound of it.

Randall's Round, short vintage, weird stories by Eleanor Scott and Sunless Solstice, a collection of Christmas tales, edited by Lucy Evans and Tanya Kirk, were both sent to me by the British Library publishing people for a fair review. They look excellent.

Twelve Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber was an Amazon purchase and is about a woman trying to get her grumpy neighbour interested in her by being super nice. She blogs about it to track her progress and then the blog becomes popular... I thought this sounded like a lot of fun, a good light read for Christmas.

Now the non-fiction:

London Fog: The Biography by Christine L. Corton. This was an Amazon Marketplace purchase. This is basically what it says on the tin - a book about the history of foggy London. Not just the history but excerpts from books by authors who've talked about it in their books: Dickens, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson. I can't wait to read this. Great cover:

Pacific: The Ocean of the Future by Simon Winchester. Another Amazon purchase because I loved his book on the Atlantic and Krakatoa so much and am hoping this will be equally as enthralling. 

True North: Travels in Artic Europe by Gavin Francis. This charts the author's travels around places such as Shetland, The Faroes, Greenland, Svalbard, Lapland and so on.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Saturday 6 November 2021

Two historical mystery reads

Two historical mysteries to talk about today, both qualify for Marg's Historical Reading Challenge 2021 and are my books 10 and 11.

A Distance too Grand by Regina Scott is the first book in a historical romance/mystery series that was recommended first by Lark at Lark Writes... on books and life and then by Susan at  Bloggin' 'bout Books. I also have to say that that cover with The Grand Canyon  in the background was a major attraction too.

Meg Pero is the daughter of a photographer in 1870s America. She's travelled all over with her father as his assistant and is now an excellent photographer in her own right. When he passes away she feels more than qualified to replace him in the business but has to move in with her aunt who has other ideas about her neice's future. Meg takes off in secret and catches the train to where he father's next assignment was due to be, a fort near The Grand Canyon. The captain leading the prospective expedition, Ben Coleridge, is none too happy when Meg turns up, partly because he feels it's no place for a woman but also he and Meg have a history together: they used to be engaged. He has no option but to take her though as he needs to get the expedition off and running and can't wait for someone else to be hired. His father disappeared in the canyon a while ago and Ben's family are desperate to know what happened to him. The expedition is fraught with danger and difficulty, not least of which is Meg's need to make her photography business work because if she cannot make a living she cannot live. A Distance too Grand is categorised as a Christian Romance and that wouldn't normally be my thing but I was attracted by the trope of a woman trying to make a living in a man's world and struggling to be accepted. Truthfully, it wasn't an extremely religious book, it was just there in the background as it would actually have been back then when faith was perhaps more important to many people than it is now. And I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. It has a very strong sense of place, The Grand Canyon and its surrounds are very nicely depicted and felt very real even though I've never been fortunate enough to go. The mystery elements were quite nicely handled, that of what happened to Ben's father and who is mysteriously following the group as they travel. The romance aspect was rather predictable but then who wants a romance book 'not' to be predictable? I was very happy with the book and have already bought book 2, Nothing Short of Wondrous, set in Yellowstone Park.

Lastly, And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander.

Emily marries Viscount Ashton in order to escape her dragon of a mother. She hardly knows him but he's the best of an average bunch. Several months later he goes off on safari, as he's a keen hunter, and dies, leaving her a widow. Expected to go into deep mourning for a man she hardly knew, Emily learns how to act, but also decides to find out something about her late husband. Belatedly, she falls in love with him when she finds out he was not just a hunter of animals but deeply into Greek myths and a collector of ancient Greek artifacts. She decides to educate herself on the subject and thus finds herself at the British Museum and introduced to various experts and forgers of the artifacts her husband was so interested in. Emily's mother is scandalised but luckily unaware that her daughter is being followed and possibly involving herself in a forging network. It seems Emily is about to uncover things that certain people would wish kept secret and subsequently putting herself into extreme danger. Well then, another woman trying to make her way in a man's world in the 19th. century. This time the heroine is not poor... what 'she' wants is an education and when she starts to get that she becomes a lot more interesting, not only to the reader but to herself. I loved the character of Cecile, an older Parisian woman who befriends Emily and helps free her of her Victorian restrictions. I would've liked more of the book to be set in Greece but am hoping for that in future books, I felt that this first book was very much a scene-setter for the rest of the series. Which I certainly plan to read more of! It seems I rather like these fiesty Victorian women fighting against Victorian constraints on female behaviour. The book also introduced me to Greek myths, talking a lot about Achilles, other than his 'heel' I don't know the story in full so time to do something about my lack of knowledge around Greek mythology. 

I've had this on tbr mountain for yonks:

The Greek Myths by Robin and Kathryn Waterfield. I'll read this slowly for the next few weeks to see how I get on, I think Stephen Fry has a couple of books available on the subject too. And I also have this on my library pile:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I think this was hugely popular when it came out in 2017 but I never got around to reading it even though I planned to. I think 'the time has come', as the walrus said. I think it might be good read alongside the Greek Myths book.

I do love a new reading plan!