Reading For Pleasure
So this little blog has been abandoned lately. I've had good reason but I'm back now and want to breathe new life into it. Give it a Spring clean. Get going again. And I'm going to start off with a look at what I've been reading since my last post.
For a while I was reading books, novels mostly, which I just didn't like very much. I began to think I'd lost my love of reading. I was wondering whether my efforts in learning how to construct a story had resulted in me subconsciously deconstructing and evaluating everything I was reading. It was annoying and upsetting as reading has always been a safe haven for me. Something I could always rely on to distract and absorb me for a while. And if I ate a box of chocolates at the same time, what of it?
I gave it some thought and carefully put together a Christmas wish list of books I had wanted to read for a while but hadn't got around to. I also bought myself three novels and, by January, I had a new pile of books to read.
Fortunately, they got me going again. My interests and genres are varied but I decided to largely go with historical mysteries. I missed that feeling of devouring a series by the same author, the excitement of reading a book where I was already attached to the characters or the period and so didn't need to put in as much effort upfront. And it worked. I've read more than I had in the months before and, most importantly, I'm enjoying it again.
So here are the books that got my reading mojo back for me:
1. The Thomas Chaloner series set in Restoration London (circa 1660's) by Susannah Gregory
I LOVE this series. The books featured above are numbers 2-5. I read the first one, 'A Conspiracy of Violence' at the end of 2015 and my review can be found here: http://bit.ly/2Hvd4I6. Each book has a complex mystery, or series of mysteries which generally come together, at its heart. The regular characters are all there and are developed a little as each book goes by. My favourite relationship is between the main character, Thomas Chaloner, and his ex-boss, Thurloe, who used to be spymaster for the previous regime of Oliver Cromwell. They try to remain friends even when their interests are not aligned. Each time I pick up one of these books I know I am in capable hands. The writing style is accomplished yet accessible and I am quickly drawn in to the period in which the stories are set. I find them absorbing and satisfying, The books do have a large cast of characters and it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of everyone, particularly if there is a gap when you put the book down and don't return to it for a while. Also the pace does not race along, but neither does it drag and I see this as a major advantage of the series. The pace allows the reader to dally just long enough in the details of everyday life of the period, (wonderfully brought to life by the writer) without hampering the plot. It's a fine balance - drag and you lose the reader, dash along and you lose the atmosphere. For me, it is handled beautifully.
There are 12 books in this series and I can't wait to read them all. Oh - and they have maps!
For more of a flavour, head over to the author's website where she sets out each title in order and gives plot teasers: https://www.susannagregory.com/thomas-chaloner/
2 Thomas Hawkins series by Antonia Hodgson
I read these books in the wrong order. I began with 'A Death at Fountains Abbey' then went back to the beginning. My review of the third in the series can be found here: http://bit.ly/2zdwgHn. I have found the other two books to be consistently good. Excellent, to be honest. Here is another talented writer who can weave together wonderful mysteries, great characters and a fabulous period setting. The books are shorter than the Thomas Chaloner series, reviewed above, and the pace is certainly brisker but I find that they actually compliment each other well and I have been happily switching between the two series. The stories take place around 60 or 70 years later than the Chaloner books. The first is primarily set in the Marshalsea - a debtors' prison with two sides - one for gentlemen and one for, well, everyone else. The story takes you to both parts and, be warned, does not spare the reader any of the horrific details. I loved it, though. The characters and the plot develop quickly and the setting is meticulously researched and cleverly brought to life. The writing-style is so good it is hard to believe it is a first novel and certainly sets the bar very high for the rest of us. I'm currently only half-way through the second but enjoying it immensely and could happily finish it in one sitting, if I ever had the time.
This is one of those rare series where I will be waiting for the next one to come out and will buy it immediately.
3 The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor
This has been on my list for ages. I'd seen so many recommendations that I had to give it a go. I've never read anything else by this author and this book is not part of a series. I'm really glad I read it. I thought I was going to struggle at first as it is set at the same time as the Susannah Gregory book I had just finished reading and it was disconcerting at first. Of course this is entirely down to me and nothing to do with the book or the writer.
It was an easy book to read. Well written and really interesting, The details of the fire of London are fascinating and I felt as though I was being taken as close as is possible without a time machine, to the obliteration of London at that time. For this reason it is a book I will always remember reading.
I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been expecting something different. The strap line on the cover: 'As the city burns, the hunt for a killer begins' made me think I was going to read a thriller-type novel but it was much slower than that. I would go as far as to say it was more of a character piece than a mystery. I was a little surprised to find out that the author is an experienced crime writer as it just wasn't the main focus of this book. Having said that, it had many excellent points and is a good, expertly-written piece of historical fiction.
Writing this makes me wonder if I've had historical fiction overload! I'm used to hopping around more, from fantasy and sci-fi to crime etc but the lesson I am going to take away is this - read what makes you happy. It is not meant to be a chore. If you lose your mojo have a look around for a story which will bring it back because it's out there - that story and your reading mojo! I'm just glad that I have found mine.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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