King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard — Reread Review

The brook, of which the banks were clothed with dense masses of a gigantic species of maidenhair fern interspersed with feathery tufts of wild asparagus, babbled away merrily at our side, the soft air murmured through the leaves of the silver trees, doves cooed around, and bright-winged birds flashed like living gems from bough to bough.

King Solomon’s Mines, H Rider Haggard

King Solomon’s Mines was the ‘colonial’ half of a post/colonial literature module that I studied at university, and there’s certainly a lot to say about the colonialism and the treatment of race in the novel. At the time, I was surprised to find that, despite that, it’s a very easy book to read. The beautiful descriptions of the landscape reminded me of Island, though King Solomon’s Mines is a great deal more violent. Brief, brutal moments really make an impact, despite the fact that they’re not dwelt upon by any of the surviving characters. Before the war was even declared, I numbered the body count at 108.

H Rider Haggard’s characters are enjoyable, but none of them really has an arc of development throughout the novel. The three British men are much the same at the end of King Solomon’s Mines as they were at the beginning, despite having undergone a unique adventure. Even Umbopa, whose circumstances change the most, is essentially the same person throughout. I haven’t read enough adventure stories to know whether this is typical, but I didn’t feel disappointed by it. King Solomon’s Mines is driven by plot, not character, and H Rider Haggard certainly delivers on the adventure premise.

The thing that most surprised me was how interested I was in the tactics of the battles. This isn’t something that I usually look for in books; as someone who struggles to visualise in much detail, overly complicated fight sequences can leave me confused and disorientated. But H Rider Haggard makes everything very simple and clear, and is thus able to establish the stakes in a way that might otherwise have gone over my head.

We are, in others words, in the world of the Adventure Story for Boys, a form which, deriving originally from the earlier adult novels of Defoe, Scott and Fenimore Cooper, had grown rapidly in the nineteenth century, partly as a reflection of Britain’s emergence from the Napoloeonic Wars as a great imperial and military power.

King Solomon’s Mines, Introduction by Dennis Butts

I don’t know if anything from King Solomon’s Mines will really stay with me over time, but it was interesting to revisit it! It’s made me curious about adding more classic adventure stories to my TBR, simply because it’s not a genre that I have a lot of history with.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta — Reread Review

Saving Francesca was the first book I read by Melina Marchetta, and I knew instantly that I needed to read more. Character development is one of my favourite things in fiction, and Saving Francesca is basically built of character development! It’s not just that the main character, Francesca, develops, though she does, but that the entire cast of characters around her flourish as her attitude towards them slowly moves away from barely tolerating their ‘weirdness’ to accepting them as fully-fleshed-out friends for life.

Why do I feel as if something’s missing in my life without them and they don’t feel the same about me? That doesn’t make them bad, does it?

Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta

There’s not a character in Saving Francesca that I don’t love, except for Francesca’s old ‘friends’ and, even then, I appreciate how will written they are as villains. They’re horrible! The arcs of Jimmy and Thomas are particularly impressive, and very fitting for a YA novel. At first, they’re other, boys, and completely incomprehensible, but they make room for themselves in Francesca’s little group and it becomes obvious that there’s so much more to them than that.

The aspect I’m least interested in is Francesca’s love story, though I can see how it’s a necessary part of her momentum through the book. I’m just more interested in the friendships, and the hints of relationship drama that are buried there.

I enjoyed the book even more this time around because I knew that I’d be able to revisit these characters in The Piper’s Son, which I’ll have to review eventually! Saving Francesca certainly makes me cry, but it’s got nothing on the sequel, from what I remember!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

It’s a weird smile, but it reaches his eyes and I bottle it And I put it in my ammo pack that’s kept right next to my soul. The one that holds Mia’s scent and Justine’s spirit and Siobhan’s hope and Tara’s passions. Because if I’m going to wake up one morning and not be able to get out of bed, I’m going to need everything I’ve got to fight this bastard of a disease that could be sleeping inside of me.

Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta

Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky — New Review, Bookclub Edition

All around Celestaine people were rebuilding their lives, and the Oerni were helping. Yes, they were charging copper suits and silvery polls, but the prices were far lower than she’d expected. All around her the big-hearted big folk were industriously working at their lathes and anvils and looms to make the world better for everyone.

Redemption’s Blade, Adrian Tchaikovsky

I was instantly intrigued by the idea of a novel set after the big fantasy war against the evil overlord. It reminded me of Finnickin of the Rock, which I love, though my book club’s description of the ‘sword of impossible sharpness’ also made me think Redemption’s Blade would be funny – a little like Patricia C Wrede’s Enchanted Chronicles series. In actual fact, Redemption’s Blade didn’t make me laugh, but I really enjoyed the concept and the characters — especially Doctor Catt, who did call to mind the Enchanted Chronicle’s magician, Telemain.

Redemption’s Blade also had a few things in common with the last book we read for book club: The Year of Our War. Both have winged characters who can’t fly, both have god-like, immortal figures who walk the earth, both even have Gods who’ve gone away for a while. I liked Redemption’s Blade much better on all counts, and it sets up a lot of interesting stories that I’m interested in following into the sequels.

I appreciated the intersection of the different cultures, both human and non-human. Redemption’s Blade has a lot of different species, and the characters travel through many different communities, but I was never unable to keep track, and each new addition was interesting. I especially liked the spider-people!

Most of all, I loved Celestaine. She’s a hero who is jealous of those people with the skills that can help rebuild their communities, which I thought was a really fresh take. Though, Celestaine’s talents do eventually prove useful even in these post-war times: there’s a lot more fighting in this book than I expected. None of the characters are perfect, but they band together into a found family that I think a lot of people would enjoy.

‘While there is much to be said for the Perspicacious Lens of Glyssa,’ Doctor Catt remarked, ‘one is forced to conclude that Glyssa, whoever in fact she was, only ever wanted to look at things that were plentifully well lit, because I am having the scabs’ own job making out what is going on.’


Redemption’s Blade, Adrian Tchaikovsky

The magic – and the magical artefacts – are similarly imperfect. Though they are useful, they still have flaws and limitations that feel realistic. I don’t usually love world building as much as some people do, but Adrian Tchaikovsky handled it very well and kept me interested from beginning to end.

As I said, I really want to see what happens with all the threads that weren’t tied up in this novel, so I will definitely add the rest of the series to my TBR!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking — Reread Review

I’ve been working from home for over a year now and, since January, one of my goals has been to make my flat a place I actually want to live. To that end, I’ve done big ikea order of drawers and doors and shelves for my square units, invested in small kitchen things I really should have had before, and have even begun a spring deep clean. Last week, I turned the books at the end of my TBR shelf horizontally so that they’d stop falling over all the time and this felt like a major achievement.

So, when it came to picking my next book to read, I thought something about improving my living space would be appropriate. ‘Hygge’ is a very Hufflepuff/hobbit concept, and that plays perfectly into my aims for my flat.

My favourite spot in my apartment in Copenhagen is the windowsill in the kitchen-dining area. It is wide enough to sit comfortably in and I’ve added pillows and blankets to make it a real hyggekrog. The radiator underneath the windowsill makes it the perfect place to enjoy a cup of tea on a cold winter night. But what I like about it most is the warm, amber glow issuing from every apartment across the courtyard. It’s a constantly changing mosaic of radiance as people leave and come home.

The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking

I remembered enjoying reading The Little Book of Hygge the first time, even if there was nothing particularly ground-breaking in the way of decorating or life advice. This time around, when I haven’t actually seen any of my friends in person since November, the context was a little different. Some of the suggestions about parties and the right number of people to have maximum hygge were definitely not really relevant.

That is why home-made jams are more hyggelige than bought ones. Every bite will take you back to that summer day when you picked the fruit and the entire house smelled of strawberries.

The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking

Fortunately, the effect wasn’t to make me feel as though I was missing out. Instead, Meik Wiking’s emphasis on preserving happiness felt like good advice for the future, as well as for the present.

I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction, but I found The Little Book of Hygge very easy and quick to read. I think it helped that there were plenty of personal examples. The prose is functional but not dry, and Meik Wiking really gives the impression that all of this is close to his heart.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bookish: Pretending I Run a Book Shop

Like many readers, I sometimes fantasise about running my own book shop — being able to pick the books to order, helping customers find just the right book to read, organising to my heart’s content. (Some of this, perhaps, is influenced by the number of times my mum watched You’ve Got Mail when I was a teenager.) Most recently, Nickie and I talked about how amazing it would be to convert a lighthouse into a bookshop and combine my two loves!

I’m sure the reality is a lot more hard work than the fantasy. And sadly, The Open Book — an Airbnb where you can run a book shop (and blog about it) for the duration of your stay — is presumably still booked up several years into the future.

In the meantime, I write a book blog, and so I decided that I was within my rights to set myself up as an affiliate on Bookshop.org, an ‘online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops’. Not only do I potentially stand to make a small commission if anyone buys books from bookshop.org via my affiliate link, but I also get to curate my own book lists!

I’ve started with two categories. Lighthouse Books is a collection of books with lighthouses on the cover, or which feature lighthouses in content in some way. (You can read more about my interest in lighthouses in this post.) I haven’t added the lighthouse books I’ve yet to read, but I do have at least three sitting on my shelf waiting for me to get to them!

Homelover’s Tales is my list of books that I’d like to live in. Were I to visit The Open Book, this would be one of the displays I would put out. I would print out some of the beautiful descriptions of homes to ornament the display of these titles. Starting, always, with ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’

I’ll definitely add more lists over time. I want to add a list of fantasy heists, and my favourite fantasy novels, and possibly the creepy Agatha Christie books that send chills up my spine. Even if nobody every buys anything from list, or clicks on any of my affiliate links, I’ve enjoyed pretending that I run a book shop, even if it is a virtual one!

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle — Reread Review

Cover: bookshop.org

There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes was the third fictional detective I was introduced to, after Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. My mum used to have the books on tape, and I remember that the first time I listen to A Study in Scarlet, I was absolutely riveted. Not so much by the relationship between Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes, that came later, but by the story of Jefferson Hope. As a teen, I accepted it without question or critical thought. And, though I remember it less clearly, that must have been how I’ve engaged with it every time since.

This time, however, the story that used to enthral me has absolutely enraged me. Which isn’t to say that A Study in Scarlet is any less interesting or less well written since I first experienced it all those years ago. It’s just that I’ve become a more discerning reader, and that’s actually pretty cool.

If you haven’t read A Study in Scarlet and you care about spoilers, come back to this review later, because what so angered me is pretty crucial to the murderer’s motive.

Jefferson Hope claims to love Lucy Ferrier so much that he devotes his whole life to revenge on the men who forced her into marriage. Alright, that’s a little old-fashioned, perhaps, but A Study in Scarlet is set in 1880, so that’s not my problem. My problem is that after Lucy gets married, Jefferson Hope walks away and leaves her to die. He is right there on the spot, he’s already attempted to rescue her once, but as soon as he hears that the marriage has already taken place, he turns around and walks off! He makes no attempt to rescue her from a situation that he’s told is so bad she will probably die of grief. And she does, she dies, all while Jefferson Hope is plotting to avenge her death!

I think when I was younger, I just accepted that, of course, marriage is forever, there’s no way Lucy could be saved from it. And, to an extent, that might be true. Lucy, it is implied, is a religious woman in 1880. She might not have been in favour of divorce, even were it legally possible. But nobody asks her. Jefferson Hope doesn’t ask whether she’d rather run away with him and live in sin than endure life married to a man who killed her father. It’s not even stated in the text that he presumes to know what her preference would be.

He’s just told that she’s married and he walks away. It’s presented absolutely without comment or question. And it’s made me angrier than anything I’ve read in a long time!

While I wouldn’t say that this detracted from the merits of A Study in Scarlet, it certainly has distracted me from the rest of the story. This review probably isn’t a very useful one if you want to know whether you should read the book: but that’s not really what this blog is about. This blog is about recording my experience of the books I read and, this time, my experience of A Study in Scarlet has been profoundly shaped by my distaste for a character I formerly sympathised with.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Next in the series: The Sign of Four.