What’s Ashley Reading?: The Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon Week Four

Well the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon is over! And I did it. I finished the challenge with 2 days to spare. I was getting a little nervous at the end but I finished in time. I really enjoyed having a set list of books to read. I was not sure how I would feel but it was almost freeing knowing exactly what was next on the list. How did your challenge come along?

In the last week I completed four books. First was I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings by Maya Angelou. I had previously read Mom & Me & Mom. I liked both and found them very interesting. Next I finished Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray. She is a wonderful writer for the Star Wars books. The writing is great and the story is always fun. Then I finally read Virgin Earth by Philippa Gregory. I had read the first in the duology years ago but never finished it. I am glad I did. It spanned years of English history and two continents. I was constantly looking up plants mentioned in the book. And it was a perfect companion to our Big Read theme. But my favorite of the week was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

*Beware this may contain spoilers!*

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and J.K. Rowling

First line: A busy and crowded station.

Summary: In the eighth book in the Harry Potter series we find out what happens years after the Battle of Hogwarts. The wizarding world is at peace. Voldemort is defeated. And Harry Potter is a father. His son Albus is heading to Hogwarts for his first year when he meets Scorpius Malfoy on the train. They become close friends to the chagrin of their fathers. When rumors begin to appear about a Time Turner that escaped the destruction at the Ministry, Albus tries to step out of the shadow of his legendary father by changing the past in hopes of saving someone his father could not.

My Thoughts: I had been putting this off for years. I have owned the book and loved the rest in the series. But knowing that it was not written by J.K. made it not a priority. It is written as a play for the stage in London. The format seemed a little intimidating and strange. Kind of like the first time I picked up a graphic novel. It does not feel comfortable at the beginning but as it progresses it becomes much easier. When Alyssa announced the Forbidden Forest Read-a-thon I knew that I had to include this book on my list.

I can see how many other Potter fans are not happy with it but I really enjoyed it! A Potter and a Malfoy best friends?! Seriously. I loved their friendship. I felt that the playwright was able to capture the spirit of Harry Potter and bring the story further. The little twists and turns were fun. I loved going back into the past and seeing how someone’s actions can affect the present. And it was great to see how Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco changed after their years at Hogwarts. They each matured and learned some important lessons along the way.

I really hope that one day I can see this performed on stage! If you have been a little skeptical about picking this up then listen to me and give it a try. The story is good. It revisits everything that made the original so good while adding to it as well.

FYI: J.K. Rowling has accepted this as part of her canon. It is considered Harry Potter #8.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Tidelands

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

First line: The church was grey against a light grey sky, the bell tower, like a watchtower, dark against the darker clouds.

Summary: It is 1648 in England. The country is in turmoil. Alinor is a poor woman living on Sealsea Island with two children. Her husband disappeared several months before and left his family with nothing. One night while Alinor is holding vigil at the local church she stumbles upon a man hiding in the churchyard. He asks for her help to guide him to the home of the local land owner. She learns that he is a priest who is working as a spy for the imprisoned King Charles I.

For her silence about the mysterious visitor she earns the respect of the Peachey family. As she gains favor from her landlord she also draws the suspicions of her neighbors. In this time of witchcraft and superstition, Alinor is in danger of being accused of using spells to bewitch them to advance her ambitions.

My Thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. It is a beautiful story. The descriptions of the land are as vivid as a picture. It is easy to imagine the small island village in the south of England where life is controlled by the tides.

Alinor is a poor simple woman but she stands out from all the other people on her island. She is knowledgeable about herbs, she can read and write. Gregory does an amazing job writing about strong and interesting women. Alinor has been abandoned by her husband but she is able to continue to survive using her own gifts.

The time of Charles I is not one that I am very familiar with. Wikipedia is one of my best friends while reading about a new era in history. I have heard of the English Civil War and the Oliver Cromwell but I have never spent much time reading about it. Gregory did extensive research in order to bring the turbulent time to life. The fear of witches, the hatred of the king and the devastating poverty are just a few issues she covers. It was a time of great change.

A connection is being made here.

Throughout the novel I was constantly worried for Alinor. She is a wise woman. Many of her neighbors come to her for help in delivering babies or curing a sickness. But it is easy for people of the time to turn on women like her. I kept waiting for something to happen her. I was completely invested in her life. As I read the last few pages I was praying that it would not end. I want to know what will happen next for Alinor and her family.

We are SUPER excited!

Last week I was lucky enough to get to travel to Denver and meet Philippa Gregory. My cousin, Alaina, accompanied me to the event. It was a on my bucket list to meet and have a signed copy of one of her books. I was beyond excited to meet her. She was absolutely lovely to listen to. She did several readings from Tidelands and answered audience questions. I love attending author events. For me it is like meeting a movie star. I was literally shaking and nervous. I am so happy that I made the eight hour drive to Denver to meet her. It was surreal.

FYI: Philippa Gregory is my favorite author! My favorite book is The Other Boleyn Girl.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy

I love to hold a paper book.  There is something about feeling the pages in my hands.  However, sometimes I find I like the convenience of a digital copy.  I can take it with me where ever I am using an app on my phone.  How cool is that?  Plus, we have such a great selection of books available on our Sunflower eLibrary.  The app used to be called Overdrive but is slowly migrating over to Libby by Overdrive.  It is a fantastic upgrade.  Definitely check it out if you enjoy ebooks and audio books.

*This review will be a little different because the library does not own a physical copy but only a digital one that is available on Sunflower eLibrary.*

  Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick

1. The Summer Queen

2. The Winter Crown

3. The Autumn Throne

First line: Alienor woke at dawn.

Summary: This is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Alienor as she is called in the book).  She was married to two kings, one of France and one of England.  She was the mother of kings.  However, she was a duchess in her own right and a very strong and determined woman.  She traveled to the Holy Lands on a crusade.  Through her the Plantagenet dynasty began.  Her life was not all easy, she faced imprisonment, war and death but managed to achieve greatness in the face of it all.

Highlights: I loved this trilogy.  This was my first interaction with Elizabeth Chadwick’s work and I was very impressed.  Chadwick brings Eleanor to life.  She shows what a strong woman she was.  I loved seeing her take on kings and prove that a woman is just as powerful.  The writing is superb.  I will definitely be reading more of her books.

I had heard very little about Eleanor before picking up these books.  As I read I learned so much about her and life in the 12th century.  Her family life was very erratic and messy.  I find it hard to believe how dysfunctional her family was.  Her sons were constantly fighting with one another and their father.  She had to be the peace keeper but also an instigator once in a while.  But I found her fascinating!  I think after Anne Boleyn, Eleanor is my favorite female historical figure.  She did so much, lived a long life and is still remembered nearly 900 years later.

 FYI: This is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory!

 

Book Review: Dark Tracks (Book 4 in the Order of Darkness series)

First line: There was an angry bellow from inside the woodcutter’s hovel; the woman, struggling up from the stream with a heavy bucket of icy water in each hand, raised her head and shouted back.

Summary: In the fourth installment of Philippa Gregory’s young adult series we follow Luca, Isolde and their companions on their journey. As they stumble into a small village, they find the townspeople besieged by a troupe of dancers. However, these are no ordinary dancers. These dancers seem to be possessed. What is causing this dance sickness and how can it be cured? These are just a few of the questions Luca wants to find out. But when Isolde is taken by the dancing fever the need to find a cure becomes even more important.

Highlights: I have really enjoyed Gregory’s young adult novels. She is my favorite author. Her historical fiction is amazing. She does a great job of describing the time. This is a great way to get younger readers interested in the past. Even as an adult, I learn new bits of information with each story. I also really like the covers. But if you have read my other reviews you know how much I love a good cover!

Lowlights: These are definitely for young adult. They are not as in-depth and detailed but still gets the story told in a fun and interesting way.

FYI: This is book 4 in the series. Check out her other books (Changeling, Stormbringers, and Fool’s Gold) before reading this one!