December Reads 2020

Updated: Jan 1

Only three books this month as the Book of Dust 2 was so lengthy and I haven’t quite finished The Foundling by Stacey Halls.


The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

The Dragon Queen by William Andrews


All are listed to buy on Bookstore, where 10% of your purchase goes to local independent bookshops.

https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/sophylayzell

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two

By Philip Pullman

Published by Penguin Random House Children's UK



Official Blurb

Lyra Silvertongue is now studying at St Sophia's College, Oxford, with her daemon Pantalaimon.

They are not getting on. Lyra is questioning everything she once held dear. Pan misses the impulsiveness of their youth.

When an act of terrible violence breaks the peace of the Oxford night, Lyra and Pan's relationship reaches a crisis and they are drawn, far from home, into the dangerous factions of a world they had no idea existed.

The Secret Commonwealth is truly a book for our times; a powerful adventure and a thought-provoking look at what it is to understand yourself, to grow up and make sense of the world around you. This is storytelling at its very best from one of our greatest writers.


My Review

I loved the Book of Dust Volume One and found this a big jump in style and who it was aimed for. Book One was about children and had an endearing fairytale quality whereas Book two was much darker and for an older audience. There were many POV throughout and at times I laboured through wishing it had been more tightly edited and cut back so that the pace stayed tight and consistent. Overall Philip Pullman is 'one of our greatest writers' and I am still a fan though and will probably read the next one.


My Rating

A disappointed 3 Stars




A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

Published by Orion Publishing Co


Official Blurb

The Sheedy sisters had lived in Stone House for as long as anyone could remember. Set high on the cliffs on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean, it was falling into disrepair - until one woman, with a past she needed to forget, breathed new life into the place. Now a hotel, with a big warm kitchen and log fires, it provides a welcome few can resist. Winnie is generally able to make the best of things, until she finds herself on the holiday from hell. John arrived on an impulse after he missed a flight at Shannon. And then there's Henry and Nicola, burdened with a terrible secret, who are hoping the break at Stone House will help them find a way to face the future...


My Review

I needed a light and uplifting book after Book of Dust 2 to cleanse my palette. I found a hardback copy of A Week in Winter in one of my local charity shops and knew this would be perfect. It was instantly rewarding and is woven together through a collection of individual stories of the most disparate group of people who come together one week in winter.


My Rating

4 stars



The Dragon Queen by William Andrews

Published by Amazon


Official Blurb

As tensions rise between the U.S. and Korea, U.S. diplomat Nate Simon is sent to Seoul. His mission is to gauge the political situation and return to advise the president. He also plans to find out why someone sent the president an ancient,

intricately carved comb with an ivory inlay of a two-headed dragon. Though familiar with Korea’s language and culture, Nate knows little of its fraught history. Embassy aide Anna Carlson believes it’s time that he learns, starting with the extraordinary story of Korea’s last queen.


Seoul, 1866: the beautiful orphan Ja-young is chosen to be the child bride of Gojong, Korea’s boy king. Highly intelligent but shy, the young queen faces a choice: she can be a stone queen—silent and submissive. Or she can be a dragon queen and oppose enemies and empires that try to rule Korea during the age of Imperialism. Her choice leads Queen Min to forge a legend that will endure far beyond her lifetime.


The more Nate discovers, the more he comes to realize that Queen Min’s story is still relevant today. Now the choice is up to him—be submissive and accepting . . . or change the world.


My Review

This book has been sitting in my kindle for a while and I have tried twice before to get into it, but with nothing more enticing available I was forced to try again.

Once I got past the contemporary section and into the historical content I was riveted. It’s an absolutely beautiful story and I would have preferred it on it’s own without Nate’s viewpoint. I do understand that his sections give context, perspective and also hope for the future but as a character he was undeveloped and irritating.

Ja-young’s story was the opposite, vivid, well balanced and just heartbreaking.

When I finished and read William Andrews blurb I realised I had read and greatly enjoyed ‘Daughters of the Dragon’ about the Korean women forced to be sex slaves to Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. There is also a third novel Spirit of the Dragon set in the same period. I will be adding it to my TBR pile!


My Rating

4 stars



The Heiress by Molly Greely

Published on 7th Jan 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton


Official Blurb

As a fussy baby, Anne was prescribed laudanum to quiet her and has been given the opium-heavy syrup ever since, on account of her continuing ill health. While Lady Catherine is outraged when Darcy chooses not to marry her daughter, Anne barely even notices. But little by little, she comes to see that what she has always been told is an affliction of nature might in fact be one of nurture - and one, therefore, that she can beat. She finally throws away her laudanum and seeks refuge at the London home of her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Suddenly wide awake to the world but utterly unprepared, Anne must forge a new identity among those who have never seen the real her - including herself. With its wit, sensuality and compassion, The Heiress is a sparklingly rebellious novel that takes a shadowy figure from the background of beloved classic Pride & Prejudice and throws her into the light.

My Review

I enjoyed this immensely. One to stay up late reading as Anne’s journey is unconventional and she not only has her addiction to battle but society prejudice. I’ve read other fan fiction novels (to Conan Doyle and the Brontes) and so far have found them inventive, well researched and created with genuine love and passion for the genre. These fan fiction novels have to stand up to huge criticism as they have to be given approval by the hundreds of other fans and so you can be assured they are accurate in their references to both period and the original novels.


My Rating

5 stars


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