Read and Review: SHAKESPEARE AND THE PSALMS MYSTERY by JEM BLOOMFIELD @jembloomfield

Read and Review: SHAKESPEARE AND THE PSALMS MYSTERY by JEM BLOOMFIELD @jembloomfield
  • Title: Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery
  • Author: Jem Bloomfield
  • Published: 2017
  • Started: Wednesday August 16th 2017
  • Finished: Thursday 24th August 2017

From Amazon:

‘In Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery, Jem Bloomfield investigates the literary legend that the famous playwright left his mark on the Authorized Version. He delves into the historical, textual and literary evidence, showing that the story isn’t true – but that there are much more engrossing stories to be told about Shakespeare and the Bible.’

I’m an English student at the University of Nottingham. Last year, I studied a module called Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. Jem Bloomfield was one of the lecturers responsible for providing some thoroughly enjoyable lectures, talking to us about Shakespeare’s works, as well as the literary, historical and religious contexts.

One lecture that I particularly found interesting was exploring the intertextual links between Shakespeare’s plays such as Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and various editions of The Bible.

When Jem contacted me his year to ask if I wanted to read his new book, which explores potential links between the King James Bible and Shakespeare, needless to say, I was interested.

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery was a good, quick read. As Jem talks* you through a variety of literary, linguistic, and contextual evidence, it soon becomes clear religion and Early Modern Theatre are subjects he is passionate about.

*I say talks; the book captures Jem’s voice wonderfully as he debunks a myth I never even knew existed, recreating the feel of another engaging lecture.

The structure of the book is mostly clear. Jem discusses why the Psalm 46 myth is merely a myth, then moves on to answering questions such as why the legend even exists, and what attracts people to it. However, the only section that tripped me up was the chapter focused on Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t really understand this section, which was a shame, as I followed everything else quite easily.

Nonetheless, if you’d like to learn some interesting things about Shakespeare and the Bible, presented in an engaging and accessible way, I recommend Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery is available as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

***

Thanks for reading! Thanks also to Jem for sending me a free e-book copy to read. He has a blog on WordPress too at:  quiteirregular.wordpress.com.

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

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Read and Review: The Teacher

Read and Review: The Teacher
  • Title: The Teacher
  • Author: Katerina Diamond
  • Published: 2016

‘In the assembly hall of an exclusive Devon school, the body of the head teacher is found hanging from the rafters. Hours earlier he’d received a package, and only he could understand the silent message it conveyed. It meant the end.’

The Teacher is a contemporary crime thriller in which DS Imogen Grey and DS Adrian Miles must work together in order to stop a series of grim murders, and uncover the identity of the killer.

This is a well-written book*; the narrative switched character perspectives, as well as forwards and backwards in time, which I liked. I was able to follow the story clearly, although it took me a while to piece certain characters or details together.

The dialogue felt completely natural and the short chapters kept my focus and moved the narrative along at a nice pace.

*Ironically, the first few chapters of the book seem to have not been proofread – the amount of missing punctuation and spelling mistakes were quite glaring, but I was fortunate that my particular charity shop copy had been re-edited by the previous owner with a Biro!

This book is probably one of the goriest thrillers I’ve ever read; no gruesome details were spared when it came to descriptions. Indeed, no topics were spared from The Teacher either – the book covers murder, suicide, rape and victim-blaming, gory violence, and extremist viewpoints.

I really enjoyed the thrills, uncovering the mystery behind the murders, and watching how the characters develop and link to one another.

However, there are some parts of The Teacher that wound. me. up.

Spoiler Warning: Minor

Firstly, a victim of rape is not believed when the incident is reported, and is blamed instead. I really felt for the character in these frustrating and upsetting moments – I can’t imagine what it must be like to have gone through such a horrific incident and have it dismissed as falsehood. Whilst The Teacher is merely a fiction, sadly, this situation is reality for some rape victims today.

Secondly, certain characters have different, warped perceptions of morality and subsequently, what is right and what is wrong. For some, the act of murder is seen as the crime it is, others see murder as justifiable if done in revenge, others see murder as an entirely acceptable act.

It was incredibly difficult to read the thoughts and dialogue of characters with such a vastly differing moral compass to my own, and it’s tricky to discuss this further without revealing some serious spoilers.

Yet, whilst these parts of The Teacher infuriated me, they still added to my overall enjoyment of the book, and I was glad Diamond’s writing was able to provoke such a strong emotional response from me.

I strongly recommend this book if you can stomach some gore and want to read a well-written, thrilling murder mystery.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Read and Review: A Clockwork Orange

Read and Review: A Clockwork Orange
  • Title: A Clockwork Orange
  • Author: Anthony Burgess
  • Published: 1962

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel set in a future English society where extreme youth violence is common.

‘He and his gang rampage through a dystopian future, hunting for terrible thrills.’

The book’s protagonist, Alex, narrates his violent exploits of and experiences with authorities who attempt to reform his behaviour.

As I first started reading A Clockwork Orange, I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it! While a short book, is written in unusual futuristic slang that I initially found hard to understand. This is the same barrier that I faced when reading Trainspotting.

However, the brain is a remarkable thing and adjusts to new styles of writing relatively quickly. Once I was accustomed to the language, the narrative was fairly easy to follow.

In another similarity with Trainspotting, Alex is a roguish protagonist who speaks directly to the audience through direct address – using phrases like ‘Your Humble Narrator’ – which creates a jovial tone, even while he describes the horrible things he’s seen, said and done.

The plot is filled with taboo acts and violence, and the attempts to correct Alex’s behaviour seem akin to experimentation on animals.

Alex’s acts of violence upon others are contrasted with the acts of “corrective” violence imposed upon him by the state, suggesting that within certain contexts, inflicting cruelty on others is acceptable or even advocated as the right thing to do.

The book also questions free will: If it were possible to eradicate someone’s free will to prevent them committing a crime, is that acceptable? Yet the removal of free will leaves the individual completely at risk of being controlled by another – another who may utilise this power for ill themselves.

I don’t think A Clockwork Orange answers these questions, and these are only my initial thoughts upon a first reading.

Hopefully, once I’ve explored some further analysis of the book, I’ll be able to look at these questions again.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Read and Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Read and Review: The Phantom of the Opera
  • Title: The Phantom of the Opera / Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
  • Author: Gaston Leroux
  • Published: 1910

My Photo [The Phantom of the Opera]

The Phantom of the Opera*, a story perhaps best known through the stage adaptation, was originally a Gothic horror novel. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is the name given to a man living secretly below the Paris Opera House. One is not entirely sure if he is man or ghost – or something much worse. He becomes captivated by the sound of Christine Daaé’s beautiful singing, develops an obsessive love for her, and kidnaps her, leading to a series of horrific events.

*I mentioned The Phantom of the Opera about a year ago on my blog, and now I’ve finally read it!

I liked reading this book; it was genuinely thrilling and had some truly scary moments, which I hadn’t anticipated because of how tame the kidnapping plot in the 2004 film adaptation is. There is palpable danger and tension throughout, due to the Phantom’s cruel and malignant hold over the Opera House.

My favourite character is – and probably always will be – Raoul simply because I liked him in the film adaptation.

In the novel however, what I enjoyed was the development of his and Christine’s romance from childhood sweethearts to adults in love. I shared in his frustration and upset that Christine was already ‘pledged’ away to the ‘Phantom’ and there was not much he could do to rescue her from this. Raoul’s helplessness as the heroic figure was especially emphasised in the torture scenes, where he and Christine are separated and suffering separately in different ways. This was a nice subversion of the “damsel in distress” convention.

Whilst on the subject of torture, I liked how Leroux unashamedly introduced taboo subjects such as death, torture, violence, and suicide because this added to the Gothic and horrific tone of the book.

Yet for me, where The Phantom of the Opera fell slightly in my esteem was its use of both a prologue and an epilogue.

I didn’t read the prologue, so as to leave the plot as mysterious as possible for myself (which worked well!). On skim-reading it in preparation for this review however, my issue with the prologue is the same as the epilogue; it ties up questions about the ‘Phantom’ instantly – who he really is, what he really is, and where he came from.

I much preferred seeing the ‘Phantom’ as a liminal figure who could be both man or ghost – once his presence is rationalised and his true self revealed, I felt this removed some of the horror*.

**It’s rather like seeing a magic trick performed behind the scenes, then watching the same trick being performed; something has been lost.

Furthermore, because of the prologue and epilogue, the book is written as if a true account by Leroux and thus there are a few passages of letter-reading and the inclusion of administrative documents, which is not the most dynamic way of introducing new information.

All in all, I much enjoyed reading The Phantom of the Opera, and it was nice to finally read the story on which many musicals and films have been based.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Read and Review: Airborn

Read and Review: Airborn
  • Title: Airborn
  • Author: Kenneth Oppel
  • Published: 2004

Airborn is a young adult steampunk* / alternative history / adventure novel. The aeroplane has not yet been invented, and airships are the main form of transportation instead.

*Steampunk: A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery.

The story follows two teenage characters: Matt Cruse, a cabin boy for the airship Aurora, and Kate de Vries, a wealthy passenger aboard the Aurora. After a rocky introduction and some differing opinions, the two grow closer and attempt to discover a new species of flying creature, following clues to its existence left behind by Kate’s grandfather.

Airborn was an unusual read, and definitely not a book I would normally choose.

The opening of the book was incredibly dramatic – a rare find for novels in the YA spectrum – and this made the story seem immediately engaging. Furthermore, the plot regularly features action-packed scenes with dramatic or unpredictable twists that truly felt as if they could have been in a film; Oppel’s writing in places is vivid and cinematic.

I quite liked the mix of genres; this assisted my enjoyment of the story greatly, because without an explicit genre to conform to, genre conventions (and stereotypes) were fewer and further between, and much more subtle – this is another rare find within the YA spectrum.

Airborn is written in the first-person, which is not my favourite narrative style. Yet I was impressed that expository information about the characters and the world in which Airborn is set was subtly dropped in throughout the book. This characterisation allows you to learn more, the more you read,  which is a lovely alternative to the “information dump” technique** favoured by many other first-person narratives.

**The “information dump” technique provides minor details that have little relation to the plot all in one go – usually at the very start of the book – and looks a little like this:

“I suppose I should tell you about myself. I’m 5’1, I have long brown hair and blue eyes. I like reading and writing. My favourite colour is blue. Anyway, back to the plot….”

Airborn Screenshot 1

However, despite my enjoyment of the story and the characterisation, I had some minor issues with some of Oppel’s writing. The first-person perspective, whilst it isn’t bad, leads to Matt describing his feelings frequently and unnecessarily generally these feelings involve a tingle*** down his spine, a tingle across his back or a tingle in his mind.

***I don’t believe anyone should tingle that much.

Oppel also overly relies on some words I have gradually been growing a dislike of, such as ‘chuckle’ and ‘guffaw’. I will admit though, these issues are nit-picky and didn’t damage my perception of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the majority of Airborn, and if you like alternative history, science fiction, action and adventure, young adult, or any other genre – there’s a strong chance you too will like Airborn!

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Cathy Ryan

From One Blogger To Another: An Interview With Cathy Ryan

This week, I interviewed Cathy Ryan, a blogger living in North Wales.

Her hobbies include reading, listening to audio books, blogging, walking her dog, theatre, music and travel. “I spent most of my working life doing voluntary work at schools for children with special needs, cataloguing the library and reading with the younger ones. Now, my time is my own.”

Cathy Ryan

Cathy began blogging in late 2013, and would describe her blogging style as informative. “I wanted to catalogue the books I’d read. I kept getting caught out, buying books with different covers or changed titles, only realising after the purchase I’d already read it.” she explained.

“Initially it was intended to be private, for my own records, but I found I was restricted as to what I could do with a private site. I decided to go live, not thinking anyone would take an interest. I was very surprised when I began to get visits and it went from there.”

Cathy has many favourite genres to read, such as thrillers, mysteries, crime, drama, and historical fiction. However, she isn’t keen on romance novels. “It’s generally not exciting!” Cathy said, “It’s not tense enough to keep me engaged.”

Fantasy is also a genre Cathy avoids. “I’ve never been able to get into most fantasy novels. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or anything along those lines does nothing for me.”

I asked Cathy which author she’d most like to meet. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, “If I can only choose one, I think it would be Emily Bronte. I love Wuthering Heights, it’s a huge favourite of mine.”

Cathy joined Rosie’s Book Review Team in 2014, and writes book reviews for the Team. She believes negative reviews have their place, but shouldn’t trash an author’s work and must be constructive. “I think a reviewer has to be honest with their opinions – about what they like, or don’t like, about a book. For me, if a book rates below 3 stars, I don’t think it’s for me, and I avoid submitting a review.” she said.

You can find Cathy Ryan on Twitter at @CathyRy and her website is betweenthelinesbookblog.com.

***

Thanks for reading!

Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed, and  don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more blog posts.

– Judith

Read and Review: Sons and Lovers

Read and Review: Sons and Lovers
  • Title: Sons and Lovers
  • Author: D.H. Lawrence
  • Published: 1913

Sons and Lovers is a story which ‘concerns childhood and adolescence and all that go with them, including fear, shame, self‑consciousness, emotional hypersensitivity, sexual awakening’ (Morrison, 2013).

The book focuses upon Mrs Morel, and her youngest son Paul, as well as the relationships he has with two different women in the town: Miriam and Clara. Paul and his mother have an intensely close relationship, and the two behave as lovers – hence the title – which then has an impact on the way Paul sees the world and forms relationships with others.

Sons and Lovers has Lawrence’s clear imprint upon it; the use of Nottinghamshire dialect, characters from a working-class background, the setting of a mining town, and touching on themes such as class, gender, and sexuality.

Yet despite Lawrence’s clear coverage of Paul’s Oedipus Complex*, I found Sons and Lovers less sexually explicit than Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was a relief!

*Oedipus Complex: A theory that the unconscious mind desires sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex (e.g. sons being sexually attracted to their mothers)

Another difference between Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons and Lovers is that in Sons and Lovers, the novel follows the daily life of Mrs Morel and her family over a period of time and, well, that’s about it. As Paul flitted between Miriam, Clara, and Mrs Morel, I never got the impression that the action was building to anything. Thus, when the book ended, it just ended.

Furthermore, for a book which frequently refers to the gender inequalities between men and women, the portrayal of women in Sons and Lovers was not a positive one. It’s clear Paul uses his relationships with Miriam and Clara to satisfy his physical needs and not much else.  Miriam regularly speaks of her desire not to be held back in life because she is a woman, yet spends her entire time moping around the non-committal Paul, only ever seeing her future in relation to his. We are told Clara is a suffragist, yet scenes of Clara expressing her feminist beliefs are omitted, and instead we are provided more details of Clara’s clinging to Paul.

I can understand why Sons and Lovers has received high praise from readers and critics alike; Lawrence’s writing is good, and his descriptions are detailed and lifelike. The theme of incestuous love between mother and son is certainly one most writers would steer well clear of, but Lawrence tackles it in an interesting way.

Morrison writes that ‘For those new to his [that is, Lawrence’s] work, Sons and Lovers is the place to start.’ (The Guardian, 2013).

Whilst I disagree with this, I can’t deny that I enjoy Lawrence’s writing, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will read more of his novels in future.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith