An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

Sometimes you just want to read a contemporary thriller – often with a dark or blue cover with a white or yellow font – and ‘An Unwanted Guest’ fits that criteria perfectly.

This is a locked room mystery – by this I mean it is set in one confined space with a small cast of characters, one of whom must be the villain. It reminded me a little of the Christie classic ‘And Then There Were None’.

Our cast of characters have all arrived at a secluded guest house during a winter storm. So, let’s be honest, we know that there are going to be problems of some kind. Of course, it also appears that this combination of people is not going to have anything in common. However, as the atmosphere becomes more tense, secrets begin to be uncovered and cracks appear in the facade.

Of course, I do not want to write a review that contains spoilers (which can sometimes be difficult with these thrillers), so this may be a little short and sweet. I will say that this is a page-turner because, to be honest, we are always keen to know who did or did not do it. However, for me, I would have liked a little more of the investigation process, as it was a little bit of a simple solution after a good build-up. Although, like all good thrillers, there was another sudden twist in the tale – the story is never quite over.

Have you read any good thrillers recently? I am always keen to hear recommendations.

The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

One of my favourite places ever is a local Oxfam charity bookshop. It is always like a wonderland of books, as it often brings to your attention books that you did not even know you needed. The last time I entered the shop, that is exactly what happened to me. Nestled in the classics section was a novella by Jack London called ‘The Scarlet Plague’ and it immediately grabbed my attention. I have never read a book by Jack London (although ‘The Call of the Wild’ is on my to-be-read pile) but I have had a an interest in him since my first visit to Canada, when I discovered that he had ventured on the Klondike Trail.

‘The Scarlet Plague’ is a great little read and a book that I am a glad I have decided to read as an introduction to London’s work. This is one of those classics that was set in the far future (post-2013) but actually is still very relevant today. In fact, the date if this tale is irrelevant but the story is highly relevant – and is a stark warning of what could happen if almost ALL of mankind was to be wiped out by plague. It is a fascinating study of how the world would have to start again and those who had never experienced the ‘modern’ world would never really be able to comprehend it – it would seem stranger than fiction.

I thought this book was wonderful and a great, undiscovered gem. Have you ever stumbled across a surprise, joyful read?

The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis

I have admired and been a little bit fascinated by C.S Lewis since I was a child. I was drawn into his Narnia world when I watched the original TV adaptations, repeatedly listened to the radio adaptations – and, of course, as a bookworm read the Narnia novels. However, that was as far as my knowledge of his literary work went (although his links to the beautiful city of Oxford always sparked my imagination too).

However, my mum had often told me that I should read ‘The Screwtape Letters’, so when I spotted it in the local Oxfam bookshop, I picked up a copy (after all, you are not breaking your book-buying ban when the money goes to charity obviously).

Before I even started reading the book properly, I spotted the dedication to J.R.R Tolkien and decided that this was a book I had to read, as that is a literary friendship I would have loved to have witnessed.

I feel that this is a book that I may need to read more than once. This is a book of many layers and I do not think that reading it once really brings it all to your attention. The demon Screwtape writing to his nephew is such a fascinating idea. Lewis clearly uses this is a tool to be able to pass comment on mankind and human nature. He uses his wit and, in some cases charm, to pass some really rather damning commentary on the world that man inhabits.

Again, like many of these books of some of our great writers of the past, it is a book that could have been written for the modern audience. Sadly, it emphasises some of the follies that could explain this crazy world we are currently living in – after all, we really only have ourselves to blame.

Have you read any of Lewis’ work (other than Narnia)? Where could I take my reading adventure next?

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie

This novel was ‘Maidens of Murder’ May book club choice. I am so pleased that it was because I have had a little bit of a slow reading month (I blame the day job) and this book seemed to pull me out of the slow slump.

Anyone who regularly reads the blog will know that I am a Poirot fan, so I am always happy to discover a book where he takes the lead. This one was slightly different to the usual books, as it was a full novel, but each chapter was like a self-contained story as Poirot embarked on his self-motivated challenge ‘The Labours of Hercules’.

I usually do not like short stories, but this I did enjoy. There was a level of satisfaction as Poirot solved a mystery by the end of each chapter. Of course, Poirot also finds satisfaction as he manages to solve a crime in the vain of the labours of Hercules (his namesake also).

I also find it interesting how this novel compared to the David Suchet TV adaptation. It was clever how they incorporated the tales for the TV and which tale they selected to make centre stage. Now I have read the book, I would quite like to watch the TV adaptation with a little bit of a critical eye. Although, I am pretty sure the book was better.

Have you read any novels in May which were not quite what you expected?

Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman

As a history teacher for the day job, this book really appealed to me. This may sound strange but I have not always been a fan of reading books about History. They can sometimes be very technical and very hard-going, which can, sometimes attack someone’s love of history. However, recently I have found some really excellent history books – and combined with a new love of learning have really embraced reading factual books.

Now, this book is ‘Bloody Brilliant’ in so many different ways. Number one, it is a book about women in history but more importantly it is about some of the women that the history books have not recognised quite as much as they should have done. Cathy Newman has done an amazing job of ensuring that they can now have more of the recognition that they deserve. It really inspired me to ensure that, as a woman, some of these women make it into lessons so that they are highlighted to future generations. You never know, they may be the inspiration someone needs to go forward and be ‘Bloody Brilliant’.

Number two, it is written in a wonderfully accessible way. It will bring history to many readers who may usually be put off by the idea of reading a ‘fact-filled’ book.

Number three, the cover. In fact, the cover is so fabulously eye-catching that it started a conversation between myself and a fellow train passenger about whether it is a good read. By the end, I am pretty sure that she would be picking up a copy herself.

Finally, this book is a stepping stone to finding out more about some, if not all, of these women. You realise that they have paved the way for some of us to have far more opportunities in our lives. I know, it’s always up for debate if full equality has been achieved, we would not even be this far without them.

Do you have any favourite inspirational women from history?

The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf

This book needs to be on every bookshelf in the country. This has to be one of the most wonderful stories I have ever read.

Onjali Q. Rauf has written the Children’s book that needed writing – I could not believe how easily accessiable she has made the issue that she tackles in this novel.

Through the innocent eyes of nine-year-olds, we meet Ahmet – a young refugee boy who is running away from the bullies. And all our young heroes want to do is help him find his family. The most wonderful adventure then unfolds as they attempt to ensure no borders are closed before Ahmet is reunited with his family.

This tale will make you smile and it will make you cry. Tears of happiness as well as of sadness. And this book will stay with you long after you have read the final words.

The thing that made this novel was the fact that the children who befriended Ahmet saw nothing but a friend who needed help, without being influenced by any opinions of others. It also makes it so clear that we can all learn so much from each other and that a multicultural society is one of the best gifts that we have.

This book truly deserved to be a ‘Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize’ winner – but it should never only be read by children. It is a gift that should be read by all to remind us that, metaphorically, we should all make friends with the boy or girl at the back of the class.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

I was swept up in the hype of ‘Big Little Lies‘ – and enjoyed it. I read ‘Truly Madly Guilty‘ – and was not as big a fan but finished it all the same. However, ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ found its stride and swept me away again.

This novel is not something that you will ever predict. Nine strangers are thrown together on a health retreat, all with the aim of making a change or escaping it all. However, not is all as it seems with the health retreat, those that run it or the characters.

I, personally, do not think that any reader will predict this tale or its rather dark twist. You do become rather invested in these nine perfect strangers and, when the novel reaches its end, you are given a small chance to draw your own conclusions about their futures. It is clear, however, it will all never be quite be the same again.

I could not out this book down. It has been a prefect holiday-time read, as it includes mystery, a little romance and humour along the way. Although I am not sure I would want check out an isolated health farm with ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ (whatever its Trip Advisor rating).

Leah On The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Earlier in the year I absolutely loved ‘Simon Vs the Home Sapiens Agenda‘, so was excited to read more about these fabulous characters in ‘Leah on the Offbeat’.

We first met Leah as one of Simon’s best friends in the first novel, but this time she takes centre stage in her own story of self-discovery. Just like her best friend Simon, Leah is handling the complex and emotional world of her own identity and sexuality. Especially when she realises that she may love one of her friends more than she ever realised.

One of the best things about this novel is that Leah is a character that we can all identify with on some level or another. We all remember what it was like to navigate those teenage years and always being self-conscious about something as we grow into who we are.

However, what makes this book a great YA novel is that it is tackling LGBTQ+ issues from the point of view of a strong female lead, who does not simply fit into a clearly defined bracket. Yet, the struggles of being a senior are not really that different whoever you are.

This novel has so much humour and warmth that it was a joy to read. You don’t want it to come to an end, as you really want to know what else happens with each and every one of the characters.

I do hope that Becky Albertalli takes us on more of the adventures of the lovely Creekwood gang. I would love to know what their university adventures are like.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

When I was growing up, I do not really remember YA fiction being much of a thing. In fact, I remember my mum actively encouraging me to avoid what was around for YA and move onto classic works by the likes of Agatha Christie.

However, now YA is a wonderful genre in its own right and, in fact, is read by so many people of all ages. I have probably read more YA now than I ever read at the ‘correct’ age.

Angie Thomas is one of the authors who has taken the YA world by storm. Her bestselling novel, ‘THUG‘, was a brilliant book which won her a huge following. Tackling some tough issues, it was educational and emotional. ‘On the Come Up’ is no different, it is an equally wonderful read.

Bri has ambitions of being a world-class rapper, just like the path her father started on. Using her music to raise awareness of the issues that matter. However, she ends up on a journey of self-discovery, realising that the past does not need to define you, and nor do the views other people may have formed of you. In fact, maybe it is time to break the mould and Bri should take the chance to shine on her own and move out of the shadow of others.

This novel is a great read. You find yourself really engaging with the characters. You feel all the emotions the characters feel, you will laugh with them, feel the frustration with them and cry with them, always wishing them the best. A novel like this also makes you reflect on the life you are leading and the world we live in – You get to the end wanting to make the world a better place for all those living in it.

I hope Angie Thomas brings us more fabulous characters because these are the novels that the YA world needs.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

This was a novel that I had seen all over the bookstagram. It was something that piqued my interest, I am not going lie – mainly because I loved the cover. And the cover did not let me down – it is, in fact, possibly a perfect cover.

I was drawn into the excitement of the novel from page 1. It reminded me a little of ‘The Hunger Games’. How dark is ‘Caraval’ as a real-life game, and who exactly will turn out to be ‘Legend’? He certainly appears to b the a darker ‘Greatest Showman’.

At points, the story doesn’t seem to have the pace that is created from the start. Yet, if you stick to the story, it certainly picks up, especially when you find yourself trying to figure out exactly who each character is. Nothing and nobody ever seems to be quite as it should.

However, it is again a novel with a strong female lead in Scarlett. Throughout the adventure, she discovers just how strong she is, eventually standing up to those who have made decisions for her all her life.

This book has certainly paved the way for more adventure, and I would be intrigued to see what happens next. After all, who wants to be left on a cliffhanger…?