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…?

Pages and Co – Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna Jones

I think I may have found my book of the year (although I did purchase at the end of last year) and, yes, it is Children’s novel, and I have no problem with that at all. ‘Tilly and the Bookwanderers’ will speak to any bookworm or anybody who loved books as a child.

I want to be Tilly because she is a Bookwanderer – and lives in a bookshop – what more could a bibliophile want? Tilly does not just read books – she enters them!! Tilly, and her friend Oskar, really end up in Avonlea with Anne (that’s with an ‘e’) among other fantastic places we encounter through novels. Of course, this wonderful chance for adventure does not come without its risks and dangers. That does not hold back our two adventurers from trying to discover the family secret that has hovered over Tilly all her life. And, of course, there is a shady character in the background attempting to thwart Tilly and Oskar in their mission.

Everything about this book is perfect. The illustrations by Paolo Escabor are delightful and represent the characters and events perfectly. Also, the font and typesetting throughout the novel is used to express some of the events and emotions as you read them. Thus just adds to how delightful this book is to read.

However, what really strikes me about this beautiful book is how much I agree with all the references to how important it is to read and enjoy books as individuals. Yet it is also clear that the enjoyment of books can bring people together too.

So, please, whatever your age, seek out this novel and remind yourself why you fell in love with reading in the first place.

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This month’s ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’ choice was ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. This is a book that my mum had suggested I read rather a long time ago, but I had never quite got round to it. Now, I wish I had read it sooner (although, I do love reading with the lovely group on bookstagram).

Now, I have been slightly naughty and read ahead, because I could not put this book down. It takes me a while to read classics as you certainly need to concentrate to really enjoy the tales. And this tale is certainly enjoyable. To me, this novel reads like a classic detective novel. Although our investigator Robert Audley is not any kind of criminal investigator, he is determined to find out the fate of his friend George Talboys, simply motivated by his loyalty. I would not consider this a particularly complex story, but the writing makes it gripping and a thrilling read. There is also an interesting power play as Lady Audley appears to use her feminine fragility in order to attempt to control those around her, however this does not work on all or always make her particularly popular. In this novel there are twists and turns, and even when you think there are no more revelations another is sprung on you in the final chapters.

I am not going to reveal any spoilers other than it is a truly wonderful and atmospheric read. I would encourage you all to pick up this book and be introduced to a new writer and a new classic novel that should be on the shelves of all fans of Victorian literature.

Any favourites from the Victorian age you think I should pick up and read?

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

This month’s ‘Maidens of Murder’ is ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’. I was excited to read this title as it is not a story that I know well.

I really enjoyed this book. It is such a clever mystery tale, you always know that a murder that appears to have no motive will lead to quite an adventure. And – as you expect – the Queen of Crime does indeed take the characters and readers on quite a journey. The ‘twist’ really does make the story a classic of Christie’s work and does also feel a little like she has been teasing Bobby and Frankie as they carry out their investigation. This, although clearly in the style of Agatha Christie’s work, is a little bit of a timeless tale. You could imagine this plot being created now; it is not tied to the past.

However, something that really struck me about this story is how well Agatha Christie created strong female characters. Lady Francis is to be admired as she takes quite the lead in finding out exactly ‘why didn’t they ask Evans?’ but her foe in the tale is also quite a formidable lady (although some may say only until the going gets tough).

Ultimately, however, I think what is good about this book is that as much as it is a classic Christie, it is a little bit of a romance novel dressed up as a crime novel. After all, who does not love a happy ending?

Everything I know about Love by Dolly Alderton

This book is an autobiography for the modern age, and I could almost end my blog post there, but clearly that would not be enough.

I knew nothing about this book when I started it. I simply found it as a little half-price bargain and happened to pick up a copy.

When I started I was not sure I would enjoy it. I can not put my finger on what in those opening pages did not completely grip me. However, once I got right into the book, I was hooked. Dolly Alderton is simply telling an ordinary tale of a girl finding herself. A true coming-of-age tale. Alderton does not try to dress anything up – she’s honest, almost brutally, about the journey she has taken in life. She tells tales that will make you laugh (Rod Stewart), she recounts events that will make you cry (Florence), but most importantly she makes you reflect on your on journey to thirty (wherever you may be on that journey).

Dolly Alderton has a natural writing style (I know I said a the start of the book I was not sure) once you fall into it. The chapters where she parodies those emails that so many of us will have had about ‘Hen Dos’, ‘Weddings’ and ‘Baby Showers’ that are just a little bit ‘extra’ had me laughing like a hyena on my daily commute.

However, I think the most important lesson in this book is the realisation that the most important thing we need to know about love is to love ourselves. It is certainly the most important lesson that Dolly Alderton herself appears to learn.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

One of the best things about books is the chance to share (I know, I have said it before). So it was a joy when a little book collection sent my way from my Auntie included ‘Force of Nature’ by Jane Harper.

I really enjoyed meeting Aaron Falk in ‘The Dry‘, so was keen to see where the story would take us next.

This novel is a great crime theory. The events that take place in the wilds of Australia are told simultaneously alongside Falk’s investigation. I really enjoyed this method of telling the story. It added to building the tension as the chapters alternate, as you were always keen to see if the investigation was accurately reaching the same points as the real events.

I am not sure this novel is as atmospheric as ‘The Dry’. However, it does not take away from the enjoyment because this books develops Falk as a character, reveals a little more about him as a character and builds an empathy between him and the reader.

Again, it can be difficult to review stories with a twist so this is more my personal opinion. I would love to see how else Aaron Falk’s story develops, as I think he will become a much-loved character of the fiction world.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

This weekend was the wonderful theatre club – one of the highlights in the day every six months.

It was my turn to book the show. Always a joy, but sometimes I put a little bit too much pressure on myself – worrying about if the seats are okay, and if we will both enjoy the show. However, this time I was pretty sure that my choice was going to be a sure-fire success. I had heard great reviews of the show and, having watched the most recent trailer, thought it looked like a lot of fun.

So, on a surprisingly sunny afternoon in February, we arrived at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to see ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’. I was excited , as I had seen Layton Williams had taken on the role of Jamie (and my Mum had muttered something about Shane Ritchie being in the cast).

So, the show is based on the true story of Jamie Campbell who has the ambition of becoming a drag queen and a star. He was also the subject of ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’, a 2011 BBC Three documentary.

The show follows the story of Jamie New wanting to come out as a drag queen. We see Jamie start his journey to create his persona, wanting to attend his school prom in a dress and the struggles if not always being accepted for who you are. This is a show with all the emotions – you laugh and you will cry, and really reflect on the society that we live in. A lady spoke to us at the end (she was with her son) to say that seeing it as a mother had her in tears.

Jamie (Layton Williams) is clearly the star of the show, but it is a real ensemble piece. Every single person on the stage brings every second of the musical to life. The songs are wonderful – dare you not to cry through a couple – the script is full of laughs, and all the choreography and music are marvellous. This is standing ovations stuff and, by the end, it is simply one giant party.

‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a musical that everyone should go and see; it really is a five star production!

The Age-Old Question…

So, since joining in with ‘Maidens of Murder’ Agatha Christie Bookclub I have found myself reading more of a range of her work. While doing this, it has brought me to the age-old question – Who is the best sleuth, Miss Marple or Poirot?

Now, I am sure that many will be thinking why do I have to make such a decision? I suppose I don’t have to – but I have been pondering it for a while.

When reading the novels I find, as a rule, I prefer Poirot. There is a charm and quirk to him as sleuth which I adore. His relationship with Hastings and Japp are some of the best fictional friendships. It reminds me of my favourite: Holmes, Watson and Lestrade. And even when Poirot is thrown out into the world without his allies, he has a great manner with all of those that he encounters. His eccentricities are also part of his lasting charm.

Also, having grown up with David Suchet as TV’s Poirot, I have many fond memories of watching the sleuth at work. ‘Poirot and Me’, by David Suchet is a memoir that sealed my view that he is Poirot and he has the same love for the Belgian sleuth as we all do as fans.

But then I pause and reflect for a moment – Miss Marple is a marvellous female lead and inspiration. I mean, if I have the determination to take on challenges the way she does at her age, I would be one happy lady. She is sometimes unfairly presented as a nosy parker but, to me, she is quite a hero.

Equally, I have such happy memories of watching Miss Marple portrayed on TV by Joan Hickson, as well as my love for June Whitfield on the radio version of the sleuth.

However, I am never sure Miss Marple’s cases are quite as engaging in novel form. They are enjoyable (as all of Christie’s work is) but Poirot just always seems to pip Jane Marple to the post.

So, my answer to the age-old question is Poirot. What about you?