Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is a re-read for me, for a lovely group who ‘recapture the classics’.

This is a novel that really is a classic. And one that should not hold the fear that often comes with the classics, as it is a short, sharp, simple read. Do not get me wrong – this does not take away from what a wonderful story this is.

‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is an excellent tale with a great gothic feel. I also think it is a fantastic commentary on the attitudes of society at the time. There is a clear reference to the ideas of morality and character, but also (I think) the fears of some of the changes of the era. Could man’s interest in science be moving us away from the good, moral path of tradition?

As I hate to spoil books for those who may wish to read them, I will not reveal much of the narrative. However, I will say that this story is beautifully written by Stevenson. It also contains all the ingredients of a thrilling read, with murder, mystery, dark settings and intriguing characters.

If you are not sure about the classics but love a good story ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ would an excellent place to start. It really is a great and classic tale.

Dictators by Frank Dikotter

To continu with non-fiction November, I picked up ‘Dictators’ by Frank Dikotter. This was my choice because, as a history teacher, you always seem to be sharing knowledge of some of the famous dictators of history – how they get there always seems to make sense, but how they successfully stay there always seems to be harder to explain. I am always without a doubt asked why nobody stops them, and the obvious answer is always the fear many of them used to control. But also, as this makes clear, ‘ordinary’ people really did support them – however hard that is for some of us to believe.

This book is absolutely fascinating as it guides you through the history of eight 20th century dictators. And, it really explains how they managed to build up such a cult following which led to them having genuine support from their people. A ‘misguided’ idealism from each of the men led to them establishing their regimes. However, there was also a carefully crafted celebrity status created for each of these men, either by themselves or by those that surrounded them.

I found it interesting how similar at points the tales of these characters of history were. And that, in fact the biggest threat to any dictator and their regime is themselves.

This is a great book for any fans of moder history. A concise overview of some figures of history and a well-written and clear to follow guide to some of the 20th century’s most infamous figures.

Black and British: A Short, Essential Guide by David Olusoga

It is non-fiction November, and I have been a little slow off the mark with it this year, because there are just so many books to read. However, I have now started with a truly fantastic read.

I am a huge fan of the work of the historian David Olusoga and often watch his documentaries. I found out that he had a book that makes his work ‘Black and British’ accessiable to a younger audience, I decided I really wanted to read it, especially, as a History teacher I am always looking for books that I can recommend to the pupils.

Yet, this is a book that I would recommend everyone should read. Olusoga takes us through the ages to educate us about the meaning of ‘Black and British’ throughout history. It also makes key links between the slave trade and British history, and how sometimes these links are forgotten as we discuss key moments such as the Industrial Revolution.

I learned so much as I read this book, especially about more recent history, which is definitely something that seems to remain in the past. However, it is brought bang up to date with the events of 2020, which has become a spark to reignite the passion to ensure Black and British history is given the true and accurate representation it deserves.

This is beautifully written in Olusoga’s distinctive voice; you almost feel that he is reading the book to you.

A sign of a great non-fiction book is that it makes you want to find out more about the things you have read, and that it is exactly what I am ready to do now.

Thursday Thoughts: Retelling of Old Tales

I have recently jumped on the bandwagon of becoming a little bit obsessed with the retelling of Greek myths.

Thanks to a buddy read during lockdown 1.0, I picked up ‘The Song of Achilles‘ by Madeline Miller and I absolutely loved it. I found the whole world a fascinating place, even if some of the attitudes were a little questionable. However, at the same time there were some really liberal ideas too. A great story and a great book discuss.

Next, I moved on to ‘Circe‘ also by Madeline Miller. What a strong powerful female lead we were presented with in this book. We also met some famous Greek mythological characters characters. This is a tale I found a little slower but I still became absorbed in the world and found myself wanting to find out more about the story, characters, ideas and beliefs.

And now we reach my latest read, ‘The Silence of the Girls’ by Pat Barker. This had been on my bookshelf for ages (just like the others – oops) but a good bookstagram decided it was time to read it, and that was exactly what we did.

This focuses on the story of Achilles and, although that is a similar focus as Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’, it is still an excellent read. This is told from a completely different viewpoint, as this is about the girls who became the ‘prizes’ of the war. They watch Achilles’ story unfold and the world around them change. And I was obsessed, finding it a real page-turner. These women are so strong – however, what really added to my enjoyment was the fact that I could continue to develop my interest in these old tales, but also by the end of this book I had a different opinion of Achilles.

It’s a well-crafted telling of a famous story, which gives a voice to the women and allows them to tell her-story.

On my bookshelves are some more of these retellings, and I will definitely be making sure that they are picked up soon, because it is another world of brilliant stories.

Crooked by Bronwen John

It is my stop for this thrilling read on its blog tour, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts (so I hope you keep reading).

I was gifted a copy of ‘Crooked’ and I know you should not judge a book by its cover, but I was immediately intrigued by this YA thriller. And this continued as soon as I started reading.

You are immediately thrown into the action; in central London, you meet Ash and her friends as they are involved in a bit of a con. It seems to be quite a money maker for the gang, until they select the wrong mark. And, a turn for the worse, as Ash is dragged into conflict with a dangerous London gangster – or two.

Now, this is another brilliant read that I do not want to spoil for you all. However, I can say that something that I thought was excellent about this book is that there are strong, independent female leads. And they are not scared to take on the men.

There are so many twists and turns in this book that you are not sure who you trust – and who the characters trust. I just had to keep reading, keen to know what revelation would come next and who was really conning who.

So, if you love a thrilling read (and an adventure), whatever your age, then this is the book for you. So, why not pick up a copy and give it go?

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness by Bill Bailey

I was so excited when I was gifted a copy of ‘Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness’ as part of a readalong with the other brilliant bookworms of Tandem Collective UK.

I cannot think of anyone better than Bill Bailey to share ideas about those simple things that bring happiness. This is an ideal book for the current situation, as it really makes you reflect on those little things things that can bring a sprinkle of happiness to everyday life.

Told in short, sharp chapters, it guides you, with warmth and humour, through steps that can bring happiness; some of them so simple that they are probably already part of what you do, but you may not appreciate or realise it. As I read this, I really started thinking about the real happiness of a fresh cup of coffee or sitting down to write a letter (yes, I still do that).

I get the impression that the current situation had quite an influence on Bill Bailey as he wrote this book. And that almost makes the book more enjoyable, as you realise how we have all probably re-evaluated our lives and the things that bring us happiness.

I am pretty sure that I had a smile on my face as I read every page of this book. Bill Bailey’s combination of anecdotes and data from studies make for an incredibly enjoyable read and may even have you want to try something new.

This really is a remarkable guide to happiness.

Thursday Thoughts: Should I Join a Book Club?

So, I always thought I would become a sophisticated member of a book club. However, life so easily takes over and it just never seemed to happen. Until I joined the bookstagram community…

In the book-loving social media world, there are an amazing number of book clubs you can be part of. You have a choice of lovely themed ones such as ‘Maidens of Murder’. This is a community of crime fiction fans who read a different novel by Agatha Christie each month. You have a chance to discuss and share your thoughts on a post at the end of the month. I am not always great at sharing my thoughts, but I have really enjoyed the chance to read more Christie books that I may not have picked up.

Another favourite that I am part of is the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’. This is a great community of fellow book lovers who enjoy reading Victorian classics, especially those of the sensation genre. We read a section at a time and share our thoughts as we go. This has been brilliant for getting me to read books I would never have picked up before. And, of course, talk about books.

However, these two lovely book club opportunities are still a little safe, because you chat on a post or in a chat group. So, my bravest step was taking part in the ‘Tasting Notes Book Club’ from ‘The Book Taster‘.

This is a brilliant subscription book club and you receive a box of goodies with your book, which makes it a fabulous treat. Yet, this involves an online book club meeting which, for me, was a brave step. However, I am not sure what I was worried about, because it is an amazing safe space to discuss the book with fellow bookworms. And you can, of course, say as much or as little as you like. The two meetings I have attended so far have also involved us hearing the wonderful authors, which has been such a treat.

So, I may not have managed to attend or join a physical book club, but I have found so many fabulous book communities out there to be part of.

Why not have a look what is out there if you have fancied giving a book club a go?

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

This is a book that I have had an eye on for quite a while, and October seemed like the perfect time to pick it up.

I was not really sure what this book was about other than it is a thriller. And, wow, what a thriller it is. A cleverly told story that delivers so much more than you expect.

Not only do you get the initial thrilling read in part one, but it really does have you asking how far you would be willing to go for your family. It is so hardm as I do not want to spoil anything about the slick and stylish thriller. However, through all of part one you will be on the edge of your seat and, if you can cope with all of that, you are in for even more of a thrilling read.

Part two is even more of a treat. This part reveals so much of ‘the chain’ and its reasons and causes. Quite a study of human nature and what makes people the way they are. There is an almighty twist as we are working towards the conclusion of the novel – it is not a total surprise, but it certainly adds to the tension of the novel.

This is another book with a brilliantly selected title in the phrase ‘The Chain’. Not only is it a named ‘organisation’ at the heart of the story, but it also had me thinking about the chain of events that make each of us who we are. Especially as there is really quite a collection of chracters in this novel.

If you really enjoy a well-crafted thriller, and a chilling one at that, then this is the book for you – especially as the dark nights close in.

Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence

I am always excited to read new books by Patrice Lawrence and, when ‘Eight Pieces of Silva’ hit the shelves this summer, I knew I needed to find a copy.

This book did not disappoint, and I found it a page-turner from the moment I started it. This is a mystery novel, but not in the totally usual sense.

Silva doesn’t return home after taking her parents to the airport and her sister, Becks, is worried. As time passes Becks realises her sister may need her help and finds eight clues in Silva’s room, which reveal a whole secret life Becks and her family had no idea about.

What is so brilliant about this novel is that it tackles a whole number of key issues in its well-crafted and engaging narrative. Becks deals with her complex relationship with family, friends and her own romantic relationship. As well as ideas about healthy and unhealthy ‘romantic’ relationships of others in the tale – and the importance about talking about emotions and mental health.

However, what is again wonderful about a book from the pen of Patrice Lawrence is that there is a brilliant collection of characters. And at the centre is the brilliant Becks – a strong female lead character who knows exactly who she is and exactly what she likes.

This is a fantastic YA novel which I hope many readers will enjoy. There are so many important lessons amongst the pages and, hopefully, it will encourage conversations about many of them too.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

October is my favourite time of year for thrilling reads. And ‘The Guest List’ is certainly that – in fact, I am even willing to go as far as to say it is better than ‘The Hunting Party‘.

This, as with all books with an element of suspense, is a hard book to offer a blog post on, as I do not wish to inadvertently issue any spoilers. However, I can tell you that this book had all the brilliant ingredients of a thrilling read. An isolated island, a whole host of characters carrying secrets, and twists and turns. Part of the reason I loved this book was that I managed to pick up some of the clues that were scattered throughout the story but I did not spot them all, so some of the reveals were a surprise.

I was not particularly a fan of the number of characters. Although, as the story is told, you do begin to change your view of many – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

I think, overall, this tale seemed more slick than ‘The Hunting Party’. And, although it was still a tale of secrets and lies, this just seemed maybe a little more complex. Yet, I still enjoyed both and think Lucy Foley is a great modern thriller writer. I would definitely be willing to read more stories from her imagination.